By Karen Lynch
Copyright @ 2016 Karen Lynch
This is a sample. The number of pages is limited.
The warrior has finally met his match.
Nikolas Danshov is the Mohiri’s finest warrior, fearless and lethal with any weapon. For almost two hundred years, he has devoted his life to keeping humans safe from the demons that walk the earth. Revered by his people, he is a legend in his own time, a warrior undefeated in battle, and prepared for anything. Until her.
On a routine job in Maine, a twist of fate brings Nikolas face-to-face with the one person he had never expected to meet – his mate. Sara Grey is unlike anyone he’s ever met. Beautiful and fiery, she ignites his desire, while her innocence and vulnerability awaken a fierce protectiveness in him. Now all he can think of is keeping his mate safe from the dangers that hunt her, even if she fights him at every turn.
You know Sara’s story. Now read it again, through the eyes of her warrior.
“I’ll gut this bitch if you take another step, Mohiri.”
I fingered the hilt of my sword as I studied the vampire pressed back against the wall with the human girl dangling by her throat in front of him. The girl’s face was a mask of terror when the vampire’s claws drew blood from her throat. I could feel her staring at me, silently pleading with me to save her.
I kept my attention on the vampire. “If you think the human will save you from me, you are sadly mistaken, my friend.”
He shifted from one foot to the other, his eyes darting around for another means of escape. He knew what I was, and he also had to know there was no way he was leaving this place alive. I had to convince him not to take the girl down with him.
From another part of the house, a scream rang out and was quickly cut short.
The vampire’s eyes widened, and the hand around the girl’s throat shook. “You protect humans. You won’t do anything that will hurt her.”
My gaze locked with his. “I do protect them, but I’m a hunter above all else. Seeing her blood on your hands will only make me hungrier for the kill.”
He swallowed hard, glancing at the door four feet away from him.
I made the decision easier for him and moved two feet in the other direction. I even lowered my sword to let him think he had a sporting chance.
The girl cried out as he threw her at me. I caught her with one arm and set her aside.
The vampire sped toward the door. He was fast – at least fifty years old.
I was faster. My sword sliced through the side of his throat. He croaked and clamped his hand over the wound, but not before blood sprayed across the Victorian-style wallpaper and the pale blue carpet.
The girl screamed.
I went after the vampire, who staggered to the door. Bringing my sword up, I skewered him through the heart with enough force to embed the tip of my blade in the wall behind him. I yanked it free, and he crumpled to the floor.
Chris appeared in the doorway, his own sword dripping blood. “That’s the last of them. I found a human male upstairs. He’s lost a lot of blood, but he’ll live.”
We’d discovered four teenagers in the nest of seven vampires. That two of the humans had survived was a small miracle.
The girl whimpered.
Chris stood his sword against the wall and approached her slowly. “It’s okay. You’re safe now.”
She threw herself at him, wrapping her arms around his waist as she sobbed. Chris gave me a helpless look, and I shrugged. There was nothing I could do for the girl he wasn’t doing already.
I pulled out my cell and nodded toward the door. “Looks like you have the situation under control. I’ll call Denis and tell him to send a cleanup crew.”
The night was warm and muggy when I left the house and called the local unit to give them the address. I also let them know we had a couple of human teenagers needing medical attention. I waited for ten minutes until they pulled up in front of the house, and then I walked down the street to where Chris and I had parked our bikes in the driveway of an empty house.
Pulling off my bloody T-shirt, I found a clean spot and wiped my face. I used the shirt to wipe down my sword before I stowed the weapon away in the sheath that ran along the bottom of my seat.
I was donning a clean shirt when Chris walked up to me. “Why is it they never cling to you like that?” he asked as he went to his bike.
I laughed at his sullen expression. “Must be your smile that draws them to you.”
He yanked off his shirt. “It wouldn’t kill you to comfort them every now and then.”
“But you are so good at it.” I sat on my bike and waited for him to clean up. “I keep them alive and kill the bad guys.”
I didn’t need to add that I had no clue how to handle an overwrought teenager. Unlike Chris, I didn’t associate with humans on any kind of personal level. They were my job. I protected them and kept them safe from the monsters they didn’t know existed. As a warrior, it was better to remain detached. Closeness created emotions, and emotions created distractions. Distractions got you or the people you were protecting killed.
Chris scoffed and mounted his bike. “Beer?”
Thirty minutes later, freshly showered and changed, we walked into the bar down the street from our hotel. We found a table against the back wall, and I sat facing the door. I liked to know who – or what – was coming and going from a place while I was there.
A pretty blonde waitress came over to take our drink orders, and her red lips curved into an inviting smile when she looked from Chris to me.
“What can I get for you gentlemen?”
We ordered whatever they had on tap and a couple of burgers. The waitress lingered at the table for a moment before she went off to put in our order.
Chris leaned back and ran a hand through his blond hair. “I’d call that a good night’s work.”
My eyes swept the bar. At a corner table a young couple was making out, oblivious to everyone around them. I wouldn’t have noticed them if I hadn’t caught the gleam of silver in the male’s eyes. Incubus. Most of the sex demons were careful not to harm humans when they fed from them, but there were some who loved the thrill of the kill. I wasn’t sure yet which way this one swung.
A laugh drew my attention back to Chris. I shot him a questioning look.
“You are so predictable, my friend.” He inclined his head toward the incubus. “We haven’t had our first beer, and you’re already looking for your next fight.”
“Just keeping an eye on things.”
The waitress returned with two glasses of draft and set them before us.
Chris picked up his beer and drank deeply. “Relax. I saw the two of them in here last night. If he was going to hurt her, he would have done it by now.”
He was right. An incubus intent on killing his victim would do it within a few hours. He certainly wouldn’t come back for a second date.
I gave the pair one last glance then turned my attention to my beer. I preferred a nice aged Scotch, but the rich lager was good for quenching thirst. I downed half the contents before I set the glass down and stretched out my legs beneath the table.
Chris looked at me as if he was waiting for me to say something. When I didn’t, he said, “So, you want to stick around here for a few days?”
“I don’t mind staying here for a day or two. They’re having a problem with lamprey demons in Bywater, and I told Denis we’d give them a hand.”
“That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind,” he replied dryly.
I let out a laugh. “What’s her name?” Chris only suggested we take some downtime after a job when he’d met a female he wanted to get more acquainted with.
He grinned over the top of his beer. “Nora. She’s a student at Tulane, and she invited us to a party at her sorority tonight.”
“I think I’ll pass.” Intoxicated coeds were not my idea of an entertaining night. I could think of more pleasurable ways to spend an evening. An interesting book, a good game of poker, a bottle of Macallan, to name a few. Or a beautiful female friend who knew me well, in and out of the bedroom.
“Let me guess your plans for tonight. Prowling the streets to keep the good people of New Orleans safe, or staying in your room with a book?”
I suppressed a chuckle. He knew me too well. “Neither, actually. Viv’s in town.”
“Ah, the lovely Vivian. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
“That long?” He smiled over the rim of his glass. “I guess I won’t be seeing you for breakfast then.”
“Probably not.” Or for lunch, knowing Viv.
Our food arrived, and as we ate, we talked about the job we’d just finished. A week ago, we’d gotten word of an increased vampire presence in New Orleans, along with a rash of missing persons, mostly teenagers. New Orleans was already a hub of supernatural activity that kept the local unit busy, so Chris and I had come to help them out with the vampire problem.
It had taken us three days to find one of the elusive vampires and trail him back to the nest in the Garden District. It didn’t require much guesswork to know what had happened to the previous owner of the old house the vampires had claimed for their own. We’d watched the place for a day and then made our move.
I hadn’t expected to find human survivors, and that made the job even more satisfying. I’d told the vampire I cared about the hunt more than the humans, but that was a lie. Nothing was more important than protecting human lives.
Chris crumpled his napkin and tossed it on his empty plate. “I was thinking we could head west when we leave Louisiana. There’s always something going on out that way, and we could pay a visit to Longstone while we’re there.”
“How long has it been since you were home?” Longstone was the Mohiri stronghold in Oregon where Chris grew up. His parents moved to Germany a few years ago, but he still had family at the stronghold.
“I haven’t been back since my parents left, almost three years.”
I pushed my plate away and reached for my beer. “Sounds like a plan. We can stop over at Westhorne on the way.”
His phone buzzed, and he smiled when he looked at the screen. “Right on time. I need to go meet my date.” He stood and threw some money on the table. “Say hello to Vivian for me.”
“Will do.” I pulled out my phone and texted Viv, asking if she was up for some company.
I smiled when she replied immediately. Do you need to ask?
Tossing some cash on the table, I stood and headed for the door. See you in ten.
Vivian’s suite was on the top floor of the Ritz-Carlton, and she answered the door wearing a white silk robe, with her long, blonde hair loose around her shoulders.
“Nikolas!” She pulled me into the room, hugging me before she’d even shut the door. “It’s so good to see you.”
Chuckling, I hugged her back. “Great to see you, too.” I pulled back and looked down at her short robe that came to mid-thigh. “If I’d known you’d greet me like this, I would have come to visit you a lot sooner.”
A throaty laugh slipped from her. She pulled my head down to hers for a slow, languid kiss that was sensual, but also warm and familiar. My other sexual encounters were just about mutual pleasure. Vivian Day was more than that. She was a good friend whose company I enjoyed, and there were no strings attached. She wanted to be tied down even less than I did, if that was possible.
Breaking the kiss, she took my hand and led me into the living room of her suite that had a great view of the French Quarter. She sat on the couch and made me sit beside her.
She arranged her robe around her legs. “I couldn’t believe it when I heard you were in New Orleans. It’s been too long.”
“It has. But then you’re the one who’s always off on some mission for the Council whenever I’m on your side of the world.”
“Maybe if you’d agree to work for them, we’d see each other more.”
I stretched out my legs. “I love you, Viv, but I have zero interest in working for a bunch of bureaucrats. I respect the Council for what they do, but I prefer to work my own way.”
She gave me a knowing smile. “Still haven’t outgrown that little aversion to authority.”
I laughed. “And you still know me better than anyone.”
I’d known Vivian most of my life, our friendship going back to my early years in England when my sire was leader of Hadan Castle. Vivian and I had trained together, and the two of us had been competitive, driving each other to work harder.
