Authors: Terry Spear
They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an infringement on the copyright of this work.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
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Copyright © 2009 by Terry Spear
Edited by Jennifer Mil er
Cover by Scott Carpenter
Al Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
First Samhain Publishing, Ltd. electronic publication: March 2009
I dedicateDeadly Liaisonsto my mother, who introduced me to my first vampire story, a play at West Texas A&M opening night, where everything that could malfunction did. From the actors repeatedly tripping over a rug onstage, to the mist disappearing before Dracula slipped down through the trapdoor, we loved it! And years later, I enjoyed seeing Dracula on Broadway, which again made a wonderful impression. I thank my daughter for al the help she gives, and my family for al their encouragement. To my Rebel Romance critique partners who weren’t “into” vampires until they read mine and now several write their own versions. To my editor who helped to make this the best it can be. And especial y to my fans who make writing the stories al worthwhile. Enjoy!Chapter One
Streetlamps poked scant fingers of light into the gray fog coating the warehouse district, deserted at the ungodly hour.Perfectconditions for another murder.
Unable to slow her racing heart, she feared the renegade vampire would hear the blood whooshing through her veins, begging him to take her life also.
Not far from where she stood, the dried blood of the three policemen murdered last week—their jugulars ripped out—stained the pavement.Too close for comfort. She wanted to move away from the spot, to distance herself from the recent kil ings, to be anywhere but here.
She peered into the murkiness, straining to see any sign of movement, listening for any human sound. Where the hel was the police officer she was to meet?
Come alone, Officer Stevens had warned. And she’d obeyed. Had to, if she was to learn the bloodsucker’s name. Yet, she couldn’t shake free of the feeling she’d been set up. Though she’d risk anything to learn who had murdered her parents.
Drawing in a deep breath, she felt like she’d stuck her head in a freezer and taken a good strong whiff. Even the turtleneck, leather jacket, matching pants and knee-high boots she wore couldn’t keep out the chil —typical Oregon autumn.
She poked her wristwatch again. Stevens said he would be here—ten minutes ago.
Dread bunched in the pit of her stomach. It was eerily like ten years before when three police officers had been murdered, except she was a sixteen-year-old huntress-in-training then, not yet an investigator with the Special Crimes Unit. She stared into the mist, half expecting Patrico to meet her like he’d promised ten years ago. A senior member of the League Council, he was the only one who’d believed in her theory that a vampire had murdered the police officers. That the same vampire had kil ed her parents. But Patrico never showed up and later was found dead—here—as if this was the vampire’s favorite kil ing ground.
The mist thickened, enveloping her, sending a shiver up her spine. Was it him? The bloodsucker she vowed to destroy? Would he kilherthis time?
Dammit, get a grip!
Unnatural y, the air warmed around her. The mist caressed her hair, leaving the strands wet down her back, her cheeks moist and her jacket dimpled with speckles of water. The faint fragrance of Green Irish Tweed—the same cologne her father had worn a decade ago—haunted her.
It washim. The vampire spawned from hel , wearing the cologne he’d stolen from her parents’ home so long ago. Her skin crawled with dread. She concentrated on his emotions—cool, col ected, amused. The mist thickened around her, like al the other times he’d plagued her when she was out in the open during the evening hours or on a gray day.Him,not the usual weather-induced vapor.
Muscles tensed, she touched her wrist blades to ensure they were in place. Instinctively, she grasped for the sword sheathed at her waist, the silver blade capable of destroying a rogue vampire with just a nick to his heart. Though while he was in the form of mist, she couldn’t harm him. Not until he shape-shifted into something that had a heart. Shehmpfdunder her breath. Heart? He had none—in any manifestation.
“Show yourself, you bastard, let’s end this now.”With a whoosh, she unsheathed the sword. If only she’d kil ed him long ago, but it was too late now for regrets. Too late, yet she kept rehashing her mistake. If she hadn’t taunted the bastard with her telepathic ability…
“Tezra.”The serial-kil er vampire whispered her name telepathical y, intimately, as if they were lovers.
Before her emotions could unravel any further, a man cal ed out, “Tezra Campbel !”
Her heart jumped. Officer Stevens! His footsteps stalked in her direction.
Before she could shout back and let him know her location, the footsteps and their echo died.
“Officer Stevens?” She hastened toward the last sound of him, her sword readied, her skin prickling with apprehension. She knew when he didn’t respond, when his footfal s died…
Tears pricked her eyes, and she slowed her pace.
Her breath caught, and she froze. Crumpled on the ground, Officer Stevens appeared like the other three police officers had a week ago, nothing more than discarded refuse.
With a hesitant step, she drew closer. “Officer Stevens?”
A different fragrance lingered in the air—sandalwood. The officer’s? Or someone else’s?
She paused and attempted to sense another vampire’s presence. To see if the emotions nearby were different from those exhibited by the one who had murdered her parents. A barrage of rage from the vampire hit her. She’d never felt that kind of blind anger from the kil er who’d murdered her family. No, he was cool and always composed, as if he played a game. Not so with Stevens’s attacker. He seemed bent on revenge. She tightened her hand on her sword, but she had to see to Stevens.
Sword stil readied, she crouched beside the police officer. Her free hand trembled as she felt his wrist. Warm, barely any pulse. Then his heartbeat stopped. Her head pounding, she reached up and jostled his shoulder. Part of her brain knew it was already too late, but the other half couldn’t assimilate the truth. Stevens fel back against the asphalt. A strangled cry escaped her lips.
The man’s blue eyes stared vacantly, his mouth gaping. Blood spil ed from his torn jugular onto the pavement and touched the tips of her boots. As if the bloodsucker had been rabid, angered beyond reason, the monster had ripped Stevens’s throat open, dug his fangs al the way to the spine, breaking it and leaving a shower of blood on the asphalt and nearby warehouse brick wal .
Nausea swamped her. She bolted away from the body and emptied the contents of her stomach. At the same instant, she sensed the vampire who’d murdered her parents changing into a solid form, his aura ancient, one of those turned by the Black Death that swept through Europe in 1347.
Staring into the mist, she gripped her sword tighter. Wolf? Bird? Maniacal man? What form would he take to terrorize her this time?
This was how she’d learn the bloodsucker’s name tonight. He’d give it to her before he kil ed her.
“You wish my name, sweet Tezra.”The air rippled with his calming presence, different from the other murdering vampire, whose antagonism she stil sensed close by.“You shall soon know it.”A hint of dark promise coated his telepathic communication, then the atmosphere of tranquility vanished and she knew he was gone.
Ten years ago, she thought she could unsettle him by showing off her telepathic ability, taunting him with the knowledge she knew he’d kil ed the police officers, hoping he’d make a mistake and she’d learn his name. Then she could have turned him over to the Council of Hunters and they would have terminated him for the murders he’d committed.
Until he showed her just how powerful he could be. By murdering her parents and then Patrico, he proved how naïve and stupid she had been as a gul ible sixteen-year-old huntress-in-training. If she could only turn back time…cloak her abilities like she had always done…
But it was too late now. The terror of the night her parents died could never be reversed.
The remaining vampire stil lurked nearby. As angry as he was, she was certain he murdered Officer Stevens and the officers a week ago, based on how identical the kil ings were. Now she had to investigate two serial kil ers who used different methods of operation—one who’d kil ed police officers recently and the other a decade ago. Yet the fact both were here at the same time indicated they were in col usion.
Focus, she commanded herself. She stared into the misty dark and attempted to sense anything further about the vampire. He remained silent, motionless. She reached out her empathic abilities and sensed anger stil seething in the being hidden from her sight—close enough to make her skin crawl.
Jerking her cel phone off her belt, Tezra cal ed her best friend. “Mandy,” she choked out.
“What’s wrong, Tezra?” the police dispatcher asked, her voice ripe with concern.
“Let Chief O’Mal ey know there’s another police officer down. Dead.” Her hand shook, and she fought to gain control of her emotions. “Warehouse district.”
“I-I’l tel the boss,” Mandy said. “Who was it?”
“Don’t let the Special Crimes Unit get wind there’s been another murder or that I’m here or there’l be hel to pay.”
“Yes, al right. Can you hold?”
“Yeah, but hurry the guys out here, wil you?” It didn’t matter Tezra was a highly skil ed investigator or trained in self-defense by the Special Crimes Unit. The fog, the cold, the sight of Officer Stevens’s body and the dreadful sensation that the murderer of the police officers lurked nearby put her on edge. If only he’d show himself, she’d prove to the SCU she had what it took to be a huntress.
Tezra paced to warm her chil ed blood, the cel phone pressed against her ear while she waited for further word. Her gaze focused on the area she sensed the vampire loitered.
“Tezra?” Mandy said, breaking into her concentration. “Chief O’Mal ey wants to talk to you.”
Tezra waited for the questions he was bound to ask. Why had Stevens planned to meet her here? Had she seen who’d kil ed him?
“Investigator Campbel , a couple of units are on their way,” he said, his voice strangely gruff.
“If the SCU learns about this, they’l be al over the case. You know I’m not al owed to work any high profile cases right now.”
She was not a rogue, dammit. Yet, that’s what the powers-that-be at the SCU always tossed in her face—“borderline renegade”. If she didn’t get a grip, she’d be eliminated from the SCU forever. So what was she supposed to do? Review smal -
time cases—a vampire biting a woman without her express permission, a case of a vampire changing an underage human.
Sure, the vampire crimes weren’t acceptable. And sure, they needed investigators handling cases such as these. But she had a cal ing to right the bigger wrongs. Some investigators were more geared to handling the mundane stuff and were happy to do it. Not her. She real y wanted to be a huntress—terminating vampires who murdered in cold blood.
Hunters of vampires had been affected by the same plague vampires were centuries earlier. The hunters’ blood had resisted the virus to a greater extent, but had also mutated to a certain degree. The increased strength and ability to hear like vampires set them apart from humans unaffected by the plague. Unlike vampires, hunters didn’t have the thirst for blood, couldn’t shape-shift, exist as semi-immortals, or see in the dark—though that aspect would be real y handy right about now—and rarely had telepathic abilities.
It was as if balance had to be brought back to the world. The hunters were capable of dealing with vampires who chose to murder helpless victims when most mere humans didn’t have the strength to fight them.
So technical y, she was a huntress from birth, only due to SCU politics her job was investigating crimes instead of serving as a huntress who terminated the evil vampires.
“Yeah, but I wantyouto handle the investigation,” the chief said.
Tezra shoved a wet curl off her cheek. “You know how the higher-ups are. When it comes to cases like this, they choose their own investigators with no direction from any other law enforcement agency. Hel , they’re like the FBI when it comes to dealing with local policing agencies.”
She was stil waiting for the chief to question her as to why she was here in the first place. Her typical y overactive imagination was already dredging up al kinds of murderous scenarios, one involving the chief. She real y had to get a hold on reality.
He was mute for so long, she thought her phone had disconnected. “Chief?”
“I know who kil ed your parents.”
Feeling like she’d been kicked in the chest, she could barely breathe. Then for an instant, she thought something moved closer to her.
She readied her sword to swing it in case the vampire changed to solid form and encroached on her space. There were no sounds in the warehouse district—no traffic noises or birds chirping at this time of night, and because of the cold—no bugs, nothing but the rapid beat of her heart sending the blood rushing like Niagara Fal s into her ears.
But there was no warmth like she’d felt before either. She saw nothing but the unrelenting fog, the dead officer, the blood puddled on the pavement, the red contrasting with the gray. She took another deep breath and could smel no odor but the wet, chil y air.
Maybe the vampire had left. She couldn’t sense his anger any longer.
“Who was it?” she asked, her voice rushed, certain before the chief could tel her, the murdering vampire would silence him too.
She let out a breath. She considered hundreds of leads she’d had, but the name didn’t mean anything to her. “How—?”
“I’ve sent the units and want you to take charge.”
She parted her lips to speak, but the phone clicked dead, the name “Krustalus” lingering like an open lesion in her mind.
But that didn’t matter. If Krustalus kil ed her parents, he was hers to terminate.
She pocketed her phone, tightened her hand over the grip of her sword and listened for the arrival of police vehicles bringing more city cops to aid her. She stretched out her ability to sense other beings, searching for any sign of the evil that might stil lurk nearby. Then the distant wailing of police sirens pierced the fog.
She cursed under her breath. She’d warned both Mandy and the chief to maintain this under wraps until she had time to investigate! So much for keeping the murders quiet for a little while.
She had to get tissue samples from the dead policeman before the SCU learned she was working on the case without their permission. She had to confirm that the same vampire who kil ed Stevens had murdered the officers of the week before and ensure he wasn’t Krustalus.
The whining sirens jangled her already raw nerves.Can you make it any more obvious?she wanted to scream. Maybe if the police stayed off the radios—now monitored closely by the SCU after the police had botched another case and eliminated an innocent vampire—she’d get away with her investigation one more time.
Tezra’s skin prickled while the ten city police officers aiding her investigation studied her every move. At least she no longer sensed the vampire who had most likely murdered Stevens in the area.
Attempting to ignore the uneasiness growing in the pit of her stomach, she turned Officer Stevens’s head and considered the way the vampire’s fangs had dug al the way to the spine, breaking it.
But then something else seized her attention, held her hostage.
“A dark huntress.”The words hissed in her mind, his threatening telepathic communication forcing a chil into the marrow of her bones. Not Krustalus. Not the angry vampire either. Someone else.
Involved in the crimes also? Or just curious?
Having the rare gift of being able to read anyone’s mind in the vicinity, she knew the policemen’s thoughts, and none triggered her concern like whoever this was. The police already knew she was SCU. Hidden from her sight—watching her like a predator waiting for the right moment to proceed with the kil —he recognized she was not just another city police officer.
And not just a huntress by birth, but a borderline rogue. She frowned. How had he known?
With the skil of an ancient telepath and empath, she sent mental tendrils into the mist, trying to sense his emotions, listening for any further telepathic communication, dangerously drawn to the creature. But what was it that made him different from the rest?
A hint of sexual fascination—he desired her, to a degree. And the notion intrigued her, when it shouldn’t.
She shook loose of the perilous feelings sucking her in and realized six of them—not just the one—silently watched, sitting on warehouse rooftops across the street, al newly arrived.
She sensed curiosity from the unseen beings in the fog. They must have turned up while she was concentrating on her investigation. Which was the problem with being an empath. Like listening to several conversations at once and not hearing any, she couldn’t concentrate on multiple tasks at the same time. She had to focus—and now, that’s just what she was doing.
Trying to sense if any of these newcomers were in complicity with the murdering bloodsuckers.
Unique as a voice, their telepathic messages reached out to one another, communicating freely amongst themselves
—assuming no human could hear them.
“Bad news,”one said. There was no malice in his tone, only soft regret.
Another grunted.“Knew it would come to this.”
From farther away in the old warehouse district, one hissed.“Like hell you did.”
“It’ll get much worse before it gets better.”This one sounded like the seer of doom.“She won’t be able to deter him any morethan…”
The vampire seer of doom quit speaking when the one who’d tagged her as a dark huntress growled his disapproval and again communicated to the others.“A huntress from the Special Crimes Unit.”
The others instantly grew silent as if he warned them this investigation was now in the hands of a different kind of predator. One who could more readily seek out the rogue vampire and have him terminated.
Another glided in on the fickle breeze in raven’s form, swooping too close to her for a normal bird, too late at night to be anything but a shape-shifting vampire. Checking her out? Taunting her?
He flew to one of the flat warehouse rooftops. Like a flock of birds of prey, they stood on top of the two-story brick buildings observing, their communications silenced. Like an invisible energy field ful of electrical activity, the ancient vampires’ auras radiated more power than the others’. Three had lived many centuries.
Tezra prayed with fervor they knew who murdered the police officers, would spil their secret, and tonight she would have the identity of the beast.
Boots tromped toward her at a hurried pace. Il umination from the police flashlights reflected off the fog, casting an eerie glow over the few visible feet.
Before the body belonging to the heavy footsteps came into view, she knew who it was. Bernard, her hunter watchdog, short, squat, mean and determined, like a wel -trained Rottweiler. His broad nose had been broken in a barroom brawl. A raised welt across one cheek—where a vampire’s extended canine had dragged across it before Bernard kil ed him—had left a permanent white scar on Bernard’s otherwise tanned face, adding to his roguish appearance. His stifling sweet cologne and the heavy odor of onions on his breath reached her when he drew close.
She ignored him, knowing he’d question her reason for being here even if Chief O’Mal ey failed to. If it meant locating her parents’ murderer, she wouldn’t give up the investigation, not even for the head honchos at the SCU.
Bernard crouched beside her. His black hair, normal y neatly bound, dangled loose about his shoulders, which meant someone had roused him from his bed, most likely yanked him from the arms of a sleeping woman. He leaned even closer and spoke in a hushed, harsh voice. “The SCU didn’t approve your taking this job.”
She offered him as straight a face as she could muster. “The City asked me to check into it and the SCU agreed to the arrangement.”
Bernard stared at her, his blue eyes widening. The bushy black brows that bridged his nose elevated. “Your name isn’t on the active investigators list,” he said, his voice wary.
Nope, the SCU had removed her name from the list of officers credentialed to investigate high-profile renegade vampires. And definitely wouldn’t have approved it. But if she could bamboozle Bernard…
“Special assignment,” she prevaricated.
He gave her a look like he didn’t believe her, then considered the dead officer. “So what do you think is going on?”
He gave her a look like he didn’t believe her, then considered the dead officer. “So what do you think is going on?”
Thank heavens he was going to let her get away with it. He was probably as concerned as she was about the kil ings—the SCU
be damned for not al owing her to search for the truth. “I’m wondering what madness propel ed him to murder these officers.”
She couldn’t shake loose the images of the ones she’d examined years earlier. “Remember those cop murders from ten years ago? The three officers slain by a hunter’s sword?”
“Yeah, so what has that got to do with this case?”
“I think the recent kil ings are connected to the earlier ones somehow, but that two different vampires committed the atrocities.
Although a more farfetched theory is that only one bloodsucker is involved and after al these years he changed his MO. In that case, he could be trying to cloak the older kil ings. Or is his mind teetering on the brink of madness, like a human serial kil er who has to murder for the compulsion and thril ?”
Thankful y, Bernard voiced no opinion while she tried to work out the scenario aloud.
“No, too implausible. Two vampires were here tonight. Krustalus—the vampire who murdered my parents—taunted me, but I’m sure he didn’t kil Officer Stevens. Speaking with me, then eliminating the officer isn’t his way. Too easy to assume he did the kil ing. Besides, the sandalwood cologne I smel ed was someone else’s. Or was that his ploy? Confuse the issue? But no, another was there who seemed angry with the world and continued to loiter a while longer. Gloating over the kil ing, probably.
Maybe wanting to see what I’d do next.”
She paused, afraid she’d let her empathic secret slip. Bernard’s expression darkened, but thankful y he didn’t ask how she knew another vampire was there.
“Krustalus? You have a name now for the one you claim kil ed your parents?”
“Chief O’Mal ey gave it to me.”
His frown deepening, Bernard considered the dead officer again. “Your guess is as good as mine.”
Grinding her teeth, she vowed to catch them both.
She motioned to a policeman. “Measure how deeply the teeth sank into the officer’s throat, and have the medical examiner send the tissue samples to me. Oh, and find out what cologne he wore.”
The officer raised a brow quizzical y. “Yes, ma’am.”
“You come from a long line of investigators and hunters with the SCU,” Bernard said to Tezra. “Hel , I think you’re the only current member who has ties to some of the first who settled in America prior to the Revolutionary War. You don’t want to be the first one in your family to be kicked out.”
“Second, but who’s counting?” She was proud of her heritage, but the SCU wouldnotdictate to her when it came to proving the vampire—Krustalus—murdered her parents!
“The situation with your Grandmother Irving isn’t the same. Becoming the rogue vampire’s lover when she was supposed to eliminate him—”
“I stil can’t fathom why she did it.” The thought any huntress would set aside her convictions to fool around with a renegade vampire curdled Tezra’s blood.
She rose to her feet and studied the surrounding warehouse district. Except for the brick building poking out of the mist six feet from where she stood, she couldn’t see a blamed thing.
“You’re setting yourself up on this one,” Bernard growled. “Why?”
“The SCU doesn’t feel this job warrants one of their more prominent Special Crime investigators, so they gave it to me as a special assignment. Just to get me off their backs for a while.” She hoped she wouldn’t be struck dead for lying, but it was the only way to continue her work to determine the truth behind al the kil ings. Under her breath she added, “The targeted victims are eerily similar to the ones murdered ten years ago—same occupation, precinct, approximate age, and al male.” And the fact that Krustalus was here when Stevens was murdered? He had to be connected somehow to the recent ones too.
She faced the police officer in charge of the site. “I’l give a report to your chief by midday tomorrow.”
“That police dispatcher, Mandy Salazar, hooked you into this job, didn’t she?” Bernard asked.
Heading for her car, Tezra didn’t answer him.
“She’s bound to be the death of you.”
“True,”the seer-of-doom vampire said.
Tezra fought looking in the direction where he stood and said to Bernard instead, “Listen, despite the SCU frowning on my relationship with Mandy, she’s been my friend for the past four years.” She gave Bernard a scathing look. “When I needed someone, you were there for me, and so was she. I don’t care that members of the elite vampire investigative and elimination unit don’t normal y socialize with regular police. Since when have you known me to live strictly by SCU rules?”
She shoved her ice-cold fingers into her pockets. “But no, Mandy didn’t solicit my help in solving the crimes this time.”
And neither had the police chief. Just Officer Stevens’s urgent communication sent privately to her:Come alone and I’ll tell youthe name of the vampire who murdered your parents. Warehouse district. An hour from now.
Had the bloodsucker forced Stevens to lure Tezra here, using his vampiric abilities to persuade his victim? So that she would witness Stevens’s death firsthand? Yet, the vampire didn’t show himself, wouldn’t give her the chance to fight or identify him.
Bernard growled. “Hel , you know Mandy likes women better than men, and a lot of guys are beginning to infer things about your relationship with her.”
One of the vampires snickered.“That negates my interest in the dark huntress.”
“Wouldn’t stop me,”another said.
“Silence!”the one who’d original y cal ed her a dark huntress said.
He was the one who intrigued her the most. Since he seemed to be in charge of the others, did he know anything concerning the murders?
Trying to ignore the vampires’ telepathic communication, but not about to take Bernard’s bait, Tezra raised a brow. “Aren’t you supposed to be sleeping or something?”
“Senior Member Ingrid alerted me you were here without anyone to watch your back.”
Tezra let out her breath, exasperated that the senior staff already knew of her involvement, but surprised Senior Member Ingrid hadn’t told Bernard to stop her. She’d hoped Bernard had gotten wind of it on his own, the way he often did in matters concerning her, playing his bodyguard role to the hilt.
“If you aren’t careful, Bernard, the renegade vampires wil want to eliminate you too.” If he’d kil Patrico and her parents, why not Bernard also, since he was her bodyguard? She didn’t want the bastard vampires to murder anyone else, and Bernard would be a prime target.
Ignoring her warning, he asked, “How do you know it’s a he?”
No vampiric communication now. Everyone waited for her response. Wouldn’t they be surprised to learn their own words confirmed the murderer was a he?
“Deeper bite marks. Severely crushed windpipe. The vampire who did this appears to have an uncontrol able rage.” No way could she tel Bernard she’d heard the vampires’ communications. Keeping her telepathic and empathic abilities secret was the only way to get along in this crazy, mixed-up world.
“I’l give the senior staff a report on your actions tomorrow morning. They won’t let you continue to conduct the investigation.”
Unruffled, she poked the buttons to the keypad of her Ford Taurus. “It won’t matter now, wil it? I’m already involved in al of this mess, and Krustalus wil continue to come after me. I won’t have a choicebutto terminate him.” The other also, since she was certain he wouldn’t want her to learn his identity and he’d target her for termination next. She didn’t have the legal right to eliminate bloodsuckers except in self-defense, but if she ever confronted either of them face to face, she imagined legalities wouldn’t be an issue. She yanked her door open.
Before she could slip into her car, Bernard seized her arm. “You need a hunter mate to keep you in line.”
“What? You think I belong to that al -exclusive members-only club? Just because a lot of you feel the female investigators and huntresses should marry only within their ranks, don’t include me, buster.”
Tezra sensed one of the vampires’ anger. Internal y, he bit back a hiss.
The others merely watched, intrigued. Would her hunter bodyguard force her to obey? That’s what crossed their egotistical minds. Except for the one. He was different from the rest, his feelings darker, sometimes hidden, sometimes worn across his chest like a banner for al to see. For now, he barely contained his rage, which total y threw her. Why would he care how Bernard treated her?
She jerked her arm free from him. Hunters could be as arrogant as vampires. “Go home to your concubine.”
The murdering vampire wasn’t watching her any longer. But what if the ones who observed them were in league with the murderers? Al they’d have to do was relay everything she said or did to the others. Faking agitation, she poked her finger at Bernard’s chest and raised her voice, wil ing to do anything to keep the kil er vampire from targeting him next. “You’renotan investigator! Leave this to the professionals!”
“Dammit, I know what you’re attempting to do.” His words were couched in anger, and he spoke low for her benefit only.
Bernard growled at her. “You think he’s watching us, and you’re trying to keep me safe. But the SCU cannot afford to lose a bril iant investigator.”
“Bril iant investigator? Why, Bernard, I think you might be interested in me.”
“What’s the use?” He shrugged. “You shun any hunter’s attempt to make you his own.”
“I’m not ready to settle down. Besides, SCU hunters have to keep a squeaky clean profile. None would be interested in a woman who tests the rules so much. Even borderline hunter rogues probably figure I’d get them into even deeper water if they had anything to do with me.”
“You wouldn’t have to settle down completely. Don’t you ever desire something more than this?” He motioned in the direction of the crime scene. Then his cal used fingers touched her cheek, and he leaned down to kiss her lips, his onion breath repulsing her.
“Sorry.” She placed a hand on his chest and stepped back. For now, she was more concerned with how the vampires might see her relationship with him. “Besides, you’re al talk when it comes to settling down. Hel , several women keep your bed warm on alternate nights.” She cocked a brow and his lips curved up. He’d never do as a marital prospect. “Got to go.”
He folded his arms, a frown digging into his temple. “Why the SCU ever selected me to watch over you is beyond my comprehension.”
“They know we get along so wel . Talk to you later.”
He shook his head. “You’l be the death of us both.”
Yeah, if he didn’t keep his nose out of her affairs, she feared one of the murderers would attempt to kil them both. Unfortunately, the stern look on Bernard’s face indicated he wasn’t about to let her do this on her own. She would have to use some stronger tactics of persuasion to convince him to leave wel enough alone, or go underground with this like she’d done concerning the other group of unsolved murders. The SCU definitely wouldn’t approve. Which meant more trouble was bound to head her way.
