As I lie here, curled around my husband’s firm body, I begin to wonder: Am I crazy? What in the hell made me think organizing a hunt, here at our hotel, would be a good idea? Over a dozen supernatural predators are flying in from all over the world; ones who’ve paid an exorbitant price for the privilege of removing their everyday masks and killing one of their own kind. I must be crazy.
I have a feeling this week is going to turn out to be more than any of us bargained for. Self-doubt plagues me as I rise from the warmth of the bed and stroll, naked, to my closet. The glow of the artificial landscape lighting beams in through the windows. The changing gradient indicates it's probably midday here above the Arctic Circle.
Part of my nervous edge could be associated with learning to trust the new members of our seethe. While the vampires appear upfront and honest—as much as a pack of bloodsuckers can be—my old habits of distrust have served me well over the years.
The two months since November’s tracking and killing of Ivan have been a trial for me, this upcoming hunt week has been a long time in the planning, but I don’t have to like it. Having anyone from the Tribunal of Ancients on our property sucks, especially when I have no idea who they’re sending.
Grabbing the clothes I set out in the wee hours of the morning, I head to the shower in our private suite.
The hot water cascading over me fills my mind with horrible memories of my own first hunt. My seethe wore cloth-lined, silver skullcaps to thwart my unique vamp-to-vamp mind-control abilities. They orchestrated the hunt to rid themselves of their “pet” manipulator. What started for the group as demented undead fun, ended with a young, redheaded vampire surprising them all with her ability to kill ruthlessly and without remorse.
The blood of my seethe-mates once covered my body, as the water does now. Later, I stacked their headless corpses in our old farmhouse before setting the structure on fire. Killing that sick group was the least I could do to avenge the murders of my first and second husbands. Considering all I’d been through under their rule for twenty-six years, I let the bastards off easy. Thankfully, even a semi-mortal vampire can only die once—if it’s done right.
The sound of Rafe stirring in the next room pulls me out of my dark thoughts and tells me he’s getting up as well.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” I call out over the noise of the water. “Get enough rest?”
“You mean after you ravaged me for hours? Oh yeah, I slept pretty damn sound.”
I turn the water off, wring out my long hair, and then leave the shower to reach for a towel. Rafe puts one in my hand before I have a chance to connect with the rack on the wall.
Smiling my thanks, I dry myself quickly. “We’re meeting with everyone in about a half hour. Want me to call the kitchen to send you in something to eat?”
“Isn’t Paul on cooking duty?” Rafe grimaces. “No thanks. I’ve got leftovers in our fridge. I’m good.”
“His cooking will get better. Give him some time. It’s been a hard adjustment since he’s turned and can’t eat solid foods anymore.”
“Yeah, but it’s a painful process waiting for him to re-learn.”
“That’s the easy part,” I snort. “The real challenge since he became a vampire is in helping him control the desire to drain his family whenever he sees them.”
Rafe strips for his own shower, patting me on the bottom as he heads inside the enclosure. “‘With great power comes great responsibility.’”
“Don’t get all philosophical on me. I may not have wanted four new members in our seethe, but I’ll manipulate and train the buggers as best I can.”
The water hisses back on. Steam fills the room once more, as a muted ringing comes from the bedroom, and I head in to answer it.
Asa’s clipped tones greet me on the other end of the line, “Hey, Vivian.” He addresses me, like most everyone at The V V Inn, by my nickname. “I heard water in the pipes. You almost ready for the meeting?”
The ex-military munitions expert, and fledgling vampire, really enjoyed creating the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility underground. Our new command center is set up with video feeds and surveillance of the entire property, all fifteen square miles of it.
“I’ll be ready in ten minutes. Have you checked on the others?” I’m not too thrilled the SCIF is in this wing of the T-shaped hotel—right below our apartment—but I wasn’t willing to give up any guest rooms for it either.
“Drew is down here with me. Paul’s finished his shift in the kitchen and went to change clothes, Joanna’s still in her suite, and Jonathan’s already waiting for us in the conference room.”
Jonathan, our head groundskeeper, is the only werewolf we have on the property as a permanent resident. The thought of his tasty, powerful blood sends a shiver of want through me.
“Have we heard from any of the pilots yet?”
“Affirmative. We’re staggering the landings. Passengers should begin arriving at five this evening. A new batch will land every twenty minutes or so.”
“Have all the dossiers finally come in on the prospective hunters?”
“Cy emailed the last of his findings a few hours ago.”
Cy’s a vampire contact of mine from New York and is married to Asa’s werewolf Aunt Cali. He’s also the person responsible for sending Asa here to help us out this past fall.
“Good. Have the folders ready and call the kitchen for pots of blood coffee and regular coffee to be brought down. Great work, Asa.”
When we hang up, I pull on my undergarments then my clothes for the day: an emerald-green silk pantsuit. To add that little hint of sex appeal our guests have grown accustomed to I forgo a blouse, buttoning up the coat to form a plunging neckline. I pair the ensemble with four-inch spiked heels, putting me a little closer to Rafe’s six-foot-two height.
Speak of the devil; the scrumptious man walks out of the bathroom without even a towel on. The tight muscles of his lower torso all seem to angle in a slight v-pattern, drawing my eyes down to the glorious perfection I worshipped so lovingly last night. Saliva fills my mouth at the memory of the acrobatics my tongue performed on certain parts of my husband’s anatomy.
“Dria? Darling? My eyes are up here, love.”
I break my stare from his nakedness and sure enough, there are his bright blue eyes.
“You look at me like that for too long and my pants will fit me funny when we meet the others.”
I glance longingly at the bed. “I’d much rather skip it all and stay in bed with you today.”
Rafe laughs. “And miss the crazies showing up for this circus? Not on your life.”
By half past four, we’re all gathered around the sleek new conference room down the hall from the command center in the basement. The extensive space spans the entire footprint of the large hotel. We’re under the west wing, which holds not only our apartment, but the hotel kitchen and the small adjacent dining room as well. The human companions, servants and bonded mates who usually vacation with the vampire masters during their stay need to eat somewhere.
“I love that color on you,” Joanna gushes to me from her close proximity in the next chair. “It’s such a gorgeous contrast to your skin and copper-colored hair.”
