Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Fantasy  ➡  Paranormal  ➡  Romance  ➡  Paranormal

Lillian Rayne Trilogy: Book 1

p={color:#000;}.

Lillian Rayne

Book 1

Ella Price

This book is a work of fiction, and does not represent real events. Characters, names, places, and incidents are works of the authors imagination and do not depict any real event, or person living or dead.

Copyright © 2016 by Ella Price

All rights reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form.

First Edition: February 2014

Cover by AEPBOOKCOVERS.COM

Chapter 1

I crept through the ally, trying to keep as quiet as I possibly could. I had seen the vampire enter the alley with his unsuspecting victim. She, of course, was not opposed, like any sane woman should have been. I was sure it was due to the fact that the vampire had her in a trance. It was how they worked. It was how they got their prey to be cooperative and silent while they fed and, on most occasions, killed. It was my job to make sure he didn’t get to the second part. I am a vampire hunter, and I was going to make sure this particular vampire didn’t make it out of the alley alive. I’d spotted him when I was patrolling the club. He wasn’t one I recognized; then again, there were always new vampires coming into town.

The vampire and his victim came into view as I crouched behind a dumpster. The alley stunk, but it was a vampire’s haven. No one ever came down these alleys at night unless they were either up to no good or were hunters like me.

I slowly drew my stake. It was one of my favorites. I carved it myself from oak. I’d even taken the time to carve the hunters vows in it. I would not be leaving this stake behind, that was for sure.

I moved quickly as the vampire went to sink his fangs into the clueless woman’s neck. I gave him a chance to fight, instead of just stabbing him in the back. That wasn’t my style. I didn’t claim to be an honorable person, but there were some things I didn’t do, and killing someone without giving them a chance to fight wasn’t my thing.

I knocked him sideways into the opposite wall. He squared with me, a little startled. He looked me over, then smiled. “Well, if you weren’t a hunter, I would definitely be interested,” he said, amused.

I scowled. He was acting like I was trying to ask him out. He was good looking, but then again, most of them were. It was unfortunate I was born to kill them. I lunged at him and he quickly dodged.

He laughed. “You are really trying, aren’t you?” He was still smiling despite my attempt to stake him. He obviously knew what he was up against, but he was still teasing me. He knew random humans didn’t carry stakes around and assault vampires for fun. He swung at me and I dodged him, then swung around and kicked him square in the chest. He landed with a thud against the wall. I had him now, he was slightly disoriented. I took the opportunity and lunged at him. He caught my wrist and held me at bay. He smiled. “You really are cute.” His turquoise eyes were dancing with amusement; it was infuriating. The girl had already regained her senses and was running toward the alley opening.

I scowled. I was getting annoyed by the way he was treating me like I was playing with him. I leaned into the stake, but he was strong. Now that I was closer to him I could tell he wasn’t some ignorant vampire driven by bloodlust. He was older; much older.

“Rayne, wait!” The sound of my cousin’s voice caught me off-guard. I glanced behind me and saw my cousin Tanner running down the alley toward me. The vampire took my distraction as an opportunity. He knocked me backwards into the wall, then disappeared.

I looked where the vampire had been. It was rare for them to be able to disappear. That vampire would have been an excellent kill for my record. I cussed as I got to my feet. “What the hell, Tanner! I had him and you fucked it up!”

He raised his hands in surrender. “A truce was called. You are the only hunter out tonight. I was told to find you and warn you,” he said, apologetically.

I rolled my eyes. “A truce is always called. It lasts a week, then we go back to killing them. Why waste the time?” I snapped. I hated when the council decided to call truces. It was irritating. I would rather be out hunting vampires, not making nice with them.

“It’s for real this time. There is a guy named Kai. He is part vampire and part hunter. They are saying he is going to unite us,” Tanner said excitedly.

I scoffed. “We are not supposed to be united. This is such bullshit!” I was furious now. The night had started out looking like everything was going to go according to plan. I had another vampire bagged, and I was in a decent mood until Tanner ruined the entire thing. I knew it wasn’t his fault, but that wasn’t going to stop me from acting like it was. I placed my stake back in its case on my hip, then stalked toward the street. Tanner followed me. He kept his mouth shut, which was smart. I was going to go to my uncle’s house and find out what the hell was going on.

“You know my dad is expecting you to be angry. He even had Luca and Damon stay in tonight so they could be there when you get there,” he said, amused.

“He’s damn right I’m angry. Why would he want a truce with them anyway? They kill people. They use them as food and slaves. They would do it to us if they could,” I growled.

“Ya, but dad said this guy Kai is the real thing. He is from both sides. He thinks we can unite. Of course, it doesn’t include all vampires. There will just be new rules so we can’t just kill any vampire we see.” Tanner reminded me a lot of my uncle. He was so optimistic and confident in what he was saying. It was both annoying and comforting. Tanner didn’t understand because he had a family. His family hadn’t been slaughtered by vampires like mine was. He obviously didn’t understand my hate for them.

We walked the rest of the way to my uncle’s house in silence. My uncle was the head of the council. His house was the meeting place for all the hunters in the area. The house was surrounded by a huge iron fence. It was just on the outskirts of downtown Wilmington. Riverfront was in walking distance, and the bars and dark alleys were where I did most of my hunting. It was a huge place that housed several hunters, mainly ones that didn’t have homes or families of their own, like me. As I approached the house, I could tell there was something going on. There were cars everywhere; the house was packed.

The foyer was packed with hunters as I walked in. Most of the faces I recognized. They quieted as I entered the room. I had earned a reputation among the hunters. For my age, I had the most kills on record. I had several off record, but I kept those to myself. I had turned eighteen a few months ago, and since then I was able to decide when and where I wanted to go. I had been hunting since I was thirteen and training since I could walk. I was one of the hardcore hunters. There were fewer of those these days.

I ignored the quiet murmurs as I stalked toward my uncle’s study. Tanner stayed close on my heels. He obviously didn’t want to miss anything. I didn’t bother knocking; I never did. My uncle sat behind his desk. A small smile played at his lips when I barged in. He thought it was amusing. He knew I was going to show up. I disregarded everyone else in the room. I wasn’t here to talk to them; I wanted to talk to my uncle.

“What the hell is going on?” I asked angrily.

“Kai, this is my lovely niece, Lillian Rayne,” my uncle said, glancing at someone behind me. “I thought you would be here sooner,” he said, as he looked back at me.

“I just found her on the south side. She’s hard to track,” Tanner said apologetically.

“Yes, thank you for ruining my kill, by the way,” I growled, glaring at Tanner. He stepped back, looking a little startled by my sudden outburst.

“There are new rules, Lillian. We are trying to make a truce, and in order to do that we all have to follow certain rules,” my uncle said firmly.

I scoffed. “I was doing my job. He had a girl.”

“I am afraid all of this is my fault,” a male voice said from beside me. He was the man my uncle addressed, and he had been there the whole time. I just hadn’t bothered to really acknowledge him.

I was caught slightly off guard by how good looking he was. He was tall and toned. He had the body of a hunter, but the looks of a vampire. His gray eyes were even similar to a vampire’s. His dark brown hair was messy, but it looked like it naturally fell that way. “Who the hell are you?” I asked, even though I had a feeling I already knew.

“My name is Kai. I am…” he started, but I cut him off.

“You let a vampire in the compound?” I snapped, glaring at my uncle.

“He is part vampire, and more importantly, part hunter. We have to start somewhere,” my uncle countered.

“I can’t believe this,” I growled, then turned and stormed out.

People cleared a path for me. They obviously didn’t want to annoy me any more than I was. “Lillian, we have to end the war at some point,” my uncle chided as he followed me.

Once I reached the second floor landing I turned to face him. “How could you of all people want a truce? They killed your brother!” I said angrily.

“No, they didn’t. One vampire did. You cannot blame the entire race for one act. If that is how things were done there would be so many races that would just be out of luck because of one person’s actions. What if the vampires judged us by what you have done?” My uncle was arguing his point like he always did, and like always, he was right; but I wasn’t going to let him know that.

“I would love it if they would give up on this whole truce nonsense. It would give me a lot more of them I can go after instead of just the ones on a damn list!” I countered.

“I know damn well that you don’t stick to the list, so don’t treat me like I’m an idiot,” he growled in a lower tone. It didn’t matter. Any vampire could hear him. They had crazy good hearing. I knew that if Kai was part vampire he would hear every word we spoke.

“Yes, and now you are tightening my leash even more. How the hell am I supposed to do anything?” I snapped.

“You aren’t! That is the point. We can coexist with them if both sides put in the effort,” he said, lightening his tone a little.

“I don’t want to coexist. I want them dead,” I growled, then turned and hurried up the next flight of stairs. He didn’t make a move to follow, which was a relief. I was tired of arguing. I wanted to be alone.

 

 

*****

 

I walked into my room and slipped my hoodie off. I hesitated when I saw Damon laying on my bed, flipping through a magazine. He and I were on again, off again boyfriend and girlfriend, and we had been for a while. He was a great looking guy. He had the perfect body, he was a great hunter, and he had curly, dark, chestnut hair. On any normal day I wouldn’t mind coming home to him in my bed, but I wasn’t in the mood for him, and I knew he was aware of it. He just didn’t care.

“I can see you met Kai,” he said, amused.

I don’t want to talk about it,” I countered as I stood in front of the mirror and unpinned my hair. My curly black hair fell around my shoulders. It went well with my blue eyes and pale complexion. I was tall and toned, like a hunter should be, but I was still feminine thanks to my large breasts and curvy body. I cursed as I examined the tattoo on my arm. It was a white lily with small raindrops falling off it. There was a small cut across the tattoo that I must have gotten in a fight. It was the same tattoo my mother and father had. They’d gotten their tattoos when I was born. I got mine when I was sixteen in memory of them.

Damon put his arms around me and I closed my eyes as he gently kissed my neck. “I can make you feel better,” he said playfully.

“I bet you can,” I said, amused, as I felt the tension start to leave my body. I turned into him and pressed my lips to his. His tongue touched mine, and I felt my body heat up. His hands went to my ass, and he lifted me off my feet. I wrapped my legs around his waist, enjoying the feel of his lips against mine. There was a loud knock on the door. I broke the kiss and sighed. “What?” I growled.

“I need to talk to you, Lily,” Luca said from the other side. He sounded annoyed, which wasn’t unusual for Luca.

I looked at Damon apologetically. He knew I would kick him out to talk to Luca. Luca and I had a special relationship, and Damon hated it. Damon rolled his eyes and set me down. “Come in,” I said, smiling slightly.

Luca opened the door and hesitated when he saw Damon. “I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Luca said, not really sounding serious. Damon and Luca didn’t get along very well. Luca would be more than happy to irritate Damon. Luca was also very good looking, which annoyed Damon. Damon was hot too, but Luca was gorgeous. Luca could have been a model if he wanted to be. He had curly blond hair and gorgeous green eyes. His features were a perfect combination of masculine and feminine.

“You’re not,” Damon muttered as he stalked out of the room.

Luca watched him leave then looked back at me. “I don’t like him. I don’t know why you even see him. He is arrogant and stuck up.”

I sighed and sat down on my bed. I had heard this speech repeatedly from Luca. He was very protective of me. He was about ten years older than me, and he was the one that rescued me the night my parents died. If it wasn’t for Luca, I would be dead. He was like a big brother to me. “I know, you’ve said it before,” I said, trying not to sound too annoyed.

He ran his fingers through his hair as he watched me. “Are you ok?” he asked softly.

I nodded. “I am hoping this all blows over in a week like it usually does.”

He frowned. “It’s not going to. This is it. Kai is a hybrid. You uncle has decided to hold a challenge to find a master hunter.”

I straightened a little. “We haven’t had a master hunter in years. The council has been enough to control everyone,” I said, confused.

He shrugged. “He thinks people aren’t going to be happy. So the council is holding the challenge. Every hunter over eighteen is allowed to fight. I’m going to, even though everyone already thinks Damon will win.”

“That’s just what we need,” I muttered as I flopped down on the bed, looking up at the ceiling.

“Damon does not need to be the master hunter, but I don’t think I can defeat him,” he said softly.

I sat back up and looked at him, confused. “Why not? You are just as good as he is.”

“He wins every challenge. He is already too arrogant. He will do nothing but cause havoc if he’s put into power. Your uncle feels the same way, but there is no way to stop him from competing.”

I laughed. “You can win.”

He watched me for a second. “I would like to think that, but I don’t think so.”

I scoffed. “You have to try,” I countered, as I stood and turned away from him. I didn’t want Damon being the master hunter, either. Everyone was right; he would be impossible if he won. Luca didn’t even ask me if I was going to fight. He knew better. I never took part in the challenges; they were a waste of time.

“I will,” he said quietly.

I could tell he had no confidence. He never did. He was a much better hunter then he led people to believe. “I’ll be there to support you.”

He smiled. “Great. The challenge is tomorrow night at midnight.” He walked toward the door, obviously ready to get out of the awkward situation.

I was a little startled it was happening so quickly. “Why so soon?”

He turned back and looked at me. “Like I said, things are about to change quickly, and not everyone is going to like it.”

I didn’t say anything, and he turned and left. I hadn’t been paying attention to the politics of my people. Now everything was changing, and I wasn’t sure I liked it myself.

Chapter 2

I tried to sleep, but it seemed impossible. It was only two in the morning, which was still early. I normally slept during the day and hunted at night. I quickly dressed and walked downstairs to my uncle’s office. I hesitated in the hall when I heard voices.

“Damon will be impossible to deal with,” my uncle growled.

“I know. Damon doesn’t listen to anyone,” Luca agreed.

“He is young. Maybe we are misjudging him. Perhaps the position will make him grow up a little,” Kai said softly.

“He will wreak havoc,” my uncle countered.

“You should try to be positive. Damon is strong, and smart, for the most part,” Luca said, trying to pacify my uncle. I really couldn’t believe Luca was saying nice things about Damon. Normally, he made me think he hated Damon.

“You are all those things, too. Except that you are level-headed, and you think before you act. Damon is a hothead and a showboat,” my uncle said, sounding annoyed.

“I know you want me to win, and I will try, but I am not sure I can outmatch Damon,” Luca said softly.

“What about the girl?” Kai asked quietly.

My uncle scoffed. “Lillian is more of a hothead then Damon.”

“Lily doesn’t fight in challenges. She thinks they’re a waste of time,” Luca said, sounding amused.

As soon as the conversation turned to me I became tired of listening to them. I turned around and walked toward the kitchen. I decided to get something to eat instead of dealing with them. My uncle was right. Luca was the perfect choice; Damon wasn’t. I wasn’t sure what I could do, but I had to do something.

 

*****

 

I stood in the kitchen, picking at a bunch of grapes. Kai walked in, hesitating when he saw me. I stiffened; my guard immediately went up. He acted like a hunter, but I could see the vampire in him. He didn’t have fangs, but his eyes gave him away.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know anyone was in here,” he said, sounding apologetic.

I was caught off guard. That wasn’t at all the tone I was expecting from a vampire. They sounded more entitled and arrogant. “Why are you even in a kitchen?” I asked, more curious than anything.

He smiled. “I eat food. I’m not a full vampire. I have a heartbeat, just like you.”

I hadn’t thought about him having a human side. I just thought of him as a vampire whenever I was told he was a hybrid. “Oh, well, I’m finished, so you don’t have to leave,” I said, as I put the bowl of grapes away. I was careful not to turn my back on him. Heartbeat or not, he was still part vampire.

“I understand that you don’t trust me, and you don’t like the idea of a truce, but I would like to at least attempt to be cordial to one another,” he said quietly as he watched me.

I nodded as I moved sideways towards the exit. “Yeah, sure, sounds like a plan. Have a good night,” I said, then ducked out the door. I felt much better when the door was closed. I could be cordial, but that was about it.

I walked into the garden. It was a nice evening. I was contemplating what I was going to do tomorrow night. I didn’t want Damon to win. He annoyed me sometimes, but I still cared about him. I just didn’t think he would be a good master hunter. The position was a lot of responsibility for him.

I hesitated when I heard a girl giggle. I recognized the voice. Her name was Penny. She walked around claiming to be the top female hunter, but that was only because I didn’t participate in the challenges. I heard the voice of the man that she was with, and I felt rage hit me hard. It was Damon.

“When I win tomorrow, we are going to celebrate,” he said, amused.

“You are going to dump Rayne for good then?” Penny pouted.

“Her and I have been over for a while,” he said, and she giggled.

I was frozen. I didn’t know what to do. Part of me wanted to confront them, and another part of me wanted to cry. I didn’t like the part that wanted to cry.

I turned back toward the way I had come. When I walked back into the kitchen I was relieved to see Kai was gone. I hurried toward the stairs. I made it to the landing and looked down the hall. Luca’s light was on, and I instinctively went toward his room. I always went to him when I was hurt or angry. I knocked, and he opened the door. He was shirtless, like he was undressing and getting ready for bed. He looked at me, confused. I couldn’t hold back anymore. Everything that had happened was too much. I ran to him and threw my arms around his neck. I sobbed into his shoulder.

He held me as he gently pulled me further into the room and shut the door. “What’s wrong, Lily? Tell me,” he said as he looked at me, sounding worried.

I shook my head and clung to him. I just wanted to be held. I didn’t want to talk about Damon. I hated Damon. “Come on,” he said softly, and led me to his bed. He pulled me down onto the bed with him. He kissed my head, and I closed my eyes and took a deep shaky breath. I was safe now.

 

*****

 

“Are you ok?” Luca asked after almost an hour. I was lying on his chest looking at the wall. I was almost in a trance.

I shifted and looked up at, him then sat up. “I’m fine,” I said softly as I wiped a stray tear away.

He sat up behind me and touched my shoulder. “Are you sure? You can stay with me for a while if you need to.”

I thought about leaving, but I really didn’t want to leave the safety of his embrace. “Okay,” I said softly. I slid back into his arms. “Damon is cheating on me with Penny,” I said.

