Authors: Cynthia Eden
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster.
o this is what death feels like.
Maya Black struggled for breath, struggled to fight the creeping cold that swept through her body.
She hadn't wanted to go out like this. Hadn't wanted to die in some damn dirty, stinking alley.
She'd been born in an alley like this, and she sure as hell hadn't planned to die in one.
“Ummm, you taste so good.” The sick monster above her licked his fangs,
and she noticed that her blood coated his lips. “Poor little cop, I think I've drained you dry.”
Her heart was slowing, the hollow beat barely echoing in her ears. The ground was hard beneath her, the moon shining brightly over her. And hell looked back at her from the creature's eyes.
She knew what he was. She'd seen his kind before. Others thought things like him were just myths, but she knew better. She knew demons were real, knew the devil was real. Evil lurked in the world, she'd known that fact for years.
“Beg me,” the vampire whispered, leaning over her and gazing at her with his soulless black eyes. “Beg me to change you, beg me to let you live.”
To change you.
No, oh, hell, no. She didn't want to become a monster. And she would never,
He slashed his wrist open with the edge of his fangs. Shoved the wound to her mouth.
She turned her head away, trying to spit out the blood. Her hands fumbled in the trash beside her. Where was her weapon? The vampire had jumped her, thrown her against the wall, sank those razor-sharp fangs into her throat, and then had her on the ground in less than a minute.
She'd dropped her gun. Where was it? Whereâ
Her fingers closed over the barrel of her Glock. She pulled, struggling to bring the weapon closer. It felt so heavy in her hand, soâ
He laughed at her. Actually laughed. Then he grabbed the gun. Her fingers swiped out, clenched around the butt. He pushed the barrel dead-center against his chest and whispered, “Do it.”
Without a moment's hesitation, she pulled the trigger.
The bullet shot straight through his chest. He smiled at her.
And her heart stuttered. The beat was slowing,
“You can't kill me, bitch, not with your weak bullets, not withâ”
He broke off, gasping, and he stumbled away from her, raising a hand to his chest. Smoke rose from the wound, a long, thin trail of smoke. The scent of burnt flesh filled the air, combined with the stench of rotten food in the alley.
Maya's lips curled as she stared at him.
“Wh-whatâ” He fell to his knees, holding his chest. “Wh-what d-did y-you do?”
She'd covered her bullets in holy water. She'd been doing that since she joined the force ten years ago. Since her first night, when a vampire had attacked her while she was patrolling the park. She'd barely gotten away from him. Maya had kicked, bit, fought with every ounce of strength she had. In the end, she'd been lucky. She'd managed to keep fighting him until her partner arrived to help her.
But tonight would be different, she knew that. There was no backup for her tonight. She'd been working the case alone. Following a lead.
The vampire lunged for her, grabbed her hair; and jerked her head back. His black eyes were rimmed with red. Tears of blood leaked down his cheeks.
His teeth ripped across her neck, but she didn't scream. Didn't have the strength to scream anymore.
Her finger jerked on the trigger, firing again, again, againâ
But he didn't stop. Didn't stop biting her, drinking from her, killing her.
So this is what death feels like.
Darkness surrounded her. Complete, suffocating darkness.
“What the hell do you think got a hold of her?” A man's voice, shaken.
“Dunno.” A woman, she sounded like she truly didn't give a shit.
Her body was lifted. Pushed. A door slammed.
Two more doors slammed.
An engine started.
“Did you see the blood?” The man's voice again. “That whole freaking alley was covered with her blood.”
“Um.” The woman.
“Had to be an animal, right? I mean, nothing else could have done that to her throat.”
Maya frowned. Her throat didn't hurt anymore. In fact, nothing hurt. But she still felt cold.
And it was so dark.
What had happened to the moonlight?
A crackle of static, then a hard voice blasted, “Second ambulance en route. Got a body three streets overâa shooting victimâ¦”
Shooting victim. The vamp? She hoped she'd killed his ass. Maybe he'd crawled away and died.
But what the hell had happened to her?
She tried to move, tried to lift her hands, but something surrounded her, trapped her.
A growl of frustration and fear rumbled in her throat.
“Did you hear that?” The guy's voice was nearly a shriek.
“No, I didn't hear a damn thing.” But the woman's heart was suddenly beating faster.
How the hell can I hear her heart?
“Let's just hurry up and drop her ass off at the morgue, okay?” Mr. Shrill and Scared. “I swear, I-I think I saw the bag move.”
The morgue. The bag.
