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by Skyla Dawn Cameron
Description: After three hundred years of unlife, vampire Zara Lain has seemingly done it all, and she's now making a living as a successful thief-turned-assassin. Her newest assignment seems simple enough--kill the aging leader of the O'Connor Coven and his only heir, and she'll have another ten million in the bank. But in the dangerous world of the supernatural, few things are ever "simple." When a massive assault decimates the continent's population of powerful witches and warlocks, and its orchestrator has vampires being hunted down and captured, Zara realizes the tables have turned and now she'll be playing the hero. Forced to join with a smart-mouthed fellow vampire, a demonologist who's also a fan of hers, a recently widowed--and frequently brooding--warlock, and her best friend's mom, Zara's grudgingly willing to do what she can to save the day. If only people would stop ruining all her outfits...
eBook Publisher: Mundania Press LLC/Mundania Press LLC, 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: September 2011
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [410 KB]
Reading time: 254-356 min.
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Someone was following me.
I'd known about him for half a dozen blocks. It wasn't hard; as his sneakers hit the cement, they made three times the noise my black boots did. A shallow heartbeat and heavy breaths, though not noticeable to a mortal, pounded in my ears and through my skull. If I'm not focused on tuning it out, the sound of human breathing is near unbearable to me.
I guess that's why I'm so often the cause of it permanently ceasing.
In all fairness, I gave him the chance to continue on his merry way; I wove through the deserted streets, cutting around corners and doubling back the odd time. But he still followed. After spending over three centuries of undead life looking like a woman in her late teens, I've grown accustomed to men stalking me in the night.
That doesn't mean I don't still find it bothersome.
The streets in the lower east end of the city were always empty by this time of night. From dusk 'til dawn, the humans stayed in their homes. Those that ventured out wound up emptied of their blood and discarded in dumpsters. Or worse. Even the village idiot knows to stay in when the body count rises at night.
Not that I bothered much with feeding from the humans there, but it had been a popular haunt for the undead since the city was a little hamlet in the nineteenth century. It seemed that after almost a century and a half, the humans had finally grown wiser. Multiple gruesome murders often do that. Even as parents tell their children not to fear the monsters in their closets, they are sure to lock their windows, bolt their doors, and always sleep with some sort of weapon next to their beds.
But for whatever reason, my stalker decided not to heed the whispered warnings of the human residents, and was doing some street prowling of his own. Someone ought to have a talk with him about that.
I wasn't really in the mood for talking, though.
I pretended not to notice him as I walked with purpose along the sidewalk. I kept my stride casual while I made out his exact position. When we started this game, he was a block behind me, but the distance was closing at an exponential rate.
Impatience. It's done a lot of humans in. Non-humans, too, but then those like me could afford a little impatience now and then since we had mad skills to back us up.
Lust fills a human body with heat; I felt it radiate from him a couple yards away. It works like a fever, moving through the body, bleeding away thought and focus until there's only the hunter and prey. Sexual desire and need to control are a little like bloodlust that way.
I looked small to him, my five-feet-nine-inches-without-heels dwarfed by the apartment buildings that lined the streets. From his location, all he could see was some leggy chick with waist-length black hair--a fragile, little girl. Easy prey. For a moment I imagined myself whimpering, "Oh, please don't hurt me."
That thought amused me.
The streets had a wet smell, like there'd be rain though the pavement was dry. Damp and moldy. Even if I didn't need to breathe, the habit stayed with me; part of being aware of your surroundings is knowing what things smell like. If jaded, broken dreams had a scent, this would be it. Old and unclean.
Only a quarter of the streetlamps worked, as no one from the city council thought this part of town warranted any repairs. Hookers and drug dealers and welfare cases weren't real people, right? The unflattering orange streetlight hit me and I watched my own shadow creep up. I moved casual, so he could keep an eye on me. I had to remain in his view...for now.