She got up and went to the bar. “Drink? They didn’t have any Macallan, but they brought up a bottle of Bowmore.”
“Only if you’re having one.”
“Of course.” She poured two drinks and came back to the couch, handing one to me. “I can’t believe it’s been two years. I remember when I couldn’t imagine not seeing you every day.”
“What was it you said back then? When we became warriors, we’d go off and hunt together, just the two of us.”
Her eyes sparkled with laughter. “That’s because I was afraid you’d beat me in vampire kills if I left you alone.”
I sipped my drink. “And it had nothing to do with the huge crush you had on me?”
“Ha! If anyone had a crush, it was you. You were a lovesick fool that first time.”
“I was a horny teenager, and the prettiest girl I knew wanted to have sex with me.”
When she’d come to me one day and told me she wanted her first time to be with her best friend, my sixteen-year-old self had needed no persuasion. We still laughed over how awkward the two of us had been that first time.
She burst out laughing. “I’ll never forget the look on your face when I asked you. You went from shocked to ‘let’s do it’ in about five seconds.”
“Three. I was trying not to look too eager.”
“God, we were something.” She took my free hand and laced our fingers together. “Sometimes I miss those days. Life was a lot simpler back then.”
“Are you being nostalgic, or is something going on?”
“I’m great, just a little weary, I guess. I’ve been on the road for almost a year. You know how it is.”
“I usually get back to Westhorne every month or two.”
The life of a warrior often took you away from home for long periods, unless you were mated. Mated couples tended to stay closer to home, at least for the first few years. I couldn’t stay in one place for a long time. Neither could Viv, which was one of the reasons both of us were happily unmated, much to our mothers’ mutual despair.
She swirled the amber liquid in her glass. “I was surprised to hear you no longer work solo, and that you and Chris have been partnering on a lot of jobs.”
“Yes. It keeps the Council off my back. Well, almost.”
The Council of Seven was the ruling body for our people, and most of them had their own ideas about how things should be run in the field. They liked everyone to work in teams, and it annoyed them when someone didn’t follow their protocols. I wasn’t on their list of favorite people, and I didn’t lose any sleep over it.
“So where is your partner tonight?” she asked with a smile that said she could already guess what Chris was up to.
She laughed. “Let me guess, not your thing?”
“You could say that. And I wouldn’t pass up a chance to see you.”
Her eyes softened. “You always say the sweetest things, Nikolas Danshov.”
I finished my drink and gave her a small smile. “Keep that to yourself. I have a reputation to protect.”
She grinned. “I’m well aware of your reputation, and I’ll do what I can to keep it safe. But it’s going to cost you.”
“What’s it going to cost?”
She stood and took my glass, setting it on the coffee table with hers. Then she reached for my hands and tugged me to my feet.
She turned to the bedroom. “I’m sure I can think of something.”
* * *
“She’s good, isn’t she?” Chris inclined his head toward the small group of trainees practicing their swordplay. Most of them were skilled with the weapon, but the blonde moved with a lethal grace that I’d seen only in more experienced warriors. Next to her, the other trainees looked like children with toy swords.
I watched the girl’s opponent lunge at her. At the last second, she parried and slipped her blade behind his, sending his weapon flying away from him.
I nodded. “She’ll make a fine warrior.”
The boy she’d disarmed retrieved his sword and turned to say something to her. He noticed us watching them and flushed. The other trainees stopped their practice and turned to see what their friend was staring at.
I inclined my head at them in acknowledgement.
Chris smirked. “Your adoring fans. Maybe you should give them a lesson while we’re here.”
“I’ll leave that to the real trainers.” I shouldered my bag and resumed my walk to the main building. Some people were cut out for teaching; I was not one of them. I had neither the patience nor the inclination toward that vocation, though I had a ton of admiration for those who did. There were few jobs more important than molding our youth into warriors capable of defending themselves when they went out into the world.
A grinning red-haired warrior left the building as we neared it. “About time you two showed your mugs around here. How long are you back for this time?”
“Couple of days,” Chris said. “Thought you and Niall were still in Ireland.”
“Nah. Got back last week.” Seamus’s eyes gleamed. “Brought back a couple of bottles of good Irish whiskey. Stop by later and we’ll catch up.”
“Sounds good.” Anything that involved Seamus, his twin, and a bottle of whiskey promised to be entertaining.
Chris and I entered the building and went directly to the south wing. People greeted us as we passed, but we didn’t stop to talk. I said good-bye to him at his door and stepped into my own apartment, dropping my bag on the floor. After a month away, it was nice to be back in my own place.
My gaze swept over the living room, taking in the dark colors and the simple yet comfortable décor. Aside from the portrait of my parents, there was no art on the walls. My collection of antique swords hung on one wall, and above the mantle was a pair of Flintlock pistols that had belonged to Alexander II – a gift from my sire who had received them from the emperor. There was a full bookcase and a state of the art audio system, but no television. I preferred it that way.
Kicking off my boots, I tossed my jacket on the back of the leather couch and headed for the shower to wash off the grime of the road. Ten minutes later, I emerged with a towel around my hips and put on my favorite sixties rock mix.
I was tempted to drop the towel and crash on the bed for a few hours, but I knew Tristan would be by when he got word we were here. I pulled on a T-shirt and a pair of sweats, grabbed my Slaughterhouse-Five paperback, and stretched out on the couch to read until he dropped in.
A little over an hour later, a knock came on the door. I called out for him to enter, and Tristan walked in wearing a wide smile.
“Heard you were back,” he said, sitting in the leather chair across from me.
I sat up and laid my book on the couch beside me. “You’re getting slow. I expected you half an hour ago.”
He laughed and settled back in his chair. “Council business. You know how it is.”
“No, I don’t, and I’m happy that way.”
Like any government, the Council spent half their time embroiled in debates and wrapped up in meetings. Some days, Tristan spent more time talking to the Council than he did running the affairs at Westhorne. Where he got the patience to handle them day after day was beyond me.
“Well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that we were discussing your latest job. They aren’t happy you and Chris went into that nest in New Orleans without backup.”
I had never explained my actions to the Council, and I wasn’t going to start now. But Tristan was my friend, and I respected him too much to not tell him what he wanted to know.
“I would have invited Denis’s team along, but you know how busy those guys are down there. Chris and I did our due diligence, and we knew exactly what we were facing when we went in. A nest of seven vampires is nothing we haven’t faced before.”
Tristan nodded. “The Council says you should have followed protocol and called in one of the teams from Houston or Atlanta once you located the nest.”
“We could have, but we would have been too late to save those two human teenagers. And saving human lives is our first priority, is it not?”
“It is.” His fingers tapped out a rhythm on the arm of the chair. “I’m required to tell you that you are too valuable to risk your life needlessly. And that you must follow procedure next time you are in a similar situation.”
“Now that we have that out of the way.” He smiled and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “How was New Orleans?”
“Busy. We helped Denis’s people with a lamprey infestation, and we raided a gulak operation that was breeding bazerats. They could use some more people down there.”
“I’ll bring it up to the Council.”
“Good.” I knew Denis would have another team at his disposal by the end of the week.
Tristan gave me an amused look. “Surely it wasn’t all work and no play. It is New Orleans after all.”
I shrugged. “We ate, we drank, we listened to some good music. Chris got to know the locals a little better.”
The two of us laughed because we knew how much his nephew loved getting to know the locals. Chris treated the females well, and he never made any promises he couldn’t keep. He’d left a trail of pining hearts from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
“I heard Vivian is there for two weeks. Did you see her?”
“Yes. We spent some time catching up. It was great to see her again.”
He smiled fondly. There were few who knew Viv and didn’t like her. “Why didn’t you stay on a few more days with her? You didn’t need to rush back here.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “Careful. You are dangerously close to sounding like my mother.”
My mother had two missions in her life: protecting humanity and seeing me happily settled. After almost two hundred years, you’d think she would let the second one go.
“Irina wants her son to be happy. It’s what every parent wishes for their child.” Sadness flickered in Tristan’s eyes, and I knew he was thinking about Madeline. Over fifty years had passed since she’d left, but she was never far from her father’s thoughts.
“I am happy,” I grumbled.
He chuckled and looked around. “How long are you planning to stay this time?”
“Three or four days and then Chris wants to visit Longstone. From there, who knows?”
“Sometimes I envy you, my friend.”
“I keep telling you to come with us. Claire is more than capable of managing Westhorne in your absence.” And the Council would learn to deal with it. They deferred too much to Tristan as it was. The Seven ruled together, but at times they treated him like their unofficial leader.
“One of these days I’ll take you up on that.” He ran his hand through his blond hair. “How would you feel about postponing your trip to Oregon? We’ve received word of a possible vampire problem in Maine, and I was hoping you would look into it.”
“Maine? That’s werewolf territory. Vampires usually avoid that place like the plague.”
“True, but there have been a number of disappearances in Portland in recent weeks. Four human girls have gone missing with no trace, all close to the same age. The authorities there have no evidence or leads. I might have dismissed it if we hadn’t also gotten word of several dead bodies with animal attack listed as the cause of death.”
“Do we have anyone in Portland now?” We didn’t keep a permanent Mohiri presence in Maine because it was usually very quiet there.
“Erik’s team is in Boston and they’ve been monitoring the situation, but they haven’t found anything. We considered the possibility that the deaths could have been caused by a rogue wolf, but the werewolves would have dealt with it by now.”
I rubbed my jaw. “Erik’s good. If he can’t find any leads, what makes you think I can?”
Tristan smiled. “Because you are the best at finding things when no one else can.”
“Now you’re just trying to butter me up.”
“Is it working?”
“Maybe.” He had piqued my curiosity, and he knew it. Mysterious disappearances in a quiet place like Portland, that was the kind of job I couldn’t resist. “I’m sure Chris won’t mind waiting a week or so to visit Longstone.”
“Good.” He clasped his hands together. “Perhaps you should take a team with you, just in case.”
I laughed at his not-so-subtle attempt to get me to comply with the Council’s wishes. “I don’t think that’ll be necessary. I’m sure this is nothing Chris and I haven’t handled before.”
“Famous last words, my friend.”
The corner of my mouth lifted. “You’ll see. We’ll be in and out of Maine
in no time.”
“Looks quiet here, Nikolas.”
