THE DEMON

SHADOW PLAY

Prologue

Unsteady fire and candlelight danced through the room, touching the see-through organza curtains that swayed lazily in the night wind, allowing glimpses onto the rounded balcony. The room was pure opulence, a dark-tiled masterpiece—but was shamed by the luscious woman strutting her way through it with light steps. The raven-haired beauty smashed the opulence to bits and redefined it as exquisite. She turned a champagne glass in her hand over and over before taking a sip—never losing her step—as she came up to a floor-length, oval, silver-framed mirror.

Back when her kind had been worshipped as gods, hymns had been written about her beauty, wars waged, and kingdoms toppled—the whispers of her name enough to send men and women to their knees. It was time those glorious days returned.

Throughout the ages, she had seldom needed to make use of her inherent powers. One look from her luminous blue—or impending pitch-black—eyes and people were enthralled, quite often loyal until death.

Still, her gaze followed every inch of her figure-hugging blue organza dress, trying to find imperfections in need of eradication. When she found none, her attention turned to the frame of the mirror, holding countless runes thrumming with power.

 She felt the vibrations tickle the skin of her bare arms and closed her eyes while lifting a finger.

Concentrating on the inner ties she felt to her personal thralls, always present, she searched them. Like a net of copper wires, they spread before her inner eye, each connected firmly to herself. A small smile played around her lips as she felt the connection to her loyal—but failing—pet, who was currently withering away in the dungeon of her castle in Haven, waiting for her to relieve him. The connection to him throbbed with the agony he was reliving, again and again. Pain she’d compelled him to feel. It was well deserved. It was because of his—Armand’s—failure, she had to plan her next steps carefully.

The nightmare pulled back from that particular line, followed the one of her menrasy, and upon spotting her location, opened her eyes again—which had turned to pits of black—and tapped the runes framing the mirror to an unheard rhythm. Like soft waves on a lake, the surface began to tremble, the image of herself moved, her raven hair vanished, as did her black eyes and perfect face. Soon the woman was looking into another room, this one filled with white, gray-veined marble, bathed in sun coming from a window overlooking a beach with azure waves lapping at white sand.

“Rowena,” the nightmare said, her voice pure silk yet powerful and unyielding. She waited for a few seconds, harshly tapping the heel of her velvet boot on the ground. Right before she opened her mouth again, a swirl of blue light appeared in the center of the room and a pale, slender woman stepped from it. Countless silver bracelets jingled on both her arms as she hastened to the mirror—her face a beacon of adoration—and bowed deeply.

“Your highness,” the menrasy uttered. “It is an honor, my lady Esteph.”

“I know,” Lady Esteph replied. “And I’m none too happy with your role in Trinity, my pet.”

Rowena straightened, her lower lip trembling. “Forgive me, my lady. After taking down the shield around Christoph’s manor, I ran into a group of witches led by the new high witch of Trinity. It sapped my strength fighting them, and I had to flee once it was clear our side was losing the battle. I couldn’t risk them catching me.” She swallowed audibly. “They say the reaver has powers beyond those of her kind. Th-they say she can gauge near everything just by looking at you.”

“You are a menrasy—among the most powerful witches to ever walk this earth—get it together. You would have been fine.” She shrugged. “Or you would have died for me.”

Tears shone in the witch’s eyes. “I would gladly take my own life if it pleased you, my lady, but I couldn’t stomach the thought of exposing you. Alric died when he tried to kill the reaver… I-I can’t bear the thought of—” Rowena stared at the floor, her shoulders shaking while rivers of tears streamed down her face.

“Shh, my pet. I understand. Calm yourself.”

The witch looked up and folded her hands over her heart. “Please… punish me as you see fit.”

A nearly undeniable urge struck at those words, making orders of pain and torture roll through Lady Esteph’s head. Her fists clenched for a second as she stopped those thoughts before they reached her tongue. “All in good time. Right now I need you to do a few things for me.”

“Anything. Everything.”

The woman started pacing in front of the mirror while Rowena’s adoring eyes followed her every move. “The reaver seems like a force to be reckoned with, but I’m confident I won’t have a problem dealing with her face-to-face. If I could only get into Trinity.”

