“Calm down, man. Tell me what you did,” comes Asa’s gruff reply.
“I didn’t do anything, you arrogant grunt! I smelled blood and followed it to this cabin.” My hand shakes as I grip the phone. “Someone came in and tore this guy to shreds.”
“Go stand outside, Paul.” Asa’s calm voice feels like a kick in the teeth; knocking away what little control I have, like mice scurrying from a light. “Get away from the scene for now and I’ll send everyone available to you.”
It’s as if he thinks I’m too stupid to handle myself in the cabin and he’s afraid I’ll mess it up somehow. Competent jerk. He forgets he was a newbie only a year ago.
Before he hangs up on me I hear, “Drew, did you catch that? He’s out at…”
The dial tone sounds in my ear and I stare at the receiver another moment in silence. Absolute quiet, punctuated by the irresistible and overpowering scent of fresh werewolf blood, washes over me. Who would have thought it could smell so much better than regular human blood? The desire to get down on my knees next to the mangled body and lick what I can makes me think Asa had a good idea—maybe I will go stand outside for a bit.
I’m still in my parka, having done no more than enter the cabin, take in the destruction, and stagger to the phone to call Asa. When I open the door the sub-zero temp smacks me in the face, like it does every time. A harsh reminder of even though I can take more abuse from the cold, I can still feel it and suffer its effects. The urge to go back inside to taste the blood splatter on the walls, or pick up the drained corpse and check for leavings, racks my body like a hard shiver of frost creeping up my spine.
To not be able to rein in these desires leaves me scared and slightly lost. Things are so much clearer when Vivian stands near me. How much longer until I have Asa’s control? When will I get to go home to my family? Not seeing them on a daily basis, after work or before we start our day, takes its toll. The kids are getting bigger and missing Christmas with them sucked.
Thinking of them distracts me from the dead werewolf inside the cabin. He’s not an employee, but a hunter, so technically Emiko didn’t break any rules by killing him. I hadn’t expected her to act so fast, or be so harsh.
The faint sound of feet hitting asphalt gradually becomes stronger and Drew’s distinct orange coat comes into view.
“How you holding up, Paul?” he asks.
“Not bad. I’ve got it together.” Barely, but he doesn’t need to know that.
“What happened in there?”
“I’m not sure. Viv asked me come to check on the loner wolf, Melvyn, to let him know Jet was out scouting ahead and would meet up with him in thirty minutes.” I gulp at the thought of remembered blood on the pathway. “When I rounded the last bend in the path,” motioning with my arm toward the main building and the hot tub grotto, “I smelled a trace of blood—and followed it here.”
“Let’s wait for the others before we go in. Asa was calling the rest of the seethe while I ran over, they should be here soon.”
The silence between us doesn’t last long. I’m dying to slake my curiosity somehow. “Drew?”
“You ever drink werewolf blood?”
Drew’s head whips around from where he was staring at the dimly lit path. “Umm… yeah. Why?”
“Just wondering what it’s like.”
“Considering Jonathan is the only one that lives here you won’t have a chance to find out any time soon, that’s for damn sure.” He looks pensive for a moment, like he’s deciding on how much to say. “What was something you really enjoyed eating as a human?”
Interesting question when posed to a new vampire who made his living as a professional chef for over a decade, with the belly to prove it. I pat my slimming middle; the liquid diet is working wonders, and respond “I’m not sure if I could narrow that down to ten items without some serious contemplation. Why?”
“Vampires find werewolf blood delicious. For me, it was as if the lifeblood running through their veins was more alive. More meaty—for lack of a better descriptor. Reminded me of a good steak, at times it was damn hard to resist going back for seconds.”
I think about his words and wonder what it would taste like for me. My canines start to elongate, pushing painfully through my gums. The sensation still unnerves and embarrasses me, like I’m a high school kid walking around with a boner.
“You do know a lot of vampires become addicted to were-blood, right?”
That puts a new spin on things. “No. I hadn’t known. Really?”
“Oh yeah. The power goes to their heads and the taste keeps them craving more and more. Best you avoid tasting it ‘til you’re older.”
Vivian and Rafe round the bend on the same pathway I smelled the blood. Jonathan lopes a step or two behind the couple.
“Where’s Joanna?” Vivian calls out.
Drew becomes a little stiff, but answers quick enough. “I haven’t seen her in a while. Do you want to wait?”
“No, we’ll fill her in later. Thanks for not going in yet. Everyone stay by the door upon entry and let Jonathan see if he can identify the killer by scent.”
We all filter inside, following Vivian’s instructions. This cabin looks like all the others and has a large open living area. The kill occurred in the connected bedroom, so we have plenty of room.
“It was one of the vampires in the theater, that’s for sure.” Jon doesn’t even need to go into the bedroom to announce his findings. Damn, he’s good. “I wasn’t at the meet and greet in the lobby, so I don’t know which one.”
“Are you implying it could be someone else and not Emiko?” Rafe asks.
Drew trailed over to peer in the bedroom doorway and interjects before the werewolf can answer, “Cy reported to Asa that Emiko was trained as a ninja.”
“Really?” Vivian raises an eyebrow. “I haven’t spoken with Asa since the hunter’s arrival in the lobby. Nice to know Cy got some info on her quickly.”
Vivian also walks to the bedroom, but doesn’t stop at the doorway; she heads straight in. My urges are back and I don’t want to embarrass myself. I think I’ll stay here by the front door.
“Good God,” she says. “What a mess. I wouldn’t have expected this from an older vampire.”
I know what they are seeing, I close my eyes to help prevent the images from spilling back in, but it doesn’t help. The cold, lifeless form of the once vital werewolf, his neck broken and head at an un-natural angle... his throat ripped open in Emiko’s rush to get to his blood. The arterial spray splashed against the headboard and the wall. Her obvious displeasure when the blood ran out – she threw the drained body into the closet door.