I glanced at Chris and went back to studying the occupants of the club. He was right. This crowd was mostly college students who were more interested in dancing and hooking up than doing something nefarious. But Intel had identified this club as a place of interest because it was close to where the teenage girl had disappeared last Saturday. And our guys were rarely wrong.
“Let’s give it another ten minutes, and then we’ll head out.”
Chris nodded and turned away to do another slow circuit of the room. “I’ll meet you back here in ten.”
I leaned against the wall, ignoring the restlessness plaguing me since we’d arrived at the club an hour ago. Five days in Portland without a lead on the vampires who’d taken those four girls. The vampires were still in the city; of that I was certain. There’d been several other deaths since we’d arrived in town, vagrants who did not make the five o’clock news. These vampires were good at staying out of sight even as they made their presence known. What I wanted to know was what had brought them to Portland, and why were they still here?
My thoughts were interrupted by an attractive blonde who approached me wearing an inviting smile.
“Hi. Want to dance?”
I stared at the girl, not because of her question, but because my demon suddenly stirred as it detected the presence of another Mori. Chris was too far away for it to be him, so that left the blonde girl. But she was young, and there was no way a Mohiri teenager would be out alone in a club. Plus, we had no strongholds in Maine.
The sensation began to fade, and my eyes were drawn instead to a dark-haired girl passing behind the blonde. I could only see the other girl’s back before she entered the ladies’ restroom, but she looked young. I watched the door, waiting for her to reappear.
The blonde girl made a sound, reminding me of her invitation to dance. I declined and went back to watching the restroom, not wanting to miss the dark-haired girl when she came out. As far as I knew, there were no female warriors working in Portland at the moment. So why would one of them be here, partying with human college students? And why was she here without her team, especially with all the vampire activity in the area?
A few minutes later, I frowned when the restroom door opened and the girl came out. She was younger than I’d expected, and pretty. She wore little makeup, and there was something about her expression, a wary innocence that made her look out of place here. She was too young to be a warrior and too old to be an orphan. Obviously human.
Behind the girl, two blondes left the restroom arguing loudly. The brunette shook her head and gave an eye roll that made the corner of my mouth twitch. I was curious about her even though she was not Mohiri as I’d suspected, and I watched her stop to let the other women pass her.
One of the blondes screamed an obscenity and gave her companion a shove just as they moved past the girl. Her friend stumbled backward, flailing her arms and colliding with the dark-haired girl. I took a step away from the wall as the two of them fell. The girl hit the floor hard, and I heard her grunt in pain as the heavier blonde landed on top of her.
I started toward them as a man grabbed the blonde’s arms and lifted her off the girl.
“Is she all right?” someone asked when I reached the girl and looked down at her dazed expression.
I bent and waved a hand in front of her face. “Are you okay?”
She blinked and tried to sit up. “Um, I think so,” she replied in a low, husky voice that made my breath catch.
I reached for her hand to help her up, and as soon as our fingers touched, a warm tingle shot through mine. My Mori quivered with recognition and…excitement? There was no doubt in my mind that the girl was Mohiri. But how was that possible? How was I able to sense her one minute and not in the next? And how could I have gotten this close to her and not sensed anything until we touched? Most importantly, what was she doing here instead of living in a stronghold?
The girl dropped my hand and looked up at me, her cheeks pink and her full lips parted in a timid smile. Her eyes met mine, and I sucked in a sharp breath as I stared into beautiful green eyes framed by long dark lashes. If the eyes truly are the windows to the soul then I knew I was looking at one of the purest souls I had ever seen. I was only dimly aware of my Mori pressing forward and the strange fluttering sensation coming from the demon. All I could focus on was the feeling that I’d somehow met this girl before, even though I knew it was impossible. I never would have forgotten those eyes or that face.
Realizing we were only inches apart, I took a step back. She looked away, and I felt strangely bereft and more than a little confused by my reaction to her. I’d seen thousands of beautiful women in my life, and not one of them had drawn me in the way this slip of a girl did.
Her eyes lifted to mine again, and she smiled. “Sorry, I must have banged my head harder than I thought.”
The wave of emotions that slammed into me nearly drove me to my knees. Something base and primal welled up inside my chest, and I was gripped by an almost uncontrollable need to touch the girl.
What the hell? I clenched my teeth as I fought the insane urge as well as my agitated Mori. I hadn’t lost control of my demon since I was a child, and it shocked me to my core that I was fighting it now.
It took me several seconds to realize the girl had left, and I looked around in time to see her disappearing into the crowd.
Who is she? Mohiri, obviously, but what was she doing here alone? She was at least seventeen or eighteen – too old to be an orphan. More importantly, why were my Mori and I so damn affected by her?
Something caught the light at my feet, and I bent to pick it up. As soon as I touched the warm silver cross, I knew it was hers. The cross was old, and something told me she would be upset if she lost it.
It wasn’t hard to guess where she’d gone, and when I stepped out onto the deck, I found her alone at the rail, staring out into the night. She rubbed her temple, and I wondered if she had hurt herself when she fell.
The sight of her brought on another disturbing jumble of emotions – want, protectiveness, desire, fear – and I started to turn around and go back inside. I couldn’t deal with this now – whatever this was. I’d find Chris, have him talk to her and find out her story.
A soft sigh drew my attention back to the girl, and my gut clenched at how small and vulnerable she looked out here alone. Something about her tugged at me in a way I could not comprehend, and I found myself walking toward her.
“I believe this is yours.”
She gasped and spun, staring at the broken necklace hanging from my fingers. Her hand went to her neck, and then she reached for the necklace cautiously as if she half expected me to grab her.
“Thank you,” she said softly as she tucked it away in her pocket.
I studied her face, confused by what I was sensing and feeling. She was definitely Mohiri, of that I had no doubt, but her Mori was so quiet it seemed to be asleep. When two Mohiri get within a few feet of each other, our demons sense each other. My Mori was desperately trying to reach out to the girl’s Mori, but it wasn’t getting a response. I was mystified by my demon’s strong need to connect with this particular Mori, and by my own attraction to the girl.
“Are you done?”
Her blunt question shook me from my musings, and I stared at her in surprise. Tonight I had been approached and flirted with by more women than I could count, but this girl plainly wanted nothing to do with me. For some reason that thought did not sit well with me.
“You’re a bit young for this place,” I said sorely.
Her chin lifted. “I’m sorry but I don’t think that is any of your business.”
“You can’t be more than seventeen or eighteen,” I countered, intrigued by the emerald fire in her eyes. “You shouldn’t be here alone.”
“You’re not much older than me. And I’m not here alone.”
“I’m older than I look,” I replied, unsure if I was annoyed with her or myself for feeling this unreasonable swell of jealousy at her words. I didn’t know a thing about this girl; why should I care if she was here with another male?
I ran my hand through my hair and gave a silent groan of frustration. What the hell is wrong with me tonight?
“Nikolas,” called Chris, and I turned to see him in the doorway wearing an amused expression. “Ready to move out?”
“No,” I almost said, because I was suddenly reluctant to leave this mysterious girl who drew me like a moth to a flame. I didn’t even know her name, for Christ’s sake.
But I would. She was a young Mohiri out in a part of the city where vampires prowled. It was my duty to protect her and to discover who she was and what had brought her here. The glint in her eyes told me she was not going to be forthcoming with me if I asked her straight out. There was a wariness about her that said she did not trust easily.
“Be out shortly, Chris,” I told him, though I’d already decided we were not leaving. We were going to stick around and watch the girl to make sure she was safe here. Then I was going to follow her home and find out who she was. It had nothing to do with the strange protective instinct she stirred in me. I was a warrior, and she was my responsibility.
My mind made up, I strode to the door, turning to her before I reentered the club. “Stay with your friends. This part of town is not safe for a girl alone at night.” Not that she needed to worry. Chris and I would make sure she and her friends got home safely.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she said quietly.
Chris grinned at me when I joined him inside. “You sure you’re ready to leave, my friend?”
“Not quite.” His grin grew, and I scowled at him. “It’s not what you think. She’s Mohiri.”
“What?” His eyes widened. “She can’t be more than eighteen. What is she doing here?”
“That’s what we’re going to find out.” I scanned the crowded club for anyone who looked like they could be with the girl, but no one stood out. “She said she’s not here alone. I plan to watch her and her friends, and make sure she gets home before I start asking questions.”
Chris looked behind me at the girl still standing on the deck. “You know, she reminds me of someone, but I can’t put my finger on it.”
“I know what you mean. It feels like I’ve met her before, but I’d remember her if I had.”
He gave me a sly look. “Memorable, is she?”
“She is different,” I admitted. Then I got down to business. “Let’s split up. I’ll watch the girl, and you keep an eye out for trouble.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
He melted away into the crowd, and I settled back into the same shadowy corner I’d inhabited before the girl caught my eye.
Less than a minute later, she entered the club and passed by me without looking in my direction. My eyes followed her as she crossed the room and joined two teenage boys at the edge of the dance floor. The tall, dark-haired one grinned affectionately at her when she stood beside him, and she gave him a sweet smile in return.
Something dark and savage reared up inside me, making my entire body stiffen and my hands clench into fists at my sides. My Mori growled, and a fierce possessiveness roared through me.
Mine? What the –? I forgot how to breathe as the truth slowly filtered through the turmoil of my emotions. It can’t be.
Solmi, my Mori insisted angrily.
“Khristu!” I sagged against the wall as my strength deserted me.
She was my mate.
Mate. The word sounded foreign, alien, as it repeated in my head. How was this possible? In my almost two hundred years, I must have met a thousand Mohiri women, with not a single potential mate among them. What were the odds of me finding one in a night club, in a city I hadn’t been to in fifty years? I wouldn’t even be here now if I hadn’t been doing a favor for Tristan.
My gaze travelled across the club, drawn to the girl. As soon as I found her, my heart thudded against my ribs, and I felt the swell of raw emotions again. Mate.
I tore my eyes away from her. I knew males who had bonded – Tristan was one of them – but I’d never asked them what it felt like. I hadn’t wanted to know. We were taught about bonding when we were children, but nothing in my education had prepared me for this barrage of emotions for someone I hadn’t known existed thirty minutes ago. I’d talked to her for all of five minutes, yet every detail of her face from her emerald green eyes to her full pink lips was etched in my memory.
