This free read contains some sexually explicit and graphic descriptions. For mature 18 and over readers only.
As I lie here, curled around my husband’s firm body, I begin to wonder: Am I crazy? What in the hell made me think organizing a hunt, here at our hotel, would be a good idea? Over a dozen supernatural predators are flying in from all over the world; ones who’ve paid an exorbitant price for the privilege of removing their everyday masks and killing one of their own kind. I must be crazy.
I have a feeling this week is going to turn out to be more than any of us bargained for. Self-doubt plagues me as I rise from the warmth of the bed and stroll, naked, to my closet. The glow of the artificial landscape lighting beams in through the windows. The changing gradient indicates it's probably midday here above the Arctic Circle.
Part of my nervous edge could be associated with learning to trust the new members of our seethe. While the vampires appear upfront and honest—as much as a pack of bloodsuckers can be—my old habits of distrust have served me well over the years.
The two months since November’s tracking and killing of Ivan have been a trial for me, this upcoming hunt week has been a long time in the planning, but I don’t have to like it. Having anyone from the Tribunal of Ancients on our property sucks, especially when I have no idea who they’re sending.
Grabbing the clothes I set out in the wee hours of the morning, I head to the shower in our private suite.
The hot water cascading over me fills my mind with horrible memories of my own first hunt. My seethe wore cloth-lined, silver skullcaps to thwart my unique vamp-to-vamp mind-control abilities. They orchestrated the hunt to rid themselves of their “pet” manipulator. What started for the group as demented undead fun, ended with a young, redheaded vampire surprising them all with her ability to kill ruthlessly and without remorse.
The blood of my seethe-mates once covered my body, as the water does now. Later, I stacked their headless corpses in our old farmhouse before setting the structure on fire. Killing that sick group was the least I could do to avenge the murders of my first and second husbands. Considering all I’d been through under their rule for twenty-six years, I let the bastards off easy. Thankfully, even a semi-mortal vampire can only die once—if it’s done right.
The sound of Rafe stirring in the next room pulls me out of my dark thoughts and tells me he’s getting up as well.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” I call out over the noise of the water. “Get enough rest?”
“You mean after you ravaged me for hours? Oh yeah, I slept pretty damn sound.”
I turn the water off, wring out my long hair, and then leave the shower to reach for a towel. Rafe puts one in my hand before I have a chance to connect with the rack on the wall.
Smiling my thanks, I dry myself quickly. “We’re meeting with everyone in about a half hour. Want me to call the kitchen to send you in something to eat?”
“Isn’t Paul on cooking duty?” Rafe grimaces. “No thanks. I’ve got leftovers in our fridge. I’m good.”
“His cooking will get better. Give him some time. It’s been a hard adjustment since he’s turned and can’t eat solid foods anymore.”
“Yeah, but it’s a painful process waiting for him to re-learn.”
“That’s the easy part,” I snort. “The real challenge since he became a vampire is in helping him control the desire to drain his family whenever he sees them.”
Rafe strips for his own shower, patting me on the bottom as he heads inside the enclosure. “‘With great power comes great responsibility.’”
“Don’t get all philosophical on me. I may not have wanted four new members in our seethe, but I’ll manipulate and train the buggers as best I can.”
The water hisses back on. Steam fills the room once more, as a muted ringing comes from the bedroom, and I head in to answer it.
Asa’s clipped tones greet me on the other end of the line, “Hey, Vivian.” He addresses me, like most everyone at The V V Inn, by my nickname. “I heard water in the pipes. You almost ready for the meeting?”
The ex-military munitions expert, and fledgling vampire, really enjoyed creating the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility underground. Our new command center is set up with video feeds and surveillance of the entire property, all fifteen square miles of it.
“I’ll be ready in ten minutes. Have you checked on the others?” I’m not too thrilled the SCIF is in this wing of the T-shaped hotel—right below our apartment—but I wasn’t willing to give up any guest rooms for it either.
“Drew is down here with me. Paul’s finished his shift in the kitchen and went to change clothes, Joanna’s still in her suite, and Jonathan’s already waiting for us in the conference room.”
Jonathan, our head groundskeeper, is the only werewolf we have on the property as a permanent resident. The thought of his tasty, powerful blood sends a shiver of want through me.
“Have we heard from any of the pilots yet?”
“Affirmative. We’re staggering the landings. Passengers should begin arriving at five this evening. A new batch will land every twenty minutes or so.”
“Have all the dossiers finally come in on the prospective hunters?”
“Cy emailed the last of his findings a few hours ago.”
Cy’s a vampire contact of mine from New York and is married to Asa’s werewolf Aunt Cali. He’s also the person responsible for sending Asa here to help us out this past fall.
“Good. Have the folders ready and call the kitchen for pots of blood coffee and regular coffee to be brought down. Great work, Asa.”
