We watch Rafe disappear through the kitchen and a quiet tension fills the air between the master, Jon, and me.
“Stephanie?” Vivian calls to the chef just returning on duty in the kitchen.
“Prepare pots of blood coffee and bring them into the lobby, please.”
The bustle of the mocha-skinned cook snaps a bit of the strain swirling around the three of us, which allows the heated voices in the lobby to press in upon us again.
“You warm enough, Asa? Or do you need a few minutes in the sauna?” Vivian asks. Her face looks calm and she doesn’t appear to be as angry as when I saw her last. Of course, she was beating me at the time so anything else is a start in the right direction.
“I’m good. I haven’t been outside all that long.” Joanna’s energy still sings through my veins, even with the feeding Emiko took. Pointing this out to Vivian would be akin to a death wish, so I wisely keep my mouth shut.
“Okay. Head back out and search for Donald. Call Drew to see if he can give you his last known location.”
I nod and remove my cell. Jon and Vivian wander back into the lobby to join in the heated debate the vampires are having regarding Emiko and the hunt.
The phone rings twice and the line picks up. “Drew?” I ask.
“When did Donald last report?”
“About forty minutes ago. He was near the apartments.”
“Where does the GPS locator say Emiko is?”
“About five hundred yards southeast of the first apartment building.”
“Thanks. Call me if Donald checks in via another route. I’m pretty sure it’s his cell I have.”
Storing the phone, I zip up and prepare to go back out into the howling winds. I pull a black, high-tech fabric down over my face and shove my hands into sturdy gloves. Slipping past the arguing vampires as they discuss the best course of action, I ease the lobby door shut and head into the frosty darkness. You’d never know it was after eight in the morning with the lack of light being so complete. Living up here in the winter feels like being on another planet.
The all-consuming cold snakes past my facemask, biting my skin and shaking me to my core. Heading to the right, I make my way past the west wing, following the plowed one-lane road deep into the resort property. The morning shift has reported for work already and with any luck, no one from the previous shift plans to disregard the mandatory curfew.
It takes about a ten-minute jog to make it within a quarter mile of the apartments. An inhuman screech ricochets from deep in the trees and pulls me up short. Changing direction, I angle toward the noise and click on my flashlight.
A black form comes hurtling through the darkness toward me, crashing into a bush on my left. A flash of the beam stuns the vampire and possibly dulls his night vision for a moment.
A vicious hiss escapes the grey-haired hunter as he turns his face away. “Bastard! Do you mind? She’s kicking my ass—I don’t need another disadvantage.”
The scent of vampire blood seeps into the air, sweet and enticing.
“Then let’s make it fair,” I say, sweeping the light around the trampled clearing to land on the Asian vamp’s fine-boned, broad features. Her pupils shift while I watch and her arm moves in a lightning fast gesture. The beam cuts off and their fight circle falls into blackness.
The clean-cut Donald shakes his head before jumping to his feet and barreling back the way he came.
My eyes adjust quickly, but I still can’t see much. I fumble with the Maglight to see what the hell happened to it and find a frozen stick protruding from the lens. Damn. Without a working bulb the black canister is nothing more than a makeshift club.
Even with acute vampire eyesight, it looks like I’ll have to rely on my hearing for this fight. The lighting near the Gen One building allowed me to watch Emiko kick Bebe’s ass earlier, but here we’re far from any structure and the shadows wrap around us in a suffocating hold.
“Can you see her?” Donald murmurs into the blackness.
I’ll be damned if I call any more attention to myself on purpose by speaking.
“He won’t help you,” comes an answering female whisper.
I close my eyes, hoping to place her by reaching out with my other senses. There. Up above and straight ahead. I feel her waiting. Her strong energy appears coiled, barely harnessed.
The sound of splintering wood and crunching branches follows for the next few heartbeats. Male grunts of exertion reach me, but Emiko fights in silence.
Donald comes flying through the air twice more, crushing bushes and widening their clearing even more. Each time he shakes himself, brushes off the snow, and approaches the direction he flew via a different path. By the sounds of it, Emiko predicts his attacks and meets him head on.
Watching the grace of her movements as she executed a complex series of strikes on Bebe was eye opening to say the least. It revealed she was toying with me in the bowling alley from the very start. I’ve never seen such precision and perfection in fighting, and if I play my cards right, I hope I’ll never have it directed toward me again.
The minutes go by and I worry the damage to the hardy, but scant, vegetation around us continues to grow.
“Would you honor it if I cried ‘uncle’?” says Donald.
The stillness encourages me to creep forward, as silent as I can, through the thick crust of snow beneath my boots. Ten feet in, darker shadow forms appear, almost outlined against the inky surroundings, exposing the two vampires locked in battle.
Emiko stands with a raised sharpened stake, which looks like a broken tree branch, poising it directly over her opponent’s heart. “You’re good, I’ll give you that. But you are not trained as I am in the art of war.”
“It was a rousing, good fight. Why have it end on a bad note?” A smile spreads across the pale skin of his face, visible only because of my close proximity.
