Vampire Hunger 3 – Hunger Untamed
Trained to be courtesan for the vampire elite, Lucy Drake is finally free…and dying from the effects of being a blood slave. The vampire responsible continues to collect humans, discarding them at will. Vowing revenge, Lucy is determined to see him meet his end before she meets hers.
A mercenary by trade, battle-scarred vampire Victor Collins usually refuses to work with humans. But when Lucy approaches him for help, his attraction to her is more than he’s able to resist. He agrees to help her with her mission—for a price that has nothing to do with money. And he must stop her from discovering his own dangerous duty…
As Victor teaches Lucy to take out her enemy, their heated training sessions lead to passionate exchanges far beyond their original deal. But with threats from vampires, werewolves and Lucy’s mysterious illness closing in, their tenuous bargain and tumultuous affair is running out of time…and the cost could be Lucy’s life and war among all supernatural kind.
Heart hammering with the speed of a hummingbird’s, Lucy Drake searched the sea of bodies, knowing she would find him here. Needing him here. Every place else she’d looked had resulted in harsh glares and leering inspection from men who’d just as soon drain the blood from her body as smile in her direction. Her stomach threatened violent action every time she had to look any of them in the eye, but she’d heard rumors about the man she needed to hire. To find him, she’d have to get close to his face. She’d have to study the way he looked at her and hope to high heaven that she could stand her ground when she did.
Her lungs burned, each inhale and exhale the equivalent of swallowing glass. Based on everything she knew, the painful symptom symbolized the early stages of illness. She had a long wait of suffering and debilitating ailments to go through before she ceased breathing altogether. Before that happened though, she would get retribution for her life and for the life of her sister, Cindy. For all the humans turned into addicts of vampire drugs and sex.
Swallowing down the hurt, reminding herself to breathe through it and do her damnedest to acclimate to it, she scanned the room’s perimeter. It was where the men who didn’t want to be seen lounged, their backs against the walls, tumblers of untouched blood-laced hooch within reach.
“Young lady, you shouldn’t be in here.” The owner of the voice, full of grit and experience, spoke from behind her. She turned to face him, sweeping her hair away from her neck in a practiced move. Between the strands that fell from her fingers, she sized up the tall cowboy. With limpid eyes and reddened, leathery skin, he should have looked out of place in the dim bar, but the bowie knife hanging from his thin waist suggested that maybe he fit right in after all.
She caught the way his gaze landed on the glyph branded high and against her carotid. His lips drew back, unnaturally elongated teeth extending a fraction. A sight she’d grown astonishingly used to over the years.
If she had to make the sacrifice to get to the man she sought, she would. But she hadn’t come here for this.
“I guess you could belong,” he said. Hunger infused his words. “Junkie?”
Her heart kicked as she lowered her gaze in the manner in which she’d been trained. “I’m here for someone. Victor Collins.”
She peeked up in time to catch his brow lifting a fraction, a snort pushing through his thick lips. “Victor? This oughta be good. Find him over there. Big guy. Can’t miss him.”
“Why do you say that?” From where she stood, all of the men looked like one another. Brooding, dangerous vampires. This wasn’t a place where she expected a warm smile and a firm handshake. The glyph was her only protection. Her biggest curse.
“Hope you have balls of steel, is all. He won’t be gentle.” Not like I could be seemed to hover unsaid. He wanted Lucy for himself, a not-uncommon occurrence. Addicts needed—loved—their fix, but to a vampire, blood slaves were the best kind of high.
She noticed that he didn’t answer her question though, and that twisted the already churning anxiety in her stomach.
Lucy licked dry lips before dipping her head in thanks. Old habits and all. As much as she’d tried to break herself of them since leaving service, she found that once returned to the presence of vampires, she reverted right back. Some manners, the ones that any decent person would display for another, she didn’t mind so much. But the vampires didn’t deserve her respect, no matter how much training they’d provided her.
Winding through the tables toward the area where Victor should be sitting, every instinct told her to lift her hair. Pin it up and keep the glyph visible to everyone. It was her get-out-of-jail-free card and if the mercenary she came here to hire lived up to his reputation, he might not let her live long enough to use it. If it gave her a few spare seconds, long enough to plead her case, then she’d need to take it.
