The vampire silently watched from a balcony near the top of a shiny glass-covered skyscraper, enthralled, as the assassin neatly dispatched three Lore with brutal efficiency.
Two of the three had been beheaded before they’d even known what was happening.
Impressive, really—hard as it is to sneak up on a vampire, let alone deprive one of its head.
Granted, the three Lore rogues had looked young and inebriated—no doubt fresh from snacking on some of the drug-addled humans wandering around the club district in the very early hours of the morning. The chemical-or alcohol-laced blood of high humans was a favorite pastime of the younger generations of vampires, many of whom were reticent to leave human vices behind after their turning.
The third vampire looked shocked and tried to run as his friends met their absolute death, but the assassin was faster—considerably so. The Lore was killed quickly, neatly, and efficiently, without undue blood or relish.
He narrowed his dark brown eyes as he surveyed the assassin’s graceful movements.
The vampire didn’t kill for the thrill, which often happened because psychopaths were common within their species. No, given the calm efficiency, the assassin killed for some other reason that he couldn’t yet fathom.
He had hidden far enough away that the low clicking of his compact digital camera couldn’t be heard.
He zoomed in and refocused, the shutter softly snapping open and closed as the assassin wiped a bloody sword on one of the unfortunate vampire’s clothing before sheathing it.
He stuck around long enough to ensure all Lore—vampires turned by another vampire—had disintegrated into dust. The cold, late-winter wind whistling through the city would eventually scatter their remains across several gray city blocks. He was grateful they hadn’t been hybrids. They left a mess when killed, and a cleaning crew would have been necessary to dispose of the remains before any humans stumbled across them.
Pressing a few buttons, he examined the camera’s small screen critically. The leathers covering the assassin from head to toe made any facial features unidentifiable in each of the shots, but they were tight enough to leave no doubt.
A female assassin?
He was surprised and a little excited. Female vampires were increasingly rare, let alone one who fought as well as she did.
The wind moaning between the high-rise and its tall neighbor wasn’t enough to muffle the soft thud of footfalls from his sharp ears. He didn’t turn, however, because the intruder’s scent was familiar.
“Striker, are you following her again?” Bradford, Striker’s second-in-command, asked.
Striker reluctantly pulled his gaze away from the camera’s screen and turned slowly. “Yes. What of it?”
Bradford raised an eyebrow. “Surely you’ve got enough evidence against her to report to Kouncil by now. Why the extra surveillance?”
Striker folded his arms and remained silent.
Bradford ran his hands through his wavy red hair before shrugging his heavily muscled shoulders. “I’m aware it’s not my job to question—”
“You got that right.”
“Just wondering if you can afford the extra time. Kovens don’t run themselves, you know.”
Striker shrugged, slipping the camera into the pocket of his leather jacket. “I find her . . . fascinating.”
Bradford snorted. “Don’t let your never-ending drive for pussy cloud your judgment. The executioner’s noose is over her head, and you know it. Kouncil wants blood. She risks exposing us all with her activities.”
“You should see how she fights. She’s quick, effective . . . deadly,” Striker said, waving toward the female, who was scooping up empty clothes and placing them in a nearby dumpster. “And she’s cleaning up after herself, as you can plainly see. She poses no threat to us. On the contrary, she could be useful.”
Bradford stared at the woman, wrinkling his fair, white brow. “How old do you think she is?”
“She is too fast to be a hybrid. She doesn’t appear to be able to fly yet, so Lore less than a century old is my guess.”
“Less than a century?” Bradford narrowed his ruddy-colored eyes. “Good. She should be easy to capture and destroy, then.”
Striker clenched his fists. “Do not be so quick to destroy that which you don’t understand, brother. She could be a valuable asset.”
Bradford scoffed. “There is no way Kouncil will ever allow a female to join Koven. Nor will they forgive her for such . . . unseemly pursuits.”
“As much as they might like to think otherwise, it’s not up to Kouncil. It’s up to me who joins my Koven. Besides, fifty years ago they said the same thing about the hybrids, and now they are becoming members of our ranks as fast as they mature.”
