Urban jungles didn’t differ much from the wild when it came to hunting. I had to use all my shifter senses to track my prey and stay safe in both these places. Only my tactics differed.
Loud music thumped against my sensitive ears, masking most basics sounds, but I’d been trained to hunt during the intense thunderstorms that rolled off the oceans in my native Brazil. I knew how to deal with distractions.
Most of the people boogied, as my American friend Connie would have said, on the dance floor or gathered around the central bar. I wasn’t interested in them. The one I watched, from my empty table, sipped a drink while he stood at a bar in back of the club. Only couples seeking privacy surrounded us. They paid him no heed.
A perfect place for a vampire to hunt.
I took a sip of my soda and leaned back as I propped my boots on a chair across from me. Surveillance was boring, but I couldn’t afford to make a mistake. I had to be sure this was the right guy.
Casually pointing my phone in the vampire’s direction, I took a few pictures then texted them. The person looking for him couldn’t provide a photo, so I had to hang back and wait for confirmation. The vampire fit the description I’d been given perfectly.
Sashaying into the back of the club, a woman made a direct line for my mark. I noticed a few stray glances in her direction from men already occupied with dates. Even though I didn’t care for women, I had to admit she was beautiful. She flipped her long, wavy brown hair over her shoulder and gave the vampire a dazzling smile. Leaning over the bar, her dressed strained against her ample cleavage as she ordered a drink. She couldn’t be more obvious.
Things were looking up. My boring assignment might turn into a rescue. If I had to tear this vampire from her pretty neck, I’d let my protégé, Mutt, spank her for being so stupid and easy.
I balanced my chair on its back legs. Where the hell was my protégé? Mutt was the one looking for this jerk. It had been a long night of tracking in bars and I longed for my bed.
The vampire’s gaze lingered on the floozy's legs as it skimmed along her body. He obviously wanted a meal, and she was now on the menu. I couldn’t stop him from feeding. Not unless he meant her harm. According to the Vampire Nation’s law, as long as he didn’t damage her, he could feed then wipe her memory. Heck, many vampires kept human companions.
Who was I to stop him from a meal? I just wished Mutt would move his ass and get here to see if this vampire was his missing friend. Then I could put an end to this night, find my bed, and return to my book.
My phone vibrated on the table top and I read the message. Mutt couldn’t be sure if this was Alcide from the pictures. He was on his way. I hung my head and said a silent farewell to a quiet night spent at home.
From the corner of my eye, I noticed the vampire sidling next to the pretty woman and whisper something in her ear. She twisted a strand of her hair around her finger and gave him a come-hither smile.
I rolled my eyes. Thank the full moon I’d been born a shifter. I couldn’t imagine having to seduce each of my meals. I’d starve to death.
The couple emptied their glasses, and strolled arm in arm toward the exit. I blinked. That was fast. The vampire’s tongue must be made of gold.
Gathering my phone, I tossed a few bills on the table to cover my soda and texted Mutt to follow the GPS signal on my phone since I was on the move again. I waited until the door closed behind the couple before jumping to my feet and following.
Not to be obvious, I turned into an alley and tracked them from behind the stores. Their scent traveled on the wind and made it easy for me. I didn’t want to collar the wrong guy. My master was already pissed and I didn’t need to add to his list of grievances against me.
Mutt was my punishment for not returning to my duties as promised. I’d been assigned to teach the young Nosferatu and keep him out of trouble. This was the price I paid for my pride. My pack served the Nosferatu clan leader, the most feared group of vampires. They were more monster than man and ruled the Vampire Nation.
I headed security. Well, I used to. My brother did it now. A few months ago, while trying to discover who had attempted to kill my master, I’d encountered a male shifter named Colby. He turned out to be my mate. Before I could say jumping-jack-flash, he ran. For a month I tracked his trail until he vanished in Beijing.
Bastard was a slayer and knew what he was doing when it came to hiding. How could I return to my pack when my heart lay shattered within my chest? My own mate didn’t want me. Why would my pack? I could barely stand myself since then.
Between the buildings, I glimpsed the couple crossing the street to a cheap motel.
I pulled out my phone again to text when a presence suddenly fell over my senses like a shadow on the wind. Spinning around, I struck out and hit something made of stone.
“Ouch. What the fuck, Gwen?” Mutt rubbed his chest where my punch had landed. He loomed over me in his worn jeans and scuffed running shoes. An old winter cap hid his bald head and pointed ears. Most people would think he was a twenty-something street thug. They wouldn’t be too far off with his age. He was closer to thirty-something. Baby-vampires were dangerous. Baby-Nosferatu could be nuclear.
Assessing my knuckles, I tried to ignore the sharp pain in my joints as I moved them. They didn’t appear broken. Why the Nosferatu clan would give such power to a kid was beyond me. They normally chose a vampire of age and distinction to bestow their dark kiss upon.
