Authors: Caridad Pineiro
Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Paranormal, #American Light Romantic Fiction, #American Science Fiction And Fantasy, #Fiction - Romance, #General, #Romance - Paranormal, #Short Stories, #Romance - Anthologies, #Romance - Short Stories, #Anthologies (multiple authors), #Anthologies
Michaela had been tracking the vampire since she’d sensed the elder during her scouting mission in Central Park.
He wasn’t the one she sought, but the heightened thrum of his power told her he had just killed. Reason enough to pursue him until she could find the right vampire and dispatch him.
Then and only then could she leave New York City for a kinder, gentler place.
She discovered the elder vamp’s victim just beyond one of the jogging paths. The kill was fresh, the scent of the elder strong on the female runner who had been tossed into the underbrush like garbage. As Michaela bent to examine the jogger’s body in its shredded clothes, she realized the vampire had not just been content to drain the woman of blood. The victim had been sexually assaulted as well and in the most brutal of ways—ripped apart by the vampire sating his lust.
Michaela opened her senses to pick up every last scintilla of the elder’s trail, from the metallic taste of the victim’s blood on his breath to the unique wake of energy the immortal left behind.
She reached the southern end of the park and something ahead of her spooked one of the horses attached to a hansom cab waiting along Central Park South. The animal reared up, hooves flailing.
She darted behind the cab and caught a glimpse of a blurry figure speeding through Grand Army Plaza. As she raced to the fountain in the center of the square, the pulse of undead power beat at her more strongly, signaling that she was getting closer to the ancient vampire.
Another indistinct flash weaving through the pedestrians on Fifth Avenue confirmed the immortal was within her reach.
She focused on that vague shape, keeping a watchful eye and a respectful distance as she chased after him. She could not engage the vampire elder out in the open where either humans or other vampires might see what was happening. To do so might expose her presence in the city and possibly bring down the wrath of the vampire council.
Despite her caution, the elder must have sensed that he was being followed.
He increased his speed, weaving in and out of the humans on the sidewalks, climbing to the rooftop of a building in lower Midtown Manhattan and leaping from one structure to the next before dropping to the ground. The vampire moved at an almost frantic pace, as if he knew the nature of her mission.
Michaela kept up her determined pursuit, patiently waiting for the moment when the time would be right. She dodged pedestrians and vehicles as the vampire attempted to elude her, well aware that she had to act before the immortal reached the safe haven of the Blood Bank.
If he made it there, she would have to pull back and wait for another night. There were too many undead in that place to risk a confrontation within its doors.
Too many, and she was just one against them.
She drove back the crush of loneliness that nearly choked her, reminding herself that there was no other way. Her life held too much death and destruction; it hindered any kind of personal commitments.
The few people she had allowed to get close had run away when they discovered the truth about her existence.
The truth about her.
Or they’d ended up dead.
In Union Square, the vampire geared down to human speed, using that pace to lose himself amongst the many mortals still present in the park. The beat of the humans’ life forces and their scents served to disguise his presence.
Michaela paused at the far edge of the square, examining the walkways, attempting to separate the humans from her undead prey, but she was unable to pin down the immortal. She waited, hopeful that once the elder moved beyond the boundaries of the crowded area, she would be able to pick up his presence once again.
Her wait was futile.
Long minutes passed with no activity that she could discern.
She finally acknowledged that she had been bested by his subterfuge, but that didn’t mean the chase was over.
She knew just where the vampire was likely to go.
If she could beat him there, she still might be able to take him out before he reached the safety of the nightclub.
Hustling at breakneck speed, she arrived at the mouth of the small cobblestoned street that led to the Blood Bank. At the club’s door was the ever-present vampire bouncer and crowd of humans waiting to mingle with both wannabe and real vampires. Not to mention the occasional shape-shifter brave enough to cross into bloodsucker territory.
Michaela had never understood the human fascination with the undead, the near veneration for the amoral creatures who had taken so much from her and others.
Vampires weren’t meant to be idolized, she thought.
They were meant to be exterminated.
As she felt the presence at her back, she realized she had guessed right about the vampire elder.
She had barely half turned to face him when he lashed out at her, nails as sharp as eagle’s talons raking across her jacket. The leather did its job, keeping his nails from tearing into her flesh.
Bending backward, she avoided the deeper thrust of another vicious swipe toward her midsection and then dropped down to sweep the vampire’s feet out from under him.