Glancing in the direction of the buildings where some of the most ancient vampires stil stood, she sensed they represented far more difficulty for her than the Unit could ever dish out.
“Another kil ing, Atreides?” Daemon turned away from his twin brother and again studied the SCU investigator, Tezra Campbel .
He’d gained her name from the police officers’ discussion of her when she was far enough away not to hear their crude comments. Not a few of them wondered what it would be like to peel the leather from her skin and expose the beauty beneath, to rol with her under the sheets, to find out if she was as hot in bed as she looked crouching at a crime scene.
The petite brunette tucked her hip-length hair behind her ear, the leather pants molding to her curvaceous legs and the short-waisted jacket showing off one hel of a sumptuous ass. The black turtleneck wrapped around her throat like protective armor.
Daemon found himself wanting to pul it aside and feel the blood pulsing rapidly through her neck, to taste her tender skin, lap up her warm, sweet blood and sense her tremble beneath his fingertips, drawn to his power.
He clenched his teeth, trying to ignore the feelings she stirred in him. Lust, nothing else, he chided himself. Yet, therewassomething about the woman that drew him in, more than her enticing form or resolute determination to take on a case that would earn her the death penalty from the vampire who had kil ed the police officers. Even more than the way she tried to ensure the hunter’s safety should the rogue vampire target him next.
Daemon could have sworn she touched his mind, though normal y humans couldn’t do such a thing. Yet, the gentle stroke he had felt hadn’t come from a vampiress seeking intimacy. If it had, she would have pursued him and attempted to solicit his response. The touch he had felt had been different, like the mist brushing his skin, softly, almost imperceptibly, there. No quest for sexual fulfil ment, no personal communications meant solely for him. Something secretive, elusive and intimately seductive.
She closed her car door, and the engine roared to life.
“Such is the way of this violent world,” Atreides final y said, as if he’d been caught up in the woman’s mesmerizing qualities too.
Daemon’s twin looked nearly identical to him except for being a tad shorter, his sable hair slightly less dark, and his eyes more of a chestnut brown, paler than Daemon’s. Tonight Atreides wore a black leather trench coat, like he always did when he was on the prowl for a new blood bond. He appeared to be in one of his stranger, unfathomable moods. Something was percolating, but despite Daemon’s attempts to catch glimpses of his thoughts, Atreides kept them shielded. Which meant Atreides was up to something. How many times would he have to get his brother out of some misadventure that might get them both kil ed?
“You had nothing to do with this police kil ing either, Atreides?” Daemon asked.
“Why do you always think so il of me?” Atreides pointed to another warehouse. “More of our kind watch, as curious as we are about who’s kil ing the police officers. So what do you think about the new investigator?”
“She’snota regular police officer, but an investigator with the SCU—worse, a borderline rogue, a dark huntress, who is bound to cause even more trouble.”
Atreides’s lips turned up so slightly, only someone who knew him as wel as Daemon did would have noticed. “Ups the stakes a bit for the kil er, don’t you think?”
The muscle in Daemon’s jaw tightened. “If he kil s her, there’l be an outcry from the SCU. No doubt we’l have another bloodbath on our hands.”
The woman’s car disappeared into the fog.
“Many of us liked the good old days,” Atreides said.
“Back to the slaughtering, back to a time when vampires preyed on humans and SCU hunters eliminated any vampire to even the score. An inhumane period of darkness for humans and vampires.” Daemon shook his head. “You’re not stil angry over Uncle Solomon’s death, are you?”
He knew his brother was. Knew the wound stil festered from losing the last of their natural kin to overzealous cops investigating murders committed by a kil er vampire they hadassumedtheir uncle had been involved in.
“If you want to help the investigator, look elsewhere for the kil er. You know he’l target her next.”
“She’s offered herself like a sacrificial meal.” Daemon grunted. “A foolishly arrogant notion. Though the murderer wil have a more difficult time of it—she’l be easier to kil than a hunter, but infinitely more of an…interesting chal enge for the rogue than the city police officers.”
“Wil you aid her?” His brother’s lips turned up, his eyes sparkling.
“What do you think?” Daemon couldn’t help the sharpness edging his words.
Atreides hesitated to respond, wearing an odd expression that Daemon couldn’t read.
“You respect their work to a degree, but have no more love for them than they have for us,” Atreides final y said.
“Despite your preference for the good old days, Atreides, I want peace for everyone’s sake.”
If Daemon was forced to, he’d help the woman with her investigation to keep that peace. But only if there were no other alternatives.
A strange sense of foreboding washed over him. No matter how much he wanted to stay uninvolved, he couldn’t fight feeling Tezra Campbel would soon need his protection. Nothing worse than tangling with a member of the SCU who viewed vampires with disdain.
“Don’t do anything to get yourself into trouble, Atreides,” Daemon warned, then headed to the police station to find out more details concerning the kil ings. He’d locate the murdererwithoutinvolving himself with the woman.
At least that was the plan.
Except for the second bedroom she’d converted into an office and lab, Tezra’s apartment was cloaked in darkness. Perched on her leather chair, studying samples from two previous kil ings on slides under the microscope, she rubbed her temple to massage the headache brewing there. Too many late-night hours investigating the murders. She took another sip of her coffee and grimaced to find it cold. The phone jangled, shattering the peace and her nerves.
Lifting the receiver she said, “Yes?”
“You…you needed to know about my husband, Officer Stevens?”
“Cynthia Stevens?” Tezra hadn’t thought the bereaved woman would cal her but that someone from the police force would. The sound of the woman’s barely control ed emotions didn’t help Tezra keep her own feelings out of it.
“He…he didn’t wear cologne. My…my husband. He was al ergic to stuff like that. I couldn’t even wear perfume or he’d…”
Cynthia broke into fitful sobbing.
“I’m…I’m so sorry, Cynthia. I…I wish I could have saved him.”
“You? What could you have done against the demon? He’l …he’l kil them al .” The phone clicked dead in Tezra’s ear.
He’ll kill them all,echoed in Tezra’s tired brain. He’l kil who al ? Al the men at the precinct? She slowly let out her breath. Hel , now what? She needed to know what Cynthia knew, but she figured the widow was too distraught to question at the moment.
But the business about the cologne…didn’t it prove that two vampires were present tonight? One wearing her father’s cologne, the other wearing sandalwood? And Krustalus had attempted seductive solicitation while the other vampire was fil ed with rage?
She glanced at her watch. Where the hel were the new tissue samples?
As if in answer to her unspoken query, her front door opened. She knew damn wel she had locked it. It shut with an ominous click. She sat frozen, listening for footsteps. There was no sound save the central heater rumbling as hot air spil ed through the overhead vent.
Slowly, she slid her chair away from the desk toward her sword. A rush of adrenaline flooded her system, readying her for the perceived danger.
Before she could reach her sword, a man appeared in the doorway of her office and silently observed her. An ancient vampire.
Since she had not invited him in, who the hel had? And why had he come through the front door? A game, maybe. To give her warning he was on his way, taunting her. Or perhaps to ensure she was al alone in the apartment, to avoid complications should there be a hunter here to protect her back, lounging in bed, waiting for her to finish her work.
The vampire’s dark brown eyes watched her with unblinking severity. His sinister look and the size of him—six-feet, broad-shouldered—chil ed her to the bone. Dressed in black slacks, shoes and a satin shirt, large-col ared with ful sleeves, he reminded her of a wel -clothed pirate. The buttons opened halfway down his chest revealed a smidgeon of dark brown hair, triggering the notion he was marketing his goods—to conquer, to wil her to him, to sate his hunger. He looked starved while he devoured every inch of her with his sexist glare.
Bolting from the chair, Tezra yanked her sword out of its stand next to the desk. Her heart thundered, and she knew the blood pulsing rapidly through her veins would trigger his bloodlust. Yet, he watched, no reaction at al .
“How did you get in?” she snapped. She spread her feet apart, giving herself better balance, preparing herself for his attack.
“What have you learned about the kil er?” His voice, dark and deep, could seduce a female human easily into offering her throat to him before he bit into her jugular.
“Why? Are you afraid I’ve told the police who you are?”
His lips twitched.
She didn’t waver in her stance. She couldn’t kil him unless she was certain he was a rogue. Then again, if he advanced on her, she’d assume the worst.
“If that were so, what name did you give?” He walked over to her microscope, leaned down and peered into it as if he owned the place.
Her ire grew.
Since the distance between them remained the same, she shifted to ensure she stil would meet him head-on if he attacked.
Her hands clammy, her sword grew heavy while she kept it raised and ready for a fight.
The nameDaemonflittered across his mind…and hers.
Daemon looked up from the slides when she didn’t respond.
“Your name’s Daemon.” She would have enjoyed the fleeting look of surprise that crossed his face if it wasn’t for the danger he represented.
He opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again. He rose to his ful height. “How do you know my name?”
She wasn’t afraid of him. Being kil ed by a vampire in the line of duty was an honorable way to die, though she wasn’t real y contemplating defeat. “I’ve been investigating you,” she lied.
He studied her, trying to break through her mental barriers to find the truth. The gentle probes stretched out to her, attempting to locate a weakness in her resolve, but her telepathic shield to keep him from penetrating her thoughts remained in place. His face grew shadowed in darkness. “When you wish to be honest, you can do some work for me.”
She raised her brows.Conceited bastard. “Why have you kil ed the policemen?”
“Dark huntress,”he telepathical y said, his gaze wil ing her to surrender to his superiority, his charm.
Pursing her lips, she fought showing her surprise. He was the one who’d tagged her as a dark huntress while she was investigating Stevens’s murder. The same vampire who’d seemed sexual y fascinated with her. The one who appeared to be in charge. Her skin tingled with fresh awareness, though she tried to keep her reaction neutral.
Then with a noble air, he cocked his head slightly as if dismissing her question. “You’l get nothing from me until you tel me how you know my name and have connected me with these crimes.”
No one knew of her telepathic abilities except Krustalus. Not even what was left of her family. And she aimed to keep it that way.
No way did she want the SCU to use her like they had her Aunt Jessica and her aunt’s lover, Camil a. The organization had manipulated them to find out information—even going so far as to pry into areas the SCU shouldn’t.
“How did you get into my apartment?” she asked again, her voice razor sharp.
Daemon appeared only mildly annoyed, as if she were an insignificant pest. “If you won’t cooperate, so be it.” He waved his hand and vanished, sifting in the way of the vampire, their movement so fast, the eye couldn’t fol ow.
A chil trickled down her skin. She couldn’t help feeling he was the invisible man, watching her. She knew he wasn’t here since vampires could not hang about in a completely invisible state, but that didn’t dilute the unnerving feeling that a part of him lingered in her office—maybe because she stil detected the faint aroma of his spicy cologne. Nor could she wipe out the tingling in her brain where he tried to penetrate her defenses.
A knock on her door sounded, making her jump half out of her skin. Certain it was final y the police officers with the tissue samples from the crime scene, she strode down the hal to the front door, ready to give them a tongue lashing for arriving so late. She couldn’t crush the anger swirling in her blood that someone—probably her apartment manager—had let the vampire into her place, either. Now, Daemon could return anytime he wanted. She peeked out the peephole and was only vaguely surprised to see her faithful hunter watchdog, Bernard, standing on the porch. Icy blue eyes and his haggard face warned her of trouble.
She opened the door, but before he even spoke, a hint of red caught her eye, and her gaze shifted to the parking lot.
A police officer lay deathly stil next to her car, the blood pooling from his throat onto the gray concrete slab.Chapter Two
After careful y examining the officer’s body, Tezra discovered he wasn’t carrying any tissue samples—ifhe had been the one bringing them to her. A gold wedding band encircling his finger looked brand new, and her heart sank deeper. She examined his I.D.Alex Mitchell.
Hating she had to make another cal like this tonight, she contacted Mandy, explained the details of the murder, then repocketed her phone. She considered the way he’d been kil ed, the same MO as the others. Why hadn’t the police taken more precautions? Cynthia’s words came back to haunt her.He’ll kill them all.
“Pack your things. You’re coming home with me,” Bernard said, his words spoken as an order but in a monotone fashion, not gruffly, not braced with a hint of fight as she expected.
“It’l take me a minute.” She touched the policeman’s hand. He looked much younger than the others, a rookie? Not the same as the other kil ings. The kil er’s way of tel ing her to leave the case alone? She swal owed hard, but her throat was dusty dry.
When Bernard didn’t say anything, she glanced up at him. He appeared confused, not bargaining for her to sweetly agree? No smart-ass reply? Man, he had to be awful y tired if he was going to give her the silent treatment.
She surveyed the mist, but didn’t sense anyone in the area. “Did you kick your bed guest out already? Where am I supposed to sleep?”
Bernard motioned to the apartment. “Get packed. I’l watch for the police.”
She hesitated, not used to giving up a crime scene before the officials arrived, but it was looking bad for her always to be the first one at the scene of the crime. He stared at her as if annoyed she wouldn’t do as he asked.
“Al right.” She returned to her apartment and looked around at the chintz-covered sofas, the light wood furniture, the first she’d had since she’d been on her own. As soon as she could, she had to move her belongings to a new secure place. Somewhere the vampire, Daemon, couldn’t enter at wil .Damn him.
She stalked into her bedroom. Covered in a pale blue comforter, her bed waited for her like a lover with open arms. She realized then how exhausted she truly was. Tired of the kil ings, of chasing the vampire but not cornering him, of worrying about another murderer who might kil more, tired of getting nowhere fast. She fil ed her leather bag with clothes, personal items and two hunter’s swords.
Bernard’s couch made into a double bed in his studio apartment. Shereallydidn’t want to sleep with him. But the SCU senior staff must have sent him for her, and with Daemon gaining access to her place and another police kil ing—this one too close to home—it was just as wel she stayed somewhere else for the night.
She returned to the living room where Bernard stared back at her, his eyes tired.
“Why aren’t you waiting for the police?” she asked, her voice rising an octave.
No sirens this time? She shook her head and handed her suitcase to Bernard.
Would the SCU put a real stop to her investigation? She pul ed the door open, planning to go to Bernard’s pad. As soon as he fel sound asleep, she’d leave and find a place where she could investigate undisturbed.
When she and Bernard left her apartment, she glanced in the direction of her car. No body. “Where’s the crime scene? The tape? The police?”
“The SCU’s handling it.”
Bernard tossed her bag into the backseat of his pickup. His blue eyes seemed to hide some deep-seated sorrow. When she tried to read his mind, it was void of any thoughts, just like her mind would blank out when she was real y tired.
She glanced back at the spot where the officer had lain.
Damn the Special Crimes Unit.As fast as they’d handled the site, they must have brought an army. “Which officer is handling it now?”
Bernard didn’t reply.
With the lateness of the hour, she figured he was as exhausted as she was. Or maybe he was more exasperated with her than usual.
That something more was amiss didn’t register—not until they were on their way across town to his place, and it final y dawned on her they were going in the wrong direction. As if dipped into a half-frozen lake, her skin chil ed, fear taking root at once. Had the SCU ordered she be put into protective custody for her own safety?
Tension fil ed every fiber of her being. She wouldn’t be incarcerated ever again if she could prevent it. She’d go mad if they confined her.
“Where are we going, Bernard?” When he didn’t respond, a dreadful feeling of claustrophobia forced her heart to speed up.
“Bernard, where are you driving me?”
“You shouldn’t have taken this job,” he said, his voice emotionless, not like him at al . He should have growled at her, scowled at her.
Her thoughts swirled with renewed worry, and she rubbed her temple, trying to get her concerns under control.
“I know, I know, Bernard. You’re so right,” she said, pretending to go along with the charade. “I’m not going to do any more investigating into the matter. Isn’t that what the SCU has decreed?”
He glanced at her, his look detached.
Twice now, she’d said something total y out of character for her. And twice he’d responded in the same way: uncharacteristical y. What the hel was wrong with him?
“Bernard, tel me where you’re taking me.”
He didn’t reply.
“The SCU thinks I’l what? Jump out of a moving truck if I discover you’re taking me somewhere safe? Hel , I know that’s what you’re doing.” She crossed her arms with false bravado. “I’m glad you came when you did. What with the visit I had from the murderer…”
Bernard glanced at her but didn’t say a word. Now shereallyknew something was wrong. If she’d told him that earlier tonight when he was acting more himself, he’d have thrown a fit.
“Anyway, then the police officer with the tissue samples was kil ed before he reached me and the samples stolen…”
Again, Bernard looked at her, but his gaze shifted to the road once more.
She attempted to read his mind again, hoping for some inkling of what was the matter.Nothing.She reached out to touch his arm. This time he looked sharply at her. Gladdened to see a more typical reaction from him, she patted his shoulder and concentrated on his thoughts.
Nothing on Bernard’s mind—a completely blank slate. Though there never was any guarantee her abilities would perform under sleep-deprived conditions.
Taking a deep, calming breath to placate her raw nerves and focus her energy on planning her escape, she leaned into the soft leather seat. She listened to everything around her while the pickup sped down the dark two-lane road, trying to determine where he was taking her.
She turned her attention to the scenery. They’d slipped out of the suburbs into the countryside, but nothing seemed familiar.
“Listen, I know that sometimes the SCU resorts to using strongarm tactics to put rebel investigators and hunters in line, which I amnot, Bernard!”
She stil vividly remembered the time when two of the hunters confined her to a chair, got into her face and tried to coerce her into giving up the notion that a vampire had kil ed her parents. The way they had treated her like she was some kind of a criminal made her believe they were al in on a conspiracy. Which was making her feel horribly delusional right now, and she had to keep her mind straight on the matter. A vampire kil ed her parents. That’s what she knew.
“Are…are you taking me to SCU headquarters?” She tried to sound sweet and innocent, and not hotter than a boiling kettle of water. The place the headquarters personnel met was kept secret since the vampires threatened annihilation of the SCU two years earlier. So it would make sense that she wouldn’t know the location, but—
Then a vampire communicated close by. Her skin immediately crawled, and her senses went on higher alert. She wanted to warn Bernard, but she couldn’t without alerting him that she had telepathy.
“Where are you?”a dark voice telepathical y asked, one of the voices Tezra had “heard” in the warehouse district after the police officer was murdered.
Who the hel was he speaking to?
“I’m nearly there.”Bernard sounded relieved he was getting rid of his passenger soon.
Bernard? Her heart nearly stopped. Somehow he must have lost the battle with a couple of vampires despite how strong and capable he was.
She touched her wrist blades, giving herself a slight sense of security. Out of reach, her swords were in her bag in the backseat.
Though she couldn’t kil Bernard just because he’d been turned, not unless he threatened to harm her.
“You’ve done well, Bernard,”the vampire communicated, his voice clipped.
“She asked me where I was taking her.”
“You didn’t tell her.”A hint of alarm edged the vampire’s words.
“That’s good. Not too much of a struggle, I gather?”
Tezra detected a bit of humor, hopeful maybe that she hadn’t come so wil ingly?
“She came without questioning.”
Yeah, dammit, and if she’d been thinking more clearly, she would have definitely been more on guard. Trying to keep her temper in check, Tezra shielded her mind from the vampires, hoping they’d slip and tel her something useful. Like which of them had kil ed the police officers.
In a flash, a vampire appeared in the backseat. His smel was different from Bernard’s—a slightly spicy cologne, new leather coat and a hint of blood, indicating he’d probably recently fed. The nape of her neck tingled with anxiety. In such an awkward setting, she couldn’t maneuver to get at him. To her horror, he reached over the seat, grabbed her wrists and rested his cheek against hers.
She ground her teeth in frustration and twisted to wrench herself free from the ancient vampire’s strong grasp. If she could reach the goodness in Bernard, she stil had hope.
The blood rushed from her arms and hands while the vampire held them up high, effectively keeping her from opening her wrist blades. He chuckled darkly when she struggled—amused to bring her to her knees? She wasn’t on her knees yet, damn him.
When the truck pul ed to a stop, she renewed her struggles, though she felt the uselessness of it.
Bernard opened her door, and his heavy cologne and familiar onion breath greeted her. The traitor leaned over and removed her wrist blades while the vampire in charge continued to hold her stil .
“Remove her boots and cell phone,”he commanded.
Bernard bowed slightly, and she wanted to slap him hard.Break free from his spell, Bernard. You can do it! Don’t let them ownyou.Her silent prayers could be only that. Her heart felt as if a ton of lead suddenly encased it when he yanked off her other boot, where her last concealed weapon, one of her favorite daggers, remained.
After Bernard finished disarming her, the other held on tight. To show his absolute power over her? Without her weapons, merely a plaything of a vampire?
Gloat for now, you bastard, but you’ll get yours, she wanted to scream.
Bernard removed her cel phone, caught her wrist when the vampire let go and tugged her out of the truck.
“Here I’d seriously considered marrying you, Bernard. The deal is off,” she growled.
He stared at her, and she wondered if the message had filtered to his vampire-control ed brain. Hustling her up the walk, he moved her quickly into the house. Once inside, she couldn’t tel how many vampires were in the house, their minds shouting with a mixture of thoughts—confusion, anxiety and anger that the vampire had brought her here.
Bernard pul ed her down a long, narrow hal and into a dark room. Not a hint of light il uminated the place. She couldn’t see a thing, only felt the vampires lurking in a semicircle around her, watching her like the ones had done while she had crouched at the scene of the dead policeman. Electricity vibrated between them, thick with white-hot heat.
Were any of these vampires from her previous run-ins, borderline rogues, not bad enough to terminate but definitely standing on the edge between civility and chaos? Tilting her nose up and smel ing, she tried to identify any of them. Masking the vampires’ unique scents, a pungently fragrant shampoo had recently been used to clean the carpeting.
“You shouldn’t have brought her here,”one of the vampires communicated.
“Take her to the room I prepared for her ,”the one who had ridden partway in the pickup ordered.“She’s mine, and no one willdisobey me in this.”
Tezra sensed he was the only ancient in the room. For now, he didn’t seem to want her dead, but she figured it was only a matter of time.
“We have gone along with you thus far, but you have—”The vampire suddenly quit his communication, and every one of them remained silent.
The one in charge would have no disrespect from his rabble rebels, she figured, though she missed the cue because of the darkness of her surroundings. He must have given a look that silenced them, or conveyed the message privately.
Bernard led her into another dark room and sat her on a mattress. “Sleep,” he said with tenderness and handed her a blanket.
The strong scent of vanil a wafted to her. Triggered by the sweet fragrance, she fought the bile that rose to her throat. It was the same smel that had assaulted her in the kitchen where her parents had lain dead, the bottle of vanil a extract shattered in a mil ion glass fragments. Chocolate chips, flour, sugar—al scattered on the tile floor, mixed in a pool of her parents’ blood.
She shook loose from the painful memories and attempted to determine who stood nearby. Listening for a sign that any of them were with Bernard, she sensed the leader’s presence—darkly contemplative, the heat of his body too close, his scent the same she’d smel ed in her apartment—way too appealing.
“Go, join the others, Bernard. You have done well tonight and have earned my respect.”
Tezra wished she could touch Bernard’s thoughts, to free him from the vampire’s control, but she had no way to reverse what the vampires had done to him. She prayed they’d leave her alone so she could concentrate on finding a way to escape.
She shielded her mind, which came as natural y to her as taking a breath. She hid her thoughts always as a habit to keep herself safe, but she’d learned to do it only after she’d put her family’s lives in jeopardy. She mental y squashed the feeling of hopelessness deep into a pocket, closed her eyes and pretended to sleep.
“I feel you are much more dangerous than you appear,”the vampire said.“My brother is too concerned about you, too drawnto you. What are you contemplating?”
The idea he knew she could communicate telepathical y sent a shard of ice hurdling down her spine. Then she realized he was only speaking to himself and couldn’t break through her impenetrable shield.
“Daemon is here,”a panicked vampiric voice said from the other room.
Her heart raced, her mind a fog, but any lure of sleep instantly faded. The vampire who had gained access to her apartment was involved in taking her hostage? Hel , why should that surprise her?
The vampire near her bed cursed under his breath.“I’ll be right there.”The door shut and the lock clicked.
Hoping none of the vampires had been left behind to guard her, Tezra sat up on the squishy mattress and listened. Shrouded in darkness, she couldn’t see a blamed thing, yet she sensed no vampire nearby.
The vampires communicated with each other in the other room.
“Daemon, what a pleasure.”
“You mean, ‘what a surprise’, Atreides. What are you up to now, my brother?”
The one who had kidnapped her was Daemon’s brother?
Not wanting to miss a word, Tezra barely breathed.
“Why do you always fault me?”
“Don’t play coy with me. You have turned Tezra’s bodyguard. Why? When the SCU learns he has disappeared, there will bean uproar, and I won’t have it.”
So Daemon wasn’t in on changing Bernard, nor had he anything to do with taking her hostage. Stil , he could have murdered the policeman at her apartment and planned to kil her too.
“He isn’t totally turned. He hasn’t fed.”
“And he won’t. You’ll wipe his mind of the night’s activities and free him,”Daemon warned.
She sighed, a bit relieved he’d let Bernard go. She sensed the hostility growing between the two brothers. Would Daemon aid her too?
Not wanting to chance it, she made her way to the door and groped around the wal until her fingers touched a light switch. With the utmost care, she flipped it up. No il umination. The blood rushed in her ears, her adrenaline surging. Feeling her way past the bed to the window, she touched the top of the frame and flipped the lock open with a metal ic click that she was certain the vampires could hear al the way to the California border. Moonlight glistened off steel bars caging her in just like the home for troubled teens where she’d been incarcerated. She swore under her breath.
She closed her eyes and tried to reason a way out.
Struggling to make the right choice, she thought to reach out to Daemon. She’d let him think it was another vampire tel ing him the truth about her captivity, only she’d channel the message to Daemon and only Daemon.
Her head pounded with a mixture of exhaustion and frustration. She wasn’t certain she’d be successful, and she was afraid she’d let Atreides or the others know she had the telepathic gift.
She intended to copy one of the younger men’s thoughts to disguise her own telepathic voice. She was certain Daemon wouldn’t recognize it as hers, because she’d never shared her telepathic voice with him, but maybe he’d believe her, or the man she pretended to be, and come to her aid.
“The others seem to be hiding some news from me. What has happened, Atreides?”Daemon asked before she could attempt her ruse.
“You already know about the other police killing. You got the tissue samples from him. So what else do you want to know?”
Daemontook the samples? Her heart thumped even harder. Then Daemon must have kil ed the officer before he came to see her, or maybe right afterwards and before Bernard came for her. Or had Bernard been there too, and witnessed the whole affair?Damn Bernard!The SCU hadn’t removed the body. The vampires must have.
“What’s wrong, Daemon?”Atreides asked.
“Daemon?”Atreides sounded like he was in big trouble, and she was in even bigger trouble if Daemon had kil ed the officer and found her here.