Bradford let out a single bark of laughter. “Yes, you went against their wishes and allowed hybrids into Koven, and Kouncil is still pissed off about it! Because of you, they were forced to relax the ban on human and vampire relations, as well as the half-breeds sometimes resulting from them. All to boost our ranks. Vampire numbers are dwindling lower than ever before, and you know from personal experience that the turnings don’t always take, particularly for wome—” Bradford glanced at Striker and winced but pushed past the awkward moment quickly. “Don’t mistake their tolerance of hybrids after centuries of culling them with acceptance. They cannot stand the mongrels. They still call them Tiks, for fuck’s sake! They move about the sunlight without any discernable loss of strength, unlike Kouncil themselves.” Bradford shook his head. “It would be unwise to anger them so soon after a significant loss of face. They’ll never join the rest of us in the twenty-first century. They’re marred too deep in the old ways and prejudices. I often wonder why we sacrifice our strongest vampires to protect them. Would we be so much worse off if we let nature take its course?”
Striker shrugged. “My maker used to ask me the same thing, and I honestly have no good answer. Tradition, maybe? Koven has been the right hand of Kouncil for millennia. But they’ll join us in modern society if I have to drag them kicking and screaming myself. You’ll see.”
Bradford huffed and cut his gaze sideways at Striker, clearly irritated. “Sadly, brother, I think you will see, and when you do, you won’t like it.” Running for the edge of the high-rise, he jumped, disappearing into the dark sky.
Striker turned back to his contemplation of the female.
He noticed she had returned everything to it pre-slaughter state, and resolving to follow her, he launched himself into the sky and flew above as she darted on foot through city alleys and quiet streets. He tracked her easily and hoped she would lead him to her keeper. It would allow his men to find her much easier later, should he wish to arrest her.
His mind raced.
Kouncil had sent him specifically to identify and gather evidence against the lone assassin killing rogue vampires—Lore and hybrid alike—indiscriminately and without permission. His instructions had not included rescue or engagement.
But something about her . . .
He did not believe Kouncil’s insistence that the assassin was putting them all at risk. After watching her from afar several nights a week over the course of many months, he had noted how carefully she cleaned up after herself to keep her activities safe from human authorities. Her death warrant was another in a long list of knee-jerk reactions from a Kouncil all too pleased to kill first and ask questions later.
Besides, the young ones she had killed had all been the result of unsanctioned turnings, so really, she was doing him and his fellow Koven warriors, not to mention Kouncil, a favor. Any rogues she killed saved him and his brothers from having to do it later.
Rogues had been an increasing problem over the decades as vampires sought to make children without the required Kouncil permission and signing of the blood contract agreeing to the rules of vampire society. Many still carried a sense of entitlement from the human world and did not appreciate the necessary constraints placed upon them in the vampire one.
No, it wasn’t that she was killing rogues that stirred the Kouncil’s ire. It was that she did it without their authorization. The fact that she was a woman didn’t help matters.
Kouncil was made up of the oldest of the old, so change of any kind was simply not tolerated. Vampire survival in a human-dominated world depended upon obeying stringent strictures.
Kouncil’s argument? If her activities exposed them to the humans—the same humans they lived with in secrecy, mind you—then thousands of years of careful concealment would be exposed.
As the humans had leapt forward technologically, if not spiritually or morally, vampires’ very existence had become precariously balanced on a knife’s edge. Any day, they could be discovered. Any day, a young rogue or a careless elder could be caught on a camera phone killing and feeding. Any day, a medical professional could stumble across the greatest discovery mankind would ever know.
The vampires had contingencies for these eventualities, of course, including well-placed people in all levels of law enforcement and politics around the globe, but there were no guarantees.
Debates had raged throughout the centuries over their exposure to humans, deliberate or accidental. Debates that had often continued for many years at a time, but in the end, the result was always the same—humans simply were not tolerant enough as a species to coexist peacefully with vampires. Humans sought to either incarcerate or eliminate any threat to their survival, and no other species on the planet—with the possible exception of humanity itself—had ever posed as much of a threat to the human race as vampires.
