The van moved at high speed, making so many twists and turns that Julia soon gave up trying to remember them. She wasn’t worried that they had seen through her subterfuge. It was more likely that they were trying to throw any pursuit off the trail. She hid her smile. Good luck with that one. The SARAs were nothing if not relentless. They weren’t going to stop. Ever. Not until they brought down McCoy and his merry men.
Finally, the van pulled to a stop. She had no idea how long they’d been traveling. She hadn’t been wearing a watch when she’d first been taken, but even if she had, she wasn’t sure she could handle the constant tick-tick so close to her skin. It would drive her insane. That thought did get a snort, one she hid with a cough. Drive her insane? She’d found herself in a world inhabited by creatures of myth and legend. Fuck-a-duck, she wouldn’t be surprised to find out McCoy was related to the Easter Bunny or something. At this point, nothing would shock her.
The sound of male voices filtered back from the cab. She leaned her head back against the panel and blinked as though trying to clear her vision of stars. She’d never been in the military, but she’d seen enough movies to recognize a checkpoint protocol when she heard it. And a checkpoint meant some kind of facility.
Procedure taken care of, she felt the vibration of a barrier lifting, and the van pulled off again. The sergeant leaned forward to put a hand on the driver’s shoulder. “Drop us in front of the main building, Ellis, then carry on to the motor pool.”
Motor pool? Her suspicion that the Bloods had funding was proven right. She didn’t get a chance to mull that over, because the vehicle pulled to a stop at that moment. The side door opened and she was manhandled out. Faking a stumble, she fell to the ground and groaned. The sergeant swore and hauled her back to her feet, but she’d already managed to get a look around. They were in a small courtyard, bordered on all sides by high concrete walls. The only way in and out was through the gate they’d come through.
“Get a move on, bitch. The Captain doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”
None too gently, the sergeant shoved her towards the building. A sense of foreboding washed over her. The windows were black, but she could feel eyes on her, as though they were being watched from within. Red double doors loomed in front of them, growing larger with each step. They swung open, a cavernous maw in the face of the dirty gray building, and the sergeant marched her through.
Her vision adapted within seconds to the unlit interior. It was an older building, with bland corridors that reminded her of a school or a hospital. It even had that old, dry scent. She wrinkled her nose, taking a deep breath and rolling it over her tongue. Books. They were in an old school then.
Pushing a door open, the Blood sergeant half shoved, half threw her through it. She landed hard on her knees on a dusty old carpet. Lifting her chin, she looked right into the cold, black eyes of McCoy.
Seated in an armchair opposite, he rested his chin on the back of his hand. Watching her with the intense focus of a natural born predator. She suppressed a shiver, but didn’t bother to get to her feet. The longer they viewed her as a victim, the better.
“Well, well, well…Julia. Haven’t you lead us in a merry little song and dance?” His voice was low, but there was a note in it that made her wary. Whatever the Project had done to him, she had a feeling what he was now wasn’t that far off from what he had been before. Like the blood infection had just given him license to unleash the monster inside without fear of recrimination.
“Well, you know what they say…same shit, different day.”
She didn’t care what she was saying; she was too busy trying to look around the room without appearing to do so. She had to gather clues, find out what the Bloods were up to and shut it down. So far though, all she knew was that they were in an old school, in what looked like the headmaster’s sitting room, and there were three bloods in here with her: McCoy, the sergeant and one other in the darkness. She focused on that one, hearing a feminine voice muttering in a singsong voice. She tilted her head to the side. Kathy. It had to be.
The ghost of a smile crossed McCoy’s lips. “Indeed.”
He sat forward in a surge of movement. A shaft of moonlight from the window fell across his face and cast shadows across what had to be a perfect classical bone structure. His eyes were hidden in inky pools of darkness. Or they should have been. Instead, red pinpricks in the center of the shadows glimmered with malevolence.
Shit. She’d heard the guys talk about Red Mist. She’d seen their version of it. Her stomach dropped, fear reaching out cold fingers to wrap around her heart. Suddenly her plan to track down the Bloods and confront them didn’t seem so clever after all.
He spoke again, the words dropping into the silence of the room like the clanging of a bell. “You’ve gone through the conversion.”
It wasn’t a question, it was a statement. She didn’t bother to reply and just returned his look blankly.
“You seem lucid.” McCoy tilted his head as though assessing her. “How?”
“Perhaps I was crazy to start with.” She shrugged. “And it just reversed that.”
She needed a way out. The door was blocked by the big sergeant, his slow heartbeat like a metronome behind her. Kathy, or the woman she assumed was Kathy, was in the shadows to her left, hidden to the right of an ornate fireplace. She was the one who’d helped her escape from her underground cell before. So much had happened it seemed like centuries ago. No escape that way. Knowing her luck, the chimney would be either gated, or she’d get stuck. The best option was the window to the right. They hadn’t come up any steps on the way in, so they were still on the ground floor.
