This feeling, it is like a maelstrom. It pulls at me, tugs softly, mildly, until it has me in its claws and I don’t remember how it happened.
There are teeth in my neck and somehow I’ve forgotten about it as I stare belatedly at the swinging door. I should worry about it, but I don’t. I should be in so much pain, but I’m not. There is nothing but the rush of his venom and the growing need to lie down and give in. Just give in and let it happen.
I gasp and shudder. Then I ram my elbow into Cor’s stomach, as hard as I can.
He makes a garbled sound and stumbles back, his fangs leaving bloody grooves on my neck. I falter without the safety of his arms, half boneless and half drunk, and manage to catch myself against the steel door before I topple over. My mind swims in the soup of poison his bite pushed into my bloodstream, making me clumsy and slow and dizzy, my chest hot and tight, and my head so, so confused. The only thing keeping me upright is that voice inside my head that is screaming at me to remember the vampire, remember the Hunter’s handbook.
It’s not the thought of my training that gets me out of this stupor. It’s the disapproving voice of my mentors that forces me to move, to get going, to stop turning my back towards danger. How they would tear me a new one if I died now, after all I’ve survived today.
I force myself to turn, back scrubbing against the sharp cracks in the metal, and try to remember what to do next. He is on me before I can finish that thought, his sculpted body a hard, hot line against my shivering limbs. He grabs me, digs his hands into my button down shirt until it rips open and gives way to his searching fingers. They draw scorching lines over my ribs, up and up until they wander towards my back and force their way between my back and the wall. It feels like he’s setting me on fire, like every nerve ending is dancing to his touch. It has never felt like this before, being touched. Never been this intimate. I was never as aware of anyone as I am now of him.
It takes my breath away.
Then his lips find my throat and open slowly until hot breath wafts over my sensitized skin. His tongue licks a warm, quick line over my pulse, then he growls against the wetness he left, deep and drawn out. My cock jumps at the sound, hardening in its confines. I want him closer, want to melt into him, possess him, fuse myself to his body. God, I wish he would—
No. No! Nothing good lies this way. This is not how I’m going to die. I will not let this vampire eat me while I hang in his arms, limp and whimpering, wet dick throbbing and throat bared. I will not be one of the victims, a statistic, a disgrace to my clan. I won’t. I can’t!
I suck in air sharply, hold it, and ram my knee into his crotch. He twists away before I can make contact with his dick, snarling like an angry dog, eyes surprisingly wounded as he scampers back and bares his fangs. His face twists into an angry snarl and he takes a quick, ducking step closer, one hand snatching at my gaping shirt like I’m a fly he’s trying to catch mid-flight. I gasp and roll along the door, out of his reach, until my back rests against the crumbling wall next to the door and my nose is filled with the stench of blood, pre-come, and old paint. If I don’t draw my gun now, he will kill me. I know he will. I just can’t quite remember why. Fuck, why is my head still swimming so much? How long does his venom last?
The next pounce isn’t feinted. He snags my wrist and tugs me forward, propelling me through the room. My shoulder feels like it’s being ripped apart and I cry out in pain as I fight against gravity and vertigo. He flinches again, but his hesitation only lasts a moment. I fumble along my side for my holster as I backpedal, but he doesn’t give me a chance to finish the move. He’s on me again with two wide steps, hooking his foot behind my heel. A hard shove against my sternum topples me back and I fall, grabbing for him on instinct. My fingers slide off his blood-slick arm, nails scratching over his skin, but he shakes me off with a snarl and I hit the floor hard. My head bounces off the dirty wood with less force than I anticipated, but the impact still rings my bell with a burst of white spots.
Fuck, it hurts. I attempt to writhe away, but a weight settles on my hips and pins me down. Cor stares down at me with half bared teeth, less angry than I anticipated, but unhappy enough to give me pause. I move to sit up, but he grabs my throat and pushes me back down, growling warningly. Okay then, lying down it is.
His face twists slightly and a small frown line appears on his forehead. Cor licks his lip, opens his mouth, then closes it again and gnashes his teeth in concentration. If I didn’t know better, I would say he is at a lack of words and trying his hardest to change that. Whatever is going through his mind right now though, whatever reason he has to play with me like this, it must be important.