Pushing away from the wall, I moved through the crowded club until I found a spot closer to her and her friends, but out of sight. This close, I could hear her laugh when her dark-haired friend said something to her. The sound was warm and rich, and it sent heat straight to my groin. Jesus. I took a deep breath and released it slowly. I was behaving like a goddamn teenager.
Stop it, demon, I commanded, and then I realized I was actually talking to my Mori. Who the hell did that? But from the moment I touched the girl, the damn demon had been straining against me and flooding me with irrational emotions.
I set my jaw and pushed all those thoughts aside. No matter what was going on with me, the girl was a young Mohiri who should be in a stronghold, not out here in a club. She had to be an orphan; that was the only explanation for her presence here. But why hadn’t she shown any sign of recognition when we were together, and why was her Mori so quiet? If she was an orphan as I suspected, how was she in control of her demon at all? I had too many questions, and she was the only one who could answer them.
My phone vibrated, and Chris’s name flashed on the screen.
“Find something?” I asked him.
“Just got word that someone reported a body in the parking deck down the street. Thought we should check it out before the police arrive. I can go if you want to stay and watch the girl.”
I looked at her again. She was dancing with her friends, and they didn’t appear to be leaving anytime soon.
Suddenly, fresh air and distance from her sounded like an excellent idea.
“She’ll be okay here for a few minutes. I’ll meet you outside.”
Chris was waiting for me when I got to our bikes parked behind the club in the employee lot. He was quiet as I donned my harness and sword. When I looked up, I found him watching me.
He shook his head. “I don’t know. You seem distracted.”
He didn’t look convinced, but he didn’t push it. That was one of the things I liked about Chris. He knew when to let something go and move on.
Normally, we’d walk the short distance to the parking garage, but we needed to be in and out before the police got there. We used our Mori speed to get us there in less than thirty seconds. The body was on the second level, between two cars, and thankfully, whoever had reported it hadn’t stuck around to wait for the authorities.
Chris went to examine the body. It was a young man in his early twenties, wearing a college letterman jacket. I could smell the blood before Chris rolled the body over to expose the neck wounds.
“Body’s still warm. He hasn’t been dead long.” Chris stood. “Definitely vampire. Looks like our guys were right about… Where are you going?”
“Back to the club for the girl.” I cursed myself for leaving her unprotected. Hadn’t I been the one to tell her this place wasn’t safe for her? I should have stayed with her and let Chris investigate the body. But I’d let emotion overrule my common sense and left her alone. Now that I knew there was a vampire in the vicinity, all I could think about was getting back to my orphan and keeping her safe.
My orphan? I shook my head. Jesus. I was already feeling possessive, and I didn’t even know her name.
“Nikolas.” Chris’s voice was laced with amusement. “Are you planning to enter the club looking like that?”
I glanced down at my leather harness, and my jaw clenched. Chris was right; I was distracted.
“I’m going to scout the area while you cover the girl,” Chris said before he headed off in another direction, no doubt having a good laugh over my odd behavior. Wait until he heard the girl was my mate. He’d probably fall on his sword from laughing so hard.
Potential mate, I reminded myself. Discovering you had a bond with someone didn’t mean you had to take it further. People had been known to walk away from bonds before they had a chance to grow. I liked my life the way it was, and I had no desire to add a mate to it.
Hell, maybe I was wrong about the whole thing anyway. A bond was a two-way thing, so the girl should have felt something. But she hadn’t shown a hint of recognition.
Then what the hell is wrong with me?
A muffled sound from the alley beside the club pulled me from my thoughts as I reached my bike. It was probably nothing, but with a vampire in the area, I had to check it out.
I stepped into the alley just as a terrified female voice floated toward me.
That single word made ice form in my veins. My first instinct was to run to her, but almost two centuries of hunting made me move slowly into the alley to assess the situation before I acted on it.
I almost forgot every one of my years of experience when I saw her. The vampire had her pressed against the building with his mouth at her throat. Her eyes were closed, but the terror coming from her was almost palpable.
Red tinged my vision, and I had to force myself to think clearly and weigh my options. I could reach them in a second, but if the vampire was mature, he would rip her throat out before I got him away from her. If she was going to make it out of this alive, I had to approach this like it was just another job.
The vampire murmured something. Then his head jerked up, and he stared at the girl. It was time to make my entrance.
“Now, that is no way to treat a young lady.” The thought of any young Mohiri in the hands of a vampire angered me, but seeing this vampire touch her awakened something feral and dark inside me.
The vampire spun until he was backed against the wall with her body shielding him. “You are very brave, my friend, but you will move on if you know what’s good for you.”
“I have been told that I don’t heed orders well.” I walked into the light so the vampire could see me. Few vampires would stay and face an armed Mohiri warrior. If this one had any sense of self-preservation, he would release the girl and run.
The vampire let out a frightened hiss. “Mohiri!”
One of my rules was to never take my attention away from a vampire, but it required all of my self-control not to look at her. I could not afford to lose my focus now.
I laughed, feigning a calm I didn’t feel. “I see there is no need for introductions. Good. I hate to waste time on formalities.”
The vampire’s clawed hand went to her throat. “Stay back or I will rip her apart.”
I couldn’t stop myself, and my gaze flicked to her face. The fear and pleading in her eyes made my Mori push closer to the surface. It wanted out, but I had to play it cool. The moment the vampire realized the girl was more than a job to me, he would use that to his advantage.
“A bit melodramatic, don’t you think?” I said lightly as I took a step toward them.
His voice rose. “Her death will be on your hands, Mohiri.” He closed his eyes briefly, and my body coiled to attack when I saw a thin rivulet of blood trail down her throat. The smell of her blood was stirring his bloodlust, and the look on his face made it clear how much he wanted her.
My Mori saw it too, and it seethed beneath my skin, its voice melding with mine. “Do it and it will be your last act, vampire.”
“Brother, how like you to sneak off and sample the sweets by yourself. And look at the trouble it has brought you.”
I looked up at the second vampire standing on the fire escape. Damn it. I should have known he wouldn’t be alone. Sloppy, Nikolas. I flexed my jaw. I hadn’t been thinking straight ever since I’d met this girl. If I didn’t get it together, I’d get us both killed. Fortunately, two vampires was nothing I hadn’t faced before. My fear was the risk to her.
“Come now, Joel,” said the vampire holding her. His voice grew cocky with the arrival of his friend. “You know I always save some for you.”
Joel laughed. “I think I deserve a little more than a nibble this time. Mmm…she looks like a tasty little bit.”
“This one is mine,” said the one holding her.
Over my dead body.
“No!” She jerked away from him, and her eyes found mine.
Before I could move in, the vampire yanked her back against him, and his friend landed beside them. It looked like they were going to try to fight their way out of this. Worry for her safety ate at me as I drew my sword, but I kept my face impassive.
The first vampire sneered at me and voiced my fears. “You can’t take us both and save her. She will die, and your efforts will be for naught.”
I met his challenging stare. “Then I will have to settle for killing only you.”
His smile faltered. “Bold words for one outnumbered.”
“Sara?” called a male voice, and all four of us looked toward the alley entrance. I sniffed the air and smiled as my Mori picked up a new and unexpected scent. Werewolves.
“Sara, where are you?” yelled a second male.
The recognition on her face told me she was the Sara they were calling for. My sense of smell was stronger when my Mori was near the surface, which must be why I hadn’t scented them in the club. It seemed my orphan was full of surprises.
I laughed at the shock on the vampires’ faces. “Do you smell that, my friends? I believe the odds just changed.”
Joel nudged his friend. “Come, brother. There are sweeter meals to be had.”
“No. I want this one.”
I bit back a growl at the possessiveness in his voice. “Release her or die, your choice. And you’d better make up your mind soon.”
“Sara, damn it, where are you?” her friend called, closer this time.
The vampires shifted nervously. Sara cried out, and I tensed to spring.
One of the boys shouted. Then a loud growl echoed down the alley.
I waited for the vampires to release Sara and run. No prize – even a young Mohiri – was worth staying and facing an armed warrior and two werewolves. As soon as the vampire let her go, I’d grab her and pull her to safety.
A werewolf pounded into the alley. He was huge for a young wolf, and his sights were on Sara.
The vampires cried out, and the one holding Sara jumped for the fire escape, his arm still locked around her waist.
No! I lunged for them, but the second vampire, the one named Joel, used the distraction to swing at me with his claws. He nicked my side and jumped back out of the range of my sword. He was old and fast, and the arrogant smirk on his face said he thought he could take me alone.
Any other time, it would have been my pleasure to fight him, but my only thought now was getting to Sara. If that vampire got away with her…
I tightened my grip on my sword. No. I wouldn’t let that happen.
Joel snarled and came at me again in a blur of movement. I spun away from his attack and brought my sword up, laying open his shirt and scoring his chest. He grunted and danced away again.
Sara’s scream tore my eyes away from him. I looked to my right to see the other vampire halfway up the ladder to the first landing. He was kicking frantically at the werewolf latched on to his leg. Sara fought the vampire wildly, but he was determined to hold on to her. A few feet away from them, the second werewolf stood watching his friends and looking unsure of what to do.
Joel came at me again, and I parried his attack just in time. He stumbled back, holding his hand over his bleeding shoulder.
“You’re good, Mohiri, but you aren’t good enough to save her,” Joel taunted as he darted back and forth out of my reach. “Eli is going to have so much fun with her. He loves pretty young things, especially brunettes, and I’ve never seen him this hot for one. He’ll make her scream.”
Enraged, I struck at him again. This time my blade sliced through muscle and bone, severing his left arm just below the shoulder. He screamed and grabbed his stump.
I risked another look over my shoulder, and my heart lodged into my throat. Eli had escaped the werewolf, and he was halfway up the fire escape with Sara still in his clutches. The werewolf was climbing after them, but he was too slow. He’d never catch them in time.
My Mori needed no urging, and it sent fresh waves of strength through me. I moved and my blade was at the vampire’s throat before he knew what had hit him. His head flew into the brick wall as his body crumpled.
I spun to the fire escape before the body hit the pavement.
Eli and Sara were only feet from the roof, with the werewolf too far below to catch them. In another second, Eli would reach for the roof, taking her with him.