I felt him stiffen as I said it. I was surprised that I felt a little better. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. I was expecting an ‘I told you so,’ or something else, but he remained quiet.

“I feel like such an idiot,” I said, trying to keep from crying anymore.

“You aren’t. You cared about him, and it blinded you to what he was doing.” As he spoke, he ran his hand over my arm. His touch was comforting, and everything didn’t seem as bad now. Luca deserved to be the master hunter. He was everything a master hunter should be, and I was going to make sure he won.

“Thank you for letting me cry on your shoulder,” I said dryly.

He laughed and kissed my head. “You know I love it when you come to me. I like to see your human side. Sometimes your scary robot hunter side makes me nervous.”

I laughed and snuggled into his arms. Luca was the only one who really understood me.

Chapter 3

I woke up in Luca’s bed. He was already gone. I knew he was more than likely training. Everyone would be. It was almost time for the challenge, and I intended to fight. If I took Damon out before he reached Luca, Luca would win.

I showered and dressed quickly, then walked to the main hall, where the challenge was being held. It was set up like an arena. The challengers were already lining up. I could see my uncle and Kai sitting at the head table with the other council members. I entered the arena, and the chatter in the room quieted. No one had expected me to show up, that was for sure.

I could feel Damon’s eyes on me, but I refused to look at him. I took my position next to Luca. He was, after all, the one I was trying to protect.

“What are you doing?” Luca asked, sounding slightly amused.

“Entering the challenge,” I said, smiling.

“Why?” he said, looking slightly confused. He wasn’t going to quit questioning me, and I knew it. I had to tell him something.

“I am going to kick Damon’s ass,” I said, glancing at him.

He smiled. “Sounds like a plan.”

My uncle cleared his throat, and the room quieted. “It seems we have a last minute challenger. Rayne, I am glad to see you participate,” my uncle said, sounding unsure.

I smiled at my uncle reassuringly. He probably thought I was going crazy. I was so adamantly against challenges that he thought I would never take part in one.

He continued speaking, describing the challenge. It was simple, really. We all got a red marker. We were all wearing white shirts, and in order to defeat our opponent, we had to mark our enemy over the heart with the marker. It wasn’t as simple as it sounded. Getting that close to a hunter took effort.

My uncle blew the whistle, and we all broke apart. I went straight for Damon. He was heading toward Luca. It made sense for him to go after his most challenging opponent while he was strong. I launched myself at Damon, knocking him to the ground. He looked at me, startled. He’d obviously thought I was going to help him in some way.

“Rayne, what the hell are you doing?” he growled, as he recovered and got to his feet.

“I am taking part in the challenge,” I said, as I swung at him. He ducked and stumbled backwards.

His eyes were wide and confused, as though he didn’t understand what was going on. “Lily, what the hell.”

“It’s Rayne to you, and don’t worry, I am sure Penny will still want you even if you are a loser,” I snapped.

His expression darkened, and he suddenly struck. He kicked me, knocking me backwards into the barrier. I scowled and lunged at him. I caught him across the face with a punch, and he fell to the floor. I kicked him, knocking him onto his back. He was stunned holding, his nose as blood gushed from it. I signed my initials on his chest, then walked away.

Luca defeated his last opponent, and we were the last two standing. I turned to face Luca and he smiled. This was going to be interesting. I kicked at him, and he easily blocked me. He tackled me and we went to the floor. I wrapped my legs around his waist. He tried to use the marker on me, and I wrapped my hands around his wrists, holding him at bay. I could have easily gotten out of the position, but I was going to let him win. I could see by the amused look in his eyes that he was waiting for me to win. I relaxed my legs and he fell forward. The marker hit my shirt above my heart. Luca looked at me, startled, and I smiled.

“Looks like you won,” I said playfully. I gave him a brisk kiss on the lips, then shoved him off me. The crowd was cheering as I stood. Luca was on his knees looking at me. He looked completely dumbfounded, and it was kind of cute.

“It looks like Luca is our winner!” my uncle said excitedly as everyone cheered. Luca was the right choice for the job, and everyone knew it.

As I walked toward the exit, Damon walked toward me. “You bitch! You let him win!” he yelled.

“What’s wrong, Damon? Is your pride a little hurt?” I asked, amused.

He shoved me, and I just laughed. He was pissed, and I was enjoying it. I was glad he was angry. I hoped he felt as miserable as I did. “You are a spiteful bitch. Did you ever think maybe that’s why I went to Penny?”

I could tell he was trying to hurt me, and it was working. “Well, now you two can be together. Oh wait, you’re the loser. You know Penny hates losers, right?”

“Fuck you!” he snarled, and stalked off. Penny hurried after him. She glared at me as she did. I really wished she would come over and start something. I would have beat her, too, and I would have enjoyed every second of it.

I felt pretty good as I made my way out of the room. The other hunters were cheering for Luca and congratulating him. I was glad I’d decided to participate. At that moment, I would have rather staked myself then see Damon win.

“You did the right thing,” a male voice said from behind me. I turned, and saw it was Kai.

“I didn’t do anything,” I lied, then went to turn back toward the stairs.

“Everyone knows you could have easily beaten him,” he said quickly. He was being persistent, and it was a little annoying.

I turned back toward him and looked at him, trying to decide what to say. “I slipped, and he saw an opening. It happens.”

“If you say so,” he said, like he didn’t believe anything I was saying.

I rolled my eyes and turned to go back up the stairs. “Luca would make the best master hunter; everyone knows that.” As I spoke, I hurried up the stairs. He didn’t say anything else. If Luca knew I let him win, maybe everyone did. I really didn’t care either way.

 

*****

 

I went to the training rooms on the second floor. Most of the time there were very few people there; usually, everyone was downstairs in the main room. I was punching the bag when Luca came in, about an hour after the challenge.

“Hey Luca, having fun?” I asked, amused, as I continued to bounce and punch the bag. I was sure he was barely able to escape the mayhem downstairs.

“You let me win,” he said, scowling at me.

“Did not,” I countered.

“Did too. You shifted your damn legs and I basically fell on you,” he growled.

I smiled. “I screwed up and you found an in.”

He scoffed. “Please, you don’t screw up. I screw up, Damon screws up. You don’t.” He moved closer to me and held the bag as I punched it.

“Well, I did this time,” I countered. As I swung, he caught my wrist and pulled me against his chest. I gasped, caught off guard by his sudden closeness. I looked up at him, unsure.

“You’re a liar. Why did you let me win?” he asked, as he kept his grip on me. His voice was low and husky. I felt my body react to the sound of his voice and the look in his eyes. I’d never felt like this around Luca, and it unnerved me.

“You were the best for the job, and I kind of hate Damon right now,” I said, trying to keep my tone even.

He watched me for a second, but he didn’t speak. I felt the tension between us. It was thick and uncomfortable. It felt a little like we were crossing a line we had always kept between us. The line that made our relationship platonic instead of sexual.

The doors opened, and he stepped away from me quickly as my uncle walked in. I went back to punching the bag, and Luca plastered a smile on his face for my uncle.

“Martha is looking for you, Luca,” my uncle said, as he glanced from Luca to me.

“I was just trying to catch a break,” Luca said, sounding apologetic.

Martha, my aunt, was a nice woman. She was Tanner’s mom, and she had a big heart. She had a thing about cooking and knitting. I was pretty sure she’d knit him something because he won. “Better hide. She’ll have you looking like a fucked up French poodle if she made you a sweater,” I said, amused.

My uncle grinned. “It isn’t that bad. Go find her. I need to talk with my niece.” Luca nodded, then glanced at me one more time as he hurried out.

My uncle hugged me, then stepped back. “I know you aren’t going to take credit for what you have done. I just wanted you to know it was the best thing for our people.”

I smiled. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

He laughed. “I didn’t think you did, but I was saying it just in case. Are you going to come down anytime soon?”

I shook my head. “I don’t think so.”

He cleared his throat, like he wanted to say something, but wasn’t sure if he should or not.

“What?” I asked, watching him.

“I heard about you and Damon. I’m sorry. You know you deserve better,” he said softly.

I shrugged like it was no big deal, even though the mention of Damon made my chest ache. “I’m over it,” I muttered, then went back to punching the bag.

He nodded, but I could tell he didn’t believe me. He didn’t push the issue, which was a relief. “Well, come down if you are feeling up to it.”

I nodded, and he walked out, leaving me alone. I liked being alone. I was beginning to think it was better that way. I didn’t know what I was thinking, taking a chance with Damon. Luca was right about him all along.

 

*****

 

I went back to my room once I tired myself out. I showered, then lay in my bed and attempted to sleep. It wasn’t working very well for me. I had so many things running through my head it was hard to keep up. Normally, I would have been out hunting, not twiddling my thumbs because of some stupid treaty. I growled in annoyance as I got up, deciding to go to the kitchen and find something to eat.

There were still quite a few people up celebrating, so I went through the back passages to the kitchen. I was glad it was empty; I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I was rooting through the refrigerator when someone wrapped their arms around me from behind.

I stiffened, but as soon as I heard his voice I relaxed a little. “Lillian Rayne, I heard you whipped my little brother’s ass tonight,” he whispered in my ear.

It was Colin, Damon’s older and hotter brother. Colin was normally not in this area. He normally travelled, and stayed as far away from headquarters as possible. I hadn’t seen him around in over a year.

“He deserved it, I promise,” I said, amused. The first crush I ever had was on Colin. Sometimes I thought that was the only reason I went with Damon. Damon resembled Colin, except Colin had darker hair and prettier eyes. His features were sharper, and his overall personality was sexier.

He laughed. “Somehow I believe that.” He ran his lips along my neck. I felt my skin start to tingle. He was usually flirtatious, but not this flirtatious. Then again, he was always too old for me. Now I was eighteen.

I closed the fridge and turned in his arms. He grinned down at me, then pushed me against the fridge. His face was close to mine. My eyes strayed to his soft lips. I felt my pulse suddenly quicken when I saw he had fangs like a vampire. The realization hit me like a jolt. I shoved him backwards, away from me, and reached for the knife I always carried at my back.

He held the knife up and grinned. “You don’t think I know all your little hiding places, Rayne?” he teased.

“What the hell happened to you, Colin?” My voice was barely a whisper as I spoke. It wasn’t possible. Hunters couldn’t be vampires. Normally, if a vampire even attempted to turn a hunter, the hunter would die.

“I would think it was obvious, by your reaction. You are taking it better than Damon did. They had to sedate him,” he said, as he ran his finger along the edge of the knife. “Would you really use this on me?” He looked directly at me as he spoke. His eyes were a beautiful golden brown, and they were even harder to look at now.

“If I had to,” I said softly, as I shifted nervously. I didn’t know what to do or say. He was a vampire now. I would never look at him the same.

“I’ve seen that look before. I have to say, I don’t like being on the other side of it,” he said softly.

I didn’t speak. I didn’t know what to say. I was at a complete loss. I’d idolized Colin like I did Luca. He was a great hunter. He lived a little on the gray side of things, unlike Luca, who was all black and white.

“You are aware of the truce, correct?” he asked, disregarding my silence.

I nodded, and he offered me the knife, hilt first. I slowly reached out and took it. He was obviously trying to tell me he wasn’t a threat.

“You look good, Rayne. It’s good to see you again.” He didn’t wait for me to speak; he just walked out. He obviously knew I wouldn’t say anything.

I steadied my breathing. I was in full fighting mode. I was lucky he’d meant me no harm. I didn’t know how I’d let a vampire get so close without even sensing him. Normally I could sense them. I couldn’t sense Colin, not even after I realized what he was.

I hurried out of the kitchen and up the stairs. I needed to talk to Luca. Somehow, I knew he was aware that Colin was a vampire and he didn’t tell me. I barged into Luca’s room without knocking. He was just getting out of the shower, and he was naked. He cussed and grabbed his towel. “You could knock,” he growled.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked angrily.

His expression softened; he knew what I was talking about. “I wanted to, but Colin asked me not to. He wanted to tell you himself.”

“You should have said something.” I knew I sounded hurt, and I hated it. I prided myself in my ability to avoid showing any emotion other than anger.

“Lily,” he said sympathetically, as he stepped toward me.

“Don’t! Apparently, I don’t need to know what is going on; not with the truce and not with Colin!” I snapped and stormed out.

“Rayne, damnit, wait!” he growled, as he hurried after me.

“Just leave me alone,” I snapped as I made it to my door. I attempted to shut it and lock him out, but he pushed his way in.

“Just hear me out,” he pleaded as he watched me. I glared at him, but relented and let him in the room. He shut the door behind him; then he turned and looked at me. “I know you’re mad, but Colin is the whole reason for this truce. He wanted to come back, but he knew he couldn’t unless he could get us to agree to make peace with the vampires.”

“You still should have warned me. I let him close to me!” I said angrily.

He looked confused. “It’s still Colin, Lily. He is the same man. I have talked to him.”

“He’s a vampire! He isn’t one of us anymore,” I countered.

He watched me, as if he didn’t know what to say. “You hate them so much that you can’t overlook it? He is your friend, Lily, not your enemy.”

I didn’t speak. I couldn’t be friends with a vampire. Vampires killed my parents. They were the reason I had no one. I hated every last one of them. “Just leave,” I said quietly, then turned away. I didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

“Lily, I…” he started, but I cut him off.

“Go!” I snapped.

He didn’t say anything else. He just turned and left. I couldn’t believe how much had changed in just a matter of days. Everything I knew was changing. They wanted me to go from killing every vampire I found, to trying to be friends with them. I just wasn’t sure if I could do it.

Chapter 4

I barely slept. I watched the sun set, and a couple hours afterward I was antsy. I needed to get out, even if I couldn’t hunt. I didn’t want to remain in my room, and I didn’t want to socialize. I dressed in my usual uniform of jeans, a tank top, boots, and all my favorite weapons. I didn’t intend to hunt, but I wasn’t going unprepared, either. There were rules to the truce, and those rules included a vampire not being allowed to harm or kill. If I could catch one breaking the terms, I had the right to hunt him or her.

I walked down the stairs, hoping to avoid everyone. Tanner was standing outside my uncle’s office. He dodged inside, like he was waiting for me and reporting my appearance to whoever was inside. As I approached the office, Luca came out.

“Where are you going?” he asked, sounding a little worried.

“Out,” I said simply, and started to walk past him. He caught me by my arm and I glared at him. “What?” I growled.

“No hunting. We haven’t exactly got Aubrey on board yet. We are working on getting him to meet us,” he said softly.

“You haven’t gotten the master vampire of this district to even agree to a truce yet? Why do we even have to follow it, then?” I asked, annoyed.

“Because there are several vampires who are stragglers from Aubrey’s group that want a truce, and we have to show that we’re genuine in our interest,” he said firmly.

“This is ridiculous. No one even knows what Aubrey looks like.” I had never run into Aubrey, at least as far as I knew. His vampires wouldn’t say what he looked like, so it was impossible to hunt him. He was supposedly pretty powerful.

“Just leave that part to me and your uncle. No hunting, please,” he said softly.

I sighed. “No hunting,” I agreed reluctantly.

He relaxed and smiled. “Thank you. Be careful,” he said, and walked back into the office.

I rolled my eyes and walked out. I was getting more and more annoyed with this truce.

 

*****

 

I cut through the same dark alley I had been in the night Tanner interrupted my kill. It always irked me when a vampire got away, especially when it was an arrogant vampire. He was odd, compared to the rest. He didn’t seem afraid or even worried when I attacked him. Most of them went into attack mode and they didn’t stop until one of us was dead. He didn’t; he was cool and calm. Maybe he thought I knew about the truce. Maybe he thought I wouldn’t kill him.

“Miss me?” a playful male voice chimed from behind me.

I backed up to the brick wall as I turned toward the voice. It was the same vampire. I recognized his brilliant turquoise eyes and blond hair. He had his hair tied back behind his head. He dressed like he was upper class. I could tell his leather pants and button-up shirt were tailored specifically for him. “Not really,” I said, trying not to betray my emotions. He was just standing there. He made no move to attack.

“Isn’t there a truce?” he asked, sounding slightly amused.

“Why do you think you aren’t dead?” I countered.

His smile widened. “You are so confident. Why have I not seen you before?”

“Why would you have? I try not to become known to your kind,” I countered.

“My kind knows you well, Rayne. I know you by reputation alone, although I am now intrigued. Such a big reputation for such a beautiful young lady.” His tone was light, the same tone he’d used the other night.

“Your compliments will get you nowhere, so don’t waste your time,” I growled. He made me uncomfortable, but I was trying not to show it.

“I didn’t think they would. I heard you have quite the grudge against my kind. A lost family member or two has fed your urge to hunt – at least, that is the rumor,” he continued, unfazed by my tone.

“That is none of your damn business. You are lucky I can’t touch you,” I said angrily. I didn’t want him talking about my family.

“You can touch me wherever you like. I won’t protest, as long as you are gentle,” he teased.

I scoffed. “What is wrong with you? You are strange.”

He laughed. “You’re the pot calling the kettle black right now.”

“I am human; I’m supposed to be strange. You are a vampire. You are all the same,” I spat.

He looked even more entertained. “You really see us as emotionless monsters, don’t you?”

“Aren’t you?” I countered. I didn’t really know why I was still here talking to him. I had nothing to say to him.

“I think that is something you should discover on your own. My words will not sway you; you are far too stubborn. Would you like to join me for a drink?” he asked, watching me with the same playful expression.

I looked at him, a little shocked. “Why are you asking me out?”

“I’m not asking you out. I’m asking if you want to join me for a drink,” he said firmly, like he was correcting me.

I crossed my arms in annoyance. “Trying to lure me somewhere isn’t going to work.”

He rolled his eyes. It was kind of funny; it didn’t seem like his thing. “If I wanted to lure you, I would run up and hit you. I am sure you would chase me down.”

I smiled slightly. He was right. If he hit me, I would try to hunt him down for it. I didn’t understand how he could read me so well. I’d always thought I was careful with my emotions. “Where?” I asked, even though I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to go. I just wanted to play along a little longer to see what he wanted.

