Demon's Kiss (Page 10)

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“Did you see her?”

Reaper nodded, trying to school his heart to a more steady rhythm. He'd seen her. The wild child, dark hair like a thundercloud around her head, eyes like black velvet, and a coldness, a hardness, an edge of cruelty, to her that surrounded her like an aura.

“I saw her.”

“The way she was running, and spinning in the field-like a little girl in love with every part of life. And did you ever see hair like that? My God, there's so much of it, long and thick and as shiny as copper.”

“Copper?” Reaper glanced at his charge again, then shook himself. Naturally, Seth was referring to the childlike creature who'd been dancing her way through the wildflowers, not the cruel dominatrix who'd held the girl's leash. Naturally. Only he would find the latter so much more captivating.

“Did you see the way the other one-the mean-looking one-snapped that leash onto her?” Seth asked, looking toward the mansion in the distance. “Red must be some kind of prisoner there.”

“Yes, it looks that way. And the dark one mentioned Gregor by name. I believe, Seth, that your instincts and your…connection to that young woman…have led us precisely where we need to be.”

Seth smiled. Beamed, actually.

“You needn't look so inordinately pleased with yourself, fledgling. It's the kind of thing vampires do.”

Seth nodded. “I'm just glad I'm getting better at it. Although, it really was her, Reap. Not me or my instincts. She drew me here. Somehow. Is she-“

“Vampire,” Reaper said, knowing Seth's question before he asked it. “You could sense that for yourself, couldn't you?”

“Well, yeah. But…” Seth hesitated.

Reaper pushed. “Go on, tell me. What else?”

Pursing his lips in thought, Seth nodded, his decision made, and went on. “I could tell she wasn't one of the Chosen-not anymore. She's a vampire. A really young one, too.”

“And?”

“And there's something else. Something…off. Different. But I can't tell what it is.” He looked at Reaper, as if awaiting the answer.

Reaper nodded. “That's what I sensed, too. But like you, Seth, I don't know what it is. There's something more to her than vampire. That much I know.”

“Way more,” Seth said. His voice had softened, and Reaper saw the look in his eyes as he stared toward the mansion and the last spot the redhead had been. Reaper had seen the look before, and he pitied the kid. But he didn't suppose all the sage advice in the world would change it.

“What do we do now?” Seth asked. “We have to get inside.”

“Let's wait just a bit longer, and watch,” Reaper said. “The dark one mentioned wanting to feed. So I believe they'll go out soon, unless they keep a supply of victims in the mansion itself. And I can't sense any.” Then he frowned. “It's odd, I can't sense anything at all coming from inside those walls. They must be extremely adept at blocking.”

Seth swallowed hard. “They kill when they feed, don't they?”

“That's why they're called rogues, Seth.”

“We have to stop them.”

Even as he said it, a group of vampires emerged from the front of the building. They couldn't be seen from where Seth and Reaper were, but they could be felt. Reaper closed his eyes and focused. There were several. The dark one was among them. The redhead was not.

“Did you feel that, Seth?”

“Yeah. You were right, a bunch of them are leaving. But she's not with them. And I know you want to go after the gang, Reap, but I can't leave her here.”

Reaper studied him for a long moment. “Seth, it's important that you not confuse the power of the bond you feel with this woman for something else. Something more. It's difficult to separate the two, especially for a vampire as young as you are. But there is a difference.”

“I'm gonna keep that in mind, Reap.”

Reaper sighed, nodded-resigned, he supposed. Seth was a man, and a heroic one, at that. He had to do what he felt compelled to do, and Reaper had no business trying to talk him out of it. And the cocky fledgling would be inside that mansion before this night was out, no matter what Reaper might say or do to try to prevent it. So there was no point in trying.

“All right, then,” he said at length. “We'll split up. You stay here, try to scan this place, and if you feel you can get inside to speak to the girl, do it. But, Seth, please, don't go in there if you're at risk of being caught. You wouldn't be risking just your own life, but my entire mission. Do you understand?”

Seth nodded, but his gaze was riveted to the back door, through which the redhead had vanished.

“I'll follow the others,” Reaper went on. “See if I can keep tonight's body count to a minimum.”

“All right.”

“Be careful, Seth.”