Maybe that was why she kept her head tilted, carotid exposed, as she paused beside each table. Some men were already in the process of feeding from women and men alike and didn’t stop long enough to notice her. The expressions on the donors’ faces varied from outright ecstasy, lids fluttering, mouths agape, to ill-disguised pain. The latter people clenched their fists, bit down on their own lips until the skin glowed white. Lucy’s pulse raced in empathy and sympathy for all of them.
She kept going, not interrupting any of the vampires as much as she wanted to, and knew the moment she’d found Victor. The old cowboy hadn’t lied. Victor was massive.
He wasn’t fat, Jesus no, and anyone who was stupid enough to think so would be wise enough to keep it to themselves. The T-shirt he wore stretched across a broad chest and threatened to rip down the middle. Long legs extended beyond the table and into the aisle where she might have tripped over them otherwise, but the man exuded such presence that only the rare person could have ignored him. He also threw off menace like a viper coiled to strike. And when her gaze finally swept beyond those large boots, worn blue jeans and faded T-shirt, she forced it up past the thick neck and sculpted jaw to look him in the face.
A gasp escaped her before she could recall it. Now she knew why they told her she’d know him on sight. Now she knew…
Victor Collins was wrong. Not just the flat lack of emotion in chestnut-colored eyes, but the droop she found in one that was absent in the other. An aristocratic nose too elegant for the broad face. Lips that turned down on one side. The wholly asymmetric alignment of his features. It was as if someone had thought he possessed too much perfection and brushed an eraser down one half of his face to wipe away the stunning beauty.
“Keep staring if you want. It won’t change,” he said.
Heat burned her cheeks, her gaze dropping at the sudden sound of his voice. “Mr. Collins?” A tremor shook her short inquiry, adding to her mortification. Staring was a rookie mistake, one she’d been broken of a long time ago, yet this stranger brought it out of her all over again.
“I’m told you’re for hire.”
He moved, the motion enough to make her peer with quiet respect at him again. He sipped from a half-empty glass, and Lucy found herself riveted to the moisture coating his lips. A small dribble escaped the turned-down corner, and he used the back of a meaty hand to swipe it away. “Who sent you?”
She took a deep breath, bringing her gaze up enough to meet his. “I need your help.”
Had she been in this place for anyone else, anyone else at all, she might have backed up and hauled ass out of there. For Cindy, she found a sliver of courage and took a diminutive step forward. One that followed his instruction, but kept her well out of his reach.
“Are you for hire, sir?”
“Closer,” he rumbled. “And I ain’t no ‘sir.’”
Breathing a little harder, she did as commanded. Goosebumps erupted over her skin as she brought herself into his personal space, close enough that she could discern the individual dots comprising the dark stubble of his jaw.
“Now, show me.”
It took a moment to understand, then she complied by tilting her head, showing off the red brand. Breath held and throat so tight she could scarcely swallow, she waited for him to pass his own judgment, for surely that was what he was doing. Instead of focusing on him though, on how much he scared her, on the understanding that he could kill her for a lark, she listened to the sounds of the bar.
Hearing low, throaty moans and the steady din of different conversations kept her from inhaling the vampire as he leaned in close. Concentrating on the length of the crack in the ceiling, just above an ignored cobweb, kept her from curling in her fingers, finding purchase in his clothing and using it to keep herself upright. An immediate attraction to him conflicting with a deep-rooted unease at trusting a vampire. Then again, while Victor scared her witless, once she hired him and he was on her side, she knew with irresponsible certainty that he would be a formidable ally.
“Blood slave,” he whispered. A finger stroked over the glyph with a tenderness she would have thought impossible from such a massive man.
“Free,” she replied just as softly. She lifted her gaze and it went straight to the side of his face where nature had gone wrong. Curiosity curled inside her. He was, perhaps, the first imperfect vampire she’d ever encountered. Every other one glowed with a porcelain beauty and impossible perfection. It was what made feeding them tolerable. When they touched her, slipping nimble fingers between her thighs, she’d never grown aroused from their caresses or fondling. But she could study crystalline eyes and sculpted cheekbones and pretend to be caught in lustful throes. This man possessed none of their loveliness. He was a living nightmare, a threat that almost paralyzed her thoughts.