“A bar,” he said, smiling.

I sighed. He was going to be difficult. “What bar?”

“That bar,” he said, nodding toward a door not far from us. It was the entrance to a vampire club. There were no markings, which was how I knew what it was.

“I’m not an idiot,” I growled, making it a point to sound offended.

“Isn’t there a truce?” he asked innocently.

“The vampires haven’t completely agreed, so as far as I am concerned, there isn’t,” I countered.

“Then why are you playing nice?” he asked. He wasn’t surprised. He knew the truce hadn’t been agreed to yet. He wasn’t stupid. I had a feeling he knew a lot more than he let on.

“A friend asked me to. Something about trying to show we are serious,” I said, smiling. I felt like I was in a standoff. I was tense and on guard, but he seemed pretty at ease.

“A friend? As in a lover?” he asked teasingly.

“A friend, as in none of your business.” I wasn’t going to give him any information. I didn’t trust him at all.

“So the drink?” he asked again.

“I will have a drink with you at Carla’s, around the corner,” I said, finally relenting. Carla’s was at least a human bar. There weren’t any hunters, but there certainly weren’t any vampires.

He smiled. “Perfect; a human bar. My favorite.” His light mood was infectious, and as much as I hated it, he made me smile a little. “Shall we?” he asked, indicating the direction of Carla’s.

I moved away from the wall and walked next to him toward the mouth of the alley. Carla’s wasn’t far, which was a relief. I didn’t like walking next to him. I wasn’t as prepared for an attack.

He smiled as he held the door to Carla’s for me. I didn’t like walking past him. That meant my back would be to him. I pushed the feeling aside and forced myself to walk past him. He followed me to a small secluded booth. The waitress came over as soon as she spotted him.

“What can I get you, cutie?” she asked, batting her eyes at him. I couldn’t believe how quick she was to hit on him. Then again, to her, he was just a beautiful man.

“Your oldest scotch, on rocks,” he said, smiling.

“And you?” she asked me, without taking her eyes off him.

“Same,” I said, keeping my eyes on him as well.

“Be back in a jiff,” she said, then winked at him before hurrying off.

He turned his attention to me, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it. His turquoise eyes made it difficult for me to make eye contact with him. He could hypnotize humans with those eyes, but not me. “So, are you against the truce?” he asked, breaking the silence.

I shrugged. “They never last more than a week. One side or the other always ends up breaking the agreement.”

He smiled. That smile was both annoying and, for some reason, sexy as hell. “In a perfect world, where neither side broke the agreement, would you follow it? Or would you work in the gray area?”

“I don’t know. Unfortunately, the world isn’t perfect.” I wasn’t sure what kind of answers he was looking for. I didn’t even know his name. He seemed very familiar with the happenings of the vampires and the hunters; he paid attention. Many vampires didn’t.

“From what I understand, you already work in the gray area, Rayne.” He didn’t sound angry as he spoke, which surprised me a little.

“I do when necessary,” I countered.

“You mean when it suits your agenda. When your higher-ups can find their ass with both their hands,” he said, amused.

I smiled. “Basically.” The waitress came back and set our drinks in front of us. She made a point of getting as close as possible to him. His eyes drifted to her neck, like it was a natural instinct. I raised my eyebrows at him, wondering if he was daring enough to do something to her in front of me.

He grinned like a young boy who had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “Don’t worry, you won’t have to kill me tonight. Tell me, why did you let that oaf Luca win the challenge?”

I stiffened a little. He shouldn’t have known anything about the challenge, unless he had someone on the inside. “I didn’t let him win,” I said softly, deciding to answer him.

He scoffed. “Of course you didn’t. You just wiped the floor with his superior opponent, and you couldn’t get past him, a more inferior opponent. That sounds reasonable.”

I smiled. “I had a little extra anger saved up for Damon.”

He looked a little surprised. “You had a personal relationship? Well, that doesn’t seem like you. How did he get past your warm, fuzzy personality?” He was being sarcastic, and he thought it was funny.

I rolled my eyes. “I am not talking about boys with you. What is your name, anyway?” I asked, deciding I should at least know who I am talking to.

“I have many names,” he said, amused.

I was getting impatient with his playful banter. I wasn’t used to this. It was too odd for a vampire. “What is the name everyone here knows you by?”

His smile widened, and I got a perfect view of his fangs. “You can call me Aubrey.”

I watched him for a second. There was no way he was the master vampire Aubrey. The one all the other vampires feared and served. He just didn’t seem like the type. “The master vampire Aubrey?” I asked, bluntly.

“Maybe. Does that gray area look more appealing now?” he teased, like he wasn’t worried about me at all.

“You are awful brave, revealing yourself to me. I am one of the few that are dumb enough to attempt to hunt you down when this stupid truce is lifted,” I said softly, as I watched him. I was even more on guard, now. Master vampires were dangerous.

He grinned. “I know. That’s what makes this so much fun. Why didn’t you kill me the other night when you had the chance?”

I shrugged. “My cousin interrupted with his grand news.”

“You had a chance to kill me before that, when my back was to you. You snuck up on me, but you caught my attention before you moved to strike. It would have been more effective for you to just stab me in the back.” He was watching me, curious. I didn’t really want to discuss my reasons with him.

“I do not stab anyone in the back. I always give them a chance to fight,” I said quietly.

He raised his eyebrows in confusion. “That could get you killed.”

I shrugged. “Maybe, but I am not a coward. It’s about honor. I do not think it is honorable to kill anyone without giving them a chance to defend themselves.”

“That is strange,” he said softly, as he slowly spun his glass.

“What is strange is you acting like I am not a hunter that can easily kill you,” I countered.

“Kill me, maybe; easily, I doubt it,” he said amused.

I rolled my eyes and tossed money on the table. “I am currently ruining my reputation. I should go,” I said as I stood.

He smiled. “It was a pleasure. Perhaps we will meet again.”

I smiled. “I know we will,” I said, then walked out, leaving him at the table.

My entire encounter with him was confusing. He seemed more human than the other vampires. He was a strong vampire; maybe it was all a trick. I would have to be cautious, he knew more about me then I liked. I had a feeling he had friends in our compound.

 

*****

 

It was a little after four in the morning when I walked in my uncle’s house. Kai and Colin were at the base of the stairs. They were at the top of my list as possible spies. Someone had told Aubrey about the challenge.

“Anything interesting going on, Rayne?” Kai asked, obviously trying to be polite.

“A few things,” I said quietly as I walked past them. I kept my distance, and they knew I was doing it intentionally. Colin appeared in front of me, and my hand went instinctively to my knife.

“I am still your friend, Rayne,” he said softly.

“And I am still a hunter,” I countered, and moved past him. He wasn’t the same man. He couldn’t be. Vampirism changed people. It made them colder and less attached to the things they loved. The bloodlust came first, for many of them. I made it to the top of the stairs and found Luca standing there.

“Did you stay out of trouble?” he asked, sounding a little amused.

“Don’t worry, your half assed truce is still in effect.” As I went to move past him, he caught my arm. I looked up at him, slightly irritated that he was hindering me.

“Thank you, Lily,” he said softly.

I held his gaze and felt the butterflies erupt in my stomach. I wondered if he felt the same thing, or if it was just me. I didn’t like the feeling. I didn’t want to ruin what Luca and I had. I pulled away. “You’re welcome,” I muttered, then hurried to my room.

I didn’t understand what had changed between Luca and me. I felt awkward and nervous around him. I hated that feeling. I felt like a girl with a crush. I didn’t want to have a crush on Luca. He was like family to me, and I refused to ruin that.

Chapter 5

I felt his soft lips press gently to mine. He broke the kiss, and I opened my eyes. I froze as I looked into his bright turquoise eyes. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. His mouth was so close to mine; an amused smile played at his lips. I considered reaching for the knife I kept under my pillow, but I knew he would stop me. He pressed his lips to mine again. I remained rigid as he encouraged me to kiss him. His kiss became deep and desperate, almost needy. He broke the kiss again and smiled. I was breathless, and my cheeks were flushed; I could feel it. “So there is a blushing girl under that cold exterior,” he teased. Before I could speak, he was suddenly gone. I could breathe again.

I sat up straight in my bed and looked around. Aubrey wasn’t anywhere in the room. I groaned and ran my fingers through my hair. It was a dream. The curtains dancing in the breeze caught my attention. I looked at the window. It was open; I never left the window open. I quickly reached under my pillow for the knife, and froze when I didn’t feel it. There was something else. I moved the pillow, and looked at a beautiful white lily. Maybe it wasn’t a dream. The thought unnerved me as I touched the petals of the lily. I climbed out of bed and quickly shut and locked the window. He was awful arrogant if he thought he could come in my room without my permission.

I looked at the clock. It was a little after nine. I had slept a while. It was time for me to get up and do something. I had half a mind to go find Aubrey and deck him for coming in my room. I didn’t like the fact that he’d gotten so close. I was beginning to think I was letting my guard down. I needed to train, and that was exactly what I planned to do.

 

*****

 

I thought about Aubrey’s kiss and it made me angrier. I punched the bag as hard as I could. I was acting like a girl again, and it was irritating. I couldn’t let a stupid kiss blind me. He was a vampire. He was a killer, and a monster.

The alarm went off, and fear coursed through me. I hadn’t heard that sound in a long time. It meant something was wrong. I ran from the training room down the stairs to my uncle’s office. I burst in without knocking. My uncle, aunt, Luca, Kai, and Colin were surrounding Damon and Penny. They were both beat up and bloody.

“What is going on?” I asked, starting to get worried.

“Vampires jumped us. They took Tanner,” Damon said through gritted teeth. He was obviously in pain.

I could see the fear in my aunt’s and uncle’s eyes. “I will go after them,” I said, then ran back toward the stairs. I could hear Luca on my heels, but I didn’t care.

“What are you going to do? More killing won’t help anything,” he argued, as he followed me into my room.

“I am going to get Tanner back. I won’t attack if they don’t,” I growled, as I put my knives on. I grabbed my jacket and slipped it on. I went to leave and he caught my arm.

“How you handle this is crucial to the truce. Everyone loves Tanner, but we have to do this diplomatically.” He sounded like he was pleading with me.

I nodded. “I will do what I can.” I told him what he wanted to hear so he would let me leave. I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do. I knew where I was going, I just didn’t know what I was going to do once I got there.

I hurried back downstairs, and Luca followed. My aunt and uncle was waiting for me. “Don’t get yourself killed, Lillian,” my uncle said firmly.

“I will be fine. I am just going to talk to them,” I said quickly. I couldn’t handle their panicked looks, so I hurried out.

 

*****

 

I was back in the alley I met Aubrey in. I walked to the door of the bar he had suggested the previous night. I took a deep breath, and opened the door. I stepped inside and looked around. The place was dimly lit, and all the patrons looked up at the newcomer. They were all vampires.

“What do you want here, hunter?” one of the males growled as he approached me.

I raised my hands to show I had no weapons. “I am looking for Aubrey,” I said quickly.

He looked a little startled, then looked at a female vampire. “He is unavailable,” she said, watching me.

“There was some type of confrontation between the vampires and the hunters. They took my cousin. It is important that I speak with him.” I hoped that if I was persistent they would get Aubrey.

“She said he is unavailable,” the male vampire growled, stepping toward me.

“I don’t want to fight,” I said softly.

“Good; that will make it easier for me,” he growled, then punched me across the face, sending me into the door.

Pain shot through my head, but I slowly regained my footing. I hated it, but I couldn’t fight. I had to prove I was here to get Tanner back, not to start a war. “Please, I just…” I started, but he punched me again, this time in the gut.

I fell to the floor, and he started kicking me. Another vampire joined in. I fought every urge in my body to fight back. I knew I couldn’t, even if it meant dying. If I fought, it would give them an excuse to kill Tanner. Blood poured from my nose and mouth as the male yanked me to my feet by my hair. They stripped my jacket off and started removing my knives. He dragged me to a nearby wall and pinned me by my throat. My hands went to his. The female vampire grabbed one of my hands and pinned it to the wall. I screamed in agony as she drove one of my daggers through my palm and into the wall, so I was pinned. She did the same to my other hand, and the pain was excruciating. The male looked pleased with himself as he stepped away from me and looked at his handiwork.

I was losing a lot of blood. It ran from the wounds in my palms and from my nose and mouth. “I haven’t fought. What more do you want?” I asked, through gritted teeth.

He played with one of my stakes and smiled. “I want you to die,” he growled, as he pressed the stake to my chest just above my heart. He slowly applied pressure. I moaned in pain as I gritted my teeth. He was slowly pushing the stake through my chest. He was going to torture me. I couldn’t do anything. My hands were impaled, and I was doing all I could to hold my weight up.

The vampire was suddenly ripped away from, me and relief washed over me when I saw Aubrey. “Aubrey,” I whispered in relief. He appeared horrified as he looked me over.

He rushed over to me and supported my weight as he pulled the first dagger out of my hand. I cried in pain and collapsed against him as he removed the second dagger. “What are you animals!” he growled angrily.

I could feel the fear his presence brought. He was their master, like he’d said. “We thought you would be happy. She is a hunter. She kills us; they just killed Devin and Mike!” the male vampire that started the whole thing argued.

“She had nothing to do with that, and she offered no resistance. You will pay for this, Gerard,” Aubrey snapped.

I pulled away and looked up at him. “I’m fine,” I said, barely whispering. “My cousin, Tanner. I came here for him. He was taken in the fight. I will take his place. Please,” I begged.

Aubrey looked down at me, and I could see the worry in his eyes. I was getting dizzy, but I wasn’t giving in until I found Tanner. He looked at the female vampire, who wasn’t standing far from us. “Get the boy,” he ordered. “Come, let me help you,” he said softly as he lifted me. I normally would have argued, but I was too weak. He carried me to the back of the bar and down a set of stairs. The place opened up into a huge underground house. He walked to a bathroom and set me on the counter. I sagged against the mirror as he wet towels. “You should have fought back. I wouldn’t have faulted you,” he said quietly, as he wrapped each of my hands.

“I was asked not to start a fight. I just came to talk to you. I don’t know what happened, but I know Tanner wasn’t a part of it. I know him; he isn’t a fighter.” I was still pleading with him. I didn’t want him to hurt Tanner.

“Hunters attacked and killed two vampires. The boy that was caught fell behind the others. I will release him to you, but understand, you are in debt to me,” he said, watching me.

“Thank you,” I whispered, relieved.

He started wiping my face, then cussed. “There is so much blood. You are still bleeding. Will you take my blood?” he asked, watching me.

I shook my head. Vampire blood had healing powers, but it was forbidden for hunters to accept it. I would have to make it home and let one of the healers treat me. “I just need to get home.”

“You are so stubborn,” he muttered, as he attempted to clean me up some more.

Tanner was led in the bathroom, and relief flooded me. “Tanner,” I said, worried. He didn’t look too bad. He was a little roughed up, but nothing serious.

“Rayne,” he said, as he rushed over to me. He hugged me, relieved that I came.

“Help me. We need to get home. Your parents are worried,” I said through gritted teeth as I slid off the counter.

He slung my arm over his shoulder. “You look like shit. How did they win?” he asked, sounding slightly amused.

“She let them, for you. Remember that,” Aubrey growled.

Tanner reddened and looked down at his feet. “Thank you again,” I said softly to Aubrey.

He nodded. “I will see you to the alley,” he said, and walked out ahead of us.

We followed, and I was relieved once we were away from the place. I made it about a half mile from the compound before I collapsed. Tanner lowered me to the ground. “What do I do?” he asked, panicked.

“Go get help. I’ll be fine,” I promised him. I knew I was dying, and he wouldn’t be able to get help in time, but I didn’t want him to know that. I would rather him think he was helping than let him watch me die.

He didn’t look like he wanted to leave me, but he didn’t have a choice. “I’ll be back. I promise,” he said softly, then ran down the alley toward my uncle’s house.

I closed my eyes. I could feel my heart starting to slow. My hands burned and ached where my wounds were. This was not how I’d planned to go out.

I felt someone lift my upper body into their lap. I opened my eyes. I was looking into Aubrey’s turquoise eyes.

“I won’t let you die like this. I gave you a chance to get home, and you couldn’t,” he said, then bit his wrist. I attempted to pull away, but he held me still. He pressed his wrist to my lips. His blood was sweet and thick. As soon as it hit my lips the pain dissipated. He pulled his wrist away and laid me back on the ground. He smiled and brushed my hair out of my face. “They will be here soon,” he whispered softly; then he was gone. I closed my eyes, and everything went black.

Chapter 6

I woke up with a start. Someone shifted next to me. I looked over at Luca. He was asleep, with his arm slung over me. I looked at my hands. There weren’t even scars where the wounds had been. Aubrey’s blood had healed me.

“You’re awake,” Luca said softly, as he propped himself up on his elbow.

“Is Tanner ok?” I asked, worried.

He nodded. “It was you we were worried about.”

“I am fine,” I said as I sat up. “How long have I been out?”

“One night. How did you get them to let Tanner go?” he asked as he sat up.

“It’s a long story,” I said quietly. “What is going on with the truce?”

“It’s stalled. Aubrey is pissed. There is some question about who attacked first,” he said, as he ran his fingers through his hair.

“What do you think?” I asked as I watched him.

He shrugged. “I think we have a long way to go.”

“I’m going to shower. I’ll be down in a little bit,” I said quietly.

“You aren’t going to tell me, are you?” he asked softly.

I looked at him, not sure what to say. I didn’t know what to tell. I wasn’t sure what I should and shouldn’t say. “There is nothing to tell,” I muttered, then walked into the bathroom before it got any more awkward between us.

 

*****

 

I couldn’t stop thinking about Aubrey. His actions were so confusing. Any normal vampire master would have loved to see a hunter torn to pieces. I touched my palms at the thought. I shuddered at the memory, then turned the water off. I stepped out of the water and wrapped a towel around my body, then stepped out of the bathroom and froze.

Aubrey smiled at me. He was sitting on the edge of my bed. “You look much better,” he said, amused.

