Authors: Mary Hughes
Tags: #vampire;erotic;paranormal romance;undead;urban fantasy;steamy;sensual;vampire romance;action;sizzling;Meiers Corners;Mary Hughes;Biting Love;romantic comedy;funny;humor;Chicago;medical;doctor;adult
I swallowed, hard. Fifty thousand dollars would be a huge step toward locking in those townhouses. For me, for Lizelle, for all the abused I’d help, I wanted desperately to take that check.
He tore it from the pad and held it out to me.
But what was the
price? I didn’t think Marrone was offering a gift. And, though fifty thousand sounded like a lot of money and the answer to all my woes, there were always hidden costs in buying a building, unplanned expenses—and planned expenses that I’d put in my spreadsheet but tended to forget in the rush to get the down payment, things like window tax and swamp insurance…or at least property taxes and homeowner’s insurance. Even after I bought the townhouses, getting this shelter off the ground would take more money. Food, clothes, even little things like letterhead and a website—the list went on.
But if not Marrone’s money, what? Because if Julian Emerson was against me, I was in trouble. He was Meiers Corners’ top attorney—actually the city’s only full-time attorney since Denny Crane had retired and Bart Bleistift had moved, but the point was, Julian was smart and savvy. I’d need every advantage I could beg, buy or steal to hold on to the properties if he’d decided to move in on them.
Marrone smiled at me, eye teeth a bit long. He thought he had me.
I stiffened. If I had to, I’d beg, buy or steal. Anything beat “borrowing” money from him.
“No thanks. I have an accepted offer on the properties, and I put earnest money in. I’m not surrendering to Julian Emerson so easily. If he wants a fight, I’ll give him one.” I whipped around and charged out the door, my destination Julian’s townhouse.
Julian’s townhouses were under attack. Luke didn’t wait for the others to respond. He blew into vampire mist, the fastest form of travel, and shot up the stairs like a jet stream. It was impossible to hold the state for more than a second or two, but that was enough to take him to the front line.
In the foyer, six humans piled against a vampire protector’s worst nightmare—an open front door.
Rogue arms and legs stuck through the crack…the
Humans, huddled together, helpless…
These humans weren’t huddling, but against a horde of vampires, they were as good as helpless.
Another leg poked through. The vamps were winning.
Colorful shreds of paper fluttered in the air stirred by the struggle. Now he wished Nixie Emerson really had used those titanium cables for her streamers.
Luke’s instinct urged him to pluck up all the humans and hustle them to shelter, then return to fight. But he knew Emerson did things differently, and this was his household. Though it grated on Luke’s nerves, he pulled two women away from the door and barked at one, “You. Sound the alarm.”
Hell. Why haven’t the automatic alarms already gone off?
To the other woman he said, “Round up the children and residents. Get them to the vampire-safe rooms.”
As the women scurried off, Luke pulled another human away from the door, a man. It took some effort—the guy was big, with massive shoulders, and strong for a human. “You. Get weapons.”
The man didn’t come easily, and when he did, he spun on Luke with a snarl, a fire in his brown eyes. “My
Luke understood the man’s fury but didn’t have time for it. “Weapons, Owun. Now.”
To the man’s credit, he snapped out a “Yes, sir”, and if the response was surly, Luke couldn’t fault the speed with which the human dashed out of the foyer.
But the men and woman remaining at the door weren’t strong enough to hold. The door burst open. A dozen vampires flooded in, fangs dripping with hunger for violence.
Luke grinned, eager to give them what they wanted.
With an arm he shunted the humans out of harm’s way and met the vampires head-on. He caught the first rogue’s shaved skull and spiked it like a volleyball into the wall. Bone slammed into plaster-covered concrete. Baldy went down in a storm of paint flakes.
Luke grabbed a second vamp and threw him into the surging pack. Rogues fell like bowling pins, buying him time to deal with Baldy when he got back up.
Even as Luke folded a third rogue in two with a kick, his brain gnawed at that. That weak? Baldy must be a youngling. The rest too, or they’d have misted inside and not bothered with the door.
Where the fuck are Logan’s systems?
Long before the rogues hit the door, the perimeter of specialized equipment should have gone off like a citywide fire.
How had these youngsters beaten his genius brother’s best safeguards?
A rogue tried to dart past Luke. He flashed up an arm, clothes-lining the vampire out.
The alarm started whooping, finally. Why didn’t matter. Fight now, investigate later.
More rogues boiled in. A pair grabbed Luke’s arms. Instead of breaking free, he used their grip, torqueing against them to raise his hips and legs in a double kick to two incoming vamps’ faces. He continued the arc, twisted loose and windmilled a couple of backfists to the skulls of the vamps who’d held him. They staggered, blood running from their ears. Luke whirled hammerfists to their crowns. They went down without a sound.