When we hang up, I pull on my undergarments then my clothes for the day: an emerald-green silk pantsuit. To add that little hint of sex appeal our guests have grown accustomed to I forgo a blouse, buttoning up the coat to form a plunging neckline. I pair the ensemble with four-inch spiked heels, putting me a little closer to Rafe’s six-foot-two height.
Speak of the devil; the scrumptious man walks out of the bathroom without even a towel on. The tight muscles of his lower torso all seem to angle in a slight v-pattern, drawing my eyes down to the glorious perfection I worshipped so lovingly last night. Saliva fills my mouth at the memory of the acrobatics my tongue performed on certain parts of my husband’s anatomy.
“Dria? Darling? My eyes are up here, love.”
I break my stare from his nakedness and sure enough, there are his bright blue eyes.
“You look at me like that for too long and my pants will fit me funny when we meet the others.”
I glance longingly at the bed. “I’d much rather skip it all and stay in bed with you today.”
Rafe laughs. “And miss the crazies showing up for this circus? Not on your life.”
By half past four, we’re all gathered around the sleek new conference room down the hall from the command center in the basement. The extensive space spans the entire footprint of the large hotel. We’re under the west wing, which holds not only our apartment, but the hotel kitchen and the small adjacent dining room as well. The human companions, servants and bonded mates who usually vacation with the vampire masters during their stay need to eat somewhere.
“I love that color on you,” Joanna gushes to me from her close proximity in the next chair. “It’s such a gorgeous contrast to your skin and copper-colored hair.”
As my lips thin in frustration, I try to school my outer countenance not to betray my annoyance. During the trap to catch Ivan, I held her mind in my control for hours and the after-effects still sway her conscious and unconscious behaviors.
Easy, darling. Rafe’s mental voice conveys telepathically to me. She’ll get over her blood lust infatuation. Give her time.
I know, but it’s taking much longer than I’d like. Does he think calling me darling right now and telling me to be patient are going to help?
Well, you did possess her for hours, did you not? Rafe adds.
You know damn well I did. Why bring it up again?
Perhaps to get you to see two months is still too soon to expect results.
How come sometimes you’re so smart and sometimes you’re so not?
Humor colors his next response. Uh… ’cause I’m a guy?
“Vivian? Does the green silk match your eyes?” Joanna’s voice pulls me out of the private moment I’m sharing with Rafe—bringing me crashing back to reality.
This time, I’m able to meet her blond beauty and saturnine face with a calm and friendly smile. “I think it might. Thank you for noticing.” I turn my focus to the men surrounding the table, effectively broadcasting with my body language that it’s time to start and Joanna shouldn’t expect more chitchat.
“Good afternoon, everyone. Have you all had a chance to pour yourselves some coffee and look over the contents in your folders?”
I look to Jonathan first; he’s always the one I check with after Rafe. His blue plaid flannel shirt looks like a cousin to the one I saw him in yesterday. Reading the papers in front of him, the stocky werewolf doesn’t notice my glance, so I move around the table.
Drew’s capable brown eyes and amiable features smile over at me. Besides his burning desire this fall to avenge his wife’s murder, I still don’t know much about this quiet, unassuming man. His gaze and raised eyebrows indicate he has a question. I nod for him to continue.
“The one here on Donald has me worried—it looks like Cy dug up a link to his past indicating he may have been involved with a string of gruesome murders in Europe a few decades back.”
“Correct,” Asa interjects, “but if you read on, you’ll see there was no hint of his otherworldliness in the old police files. The Tribunal saw no need to charge him for his crimes once he agreed to stop his public killings.”
I shudder at the thought of the justice the Tribunal of Ancients doled out in the past. If they had eliminated Ivan eight years ago, as promised when I turned him in, we would’ve never had the sadistic son-of-a-bitch sabotaging our property, raping a guest, killing an innocent man, and nearly draining Paul to death.
Rafe nods. “Asa’s right.” Sensing my deep-seated anger, his solid thigh touches mine under the table. “The Tribunal doesn’t always make decisions that protect humanity. They look out for the vampire community—their prime directive is to ensure it stays secret.”
“I knew a vampire they proclaimed rogue about two decades ago,” Joanna adds. “He really went off the deep end one night, and decimated a five-screen movie theater full of people. I was new to the seethe, but all of us came in and helped burn the place down to hide the state of the corpses.” She stares off in the distance, as if the visions from that night have come back alive for her to witness.
“He left while we were covering his tracks and started to indiscriminately attack people he passed in the street,” she continues. “The news reporters had a field day with the wounds on the trail of bodies he left. I understood why they declared him rogue. He had to be stopped.”
I clear my throat to get us back on track. The last thing I want is the next part of the conversation to dwell on the Tribunal enforcer sent to hunt down her seethe-mate. Having filled that role myself centuries ago, talking about it usually opens the door to a barrage of questions I prefer not to answer.