Suddenly, Maya knew exactly what was happening. Those idiots had tagged her, had thought she was dead. She'd even thought so, too, for a time. She'd thought for certain she felt the icy touch of death.
But she was still alive. She'd fought, and she was still alive. Stillâ
Her voice emerged as a scream.
The squeal of brakes followed her cry. The vehicle swerved, fishtailed, then screeched to a stop.
Maya squirmed, fighting the darkness that surrounded her. Her nails caught a thick, hard fabric, dug in, ripped, slashed.
A jerk of a zipper. Then light, bright, blinding light spilled onto her. She blinked against the light and against the sudden, sharp stab of pain in her eyes.
Then she saw the man. Young, with sandy blond hair and dark, wire-framed glasses. He was thin, lanky. The woman stood looking just over his shoulder. Her red hair flared around her and her green eyes were so wide they seemed to swallow her face.
“Y-you y-youâ¦” The chick's mouth opened and closed like a fish's. Her pulse beat madly in her throat. The thudding filled Maya's ears, made her mouth water.
She shoved out of the bag,
a damn body bag,
and leapt from the back of the ambulance. She wound up soaring ten feet into the air and then she came back down to the ground with a thud.
The woman screamed. Maya glanced back just in time to see the redhead's eyes roll back into her head as she fainted.
The man's face turned completely white as the color bleached from his skin.
“Wh-what are you?”
As his heartbeat filled her ears, that tempting, wonderful beat, her canines lengthened, burned.
And Maya realized she hadn't survived her attack.
No, she hadn't survived it at allâ¦
Five years laterâ¦
dam Brody kept his eyes on his prey as she moved down the street. Her hair, dark, midnight black, gleamed in the moonlight, skimming just past her shoulders. Her body, slender but strong, moved fluidly as she ran through the night.
He had been watching her for days now. Watching as she prowled the streets at night. Watching as she fed. As she fought. Even as she killed.
There had been whispers about her for years. Tales of the vampire who hunted her own kind.
The vampire who fought demons, shifters, vampsâany damn thing that got in her way.
There was a price on her head. But for five years, no one had been able to collect that bounty.
Because Maya was one tough bitch to stake.
She approached a ramshackle building, a building with boarded windows and red gang tags shining on the exterior walls. Her hand lifted, banged on the door.
A man wrenched open the metal door. He took one look at Maya and stepped back, letting her inside.
Adam caught the scent of blood on the wind.
His body stiffened as understanding dawned. She'd just gone into a feeding room. One of the safe houses for vamps. A place to drink, to fuck, to do whatever the hell the vamps wanted with the humans who were unlucky enough to be inside. Often, the humans stumbled into the feeding room by mistake. They thought they'd just gone into a new bar, a trendy, secret spot. Then the vamps got then. Once the vamps took their blood, it was over for the humans. A vamp could link with his victim. It was so easy to slip into a human's mind after the bite.
The bitten humans never thought about turning on the vamps, or revealing the feeding rooms to the authorities. They were too addicted to the vampire's power, and too under the vamp's control.
Not that revealing a feeding room to the authorities would do much good, anyway. The cops had learned long ago how to hide the supernatural activities from the larger society. And the vampsâ¦they were so good at blending inâhiding in plain sight.
So they took their blood and they fucked, and they didn't care how many humans they hurt.
He'd wondered when Maya would feed again. It had been two days since he'd watched her drink from a man. Two days since she'd pushed a young dumbass up against a wall and locked those red lips of hers onto his neck and shoved those sharp teeth into his throat. Even from fifty yards away, he'd heard the man's cry of ecstasy as Maya fed.
He'd expected Maya to drain the man dry. To slash his throat and leave him dead on the street. But she'd lowered the guy onto the curb, whispered to him, and walked away.
She'd left her prey alive.
Damn odd for a vampire.
Of course, the same night she'd cut the head off a level-five demon who'd made the mistake of jumping her.
He sauntered slowly down the street, keeping his gaze on the feeding room, but listening intently for every sound on the block.
Adam had never thought that he'd willingly offer himself up as food for a fucking parasite, but it looked like this might be the only way he could get close to Maya. And he needed to get close to her, for now.
She kept her prey alive.
So, it looked like he'd have to become her prey.
He reached the black door. Didn't bother glancing at the red splashes of spray paint. He lifted his fist and pounded against the cold metal.
A big, bald, ugly-as-hell guy with a twisted nose and a scar sliding down his left cheek, jerked open the door. “What the 'ell do ye want?” A thick Irish brogue marked his words.
