So this is what death feels like.
Maya Black struggled for breath. She struggled to fight the creeping cold that swept through her body. Jesus. She hadn’t wanted to go out like this. Her master plan had never been to die in some damn dirty, stinking alley.
She’d been born in an alley like this, and she sure as hell hadn’t wanted to die in one.
“Ummm, you taste so good.” The sick monster above her licked his fangs—freaking fangs—and she noticed that her blood coated his lips. “Poor little cop, I think I’ve drained you dry.”
Her heart was slowing, and the hollow beat barely echoed in her ears. The ground was hard beneath her, the moon shining brightly over her, and hell looked back at her from the creature’s eyes. A vampire. She knew what he was. She’d seen his kind before. Other people thought things like him were just myths, but she knew better. She knew demons were real. Knew the devil was real. Evil lurked in the world, she’d known that fact for years.
“Beg me,” the vampire whispered, leaning over her and gazing at her with his soulless black eyes. “Beg me to change you. Beg me to let you live.”
To change you. No, oh, hell, no. She didn’t want to become a monster. And she would never, never beg.
He slashed his wrist open with the edge of his fangs. Shoved the wound to her mouth.
She turned her head away and tried to spit out the blood. Her hands fumbled in the trash beside her. Where was her weapon? The vampire had jumped her, thrown her against the wall, sank those razor-sharp fangs into her throat, and then had her on the ground in less than a minute.
She’d dropped her gun during the blitz attack. Where was it? Where—
Her fingers closed over the barrel of her Glock. She struggled to bring the weapon closer. It felt so heavy in her hand, so—
He laughed at her. Actually laughed. Then the vamp grabbed the gun. Her fingers swiped out and managed to clench around the butt. The crazy SOB pushed the barrel of her weapon dead-center against his chest and whispered, “Do it.” A taunt.
Without a moment’s hesitation, she pulled the trigger.
The bullet shot straight through his chest. He smiled at her.
And her heart stuttered. The beat was slowing, slowing.
“You can’t kill me, bitch, not with your weak bullets, not with—”
He broke off, gasping, and he staggered away from her. The vamp put a shaking hand to his chest. Smoke rose from the wound—a long, thin trail of smoke. The scent of burnt flesh filled the air and combined with the stench of rotten food in the alley.
Maya’s lips curled as she stared at the vamp.
“Wh-what—” He kept holding his chest. “Wh-what d-did y-you do?”
She’d covered her bullets in holy water. Maya had been doing that since she joined the force ten years ago. Since her first night, when a vampire had attacked her while she was patrolling the park. She’d barely gotten away from him. Maya had kicked, bit, and fought ferociously with every ounce of strength she had. In the end, she’d been lucky. She’d managed to keep fighting him until her partner arrived to help her.
She’d survived. Then.
But tonight would be different, she knew that. There was no backup for her tonight. She’d been working the case alone. Following a lead.
The vampire lunged for her. He grabbed her hair in his fist and jerked her head back. His black eyes were rimmed with red. Tears of blood leaked down his cheeks. She’d hurt him, and it was more than obvious that now, he intended to hurt her even more.
His teeth ripped across her neck, but she didn’t scream. Mostly because Maya didn’t have the strength to scream anymore. But she was still holding her gun. Her finger jerked on the trigger, firing again, again, again—
But he didn’t stop. Didn’t stop biting her. Drinking from her. Killing her.
So this is what death feels like.
Darkness surrounded Maya. Complete, suffocating darkness.
“What the hell do you think got a hold of her?” A man’s voice. He sounded shaken.
“Dunno.” A woman. In contrast to the man, she sounded like she truly didn’t give a shit.
Her body was lifted. Pushed somewhere. A door slammed.
Two more doors slammed.
An engine started.
“Did you see the blood?” The man’s voice reached her again. “That whole freaking alley was covered with her blood.”
“Um.” The woman. Bored as could be.
“Had to be an animal, right? I mean, nothing else could have done that to her throat.”
At those words, Maya frowned. Her throat didn’t hurt anymore. In fact, nothing hurt. But she still felt cold. Oddly cold. And it was so dark.
What had happened to the moonlight?
A crackle of static burst through the dark, then a hard voice blasted, “Second ambulance en route. Got a body three streets over—a shooting victim…”
Shooting victim. The vamp? She hoped she’d killed his ass. Maybe he’d crawled away and died.
But what the hell had happened to her?