“It is impossible for you now, my lady, neither in dream, nor in your physical form.” Rowena’s upper lip curled into a snarl. “That bitch Amber created a shield unlike anything I have ever seen. It’s impenetrable, even for me. The magic she used…” The witch shook her head. “It is nothing known; it’s like she made up her own language, her own runes. I have no idea how she did it, much less how to conquer it. I can’t even enter myself, the moment I’d do, I’d lose my connection to you, my lady and you could neither see me, nor call for me.”

“It would completely break our connection?” Lady Esteph gasped.

The witch turned one of the many rings on her arms round and round with a shaky hand. “As I understand it, no—at least not right away. We wouldn’t be able to communicate through dream, or through a mirror like this, and after a while, the connection would lessen until it would break.”

Lady Esteph nearly crushed the glass in her hand. She hated how powerful menrasy were. Particularly those she didn’t control, like Amber, the so-called Queen of Rampage. “Which leaves us only one option: put a scrying spell on the reaver. And we will draw her out—using someone she cares about.” She walked a few steps over to the huge fireplace. Staring at the flames, she whispered—more to herself than to Rowena, “I’ll need both the elixir and the alloy for my plan to work. I didn’t have Armand father alloys for nothing.” With a sharp intake of air, she turned from the heat and refocused on her thrall in the mirror. “You’ll join me in Haven tomorrow. From there we will contact our people in the shadow colony.”

Rowena bowed. “Of course, my lady. If I may ask, what would we need Maren and Anette for?” The menrasy jutted out her chin at her mistress’s stare. “I-I mean… Maren is a well-known soothsayer, and Anette… well, she doesn’t have much of a mind left after what happened to her in Trinity.”

Lady Esteph grinned. “Jealous, my pet?”

Rowena trembled slightly and bowed once more. “I can do anything you need me to, my lady. My powers are near limitless.”

“And yet you failed me.” The nightmare watched her thrall squirm with discomfort at those words, and a small smile nudged her lips. “Anette can’t remember much from her time in Trinity, but she was there, and you will help me look into her head. Have her with you tomorrow, and we will get what we need from her. Thin out that Reaver Manor filth. She should remember at least one of those close to the reaver.” Lady Esteph tapped her lower lip with a finger, her face thoughtful.  “Yes… if everything goes to plan, we will draw out the reaver. And I will have what is mine.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

Searching

“Mist, tell me. I swear to the devil I’ll strangle you if you don’t.” Nick glared at Mistrael. She had finally cornered the zephyr in the study of Reaver Manor, where he was busy playing on the brand-new PS4 that Jay had installed a day ago. The leather of the huge, brown couch creaked with his movements. Mist was one of those people who moved with the controller—incapable of sitting still—as if moving would help steer the game.

Since the recent attack, most things had gone back to normal—or as normal as it had been before—except for David taking off without so much as a word.

Nick was sure David had told his friend Mist, who’d been avoiding her these past few days, never giving her an answer to her questions concerning David’s whereabouts. But she was putting an end to that. Right now.

The zephyr just shrugged and leaned to the side, trying to look past her at the screen. “If he wanted you to know, you would.”

She stepped around the ancient coffee-table and into his line of sight. “Dammit, Mist, I need to know. Pause the damn game and bloody tell me already!”

He didn’t even look up. “Online game. Not pauseable.”

That was it! Nick stomped to the flat screen, yanked the cable out of the wall and turned back to Mist, who was now scowling at a black screen. The frustrating male grunted, flung the controller on the couch, got up and started to walk from the room.

“Don’t you dare walk away from me,” Nick said.

“Tough. Try to stop me,” he said over his shoulder.

Nick surged forward and pushed the zephyr against a wall. She brought her face close to his and hissed. “I need to find him. I need to set things right. He might be in danger, or don’t you care about that?”

He snorted. “Oh, so you care? Since when, Nick? And, more importantly, how long is it gonna last?” Mist’s blue eyes pierced her, as did his words.

“I will always care. You better remember that.”

Mist cocked his head to the side. “Really, Nick? Because you could have fooled me. I’m tired of seeing you push him around, and by the way, don’t you think it’s a little too late now?”

