The white mist had lasted longer this time.
Brett lay on his back as the last of his murderous rage drained away. He felt empty. Drained. Every last drop of his energy had dissipated with his anger, and every cell in his body ached as though he’d gone on a three-day bender, followed by a hundred mile route march, and then taken the mother of all beatings. While he had man flu, which was like the bubonic plague and the hangover from hell all rolled into one.
“How long was I out?” he asked with a groan, lifting his hand to rub through his hair. His arm stopped halfway, pressure around his wrist and the clank of chain warning him that all was not well.
His eyes shot open. Chains bound his wrists, rattling when he yanked on them. More chain wrapped around his body, securing him firmly to the examination bed. It listed to the side, as though damaged. It groaned and tilted dangerously when he tried to get the chains loose.
“What the fuck?” He looked up to find the guys watching him warily. His eyes widened.
Fredericks had a black eye and a split lip. Kelwood sported bruises around his neck and along his ribcage. Dom looked like a bulldog chewing a wasp as he held his wrist. Impressive, given their rapid healing rate.
Red mist. Or in their case, white mist.
He’d only ever seen a Blood go under the mist once. Its eyes had turned totally red, and it had attacked everyone and everything around it, even its own reflection in a set of mirrored doors, which was just fucking dumb. It hadn’t even stopped when the shattered shards had been covered in its own black blood and there was no reflection, no door even, left to attack.
He looked past the three silent men. The makeshift medical bay was totaled. Cupboards were overturned, missing drawers and doors, their contents strewn all over the floor. The ultrasound machine lay in a heap in the corner, screen shattered. The plastic walls hung in tatters, smeared with blood. A quick breath in assured him it was SARA blood. Dead blood.
He breathed a sigh of relief. Whatever he’d done, he hadn’t hurt Julia. Just his brothers and they could take more than he could hand out. Usually. A frown creased his brow. At least he hadn’t hurt Julia, but that led to another question. Sitting up, he looked around.
Kelwood and Fredericks gave him blank faces, but Dom would never make a poker player as long as he had a hole in his ass. Wariness hit hard and fast.
“Where is she?” He sat up suddenly, the chains cutting his movements short with a groan. “What have you done to her?”
No one answered. Dom looked at his feet as though they held all the answers while the other two gave him blank stares.
“I swear to god,” his voice dropped, the tones dangerous and deadly. “If one of you has hurt her, then I’ll fucking take you apart.”
Dom’s head snapped up, pain twisting his expression. “We didn’t do nothing to her, man. I promise. We wouldn’t do that.”
Brett lifted an eyebrow. He wasn’t mad; instead a calm had settled over him that was so chilling that if he’d taken a step back, it would have scared the crap out of him. But he didn’t step back. He didn’t even break eye contact with Dom. Instead, he had already worked out how much pressure he needed to apply to break the chains, and then every movement, in sequence, that would disable his former squad mates.
“Okay, so why don’t I sense her heartbeat?”
“She’s gone.” Fredericks lifted a hand to brush at his split lip. “While you were using me as a punching bag.”
“Gone? What do you mean gone?” Brett stared blankly at him as he tried to make sense of the words coming out of his mouth. But try as he might, the idea that Julia wasn’t somewhere in the shadows around them just didn’t compute.
“Gone.” Dom rolled his shoulder and winced at the movement. “As in Elvis has left the building, or warehouse in this case. She took off when you went bat-shit.”
“Didn’t you go after her?” He went to move again but couldn’t. “And will someone get these fucking things off me?”
“Go after her?” Dom stepped forward, reaching under the trolley. “You fucking kidding me? Mostly I was trying to stop you taking my head off.”
“Yeah, sorry about that.” Brett sat up as the chains loosened, rubbing at his wrists. “How long?”
“How long have you been out, you mean?” Dom pulled the rest of the chains free, coiling them neatly in big hands. He’d always had a touch of OCD. “About ten minutes since we locked you down with these. You were spitting insults until you passed out about five minutes ago. You’d been going for a half-hour before that, so your lady friend could have split any point during that.”
“Forty-five minutes. Shit, she could have covered a lot of ground in that time.”