The scent of blood was stronger now. Moans whispered in the air, the faint pounding of drums, the light strum of a guitar. And then a scream.
Irish put one meaty hand on Adam's chest and shoved back. “This ain't yer place, mate.”
Adam glanced down at the hand, thought about breaking it. Just one quick snap. He took a deep breath and glanced back up into Irish's beady green eyes. “I'm here for the woman.”
“No woman 'ere.” His lips curled into a snarl. “Now get your arse out ofâ”
The hand was still on his chest, pressing a bit too hard, and it was really pissing Adam off. So he grabbed the jerk's wrist, twistedâ
not enough to break, not yet
âand shoved Irish back against the door. “The woman you just let inside,” he whispered. “I want her.”
Irish shook his head. “Ye don't want 'er.” He jerked his hand back, clenched his fingers into a fist.
“Oh, but I do.” And he wasn't leaving without her. Adam waited for the guy to attack. Waitedâ
A hard crack of laughter filled the air. “Dumb bastard.” Irish stepped back, motioned him inside. “Yer funeral.”
Adam walked down the long, dark hallway. Small, sputtering candles were on the floor, providing just enough light to see the passage, but shadowing the blood he could smell all around him.
The hall ended in a large room. A band played on a small, wooden stage. A drummer. A woman who sang as she strummed the guitar. Adam could see the blood trailing lightly down their necks. Could tell by the glazed expression in their eyes that they were the slaves of the vamps.
Damn. He fucking hated vampires.
His back teeth clenched as he glanced around the room. Doors led off in every direction. He already knew where all those doors would take him. To hell.
But he needed to find Maya, so he'd have to goâ
“Don't screw with me, Armand!” A woman's voice, hard, ice cold. Maya.
He turned, found her leaning over the bar, her hand wrapped around the bartender's throat.
“I want to know who went after Sean, and I want to know
” He saw her fingernails stretch into claws, and he watched as those claws sank into the man's neck.
“I-I d-don't k-know.” The guy looked like he might faint at any moment. Definitely human. Vamps were always so pale it looked like they might faint. But this guy, he'd looked pretty normal until Maya clawed him.
“Find out!” She threw him against a wall of drinks.
Adam stalked toward her, reached her side just as she spun around, claws up.
She glared at him. “What the hell do you want?” She snarled, and he could see the faint edge of her fangs gleaming behind her plump lips.
It was his first time to get a good look at her face. He'd seen her from a distance before, judged her to be pretty, hadn't bothered to think much beyond that.
He blinked as he stared at her. Damn, the woman looked like some kind of fallen angel.
Her thick black hair framed her perfect, heart-shaped face. Her cheeks were high, glass sharp. Her nose was small, straight. Her eyes were wide and currently the black of a vampire in hunting mode. And her lips, well, she might have the face of an angel, but she had lips made for sin.
Adam felt his cock stir,
for a vampire.
He shuddered in revulsion.
Oh, hell, no. The woman was so not his type.
Her scent surrounded him. Not the rancid, rotting stench of death he'd smelled around others of her kind. But a light, fragrant scent, almost like flowers.
What in the hell? How could sheâ
Maya growled and shoved him away from her, muttering something under her breath about idiots with death wishes.
Then she walked away from him.
For a moment, he just studied her. Maya wasn't exactly his idea of an Ã¼ber-vamp. She was small, too damn small for his taste. The woman was barely five foot seven. Her body was slender, with almost boyish hips. Her legs were encased in an old, faded pair of jeans, and the black T-shirt she wore clung tightly to her frame.
He liked women with more meat on their bones. Liked a woman with curves. A woman with round, lush hips that he could hold while he thrust deep into her.
But, well, he wasn't interested in screwing Maya. Not with her too-thin body. Her too-pale skin. No, he didn't want to screw her.
He just planned to use her.
Adam took two quick strides forward, grabbed her arm, and swung her back toward him.
The eyes that had relaxed to a bright blue shade instantly flashed black. Vamps' eyes always changed to black when they fought or when they fucked.
Sometimes folks made the mistake of confusing vamps with demons, because a demon's eyes, well, they could go black, too. Actually, Adam knew that a demon's eyes were
black, and for the demons, every damn part of their eyes went black. Even the sclera. With the vamps, just the iris changed.
Usually demons were smart enough to hide the true color of their eyes. But the vamps, they didn't seem to give a flying shit who saw the change. If a human happened to see the eye shift, it was generally too late for the poor bastard, anyway, because by then, he was prey.