A soft click. My gaze shot to the store window across the street as a flash of light flickered across the glass. A few seconds later I saw it again, just as my stalker passed under a streetlight.
Either he opened a compact mirror to check his makeup or he brought a switchblade to play.
Total lack of logic--who would bring that thing here? In what world would a fucking switchblade even the odds against something that goes bump in the night?
A few feet ahead, an alley intersected the street. Perfect. With his eagerness growing, I could hardly expect him to wait much longer. I calmly rounded the corner.
The alley plunged me into darkness. A blink of my eyes and my pupils dilated, adjusting swiftly. Moonlight speared over the tops of buildings and stabbed the long, narrow alley, highlighting bags of trash overflowing from a dumpster. A closed pawnshop with a cracked wood sign lay to my left. No apartment above, it was only one story. Good height, for my purposes.
Tension rippled through my muscles and I pushed silently off the ground. I leap with such grace and ease, I know. Positively cinematic. I cleared the dozen odd feet and landed on the roof of the shop; I crouched there, hunched low and focused. Black hair whispered against my cheeks, still fluttering after the jump and the only sign I'd moved at all.
My pulse thrummed and electricity danced over my skin; I loved this part. The waiting, the watching, the hunting. A vicious smile turned my lips and my icy blue eyes watched the edge of the building across the street.
And he appeared. My smile widened.
He'd run to catch up; he was breathless now, chest rising and falling, lips parted. My stalker paused just three steps into the alley and looked around. His thought process bled through his actions: first he glanced ahead of him, thinking he just couldn't see me, then he stepped back to the corner in case I was still in the street. When I wasn't there, he stalked over to a trash bin and, with the knife poised in his hand, he checked to see if I was hiding behind it. Still, I was nowhere to be found. I smiled to myself. Poor guy. A rapist without a victim was such a sad sight to behold.
Really, my heart was breaking for him.
At some point this kid had toppled over into adulthood; he had the filled out body of a twenty-something, but his steps were unsure--a little unsteady. Ridiculously large jeans told me he didn't do this kind of thing very often; the hem dragged under his heel and when he tried running from me later, he would likely trip and not get very far. Most seasoned predators dress more sensibly.
He swung around, searching for me, and my focus zoomed in on the red cuff on his left wrist. Maybe it signified a group or a gang he belonged to. Mortal social politics didn't exactly interest me, though. Gangs came and went. I remained.
But that jacket, I liked. A black, knee-length number. Surprisingly quiet--it was some sort of canvas. Snug on him, too. It would definitely go with my black boot-cut jeans and scoop necked top. Perhaps I'd get more out of our encounter than just dinner.
I love clothes. It's a fault, probably, but clothes are like a billboard to everyone you meet; easy to manipulate people if you know how to dress. Clothes tell people whether you're a wimpy little girl, a sultry vixen, or a bad-ass chick they shouldn't fuck with. I always waver between the latter two...except for that time I posed as someone peddling The Watchtower to get into my target's house and make the kill. Surprisingly, no one opens the door for a Jehovah's Witness in a satin bustier.
My fingers flexed, bloodlust roaring through my veins like a tidal wave. Muscles readied to leap down, to grab him, to take this life that so carelessly would take mine.
Movement at the other end of the alley paused me. Chills rolled down my back like ice water tossed on me--someone was there. And my stalker? He knew it too; he glanced down there and lifted his shoulders in a shrugging gesture.
And how many others were there? I picked through the din--through my stalker's heart beating and lungs breathing, through rats in the streets and dull music throbbing against apartment building walls... Pushing noises aside, filtering through and...I had nothing. Couldn't determine how many were there. But he probably had...what was it humans called them? A gang? A posse? Whatever it was, he probably had a few of those. So I couldn't just kill this one--I had to make it a show.
And who doesn't love a good show?
Seconds ticked by and turned into a minute. He shuffled, stepping heavily on first his right foot then his left, and then started down the alley again.