As my lips thin in frustration, I try to school my outer countenance not to betray my annoyance. During the trap to catch Ivan, I held her mind in my control for hours and the after-effects still sway her conscious and unconscious behaviors.
Easy, darling. Rafe’s mental voice conveys telepathically to me. She’ll get over her blood lust infatuation. Give her time.
I know, but it’s taking much longer than I’d like. Does he think calling me darling right now and telling me to be patient are going to help?
Well, you did possess her for hours, did you not? Rafe adds.
You know damn well I did. Why bring it up again?
Perhaps to get you to see two months is still too soon to expect results.
How come sometimes you’re so smart and sometimes you’re so not?
Humor colors his next response. Uh… ’cause I’m a guy?
“Vivian? Does the green silk match your eyes?” Joanna’s voice pulls me out of the private moment I’m sharing with Rafe—bringing me crashing back to reality.
This time, I’m able to meet her blond beauty and saturnine face with a calm and friendly smile. “I think it might. Thank you for noticing.” I turn my focus to the men surrounding the table, effectively broadcasting with my body language that it’s time to start and Joanna shouldn’t expect more chitchat.
“Good afternoon, everyone. Have you all had a chance to pour yourselves some coffee and look over the contents in your folders?”
I look to Jonathan first; he’s always the one I check with after Rafe. His blue plaid flannel shirt looks like a cousin to the one I saw him in yesterday. Reading the papers in front of him, the stocky werewolf doesn’t notice my glance, so I move around the table.
Drew’s capable brown eyes and amiable features smile over at me. Besides his burning desire this fall to avenge his wife’s murder, I still don’t know much about this quiet, unassuming man. His gaze and raised eyebrows indicate he has a question. I nod for him to continue.
“The one here on Donald has me worried—it looks like Cy dug up a link to his past indicating he may have been involved with a string of gruesome murders in Europe a few decades back.”
“Correct,” Asa interjects, “but if you read on, you’ll see there was no hint of his otherworldliness in the old police files. The Tribunal saw no need to charge him for his crimes once he agreed to stop his public killings.”
I shudder at the thought of the justice the Tribunal of Ancients doled out in the past. If they had eliminated Ivan eight years ago, as promised when I turned him in, we would’ve never had the sadistic son-of-a-bitch sabotaging our property, raping a guest, killing an innocent man, and nearly draining Paul to death.
Rafe nods. “Asa’s right.” Sensing my deep-seated anger, his solid thigh touches mine under the table. “The Tribunal doesn’t always make decisions that protect humanity. They look out for the vampire community—their prime directive is to ensure it stays secret.”
“I knew a vampire they proclaimed rogue about two decades ago,” Joanna adds. “He really went off the deep end one night, and decimated a five-screen movie theater full of people. I was new to the seethe, but all of us came in and helped burn the place down to hide the state of the corpses.” She stares off in the distance, as if the visions from that night have come back alive for her to witness.
“He left while we were covering his tracks and started to indiscriminately attack people he passed in the street,” she continues. “The news reporters had a field day with the wounds on the trail of bodies he left. I understood why they declared him rogue. He had to be stopped.”
I clear my throat to get us back on track. The last thing I want is the next part of the conversation to dwell on the Tribunal enforcer sent to hunt down her seethe-mate. Having filled that role myself centuries ago, talking about it usually opens the door to a barrage of questions I prefer not to answer.
“Well, we may not always agree with the Tribunal,” I say, “but as Joanna’s story points out, sometimes they are necessary. Let’s focus on the fact they are bringing us a convicted rogue to let the guests hunt down for fun.
“Half a million dollars turned out to be the right price for action-starved vampires after all, despite my original trepidation when we’d first discussed this idea after Thanksgiving.”
“What about this Stanislaus dude?” Jon asks, scanning a page from his dossier. “He looks clean as a whistle.”
Asa flips some pages in his folder. “According to the file, he goes by Stan now. Yeah, I remember reading this one. Cy couldn’t find a thing on him.”
“That means you fear him more,” I add. “He hasn’t made a mistake yet.”
A soft touch lands on my left arm, pulling my attention to Joanna, again.
“How can you be so sure, Vivian?”
“All two-hundred-year-old vampires have killed—and killed often. Mark my words. If no record can be found surrounding his name, the only reason is because he’s hidden the deaths extremely well.”
Joanna shifts her attention to Drew, “Would you agree with that, Drew?”
The brown-haired man, appearing to be in his early twenties but has been dead for over one-hundred-and-fifty years, glances in the blond vampire’s direction and a mask slips over his unremarkable features. “I plead the fifth.”
He’s a hard nut to crack, that one. A smile strains at my lips and I allow a trace of it to peek through. “Moving on. Any others stand out?”
Paul, the youngest vampire of the seethe, finally speaks up. “Sanji? This one caught my eye. She’s bringing a lower vampire member of her seethe with her on this trip but states he won’t be part of the hunt. Why?”
“I know her from my travels in India years ago,” I answer. “She’s a good leader in her seethe, but hasn’t had a human mate-bond in decades. I’m betting he’s her current vampire lover and does not share her bloodthirsty pursuits. Look over her extensive file well—Sanji prefers to be subtle in her slaughter, but in three hundred years, she’s left a lot of bodies behind her. She likes to keep more passive vampires with her to help balance her inner rage.”
I let the information sink in then take a look around the table. “Questions on the remaining hunters?”
I’m answered by a shake of heads and Jonathan’s trademark werewolf smirk.
“Okay, let’s discuss the plan of attack.” I motion with a nod toward the muscle-bound, shaven-head vamp. “Asa?”
“Thanks, Viv.” Asa takes out a clipboard from under his dossier and scans it. “Okay, all cameras are in place and operational. Rafe, Drew, and I are familiar with the control boards and equipment. Drew and I will work in shifts to monitor all the hunters continuously and utilize Rafe as a backup, if needed. Paul and Joanna will be out on the property watching as well. Seethe members will be carrying closed-circuit communicators at all times,” he says, waiving one of the tricked out cell phones.
“Jon will be with the werewolf guests.” I add. “How big is the pack that’s coming?”