Seth nodded, and then Reaper was gone.

Seth decided he didn't really need to follow Reaper's instructions to the letter. Hell, he didn't need to follow them at all, he thought. He did try to scan the place, to get a feel for how many might be inside and the nature of those who were, but he sensed nothing. It was as if no one was alive beyond those walls.

So he waited, just until he was sure Reaper was long gone, and then he slipped out of his hiding place, and went to the door he'd seen the girl go through. He tried the knob, but it was locked, just as he'd expected it to be. And yet, it wasn't that strong a lock. Not for a vampire.

He still got a hell of a charge out of how powerful he was now. The way he could close his hand around the doorknob, twist it until the lock popped and snapped and broke. Then he put his shoulder to the door and pushed, not even very hard, and the other locks holding it gave way. The door swung open, and Seth stepped inside, looking around-remembering to feel around, too-in search of enemies lurking in the shadows. And he felt them. Lots of them, countless energies, all of them seeming off, but in a far different way from the girl. The vibes he felt were dull, heavy and slow. And none of them were in the immediate vicinity.

She was, though. Her essence called out to him, drew him, and he moved toward it almost blindly, knowing Reaper would kick his ass for being as careless as he was right now if he knew. And yet he couldn't resist the odd pull of her.

He walked down two steps, through a corridor of stone, and then he saw her. She was in a cell, a barred cell, like a cage, at the end of the passage. She was standing there, her hands on the bars, her beautiful, almost elfin face peering out between them at him, as if she had known he was coming.

And she probably had.

She was a vampire. But her energy was different from that of any of the admittedly few vampires Seth had met. Even Reaper had acknowledged that. It was wilder, brighter, more vivid and chaotic. And God, her eyes…

“I'm Vixen,” she said. “You've come here to help me, haven't you?”

“Yeah.” He could barely form the single word, much less explain the entire reason why they had come here.

“I knew you would. I've been waiting for you. I…I've felt you.” She stared straight into his eyes, not at all shy about her declaration. “I've longed for you. But why do I feel you so strongly? And why do you want to help me?” she asked.

He frowned, searching inwardly for an answer. “I don't know. But I've felt you, too.” He touched her hand, sliding his over one of hers where it gripped a bar. “Does it really matter?”

She stared at his hand on hers, and he thought she shivered. He knew he did. Then she bent her head, paintbrush lashes lowering over the most exotic, expressive brown almond eyes he'd ever seen. But she didn't answer.

“Why are they keeping you locked up like this?” he asked.

“I don't know.” She lifted her head, met his gaze. “They hurt me sometimes.”

Seth's muscles knotted up in pure need-the need to pound on someone. They hurt her sometimes? Fuck that. He looked around the place, hoping to see a key, maybe hanging like a steel cliche from a peg in the wall. Nothing. “Who has the key?”

“I don't know. Whoever comes down to torment me usually has it. Briar or Gregor or Jack, or one of those other ones. The big mean ones.”

Big mean ones, huh? He looked at her-pixie-sized at best-and wondered what kind of big mean vamps got off on hurting a woman like her. He would like to meet them. But first things first. He didn't need any keys. Screw keys. He spotted an ax. It would be noisy, but…

He grabbed it and started swinging at the door to her cage.

He hit it again and again, and the lock was just starting to come free when he felt their approach. Other vampires were stampeding from above, racing down to where he was standing with nothing to defend himself but an ax.

He swung again. “When the door opens, I want you to run for it,” he said. “I'll hold them off as long as I can. Look for the man I was with. Reaper. He'll help you.”

“But…you can't stay here.”

He hit the door again.

“They'll hurt you!” she cried.

And again. The cell door sprang open. “Go! Run!”

She lunged past him, grabbing his arm and tugging him with her. “They'll kill you. And I don't even know your name.”

They made it to a wooden door, but the others were in the cellar now, a couple dozen, at the very least-big, oversized, graceless, with dull, dead eyes, and a dense, thick energy about them. They were closing in. Vixen reached the door, yanked it open, turned back for him.

She would never make it if he went with her. Neither of them would. He had to hold these oafs off, give her a shot. He met her eyes as the vampires surged toward him from behind. “Seth,” he said. “My name's Seth.” Then he shoved her outside, closed the door and turned, raising his ax and preparing to fight.