The thought of her alone out there in the dark twisted Brett’s gut. She was only just out of conversion, and although she hadn’t shown any evidence of the blood-rage most of her kind fell prey to, she still hadn’t fed. And he’d never heard of a Blood that could resist feeding for long.
“She’ll be terrified.”
Stood in the middle of the room, he tried to pick up something, anything, in the chaos of scents in the room. He wasn’t the best tracker, not that way, but it didn’t matter. Her scent, her essence, the beat of her heart with its weird little kick on the fourth beat, was so much a part of him that he’d be able to follow her anywhere. He closed his eyes. Concentrated on the vibrations in the room around him. Everything was calm at the moment, but energy was still energy.
Even though movement had transferred from one thing to another…the crash as a cupboard hit the floor, or a large body sailed through the air to hit the wall…that energy didn’t go away. Instead, it dissipated outward at the cellular level, like ripples in a pond. They were faint, of course, but they were still there if someone knew where to look. And like a spider in its web, Brett knew exactly where to look. He turned his whole body into a sensory mechanism, reaching out to catch the tiniest vibration that would lead him to his quarry. To his woman.
Discounting the recent louder vibrations, he reached deeper, looking for the quieter ones. He searched the room methodically. Checked it section by section and discounted each when he didn’t find a trace of Julia. Then, by the door, he caught a hint. A tiny echo. The slide of a smaller foot against the floor almost overshadowed by the louder crashes and chaos of the fight overlying the rest of the room.
“She didn’t get involved.” Good girl. Never get in the middle of a fight between SARAs. It never ended well for anyone not of the undead persuasion. It tended to make them the more permanent variety of dead.
“Slipped out into the corridor.” He followed her echo out into the corridor, leaving the vibration ripples of the fight behind. “And ran.”
Fuck. She’d run fast. Halfway down the corridor, her footsteps spaced out. Hit the floor harder. Brett started to follow, only to stop when someone cleared their throat behind him. Fredericks had his arms folded.
“You’re following her then?”
Brett turned back around, arms loose at his sides. Fredericks had seemed to naturally fit the role, but they’d never taken a group vote on leadership. He had a few more years of service than the rest of them. But here and now? That didn’t mean jack-shit.
“Yeah. Quite apart from the fact she’s m…mine.” He almost said ‘my heart’ but changed it at the last minute. Couldn’t afford anything that hinted at feelings when Fredericks looked like he wanted to tear Brett’s throat out. “But she’s also the last, best hope we have at finding the Bloods. I don’t know if you caught that little gem of info, but that mad asshole McCoy got some women knocked up. Murphy’s law being what it is, my guess is it’s not going to be all sugar and spice and all things nice. How about you? You willing to take the risk that those brats don’t rip their momma’s face off for their first meal?”
“The trail goes cold here.”
Kelwood’s voice was just audible over the rush of traffic. The four men stood at the side of a busy highway, the traffic screaming by them scant feet away. Not far from the warehouse, it was obviously the linkup to the major transport routes in the area.
“My guess would be that she hitched a lift from here on out. Which way though…can’t tell.” Kelwood turned his head, looking directly at Brett. “Sorry I can’t help more, man.”
For once the darkness was gone from his eyes, and something else flickered there. Sympathy, kinship. A shared agony. They both had women missing, out there in the darkness somewhere. Alone and without protection.
For Brett, the agony was bearable. In a way. His Julia was a fighter. Not a hardened soldier like some women he’d met, but she was a survivor. The way she’d adapted to being turned had proven that. No hysterics or other histrionics. She had a core of steel that belied her delicate outer appearance. In another time or place he could easily see her as a contemporary of Boudicca, or a modern-day Joan of Arc. She had the kind of strength that came from within, that most observers missed. The kind of strength that was also missing from most.
Kelwood, though, didn’t have that reassurance. Brett had met his wife Kathy, and she was a tiny little thing, and fragile. Both physically and mentally. He’d realized that within minutes of meeting her, as well as the fact that she was crazy about Jared, and he about her. Love and affection they did have, but she was the sort of woman who’d needed to call her husband over every little detail. Every decision. Many times, Brett had been forced to sit and listen to Jared constantly reassuring her, when all he’d really wanted to do was grab the cell from the guy and tell her to grow a pair. He couldn’t see her faring well at all with the Bloods. It would be too much for her.