She tried to move, tried to lift her hands, but something surrounded her. It was like she was trapped in thick darkness. Weird as hell. A growl of frustration and fear rumbled in her throat.
“Did you hear that?” The guy’s voice was nearly a shriek.
Maya winced. Someone needed to calm down. Obviously, he was not made for night duty.
“No, I didn’t hear a damn thing.” Her words and tone were calm, but the woman’s heart was suddenly beating faster.
Hold on. How the hell can I hear her heart?
“Let’s just hurry up and drop her ass off at the morgue, okay?” Mr. Shrill and Scared urged. “I swear, I-I think I saw the bag move. Drive faster.”
Had he just said…the bag?
Oh, God. That was why it was so dark around her. She was in a freaking bag. A body bag.
Shit. Suddenly, Maya knew exactly what was happening. Those idiots had tagged her. When they’d found her in the alley, they must have thought she was dead. Fine. Fair enough. She’d even thought so, too, for a time. She’d thought for certain she felt the icy touch of death when she fought that vamp.
But she was still alive. She’d fought her attacker, and she was still alive. Still—“I’m alive!” Her voice emerged as a scream.
The squeal of brakes followed her cry. The vehicle swerved, fishtailed, then screeched to a stop. Doors opened. Closed. Opened.
Maya squirmed and twisted in her small prison. Her nails caught a thick, hard fabric. Her nails dug in, ripped, and slashed against the bag.
“Jesus Christ!” A jerk of a zipper.
Then light—bright, blinding—spilled onto her. She blinked against the light and against the sudden, sharp stab of pain in her eyes.
Her eyes adjusted almost instantly, and Maya peered up at the man. He was young, with sandy blond hair and dark, wire-framed glasses. Thin and lanky. The woman waited just beyond his shoulder. Her red hair flared around her, and her green eyes were so wide they seemed to swallow her face.
“Y-you y-you…” The redhead’s mouth opened and closed like a fish’s. Her pulse beat madly in her throat. The thudding filled Maya’s ears and made her mouth water.
She shoved out of the bag—a damn body bag—and leapt from the back of the ambulance. With that leap, Maya wound up soaring ten feet into the air. She finally came back down to the ground with a thud.
The woman screamed. Maya glanced over just in time to see the redhead’s eyes roll back into her head as she fainted. The man’s face turned completely white as the color bleached from his skin. “Wh-what are you?”
As his thundering heartbeat filled her ears, her canines lengthened in her mouth. It was the strangest sensation. She could actually feel her teeth growing as her gums seemed to burn.
And in that moment, Maya realized she hadn’t survived her attack.
No, she hadn’t survived it at all…
Five years later…
Adam Brody kept his eyes on his prey as she moved down the street. Her dark hair gleamed in the moonlight and skimmed just past her shoulders. Her body, slender but strong, moved fluidly as she ran through the night.
He had been watching her for days now. Watching as she prowled the streets at night. Watching as she fed. As she fought. Even as she killed.
There had been whispers about her for years. Tales of the vampire who hunted her own kind. The vampire who fought demons, shifters, vamps—any damn thing that got in her way.
There was a price on her head. But for five years, no one had been able to collect that bounty. Because Maya was one tough bitch to stake.
She approached a ramshackle building, one with boarded windows and red, spray-painted gang tags shining on the exterior walls. Her hand lifted, and her fist banged on the door.
A man wrenched open the black door. He took one look at Maya and stepped back to immediately let her inside.
Before the door slammed closed, Adam caught the scent of blood on the wind. His body stiffened as understanding dawned. She’d just gone into a feeding room. One of the safe houses for vamps. A place to drink, to fuck, or to do whatever the hell the vamps wanted with the humans who were unlucky enough to be inside. Often, the humans stumbled into a feeding room by mistake. They thought they’d just gone into a new bar. A trendy, secret spot. Then the vamps got them. Once the vamps took their blood, it was over for the humans. A vamp could link with his victim. It was so easy to slip into a human’s mind after the bite.
The bitten humans never thought about turning on the vamps or revealing the feeding rooms to the authorities. They were too addicted to the vampire’s power and too under the vamp’s control.
Not that revealing a feeding room to the authorities would do much good, anyway. The authorities had learned long ago how to hide the supernatural activities from the rest of society. And as for the vamps, they hid in plain sight.
They took their victims’ blood and they fucked, and they didn’t care how many humans they hurt.