He landed with a thick thud, while she was immediately back on her feet after a quick jerk and launch of her body, a nice sharp wooden stake in her hand.
“Not what you thought, fang boy?” she taunted as she stood, arms akimbo, above the prone body of the stunned elder.
With a swift move of his own, the vampire surged to his feet, fully transformed. His eyes glowed with a piercing teal-blue light. Long deadly fangs erupted from his mouth and ended at a point below his chin. Such a prodigious length of tooth testified to his longevity. The strength of his elder power jabbed at her senses, threatening just by its very existence.
This vamp would not go quickly, she thought as the elder issued a warning growl and lunged at her again, beginning a dance that could end in only one way….
With one of them dead.
Frustration clawed at his gut as he stared at the picture of the latest victim found torn apart in a downtown alley. As he flipped through the status report on the investigation, a familiar name appeared in the FBI case report.
The Blood Bank.
FBI Assistant Director in Charge Jesus Hernandez expected a fair share of crime in a city like New York, but judging from how often the edgy Goth bar appeared in the reports provided to him, the Blood Bank appeared to be crime central.
He supposed the easy way to find out more about the club would be to ask any of the agents in his bureau what to make of the place. But he hadn’t gotten to be one of the top agents in the New York City Bureau by taking the easy way. On the contrary. He believed in personally getting involved when it was necessary.
As he picked up the file again and examined the photo of the body parts found a couple of blocks from the bar, he raked his hand through his short-cropped hair and blew out a disgusted breath.
He’d read the witness statements. Tales of creepy happenings and Goth clubgoers who might be a little more than they seemed.
Even his top agent—Diana Reyes—seemed to believe in the possibility of an underworld that was less than human.
It was definitely time for a visit to the Blood Bank to get his own impression.
Memorizing the address, he rose from his desk and slipped on his suit jacket. For a moment he considered going by his apartment to change, certain he would look out of place in his expensive suit.
But his apartment would be seriously empty. His last lover had moved out nearly a year earlier, complaining about the time he devoted to his job. Considering that the living room still boasted only the recliner and the plasma television he’d bought after she’d left, she had probably been right.
Plus, as he mentally reviewed the contents of his closet, he knew he had nothing suitable to wear to a Goth bar anyway.
Best just to drive by the place, scope it out and decide what to do next, he told himself. For good measure, he checked to make sure his gun was loaded and tucked snugly into the holster at his side.
The one thing he knew about the Blood Bank: It wasn’t the kind of place you went without protection.
Shit. The small street on which the Blood Bank was located was not wide enough for the passage of a car. His intent to just drive by wouldn’t be possible.
As Jesus rounded the block for the third time, he scoped out a free parking spot a short distance away and then headed on foot toward the club.
He hadn’t gone more than a few feet before the heat and humidity of the August Manhattan night had him sweating beneath the weight of his suit jacket. Since he was armed, removing the jacket wasn’t possible. He was starting to regret that he hadn’t gone by his apartment to at least change into a T-shirt and jeans.
Swiping at a line of perspiration along his brow, he paused at the mouth of one of the older streets in the city. It looked more like an alley, which seemed appropriate for the place he was about to visit.
Ahead of him and about four small blocks down was a line of people at a nondescript building—the Blood Bank, he assumed. The line was relatively long, considering the hour, and it was filled with a decidedly rough-looking crowd clad in black leather and metal. That at least was not very different from what he had expected.
As he proceeded along the cobblestones, bright with the light from a full moon and uneven beneath his shoes, he kept a wary eye on the smaller, narrower side streets and tight gaps between the buildings. It was at the mouth of one of those alleys that the last body had been found.
Or at least, parts of the body.
A grunt, loud and painful sounding, snared his attention. Two turn-of-the-century brick buildings, built so closely together that the moonlight did little to illuminate the area between them, did a good job of hiding whatever activity was going on in the gap.
Another grunt was followed by the din of metal trash cans crashing together.
Definitely a fight and, judging from the sounds of it, someone was getting their ass kicked.
Jesus pulled out his Sig and advanced to the opening of the alley. He took a step within and let his eyes adjust to the lack of light, revealing the two people locked together in combat. One was tall and much bigger than the other, and as they grappled together, the light from a side-door lamp illuminated their features.