Still, he returned Jared’s small nod. They were a band of brothers and united in the need to find their women. No, it was more than need. It was a compulsion. One that bordered on madness. An itch that was under the skin, in his cells, that made up his very being.
“She went north.” Fredericks hadn’t spoken much since their almost-altercation in the corridor, so when he did, the rest of them turned to him in surprise. Far from seeming annoyed at his leadership being challenged, his expression was open and genuine, if a little focused, as he studied the traffic.
“How do you know that?” Brett turned back to the traffic, then winced as an articulated truck flew by. Vibration and noise surrounded him, in the air and transmitted through the asphalt under his feet. So many that they overlaid each other, merging into one continuous assault that he couldn’t pick anything out of. With no way to distinguish them, he couldn’t pick out the one heartbeat he desperately needed to hear. So how could Fredericks tell which way she’d gone? “I can’t make anything out in that lot.”
Fredericks shrugged one shoulder. “Neither can I, but this is a major transport corridor. Stands to reason she’s tracking the other Bloods, and they have pregnant women with them. McCoy’s a nasty motherfucker, but he’s clever. If he’s breeding a master race, then he isn’t going to risk the women. So he won’t travel far with them.”
Dom nodded. “Makes sense. That lab back there was a slapdash affair, pulled together quickly. They didn’t intend to stop there long, probably just long enough to check the pregnancies were viable. From the images Julia managed to pull up, they all looked that way to me.”
“So, what we have to ask is, where would a mad vampire with delusions of grandeur take his harem?” Fredericks nodded to the south. “Not much that way for a few days. Few shitty little towns, but that’s it. McCoy needs either a facility to hide the women, or somewhere they can hide in the masses. A place with plenty of food that no one’s going to miss if they go missing. Now where would he find that?”
Brett turned, watching the traffic flow north in endless streams toward the nearest city. Carlton. “The city. No one bothers about the homeless, or junkies. All sorts of places to hide and feed. Hell, if they hit a Goth club no one would know the fucking difference.”
“They could hunt without distraction, then take their prey back to the nursery from hell.” Dom moved closer to the edge of the road, totally unfazed by the heavy vehicles speeding by mere inches from his nose. The motion caught at the fabric of his shirt, making it flap wildly. “Somehow, I don’t think she hitched a lift. Not in this lot.”
Brett considered the traffic again. Although they were standing right at the end of the road to the warehouse, it wasn’t a stopping place, nor was there one as far as the eye could see. Their dark clothing meant they’d be virtually invisible to the drivers in the passing vehicles, same as Julia would have been, and the average speed of the highway meant that trying to flag anyone down was tantamount to suicide. Or at the very least, causing a collision that revealed they weren’t human.
“Bloods are fast,” he commented. “She might not have fed yet, but she was displaying all their traits. She’d have been able to match speed and jump aboard one of the larger trucks.”
Fredericks lifted on his toes, looking down the road into oncoming traffic. He squinted against the headlights, searching for something. “Okay. White truck coming up. Let’s move.”
With that they were off, sprinting alongside the road. Energy surged through Brett’s body, jumping from cell to cell like wildfire. His feet hit the hard road surface in a steady rhythm, faster than he’d ever been able to run while he was alive. To his left Dom muttered something about hating running, while Fredericks and Kelwood were just in front. He slid Dom a grin. The guy had always hated running during PT.
The truck roared up behind them, gaining ground. A speeding behemoth of a vehicle that would crush SARA flesh and bone just as easily as it would human. The difference was it just wouldn’t kill them.
“Get ready.…” Fredericks shouted over the noise, his face a pale blur in front of Brett as he turned and looked over his shoulder. Gauging when to jump.
The truck pulled level, and Brett realized why Evan had picked it. The white color of the cab gave them an easy target.
The first two made the jump. Leapt sideways to land on the side of the trailer and cling like indistinct shadows. With a roar, Brett did the same, launching himself sideways and up between one step and the next. Time paused for a long moment, then he hit the side. He grabbed at the straps holding the curtain sides in place. There was a thud and Dom was beside him, sprawled across the vertical surface as easily as though he lay on a beach.