But the rogues kept coming through the door.
Luke slashed a glance back into the foyer, hoping for reinforcements or that at least the humans had gotten away safely.
Instead, two humans hunkered on the foyer floor, tending the third, who’d collapsed.
Memory swamped Luke, humans cowering in a corner, easy prey for the bloody vampire…
“Damn.” Acid hit Luke’s stomach. Where were the other males? Julian and Thor, hell, even Logan was older than him. They should have misted in by now.
He’d decided to risk closing his eyes to access his vampire blood-sense for his brother when a rogue darted past him, reaching for the woman.
Luke snared the rogue’s shirt with one hand, with the other drawing one of his silver-lined switchblades from its hidden inner pants sheath, knife handle at beltline for easy access. A flick and chop and the rogue was more worried about his spurting neck than the woman. A second and third chop severed skin and meat. The knife wasn’t as efficient as a sword or axe but a fourth chop broke vertebrae and a fifth finally took the vampire’s head off.
While he was hacking like a bad horror film, a half-dozen more rogues streamed in. Worse, Baldy and company were finally rousing. Chopping heads and hearts would keep them from rejoining the fight, but that would take time Luke didn’t have.
So knock ’em all down fast and do a more thorough accounting later.
He winged back both arms and lunged, stabbing and punching into the surging pack.
But even as Luke took out two more rogues, another half-dozen burrowed through, and Baldy, already inside the foyer, staggered to his feet.
In moments the foyer would be overrun—and the humans in the corner would be sitting ducks.
Luke’s blood iced.
Just like Adelaide…
He fell back to guard the humans. “Get that man out of here.” The humans didn’t respond fast enough so he punched his voice with compulsion. “
Get to safety!
They helped the man to stand and started hobbling away. Luke knew he wouldn’t last long, but if he could keep the vampires from the humans until they could escape…
The thud of running feet came from behind.
Luke’s muscles tensed like a cranked violin string. Who the
was that? Owun, armed and running to the rescue?
Or more rogues, breaking in through the back door?
Memory knifed Luke—his first household, with Logan. Their humans huddled, helpless, a horrific vampire plucking his victim from them like ripe fruit. Luke’s
Her blonde head limp, her thin body lying helpless in the vampire’s grip. Bloody mouth opening, fangs descending…
Luke would die first.
With the mass of rogues surrounding him, he probably would.
So be it. A fight to the final death.
Determined to take as many rogues with him into the afterlife as he could, Luke jabbed his fangs into the plump of his lip, releasing a burst of salty blood into his mouth. Rage rose hot in his veins and coiled fury into his muscles, ready to erupt into deadly violence. He shouted the warrior’s cry. “Protect!”
“Protect!” A baritone cry joined his.
Julian Emerson burst around the corner carrying his mate, running rather than misting to stay with her.
Luke drew a lungful of relief. He might die, but not tonight, not with the millennium-old male at his side.
The master vampire settled his wife on her feet. She grabbed his belt as he swung open a silver-edged switchblade and waded into the foyer slashing necks, decapitating vampires with three fierce strokes, a vicious waltz of one-two-three, hack-hack-hack, heads dropping like autumn apples. His punk mate, tethered by the hand on his belt, trotted in his wake, kicking aside heads as fast as he separated them from bodies.
Seemingly gruesome, but that was a smart move. Heads that fell near their bodies would quickly rejoin, and the vamps continue to fight. This way the rogues would be out of the action longer.
Thor misted in at that moment. “Logan’s with the humans in one of the electrified saferooms, and your lieutenant Nikos is gathering up strays. They’re safe.”
Except for the three still in the foyer.
But Julian and Thor’s attention were on the rogues.
“Excellent.” Julian took off a rogue’s head with a particularly ferocious three-slash.
Luke turned forward and grinned at the rogue before him, a big barrel of a male with a porn-star mustache. “The tide has turned. Now we mop you up.”
“Tough talk.” Voice jarringly high, the hulk sneered through his mustache. “Three of you,
He stabbed at Luke with a pigsticker of a stiletto. Luke dodged easily.
“You’re kidding, right? You’re newbies; we’re all centuries old. We’ll kick your asses—”
Human. Female. Luke’s head swiveled.
The woman had become separated from the men. A vamp had seized her and was dragging her toward the door.
Luke leaped to her rescue. A mass of vampires boiled up in front of him. Rogues grabbed his arms and head. Caught him, slowed him. Knives slashed at him.
The vampire dragging the woman was big, with a nose like a boat’s prow. In his hands the blonde woman looked more waif-like as she struggled, kicking impotently. She let out a scream.
The rogue seized her by the neck, choking her off.