The frown line disappears. Cor leans forward, puts a little more weight on my throat, and growls. A single word tumbles off his lips, bursting from his throat like the first rumble of an earthquake.
My face gets numb as all blood leaves for greener pastures. This is him playing nice. The realization shouldn’t startle me this much. I have seen what he can do, how strong he is, how fast, and how I compare to him. Which is, not at all. The crestfallen expression, the flinches, come back to me and I groan out a curse. No. He isn’t just trying to play nice, he’s trying to not hurt me at all and I still come out as one massive bruise on the other side. My spine screams with the need to writhe, but I force myself to lie still. To be calm.
His eyes flit over my face searchingly. Whatever he sees seems to satisfy him and he relaxes his grip on my throat minutely as he straightens. Again that pondering expression appears on his face. He cocks his head, licks his lips and growls another word.
When he’s done with his herculean feat, he bares his teeth in a sort of creepy grin, proud like a peacock. Like he has explained everything that has been happening to the furthest extent possible and there can’t be any more questions I could possibly ask.
My chest tightens in a burst of adrenaline. He thinks I understand, but I don’t, I so don’t. Me, his? What the hell is he thinking? I’m a Hunter, not a second rate romance novel protagonist who falls head over heels for the bad boy vampire. I can’t even imagine how the idea of having a vampire lay claim to me would go over with my clan. Because it wouldn’t. They would shoot him on the spot and give me the whipping of my life. Or simply kill me too because I’ve been compromised.
Holy shit I can’t ever let them know I’ve been compromised!
Panic claws at my bladder, scratching its way up and up until I feel like I will either vomit or faint any minute. The very real threat sitting on me is forgotten and I buck against Cor’s weight, screaming as I shove at his chest and try to crocodile-roll him off me. I need to get out, out, now!
Cor pays me no attention though. He even slides off my hips as he turns his head toward the window and tenses, crouching. A low growl vibrates through him as I crab-walk backwards until my head hits the wall. His nostrils flare as he sucks in air. I writhe to get onto my feet, still gasping for air and not getting enough inside of me.
I’ve got to get away. I’ve let this go on long enough. I should have listened to Stanley. Cor can’t call me his in front of anyone, not even me. Not even inside the privacy of his own mind. It’s a death sentence. I’m not ready to die. I have to kill him, maybe then I can breathe again, maybe then my heart will calm down and stop trying to burst out of my chest.
The leather holster slips my grasp again and again, until I finally feel the butt of my Glock in my hand, cursing the sweet Mary as I pull the weapon and aim—
At nothing. The vampire— Cor— isn’t where he was before. The empty space makes my heart race until I sweat like a pig. I swerve the gun like a floret at an empty flat, my brain insisting he will jump at me when I least expect it. Dust floats through the stuffy, moist air and scratches in my throat as I heave to keep up with my racing heart, but there’s nobody here but me. Me and a half open window, squeaking tiredly as it moves in the wind and rain.
The floor conspires against me, moving up and down and side to side as I stumble to the window to look outside, even though I don’t know what I’m supposed to look for. My head swims and tilts the nightly yard below like a ship deck, blurring the moving shapes down on the concrete. I blink forcedly and shake my head, but my sight clears only marginally. Still, what were mere shapes now turn into people.
Five strangers prowl the yard, dressed in the shimmering black of well-worn leather. Their movements are nothing but streaks of white dots, a face and two pale hands per person, dancing through the darkness as they enter the courtyard. They stop at the decomposing bodies of the vampires I killed, gesturing and hissing to each other, their faces darting back and forth as they scan the surroundings for threats.
I grab the window sill to keep myself still, but my weight dislodges a tiny clump of crumbling plaster and sends it down onto the concrete. All five of them snap their heads around at the tiny plink, inevitably looking up to follow the trail of pebbles to its source. Me.