Once again, my teeth push down and my slow heartbeat picks up. What would the blood taste like for me? Would I get to enjoy my Bolognese sauce again? Would it remind me of the cheesecake Bunny made me for my last birthday? The pounding blood arouses other instincts as well and dammit, I can feel a woody starting in my pants.
“I don’t think this was Emiko,” Drew says.
“Why is that?” my beautiful master asks.
Drew coughs, clearing his throat. “I ran into Emiko at the greenhouse. She just fed from Helena. She wasn’t covered in blood, as this spray suggests, and I doubt she would have hightailed it back this way, only minutes before the hunters set loose.”
“The blood trail started in the hot tub grotto,” Jon adds. “I smelled it on our way up. The killer could have headed back toward the main house.”
“Without knowing the exact timing, it could have happened either slightly prior to the hunters release or just after, correct?” Rafe asks of the room at large. At least I think he is, but I can’t tell for sure because my eyes are still shut. I can still imagine all the red and the aroma wafting through the entire cabin reminds me of cooking my favorite dishes. If I take a taste, which one will it be?
The aching pit in my stomach burns with hunger. My desire roils over itself like a living beast with sharp talons—eager to claw its way to the surface to get what it craves.
“It doesn’t completely rule out Emiko,” Vivian says. “She could have hightailed it here before the hunt to get a power surge of were-blood.”
“She seemed too smart to take such a risk so close to the start…” Drew’s voice trails off, like he wants to add more. “And she was still at the greenhouse before the hunters release and after. That’s a lot of ground to cover quickly.”
“And what were you doing with Emiko that whole time?” comes Vivian’s deadly purr.
Wow, I’d hate to be in Drew’s shoes right now. I pry my eyes open to focus on my seethe-mate. This little segue-way makes a good distraction from my powerful hunger.
He scoffs a little with a small laugh, “She tried to tell me she wasn’t guilty of the crimes they’re charging her of.”
“Really?” Jon says. “And because she’s a tiny little Asian woman, you figured she’s got to be telling the truth?”
“No. But the fact that she snapped my neck in the fastest move I’ve ever seen and strolled past me into the night helps to reaffirm my thoughts.”
Whoa! Where’d that come from? Drew’s face looks heated and slightly chagrined. Bet he hadn’t intended to share that tid-bit in front of us all.
Rafe holds up a hand to both of them, stopping what looked like a seriously smart-ass remark from Jonathan—that is, if the shit-eating grin on his face is anything to go by.
“Let me get this straight,” Rafe begins. “She chatted with you calmly in the greenhouse?” Drew nods. “She had just fed from the gardener?” Drew nods again. “By the way, is Helena okay?”
“Yes. Emiko did not overfeed and was careful with her. She wiped only a minute or two from her mind and left no physical evidence or damage to her.”
“Okay, good.” Rafe’s rumbling, soothing tone rolls over me in a gentle wave and I’m proud to report my boner has finally faded. Bet that voice has brought the vicious and vivacious Vivian back from the edge a time or two. “Now how did she get close enough to break your neck?”
“Well, she kind of walked up nice and slow while telling me she never would have done something so stupid, meaning the killings they said she did. Then quick as a wink, I see a flash of black, my head is looking the wrong way, and I’m on the floor.”
A snort flows from Jonathan.
“Quiet,” comes the reprimand from our feisty redhead. “You may not have fared much better, Jon. Ninjas are incredibly well trained and add that to the increased strength and speed of a vampire….”
“They weren’t the most prized spies and assassins of their emperors for no reason,” adds Rafe.
“Now I ask you—does all of that add up to the messy kill you see in the bedroom?” comes Drew’s calm voice.
Vivian notices me huddled next to the door. Damn, I had hoped to avoid detection.
“Paul? You feeling okay?”
My voice croaks out a bit raspier than normal, “I’ve been better.”
Her swift stride brings the master vampire to my side before I can brace myself. A gentle touch on my cheek tilts my face down to hers.
“When did you feed last?”
I rack my scattered thoughts, searching for the answer. “I don’t know for certain.”
“Well that’s a sure sign it’s been too long.” Her gorgeous green eyes lock onto mine and a moment of calm comes over me. Her voice whispers in my mind, You’ll be fine, my pet. You must rest and collect yourself before you feed. Meditate and look within for strength. Wait for me and I’ll help you through this.
“Drew,” she says in a brisk tone, “go with Paul back to the command center and brief Asa with what we’ve got so far. Paul? Wait in your room for me, okay?”
“Yes, Vivian. I will.” I know I’ve got a puppy dog look on my face. I can feel it. But it feels so much better then the raging desires from before, I don’t give a shit how stupid I must look.
“Jon and I will go inform the other wolves next door.” My master continues. “I know they are still in their cabins. Something about giving the vamps a chance to disperse before they set out. Maybe with luck they heard something.”
“Yeah, they didn’t want to tempt the undead crazies while the buggers are on an adrenaline high,” Jon adds.
“I agree. It was a smart thing to do.” Rafe shakes his head as we head out the door. “It’s just a shame that Melvyn didn’t have the foresight to stay out of their way.”
“You know what this means don’t you?” Vivian points out as she and Jon head next door. “We’ve got two killers loose on the property.”
“No dear,” Rafe interjects gently, “we’ve way more than that. Not counting Cora, her guards, Vikram or Emiko we’ve got seven vampires and six werewolves. We just have to narrow it down to who has killed today.”
Drew and I head back to the main building with Rafe. As we round the bend in the path, I hear the greeting that follows Jon’s knock from the wolves next door.
“Well, if it isn’t the ‘mistress’ and her servant.”