The rugged, outdoorsy-looking man perks up at my question. “I spoke with my old pack alpha, Romeo, earlier today.” He checks some hand-written notes on the inside of his folder. “He confirmed they have six coming and we’ve also got a lone werewolf from England, Melvyn, on the roster as well. Jet Natsuhara, our one vampire-master who prefers to be in his wolf form when hunting, may team up with the loner. The pack won’t welcome either wolf to join them out in the woods, but they won’t pick a fight either.”
“That’s good to hear,” Rafe says. “You spent a lot of time with Jet when we hunted Ivan. Think he’ll do okay with this unknown wolf?”
“I can’t see why not. The dossier on Melvyn appears sound. Typical wolf who needed to strike out on his own because of differing pack attitudes—or perhaps he had no desire to challenge the current alpha.”
Asa points out a detail Jon misses. “Yeah, well, it says here his old pack leader was his father. No wonder he wouldn’t fight him.”
“The primitive animal way of you dogs always makes my head spin,” Joanna quips to Jon.
A pin could drop, and sound as loud as a gong, in the ensuing pregnant silence. I thought for a fifty-year-old vamp, she’d have developed more grace by now.
“Joanna,” I begin while my blood slowly boils. “I would prefer to be the one to insult my servant, if it’s required. Not have a junior member of my seethe do so.”
She whips around to face me, wearing a stunned and horrified expression.
“Please apologize to him now, before I get ugly,” I say.
With a contrite expression, she looks at the handsome man sitting across from her, “S-s-sorry, Jon. I meant it as a joke.”
She’s a child, love. Let it go. Rafe coos softly in my mind at the edge of my building anger.
You’re the only one I know who’d categorize a being who’s been walking the planet for seventy-three years as a child.
I call ‘em like I see ‘em. She’s a kid to me.
Over thirty when we married, Rafe hasn’t aged since our mate-bond ceremony sixty-five years ago. Most of our seethe seem like kids to him.
“I’ll let it slide this time, blondie,” Jon smiles at Joanna. “But keep the claws in, would you? Not all wolves act with brains first.”
“But,” I can’t help but add, “if you slip up like that in front of one of our Were guests, I will not be happy. Got it?”
Joanna looks down at the table, “Yes.”
“Good. Moving on. Paul, do you have any questions about what is expected of you during the next week?”
“Um… ” The once-plump chef has slimmed down with his new all-liquid diet, he looks like a completely new man since his turning. “I wondered about my cooking duties.”
A groan goes up from Jon’s side of the table.
“Hey—I’m getting better at choosing the right amount for spices,” Paul says. “I’ll be back to my old self in no time.”
“Uh-huh, sure.” Jon’s wry expression pins the two-month-old vampire. “Do me a favor and don’t attempt your Bolognese sauce again until you’re sure you remember the recipe right, ok?”
“Focus, people!” My hand slams onto the table as my words snap out over the small space. “I’ll have you on rotation a few times in the kitchen during the week, Paul, but not like your normal shifts. We need you reporting to Asa and Drew this week and letting them direct where they need you on the property to monitor the hunt, okay?”
Paul’s face seems to clear with a direct assignment. “Yeah, that’s fine.”
“Vivian, will we be using Jerry’s help at all this week?” Asa asks. “The canny old guy earned sniper status back in Vietnam.” The young vampire’s voice takes on a hint of awe as he continues. “I heard from one of the employees, Jerry’s father was part of a special-forces team during World War II known as Castner’s Cutthroats. Have you ever researched those guys?” Asa looks excitedly around the table to see if anyone else shares his passion for history.
Jerry, the salt-n-pepper haired engineer, has worked here since The V V Inn opened back in the early ‘90’s. The cagey old bastard also maintains a supply of silver bullets he casts himself.
I hide rolling my eyes at his enthusiasm, but just barely. If I were to offer any encouragement, he’d tell us everything he’s found out, I’m sure. “Thanks, Asa. I am aware of all the workers’ pasts. Jerry will be stationed at the employee apartments, just like last time. Obviously, at his age, he won’t be on guard the whole time, but he’s organized some excellent big-game hunters from the employee force to rotate shifts. They’ll watch over everyone during the mandatory curfew.”
Drew clears his throat, drawing eyes with the sound. “How are the employees handling the ‘stay at home unless it’s your shift’ regulation? Did you pull a vamp-whammy on them all?”
“Doing so was tedious,” I answer, “but necessary.” Implanting an urge in all one hundred and forty of them to follow the instructions of the curfew took about two weeks, but had to be done. All vampires can mind control humans, but only Rafe’s aware of my master-manipulator abilities with other vampires.
Rafe presents a big, toothy salesman-grin. “There’s a big bonus for them if they listen and a refusal to pay death benefits if they don’t.”
I smile at the ingeniousness of the encouragement. “Clever suggestion you had, hon. Positively wicked.” Pushing my thigh up against his under the table, I give him a loving nudge. “Here’s to hoping it works.”
Manipulating people to do something for their own safety doesn’t twinge my conscience as much as some of the other things I’ve done over my long, undead existence, that’s for damn sure.
“Okay, so far we’ve covered; one—some of the whackos participating.” I raise my hand, starting to count each item off on my fingers. “Two—the major jobs you all will be doing. Three—employee safety.” My last finger comes up, “And the wolves. So that leaves…” I check my notebook lying open on my file folder, aware that all eyes are on me and it’s obvious what we haven’t spoken of yet.
“Ah… yes. The rogue vampire.” A wave of excitement ripples around the table with the mention of the soon-to-be-hunted criminal. “Any news yet from the Tribunal, Asa?”
“Nothing. They’re holding their cards close to their chest with the identity. Do you think they’re going to make us wait until they arrive to find out?”
I snort inelegantly at his last question. “The Tribunal answers to no one. They’ll do as they damn well please, and yes, I have a feeling they plan on surprising us at the last possible moment.”
“Be sure to contact Cy as soon as we get a name,” Rafe instructs Asa. “He’ll be able to do a thorough check without any of the Tribunal members aware of what we’re doing.”
“Why all the subterfuge?” Joanna asks.
Innocent thing, she hasn’t been around long enough to see even close to as much as I have during my nearly six centuries on earth. “Because, darling, you should never trust an ancient vampire, let alone a ruling class of them.”