Without thinking, I pulled a knife from my harness and threw it at the vampire.
Eli screamed and stopped climbing. He reached for the silver knife buried deep in his side, but he couldn’t get to it while holding Sara and the ladder.
I drew out a second blade, prepared to throw it.
The vampire’s eyes fell on me and moved to the werewolf advancing on him. Determination crossed his face as he abandoned the knife and grabbed the ladder rung above his head.
I pulled back my arm, but stopped mid-throw when Sara reached down and yanked the knife from the vampire’s side. What is she doing? I thought, a second before she plunged the blade into his shoulder.
Pride surged in me. She was a fighter.
The vampire screamed and almost lost his grip on her. She dangled precariously three stories above the ground.
I’ve got you. I raised my throwing arm again and stopped. Sara’s body was shielding most of Eli’s, and with them struggling, I could too easily hit her instead.
Her eyes met mine, and I saw the raw fear and resolve on her face.
“Do it!” she screamed. Her voice broke. “Nikolas…please.”
Hearing her speak my name felt like she had reached her hand into my chest and squeezed my heart. I couldn’t look away from her as I released the knife.
The vampire cried out as the blade found its mark in his other shoulder. Struggling frantically, he snarled at Sara.
Then he released her.
I dropped my sword and cradled my arms to soften the impact of her fall. My arms closed around her, and I held her against my chest as I breathed hard to maintain my cool. The feel of her soft body against mine awoke something other than protectiveness inside me. In that moment, I didn’t want to ever let her go.
A low growl nearby reminded me we were not alone. One of the werewolves crept closer to me. The other had shifted back to his human form and was racing down the fire escape.
“Sara!” the dark-haired boy yelled before his bare feet hit the ground. He ran to us and held out his arms for her. “Is she…?”
I made no move to hand her over to him. “She passed out, but she’s okay.”
The boy let out a harsh breath. “I don’t know how to thank you.” He reached for her again. “You can give her to me.”
The affectionate way he looked at her made me want to crush her to my chest. There was no way I was handing my…orphan over to a naked male, even if he was her friend.
“You might want to get dressed before she wakes up,” I suggested dryly.
“Shit!” The boy and his friend ran to the mouth of the alley. I heard them talking in hushed voices as they pulled on their clothes.
I studied the dark lashes and pale skin of the girl in my arms, and breathed in her scent that was a mix of sunshine and spring rain. Never had I found those scents overly appealing, but on her the combination was alluring and sweet at the same time. My eyes moved over her lips, and I had to resist the sudden urge to taste them.
She looked so young and innocent, and I would have given anything to have shielded her from the evil she’d faced tonight. She’d been incredibly brave, but I worried about how she would be affected by all of this when she woke up.
The attack wasn’t the only thing she’d have to cope with. Her lack of fighting skills proved she was no warrior, or even a trainee. She was an orphan, and she was in for an even bigger shock when she learned the truth about what she was.
I still had no idea how she had survived this long on her own. I’d need to call for someone who had experience dealing with orphans and helping them acclimate to their new life. Paulette worked with the most difficult cases. I’d call her.
“I’ll take her now.” The dark-haired boy approached me slowly as if he half expected me to run away with her.
I reluctantly placed her in his outstretched arms, and then I cursed myself for the sudden rush of sentimentality. I should be off tracking down that vampire, not standing here acting like a lovesick boy.
“Thank you again,” her friend said thickly. He held her like she was a porcelain doll that might break if handled too roughly. I got the impression that none of them knew what she really was.
And none of them had any business being here. What was the pack thinking, allowing their pups, and what they obviously believed to be a human girl, out at night with vampires roaming the city?
I was furious at them and at myself for letting the vampire get away. I snatched up my sword and sheathed it, then reached for the fire escape. Silver wounds slowed a vampire down, but a mature vampire could still cover ground quickly.
“Take her home,” I growled over my shoulder.
“Where are you going?” the red-haired boy asked.
“Hunting.” I started up the ladder without looking back. “Get her out of here.”
On the roof, I found the vampire’s blood trail. I called Chris to let him know what had happened, and he said he’d try to pick up the trail on the ground. I let my Mori come closer to the surface to enhance my senses. I could already see and hear far better than a human, but the more my demon emerged, the easier it was to smell the vampire’s blood.
I followed the blood trail across the rooftops of four buildings before it disappeared. At the last building, I made my way to the ground, but the trail was cold. Chris was a good tracker, and if the vampire was anywhere in the area, he would find him.
I swore softly. I should have handed the girl over to her friend as soon as I’d caught her and then gone after the vampire. A warrior fresh out of training would have done this job better than I had tonight. I wasn’t used to failure, and I didn’t like it one bit.
My mood was dark when I started back to the bikes. But instead of going behind the club, I stood in the shadow of a building where I could observe Sara and her friends, unseen. She was awake and sitting on a bench with the werewolves on either side of her. My gut twisted when I saw how lost and scared she looked, but there was nothing I could do for her now. I’d find out where she lived and send someone to collect her. It was better that way.
I watched them stand and walk to a blue Toyota parked on the street. Easy enough. I’d catch the license plate when they drove past me.
Sara and the dark-haired wolf got in the car. The redhead stood outside and made a phone call, most likely to his Alpha if his unhappy expression was any indication. The news that vampires had attacked someone in werewolf territory was bound to get the pack riled up, and Maine had the largest werewolf population in the country.
The boy hung up and got into the back of the car. I waited for them to drive away, but they sat there talking. After a few minutes, worry began to gnaw at me. Why hadn’t they left? Was something wrong? She’d looked okay as they’d walked to the car, but there was no telling how an ordeal like that would affect her.
Before I realized what I was doing, I left the shadows and strode toward the car. The werewolves jumped out of the car and intercepted me before I reached it.
“I thought you left,” the dark-haired boy said harshly.
“I came back.”
He scowled. “About that. What is a hunter doing around here? This is not Mohiri territory.”
Instead of answering him, I looked past them at the girl approaching us. She was pale, but otherwise she looked unharmed, and I couldn’t help but admire her resilience.
“Hello again. You seem to have recovered quickly from your adventure.” When she didn’t reply, I waved a hand at her two companions. “So, these are the friends you spoke of earlier. It’s no wonder you were attacked, with nothing but a pair of pups to protect you.”
“Hey!” the redhead protested angrily.
She pushed between the boys, clearly not happy about my criticism of her friends. “It’s not their fault. How could they have known something like this would happen?”
A frown creased her brow. “What do you mean? What’s going on here?” She turned to the dark-haired boy. “Roland? Do you know this guy?”
This guy? My demon and I had been in turmoil since we met her, and she had no clue who I was or my connection to her.
Roland shook his head. “I’ve never seen him before.”
“But you know something about him? What does Mohiri mean?”
“I am Mohiri,” I said, drawing her attention back to me.
She gave me an appraising look. “And you hunt vampires.”
“Among other things.”
I studied her in return. Most people would be in a quivering heap after experiencing what she had been through. I could see she was still shaken by the attack, but she wasn’t at all intimidated by the sight of an armed warrior.
She looked unsatisfied by my answer. “What about your friend from the club? Is he a hunter, too? Why didn’t he help you?”
“Chris scouted the area for more hostiles while I handled the situation here.” Considering she’d only seen Chris for a moment in the club, it surprised me she remembered him after everything that had happened.
She shook her head and gave me a wry smile. “So what happened? Did you get the short straw or something?”
“Or something.” If it were only that simple.
The redhead spoke up. “What about the other vampire? Did you get him?”
“Chris is tracking him.”
Roland stared at me with a mixture of disbelief and alarm. “He got away?”
“He’s injured, so he won’t get too far,” I said to assure Sara more than her friend. “Don’t worry. He won’t stick around here now that he’s being hunted.”
Roland did not look convinced. “We should put some distance between us and this place all the same.”
They should have left when I’d told them to go. There was no telling how many more vampires were in the area.
“You live in Portland?” I asked.
The three of them shook their heads.
“Good. The farther you get from the city, the better. It’s not safe here right now.” I didn’t want her anywhere near this city with that vampire out there, injured or not.
“No shit.” Roland took her arm. “We need to get out of here.”
He tugged her gently toward the car, and I stayed where I was, feeling a mixture of relief and dejection. I shook my head to clear it. The bond was new, and I didn’t think it should affect me like this so soon. I was closer to Viv than I’d ever been with any other female, and I’d never felt anything like this for her. It made me feel naked and vulnerable, and I didn’t like it.
Sara pulled away from her friend and spun back toward me. “Thank you…for what you did. If you hadn’t come when you did…” Her voice broke, and she appeared to be fighting back tears.
Her green eyes met mine, and I felt myself being pulled into them. My protective instincts flared, and for a moment, all I wanted to do was pull her to me and wrap her in my arms.
I caught myself before I took a step toward her. What the hell am I doing? I needed to put as much distance between us as possible. I definitely should not be entertaining any thoughts of holding her. The sooner she got out of here, the better it would be for both of us.
“Just doing my job.”
I regretted my cold words as soon as they left my mouth, especially when she flinched and hurt crossed her face.
“Oh…okay, well, thanks anyway,” she said quietly before she turned away to join her friends.
I watched her walk to the car, waiting for her to turn around and look at me again. But she got in the car, ignoring me as if I didn’t even exist.
Probably for the best. I melted back into the shadows and watched them drive away, ignoring the part of me that wanted to jump on my bike and follow them. I caught the license plate and pulled out my phone to shoot off an email to one of the security guys at Westhorne. It wouldn’t take Dax long to track her down. I’d call Paulette and let her know we had a new orphan that needed help, and then I could get back to business as usual.
* * *
“Seems our boy likes pool.”
I watched the young blond vampire we’d been following enter the pool hall as if he hadn’t a care in the world. If he’d paid attention to his surroundings, he might have noticed he’d had a tail for the last five blocks. Today’s vampires were less vigilant than those created a century ago, which was why most of them did not live to maturity. Their increased strength and speed made them feel invincible, and that made them cocky and careless. It also made for easy hunting.
Chris or I could have taken this one down at any time, but I was hoping he’d lead us to his friends first, namely the vampire I’d let get away last night. Vampires rarely traveled alone, and the odds of two different groups of them showing up in Portland at the same time were slim.