Nick growled and flashed him her growing fangs. Mist just glared back, unimpressed. Granted, Mist was a badass and brought the word intense to a whole new level, but was she losing her touch? “Don’t you think I know that? It might be too late for me, but I can try. And while I’m at it, I can watch his back. Somehow I doubt he left for Bora Bora to lounge on the beach.” She shook him by his shoulders. “Come on, I know he told you where he went.”

Mist’s glare softened a fraction as he looked her over. Calculating. There was always a subtle heat in his expression, the heat of anger that simmered within him. Always. Right now, Nick topped that anger by a long shot.

“Are you sure about this? Cause if I tell you and you just fuck around again, I’ll kick your ass.”

Nick knew he was dead serious. She also knew she deserved it. Heck, she deserved a royal ass-kicking for letting it come this far. “I’m sure.”

Mist nodded once, his lips a grim line. “He’s in the mountains.”

Nick raised a brow. “Hiking?”

“No. He’s in the mountains.”

She let go of him, her hands falling to her sides as fear hit her like a punch to the gut. “Are you serious? And you let him? What kind of friend are you?”

“It’s his home.” Mist scowled at his feet. “And I didn’t know. He called me when he landed and told me. The idiot. I’m of half a mind to get over there and drag him back here.” The zephyr clenched his jaw. “Said he needed to keep a lookout for some time—in case Anette remembered where he was.”

Nick growled at the mention of that piece of work. She still regretted not getting her hands on David’s demented ex-fiancé. After Anette had tried to overtake and cleanse Trinity along with an ancient, she damned well deserved it. Stupid cow. “What will happen if she does and they catch him?” she asked.

“I don’t know. We don’t… talk. What I do know is it’s the last place he wants to be. He’s been fidgety since Daphne erased Anette’s memories and sent her back to the shadow colony.”

“I’m going,” she declared. It didn’t matter that she had no idea in which part of those mountains the colony was hidden. She would search the entire mountain range if she had to. What had he been thinking? Reckless bastard.

Nick stepped back a few feet. It couldn’t hurt to ask. “Do you know where I should start looking?”

Mist leaned his upper back against the wall behind him. “I can tell you the general area, but that’s all I know.” His face lit up and he looked to the side. That could only mean one of two things: either Daphne his girlfriend, or Arabella, Daphne’s little sister, was near. The otherwise controlled and cold zephyr morphed into a whole different person when one or both was around.

“Hey, kitten,” he breathed the second Daphne rounded the corner. The reaver grinned at him and slipped both arms around him. Mist tugged her against his chest and pecked the top of her head. Daphne rested her cheek against his chest and smiled over at Nick. Their public display of affection was so normal to Nick by now that she missed rolling  her eyes at the stupid cuteness of it.

“So, he’s finally told you?” Daphne looked up and pegged her man with a stern stare. “I told you to do it sooner.”

“I had to make sure she means it,” Mist said.

Nick clenched her fists and glowered at him.

“Come on, Nick. I wasn’t going to tell you where he is if all you were going to do was add to his problems. And I’m still not convinced that isn’t exactly what you’ll do.”

“Screw. You,” Nick pressed forth between clenched teeth.

“What’s going on here?” Jess asked, strolling into the room.

Nick groaned and closed her eyes. She didn’t want her best friend to know. The fey would no doubt want to join her. She loved Jess dearly, but this was something she had to do alone.

“Nick is going after David,” Daphne said, her curious gaze holding Nick.

“Traitor,” Nick mouthed at the reaver, who just smiled and shrugged. Daphne had a way of making you deal with your shit. She wasn’t only immensely powerful and knew what you felt, she also was head of the house and heir to everything Christoph, an ancient nightmare, had owned—which included the last elixir on earth. The reason for the recent attack. Now only Daphne knew where the stuff was hidden—a good thing too—as knowing would put anyone in danger. And as much as Nick had been apprehensive of her in the beginning, she respected and liked her now.

“Is that so? When were you going to tell me?” Jess asked.

Daphne tugged at Mist’s arm and led him from the study. Nick breathed in deeply and turned to face her friend. The fey had her arms crossed over her chest and was pursing her lips.

“I wasn’t,” Nick told her truthfully.

The fey flipped back her sleek black hair, her forest-green eyes trained on her friend. “I don’t understand… Why wouldn’t you tell me?”

“Because you would’ve wanted to come.”

Jess frowned. “Well, duh, of course I would have wanted to come. And I’m still planning on it.”