Adelaide’s limp head…
Luke saw red. He twisted like a tornado, bodies flying, tearing loose as the vamp disappeared outside, leaving only a stench like hairy, sweaty balls.
With a shout, Luke blew into mist and streamed after.
Only to run into a crackling
The shock collapsed Luke’s mist. He reformed, immobilized from the stun, fiery pain searing his cheek—staring into the ugly mug of the prow-nosed rogue, the vamp’s odor of militantly unwashed testosterone KOing his nostrils.
The rogue grinned and waggled a monster stun gun in Luke’s face.
Youngsters, yes. But they’d come prepared.
As Luke forced himself to stumble into motion, his cheek pain flared—his fucking face was on fire. Actual flames danced over his skin, the zapper having ignited his mist like a grain fire. Awkwardly, still half-paralyzed, he managed to slap a hand to his cheek and snuffed out the flames.
Prow-nose’s gaze flicked to Luke’s left, and his grin widened.
At that unnerving Joker rictus, Luke sucked in a horrible breath of premonition.
Move move move…
Bullets ripped through his body from the side, a spray of acid tearing through his flesh. He gasped.
He wrenched himself around barely enough to throw his knife, aiming by instinct. The blade was already slicing into one gunman when he saw there were three. The other two, both big hulks in dark jackets, barely flinched as the knife hit their comrade, reloading with quick precision despite the vamp falling between them, spurting blood from his chest.
Too damned well-trained.
The woman screamed again. Luke twisted front to see the prow-nosed vampire dragging her toward the street. Luke stumbled after.
Suddenly it seemed as if dozens of rogues filled the front yard, grabbing at him. The two gunmen started firing again, riddling his back with fiery pain, bullets striking bone, lodging in his flesh.
Silver kept him from healing, stopped him misting. Hurt like hell. He had throwing stars inside his belt, but when he tried to extract one, something was wrong with his fingers. He had to call on all his training and skill to stumble zig-zags, his heart lub-dubbing erratically around impacted metal, his lungs wheezing as he lurched after the shrieking woman.
Acid drilled Luke’s stomach. These weren’t rogues, not this well-equipped and organized. And Prow-nose and his gunmen in particular were highly skilled and trained. It made him wonder if the youngsters inside were as young as he’d thought, or if they were faking it for some reason. But whose were they? Why here—and why now?
If only Logan and his family were safe at home in their own stronghold…
At the curb, an ominous black van idled, back doors wide open. Ready for a human victim.
Luke reached for his mist…the silver riddling his body collapsed him almost instantly.
In a final, suicidal leap, he vaulted vampires, trying to reach the woman. But without mist, he’d never rescue her in time.
Despair skewered him.
Just like Adelaide.
“Help her!” As he leaped, he shouted, “Emerson, Thorsson—damn it,
get out here.”
” Julian came roaring out of the house, tossing vampires like jumping fleas.
Prow-nose yelled, “Cover!”
Attackers turned away from the house en masse, eyes scrunched shut, and slapped hands over their ears.
Horrific foreboding triggered Luke to clap hands to ears and clench eyelids, just in time.
A brilliant flash of light hit his lids.
Ears ringing, Luke blinked away a pained white wall to see Julian stumbling around like a blind man.
A flash-bang for vamps?
While Luke clawed for his bearings, a raw shout, pumped with rage, came from the building. “Move!”
Dashing tears from his rapidly healing eyes, Luke picked out a blurred vision of the big human he’d sent to get weapons.
Owun rushed from the doorway, screaming and shaking a
. “Get the hell out of my way.” Hunching massive shoulders, he bulled into the mass of vampires. Slashed like a berserker
Only human, yet he plowed through the vampires like a lawn mower.
The woman screamed with rage—and bit the vamp.
and his arms loosened.
That…that makes no sense.
Even a fledgling could easily hold human prey, strong-arming or hypnotizing into cooperation or biting into semi-consciousness. Yet Prow-nose wasn’t using any of the tools in the plentiful bag of a vampire’s predatory tricks.
Instead, he struggled with a resisting woman.
Too new to know better? Or something else going on?
She tore free. The prow-nosed vampire licked his wounded hand and let her run.
Luke struggled toward her.
didn’t matter. Vampires felt everything more acutely. Maybe she’d hit a nerve. Maybe he’d had to let her go. It wasn’t as important as saving her. But again, the mass of vampires swarmed between him and the woman.
Yet the human Owun slashed his way to her side. She flung herself into his arms.
The prow-nosed vampire grinned, raised claws flashing in the street light, and leaped for the humans.
“Owun,” Julian called from the doorway. “Look out!”
Horrified silence descended on the watchers.
Luke’s heart pounded in his ears. His vision narrowed, dark edges creating almost a spotlight on the scene.
Owun released the woman and brought the sword up at the last moment. The woman stepped forward and twisted a leg in Prow-nose’s path.