Cold, wet wind greets me when I step out of the abandoned apartment block and into the unsteady night. I take a sneaky glance around, hoping against better knowledge that Cor is still around and ready to jump in and explain everything, but he isn’t. And even if he was, he wouldn’t talk. I’ve seen his reactions to vampires. He despises his own kind to a point where his first reaction is killing on sight, and there are already enough bodies lying around. I’m sick and tired of all the death. My clothes are both bloody and rain drenched, my neck is not only scratched to all hell but also home to another vampire bite, and I’m fucking out of ammo except for one single, lonely, bullet still waiting in the magazine.
A vampire stops mid-step in front of me, staring at me with a mixture of surprise and angry confusion, then bares his blunt teeth. No fangs yet, thankfully. He’s a big fella. I can’t even look over his shoulder, not to mention around him, because he’s built like a brick wall. He could be the main act in a Conan the Barbarian reenactment show and people wouldn’t know the difference.
“You! What are you doing here? This is private property,” barks the vampire. His eyes twitch left and right, always on the lookout for more attackers as he puffs up. There’s a lot to puff up, too. I’m almost affronted by the implication I couldn’t kill those vampires on my lonesome, but in this case, it would be wise of me to shut up.
“It’s not your property, that’s for sure,” I reply and daintily step closer to the would-be security guard. “And I do appreciate your kiss trying to clean up its own messes, but maybe Loreley could make sure you don’t make your hunts an open floor show. That would be great.”
Confusion trickles over his forbidding face. “Loreley? Wha—” He stops himself and shakes his head, lips curved into a grimace of vague disgust. “We’re taking a walk, you and me. Move.”
The four other vampires stay where they are. My keeper herds me towards them with a single, pointed push against my back that almost sends me to the ground. I throw him a dirty look over my shoulder, but keep walking until I’m surrounded. Not my favorite position. Makes my back prickle, having to let it happen.
All five of them are giants, all male, all dark haired. They look like second cousins from parents who were too closely related to be having fun with each other and I don’t like the way they stare at me. It’s not hunger, not even hate or interest. Their eyes focus on me like a cat would focus on a mouse happening to stroll by. Dispassionate, but very, very attentive.
Now that they have me surrounded, they relax slightly. The one to my left, as indistinguishable from each other as the rest of them, looks me up and down and clicks his tongue. “You one of the Hunters?” he asks, his accent a heavy, hoarse melody that doesn’t match his effortless English. He sounds like a well-coached movie villain.
My vision readjusts slightly, now that I’m out in the open. I still feel the venom coursing through me, mellowing me when I should be sharp, but it’s getting better. I take a measured breath and nod deferentially. “I am, actually.”
He sniffs and shifts, throwing a side glance at the bodies. His voice lilts, like he can’t believe he’s even considering someone like me could kill his people. “You do that?”
“Yes.” Lying would be stupid. Their dead friends have bullet holes and I have an empty gun. Even if their senses weren’t heightened, they’d still be able to put two and two together. “They interfered with my hunt. I assumed they didn’t get Loreley’s notice in time, but that’s not my fault.”
The head vampire flares his nose and balls his fists, staring at me like I just shat on his boot. A jerk of his chin sends one of his goon-twins scampering off hastily. The sound of dead meat flapping around fills the nightly courtyard as he flips over the dead and looks through their pockets. “Shot,” he proclaims and moves on to the next body. And all though this, the dead-eyed leader never takes his eyes off me. And to top it off, I can feel the other three spearing my body with their stares, silent and unmoving. Lurking. By the time the goon has finished his inspections, I’m positively squirming. And cold. And fucking tired of everything.
“Happy now? I’ve got places to be.”
The head vampire shakes his head minutely, then relaxes his jaw. A small scar appears in the corner of his mouth when his frown wrinkles even out. “Not yet. Why did you kill them?”
Why, indeed. ‘Because they tortured a vampire I’ve just met and it didn’t sit right with me’ probably won’t fly. Telling them about the strange connection between Cor and me wouldn’t go over well either. And I will never, ever, mention the thing with the venom where I almost humped a caveman vampire because he drooled on my neck. Nope. I blink and give him my best Mona Lisa smile. “They were hunting a witness to a breach of Contract and I couldn’t let them kill him,” I say mildly. Then I take a risk. “Maybe you know him. Big guy, although not quite as big as you, but still impressive. Fast. Wild. Didn’t seem to care he was dressed in nothing but rotting tatters. Ran off as soon as I cleared a path for him, unfortunately.” I pause and watch the twitches on my opponent’s face. “You know where I can find him?”
