“I’m not sure how many they have down there.”
Julia perched on the edge of the couch and looked at the three zombies clustered in front of her. Brett, sat next to her, had clued her in. But their strangeness, and the smell, still pulled at her. Before she’d been taken she wouldn’t have known the difference. All she’d have noticed was that they were all horrendously good looking, because even with the Blood virus circling in her veins, she felt the pull of attraction.
Brett had told her that was how they hunted. Their prey came to them, unable to resist. She had to admit, that was clever. Very clever. She narrowed her eyes. Even though she could feel the pull when she looked at them, with the three men in front of her it was an abstract thing. Something she could take a step back from and assess them, like a scientist studying a bug under a microscope.
“Even a vague idea would help, doll,” the big one that Brett had called Dom said, his voice a deep rumble in the darkness. The room wasn’t lit, but she could see as well as she could in broad daylight. Like her eyes had adapted to use up every little bit of light available.
Bride of Dracula or what? She had the fangs; the claws freaked her out a bit, so all she needed now was the kickass goth outfit to go with them. And the hair. Healthy chestnut curls didn’t scream vamp like straight, jet-black locks did.
“Okay.” Her new fangs hidden safely away, she nibbled at her lower lip. “I woke up in a room. Small, like a cell. I could hear someone crying, a woman, so I knew there were more people there. She told me to be quiet. Said we were in hell.”
“Another woman?” The one who’d introduced himself as Fredericks looked up, pale gaze keen and interested. That was another thing she’d noticed about them, their eyes were all pale, as though the color was leeched out of them.
“Yeah. She was in one of the other rooms. I think there were more. There were certainly more doors all along the corridor.” She shivered at the memory. “It was like a prison. They were cells.”
“Okay. So what happened then?” Fredericks asked, flicking a glance behind him at the third man. The one who’d attacked her. Apparently his name was Kelwood, and he was, to put it bluntly, a few nuggets short of a happy meal. She’d say he was missing the freaking fries to boot, but she didn’t want to piss Dom or Fredericks off. Especially not Fredericks. There was something about him, a stillness that the others didn’t have. A stillness that scared the crap out of her.
She closed her eyes for a moment to marshal her thoughts. The fear she’d felt, still felt, reached out from her memories to try and ensnare her. Her breathing shortened, her heart speeding up. Brett’s hand covered hers, squeezing in reassurance, and it all fell away. She opened her eyes and slid him a smile of thanks.
“Then there was a guy…a Blood I think. I didn’t know that’s what he was back then. Just thought I was in the middle of a nightmare or something. I managed to get past him when he opened the door, but….” She paused and closed her eyes, getting her reactions back under control. When she opened them again, her voice was calmer. “He took me to a room. There was another guy there. He told me I was lucky. I was going to be the mother of a master race.”
She didn’t miss the sharp look between the men before Fredericks spoke again. “This man…was he in charge? What did he look like?”
“Oh, he was definitely in charge. The other guy looked at him for orders.” She looked down at her feet on the cold concrete of the floor. They were dirty, and somehow that bothered her more than the fact that she couldn’t feel the cold. “Tall, blonde…all-American. And an asshole.”
“McCoy,” all four men said at the same time. Dom laughed. “She even got the asshole bit right.” He looked right at her and smiled. “I like you, even if you are a Blood.”
She grinned back. “Not been one for long; perhaps it takes a while for the assholishness to set in, if we all turn out like this McCoy.” Her expression dropped serious. “Better than the alternative anyway.”
“Oh, no,” Brett shook his head. “McCoy was a wanker before they changed him. I think the batch they used to make him was off.”
Dom joined Brett in laughter, and her lips curled in response, until she looked up to find Fredericks looking at her levelly. “What do you mean ‘alternative’?”
“There was a woman there. The only one I saw. She was one of them, but she wasn’t quite right,” she explained slowly. “Like she was broken somewhere mentally. She said things when she let me out. Something about a bird called Alice.”
Kelwood paused his pacing at the back of the room. Lifting his head slowly, he fixed her with a glittering gaze. She felt tension roll through the three men around her as the temperature in the room dropped by several degrees. The ends of her fingers and her gums ached, her fangs and claws reacting to the perceived threat, but she held them in check.
“Alice?” He asked, taking a step forward, then another. “Are you sure she said Alice?”
She nodded. “Absolutely. ‘Take care of baby Alice.’ Why? Does it mean something?”
“What did she look like?” Kelwood demanded, his face mere inches from hers. The speed at which he moved made her jump, but before she could react, Dom hauled him back.
“What did she look like?”
“Errr.… Small, dark hair. Very delicate looking. Pretty. She has a beauty mark here,” she said, touching her cheek by her eye.
Whatever reaction she expected, it wasn’t the one she got. Kelwood’s face hardened and he dropped his head back, howling with rage. Then he was gone, breaking through the door like it was matchwood and tearing through the workshop. A second later they heard the outer door splintering as he burst through it.