The vampire stumbled into Owun’s sword, impaling himself in the chest.
Except from where Luke was standing, it looked like Prow-nose had missed the woman’s tripping leg. That he’d actually thrown himself onto Owun’s blade.
Why the hell would he do that?
As the vampire fell, the woman cried, “Owun, my hero.” She collapsed into the man’s arms and wept gratefully.
“Owun!” Julian threw a triumphant fist into the air. “We’re coming to aid you.” He waded into the stunned fledglings and started chopping heads.
” The van’s driver bellowed the order.
Vampires scattered like cockroaches, grabbing fallen pieces of their brethren as they skittered away. Two vampires grabbed Prow-nose and whisked him into the van, already accelerating rapidly from the curb.
Thorsson chased the van. Luke might have followed Thor, but the van’s speed plus the fact he had to get the silver out of his body stopped him.
So instead he went to Owun, the hero of the hour. “Congratulations. That was some rescue. You went through those vamps like butter.”
“Insane, right?” The man cocked a roguish smile at him. “Like they were taking a number to fight me. Stupid, or what?”
“Rogues aren’t the sharpest crayons in the box.” Luke smiled easily. But his thoughts were darker. These had been well-equipped vampires, not garden-variety rogues. More, they’d managed to stop the Meiers Corners males well enough.
But he had no proof this attack was anything more than a random rogue attempt to rustle protected humans. As an outsider to Meiers Corners, he decided he wouldn’t say anything.
He did tuck a cautionary flag into his memory.
“Emerson.” Luke left the waif female in the arms of her rescuer and slogged toward the other Alliance males. Breathing, even the beating of his heart, was more work than it ought to be. “I need your diamagnetic repulsion unit.” Silver wasn’t normally magnetic but the DRU forced it to create a field in opposition.
Julian, talking to his small wife, turned. “Fuck, Steel. You look like Swiss cheese. Mr. Hinz! Get the DRU.”
“While I have your attention—your alarms should have gone off automatically. You need to find out why they didn’t.”
” Julian used what Luke recognized as the blood call, that facility vampires had to summon to their side those whose blood they’d drunk. The older the vampire, the more potent the call.
A moment later a lanky teen appeared with a snarled, “
“Run a diagnostic on the alarms. Get on it.”
The boy glowered sullenly at Julian. “Do this, Reece, do that. How come I get all the scutwork?”
Luke was surprised by the boy’s tiny pair of fangs.
“Because you’re the youngest.
” Julian’s voice was heavy with compulsion. It only gave Luke a twinge of pain, but Reece visibly winced.
“Ow. Yes, master.”
Luke watched him go. “Is that your replacement lieutenant?”
“Not without a helluva lot more training first.” Julian glared after the boy. “Thank goodness our kind actually grows to our ideal age. I’d hate to think of him stuck as a teen forever.”
Luke shook his head. “Exactly why I don’t want a household. Too much work.”
“Work?” The Alliance male turned a shrewd blue gaze on him. “Or responsibility?”
Luke parried the question with one of his own. “What took you so long? I was beginning to think you were taking a vacation.”
“Don’t dis my male,” Nixie said. “What about you? Big protector hero you are, I thought you’d have everything under control.”
“Silver bullets.” Luke felt his mouth tug down. “A lot of them.”
“They were well-armed,” Julian said.
“Silver ammo isn’t cheap.”
“Neither are flashbangs.” Nixie frowned. “Especially not the kind amped up to take out vamps.”
The pair dragged into the anchor townhouse, Luke following. Mr. Hinz handed Julian the DRU. Luke braced himself as the other male held the unit to his body and turned it on.
Embedded silver shuddered…then shot through his flesh, as painful coming out as it was going in. His body felt like a thousand hornets had stung him—from the inside.
As the bullets dropped behind him, a sturdy older woman entered the foyer, took one look at the Emersons, clucked and ran off toward the kitchen.
“Tea?” Thor glided into the foyer behind them.
“Hope so,” Nixie said. “Cookies too, if we’re lucky. I’m going to check on the kids and relieve Logan from gate duty. Julian?”
Julian said, “We must debrief. Do we know who was at the door when the rogues showed up?”
“I was.” Owun, the frail blonde still clinging to him, entered behind them. “She was. Four others.”
“Bring them to the boardroom. We’ll analyze what happened. Our response was inadequate. We must do better when random rogues attack.”
Julian hadn’t worked out that these probably
random rogues. Although his household had been under fire, his mate and child threatened. That would knock any male’s brain off keel.
from bitter experience.
The human gave a single crisp nod that had a military flavor to it, spun and left, the blonde’s adoring gaze following him.
Teenager Reece slunk back. “Did the diags. Nothing’s wrong.”