“I need to do this alone. Besides, you like it here.”

“Pfff… Yeah, suuure—”

“Stop it, Jess. I know you feel at home here, and I also know it’s the first time in a long while you feel happy and content with where you are.”

Jess glowered at her. “I have absolutely not the slightest inclination as to what you’re talking about.”

Nick sighed. Contrary to Jess, she wasn’t one for mincing words or being sensitive. In fact, she was known for being a tactless bitch. But right now she had to try. Jess was her best friend—had been since they’d met about five years ago.

“You know exactly what I’m talking about, Jess.” Nick felt her fangs grow slowly, and the skin where her horns and hooks would burst forth when she was in her demonic form started to itch. “I can see it. You have been as restless as a sack of fleas, since forever. But here you’ve settled. There is this face you used to make before we came here, I call it your ‘fight or flight’ face. I haven’t seen that look for a while now. Being here is good for you.” She looked down and felt her cheeks flush. She never blushed, but thinking of him… It did things to her. “Besides, I need to find him and apologize; I doubt you’d want to come along for that.”

Jess gaped at her, blinked, and then clapped her mouth shut. “You want to apologize. You?” She tilted her head to the side. “Are you sure you’re feeling okay?”

Nick rolled her eyes. “Don’t make such a big deal out of it. I—”

“No, I get it, it’s just a lot to take in. You, apologizing. Never thought I’d see the day. Took you long enough.” The fey looked down. “Doesn’t mean I’m okay with you taking off on your own.” With unfathomable speed, Jess punched Nick on the shoulder. It felt like a train had hit her, and she nearly toppled over.

“That was for not wanting to tell me,” Jess said. “I’m a big girl, I can take the truth.”

Nick rubbed her shoulder and grinned. “You are a bitch sometimes.”

The fey pulled her in for a hug. “I know I am. But I’m all yours, you’ll remember that won’t you? If anything happens, and I mean anything, you call me.”

Nick closed her eyes and sank into the hug. She breathed in the scent of her best friend, cinnamon and smoky rose. Shit, she was going to miss her. “Only if you promise to do the same. If it gets heated around here, call me.” She pulled back and pressed her forehead to Jess’s. “You call, I come. Got it?”

Her friend nodded against her. “Got it.”

***

 

The mountains were magnificent in the last golden light of day. Forests of green reached up halfway until peaks of jagged black rock with slopes of ice broke from it; like the fissured horns of a demon. Streams of water ran down resembling icy veins, cutting deeply into the ground. The air was so cold it stung her lungs, each breath burning with freshness.

Nick had rented a Jeep at the airport and driven up as far as she was able. The rest would have to be done on foot.

She hiked up her backpack, tightened the harness of her sword, and puffed out a white, frosty breath. She didn’t like the cold; heat was more her thing. But she had learned to deal with stinging iciness. Knew it more intimately than she cared to remember. The way freezing cold and burning heat felt the same after a while. After all, she had withstood the final test of the Keepers, butt-naked on a snowy mountain somewhere in Siberia.

She tugged her flask of vodka from her belt and took a swig. A habit she had developed during that time of trials. Vodka cured a multitude of things: the cold, problems, and—most importantly—fear. She hated the fact that her heart was fluttering in her chest like it was having a bloody seizure. Nick knew it was possible David didn’t want her here, hell, it was more than possible, it was probable. But she had never been one to overthink stuff. Usually she put her mind to something and pulled through, no matter the consequences. And her mind was set.

Narrowing her eyes, she squared her shoulders and reached for her inner demonic fire. Sliding against the flickering heat, she welcomed it. Her skin turned to shiny green and blue scales, her eyesight sharpened and soon hooks graced her shins, her arms, her back and a set of horns poked through her hair. The scales would ward off the cold and were added protection if she slipped on the rocks. As always when she changed, her demonic side reared its head. Charged aggression and angry, clawing instinct rushed to the forefront. Dread demons were notorious for their temper and unpredictable tantrums. Nick had learned to channel that energy. Most of the time.

With a look at her compass, she started climbing. Effortlessly she jumped from rock to rock and crashed through the thicket of blackberry bushes. The tiny thorns splintered on her scales and ripped at her clothes. Concentrating on her breathing, she fell into a steady rhythm. She would be able to jog at this pace for hours, if not days. A good thing too; she had a lot of ground to cover.