It meant war on a global scale. Devastating for all involved.
Striker had never agreed with much that Kouncil said, but he agreed with that.
While humans still outnumbered vampires by at least one hundred thousand to one, and vampires were more like a perfected version of humans than the fairy-tale movie version humans had turned them into, there was no doubt that vampires’ superior strength, as well as their other gifts, eventually ensured a victory.
But at what cost?
The only reason vampires hadn’t wiped humans from the face of the scarred earth hundreds of years ago was because they were vampires only food source. The world was one big cattle station and vampires were the rustlers, and like the blissfully unaware beasts wandering into the stockyards, the humans simply didn’t know it.
Striker was torn from his musings by the woman’s sudden halt.
She remained deathly still, save cocking her head to one side as if listening for something.
Hovering one hundred feet above her, Striker also froze, momentarily concerned that she had discovered him.
Eventually, he heard it, too.
Screams. Human, female screams.
The assassin moved so quickly he almost lost sight of her.
Was I wrong about her age?
He caught up to her in a train station, which was deserted apart from a lone young woman engaged in a struggle with a large tattooed man. Both appeared to be human.
The thug wrestled his victim to the ground in a corner of the quiet platform and appeared intent on ripping her clothes.
The woman screamed again as she kicked out, trying to throw him off.
The thug balled his meaty fist, punched the side of the head, dazing her, and then covered her mouth and nose with his large hand.
Her struggles weakened as she was deprived of oxygen.
Striker wondered why the assassin was interested in the assault. It was a human problem and certainly nothing to do with her, or vampires in general. Surely she should move on soon. It was nearly dawn.
But the vampire didn’t move on.
On the contrary, emerging from her hiding place, she rushed the man who had subdued his victim and was now undoing the fly of his dirty jeans. She grabbed him by the collar and waistband and hurled him off the woman.
The man came to rest ten feet away from his intended victim, his breath rushing out of his lungs as he hit the ground hard. He recovered quickly, pulling himself off the ground and eyeing his attacker with naked appreciation. “You want to be next?” He sneered. “No problem, baby.”
The assassin shook her head, muttering something that sounded like never again, although Striker couldn’t be sure.
She advanced on the man, easily dodging the blow from his massive fist, and countered with a punch of her own that connected to his jaw with a resounding crack.
Striker watched in fascination, wondering why she didn’t simply end it with her sword instead of fighting as though she were in a human boxing match.
It would have been so easy, quick—over and done.
“Ahh, this kill you do relish,” he muttered as he watched her land blow after blow to the attempted rapist’s head, body, and face until he was little more than a bloody, pulpy mess.
The man fell to his knees, and the assassin lashed out with a kick, snapping his neck.
She watched as he slumped, and then she picked him up by the collar and sank her teeth into his neck, taking a few long pulls from his artery before pushing the body away roughly as though it disgusted her.
Striker observed her with unabashed interest as she staggered away and, clutching her stomach, dry-heaved. But she kept the blood down. He was pleased to see that once she got control of herself, she used her saliva to heal the wounds on the man’s neck so the bite would not be discovered. His other wounds she left untouched.
No, she is no threat to us.
She checked on the victim and carried her carefully to a nearby bench, placing her down gently and arranging her clothing so her body was covered.
Striker thought she meant to partake of this human’s blood also, but she didn’t, reaching out instead with a shaking hand and stroking the woman’s hair gently.
“Interesting,” he mumbled. “You certainly didn’t drink enough from the man.”
Striker felt his own strength waning at the late hour and was relieved to see the female vampire moving swiftly away from the train station.
He cursed as she ducked into a network of sewer tunnels that had several possible exits. If he didn’t want to lose her, he had to follow on foot.
