Petros kicked down the front door with one powerful blow. It shattered inward, spraying shards of wood in all directions. I was the first to leap through the opening of the run-down home, wooden daggers drawn. The house smelled of dust and rotten things, like someone had opened a refrigerator full of rancid meat. I gagged and focused on the sounds around me. No breathing, no scattering of footsteps, and yet the place felt alive.
Petros appeared behind me, his powerful Lycan presence as strong as those who hid within the shadows.
“How many?” he asked.
I didn’t answer right away. Movement beneath us had caught my attention. The shuffling of feet. A window opening. Adrenaline flooded my system.
“At least a dozen.” I whirled around and called to Charlie who waited outside with other Deific agents, “They’re escaping out the back!”
I sprinted toward the opening of a stairway between a kitchen and a living room, all void of furniture. I moved so fast, my body separated into brief bursts of wind, only to come together when I reached the bottom of the staircase. No lights were on, they probably didn’t work anyway, in what was a long and narrow basement room with wood-paneled walls.
Light from the full moon filtered in through the few windows, shadowing over a dozen males and females all crowded near a back one trying to escape. The larger, more braver ones crouched low as if to attack me. Fangs grew long in their mouths. I might’ve mistaken them for humans otherwise.
I didn’t fight them immediately; they weren’t who I was after. I took in a quick assessment of each one to be sure none of them were Vykens.
Petros reached the bottom of the stairs along with two Deific agents, both holding special weapons made for vampires. “Any luck?”
I shook my head. “Another bust, but I’ll go search the rest of the basement to be sure. Make sure to keep those who surrender alive.”
Petros cursed under his breath. He hated that the Deific didn’t immediately kill who he thought were bad guys, but Charlie insisted on being sure. It didn’t matter that the basement reeked of human blood, evidence of it also on the wall, Charlie believed in second chances.
I wasn’t sure what I believed. Part of me wanted to give vampires the benefit of the doubt, especially since I also had power-hungry darkness inside of me, but it was hard to do when their crimes were so obvious.
At the end of a short hallway, I found two bedrooms. I searched the first, a larger bedroom, but found it empty except for six bunkbeds. The sound of Petros’s booming voice arguing with vampires about whether or not they wanted to surrender had me chuckling. He had very little patience for words, which is one reason why I liked him. Petros was a get-it-done sort of guy and not one for diplomacy.
I reached for the doorknob of the other room but froze when a whiff of fresh human blood, mingled with scented smoke, reached my nostrils. My heart skipped a beat as I opened the door, fear clenching my chest at the thought of what I might find.
I noticed the candles first. There were dozens of them lit all over the room, most of them vanilla scented. Their flamers flickered and danced from an unknown draft, casting all kinds of shadows around the room. The ever-shifting light made me catch glimpses of something gathered in a heap in the corner of the room.
Pale skin. n***d arms and legs. Long blond, almost white hair.
I darted forward and gently took hold of her freezing cold body. Please don’t be dead.
Her head flopped backwards to where I was staring into the open, glazed-over brown eyes of a young girl with puncture marks in her neck. I didn’t have to search for a pulse to know she was dead.
Rage, raw and primal, ignited inside me at the sight of her, at what they’d done to her. It could’ve been Llona.
I slowly lowered her to the floor then straightened tall, every muscle in my body coiling tightly. I could’ve tried to calm myself down, could’ve tried to temper the beast inside me like I so often did, but it had been too long since I’d heard Llona’s voice. And seeing this girl who looked so much like her? It only reminded me of how fragile life was. Llona could be taken from me at any moment.
All because of evil, power-hungry supernaturals.
Unleashing the monster inside me, I burst from the room in an angry wind, only to become tangible again when I reached the first vampire who was on his knees in a submissive gesture to Petros. I drove a wooden stake into his heart, then turned to the next vampire who already had his wrists bound and did the same to him.
Someone polluted the air with my name, shouting it over and over, but I didn’t stop until every last vampire in the room with us had disintegrated into either a cloud of ash or a pile of fat and gristle.
As soon as I stopped moving, two agents took hold of my arms and another pointed one of his guns at me. Petros punched him out cold.
Charlie appeared at the bottom of the stairs and took in the scene. “What the hell just happened? These vampires were surrendering!”
I shook off the agents and stepped forward. “They didn’t deserve to live. Check the back room.”
Charlie scowled at me as he marched down the hallway using a flashlight to illuminate the way. Petros followed behind.
For almost a full minute, no one said a word, but my excellent hearing heard both Charlie’s and Petros’s heart stop beating the moment they saw the girl.