He’d wondered when Maya would feed again. It had been two days since he’d watched her drink from a man. Two days since she’d pushed a young dumbass up against a wall and locked those red lips of hers onto his neck and shoved her sharp teeth into his throat. Even from fifty yards away, Adam had heard the man’s cry of ecstasy as Maya fed.
He’d expected Maya to drain the man dry. To slash his throat and leave him dead on the street. But she’d lowered the guy onto the curb, whispered to him, and walked away.
She’d left her prey alive.
Odd for a vampire.
Of course, the same night she’d cut the head off a level-five demon who’d made the mistake of jumping her. So, it wasn’t as if Maya didn’t have a killer instinct. Clearly, she did.
He sauntered slowly down the street, keeping his gaze on the feeding room, but listening intently for every sound on the block. Adam had never thought that he’d willingly offer himself up as food for a fucking parasite, but it looked like this might be the only way he could get close to Maya. And he needed to get close to her, for now.
She kept her prey alive. So, it looked like he’d have to become her prey.
He reached the black door. Didn’t bother glancing at the red splashes of spray paint. He lifted his fist and pounded against the cold metal.
A big, bald, ugly-as-hell guy with a twisted nose and a scar sliding down his left cheek jerked open the door. “What the ’ell do ye want?” A thick Irish brogue marked his words.
The scent of blood was stronger now. Moans whispered in the air. Adam heard the faint pounding of drums and the light strum of a guitar from inside the feeding room. And then he heard a scream.
The Irish bouncer put one meaty hand on Adam’s chest and shoved him back. “This ain’t yer place, mate.”
Adam glanced down at the hand and thought about breaking it. Just one quick snap. But, no, that wouldn’t accomplish anything useful. He took a deep, steadying breath and glanced back up into the bouncer’s beady green eyes. “I’m here for the woman.”
“No woman ’ere.” His lips curled into a snarl. “Now get your arse out of—”
The hand was still on his chest, pressing a bit too hard, and it was really pissing Adam off. He didn’t like being shoved. He grabbed the jerk’s wrist, twisted—not enough to break, not yet—and threw the bouncer back against the nearby wall. “The woman you just let inside,” he whispered. “I want her.”
The bouncer shook his head. “Ye don’t want ’er.” He jerked his hand free of Adam’s hold. His fingers curled into big fists.
“Oh, but I do want her.” He wanted her very, very badly, and Adam didn’t plan to leave without Maya. Adam squared his shoulders as he prepared for the guy to attack. He waited—
A hard crack of laughter filled the air. “Dumb bastard.” The bouncer motioned him inside. “Yer funeral.”
Perhaps. Perhaps not. Adam headed inside and stalked down a long, dark hallway. Small, sputtering candles were on the floor. The candles provided just enough light to see the passage but hid the blood he could smell all around him.
The hall ended in a large room. A band played on a narrow, wooden stage. A drummer. A woman who sang as she strummed her guitar. Adam could see the blood trailing lightly down their necks. Could tell by the glazed expression in their eyes that they were the slaves of the vamps.
Damn. He fucking hated vampires.
His back teeth clenched as he glanced around the room. Doors led off in every direction. He already knew where all those doors would take him. To hell. But he needed to find Maya, so he’d have to go—
“Don’t screw with me, Armand!” A woman’s voice, hard, ice cold. Maya.
Adam immediately whirled and found her leaning over the bar. Maya had one deceptively delicate hand wrapped around the bartender’s throat.
“I want to know who went after Sean, and I want to know now.” Her fingernails stretched into claws, and, as Adam watched, her claws sank into the bartender’s neck.
“I-I d-don’t k-know.” The guy looked like he might faint at any moment. Definitely human, Adam decided. Vamps were always so pale it looked like they might faint at any given moment. But this guy had looked fairly normal until Maya clawed him. Then he’d gone stark white.
“Find out who went after him!” She threw the bartender against a shelf of drinks.
Adam hurried toward her. He reached her side just as Maya spun around, claws up.
She glared at him. “What the hell do you want?” Maya snarled, and he noticed the faint edge of her fangs hiding behind her plump lips.
It was his first time to get a good look at her face. He’d seen her from a distance before, judged her to be pretty, but hadn’t bothered to think much beyond that vague observation.