We were halfway across the street when a gray sedan pulled up and four males got out. Downwind from them, I picked up the scent easily this time. They stood in front of the car and quietly watched us approach.
“It looks like we aren’t the only ones on the hunt tonight,” I said.
The largest man, a tall stocky one with reddish-brown hair, nodded. “So it would seem. We don’t see your kind here often. What brings you to Portland?”
“We heard about the human girls that went missing here recently, and we suspected vampires.” I gave the entrance to the pool hall a meaningful look. “Appears we were right.”
The man, who appeared to be the leader of the group, crossed his arms over his chest. “We sent some of our people to check out the disappearances. They couldn’t pick up the vampires’ trail, so we thought they’d moved on.”
“This lot is good at covering their trail…except for the one we followed here,” Chris said.
“You mean the one we followed.” A dark-haired man who couldn’t be much older than twenty sneered at us. “We’ll take care of it from here.”
Ignoring him, I addressed the older man. “You can have the vampire after we ask him a few questions.”
The young one took a step forward. “This is our territory, and we’ll decide how to handle the bloodsucker.”
“Like I said, you can do what you want with him when I’m done.” I couldn’t help but notice the young wolf bore a slight resemblance to Sara’s friend, Roland.
“Listen here. You don’t –”
“That’s enough,” barked the leader, putting an arm out to restrain the hothead.
“But Brendan –”
“I said enough, Francis.” A low growl entered his voice, and the younger man backed off, glaring at us. The older man didn’t act like an Alpha, but he was definitely someone with authority in the pack. The Beta, most likely.
The other two males kept silent, apparently content to let their leader do all the talking. He studied me for a long moment. “What information do you hope to get from the vampire?”
“I hope he can lead me to the vampire who got away from me last night.” I saw no reason to keep anything from them. Mohiri and werewolves were not friends, but we had a common enemy.
The man’s expression told me he knew exactly what vampire I was referring to, but he wouldn’t speak of it. Werewolves were almost as secretive as my own people, and if Sara was a friend of the pack, they would protect her as if she was one of them. Would they feel the same way when they learned what she was?
“We’ll give you thirty minutes with him.”
I nodded. “Fair enough. We’ll send him out the back when we’re done.”
The man stepped aside, despite the muttered objections of his young pack member, and Chris and I walked past them to the entrance of the pool hall. Chris opened the door, and loud music assailed us along with the smell of sweat and beer.
The interior of the club was dimly lit except for the lights hanging over the pool tables. Along one wall ran a long bar that was already crowded, and small tables filled the rest of the floor. It was only nine o’clock and the place was over half-full.
It took me less than thirty seconds to locate our target. He stood at the end of the bar near a dark hallway, talking to a brunette in a low-cut blouse and a short, leather skirt that left little to the imagination. She might as well have rung a dinner bell. The vampire was practically salivating over her.
My eyes met Chris’s in silent communication. He nodded and began to make his way around the room, while I set off in the other direction. Fortunately, the vampire was too wrapped up in procuring his next meal to notice us. He wasn’t a match for either of us, but the less attention we drew, the better.
The vampire looked up when I was six feet away, and something in my expression spooked him. Fear flashed in his eyes, and he took a step back, but Chris came up behind him and grabbed him by the arms.
“Not a word,” I heard Chris whisper to him.
I smiled at the female. “Would you mind giving us a few minutes? We have some business to discuss with our friend.”
She tossed her hair over one shoulder and looked me up and down. “Baby, I’ll give you anything you ask for.”
I slapped on the bar to get the attention of one of the bartenders. He came over, and I handed him a twenty. “Give the lady whatever she wants to drink. Keep the change.”
“Thanks, man.” He turned to the brunette. “What’s your poison?”
She leaned against the bar, putting her breasts on display. “I’d love a White Russian.”
Chris made a noise and smirked at me over the vampire’s shoulder.
My lips curved, and I nodded toward the hallway that led to the restrooms and the back exit. Wordlessly, Chris forced the silently struggling vampire to the end of the hallway.
Once we were away from the humans, I pushed the vampire against the wall, easily holding him there. “I’m going to ask you some questions. Whether or not you walk out of here will depend on how you answer them.”
He swallowed convulsively and nodded.
“Where is Eli?”
I shook my head slowly. “Wrong answer.”
He hissed in pain when a knife suddenly appeared in my hand, the blade pressed lightly against a spot under his ear. It was barely touching him, but the silver made a wisp of smoke rise from his singed skin.
“Let me ask that question again. Where is Eli?”
“I don’t know,” he squeaked, trying to lean away from the knife. I pressed harder and he whimpered. “I’m not lying! I haven’t seen him since last night. No one has.”
“Who is no one? How many of you are here?”
His eyes were fixed on the hand holding the knife. “T-ten.”
Ten vampires was an unusually large group to be travelling together. Something important had drawn them to Maine and had made them willing to risk discovery by the werewolves. There was much better hunting to be found in larger cities like New York and Philadelphia.
I thought of the four missing human girls, and then another face filled my mind. I remembered Sara’s terror as Eli held her against him. If I’d been just a few minutes later, she might have suffered the same fate as those other girls.
The thought of her at Eli’s mercy made my hand tighten on the knife. A thin rivulet of blood ran down the vampire’s throat.
Chris laid a hand on my arm, and I eased the pressure on the knife. A dead vampire could not answer questions. And I had promised the werewolves the kill. As much as I hated letting a vampire walk away, I was a man of my word.
“What are you doing in Portland?” I asked harshly. “Your kind isn’t usually stupid enough to walk into werewolf territory.”
His eyes widened, telling me he had been unaware of that fact. “Eli didn’t tell us why we’re here. We just go where he tells us to go.”
I wasn’t surprised by his answer. Most vampires worked together out of necessity, not loyalty. “How long have you been in Portland? Why are you here?”
“We got here three weeks ago, and we haven’t done much but hide out in the place Eli found for us. He goes out with Joel, but I don’t know what they’re doing. He….”
The vampire cleared his throat. “He brought some human girls back to the house, but he kept them to himself.”
I knew the answer before I asked my next question, but I had to ask it anyway. “Are the girls still alive?”
Terror flashed in his eyes. “No. Eli killed them, not me!”
Experience told me I wasn’t getting anything useful out of this one - except for maybe one thing. “Where are you and your friends holed up?”
The vampire stared at me but didn’t answer. I suspected it was fear for his own life and not loyalty to the other vampires that kept him quiet.
“Here’s the deal, and it’s the only one you’ll get. You tell us where your friends are, and we’ll let you walk out that door. Or you can choose not to answer, which is not in your best interest. Trust me.”
Doubt and hope filled his eyes. “You’ll really let me go?”
I lowered the knife. “I give you my word as a warrior that you’ll walk out that door unharmed. But if I see you again, you won’t fare as well.”
His eyes darted to the door, and he nodded jerkily. “Okay, I’ll tell you. We’re staying in a place on Fletcher Street.” He rattled off an address. “That’s all I know. I swear. Can I go now?”
I released him and stepped back, clearing a path to the exit. “Go.”
The vampire lunged for the door and pulled it open. Without a look back, he ran outside into the alley at the rear of the building. As the door closed behind him, I heard a chorus of growls followed by a muffled scream.
Chris blew out a noisy breath. “Ten vampires?”
“I know. Something is up, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it.”
“We should call in a unit for this one,” Chris said as we headed for the front exit. “Unless you’re in the mood to piss off the Council again.”
I laughed, remembering my last talk with Tristan. “Let’s call Erik. His team is closest.”
Chris made the call. “They’ll be here in two hours.”
We left the building and headed back to our bikes. My mind kept replaying what the vampire had said about Eli and the teenage girls, and the more I dwelled on it, the more I wanted to hit something.
“You want to tell me why you’re in such a black mood tonight?”
I gave Chris a sideways glance. “I’m not in a mood.”
He made a sound suspiciously like a snort. “How long have we known each other? You have the coolest head of any warrior I’ve ever met, but you almost killed that vampire back there. What was that about?”
“I’m mad at myself for letting Eli get away last night. That’s all.” The real reason for my agitation wasn’t something I wanted to discuss, even with Chris. The sooner we dealt with the situation in Portland and sent our people to get Sara, the sooner I could put this behind me.
My Mori growled unhappily. It had been doing that a lot since I’d let Sara drive away with her friends last night. Mori demons were driven by instinct and emotion, and all mine could think about was its mate.
Potential mate, I reminded us both. I couldn’t deny there was something about the girl that drew me in like no one ever had. Was it the innocence I’d seen in her eyes? Or her blind trust in me in that alley?
Or was it because of how right it had felt to hold her in my arms?
It doesn’t matter what it is. There was no place in my life for a mate, no matter what I was feeling. My Mori would just have to get over it.
My phone rang and Dax’s number flashed across the screen.
“Dax, what do you have for me?”
“I traced the license plate to a Judith Greene in New Hastings, which is about an hour north of Portland. She has a son named Roland, who attends St. Patrick High School. I searched the school records and found two girls named Sara. I’m sending you their pictures now.”
A photo appeared on the screen of a blonde girl named Sarah Cummings.
“Not her,” I said.
It took a minute for the second picture to arrive, and I recognized the face immediately. I stared at Sara Grey’s green eyes until Dax spoke.
“Is it her?”
“Yes. Do you have an address for her?”
Dax chuckled. “Do you even have to ask?”
Seconds later, a text arrived with her address. “You need anything else?” he asked.
“No, that’s it. Thanks.”
Chris leaned in to look at the face on my phone. “Ah, Dax found your little orphan.”
I closed the picture. “She’s not my orphan,” I grumbled, ignoring my Mori pressing forward insistently. Mine, it growled.
“So, are we going to pick her up?”
I stared down the dark street instead of looking at him. “Since when do you and I bring in orphans?”
“It’s been a few years, but I’ve handled orphans once or twice.” He fell silent for a minute. “Anyway, we’re here and she knows you. You already have a connection with her.”
“Connection?” Was it that obvious?
Chris laughed. “Yes, that happens when you save someone’s life. Look, I can handle the girl if you want me to. Or are you thinking of calling in someone?”
“Paulette has the most experience. I’ll call her tomorrow,” I said as our bikes came into view. The least I could do was give the girl a few days to recover from her ordeal before we sent someone in to turn her world upside down.