Before anyone has a chance to fire questions at my daring closing salvo, my cell phone vibrates on my hip. Caller ID indicates it’s Bob, one of the ground crew working the airstrip to maintain its clearance for the arrivals today.
“The first plane landed. We’ve got a group of six on their way up to the main building.”
“Thanks, Bob. Let me know when more arrive.”
And so it begins. The hunters have come.
As the others file out, I lay my hand on the sleeve of Dria’s jacket. Wait, my love. Let them all go ahead.
What’s on your mind?
Joanna worries me. Are you sure her obsession is connected only to the blood lust?
All young vamps want the blood of master vamps to increase their own power. What else could it be?
Has her mind been damaged permanently by your prolonged occupation and control?
No, Dria’s voice comes through loud and firm. Angie suffered worse for a full year before I rescued her from Ivan’s sadistic dual raping of her mind and body. She came out fine.
She did not come out fine, I gently remind her. Best not to anger her before greeting the guests. Your considerable skills repaired her mind and you saved her.
Are you suggesting I go back in and try to fix Joanna more?
I back off from the topic; happy I’ve planted the seed. No liebling, it was just a thought. Give her more time before you take such a risk at exposing yourself.
Reaching out, I pull her forward with a gentle tug on her glorious long hair. My mouth molds to her fuller one and lingers over a kiss. Snaking my tongue between her lips, I graze the sharp peaks of her canines, deliberately urging the involuntary reaction of her predatory nature.
Dria’s hand comes forward, her fingers run through my short hair grasping it to pull me closer and deepen the kiss. In return, she draws an base reaction from me. Blood rushes from every portion of my body to my cock. It never fails to amaze me that no matter how often we make love, she can still call a reaction from me at any time.
I break off the exchange—despite my growing physical discomfort, this is not a good time. “Later. We’ve got work to do.”
The pout underneath her cute button nose is almost comical. “Fine. For now. But you know I’d make them all wait for a chance to break in the new conference room.”
The urge to satisfy the lust in her eyes makes me almost give in. “How about we do so when this week ends and no one is manning the control room, like they are now?”
“Good point. You win.”
As we rise to leave, I reach down to readjust myself before moving on. Goddamn dress pants; they never look good with an erection. Why does she make me wear this shit?
I heard that. And it’s because you look damn good in it.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Lead on, dear. Let’s get this show on the road.”
Dria heads down the hall past a holding room for Paul—designed for a young vampire’s darker moments while learning to control the blood lust—and a few other empty rooms that haven’t been assigned yet. The work Asa and Drew have done down here, and in such a short time, really has been miraculous. The dingy, concrete-block basement with hidden escape tunnels and ladders leading up to guestroom closets now looks like a modern office building—but one with no windows.
I follow Dria’s silk-covered ass, barely registering the many flat screens and keyboards set up in the large command center at the end of the hall.
“Come on, boys. Let’s go greet the new guests,” she calls out, walking by.
Asa and Drew look up from their posts as we pass, exchanging a look.
“Both of us?” Asa asks.
“Yes,” comes Dria’s reply from halfway across the old basement workroom. “You’ll learn a lot more from observing the arrivals than you will from their pretty dossiers. Trust me.”
The four of us head up the stairs leading into our personal suite. I’m not happy with this current entrance to the basement. Expanding the seethe was my idea, but when I first suggested it, I hadn’t bargained on a bunch of vamps coming and going through my personal space at all hours of the day. I’m seriously considering Asa’s expensive idea to cut a hole in the hotel kitchen’s floor and put in a secret spiral staircase.
Dria’s energy feels even and low key. She seems like she’s in a good frame of mind to meet the newcomers. I wonder… You don’t plan on touching these hunters to read them, do you?
Hell no! Not if I can help it. They can keep their freaky ass desires—to maim, rip-apart, kill, and drink the blood of a rogue—all to themselves, thank you very much. Ugh. Why did we do this again?
We pass through the small-scale commercial kitchen of the hotel and cross into the dining room.
To not only earn our new members some huge pocket change, but to hopefully track down which member of the Tribunal wants you dead.
The list of vampires who want me dead is way too long, my dear. I made a lot of enemies during the two-decades I was an enforcer.
I’ve always wondered exactly how much of Dria’s life she’s hidden from me. At times, I see a lot when she rests from the sun—her emotions and thoughts roiling close to the surface. The disturbing images I do see make me wish I could take all of the pain away from her and take it on myself.
Well then, I assure her, rest easy that no matter who you face in the future, you will always have me by your side to help defeat them.
With my own Wolf Killer at my side, I know I’ll be fine.
I stumble but catch myself easily. You haven’t referred to me by that nickname in ages. Any reason to bring up my slaughter of those heartless Nazis now?
The horrible part of my life when I became a crazed man bent on revenge—stalking down the men responsible for my daughter and first wife’s death—seems like a lifetime ago. One thing I love about Dria: She knows all my demons and accepts them fully.
Dria’s voice, sounding cold and detached, comes through my mind, Facing anyone from the Tribunal always makes me think of slaughter.
I think she’s still worried there are parts of her past so horrific, I would be repulsed to learn of them. Nothing could keep me from loving her, no matter what.
Our private conversation comes to an end as we enter the lobby. The entire seethe lounges in deceptively calm poses around the large space. Each one positioned to watch the interchange between Dria and the hunters as they arrive.
This is one time I wish Dria had a telepathic bond open with all of the seethe vampires. It would be a good way for all impressions to be shared instantaneously. But I doubt I could stand more than five minutes of hearing that damn werewolf lust after my wife – and no doubt opening a communal bond would include the furball too.
From outside the main entrance comes a screeching metal-on-wheels sound of the van door sliding open to dispel our new guests. A moment later the front doors burst open, the chill Arctic temperatures flood the area like a tidal wave of frost.
“Good afternoon,” Dria addresses the arrivals. “Thank you for coming to share a unique week with us at The V V Inn. My name is Vivian and I’m one of the owners.”
I notice Dria’s habit to shake hands is omitted. Her stance appears welcoming, but her hands gesture the guests forward rather than to her. The six people shuffle into the vaulted three-story space toward the front desk as the door behind them closes.