“Well, we may not always agree with the Tribunal,” I say, “but as Joanna’s story points out, sometimes they are necessary. Let’s focus on the fact they are bringing us a convicted rogue to let the guests hunt down for fun.
“Half a million dollars turned out to be the right price for action-starved vampires after all, despite my original trepidation when we’d first discussed this idea after Thanksgiving.”
“What about this Stanislaus dude?” Jon asks, scanning a page from his dossier. “He looks clean as a whistle.”
Asa flips some pages in his folder. “According to the file, he goes by Stan now. Yeah, I remember reading this one. Cy couldn’t find a thing on him.”
“That means you fear him more,” I add. “He hasn’t made a mistake yet.”
A soft touch lands on my left arm, pulling my attention to Joanna, again.
“How can you be so sure, Vivian?”
“All two-hundred-year-old vampires have killed—and killed often. Mark my words. If no record can be found surrounding his name, the only reason is because he’s hidden the deaths extremely well.”
Joanna shifts her attention to Drew, “Would you agree with that, Drew?”
The brown-haired man, appearing to be in his early twenties but has been dead for over one-hundred-and-fifty years, glances in the blond vampire’s direction and a mask slips over his unremarkable features. “I plead the fifth.”
He’s a hard nut to crack, that one. A smile strains at my lips and I allow a trace of it to peek through. “Moving on. Any others stand out?”
Paul, the youngest vampire of the seethe, finally speaks up. “Sanji? This one caught my eye. She’s bringing a lower vampire member of her seethe with her on this trip but states he won’t be part of the hunt. Why?”
“I know her from my travels in India years ago,” I answer. “She’s a good leader in her seethe, but hasn’t had a human mate-bond in decades. I’m betting he’s her current vampire lover and does not share her bloodthirsty pursuits. Look over her extensive file well—Sanji prefers to be subtle in her slaughter, but in three hundred years, she’s left a lot of bodies behind her. She likes to keep more passive vampires with her to help balance her inner rage.”
I let the information sink in then take a look around the table. “Questions on the remaining hunters?”
I’m answered by a shake of heads and Jonathan’s trademark werewolf smirk.
“Okay, let’s discuss the plan of attack.” I motion with a nod toward the muscle-bound, shaven-head vamp. “Asa?”
“Thanks, Viv.” Asa takes out a clipboard from under his dossier and scans it. “Okay, all cameras are in place and operational. Rafe, Drew, and I are familiar with the control boards and equipment. Drew and I will work in shifts to monitor all the hunters continuously and utilize Rafe as a backup, if needed. Paul and Joanna will be out on the property watching as well. Seethe members will be carrying closed-circuit communicators at all times,” he says, waiving one of the tricked out cell phones.
“Jon will be with the werewolf guests.” I add. “How big is the pack that’s coming?”
The rugged, outdoorsy-looking man perks up at my question. “I spoke with my old pack alpha, Romeo, earlier today.” He checks some hand-written notes on the inside of his folder. “He confirmed they have six coming and we’ve also got a lone werewolf from England, Melvyn, on the roster as well. Jet Natsuhara, our one vampire-master who prefers to be in his wolf form when hunting, may team up with the loner. The pack won’t welcome either wolf to join them out in the woods, but they won’t pick a fight either.”
“That’s good to hear,” Rafe says. “You spent a lot of time with Jet when we hunted Ivan. Think he’ll do okay with this unknown wolf?”
“I can’t see why not. The dossier on Melvyn appears sound. Typical wolf who needed to strike out on his own because of differing pack attitudes—or perhaps he had no desire to challenge the current alpha.”
Asa points out a detail Jon misses. “Yeah, well, it says here his old pack leader was his father. No wonder he wouldn’t fight him.”
“The primitive animal way of you dogs always makes my head spin,” Joanna quips to Jon.
A pin could drop, and sound as loud as a gong, in the ensuing pregnant silence. I thought for a fifty-year-old vamp, she’d have developed more grace by now.
“Joanna,” I begin while my blood slowly boils. “I would prefer to be the one to insult my servant, if it’s required. Not have a junior member of my seethe do so.”
She whips around to face me, wearing a stunned and horrified expression.
“Please apologize to him now, before I get ugly,” I say.
With a contrite expression, she looks at the handsome man sitting across from her, “S-s-sorry, Jon. I meant it as a joke.”
She’s a child, love. Let it go. Rafe coos softly in my mind at the edge of my building anger.
You’re the only one I know who’d categorize a being who’s been walking the planet for seventy-three years as a child.
I call ‘em like I see ‘em. She’s a kid to me.
Over thirty when we married, Rafe hasn’t aged since our mate-bond ceremony sixty-five years ago. Most of our seethe seem like kids to him.