I could have let him go; I didn't need to play. I'm late, I'm late, I'm late for an important date. I had places to go, people to kill, money to make.
I'm no avenging angel, not someone looking to spare others from this attack that very well would have taken my life if I were a mortal. That game bored me now. But this little waste of time, this distraction, was an indulgence on my part--something I engaged in not because I needed to but because I could. Because I liked taking the time to make someone rue the day they fucked with me.
Even if his death would cut the ruing down to just two or three minutes.
I followed, edging along the roof, one hand touching down to steady me and head kept low. Wind kicked up, sending shivers over my skin and rustling my hair. It was fresh, clean, sweeping from the south where the harbor and lake sat a few miles off.
My would-be stalker halted once more, his head turning and neck craned to check the corners I could be hiding in. Now he was really confused.
And I was ready.
Soundlessly, my rested crouch shifted into a braced one until I was poised, ready for a leap. I launched into the air, hair whipping back, then a second later my boots touched down on grimy concrete. Hair settled again, long waves wrapping around my shoulders like the shadows did.
Good predators are silent. Another lesson my new friend had never learned.
I stood but inches behind him in a slice of moonlight. Waiting. Watching that familiar reaction as awareness crackled around him, instinct telling him I was there an instant before his brain processed it.
Ever have that feeling you're being watched? I was the thing doing the watching.
He turned, eyes doubling in size. "Fuck!" left his lips as he stumbled back, running shoe treads scraping on the pavement.
I smiled brightly with feigned innocence. "Hi there! Looking for me?"
His lips parted and a jumble of unintelligible sounds spilled out. I know a couple different languages--pretty sure he wasn't speaking any of them.
"Okay, confession time: I really like your jacket." I took a step forward. "Would you mind taking it off? I'd hate to get blood on it. Despite some product commercials to the contrary, it's damn hard to get that stuff out."
Shock wore off and his eyes changed, like a blanket of confusion drawn aside. He straightened his back and thrust the knife toward me. "D-Do what I tell you and you won't die, bitch! On the ground! Now!"
Such drama. I rolled my eyes. In what passed for only a second to mortal eyes, I grabbed him by the throat and slammed him against the pawn shop wall, holding him two feet in the air.
He blinked a few times, then looked down at me. Another smile crept over my lips as I watched his gaze track over me and to the ground. His skin paled, blood draining away, and beneath my fingertips I felt his pulse double its beat.
This part never gets old.
"I don't think we've been introduced," I said. "My name's Zara. I'm strong, I'm fast, and I totally kick ass. It's great to be me...but that means right now it sucks to be you."
Terror has a taste for a predator; for me, it's savory and hot, like spices slow roasted. It sparked against my tongue now as my victim panicked and struggled against my grip.
The switchblade flashed in the moonlight as he slashed at me. The blade grazed my inner arm, then slid between my ribs.
Shit. Stupid knife--I forgot about that. Pain swiped at me, biting and stinging. But it was bearable.
I dropped the guy to inspect my wound, an exaggerated sigh blowing past my lips. I hauled the knife out and the wound spit blood, but I didn't stress it. I'd been stabbed, like, a lot over the years and I knew the healing process had started. Pity I couldn't say the same about my shirt.
"Goddamn it." My gaze snapped back up to him . "You damn well better have some money to cover a replacement or I'm going to be rather unhappy with you. I just bought this."
I released the knife and he winced as it struck the ground, a decisive click that echoed in the alley.
I'm terrible with empathy, but I tried to imagine it from his perspective when I didn't fall down mortally wounded. Somewhere in his head he must have remembered all the stories of strong, healthy men being found dead in the streets, and, despite how absurd it seemed, he was cowering before a girl who didn't die when he stabbed her.
My empathy is still a work in progress; I didn't feel pity. Just...glee.