Adam blinked as he stared down at her. The woman looked like some kind of fallen angel. Her thick, black hair framed her heart-shaped face. Her cheeks were high, glass sharp. Her nose was small and straight while her eyes were wide and currently the black of a vampire in hunting mode. And her lips, well, she might have the face of an angel, but she had lips made for sin. Plump. Red. Perfect.
Adam felt his cock stir, for a vampire. He shuddered in revulsion. Oh, hell, no. The woman was so not his type.
Her scent surrounded him. Not the rancid, rotting stench of death he’d smelled around others of her kind. But a light, fragrant scent, almost like flowers.
What in the hell? How could she—
Maya growled and shoved him away from her. As she brushed past him, Maya muttered something under her breath about idiots with death wishes.
Then she walked away. Left him.
For a moment, Adam just studied her. Maya wasn’t exactly his idea of an uber vamp. She was small, too small for his taste. The woman was barely five-foot-seven. Her body was slender, with narrow hips. Her legs were encased in an old, faded pair of jeans, and the black T-shirt she wore clung tightly to her frame.
He liked women with more meat on their bones. Liked a woman with curves. A woman with round, lush hips that he could hold while he thrust deep into her.
But he wasn’t interested in screwing Maya. Not with her too-thin body. Her too-pale vamp skin. No, he didn’t want to screw her.
He just planned to use her.
Adam took two quick strides forward, grabbed her arm, and swung her back toward him.
The eyes that had relaxed to a bright blue shade instantly flashed to pure black. Vamps’ eyes always changed to black when they fought or when they fucked, he knew that.
Sometimes folks made the mistake of confusing vamps with demons because a demon’s eyes could go black, too. Actually, Adam knew that a demon’s eyes were always black, and for the demons, every part of their eyes went black. Even the sclera. With the vamps, just the iris changed to a different color.
Usually, demons were smart enough to hide the true color of their eyes. They used their power to give the illusion of other colors. But the vamps didn’t seem to give a flying shit who saw the change. If a human happened to see the eye shift, it was generally too late for the poor bastard, anyway, because by then, he was prey.
Gazing into Maya’s relentless black eyes, Adam had a true inkling of just how those poor bastards must have felt.
A growl rumbled in her throat, then she snapped, “Buddy, you’re screwing with the wrong woman tonight.”
No, she was the right woman. Whether he liked the fact or not.
Adam clenched his teeth, swallowed his pride, and in the midst of hell, admitted, “I need your help.”
She snorted. “What the hell do I look like? The freaking Red Cross?” Her gaze held his as she bared her teeth. Her extremely sharp teeth. “I am not a helper. Now get your hand off me before I have to hurt you.”
As if she could.
He opened his mouth to respond—
A male voice drawled from the shadows, “Playing with your prey, Maya?”
Adam’s head jerked to the left as a skeletally thin man stepped forward. The guy had bright red hair and a face that looked like it had been smashed by a shovel. His twisted smile showcased his glistening fangs.
“Ah, sweet, is that any way to greet an old friend?”
In a flash, she’d lunged across the room and wrapped her fingers around the fellow’s throat. “You,” she told him, her voice colder than ice, “are not my friend.”
Rage sparked in his black eyes, but, to Adam’s surprise, the vamp didn’t try to fight her. “Armand…told me…about Sean.”
She slanted a quick glance back at the bartender and a satisfied smile curved her lips. “Ah, I knew he could get some information for me if he tried. Sometimes, you just have to apply yourself. Work a little harder, you know?”
The bartender swallowed and lowered his head. He obviously wasn’t up for meeting Maya’s stare.
Adam didn’t move. The tension in the air was suddenly, dangerously thick. The bar had gone quiet. The guitarist had even stopped strumming. There were no more whispers. No more moans. It was as if everyone were waiting. Just watching to see what would happen next.
“Someone attacked my day guard,” Maya said, never releasing her hold on the vampire. “And let me tell you, Stephan, that really pisses me off.” She drew back her right hand, and Adam saw her razor-sharp claws.
Why didn’t the other vampire—the one she’d called Stephan—attack her? Why didn’t they all jump her? Adam glanced around the room, confused as hell. Sure, the whispers and rumors held that Maya had woken to the undead world with almost abnormal vampire strength, but she was only one woman.
She couldn’t be that strong.
“I-I’ve heard…talk.” Stephan licked his lips.
“And?” She lifted him up. Held him in the air with one hand.
Adam wasn’t particularly impressed. So far, he still hadn’t seen anything overly special from her.
