Brett idly stirred the mug of coffee in front of him. The spoon clicked rhythmically against the side, the sound almost lost under the others around them in the diner. For a moment he allowed them to wash over him in a blast of noise and vibration that obliterated all else.
After a few seconds he started to identify them. Raucous laughter from a group of men at the back competed with the soft drone of female voices in the corner. The couple having a very quiet, but also very heated debate three tables over. The waitress moving between tables with her orders. Big sounds. He drilled it down. The click of cutlery on crockery complemented the slosh of liquid in mugs.
One by one he filtered them out, and muted the noise until there was an oasis of calm around the table he and the others had occupied. They’d decamped from the motel, but only as far as down the road. Brett flicked a glance through the window. Their rooms were on the second floor, but he didn’t have a clear line of sight to the doors, which bothered him.
They’d only managed to get him to leave Julia by pointing out that she needed to rest. She needed sleep, especially after the night they’d had. He’d fed her until she complained she couldn’t eat anymore, and her temperature had disappeared under the heat they generated between them. Desire rolled lazily through his system, but since they were in company, his heart was already beating. He let it trigger natural reactions, his cock half-hard in his pants as memories played in the back of his mind.
“Heeeellllo, lover boy?” Dom clicked fingers in front of his face. “You gonna drink that or just look at it?”
Brett curled his hand protectively around his mug and snarled. “Touch it and die, gym bunny.”
They didn’t eat anymore, not anything cooked anyway, but coffee…. Java was soul-fuel. Necessary for their sanity. What little of it they had left.
Dom sat back, hands out in surrender. “Whoa, whoa… no need to diss the muscles!” He struck a pose, then turned his head to kiss each of his biceps in turn. Brett’s chuckle was joined by one from Evan, and even Kelwood cracked a grin.
Lifting his mug, Brett sucked down a big gulp. He leaned back in his chair and studied his companions. The tension that had constantly shadowed them since their breakout had cracked a little. And hell, had they needed it to. Tracking the Bloods with so little success had been frustrating as fuck, especially when the bastards had been snatching women willy-nilly with seemingly no comeback. A little levity was long over-due and more than a little welcome.
“So…how’s our resident vamp doing?” Evan leaned forward, hands wrapped around his own mug, shirt pulling taut across his arms.
“She’s good. The temperature came down overnight, and she got sleepy real quick. She didn’t need to feed much though.”
He frowned as he rubbed at the short growth on his jaw. He hated shaving with a passion, and it seemed not even dying would stop the damn stuff growing.
“Far less than I thought to be honest, but she seemed content. How’d the hunt for McCoy’s lot go?”
Evan shrugged, making a noise of disgust in the back of his throat. “We cast a wide net but found nothing concrete. They’re here, that’s for sure. Jared keeps picking up their scent, but it goes dead before we can track it down.”
Dom twisted in his seat, reaching into his bag and removing a laptop. Brett’s eyebrow winged up. “Dare I ask where you acquired that from?”
“Dude, ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.” He flipped the lid open and tapped at the keys. Brett sucked down more Java. For all Dom looked to be the muscle-bound brainless brawn, there wasn’t much he couldn’t do with a laptop and a net connection.
“Okay…right. Local police have a few missing persons that fit the bill. Peeps disappearing on the way home at night. Bar staff, waitresses. Mostly women. One guy.…” He paused and clicked on something, then his expression cleared. “Cross dresser, or pretty enough to be. Could have been picked up in error.”
Fredericks nodded. “I cased out a couple of the homeless shelters. None of the staff have noticed anything particular, but say a lot of their regulars can disappear for weeks before popping up again.”
“Ugh, crap. So there’s no way to tell if people are disappearing.”
“I can smell her.” Jared spoke suddenly, making them all look up in surprise. Brett’s gaze slid past him to the waitress passing by with a full tray. She cast an appreciative glance over her shoulder at Jared, but he didn’t notice, attention focused on Brett.
“Yeah, mate. She’s wearing perfume. Smells pretty.”
“Nononono.” Jared shook his head empathically. “Not her. I know she’s wearing perfume. Cheap stuff as well.”
“Well, exccccuse me, I don’t have your discerning nose, Mr. Perfume Expert.”
Jared paused in irritation, shooting him a look that could have frozen hell over.
“What did you mean, Jared?” Fredericks prompted, his voice low.
Brett shut his trap, feeling like a shit. Jared didn’t talk much these days. He didn’t need to be a dick and get on the guy’s case.
“Kathy. I can smell Kathy.” Jared’s expression twisted in pain for a second before he got it under control. “She’s out there with them. Sometimes two, mostly just one. I think.… She’s hunting.”
Brett stilled, wariness running through his system. His surprise was mirrored on the faces of the two others as they all looked at Jared. If his wife was out there, on the streets, then they all knew what that meant. She’d fed. If she was hunting, then she wasn’t being held a prisoner. She was doing it of her own free will.
Dom shifted in his seat. “Man, you gotta think. Some of them will have…like amnesia? She might not remember who she is. Who you are. We just need to get her to remember all that stuff. It’ll work out fine. I promise.”