Holding her head in her hands, Tezra kept her mind shielded and quiet, wishing she could slow her racing heart.
The wooden floor creaked while one of the vampires paced. The pacing abruptly stopped.
“Is someone in the house? Someone not of our blood?”Daemon was trying to locate her, to hear her blood rushing pel -mel through her veins.
“No. No one. Why do you ask?”
“Damn, Atreides, who have you got locked up in the house this time? It’s…a woman.”
Atreides didn’t respond.
Daemon stormed down the hal until he reached her room. She dashed across the floor, but before she could make it to the bed, he appeared inside. Though she couldn’t see him, she recognized his spicy scent. Backing up, she bumped into the bed’s unforgiving, hard oak footboard, instantly trapped. She raised her hands to defend herself, hating to feel so vulnerable without her weapons.
“Dammit to hell, Atreides,”Daemon growled, moving toward her, the hair on her arms standing at attention.
Atreides appeared next to him.“Sorry, Daemon. I only meant to keep her safe.”
For a minute, silence ensued, then Daemon laughed out loud, a heartfelt, gut-wrenching laugh from the bel y.
Tezra couldn’t figure out the joke. Atreides seemed sincere in wanting to keep her alive. So why did Daemon think it was so funny? Because he didn’t want to keep her that way?
Trying to calm herself, Tezra took a deep breath.
“What should I do with you, huntress?”Daemon asked.
She wasn’t a huntress by occupation, though if the SCU had al owed it, she would take on the role in a heartbeat and eliminate every renegade vampire there was.
She glowered in Daemon’s direction, unable to do anything more, and felt the heat of his body so close her own skin grew feverish.
“She will vanish and you will tell no one I have taken her,”Daemon said.
Vanish as in they meant to kil her?
“The others know I brought her here. They’ll notice she’s gone.”
“Tell them she slipped away, but you won’t tell them she’s with me.”
Atreides spoke again, this time with a mixture of regret and accommodation.“I will do as you ask.”
Nearly giving Tezra a stroke, Daemon wrapped his arm securely around her waist and pul ed her hard against his body. Before she could cry out, or pul away, or scream in protest, he yanked her into a black void of space, transporting her the way of the vampire. Her head and stomach swirled as she sifted with such speed. The air wooshed past her in a rush as if she were on a wild carnival ride in total darkness.
She closed her eyes, hoping she didn’t perish in the sift.Chapter Three
Daemon deposited Tezra on the guest bed in the dark cel ar, the perfect place for SCU troublemakers. Normal y he used the windowless room for visiting vampire friends desiring a deeper sleep and to store his favorite bottles of cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and chardonnay racked against the concrete block wal s. Stark otherwise, but perfect for his needs.
Particularly at the moment.
For some time, he considered the woman, her posture rigid, attempting not to show her fear. Tezra glowered at him, her heart stil racing exasperatingly fast.
Daemon flipped on a light in the cel ar with a wave of his hand. The unsettling woman squinted under the glare of the exposed 150-watt bulb overhead.
“Why do you think I’m the murderer?” he asked.
Her mutinous expression didn’t falter as she crossed her arms under her breasts, her chin tilted up in obstinacy. He couldn’t help staring at her rounded breasts in the form-fitting black turtleneck. The way her nipples began to harden intrigued him. What would it be like to touch them, to hold her breasts, weighing each fleshy mound in the palm of his hand?
His gaze shifted to her defiant green eyes, the gold star that shot out from the pupil entrancing him.Entrancing him!An ancient vampire who in six hundred and fifty years had only been enchanted once before by a huntress of the elite Special Crimes Unit.
He hardened his resolve to keep his interest in her strictly business. He wouldn’t permit the kil er vampire to terminate her and create a war between his people and the hunters. Simple as that. “Youwon’tignore my questions. When I ask one of you, I expect to be answered, civil y.”
“You kil ed the police officer and stole the tissue samples,” she accused, her tone icy.
“The officer was already dead. You’re tired. I venture you wouldn’t stay awake for more than an hour if I shut off the light and al owed you to sleep.” He attempted to read her mind, but a wal surrounded her thoughts, deterring him, irritating him. “But I won’t afford you the opportunity if you don’t answer my questions.”
“Barbarian.” She spoke the insult with hatred. She hadn’t a clue what barbaric real y meant. Not like what he’d seen during the wars before he was changed. “Let me see the tissue samples,” she ordered.
“What evidence do you have that suggests I’m the kil er?”
Her ful pink lips pursed.
“Wel ? I’m not a patient man. In fact, lack of patience is one of my greatest faults.”
He smiled, not meaning to, but he couldn’t help it when the woman, petite of stature, deprived of sleep, imprisoned against her wil , could stil make a sarcastic comeback.
“What would it be like to lie with you? Full of vinegar, sparring with me at every turn?”
Her eyes darkened and widened at the same time.
In his mind, he quickly readdressed the situation in the warehouse district. Had she been the one who touched his mind with a gentle probe like a sensual caress? A huntress telepath?
He had to know if she was the one who’d touched him so intimately.“You smell like roses, springtime fresh. Your warm, sweetblood streaming through your veins, begs me to satisfy my growing bloodlust.”
Speaking the truth at every turn, he studied her reaction to his mental taunt. He hadn’t fed for two days because of the police kil ings, because it sickened him that one of his kind could stoop so low. For the time being, he couldn’t force himself to take a human’s blood, even though he wouldn’t hurt the donor.
Her blood pounded wildly in her veins like an aphrodisiac, luring him to take his fil . She tried to remain emotionless, but her cheeks blossomed with color, the tinge of pink spreading to her neck. Her breasts rose with her quickened breath.
“No woman is immune to me. We’re alone. Why don’t you admit you find me…irresistible?”
“Arrogance is the only thing that becomes you,” she snapped.
Hel , shewastelepathic. That certainly shed a different light on the situation. “Sleep, wel , huntress.”
After shutting off the light, he left her alone in the room to contemplate her situation further. Maybe after she slept she’d be more cooperative.
Shaking his head, he seriously doubted it.
Upstairs, Daemon poured himself a glass of wine at his bar and stared at the high-ceilinged greatroom, ful of antique mahogany furniture covered in dark brown brocades and velvets that had been in his family for centuries. He contemplated his next move concerning the murdering vampire when the woman screamed from her cel ar prison, interrupting his thoughts.
“Let me out of here, you…you—”
“Sleep, Tezra.”He considered forcing her to sleep, but—
“Don’t tel me what to do! Daemon, let me out of here!”
Before he could respond, his longtime friend and confidant, Maison, asked from outside his home,“May I enter?”
Tezra grew quiet as death.
“Come in,”Daemon replied, slightly perturbed by the intrusion, but suspecting word concerning the huntress would soon spread, and several of his kind, even the kil er, might attempt to see him.
His blue eyes wide with curiosity, Maison appeared next to him. He wore his golden hair tied back in a leather strap. Jeans and a buttondown col ared royal blue shirt was his typical attire despite his being the regional director of the vampire clans in Oregon. “I’ve heard disturbing news.”
Daemon motioned to Maison to silence his words. He poured a glass of Chablis for him, then led his friend to the couches in the greatroom. “We have a guest.”
Maison listened for several moments to detect Tezra’s presence. Her blood pulsed rapidly through her veins, enticing any vampire within range. “She’s not one of us.”
“No, but she has telepathic abilities.”
Maison’s facial expression changed from curiosity to concern. “Why have you…you do not think she wil make a superior blood-bonded mate, do you?”
Daemon choked on his wine and sputtered, “No.”
Maison rubbed his square chin and concentrated again. “Then why is she imprisoned in your cel ar, if I may be so bold as to ask, my prince?”
“Atreides took her hostage.”
“Damn, Daemon. You know how many already think he’s involved in these kil ings.”
Irritation flowed through Daemon’s blood. His brother couldn’t be the murderer, though even he had some doubts as to the state of Atreides’s mind since the police officers had kil ed their uncle. “It isn’t him.”
“Every time another city police officer dies, he’s glad. Even though we know he isn’t involved, his actions make him suspect.”
“He tried to protect the woman.”
Maison’s blond brows arched. “The one in your cel ar? I hear her rapid breath, her pounding pulse, even the gnashing of her teeth. Who is she?”
“The one the murderer wil target next.”
“The woman from the Special Crimes Unit who’s investigating the murders?” At first Maison frowned, then his face lit up. “The bait. Very clever of you. I feared you had fal en for another one of them.”
Daemon scowled at him.
Maison quickly said, “I understand your reasoning for taking the woman into custody.”
“We can’t afford an al -out war between the SCU and the vampire clans. That’s where this is headed if this maniac recruits copycats, especial y since some already admire him for his brashness, feeling humans aren’t of consequence anyway. But those of the SCU are a different matter. Because of their training and cunning, and since they were affected by the plague like us, some rogues feel they’re much more of a match and want to target them. The rogues’ actions are fol y.”
“I agree.” Maison took a seat and drank some of his wine. “What’s the plan?”
“We find the renegade and terminate him.”
In many ways, Maison and Daemon were a lot alike. They had both been through so many wars the images of blood and broken bodies blurred. They wanted the best for their people and everyone else concerned.
“Let me out of here, Daemon!” Tezra screamed.
Daemon’s jaw ticked as he fought smiling at the woman’s tenacity. “I’d assumed she’d fal en asleep.”
Leaning forward, Maison set his half ful glass on the coffee table. “When wil you let the others know you have her?”
Daemon glanced in the direction of the cel ar. “When the trap is set.” He turned to face Maison. “In any event, I don’t want her harmed. If she remains on her own, whoever the kil er is wil most likely eliminate her. When the word goes out that I have her in protective custody, I’l need you, my brother and three of our most loyal friends to help safeguard her. Until then, have an additional security detail provide perimeter protection.”
“When do you want the word sent that she’s here?”
“I need to learn what she knows about the kil er. The more we understand about who he is and what he’s become, the better chance we’l have to fight him. Give me two days at the most.”
“If she doesn’t know anything?”
“We’l have to take our chances.”
Maison finished his wine and rose from the couch. “I’m on it.” He turned his head in the direction of the cel ar. “She is crying.”
“A woman’s ploy to soften me. It wil not work.”
Maison nodded. “I’l send the security force at once.”
When Maison vanished, Daemon poured himself another glass of wine. But Tezra’s sobs grew. Sighing, he set the glass aside, then appeared next to the bed where she sat.
“Go to sleep, huntress.”
“I’m an investigator by trade, not a huntress!”
Though he was wel aware her job description stated she was an investigator with the SCU, the way she’d protected her bodyguard and doggedly pursued the kil er vampire, she seemed more suited to being a huntress. Which made him wonder why they hadn’t trained her in that field instead.
Even as tired as she looked, she was beautiful, her pink glossy lips pouting, her green eyes sparkling. The image of freeing her from the leather she wore instantly came to mind again. “You’re exhausted. Sleep.”
“I can’t sleep like this. I can’t stand being in a room without windows, buried beneath the ground. It…it gives me claustrophobia.”
Suspecting she had ulterior motives, he held firm. “It’s the safest place for you…for now.”
She rubbed her temple. “No. I’l go mad down here.”
Folding his arms, he said, “If I take you from this room, you’l have to sleep in my bed withme.” Which triggered unbidden images of tangling in a carnal embrace with the enchantress.
“Why don’t you just lock me in another bedroom?”
Darkly amused at her suggestion, he gave her a wry smile. “You’d find a way to escape. You’l stay here.”
“Why do you think your brother didn’t murder the policemen when others believe he did?”
“He didn’t kilyou.”
She studied him, then took a deep breath. “Please, let me out of here. You can use me as bait upstairs, aboveground. Please don’t make me stay in this tomb.”
“You won’t like it in my room any more than you do here.” He was certain of it, and he was sure she’d try to worm her way out of his bed if she could too.
She was petite like Lynetta, the huntress who’d stolen his heart, but the similarity ended there. Tezra’s hair was longer, darker, more striking, her eyes emerald, hiding a history he sensed would reveal a hel of a lot about her if he could dig into her psyche and discover it. He was certain she had no intention of being used as bait, not by him or anyone else. Some SCU officers lived on the edge, notoriously lying when it suited their purpose. He couldn’t trust her.
Yet, he tried to sense if she were tel ing the truth about her dislike for the cel ar. A light sheen of perspiration covered her skin.
Her breathing was too fast. It appeared she real ywasclaustrophobic.
Cursing, he grabbed her wrist. He heard her sudden intake of breath, felt her maddeningly enticing rapid pulse beneath his fingertips, begging him to drink of her nectar. Trying to ignore the feelings she stirred in him, he growled inwardly, transported her to his room and deposited her on the bed.
Coffee-colored curls cascaded over her shoulders in a windswept mass, giving her a wild, untamed look. Her expressive eyes showed her every emotion, from earlier when he entered her office and she’d been so startled, to now, pleading for compassion.
If he gave in to her this time, what would he do next? He was determined not to lose his soul to her like he’d nearly done with Lynetta.
“Can you turn on the light?” she asked.
Waving his hand, he switched the crystal bed lamp on, il uminating the room in a sultry pale glow.
She surveyed the room and simply said, “Big…and dark.”
“It has windows and is on thesecondfloor.” He motioned to the bed. “Tuck yourself in.”
“Are you certain you can’t lock me in and sleep somewhere else?”
Unwil ing to play games any longer, he advanced on her.
Her eyes widened.
“In bed, or I wil ignore your wishes and return you to the cel ar.”
Frowning, she proceeded to remove her leather jacket. “If you were a gentleman, you would leave.” She gave him an annoyed look, her eyes chal enging him.
He raised a brow.
“Forget it.” Dropping her jacket on a chair, she climbed under the velvet comforter, stil ful y dressed. She watched him with narrowed eyes. “Wel ?”
“Wel , what?”
“Aren’t you going to turn off the light?”
His lips twitched, betraying a smile. After extinguishing the light, she stil looked in his direction, though as black as the room was he knew she couldn’t see him.
She sighed deeply. “Wel ? Aren’t you coming to bed?”
He reiterated, “Sleep. And do not aggravate me further. You won’t be able to leave this room, so don’t contemplate—”
Before he could say anything more, he sensed his brother outside, of al the damned things.
“Daemon, will you let me in?”his brother implored.
Her eyes widened.
“He won’t take you from here. Sleep, Tezra.”
Scowling, she closed her eyes.
He waited until her breathing softened, then he locked the door to his bedroom. Furious with himself for letting her manipulate him so, he left her to meet with his brother. If he wasn’t worried she’d try to escape or someone might attempt to reach her, he’d sleep in the cel ar himself.
Daemon reappeared at the bar, grabbed his glass of wine and took a couple of healthy swal ows. Biting back a curse, he said,
“Freely, I open my house to you, my brother.”
Atreides appeared next to him, but turned his attention toward Daemon’s bedroom upstairs. “Why is the huntress in your room?
Not confined to the cel ar? Hel , even you said she was a dark huntress—they’re the worst kind.”
“Not that it’s any concern of yours, she’s frightened of the cel ar.” He poured his brother a drink. “And technical y she works as an investigator, not a huntress. My mistake. So why are you here?”
“You can’t fal for the woman, Daemon. You know what happened last time. For sixty, no seventy years, you wore the blackest mood.” Atreides took a swig of his drink. “Besides, you have the worst luck when it comes to turning women you intend to be your mates.”
Daemon studied him, stil relieved that his brother had tried to protect the woman and hadn’t planned to terminate her. “Dammit, Atreides, I’m only interested in ending the serial kil ers’ reign of terror. If he murders her, the SCU wil come down hard on al of us. You and I know it. But worse, the kil er knows it.”
“Al right,” Atreides conceded, but Daemon sensed his brother’s unease. “Did you discover anything from the saliva samples of the latest victim?”
the latest victim?”
“Only that it isnotone of our closest friends. Unfortunately, we don’t have a databank for vampire DNA.”
“Maison said you plan to use her as bait.” Atreides paced, his long stride eating up the carpeted floor. “You haven’t had a woman companion in many years. Just a quick fix here and there. I don’t think it’s safe for you to share the same room with her.”
Atreides stopped and faced Daemon, his look serious, like their uncle’s had been when he laid down the law. Atreides’s resemblance to their murdered relation was uncanny—same sturdy jaw, same raw edges, no rounded flesh to soften the harsh look, same dark furrowed brows and narrowed brown eyes.
Atreides cleared his throat. “I’m suggesting that she sleep in the cel ar. Alone.”
“I’m not as needy as you seem to think, and I have more control than that. Why did you real y come?”
“What if I stayed with her? I have no affection for those serving the SCU, especial y after what you put me through for the past several decades.I’llguard her.”
For al Atreides’s denying he cared anything for SCU personnel, Daemon wondered if his brother had more interest in the woman than he was letting on, which could prove disastrous. “I wouldn’t wish to sacrifice you. Return home to your blood bonds.
Keep your ears tuned in case someone mentions something that wil aid us. Also, she’s a telepath. If we need to share something private, channel your telepathic communication directly to me.”
“She’s a telepath? Dammit, Daemon, now you real y can’t stay with her.”
Daemon wasn’t used to his brother’s interference, and he wouldn’t tolerate it from him or anyone else. “She hasn’t any control over me. Go, and remain alert.”
Atreides hesitated, then reluctantly bowed his head and left.
Daemon ensured al of his safeguards were in place, the spel s that would keep any vampire from entering his home who’d been invited in before. Though normal y his brother and others could pop in anytime they liked when his house wasn’t safeguarded, it would be rude to do so. Everyone asked permission to cross the threshold into a vampire’s abode, unless the one who gained entrance did so with malicious intent.
When Daemon walked into the bedroom, he sensed Tezra’s light breathing, her slower pulse.Asleep. Thank God. In a flash, he removed his clothes, having no intention of remaining clothed when he normal y didn’t sleep that way. The bed was his after al , and he hadn’t wanted her in it in the first place. If she didn’t like it, she could return to the cel ar.
“Hmmm, yes,”she murmured in her mind.
He stared at the brunette, her long hair draped over her damnable skin-tight turtleneck, but she appeared sound asleep.
“Yes, yes,”she said again.
He raised his brows. She talked telepathical y in her sleep? Taking a deep breath, he slid under the covers on his side of the bed, though technical y both sides were his.
“Tell me, what are you thinking?”he asked, slipping into her thoughts.
She lay very stil , and her mind seemed to shut down. Her subtle jasmine fragrance lingered in his sheets. He took a deep breath, his blood stirring. Her heart rate had increased, and she whimpered, clutching at the pil ow beneath her cheek. She shook her head back and forth slowly as if her reflexes were dul ed. A sob escaped her lips.
Reaching out, he ran his fingers over her hair, the strands soft beneath his fingertips. He meant only to calm her. Touching her cheek, he found tears. He pul ed his hand away as if she’d burned him. She was only having a nightmare. It would go away, but if he began to have feelings for her, his nightmares would only begin.
“Katie…Katie, oh no, dear God, Katie.”She spoke the words breathlessly in her mind, hesitant, frightened.
Was it some jumbled, made-up nightmare, or a past recol ection? She wept more, and he fisted his hands. If he returned her to the cel ar, he could sleep. No, he couldn’t. He’d stil hear her thoughts.
“Oh dear God, oh dear God.”She bit her lip until he smel ed blood.
Dear God was right. The pulsing, burning need to taste her blood fil ed him with a sense of urgency.
What now, dammit? He could lick her wound, memorize the taste of her blood for al eternity and stop the bleeding, or he could agonize over the smel of it, listen to her rapid pulse, and try to keep his canines under control.
“Mom, Dad, oh, what have I done?”she cried.
As much as he didn’t want to care, or know anything about her, he couldn’t help himself. He never ignored someone who was in pain.
He leaned over and touched his tongue to her lip, licking her sweet, warm blood. With his heart hammering, his canines extended. For too long he hadn’t fed, and her blood imprinted on his tastebuds, urging him to take more.
Worse, she quieted under his touch, which served to further his craving.
He pul ed the col ar of her turtleneck down, ran his tongue over her neck, sensing the delicate pulsing of her blood beneath the skin, and grazed his teeth over her sensitive flesh without nicking her.
Already he was way too aroused, both sexual y and bloodlust-wise. Atreides was right. Daemon hadn’t been with a woman recently enough to quench his thirst for someone as enticing as the woman lying beside him.
He moved away from her, but her heart sped up, and she seemed caught in the nightmare again.
“Tezra, everything’s al right now,” he said in a soothing voice. He shouldn’t get any deeper with her than he already was, but he wanted to discover what disturbed her. Taking her hand, he held it firmly and concentrated on her thoughts. The wal normal y surrounding them had disintegrated in her sleep-fil ed state.
He reached out to see her nightmare, to discover whether it was a vivid, mixed-up dream, or a true memory from her past.
A voice reached out to him, an ancient vampiric voice Daemon thought he’d heard before but couldn’t recol ect. It had to be someone he’d known in the distant past, but he couldn’t make any connection, only a vague familiarity.
“I punish you, the child, for complicating my work. Now you see that I am more powerful than you will ever be. Both you andyour sister, Katie, will live a hell for the rest of your mortal days. See what your meddling in my affairs has brought you?”a male voice said to her, the words only a distant memory in Tezra’s thoughts.
Her reply showed the same vehemence and determination.“To the end of my days, I’ll hunt you down. I vow this on the bloodof my parents. With my huntress’s blade I will carve out your heart and end your semi-immortal life. I swear it, you bastard!”
“Who is he?”Daemon asked, forgetting for the moment he was not her leader, that she didn’t have to tel him a thing, and if she were conscious, probably wouldn’t.
She tugged at his hand to pul him closer.“Katie, we’ll get through this. I promise.”
Hel , he had to find out where her sister was staying or she’d be in just as much danger, he was certain. Unless…unless she was already dead.
Taking a deep breath, Daemon pul ed Tezra into his arms to stop her heart from racing, her body from trembling on the frosty autumn night. But he knew he shouldn’t tempt his soul with her soft body resting against his hard chest, that he shouldn’t al ow her leg to press against his arousal, already agonizing for release.
Thrusting those thoughts aside, he held her tight.
She stirred and nestled her head against his chest, her silken hair tickling his skin. Inhaling deeply, he fil ed himself with the pure fragrance of her, the springtime freshness and floral scent that was al Tezra.
He tried to clear his mind of how dangerously enticing she was. Yet it didn’t work, not with her warm breath stirring the light hair on his chest, or the way her leg hooked over his excruciating arousal. Not the way her heart pounded, the blood whooshing through her veins in a steady rush, cajoling him to feed.
No doubt she would think him the devil when she woke, only he feltshewas the one with the black magic spel s, corrupting him, and not the other way around.
Holding her close, he final y managed to sleep for several hours. Until Tezra’s shril cry jarred him from his peaceful slumber.Chapter Four
Awareness reaching her groggy mind, Tezra realized she rested in the arms of a naked, very aroused, warm-bodied vampire, while the sunlight filtered around the edges of black velvet curtains. She jerked free and fel off the mattress, landing on her butt next to Daemon’s high four-poster bed.
Unable to slow her rapid heartbeat, she jumped up, cursing him. “You arrogant bastard! Who the hel said you could sleep with me? Wel , hold me like that?” she amended, recognizing the bedwashis and the night before he’d told her in no uncertain terms he was sharing it with her no matter how she tried to talk him out of it.
Unmoved, Daemon looked contemptibly smug and didn’t say a word. His darkened eyes watched her, his sable hair fanned across the pil ow. Annoyingly ful of himself, his wel -sculpted chest exposed, he propped his head against his arms. The black satin sheet caressed the hard muscles of his lower body. His prominent arousal snagged her attention for a second glance, though she chided herself for looking…twice. She stormed to the bedroom door barefoot.
“I need my boots. Your brother took them from me,” she ground out. She grabbed the handle of the door to the hal way and twisted.Locked.
“Couldn’t we at least start this late wakeup with an agreeable good morning? It’s a shame not to enjoy morning pleasantries, is it not?” Dark honeyed words spoken like a lure to draw his prey in, but his bedroom charms wouldn’t work on her. Much.
“Let…me…out…of…here,” she snarled, every word laced with fire.
“You said the cel ar gave you claustrophobia.” He waved his hand, and the curtains parted to reveal French patio doors opening onto a balcony.
“Being withyougives me claustrophobia.”
He pul ed the covers aside and stood. Her mouth dropped when she saw the beautiful length of him, er, rather, the tal ness and hardness of his whole body. The shirt he had worn the night before must have been from an earlier wardrobe of his because he definitely had the build of a wel -muscled pirate who hoisted sails for a living. And, no doubt, he’d raped, pil aged and plundered along the way.
She waved at the bed. “You said you’d protect me. Is this what you cal protection?”
A slow smile gave him a predatory look, his nearly black eyes sparkling while he tied his hair back in a tail with a black leather strap, but he didn’t make any attempt to dress.
She knew the look of madness in his eyes, the lust and the overwhelming urge to feed, to satisfy his hunger.
“You haven’t fed in a while,” she guessed, moving toward the patio door, keeping him in her sights as she backed up, wishing she was armed.
He advanced with the sleekness of a panther, his muscles rippling as he flexed them, his lips stil curved up at the corners. “I have many questions I wish answered, Tezra.”
The way he said her name sounded like he was attempting to draw her to him—to feed—hypnotic, wil ing the victim with words cloaked in black velvet.
“I didn’t think you were the kil eruntilyou walked into my apartment. Why else would you have been there?”
“How did you know my name?”
“You told me.”
He cocked a dark brow and stopped.
“You thought it. I read your mind.”
He lifted his chin.
A lightbulb moment?
“Listen, you protected me in your way last night,” she said, frowning, “and I want to—” she nearly choked on the words after being held against her wil , “—thank you, but I have work to do, so just—” she bumped into the patio door with her backside and reached for the doorknob, “—get my boots back for me, and we’l cal it even.”
“What are you afraid of?”
His voice held no animosity toward her, only craving, desire and bloodlust raging through his system. She swal owed hard, and her skin tingled with anxiousness. Itching to have a sword in her hand, or the retractable knives fastened at her wrists, she mental y cursed Bernard for disarming her.
“I’m afraid of nothing,” she lied and hoped Daemon couldn’t tel . She tried the patio doorknob.Locked.
“Your voice trembles.”
Here she thought she had her traitorous voice under control.
He skirted the bed, taking his time to reach her, showing off his wares that she attempted not to take account of…too much.
He tilted his chin down, the look in his eyes seductive, dark and dangerous.
He twisted his head toward the patio door, and she sensed the aura of a vampire outside, paralyzing her.Krustalus.Her skin chil ed and her nape crawled as if he wrapped his icy fingers around her neck.
Breaking free from the paralysis, she turned and stared out the window, but didn’t see any sign of the beast in the gloomy, mist-laden morning.
“Who is he?” Daemon asked.
“Krustalus,” she said with venom in her voice.