He landed silently in the concreted storm drain and ran into the tunnel after her, noting that he had to make it quick—dawn was rapidly approaching. He followed the delicious scent of the strange woman through the tunnels until it got stronger.
Forced to an abrupt stop a fraction of an inch from the tip of a gleaming blade, he ruefully realized exactly how close.
“Why do you follow me?” she asked, the seething tone unquestionable as her words seemed to barely escape the tight set of her perfect, white teeth, and the point of the sword held steadily at his throat. One flick of her wrist and he would be unceremoniously decapitated.
Striker cursed his reckless arrogance in tailing her as she watched him, unblinking, through startlingly green eyes.
“You’re very young,” he blurted. “I mean, your eyes are still . . . they’re still green and not tainted by blood.”
She remained silent.
“Yet you’re very fast and fight like a seasoned warrior. How old are you?”
“I asked you a question.” She scowled and tweaked the blade’s tip against his tender skin lest he’d forgotten its threat.
“You must be young. The green eyes and the fact that you don’t fly . . .”
Or she starves herself. But what vampire in her right mind starves in a city full of willing food?
The humans’ recent fascination with a creature they considered mythical meant there was no shortage of fleshy meals willing to bare their necks and spread their legs for his kind. He’d often wondered how humans ever survived as a species, with so little regard for their own personal safety.
“You must be less than two hundred years made as well.” She tilted her head to one side then the other while maintaining eye contact. “I detect no red in your eyes either.”
He smiled pleased that they were finally having a conversation. “I am four hundred, give or take a decade. My eyes were so dark that I got teased about them being black. Makes the red less noticeable.” He flicked his gaze toward the sword still perched against his throat. “So you see, I am older and, therefore, stronger.”
“If that is what you choose to believe.” The sword did not waver, and her white fangs protruded slightly, a clear indication of anger, but she remained even keeled and in control. “You will explain why you are following me or die!”
She pressed the point of the sword into his neck, and he felt a trickle of blood slide slowly across his skin.
“And do not attempt to escape, or you will find yourself headless before you complete the thought.”
Striker extended his hands out, fingers spread wide, and slowly raised them to show he was unarmed and had no intention of fighting or trying to escape. In truth, he was more curious than scared.
He formulated every possible response and went with honesty. “I watched you kill all those rogues and the human. I want to know who you are and why you are doing what you are doing,” he said, staring at her leather-clad body and ample curves. He was disappointed he couldn’t see her face clearly. Sure, he wanted to identify her, but if her face was half as stunning at her body, she was a knockout. His pants suddenly felt uncomfortably tight.
“It was impressive.”
“You mean for a woman?”
“No. I mean generally impressive. I know Koven who wish they fought as well as you.”
“Oh really?” She pulled back the sword just slightly.
He cautiously reached up and wiped the blood from his neck. “It’s been a while since I’ve bled involuntarily.” He winked.
He smirked and held out his finger, the blood glistening even in the low light. “If you want to taste my blood, all you have to do is ask.”
She stepped back. “But it’s forbidden.”
He shrugged. “Most of the time. Blood sharing between vampires is allowed during certain ceremonies, but casual use is discouraged. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen between consenting adults in the privacy of a keeper, though.” He winked once more and willfully raked his gaze over her body again.
She was tall—very tall, in fact—with long, shapely legs, and lush hips leading to a small waist and an abundant bosom.
A classic hourglass.
His fangs lengthened slightly, and not because he was angry or afraid.
“Are you quite finished?” she asked.
“Fuck no. I haven’t even started.”
“Nor will you.” She flicked her wrist, nicking him again. “Now turn around and face the wall.”
He chuckled and turned slowly, deliberately, while a feeling of something akin to disappointment washed through him.
There were few women—human or vampire—he could not have if he set his mind to it. It was irritating that the first one in several decades to be so exciting appeared so disinterested in him.
“What’s your name?” he asked over his shoulder.
He listened keenly for the sound of her sword being sheathed but heard a metallic clunking instead.
“Hands behind your back.”
He sighed and complied. “I hope you appreciate my not fighting back.”