“Don’t sneak up on me like that.” I tossed him a sharp look. “What took you so long?”
“You texted me minutes ago. Do you think I can teleport?” His blue eyes grew wide. “Can I?”
“No.” I shook my head and returned my attention to the motel. “At least, I don’t think so. You have to ask one of your brothers.”
“I wish you’d stop calling them that.” He came next to me, his hands buried in his pockets. “They’re not around to ask. They just pop up when they want and dictate things to me.”
“Humph.” Sounded just like the clan. Time worked differently when a creature didn’t age. They probably thought they were here often enough, especially with me around to take care of Mutt on a day-to-day basis. I pointed at the motel. “I think I saw your friend enter with a female human.”
“Why doesn’t he answer his phone or return home?”
“All good questions that we can ask him. Let’s go.” Sticking to the shadows, I strode across the street.
Mutt’s friend had disappeared last week and being the bleeding heart that I am, I finally agreed to help Mutt look for him. Vampires vanished all the time, changing identities and such things. Mutt had to learn these lessons. Keeping friends was detrimental for his kind.
I couldn’t control the sneer on my lips as a human bumped into my shoulder. New York City was filled with them and their stink. Why my would-be mate associated with them, I couldn’t imagine. Feeble and nose-blind, most were nothing but prey for the vampires.
The city proved even worse than I’d been told. Territorial battles were still secretly being waged by the clans, while the Nosferatu watched that no vampire laws were broken. Chaos reigned in every burrow. Vampire slumlords, rich crazies, and gangs battled for dominance. Did the humans notice? Not at all. The Nosferatu made sure of it.
In the middle of this, I was expected to help raise Mutt. Teach him how to hunt and to kill, since in essence that was what Nosferatu did. They maintained supernatural laws with capital punishment and were every vampire’s nightmare.
At least Manhattan seemed stable. Overlord Cesio resided there and kept a tight rein on the dramatics.
As we approached the motel, a scent caught my attention. My heart stilled as well as my feet. “It can’t be,” I whispered.
“What is it?” Mutt hovered over my back, attempting to look in two directions at the same time.
I gestured for him to be quiet and inhaled deeply. Something knotted in my gut uncoiled, luxuriating in the scent. Easing my gun from its holster at the small of my back, I caressed its familiar shape in the palm of my hand. “There are slayers inside.”
“How can you tell?”
“I smell the one I’m familiar with. Chances are he knows we’re here.” Fuck. Colby led a group of misguided slayers. I hadn’t been this close to him since the night he’d run. This time when I caught him it would be for good. Stepping around the puddles, I drew closer to the door.
While tracking Colby around the globe, I had memorized his scent. He’d dodged my every move, escaping for good without a trace. I had dreamed of cornering him alone one day and demanding an explanation as to why he found me so repulsive. It looked as if I’d finally have my chance. I rolled my head and cracked my neck. Without hesitation, I kicked the door open, weapon clutched in both hands.
A woman’s sharp scream stabbed my eardrums. I blinked and tracked the vampire as he lunged at the female with supernatural speed, placing his body between me and her. His value rose in my estimate.
The female retreated to the far wall, her well-manicured hands over her mouth. Her beauty and flirtatious manner were perfect for bait. A vampire searching for someone sweet and sexy to nibble on would follow her straight to her slayer employer.
Colby. He’d used this tactic before.
Stupid-headed vampire, didn’t he wonder what a fresh thing like her was doing in a slum? He deserved to be staked for such idiocy.
To my left, a black-haired giant leaped from his hiding place in the closet with a battle howl remarkable for a human. I easily sidestepped the attack and elbowed him behind the ear. He fell to the ground in a limp pile.
Colby stepped out of the bathroom. His green gaze met mine from across the room, and a frown slashed across his cold expression. Stake in hand, blond hair disarrayed, and sporting a five o’clock shadow, he devastated me on levels non-shifters couldn’t ever understand. “Gwen?”
Trying to breathe with lungs that didn’t work, I nodded. A part of me hoped I had the same affect on him. Wolves mated for life. If Colby thought out of sight would lead to him being out of my mind, he was dead wrong. I’d struggled my whole life training as a warrior, fought up the pack ranks until I led Master Tane’s personal shifter guard, and became the first to head a successful hunt on a crazed Nosferatu vampire.
I didn’t know how to yield. Even with my disability, I showed those who thought me weak that I was twice the beast they were.
Colby belonged to me, no matter how fucked up or lost we both were. He raised an eyebrow as my gun trained on him. I couldn’t let him kill this vampire without cause. As far as I knew, no kill-orders had been issued within New York City and since I was training the local Nosferatu brat to hunt vampires…I think I’d be in the know.
Mutt’s friend finally seemed to register that the human female wasn’t going to be his date and that a slayer had stepped in the room. His mouth formed an O before he tore across the room and crashed through the back window.