Daemon rested his hands on her shoulders, caressed them, sending a blanket of warmth through her, but she fought the sensual feelings, the heat, the strength, the al ure.
“Don’t, Daemon. Are you in league with the devil vampire?” If he were trying to placate her concerning Krustalus, it wouldn’t work. Yet on another level, she felt Daemon’s motives to soothe her were instinctual, protective. But she couldn’t take him touching her while the murderer was so close by.
Daemon withdrew his hands from her shoulders. “What has Krustalus done?” he asked, his tone edged with suspicion.
Turning her gaze from Daemon’s stern look, she glanced back out the window. “Nobody believes me.”
“I’m not just anybody.”
That was for sure. And she’d certainly never spoken to one of his kind about it. Her fingers itched for a weapon.
“He…he kil ed my parents and terrified my sister so that she has not spoken for ten years.” She wished she could strike the vampire down this instant. Staring into the mist, she vowed she wouldn’t al ow him to shake her up like he always did when he stole into her life.
She clenched her teeth and bit back the hopelessness that he would ever be brought to justice, that her sister would be freed from her silent prison. Tears threatened to spil , but she wil ed them back, not wanting to shed another drop, not while the menace lived. Rage burned in her soul, and if left to fester long enough, it would leave her bereft of feeling anything but hate until she died.
Silently she cursed Daemon for bringing up the painful subject, yet she assumed he only meant to help. The floodgates threatened to open, her head hammering with gusto as she tried to keep her emotions under control.Show the vampire youremotions, and you’ve lost the game,her teachers would warn her.Always control your feelings.
“No record of this crime exists, or I would have been made aware of it. Why hasn’t the SCU taken him down?” Daemon asked, his voice shadowed with annoyance and concern.
Tezra lost it. She whipped around, tears blurring her vision, her heart in her throat. “Because they don’t believe he did it, dammit. They don’t believeanyvampire did it. But I know!I know, because I made him do it. Because I forced him.” She choked back a sob.
Daemon stared at her in disbelief. She stood so close to him her breasts nearly touched his chest. Her green eyes fil ed with tears. He wanted nothing more than to touch her, to hold her tight, but his heart warred with his mind to keep his distance. He tried to ignore the way her blood beckoned to him, the way she looked so damned vulnerable.
Taking a deep breath to break the spel the enchantress held over him, he said, “Talk to me, Tezra. Tel me what you know.”
“You’l be like al the rest who don’t believe me.” Pain reflected in her words, and he wanted to crush the life out of any who had caused her anguish.
“What happened?” He pul ed her toward the bed, and she balked.
“Youaregoing to put some clothes on, aren’t you?”
Daemon lifted a brow. “You are sure you want this?”
She frowned, and he gave her a smal smile then let go of her hand. In a flash, he threw on a pair of black denims.
“Enough. Tel me what happened.” He lifted her onto the high bed, then sat next to her.
“Can he come inside?” She seemed fil ed with emotions, wavering between fear of the vampire and red-hot anger.
Her teachers would have taught her to control such feelings, especial y in front of a vampire. Which made him believe she could cross the line and become a renegade. But he wasn’t about to let her go there. Not when it could cause further difficulties between her people and his.
“I’ve never invited Krustalus inside my home. I only vaguely recal meeting him once in Scotland in the early years after my change. A brief encounter in a tavern, as I recal . Nothing remarkable about the man captured my attention.”
She clasped and unclasped her fingers. “If I had my sword, I’d ask him in.”
This was a dangerous notion, and he couldn’t fathom why she would wish to put herself at such risk. “If the SCU hasn’t condemned him…”
She growled her response. “Icondemn him for the murder of my parents.”
Shedidn’t have the authority. “What proof do you have, Tezra?”
Turning her glare from him, she stared at the floor. “He didn’t take their blood, just slashed their throats and left them to die in front of my sister when she was twelve. I was training at Portland SCU’s elite school, learning how to use my wrist daggers, learning how to be a huntress, but when I came home…” She looked at the patio door. “My sister’s in a world of her own, doesn’t speak or seem to understand most of what I say to her. It’s al my fault she’s the way she is.”
DaemonknewTezra had trained to be a huntress. He sensed it in her actions, in her thoughts when they weren’t guarded. A dark huntress. Reaching down he took her hands, forcing her to unclench them. Her long nails had dug into the skin, but hadn’t cut it yet. He didn’t need to be exposed to any more of her blood.
He doubted the crime was Tezra’s fault, but she seemed to think the burden of guilt rested on her shoulders, and he was bound and determined to find out why.
Before he could question her further, Krustalus spoke to him privately.“It is I, Krustalus. Will you invite me in? I have importantissues to discuss with you.”
Daemon had ruled the vampires of America since the time of the American Revolution. Krustalus had never pledged his al egiance to Daemon’s rule before, not that it was required as long as the vampire did nothing to stir up trouble. So why al the interest to see him now? To get at Tezra? Or did he have some larger just as equal y dark purpose in mind?
Daemon sensed a smugness emanating from him.“I’ll meet with you in an hour at Popia’s Wharfside Restaurant.”
“Ahh, you are busy with sweet Tezra. Give her my love, will you, Prince Daemon? ’Til then, milord,”Krustalus communicated in a mocking tone, then left.
Now suspecting what Tezra had said about Krustalus was true, Daemon tightened his hold on her hands. Why else would the vampire know her wel enough to recognize she was in the house with him? Why use an endearing term in connection with her name?
She relaxed as if a ton of bricks had been lifted from her shoulders. “He’s gone,” she whispered. “He spoke privately to you, didn’t he?”
“Yes, he said he knew you were here.”
“Of course he knows.” She yanked her hands free. “He always knows where I am, and I sense his close proximity, but he won’t come near enough when he’s in human form for me to catch sight of his face. I only know the demonic tone of his thoughts. He was there, taunting me before Officer Stevens died.” She rubbed her neck.
Daemon glanced at the ribbed material of the turtleneck she wore and a new concern flickered across his mind. “Has he bitten you?”
Her eyes widened, but she shook her head.
But something about her action, the way she’d touched her neck when she thought of Krustalus taunting her, drawing close, made Daemon think there was something more to the situation than a vampire out for revenge.
“I thought you’d been cal ed to investigate the murder. That others were with you at the time. What the hel were you doing alone in the warehouse district beforehand?” he snapped, not meaning to. But dammit, didn’t the woman know how dangerous her actions were?
Her spine tensed. “Stevens said he knew my parents’ kil er’s name.”
“And he said to come alone?” Daemon asked, his voice hard. “You didn’t see it as a setup? Hel , woman.”
“Of course I considered it.” She narrowed her eyes. “But I had to know the vampire’s name.”
Daemon shook his head in disbelief. “He couldn’t tel you over the phone? You had to meet him in the middle of the night in an isolated place…the same place the other officers were murdered?”
She didn’t say anything in response, just glowered at him.
“So Stevens gave you Krustalus’s name, then the vampire murdered him. You witnessed it.”
“No, I didn’t see him kil Stevens. If I had, I would be an eyewitness and have the proof I needed, now wouldn’t I? He’s too clever for that. Besides, I think there are two of them. Stevens never had a chance. The chief gave me Krustalus’s name over the phone when I reported the murder.”
Daemon took an exasperated breath. “Why did Stevens say for you to come alone as if he were the only one who knew Krustalus’s name, but the chief gave it to you without even meeting you there?”
“I don’t know!”
“Did you see Krustalus kil your parents?”
“No.” She shook her head and sniffled, her teeth gritted as if she were trying to fight back the tears.
“Then how do you know it was him?” It wasn’t that Daemon didn’t believe her, only that she had to have proof. If she attempted to kil Krustalus without provocation, she would be no better than what she assumed Krustalus was. “Why wouldn’t he have taken their blood? I don’t know of any vampire who would kil like that and not drink his victims’ blood.”
“I don’t know.”
Puzzling over her parents’ deaths, Daemon rubbed his chin. “Vampires often fight each other using swords, usual y over territorial disputes, but serial kil ers use their fangs to murder. Why are you so sure a vampire murdered your parents?”
She jumped off the bed and paced across the Turkish rug. “Don’t you see? He did it that way to throw the SCU off! He did it that way to get back at me!”
“Why you?” Daemon didn’t attempt to conceal his skepticism. Why would a vampire kil her parents in an atypical fashionforher sake? Had the trauma of her parents’ deaths affected her mind too?
Tezra stopped pacing and glowered at him. “I knew he’d begun kil ing humans, but I didn’t know his name. After reading his mind, I taunted him with the knowledge I gleaned. Young and stupid, I never thought he would discover my identity, because I couldn’t determine his. Hoping I could goad him into making a mistake, I planned to turn him in to the SCU. I thought I’d become famous like Michael Tarantos, who at sixteen discovered a vampire hit squad intending to destroy the SCU. Thinking I was invincible…”
With an abrupt sweep of her hand, she brushed away tears. “Just as surely as if I’d stabbed them in the heart myself, I caused my parents’ deaths. I brought about my sister’s suffering al these years. My own arrogance destroyed my family.”
He rubbed his neck, which was rife with tension. He wanted to hold her tight and take away her pain, but because of her agitated posture, he assumed she wouldn’t appreciate anyone’s touch, least of al a vampire’s. “Why didn’t you tel the SCU
about your abilities? Surely they would have believed you then.”
“I told a senior staff member about what happened, though I left out the part about being telepathic. Patrico died in the same manner as my parents before he could speak to the others. The vampire would have kil ed anyone else I tried to alert. I stil hadn’t learned his name. Not until the chief revealed it.”
This stil struck Daemon as odd. How would the chief have discovered the vampire’s name so easily, when a huntress with telepathic abilities could not? “Do you know how the chief came to discern his name?”
Her brows knit in a deep frown. “You’re thinking the police chief was manipulated. That Stevens was. Maybe so. Or maybe someone he turned or someone who had once been his friend squealed on him.” She wrapped her arms around herself.
“Krustalus said I’d find out his name soon. I’m certain he’s the one, and how the chief or Stevens knew doesn’t concern me.”
“But it should, Tezra.” Daemon finished dressing. “You have to prove he’s committed murder. The SCU wil have no recourse but to condemn you for murder should you kil him without proving he’s committed a crime.”
“He won’t get away with their murders or any of the others he has committed. He’s cunning, but I’m certain he’s stil kil ing. He has to be stopped. Soon, by God, he’l slip up, and I’l meet him in the flesh.”
Daemon couched his disapproval, though another thought nagged him. WhatwasKrustalus’s game? “You said Krustalus taunted you. How?”
Tezra glowered at Daemon. The tension in his neck returned when he imagined what the vampire might have done to her. The notion she had to prove Krustalus had kil ed anyone quickly went out the window, and he was ready to terminate the vampire himself. “Tezra?”
“He touches me when he’s in the form of mist.”
Daemon’s temper grew. “How do you know this? Couldn’t it be just your imagination?”
“Forget it! You don’t believe me anyway.”
He couldn’t forget it. He wanted to discover just how far the bastard had pushed himself on her, but his own anger was too near the surface to deal with it objectively. “Did he bite you, Tezra?”
She swal owed hard and shook her head again.
“Tezra?” He touched her arm but she didn’t pul away this time. He embraced her, attempting to coax the truth out of her. “What happened?”
She wouldn’t speak.
“If he’s bitten you, he may believe he’s laid claim to you. At least in his sick mind. I have to know if he’s done anything to you to see where he intends to take this.”
“He’s never bitten me! Don’t you think I’d remember something like that? I wouldn’t ever have let him get that close.”
“He touched you in mist form,” Daemon reminded her. “And from there he could easily have become a man, touching you just as intimately, except in human form.”
She wouldn’t look at him, and he suspected the worst. “When did he bite you?”
She shook her head. “He didn’t.”
Tilting her chin up, he attempted to wil her to be honest with him, but that impenetrable wal of hers blocked him. “Al right, then.”
It wasn’t. But he’d get the truth from her hopeful y sooner than later. “What about your sister?”
Tezra turned away, her voice fil ed with regret. “I’ve had the world’s best psychiatrists work with her with no discernable progress.”
He knew a promising way to bring her sister out of the darkness—most likely at great sacrifice to himself and even greater to Tezra. Frankly, after his last three disastrous relationships, he wasn’t interested in repeating his mistake. Yet a strange gnawing emptiness fil ed him with an unfathomable sense of disquiet. Just the bloodlust, just the hunger, he told himself, attempting to convince himself that was al it was about her that made him yearn for intimacy with the huntress.
She pushed her dark hair away from her face in such a sexy way, he groaned inwardly. His hard body couldn’t take much more of her sweet fragrance or her al uring actions.
“I vow I wil help you with finding a way to connect Krustalus with the crimes. In the meantime, you wil remain here and—”
“Absolutely not.” She crossed her arms, lifting her breasts. Her eyes narrowed with defiance.
“I told you last night, I expect your obedience in al matters.”
“This is not the Dark Ages, and you won’t keep me here against my wil a second longer.”
“Not even if I help you to solve the crimes?”
“I won’t be locked away—”
She quit speaking when they sensed two vampires approach his house.
“Your brother and friend, Maison, are here again?”
Daemon motioned to the bedroom. “You wil stay here and behave, or I’l return you to the cel ar.”
“I need a shower and a change of clothes.”
“My brother wil have your bag. I’l bring it up momentarily. You may use my bathroom to shower.” The thought of seeing her rubbing soapsuds over her soft, naked skin instantly aroused him again. Envisioning his hands soaping up her breasts, bringing her nipples to twin, rosy peaks—
Releasing a heavy sigh, he dissolved into mist and reappeared in the greatroom.“You may enter my home freely, Atreides,Maison,”he communicated before they asked.
“Trouble’s brewing,” Maison warned as he and Atreides appeared in front of Daemon.
And she’s upstairs, Daemon thought privately. He took her suitcase from Atreides. “I shal return and hear al the news in a minute.”
“She’s attempting to pick the lock on your patio door.” Atreides’s voice and expression were hard.
With his acute hearing, Daemon had recognized what Tezra was up to at once. “Of this, I’m deeply aware. I shal see to the vixen.”
Tezra considered the lock on the patio door, having already determined she couldn’t pick the lock on the bedroom door. But then she sensed Daemon in the room—no anger though, just conceited amusement. Straightening and turning, she shot him her best glare.
“Looking for something?” He wore a bigheaded smirk. “Bathroom’s in there.” He set her suitcase down and motioned to the other door as if she were a moron. “If you need me to help in any way, you know how to cal me. Extra towels are in the linen closet. Anything else?”
She grabbed her suitcase and brushed past him, not meaning to, but his body blocked her path, and she wasn’t watching his smug expression one more minute.
“I’ve been told I’m awful y good at soaping hard-to-reach spots,” he added, his voice taking on the earlier seductive tone.
She glanced back at him, not believing he’d say such a thing to her, knowing how much animosity she felt for him. Did he think because she had slept with him, she was now interested in his great body and wanted more? Not that she wouldn’t want a great body like that making wild and passionate love to her, but…but…how could she lose her mind over a vampire’s hot physique?
She couldn’t fathom why he would be interested in her in particular, except maybe he was stil hungry and would want anyone’s blood. “You’l show me the latest tissue samples after I get cleaned up and changed.”
His eyes darkened but glistened with amusement. She didn’t figure her words would convince him to do anything he didn’t want to. But she felt some satisfaction in making her wishes plain to him anyway.
“If you are thinking of escape, don’t. Vicious animals protect the grounds from intruders.”
A ruse? Though she’d heard some vampires used trained pit bul s or dobermans to guard their premises.
Wel , Daemon was back to being egotistical and control ing, which suited her fine. She could deal with him better that way.
Otherwise, he threw her off-kilter, and she wasn’t sure how to take him. He bowed his head and waited.
She stalked into the bathroom, then slammed the door with such force it rattled the window. She swore she heard him laugh.
She examined the window.Barred.She ground her teeth.
A whirlpool tub big enough for two dominated the room with its swirling chocolate marble like fudge ripple ice cream—her favorite flavor. Gold mirrors hung above two marble sinks set off by shining gold faucets. Encased in clear glass, a separate shower sat on the opposite wal . Jeez, the vampire had nicer stuff than she had—standard chrome faucet on a standard single sink. One porcelain tub/shower unit, one chrome mirror/shelf unit. Period.
She turned on the shower, then while the water whooshed down the drain, disguising the noise she made, she searched al the cabinet drawers for something she could use on the door lock. Not finding anything, she considered breaking the glass patio door, but then what? He’d be one pissed-off vampire.
Exasperated, she yanked off her clothes and heard movement in the bedroom. Daemon was listening to what she was up to?
She climbed into the shower and glanced down at the peach shampoo sitting in a shower organizer.Peach?
She ran the shampoo through her wet hair and washed her face, brushing the silky soap over her breasts.
“Call me if you need me ,”Daemon suddenly said, then she sensed he had vanished.
Just as quickly, she sensed Krustalus outside the house again. Her eyes shot open, and soap slipped into them. Cursing under her breath, she hurried to rinse the burning soap out of her eyes and then from her hair. She expected the bastard to speak to Daemon, to ask for entrance, to keep his communications secret from her, to show how superior he was.And clever.Daemon must have known he was here too, and that’s why he had left so suddenly.
“Tezra, love, how are you?”
When Krustalus communicated with her instead of Daemon, her heart sped up, and she shot out of the shower. Until she realized she had no weapons. Then she spied her bag, and a flicker of hope came to her. Dripping water everywhere, she yanked open the zipper. Inside, she found her swords, their shining metal gleaming in the bathroom light.Yes!
A situation of neglectful assumptions? Atreides probably had assumed Bernard would have removed the weapons from her bag. Daemon would assume Atreides had total y disarmed her. Thank God vampires could be as disorganized as members of the Special Crimes Unit at times.
After hastily drying, she dressed in black denims and a cowl-neck pink cashmere sweater, then slipped on a pair of low boots.
Krustalus hadn’t spoken to her again. She imagined Daemon was communicating to him in private somewhere else because she couldn’t detect either of them. She shoved one of her swords underneath the mattress in case she got caught. Then she’d have a backup if she needed it—ifDaemon didn’t kil her for what she was about to do.
Heart hammering, she rushed to the patio door, grabbed a brass umbrel a stand and bashed it against the glass. Nothing happened to the damnable glass.
She searched for something harder. The crystal lamps, though heavy, might shatter first. The mahogany stepping stool beside the high bed? She tried lifting it. Too massive to hoist against the patio door.
She rummaged through Daemon’s closet. Shoes and clothes from sporty to dressy, like any wel -dressed man owned. She peered into a darkened corner of the closet. A wooden box sat half hidden beneath his trousers. Opening it, she found a huge assortment of keys, different kinds from every period, it seemed. Long, short, fat, skinny, tiny, huge, brass, iron. One by one, she tried them.
Half an hour later, she kicked the box aside and grabbed the umbrel a stand, readying it for another bash. A vampire suddenly hissed behind her.
Her heart lurched, right before his huge hand engulfed her wrist.Chapter Five
When Daemon agreed to meet Krustalus at Popia’s Wharfside Restaurant, he’d had one goal—to find out if the vampire had murdered Tezra’s parents. If Krustalus had committed the crime, he would be far too clever to trip up unless his conceit got the best of him. But learning that the bastard had touched Tezra intimately without her permission took the game to a different level.
He assumed from the way she acted that Krustalus had bitten her. Daemon figured Krustalus wanted her—not dead as he had first presumed, but as his mate. If Krustalus thought he could intimidate the woman without consequences, let him tangle with an ancient more his match.
Seated next to the expansive windows overlooking the rugged Oregon coastline, Daemon tapped his fingers on the table. He considered the antique-looking coins—replicas of ones he’d used three hundred years earlier—buried in the clear plastic tabletop, nestled against dark, seasoned wood trimmed by a white braided rope. He glanced at his watch. Krustalus was fifteen minutes late.
The sound of conversations and the aroma of fresh fish frying in spicy sauces fil ed the air.
Daemon tuned out the background noise and watched the clouds building, darkening, casting shadows across the foaming waves. If Krustalus wanted to win his favor, making him waitwasn’tthe way to do it. But another notion bothered Daemon. Was the vampire surprised to learn of Daemon’s association with the huntress? He hadn’t seemed to be. In fact, it was almost as though he was engineering a confrontation with Daemon.
“Would you like to order something to drink?” a waitress asked, breaking into his thoughts.
He studied the girl’s throat revealed by a low-cut blouse, listened to the blood pumping through her veins, saw the pulse beckoning to him.
“Water,” he said, and turned away.
He had to feed soon, he admitted, because he hadn’t noticed the girl’s face, breasts, legs, nothing, just the tempting pulse in the veins of her neck. The gnawing in his bel y wouldn’t go away until he fed.
He tapped his fingers on the table again and glanced out the window at the panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean. The waves in a never-ending fluid motion rol ed in, tackling the boulders in their path, receding and coming in for yet another charge. The salty spray shot upward with the clash—an image worth capturing with his paints.
“Ahh, Daemon,” a woman said, distracting him.
Before he acknowledged her, he recognized the sensuous lilt to her voice. Lichorus stood before his table, her black eyes chal enging, her raven hair straight, dangling past her slim hips. At five-eleven, she could have been a runway model. Instead, the vampiress preferred being a vampire’s pet.
“Lichorus.” Daemon bowed his head slightly in greeting.
“I hear rumors. Ugly rumors.”
Daemon figured what the gossip was about—Tezra, a member of the Special Crimes Unit, locked up in his home, a battle of wil s between them. “Word spreads quickly.”
“Already dissension is building among us.” Lichorus pul ed a seat out for herself. “Do you mind?”
He motioned for her to sit. “Make it quick. I’m meeting with Krustalus.” And it better be soon, dammit.
Her dark eyes narrowed while she took her seat. Did she know Krustalus? With a movement designed to entice Daemon, she licked her red-frosted lips, but he wasn’t interested.
His gaze dropped to the pulse in her neck. Normal y anyone would satisfy the hunger, but al he could think of was Tezra’s sweet blood. Al blood had a distinctive taste. The smel of hers was like copper and wine, the taste as sweet as the richest burgundy
…he couldn’t get it out of his mind.
“Daemon, I believe my lover knows who kil ed the police officers.”
Instantly, he sat tal er. “Who?”
Exaggerated by three-inch red polished nails, Lichorus’s long, thin fingers reached out to him across the table. She scraped them over his hands. Finding her action annoying, he pul ed away.
She offered a simpering smile. “I’ve tried to find out from him, but he doesn’t…trust me. He believes I stil have a thing for you.”
Her lips turned up more. “Imagine that.”
Daemon’s stomach roiled. “What makes you think Mustaphus knows? If he’s so secretive—”
“He’s not very good at covert operations. From time to time he makes a slip. He communicated with another vampire but didn’t funnel his thoughts directly to him. Mustaphus related how thril ed he was the kil er had been so successful.”
“This in itself means nothing. Several admire the kil er’s boldness. That doesn’t mean they know who it is.” Unable to determine if Lichorus was lying or not, Daemon leaned back in his chair and studied her reactions closely.
“Why keep his communications secret for the most part, then? The other kept his talk channeled. But, darling, there’s more.
Mustaphus knew where the police officer had been murderedbeforeit was announced on the news this morning.”
“Several of us knew of the murder before it was reported.”
Lichorus gave a wicked smile, a gleam in her eye.
She shrugged. “Let me amend my comment. He was therebeforethe kil ing took place.”
Daemon stiffened his back. “You are certain?”
“But it stil doesn’t prove he had anything to do with the kil ing or that he knew who had committed the crime, unless he was there while it occurred. Why didn’t you report your suspicions to Maison?” Daemon asked, incensed that anyone would conceal the bastard’s actions.
“The deed had already been done.” Lichorus circled an embedded coin in the table with her fingernail. “Word is the SCU is frantic Tezra Campbel is missing. They’re concerned the vampire serial kil er has murdered her or taken her hostage.”
Lichorus’s lips rose. “But we know where she’s currently residing, don’t we?” She shrugged. “I believe there is much more at stake here. Those involved don’t realize how dangerous a war would be. They’re arrogant enough to believe the vampires would succeed and rule.”
“What would you want in return for the information?”
“Why, darling, as loyal as I have always been to your rule…”
He lifted a brow. “You know better than to play games with me. I recal a time when a few hotheads pul ed their support, and you were at the forefront of that movement. Hel , if you hadn’t turned the others in, proved you could stil be useful and sworn your al egiance again, I would have had no choice but to eliminate you back then.”
She hissed. “How can you get caught up in a dal iance with another huntress? You’re playing with fire again.”
“Temper, temper, Lichorus.” Certain she would tel everyone she knew and the word would filter to the kil er, he set the trap.
“She’s in my custody for her protection until I discover who kil ed the police officers. If he wants her, he’l have to come and get her.”
“You are into bondage these days, my prince? I would be happy to oblige.”
“I’l keep that in mind.” Daemon bowed his head, formal y announcing their discussion was at an end. If the vampiress wished to provide him information free of conditions, he would be wil ing to listen, but he would not be cowed into an agreement with her.
Before Lichorus responded, Tezra channeled a scream into Daemon’s thoughts.
In Daemon’s bedroom, the vampire tightened his grip on Tezra’s wrist, numbing her hand. She dropped the umbrel a stand.
Before she could spin around and see the menace, he wrapped an arm around her throat. Squeezing, the bastard attempted to choke her into submission. Her mind blackening and in panic, she thrust her free elbow hard into his gut.
Grunting, he loosened his grip.
Grave mistake on his part.
She twisted around and saw the tal est vampire she’d ever encountered, topping Daemon by several inches. With heated blue eyes and extended white fangs that looked like they’d never touched an ounce of coffee, he was the first vampire she’d seen wearing a buzz haircut. Dressed in a black leather jacket, padded vest, boots and leather pants, he seemed as shielded as a knight in chain mail.
His unusual appearance startled her so, she stared at him, slack-jawed.
Grave mistake on her part.
Seizing her shoulders, he slammed her back against the glass patio door, sending a shard of pain slicing down her spine.
Unsheathing her sword, she screamed telepathical y at Daemon, the bastard, for leaving her. The vampire giant was too close for her to swing her sword to any great advantage. With the glass pressed hard against her back, she couldn’t move her arm up enough to thrust. Despite lack of maneuverability, she final y managed to slice at the ancient vampire’s side. With her free hand, she shoved his massive chin up so he couldn’t bite her.
A losing battle. So much bigger than her and an ancient male, the creature quickly wore her down. Her arm shook while she tried to hold his face away. She slashed the sword again at his waist only to make negligible cuts in his jacket.
Pressing closer with his extended canines, he threatened to rip out her throat. His breath smel ed of iron, of blood—he’d recently fed.
Unable to free herself, she struck him again with her sword. Then to her horror, he released her shoulders and grabbed her face. He turned her chin to the side and licked her neck.