I walked to my door and locked it, then turned and looked at him. “What are you doing here?” I asked nervously.

A smiled played at his lips. “You owe me your life and your cousin’s life. I came to collect.”

I stiffened. “I asked you not to give me your blood, so you chose to save my life. I do, however, owe you for my cousin’s life. What do you want?”

He smiled. “Hunter’s blood is a delicacy for us.”

I watched him for a minute. He wanted to feed on me. I wasn’t sure if I could handle that. It just wasn’t done. “You do understand what you are asking me, don’t you?” I asked angrily.

He stood and moved toward me. “The same that you asked of me when I gave you back a hunter accused of killing my kind. Do not think you are the only one that has sacrificed beliefs here, Lillian.”

I looked away. He was right. I had to give him what he wanted. He’d given me what I wanted. I moved my hair to one side of my neck and looked at him. He smiled and stepped forward. I gasped when he lifted me into his arms. He laid me onto the bed, then climbed over me. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath as he sunk his fangs into my neck. He couldn’t cloud my mind without my permission, so it wasn’t pleasurable. Suddenly, I felt him force his way into my mind. He was too strong for me to hold him off. Pleasure crashed over me, and a moan of pleasure escaped my lips. I tried to fight it, but it only made the pleasure intensify. I didn’t want it to feel good. If it felt good, I would want it to happen again.

He sat up, licking his lips. His eyes were closed; he was savoring the taste of my blood. Something about the way he looked made me want to kiss him. I grasped the collar of his shirt, startling him. I pulled him to me and pressed my lips to his. The metallic taste of blood filled my mouth. He kissed me hungrily, and I enjoyed every second of his mouth on mine. There was a loud knock on the door, and it broke the trance I was in. I looked at Aubrey, panting. He was watching me, his expression hard for me to read. He suddenly disappeared, and I sat up.

“What?” I asked, trying not to sound too annoyed.

“It’s Colin. I need to talk to you, Rayne,” he said, from the other side.

“Let me get dressed,” I said quickly as I got to my feet. I quickly dressed and looked in the mirror. I cursed; the bite was visible. I fixed my hair so it fell over the bite. It would at least hide it temporarily. I walked to the door and opened it.

Colin stepped past me without even asking for an invitation. “What are you doing in here?” he asked, looking around.

“Nothing,” I said a little breathlessly. “What’s up?”

He looked at me like he didn’t believe me. “I was checking on you, and I want to know which vampire you took blood from.”

“How do you know I took blood from a vampire?” I asked haughtily.

“I heard what happened at Luminescence last night. You can’t fool me,” he growled.

“I wasn’t trying to fool you, but it is none of your business what I do,” I countered.

“You have to be careful. There are some vampires that are out to hurt the hunters. Until we get Aubrey on our side, we have to avoid contact with them as much as possible,” he said firmly.

“Have you even met Aubrey?” I asked, watching him. I was trying to figure out why it mattered to him anyway. I also wanted to know if he knew what Aubrey looked like. I still wasn’t positive Aubrey was the real master vampire he claimed.

“No hunter has. He is too careful. I think you should stay in for the next couple nights – especially after last night,” he said quietly.

“I was planning on it, unless something happens that requires me to leave,” I said, agreeing so he wouldn’t keep bugging me.

“I’ll leave you alone, then,” he said as he watched me. He turned to walk out, and I felt a little bad.

“Colin,” I said quickly, and he turned and looked at me.

“Yes?” he asked, watching me.

“Thank you for all you have done. I know you are doing it to help,” I said nervously.

He smiled. “I’ll see you downstairs. They are having a little get together,” he said, then walked out.

I relaxed once he was gone. I didn’t really want to go downstairs, but I was beginning to think I needed to get involved in the politics of my people. I had ignored it for too long, and now was one of the most vital times.

I dressed in a pair of nice leather pants, boots, and a dark blue corset that went well with my eyes. I kept my hair down to cover the bite on my neck. It annoyed me a little, that I even had a bite, and it was a disgrace. I pushed the feeling aside and walked downstairs.

There were several people in the main room. Some of them I knew, others I didn’t. I was nervous in the crowd. I didn’t get along well with people. I stood off to the side and just watched. I spotted Luca. He was standing with a woman. She was laughing and touching his arm. It irritated me. I didn’t want to say I was jealous, but I was starting to think I was.

He looked up and smiled when he saw me. He took the woman by her hand and led her over to me. “Hey Lily, this is Kate. She wanted to meet you,” Luca said, smiling.

“I’ve heard so much about you,” she said, smiling nervously.

I smiled stiffly. “It’s nice to meet you.” I hated social situations; I always felt so awkward and stiff.

“Kate actually helped arrange the first meetings between Colin, Kai, and the hunters. She is really involved in making peace. She has been trying to contact Aubrey,” he said, sounding pretty proud of her.

His tone was grating on my nerves. I could tell he liked her. It was rare for him to like women, and I wasn’t sure I liked it. Before I could speak, the room silenced. I looked where everyone else was looking.

Aubrey was standing in the center of the room. He’d just appeared out of nowhere. He smiled at me. I moved to go to him, but Luca caught my arm. “Don’t start a fight,” he warned.

I rolled my eyes. “I know him,” I muttered, and shrugged Luca off. He looked a little startled, but didn’t comment. I didn’t make a point to know vampires. Most of the time, if I crossed them, I killed them.

“What are you doing here?” I asked once I got close to him.

“I like your hair down, and you don’t look very friendly,” he teased as he tugged on a strand of my hair.

“And you do?” I asked skeptically.

He smiled his best smile. “I am very friendly. Your people keep inviting me over, so I figured I would come see what the big deal is,” he said as he looked around.

“It’s not as impressive as I make it seem,” I said, amused.

He looked at me, and I could see the amusement glinting in his eyes. “You’re cute,” he teased.

“Lillian, are you going to tell us who your friend is?” my uncle asked, as he approached cautiously.

“Ooh, I have been upgraded to friend,” Aubrey said, chuckling.

“No, you haven’t,” I countered, as I turned toward my uncle. “This is Aubrey. At least he says he is. He tends to have an active imagination,” I said dryly.

“Such a good friend,” Aubrey teased as he stepped up beside me and put his arm around my shoulders. He squeezed me gently, then extended his hand to my uncle. “It’s a pleasure.”

My uncle seemed confused as he looked from me to Aubrey. He shook Aubrey’s hand, then looked at Kai and Colin for help. “We are glad you are giving us a chance to offer a truce,” Kai said, quickly stepping forward.

Aubrey smiled at me, then looked back at them. “There were certain factors that have recently come into play.”

I caught Luca’s gaze. He was actually scowling at me as though I’d done something wrong. It wasn’t like he was out running around with Kate. It didn’t really matter anyway. We were just friends.

“If you would join us in my office we could go over the details of the truce,” my uncle said nervously. He looked as confused as the others.

“Give me just one moment. I need a word with Rayne,” Aubrey said, with the same pleasant smile. He walked off toward a more secluded part of the room.

I rolled my eyes and followed. “What is it?” I asked, once I reached him.

“Who are the half-breed and the vampire?” he asked, stepping closer to me.

“Kai is the half-breed, and Colin is the vampire. Why?” I asked, confused.

“No reason. Are you sleeping with the master hunter? He seems to be a little annoyed with my presence.”

I scowled. “That is none of your business. Now quit being difficult and sign the truce.”

He raised his eyebrows in amusement. “You want me to sign it, now? If that happens you won’t have your chance to kill me.”

I rolled my eyes. “You know I want what they want.”

He scoffed as he moved closer to me. “You do not,” he whispered in my ear.

I looked at him, a little startled. “How would you know that?” I asked softly.

He was so close to me I was sure everyone thought I had lost my mind. I was letting a vampire close enough to kill me. I didn’t know why I’d let him so close. There was just something different about him. He’d had a chance to kill me before, and he didn’t.

“You don’t hide your emotions as well as you think,” he whispered. He brushed my lips with his in a playful, chaste kiss; then he was gone.

“What is going on, Rayne?” Kai asked, puzzled.

I looked at him, not sure what to say. “I don’t know. He is difficult,” I said, annoyed, then walked toward the door. I hated how he just disappeared whenever he felt like it.

“Lily, wait! How do you know Aubrey? Do you have any idea how dangerous he is?” Luca growled as he followed me.

“No Luca, I have no clue what a vampire can do,” I said dryly.

“Why are you letting him so close?” he persisted, as he continued to follow me outside.

I turned on him and glared. “It is none of your business. I will get him to sign the truce, and that is all you have to worry about.” I could tell I’d stunned him a little; he stopped in his tracks and closed his mouth. I stormed off before he could speak. I couldn’t answer his questions. I didn’t know the answers myself.

 

*****

 

I stood in the alley, watching the door of the bar. I knew that was where Aubrey stayed. I needed to speak to him. I really didn’t want to run into the same trouble I had last time. I cussed and walked to the door. I stepped inside the bar, and like the last time, the patrons all looked at me.

The same male vampire, Gerard, approached me. I could see the fury in his eyes, and I regretted my decision to come. He caught me by my throat. “What the fuck are you doing here?” he hissed.

My hands went to his. His grip on my throat was painful. “I am trying to find Aubrey,” I growled.

“Gerard, Aubrey will kill you over the little bitch,” the female vampire said, sounding worried.

Gerard looked from her to me, then he released me and stepped back. “He isn’t here. Leave,” he ordered, as he turned away from me.

“I don’t believe you,” I countered.

He quickly turned back toward me and smacked me, sending me into a table. I really wanted to whip his ass, but I was trying to keep the peace for some stupid reason. I remained siting on the floor. I just glared up at Gerard.

“What is going on now?” Aubrey growled as he stepped into view. Before anyone could speak, his eyes fell on me. Fury crossed his face. He moved so quickly I could barely see it. Gerard stumbled backwards. I tried to keep the horror off my face when I saw Aubrey was holding Gerard’s heart. Gerard turned to ash in front of me. His heart disintegrated in Aubrey’s hand. “No one is to touch her!” Aubrey yelled angrily. A murmur went over the bar. Aubrey turned his gaze on me. “Why do you insist on coming here?”

“Why do you keep disappearing?” I countered, as I climbed to my feet.

He smiled. “I had to go. What do you want?”

“You know what I want,” I said, scowling.

He sighed, like I was annoying him. “You don’t want a truce,” he said as he started walking toward the back of the bar.

I followed him, trying to hold onto the small amount of patience I had. “I do. I want it because they want it. Obviously, you don’t want to fight us.” I was following him deeper into the house, and he didn’t seem to be stopping.

He stopped and turned toward me. I nearly ran into him, he stopped so suddenly. “You’re right. I don’t want to fight you, but I don’t want to agree to follow your rules, either.”

“Then what do you want?” I asked, irritated.

He quickly stepped forward and pressed his lips to mine. I was a little startled, but I quickly relaxed and he deepened the kiss. He suddenly broke the kiss and smiled. “I would love for you to join me in my bed chamber,” he said playfully.

I stepped away from him. I could tolerate a kiss or two, maybe even enjoy it, but that was it. I couldn’t have sex with a vampire; that was crossing the line. “You know I can’t do that,” I said softly.

His expression darkened. “I think it’s interesting that you ask me to sign a piece of paper that gives you everything you want, but then you deny me everything I want.”

I was a little startled. I didn’t understand why he wanted me. He could have had any woman he wanted. “I have been as amicable as I can be. I normally don’t let a vampire anywhere near me.”

He scoffed. “And I don’t let hunters in my home. You should go,” he growled as he walked away.

I watched him until he disappeared into a room. I could have gone after him and given him exactly what he wanted, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. There was only so far I could go for a vampire. I turned and walked back the way I had come. I was going to leave the politics up to Luca. I obviously wasn’t up for the challenge.

 

*****

 

I stood outside my uncle’s door. I knew everyone was waiting for me to return. I would have loved to go in and give them the news they wanted to hear, but I didn’t have it. I took a deep breath and opened the door. As I suspected, everyone was waiting for me.

“What happened?” Luca asked as he came towards me.

“He won’t agree to the truce, but he doesn’t want to fight. I don’t know what else can be done,” I said softly.

“Why won’t he agree? Our terms are not that demanding,” Kate asked, looking a little upset.

“Look, I don’t know. Just keep the hunters at bay until he decides to sign,” I said quietly. I walked toward the stairs hoping to get away from them.

“Lillian, you have to help us convince him. He has obviously developed a relationship with you,” my uncle said firmly.

I groaned in annoyance and looked at him. “There is no relationship. He is a botched hunting attempt,” I growled.

“You tried to kill him?” Luca said angrily.

“Before I knew about the truce. It was the night Tanner found me. Aubrey was the vampire I was fighting. It was all a big fucking mistake,” I muttered, as I started up the stairs.

“He likes you, Rayne; you can use that to our advantage,” Colin said as I passed him.

I hesitated and looked at him. “I don’t want to mislead him anymore then I already have. I can’t have a relationship with a vampire.” I didn’t know why I felt bad saying it to Colin. It felt like I was being cruel, but it was how I felt. He didn’t speak, so I continued up the stairs.

I considered going to my room, but I couldn’t stand the thought of just sitting around with my thoughts. I decided to go to the training room.

Punching the bag always helped me focus. I had so many thoughts running through my mind; it was overwhelming. I didn’t understand why I even cared about the truce. I really didn’t understand why I was even thinking about Aubrey as much as I was. There was no way I could take a relationship with him seriously. I didn’t see how he could take one with me seriously. It was ridiculous.

“That bag would be in serious trouble if it were a person,” my uncle said, smiling as he walked into the room.

“Maybe,” I said, as I hit the bag again. I really didn’t feel like one of my uncle’s talks, but I knew he wasn’t going to give me a choice.

He took a seat on a bench not far from me. “You could help us make this truce happen, Lillian. I don’t know what your relationship is with Aubrey, but he likes you, and you can use that.”

I glanced at him; then quickly looked back at my target. “Maybe, but I don’t want to pretend I am okay with being friends with vampires. I’m not.”

He sighed as he ran his hand through his hair. “Lillian, things are changing. Power is shifting. We can no longer fight them. We have to come to an agreement with them.”

I scowled and faced him. “Why? Why can’t it stay how it has been for years? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“The war has to stop at some point. We have to evolve past this, Lillian. We can all live together in peace. Your parents wanted this as much as I do,” he said softly.

I felt rage burn just below the surface when he mentioned my parents. “My parents are dead because they were stupid enough to walk around with your ideals. I refuse to be as blind as they were.”

I turned and stormed out of the room. I was so angry I was shaking. I didn’t understand how he could act like everything would be fine once there was a truce. The truth was, it wouldn’t be. Vampires couldn’t be trusted, not even vampires that seemed different, like Aubrey. He wasn’t different, he was just better at hiding his true self.

Chapter 7

I lay in bed looking at the ceiling, tossing a ball and catching it. I had been trying to sleep for the past three hours, and I was still wide awake. The sun’s rays were starting to trickle in through the cracks of my curtains. Everyone would be asleep by now. I grumbled and sat up as I tossed the ball aside. I hadn’t been outside in the sunlight in a long time. I was always so consumed with hunting. I never took the time to go out during the day. Vampires weren’t out during the day.

I walked downstairs, and left through the front door. I walked along the sidewalk into the main part of downtown. The place was alive with activity. People were everywhere, going in and out of businesses – it was so much different than the activity at night. At night, all that was open were the clubs. I slowly walked through the street, enjoying all the sights and sounds. I’d never really enjoyed the city; I was too worried about the creatures that went bump in the night.

I hesitated when I spotted Aubrey. He was sitting outside a small café. He was reading a newspaper, and he looked completely normal. If I didn’t know better I never would have guessed he was a vampire. Vampires normally didn’t like the sunlight, but they could go out in it if they wanted to. The older the vampire, the less the sun bothered him or her. He looked up, and his brilliant turquoise eyes immediately met mine. I had the urge to go to him, but I fought it and turned away. He appeared in front of me, and I froze.

“You’re not even going to say hi?” he asked softly, as he watched me.

“Hunters don’t say hi to vampires,” I said quietly.

“Oh yes, the whole hunter/vampire divide. You are so determined to keep it that way, aren’t you?” he asked, sounding amused.

“It’s the way it is supposed to be,” I countered.

“Says who? Some long-dead hunter who held a grudge like you? If you’d notice, your kind is dying out and mine is only thriving. Don’t you think it is time to put the weapons away, Lillian?” he asked dryly.

“It’s Rayne, and I will put my weapons away when I’m dead,” I growled, and started to walk past him.

He blocked me with his arm, then stepped in close to me. “I am not your enemy, Rayne. You do not have to fight me.”

“You say that as if I have a choice. You are the one who will not sign the truce,” I countered.

“The truce is just a piece of paper. Why would I sign a piece of paper promising something that is not mine to give? It is up to each individual vampire to follow the truce, not just me, and I refuse to run around and enforce it. All I can do is say what I will and will not do. I cannot promise anything else,” he said softly.

“You are their master,” I said, confused.

He scoffed. “I am a master vampire. I am not their master. There is a big difference. I have followers, and I am respected, but that does not mean everyone will do as I ask. There will always be opponents. You can no longer judge us as a whole. It is not all or nothing anymore, Rayne. There are some who want peace and there are others who will do whatever it takes to start a war.”

I looked at him for a few minutes. I wasn’t sure what to say. “You should discuss this with my uncle, or Kate. Make them understand; I don’t care.” I walked past him back toward my uncle’s house. I was a little surprised he didn’t follow and argue. I was also a little disappointed.

 

*****

 

I lay in bed listening to the din of noise coming from downstairs. It was obvious they were having another get together. I didn’t understand how they stood so many social occasions. I could barely make it through one. I sighed and sat up. I was already dressed. I never went to bed after my encounter with Aubrey. My brain wouldn’t turn off.