“But what happens if she doesn’t?” Jared’s voice was low, but the note of pain in it was so raw that it made Brett suppress a wince. He’d fared better than Jared where the fate of his lady was concerned.
Evan reached over and clamped a big hand on Jared’s shoulder. “Whatever you need, we’ll be here. We’ll sort it. That’s my promise.”
Whether Jared realized or it not, that promise came with a rider. If Kathy was a Blood and she couldn’t be brought back, then Evan would end her so Jared didn’t have to. Brett looked away so Jared didn’t read the truth in his eyes. Gazing out the window, he looked over at the motel and frowned. Was that the sound of wood breaking?
“Guys…I think we should wander back. Something doesn’t feel right.”
Julia lay in bed, drowsy and comfortable. Brett had left a while back, kissing her on the forehead. She’d waved lazily at him and shut her eyes again. She didn’t want to leave her dozing. The bed was way too cozy to wake up properly, and the pillow was uttering sweet nothings in her ear about sliding back into sleep. She was tempted to listen to it. Her body ached, and not just from the many times Brett had woken her, or vice versa. Those parts of her body were pleasantly sore, but that was familiar. It was the other changes in her body and her senses she was more interested in.
That interest pulled her out of sleep, but she kept her eyes closed. If she didn’t open them, then she didn’t have to be a responsible adult and rejoin the world. And too much weird shit had happened over the last couple of days for her to want to rejoin the adult world. For a moment she lay still, allowing her mind to wander over what had happened.
She didn’t feel any different. Not now anyway. Not after feeding from Brett in an act so natural and sensual that heat flooded her body again. Why didn’t she feel different? She was a vampire. Blood. Whatever. She should feel different.
Lifting her hand, she shoved a finger against her gums where her fangs were hidden. If she didn’t know they were there, she would have completely missed the small protuberance where they were hidden. Curious, she followed the new lump upwards and pressed. The fang slid down with a tiny snick. No pain this time. Curiouser and curiouser. Perhaps it only hurt when she was panicked?
She lifted up on the pressure, and the fang immediately slid back into its hiding place. She dropped it down again, paying attention to how it felt, the pull of unfamiliar muscles in her jaw. The fangs were new, so it made sense that her infection, conversion, or whatever it was called, had also created anatomical features to support them.
Moving her finger, she tried it again, then winced as pain lanced through her gums, stopping the movement immediately. Okay, that felt wrong, like she was trying to force it the wrong way. A faint hint of copper tingled over her tongue, a warning that she’d cut herself. She concentrated and tried again. This time her fangs slid down easily, without pain or effort. Elation surged through her. She’d nailed it.
She cracked open an eyelid and studied her fingers. Analyzing them in the same way she had her fangs, she slid a talon free and studied the mechanism of how it worked. Like a cat’s claws, they were retractable, but unlike a cat, they slid away and were completely concealed under her own nails. When they were hidden away, there was no trace of them. Not even a mark on the skin where they appeared from. Perfect natural camouflage of the monster within.
She closed her eyes and let her hand drop back down to the covers on the bed. No, not a monster. Brett’s words had struck a chord within her. Real monsters were people like Buddy, or The Project, and the Bloods that had taken her and the other women for their ‘master race’ experiment. Just because she wasn’t human anymore didn’t by default make her a monster any more than some people needed to be bitten to qualify.
Just because a girl needed to drink blood to survive…that was just like extreme carnivorousism or something, wasn’t it? Like steak tartar without the meat part. Besides, she only planned on drinking Brett’s blood. It tasted so good, the thought of anything else made her feel sick to her stomach.
Like her first ‘meal’, if she could call it that. Driven by hunger and instincts she hadn’t fully understood, she’d drunk the only source of blood her weakened body could find. But it hadn’t felt like this. The craving had been intense, driving her to catch more rats, the need to drink overwhelming all else. An instant high, followed by an instant low as the blood didn’t provide the energy she needed. The life she needed. Blood was dead within minutes of leaving its body, no longer able to sustain life, no longer any good for her, but by that point it was too late. She had a gut full of dead blood and an insatiable need for more.
Brett’s blood was different though. He believed he and the others were dead. The walking dead. Zombies. What was the term he used? Re-animate. They weren’t though. They couldn’t be, not when their blood teemed with life. She felt it moving through her, suffusing into her bloodstream in a steady drip of energy that spread through her cells. It was like each blood cell had its own built-in power plant, supplying it with energy even though it was separated from its original circulatory system. It explained how their bodies operated without the usual circulation required for energy exchange. She’d bet her bottom dollar that the cells had an adaptation to hold onto oxygen as well.
It wasn’t just that though. As the cells mingled with her own and became part of her system, she felt herself changing again. But this was different from the first time. There was no pain. Instead, it was comforting, warming. Like her body was settling itself into the pattern it had always been meant to follow, and the last pieces of the puzzle had slid into place.
New instincts unfolded, new senses joining the ones she’d gained from her previous conversion. Heartbeats and movements around her intensified until she could literally feel the vibrations surrounding her, shivering through the air, and transmitted through the bed she lay on.