The torture before the bite.
Daemon suddenly appeared next to Tezra and yanked the sword out of her hand. “Dammit, Voltan. What the hel ’s going on?
You’re supposed to be protecting her.”
This giant-sized oaf was supposed to protect her? She couldn’t stop trembling, and if she had her sword back, she would make short work of Daemon for leaving her with this gargantuan vampire who was about to kil her.
“Wel ?” Daemon’s face darkened with anger.
Voltan looked back at Tezra. “She would have broken your patio door, Prince Daemon. I merely prevented it.” He bowed his head to Daemon, then he lifted thick, shaggy brows and eyed Tezra with disparagement. “She needs a tighter leash. Do you wish me to confine her to the dungeon?”
She fisted her hands at her waist. This vampire was even more conceited than Daemon, if that were possible.
“No, I don’t want her in the wine cel ar, for now.” Daemon examined the sword’s razor sharp blade. “Where did she get the hunter’s weapon?”
Gladdened she’d had enough foresight to hide the other sword, she smiled inwardly.
“When I found her trying to break out, she already possessed the sword. Didn’t your brother first take her into custody?”
“Yes, but Atreides should have disarmed her. Who brought her to him? Her hunter friend?”
Daemon faced Tezra, his dark eyes nearly black, studying her as if trying to learn the truth through reading her mind. Al he’d find was an impenetrable wal .
“She didn’t have a sword when I brought her here, so her bodyguard was not as solidly under Atreides’s control as my brother thought.” Daemon glanced around the room, then motioned to the bathroom. “Her suitcase. Check it. Make sure she has no more weapons.”
As if she’d be dumb enough to leave one in there.
Voltan stalked into the bathroom. “My lord, the wench has made a mess of your bathroom. Water everywhere.”
Daemon reached out to touch her cheek. “You smel of peaches, Tezra.”
Furrowing her brow, she took a step out of his reach. Before she could make a catty remark about his choice in shampoo fragrances, he grabbed her wrist. “You haven’t eaten.”
Her teeth clenched as she tried to yank away from him. “Neither have you.”
“You’re right.” His eyes darkened, he watched her like a vampire desirous of a quick fix would, intent on wil ing a human to offer blood in exchange for sexual pleasure. “I’m afraid you’ve spoiled my appetite.”
She stopped struggling. “What the hel does that mean?” Yet she had an inkling. He wanted her blood, but he’d better noteventhink such a thing.
Drawers and cabinets opened and shut in the bathroom.
Daemon broke the intense eye contact between them and turned his focus on the bathroom. “Discover anything, Voltan?”
His guard walked back into the bedroom and shook his head. “Nothing, my lord.”
“Find my brother. Tel him I need to see him and Maison in an hour.”
Voltan bowed and stil hovered a foot tal er than her. “Yes, my lord.” After casting Tezra a disdainful look, he vanished.
Daemon pul ed her close, then took her into the whirling blackness that enveloped those who traveled in the way of the vampire.
They materialized this time in an oversized kitchen that seemed to have two of everything: stoves, fridges, microwaves and miles of black slate counters.
When he released her, she grabbed an edge of the island to steady herself. “You and who else eat here? The whole vampire clan of Oregon?”
An almost imperceptible smile touched his lips while he reached into one of the fridges. “We have celebrations here from time to time. Don’t you like to cook?”
Her brows rose. “Don’t get domestic on me. Where did you go? Why did you leave me alone with that gigantic ape?”
Daemon lifted his hand to silence her.
“I’m not one of your courtiers. Why didn’t you tel me you were the reigning Prince of the Americas?”
“In response to your question about the gigantic ape, Voltan is one of my most loyal friends. Saved my life countless times before we fel to the plague. Once our genetics were mutated by the virus, he rescued me in a number of skirmishes until we were no longer fledglings. Maison and Atreides had other business to attend to. They cannot always—”
“You’re way too much of a woman for me to take that comment seriously. Salmon?”
“Why haven’t you fed? Real y?”
“I told you.” He put the fish in a pan when she didn’t answer his question. “You’ve spoiled me for anyone else.”
“You would have to taste my blood, to…” She touched her lip. “How did I bite my lip?” Her voice shook. “You didn’t…”
“I didn’t suck, if that’s what’s bothering you. I stopped the bleeding.”
“You shouldn’t have.” She was certain her blood couldn’t have made him lose his appetite for anyone else’s, but the idea he had tasted hers at al made her uneasy. “Why haven’t you fed for some time, anyway?”
“The kil ings. How can a vampire look humans in the eye without them worrying he or she might be the serial kil er? Al it takes is one to damage our reputation. I vowed to limit my feeding as much as possible until this matter is cleared up.”
“But you can’t. Not forever.”
“Do you have so little faith in me? I wil discover who the kil er is shortly.” He began to fry the salmon. “Spinach?”
She twisted her mouth in thought, then tucked her hair behind her ears. “Where did you go?”
“To see Krustalus. But he did not show.” Daemon’s jaw ticked.
“I told you he was a bastard.”
His expression dark, he didn’t say a word. After a few minutes, he set the food on the table.
“I want to see the tissue samples you stole.” She sat at the dining room table, big enough to seat twelve.
“There’s a way to deal with this situation.” Daemon sat opposite her.
“Taking down Krustalus?”
“No. This has to do with your sister.”
She narrowed her eyes. Bargaining with a vampire—especial y one who was holding her hostage and seemed to want her for more than a quick taste of her blood—couldn’t be a good thing. “Go on.”
“To reach your sister, someone would need to conceal her bad memories. If I turned her, I could help her, but in the state she’s in, I couldn’t get her consent.”
Tezra’s blood sizzled. “Turning her would violate both your laws and ours. Which is why your brother wil be in big trouble if the SCU learns he tried to turn Bernard without his approval.”
“As far as Bernard is concerned, he’s been released. Besides, he already had vampiric roots.”
“What?” Tezra’s mind raced, her thoughts flooded with memories. She didn’t recal any instance that would indicate Bernard had vampire family ties. “You’re wrong.”
“You know how the SCU feels if they learn any of their members has vampire genealogy. Where would his loyalties lie if it came to a question of family over duty?”
“I-I don’t believe you.”
“Bernard hid his secret wel , but Maison knew his maternal grandfather—a vampire. He’d had a love affair with a woman, Bernard’s grandmother, but the vampire died at the hands of another before he could turn his lover.”
“Bernard’s telepathic,” she said under her breath. “I thought he had the ability because your brother had turned him.”
“No. Bernard hid this fact from you and everyone else he knew. He couldn’t risk having anyone dig into his family ties to learn why he had telepathic abilities—because he was of mixed heritage. In your case, I’ve discovered your deceased aunt was a telepath, and that’s why you have the ability.”
“You’ve been investigating me?” She hated how shril her voice sounded.
He gave her a mysterious smile. “What if you’d had vampiric roots as wel ? One never knows, now, does one?” He ate another bite of his salmon.
Her fork clattered to the plate, and she clenched her fists. “You can’t turn my sister.”
“I’m not saying anyone should turn her, only that it would be a way for someone to shield her mind from the trauma. If her thoughts could be control ed, the painful memories hidden, maybe you could reach her telepathical y and she could return to our world.”
“I can’t do away with the emotional injuries she’s sustained. And I can’t contact her telepathical y. I can only speak with someone who has telepathic abilities. Though I’ve tried to reach her mind, to learn what she’s thinking, I can’t. Not with the way she’s been traumatized. Her thoughts are nonsensical, useless or total y blanked out.”
“Since you are her sister, she would more than likely open her mind to you. But you need to shield her from the horrors that paralyze her and al ow her to see who committed the crimes.”
Tezra frowned. “But I told you I can’t do that.”
He didn’t respond, the look in his eyes unfathomable, the expression on his face formidable.
Her mind swirled as she considered what he was thinking. Then it dawned on her. “Oh, no, no, no.” She waved her hand at him.
“You would have to turn me into a vampiress!” She glared at him. She hated him for suggesting such a thing, yet she realized his plan could mean the difference in a living death or real life for her sister. Her throat clogged with tears.
“As a vampiress you would be able to control her thoughts to a degree. To free her from the trauma. It’s the only way I know to bring her out of the darkness.”
She’d always sworn she’d do anything for her sister, anything to give her life back. Now she had the opportunity? A life for a life?
She swal owed hard. It was only fair, since it was her fol y that had caused her sister’s suffering and their parents’ death.
“There’s something else.”
“What?” Tezra asked, her voice hol ow. She didn’t want to become a vampire, not in her worst nightmares, but for her sister…
“If your sister is able to speak again, she’d be able to testify in front of the SCU High Court and tel them the name of the vampire who kil ed your parents. Justice would prevail.”
“What about the chief? He said Krustalus was the kil er.”
“And you trust him?”
“I have to speak with him, learn how he knows.” Then a distasteful thought flickered across her mind. Wouldn’t Krustalus be surprised if she came after him with a set of fangs? She rubbed her temple. If she didn’t rein in her darker side, she’d be no better than the murdering vampire.
Glowering at Daemon, she wasn’t sure who she was madder at—him for suggesting she be turned, or herself for getting into the predicament she was in by taunting Krustalus so long ago. “I suppose you’d be the one to turn me.”
Daemon leaned back in his chair. “I no more want to change you than you want to be turned.”
After the way he’d acted toward her, like he wanted to taste every inch of her, she didn’t believe him for a second, yet his words fed into her insecurities. No one wanted to risk being with her, not even a blasted vampire, once he learned she’d been instrumental in her parents’ deaths.
“Who then? Your brother? That beast you cal ed Voltan? Maison?”
“No one. It was just a thought.” Daemon finished his salmon.
The vampire was so infuriating, Tezra bit back the urge to slug him. “Why the hel did you bring it up then?”
“It was an option. But…” He shook his head. “It wouldn’t work.”
“Why did you say it would work then, if it wouldn’t?”
“I doubt it’s ever been tried before. Beyond that, the matter of turning you isn’t a good idea.” He reached for her plate. “Done with your food?”
“Turning me isn’t a good idea, why?” Not that she wanted to be turned, but what did he think? That she’d make a lousy vampiress? That being with her was too risky?
He grabbed her wrist just as she sensed a vampire lurking near the house. “You’l return to the bedroom, then I must take care of other business.”Chapter Six
Tezra attempted to jerk free from Daemon’s grip, but he moved her in his vampiric way before he released her in his bedroom again.
“You know you’re infuriatingly control ing, Daemon. Don’t youeverdrag me off like that again. And what the hel do you mean by saying turning me wouldn’t be a good idea?”
The fire in her emerald eyes, and her words, amused him. He gave her a sinister smirk. “So now youwantto be turned?”
“Of course not.”
“That’s why it wouldn’t work.” Daemon sensed the vampire who had arrived had vanished again and assumed Krustalus had his own people checking out his safeguards, looking for weak links, a place that would afford him the opportunity to get to Tezra. Daemon opened the patio door and motioned for her to join him on the balcony for some fresh air. Her skin had become so pale, he was certain his suggestion to turn her was making her il , which hadn’t been his intention.
No matter how much he’d thought about it, he couldn’t come up with a better solution. Except he’d vowed never to turn another woman for as long as he lived. Despite this, he couldn’t al ow anyone else to change her, to control her or to force her to be his mate. On the other hand, he assumed the guilt she felt concerning her sister would never be appeased until she set her sister free and the SCU found her parents’ murderer accountable.
Which meant Daemon was damned if he helped her and damned if he didn’t.
“If you turned me, what would the consequences be for you?” she asked softly, looking out at the vista.
Her question stunned him. He understood her agonizing over her sister, the kil er, the effects being turned would have on her emotional y and physical y. Not in a mil ennium would he think she’d be concerned about the impact it would have on him.
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
She looked at him with a questioning gaze. “Except in Bernard’s case, I’ve heard vampires would rather die than turn a member of the SCU who targets vampire renegades.”
“True.” Daemon wasn’t going to deny it.
“Then your people wouldn’t be happy with you.”
Personal y, there was more at stake for him than that. “Changing you isn’t feasible.” He rested his arms against the railing and looked in the direction of the evergreen forest that framed his backyard, the peace and tranquility only an il usion. Beyond the forest he knew renegade vampires were planning some kind of mischief. “I’l find the evidence you need and take care of Krustalus.”
“What about my sister?”
“When I take Krustalus into custody, she’l be able to verify it’s him and seeing him as a menace no longer, maybe she’l get wel .”
“Renegade vampires can’t be taken into custody. They’d just,poof, vanish. And if you terminated Krustalus first, he’d be a pile of ashes, and there would be nothing left for Katie to identify.” She shook her head. “In any event, she’s been traumatized enough. It wouldn’t work. And you know it.”
He knew it, and that was the point he was trying to make. He couldn’t think of any other way to deal with Katie’s problem except to change Tezra. Yet it wasn’t a sure solution either. What if a vampiric Tezra stil couldn’t reach Katie?
Tezra paced, silent, chewing her bottom lip.
The thought of licking her lip came rushing back to mind. But when he sensed another vampire’s approach, he pul ed her into the house and shut the door.
She folded her arms. “If I agree to be turned, I won’t be forced into being your mate or anybody else’s.”
Not about to give an inch on this, Daemon stood tal er. “Living the life of a vampire can be tenuous at best. Some vampires prey on the fledglings, which is what you’d be for a good century. I wouldn’t turn you then leave you to fend for yourself. You’d have to be…hel , what am I saying? I’m not turning you. End of discussion.”
She raised her brows. “Fine. Go about your business, why don’t you? And while you’re at it, I’l look at the tissue samples you stole.”
He couldn’t fathom what she was up to, but her words reminded him of his brother when he was bound and determined to do something Daemon didn’t agree with. Speaking with an ancient authority, he offered no room for argument, simply stating, “You won’t be turned.”
He transported himself to the greatroom, then slipped her sword into the hidden panel next to the fireplace. He would protect her, help her, but he would not al ow her to be another vampire’s mate.
He made a telepathic cal to the vampires to spread the word.“Death to any who try to turn the SCU investigator, TezraCampbell.All will obey me in this.”
Once again, he felt he was tumbling down the dark chasm after a mate, but this time he was determined not to make the same mistake again.
Tezra paced across the darkly woven Turkish rug as soon as Daemon vanished.“Okay, so where are the damned tissuesamples, Daemon?”
He didn’t respond, and she ground her teeth.
Then she glanced at the patio door. Had he locked it? Her heart hammering, she opened the door as quietly as she could, worried the door hinges might squeak. Yet, subconsciously she suspected a trick on Daemon’s part.
Not bothering to close it for fear a click might give her away, she rushed across the balcony and peered into the woods that surrounded the property—guarded, he’d said, so she needed a weapon to venture there.
She ran back into the bedroom, pul ed on her leather coat and yanked the spare sword out from under the mattress. After attaching the sheath to her belt, she returned to the balcony. Evergreen vines wound through a wrought iron trel is attached to the house, perfect for use as an escape ladder. As long as the rungs didn’t suffer from corrosion, she figured they would hold her weight.
She swung over the top of the railing and let herself down. The toes of her boots felt for the first rung. Gingerly, she tested her weight on the metal. When it didn’t give, she eased down. Her boot slipped on glossy leaves. She lost her footing and stifled a wild cry of alarm. With a thud, she landed on the grass. Panicked that she’d be discovered, she hurried to her feet and crouched in place.
Darkened windows al across the back of the house made her skin tingle. She felt like a fish in an aquarium. Daemon could be watching her from anywhere.
Surely if he saw her, he would stop her flight. Yet she halfway suspected he planned the whole damned thing.
For now, she had one goal in mind as she dashed for the woods—focusing on her mission. Time to track down Krustalus and end his miserable life.
The autumn midday sun couldn’t part the thick gray cloud cover, and the mist stil clung to the ground, rising three feet from the wet grass. The forest itself appeared dark, deep and ominous, but her only concern now was freedom and slowing the thunder of her heartbeat for fear Daemon would hear it no matter how far she ran from him. She wished the legend that vampires could be exposed to sunlight and burst into flames was true. She’d have another way to terminate Krustalus.
Nearly to the fringe of the forest, she hoped to find a way off the property under the cover of the trees.
But as soon as she reached the comforting shade of the pines, a low, threatening growl warned her she wasn’t alone.
Maison and Daemon watched Tezra through the greatroom windows. He shook his head when she made a dead stop at the edge of the forest.
“She’s been al owed to run, why?” Maison asked.
“She needs to discover for herself that not only is she protected here, but she’s unable to leave.”
Maison folded his arms and rocked on his heels like he always did when he was worried. “Lichorus is pretty incensed. She’s stirring up dissenters.”
“Tezra needs my help.” Daemon would not ask for anyone’s approval.
“To discover the identity of the vampire who kil ed the police officers, I know.”
“To bring down Krustalus.”
Maison stared at Daemon, his blue eyes wide. “What hashedone?”
“Maybe kil ed her parents and before this, other humans.”
“You don’t know for certain?” Maison sounded concerned and angry at the same time.
“Her sister does. She’s been traumatized and can’t communicate with anyone. If Tezra was one of us, maybe she could reach her and learn the truth about the murderer.”
Maison cursed under his breath. “Damn, Daemon. You cannot consider turning her for that reason.”
“How in the hel did she get another sword?” Daemon mused, ignoring his friend’s comment when she whipped the steel out of its sheath and leveled it at the first of the wolves.
“You vowed you’d never turn another human after the last three times. You cannot change the huntress.”
“I can think of no other way.”
Tezra twisted around, keeping the snarling wolves, now eight of them, at bay. She didn’t attack them, only remained in a defensive posture.
Despite her angry words concerning Krustalus, Daemon didn’t feel she would kil him in cold blood without first proving he truly was responsible for murdering her parents and others.
“What ifIturned her?” Maison asked. “I wouldn’t claim her, just change her so she could help her sister. The clans of Oregon wouldn’t care if I did so, as long as she consents.”
The thought of his longtime friend tasting her blood made Daemon’s turn slightly green. “No.”
Maison’s brow furrowed. “What difference would it make?”
Daemon couldn’t answer. The woman had burrowed under his skin, and no matter how much he felt she’d be his undoing, he didn’t want anyone else to have her.
“You’ve already decided this?” Maison asked.
“If you turned her but didn’t take her for your mate, others would undoubtedly try. She would be a prized vampiric possession, don’t you agree?”
Maison gave a stiff nod.
Tezra swung around when a wolf behind her got too close. She cal ed out to him with soothing, coaxing words of praise.
“Ancient vampires wouldn’t give her a choice. She couldn’t stand up to them.”
“She has agreed to this permanent bond?” Maison asked.
Daemon gave a dark laugh. “Of course not.” He motioned to Tezra, her sword poised. “That’s why she’s playing with our friends and not waiting for my love bites upstairs. But the truth is I’ve told her I wouldn’t change her.”
Taking a deep breath, Maison nodded. “Then al is not lost.”
“There’s hope she won’t succumb to your desires, and you wil not have to break your oath to yourself.” Maison rubbed the back of his neck like he always did when he was getting ready to reveal something he wasn’t sure Daemon would take wel . “Do you know she was in a special home for troubled teens for two years fol owing her parents’ deaths?”
Maison lifted a shoulder. “She was troubled.”
“What did the records say?” The fact she hadn’t had a family to take of her during her formative years bothered Daemon. Even though he was the bastard son of a king, his father had provided for him and Atreides in a castle befitting the ruler of the land.
Their duchess mother and her family supplied the warmth and loving the two growing boys needed until she died. Then his uncle had taken care of them. He couldn’t envision Tezra living in an ice-cold environment, especial y after her parents and sister had been taken from her.
Maison cleared his throat. “She escaped from the home several times but was easily recaptured.”
Now Daemon saw why Tezra fought confinement.
Maison turned to watch her. “She always went straight to the hospital where her sister was sent. The staff from the home alerted the hospital, and when she arrived they took her back into custody.”
“Was she al owed to visit her?”
“No. They restricted Tezra to the home. One of the staff said al owing her to visit her sister would be tantamount to rewarding her dysfunctional behavior.”
Daemon fisted his hands. “Dysfunctional for wanting to see her sister?”
“Yes. The first time they had to wrench her away from her sister’s embrace. They said it caused problems with the younger sister, that it was too traumatic for her to see Tezra.”
“Too traumatic to separate them, they meant.” Daemon had every intention of overstepping his bounds and straightening out the home, or shutting it down. He took a deep breath to settle his anger. “What else did the records say?”
“She is a very talented weapons expert. They couldn’t pit her against females, only the more capable males. They said it was due to the anger she harbored. They trained her in criminal investigations because she tested off the scale in that subject, but several of her instructors recommended she continue with the huntress training she’d started before her parents were murdered.”
“Was she ever destructive?”
“They felt she might be somewhat unstable.”
Daemon raised his brows.
“She insisted a vampire had kil ed her parents when they knew it couldn’t be since the murderer hadn’t kil ed them like a vampire would and hadn’t taken their blood either. They cal ed her delusional.”
Daemon snorted. “No more delusional than you or me.”
“I must see to other matters. With your permission, I wil take my leave.” Maison bowed, and Daemon reciprocated.
When Maison left, Daemon opened his patio door and ditched his clothes. The mist enveloped him, shielding him from prying eyes before he shape-shifted effortlessly into a wolf. Bounding across the yard in his thick brown pelt, he headed straight for Tezra. He’d made it clear to his guards that should she take a jaunt through the woods there would be hel to pay if anyone injured her. Yet, he stil worried one of his vampires might take their guarding mission a little too far, especial y now that she was armed.
Al eight wolves turned their attention to his loping gait, and he warned them,“The lady is not to be harmed, only stopped. Juststay out of her sword’s path.”
When she twisted her head around to see what caught their eye, her mouth dropped and she took a step back.
Yes, here comes the big bad wolf, darling. Meet your adversary,he thought.Round two.Chapter Seven
Great, just great. If it wasn’t bad enough that vampires in the form of eight gray wolves surrounded Tezra in the forest shadows, now an even larger one advanced on her. Except that he was more of a sable brown mixed with deep reds, the tips of his coat black, and his face a cream-colored mask, making him stand out among the rest.Daemon.The sunlight glinted off his dark brown eyes, and his mouth seemed to smile, which did nothing to stil her racing heart.
Before he reached her with his long gait, his sable coat glistening in the filtered sun, Atreides appeared in front of her and bowed his head slightly in greeting. She quickly stepped back.
“Where the hel did you get a huntress’s sword?” Atreides asked.
With a brow raised, he shared eye contact with the large wolf. The other wolves dispersed, headed across the property.
Dismissed, most likely.
“Daemon’s guards warned me you were out here, and I came to escort you back.” Atreides’s jaw tightened. “The SCU sent hunters in search of you. You have to tel them you’re safe.”
Oh hel , that’s al she needed—the SCU dictating to Daemon. That would real y go over wel . “Let me go, and that wil be the end of their concern.”
“I’ll be glad to release you when the killer of the police officers is dead ,”Daemon communicated to her. The brown wolf melted into mist, then transformed into his human form—his very naked human form. She couldn’t help but look at the whole of Daemon, every gorgeous muscle taut. He looked ready to pounce…on her.
A heated flush spread through her. What was there about him that made her dissolve under his heated scrutiny? She’d only had a couple of hunter lovers to compare him to—and they were conceited to the max. Interested only in one thing—she learned after the fact—having sex with a wil ing huntress.Bastards. Quick, like a swordfight with a vampire, in and out and finished.
Daemon relieved her of her sword and handed it to Atreides. “Next time, make sure she istotallydisarmed.” He seized her wrist.
“Let go of—” Darkness swal owed her next word, and in the next instant, she stood in Daemon’s cavernous bedroom with him.
“Daemon, what should I do about the SCU? Lichorus has threatened to tell them you’re holding Tezra hostage. If they takeyou into custody, our people will revolt,”Atreides said from downstairs.
Lichorus? Who the hel was that? Refocused on the immediate concern, Tezra didn’t want to escalate tensions between the SCU and Daemon and his people when he was only trying to keep her safe.
“I’l talk to them, convince them I’m al right.” Her gaze drifted to his body—hard and control ed—yet she figured if she touched him anywhere, he’d lose the restraint he seemed to have. So why was the thought so appealing?
His touch tender, Daemon ran his hand down her arm. “Al I want is to keep you from being the vampire’s next victim.”
His words and actions thawed the ice wal surrounding her heart, yet she stil craved freedom. Being imprisoned by him was too much like when she was in the teen home under guard.
“I have to research the crimes.” She had to remain focused on her mission, not give in to the sexual craving he’d aroused.
She didn’t like being under Daemon’s thumb, but the alternative? The SCU would lock her away so she couldn’t go against their rules any longer. She took another look at Daemon’s physique, which brought a lift to his lips. She made the decision, right or wrong. She’d stay with him. At least she thought Daemon would let her continue her work, albeit under his control. The SCU?
They’d stop her.
“You wil let me conduct my research, right?” Her words were spoken as a promise rather than a question.
His dark eyes hinted at amusement.
She took his subtle response as a yes. “I’l tel them I’m secure in your protective custody. They won’t like it and wil insist you hand me over for safekeeping.”
“I’l keep you safe.” His eyes entranced her, and he drew close. A shiver of need rippled through her. He gripped her shoulders, and the touch of his strong hands triggered the desire to experience the shared intimacy of lovers, to feel the burning passion grow between them.
She blinked away tears and studied the flecks of gold in his dark chocolate eyes. His thumbs rubbed her shoulders, warming her to the marrow. But then he turned away from her and pul ed a phone from a drawer. Wordlessly, he handed her the receiver and lifted a brow.
Hoping this wasn’t a mistake, she dialed the administrative head of the SCU. “Julie, it’s me, Tezra.”
“Where have you been? Half the hunters in the state are searching for you. Senior Council Member Ingrid is furious you were trying to solve the police murders.”
Tezra could envision Julie twisting her shoulder length hair around her fingers like she did when her nerves were on edge.
“I’m safe. Have them cal off the search.”
“A vampiress reported that you’d been taken against your wil by a vampire named Daemon. Senior Member Ingrid says he’s one of the most powerful in this country. How can we know you’re there voluntarily?” Julie nearly whispered the question as if she was concerned the vampire would be listening in on the conversation.
Which he was.
“I have to go, but no, he’s not holding me hostage.”
“The senior staff wil want you here to tel them yourself,” Julie said.
Tezra knew then Julie believed she was being held hostage.
“Listen, he and his people are keeping me safe. And he’s helping me catch the murderer of the police investigators. I’ve got to go, real y. Tel them I’m fine. I’l get in touch with you when we have some answers.”
“The SCU won’t like it.” Julie’s voice sounded low and irritated.
“The kil er’s after me. It can’t be helped. I’l be safe—”
Julie cleared her throat. “The senior staff wil send hunters to check your story.”