I moved toward the broken window to breathe in fresh air. In the backyard, three Deific agents had two vampires tied-up on the ground. I thought about killing them too, but Charlie came back to the room, his face pale.
“You’re right. They deserved it.” He turned to his agents. “There’s a human body in the back room. Take her to the van, then burn this place to the ground.”
Charlie didn’t look at me as he made his way upstairs. I followed after him. In any other situation, I might’ve offered some comforting words, but I still had Vyken darkness coursing through my blood. It screamed at me to go kill those other two vampires. And it begged me to tear open the throat of the human agent standing on the lawn not more than ten feet away from me and drink his blood.
The impulse to harm others only grew stronger when the girl’s body was brought out from the front door. Her long blonde hair spilled out from the loose blanket she’d been wrapped in and blew in the faint breeze.
An image of me running my fingers through Llona’s hair overwhelmed my mind, and my chest heaved. “I have to go.”
I spun to do just that, but Petros’s large hand grabbed my arm in a tight grip. “It wasn’t her. Llona’s alive.”
My jaw flexed. I’m sure he was right, but I couldn’t be here any longer. Not when my monster was so close to the surface of my consciousness with so many humans around.
“Go,” he said, as if he sensed my inner turmoil. “Meet us back at the Deific.”
I nodded once and spun on my heel before I broke into a fevered wind. I raced through the night, up and over the tops of trees, their limbs barely beginning to bud from springtime’s kiss.
The home we’d raided was a good ten miles outside of Wildemoor. We’d learned of its location from a shifter wolf who thought Vykens might be hiding out in a vampire nest nearby. I really thought we’d caught our first big break. We’d been hunting for Vykens ever since they’d fled Lucent Academy, but it was as if they’d just disappeared. Not even Charlie could find them with his psychic abilities.
I dove toward a lake and skimmed across its cool surface, hoping it would soothe the ache inside me, but it only made me long for Llona more. So many times I had almost rushed to her, the need to hold her in my arms overriding every other obligation, but then she had slowly stopped talking to me.
Her eventual withdrawal from my life had left me confused and angry, and yet, I could understand it. She had one goal—find a cure to Vyken poison. She wanted to cure me and Christian.
As much as I wanted to rid myself of the darkness inside me, I feared the price Llona might pay to get it. I also worried what might happen if Christian did return to the man Llona had fallen in love with over a year ago. I admit to probably not being the best suitor for her. Though our bodies were close to the same age, my soul was much older and stained with emotional scars that may never heal. With Llona, however, that had changed. For the first time in almost two centuries, I’d finally begun to live life again … for me and not for revenge. Llona had done this. She’d given me hope, joy and most importantly, love.
But then she’d disappeared.
I could’ve tracked her down and would’ve if I sensed her life was in danger, but so far, I hadn’t. Llona had left on her own, and this had shattered my most precious organ—the one thing that kept Vyken poison at bay. Since then, I’d been hovering on the edge of darkness’s steep cliff, one step away from falling over the edge.
Only hope kept me alive.
Llona had feelings for me. That much I was certain. I’d felt it in the way she’d touched me, the way her lips had moved against mine. But was it enough?
I continued to think about this as I raced through the city, dodging in and out of tall buildings. I was glad it was nighttime, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to do this. Sunlight had begun to bother my body again. Nothing too serious, but enough that it had grown uncomfortable and often made me itch.
Ever since I drank Llona’s blood, I often wondered how long her Light would last inside me. It was longer than I’d expected, but now that it was fading, I’d miss it.
I hadn’t told Petros or anyone else about losing this ability. So far, it hadn’t become an issue as we mostly traveled by night and most of our raids were done under the cover of darkness. However, I dreaded the day when it did become a problem, and I feared who might suffer because of it.
A long time passed. Enough time that I figured I should probably return to the Deific. I was anxious to know if the vampires Charlie had captured had given any information about Vyken whereabouts. They had to be somewhere.
When I arrived, the Deific had mostly shut down for the night. Only Charlie remained in his office with Petros. They both glanced at me as I walked into the room with worried stares.
“You good?” Charlie asked me.
“I’m fine.” I dropped into a chair across from his desk. “Did you find out anything useful?”
Charlie sighed and rubbed at the back of his neck. “Not much, other than one of them claimed we could find answers in Rouen. He said he heard Vykens have been flocking there.”
I lowered my gaze to the carpeted floor, thinking of Llona. Last I’d heard she was headed to Irondale. That wasn’t too far away.