He abruptly withdrew, leaving her skin warm and tingling where he’d left an imprint. Those long legs shifted as if restless, none of his body language inviting her to sit and join him. “Who sent you? Someone like you shouldn’t be looking for someone like me.”
Lucy sat anyway, ignoring the way his brow deepened. “I’m here of my own accord. I’ve only heard what kind of prices you—”
“I don’t work with humans.”
Face stinging as if she’d been slapped, her mouth parted. It took a moment of recovery to figure out what to say. “You are a mercenary, right?”
“Not for your kind.”
She shook her head. “No…you don’t understand. I want you to go after another vampire. One of the Council.”
Some emotion she couldn’t identify flickered across his misshapen features. “Who?”
He made a noise, something similar to a whistle of appreciation. “Lady, you are high or crazy. First, you come in here, having to know you’re prime pickings for most everyone here, most who’d drain you dry. Then you tell me that you want to off possibly the most elite of the vampire Council? Woman, you don’t got the balls, and I just ain’t that stupid.”
Panic started to flutter in Lucy’s stomach. “Please,” she urged. “I think I know when and how to do it. I just need someone like you to execute the plan.”
“Someone like me, huh?” He shoved away from the table with a preternatural speed, knocking back his chair in the process. Leaning in close, he scowled down at Lucy. “Go on, get out of here before something bad happens to you.”
Fierce desperation gave her the courage to speak. “Please…I need your help. I can pay you.”
“Doubt you got enough money to cover it. Sage wouldn’t be cheap, not even a little bit.” His gaze drifted down her face, prurient male interest darkening his irises. The visual caress paused at her lips before moving on. It stopped somewhere well below her chin before he looked up again, a feral grin creasing one side of his mouth. “Tell you what though. If you ever want a long, slow fuck, come find me. My outward package don’t say much, but it’ll get you what you need.”
A rushing sound filled her ears, and Lucy belatedly realized it was the sound of blood flooding her face and neck in a furious torrent. She knew what she looked like to a vampire, but at least when she’d been a slave, the men and women who’d used her hadn’t treated her like a junkie, despite her appearance. This man, this vampire she needed, with a twisted face and dark soul, made her feel lower than the dirt on the bottom of his shoe.
Hands shaking from cold rage, she tightened her mouth and stood. Without speaking, she gave Victor her best attempt at a sneer before turning on her heel and storming away. She hated that she could feel him studying her as she left.
Hated that she wanted with everything in her to turn around and beg him to help her.
Hated even more that she had no idea what to do next.
Victor drained his glass, his eyes trained on the little human exiting the watering hole. She was a hot number, light years out of his league. But the fact that her skin had been branded with a blood slave’s glyph made her available to almost any vampire.
Blood slaves were a coveted prize with a physical beauty that rivaled even a born vampire’s. Look at this one. Petite, barely making it to his shoulder. While slender, she possessed enough curves to tempt him to span her waist with his hands. Apple-sized tits. Strawberry blond hair, straight but thick. Perfect for threading into while riding her body. And those lips. Pouty lips that promised the most epic of blowjobs. What held him captive were her eyes.
Maybe that was why he disliked her with such immediate vehemence. Although her body screamed fuck me, her eyes, hazel green like dew-tipped blades of grass, were ancient. Eyes that had seen too much. Knew too much.
The story behind why she wanted Sage ate at his curiosity, but not enough for him to take on the suicide mission.
His cell rang just as the door creaked to a close, shutting off the last sight of the desirable woman, which was just as well. A knot of concern firmed at the base of his neck after he pulled the phone from a back pocket and read the name on the display. “Yeah?”
“You’re late.” He recognized the crisp elocution almost immediately anyway. Cicero Nadeem, one of the top lieutenants for the vampire Council’s personal guard. It never boded well that a born and bred Hassassin hired out work to a merc, but Victor wasn’t one to turn down a job from a titled vampire.