A man who reminds me of Ricardo Montalban from the Wrath of Kahn, minus the mullet and clothed in a sleek suit, stands closest to Dria. He extends his hand to her in greeting.
Damn! Jumping forward from my spot next to her, I quickly grasp his hand while Dria pretends to not see his offer.
A flicker of surprise crosses his face as the warmth from my human hand encounters the slight chill of his vampiric one. As we shake, a tingle of power sparks between the two of us.
“Thanks for staying with us. I’m Rafe, Vivian’s mate, and co-owner of the inn.”
“I’m Donald Swanson. I’ve heard a lot about your previous properties and this one as well. I’m looking forward to this trip.”
Nearly two centuries ago, Dria started running vacation properties for the undead. She realized it was a great way to use her power as a master manipulator without exposing herself to her fellow vampires. Manipulators are still captured, hooded in silver, and put to death when discovered to ensure no vampire can ever mind-control another.
“Ah, yes, Mr. Swanson,” I say, deferring to a respectful address of the master vampire hailing from Bath, England. If I remember correctly from the dossier, he’s the one connected to the string of murders spanning five decades. “How was your flight from across the pond?”
“Good, thank you. I must admit I didn’t expect you to have power with such an average mate.” I know he’s referring to the spark when we shook.
Dria’s head whips around while greeting the next guest in line. Hiding her true age from the guests comes second nature to her—but my own shielding skills are lacking. The small amount of blood I drink from her not only keeps me from aging, but infuses me with some of her extensive power as well.
“Yes, well,” I wink into the killer’s eyes with a calmness I can’t completely claim, “I never said she was my first vampire.”
Donald nods his head, accepting my lie over sensing there might be more to my curvy wife, and then proceeds to move past me to check in.
Dria throws me a quick look before turning away, Whew! That one was close. Perhaps you shouldn’t touch some of the guests either, studly, eh? My wife’s shock colors her mental voice, but her outward appearance is calm and refined as she pretends she didn’t hear the entire exchange.
“Rafe, darling. I’d like you to meet Stephen and Stan as well.”
Christ. These two appear to be average guys, until you look into their eyes. There’s no way that mask of crazy stays hidden all the time. I guess they’re letting it all hang out on vacation because the average neighbor must surely be able to see what I see, right?
Nodding my hello to Stephen, I’m surprised the Johnnie Depp look-a-like from Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, didn’t have a thicker dossier. Despite his skinny frame and the fact that I outweigh him by seventy pounds, he scares the shit out of me. Wow, Dria is right. This is going to be one odd week.
Stan, the next vampire, breaks into a good ‘ole boy grin. His relaxed I’m-your-friend expression makes him look safe at first glance. He stands shorter than me, a little stouter, and has a receding hairline. Stan is the one with a squeaky clean, no-info-found dossier. I can see why—the insanity lurks in his eyes, but you could honestly think it’s part of his act.
Nodding hello is my only required action in our greeting, thankfully. I’m not even sure what to say to either of them. Hi, glad you whack-jobs paid half-a-million to visit our hotel to hunt a fellow vampire? This is not a normal setup for us, to say the least. I can only imagine what hell is going to break loose over the next five days. It won’t be anything like the sexcapades we normally get from the vampire guests. Those I can handle fine. Dria runs a great show with her master illusions, mental projections, and subtle manipulation of their minds.
Once they walk past me, I’m able to take in the next two vampires. The woman stands slightly in front of her male companion. Both are Indian and so good-looking, they could have walked off the set of the latest Bollywood flick, which is one area my film knowledge is sadly lacking.
“Pleasure to meet you both,” she says. “I’m Sanji and this is my companion, Vikram. He will not be participating in the hunt, but has come to relax instead.”
At the mention of his name, Vikram steps forward with an offer to shake my hand in greeting. The calm expression of the man triggers an automatic response of manners and before I know it my hand is in his. There’s something about him—he has charisma.
Instead of a spark, his peaceful energy flows up my arm in an almost subtle flare of warmth. I can see why the bloodthirsty Sanji keeps him by her side. When she can no longer control her urges, he could bring her back from the edge of darkness – just like I sometimes do for Dria.
“Welcome, Vikram.” Our hands drop. “The inn was designed as a retreat for relaxation and decadence. I’m sure you will enjoy yourself while Sanji is on the hunt.”
As the pair moves past us, the last hunter by the door shrugs off her floor-length fur coat. She’s a stunning woman, nearly as tall as me. Her dark Brazilian good looks, palm-sized breasts, and round, fuckable ass make me think of an Amazonian porn goddess. I quickly slam my mental guards up into place.
No need for Dria to know what I’m thinking all the time.
Approaching us both, the woman does the absolute worst thing she ever could have done. She ignores Dria and offers her hand to me.
“I’m Bebe.” She pronounces it like Beh-beh. “And I want to know if the redhead shares.”
Dria’s control remains in place and the freaky calm she sometimes gets before she explodes into violence spreads across her face. She grasps the younger vampire’s hand in what looks like quite a firm grip—that is if I’m reading the flare of annoyance over Bebe’s face correctly.
Dria stares into the woman’s irritated eyes. I can tell the moment my wife slips into the exotic beauty’s mind. Bebe’s haughty expression slackens and a timid smile replaces her earlier predatory look.
“Welcome, Bebe,” Dria’s strong voice carries out across the room. “What an amusing thought. I never would have pegged you as one with such an amazing sense of humor. Please check in, the gentleman at the front desk will be going over the house rules for feeding shortly.”
Bebe walks past me, as if she wasn’t about to tear my clothes off and offer to suck me off just a moment ago.
Is it safe to bet you’re going to picture me as that tall, ignorant slut next time I’m on my knees?
Dria’s voice holds no trace of anger; only amusement at what could have been a fatal mistake for the aforementioned ignorant slut.
Now, why would I do that when I have your perfection to gaze upon?
Puh-lease! Amazonian porn goddess? You need to work on your shielding, babe.
I’m going to remain silent and not dig my hole any deeper.
Good for you hon. You do that. But I will tell you one thing to rock your little fantasy world.
Hmm? Do I dare even wonder at what she’s hinting at?