A whistle up ahead caught their attention, and they looked up to see Evan waving them on. Kelwood’s knife flashed in the darkness. He cut through the thick canvas just behind one of the straps, holding it up enough to allow them to slide through. It was a tight fit. Brett sucked his stomach in and wriggled through, dropping onto the top of a pallet and just lying there. It was a relief to be out of the wind. The cold didn’t bother him, but the whistling in his ears drove him half-mad.
Dom dropped onto the crate next to him, then slipped headfirst off the edge and down into the gap between it and the next one. Muffled curses accompanied the waving of his legs in the air as he frantically tried to right himself.
“What the hell is space cadet over there doing?” Fredericks asked, looking over as he held the gap open for Kelwood.
“Not a clue. Probably thought there were cheeseburgers down there.” Brett grabbed Dom’s ankle and heaved him out of the gap he’d gotten stuck in. The move was negligent, as though lifting another man’s entire body weight was no biggie.
“Cheers, thanks man. And I wasn’t looking for damn cheeseburgers. What do you think I am?” He tried to look offended, but ruined it by grinning. “I’d kill for a cheeseburger though. Do you think we could ask the driver to hit a drive-through or seven?”
“Asshole,” Brett chuckled, lying back and using his arm as a pillow.
There wasn’t anything else to do, so he closed his eyes even though he wasn’t at all tired. He rarely slept these days; none of them did. Instead he dipped into his memories, pulling out the sound of Julia’s heartbeat and wrapping it around him for comfort. As soon as they got into the city, he would find her.
Failure, as had so often been said, was not an option.
The journey passed in a trance of noise and vibration. When the noise from the engine up ahead changed, slowing down, Brett opened his eyes and sat up. The other three moved at the same time, creating a coordinated effect that would have freaked out the normal had any been watching. Brett didn’t bat an eyelid. They often moved in synchronization, but they’d never figured out why. Just an element of the way they were now that allowed them to operate as a team, and he’d never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Crawling across the crates, he looked out of the cut in the curtain. The early morning light made him wince after the shadowed interior of the trailer. “Turning off, city lights ahead. Looks like we’re headed into an industrial area.”
There was a scuff of movement behind him, and Fredericks looked over his shoulder. “Okay, we need to get out before he reaches where he’s going. Any trace of your girl?”
Brett closed his eyes and extended his senses, but he didn’t hold out much hope. The sun was up, and Julia’s Blood instincts would have forced her to go to ground to sleep. Her heartbeat would be impossible to pick out in the myriad vibrations of the city.
“Nothing.” He shook his head. “Won’t be able to pick her up until sundown. Jared might have better luck with a scent.”
“Good point. We’re slowing.” Evan shifted position, pulling the cloth to look ahead as the truck slowed to a stop at a red light. “No watchers this side. Everyone out.”
The SARAs moved fast, slithering out of the gap in the canvas with an ease a contortionist would have envied. Brett was last, reaching up through to gap to clasp his hands over the top of the trailer and haul himself through. With a twist, he dropped to the ground into place behind the others as they strolled away from the truck. The lights changed and it pulled off, turning left and disappearing from view.
They kept walking, hands shoved in their pockets and hoods up as though against the chill of the early morning. The streets were starting to fill with people headed for work. No one gave them a second glance, unless it was a look of irritation when they had to alter their direction. A portly office worker with a briefcase and a gut straining his coat’s buttons huffed at Brett. A look from under his hood—hardened eyes, dead and cold—made the guy go pale and mutter an apology as he moved aside. Quickly. Brett hid his grin and swept by, making sure to stay close to the others.
Kelwood was in the lead, his head moving side to side under his hood as he tried to catch Julia’s scent. Dom and Fredericks flew wingman, one each side, alert for possible threats, while Brett brought up the rear. It was unlikely any Bloods would be out and about at this time of day, but only a fool got caught with his pants down.
Brett’s lips compressed. The last time they’d gotten caught like that, they’d died and been brought back like this. Once was enough.