Table of Contents
For my mother.
Because you read it first when it was suckiest,
and told me you loved it anyway.
I love you always.
t starts with heat. A sting. The bite. The fleeting, fragile moment when fangs break skin.
It’s cruel, really, that heat is what I feel first. Like a reminder. This is the last warmth I’ll ever feel. From the moment the venom seeps into my body until I’m sent willingly, mercifully to my death, I will never feel warm again.
Because immediately after the heat, the coldness begins. It spreads from the puncture wounds in my throat deep into my chest like a rushing river. I can feel it pumping through my veins, spreading throughout my body until I’m burning with cold. Poison incapacitates me completely as the eager, pallid faces of the dead loom above. I am unable to move as fangs slide easily from my throat and my head cracks hard on the stone floor. A delicate bloody wrist appears in my vision, coming closer to my mouth. I want to get away, want to close my mouth.
But my body won’t respond. All I can hear is my own blood rushing furiously in my ears and somewhere, as though from very far away, the desperate cries of my boyfriend as he struggles to save me.
ucas, I’m dying.”
He approached me on silent feet, head bent to inspect my wound.
“You’re such a baby,” he said and turned away.
“Seriously,” I croaked, clutching my toe. “It’s going to fall off.”
“Shh,” he hissed. “How are we supposed to get the jump on a vampire with you whining constantly?”
I let my throbbing foot drop, carefully avoiding the stray log I’d kicked. “I’m just nervous.”
“If you were going to wimp out, you shouldn’t have come.” He glanced over at me. “Do I need to take you back?”
“No!” I was nervous, but I still wanted to help. After all, how many times does one get to go vampire hunting with a werewolf and live to talk about it?
Well, I hoped I lived to talk about it, anyway.
“Good,” he grunted and beckoned me further down the side of the barn. “Because I don’t know how much use this will be without you.”
I couldn’t help but smile at that. The fact that a three-hundred-year-old werewolf needed
help was pretty cool. Add in that Lucas had actually let me come on this trip, well, it was just short of a miracle. This wasn’t some scenic joyride through vampire territory. No, this mission into a dead vampire’s lair was occurring for one purpose and one purpose only: to prove to the pack that there was, in fact, a vampire uprising.
Three weeks ago, Vincent had all but told me it was going to happen in the near future, and maybe it was naïve of me, but I took him at his word. The pack, however, was not so certain. In fact, they dismissed the very idea that the vampires would want to rise up, claiming that they’d never have the guts to challenge the wolf packs.
Even in the face of the continued murders of young girls across Colorado they refused to believe.
Which basically meant Lucas and I had one day to convince them otherwise. Tomorrow evening, he was almost surely going into the silver room as punishment for disobeying Rolf on the last full moon, and our shot at convincing the pack to take action before it was too late would be over.
But I preferred not to think about that. I had to concentrate on the current mission—that way I wouldn’t stub my toe on any more logs. Or, you know ... get eaten.
“Do you smell anything?” I whispered.
“Oh, yeah. This place reeks of the dead,” Lucas said. “But it’s mostly Vincent’s scent.”
“So you don’t think there are any more around?”
“We’ll find out in a few minutes.”
I gulped. The sun was slipping below the horizon at a disconcertingly brisk pace, taking our safety along with it. I shuddered, leaning heavily against the wall of the barn.
Who ever thought I’d be here again?
The only surefire way to prove the uprising was a reality was to hear it straight from a vampire of the Denver brood. Which, of course, meant that we needed to
Luckily, we already knew of one. Vincent’s.
It was a long shot to think there’d be any more vampires sleeping here, since the werewolves raided the place, but it was our only lead. We had to at least try.
“Okay,” Lucas said, eyeing the darkening sky. “You remember the plan, right?”
I nodded, throat tight.
“And no matter what happens, you promised to stick to that plan.” He rounded on me. “Right?”
Another shaky nod from me.
He began shedding his clothes. “And if something goes wrong, you get to the car as fast as you can and leave. Don’t stop till you get to Gould.”
He kicked his shoes off and unbuckled his belt. “You have the stake I gave you?”
I held it up in a white-knuckled fist. It was double-ended with a silver tip on one side and a wooden one on the other.
“Good. Don’t be afraid to use it.”
“But you said I won’t have to, right? If everything goes as planned.”
“That’s the idea.” Nude now, he turned away to face the rear entrance of the barn, crouching low. “No more noise now. Try not to let the wind catch you. We don’t want your scent to tip them off.”
Okay. Be quiet. Avoid wind. Use stake. Got it.
“Be careful,” I said, unable to stop myself.
He rose and turned, taking my cheek as he kissed me softly. He pulled away with a devious smile. “You ready to kick some vampire ass?”
I released a reluctant laugh.
His hand closed over mine, squeezing my hold tighter on the stake. Then he turned and began to tremor. My heart went haywire, and I was unable to keep myself from backing up. This was the part of the plan I was most nervous about. My power was still so unpredictable. What if I couldn’t forge a connection?
I didn’t want him to do this, but if we were going to catch a vampire, we couldn’t take any chances. Lucas had to change. And I had to connect to him.
Just please let this work. . . .
In an instant, Lucas exploded and then re-formed into a hulking black wolf. He’d been facing away from me when he changed, but he immediately rounded on me, hackles raised. I had about three seconds to link our minds.
Silver eyes burned into mine, both fierce and terrified at the same time. I inhaled deeply, trying to calm down so I could do this. His deep, gravelly snarl only ratcheted my heart rate up further. I could see his back tensing up, his lips curling more tightly around his gums. Any second now, he would pounce and this would all be over. My hand sweated around the silver stake I was supposed to use against him.
No. I can do this.
I channeled my gift, feeling that familiar zap of electricity ripple though my chest and filter through every limb until I was a live wire. When I focused on Lucas’s eyes again, that was it—
. We were one.
His emotions attacked me in a conflicting mess of canine instincts and werewolf protectiveness. He’d told me that werewolves were meant to protect humans from harm, but his wolf instincts told him that humans were potentially dangerous. He wanted to protect me, but was afraid at the same time.
, I said in my mind, sending him soothing emotions.
I’m here to help you.
This was part of the plan, too: reminding Lucas’s doggie mind of what we were here to do. As a wolf, his instincts took precedent over higher thinking, and although he’d remember vaguely what we were supposed to be doing, he’d need my help to make sure he did everything the way we’d planned.
Gradually, I felt Lucas begin to trust me, felt the fear ebb and his determination to keep me from harm increase.
Good. That’s it.
Lucas’s body was almost completely smudged out in the darkness, which meant it was time to get him into the barn to investigate.
Okay, you remember the plan?
I didn’t get a clear answer as much as a feeling. He remembered.
Don’t kill all of them, if any are in there. We need one to question. And once I’m done asking questions, remember we need to get it into the car, okay? So just do what I say.
I grinned. This was going rather well.
He let out a low growl, and I could feel that he wanted me to stay put.
Okay. Be careful.
He sniffed at me and slunk around the edge of the barn, creeping silently into the fathomless darkness within. It was several minutes before I heard anything, and my stomach was cramping so hard with nerves I felt like I was going to puke. The only thing keeping me together was that I still had Lucas’s connection, and could feel that he was alive.