“Shit!” Fredericks was on his feet in a flash. “Dom, get after him. Make sure he doesn’t get far.”
The bigger man nodded and raced off after Kelwood. Julia looked between Brett and Fredericks in confusion. “I’m sorry, did I say something wrong?”
Fredericks shook his head, running a hand through his short hair. It was the nearest to rattled she’d seen him so far. “No. It’s just…Kelwood was the only one of us that was married. Before they did this to us. His daughter is called Alice. So....” he trailed off, his throat working as though he couldn’t complete the sentence.
“Shit,” she carried on for him, her words soft in the darkness. “They have his wife.”
“Are you sure you can find your way back?”
Julia stopped for a moment, hands on her knees to catch her breath after their breakneck race through the woods. She frowned. Her lungs weren’t burning like they should be after a dash like that. She wasn’t even breathing heavily. Straightening up, she put two fingers on her wrist to check her pulse and the frown deepened. Her heartbeat was barely elevated. In fact, she was filled with so much energy she could probably run like that all day.
She blinked, brought back to the present by the sound of Brett’s voice. He stood a foot or so away, feet spread as though he’d been caught mid-motion. His abs, now free of the tape, were still flexed, displaying his physique at its best. A rush of heat hit her, the temptation to close the distance and run her hand over the hard muscles assaulting her like a SWAT team on attack. What was it about him that called to her, when the others didn’t? And that kiss….
With iron control, she shut the reaction down and nodded. “Absolutely.”
The three other men stepped out of the shadows around them, and she hid her startled little jump. All her instincts, both human and the new ones she was still getting used to, went on high alert. It was like one moment they weren’t there and then they were. Out here, the wind scattered the barely-there spider scent she’d picked up before. Without their breathing or heartbeats, if she couldn’t see them, she wouldn’t have known they were there.
Freaky. Way freaky.
“How?” Fredericks asked, his voice blunt.
Kelwood lurked behind him, and a tiny shudder escaped her at the intent, over-bright gleam in his eyes when he looked at her. Even though she appeared to have gone from prey to ally because she could lead him back to where they were holding his wife, the guy still scared the living daylights out of her.
Closing her eyes, she opened all her senses. The SARAs disappeared off her ‘radar,’ but it wasn’t them she was looking for. Instead, she searched for the ones from before. The Bloods. The woods around them were silent, so she pushed outwards, casting her senses into a wider net. It was like sending a pack of hounds out to scent her prey.
Her mind raced as she picked up heartbeats from animals hidden in the undergrowth. Small, fast heartbeats as they scurried about their business. None of them sensed her, and she ignored them in her quest for other prey. She caught it, the faint edge of something, and lifted her head to scent the air.
Luck was with them. The wind changed direction and she grinned, opening her eyes to look at the men around her. “Follow me.”
This time it was she who led, breaking into an easy run as she followed the scent of the Bloods. Stench was a better word. The crisp, dry scent of the SARAs was lost beneath the myriad smells that marked the enemy they tracked. The scent of hot, rich blood warred with the acrid smell of terror and despair. Misery stood side by side with pain, all wrapped around something else…a deeper, darker note she didn’t have a name for, but recognized instantly.
It was the same thing that surged through her own veins. The thing that powered her body as she ran, and for a moment she allowed herself to revel in the movement. She’d been afraid for so long, of Buddy and his goons and what they’d do to her, that she’d forgotten what it felt like to be free, to have the wind in her hair as she ran. To not have to look over her shoulder anymore. To know she could take care of herself.
But this wasn’t about her now. She’d been kidnapped yeah, but she’d escaped thanks to her strange guardian angel. A guardian angel she wasn’t going to leave in that hell-hole, nor any other women, not now that she could do something about it. Her jaw clenched as she leapt over a fallen trunk and kept on running.
She followed the scent until it got so strong it crawled into her nostrils and took up residence there. They’d come past where Brett had saved her from the Blood. McCoy’s bully boy. She rolled the name around her mind as her steps slowed. She had a name to go with the face, but Captain Double A suited him much better. Arrogant Asshole.
The woods thinned out, and the scent of the Bloods thickened. It was so bad she wasn’t sure she’d ever get rid of it. She stopped when the outline of the barn was visible through the trees.
“Through there.” She frowned and closed her eyes. Without sight, she could filter the different scents more easily. “But the scents are weird. It’s like they—”
“Fuck!” Brett yelled, and her eyes snapped open to see shadows all around them in the darkness. “We got incoming!”
The Bloods rushed them en-masse, emerging from the darkness like avenging angels bent on death and destruction. Brett snarled, dropping into a defensive crouch. With no need for concealment now, he kicked his heart into action, using the sudden blood flow to shove adrenaline around his system, increasing his strength and speed. Not that he needed it. Since he’d been changed into what he was, he could play chicken with a tank and come out the winner. But these were Bloods and he had something—someone—to protect now.
Time slowed, dilating, and he used the time to study their enemy. The Bloods were wraiths in the darkness, only the occasional flash of white fangs to mark their movements. They could freeze at a moment’s notice, utterly and unnaturally still to avoid detection, or burst into movement within a heartbeat to catch their prey. The perfect nocturnal predator.