“You can try, if you like.”
She grabbed his right hand and shoved it into the small of his back, her foot resting between his feet, and the warmth of her body stirred a recognizable response in his.
“I behead arrogant assholes like you daily.”
He scoffed. “You are good, to be sure, but you’re no match for me, even with a sword. I’m thought to be the best warrior in the country.”
She snorted. “By whom? You?”
He felt handcuffs clap around his bare wrists and tighten securely. “Vanadium?” He flexed his wrists, and her answer was unnecessary as soon as the heat of the metal burned his exposed skin. He winced. “I hope you got the vanadium to steel ratio right. Too little and they will not hurt me. Too much and the steel becomes we—”
“I don’t need a lecture, thank you. I think you’ll find them more than adequate.”
He smiled, safe in the knowledge that she couldn’t see it. “I guess I should be happy you’re letting me keep my head.”
“For now. Follow me again, and I won’t be so kind.” She patted him down and found the camera. “It seems I have a stalker.”
There was nothing but silence for several long seconds, and then he heard her soft curses as she dashed both the memory card as well as the expensive device against the concrete wall.
“You’ve been following me for a while.”
“If you’d stop cutting your way through our species, I wouldn’t have to follow you.”
“They were rogues. All my kills are. In case you haven’t noticed, this city has an infestation problem.”
“That’s not your call.”
“I’m making it my call.”
“Then Kouncil will have no choice but to deal with you.”
Celeste was noticeably quiet before finally asking, in a much less confident voice, “You’re Kouncil?”
“In a way.”
She snorted. “Ah, I see. You know, if you were doing your job, warrior, I wouldn’t even be here.”
“I’ll take that under advisement. But there are rules, and you are breaking them.” He waited for a response but when none came, he shifted a tiny bit to glance over his shoulder. “Celeste?”
Met with nothing but silence, he risked turning completely around and found he was talking to himself.
Damn, she’s quick!
Sighing, he started the long journey back to Koven.
Koven will be released on June 11, 2015.
Vanessa Skye has released three other books, The Enemy Inside, Broken, and Bloodlines.
Bloodlines is the third and final book in the Edge of darkness crime fiction series. Get it on eBook and paperback on Amazon, Kobo, Book Depository, Barnes and Noble, TWCS and Booktopia.
Get the first eBook, The Enemy Inside, on Amazon, Kobo, and TWCS.
Broken is the second book in the series and is available in eBook and paperback on Amazon, Kobo, Book Depository, Barnes and Noble, TWCS and Booktopia.
Want to check it our first? Read the first chapter of Bloodlines here!
Check out the reviews on Goodreads!
Praise for The Enemy Inside:
‘THE ENEMY INSIDE is dark, raw and not for the faint of heart or stomach. As fascinating as the whodunnit is, Berg and Jay are equally interesting. While THE ENEMY INSIDE is a dark read there’s a strong undercurrent of hope as it showcases the strength of kindness, caring, and resilience of the human spirit.’
‘The Enemy Inside had me shaking in my pajamas and I loved every bit of it.’
‘It was a mind blowing experience to see how the whole thing came together. If you want to try your hand at a serial killer cop drama, pick up The Enemy Inside today! You won’t regret it.’
Praise for Broken:
‘I loved this so much. The pacing was great, the twists very clever, and the characterization made you unsure of motives, which added to the suspense.’
‘Vanessa Skye has done it again with another amazing novel. ‘
‘This book .. whoah.. THIS Book!.’
Praise for Bloodlines:
‘This is just a fabulous series and I cannot recommend it highly enough.’
‘Murder, mayhem, marriage, blackmail and lies all spiral together around Berg and Jay. It is a truly great conclusion to this trilogy.’
‘I wish Vanessa Skye didn’t need to end the Edge of Darkness series with Bloodlines. I wish there was more, but I’m willing to settle for any more books that she decides to churn out.’
‘Skye doesn’t disappoint with the final book in The Edge of Darkness trilogy.’