The leader knows exactly who I’m talking about and he doesn’t like what he’s hearing. It’s not that he shows much of anything, he is way too controlled for that, but rather what he doesn’t show. He freezes, ceases to move, and if he wasn’t breathing and blinking ever so often, I would think time has stopped. His eyes sit like sharpened coals in his rugged face, a hatred too intense for words boiling through those dark orbs. This isn’t anything I did. Whatever makes him feel that much rage has been brewing for a long time. And maybe, just maybe, I shouldn’t poke at it again.
The he seems to remember who I am and why I’m here. He comes back to life a different person, licks his lower lip and readjusts his stance. I wouldn’t call it squirming, he’s too bulky for that, but it’s a good attempt at it. And the rage is gone, leaving the stage for something that looks entirely too much like worry.
Not that it makes much of a difference. He ignores my question and snaps his fingers, then crosses his arms. “Where did you meet him?” he asks, his accent making a growl of his voice. “Maybe we can help each other out.”
The corpse flipper grunts at the snap and takes off toward the building I came out of in a jog. Another goon says something in a language I can’t place, turns and walks off in a quick trot, trailing the path I took to get here like a fucking blood hound. I turn my head and watch him as he examines the wall I climbed, then look back to the more imminent threat.
I allow myself a moment to ponder his question. I have entirely too little information to make any sort of guess how the pus-vampire could be connected to Cor or these guys, but I’m sure that Cor won’t go back to the hospital. Which means I can tell them about what happened there. They could probably even give me what I want most: more information about Cor and how he ended up where I found him. I could simply ask them. If I weren’t so sure they put him into that silver coffin, I wouldn’t be able to resist. With things being as they are, though…
“There’s an old hospital about five blocks south from here. Big metal fence, loads of overgrowth, it’s almost hidden from view. My partner and I got a tip that the supe killing off theology students might hide out there, so we checked it out. Turns out the tip was spot on, although I’m not sure that beast really was a vampire.”
The shudders come unbidden. It’s such a simple word, but the goon still makes it into a demand, a curse, a question, and a threat all in one. His face doesn’t move, his expession doesn’t change, but I still tense at the unspoken, cold warning in his voice.
I hesitate and chew my lip. How to put what I saw into words? “He was fast. Very fast. There in a blink, gone in the next. But he looked… sickly. I don’t know how else to put it. Broils and pus everywhere, almost frail, pale, inhuman. I’ve never seen a vampire look like that.” Not that I’ve seen any vampires outside of photographs and home movies, but I’m reasonably sure I’m right. “I don’t know how else to describe it, but he looked like he had the plague. Like he was rotting right in front of my eyes.”
One of the last two remaining goons hisses through clenched teeth, his face paling. “Isegrim,” he snarls. The leader turns and punches him without so much as a blink, and the goon goes down with a sickening crackle of broken bones. The leader turns back to me and snarls an angry, “continue.” An order, not a request.
Okay then. I store that name away for now and stutter through the next few words before I catch myself. “As I said, we found him and he was dead set on making it as hard as possible for us to kill him. He even threw a bunch of thralls at us. My partner bailed on me and I had to take cover in a room with a coffin. A silver one. And when the vampire tried to break in, the coffin lid snapped open.”
The leader shouts out a curse before I can continue my little tale of half-truth, turning away and letting off a staccato of unpleasantness that I luckily don’t understand. It sounds like Swedish or Icelandic, and now I’m having a hard time not picturing the goons as vikings. One of the dead bodies falls victim to the burst of anger, getting both stomped on and kicked at until one arm detaches and sails off into the darkness.
Yep. No poking the angry viking. And no hurling until they are gone. I swallow convulsively to keep the sick down and close my eyes as I take slow, shallow breaths.
When I open them again, the vampires are gone.