McCoy held still for so long that her apprehension mounted, crawling over her own skin. She told herself it was just part of her cover, but her gut continued to twist. The only people that could pull off the statue look like that were professional performers, or the mentally unhinged. And she had a feeling he wasn’t the kind to tread the boards.
“Don’t lie to me, Julia. I don’t like liars.” He rose to his feet, towering over her. Julia coiled herself, ready to fight if she had to. But something held her back. She’d come this far to find out what they were up to. If she ripped his throat out now, she wouldn’t learn anything.
“Come along,” he ordered, sweeping past her. “Sergeant Anderson, bring Kathy.”
He led the way out the door, and a hard look from Anderson told her that following wasn’t optional. The big sergeant was hot on her heels as she walked through the door, his hand under Kathy’s arm.
She offered the other woman a small smile, but Kathy looked through her as though she wasn’t there, her lips moving in yet another near-soundless song. It sounded like another mismatch of nursery rhymes and children’s songs. Julia looked down. Kathy’s stomach was flat, no hint of a pregnant curve at all. Judging by the images she’d seen on the ultrasound, the women would look fairly far along by now, but even with the accelerated growth, they couldn’t have given birth yet. Not unless the growth was exponential. If so, why was McCoy so keen to get hold of her?
“You’re a very unusual woman,” McCoy said, his voice level and calm, almost professional, as they walked down yet another bland corridor. “Did you know that, Julia?”
“I’ve been called variants of the same. It’s usually a polite way of saying I’m a stubborn bitch.” She shrugged, more interested in the building than whatever spiel the Blood was trying to sell. What had this place been? What were they using it for now? It obviously hadn’t been used for a long time. The air was dry and musty, like it had been cleared out years ago and the doors locked. As if to confirm her point, they passed a broken window with some kind of vine pushing through it and spreading across the wall. Like nature itself was trying to reclaim the building.
McCoy slid her a sideways look, light from another window, one with glass this time, illuminating his face as they passed. He wasn’t bad looking; in fact, if every single cell didn’t shiver in revulsion when she looked at him, he’d have been quite handsome. “Stubborn…and beautiful.”
He reached out a hand as if to touch her hair and she reacted automatically. Skittering backward, she hissed in warning, her fangs dropping into her mouth at the same moment that her claws punched free. “No! Don’t touch me.”
As fast as she was though, McCoy was faster. His handsome face twisted in anger, and with a hiss, he came after her. He moved low and fast, easily evading the slash of her claws, stepping in when she expected him to step away and wrapping her up in a hard hold. The whole move took him less than a few seconds.
“Never say no to me,” he growled in her ear, the pressure of his arm across her throat making her lightheaded. In her panic her heart rate had rocketed to pump adrenaline, or whatever her body ran on now, around her body. But it came at a price: the need to breathe. She gasped and clawed at McCoy’s arm, frantically trying to slow her heart before he could dump her into unconsciousness. “You have no fucking idea who I am, have you bitch?”
No, she hadn’t, other than a freaking lunatic, so she shook her head, banking on the fact that he’d let up the pressure. He did, and she gasped for breath as he dragged her along the corridor. His amiable act was all gone. Anger, no…fury, radiated through his body, vibrations of emotion washing over her even through the air at the points they weren’t touching.
“No, how could you?” He kicked open a set of double doors and hauled her through. Even in her pain she gawked at the sight in front of her. What had once been an impressive hall or theatre had been transformed. The walls, woodwork, windows…everything was painted black, and long white banners hung from floor to ceiling, caught back with ropes and bars to create a tent-like effect. If tents were the size of barns that was. The banners shimmered like silk, and strange symbols were painted across them. Not neatly. Haphazardly. Like someone had gone to work with a tin of gloss and a paintbrush from a home decorating store. But whatever they were, and whatever they were meant to symbolize, just the sight of them left a bad taste in the back of her mouth.
Her gaze travelled down the room. The banners formed an archway, and a black carpet ran underneath it leading to a larger area further down. She stilled, her eyes widening. No freaking way. At the other end of the hall, the banners formed a chamber of sorts. In the center, on a raised dais, was a bed draped in black silk sheets.
“You see, I’m not human. I never was,” McCoy’s voice rasped in her ear as he started to drag her down the carpet toward the dais and the bed. She squeaked, struggling to get free, but he had such a tight hold on her throat she could barely breathe. Panic wrapped around her. Where were her new abilities when she needed them?
“Oh, sure. The Project wanted to play god. Made us into something more than human.” His voice grew harder as he wrestled her tighter against his chest and half lifted her. He was tall, and strong. Stronger than she’d thought. He walked down the hall, the banners fluttering in the breeze created by their passing. “But they didn’t know they were playing with something that was already divine. Me.”
“Divine?” She managed to choke out when he let go of her throat to pull the gauzy veil around the bed aside. “You’re a fucking lunatic, not divine.”
He threw her down on the bed so hard that she bounced, but before she could slither away across the slippery surface he snapped a manacle around her ankle.
“What the fu¬—oomph!”