I walked down the stairs. As I suspected, the place was packed with people. I hesitated when I saw Aubrey standing across the room. He was talking to Kate. I could feel the jealousy start to unfurl inside me. I pushed the feeling away, and continued down the stairs. I couldn’t be jealous over him if I wasn’t seeing him. I wasn’t going to stay and be social. I’d told Aubrey to go to Kate and my uncle, and that was obviously what he was doing. I made it through the main room without being stopped. My plan was to get out of the house. I wasn’t even sure where I was going; I just knew I didn’t want to stay here.

I stepped out onto the sidewalk and a red corvette pulled up next to me. The window rolled down and Colin looked up at me. “Get in,” he said, watching me.

I debated arguing, but I had nothing better to do, so I climbed in the passenger seat. He took off down the street like he was in a hurry. “Do you want to tell me where we are going?” I asked, as I watched downtown disappear.

“If I told you, you would argue. I prefer it be a surprise,” he said, amused.

I sighed and sat back in my seat. “Why aren’t you at the house, enjoying the festivities?”

He scoffed. “Aubrey may have agreed to the truce, but that only means more problems.”

I looked at him skeptically. “What do you mean? I thought his agreement meant the end of the war.”

He gave me a look that suggested I was an idiot. Maybe I was. I knew nothing about the politics of my people. “Aubrey agreeing to a truce with the hunters goes against the entire vampire council. They’ll send the death marshals after him if they get wind of it, and I know they will. The question is when.”

“Does Aubrey know this?” I asked, horrified. I had no clue Aubrey was going to end up in the hands of the death marshals. No one went against the death marshals, not even the vampires. The death marshals were the worst of the worst when it came to vampires. Hunters normally didn’t have to worry about them as long as they weren’t involved in vampire affairs.

“Of course he knows. Why do you think he was hesitant to sign? He gave himself an automatic death sentence by signing. I wouldn’t have signed, not for anyone,” he said firmly.

I didn’t speak as we entered the warehouse district. I felt horrible. I had a terrible feeling he signed because of me. I was the one that had pressured him to sign. I had no clue it would end up possibly costing him his life. I never would have pushed him if I’d known that. “Why would he sign, then?”

Colin looked at me skeptically. “I have an idea,” he said dryly.

I rolled my eyes. He was right; Aubrey signed because I wanted him to. “What are we going to do about it?”

He smiled. “I brought you here specifically for that reason.” He came to a stop in front of a huge warehouse and got out.

I climbed out after him and looked around. The area was pretty sketchy, and I wasn’t sure if I liked being in a place like this with Colin. “What is this place?” I asked as I followed him toward the door.

“This place is a headquarters of sorts. Come inside and you’ll find out,” he said, chuckling as he held the door for me.

I wasn’t sure if I should go inside. I’d trusted Colin when he was a hunter. I wasn’t so sure if I trusted him now as a vampire.

I put my feelings aside and stepped into the warehouse. The warehouse was full of people. They were training. Some were hunters, some were vampires, and some were lycanthropes. “What the hell is this?” I asked Colin. I was on guard now. I didn’t know any of these people.

“These are people who want to be free, and they want you to lead them,” he said as he closed the door and stepped up next to me.

“That doesn’t make sense. They are all free, and I am not a leader,” I said, confused. I didn’t understand what Colin was trying to do.

“They aren’t free, Lillian. The hunters are ruled by your uncle and his council, the vampires are ruled by the vampire council and the death marshals, and lycanthropes are ruled by their councils. They all have to do what they are told, even if it does not make sense. You can change that,” Colin said firmly. I didn’t see his point. I wasn’t a leader. I really wasn’t a leader to vampires and lycanthropes. I couldn’t get past my own hate for vampires to lead.

I glared at Colin. Everyone was watching us now and I was getting irritated. “Listen, Colin. I don’t know what happened to you, but obviously you aren’t thinking straight. I am not going to lead these people. They have leaders.”

“They have bosses. Please, Lillian, we all believe in you. We know what you have done and what you can do. We know you are honorable and fair,” he pleaded.

I looked around at all of them. They were looking at me, hoping I would agree. I didn’t understand it. “I’m sorry Colin,” I said softly, then turned to leave.

“Aubrey will die if you don’t do something. If you don’t care about us, maybe you care about him. The death marshals will come, and he will surrender. No one will do anything but watch him die. We can change that; we can fight,” he argued.

I was standing with my hand on the doorknob. Every scenario was racing through my mind. I didn’t know what I was thinking even considering it. I knew Colin was right. Aubrey would die if they came for him, and it would be all my fault. I turned back toward Colin and the group behind him. They were all eagerly anticipating my decision. I didn’t speak I didn’t know what to say.

Colin shrugged his jacket off and slid the sleeve of his tee shirt up. I looked at him a little startled when I saw my tattoo on his arm. The white lily with the small raindrops. It was identical to my tattoo. “How did you get that?” I asked quietly. I could barely form the words.

“We all have one. Your parents started this group. There have been others that attempted to lead it, but failed. We are all here tonight hoping you will continue your parents work and lead us, like they did,” he said softly.

“How do I know you are telling the truth?” I asked, trying to mask my anger. I couldn’t believe he was using my parents to get to me.

“I think you know I am. Your uncle never mentioned us because we stand for freedom not reform,” he said softly.

I looked over the group and I had a feeling Colin wasn’t lying. My uncle had mentioned that my father didn’t always live according to the rules. Maybe this was what he meant. “Fine, I’ll do it, but when it doesn’t turn out how you expected, don’t blame me,” I said firmly.

The crowd cheered, and I was a little startled by their outburst. Colin smiled. “They are all really excited. After your parents died, we were sure our ways were over.”

“Don’t get too excited. I am not as smart or as good at leading as you seem to think I am,” I said dryly.

Colin laughed and squeezed me gently. “You will figure it out. I’m sure of it.”

“Hopefully you’re everything Colin makes you out to be,” a man standing not far from us said gruffly. He was probably older than me by at least twenty years. I could tell immediately that he was a werewolf. I didn’t encounter werewolves often. They weren’t normally my target.

“I hope so, too. Unfortunately I was not aware of any of this,” I said curtly. I was trying to be polite, but his tone was bordering on condescending.

“From what I understand, you are intolerant of any kind other than your own.” I could see his eyes change as he spoke. He was getting grumpy. Werewolves tended to try to fight over the smallest things.

“You’re right, I am. But I’m told I need to change that. You’ll have to be patient with me,” I said softly.

A murmur went through the crowd. I was beginning to think this group hadn’t exactly agreed to me being their leader as Colin had led me to believe. “She openly admits to being intolerant. How is she going to lead us?” he growled, glaring at Colin.

“She does what is right, and she will be fair. Give her a chance, Drake” Colin snapped. I was beginning to think there was some tension between Drake and Colin.

“I didn’t volunteer for this. I will be more than happy to walk away if you think you can do the best job,” I said, watching Drake.

His eyes locked with mine, and I wasn’t sure what he was thinking. He scoffed. “I’ll let you fuck everything up yourself. I don’t want any part of it,” he said gruffly. He turned and disappeared into the crowd. I watched the others and they all watched me curiously. I knew it was going to be a long night.

 

*****

 

I spent the next two hours being introduced to the people in the group. They all had the same tattoo I did. They all looked at me as if I was some sort of savior. My parents obviously had a bigger hand in the politics of our people than I thought. I didn’t really know what I was going to do. The fear that I would let them down was almost stifling. Drake’s hateful looks didn’t help me feel any more confident.

After we left the warehouse Colin brought me back to my uncle’s house. It was still early, but I wasn’t in the mood to do anything else. I needed to talk to Aubrey. I wanted to know if he was aware of the death marshals, as Colin had claimed. I walked into the house, and went directly to the main room where all the festivities were occurring. I spotted Aubrey. He was sitting next to Kate and Luca. They looked like they were talking and having a good time. Part of me wanted to know what he knew, and another part of me didn’t want to interrupt him. His turquoise eyes met mine, and he excused himself and walked toward me.

“I saw you leave earlier. You seemed flustered. Is everything ok?” he asked as he came to a stop not far from me.

I nodded. “Fine. Did you know you could die for signing the truce?” I asked, trying to keep my tone even.

He smiled and looked away for a second, then looked back at me. “There is always a chance we will die, darling. I could die by your hand tonight,” he said simply.

“Don’t bullshit me, Aubrey. The death marshals are a death sentence, and you signed your own order of execution by signing that truce,” I said angrily.

“And I don’t regret it for one minute,” he said with the same amused tone he always had.

“How could you do it? I would have never asked you to sign it if I knew,” I growled.

“But you did ask, and I did as you asked. You should be happy, not hostile,” he said dryly.

I watched him for a minute, unsure of what I should say next. I was so angry. I was angry at myself for asking him to sign when I had no idea what I was asking. I was angry because the thought of him dying made my chest ache to the point that I thought I was suffocating. I lunged forward and pressed my lips to his. I tangled my fingers in his hair, deepening the kiss. He kissed me back, as he pulled me tightly to his chest. The feel of his lips on mine only made the ache in my chest worse. I pulled away, and he watched me without speaking. His expression was hard to read. “You’re a fool,” I growled, then stormed off. I was so angry I could barely contain it. I didn’t want to feel anything for Aubrey, but I did and I hated it.

I hurried upstairs to my room. I slammed the door so hard my dresser and everything on it rattled. I couldn’t believe I had let my feelings for Aubrey get so out of control. I didn’t want to love a vampire. I didn’t want to even be attracted to one. It was against everything I stood for, and everything I had worked for. I liked my reputation as one of the most notorious hunters in the area.

I flopped down on the bed and looked at the ceiling. I had to come up with a plan. I had the hunters to deal with, the renegades who thought I was some savior. And then there was Aubrey. I didn’t know what to do about Aubrey. I knew I couldn’t let him get hurt because I asked him to sign the truce. Going after death marshals just wasn’t done, not by anyone.

There was a light knock on the door; it distracted me from my thoughts. I debated even answering it. I really didn’t want to speak to anyone.

“I know you are in there, Lily,” Luca said from the other side.

“No, I’m not,” I growled, making it clear I didn’t want company.

He tried the knob, and when it turned, he opened the door and stepped in the room. He crossed his arms and looked at me like he did when I was being unreasonable. “What are you doing?”

“Wishing this nightmare would end,” I said dryly, as I looked at the ceiling.

“Are you seeing him?” he asked accusingly.

I knew who ‘he’ was, and Luca was making sure I knew he didn’t approve. Luca never approved, so it was really nothing new. “No, I’m not,” I grumbled as I sat up.

“But you want to see him, right? I mean, that is what this is all about, right? He signed the truce because you wanted him to, right?” he asked.

“You mean his execution order? Yeah, that is my fault,” I said, annoyed, as I sat up.

“Damn it, Lily, I didn’t want this entire thing to hinge on your love life. What happens when your true self comes out and you tell him how much you despise his kind? Are you looking to start an actual war?” he asked angrily.

“He knows how I feel. I was very clear with him,” I said, glaring at Luca. He was treating me like a child, and I didn’t like it.

“Yes, locking lips with him in front of everyone is clear as day to me,” Luca said dryly.

I sighed and flopped back down on the bed. “That part was after I was clear. Did you know about the death marshals?”

“Yes, I knew it was a risk. We are all taking a risks here; it isn’t just him,” Luca countered.

I propped myself up on my elbows and looked at him. “What are we risking? What could possibly be worse than the death marshals?”

He shrugged. “Everyone takes their own losses. It isn’t our fault that his kind punish their people so severely for defiance.”

“This is my fault,” I muttered, as I sat up and ran my hand through my hair. I had to think of something, but it seemed impossible. I knew nothing about how the vampires worked.

“All you did was convince him to do the right thing. He opened the door for other vampires to develop relationships with hunters. You can thank him by not squandering it and by helping make it work,” he said firmly.

“That sounds like what I want to do,” I growled as I stood.

“Doing what is right doesn’t necessarily mean doing what is best for ourselves. Sometimes we have to sacrifice.” He said it like it was no big deal. Aubrey was just taking one for the team, according to Luca.

I didn’t know why it made me so angry, but it did. “I am glad it is so simple for you. Why don’t we send Kate to die, and then maybe you won’t feel the same way,” I snapped.

“He’s a vampire, Lily. Get over it,” he growled angrily.

I looked at him, a little stunned by his coldness. Luca was never cold like this. He always cared about everyone, no matter who or what they were. “Get out,” I said quietly, then turned away.

He muttered something, then turned and left. I didn’t understand why everything was suddenly so easy for him. Everything used to be easy for me like that, but it wasn’t anymore. I paced the room, but the enclosed space was stifling. I needed to get away, but I didn’t want to catch anyone’s attention. I pushed my bedroom window open and slipped out onto the roof. I’d left this way when I was younger, but it had been years since I felt the need to escape this way.

I walked through the dark streets, not going in any particular direction. There was some activity on the streets, but most of it was happening inside the clubs at this hour. I had the odd sensation that I was being followed, but I attempted to shake the feelings off. After checking several times, I determined I was just being paranoid. I continued on toward a lighter section of downtown. Sudden movement to my right caught my attention. As soon as I moved to block an attack, I was hit from behind, and everything went black.

Chapter 8

The sound of loud voices and laughing brought me out of the dark. I slowly opened my eyes. I was in a sitting position, tied to a tree. I looked at the rope that was binding me; it was tied perfectly. It wrapped around my chest and arms pinning me to the huge base of the tree. My knife sheathes were empty. I wouldn’t be getting away very easily. My head hurt, and the only light in the woods was a fire burning brightly a few feet in front of me. There were people standing around everywhere, talking and laughing. They didn’t seem to mind that I was there tied to the tree.

“Well, well, the mighty hunter is awake,” a male voice said, amused. I recognized the voice, as Drake stepped out of the trees. He was a werewolf, so of course I would be tied to a tree in the middle of the woods. It was where they spent most of their time.

“I would say it’s nice to see you again, but considering the circumstances I am going to forgo the pleasantries. Now, what the fuck do you want?” I asked, annoyed.

His smile widened. “You are just like your father. So stubborn.”

I didn’t comment. I didn’t feel like discussing my father with him. “Again – what do you want?” I asked, firmly.

He knelt next to me and watched me. He looked like he was carefully considering what I was saying. “I want to know if you are everything everyone makes you out to be.”

I leaned back against the tree. I didn’t really know why it would matter. I didn’t know why he had to kidnap me to ask me a question like that. “I don’t understand what you want. Obviously you think I am some form of a threat to you.”

He shook his head. “You have never bothered my kind. I was hoping you would reassure me, and tell me everything was going to be okay,” he said, sounding both amused and sincere.

I raised my eyebrows in confusion. “You have me tied to a tree because you want me to say everything will be okay?” I started to wonder if the guy was losing his mind.

He smiled wider. “The ropes are just so you don’t get any funny ideas. I am not going to hurt you.”

I watched him trying to figure out what to do or say. I still had no clue what he wanted from me. “What do you need to be okay?” I figured I would start by finding out what he thought I could do for him and see what he said. He was being cryptic, and I hated it when people were cryptic.

“My people are having a time with the vampires. We want your protection,” he said, watching me. I thought he was being funny, but there was no hint of amusement in his voice.

I laughed, but he kept a straight face like he was dead serious. “You want me to protect a werewolf pack?” I asked skeptically. I didn’t have much experience at all with werewolves. I had met some in passing, but they never bothered me, so I didn’t bother them.

He nodded as he sat down cross legged in front of me. “My pack consists mostly of older males, older females, and children. I don’t have the young wolves I need to keep the threat away. It seems like if your name is mentioned to a vampire they think twice about what they are doing.”

I really didn’t think I had that much influence on vampires. I was one hell of a hunter, but I never thought about the kind of reputation I had given myself. “You are aware there is a truce, currently, between the vampires and the hunters?”

“I am, and I am also aware that you operate in a slightly more shaded area than your fellow hunters. You already agreed to lead a group of renegades. Why can’t you protect my people as well?” He seemed genuine, like he seriously thought I could help him. I didn’t understand why everyone thought I could offer some form of leadership or protection. I could barely keep myself out of trouble.

“I am not currently in a position to help anyone. It seems like all the decisions I make lately involve someone else getting hurt,” I said, annoyed.

“You are talking about that vampire that signed the treaty, which everyone agrees guarantees him a date with the death marshals, right?” he asked softly.

I nodded. “He is probably going to die because of me. I don’t exactly trust my own judgment, here.”

“You care, and that is all that matters. You stand up for what is right, even if it doesn’t fit your people’s agenda. That’s why you agreed to lead the renegades.” He sounded annoyed as he spoke, like he knew a lot of people who were only worried about their own agenda. I was beginning to think I did, too. My uncle only wanted the truce so the hunters didn’t have to fight, but what would happens to the vampires? I’d suddenly found myself caring, and it was starting to annoy me.

“Fine. I will offer your pack protection. Throw my name around, do whatever you have to, but I want help in return. I want to know everything that is going on. I want your pack to listen out for any mention of the death marshals or anything else the council might cook up,” I said firmly. I wasn’t going to help them and get nothing in return. I knew werewolves got around. Vampires tended to trust them, so they knew what was going on in the vampire world.

He smiled and nodded, then retrieved a knife and cut the ropes holding me. I rubbed my wrists as I slowly climbed to my feet. “For future reference, you can talk to me. You don’t have to hit me over the head and kidnap me,” I muttered.

He laughed as he stood and brushed himself off. “You can thank Ben for that. He misunderstood what I meant when I told him to convince you to come see me.”

“Great. Which way is out of here?” I asked as I glanced around. The other people around the fire were now watching us curiously.

“I’ll lead you back to the edge of town,” he said as he handed me my knives, then walked past me.

I sheathed my knives as I followed him. He seemed like he knew exactly where he was going. Wolves were hunters and trackers. I was pretty sure they would eventually come in handy. “You mentioned my father earlier. How did you know him?” I asked, as I continued to follow him.

“Through his group, of course. I have been a part of the group since it began,” he said, as he showed me the lily tattoo. “It is only just recently that I started this whole pack master business.”