The rogue gang split up once they hit the streets of Savannah. Reaper had seen Gregor, and he'd seen Jack. There were others, whose names escaped him as soon as he heard them, mainly because he didn't give a damn. He'd seen Briar and that seemed, to him, to be the most pressing matter. As little sense as that made. Gregor was his target, after all.

And yet, when they split, though he knew he ought to follow Gregor, he opted to follow her, instead. There was something about her that compelled him to see her, speak to her, to learn what it was that drove her. Why was she with this gang of murderers?

More importantly, why did he care?

Maybe he recognized, in her eyes, a soul very much akin to his own.

Or maybe he only wanted to.

So he followed her. Briar. The name fit her prickly, dangerous energy. She walked the streets as if she knew them, and not an ounce of fear emanated from her, no matter where she wandered. She was looking for something. Someone.

A victim.

She found one soon enough. A man-midthirties, blond, utterly ordinary-came stumbling from a bar, and turned first to the left, then to the right, his expression blank. Glimpsing something in the distance, he nodded in a self-satisfied way and groped in a pocket, hand emerging with a set of keys. He staggered along the sidewalk then, toward the car that was apparently his; a small, expensive-looking sports car. Reaper allowed himself a small smile when it occurred to him that his young protege would probably know its make, model, year of production and engine size. Seth loved cars.

He was worried about that young man, and quickly opened his mind to listen for any signs of distress from him. But there was only dead silence.

Odd. He didn't think Seth was that good at blocking yet. He should have picked up something.

The hungry vampiress got ahead of the drunken man without his even noticing her, and when he reached the car, she was leaning on the passenger door, waiting. Reaper clung to the shadows, keeping his mind and his energy blocked, so she wouldn't sense him there. He was curious, compelled to watch her, part of him hoping that she wouldn't reveal herself to be a killer like the others in her gang.

“I don't suppose you'd consider giving me a ride, would you?” she asked. The drunk man stopped, standing on the sidewalk and blinking at her as if he wasn't quite sure she was real.

“I, uh, probably shouldn't. My wife-“

“Will never know. I promise.” She let her gaze trail down his body, stopping when it was fixed on his zipper. “And I'll make it so worth your while.”

The man licked his lips, and looked her up and down. Reaper didn't think the guy had it in him to turn her down, which didn't say much for his marriage. Then again, she was something. Tiny but curvy. Dark and exotic. She exuded sex like a perfume. It wafted from her. Sex…and violence. Reaper didn't want to feel it, but he did. Couldn't the drunken idiot sense that part of her?

“Wh-where do you need to go?”

“Five blocks that way.” She pointed. “But maybe I should drive, hmm? You look like you've had a few too many.”

“No way, honey. Nobody drives this baby but me.”

“You'll wreck her,” she said.

“I've made it home a lot worse off than this.” He aimed the key ring at the car and pushed a button to unlock the doors, then nodded when the car's lights flashed him a welcome. “What's your name, anyway?”

“Briar,” she said.

“I'm Jim.”

“I don't really care.”

He frowned at her for a second, then shrugged. “Get in.”

She opened the door, slid into the car, slow and sexy. He watched, then went to his side and got behind the wheel. There was little traffic, no one to see what might happen next. Reaper could have stepped in then, but he was curious, and more than a little bit aroused. He wasn't going to let her kill the man, though. He vowed he wouldn't. He would stop things before they got that far, though he prayed he wouldn't have to. She wouldn't go through with it. She wouldn't kill the guy.

Reaper had a perfect view of the entire episode. And he could hear them, even with the vehicle's doors and windows closed. He was, after all, a vampire. The man-Jim-put the keys into the ignition. Briar put her hand over his. “One kiss first,” she whispered.

Jim stared at her as she leaned closer. Her lips touched his, and his hand went slack, letting the keys fall to the floor with a sharp jangle. He twisted toward her, eager arms sliding around her, yanking her tight, and Reaper felt a flash of anger blaze up in her, felt her deliberately grab it and hold it back.

She slid her mouth from his, around to his jaw and closer to his neck, then closer still, and Reaper could sense that she thought she had to hurry, because she couldn't take much more of his clumsy pawing and groping. She reached his neck. She grasped the back of his head, tipping it sideways none too gently, and then she clamped her mouth onto him, sank her fangs deep and drank.