She followed them like an over-excited puppy, eagerly tracing the waves back to their source. From the drip-drip-drip of a tap three rooms over, to the rumble of traffic outside, she studied them all. Studied them and filed them all away as she sat, like a fat spider in the middle of her web of senses. The extra ‘noise’ didn’t bother her. Instead, it lulled her back into a trance. From feeling like her world had shattered around her and she was at its mercy, now she felt content. Secure. Nothing was out of place. She knew what everything was, and a sense of control and contentment filled her.
She lay listening for a while, floating in the little island of peace she’d found. A new vibration joined the symphony, then another and another, changing the melody. Eyes closed, she frowned. They weren’t flowing with the rest. Instead, they were discordant. Wrong.
She narrowed her focus to study them. They were easy to track back. People moving around the motel, out on the balcony that wrapped around the building and in the rooms above. Her eyes snapped open. There were no rooms above, which meant whoever was out there was crawling over the roof. Humans, as a rule, didn’t view sloping roofs as a viable route.
There were five. All with the slower heartbeat that she’d come to associate with the Bloods. Not her kind. Never that. Whatever they’d done to her, however they’d changed her, she would not be like them. Ever.
Certainly not with Brett’s blood flowing through her veins. She closed her eyes just before the door crashed open. She didn’t need to see the five Bloods rushing into the room to know they were there. The smell alone was enough. Before it hadn’t bothered her; now she felt the need to breathe through her mouth to deaden the stench.
She opened her eyes to find a Blood staring down at her from the end of the bed. It wasn’t the one she’d thrown up on. Pity, she had plans to introduce that asshole to her new abilities.
“Hello boys.” She sat up, smiling at the men crowded into the small motel room. That seemed to surprise them, but she didn’t care. They were in for a lot more of a shock soon. “I wondered how long it would take you.”
They rushed her all at once, not giving her a chance to fight. She did anyway, trying to buck them off her and lashing out with her claws. She managed to cut at least three. The scent of blood exploded on the air, but this time it didn’t make her stomach grumbled or her mouth water. Just from the smell she could tell it was vampire blood.
Huh…Blood blood. She bit back a grin at her own joke and carried on struggling in her token resistance. She didn’t want to get away from them. She wanted them to take her to McCoy. She couldn’t rip the asshole’s throat out if she didn’t know where he was, and the quickest way to get to him was to get captured.
One of them managed to get behind her, and a vicious elbow to the back of the head dropped her to her knees. Instinct urged her to tap into the well of energy from Brett’s blood hidden in her cells, but she resisted. Letting herself fall to the floor, she groaned when she was scooped up and thrown over someone’s shoulder. She coughed, and blood dripped on the carpet.
“Move it, quick,” the one carrying her ordered. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen those SARAs fight. They’re fucking lethal.”
The Bloods bundled her out of the room and down the fire escape quicker than she could blink. Like the SARAs, when they moved, they moved fast. The steel stairs of the fire escape passed in a blur, and within seconds they were at the bottom. A van with an open door waited for them. She got a quick glance at the plate before her abductor clambered into the van. Shooting a hand out at the last minute she grabbed at the panel by the door, leaving a bloody handprint before it closed.
“Hit it, Ellis,” her captor shouted toward the front of the vehicle.
The engine screamed as they pulled away at high speed. Like that wasn’t noticeable. But if the SARA’s were on their tail, then they would be less worried about blending in and more concerned about getting away alive.
Her carrier dumped her in the corner and she scrambled away to curl up, like a woman scared out of her mind. At least this time they hadn’t managed to knock her out. Her first kidnap she’d been totally out of it, totally at their mercy. Just the thought made her skin crawl. At least this time she’d been prepared.
She also wasn’t scared by these assholes. Not anymore. Leaning her head against the side of the van, she played up her semi-conscious act. The five Bloods were crowded into the back of the van with her, with at least one more in the front. Their expressions were grim, hardened, and their eyes totally black.
Were hers like that? She hadn’t seen a mirror since before she’d been taken, so she had no idea if they were or not. One of the Bloods turned to look at her, and she blinked owlishly and quickly looked away. She didn’t want them catching on that she felt fine, or that she was taking note of everything she saw.
The van was new, recently registered if the plates were anything to go by. New vehicles meant money. Funding, rather than the pickpocketing the SARAs were using to get by.
“You reckon this one’s as mad as the others, Sergeant?” One of the Bloods nodded toward her. She slid down the side of the van when it took a corner, not making any indication she was listening to or even heard any of their conversation.
The sergeant, the big one who’d carried her, looked her over. “Probably. It seems to hit them all sooner or later. I heard the LT telling the Captain we should try with humans rather than converting them, but you can imagine how that one went down.”
A rumble went around the interior of the van. Somewhere between agreement and a wince at the fate of the unknown man. Seemed Captain Asshole wasn’t that popular with his men. That they still used ranks struck her. She knew that Brett and his friends had been soldiers, but she’d never seen them use ranks. In fact, they seemed more like friends or family than a military unit. Brothers united against a common enemy and all its agents.
One of whom she was about to meet.