He screamed, a burst of fear that reeked of cigarette smoke and rancid tequila. He scrambled for the knife at my feet, twisted, and ran, feet thumping down the alley. Dirt and stones crunched underfoot, scraping between his shoes and the concrete. He smelled of fear. My stomach rumbled.
The air shifted as I moved and then I was there, in front of him, and he skidded to a halt.
Before he could take another swipe at me with the knife, my fingers wrapped around his hand and squeezed. The weapon fell, but I tightened, tightened, feeling the grind of bone against bone.
A shriek started in the back of his throat, a little high pitched sound that grated my nerves; my other hand snapped out to clamp over his mouth.
"You were following me, presumably with the intent to violate me. I suppose you were going to kill me too."
He vehemently shook his head in response.
I tightened the death grip on his hand. "I don't like people who lie to me."
Tears sparked in his eyes, building, welling, then spilling down his cheeks. He made some sort of moan of protest against me breaking his bones.
"I know it's wacky, but I really have a problem with people who try to rape and murder me," I continued. "Do you have any idea how rude that is? Here we are, in the twenty-first century, and despite the progress women have made, men still think they can dominate them. That makes me so angry. Doesn't that make you angry?"
Weakly, he nodded.
"I mean, what is humanity coming to when in this day and age a woman can't even walk down a deserted alley, all alone, in the middle of the night, without fearing being attacked?"
Another whimper, a weak little broken sound.
"Tell me, are you at all aware of how this has affected me? How am I ever going to walk freely at night after what you've done to me? Did you even think of my feelings when you started stalking me?"
He mumbled something. Ah, so you finally decided to join the conversation. I removed my hand from his mouth so he could speak freely.
"Yes?" I said. "You were saying?"
He parted his lips and his high-pitched scream filled the air, like the female victim in a horror film. The sound drove spikes into my brain--I hate it when they scream this far into the act.
His neck twisted to look behind him, at the mouth of the alley where we both knew others waited. "Help me!"
I leaned toward him as he looked back, my voice taking on a soft whisper. "Something tells me they aren't coming."
That thought settled in his brain and his face changed, twisting into something ugly and frightened, then he yelped as I flung him by his broken hand across the alley. He hit the bricks hard and crumpled to the ground, a broken puddle that used to be a tough guy.
My heels clicked on the concrete as I strolled over. He stirred, cradling his broken hand, eyes coming to settle on the toes of my boots.
I'm not all bad; I reached down to offer my hand. Not surprisingly, he stared back, agape and fearful.
So little trust. I hauled him to his feet by the collar of his shirt. "Do you now see the error of your ways?"
He nodded, cowering in my grip.
"Do you promise not to try to rape any more girls?"
Again, he nodded.
"Good." I grinned. "Now go my child, and sin no more."
He didn't move.
"Okay, okay," I said. "Of course you aren't getting off that easy. Brace yourself 'cause this will hurt...quite a lot, actually."
A throb started in my gums. They make it look so easy in the movies, but even after a few centuries of it, the growth of my teeth into fangs hurt. The throb sharpened into pinpricks dancing on my gums and then my canines grew longer, sharper. Saliva formed, swelling through my mouth as I reached out and yanked my would-be-killer toward me. His body went limp in my arms, then contorted and shook as my teeth pierced his skin. The hot blood swirled past my lips, but rather than satiate my thirst, it made me want more.
I held him there in the moonlight as I drank, ensuring his friends would see. With any luck, that would serve as a warning to them. If they came after me, I'd be forced to kill them, which--though enjoyable--was a waste of perfectly good blood. I couldn't very well feed from all of them, as one human was enough to fill me for a week, and overfeeding would leave me feeling ill for a few days afterward. Besides, I was already late for a very important meeting.
Generally, I don't take enough blood to kill. It doesn't make sense in the grand scheme of things--if the human lives, he can always produce more blood, so there's no danger of ever having to go without a meal. I rarely ever drain a human.
But sometimes I just can't stop myself.
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