Bebe prefers women. But she does like to pin her male victims down, while in a sixty-nine position, rip their cocks off with her teeth, and then drink them dry from the wound.
I think I’m going to be sick at the image her words paint. My body gives an involuntary shudder.
Dria looks over at what I’m sure is a horrible expression on my face and says, Hope that doesn’t mess up your musings too much, my love.
Ah, the joys of being married to a woman who knows your every thought and can read the desires of everyone she touches. It’s not always conducive to enjoying an active imagination.
Have I told you lately you’re a freak? I can’t resist one last jab. I love you, but damn, sometimes your extra sharing is harsh.
Her mental laughter sounds loud and clear as she gently closes the link between us. The phone vibrates again at her waist, just as the next van pulls up.
Liam and Francesca, guests who were here during the Ivan incident, stroll in. Liam looks stoic as always. He’s like a movie extra from Braveheart, with a similar intensity and Scottish lilt. Francesca could pass for a Raquel Welch double, she’s so beautiful.
“Good to see you both again so soon,” Dria says as her phone clicks shut. She reaches out to give Francesca a hug. “Your help on the last visit was invaluable.”
Liam cracks a small grin. “We had to come back for one of your dungeon rooms upstairs, if nothing else.”
Francesca giggles musically in shared remembrance. “Now hush, Liam. I bet we won’t get a tour like that ever again.”
“I’m sure,” Dria diplomatically interjects, “that you’re here not only for the fun rooms on the third floor but also for the excitement the upcoming hunt promises.”
Jet Natsuhara, who traveled with his mate Matt in the van as well, chooses that moment to introduce hearty back slaps and hand shaking into the mix.
“Not going to mist around the property this time are you, Liam?” asks the tall Asian vampire with a slight grin. “I bet this hunt will be more on the ground.”
“No, not this time. But I did bring my broad-handled axe so I wouldn’t have to use the resort’s inferior sparring-quality choices.”
“I’ll have you know,” I feel inclined to point out, “Asa has remedied the weapons problem. We are now equipped with a plethora of items to choose from.”
“All of the highest quality, I assure you,” adds my smiling wife.
Nods of approval come from the vampires, as the group of four head to the front desk to get their room keys.
Who was on the call you received? I ask, referring to the vibration on her cell a little while ago.
It was Bob. Dria answers while leaning in to give me soft kiss on the mouth. The Tribunal has arrived with the rogue. He’s driving them up.
Ah… goody. We’ll finally find out whom the guests get to hunt.
Heading up to their rooms on the second-floor’s north and east wings, the hunters and their companions leave the gleaming wooden lobby area via the dual winding staircases. We don’t have long to wait for the final batch of undead. Within minutes, the sound of snow-chained tires is distinct on the driveway outside. The moment has arrived for us to see who decided to deliver this criminal all the way from Argentina for two million dollars in the Tribunal’s coffers.
Dria’s face freezes into a mask. She must know one of the minds exiting the van from a previous encounter because as far as I know, she can’t see through walls.
The door opens and a small woman with curly, blond hair walks in.
Venom drips from my wife’s tone as she utters one word.
From my vantage point in the lobby, I have a clear view of Vivian and Rafe. The entrance of the small curly-haired woman in a black leather duster causes the tension level to skyrocket and an angry buzz of power washes over me. Wonder what has Vivian’s panties up her butt?
“Well hello, ‘Alexandria the Great’,” the blonde sneers to Vivian. “You don’t know how happy I was to escort our criminal up here.”
Vivian looks pissed off, but before she can form a response the Tribunal member pushes past her.
“You’ve certainly done a lot to this little frozen corner of hell.”
The psychic energy level increases, and I realize it’s not coming from Vivian, but from the newcomer. Hmmm.... She appears to be leading with a show of strength, which usually indicates an underlying fear when revealed at a first encounter with an enemy.
“Would you mind pulling your power back in, Coraline?” Vivian states more than asks. “If you’re here to represent the Ancients, as one of their trusted Inner Circle, you should try to show a little class.”
Coraline touches a light blue pin on her jacket lapel, while anger colors her expression. She pushes out farther at the verbal slap from Vivian, the agitated energy feels like a nest of bees pulsing against my aura. My stomach starts to turn. God, I hope I don’t puke. The others will razz me about it for weeks.
“What’s the problem, Alexandria, darling? Afraid to have one of your elders embarrass you in front of your brand-new seethe?”
I’m not sure if the woman shields any portion of her strength or not. But, even an un-experienced vampire, like me, could see her power signature isn’t as high as Vivian’s—that is, if they’ve ever had a taste of the innkeeper’s wrath. Boss lady pitched me to my knees one time and almost made me pee myself, a fact I will never admit to, even under torture. Not something I care to repeat anytime soon. Judging from their interaction, Vivian can successfully shield her power even from vamps older than herself.
Shit. I’m going to need to find a garbage can soon. Glancing around I note Joanna looks equally green. What’s up with this crazy Tribunal bitch?
Paul shoots up from his spot on the couch and races to the front desk. He barely makes it to the trashcan in time. The lobby fills with the pitiful sounds of his retching, followed closely by the smell of regurgitated blood.
“Enough!” Vivian’s face betrays her first hint of irritation.
Quick as a wink, the buzz shuts down and the nausea leaves me. Whew. I would have tossed my cookies next.
Coraline’s face registers shock, but I’m not sure over what. Did she not expect us to get sick, or did Vivian somehow make her stop and take the older vampire by surprise?
“You insult yourself and those you represent with your childish display, Coraline. Put our differences behind us for the week, please.” Smoothing her hair behind one ear, Vivian stares the newcomer down.
Any response from the other woman is cut off by the main door opening. Three large male vampires enter with a much smaller figure bracketed between them. I’d like to say I could take the men individually in a fight—and if we’d still been human, I probably could. But I seriously doubt it now. This power and vampire age shit is humbling.
I pat the Smith and Wesson 500 at my side, reassured at least these fuckers can’t out run my silver.
Glancing over to Drew’s post near the pool entrance, I motion to him with a series of subtle hand movements, conveying my intent to move closer to the front of the foyer. He nods in understanding. I don’t like having so many unknown forces near Vivian and Rafe.