“Wasn’t a vampire,” Stephan revealed. “Not one of us.”
“Then who was it?”
“It was me.” A huge figure stood just beyond the stage. Thick claws extended from his fingers, and unless Adam was very much mistaken, the fellow appeared to have horns in the middle of his wild tangle of black hair.
“Ah, hell.” Maya dropped the vampire and turned to face her new threat. “What is the deal? First that guy—” She jerked her thumb toward Adam, “and now you. Has Hugh gone mad-ass crazy and he’s now letting just any jerk inside who wants to come and play with the vamps? I thought he was better at being a bouncer.”
The man—no, couldn’t be a man—smiled. Adam expected to see fangs. And he did. Each tooth the guy had—and he had a lot—was a sharpened fang. Interesting.
Adam stepped back, not because he was afraid, but because he wanted to watch Maya work. He figured this would be a good test for her. Unless Adam missed his guess, he was staring at a level-ten demon. A very old level ten. An ancient. The baddest of his kind.
There were ten levels of demons in the known world. The first three levels weren’t anything to worry about. Sure, they could control a small flame or make the wind dance. Not exactly earth-shattering power.
Fours to eights—they were stronger. They could hypnotize humans. Control more of the elements. They were hard to kill. To slay them, their heads had to generally be severed.
Level nines and level tens—those guys were the demons that folks really feared. The demons of the sort mentioned in the Bible. Monsters who slaughtered women and children for fun, bathed in blood, had unbelievable strength, and could sometimes live forever—provided, of course, that the demon didn’t lose his head. The oldest of these demons had tails, horns, claws, and skin that couldn’t be pierced with mortal weapons. Considering that fun fact, the level nines and level tens really didn’t have to worry too much about a beheading.
That was why the bastards got to live and kill for so long. In the supernatural world, they were considered the badasses. They feared no one. Sure as hell not a slip of a vampire, Adam thought.
Maya circled the demon and the other vampires backed away, going way back.
The bleeding humans even seemed to finally sense that things had taken a deadly turn in the feeding room. They hurried to the corners where they shrunk back against the walls and gazed around with lost eyes.
“Hugh?” The demon spoke the name slowly, tilting his head to the side. “Oh, would that be the man who was guarding the door?” He held up his hands and Adam could see the blood dripping from the demon’s claws. “He didn’t want to let me in, so I had to convince him.”
A faint tremble shook Maya’s body. If Adam hadn’t been watching her so closely, he would have missed it.
“You bastard. I liked Hugh, and I don’t like many people.” She stood in front of the demon now, barely five steps away. Legs braced shoulder-width apart, hands relaxed at her sides.
“Yeah, I fucking killed him, and you killed Hydan, you bitch!”
Hydan. The light dawned. That had been the demon Maya had beheaded two nights back. A rogue who’d slashed a prostitute’s face and then started on her body. Adam had been following Maya when she’d stumbled onto him, alerted by the other woman’s screams.
Adam moved slightly, creeping around the bar so that he could get a better view. Ah, that was it. Now he could see Maya’s face.
She was smiling. “Yeah, I killed that bastard. And you know what? I’d do it again. In an instant.”
The demon’s teeth snapped together. “I’m going to enjoy ripping you open, vampire.”
“Um, are we gonna talk all night?” She lifted one dark brow. “Or is someone going to die?”
Her words seemed to push the demon over some invisible edge. He roared and launched forward with his beefy arms raised and his mouth open.
Maya didn’t move. She stood there, looking fragile, too vulnerable, as the seven-foot-tall demon attacked.
Adam stepped forward, an instinctual move, because she looked so damn helpless.
A level-ten demon was too strong. She’d never survive, and if she got her heart ripped out and her head chopped off—a surefire way to kill a vamp—she’d never be able to help him find—
Maya’s hands lifted at the last second. She grabbed the demon’s claws, jerked his left hand back, and then drove his own claws straight into his throat.
Blood gushed down the demon’s chest, poured onto Maya, and covered the floor.
The demon began twisting, snarling, and even howling. His right hand raked her side, slashing deep and ripping her skin wide open.
She never eased her hold on him.
Adam saw her fingers tighten around the demon’s wrist a second before she yanked his hand to the left, to the right—and she cut the demon’s head off.
With his own damn hand.
The head fell to the floor with a thud. The body stood stiffly for a moment. Swayed. Then the knees buckled, and the demon’s chest slammed toward the wooden floor.