Opening the GPS app on my phone, I entered the address for the house on Fletcher Street. I hoped Erik didn’t take too long to get here because, right now, I was in the mood to make a different kind of house call.
Welcome to New Hastings. The sign flew past as my bike roared along the almost deserted road, and I smiled grimly, not expecting a warm welcome when I got to my destination. After the way we’d parted, Sara wasn’t going to be happy to see me. The memory of the hurt in her eyes as she’d turned away from me had stayed with me all weekend.
I still wasn’t sure what I was doing here. I’d picked up my phone half a dozen times yesterday to call Paulette, and each time something had stopped me from making the call. It could have been the waves of anger coming from my Mori every time I thought about having someone else make this visit.
Or it could have been the questions burning in my mind ever since Friday night. Sara was definitely Mohiri, and we had a bond. I could feel it; my Mori could feel it. Why, then, hadn’t she shown a hint of recognition or a sign she’d felt something? The more time that passed, the more I had to see her again to make sense of it all.
And how the hell had she survived alone all these years? I could see the werewolves keeping her safe from predators, but how had her demon not driven her insane? Could it be related somehow to the reason her Mori was so quiet? The more I’d thought about it, the more I wondered if her Mori could be sick. I’d heard of it happening, and there had to be some explanation for all of this.
The idea of Sara or her Mori being sick sent a chill through me. It’s not that, I reassured myself. An ailing Mori would cause the person to fall physically ill. Our symbiotic relationship gave us our demon’s strength, but also their weakness. If her Mori was sick, she would be too, but she’d looked healthy when I met her in the club.
My Mori fluttered excitably a few seconds before I rounded a bend in the road and spotted the girl on the bicycle. I didn’t need to see her face to know who she was.
What in God’s name is she doing out here alone? We were on the outskirts of the small town, and I hadn’t seen any houses or buildings for the last few miles. After what had happened Friday night, I was shocked to find her out alone, even in daylight. Most people in her situation would still be terrified from an experience like that.
I passed her and started to ease off the gas, but the fear I saw cross her face changed my mind. This wasn’t the best place to talk to her anyway. I figured she was heading home, so I decided to go on and wait for her.
It wasn’t difficult to find the three-story brick building she lived in. I parked the Ducati in front of the coffee shop next door and leaned against the front of the shop to wait for Sara. Ten minutes later, she appeared at the end of the waterfront and pedaled toward me. When she was a few hundred yards away, I felt her presence and my Mori pressed forward happily.
Sara obviously didn’t share the sentiment, and she wore a scowl when she stopped in front of me.
“How did you find me?” she asked curtly.
I couldn’t help but admire her spirit. “What, no hello after everything we’ve been through together?”
Something like annoyance flashed across her face. “Hello. How did you find me?”
Sensing that the direct approach was the only way to go, I said, “I tracked your friend’s license plate.”
Her eyes widened. “Why?”
When I’d decided to come here, I thought I’d known exactly what to say to her. But facing her now and seeing her confusion and alarm, I knew this was not going to be as easy as I’d planned. I stepped away from the building. “We need to talk.”
“Talk about what?” There was a slight quiver in her voice, and her shoulders tensed as if she was going to run.
“You look ready to flee. I don’t bite, you know.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought about the other fellow.”
Her wry humor took me by surprise and pulled a laugh from me. She was smaller than the average Mohiri female, and she didn’t have any physical strength or fighting ability based on what I’d seen the other night. But she had fire, and there was nothing cowardly or weak about her.
“You sound like you’re well recovered at least.” I’d worried she might be traumatized once the reality of what had happened set in, and I was relieved to see her looking whole and well. She was wary of my reasons for being here, and I couldn’t say I blamed her.
“I’m not here to harm you, and we really do need to talk.”
“What could we have to talk about?” Her brows drew together. “I don’t even know your last name.”
I smiled. “It’s Danshov, and your last name is Grey. Now that we’re acquainted, can we talk?”
She chewed her lower lip, and for a moment I thought she was going to say no.
“Is there somewhere we can talk privately?” The conversation we were about to have was not one I wanted other people to overhear.
She looked around. “We can go down to the wharves. They’re usually pretty empty this time of day.”
“That will work.”
I waited for her to put her bike up. She was quiet when she came back and started walking with me toward the wharves. I wondered what she was thinking, and how long it would take her to ask me the point of my visit. She didn’t strike me as a person who would wait long for answers.
For my part, I was curious about how a Mohiri orphan ended up in a small town in the middle of Maine. I’d done a little digging this morning and found out that the Alpha of the Maine pack lived in New Hastings. One of her friends was the Alpha’s son and the other was his nephew. Sara was in with the most powerful werewolf pack in the country.
“How long have you been friends with the werewolves?” I asked as we strolled along a long, empty wharf.
There was a brief pause before she answered. “A long time.”
“And your parents don’t mind?” I already knew she lived with her uncle, who was her legal guardian, but I wanted to get her talking about her parents.
She tensed up beside me. “It’s just me and my uncle, and he likes my friends, but he doesn’t know what they are. He doesn’t know about any of this.”
“Do you mind if I ask about your parents? How did you come to live with your uncle?”
“My parents are gone. My mother left when I was two, so I don’t remember her.” Her voice held an edge of anger, but I sensed deep pain in her too. “My dad died when I was eight. Uncle Nate is his brother.”
Her answer confused me. Orphans were always the offspring of a male warrior and a human female, but according to her, her father was human. It was conceivable for a female warrior to be away from a stronghold long enough to have a child, but our mothers were very protective of their young. I couldn’t see one of them leaving her child unprotected with a human, even if he was the father.
“Do you know your mother’s maiden name?”
She stopped walking and stared at me suspiciously. “Why do you want to know about my parents? What do they have to do with anything?”
“Answer my question, and I will answer yours.”
She walked away, and there was no mistaking the bitterness in her voice this time. “Her name was Madeline. I think her maiden name was Cross or something like that. She abandoned us. I don’t really care who she was.”
I stared after Sara as the meaning of her words hit me full-on like a freight train. It can’t be. Madeline had always been selfish, but even she would not abandon her own daughter.
Sara stopped walking and faced me. “What’s wrong?”
It hit me then why Sara had looked familiar to Chris and me. She bore a resemblance, not to her mother, but to her grandmother, Josephine.
Khristu! She’s Tristan’s granddaughter.
I struggled to keep my expression and voice neutral even though I was reeling inside. “Madeline Croix? That was her name?”
“It could be. I’m not sure.” She frowned nervously. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
I glanced away from her, trying to think of how to proceed. I’d known I was going to have to explain certain things to her, but the bombshell she’d dropped on me had thrown me for a loop. Madeline was alive and she’d had a daughter.
“I just haven’t heard that name in a while,” I said. “If she is the Madeline I knew, it explains a lot to me.”
“Well, it doesn’t tell me anything, so why don’t you fill me in? You said you would answer my question if I answered yours.”
“I will.” I started forward, waving at some overturned wooden crates. “Let’s sit. This is a good place to talk.”
We sat, and I turned to look at her. The move brought me close to her, and my eyes were drawn to her mouth. My body grew warm, and my Mori shifted excitedly at her nearness.
Khristu, get a grip.
I raised my gaze to hers. “You didn’t know who the Mohiri were before the other night. How much do you know about us now?” I figured the werewolves had told her what they knew, which wasn’t a lot.
“I know you guys are vampire hunters, and you and the werewolves don’t like each other. That’s pretty much it.” She shrugged, but the interest in her eyes told me she was more curious than she let on.
“I imagine your friends don’t talk about us any more than we do about them. Would you like to know more about the Mohiri?”
“Yes,” she replied without hesitation.
Her answer pleased me more than I wanted to admit. “You seem very familiar with the real world, but how much do you know about demons?”
“Nothing, except to stay as far away from them as possible.”
“What if I told you there are thousands of types of demons, and that vampires are one of them?”
She frowned, and there was a note of fear in her voice when she spoke. “I’d ask you if you are deliberately trying to scare the hell out of me.”
I rested my elbows on my legs. “I am not here to frighten you.” I didn’t want to upset her either, but she had to hear this if she was to understand the rest of what I had to tell her. I could already tell from her reaction to my question about demons that this wasn’t going to go well.
She looked down, and I followed her gaze to the hands clenched in her lap.
“Do you still want to hear about the Mohiri?”
Green eyes met mine again. “Go ahead.”
She smiled, and it was like the sun breaking through the clouds. I had to look away so she couldn’t see what I was feeling. Hell, I didn’t know what I was feeling.
I began to recite the story I had learned from my sire when I was young. “It all started two millennia ago when demons learned how to leave their dimension and walk the Earth in corporeal form. Most of them were lesser demons, and they were dangerous, but not a major threat to humanity. But then a middle demon called a Vamhir appeared. It took a human host and gave the human immortality…and the thirst for human blood.”
“The first vampire,” she said in a hushed voice.
I nodded. “The demon soon learned how to make more like him, and before long there were thousands of vampires. The Earth’s population was small back then, and ancient civilizations were virtually defenseless against the vampires’ strength and bloodlust. If left unchecked, the vampires would have eventually overrun the earth and wiped out humanity.
“So the archangel Michael came to Earth to create a race of warriors to destroy the vampires. He took a middle demon called a Mori and put it inside a human male, and had the male impregnate fifty human women. Their offspring were half human/half demon and they had the speed, strength, and agility to hunt and kill vampires. They were the first Mohiri.”
I watched the play of emotions across her face: revulsion, amazement, disbelief.
“The Mohiri are demons?” she asked hesitantly.
“Half demon. Each of us is born with a Mori demon in us.”
“You mean you live with a demon inside you like…like a parasite?” Her face paled, and she pulled back several inches. If I had any question about whether or not she knew what she was, her reaction answered it for me.
“Exactly like that. We give the Mori life, and in return, it gives us the ability to do what we were created to do. It is a symbiotic relationship that benefits us both.”
She stood abruptly, and I thought she was going to run. Instead, she walked to the edge of the wharf and stared at the water.
“You’re not planning on jumping, are you?” I asked lightly, trying to allay the fear I sensed in her.
She looked at me, and my gut twisted at the confusion and anxiety I saw in her eyes. “Why are you telling me all this?” she asked in a small voice.