“We’l be in and out investigating. So we won’t always be at Daemon’s place.”
Julie snorted. “Al my best, sweetie, and be careful. Even with the vampires watching your back, one of them is the kil er.”
“I’l keep in touch.” Tezra hung up the phone and handed it to Daemon.
He set it on the dresser, then ran his hand over her arm, his eyes smoky with desire. “What now?”
She tilted her chin up. “I want to look at the tissue samples.” No way was she going to tel him she wanted red-hot sex with him.
His brows rose. Wel , hel , he asked! Or had he realized from her expression what she’d been thinking? Her skin heated with mortifaction.
Daemon wrapped his arms around Tezra’s waist. Her traitorous body responded to his touch as if she were the lock and he the key, and with one twist they fit together in perfect synchronization.
She hadn’t been with a hunter in so long and it was always strip-and-do-it. No foreplay. No building up to the big crescendo.
Just strictly get the business out of the way. Sure, the guys seemed perfectly satisfied, but she’d felt…used, afterwards, though she’d thought she feel something more. Loved, wanted. Wasn’t to be.
“Are you sure al you want to do is look at tissue samples? Nothing else?” He pul ed her hair away from her neck and held her firmly. His tongue swept down her throat.
She closed her eyes and shivered.
Of course she was interested. Damned interested. But how could she justify sexual relations with a vampire? Not any vampire, though. The prince of al the American clans.Daemon.The only man she’d ever felt so drawn to.
A part of her desired to be wanted, to be cherished, protected and respected for who she was, despite what she’d done to her family.
Daemon reached up and ran his hands over her breasts, massaging, lifting, weighing them, stealing her thoughts.
More than ever, she wanted the intimacy Daemon offered her.
He pressed her mouth with a kiss, hard and unwavering, demanding and possessive. She shouldn’t have loved it. She should have resented his rapaciousness—how he plundered her like no man had ever done, would never risk doing without her consent. Instead, Daemon lured her in. He wove a silken web of charm securely around her like a warm cloak on a bitter cold day.
She battled the burning urgency that consumed her and refused to give in to her baser longings. Yet her fingers itched to comb his unbound hair, and she yearned to press against his firm, naked body.
His velvet tongue, tasting of the richest wine, probed hers and intoxicated her. He slid his hands down her arms and caressed.
The cashmere sweater slipped against her sensitive skin as she—a telepath who could not be hypnotized by a vampire—fel under his charm. A split second of panic made her feel vulnerable to his vampiric magnetism. Then she realized he couldn’t control her in that way, nor she him.
Leaning into his kiss, she gave in to the lust. She wouldn’t al ow herself to cal it anything other than a raging desire to satisfy primitive needs. She wouldn’t fight the growing attraction any longer. Her fingers gripped his back and held on as she teetered precariously at the edge of a jagged cliff.
His mouth shifted down her jaw, and she closed her eyes, knowing the bloodlust cal ed to him, compel ing him to feed. Her pulse pounded in her ears, and the sound must be an aphrodisiac to him.
Worse, she tilted her chin up and offered herself to him, encouraging him to take her while she raked her fingers through his sable hair, fanning the satiny strands over his broad shoulders.
Daemon’s tongue traced her throat, sending exquisite shivers down her skin. His hands shifted to her breasts, his fingertips caressing her swol en nipples. She moaned as his touch destroyed any last resolve to keep him away.
Without warning, he suddenly separated from her, muttering under his breath in some ancient language, and she guessed by his angry tone it was a curse.
His jaw ticked, his smoky gaze refocused on her, the heat in his eyes stil simmering. He communicated his thoughts to his brother, “Tell Lichorus all is well with the SCU. I’m sure this will make her feel much better.”
Before she could question who the troublemaking vampire was, Daemon took her face in his hands and leaned over to kiss her.
His heavy erection pressed against her bel y. Her own panties were damp in anticipation. Jeez, what was she thinking? She wanted to help her sister, destroy Krustalus, ensure the SCU didn’t turn Portland inside out looking for her, and so what does she do? Offers her throat and everything else to a vampire.
His powerful fingers chased away the tension in her shoulders. What she wouldn’t give for a man’s touch like that every evening after a day of investigations.
He kissed her mouth, stealing her breath. Control ed, he pressured her to respond. Shaking loose her reservations, she kissed him back. Her tongue tangled with his. Her body molded with his hard form. Wanting al of him, she craved the intimacy only lovers captured.
He slipped her sweater over her head, then plied her mouth with his heated kisses. Her fingers explored the fluid way his biceps moved, strong and resilient. He growled and reached behind her for the fastener on her bra.
“In front,” she said against his mouth.
With a snap, he unfastened the bra and tossed it away. Afterwards, he moved so fast, before she knew it she was naked in his arms, then on the bed.
His arousal pressed into her waist, his dark eyes nearly black. His jaw tightened, and she assumed his canines itched to extend, but he fought revealing them.
She looked away from his entrancing gaze, knowing his hypnotic qualities could compel most humans to his wil . “W-wil you make love to me?” She ran her fingers over his chest, touched his nipples with feather-light sweeps of her fingertips, forcing him to growl. “Wil you?”
His erection pressed against her, and she wanted to feel him deep inside her. Why? She knew he wanted her. She knew he’d had lots of lovers before, had to have, as ancient as he was. So why not have an experienced lover like him? No commitment.
No one would ever know.
But more than that, she desired to learn why her grandmother had fal en for a vampire. If the one she’d loved was anything like Daemon…Tezra was beginning to understand the compel ing attraction. She wanted to know why blood bonds offered their blood so readily—drawn to the vampire’s power. She craved feeling real pleasure like hunter lovers had denied her.
Or was she the one who was incapable of having great sex? Something psychological that impeded her happiness? She had to know.
She got up the nerve and said, “I’ve never…” She meant to say, “…had a lover who was al that great,” but Daemon smiled, the look as self-satisfied as ever, as if he knew.
She shoved at him to get him off her. “Forget it. Let me up.”
“You’l permit me to feed?”
“You won’t turn me.” Even though she wanted him to. Whatever it took to rescue her sister. Once he made love to her, would he change his mind? She was wil ing to risk anything.
“I told you I wouldn’t. I’l make love to you, feed and…nothing more.” The glint in his eye suggested amusement, intrigue and something else. Conceit, most likely. Arrogance, that after he made love to her, she wouldn’t want anyone else.
He kissed her more slowly now, not in such a rush. As if he believed he’d won her over already, or maybe he realized he had one shot to prove to her she’d want no other.
She folded her arms beneath her head.
He stopped and looked at her, a smile tugging at his lips. Ooh, he could be so exasperatingly superior.
“What?” she said, her tongue laced with poison.
“You would enjoy the experience more if you participated.”
“What you mean isyouwould enjoy it more. I don’t want to get you so stirred up that you forget you’re only making love to me this one time.”
“I won’t forget. Participate, or not. I’l enjoy watching you take pleasure anyway.”
He gave her a devilish smirk as if he didn’t think one time would be enough, then touched his lips to hers while his hands moved from her shoulders to her breasts.
She took in a deep breath of him, memorizing his scrumptious spicy scent, the feel of his hands caressing her breasts, the way he moved against her, hotter than a summer drought.
His eyes clouded over when she combed her fingers through the silky strands of hair, and his fingers stil ed on the tips of her breasts. Breathless, he waited, and she realized then how much her touch affected him.Power.Having control over the ancient one incited her to touch him more. She ran her hands over his back, the muscles tightening, tensing.
His body had stil ed, but now he rubbed his erection against her waist. His mouth moved lower, trailing kisses along her throat, down her breastbone, then fastened to her breast and suckled, long and hard. Bliss stroked her nerves, pleasuring her like never before.
“Do it,” she whispered, her voice lost with the feelings he elicited from her, her nipple puckering into a hardened nub, the other waiting in hopeful expectancy.
He smiled at her, then switched to the other breast, giving it its due. “Patience.”
Patience wasn’t one of her virtues either. She pressed against his arousal, attempting to push for a quicker resolution. His lips turned up darkly, and his fingers drew lower as hers moved down his waist, tracing the hardness to his buttocks. God, if she could only have a butt as sinful y firm as his.
He shifted off her, and she worried he was going to stop. She held onto him, her lips parted to object, until he slid his fingers over her mound, down, dipping deep inside her, stroking, retreating.
Barely breathing, she tensed, squeezing his buttocks. His fondling intensified the feeling of near euphoria, higher, higher. She reached for the peak.
Shifting, twisting under his fingers’ skil ful touch, pushing against him, wanting more, she craved having him deep inside her at the same time.
“Make love to me,” she whispered.
“I am,” he said, his voice husky and deep.
He held himself back with the utmost restraint, his neck so tense it looked like it could snap. Why?
The bloodlust.He was keeping his canines from extending. He wanted to make love to her like she’d asked, wanted to pleasure her first to al ow her time to change her mind.
But she wouldn’t change her mind.
“Make love to me, Daemon, and feed. I offer my blood to you freely.” And my life for one of a vampiress, if she could convince him to do the deed.
“Hmm, Tezra.” He renewed his strokes, the kisses. He teased her nipples with his velvet tongue, then sucked on them with a vengeance.
And she felt in heaven, craving more and more, like an addict needing a fix.
She rocked against his fingers, trying to push the climax. She climbed to the top of the peak, felt the exhilaration, the warmth wash through her like a warm Caribbean wave in summer. She moaned his name with exquisite pleasure, never having experienced anything so satisfying. Delightful aftershocks rippled through her body.
Daemon’s eyes smiled, and his lips curved just a hint. She loved how he seemed to take pleasure in pleasuring her, just as he said he would.
Not wasting another second, Daemon pushed the siren’s legs apart with his knee, then worked his way between them. “We wilonlymake love and I’l feed, but I won’t change you,” he reassured her, having lost the battle to keep his distance the minute she said she wanted him.
He desired to take it slow, but her wil ingness and soft moans had pushed him faster than he’d intended. His damnable canines threatened to extend, and fighting them had given him a painful crick in the jaw.
He couldn’t refuse to make love to her and feed, not the way she’d aroused him, yet he couldn’t calm her like he could any human. If she grew scared when he bit her, he could hurt her, bruise her, tear her skin unnecessarily.
“Tezra.” He stroked her hair and kissed her lips. “I won’t be able to stop once I start. I haven’t fed for too long.”
She caressed his face, her green eyes dark with desire. “I want you to, Daemon. Please.”
He nuzzled her cheek, gently moving her face to the side to expose her throat, testing her resolve. “Sweet, Tezra, relax.” He spoke calmly, with patience, though he couldn’t control his canines much longer.
She took several deep breaths.
Touching her throat with light sweeping strokes of his tongue, he centered himself between her legs and entered slowly. She sucked in her breath. He backed out and tried again, slipping into her velvet glove, the territory a tight fit. Stroking his back, she kissed the top of his head, spreading her legs to open herself up to him further, encouraging him to continue. Her pelvic muscles tightened, narrowing the passage to nearly impassable.
“Relax,” he whispered against her breast, his tongue teasing the raised nipple, so delicious to taste. When he tugged on it with his lips, her pleasurable moan stirred his libido more.
He lifted his face and studied the way she breathed so quickly and her pulse fluttered rapidly under the skin. His teeth extended, his mind no longer in control, he tilted his head back, closed his eyes and thrust his erection deep inside her.
She gasped but held him tight. He pul ed out slowly, then buried into her tight sheath, drawing out the pleasure.
Her vitality cal ed to him, begged him to take his fil . He licked the sweet skin of her throat, preparing himself to take some of her life force, to share another experience with her, to love her completely the vampire way.
He pricked her skin with his canines, and her eyes opened, startled, but she couldn’t object, not as far as he had gone. His erection pulsed as he dove into her heat, farther and deeper, then he sank his canines into her neck. She sighed with gratification, the way a blood bond did when a vampire pleasured her.
“Oh, Daemon.” She thrust her hips against him, making him finish what he’d begun. She touched his waist with tender strokes, titil ating him.
Her blood tasted like the richest burgundy wine, satisfying the craving he had for her…for the moment. Yet, for an instant, he had the insane urge to take her for his own.
He licked the drops of blood, sealing the wounds while he continued to thrust into her. Then with a headiness he’d never experienced, waves of heat flowed through every pore, his skin saturated with sweat.
With one last push, his seed spread through her. He sank against her soft, warm body, covered lightly in perspiration and the fragrance of peaches and Tezra’s sweet sex.
She came again, her muscles clamping over his erection, holding tightly, claiming him for her own. He’d never felt so satisfied, so complete, yet with a sinking feeling, he knew nothing could ever come of his relationship with her. He rol ed onto his back and pul ed her on top of him.
He hadn’t planned for Lichorus’s telepathic communication, and he was glad the vamp sent the message straight to him so that Tezra didn’t hear it.“I have discovered information about the police killings. If you meet me now, I will give it to you, mydarling prince.”
“You will give it to me now, Lichorus, unless you do not stand by me as you have promised.”
He could almost sense her smiling, but would the vamp give him the news or not? Or was it just a ploy on her behalf to stir up more trouble?
“Give her up, my prince, and I will tell you anything.”
Daemon sensed Lichorus’s trap, closed his eyes and wrapped a wal around his mind to terminate her communication with him. He would not be misled by her now or ever.
Tezra gave a sad smile and closed her eyes, but not before he saw the moisture gathering in the corners. Her warm tears dropped on his bare chest, nearly unmanning him.
Her silky skin rested against Daemon’s. Her shal ow breath tickled his chest, and her springtime fragrance scented the air. He ran his hand down her back with a gentle caress, his thoughts in turmoil. “Did I hurt you?”
“No.” She sniffled.
“Did I push too fast?”
“I-I shouldn’t have wanted this. Not when everything’s so wrong. I don’t deserve…” Shimmering with tears, her eyes locked on his for an instant, then she looked away.
Before Daemon could respond, she left the bed and quickly dressed.
She waved her hand to silence him.Him!The leader of the vampire clans in America!
“Where are the stolen tissue samples? I need to look at them.” She kept her eyes averted as if she was ashamed of herself.
“What don’t you deserve, Tezra?”
But she wouldn’t say. He realized then as much as she needed to heal, she needed someone who would be her mate forever.
Not someone like him who had no intention of taking a mate again. So why did he feel like he’d slipped into the bloody pits of hel ?
Downstairs the doorbel rang, and Atreides warned,“Five armed hunters at the door, Daemon. I don’t think it’s a social visit.”Chapter Eight
His thoughts focused on the hunter menace standing at his front door, Daemon dressed in a flash. But Tezra grabbed his arm before he could leave the bedroom, her eyes reflecting deep-seated worry.
“Let me speak with them first,” she implored.
He brushed the hair away from her cheek. “They can’t take you away from me.From here, I mean,” he amended, hating that he’d made the mistake. “I can provide better security for you than they can.”
“I agree. I want to stay with you. Until the murderer is eliminated.”
“Al right. We go together, but I won’t back down concerning you staying here with me.” He wrapped his arm around her waist and pul ed her close. As soon as he did, he regretted his action. She melted in his embrace, and he was reminded she needed someone to care for her more than he could commit to.
Transporting her to the front door where Atreides and Voltan stood silently blocking the hunters’ entry, Daemon felt white-hot tension in the air. He quickly released Tezra, severing their connection. He wanted to shove her behind him so he could protect her from the hunters, but fought the urge. They were not here to harm her, he assured himself.
One of the older hunters, gray-haired but tanned and trim, gave Daemon a cursory look, then turned his attention to Tezra as if the ancient vampire was of no consequence. But Daemon knew damn wel the hunter wasn’t that naïve.
“Tezra Campbel , we’re here to escort you safely to SCU headquarters.”
“Thank you, Gavin, but while the kil er vampire is on the loose, I prefer remaining here under Daemon’s protection.”
“I would speak to you alone,” Gavin said.
Before Tezra could reply, Daemon said, “No.”
The look she gave him could have sliced a watermelon in two. “I’ve already told you I intend to stay here,” she said to Gavin.
“You’re not…yourself.” Gavin glanced at the vampires, emphasizing his point.
“I’m not under their control, if that’s what you’re inferring.”
One of the hunters unsheathed his sword with a whoosh. Voltan drew the one he had at his back, and Daemon’s canines instantly extended.
“The senior staff wants to speak with you,” Gavin said, his tone more conciliatory. “If they agree, you can return here.”
Daemon intended to tel the hunters, tactful y, where they could go, but Tezra took the lead. “Have them cal me, and we’l talk.”
“You face expulsion,” Gavin said, his voice hard.
“Hmm, wel , if Krustalus—my parents’ murderer—gets hold of me, expulsion from the SCU wil be the least of my troubles. Tel Senior Staff Member Ingrid that I’m staying here until Daemon takes down the kil er.” She patted Daemon’s arm, surprising the hel out of him. “He’l watch out for me until then.”
Gavin’s gray eyes narrowed while he considered Daemon. “What if he’s in league with the kil er?”
“Like they’re al cut from the same evil cloth, right, Gavin?”
He gave a haughty snort. “Coming from you, that’s laughable.”
Tezra’s cheeks colored. “I’m staying here.” Before anyone could say anything more, she slammed the door in the hunter’s face.
“That went wel ,” Atreides said, then looked out the peephole. “They’re arguing about what they’re going to do now.”
“Watch them. Let me know if they pul anything.” Daemon said to Tezra, “I have the tissue samples in my office, if you’d like to look at them.”
“You know I would.”
His thoughts shifting over different worst-case scenarios, Daemon walked Tezra down the hal . Like most SCU staff, Tezra didn’t care for vampires, and after what had happened to her parents and Krustalus taunting her over the years, Daemon understood her animosity. But sticking up for him in front of Gavin and the other hunters took real courage. She had to know her words would get back to the SCU, which wouldn’t sit wel with many. It more than pleased him to think he’d had a positive effect on the way she felt toward some of his kind.
He guided her into his office and immediately thought of how hers had looked—light and airy with paintings of windswept beaches and seagul s heaven bound. Of light oak wood file cabinets and a desk cluttered with typed papers, record files and handwritten notes. Bright yel ow sticky notes had covered the edge of her computer monitor. The screen had been fil ed with the scene of a tropical island paradise. Cozy and smal , a guest bedroom turned office. Homey and scented with Tezra’s sweet fragrance.
His office? Large, dark heavy wood, antique, neat, not a paper or pen out of its designated place. Outfitted with the latest in computer equipment. Luxuriously furnished, the brown leather desk chair, a high-backed recliner built for comfort. The massive furniture polished to a bril iant shine with lemon-scented cleaner. Paintings of dark-forested scenes hung on the wal s, and the music of the ancient Celts was piped in to give an old-world feel. Even if he had to change with the times, he preferred to surround himself with some of the ages he’d lived through.
“They’l be back and cause more problems, you know,” she said, her voice fil ed with soft regret.
“Yeah. Hunters are as tenacious as a mongoose with a snake. Once they discover their prey, they won’t let go.”
She looked up at him, her eyes sparkling with humor. “You’re saying I’m like a snake, and they want me dead?”
He gave her a smal smile and motioned to his chair, a veritable throne in this day and age. “They don’t want to give you up.
What if you worked for my side?”
“But you’re the good guys. I mean, you’re not rogue vampires.”
Not exactly the good guys, he noted with wry amusement. “What if we formed our own task force to take down renegade vampires and cut the SCU out of the business?”
“So why haven’t you done it before?”
“Like humans, not al vampires are suited to policing the world. Each of us has our special interests.”
“And yours are?” She sat at his desk.
“At the moment, protecting you and finding the kil er.”
“And ruling your people.” She opened the first of the reports concerning the tissue samples from the dead police officers and began to read over them.
He couldn’t help thinking how much she changed the feel of his office—the smel of peaches lingering in the air, the sight of her fuzzy pink sweater against the dark brown leather chair and her jeans-clad buttocks pressed against his seat, the sound of her light breath and her enchanting pulse, always beckoning to him. His office would never seem the same.
More than that, he couldn’t get his mind off the way she fel under his spel when they’d made love. So eager and responsive
…every kiss, every touch made him crave even more. Here he’d hoped taking the plunge would have revealed a woman who couldn’t meet his expectations. When in truth, she had exceeded his wildest dreams.
The way she pul ed her hair behind her ears, chewed on her bottom lip, ran her long fingernails over the notes, made her look sexier than hel .
She tilted her head to the side, looking puzzled. Then she narrowed her eyes. “Some of these aremyslides! When the hel did you steal them from my apartment?”
“You needed themhere. And here are the samples from the dead police officer outside your apartment.” He motioned to a table where a microscope and slides caught her attention.
For a moment, she stared at them, then looked at Daemon. He again waved at the samples. “See if you can learn anything from them. You’re the expert, after al .”
She made a face and he figured she thought he was mocking her. After living so many centuries, he’d learned a wide variety of occupations, some of which came in handy now and again. So yes, he was somewhat of an investigative expert, but two heads were definitely better than one. Her gaze shifted to the official police files sitting next to the microscope.
Looking back at him, she parted her lips, her eyes questioning.
He shrugged. “Files on the murders. We’l need to see al the evidence if we’re to solve this case.”
“The chief gave them to you?”
“Borrowed. I don’t trust him, Tezra. It’s just too convenient he found out who murdered your parents. I don’t like expedient solutions.”
“As much as I hate to admit it, you may be right.”
He studied her glum expression and wondered what kind of a relationship she’d fostered with the chief. “Why do you say that now?”
Sighing, she examined the slides. “I’m a friend of Mandy Salazar who speaks very highly of him. She’s a police dispatcher and has been for years.”
“For more than ten years?” He couldn’t help but wonder if the earlier police kil ings were related to the recent ones.
She lifted one of the slides and placed it under the microscope. “A careful y calculating vampire committed the first murders and tried to make it look like a hunter’s vendetta. The new ones are done by a raging vampire, no finesse at al . I’m almost certain two different rogue vampires kil ed the police officers.”
Folding his arms, Daemon tilted his chin higher. “We have already discussed that the kil er could have changed his MO. Was Mandy Salazar working for the chief when the other officers were murdered?”
Tezra didn’t look at him, but nodded.
“I didn’t know her early on. I was only sixteen at the time and she was twenty-two. While I was trying to learn what I could about the first police murders, I chanced to meet her. She said the chief had been under a lot of strain before the kil ings, and she was afraid this would break him.”
“A lot of strain.”
“Yes, she figured it was concerning family issues. You know, most often that’s the case. Anyway, he kept pretty quiet about it, though she could tel something was wrong because he’d become moody and il -tempered when he normal y was a pretty cheerful guy. I’ve never known him as anything but somber and serious. I can’t even imagine him being jovial. But I questioned some others, and they said the same thing, that it was like a storm cloud had settled over him and changed him permanently.”
“Before the kil ings?”
“For a while things were worse. She said it was real y bizarre. She went to get a cup of coffee in the break room and three policemen there immediately silenced their conversation. At first, she just figured they were talking about some woman they’d had sex with or something crude that they didn’t want her to hear, but then one of the men was murdered. Two weeks later, another one was. And you saw what happened to Officer Stevens.”
“So Mandy thought maybe a connection existed between the murders of the three men and the secret talks they’d had.”
“Yes.” Tezra sat back on the leather chair. “I assume the police officers had murdered a vampire friend of his, and he took revenge. When I began investigating Krustalus, he murdered my parents as a warning. The point is why would he wait ten years, change his MO, and begin kil ing again? It’s got to be someone else.”
Daemon looked at the files, then back to Tezra. “You al uded to the possibility that the earlier case had something to do with the chief.”
“Oh, yes. Wel , after the men were murdered, the whole police force was antsy. The chief pretty much barricaded himself in his office for weeks, then when no more kil ings occurred, he started to lighten up. Except he never did return to his cheerful self.”
“Not enough evidence to make anything of that.”
“Like I said, I figured the drastic change in his mood probably had something to do with his family life. So I began to investigate that.” She flipped through the files and read through each page like a speed-reader would.
“I’m afraid there was nothing much there. He had a wife and two young sons. No mistresses that I could discover. I checked out his financial status. No gambling debts or substantial money crisis that would account for his behavior. His parents were both alive and wel . No problems with the in-laws, another source of contention in bad marriages. He genuinely seemed to love his wife and children.”
She looked up from the files. “A sister and her husband who were both police officers.”
“You know, Tezra, getting you to reveal what you suspect is like getting blood out of a tomato.”
“Nothing there either.” She closed the file and opened the next one. “The brother-in-law was wel -liked and is stil with the police force. The chief’s sister committed suicide some years ago.”
She paused in her reading. “Yes, clinical depression. She’d been on medication and took an overdose.”
“A year after the kil ings.”
Daemon rubbed his chin while he considered the information. “Why was she depressed?”
“An organic thing, apparently. Nothing going on in her life. Oh, she couldn’t have children, so I suppose that could have been it.”
“And her husband? How did he feel about the matter?”
“Broken up about it. Same thing with the chief. Mandy told me she figured his sister’s suicide would send him over the edge.
But apparently, he got over it and got on with his life.”
“Lots of siblings don’t get along.”
“I wouldn’t know. My sister and I always did.” She looked up at him. “What about you and your brother?”
Daemon gave a sardonic smile. “When he’s not getting himself into trouble.”
“Usual y over blood bonds. The women he chose to be blood bonds; sometimes their boyfriends didn’t like it.”
“Did he use his charms to get the women to agree?”
Daemon shook his head. “He’s always had a way with women, even before the plague made him vampiric. But in truth, the vampirism does accentuate the ability, and we real y haven’t a lot of control over it.”
Shehmpfed. “That’s like saying you have no control over what you eat or—”
Daemon chuckled darkly. “That is not what I’m saying at al .”
“Sounds like it to me.”
Touching her cheek with his fingers, he grew serious. “You wil have the same effect on men, though from what I’ve seen, you already wrap them around your finger and render them senseless.”
“In your imagination.”
He leaned down, pul ed her hair aside and kissed her neck. A shudder went through her as her hands stil ed on the file she’d been reading. “I have heard the humans’ crude comments concerning you, Tezra. It is not just my imagination.” He sighed, deeply exasperated, knowing if any man approached her in an attempt to fulfil his sexual fantasies with the huntress, Daemon wouldn’t be responsible for his actions. “You stil haven’t told me why you think the chief might have had something to do with the vampire kil ings of his police officers.”
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then opened them and studied Daemon. “I think like you do—he has a connection or he wouldn’t have gotten Krustalus’s name so easily. I think the chief knew his name al along, but worried there wasn’t anyone who could or would be wil ing to take the vampire down until now.”
Daemon opened his mouth to speak, then his lips turned up a notch. “I like it when we’re on the same path. But you stil don’t think the crimes are connected? What if the recent murders triggered Chief O’Mal ey to contact you?”