Gazing into Maya's relentless black eyes, Adam had a true inkling of just how those said poor bastards must have felt.
A growl rumbled in her throat, then she snapped, “Slick, you're screwing with the wrong woman tonight.”
No, she was the right woman. Whether he liked the fact or not.
So he clenched his teeth, swallowed his pride, and in the midst of hell, admitted, “I need your help.”
She snorted. “What the hell do I look like? The freaking Red Cross?” Her gaze held his as she bared her teeth. Her extremely sharp teeth. “I am
a helper. Now get your hand off me before I have to hurt you.”
As if she could.
“Playing with your prey, Maya?” A male voice drawled from the shadows.
Adam's head jerked to the left as a tall, skeletally thin man stepped forward. The guy had bright red hair and a face that looked like it had been smashed by a shovel. His twisted smile showcased his glistening fangs.
“Ah, sweet, is that any way to greet an old friend?”
She moved in a flash, lunging across the room and wrapping her fingers around his throat. “You,” she told him, her voice colder than ice, “are not my friend.”
Rage sparked in his black eyes, but, to Adam's surprise, he didn't try to fight her. “Armandâ¦told meâ¦about Sean.”
She slanted a quick glance back at the bartender and a satisfied smile curved her lips. “Ah, I knew he could get some information for me if he just tried.”
Armand swallowed and lowered his head.
Adam didn't move. The tension in the air was suddenly, dangerously thick. The bar was quiet now. The guitarist had stopped strumming. There were no more whispers, no more moans. It was as if everyone were waiting, watching to see what would happen next.
Because that's exactly what they were all doing.
“Someone attacked my day watcher,” Maya said, never releasing her hold on the vampire. “And let me tell you, Stephan, that really pisses me off.” She drew back her right hand, and Adam saw her razor-sharp claws.
Why didn't the other vampire attack her? Why didn't they all jump her? Adam glanced around the room, confused as hell. Sure, the whispers and rumors held that Maya had woken to the undead world with almost abnormal vampire strength, but, hell, she was only one woman.
She couldn't be
“I-I've heardâ¦talk.” Stephan licked his lips.
“And?” She lifted him up, holding him in the air with one hand.
Adam wasn't particularly impressed.
“Wasn't a vampire. Not one of us.”
“Then who was it?”
It was me
.” A huge guy stood just beyond the stage. Thick claws extended from his fingers, and unless Adam was very much mistaken, the fellow appeared to have horns in the middle of his wild mass of black hair.
“Ah, hell.” Maya dropped the vampire and turned to face her new threat. “What is the deal? First that guyâ” She jerked her thumb toward Adam, “and now you. Has Hugh gone mad-ass crazy and he's letting just any jerk inside who wants to come and play with the vamps?”
no, couldn't be a man
âsmiled. Adam expected to see fangs. And he did. Each tooth the guy hadâand he had a lotâwas a sharpened fang.
He stepped back, not because he was afraid, but because he wanted to watch Maya work. He figured this would be a good test for her.
Unless he missed his guess, he was staring at a level-ten demon. A very old level ten. An ancient. The baddest of his kind.
There were ten levels of demons in the known world. The first three levels, well, they weren't anything to worry about. Sure, they could control a small flame, or make the wind dance. Not exactly earth-shattering.
Fours to eightsâthey were stronger. They could hypnotize humans. Control more of the elements. They were hard to kill. To slay 'em, the head had to generally be severed.
Level nines and level tensâthose guys were the demons that folks really feared. The demons of the sort mentioned in the Bible. Monsters who slaughtered women and children for fun, bathed in blood, had unbelievable strength, and could sometimes live foreverâprovided, of course, that the demon didn't lose his head. The oldest of these demons had tails, horns, claws, and skin that couldn't be pierced with human weapons. Considering that fun fact, the level nines and level tens really didn't have to worry too much about a beheading.
That's why the bastards got to live and kill for so long.
In the supernatural world, they were considered the bad-asses. They feared no one.
Sure as hell not a slip of a vampire, Adam thought.
Maya circled the demon and the other vampires backed away, going
The bleeding humans even seemed to finally sense that things had taken a deadly turn in the feeding bar. They hurried to the corners, shrinking back and gazing around with lost eyes.
“Hugh?” The demon spoke the name slowly, tilting his head to the side. “Oh, would that be the man who
guarding the door?” He held up his hands and Adam could see the blood dripping from the demon's claws. “He didn't want to let me in, so I had to convince him.”