Nox’s feral diamond eyes swept over the street he’d tracked the half blood to once more. From his vantage point, he could see the entire length of the main street of this hell forsaken human city. He sucked in a hiss when the tattoo that ran along his chest, back and neck burned with his queen’s need. The blood bond he’d submitted to made his blood heat with her desires to suck and fuck, calling him to her—tormenting him because he couldn’t leave yet. His cock hardened with her need for sexual gratification, but he had to ignore it. He had been tracking the half blood—this abomination of the species—for too long. He needed to end her parasitic life before he could return to the sithen and his queen.
The cold wind whipped past his still form perched on the edge of the roof as the first snowflakes of the season fell around him. His hunger stabbed at him like a rusty knife in his gut, making his fangs ache and his bloodlust bubble dangerously close to the surface. He hadn’t fed properly in three months now. He’d held out for as long as he could, but a couple of nights ago, his need to feed had won over.
He’d found a Goth bar named The Imp and Impaler. It was tacky as fuck, but there were a lot of Renfields willing to believe that he was only pretending to be a vampire until his fangs pierced their skin. The little mind-fuck after made them forget he had even been there.
The only drawback to feeding on humans was that too much of their blood weakened him, and he had gorged himself when he really shouldn’t have. Their blood was still in his system, dulling his abilities like a strung-out junkie. Out of habit, he touched the throwing knives that criss-crossed his chest, fingering the handle of one of them softly. A soft curse carried on the wind brought his attention back to the street below. Another icy gust blew up into his nostrils and he caught the scent––the scent he had been tracking for so long. It was the scent of the half blood.
* * *
Indi’s boots pounded against the pavement as she walked back towards her apartment after waving Beth off in her father’s Mercedes. Beth had wanted to drive Indi home, but she’d received another check-up call and a hurry-up text message from her mother while in the store. Beth’s mother would start foaming at the mouth if Beth was late, so Indi sent her on her way, reassuring her best friend that she would be okay on her own.
Rounding a corner, a blast of arctic air seized her muscles, forcing her to hug her arms around her torso a little more securely. She cursed, watching the first snow of the season fall softly to the ground around her and melt.
Darkness arced over Indi’s head, stretching its long fingers over her face as she passed under the huge rail bridge that marked the entrance to Hell. The welcome mat of used syringes and broken liquor bottles littered the gutters, adding to the overall feeling of revulsion that prickled over Indi’s skin every time she went home.
Walking farther and farther down the dark streets, whispers of drug deals and sexual favors were exchanged in the shadows between the buildings. The already dark shadows that lurked at the mouths of the alleyways shifted as she walked by, retreating deeper into the black maws that spawned sex and drug overdoses.
Indi’s fighting instincts kicked up a notch when she heard a popping noise coming from down one of the backstreets. Glancing around the corner of the alleyway, she saw the lick of flame from a barrel fire about half way down the length of the narrow space; four vagrants were huddled around the warmth from the fire. She walked past them without any of them noticing.
But her steps faltered when a familiar sensation suddenly crept up on her, flushing her skin with goose bumps. She was being watched, and it was the same person who had been watching her since she moved into Hell. She ground her teeth together, agitated that she hadn’t figured out who it was and why they were going all Neighborhood Watch on her. She spun around, searching the darkness through slitted eyes. A shadow shifted nervously about twenty feet away from her. Her back straightened, sending a lick of fear up her spine and dumping adrenaline into her veins.
Without taking her eyes off the threat, she reached down for her knife, unclipping the metal snap and pulling on the handle. Holding the knife in front of her, she moved with stealthy grace towards the shivering shadow that had just slipped back into the darkness. Closing in soundlessly, quiet murmurs trickled out from the inky alleyway. She skirted a little closer to the entrance, peering around the corner to see a hooker with a john exchanging cash.
“What do you want?” the whore asked, blowing out a pink bubble from the gum in her mouth as she stuffed the green down into her bra.
Looking at the prostitute’s chest, the john licked his lips and said, “A rim job.” The whore nodded and began unbuttoning his pants. He moaned and that was just about as much as Indi was willing to see. Turning on her heel, she took two quick steps, but stopped to tuck the blade back into the sheath at her ankle. It was only when she stood up again that a familiar pain skewered her entire body.
“Not again,” she groaned, dropping to the ground. She didn’t know why, but she’d recently started having episodes where she blacked out for a few minutes at a time. Right on cue, the edges of her vision grew dim and fuzzy. Shooting pain ricocheted around her body until she was reduced to a mess on the sidewalk, curled up in the fetal position. Every inch of her body was on fire like she’d had acid poured directly into her bloodstream.
For two long minutes she barely held onto consciousness as the agony traveled up and over her head in a searing wave, her whole body aching with the torment. Another minute passed before the pounding began to recede. Every muscle and bone in her body throbbed, rendering her immobile. She swallowed down convulsively on the vomit that was threatening to come up her throat, hating what was coming next. Her eyelids grew heavy, drawing down over her eyes against her will until finally darkness swallowed her vision...