Her distress drew me like a magnet, and I moved to stand in front of her.
“Because you need to hear it.”
Her eyes widened. “Why? What does this have to do with me? Or my parents?”
“I’ll get to them in a minute. First, tell me, haven’t you wondered why you’re different from everyone else you know?”
Before I told her what she was, I needed to know what she felt around me. Bonds were not one-sided. I could sense her Mori, and all mine wanted to do was touch her. How could she stand this close to me and look so unaffected? Even if she had no idea what she was, she should feel something.
“D-different? I don’t know what you mean.”
“I think you do.”
She shook her head. “Listen I –”
My eyes locked with hers. I felt for the new bond stretching between us and pushed against it gently. Immediately, her demon responded and reached out to me. My Mori fluttered happily, and I felt a deep sense of satisfaction. She might not recognize our connection, but her Mori did.
Suddenly, it was like a wall slammed down between us, pushing me away from her. I barely had time to react before she spun away from me, her eyes dark and frightened.
“Sara?” I reached a hand toward her.
“I have to go.” She moved past me without looking in my direction.
I sighed. “Running away won’t change anything, Sara.”
She ignored me so I tried another approach. “I didn’t take you for a coward.”
She stopped walking but didn’t look at me. “You don’t know anything about me.”
“I think we both know that’s not true,” I said to her back.
Her eyes were ablaze when she turned to confront me again. “What about my parents? Did you know them?”
“Not your father. But I knew Madeline Croix for many years.”
Disbelief crossed her face. “You’re only a few years older than me.”
“I’m older than I look.”
The fire left her eyes. “So what are you trying to tell me? How do you know Madeline?”
There was no easy way to say it; she was going to find it hard to take no matter how I put it. Sara had to hear the truth about her mother so she could accept who she was.
“I watched her grow up.”
Her head moved from side to side, and denial filled her eyes as she stared at me. I watched emotions cross her face as she processed my words. I wished there was something I could do or say to make this easier for her.
“No!” She turned and fled.
“Sara,” I called, but she ran faster. “Damn it,” I muttered, going after her.
I moved past her and stopped. As she collided with me, her palms pressed against my chest to steady herself, and I felt their heat as if they were touching my bare skin. A wave of need pulsed from my demon, but I refrained from touching her. She was as skittish as a colt. The last thing I wanted to do was frighten her more than she already was.
A gasp slipped from her. “How –?”
“Demon speed, remember?”
“Someone could have seen you.” She backed up, pressing her lips together.
“You and I both know that people see only what they want to see and believe what they want to believe. But just because a person chooses to not believe something, doesn’t mean it’s not real.”
The double meaning in my words was not lost on her, and she wrapped her arms around herself defensively.
“How can you be so sure?” Desperation filled her voice as she fought the truth. “There must be more than one Madeline Croix.”
“I was sure of what you are before I heard her name. As soon as I saw you the other night, I knew.” I stared at the water, afraid of what she might see in my eyes. “My Mori recognized yours.”
“Mori can sense each other when they are near. It is how one Mohiri always recognizes another.” And my Mori would know yours anywhere.
She started to shake her head.
“They are never wrong,” I said with gentle firmness.
I searched her eyes, looking for recognition in them. “You felt it, didn’t you?”
Her lower lip trembled, and I finally saw what I was looking for. When she gave a tiny nod, an emotion I couldn’t define made my chest constrict.
Solmi, my Mori growled softly.
“This can’t be happening,” Sara whispered.
I gave her a small smile. “There are worse fates, you know.”
“You’re telling me I have a demon parasite inside me, and I’m supposed to be okay with that?” Fear colored her voice, but I knew it was only fear of the unknown. She would lose that when she got to know her people and accepted what she was.
“It’s not as bad as you make it sound,” I said.
She winced, her internal struggle visible on her expressive face. “No, it’s worse.”
I felt the urge to comfort her, but there was nothing I could do that wouldn’t scare her away. Paulette would have known exactly what to say.
“I know this is strange and frightening, but you are not the first orphan we’ve found. You will adjust as they have.”
“It’s just a term we use for young Mohiri who were not born to our way of life,” I explained when she recoiled. “They have no idea who they really are until we find them.”
Her eyes widened. “Then there are others like me?”
“Not exactly like you. The others have been much younger.” By at least ten years. It shouldn’t be possible for her to be standing in front of me, but she was. One more piece of the mystery surrounding her.
“What does that matter?”
I searched for the gentlest way to explain it without frightening her more. “Our Mori need us to survive as much as we need them, but they are still demons, and they have certain impulses and wills of their own. We learn from an early age to control those urges and to balance our human and demon sides. Otherwise, the Mori will try to become dominant.
“Orphans who are not found young enough to be trained grow up with deep mental and emotional problems, tormented by their demon sides. The worst cases become severely schizophrenic and end up in institutions…or they kill themselves.”
She shuddered, and I could only imagine what was going through her mind in that moment.
“How old was the oldest orphan you ever brought in?” she asked.
I thought about the blonde trainee at Westhorne. “The oldest reclaimed was ten, and she was the exception. The others were no more than seven.”
“I know what you’re thinking; I see it in your face. You are Mohiri. I know that with one hundred percent certainty.” I took a step toward her, and my Mori tried unsuccessfully to reach out to hers. “What I don’t know is how you learned to subdue your demon without training. I’ve never seen control like yours. Your Mori is practically dormant.”
When she retreated again, I didn’t follow. She needed space, and I wouldn’t push her.
“Is that why I’m not fast or strong like you?”
“That and we reach maturity around nineteen or twenty. You should already have noticed some of your abilities starting to show by now, but you’ll have to learn how to use your demon side to enhance your physical abilities.”
Her face blanched.
“Are you okay?”
She shook her head slowly. “No. It’s just so much to take in.”
“It will take time.”
My words failed to comfort her, but she appeared to collect herself. “So, what else can you do besides move really fast and catch people falling off buildings? What other powers do you have?”
I tried not to think about her falling in that alley. “Powers?”
“You know, can you compel people like vampires do or read minds or heal things? Stuff like that.”
Her expectant expression drew a laugh from me. “No special powers or compulsion or anything else. We have the speed and strength to fight vampires. That is all we need.”
“You sound disappointed.”
“No, I’m just trying to understand it all.” Her eyes moved slowly over my face. “How old are you? And I don’t mean how old you look.”
Her gaze snared me, and I almost forgot to answer. “I was born in eighteen twenty.”
Her jaw dropped. “Am I…?”
“Yes. Once you reach maturity, aging will stop for you, too.” Growing old and dying were two things most humans feared. Knowing she would never have to worry about that should ease her mind a little.
“Oh.” Her chin quivered, and I was surprised to see something akin to sorrow fill her eyes.
“That upsets you?”
She nodded and rubbed her shivering arms.
Concern filled me, and I moved to give her my leather jacket. “You’re cold.”
“I’m fine, thanks.” Her shoulders heaved as she took a deep breath. “What if I don’t want to join the Mohiri?”
My Mori growled unhappily.
“You don’t join. You are Mohiri.”
She lifted her chin. “What if I don’t want to live with them, and I just want to stay here? You said yourself that I can control this demon thing better than anyone you’ve ever seen, so I don’t need your training.”
I knew my next words would hurt, but she had to understand what all of this meant for her. “You don’t belong here anymore. What will you tell people when you stop aging? What will you do when everyone you know here grows old and dies? You need to be with your own people.”
She flinched. “These are my people.”
“That’s because they are all you’ve ever known. Once you get to know the Mohiri –”
“No!” Anger burned in her eyes. “I knew a Mohiri, remember? All she did was abandon me and my father. My loving Mohiri mother deserted us, and my dad was murdered by vampires. Where were my people then?”
Stunned by her outburst, I stared at her. “Vampires killed your father?”
Her laugh was bitter. “Pathetic, isn’t it? You’d think someone like me would be a lot less likely to be taken in by a vampire, considering my past and my genes. Some warrior.” She started walking at a fast pace toward the waterfront again.
I walked beside her. “That vampire, Eli, knows what you are now. He’ll be looking for you. Vampires love nothing more than draining Mohiri orphans. We deprived him of that pleasure, and he will not forget it.”
She stumbled slightly, but didn’t stop walking. “I thought you said he wouldn’t get away.”
“He was more resourceful than most.” I cursed myself again for letting the vampire escape and for being the cause of the fear that had crept back into her voice.
“Well, if he does come back, he’ll think I’m in Portland, right?” she said hopefully. “There’s no way he would know to look for me here. Besides, this is werewolf territory and the werewolves are doing sweeps of Portland to find the vampires.”
“The werewolves might not catch him either.” Eli had evaded the pack for the last three weeks. He might not be stupid enough to come this close to the Alpha, but I’d seen how much he wanted Sara.
She glared at me. “Are you trying to scare me?”
“No, but I will not lie to you either.”
When we reached my bike, she faced me with her shoulders back and her arms crossed. “I don’t want you to think I’m not grateful for you saving my life because I am, more than I can say. But your way of life, your people – I don’t belong with them.”
Her statement made waves of agitation roll off my demon. I wasn’t too happy either. But short of forcing her to go with me, there was nothing I could do.
Solmi, my Mori insisted. It wanted its mate, and it sent me a vivid image of me carrying her away.
Ignoring the demon, I pulled out a small card and handed it to her. “This is my number. Call me if you need me or when you reconsider your options.”
She took the card and looked at it for several seconds before she put it in her jeans pocket. “I won’t reconsider.”
The set of her jaw told me she wouldn’t be easily persuaded, and I would not force her to leave. Something told me she would never forgive me if I did. I’d never cared much about people’s opinions, but the thought of this girl hating me did not sit well with me.
“One more thing.” I took a small sheathed dagger from an inner pocket of my jacket and held it toward her. “You may feel safe here now, but as you found out Friday night, danger can find you when you least expect it.”
She shook her head, but I put the knife in her hand before she could pull it away. I watched her unsheathe the dagger and study the silver blade with open curiosity. Seeing her holding one of my weapons gave me an absurd rush of pleasure. I grabbed my helmet and donned it before she could see the smile tugging at my lips.
I mounted my bike and turned my head toward her. “I’ll be seeing you, Sara.”
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