I slip in behind the four new arrivals as the doors whisk closed against the frigid air. Rafe looks up, meeting my eyes, but gives no other outward indication to reveal my presence. The bodyguard vamps stand about ten feet from me and they’re facing away. Obviously, the older vampires can hear me; I never intended this to be a covert movement. More in line with letting them know we aren’t slackers and are watching them.
Coraline moves near the foursome. “I’ll refrain from slinging barbs for the moment,” she says casually, “but don’t think this is over, Alexandria.”
The three guards are dressed all in black and wear hooded masks. I know most fellow vampires love drama, but what’s the point of the hood? It’s got to inhibit their vision in a fight.
Long dark hair falls past the shoulders of the slight frame of the silver chained woman the men surround. She can’t weigh much more than a hundred pounds. This is the badass vamp criminal? She’s the size of a child.
I alter my opinion when I gaze upon her delicate, almond-shaped brown eyes and linger on her tiny waist. Maybe more of a curvy, petite eighteen-year-old with classic china doll good looks.
I always did like the exotic Asian beauties.
“Tell me her name, Cora.” Vivian says.
“You always were one for business first, weren’t you? I’m enjoying this little moment. After all, it was a long flight.”
The old blonde must have recovered from her shock because she decides to pace around Vivian and Rafe in a show of arrogance.
“I always wondered what it was that made you such a successful enforcer. You came on board almost a hundred years after me, and they still haven’t had another one like you.”
A small gasp from Joanna across the room sends Cora’s head whipping around.
“Haven’t told them how old you are? Or what you did before you set up shop as a veritable madame for the undead?”
“Does this pretty speech have a point, Cora?” Vivian glances at her wrist in what looks like a show of annoyance or possibly boredom, I can’t tell.
“No, not really. I volunteered to stoop to the level of delivery girl specifically to come up here to torment you. You’ve still got a lot of enemies in the Tribunal, myself included.” She says the last with a grin on her face.
“Pity.” Vivian looks away and then pointedly back at Cora. “They wouldn’t need my money so badly if the Ancients had invested more wisely in the stock market back in the late nineties.”
Cora’s disgust shows clearly on her face. Man, she’s one nasty bitch. Wonder what Vivian did to her in the past. Vivian watches her with a clear sociopathic detachment, which makes me change that thought real quick.
Nope, on closer consideration, I’ve got no desire to know what happened between these two. All I know is I’d rather be on Vivian’s good side than any other place else on Earth.
“Enjoy this hunt you all have planned. I’m sure it will be the last,” Coraline says.
“Can we get on with this please?” Without waiting for an answer, my master turns her attention back to business. “The theater room in the north wing,” Vivian indicates the hall past the front desk with a sweep of her arm, “will be where you can introduce the felon to the hunters, go over her crimes, and state the rules.”
Vivian walks up to the men near the rogue. With one searing look from her intense green eyes they take a small step to the side, giving her access to the prisoner. “Have you eaten lately?”
The smoking-hot Asian vampire shakes her head.
“Paul? You okay?” Vivian asks, turning toward him.
His voice reveals no indication of his earlier puking. “Yup.”
“Good. Whip her up a pot of blood coffee. Heavy on the blood.”
Without a backward glance, Paul heads off in the direction of the kitchen to fulfill the order.
“Drew,” Vivian continues, “lead the enforcers and their charge to the theater. Asa, follow up and stand guard.”
As we head down the hallway, I hear Vivian issue a few more commands.
“Joanna, personally call every hunter and inform them the briefing starts in thirty minutes.”
The sound of Joanna’s steps, rushing to obey, follows us down the hall.
“Coraline,” Vivian’s voice sounds sickly sweet this time. “Could we speak privately, please?”
The doors ahead swing open at Drew’s push and we usher the four inside before I can hear a response from the Tribunal’s representative in the lobby.
Forty-five minutes later, the theater has less than a quarter of its seats filled with our seven vampire hunters. I sent a text to Cy, once the name Emiko was announced by Coraline two minutes ago. Hopefully, he’ll pull up some info on the fugitive soon. The quiet guards continue to stand at attention near the movie screen, but have not removed their hoods. Drew informed me earlier, in a whispered tone, that the hood protects their identity on this mission while they remain active enforcers for the Tribunal. Not being recognized would give them the element of surprise when tracking a rogue sentenced for death.
He made it sound like being chosen as an enforcer was an honor, but I’m not so sure. To be a solider in a war is different from being an assassin on retainer. But maybe that’s just me.
The whacky Tribunal chick looks like she’s finally going to share some more details. I’m happy to see she’s managed to be in the room with Viv for more than five minutes and not started to spout a bunch of hate. I wonder how Vivian managed such a feat from the woman.
“Vivian informs me the werewolves, who will also attend this hunt, have been caught flying in some bad weather but will be landing within the hour. Since the wolves hunt mainly by smell, they have agreed we can do this portion without them.” She paces in front of the small group, clearly loving the attention. “We’ll wait until they’re settled in and ready to go before officially starting the hunt.”
At this point, Coraline elaborately gestures to the Asian woman standing among the hulking men. As if everyone hadn’t already been checking out the felon.
“Behold, your very own chance to be an enforcer and hunt a fellow vampire.”
The small, round-faced vampire lifts her face defiantly to the group.
“Emiko was once an enforcer herself. She served the Tribunal for five years before deciding she would rather expose our kind in a bloodthirsty killing spree—where six drained bodies of Argentine government officials were left virtually on the Tribunal’s doorstep.
“For the trouble she caused with our relations in Buenos Aires and in murdering key humans collaborating with the Tribunal, she has been sentenced to twelve years of starvation while wearing silver chains. Emiko chose this hunt instead.” Cora’s showmanship has come screaming to the surface, she seems to be thriving on the drama in this pretty little speech. “Since maintaining one’s sanity past ten years in silver has never been achieved, I think she made a wise choice.
“If she can elude capture for five days she will gain her freedom and be allowed to pay the Tribunal a high yearly stipend for her release.”
Nods from the master vampires gathered indicate their understanding.
“If you happen to catch Emiko and can kill her before she kills you, she is yours to drain.” At the surge of excitement this brings in the room, Coraline raises her voice in a dramatic flourish. “Beware. She is over two-hundred-and-fifty-years-old and highly skilled as an enforcer. She will not be easy prey and she will be hunting you—even as you hunt her.”