“What exactly did the group do when he was in charge?” I asked, hoping he would give me some answers. I didn’t even know the group existed until Colin showed me. Now it felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. They expected me to lead them, and I wasn’t sure if I could.

He shrugged. “It varied. They protected people who were too weak to fight. They fought when they had to. There is a rumor that your father killed a death marshal, and that’s how he and your mother ended up dead. Everyone knows you don’t kill a death marshal.”

“I would if I had to,” I said quietly.

He stopped dead in his tracks, and I almost ran into him. “Are you insane?”

I shrugged as I continued forward. “Maybe. If they tried to hurt me or someone I cared about, I would make sure they disappeared. That’s all.”

“That would start an all-out war,” he said softly as he continued ahead.

I nodded. “Maybe, but I would rather go to war than have a bunch of stuck up vampires push me around.”

He looked like he was thinking about it as he walked. “I guess if it came down to it, I would do the same thing.”

He stopped at the edge of the woods, and I recognized a gas station. I would have to walk to the station, and call a ride. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to walk the entire way home. “Well Drake, it’s been fun. Let me know if you need me, and send someone other than Ben. You know someone who knows how to ask,” I said dryly.

He grinned and nodded. “I will see you around the warehouse, I’m sure. Colin isn’t going to let you out of your duties; I can almost guarantee that,” he said amused.

I sighed. “Figures,” I muttered, then waved and walked toward the gas station.

 

*****

 

My aunt pulled up in her bright blue Mercedes. She waved and smiled at me. I walked to her car and slid in the passenger seat. “Where’s Uncle Carl?” I asked, as she set off.

“Oh, you know, he has all those meeting with Luca and Kai,” she said smiling.

“Trying to keep the hunters in line, I assume,” I said, amused.

She nodded. “Let’s just say not everyone is taking it as well as you are. There have been little spats between the vampires and the hunters here and there, but nothing major.”

“That’s good. I am sure Luca and Uncle Carl are happy,” I said absently, as I watched the scenery fly by.

She nodded, then smiled at me nervously. “So that vampire, Aubrey. Are you two serious?”

“We aren’t anything,” I said quietly.

“Oh. Well, it just seemed like you were awfully friendly toward him. I just thought maybe you two had something going on,” she said, sounding a little disappointed.

“He’s a vampire, I’m a hunter. It would never work,” I said quietly.

“I have seen odder things happen, dear,” she said optimistically as she pulled into the driveway of the house. One thing I loved about my aunt was the fact that she always looked on the bright side of things.

The sun was starting to come up, and I was starting to get tired. Everything that had happened, plus the lack of sleep, was wearing me down. “Not to me they don’t. I’m heading to bed. I’ll see you in a little while.”

She nodded as I climbed out of the car and walked into the house. Colin was waiting for me. He looked a little nervous. “Where have you been? I wasn’t sure what to do. Someone saw the werewolf take you.”

“It was a misunderstanding,” I said, slightly amused.

“I just wanted to make sure everything was ok,” he said quietly.

I nodded. “I am fine, just a little tired. I will see you a little later this evening.”

He nodded. “I was hoping you would come to the warehouse tonight. I want everyone to get used to your presence. We also need to go over plans.”

I didn’t really feel like facing all the people in the warehouse, but I had agreed to it. “That sounds like a plan. I’ll see you later,” I said quietly, as I slowly made my way up the stairs.

Chapter 9

I was looking up into brilliant turquoise eyes. I relaxed a little. Aubrey’s playful expression told me he enjoyed the fact that he was able to get so close to me. He didn’t speak. He just pressed his lips to mine. His kiss was gentle and playful. Part of me wanted to pull away and complain that he was in my room again without my permission, but another part of me wanted him.

I tangled my fingers in his hair and deepened the kiss. He took my advance as permission. His kiss became demanding and hungry. I closed my eyes as he trailed kisses down my neck. His hands slid under my tank top, and I gasped as his fingers grazed my heated skin. He pulled my shirt over my head and tossed it aside. His mouth covered my breast. He gently teased my nipple. I gasped when he sank his fangs into my breast. He looked at me and pressed his mouth to mine. The metallic taste of my blood filled my mouth. My fingers went to the buttons on his shirt. I quickly undid them and slid his shirt down his shoulders. I kissed his chest slowly. His skin was cool to the touch, not hot like the men I had been with before.

He hooked my panties with his fingers, and slowly slid them down. He looked at me, trying to gauge my reaction. When I didn’t protest, he pushed me to the bed and covered me with his body. He disappeared, but before I could protest, he reappeared over me. He was completely naked and ready. He pressed his mouth to mine, and slowly filled me. I moaned against his lips as he began to move against me. Feelings of pleasure raged through me. My skin was on fire; he made me crazy with need. I tangled my fingers in his hair and cried out as he bit me again, this time on my neck. Pleasure flooded me, and I cried out in excitement. He released my neck, and his moans filled my ear as he released.

I woke up when I hit the floor. I looked around the room like I was under attack. Aubrey was nowhere in sight. I felt and looked for bites, but I had none. It was just a dream. I groaned in annoyance and climbed to my feet. Part of me was glad it wasn’t real, and another part of me was disappointed. I pushed the thoughts away. I didn’t want to think about Aubrey like that. My feelings for him were already complicated enough. My dreams of Aubrey were always so vivid. I almost felt like they were real. That was, of course, until I would wake up on the floor tangled in my blanket.

Someone was knocking on my door, and I wondered if that was what woke me in the first place.

I walked to the door, and opened it part way. Tanner grinned at me. “I was just checking on you.”

“Oh, I’m fine. Is there something wrong?” I asked, a little worried. Normally Tanner didn’t come find me unless my uncle needed something or was upset.

“My dad and Kai just made Colin leave. They said he is part of some renegade group. They said he can’t be one of us if he is with them. Now they are worried about what the group will do,” he said nervously.

I wondered how they’d found out, but I had to be careful not to say anything to Tanner. “I am sure it will be fine. I will find out what I can,” I said, being careful to keep my tone neutral. I didn’t want him to suspect I was working with Colin. I didn’t understand why they would kick Colin out for being a part of the renegade group. The hunters were very strict. I was beginning to think they were too strict, myself.

He nodded. “Let me know.”

“I will,” I said, and smiled reassuringly. He turned and walked back the way he had come, and I closed the door. I hadn’t realized the hunters were so against the renegade group. I’d never heard much mention of them until now. I had to find out why my uncle banned Colin, without arousing his suspicion.

I showered and dressed quickly, then hurried downstairs to my uncle’s office. I knocked and went in without waiting for an answer. My uncle looked up at me from his desk. “Do you need something, Lillian?” he asked, his tone was clipped. I knew he wasn’t annoyed with me. Well, I at least hoped he wasn’t.

“I was wondering what happened with Colin. Tanner said you and Kai made him leave.” I hoped my questions wouldn’t arouse his suspicion. Colin used to be my friend, but I’d kept my distance once I realized he was a vampire, and my uncle knew that.

“He is a renegade. They do not believe in our ways,” he said, annoyed.

“They don’t?” I asked, confused.

He glared at me like he wasn’t interested in talking to me. “No. Is there anything else you need? I’m busy, Lillian.”

“No,” I said, trying to keep my tone even. I didn’t like how he was treating me. I assumed he was just having a bad day. I turned and walked out. I had to go directly to Colin, and hope he had the answers I needed.

*****

 

I rarely drove my car, but the warehouse district was a good distance, so I decided to drive. I stepped into the renegade’s warehouse and immediately spotted Colin. He walked over to me. He looked like he was in just as bad of a mood as my uncle.

“I am glad you came. I have been banned from the property,” he said, sounding both annoyed and amused.

“Why? I don’t understand why the renegades are so bad,” I asked quietly.

“We don’t conform to the rules,” Drake cut in as he approached.

“But we aren’t openly causing problems,” I said, confused. It wasn’t like we were running around wreaking havoc.

“Not yet,” Colin said, amused. “Drake was telling me you would go after the death marshals.”

I smiled. “I might if I had good enough reason.”

He nodded. “Come with me. I might be able to give you that reason. It would be better if we go after them before they come after one of us.”

I was intrigued now. There wasn’t much that would get me to go after a death marshal. They were a big no-no, when it came to the hunter rules. I followed Colin into an office in the back. He opened a drawer and handed me a leather-bound book that looked like a journal. “That was your father’s. It details everything he did within the group. He made many enemies, including the death marshals. It was a death marshal that killed your parents, and only a death marshal would know which one of them did it,” he said, as he took a seat.

I flipped through the book. It was a very detailed journal. I never even knew anything like this existed. My parent’s house burned down the night of the attack, so I had nothing of theirs. I sat down in one of the chairs and started to skim the last entry. Colin was right. His last encounter was with a death marshal, and he killed the marshal. Normally, if you killed one, they sent more. “How would I find out who did it?” I asked quietly.

“You would have to talk to one,” Colin said matter-of-factly.

I looked at him, confused. “How the hell would I do that?”

“You get them to come here for some reason. Set a trap and convince one to talk.” He said it like it would be simple.

I thought about it for a minute. I really wanted to find out who killed my parents. It was one of the things I planned to accomplish before I died, but it would put everyone else at risk, and I knew it. “It’s too risky,” I said quietly.

He nodded and stood. “I agree. We have eyes and ears everywhere, so if they do happen to show up looking for Aubrey as expected, we can get them then.”

I nodded. “Give me a little bit. I would like to look through this.”

“Of course,” he said. He smiled before walking out, leaving me alone.

I was both nervous and excited about reading my father’s journal. I didn’t remember much of him, and the journal would give me an idea of who he really was.

There was a knock that forced me to look up from the journal. It was Drake. He smiled at me. “You going to sit here all day?”

I straightened. “What time is it?” I asked, looking around for a clock.

“After nine in the morning,” he said as he took a seat on a couch across from me.

“Damn, I lost track of time,” I muttered as I stood.

“You can stay here. Many people do,” he said, amused.

I shook my head. “My family will worry. How is the pack?” I asked, figuring I would be polite.

“So far so good. You would be the first to know if there was a problem.” He watched me as he spoke, like he wanted to say something.

I nodded. “I will see you a little later,” I said, then hurried out. I was sure my uncle would be even more annoyed with me than he was before.

*****

 

I was surprised no one was waiting for me when I got home. I guessed they were all too preoccupied with everything that was going on. I walked to the kitchen to get something to eat before I went to bed. I was always so preoccupied; sometimes I completely forgot to eat.

I hesitated when I saw Kate in the kitchen. I really didn’t want to talk to anyone, especially not her. “Hey Rayne,” she said, and smiled as she caught sight of me before I could leave.

“Hey. I was just going to get something to eat,” I said, as I walked to the fridge.

“I made a lasagna that is really good. You are welcome to it if you want some.” Her voice was far too chipper for me. It would definitely take some getting used to. Luca seemed to like her, so I was at least going to make an attempt to be nice to her.

“Thanks,” I said, as I forced a smile.

“So, I haven’t seen you around much. Is everything going okay with you?” she asked. It sounded like she was genuinely interested, which didn’t make sense. I had only spoken to her briefly.

I nodded. “I am fine. I have friends around the area that I check in with.” It wasn’t much of a lie, but it was all I had. I definitely wasn’t going to say anything to her about the renegades. For some reason, after reading my father’s journal I had started to feel protective of the group. My father loved them, and I was going to do my best to lead them like he did. Luca and my uncle wouldn’t be happy about it, but then again, they were taking my job as a hunter away. I had to find something to do.

“Oh, well, if you want to hang out sometime, let me know,” she said, smiling.

I grabbed a bowl of grapes to take with me and nodded. “I will,” I said, forcing a smile. I hurried out of the kitchen. I didn’t feel like discussing anything else with her. I hurried up to my room, hoping to finally get some sleep.

Chapter 10

I woke up right at sunset, suddenly full of energy. The renegades were kind of a rag-tag group, but with a little time they would become useful. I showered and dressed, then hurried downstairs. I hadn’t seen Aubrey in a while. I decided I was going to stop by his club before I went to the warehouse. I didn’t want him to think I was just checking on him, so I would have to come up with an excuse.

I parked just down from the alley that led to Aubrey’s club. It was still early. The night owls were just starting to come out. I stepped into the bar and looked around. The female vampire I had encountered on a couple of occasions walked over to me. I wasn’t even sure what her name was.

“Haven’t seen you in a night or two. Are you here to cause problems?” she asked, as she looked me over.

“I am just here to see Aubrey,” I said, trying to keep a hold of my temper. She was the one that had put my knives through my palms the first night I was here. I was pretty sure she and I would never be friends.

“He’s in the back,” she said, indicating the door that led to the interior of the building.

“Thanks,” I muttered, as I slipped by her and walked to the other door.

I stepped through the door and looked around. The foyer split off in three directions, and I wasn’t sure which way to go. I decided to go toward the room I saw him disappear into the last time I was here.

I walked slowly toward the room. I was a little nervous about being in a place where there were numerous vampires. Soft classical music was coming from the room, so I was guessing I was in the right place.

I took a deep breath and knocked gently on the door.

“Come in,” Aubrey’s light playful tone said from the other side of the door.

I slowly opened the door and stepped into the large room. It was like a studio apartment – there was a bed on one side of the room, and couches on the other. I looked around, and Aubrey was nowhere in sight. The door to the bathroom stood ajar. The soft music came from that general direction. I had a feeling he was in the bath, and I immediately considered leaving. Curiosity got the best of me, forcing me to walk toward the open bathroom door.

I stopped just outside the door. The scent from his bath soap or cologne lingered. I could smell him, and I immediately felt my cheeks flush at the thought of the dream I had. My heart started to race, and I seriously considered forgetting about the whole thing and walking away. My fingertips touched the door handle. Feelings rushed over me like I never felt before. I was excited, anticipating what would happen next. I didn’t want to feel this way for him. Going in that room would change everything, and I knew it. I wouldn’t be able to say no.

I couldn’t put myself in that position. I let my hand drop to my side. I couldn’t go any further. I had to get out of the room, out of the bar completely. I turned and walked out of the room before I could change my mind and do something I would regret. I walked quickly through the bar. The female vampire looked slightly amused, but she didn’t say anything. I had a feeling she knew exactly what had happened. Vampires were linked, which made their covens hard to bring down. The master communicated with his underlings quickly with his mind. I had no doubt Aubrey had already contacted the others when he heard me walk away.

Once outside, I felt a little better. I leaned against the alley wall and closed my eyes. The cool air felt good against my heated cheeks.

The sound of a man shouting caught my attention. “FBI! Stop!” a man yelled, as he chased a dark figure into the alley. I immediately realized it was a vampire being chased. The vampire was in familiar territory now. He turned to strike the unsuspecting FBI agent, and knocked the agent backwards into the brick wall. I ran towards the two as the FBI agent slid to the ground, obviously dazed. The vampire had the guy pinned, and was going in for the kill.

I tackled the vampire, knocking him off the guy. The vampire lunged at me. He was no one I was familiar with, so I quickly retrieved my knife and drove it through the vampire’s heart. It turned into ash as my knife hit its mark.

“What the fuck! Get your hands up!” the FBI agent yelled, as he quickly got to his feet. He was holding a gun on me.

“I just saved your ass,” I growled, as I turned to face him with my hands raised in the air. I was surprised; he was actually hot, for a human. He had short, close-cut brown hair and dark brown eyes. He obviously went to the gym, and took care of himself.

“You just dusted that guy. How the hell did you do that?” he asked, keeping the gun trained on me. He was keeping his tone even, which surprised me. Normally, humans freaked out when they found out about our world.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Just be glad you get to live, and get the hell out of this alley,” I countered.

“You just turned someone into ash. I think I might believe you,” he snapped.

I watched him for a second, debating whether I should tell him. “He was a vampire,” I said simply.

He narrowed his eyes at me. “Bullshit,” he growled, keeping the gun aimed at me.

I sighed in annoyance. I hated humans. They refused to believe anything, even when they saw it for themselves. I moved quickly and knocked the gun sideways. I went in to hit him and knock him out, but he dodged. He was actually pretty quick on his feet. He caught my wrist and spun me around, pinning me face-first to the wall, and latched handcuffs onto my wrists. “You just attacked a federal agent, missy. You are coming with me,” he growled in my ear.

“I don’t have time for this. Next time I’ll think twice about saving a damn human,” I growled as he pulled me toward the alley entrance.

“I think you need a trip to the happy house. You aren’t making any sense. I am beginning to think I got hit harder in the head then I thought,” he muttered, as he led me toward the street.

I didn’t speak. I didn’t need this. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with law enforcement. It was a waste of my night.

He led me to a car and pushed me up against it. He started to search me. He removed five of my knives and set them on the trunk of the car. “What the hell do you need so many knives for? Do you go around dusting people often?”

“It’s my job. I’m a vampire hunter,” I said, deliberately sounding bored.

He scoffed. “Yeah, and I’m Hugh Hefner. I just masquerade as an FBI agent,” he said dryly.

“You know, you would be cute if you weren’t such an ass. You saw the guy turn to dust; what other proof do you need?” I asked, annoyed.

“I don’t know what I saw,” he countered.

“You don’t want to know what you saw. You would rather remain oblivious, like the rest,” I countered.

He spun me around to face him. “Okay, I give. What’s your game? Who are you? Why don’t you have an ID?”

“I already told you, you just don’t believe me,” I said, watching him. I could see the confusion and uncertainty in his eyes. He knew what he saw; he wasn’t an idiot. He was just refusing to accept it.

He shook his head like he was trying to forget about it all. “You know what? I’m going to release you, and you are going to disappear like I never saw you. There is no way I am going to my superiors with this. I’ll be tossed in the looney bin next to you,” he muttered, as he turned me back around and un-cuffed me.

I rubbed my wrists as I watched him. “Thanks. You saved me a ton of time.”

He watched me as if he really didn’t want to let me go, but he didn’t want to explain what he’d seen, either. “What’s your name?”