I looked up. “Then let’s go to Rouen. Right away.”
“How big of a team should we bring?” Charlie asked, but before Petros or I could answer, his phone buzzed. Charlie glanced down at the screen. His lips tightened, then his gaze flashed to me.
“What?” I asked and moved to look at his phone but he answered it before I could see it.
“Hey, Charlie,” a familiar voice said into Charlie’s ear. “Sorry to call so late.”
My heart dropped into my stomach at the sound of Llona’s voice. I gripped the armrests to keep me seated in the chair.
Charlie kept his eyes on me as he said, “Everything okay, Llona?”
“It’s fine. We just need help with something.”
I could feel Petros’s eyes on me, watching me carefully in the same way Charlie was. Every part of me wanted to lunge across the desk and take the phone from Charlie. I had so many questions for Llona, but I f****d myself to remain still. Llona needed space. I had to respect that.
“I’m happy to help,” Charlie said into his phone. “What do you need?”
I heard her sigh. “This is going to sound so stupid, but how the hell do you sense supernatural creatures? It came easy to me with Vykens, but I can’t sense any others. Neither can May.”
Charlie chuckled and spun his chair away from me. “That doesn’t sound stupid at all. It takes practice to open your mind’s eye.”
Unable to remain seated, I came to my feet. Petros slid to the edge of his seat, his body tense like he was afraid I might try to wrestle the phone from Charlie.
I rolled my eyes at him and moved to the window while Charlie explained to Llona how a supernatural has to relax their breathing and tap into that part of them that makes them different from humans. It’s that special ability that helps them see other supernaturals.
I rested my forehead against the window’s cool glass, my jaw clenched tightly together. I should be the one teaching Llona all of this. In fact, I should’ve done it before she left the academy. That and a whole bunch of other things about the supernatural world that could’ve kept her safe. It just hadn’t crossed my mind at the time.
Three floors down, a man and woman walked along the sidewalk holding hands and smiling. The woman leaned into him and laughed out loud at something he had said. They looked so normal, so happy, without a care in the world. I wanted that.
I leaned further into the glass, the burden of hearing Llona’s voice but not being able to talk to her weighing heavily upon me.
When Charlie was finished explaining the process of seeking out other supernaturals, he asked, “Are you ladies being careful?”
Llona paused, making me turn around, my brow furrowing.
“Once we master what you just taught me,” she finally said, “I think we’ll be a lot safer. Earlier tonight, we were lured into what turned out to be some sort of vampire den.”
I sucked in a quick breath, once again cursing myself for not teaching her more about the supernatural world. Even Petros leaned forward, worry creasing his forehead.
“How did that happen?” Charlie asked.
“May was flirting with some guy at a diner. He invited us back to his place where supposedly a group of friends were partying.” She hesitated. “Hearing that out loud makes us sound so stupid and naive.” She laughed. “We clearly have a lot to learn.”
I curled my fingers into my palms, wanting very much to tear the phone away from Charlie and tell Llona how careless they had been.
As if he’d sensed my thoughts, Charlie met my gaze and said into the phone, “Well, it sounds like you learned your lesson.”
“We did. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, we held our own very well against those vampires. They won’t be giving us or anyone else any more trouble.”
“That’s good. I’m glad you and May know how to use your abilities to take care of yourself in dangerous situations,” Charlie said, but with the way his gaze was drilling into mine, his words were meant for me. “But next time, try to avoid those situations all together, yeah?”
“We will. Thanks for your help, Charlie.” She paused again. “Hey, have you heard from Liam by chance? Is he doing okay?”
I stopped breathing.
“He’s doing great, and he’s actually right here. Do you want to talk to him?”
I continued to hold my breath, waiting for her answer that felt like it would never come.
“I want to, really I do, but can’t right now. Please tell him,” she sucked in a sudden breath, “how much I miss him. And tell him I’ll contact him just as soon as— “
She stopped talking like she wasn’t sure what to say next, but I would’ve given anything for her to finish that sentence. I wanted to know why she hadn’t talked to me in weeks.
“I’ll tell him,” he finished for her. “And Liam misses you too.”
The knot in my throat bobbed up and down at the truth of his words. If only she knew how much.
“Thanks, Charlie.” Llona’s voice was quiet.
Charlie suddenly straightened as if someone had poked him in the back, and his face paled.
To me and into the phone, he blurted, “Your lives are going to cross paths, and when it does, tough choices will be made that may change how you feel about each other.”
I thought he was going to say more but his eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he fell unconscious.