Maya jumped back, barely avoiding being taken down by the headless corpse.
She stared at the demon’s remains. Her chest rose and fell rapidly. Her fangs were bared.
Silence reigned. Probably because everyone was stunned. Adam had to admit, he fell into the stunned category.
Apparently, the rumors were true. Maya Black was truly one badass vampire.
Maya gazed down at the body as she tried to swallow back the nausea that rose in her throat.
Shit. The damn thing is still twitching.
She drew a deep breath and smelled his blood.
He wasn’t human. I didn’t kill a human.
But she’d killed.
And he would have killed me. He’d already attacked Sean, left him for dead. Murdered Hugh.
The demon had deserved to die.
A demon, not a man. She just had to remember that fact.
She lifted her head, deliberately drawing her gaze from the demon. The room around her was quiet. Too quiet. She knew everyone had been watching her. Some, if not all, had probably been hoping that she’d be the one who wound up on the floor.
Luckily for her, that hadn’t been her first encounter with an L10. No, she’d gone against a level-ten demon three months after her change. She’d learned the hard way that the legend about the mortal weapons not being able to pierce their flesh was true. She’d been about ten seconds away from her second and final death when she’d managed to shove the demon’s claws back against his chest.
When the blood had begun to flow, Maya had known instantly what she had to do.
Kill or be killed. It was the new law, the only law, she followed these days.
Stephan sauntered up to her side. He was smiling. The guy was always smiling. “That’ll teach ’em to come into our territory.”
A rumble of agreement.
Great. Now the vampires were going to act like they’d just won some kind of pissing contest with the demons.
“So that’s how you kill ’em, huh?” He bent down and dipped a finger in the L10’s blood. “I’ll have to remember that.” He brought the fingertip to his lips, then frowned.
Level-ten demon blood was sour as hell.
The music started again. The strumming of the guitar was light at first, tentative. Then louder, stronger as the vampires and humans began to drift from the shadows.
Maya stepped over the demon. His body would be taken care of. She knew Armand had a policy of destroying the dead left in his bar. She’d settled her score. Now it was time for her to leave.
She hated killing.
He wasn’t a man.
He’d been a monster. Evil. Deadly.
Just like she was.
Maya shoved open the door and stepped into the night. She didn’t look down at Hugh. She couldn’t bear to glance down, not then, but she knew he was dead. She could no longer hear his heart beating.
Human. Hugh had been a human, a guard of sorts, just like Sean. He’d always been civil to her. The guy had also never tried to kill her, a definite mark in his favor. He hadn’t deserved to die.
A story for too many humans.
Footsteps thundered behind her. Eager whispers reached her ears.
She stopped but didn’t glance over her shoulder. “Don’t even think about drinking from him.” The scavengers drank from the dead.
But she didn’t want anyone drinking from Hugh.
“Bury him. Get him a priest. But don’t drink from him.” Now she did turn back, and Maya looked at each vampire in turn. “Or I’ll come back for you.”
The fear that flashed on their faces told her that they believed her. Good. Because she’d hate to have to hunt them down. Too much work.
Maya inclined her head before whirling and stalking down the road. With every step, the air became a little cleaner. The stench of death faded. She could almost pretend that she hadn’t just been in hell. Almost. Except she had demon blood on her shoes. Shoes. Clothes. Everything.
She’d easily traveled ten blocks before she realized that she was being followed. It was the faintest of sounds that alerted her. A soft sigh. Could have been a whisper of breath or a scuff of a shoe on the pavement. But Maya knew she wasn’t alone on the dark street.
Her nostrils flared slightly as she inhaled. Since her change, all of her senses had grown stronger. Hearing. Smell. Sight. Especially sight. She could see perfectly in the dark. When she hunted, it was like she was using some kind of heat vision. She could see the warm red glow of her prey.
Normally, she could also smell with the detection of an animal. She could pick up scents, even identify different people from miles away.
But tonight, she didn’t smell any trace of her pursuer.
Just as earlier, when the human had approached her, she hadn’t detected his scent. Which was strange. Humans always carried a scent. Perfume. Cigarettes. Soap. Something. But that guy—the tall, dark-haired guy who’d approached her in the feeding room—he’d had no scent.
Maya rolled her shoulders, stood in the middle of the street, and waited.
It didn’t take a genius to understand who was on her trail. She really, really wasn’t in the mood for any more shit that night.