“Lillian Rayne. Everyone calls me Rayne. What’s yours?” I asked, deciding to play nice and talk to him. He looked confused and uncertain, like many humans did when they ran into something supernatural.

“Special Agent Nick Carter. You should get the hell out of here,” he said nervously, as he glanced around.

I nodded and hurried over to my car, which was only a couple parking spots down from his. I wasn’t going to waste my time with him. If he just wanted to deny everything that happened, that was fine by me.

*****

 

As I drove toward the warehouse my mind drifted back to Aubrey. I didn’t know why I let myself get so close to him. Vampires couldn’t be trusted. I knew better, and I was still trying to go against my better judgment.

I parked outside the warehouse and walked inside. There were a lot of people hanging around, like usual. Most of them were training or sitting around talking. I walked directly to the back office. Colin and Drake were there, talking. They seemed to go quiet when I walked in the room.

“There were just two humans killed by vampires last night. The FBI is investigating because of the circumstances surrounding the deaths,” Colin said, watching me.

“This concerns us how? The FBI won’t know vampires did it.” I said as I took a seat. I started to wonder if Nick, the agent I met earlier, was involved in the case.

“It involves us because someone is trying to fuck up the treaty. Not only that we tend to look into unnecessary human deaths,” Colin said, sounding slightly annoyed.

I sighed and looked up at him. “What do you want me to do about it?”

Colin scowled like I was being difficult. “We need to ask around. I don’t think it is Aubrey’s group. I think maybe it is someone new. You could talk to Aubrey, since you are seeing him or… whatever.”

“I’m not seeing Aubrey,” I countered. I was a little annoyed by the accusation. “Why don’t you and Drake go talk to him,” I said, keeping my tone even. I wasn’t going to tell him why. The more I thought about it, the more I felt like an idiot. I should never have gone to the club. I chickened out because I couldn’t trust myself.

Before either of them could speak, there was yelling. Colin darted from the room, followed by Drake. I cussed and hurried after them. I hesitated when I saw what had caused the commotion. It was Nick, the FBI agent. He was spinning around, pointing his gun at everyone. He must have followed me and started snooping.

“Who the hell are you?” Colin asked angrily.

“You let me ask the questions,” Nick barked, as he aimed the gun at Colin.

This was a bad situation, and I could see it only getting worse. Colin knocked the gun sideways and punched Nick across the face. Nick crumpled to the floor in a heap.

“Wait! Damn it! It’s my fault he is here. He followed me. I will handle him,” I said quickly, as I blocked Colin from advancing on him.

“Who the hell is he?” Drake asked, watching me.

“He’s FBI. He cornered a vampire and I helped him out. He’s a little skittish right now. He kind of saw me turn the vampire to dust,” I said, slightly amused.

“Damn it, Rayne, do you know how much trouble he could cause us?” Colin asked angrily.

“I’ll get him to stay quiet. Besides, he may be able to help us with the case. He may be the one working on the case you were talking about,” I said, as I picked up Nick’s gun.

“Get him to the office,” Colin ordered two other vampires. “You better fix this, Rayne.” He was angry at me now. It wasn’t hard for me to annoy people, that was for sure.

I nodded. “Don’t worry. Just go see what you can find out about the murder from the vampires. I’ll take care of him,” I said firmly.

Colin turned and stormed off, and Drake smiled at me as he followed Colin out. I followed the two vampires that were carrying Nick. They laid him on the couch in the office, then left me alone with him. I walked into the bathroom and wet a rag, then walked back out and placed it on his forehead. He was probably going to have one hell of a headache when he woke up.

He slowly opened his eyes. He saw me looking down at him, quickly sat up, and looked around. His hand instinctively went to where he normally kept his gun. I smiled; he reminded me of what I did when I woke up after being knocked out. “What the hell?” he muttered, as he put his head in his hands.

“You can thank Colin for that. He was the vampire you were aiming your gun at,” I said, amused, as I handed him a glass of water.

He scowled. “Now you have vampire friends? I thought you were a hunter?”

“I am. It’s complicated. I thought you didn’t want to know any more?” I said.

“I didn’t, but I decided to follow you to see what you were about. I was kind of hoping you were crazy,” he grumbled, as he looked around.

“Well, I’m not. There are vampires and werewolves and all other manner of creatures that go bump in the night,” I said as I watched him.

“I got to thinking after meeting you in the alley. There is a case…” he started.

I cut him off, already knowing where he was heading with it. “The two humans that were killed by vampires. Yeah, we are looking into that.”

He didn’t look surprised. He had obviously already been expecting the worst. “I thought the case was odd. It just seemed more like an animal attack than human. Their throats were ripped out,” he said softly.

“Most of the time they only do that to prove a point. They are probably angry over current events, and this is how they lash out,” I said, as I stood and walked over to the small bar. I needed a drink. It was only a little after eleven, and it had already been a long night.

“Rayne, I need to know what is going on. How the hell am I going to go to my superiors and tell them vampires killed these people?” He sounded both confused and angry as he spoke. I could understand how he felt. It was like waking up in an unfamiliar place. Everything he thought and believed was true for so many years no longer made sense. I remembered feeling that way after my parents died. The feeling never goes away. I’d just found ways to try to ignore it.

“You don’t. Let me handle the vampire part. You treat it like you would any other case. Follow the leads until they dead end, then eventually put the case as unsolvable, like many of the other cases in this world.” I didn’t mean to sound so heartless, like it was simple to just look the other way. I knew it wasn’t. I just didn’t know any other way to handle it as a human.

He ran his hand through his hair. I could tell it was probably something he did when he had no clue what to do next. “I want to help you,” he said, looking at me. I could see the determination in his dark brown eyes, and I knew telling him no wasn’t an option.

I sat down across from him and looked at my drink. “People you care about could die if you get too involved in this. It isn’t a road you should go down lightly.”

“Well, lucky for me I don’t have anyone I care about,” he said firmly. I knew by the look in his eyes I wasn’t going to sway him.

I sighed, took his gun out of my waistband, and handed it back to him. “This isn’t going to do anything unless you get silver bullets, and those are expensive and hard to come by. You should get yourself one of these,” I said, as I produced my favorite wooden stake.

He took it and examined it. “This is insane,” he said quietly, as he played with the stake.

“Yeah, well, it’s the world we live in. Knives are also good, but make sure they are silver,” I said. I tossed my drink back, then set the glass on the table beside me.

“So how do you know which ones are good and which are bad?” he asked, watching me.

I shrugged. “You don’t. You mostly just follow your instincts and kill the ones that attack first. I need to go look into these murders. I am currently being harassed by a vampire and werewolf who think I am some sort of leader.”

He stood and offered me my stake back. I shook my head. “You keep it. You’re going to need it if you stick around long enough,” I said, amused.

I walked out of the office and he followed. I was going to start by having Nick take me to the place where the crime occurred. That would give me a better idea of the area, and possibly what I was up against.

“We can take my car,” he said as we exited the warehouse.

I nodded and followed him. He’d parked his car a few warehouses over, out of sight. I climbed in, and he set off back toward town. “Take me to the crime scene,” I said quietly as I watched out the window.

He nodded and glanced at me. “What does the tattoo mean?”

“Why?” I asked, not really sure if I wanted to explain.

He shrugged. “I just saw a couple of the other people with the same tattoo. I thought maybe it was a symbol for some secret organization.” The way he said it suggested he was poking fun at me.

“It is. We are called the renegades. The hunter and vampire councils don’t take kindly to us. I would also appreciate it if you didn’t mention that, or the location of the warehouse, to anyone,” I said quietly.

He pantomimed zipping his lips shut. “My lips are sealed. There is no way I’m going to the wacky house for this.”

I smiled. He was kind of endearing. He seemed to be taking everything a lot better than most people would. “How long have you been an FBI agent?” I asked, trying to make conversation.

“About ten years. I started this job when I got out of the army. I have seen some shit, but I think this tops it,” he said.

“You’ll get used to it, I promise,” I said, as he pulled into the driveway of a house surrounded with crime scene tape.

He climbed out, and I followed him up to the house. It seemed like everything was normal once we entered the house, but I could smell the dried blood. I followed him through the hall and into a bedroom. All the linens had been taken from the place. There were huge blood stains on the mattress and on the carpet. There was blood splatter on the walls, and even some on the ceiling. Whatever happened here was done by an extremely violent vampire. I was a little breathless; it was almost like déjá vu. I remembered walking into plenty of places just like this and seeing all the blood.

“You okay?” Nick asked as he watched me.

I nodded, shaking the feeling off. “They were trying to make a point, that’s for sure. Who were the people?”

He reached in his coat pocket and pulled out a little notepad. “Names were Alan and Brianna Marshal. Young couple, no criminal history. They seemed pretty normal, although I am now a little unsure of what normal is anymore,” he said dryly.

I smiled and shook my head. “Everything is still the same, there are just new variables to the equation.”

He scoffed. “Yeah, okay, if you want to call a freaking vampire and a hunter princess variables.”

“I’m not a princess, although I am from one of the most prestigious families among the hunters,” I said, as I walked out of the room and down the hall. The place looked so ordinary. There didn’t appear to be anything out of place. It was obvious that they’d invited their killer in. “There was no fighting, so they let whoever the killer was in the house. I am sure the vampire had them in a trance. They probably didn’t even scream when he killed them.”

“This is just so fucked up,” he muttered, as he looked at a picture on the mantle.

“You have no idea,” I said softly. Looking around the place made me want answers even more than I had before. I was going to have to talk to Aubrey, even though I didn’t want to. I needed to know who had killed these people. “Come on, I know someone we can talk to,” I said, and walked toward the exit.

“Oh goody, more ‘people.’ This should be fun,” he said, sounding less than enthusiastic, as he followed me back to his car.

*****

 

I had him park near the opening of the alley that led to Luminescence. As the night wore on, traffic outside the clubs was picking up. I climbed out, and he followed, looking around nervously.

“You know, it doesn’t seem very safe walking down dark alleys,” he said as he followed me.

I smiled as I approached the door of Aubrey’s bar. “Believe me, if I didn’t think we could get some answers, I wouldn’t be here,” I said, amused.

I stepped into the bar, and he followed close on my heels. I spotted Aubrey sitting at a table surrounded by women. I put my emotions away before walking in the door. I was on a mission, and that didn’t involve worrying about my relationship with Aubrey.

“Why do I feel like the main course?” Nick muttered, as he followed me deeper into the bar.

I smiled. “I am sure you made your way to the top of some of the menus,” I said.

Aubrey looked Nick over with a disapproving glare. “Who is he, and why are you bringing him in my bar?” he growled.

“He’s a friend, and we are looking into a murder that happened last night. Do you know anything about it?” I asked, keeping my tone cool and calm.

He smiled, but it was an annoyed smile. “Come on, Lillian, you should at least say hi before you start sounding all accusing.”

“It’s Rayne. And I’m not accusing, I’m asking,” I said firmly.

He looked amused as his gaze went back to Nick. “What does he have to do with anything?”

“He’s the FBI agent investigating the crime,” I said, as I glanced around. I noticed we had attracted a lot of attention. I wasn’t so sure we were safe anymore. Aubrey seemed like he was in a mood.

“You brought an FBI agent into my bar.” The anger in his voice was clear. He wasn’t happy with me at all, but I didn’t care.

“Yes. You can trust him not to say anything,” I said, watching him. I was daring him to do something stupid. I wouldn’t have minded an excuse to knock him around. My feelings for him made me angry. I wouldn’t have minded venting.

Aubrey scoffed. “I find it interesting that you are vouching for him, but you have known me longer and you wouldn’t trust me enough to turn your back to me.”

“You’re right, but you are a vampire. He isn’t.” I saw that my remark angered him, but I didn’t care.

He stood suddenly, incredibly close to me. I could see Nick shift nervously as his hand went under his coat, more than likely to the stake. “I will not help you. Leave, now,” he growled, then disappeared.

I sighed. I hoped he would give me something to go on, but it was obvious he was going to be difficult. I turned and faced Nick. “Come on, Nick, we aren’t going to get anything out of him.” Nick followed me to the exit. I could tell he was relieved to be out of the bar. If you weren’t under a vampire’s trance the bars were unnerving, almost like being in a bad dream.

“So you and that vampire got something going on?” Nick asked, as we climbed back in the car.

“No, we are at a dead end. We might as well go home and regroup. Take me back to my car.” I didn’t want to talk about Aubrey, and I didn’t know what else to do from here. I would have to think about my next move.

Chapter 11

 

Nick took me back to my car and we parted ways. I promised to call him and let him know what my next move would be when I figured it out myself. I drove back to my uncle’s house. I needed to sleep and try to regroup. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. I called Colin on the way home, and he had nothing new either. Whoever killed the couple was keeping quiet.

When I walked into the house Luca was waiting for me. “What’s wrong?” I asked, when I saw the expression on his face.

He shook his head. “It’s been a long night. Where have you been?” he asked, watching me.

I shrugged. “Out, just patrolling. Why?”

“Your uncle wants to see you.” He sounded like he knew something, but he wasn’t telling me.

I nodded and walked to my uncle’s office. Luca followed me. I walked inside; my uncle was sitting at his desk. Kai was sitting in a chair not far from him. “What’s going on?” I asked, looking from Kai to my uncle.

“Tanner is hurt. He was bitten by a vampire.” My uncle sounded terrified as he spoke. It was never good when a hunter got bit, especially if it was by a powerful vampire.

“Who did it?” I asked angrily. I wanted to go out and hunt the bastard down, and my uncle knew it.

“It was a death marshal, Lillian. He has Tanner in a coma. He claims he won’t release his hold until Aubrey turns himself in,” Kai said softly. Kai sounded just as worried and shocked as my uncle did.

I felt my throat go dry at the mention of a death marshal. “What were his terms?” I asked quietly.

“We have until midnight tonight to convince Aubrey to surrender, or Tanner dies. Your aunt is upstairs with Tanner now. I don’t think she has stopped crying,” Luca said tiredly.

“Have you spoken to Aubrey?” I asked, keeping my tone even. The thought of Aubrey dying made my chest ache. I hated the feeling, but I couldn’t get rid of it no matter what I told myself.

“Yes, he has agreed to surrender. We are planning the exchange. It will occur here, and we were hoping you would be present as backup,” my uncle said, watching me. He had to know I wouldn’t just stand by and allow this. I didn’t have a whole lot of options, but there had to be something I could do.

“How can you just let him surrender?” I asked angrily.

“It is that or Tanner dies! Which do you prefer?” my uncle snapped, glaring at me.

I watched him for a minute. I had no clue what to do or say. “Neither,” I growled, then stormed out. I wasn’t going to stand by and let this happen. There had to be something I could do to stop the marshal.

I hurried outside and got back in my car. I sped back toward the warehouse. I was hoping Colin would have answers.

 

[ * ]

 

The warehouse was emptier than usual, since the sun was coming up. I walked back to the office, but Colin was nowhere to be found. I yelled in anger and threw a chair into a shelf full of books. The chair clattered to the floor followed by several books. I placed my hands flat on the desk and closed my eyes as I took deep breaths. I couldn’t choose. I couldn’t let Tanner or Aubrey die. In a way, this was all my fault.

“You could have punched one of the bags if you’re angry, instead of damaging my office,” Colin said dryly as he walked in and surveyed the damage.

“A death marshal attacked Tanner. He is holding him in some kind of trance until Aubrey surrenders. There has to be something I can do,” I said angrily, without looking up. I felt the urge to cry just below the surface. I felt helpless as I supported myself with the desk.

“There is something you can do,” Colin said smoothly as he took a seat behind the desk.

I looked up at him, confused. He seemed unsurprised by what had happened. He sounded certain there was something I could do, but I just didn’t see it. “What could I possibly do? I could attack him and probably end up dead. Then, knowing my luck, he would kill both Tanner and Aubrey,” I said angrily. He was acting like this wasn’t a serious matter.

He took a key out of his pocket and unlocked the desk drawer. “There is always a way, Rayne. It all comes down to what you are willing to do.” The way he spoke suggested he had an idea. I couldn’t help but feel a small amount of hope at the prospect. He laid a box on the desk. It was a wooden box that had ornate carvings. He unlocked it and turned it toward me.

He opened the box, and I straightened and glared at him. “Those are against the hunter’s laws,” I growled, as I looked at the two ivory handled handguns laying in the velvet case. The use of guns was against our code. It was too simple to kill a vampire with a silver bullet. To my people, it was dishonorable. If we wanted the kill, we had to fight for it.

“Like I said, it is all about what you are willing to do,” he said, matter of factly. “These guns were your fathers. He, like you, had a decision to make.”

“And he’s dead,” I countered. I didn’t see how he thought this was a resolution. I would be able to kill the marshal with the guns, but then I would be banned from the hunters, like Colin was. Killing the marshal would only bring more havoc, but the alternative was Tanner or Aubrey’s death.

“He is dead because he doubted himself. He left these behind that night, and they won because of it. He listened to your damn uncle, who has always been a kiss-ass. You don’t need the hunters, Lillian! You need to stand up for yourself and the people you care about. This is your choice: follow the rules and watch your loved ones die, or become a true renegade and save everyone you care about. It doesn’t seem like that hard of a choice to me.”

The hunter’s laws were all I knew. I didn’t always follow them to the tee, but I didn’t violate them to the point that there was no going back. “I don’t know if I can do this,” I said quietly.

“Then choose who dies,” he said as he leaned back in his chair. “Just know it won’t stop here. People you care about will continue to die, like your parents did, until you do what you have to and keep them safe.”

I looked at him, then back down at the guns. I knew he was right, even though it was difficult to admit it.

I ran my fingers over the initials on the gun. They read L. A. R., for Lyle Alexander Rayne, my father. They were the same as my initials. “What happens after I kill the marshal?” I asked, looking back up at Colin.

He shrugged. “We prepare for the war that has been coming for years.”

I couldn’t decide. I didn’t know what to do. “I need to talk to Aubrey,” I said softly, then walked out, leaving the guns behind. I walked quickly to my car. I knew exactly where he would be at this hour… the cafe.