As she jogged, jumped, and clawed her way up the mountain, her mind focused on things she’d not been able to put aside. If she could only go back to the last conversation, the last real one, she’d had with David. How stupid she had been to try to leave like that—on tiptoes. Just to avoid waking next to him. No, that wasn’t true. She had been afraid to wake in his bed, alone. Or worse, being woken by him so he could tell her to leave. Stupid. How could any sane person be afraid of such a thing? It made no damned sense. David wasn’t anything like her ex. As far as she could tell, David had always been honest with her. He would never tell her things like that. He would never prey on her desperation, belittle her and cheat on her with her sister. David had never lied to her; he’d never laughed at her or ridiculed her boisterous character. Yet.

Maybe it was inevitable that he would do all those things. Maybe she didn’t deserve anything else, but like Daph had said; she would never get over that pesky what if if she didn’t try. She bared her teeth in a hiss. Aside from her emotional roller coaster and annoying heartache, he was out here alone. Trying to do the right thing. It was obvious he’d left because he was worried Anette would remember him being in Trinity. If she did, Nick bet a hundred coal buns the bitch would come gunning for him. A low growl rumbled through her chest at the thought.

There was no doubt David was lying, or floating, in wait somewhere up these hills, preparing for such a scenario. He shouldn’t be doing this alone. And if things went wrong, he should not have to face his family, who he’d spent years running from, on his own.

Nick knew she had no right to push herself onto him as a lover, or friend. They were neither, not since he’d told her not to come back to him until she’d made up her mind. And a lot of time had passed since then, so Nick was pretty sure it was too late for that now. But she wanted to offer her help and support as a companion-in-arms. She loathed the fact that she was scared to offer him anything else. Not even friendship. Not sure if he’d want any of it, but he surely wouldn’t fault her for offering her sword. Would he?

She’d covered a good distance up the mountain when night had completely taken over. Still, Nick carried on. She wanted to reach a good vantage point; the large plateau a little way up would do. Maybe she could spy something from there. Not that she thought the shadow colony would be visible, but she had to start somewhere.

Her hands slipped on the chilly stones more than once and slates of ice and snow made it difficult to find secure footing. Cursing like a sailor and pissed beyond good reasoning, Nick finally reached the plateau. Her breath was still even, as her body was used to physical hardships, but Nick’s impatience was eating at her mind.

She walked across the black stone and peered into the distance. No light, no scents, not a fucking thing other than the wilderness. Nick snarled into the night. Then she forced herself to sit on the ledge, overlooking the slopes she’d traversed. Nick placed both her palms on the stone on either side of her and closed her eyes. She could feel the earth, the stone, its treasures in form of crystals and minerals, and—surprisingly close to the surface—magma.

Demons had a natural affinity for stone and earth, the knowledge of why had been lost to the confines of the system and to hundreds of years of slavery. But some stories told of the preposterous idea that Nick’s kind came from the depth of the earth, or hell as some would say. It was ridiculous, because that place didn’t exist. A hypothetical human idea and a really weird one at that.

Nick wiped those thoughts from her mind and concentrated on what she was feeling. It calmed her, as it always did.

The snap of a twig behind her had her head whipping around. Her nostrils flared as she sniffed to get a scent. Her demonic eyes could pierce the darkness, but she saw nothing. There. Nick jumped to her feet when a set of silver-glowing eyes shone through the dark for a split second.

Nick reached one hand over her shoulder, grabbing the hilt of her sword. “I know you’re there, leech. Come on out if you dare.”

A deep, rumbling chuckle answered her. “I was wondering who was making such a ruckus,” a dark, smoky voice said. A tall, broad-shouldered vampire stepped into her line of sight. His eyes glimmered like liquid mercury, illuminating a handsome face with harsh lips and a chiseled jaw line. His hair was light and full, maybe blond, it was hard to make out the exact color in the dark. “But now I know. No wonder my prey ran to the hills.” He shook his head. “You demons, stealth is not really a concept you guys grasp, is it?”

 

 

2

Clayton

 

Nick scrutinized the vampire and adjusted the grip on her sword. One wrong move and she would gut the bloodsucker. He walked over to the ledge at her side but didn’t come closer. Smart man.