His blasé attitude has the desired effect; it pulls a laugh from Emiko. “You’re a charmer all right. Is this you’re way of asking me to spare your life?”
“I’m not old enough to add to your power signature,” he says while she grips his coat tighter. “Why not let me bow out with honor and you continue with the others? I’ll retire to the inn for the remainder of the week and won’t track you any longer.”
This guy must have the slipperiest silver tongue I’ve ever heard. If he’d caught her and managed to kill her, he’d be gladly sucking the blood from her corpse right now. The same woman, who mounted me like a freakin’ stallion in heat, looks like she’s considering his request.
“I’ll admit—it was fun tearing apart Bebe. She asked for it with her sharp tongue.” Her grip loosens and she drops the polished, gray-haired vamp to the ground. “Keep your word or I’ll cut out your tongue and shove it up your ass—before I carve out your heart and drink you dry.”
Donald rises, brushes off the snow once more and gives the black-haired beauty a solemn bow. “Never fear. I’ll stay indoors, nice and toasty. I owe you.”
Emiko shakes her head at the man’s easy acceptance. “But first,” she raises her face mask and steps toward him with barely controlled malice wafting across the chilly air, “I will enjoy the spoils of the victor. Do you truly yield?”
Donald goes to his knees and tilts his head to the side, exposing his throat. The Asian leans in and latches on to his exposed pale skin.
I’ve never seen this type of behavior before, but then again, I’ve never been in a fight to the death with another vampire either. Will she stop? I imagine if this were simply another way to die, Donald would be fighting.
Emiko sups at his neck for a minute or so before releasing him. “You are older than you let on.”
“Maybe,” he says while rising. “Maybe I’ve had my share of powerful lovers… or kills.” He winks.
Donald doesn’t wait for her to question his suave answer; he turns and blends seamlessly into the trees, heading back toward the main building. He’s a survivor. I wouldn’t doubt if he was older than he’s been letting on just to discourage her.
“You’ve become my watcher, haven’t you?” she asks while turning to my position within their cleared patch.
A touch of fear zips up my spine and I lock it down. This new sensation is disconcerting and I need to squash any reaction from showing in front of Emiko. It’s a little humbling to be afraid of such a tiny woman. Perhaps what she did to me in the bowling alley is weighing on me more than I’d care to admit. “I’ve been assigned to keep tabs, yes.”
“But not interfere?” She stalks closer, pushing right up into my personal space.
“No.” I glance away to avoid meeting her intense gaze. “Strict orders not to.”
“Hmmph,” she says, while grabbing my chin and forcing me to look her in the eyes.
“Vivian wants to talk to you.” I manage to keep my tone steady, but not by much.
“I bet she does.”
I raise an eyebrow, before remembering I have a facemask on and she can’t see the gesture. I shrug instead.
“Your boss made a lot of enemies in Argentina.” Her voice travels through my skull like an exotic whisper of death. “Do you have any idea why?”
“No.” I wrench my chin from her grasp and take a few steps back. “It’s not my place to question my master.”
Emiko’s snort sounds across the space between us; and the skin along my back prickles with the need to defend my words. Doing so would be stupid, so I keep quiet.
“The corruption within the ranks of those who care for the Tribunal spreads deep. Coraline is only the tip of it.” Emiko saunters up to me, her face uncovered in the cold and seemingly unaffected by it. Her delicate porcelain features look perfect. One would never suspect the strength and skill behind her visage. “I think there were more material gains involved with trying to pin the officials’ deaths on me.”
Vivian mentioned the Tribunal was in financial difficulties. It was the whole reason they accepted the offer to let a criminal loose on the resort. Could the depth of the deceptions be as simple as mere monetary gain?
“Who told you of Ivan’s wife’s whereabouts?” I ask.
My unexpected question surprises her; her face reveals it before she can shut the reaction down. “I received my instructions in writing. I don’t know who gave the direct order.”
“Why do you think you were set up with the Argentine officials?”
Her face darkens and anger cracks her calm appearance. “I think it was for a few reasons, but I can’t prove them while I’m in these.” She holds up her wrists, gesturing to the bracelets laced with liquid silver.
I shake my head and look away. “And you thought after you fed from me and forced a happy ending on me, I’d be willing to take off the only thing keeping you on the property?”
She smiles and tilts her head at me. “You didn’t seem to mind when you grabbed my hips and let all that pent-up aggression out.”
I stare back, refusing to show her any fear. The rogue waggles the wrist cuffs at me and I shake my head once. “It was worth a shot.” She turns and lopes off into the darkness “Tell your master I’ll talk with her. Alone.”
My phone chirps before I can formulate a response. I take a step toward where she stood last and see no trace of her between the trees. Digging in my coat, I pull out the phone and fumble with my gloves to answer it.
“Head back to the main building.” Drew’s voice pours out, low and controlled. “One of the wolves was attacked.”
This ends the free read portion of the novel. If you enjoyed it, please consider visiting an online retailer to purchase the rest of the book. Thank you!