“Hey!” He started to pull away, but he was no match for her strength. She had him in a death grip, and in a second or two, he didn't care. He was falling into her thrall, drowning in the ecstasy of being devoured, of flowing into another being, of mindless, fathomless pleasure almost beyond endurance.

Reaper knew the feeling. He knew it well.

The victim's heartbeat started to slow, and yet she kept on feeding, kept on drinking. She was going to take all of him.

Reaper shook off the bloodlust that watching her feed had brought on and lunged, moving at preternatural speed. Yanking open the door, he gripped her by the back of her tiny black leather jacket and dragged her right out of the vehicle.

Jim slumped in his seat, the two punctures in his neck trickling scarlet.

Briar whirled on Reaper, lashing out with a clawed hand and raking his face. “How dare you?”

“Oh, I dare, Briar.” He nodded toward the man in the car. “You've taken enough. Any more and he'll be dead.”

“That was the plan.”

“You'd take his life? The life of an innocent?”

“And his car, too.” She slammed the door and stood facing him. “Who the hell are you, and where do you get off interrupting my meal?”

He stared at her for a long moment.

“Well? Don't you want to tell me who you are before I kill you?”

That made him smile, just slightly, and very bitterly. “You couldn't kill me, Briar. Don't even try. I don't want to hurt you. And because I don't want to hurt you, I'll warn you that you're in grave danger.”

She looked around. “From who? You?”

“From that gang you're running with. From its leader.”

Her eyes narrowed.

“You go around murdering innocents. You take no precautions. You don't care if you're seen. You leave the bodies to be found by other mortals. You're exposing the entire undead race to discovery, and you're making us the objects of hatred and fear-even more so than we already are. Surely you don't think the vampires of the world are going to let that kind of behavior go unhindered.”

She studied him more closely, her eyes probing his. “You're the one, aren't you? You're the one they've sent to kill Gregor.”

He nodded slowly. “I am. I'm aware that he already knows I'm coming, so it costs me nothing to tell you.”

“Oh, it's gonna cost you plenty.”

Even as he tried to guess her meaning, she lashed out. Both fists, clasped together as one, came around like a sledgehammer, and when they connected with his jaw, he flew bodily into the air. His back hit a brick wall, and he barely kept from sliding to the sidewalk.

He gave his head a shake, and straightened, and then she was there, striking again, with a solid, powerful kick to the solar plexus that had him bending over and gasping in pain.

Fists again. She brought them down on the back of his head, put him on his knees. He pushed up with his hands, stunned at the ferocity of the attack.

“I'm going to kill you,” she said. “Nobody is going to hurt Gregor.”

“You in love with him?” he asked, though the words came in a raspy, pain-racked voice.

“I owe him.”

He heard the sharp hiss of a blade sliding out of a sheath and realized he couldn't continue this passive routine. Swinging one arm outward, he yanked her feet right out from beneath her, and when she went down hard, he sprang, landing atop her, pinning her tight. He held her wrists to the sidewalk at either side of her head and straddled her thighs, his hips pressing hers down tight.

He lifted his gaze to her hands, one of which was still clinging to the dagger. “Drop the knife,” he said.

“Kill me if you want. I'm not going to drop it.”

“I'm not going to kill you.”

“Then why the hell would I drop the knife?”

He lifted his head, fixed his eyes on hers, and then let them slide to her neck. “Because I'm going to drink from you if you don't.”

She didn't move, just lay there, panting, frozen. So he lowered his head, let his lips touch the skin of her neck, parted them a little and sucked.

The knife clattered to the sidewalk.

But God, he didn't think he could stop now. He sucked a little harder, pressed just the tiniest bit with his teeth.

“I dropped the knife,” she said. “Get your filthy mouth off me and let me up.”

He didn't. He kept nibbling, suckling. He felt her heartbeat speed up to match his own. He was going to do it. He was going to take her-just a sip, just a taste.

And then he heard something that made him stop. A woman, a vampiress, speaking to him mentally, a sense of panic coming through with her words.

Reaper, if you're out there, Seth is in trouble. He needs your help or he'll be killed. Please hurry.