The vampire peered into the valley beneath them, his eyes following the path she’d mowed climbing up here. He turned to her, smiled lightly and shrugged. Only now did Nick see the pair of chicken-like birds dangling from his belt. It looked like he really had been on the hunt for food.

A long-fingered hand was extended. “I’m Clay.”

Nick eyed his hand, then his face. “I don’t care.” She slowly let go of her sword and straightened, confident that she could take the guy in a fistfight just as well. If it came to that. He didn’t seem aggressive though. Still, appearances could fool. She scowled at him. “Now piss off, this is my piece of rock on this devil-forsaken mountain.”

The vampire plucked at a few feathers sticking to his shirt. “Tetchy, aren’t you? I know dread demons are notoriously moody, but you’re just plain rude.”

“Why? Cause I don’t want to hang out with the creepy vampire that snuck up on me?” She snorted. “I don’t know you, nor do I want to. Now, if that’s everything, leave.”

The guy started chuckling. Chuckling. “What crawled under your scales and died, demoness? I’m just making conversation. You’re the first person I’ve met in the past couple of days. The least you could do is tell me your name.”

“None of your fucking business,” she grumbled.

“Come on, or I’ll have to make up a name for you.”

“Nick, my name is Nick,” she said, horrified by the prospect of the vamp coming up with a nickname.

He raised a brow. “Isn’t that a guy’s name?”

“Isn’t clay that sticky dirt you make vases with? Want me to rearrange you into one?”

The vampire laughed. “This is the best conversation I’ve had in a while.”

“Which means that you either keep piss-poor company or none at all. Why don’t you go ahead and practice the ‘no company at all’ thing?” She turned away from him and walked back to her spot on the ledge. She listened closely, hoping he would finally get lost.

“Tell me, demoness, what are you doing here all by yourself?”

Nick groaned. “You’re still here.”

“Maybe we can help each other out.”

“Doubtful.”

Clay appeared at her side, sticking his face into her line of sight. “I, for example, know the hiding place of an old race which lives in these mountains. Curious folk, reclusive and strange. Even more unfriendly than you, and yes, that is possible. You’re alone and you seem to be looking for something, or someone. I know this stretch of mountain inside out, have been combing it for two weeks now.”

Nick’s eyes widened. “You know where the shadow colony is?”

Clay smiled. “You’re looking for them, aren’t you?”

“Not really.” She glared at him to hide the excitement flickering to life in her belly. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

“I could still tell you where they are.” His grin was frustratingly knowing.

Nick huffed out a breath. “And what do you want in exchange?”

Clay lifted one corner of his mouth, the ghost of a smile flashing across his features. “Nothing.”

Nick narrowed her eyes. “I don’t believe you.”

“Why not?” the vampire said sporting an expression he no doubt deemed innocent.

“You’re a leech, you guys always have an angle.”

The vampire smiled, stuck his hands into his pockets, and hunched his shoulders. It looked casual and nonthreatening. “Come on, why would I want something? You’re the first somewhat-friendly face I’ve seen for a while.”

“Did you hit your fucking head?” She pursed her lips. If this deranged fang face knew where the colony was, she could spare time. But then again, there was something not quite right with him. The way his eyes flicked over her, not able to hold hers for more than a couple of seconds. How he constantly balled and released his fists. It was obvious that he was trying very hard to stay calm.

She sized up his broad shoulders, his lean, muscular body, the quick and calculating eyes he tried to hide and smiled. Whatever his game was, he would be an excellent challenge. Sadly, she didn’t have time for it. “How about you tell me what you know, and I won’t kick you off this ledge?” she suggested.

Clay blinked at her, his smile fading fast. Within seconds, his whole demeanor changed. His back straightened as he stood to his full, imposing height. His eyes lit up with silver and a mean scowl appeared on his face. Now he looked threatening. Nick smiled at him sweetly. The bloodsucker was in for a surprise if he thought he could intimidate her.

“You know,” he said, his voice dark, “I tried to do this the nice way.”

“You did. I didn’t care for it.”

He growled. “You’ll tell me what you’re doing here and why you’re searching for the dark ones. And you’ll do it now, without leaving anything out.”