“I’ll let it slide this time, blondie,” Jon smiles at Joanna. “But keep the claws in, would you? Not all wolves act with brains first.”
“But,” I can’t help but add, “if you slip up like that in front of one of our Were guests, I will not be happy. Got it?”
Joanna looks down at the table, “Yes.”
“Good. Moving on. Paul, do you have any questions about what is expected of you during the next week?”
“Um… ” The once-plump chef has slimmed down with his new all-liquid diet, he looks like a completely new man since his turning. “I wondered about my cooking duties.”
A groan goes up from Jon’s side of the table.
“Hey—I’m getting better at choosing the right amount for spices,” Paul says. “I’ll be back to my old self in no time.”
“Uh-huh, sure.” Jon’s wry expression pins the two-month-old vampire. “Do me a favor and don’t attempt your Bolognese sauce again until you’re sure you remember the recipe right, ok?”
“Focus, people!” My hand slams onto the table as my words snap out over the small space. “I’ll have you on rotation a few times in the kitchen during the week, Paul, but not like your normal shifts. We need you reporting to Asa and Drew this week and letting them direct where they need you on the property to monitor the hunt, okay?”
Paul’s face seems to clear with a direct assignment. “Yeah, that’s fine.”
“Vivian, will we be using Jerry’s help at all this week?” Asa asks. “The canny old guy earned sniper status back in Vietnam.” The young vampire’s voice takes on a hint of awe as he continues. “I heard from one of the employees, Jerry’s father was part of a special-forces team during World War II known as Castner’s Cutthroats. Have you ever researched those guys?” Asa looks excitedly around the table to see if anyone else shares his passion for history.
Jerry, the salt-n-pepper haired engineer, has worked here since The V V Inn opened back in the early ‘90’s. The cagey old bastard also maintains a supply of silver bullets he casts himself.
I hide rolling my eyes at his enthusiasm, but just barely. If I were to offer any encouragement, he’d tell us everything he’s found out, I’m sure. “Thanks, Asa. I am aware of all the workers’ pasts. Jerry will be stationed at the employee apartments, just like last time. Obviously, at his age, he won’t be on guard the whole time, but he’s organized some excellent big-game hunters from the employee force to rotate shifts. They’ll watch over everyone during the mandatory curfew.”
Drew clears his throat, drawing eyes with the sound. “How are the employees handling the ‘stay at home unless it’s your shift’ regulation? Did you pull a vamp-whammy on them all?”
“Doing so was tedious,” I answer, “but necessary.” Implanting an urge in all one hundred and forty of them to follow the instructions of the curfew took about two weeks, but had to be done. All vampires can mind control humans, but only Rafe’s aware of my master-manipulator abilities with other vampires.
Rafe presents a big, toothy salesman-grin. “There’s a big bonus for them if they listen and a refusal to pay death benefits if they don’t.”
I smile at the ingeniousness of the encouragement. “Clever suggestion you had, hon. Positively wicked.” Pushing my thigh up against his under the table, I give him a loving nudge. “Here’s to hoping it works.”
Manipulating people to do something for their own safety doesn’t twinge my conscience as much as some of the other things I’ve done over my long, undead existence, that’s for damn sure.
“Okay, so far we’ve covered; one—some of the whackos participating.” I raise my hand, starting to count each item off on my fingers. “Two—the major jobs you all will be doing. Three—employee safety.” My last finger comes up, “And the wolves. So that leaves…” I check my notebook lying open on my file folder, aware that all eyes are on me and it’s obvious what we haven’t spoken of yet.
“Ah… yes. The rogue vampire.” A wave of excitement ripples around the table with the mention of the soon-to-be-hunted criminal. “Any news yet from the Tribunal, Asa?”
“Nothing. They’re holding their cards close to their chest with the identity. Do you think they’re going to make us wait until they arrive to find out?”
I snort inelegantly at his last question. “The Tribunal answers to no one. They’ll do as they damn well please, and yes, I have a feeling they plan on surprising us at the last possible moment.”
“Be sure to contact Cy as soon as we get a name,” Rafe instructs Asa. “He’ll be able to do a thorough check without any of the Tribunal members aware of what we’re doing.”
“Why all the subterfuge?” Joanna asks.
Innocent thing, she hasn’t been around long enough to see even close to as much as I have during my nearly six centuries on earth. “Because, darling, you should never trust an ancient vampire, let alone a ruling class of them.”
Before anyone has a chance to fire questions at my daring closing salvo, my cell phone vibrates on my hip. Caller ID indicates it’s Bob, one of the ground crew working the airstrip to maintain its clearance for the arrivals today.
“The first plane landed. We’ve got a group of six on their way up to the main building.”
“Thanks, Bob. Let me know when more arrive.”
And so it begins. The hunters have come.