“On my way.” He’d been about to leave when the blood slave had detained him. A lovely distraction, in truth.
A single button ended the phone call, and Victor pushed away from the table. He left without looking back or leaving behind payment for his drinks. The running tab he kept would cover tonight’s expenses. What did it say that he’d been spending longer and longer hours sitting there, hunched over high-octane booze? As the days passed, the alcohol content went up at his instruction, while the amount of added blood dwindled. Vampire metabolism kept the alcohol from doing too much damage for too long, but during those short minutes, Victor edged toward bliss.
Didn’t matter much that people stared as he drank, the pink liquid dribbling down the side of his damaged face. He was used to it. Their stares saturated his desire to drink that much more.
With a grunt to push aside the thought, he strode outside, mindful of the other customers. Who moved. Who watched him. Who ignored everything except the booze in front of them.
Fourteen men. Eight women. Seven humans. One person lounged against the doorjamb of the back exit—a human male. The bartender continued to work, his arching brow the only response to Victor’s defection.
Outside and unaccosted, he paused beneath the bar’s marquee using the guise of searching his pockets in a clumsy pat down. It afforded him the opportunity to look both left and right, gaze sweeping over the parked cars and checking out shadowed alcoves. This wouldn’t be the first meeting with someone representing the Council, but that sure as shittin’ didn’t mean he trusted any of them. It felt safe enough for the moment, and he headed toward the meet.
He managed to cross a few blocks before sensation crawled down the back of his neck. Slowing his steps with deliberate intent, meandering with the idleness of a tourist instead of the previous stride of a man on a mission, he surveyed the street and buildings, looking for the source of this new discomfort. The stillness of the night comforted him, the sounds of cars from a couple of streets over drifting to his sensitive hearing, but nothing appeared overtly amiss. Didn’t stop the feeling from tingling his skin.
He was being watched. The question was by whom, and why?
For some reason, his mind conjured up an image of that delicate little blood slave he’d turned away and the deep green of her eyes. Could it be her waiting in the darkness, looking for another chance to confront him? Stupid to follow him to get his attention, but he almost expected nothing less.
Tenacious little thing and rather gutsy to seek him out. Based on the way she’d been trembling by sitting across from him, his presence intimidated her. Or maybe it was the job. Good thing she had some balls on her, despite what he’d said. Only someone with a lot of power and pull behind his—or her—name went after the Council, and so far, no one had been successful that he’d ever heard of.
He’d been right to turn her away. Pretty little girls had no business playing in a man’s world. She’d only get herself hurt. Break a nail or some shit.
A noise wrenched his attention back to the seemingly empty street. Straining to hear something more, he stopped, still trying to identify and locate the source. It had been…
His stomach clenched at the realization, militant instincts kicking up to meet the surface. It took a physical effort to keep from crouching low, making himself less of a target for the type of creature capable of that sound deep in the heart of the city. Motherfucker. He was not prepared for this. Not now.
Victor didn’t bother with a weapons check when a second growl, low and menacing, followed the first. Sure he was packing, but not in preparation for a lycan. Still, he pulled out the Ruger anyway. It wouldn’t kill the beast, but it would slow it down. The metal’s weight felt good in his hand, a sense of control filling him as typical for this type of situation.
Ducking next to a beat-up Sentra, he brought the gun up, straining for overt signs of the lycan’s approach. The rapid-fire bursts of his heart drowned out all other noises.
He waited. Pulse racing. Palms sweating.
Just when he started to wonder if perhaps he’d disturbed an everyday mutt out protecting its territory, shadows began to twist and elongate around him. This time he did drop lower, making himself as small a target as possible. There was more than one lycan out there and between the lack of silver and the dismaying knowledge he was outnumbered, Victor was not about to make it easy to take him down.
“Don’t want no trouble,” he grumbled. “Ain’t here for you.” If he had his druthers, they’d let him on his way to meet up with Cicero. Didn’t even have to know who they were.