The following silence feels charged. I know from our briefing, Vivian plans to announce some hotel guidelines next.
“Thank you, Coraline. Please send our collective thanks to the Tribunal of Ancients for allowing this hunt to take place. There are a few guidelines I’d like to point out.”
Vivian raises two small silver manacles and affixes one to Emiko’s right wrist. She moves the heavy silver chains confining the woman to do so, but manages it quickly enough with the help of thick gloves protecting her hands. The second one clicks into position and the chains slide back into place.
“These bracelets hold a liquid silver poison and a needle to inject it into your bloodstream,” she says looking Emiko directly in the eyes. “It will not kill, but will incapacitate you if you try and leave the fifteen square mile compound. Allowing any hunter to kill you easily.”
Vivian turns to face the rest of the room. “There will be no killing of my employees, on either side—mistake or otherwise. To do so means the hunt is called off, no money is returned, I send your asses home, and Emiko goes back to Brazil in chains.
“I know you all agreed to this ahead of time, but I want to make sure we’re clear. Are we?”
Vivian takes a moment to meet the eyes of each hunter and Emiko’s as well. Everyone nods.
“Oh yes, we wouldn’t want to set ‘Alexandria the Great’ loose on the guests now, would we?” chimes in Coraline.
Damn, I guess it was too much to hope she’d hold her venom in for long. I first heard the title in a conversation a few months ago. Unfortunately, I couldn’t turn up anything from my private research on what this Alexandria the Great, may have done.
A gasp goes up in the crowd from half the vampire masters. It’s safe to assume the older ones have heard of my master’s exploits in her old role, even if they didn’t know it was her. Wonder if I can discreetly pump some of them for info or whether that’s not a wise move.
Emiko’s reaction is unexpected. She tilts her head at Vivian, examining the older vampire with an expression I can’t decipher. Sometimes, I really hate being the young one and the low man on the totem pole. Like there’s so much the generals are keeping from the enlisted men. I hated it in the military and I hate it now.
One thing I learned from the Army—there’s a time and a place for questions. And if a person wants answers, they need to determine when the best time is to ask those questions.
Rafe comes forward to remove the silver chains from Emiko. Of everyone in the room, he’s the only one immune to the painful effects of the metal.
Coraline holds off from any more parting shots at Vivian and announces, “Emiko will have a head start of three hours. The rest of you should rest, feed, meditate—prepare yourself however you choose. The vampires and the werewolves will all start out at the same time.”
Rafe discreetly hands Emiko a map and a small flashlight with which to read it. It will help her to know where the sensors for the silver poison have been placed. He whispers to her while opening the door, but all of the undead hear him, “Heed the warning about killing the employees or it won’t be the chains you need to fear. It will be Alexandria.”
No reply comes from Emiko as she slips into the darkness.
As the hunters file out of the room, Drew and I trail them down the hall.
“I’m heading to the command center to make sure everything is in place,” I tell him.
“Good. I’m going to check with Jon and see if the wolves have landed yet.”
He heads off through the lobby toward the front doors, and I turn right to enter the dining room. The guests of the hunters are hanging out sipping hot drinks. By the scent, it appears the humans have coffee and the Indian vampire has some blood mixed in spiced hot tea with milk. Ugh, even I wouldn’t drink that.
I use my master key card to swipe the locked door in the kitchen, which allows me access to the owner’s suite. Plastic cases, from Rafe’s most recent movie marathon, litter the coffee table. The basement door lies in the hall beyond their compact kitchen. I head down, trigger the secret door, and pause a moment when I detect another vampire.
Surprisingly, it’s Joanna who awaits me downstairs in the command center. “Hey, Joanna. What do you need?”
Joanna walks behind me and locks the sliding wall-door separating the old cinderblock basement workroom from the hidden complex of basement rooms.
“I have a need and I want you to scratch it.”
Does she mean what I think she means? Is this my lucky day?
Joanna starts to unbutton her blouse. It is my lucky day—hot damn! Before I know it, she’s throwing the shirt across the room to land on a chair and I’m left staring at a gorgeous set of tits in a black bra.
“Um, okay.” Never one to pass up an opportunity, that’s me. “Here or in one of the side rooms?”
“Anywhere is fine.” She starts in on her belt and my eyes are drawn away from her chest. “Wasn’t that info on Vivian odd? Can you believe she was an enforcer before?”
“Hmm.” There, that seems like a safe answer.
“That angry cheerleader-looking bitch from the Tribunal was really old.”
“Hmm?” Blood is hightailing to my crotch in a pounding rush, words seem beyond my scope right now.
“I’ve gotten pretty good at reading the age of older vamps in the past decade. I’d say Coraline’s power signature felt over seven hundred or close to it.”
“Hmm.” Man, she talks too much. When will she be naked? Maybe I can help. Moving closer, I run my hand down her side and around the back. I’ve got my hand on the bra clasp, about to spring her breasts free when she stoops to lower her pants over her hips.
She’s only wearing a tiny black thong and the sight paralyzes me for an instant. Now that I look at her awesome body, it occurs to me I’ve never been with a vampire lover before. I wonder what it will be like? Geez, I need to turn my brain off and focus on getting my dick in her.
“Have you ever had vampire blood before?”
I raise my eyebrows in question. Obviously I’ve had Vivian’s, we all have.
She looks down and away. “No, I mean from a lover?”
She knows I’m under two years old, so I guess it’s a reasonable question. “No.”
Joanna’s gaze returns to mine. “We’re going to have loads of fun then.” Her eyes fill with heat as she reaches for my shirt.
I quickly move to help; pulling it over my head, tossing it in the same direction hers went.
“I’m going to bite you…” she says, “and I’m going to let you bite me… and then I’m going to…”
God, she’s got to stop talking. I think I know what will shut her up. I unzip my pants and heft my erection out for her to see.
“Oh... But first, I’m going to pay some special attention down here…” With that last comment, she sinks to her knees.
Her hot, moist mouth engulfs the head of my cock and I have one last thought before the pleasurable sensations overtake me: Ahh, blessed silence…