Before she could finish the sentence he backhanded her. Hard. Something cracked in her cheek and pain exploded through her face. Stars shot across her vision. She fell back onto the silken sheets. McCoy moved around the bed to reach for her other ankle.
Shit, how had this gone so wrong so quickly? She tried to fight him, kicking out, but he easily captured her foot. More pain made her gasp when his grip tightened, so hard that it felt like the bones of her ankle ground together.
“Don’t swear Julia,” he chided, buckling the cuff around her ankle. “It’s not becoming of one of my sacred brides.”
“Your bride, my freaking ass!” she hissed, lashing out at him with her claws. But her movements were drunken, her reactions out of whack thanks to the blow to her face. He’d definitely broken something. Speaking was agony, and every word was slurred.
He captured her wrists, one after the other, locking them both into place, then stopped at the side of the bed, his gaze intent on her.
“Of course you’re my bride. You are the only one who came through the conversion mentally intact, so what else could you be, other than a sign from the cosmos that we are meant to procreate? To sire a new race to carry on my legacy?”
He moved, the bed dipping next to her as he settled himself in. He reached out to smooth the hair away from her face. She snapped at him, flashing her fangs and he laughed. “Behave. Or I’ll have Anderson knock you out. You don’t need to be conscious to conceive.”
“Yeah, is that what you did to the others? The ones who got pregnant?” she demanded, determined to get answers, even though her face throbbed in agony. “What happened to them?”
He tilted his head back and sighed.
“Ah, the insecurity of a jealous woman.” He smiled indulgently. “You don’t have to worry, my love. Present me with an heir, and you don’t have to worry about my other brides. I’ll get rid of them all.”
“No!” she exclaimed in horror. She didn’t want the death of all those women on her conscience. “What about their babies…you planning on killing them too? Are they yours?” she demanded, but as soon as the question left her lips she knew they were. With a god complex that deep, he wouldn’t allow any of the others to sire the first generation of his master race.
“Such a soft heart.” He inclined his head, a soft little smile on his lips. She tried to figure out if she had enough play on the manacles to head-butt him in the mouth. If nothing else, she could split his lip and spoil his pretty-boy looks.
“As you’ve asked, I’ll let them survive, although they are from inferior breeding stock. Their mothers were impregnated during the conversion.” He paused and frowned. “That was a mistake. We should have waited until they were truly converted. But it doesn’t matter.… Our children will have pure blood.”
He lifted a hand, and extended a claw to hook under the neckline of her top. The sound of tearing cloth filled the air. The top gave and fell away, leaving her exposed to his heated gaze.
“Brett’ll rip your throat out, you know?” she said, almost conversationally. By now, there was no way he didn’t know she’d gone. There was no way they weren’t tracking her. Perhaps they were here already, waiting to make their move. “Have you seen those guys fight? They’re lethal. And they’re coming…all for you.”
“Ha!” McCoy barked a laugh. “The SARAs? Don’t be ridiculous. We’ve been one step ahead of them for weeks. You think the Project can’t track them…you think I can’t track them?”
His words made her heart lurch. Was he right? Had they been played all this time? She fought back the insecurity. If McCoy had known where she was all this time, why hadn’t he had her picked up before? Instead, he’d said she’d led him on a merry chase.
“You can?” she asked, playing up to the dumb bimbo stereotype and hoping she sounded suitably awed. If he couldn’t pick up the sudden switch in character, then that was his problem. “How’d you do that?”
“Need to know,” he murmured and leaned in. His lips brushed her neck, his hand closing over her breast, and Julia reacted instinctively. Turning her face against his neck, she struck. Her fangs slid deep into his neck, and thick blood filled her mouth. She gagged, but struck again even as he bellowed, tearing himself away.
“You fucking bitch! I’ll fucking kill you!”
He rose over her, his fist raised and she saw her own death in his eyes. Spitting the blood from her mouth, she sneered at him. “Come on then, beat me to death while I’m tied up. Some fucking god!”
McCoy hit hard. His first strike caught her on the same side as the backhand earlier had. The blow upped the pain in her head to agony. By the fourth punch, she was numb, but he kept hitting her. Blood filled her mouth, her own, but still she hissed at him. He could beat her to death, but she wasn’t backing down.
He was speaking, ranting, but she couldn’t make out the words. His face had twisted with rage, his eyes red pools of hatred, and still he kept hitting her. His fist caught her in the mouth, snapping her head upward. There was a sharp crack as her fang broke, the tip falling into the back of her mouth. She coughed, turning her head to spit it and the blood in her mouth onto the bed.
“Captain….” Anderson’s low voice warned, barely audible over the buzzing in her head and McCoy’s ranting about godhood. He stood by the bed, worry written over his face. She tried to catch his eye, but McCoy caught her around the throat. His grip tightened, cutting off all her air.
“Shut up, or you’re next,” McCoy growled and pressed harder.
Julia struggled, but it was no good. She felt herself getting weaker. Too weak to escape the darkness that swam up to claim her as her heart gave one final beat and then stilled.