With the speed of our race, Colby leaned to the side, dodging the human female to leap after his escaping prey. He never made it.
Mutt had pushed past me and shoved Colby mid-leap. The young vampire’s speed and strength surpassed those of shifters. His lack of skill and finesse caused Colby to crash into the wall, leaving a slayer-shaped dent in the drywall.
I holstered my gun as I rushed to his motionless body. “You’d better not have killed him.” His chest rose when I rolled him on his back. Running my hands over Colby’s scalp, I checked for depressions. I breathed a sigh of relief. Damn, the male had a hard head.
A sob broke the hushed silence blanketing the room. I glanced over my shoulder at the human female whose gaze was riveted on Mutt. His hat had shifted to expose an ear, and one fang extended past his lips.
“You’d better glamour her.” I gestured for him to hurry before the human’s sobs turned into screams. My gaze returned to Colby, who showed no sign of distress; however, I still felt short of breath. For three months I’d thought of him. Wondered where he hid and why he ran. Brushing a wayward strand of hair from his forehead, I stared at his male beauty. I could get my answers. Finally.
“Uh, Gwen?” Mutt held the human by the shoulders. “I can’t get inside her head.”
The human glared in my direction, her arms crossed over her chest and tears drying on her cheeks. “Who the fuck are you?”
I blinked and remembered Colby’s favorite tactic in hunting vampires. “Are you bait?”
Her eyes grew wider.
That was all the answer I needed. My master’s blood slave used to be Colby’s last bait girl, so I knew the drill quite well. “Her mental shields will be stronger than most humans. Bust through them.”
“I—I might hurt her.” Mutt winced as I shot him a frustrated look. “I’m just learning this shit. I might scramble things inside.”
With a few practiced moves, I maneuvered Colby so I could carry his unconscious form fireman style. It took more effort than I’d expected. Three months away from the gym was taking its toll on my body. I glared at the human female with the curves and softness I lacked.
“What’s your name?”
Setting her hands on her hips, she met my gaze, the frightened female of seconds ago fading fast. “Rose.” The name sounded tender and delicate, just like the woman appeared. Cute little body with soft hair tumbling down to her waist, she embodied everything I’m not. She wagged a finger at me. “Put him down. He ain’t goin’ nowhere with you.”
A growl rolled in my chest. “Move aside. I have no qualm with you, but that doesn’t mean I won’t tear you apart.” She probably had no clue what I was. Shifting my mate’s weight on my back, I palmed a throwing dagger. “Where’s Red? He can vouch for me.” The big redhead was Colby’s second in command and had fought alongside me in Rio.
I received a blank stare for an answer. Maybe he’d quit. If I recalled properly, his hair had been turning white around the edges.
“This is a private matter between me and Colby. If I wanted him harmed, he’d already be dead.” I gestured to his unconscious form on my shoulder. “My name is Gwen. Maybe he’d mentioned me?”
Like I’d thought, Colby kept his crew in the dark. They knew nothing of his heritage or what transpired between us in Rio. Coward.
I approved of Red. If memory served right, he didn’t follow Colby blindly. As a shifter, he would have made an excellent hunter. Wish he were here to clear this matter. “I won’t harm your leader.” I gave Rose a weary smile. “We just need to have a talk.”
She snorted. “Are you the reason we’ve been country-hoppin’ like it’s a new sport these last few months?”
“Yes.” Every time I’d been close enough to catch Colby, he’d vanish. I’d expended every favor and dime I’d owned hunting him down. I allowed my irises to change to their wolf color and shape. It was the only part of my body that could shift.
Rose’s stare riveted to my eyes. She swallowed and stepped out of my path. “Once he wakes, you won’t be able to keep him. You know that?”
“I do, but it’ll give me a few minutes to at least speak with him once more.”
The human female stomped her high-heeled feet. “You don’t understand. We need him to catch that vampire.”
I glanced over my shoulder, the muscles in my back aching from the extra weight I carried, and snarled. “I need him more.”
Mutt slipped his arm around the human’s shoulder. “It’s all right, Rose. She won’t eat him.”
If our evening hadn’t been turned inside out, I might have laughed. “Your friend’s scent is still fresh. Your sense of smell should be strong enough to follow it. Go find him.”
Rose shrugged off Mutt’s hand. “What about me?”
I ground my teeth. How did the alpha role always fall on my shoulders? “Stay here until you hear from Colby, and take care of gigantor.” I eyed the unconscious human on the floor by the closet.
I strode away from the motel to my parked car and dumped my mate on the backseat, leaving Mutt alone with Rose. He’d have to find his friend on his own now.
Colby had been hanging out with humans too long and it was time he came home to be with his own kind. I leaned over him and brushed his shaggy hair from his face. The touch of skin upon skin sent tingles over my fingertips. Something I’d experienced only when we’d first met and fought.
My breath caught in my throat. I had him.