With a gasp, Indi came around. Her heart was tachy as she blinked the last of the darkness away. Her teeth were chattering violently. While she’d been out, winter’s bitterly cold fingers had wrapped around her, seeking out her exposed skin to steal her warmth. Her hearing was fuzzy, like her ears had been packed with cotton wool. Her body was reacting to a threat she was yet to realize was there, her heart hammering against her ribs as the sound of pounding footsteps registered through the black haze of her subconscious.
“Fuck,” she muttered. This was the last thing she needed, being laid out like some goddamn sacrificial offering. Her body was aching to the point where tears had started creeping from the corners of her eyes, debilitating her and leaving her armed yet defenseless.
“Hey, are you all right?” a deep voice asked above her head. The hairs on her neck stood on end. She strained to see the man’s face, his features in shadows until a car sped by hastily—its headlights swinging onto his face like a strobe light. He was an ordinary looking man with a shock of oily-black hair and a pair of dark brown eyes. He could have been anyone, but anyone walking around the streets of Hell after dark was not the kind of person you wanted to meet.
Indi’s mind automatically skittered back to the news report she’d seen earlier that night. Could she be staring into the face of the Buxton rapist? It was possible. The most successful predators didn’t even look like they wanted to eat you alive until their jaws were around your jugular. She swallowed. Hard. She wanted to move, but her body protested painfully. As he crouched beside her, the heat from his body pushed against her skin.
“I’m fine. Just don’t touch me,” she said, trying to keep her voice even. She didn’t know how much longer the pain was going to go on for. She just hoped that it wouldn’t end up getting her killed. While she waited, she looked over the threat, taking stock of his potential weaknesses. He was probably a good five inches taller than her, built like Rhett through the shoulders, but much more solid around the midsection. She couldn’t see a weapon, but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t one. Underestimating your enemy was a sure way to get killed. She was just hoping that he was underestimating her.
Without warning, the aching roll of pain stopped as suddenly as it started and Indi got to her feet unsteadily, palming her knife in the process, and concealing it behind her thigh.
She was swaying where she stood, only staying upright when he took her by the elbow. She shrugged out of his grip with a snarl on her lips.
“Don’t touch me,” she spat.
“I’m sorry,” he said, holding his hands up in front of him to show that he was unarmed. “Where are you hurt?” His brown eyes gave her a quick once over, setting her on the corner of Edgy and Pissed Off Street.
“I’m fine,” she replied through gritted teeth. He stared back at her for a moment before looking around, checking to see if anyone else was about. Fear crawled up over Indi’s skin like a thousand insects.
“I’m Sam,” he said, stretching his hand out to her. She stared at it until he took it back. “I’m not going to hurt you. I just wanted to see if you were okay,” he added quickly.
“Pretty words,” she muttered. But she’d heard them all before and she wasn’t prepared to stand there and put them to the test. “I have to go,” she said, shoving the excuse at him and walking off.
Indi moved away from him as quickly as she could without making it look like she wanted to bolt. If he was the rapist, he would give chase; the faster the prey ran, the more excited the predator got. With conscious effort, she walked at a pace that wouldn’t be considered running and border-line represented walking.
Indi had had brushes with danger in her life. In fact, her entire life was one big brush with danger. But the rapist doing the rounds of Hell was by far the scariest one she’d ever had to encounter. The men that had come before him were known to her. She knew how their eyelids would droop when sex was on their minds. She knew how they would gently touch her, trying to make her pliant to their needs in a time before she knew what they were really doing to her. The amount of times she had heard the phrase “I’m not going to hurt you” were infinite. But the rapist, he was something different. He was nameless, faceless and scary as hell.
After a city block, Indi started getting that itch-between-your-shoulder-blades feeling again. Faking having to tie the lace on her boot, she slowly sank down to her haunches and put her back to the wall of the closest building to cast a covert glance behind her. There was nobody there, but the feeling of being eyeballed wasn’t going away. After waiting a few more unnecessary minutes, she growled and stood up again. With cold air sawing in and out of her lungs, she gave up on waiting. The fucker could come to her if he wanted a piece of her. Turning, she stalked away, her senses on high alert.
The rhythm of her steps pounded in time with the thump of her pulse. The sound was so rhythmic that she hardly realized when it changed. It was a subtle change—nothing you would notice unless you were really listening for it, but it was there all the same. This new beat was heavier than hers—a male’s thumping gait. Her head snapped around before starting into an unsteady jog.
The trailing footsteps became heavier and faster as she ran. Even though the cold wind whipped past her face, a fine sheen of sweat broke out on her brow as the cold air rippled through her lungs with a near-lethal sting. She forced the cough that was aching to break free from her throat down, not wanting to give the sonofabitch following a better indication of where she was.
As she rounded the final corner to her apartment block, her steps faltered and she stood frozen on the spot. There was a dark figure huddling against the front of her building, one heavy foot resting on the brickwork at a ninety-degree angle, the hands fisted tightly under crossed arms. And it only took her half a second to realize who had come to pay her a visit...