He didn’t have to question whether they’d heard him, despite the conversational level he used that no human at a distance could have possibly made out. The movement suddenly stopped. The gun remained in hand, nuzzle pointed up and ready to swing in either direction because they were on both sides of him. Two lycans, perhaps more.
“All we want are the names,” a raspy voice replied.
Victor’s brow lifted a fraction. “Names of what?”
“Of the person or persons who hired you.”
The question didn’t tell him much, and Victor’s patience was waning. He’d done hundreds of jobs over the years. Many minor. “You want to get specific about what you’re looking for? I ain’t here for you and ain’t got time for this shit.”
The answer came after a long moment of restless shifting. “Who hired you to slaughter adolescent werewolves?”
“What?” Victor’s gasped response shot out before he fully comprehended the implications behind the question.
Damn. This was not good. Not good at all.
If this had been a movie, right about now he would have used a thumb to slowly draw back the gun’s hammer, priming the gun for quick use. No one had to tell him that shit was about to hit the fan and splatter all over him and the Sentra.
“Word is you’re the Council’s dog. That true?”
The voice came from a lot closer than it had been a minute ago. They were stalling on their attack, but he didn’t have a fucking clue why, other than to maybe get into better positions. “Depends on what you mean by that.”
“Have you been killing adolescent werewolves for money?”
“No.” The accusation, even the insinuation, was appalling, but he tried to keep the shock and disgust out of his voice. He’d killed women in the distant past but had always drawn the line at children. Always.
“Sources say otherwise.”
Hell, that was a lot closer. Thing was, he couldn’t even see the guy. None of them. Victor duck-walked to the rear fender, wishing to heaven he’d brought a second gun with him tonight.
“Weren’t you on your way to receive payment for services rendered? That’s our understanding. Twenty thousand dollars for every head. Twenty thou for butchering our young,” he said, voice trembling with rage. The silence that followed thick with a heaviness of grief.
Victor’s blood ran cold. He’d been on his way to see Cicero, but the nature of their meeting hadn’t been discussed beforehand. Victor had just assumed that the vampire wanted to procure his services for something like recon. How had the lycans heard of the meeting and gotten the time of it? Had Cicero sold him out for some reason?
“Man, I’ve been set up,” he called in the direction of the speaker. “I don’t know what you’re talking about or why you think I did the deed, but it ain’t true.”
“‘Look for the vampire with the ruined face.’ I think we got it right.”
“My face might be ruined, but my conscience ain’t. I don’t go after kids. Not for any price.” He didn’t have a fucking clue why, but someone had set him up with the lycans to take the fall for a heinous crime.
The irritated chuff of a wolf burst into the air from Victor’s right. He whirled to face it, swinging the gun out, ready to fire at anything that moved. But then a responding bark shot out from his left. Throwing himself back, pressing his spine against the rusted car, he swallowed hard as he considered his options.
They were talking to each other, no doubt, but what they said and whether or not they believed him were beyond his comprehension. Besides, his mind was still too busy trying to process why someone would literally throw him to the wolves. “Who would give this order?” he shouted. “Who has the most to gain?”
Long seconds passed as no return answer came to him. Time when he mentally counted his ammo and sought better positions from which to defend himself. The number of bullets was laughable. Defense, a pipe dream. They had him to rights, and the only comfort to Victor might have been the understanding that he’d go down fighting. No one would avenge him, and no one would mourn him either.
“You almost had me fooled, vampire. For a second, I could have believed you.”
“I have no idea what’s going on or who set me up. Give me a name and forty-eight hours. I swear I’ll help you find out who’s gone after your kind.” He had nothing else to offer, and they had him surrounded. Mama didn’t raise a coward, but she didn’t raise an idiot either. Whoever set him up with the lycans wouldn’t stop if they didn’t finish the job, so better to team up with them and get a head start than have the entire nation gunning for him. The enemy of my enemy and all that.
“It was amazing watching how the relationship slowly built and how they came to depend on one another. There are so many twists and turns within the story-line and seeing the plot thicken and explode on Victor. It simply is a most astounding book…”Hunger Untamed” is pure genius.” 5 Stars, Top Pick, Night Owl Reviews