“It’s possible the chief was concerned Krustalus was at it again. I’m wondering if they’d had somewhat of a truce. The police officers murdered Krustalus’s friend, Krustalus took revenge, the chief turned the other cheek, end of investigation. According to these files, the inquiry into the murders was hastily conducted, then the cases were filed away as unsolved, as if no one even wanted to get to the bottom of them. I have no idea about the Council of Hunters’ investigation concerning my parents’ murder, except that they questioned several hunters who were borderline rogues. Again, the results of the inquiry were inconclusive.
Anyway, that’s what I’m speculating for now about Krustalus and the relationship he has with Chief O’Mal ey.” She took a deep breath. “Thank you for ‘borrowing’ the files and letting me look at them.”
Daemon bowed his head in acknowledgement, but she was too busy reading the paperwork to notice. He intended to transport himself to the greatroom to al ow her to look at the records alone, unsupervised. He had high hopes she felt more agreeable toward him, though he chided himself for having any feelings of the sort.
Before he left, Atreides spoke to him privately.“Daemon, the hunter named Gavin is calling on his cell phone in the frontcourtyard, but I can’t tell what he’s saying. They’re not leaving though. At the same time, Voltan’s overseeing matters outback.”
“Prince Daemon, hunters have made their way through the forest, but our guards have advanced,”Voltan warned.
Daemon ground his teeth.“I’m coming.”
Tezra studied the glass slides containing the tissue samples under the microscope. Safe and secure for the moment.
“I’l be right back.” Daemon vanished before she could answer.
As soon as he appeared in the greatroom, she yel ed, “Wait, Daemon! Where are you going?”
Wolf form, or vengeful vampire? Daemon grabbed his favorite bastard sword from the rack next to the patio doors. With a blade sharply honed and a more impressive size than most of his ancient weapons, either swung two-handed or single-handedly while carrying a shield or another weapon, he gripped the leather hilt. To Atreides, he said, “Keep an eye on the hunters out front and inform me if they make a move. And don’t let Tezra leave the house.”
Her footfal s raced down the hal , but before she could reach the greatroom, Daemon motioned to Atreides, vanished and reappeared in the mist near the edge of the forest. He wasn’t about to get into an argument with Tezra over whether she could come with him. Protected in the house was the only place he wanted her to be.
Five hunters stood their ground near the edge of his property. In the form of wolves, Daemon’s vampire guards kept the hunters from advancing in the direction of the house.
His sword readied, Daemon stalked toward them with Voltan at his side. “Trespassing is a crime, gentlemen.”
The hunters held their swords outstretched, trying to keep the wolves from tearing them apart. The hunters barely looked in Daemon’s direction.
“I’m within my rights to have my people shred you into bite-sized pieces. For al I know, you are hunter renegades, have to be if you’re trespassing without a warrant.”
“The word is you have Tezra Campbel , an SCU investigator, locked up in your home. We’re within our rights to remove her from it,” the tal est of the five men said.
“We should kil them, my prince,” Voltan said. “Let me have the tal one. He is more my size.”
No one Daemon knew was close to Voltan’s nearly seven-foot height.
“Daemon!”Tezra screamed at him telepathical y.
Daemon turned his attention to the house, sensed Tezra’s anger, but she wasn’t scared, which probably meant only one thing.
His brother was confining her to the house. “If any of the hunters slice at my guards, kil them,” Daemon told Voltan.
He returned to the greatroom and found Atreides pinning Tezra facedown on the couch, her cheek pressed against the cushions, her hand behind her back, elevated so she couldn’t squirm loose.
“Let go of me!” she screamed.
Atreides, red-faced and with clenched teeth, growled. “She tried to chase after you. I told her you wished her to stay safely in the Atreides, red-faced and with clenched teeth, growled. “She tried to chase after you. I told her you wished her to stay safely in the house, but she wouldn’t cooperate.”
When he released her, she jumped off the couch and swung her fist at Atreides’s face.
Interceding on his brother’s behalf, Daemon grabbed her wrist and pul ed her away. “I thought you wished to see the evidence from the officers’ kil ings.”
“I want to know what’s going on with the hunters outside. You can’t kil them, Daemon, or they’l cal you and every one of your people rogues and issue a termination decree for al of you.”
“I’m touched you’re concerned for my welfare.”
She jerked her wrist free. “I don’t want you kil ing them.”
Daemon motioned to his back door. “The hunters have no business trespassing on my land. They’ve been told repeatedly you are here of your own freewil by your own admission. Despite being a vampire, I have rights.”
“Yeah, wel , maybe I need you to live a little longer so you can keep me safe.”
He couldn’t help but smile. “I have no intention of dying by a hunter’s sword. But Voltan sometimes needs a chain to keep him in line. I wish to return to the problem out back, but if I cannot be assured you’l stay put…”
She folded her arms and looked more cross than ever.
He turned to Atreides.“Keep her here.”
Atreides gave him a smug smile and bowed his head.
Then Daemon vanished and returned to Voltan’s side. The tal est hunter spoke on his phone, attempting to keep it private, but Daemon’s attuned hearing caught most of the conversation. Someone was ordering the siege to cease.Smart move.
The hunter shut off his phone. “We’l be back.” He and his men turned the way they’d come, and Daemon’s wolves loped back to their posts.
Voltan resheathed his sword. “What was the woman’s problem?”
“She intended to save me, but Atreides wouldn’t let her.”
Voltan gave a short bark of laughter.
When Daemon and Voltan reached the greatroom, Atreides was pacing. “Apparently when you put out the ruling no one would turn Tezra, Lichorus assumed you were claiming Tezra for your own. Anyway, she just informed me she’d tel the SCU, and she’s not one to issue idle threats.”
“Who is Lichorus?” Tezra asked, her voice highly agitated.
“A vampiress who’s stirred up enough trouble to warrant my action.” To Atreides, Daemon said privately,“Relay to Maison he’sto take Lichorus into custody.”
Atreides bowed his head to Daemon, then stalked toward the den.
“I have to visit my sister at Redding Hospital,” Tezra said. “I see her every day without fail—except since I’ve been in yourprotectivecustody. Someone have a car I can use?”
Instantly suspicious, Daemon suspected she had other motives. Afraid the SCU would be too much for him to handle? Not a problem. Concerned he wouldn’t give her enough freedom? If so, she had that right.
“Car? We general y prefer vampire transportation. No traffic jams, no red lights, no tailgaters and no high gas prices,” Daemon said.
She folded her arms. “I like driving from place to place; gives me time to think about the cases I’m working on. Why don’t you leave me off at my apartment, I’l pick up my car, see my sister and return here afterwards.”
“Voltan, you come with us.”
“I want my weapons back,” Tezra said, her voice deepening. “And my cel phone.”
Atreides rejoined them. “Maison’s bringing Lichorus in as soon as he locates her.”
“My cel phone?” Tezra asked Atreides.
He slipped it off his belt. “Okay with you, Daemon?”
Tezra grabbed for the phone, but Atreides moved it beyond her reach.
Her face reddened.
“Let her have it.”
“And my weapons?”
“Later.” Daemon pul ed her against him, and his body reacted to her with rabid attraction. She only made him feel this way because he hadn’t had a partner in so long—it was nothing more than lust, pure and simple. He refused to be drawn into another deadly relationship. Besides, she needed so much more from a male companion. Determined not to get sucked into traitorous thoughts of another mating, he whisked her away to Redding Hospital.
The hospital looked like it was washed in a coating of fresh milk—everything was white, the wal s, floors, even the garments the staff wore. Someone had the notion that colors would upset the patients, which Tezra thought was the most inane idea anyone ever had. Even flowers left by family and friends had to be regulation white.
A little wobbly from the sifting, she stood with Daemon and Voltan outside her sister’s door while she gathered her composure.
Her sister seemed to enjoy her visits, though bringing two vampires along put Tezra on edge. She reached for the door and Daemon said to Voltan, “Stay here and let no one in.”
Releasing the door handle, she frowned at Daemon. “You shouldn’t go in either.”
“You can’t go anywhere without me or one of my men.”
Daemon quirked a brow. “The kil er could be in the room this very moment, waiting for you. You’re not going anywhere without one of us. That’s my final word.”
Whirling about, she grabbed the door handle, her stomach tightening into knots. Since the kil ings, Katie had been locked away in the hospital and never saw another vampire. In fact, no one but Tezra visited Katie. As far as everyone else was concerned, Katie didn’t exist, didn’t share their world, didn’t need their words of comfort.
Tezra entered the sitting room and smiled at Katie, curled up on an overstuffed chair, wearing a pair of white sweats, her red hair braided. Her eyes lighted, then rapidly shifted to Daemon. She seemed curious, not afraid, and Tezra assumed she thought because Daemon was with her, so he wasn’t anyone to worry about, thank God.
He bowed his head slightly, and Tezra wanted to slug him for greeting Katie in the vampire way.
Katie’s eyes widened, and she gasped. Tezra crossed the floor, knelt beside her and held her hands. Now twenty-two, Katie was a beautiful woman. If Tezra could only draw her out of her shel . Stifling tears that always pricked her eyes when she visited Katie, she knew if she lived to be a hundred, she’d always feel the same sorrow for what she’d done, wishing she could do anything to save Katie from a life of nothingness. But now she had a hope of bringing her out of the abyss.
Tezra knew she had to do it.
But first, as soon as they finished their visit with her, Tezra would see Chief O’Mal ey. If he could prove Krustalus was the murderer…
She feared revealing the kil er to Katie wouldn’t bring her out of her silent world. Tezra felt she had no choice but to try the option Daemon had suggested.
“This is Daemon, a…friend of mine,” Tezra said.
Katie looked at him again.
Tezra settled down with her and shared entertaining pieces she’d found on the Internet, leaving out any mention of the gruesome world she surrounded herself with. She didn’t party, date, eat out or have fun. Her sole relentless focus was investigating vampire crimes and helping Katie to the best of her ability—though it was never good enough. Nothing but making Katie whole would ever be good enough.
Her phone vibrated against her waist, and she pul ed it out. Out-of-area cal . Just like six other missed messages she’d had.
Telemarketer, no doubt. She poked the on button, prepared to tel the rude cal er she wasn’t interested in whatever he was sel ing when Chief O’Mal ey’s deep voice penetrated her defenses. “Come see me. Cafferty’s Tavern now, and come alone.”
Before she could respond, the phone clicked dead. Chil bumps erupted on her arms. The chief’s message eerily mirrored Officer Stevens’s cal to her.
“You can’t go,” Daemon said. “Alone, I mean.”
Katie’s eyes widened, and she opened her mouth to speak, but when Tezra saw her reaction, Katie averted her eyes and clamped her mouth shut.
“Katie, did you want to say something?”
For a glimmer of a second, Tezra thought there might be a breakthrough. Though she’d seen Katie react mildly to situations before, she’d never seen her respond in such a pronounced way. Yet as before, Katie stared at her lap and withdrew into her private world, her emotions shut down.
“Katie, I’ve got to take care of some business, and I’l return later.”
Katie’s gaze shifted back to her.
Keeping her eye on her sister’s reaction, Tezra said to Daemon, “I have to see him alone. I’m sure it has to do with the case.”
“No. You put your life at risk the last time, and I won’t—”
Tezra glanced sharply at him, but again turned to see how Katie was taking it. She’d switched her attention to Daemon, waiting for him to finish what he was saying.
“We go together or not at all, Tezra.”
“All right. You watch my back, for now. But if he doesn’t show because you’re with me…”Tezra gave him a warning look, then leaned down and hugged Katie. “I’l return as soon as I can.”
Katie wouldn’t let go of her hand, and Tezra’s heart sank. She was sure Katie possessed some sense of time, and they hadn’t visited long enough.
“Honey,” Tezra said, her voice choking, “I’l be back.”
Daemon touched Tezra’s arm, and Katie looked alarmed.
“She seems upset. I thought she never showed any emotions.”
“She doesn’t, normally. Though on occasion she’s shown a hint of them. The psychiatrists say it’s natural, like mimickingbehavior and doesn’t really mean anything.”
Tezra gave her another hug. “We’l be back. Soon.”
When she couldn’t break free of Katie, Daemon took Tezra’s arm. Immediately, Katie let go. Daemon led Tezra out of the room and shut the door.
Her heart in her throat, Tezra stared at the door. “I can’t stand seeing her like this one more day. I have to speak to the chief. If we learn he has no proof…”
In her worst nightmares—and she’d had enough to fil several lifetimes—she didn’t want to be a vampire, but she was resigned to it anyway. “I just think he’s involved somehow,” Tezra said.
“Did you find anything else besides what you told me before?”
“Krustalus wears Green Irish Tweed, the same cologne my father wore—it’s one of his macabre games. The night Officer Stevens was murdered, Krustalus wore the same scent. Stevens wasn’t wearing any—he was al ergic to most fragrances according to his wife. Yet, I distinctly smel ed sandalwood near Stevens’s body. The kil er’s scent, not Krustalus’s. So there must be two of them.”
The thought of Tezra in the warehouse district with two murdering vampires chil ed Daemon’s blood. If he’d been responsible for her, he would never have al owed her to meet Stevens there.Hewould have taken care of the matter.
Daemon let out his breath in exasperation and wrapped his arm around her to take her to Cafferty’s Tavern. How fragile she seemed where her sister was concerned.
Hel , shewashis responsibility. Once Krustalus came to his house and made his connection with Tezra known, it became Daemon’s business. He released her. “You stay and visit with your sister.I’llspeak with him,alone.”
He intended to get the answers he wantedwithoutan SCU investigator breathing down his neck. If she got pissed off at him
—wel , more so than she already was half of the time—she could turn him in for human rights violations in the event he had to resort to forcing the truth from the chief. But Tezra’s safety was more of a concern, and he smel ed Krustalus’s hand in this.
She gave Daemon a look that could change a man into a toad.
But then she slipped her arm around his waist with a lot more strength than he gave her credit for. “If you think I’m staying behind, think again. I’m going with you. And that’smyfinal word.”Chapter Nine
Daemon wouldn’t be dictated to, not by any vampire or even one sexy special crimes investigator. Before he could say so, Tezra said, “Chief O’Mal ey wanted me on the case. He’l speak with me. You’re a vampire. Why should he talk to you?”
Because Daemon could force him to? “Why does he want you on the case so badly?”
“Krustalus kil ed my parents! The chief wants me to stop the murdering bastard, and I’m the only one who believes he’s involved. That’s why.”
Reaching down, Daemon touched her silky hair. “I want to help you and Katie.” He pressed his head against her chest and listened to her rapid heartbeat. Then he lifted her chin and looked into her eyes, which were fil ed with condemnation. “Against my better judgment, I’l take you with me. But know this, Tezra, I wil use whatever means necessary to force the chief to tel me the truth.”
“Fine, no problem. Let’s go.”
He gave her a hard look. “As an investigator for the SCU, you’re supposed to frown on actions like that.”
Shehmpfed. “I’l frown deeply while you question him if it makes you feel any better.”
She tightened her grip around his waist. The treacherous notion of hauling her off to his bed sprang to mind.
Mist coated the entire warehouse district in a leaden, wet blanket and everything was deathly silent. When Tezra, Daemon and Voltan approached Cafferty’s Tavern, a couple of blocks from the police kil ings, the icy air sent a shiver through her. Daemon reached for her hand and she was certain he regretted taking her.
“I’m cold, not afraid,” she said.
An obscure smile curved his lips while he and Voltan scanned the area.
“When we return, I want my weapons back,” she snapped, hating that he thought she was afraid, though she did feel more vulnerable without her sword, despite having vampire bodyguards. But she wasn’t scared!
Daemon opened the metal door to the bar, the rusted hinges sending a creak echoing across the narrow street where several pickups parked curbside. Despite the sleaziness of the place, business appeared brisk.
When they walked inside the dimly lit building, al conversation faded and everyone looked them over. A scantily dressed woman, the only other female in the room, set a tray of beers on a marred table with a clunk.
Tezra brushed past Daemon and the murmurs began. He seized her wrist and she frowned up at him. He didn’t lighten his grip.
Possessiveness or protectiveness? She should have been annoyed, but instead she felt as though he genuinely cared for her.
Nobody had acted that way toward her in a very long time, and she hated how much she craved it.
Voltan’s heavy step fol owed close behind.
“He plays cards back there.” Tezra motioned past a bar stretching across the room to a door in the back. She recognized some of the men as off-duty cops, others probably closer to the criminal element they arrested during duty hours, though maybe some were undercover.
“You’ve been here before?” Daemon asked, his voice surprised.
She shrugged. “Not to drink, but yeah, when I investigated the first of the most recent police murders.”
A burly cop stood and moved into their path. His neck was about as thick as his waistline, and the image of a gruff bul dog came to mind. He gave Daemon a sinister look and smiled at Tezra. “Investigator Campbel , the chief’s busy.”
“We have an appointment.”
“Chief’s busy,” the officer repeated.
“Step aside,” Daemon said, as if the guy was just one of his minions.
Voltan moved closer. Though the policeman attempted to stand his ground, everyone watched the situation with wariness, but no one else came to the man’s aid. Voltan towered over the guy until he final y lifted a massive shoulder and sat.
Daemon opened the door to the backroom, and four men looked up from a game of cards. Chief O’Mal ey sat at the far side of the table, facing him. More gray seemed to stripe his fiery red hair than the last time Tezra had seen him a few days ago. He glowered at Daemon and Voltan, then he shifted his attention to Tezra.
He motioned to the other men. “Can you give us some privacy for a while?”
“Yeah, we’l get a drink.”
Though several half finished and empty bottles of beer sat on the table already, the men moved past the vampires, giving them a wide berth, and the last man winked at Tezra. “Campbel .”
Daemon turned his head so quickly, he looked like he intended to bite the guy.
She squeezed Daemon’s hand, which brought his attention back to her, then the cop shut the door with a jolt.
“Tezra, gentlemen,” Chief O’Mal ey said. “What can I do for you?”
He acted like he’d never cal ed the meeting, and now Tezra wondered if he had.
“Stand outside the room, Voltan,” Daemon said.
Voltan bowed and did as he was told.
“Could you please tel us how you knew Krustalus murdered my parents?” Tezra said, her voice sugar sweet in an attempt to get him to reveal the truth.
The chief’s bushy brows rose. “How would I have known that?”
Daemon moved so swiftly Tezra only heard O’Mal ey’s chair crash on its back. In the next instant, Daemon pinned the chief against the wal , his hand around the chief’s throat. “Tel …me…the truth.”
“H-he told me to say he was the one.”
“Why?” Daemon growled.
“H-he said it was a long-running game he had with Ms. Campbel . I had to tel her.”
A game—the bastard. Tezra’s heart sank. “So you have no evidence. Nothing to prove he was the one. Did he appear before you?”
“Yes, he came to me,” the chief choked out, his eyes bulging.
“And Stevens, how comeheknew?” she asked.
“Krustalus told him to tel you. I didn’t know he was going to kil Stevens.”
Daemon released the pressure on the chief’s throat, though he didn’t let go.
“So then Krustalus returned and ordered you to tel me the same thing?” Tezra asked.
“No. I mean, he told Stevens in front of me. After you cal ed and said Stevens was dead, I wanted you to catch and…terminate the bastard.”
Wary that this was another of Krustalus’s games, she didn’t trust the chief in the least bit now. “I’m not a huntress.”
“Mandy says you were trained as one before the SCU switched your job. I figured you’d have reason enough to want him dead.”
She sure as hel did, but no one would use her to bring Krustalus down for their own dark purposes.
“What was the connection between your police officers and the kil er?” Daemon asked, his voice as smooth as black velvet but as deadly as the honed edge of a steel blade.
“There had to be a connection,” Tezra insisted. She wanted to mention how Mandy had overheard the police officers talking, then al of them ended up dead, but she thought better of it in case the chief was involved.
“Nothing I could discover,” the chief sputtered.
Not getting the answers she wanted, she focused to read his mind when Voltan relayed,“Everyone’s clearing out. Looks likewe’re in for some trouble.”
“Krustalus,”Daemon said, and Tezra sensed him nearby too.
She barely breathed when the number of vampires with him increased by several. “Did you want to meet me here because Krustalus made you cal me?”
“No,” the chief said.
Daemon squeezed the chief’s throat tighter.
O’Mal ey grappled with Daemon’s fingers. “Yes,” he croaked. “He said it was part of the game.”
Daemon released him, then joined Tezra. “We return now.”
“But if Krustalus is here, we could kil him. Wel , I could help if you’d given my swords back.”
“I wouldn’t risk it. There are too many with him.” Daemon telepathical y communicated,“Voltan, we return home.”
But Voltan was already in a fight to the death and Daemon cursed under his breath.“Atreides, Maison, send men to Cafferty’sTavern. Now!”
Slipping Tezra’s wrist daggers out from underneath his coat, he handed them to her.
Relieved and surprised, she raised her brows, then hurriedly strapped the wrist blades in place.
Daemon yanked the door open and kept Tezra by his side. Krustalus wasn’t in the bar, but several others were and some of them were attacking Voltan. The others waited patiently to get a piece of the action around the perimeter of the melee.
Like a choreographed dancer, the giant swept around, clanking his sword against his attackers’ weapons.
“Stay close,” Daemon said to Tezra, then swung his sword at a vampire. With one swift strike, he severed the vampire’s head from his neck.
Tezra dodged a vampire who tried to grab her wrist. Then she twisted around and hit him in the chest with her dagger. As soon as the blade reached his heart, he dissolved into ashes.
Only five of the vampires remained when Krustalus appeared. At once, she smel ed her father’s cologne on the bastard and knew it was him. But he was tal er than she had imagined, his hair darker, his eyes smal er, and his chin longer with a cleft the size of the Grand Canyon dividing it.
“Sorry,” he said, whipping out his sword, his black eyes sparkling with humor as he shifted his attention from Tezra to Daemon, then back to her again. “I had some other pressing business. Why don’t you come with me, dear Tezra, and Daemon and his friend can live?”
“Seems you and your thugs are outnumbered,” Tezra said as Voltan kil ed another.
Krustalus flexed his muscles and moved toward her with vampiric speed.
Daemon, who’d been fighting with two vampires, kil ed the one and left the other for Voltan, then moved in between Tezra and Krustalus to shield her.
“Why don’t you pick on someone more your own size, Krustalus?” Daemon sliced at the rogue, but Krustalus dodged the strike.
Krustalus’s thin lips turned up slightly, but his eyes remained ice cold while he slid out of the blade’s path again. “You want the huntress for your own, yet she is a dark huntress—a borderline renegade.” He lunged with his sword, but Daemon struck it with his own, knocking it out of his path.
“You have already taken several women for your own and it hasn’t worked out, from what I understand, my prince.”
What was that al about?
Tezra tried to get around the two of them to help, but Daemon effectively kept her behind him. Suddenly, four more vampires appeared and when one came for her and another tried to strike Daemon from behind, she wondered where the hel Daemon’s reinforcements were.
The vampire seized her arm, and she quickly cut it. “Behind you, Daemon,” she screamed.
But because he had to concentrate on the ancient in front of him, the vampire behind him stabbed him in the back.
“No!” Tezra finished off the one who tried to grab her and attacked the backstabber.
“The huntress wil end up like the other women you have mated, Prince Daemon,” Krustalus taunted.
Daemon struck Krustalus’s sword hard with a clank. “So why would you want the lady?”
Tezra stabbed the vampire who’d struck Daemon but missed his heart. She swore under her breath and attacked him again.
“She wil obey me. I’m not as soft as you,” Krustalus promised.
Suddenly, Atreides, Maison and a flurry of other vampires appeared in the bar. Krustalus gave a wicked smile. “Later, Tezra love. You and the others cannot always watch your back.” Then he vanished along with what was left of his vampire minions.
“I’m sorry.” Atreides grabbed Daemon’s arm when he looked ready to col apse. “Your telepathic communication was scrambled by Krustalus’s vampires. We weren’t sure where you were.”
Tezra sheathed her daggers and wrapped her arm around Daemon’s waist. “Are you going to be al right?”
“We go home,” he said in an annoyed tone of voice.
She wasn’t sure why he was mad, whether it was because he’d been injured, his brother and his people hadn’t shown up soon enough, he’d missed taking Krustalus down, or her concern about his welfare. But she was angry too.
She’d have given about anything to see the murderer of her parents turned into a pile of ashes.
“Daemon—” She didn’t get a chance to say anything more as he pul ed her hard against his body and took her into the dark abyss.
After sifting through a vortex of blackness, Tezra found herself in the middle of Daemon’s bedroom again, dizzier this time.
Voltan was speaking with Atreides and Maison downstairs, explaining what had happened in the bar.
“You shouldn’t have gone with me, Tezra.” Daemon col apsed on a chair, his look stern but pale.
Before she could respond, a tal , thin man dressed in a tux and carrying a black bag appeared next to him. Daemon greeted him with a bow of his head. “Doc.”
“I understand you’ve been injured, Prince Daemon.” The doctor quickly dispensed with the smal talk and helped Daemon out of the chair, then removed his coat and shirt.
“A mere inconvenience.” Daemon cast an arrogant smile at the doctor.
The man considered the wound and gave his head a slight shake, but hurried to clean it.
“Wil he be al right?” Tezra asked. She assumed Daemon would be wel enough once his vampiric healing abilities took over, though his face was ice white, and he looked ready to crumple.
The physician cast her an inquisitive look, then dismissed her question and said to Daemon, “She’s not one of us. She’s…the huntress?”
“Special Crimes Unit investigator by occupation,” she corrected him.
His mouth curved up a little while he bandaged the wound, stemming the flow of blood. Afterwards, he gave Daemon a bag of blood and bowed his head. “The wound should heal within the next twenty-four hours, but I suggest you stick to much more passive pursuits until then.”
The doctor glanced at Tezra, then vanished.
“Are you al right, Daemon? Do you want to lie down?”
Stil pale as death, he shook his head and sat back on the chair.
“Al right, then.” If he wanted to pretend to be Mr. Macho, fine. She might as wel get on with business. “About this matter with Krustalus—the chief has no proof that he murdered anyone. It’s just the chief’s word that Krustalus told him he was the kil er. The vampire could easily deny it.”
“I assumed as much, but the next time I tel you what to do, you’l do it.” His eyes narrowed and focused on hers.
Tezra ground her teeth and bit back what she wanted to say. Her sister’s dilemma was too important to quibble over whether Daemon thought he could control Tezra’s actions or not.
“One of Krustalus’s men could have spirited you away. I knew it was a setup, and next time I tel you to do something—”
She folded her arms across her chest and disregarded his scolding. “Listen, I don’t believe a perfect solution wil ever avail itself. There’s only one way to deal with this. You have to turn me.”
Daemon shook his head.
Once she made up her mind—damn the consequences—there was nothing stopping her. She was not taking no for an answer from him or anyone else. She was bound to bring her sister out of the darkness—and if it meant being changed, fine. She’d do it. “If changing me doesn’t work, Daemon, there wil be hel to pay.”