“You’re starting to get on my bad side,” she said, and her voice carried easily.
Then, footsteps. Slow. Steady. Her pursuer wasn’t trying to hide anymore. Good.
Maya turned on her heel and watched as her stalker approached. It was him, of course. She could tell by the strong, muscular shape of his body.
He stepped under a streetlight, and a faint glow shone down on his black hair. Maya studied him a moment, frowning. The man was big. Not unusually tall. She gauged him to be a bit over six feet, but he was solidly muscled—every inch of him.
He wore a black jacket over his shirt. Loose jeans encased his long legs, and a scuffed pair of boots covered his feet.
The guy wasn’t handsome. Not in the cover-boy style that most humans found so popular these days. His face was hard, rugged. His cheekbones were sharp, his nose a little too long. He had a strong, square jawline and a faint cleft in his chin. His lips were firm, a bit thin, and currently pressed into a tight line.
And his eyes…She’d never seen eyes quite like his before. The green was so deep, so dark. Emerald. He had emerald eyes.
Those eyes of his made her nervous. Very nervous.
Something was off about the fellow, and as he closed the final distance between them, her body went on alert. “Wanna tell me why you’re following me?” Maya asked, all casual-like. Did the man have some kind of death wish? He’d seen what she’d done to the demon. That should have been a big clue for him to stay the hell away from her.
“My name is Adam.” His voice rumbled from deep in his chest. “Adam Brody.” No accent marked the words.
Maya grunted. She didn’t really care about his name. She just wanted him to leave her alone. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“I told you before, Maya, I need your help.”
He knew her name. She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be impressed by that fact or worried. After considering the situation for three seconds, she decided she was neither.
Most of the supernaturals in Los Angeles knew who she was. She hadn’t exactly made a habit of hiding her identity. She didn’t know if Adam Brody fell into the supernatural category or if he was just a well-informed human, but either way, she didn’t really care that he knew her identity.
And the guy was still singing his song about needing help. She sighed, then muttered, “I told you, I’m not into helping people.” Killing, that was another matter. “Do yourself a favor. Stay away from me.” She needed to hurry if she was going to make it to the hospital before dawn.
Maya turned to go—
Adam grabbed her arm.
She stared at his hand. The long, tanned fingers. His flesh felt warm against her. When was the last time a guy had chosen to touch her? Without, of course, the intent to kill?
Her life was so screwed up.
“Let go,” she ordered.
His clipped response had her jerking back to face him fully as her eyebrows flew up. “Who are you?”
His eyes narrowed. “I told you, I’m Adam Brody, and I—”
“No.” That wasn’t what she meant. Time to try again. “What are you?”
He blinked. “A man who needs help.”
A man. Maya wasn’t sure she believed that story. “For a human, you seem awful relaxed to be here, talking with me.”
He shrugged. “So you’re a vampire. Big deal. I’ve met your kind before.”
Oh, she’d just bet he had. Adam Brody was holding out on her, and she was no one’s fool. “I’m not just a vampire,” she whispered, watching closely for his response as she stepped toward him and brushed her body against his. Mmm, she liked the way he felt. Liked the hard steel of his muscles. “I’m a very hungry vampire.” Her hand lifted, and Maya trailed her fingers down his throat.
She expected him to back away. To flinch in revulsion. Something. But Adam didn’t so much as bat an eyelash.
Her fingers were over his pulse. She could feel the blood drumming beneath her touch.
Maya hadn’t exactly been bullshitting him. She was hungry. The wound on her side had yet to close—it’d be several hours before she healed completely. She was still bleeding, and she’d already lost too much blood.
Blood loss weakened her. It weakened all vamps. If they lost too much, they could die.
Her fingertips stroked his skin, and her canines began to stretch and sharpen. Just a bite. After all, he’d been the one to come looking for her. Just a quick bite, and she’d send him on his merry way.
Maya rose onto her toes. Her breath blew over his skin. Her heart began to drum faster as anticipation filled her. She could almost taste him.
Her lips pressed against his throat. Kissed the flesh. Her tongue snaked out and licked a light trail over his pounding pulse.
Adam’s hand was still wrapped around her arm. His fingers tightened, and she heard him draw in a sudden, sharp breath.
It was always so easy to make the prey want the bite. She’d discovered after her change that it wasn’t necessary to force humans to submit to her. Why use any force when she could usually seduce men into offering their throats to her?