To most, that was already too late. By the time a Blood’s prey saw the fangs, the trap was already closed, and they were dead. It would take super-human strength to get away from a Blood once it had its fangs dug in. Superhuman, or not human at all. Brett knew…he’d been bitten before. Many times. The only way to get the bastards off was to break the jaw, which was best done after the head was removed from the body.
But he wasn’t human, and even though the clouds concealed the moon overhead, he didn’t need to see to hunt. He never had. Closing his eyes, he extended his senses like a spider in her web. He’d been a soldier, yes, and a damn good one, but unlike others, being one of the elite had never bothered him. He’d just wanted to do his bit and go home alive.
The Project had changed all that. They’d put something in him, injected god knows what into his veins, and changed what he was inside. Now, it was like he was wired into the world. He could feel everything. Every little vibration in the fabric of the world. The rumble as a puppy ran, the scrape of a chair leg across the floor a dozen rooms away, Dom farting in his sleep, although he’d give anything to block that particular bit of knowledge out.
They’d all quickly learned to block out the mass input of information. Otherwise it would have driven them mad. Had driven some of the others mad. The ones they’d been forced to put down before they’d left the base.
He opened his eyes and smiled as a Blood rushed him. With his enhanced senses, he could feel the vibrations of a fly on the wing, so he could certainly feel over two hundred pounds of vampire hurtling toward him like a rampaging elephant.
He reached out and shoved Julia behind him. His brothers closed ranks, surrounding her on all sides. Pride flowed through him. He’d not been sure how they’d react around her, not with her being a Blood now, and not with Kelwood’s earlier reaction, but they had his back. He’d made it clear that Julia was his, so they’d protect her as they would him. Better actually, since she could be hurt in ways he couldn’t. That none of them could.
Before that notion had filled him with sadness. Now it filled him with a sense of pride and self-worth. He could protect her and the other women the Bloods had taken. He had a purpose again, and it wasn’t the one the Project had decided for him. It was one he had chosen.
The Blood snarled in his face, breath warm across his skin and triumph shining in its eyes as it reached for him with claw-tipped fingers. He struck upward with a flat hand. His fingers pierced its skin just under the jaw and tore upward into the mouth. It screamed as black blood splattered down, coating Brett’s arm. He looked into its black-on-black eyes and grinned.
Then he ripped its lower jaw clean from its face.
The scream became a terrible gurgle as the Blood reached up, his hands fluttering around the ruin of his face.
“Heads up,” Brett quipped, and threw the bloody jawbone, teeth and beard attached, in the air. It turned end over end, reaching the top of its arc and beginning to descend. Brett’s opponent keened, reaching for the grisly souvenir. Not that it would do him much good if he caught it. Unlike a SARA, Bloods couldn’t regenerate that quickly.
He didn’t catch it. Instead, Brett lashed out, catching the creature around the back of his neck and spinning him into a deadly embrace. Hands cradling his victim’s skull, he gave a quick jerk. The dreadful keening cut off as bone snapped and gave, the sudden looseness all Brett needed to tear the head clean from the neck.
He kicked the body away from underfoot and hurled the decapitated head at the next Blood to rush him. Almost as big as Dom, the guy looked like he’d spent most of his life in the gym. Bloods didn’t pile on muscle after infection like the SARAs did. Instead, the change froze them exactly as they were. So this guy had been built like a gym-bunny before he’d become a Blood.
Automatically the Blood caught the head, then looked down at it. His steps paused for a second as horror flitted across his features, then rage replaced it. It was already too late. He looked up to find Brett’s fist already en-route to his face. His nose gave, the bones pulverized as Brett hammered three or four jabs into it. He wasn’t sure how many; he moved so fast he often lost count. Black blood flowed as the creature staggered back, but there was no escape. Brett followed him, skittering sideways fast. Curling his fingers into claws, he struck again and tore out the bloods throat.
A roar sounded. Dom.
He turned, casting a glance over his shoulder to see the big man pick up a Blood and spin it in the air. No mean feat given the Blood had to be well over six feet and built like a linebacker. Dom was bigger though. Faster. Stronger.
The Blood cartwheeled through the air, his arms and legs flailing, and Dom stepped in like he had all the time in the world. He reached up and caught the falling man by his ankle. Twisting, he spun the creature around in an arc, using it as a living hammer to batter the enemy around them. The Blood was dead with the first hit, but the big SARA carried on using it to lay about himself. Brett turned back to the fight.
Vibration warned him and he stepped back a second before a Blood dropped from the branches overhead. It unfolded from its crouch to snarl at him.
“I’m gonna make you wish you’d never been born, asshole,” it snarled around a mouthful of fangs.
“I was hoping you’d say that.” Brett grinned and launched into action. Within seconds he was covered in black blood with another body at his feet. Over twenty Blood’s against four of them? Now that his team was at full strength, it hardly seemed fair.