Daemon’s lips rose in a slow, lazy smile. Arrogance became him. “You presume too much.” Rising from the chair, he took her hands and kissed her lips, no pressure, gentle, unassuming.
She pul ed away from him and crossed the floor to the patio doors. “You said I had no other option. Why did you bring it up, then?” Taking a settling breath, she looked out at the forest. “Ihaveto free Katie from this nightmare.” When Daemon didn’t say anything, she said, “You must have changed dozens of humans before. Why not me?”
His eyes darkened.
She folded her arms. “Okay, you know my past. Tel me what went wrong when you changed a woman.”
With one fluid move, he closed the gap between them. His mouth claimed hers, and his hands caressed her shoulders. She wanted to melt under his touch, but the issue of his turning her needed to be resolved.Dammit.
Grabbing his strong hands, she stepped back from his kisses. She was certain it was the bloodlust cal ing to him. “Tel me what happened.”
His jaw tightened. Keeping his teeth sheathed, or annoyed she’d question him?
“You have to tel me why you won’t turn me, or let someone else do it.”
He growled something foreign, then straightened his broad shoulders. “When a vampire turns a human, it has to be mutual y agreed upon. The vampire seeks a mate; the human wishes the vampire to be his or her mate in return. The rogue vampire is the exception, turning a human either against her wil or letting her flounder on her own afterwards. That behavior is condemned.
He sat back on the chair, but she noticed his color already returning.
“I don’t want to be anyone’s mate. I just want to be turned. Wel , not real y, but I don’t feel I have any choice if I’m to help my sister.”
“Therein lies the problem. As a fledgling, you’d be at the mercy of rogues if you weren’t under a vampire’s protection as his or her mate. But the other difficulty is your reluctance to be turned. No decent vampire would change a human who didn’t wish it.”
She didn’t have a choice. Didn’t she already say so? And she didn’t want a mate! Attempting to get her annoyance under wraps, she drew close to him, crouched and circled one of his shirt buttons with her fingertip. “Not al vampires turn an individual and then make him or her their mate.”
“In those cases, the human pays the ancient vampire for his or her services for some mutual y agreed upon consideration to make the mortal semi-immortal without the tie. They’re a…different class of vampires. Not total y accepted by most.”
“I don’t understand.”
Daemon shrugged. “Vampires as a class are not accepted by many so we tend to be…clannish. When a human is turned who is not mated for life with a vampire, they are considered outsiders. Occasional y, a vampire loses a mate and wil accept an outsider for his or her own. But this rarely happens. The practice of turning humans for monetary gain or some other form of consideration and not taking them for mates isn’t wel received. We…have rules we abide by. When humans are changed who don’t become part of our society, they avoid being governed by our rules and often become rogues.”
“So if they’re outsiders and vampires don’t want them, why couldn’t I be one of those? From what you’re saying, an ancient wouldn’t be interested in me.” Sounded like the best scenario to her. She wouldn’t be ruled by anyone then, and everyone would leave her alone. She’d have some new abilities that would give her some advantages, if she avoided thinking about the consequences. She could save her sister and—
Daemon let out his breath. “Hunters or huntresses rarely choose to become vampires, but in every known case, they’ve been selected as mates. You would not be considered an outsider because you’re a huntress, and a rogue ancient could very wel desire you, Tezra.”
She was certain he wasn’t tel ing her the whole truth, but she didn’t know enough about this aspect of their society to know for sure what hewasn’tsaying. “Al right, so what happened when you turned a woman?”
His eyes burned with a flicker of flame, but then his gaze shifted to her fingers trailing down his shirt. “Theywishedto be turned, not the same as you. They eachdesiredto be my mate.”
He looked up at her. “Three. Three times I chanced taking a human mate. Three times it led to disaster.”
She let out her breath and touched his cheek with a tender stroke. “Maybe changing someone like me who doesn’t fit your perfect profile wil work better. I won’t become a bad mate, because I won’t be yours anyway.”
He growled and caught her hand. “You’re not listening to me, Tezra. I wouldn’t change you, then al ow you to roam freely without my protection.”
“Addcontrollingto your growing list of undesirable traits, up at the top with arrogant and impatient.”
He gave her a sinister smile.
“So, what happened to the others?” she asked, not wanting to hear she might have to fight a former mate of Daemon’s if she learned he changed Tezra and didn’t like it.
“Those of us who were turned by the plague centuries ago learned to live with the changes, or died trying. But vampire-turned humans sometimes become power hungry. Sometimes they turn into rogues.”
Her mouth dropped. She couldn’t imagine anyone Daemon had loved turning renegade. “The three women you changed?”
He nodded. “It doesn’t always work out.”
“You think I would be like that?” Her words were threaded with disbelief. Wel , not that she was perfect but…
“You have a history of…disobedience.”
She narrowed her eyes, instantly undoing her attempt at placating him.
“You would have to obey me, and I know you wouldn’t.”
She clenched her teeth against saying anything that would make him change his mind, but the memories of living in the home under strict rules rushed back to her al at once. Obeying Daemon, being ruled by him, didn’t appeal, and she wasn’t about to al ow it.
He lifted his gaze from her sweater to her eyes. “I wouldn’t take you for my mate.”
“Not your mate?” she asked, her voice elevating too much. She didn’t want to be his forever, but the notion he’d changed three women he wanted to live with for an eternity but wouldn’t change her hurt—putting it mildly. Which was crazy because she shouldn’t have cared one iota.
He shook his head. “I vowed never to take another.”
“What happened to the other three?”
“Dead. Rogues are terminated. Either by hunters or vampires. Though in the case of newly turned vampires, the one expected to do the job is the one who turned them.”
“You did it?” she asked, half whispering the question.
“I should have realized they couldn’t handle the change. I should never have turned them.”
Reaching up, she untied the leather strap holding his hair back. The satiny strands fel free and caressed his shoulders like she wanted to. “I won’t become a rogue.”
His eyes darkened. “You want to kil Krustalus with or without proof he’s the murderer.”
She combed her fingers through Daemon’s dark hair, and his eyes clouded with desire. “I’m not like the other women,” she mouthed against his lips. “I don’t want power, or immortality or anything but to help my sister.”
“You’re already a borderline rogue, Tezra.” He rose to his feet, placed his hands on her shoulder and kissed her throat, stealing her breath. “Everything about you warns me to take a step back and keep my distance.” He pul ed away, his eyes clouded with lust. “We’re going to have to find another way.”
“Add pig-headed to your list of foibles,” she growled, glowering at him.
He studied her, his face expressionless.
“Fine, just fine. Take me back to see my sister. I’l visit with her for another hour like I normal y do, and then…wel , then we’re going to discuss this some more. Just because you have some mating phobia, when I’ve already said I don’t want to be your mate, wel , that’s your problem. And dammit al , I’m not a rogue, and I wouldn’t become a rogue. Wel , sometimes I get pretty pissed off, but doesn’t everybody? Hel , of course everyone does occasional y. It doesn’t mean—”
Daemon took her hand and pul ed her close, his touch tender. Her eyes moistened. His mouth covered hers, and she leaned into his kiss, cherished the feel of his silky skin against hers, the heat of his body, the arousal she’d stirred.
“I’m sorry, Tezra,” he said.
Before she could react to his making her feel smal and unwanted, he transported her to Redding Hospital.
The blackness dissipated, and she was momentarily disoriented, her stomach stil reeling with the vampiric travel, then she realized she stood before her sister’s door. Voltan stood behind them, ever on guard. Letting out her breath and stil peeved with Daemon, Tezra grabbed the knob and opened the door.
She expected to see her sister staring into space as she usual y did when Tezra visited her in the evenings before one of the staff put Katie to bed, New Age music softly playing on her CD player. When Tezra found the sitting room empty and deathly quiet, panic seized her. She dashed into the adjoining bedroom, but found no sign of Katie. Nothing was out of place. The snow white bedcover was undisturbed. The white petal roses tinged with a hint of pink she’d brought Katie the day before fluttered under the heating vent, perfuming the air with their tea-scented fragrance. The plastic chair stil sat next to the bed where Tezra often read to Katie at bedtime. Nothing was out of the ordinary.
Only Katie’s absence.
A new trickle of dread wormed its way down Tezra’s spine. Attempting to squash the chil spreading through her, she hoped that maybe one of the staff had taken Katie to the common room to be with other residents. But Katie cringed in crowds, and Tezra was certain her sister’s behavior hadn’t miraculously changed within a couple of hours.
Tezra ran out of the room and into the hal , trying to sense if she could feel her sister’s presence anywhere. Daemon shadowed her, and Voltan’s heavy footfal wasn’t far behind.
“What’s wrong, Tezra?” Daemon reached for her hand.
She wiped away tears, hating herself for getting emotional, likely over nothing. She couldn’t sense Katie anywhere. “I’m afraid Katie’s left the building. I’l die if Krustalus has taken her.”
She grabbed Daemon’s hand and hauled him with her, maneuvering down the labyrinth of hal s past a tennis court-sized cafeteria fil ed with white plastic chairs and laminated tables.
She pul ed him into a large room, where several residents sat playing cards or watched television from a half ring of white vinyl couches. Katie wasn’t among them.
Tezra’s head pounded. “Nobody else would have taken her.” Whipping around, she headed for the administrative office to speak to the woman in charge, Mrs. Wither, an unsmiling middle-aged woman who Tezra felt should have retired years ago.
Ready to tear anyone apart who had al owed someone to remove her sister from the facility, Tezra harbored a shred of hope Katie was stil in the building. “What if Krustalus knew or suspected what we were up to? What if he figured out that I might be able to reach her mind and find proof he was the kil er?”
“I should have taken her to my house into protective custody,” Daemon said with dark regret.
“Damn, I can’t believe I put my sister in further peril.” She vowed with al her heart to set things right with Katie, if she could only reach her in time.
Voltan interjected, “What do you wish me to do, my prince?” His voice was shaded in anger, and she figured if someone had taken her sister, whoever did so wouldn’t stand a chance against the giant. And she’d be there to back him up.
“Stay with us for now.”
Tezra stormed into the administrative office. Mrs. Wither, tal and thin with bulging black eyes, choppy brown hair and an exaggerated under-bite, nearly dropped her cup of coffee. She reminded Tezra of a startled Pekingese.
“What are you doing in here?” the woman snapped.
Tezra’s emotions were tied to her with barely a thread. One last tug and she’d lose control. “Where’s Katie Campbel ?” she asked in a fairly reserved manner, though her blood boiled.
Mrs. Wither backed into her desk, her face as white as the crisp suit she wore.
“Where is she, and don’t make me ask again,” Tezra growled.
“Patrico Sargento signed the release papers and—”
“Patrico?” Tezra squeaked. Her knees buckled, but Daemon grabbed her by the waist and steered her to a chair.
“Patrico?” Daemon asked Tezra. “The SCU senior staff member that you said was murdered?”
“Yes, ten years ago.” Tezra’s voice was hol ow, and she felt sick to her stomach. Her thoughts swirled. “Patrico can’t just take her out of here. He has no authority. Besides, he’s supposed to be dead. ”
Mrs. Wither’s eyes looked like they were going to pop out of her head. “Mr. Sargento had credentials.” She grabbed papers off her desk and shuffled through them. “Here. Power of attorney.” She looked perfectly pleased with herself. Al nice and official, as if she had done nothing wrong.
“I’m Katie’s only living relative. He can’t have gotten a power of attorney to take care of her. Hel , he’s dead!” And if he real y wasn’t, Tezra would strangle him once she got hold of him! Rubbing her temple, she massaged the colossal headache pooling there while she scanned the papers.
Daemon took Katie’s picture attached to the paperwork and handed it to Voltan. “Warn Maison what has happened.”
“Tel him what, my lord? That a dead hunter removed the huntress from the facility? Or that Krustalus has her?”
Daemon frowned at him. “That someone has taken her, but we can’t be sure where or who has done such a deed. Reproduce this and send word I want her located and returned to me at once. Arrest whoever has her.”
“Even if it is a hunter who holds her hostage?”
“Hunter, human, vampire, anyone.”
“Yes, my lord.” Voltan left the office and discreetly vanished.
Daemon ran his hand over Tezra’s shoulder and asked the administrator, “Where did Patrico take her?”
“He said the SCU wished to see her.”
“Didn’t you think this odd? She doesn’t communicate at al . Do they often send their people here to see her?” Daemon asked.
“He has visited her before on occasion.”
Tezra glowered at the woman. “Why did no one tel me?”
“I…wel , I…”
“What did he look like?” Daemon asked, his voice calm but low, like the rumble of thunder from far away, foreshadowing the appearance of a dangerous storm.
“Tal , short strawberry blond hair, scar on his right cheek.”
Tezra couldn’t stop the shiver tril ing down her spine. “It can’t be Patrico. He was murdered right after I told him how the vampire kil ed my parents.” Yet the description fit, and again she felt like she was going to throw up. “I have a photo of the senior staff at my apartment. Council members serve on the board for five years, but the headquarters issues a new group photo every year for the new members on the staff. I need you to take me to my apartment, Daemon. We’l bring the photo back here and see if Mrs. Wither recognizes him.” She took a deep breath, hating what she knew was an inevitable part of the job.“Then we go afterhis family. Hunters are extremely family oriented. He has to have had some contact with them.”
Though if he had, his family members could be protective to the point of being dangerous.
“What about the Council? Don’t you want to check with them first to see if Patrico was bringing Katie to them on the off chance he was tel ing the truth?”
“If they had anything to do with covering up Patrico’s death, what does that tel you about the Council? Do you think they would declare the hunter dead, then have this same hunter pick up my sister to meet with them when she can’t even communicate?”
“I respect your understanding of the Council and its members and abide by your decision, Tezra.” Facing Mrs. Wither, he said,
“We’l be back with the photo to see if you can identify him.”
The woman folded her arms. “My shift ends in half an hour. I’l be gone if you haven’t returned by then.”
“Wrong answer,” Tezra bit out. “You’l wait for us until we return. Do you understand?”
The administrator quickly nodded.
Daemon escorted Tezra into the hal . “We go to your place.” He hesitated and touched Tezra’s cheek. “Are you ready?”
“Yes, let’s hurry.” But she couldn’t get over the shock of Katie being gone, and her stomach hadn’t settled from traveling the last time. Every minute Katie was missing meant she could be traumatized al the more. Tezra couldn’t get rid of the feeling that she might already be too late.
Daemon pul ed Tezra close, then whisked her away to her two-story brick apartment complex. The lights were on in nearly every place but hers, making it appear as dead and deserted as she felt.
When they entered the apartment, more pronounced side effects from moving in the vampire’s way from one place to another
—the disorientation, nausea, headache—assaulted her. For a moment, she tried to get her stomach under control and clung to the wal .
Daemon turned on the light for her benefit. She gasped. Eyes wide and barely breathing, she took in the destruction—her furniture in ruins, glass tables smashed, couches torn, the stuffing shredded, books ripped apart. Tezra leaned against the wal and closed her eyes, trying to get her physical discomfort under control while her emotions ran wild.
Daemon didn’t say a word but moved so swiftly into her kitchen his appearance blurred.“No one here,”he announced, sounding relieved.
Her stomach settled some and concerned whoever had trashed her apartment might have found her hidden investigative files, she practical y flew into her bedroom, feeling Daemon’s presence behind her.
Feathers were strewn about from her down pil ows and comforter, her curtains were in shreds, mirrors were smashed, and drawers were scattered in splintered remnants al over the carpet.
Who would have destroyed her place? The SCU? Krustalus? She didn’t think either would have done such a thing.
Enraged, she reminded herself al that mattered was finding Katie unharmed. She stalked into her closet and poked at a cedar panel, which opened and a secret compartment containing her work appeared. She reached inside and pul ed out her files.
“Pays to be careful,” she grumbled under her breath.
She cleared a space on the floor and started sifting through the contents. When she found the photo she was looking for, she handed it to Daemon. “I need to keep these papers somewhere safe. It’s the only evidence I have for the investigations I’ve worked the last four years.”
“We’l return to my house first and put them in a secure place.”
Before she could brace herself, Daemon returned her to his greatroom where Maison and Atreides were having a heated discussion.
“He’s headed down the same path of destruction as before,” Atreides said, then grew silent when he saw Daemon.
Again, Tezra felt horribly unsettled. She fought a new bout of nausea but hid it from Daemon, not about to be left at home while he questioned Patrico’s mother. Yet her head swam, and speckled lights danced in front of her eyes. She didn’t think she could take much more of Daemon’s way of travel. But Atreides’s words bothered her too. Was she the reason for Atreides’s comments about his brother? She was certain that’s who he was talking about, especial y when she saw the heated look on Daemon’s face.
“Safeguard these.” Daemon handed the files to Atreides.
“I’m going with you.” Atreides passed the documents to Maison, looking a bit contrite. “Voltan gave us the word.”
Tezra clenched her teeth and braced herself for vampiric travel again.
Daemon didn’t know what to think of the situation, with someone from the SCU being involved in Katie’s abduction and the deceit concerning Patrico’s death…but for now, he worried even more about Tezra’s state of mind.
“You can come with us later, Atreides.” Daemon wrapped his arm around Tezra’s waist and returned her to the hospital’s administrative office.
Mrs. Wither was no longer in her office.
Daemon rubbed Tezra’s back, but his action didn’t al eviate the tension straining her muscles, and she looked awful y pale.
“We’l find Katie, if it takes—”
The woman walked back into the office and cried out, dropping her cup of coffee. The mug shattered on the linoleum floor, and the black liquid splattered al over her white pumps and nylons. “I…I didn’t expect you’d return so quickly.”
Daemon shoved the photo at the woman. “Is this the man?”
“I think so. He appeared older, but then—” she pointed to the year of the photo and said, “—this was taken ten years ago.”
Tezra looked at Daemon, her green eyes narrowed and dark, but she clung to him as if she needed his support.“We have tosee his mother. She’s a retired SCU huntress, so we have to take precautions.”
“Thank you,” Daemon said to Mrs. Wither. He escorted Tezra from the room, appreciating the logical way in which she tackled the investigation despite how upset she appeared. “I can guess what you’re thinking, but we don’t know that he has anything to do with your parents’ murder.”
“Why fake his own death? Why take my sister when we’re so close to revealing who the kil er was?”
“Al valid points, Tezra, but we don’t know al the facts, and jumping to conclusions—”
“Isn’t an investigator’s way. Yet I don’t feel like much of one right now.”
“I’d say you’re doing a remarkable job under the circumstances. We go home first, let my brother and Maison know of the situation, then we’l take it from there.” He hoped he could convince her to stay there while he and his brother spoke with Patrico’s mother. He definitely wanted his brother’s backing and Voltan’s support for additional muscle in the event the SCU
hadsolicited Patrico to abduct Katie.
As soon as they returned to the house, Tezra freed herself from Daemon’s grasp, though she stumbled and appeared not at al wel . Again, he felt she should remain behind.
“Where are my swords?” she asked, her voice harsh as she looked from Daemon to Maison, Voltan and Atreides.
“It wouldn’t be wise to arm her,” Atreides said. “Remember, she threatened our guards the last time she had a sword.” He motioned to Voltan. “And she made mincemeat of his leather jacket. If she gets hold of this Patrico, no tel ing what she’d do to him in her present state of mind, particularly if he’s unarmed.”
Tezra took a swing at Atreides, and he moved so quickly, Daemon didn’t have time to react. Trapping her shoulders against the wal , Atreides held her firm. “You know,” Atreides said in a low, husky voice, “your actions are tantamount to a vampire’s sexual foreplay. If you were a vampiress, I’d have pinned you to the couch and shown you how powerful an ancient male vampire can be.” His eyes sparkled with devilish delight. “If Daemon hadn’t already laid claim to you, I’d assume you were trying to entice me. However, be forewarned, huntress, do not try this with other ancients. Many would not be as control ed as I am.”
“Daemon hasn’t laid claim to me,” Tezra growled.
“Release her,” Daemon said, not wil ing to disagree with his brother over the enchantress. He had not claimed her for his own, but he didn’t figure anything he had to say would convince his brother otherwise. However, he ful y intended to have a word in private with him once they’d cleared up this other matter.
Maison stroked his chin, considering the situation with reserved thoughtfulness. Voltan stood with his arms crossed, waiting for the end result.
Atreides released Tezra, but she swung at him again. Daemon caught her wrist this time and pul ed her away from his brother.
“Save your energy, Tezra.”
Atreides’s smal smile faded, and this time he addressed Daemon. “Three hunters came here looking for Tezra while you were gone. They said Lichorus has made a formal complaint to the SCU and accused us of trying to turn her against her wil . The SCU Council members don’t believe she’s here of her own free choice.”
“Did you tel them where I was?” Tezra asked, rubbing her temple, and Daemon assumed a headache was brewing in that pretty head of hers from al the anxiety she felt.
He could tel she wanted to strike out at anyone who was involved in taking her sister from the hospital, or anyone who would try to stop her in locating Katie. Something else seemed to be troubling her, yet as usual she kept her thoughts shielded from him.
Atreides tilted his head to the side in a condescending manner. “No. The SCU has no jurisdiction here without a warrant.”
“I want my other weapons.” Tezra took a menacing step toward him.
Daemon shook his head. Then she poked her finger into his chest. “Youhave my favorite swords. Where have you hidden them?”
Her dark curls tangled over her shoulders; her cheeks flushed in anger. Every inch of the inferno-tempered woman tantalized him. Atreides was right—Tezra truly didn’t realize how she taunted him.
Atreides channeled his communication solely to Daemon,“Lock her in the cellar before she causes the situation to becomeeven graver. Maybe we can discover some clues without putting her life and yours in danger. She’s too hot-tempered overher sister’s abduction.”
Daemon considered the wild look in her eyes. His word should be law. Not so with Tezra. Was that what appealed so much?
She was like the river—shifting, dangerous, out-of-control. He agreed with Atreides about Tezra’s temper and wanted to leave her behind with protection. Stil , she might be able to reach Patrico where Daemon and his kind couldn’t.
“Give her swords back to her, Atreides. She needs her weapons for the trouble I’m sure we’re bound to get into. We’l go to Patrico’s mother’s home and hope the SCU hasn’t already gotten wind of our plans.”Chapter Ten
When they arrived at Patrico’s mother’s blue and white colonial, Voltan and Atreides watched for Patrico in the event he tried to leave or enter around the side or back of the house while Tezra pushed the doorbel . Maison sat in the form of a raven on a nearby rooftop, watching for vehicles approaching the house—mainly concerned SCU hunters might arrive any minute.
Tezra’s face was so pale Daemon worried traveling with her in their way was making her sick, but he knew he couldn’t have talked her into staying at his home. In any event, he figured she would get farther with Patrico’s mother than he and his vampire companions could.
When she reached up to push the ringer for the fifth time, Daemon took her hand and kissed it.
A fiery blaze burned in her expression like she wanted to devour him in one bite.
A white-haired woman with a benevolent, Mrs. Santa Claus kind of face, opened the door with a squeak.
He assumed the woman, wearing a floral housecoat and fluffy pink slippers, was Patrico’s mother. A strong fragrance of perfume surrounded her like an invisible cloud of flowers. Mrs. Sargento gave Tezra a tentative smile, then glanced at Daemon.
The look of recognition in her eyes told him a lot about her. What was a vampire doing visiting a retired huntress? And why was Tezra here? He felt the woman knew a hel of a lot about Katie’s disappearance. Using his vampiric abilities, he attempted to read the woman’s mind. For an instant, he gathered a thought—Tezra was one of them. A huntress turned vampire. And then a brick wal like the one surrounding Mrs. Sargento’s backyard rose to shield Daemon from reading any further thoughts. Fine.
He’d get the information out of her one way or another.
The way Tezra was studying her so intensely, Daemon assumed she was trying to read her mind also. “Mrs. Sargento,” Tezra said, “I learned your son is alive and wel .”
The woman’s face turned into a mask of white marble.
“Patrico has my sister.” Tezra’s voice was even, not accusatory. “Why did Patrico take her, and why was his death faked?”
“You’re mistaken. He’s dead. How could he have taken your sister from the hospital?” Mrs. Sargento vehemently shook her head, loosening a curl from her bun. “That’s absurd.”
“When was the last time you saw him?”
“At his funeral.” Mrs. Sargento avoided Tezra’s hard look.
“Closed casket. Did he fake his death or was the SCU in on the charade?” Tezra asked, and Daemon was proud of her for being so control ed in her questioning. Not even a hint of emotion coated her words.
“I don’t know anything about this.” Yet Mrs. Sargento’s voice quaked.
Again, he tried to read her thoughts, but she blanked them. Daemon rubbed Tezra’s arm but wil ed Mrs. Sargento to reveal the truth.“Tell us where Katie is, and we’ll be on our way.”
But the woman was a huntress, and he couldn’t force her to reveal anything she didn’t want to.
Tezra’s back grew rigid and she said through clenched teeth, “Tel me where Katie is, Mrs. Sargento. The vampire who’s after me could very wel be targeting her now.”
Tears dribbled down the older woman’s cheeks. “I…oh, Patrico. If he got involved… I-I told him not to do this. I warned him the vampire… Oh, what has he done?”
“He apparently wanted to protect my sister,” Tezra said, but from the way she was scowling and the tone of her words, Daemon didn’t believe she truly felt Patrico stole Katie away from the facility for her own safety.
Tezra folded her arms and looked even more cross. “But I fear Patrico has only made it worse for Katie. Please, tel me where he is.”
Mrs. Sargento reached out and touched her hand. “You’re not one of them?”
“No. I just need to make sure my sister remains safe from the likes of the vampire who murdered our parents.”
The woman chewed on the inside of her cheek, then let out her breath. “He’l be here in about an hour. He didn’t mean any harm.”
“I only want my sister back.” Tezra’s voice attempted to appease but had a sharp edginess.
Daemon relayed the word to his vampire companions, proud Tezra could move the woman to tel the truth without violence when he couldn’t entice her with his vampiric abilities. Now to confront Patrico.
Having a hard time believing Patrico was truly alive after al these years, Tezra stared at Mrs. Sargento.
“Is he coming here with Katie?” Hope instantly renewed. A chil y breeze played with her hair, but as angry as she was, she didn’t imagine even sitting in the middle of a frozen iceberg would cool her down. On top of that, she felt like her stomach was stil back at Daemon’s house, or maybe at the hospital before that. The constant transporting was making her discombobulated.
“I don’t know.” The woman looked at the porch.
“Does anyone else realize your son is alive?”
The elderly woman shook her head. “They think he’s dead.”
Tezra took a breath of relief, glad the SCU wasn’t in on some cover-up.
“Are we finished here, Tezra?” Daemon asked. He seemed anxious to leave.
She nodded.“We need to return before the hour is up though.”