At first, she was just a woman to her prey. She looked human. Her body seemed human. She breathed. Her heart beat. Her blood pumped through her. Her prey didn’t realize until too late what she really was.
But by that point, her teeth were already in their throats, and for the men she’d tasted—they’d seemed to find her bite to be a highly pleasurable experience.
She made it a habit not to hurt humans unless she had to do so.
But monsters—they were a different matter.
Maya lightly scraped the edge of her teeth over Adam’s throat. His pulse raced faster, pounding harder beneath her mouth.
Just a taste.
He pushed her back and stared down at her with eyes that blazed with fury. “If you want to drink from me, then you have to agree to help me.”
Her teeth snapped together as she fought the blood hunger. He was a persistent one, she’d give him that. And now he was also starting to make her curious.
A man willing to trade his blood. For what? “What is it that you need from me?” She was almost afraid to find out. Don’t get involved. She had enough problems to deal with and—
“My niece. Vampires took her.” His fingers dug into her arm. “I’ve got to get her back.”
Hell. “How long has she been gone?” Another question she shouldn’t have asked. Because the more she learned, the harder it would be to turn away.
I’m not a helper. She’d told him the truth when she said those words earlier. Maya had tried that whole helping bit while she was still human. It had gotten her killed in an alley days after her thirty-first birthday.
“They took her two weeks ago.”
Two weeks. She shook her head and told him the truth, “She’s dead.”
A muscle flexed along his jaw. “You don’t kill your prey.”
How did he know that? But she didn’t deny it because there’d be no point in lying. “Yeah, well, I’m not your average vampire, either.” Most of her kind were sadistic bastards and bitches who liked to play with their food, then kill the victims, painfully. “If they’ve had her that long, she’s dead. Mourn her, then move on.”
The bloodlust in her had cooled at his words. With one last look at him, she spun around and began walking down the street.
She’d taken five steps when his voice stopped her cold.
“She’s a child, Maya. Only nine years old.”
Her eyes squeezed shut. Vampires with a kid. Sick fucks.
“I have to find her. I will find her. With or without your help.”
A kid. Why’d it have to be a kid?
“A Born Master sent his pack after her. Bastard named Nassor.”
Her body tensed. Nassor.
“You’ve helped others. I know you have. You’ve hunted down demons and shifters.”
Yes, she’d gone on the hunt. For a price. Not like she worked for free. And it also wasn’t like she was in the market for another job.
But…a kid. With Nassor. He’d rip her apart.
Damn. Her shoulders fell. There wasn’t much of a choice for her anymore. Maya started walking again. Her motorcycle waited for her just a few feet away.
“So that’s it?” Adam shouted. “You’re just going to leave? Going to turn your back on me and—”
She reached the bike. Climbed on. Revved the engine and felt her baby purr beneath her. Her fingers tightened around the handlebars as she glanced over her shoulder and drawled, “You coming or are you gonna scream all night?” The guy must have some strong lungs on him.
Adam shook his head before a full smile spread across his face. “You’ll help me?”
“Maybe.” Because she was the world’s biggest idiot with a heart that should have been so much harder by now. Her gaze held his. “But there’s gonna be a price.” Nothing came free. Especially not a life.
His smile faded. “Isn’t there always?”
Ah, but he’d never had to pay a vampire. She’d bet her undead life on that fact. If Adam Brody wanted her to track a pack of vamps and try to rescue a kid, then he was going to have to pay a heavy price, indeed.
He’d have to pay it in blood.
The motorcycle’s engine growled. “Get on,” she ordered. “There’s a helmet on the back.”
In seconds, he was climbing onto the bike and sliding those long, strong legs behind hers.
His hands wrapped around her waist. His chest pressed flush against her back. Adam was certainly warm.
And he felt good.
The motorcycle shot away from the street corner and flew straight into the night.
Adam’s hold tightened. “Where are we going?”
“I’ve got a stop to make.” Until they worked out their exchange, she wasn’t letting him out of her sight.
“We need to find Cammie, we have to—”
“There’s no way we’re finding her tonight.” They only had a few hours before dawn. She raised her voice over the motorcycle’s snarl and said, “But there is somebody I’ve got to see.”
She felt the sudden tautness of his body. So he wasn’t happy with her plans. Tough.
A man had nearly died for her. The least she owed him was a visit. After she settled that debt, then she’d begin her bargain with Adam Brody.
She wondered how he’d taste…