Nick snickered. She was well aware of the danger the vampire posed; she just didn’t care. He might well be naturally faster and stronger than her, but Nick had something most of her opponents had always lacked: recklessness, a penchant to fight dirty, and an iron will to win.

“Strange thing though. I don’t feel like it.” Tipping one finger to her chin, she frowned. “You know… I didn’t think I was close to the colony. Until I met you, now I know they have to be near. They wouldn’t send out a guard dog if I was too far away to find them. The only thing that I don’t get is why they sent out a vampire? Don’t they keep to themselves?” She shrugged and grinned. “Maybe they ran out of fucks to give. Who knows?”

Clay was now growling at her steadily. His fangs grew until they descended well over his lower lip while his silver gaze pierced her. “Careful, I’m actually tasked to bring you back alive, but you’re making that optional right now.”

“So you are a guard dog? Fascinating.” She had been speculating, now she was sure. A plan began forming in her head. A plan that both irked and elated her. The part she didn’t like would come first; she’d have to lose to the bloodsucker.

Nick shrugged off her backpack and unsheathed her sword. Carefully she placed it on the ground next to her.

With a grin she lunged at him, but he’d been expecting it and met her halfway. They clashed in a flurry of dodged kicks and warded-off punches. Nick crouched down, slammed his blocking arm to the side, and nailed him in the solar plexus. He grunted but reacted exactly as she had predicted. She left her face unprotected so he could connect when his right fist came flying at her. She had plenty of time to move out of the way but held still. This was going to hurt.

Her head was knocked back as though a mule had kicked her in the mug. She stumbled and shook her head to clear it and make the swaying world solid again. But the vamp didn’t give her that chance. Even in her dazed state she would have been able to dodge him. She had seen the world go wonky enough times before to work it out. But again, she didn’t.

He slammed into her, his arms going around her waist while his shoulder punched the air out of her lungs as it hit her chest. They toppled to the ground and Nick felt stone rip and scrape at the scales on her back. She grunted as one of the hooks up her spine snapped and splintered away. Pressing her eyes shut for a split second, she made the rest sink back into her skin, only keeping the ones on her arms.

She clawed at Clay in faked desperation, swiped her hooks at his face and even snapped her fangs at him for good measure. He needed to think she was frantic, the losing part had to look real. He snagged her wrists and slammed them on the ground in an awkward angle. Nick screamed as he did it again and again, until all the hooks of her arms were reduced to splinters. She glared at him as the pain burned up her arms and nearly made her control snap. This fucker was so going to pay for that.

Rough hands turned her over and pulled her wrists across her back painfully. She heard the metallic clicking of handcuffs and a split second later she could feel the cold metal digging into her skin.

Cuffs, really? She had to force those words down in order to keep up appearance.

“Come, little demoness,” Clay said next to her ear. “You fought bravely, but it’s over now.” With that he pulled her up and placed her on her feet.

Nick glared at him. Angry for having to lose to him, she put all her fury into that glare, hiding the fact that she was so kicking his ass later.

Clay smiled indulgently. “It’s okay to lose, demon. Your kind wasn’t built to fight and win against someone such as me.”

Nick couldn’t stifle her answering growl. “Great. Fucking terrific. Not only are you a misogynist, but also a racist.” She rolled her eyes. “I just got all kinds of lucky tonight.”

Ignoring her, he grabbed her stuff and Nick nearly growled again when he picked up her sword. “Where did you get this?” he asked as he looked it over with admiration. He pulled it from its sheath a bit and froze when he saw the sign of the Keepers etched into the bottom of the blade.

“Stole it,” Nick grated out.

Clay huffed out a relieved breath, slid the sword back and smiled at her. “Aren’t you a naughty girl?”

“You know, I just can’t roll my eyes any louder.”

The vampire just smirked. “Come on, time to find out what you’re doing here,” he said and grabbed her arm to steer her forward.

She pulled away from him and hissed. “I can walk damned fine on my own, fuck you very much.”

He held up his hands at her glare. “As long as you behave and walk the way I want you to.” His hands fell and he smiled coldly. “But make no mistake, if you try anything or even start running just remember; my kind loves the hunt and we usually kill our prey.”

Nick shuddered. Why did vampires always have to be so creepy? How Jess had ever been infatuated with one she’d never understand.

© Victoria Larque

 
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