The smaller one was a woman, while the other…
Eerily bright blazing eyes shot a glance his way while long white fangs gleamed under the artificial light of the lamp. The creature growled at him, the sound like the rumble of a mountain lion, but then turned back toward the woman.
Jesus blinked, unable to believe what he was seeing, but another glimpse of the creature’s face confirmed what he was—a vampire. Or at least, someone posing as one.
The much smaller woman had her arms braced against the creature’s jacket, trying to keep those wickedly long fangs away from her face, but with the vampire’s greater height and bulk, Jesus feared she might be fighting a losing battle.
he cursed as she continued with the fight, totally ignoring his presence.
The creature spun the woman around and as the light swept over her face, he could tell she was young. Mid-twenties he guessed before she whirled out of sight again, struggling to break away from the demon’s grasp.
With a quick upward jab of her arm, the woman snapped the creature’s head back. It emitted a louder growl, but the woman’s blow did little to slow the demon. It reached behind to grab the woman by the scruff of her neck and whip her against a brick wall. She hit with a thick thud and fell to the ground dazed, prompting Jesus to action.
“FBI. Stop or I’ll shoot,” he called out, training his gun on the demon as it took a step toward her.
The thing actually halted and looked at him. What he guessed passed for a smile erupted on its face, but then a second later the demon reeled back, grabbing at its chest with long taloned fingers.
The woman had buried a wooden stake deep into its chest.
Shock filled the creature’s face, mirroring Jesus’ own surprise as he realized she had just killed someone…
No, make that some
, before his eyes.
Blood leaked from around the edges of the stake, staining the off-white shirt the man-beast wore. It stood, hands flailing, long nails clacking against the stake, disbelief on its face before the look became blank and the creature dropped to the ground.
“One down, too many more to go,” the woman said, her voice deeper than what he would have expected from someone so petite. She nudged the creature’s body with the toe of her black boot and then bent to examine it, as if to make sure she had finished the job.
One down, huh? He turned his gun on her and warned, “FBI. Put your hands up.”
She faced him and just for a moment he thought he saw a hint of fang at her mouth and a glow in her gaze, but then she stepped into the puny shaft of light from the side lamp on the building.
Her face was anything but demon-like.
She stood before him, her hands outstretched at her sides, her totally human face serene and beautiful, reminding him of the pictures of the saints his mother used to have on the wall of their fifth-floor walk-up apartment. Of course, the black leather encasing her slim body was anything but saintlike.
Too beautiful and too young, it occurred to him as she took a step toward him.
“FBI. Stop or I’ll shoot.” He held his gun steady and aimed straight at her head.
A wistful smile played across her face as she stepped toward him tentatively. “This is none of your business. The FBI has no power here.”
“Here? This is New York City, lady, and in case you didn’t notice, I’ve got the gun and the badge.” For good measure, he drew aside the edge of his jacket to reveal the silver and gold badge clipped to his belt.
She surprised him by laughing, a sexy husky sound that pulled at his gut, confusing him. His confusion only increased with her next words.
“This may be New York, but that gun and badge won’t help you against vampires. Especially ones like him.” She motioned to the body on the ground. “Or the ones up the block in the Blood Bank.”
Certifiable, he thought, because now that he had time to think, he knew the demon on the ground had to be a man in costume. Vampires were not real and a stake to the chest would kill most anybody. But then the body on the ground did a funny little twitch and began to shrivel up before his eyes.
Following his gaze, she peered over her shoulder. With a shrug she said, “The older they are the faster they dry up. Harder to kill, though. Age makes them stronger.”
He shook his head and, for the barest of seconds, closed his eyes to refocus, blaming what he had seen on the lack of light. But when he returned his gaze to the body, it was still slowly disappearing, sublimating like dry ice, and the stake remained buried deep in the middle of its chest.
When he looked back at the woman, he realized she had walked right up to him. The barrel of his gun was barely an inch from her face. Her very young and attractive face.
After she finished perusing him, she wrinkled her nose and said, “You don’t strike me as the type to believe in anything that doesn’t go by the book.”
She was right, which frustrated him; despite his better judgment, her power and self-assurance called to him.
As their gazes met, he detected loneliness in her.
The same emotion that lived in him, thanks to the demands of his job.
Fascinated, he said, “So make me believe.”
She smiled and motioned to the entrance of the alley behind him.