I pulled up in front of the café, and as I suspected, Aubrey was sitting in his usual seat. He was so strange for a vampire. He did not follow the usual patterns a master vampire did. He smiled at me like nothing was wrong as I approached.

“Why so serious, Lillian darling?” he asked amused.

“Why are you acting like there is nothing wrong?” I growled, as I took a seat across from him.

“There is nothing wrong. Everything is occurring as we expected. The marshal arrived for me as anticipated,” he said simply.

“How can you be okay with dying? How could you just offer yourself up?” I started to get upset at his cool demeanor. He was acting like it was just another day.

“I am not okay with dying, Lillian, but I do not see an alternative. It is the circle of life, as some would so nicely put it,” he said, amused.

“It is bullshit, and I will not stand by and let it happen!” I growled as I stood angrily. I wasn’t going to sit here and listen to him tell me it would all be okay. It wasn’t okay, and it wouldn’t be okay unless I did something like Colin said.

“Lower your voice, Lillian,” he said softly. People were starting to look in our direction.

I was about to start yelling louder, but Nick’s voice caught my attention. “Are you okay, Rayne?” he asked from behind me.

I turned to look at him, and he glanced nervously from Aubrey to me. “I’m fine,” I muttered, and walked back toward my car.

“Hey, wait up,” Nick called after me as he followed me.

I didn’t really feel like dealing with him. I had bigger issues than a human murder to deal with. I had to decide what I was going to do about the death marshals. “I am busy,” I said, as I climbed into my car.

He climbed in the passenger seat, obviously refusing to let me go. “Well, I’m not, so I’ll tag along,” he said, watching me.

I scowled at him for a minute, but he didn’t flinch. I sighed and started my car. He wasn’t going to take no for an answer. “Fine. Do what you want,” I growled as I set off.

“So, I have a new lead. There was a security tape at the neighbor’s house. I got a picture of the guy we think committed the murders,” he said excitedly, as he pulled a picture out of his jacket.

He handed it to me, and I glanced at it. I was trying to drive at the same time, but I wanted to see the photo. I felt my blood boil when I saw the picture. I slammed on the brakes and cut a hard right so I could go in the direction of the warehouse.

“Jeez, Rayne! Don’t kill us,” he said, sounding worried as he buckled his seat belt. “Do you know who it is?”

“I know what he is, not who. He is a death marshal, and I am betting he is the one I am currently having an issue with,” I said quietly.

“What? How can you tell?” he asked, as he took the photo back and looked it over.

“He is wearing a necklace with their symbol. He is one of them, I am sure of it.” I merged into traffic as I spoke. I could see Nick flinch, as though he was worried he would die in a fiery car wreck.

“What am I supposed to do about him?” he asked, as he watched me.

“You are going to do nothing except stay as far away from him as possible. No one messes with death marshals. They tend to have free reign,” I said, as I kept my eyes on the road. I had made up my mind. I was going to kill the bastard. I would worry about the consequences later.

“I can’t just let him get away with it,” he countered. He actually sounded offended that I’d asked him to walk away.

“He won’t,” I said firmly, as I looked at him.

I could see his expression change when he realized what I meant. “Rayne, if he is so big and bad. What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to kill him,” I said simply, as I pulled up to the warehouse and put the car in park. I climbed out without giving him time to reply.

He hurried after me as I walked into the warehouse. “Rayne, I am new to all this, but I thought the death marshals were bad. So bad your people didn’t go after them.”

“My people won’t go after him, but I will. I am not going to just turn my head like my uncle because I am afraid. I am going to make him pay and anyone else that follows him,” I said firmly as I walked into the office.

Colin looked up at me. His expression darkened when Nick followed me in. “Why is he here?” Colin asked, sounding annoyed.

“He brought me this. It is from the double murder,” I said, as I took the photo from Nick and handed it to Colin.

Colin raised his eyebrows, then set the picture aside and looked at me. “He has been in town for a couple days, then,” he said softly.

“I need those guns,” I said, watching him.

He smiled and retrieved the box from the drawer. He slid it across the desk toward me. “I think you are making the right choice.”

I nodded. “I hope you’re right.” I took the box and walked out of the office. I headed home to plan my next move. Come midnight, I would be face to face with the marshal. I needed a while to plan and prepare.

Nick trailed behind me, obviously unwilling to let me out of his sight. “What’s with the guns?” he asked, sounding more curious than anything.

“I am going to use them to kill the marshal. It’s against our rules to use guns, but I am going to anyway. I refuse to allow him to do whatever he wants.” I would have to get by Luca, Kai, and my uncle. I was sure Luca would suspect something. I wasn’t the type to just let things go. I got in my car and Nick followed.

“Can I help you?” he asked, sounding both hopeful and nervous.

I shook my head. “It is too dangerous, and my family would suspect something if I brought you around. Just keep you head low and stay away, so I don’t have to worry about you, too.”

“You would worry about me?” he asked, smiling.

I scowled. “Now isn’t the time.”

He raised his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay, just drop me at my car,” he said, still sounding amused.

*****

 

It was close to lunch by the time I pulled into the driveway of my uncle’s house. There were several cars. My uncle had called a meeting. He probably wanted backup, in case Aubrey didn’t show, or things didn’t go as planned. I was glad they would be distracted. It would give me a chance to go unnoticed.

I hurried up the stairs. I hesitated when I saw my aunt come out of Tanner’s room. She was crying, and Kate was comforting her. I couldn’t stand the sight of her tears. It made my heart ache. I had to fix this. Once the marshal was dead, his hold over Tanner would be broken. I turned and walked to my room. I had limited time to talk myself into this.

I set the box on a shelf in my closet. I made sure the guns were loaded and ready, but I didn’t place them on me yet. I wanted to go see Tanner. I was hoping seeing Tanner would give me more resolve to go through with my plan.

I left my room and walked down the hall to Tanner’s room. I slipped inside, and was relieved to see no one else was in the room. He looked so pale and peaceful lying in his bed. His eyes were closed. The only sign that he was injured was the bite mark on his neck. The anger was stifling. Seeing the bite and Tanner lying there helpless made me furious. I clenched my fists so tightly I felt my nails cut into my skin, drawing blood. I could barely take a breath as tears stung my eyes. All I could think was that this was all my fault.

“Anger will kill you,” Aubrey said softly in my ear, as he grasped my wrist.

I gasped a little, startled, as I unclenched my fists. He was always sneaking up on me, and I didn’t understand how he was able to do it so easily. “Anger motivates,” I said softly.

He moved closer to me. His lips brushed my ear as he whispered, “Please tell me you are not planning anything stupid.”

“I’m not,” I lied. I was pretty sure he knew I was lying. Vampires were good at deciphering human emotions, and I knew I wasn’t in control of mine.

He turned me to face him, and I glared up him defiantly. He watched me, and I could see he didn’t believe anything I was saying. His lips brushed mine. I leaned forward, deepening the kiss. I was sure I could kill the marshal, now. Seeing Tanner and touching Aubrey gave me strength. I felt a slight pinch in my arm, and I tried to pull away from Aubrey. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t take the chance,” he whispered against my lips.

I looked up at him, horrified, as he released me. He was holding a needle and syringe. The room started to spin as I stumbled backwards. He’d drugged me to keep me away from the marshal. I couldn’t believe it. Anger and confusion came over me, but it was too late. I could feel the drug working. I collapsed, and he caught me. He cradled me, and gently kissed my lips; then everything went black.

Chapter 12

I slowly opened my eyes. I was laying on a cool floor. My memory came rushing back, and I scrambled to my feet and looked around. I was in some kind of cell. I yelled in anger and hit the door, but it didn’t budge. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I looked at my watch. It was a little after eleven. I still had time, if I could get out of wherever I was. I kept trying the door, but it was useless. The room was barren, with stone walls and a stone floor. Aubrey had made sure nothing was left in the room that could be used as a tool. The exterior door opened, and a blinding light filled the room. I walked to the door of the cell and looked up toward the light, hoping it would be someone I could reason with.

The female vampire from Aubrey’s club came into view, and I scowled. This was going to be nearly impossible.

“He said to give you some water,” she said, as she offered me a glass.

“You have to let me out. The marshal is going to kill him,” I pleaded, hoping she would listen.

She bit her lip and looked away. “I know, but he told me you had to stay here.”

“Don’t be a fool! I can save him!” I yelled, furious with the girl.

She looked away nervously. “He said…” she said softly.

“Fuck what he said. If you don’t let me out, you will never see him again. Don’t you care?” I tried not to yell, but it was impossible. I had to get free before the marshal arrived at midnight.

She scowled. “Of course I care. I do what he says, all the time, so he knows I care. If he wants to die, that is his choice. Just be happy he cares about you enough to keep you safe,” she said huffily, then marched out.

I groaned and sat on the floor against the wall. This was a horrible feeling. I was useless. Aubrey would die, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. The door opened again, and I scrambled to my feet. I hoped the girl had changed her mind.

Relief washed over me when Colin came in, followed by Drake. “Thank god. Get me the hell out of here,” I said, hoping Colin was still on my side.

Colin smiled as he produced a key. “Aubrey isn’t going to be very happy about this,” he said, amused, as he unlocked the door.

“At least he will be alive to have a chance to be mad,” I countered as I hurried past him.

They stayed close on my heels as I hurried up the stairs. We were in the club. I only had twenty minutes to get home and get the guns. “My car is outside,” Colin said, as if he was reading my mind.

I nodded and followed him out to his car. I only had a few minutes to prepare for my next move.

*****

 

Colin parked down the street from the house. I didn’t want him to park anywhere obvious. I needed to be able to sneak in.

“How are you going to do this?” Colin asked softly.

“I wanted to catch him before he got into the house, but I think that plan is out the window. I am just going to take the shot as soon as I get the chance,” I said quietly.

He nodded. “I will be around in case you need back up. Drake and a couple of his wolves are surrounding the place as well. Call on them if you need them.”

“Okay,” I said softly, then hesitated as I went to get out. “Thank you Colin,” I said quietly.

He smiled tightly, then nodded. I climbed out and made my way toward the house.

I scaled the house near my window. I had done it so many times before. My window was unlocked, which was a relief. I climbed in and immediately went for the gun case in the closet. I checked the guns to make sure they were loaded. I stuck them in my waistband, then grabbed one of my hoodies and slid it on.

I was so nervous I was shaking. I took a deep breath and tried to relax. I had to get through this, or people I loved would end up dead. I peeked out my bedroom door. The hall was clear, so I hurried toward the stairs. I could hear the clamor of people downstairs. I checked my watch; it was almost midnight. Hopefully, there would be enough people for me to move among unnoticed. I made it to the main room, and as I thought, it was filled with people. Aubrey, Kai, Luca, and my uncle stood near the center. I moved up toward the front of the crowd, careful not to catch anyone’s attention. I took my position and waited. I was so nervous. I brushed my fingers over the gun. The feeling of cold steel reassured me. I felt a little more confident.

The room quieted, and my eyes darted to the figure that caught everyone’s attention. The marshal had arrived. He walked toward Aubrey with a satisfied smile on his face. My hand gripped the gun as I moved forward to find a better position.

“I am actually surprised you showed up. I thought I would have another young male hunter to add to my collection,” the marshal said, as he stopped a few feet from Aubrey.

“Release your hold on the boy. I am willing to go with you without a fight,” Aubrey said firmly.

“I’m not worried about that. You don’t have to go anywhere. I have been authorized to kill you on the spot,” the marshal said. I saw him move to attack, and I didn’t hesitate.

I drew the gun and emptied the clip into him. People screamed and ran. He turned to ash in front of me. I was relieved as soon as he turned to ash; the marshal was dead. I looked over at Aubrey and the others. They were watching me like I’d grown another head. Maybe I had, but I felt a lot better. I didn’t know what to say as they watched me.

“What did you do?” Aubrey yelled angrily, as he stormed over to me.

“What I had to,” I said defiantly.

“You killed a marshal! You signed your death warrant!” He was yelling, which surprised me. He never yelled. If anything, he was always too calm and collected.

I didn’t know why, but I smiled. I was now on the opposite side of the argument. It wasn’t but a couple days ago that I was saying the same thing to him.

“Why are you smiling?” he growled as he watched me.

I shrugged. “No reason.” I looked over at my uncle. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was furious. I had broken one of our most important laws. He would disown me for this, and I knew it. I looked back at Aubrey. “I should go,” I said softly. He didn’t speak; he looked like he didn’t know what to say. I turned and walked toward the exit. I needed to get away from the place before my uncle went off. I wasn’t sure if I was strong enough to hear what he had to say.

*****

 

Colin was waiting for me at the road. He straightened when he saw me. I was relieved that he hadn’t left. I needed a ride. I didn’t dare ask my uncle if I could stay. “I am assuming he is dead,” he said sounding hopeful.

“A pile of dust,” I said, quietly, as I climbed into the passenger seat.

He got in the car and immediately set off toward the warehouse. “Is everything okay?” he asked softly, like he sensed that something was wrong.

I shook my head. I didn’t speak. I wasn’t sure if I could without crying. The memory of my family’s expression made my chest hurt. In their minds I had betrayed them, and the thought hurt me.

He reached over and touched my hand. I froze and looked over at him. I wasn’t sure if I was comfortable with him touching me. I knew he was trying to comfort me. He obviously sensed my discomfort and immediately removed his hand from mine. “It will all work out,” he said softly, as he looked straight ahead.

I wished I could believe him, but I was beginning to think my trouble was just beginning.

The thought continued to haunt me as Colin parked the car in front of the warehouse. I immediately got out and walked to the office. I needed sleep. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or make any more decisions. Colin went off to speak with Drake, so I was alone. I laid down on the couch and placed my arm over my eyes. I knew I wasn’t going to sleep very easily, but I was going to try.

Chapter 13

The commotion just outside the office startled me awake. I rolled to my feet and gripped the handle of one of the guns. I could hear Colin and Drake’s voice. They were yelling at someone. I stepped out of the office and almost ran into Aubrey.

“We need to talk,” he growled, as he grabbed my arm and pushed me back into the office. He slammed the door in Colin’s face as Colin attempted to follow him in.

“How did you find me?” I asked, as I watched him pace in front of me. I was a little surprised a vampire could find the renegades. I had assumed the renegades were careful with the location of the warehouse.

“Let’s just say your little group is not as secretive or as hard to infiltrate as you think. What were you thinking when you killed that death marshal?” he asked. He glared at me, and the intensity of his gaze was hard to handle.

“I did what I had to. They have no right to push us around,” I said, standing my ground. I wasn’t going to waiver because of his hostile expression. He did the same thing I’d done by agreeing to the truce in the first place.

He scoffed. “I don’t think they care about right and wrong. You’re going to end up on a high-priority execution list for this. These people aren’t like the dumb, overzealous vampires you are used too hunting.”

“Everyone has to die. I may not survive the night. Isn’t that what you told me?” I asked, matching his tone.

He watched me with a look of disbelief. “Is it your mission to die, then?”

“Is it yours?” I countered. He was the one who’d started the whole thing by attempting to sacrifice himself. Then he had the nerve to drug me because he thought I would screw up his self-righteous plan.

“Damn it, Lillian, this isn’t about me! This is about you!” he growled, as he began to pace again. It was like he was trying to figure out a way to fix things. I knew there was no fixing this. I had come to terms with that when I decided to use the gun.

“You should go. I am sure Colin and the others are getting antsy with a master vampire in the building,” I said softly, as I walked toward the door.

He caught my wrist as I passed him. He pulled me into him, so my body was pressed against his. I felt my chest tighten as the breath left my body in surprise at his sudden closeness. He was so close to me, his lips were almost touching mine. I looked into his turquoise eyes, and I felt like I was falling into them. “This is not over, Lillian. I will not allow you to kill yourself because you are on some mission to rid the world of vampires,” he said softly.

“There is nothing you can do to stop this now. Just stay out of my way,” I said, trying to regain my composure.

He watched me for a minute longer, then pressed his lips to mine. His tongue touched mine, and I felt my body heat up. I tangled my fingers in his hair, returning his desperate kiss. There was something about him that made it impossible for me to pull away, even though the rational part of my brain was screaming at me and calling me an idiot.

He suddenly broke the kiss, and I sagged in his arms. My eyes drifted from his soft lips to his brilliant turquoise eyes. His expression was hard to read, but it was caught somewhere between anger, confusion, and something else. It was something I couldn’t figure out. As quickly as I saw it, his expression went blank. He was back to being the cold hearted vampire. “You should go,” I said again, as I stepped away from him.

“You should quit pretending you feel nothing for me,” he said softly.

“Caring about people only gets me hurt,” I countered, as I turned to walk away. I didn’t like how intense the situation had gotten. I needed to escape, like I always did when things got too serious.

He caught my wrist again, and I hesitated, but didn’t turn to look back at him. “There are some things you cannot control, Lillian. Love is one of those things. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to fight, you will always love and you will always get hurt.”

“Love only causes pain,” I said softly. I pulled my hand free and walked out, leaving him there.

“What the hell is going on?” Colin asked, as I pushed past him and Drake.

“Nothing,” I muttered, as I continued on my way. I didn’t feel like explaining it to them. I wasn’t even sure there was anything to explain. I was lost and confused. My mother’s guidance would have come in handy at this point, but she was gone. It was so much simpler for me to pretend I didn’t feel.

*****

 

I drove to my favorite beach. I parked in a public parking spot, then walked to a bench facing the water. I sat down and looked out over the ocean as the sun started to peek above the horizon. It was a beautiful view. I loved this place. It was the last place I had gone with my parents before their death. After they died, Luca always brought me here; he claimed it was my happy place. I wasn’t feeling very happy at the moment, but I did love this spot.

“How did I know you would be here?” Luca asked as he walked toward me.

I stiffened at first, but relaxed when I realized he was alone. I wasn’t ready to face my uncle. I couldn’t explain to him why I killed the marshal. I wasn’t sure if he would really even understand. I wasn’t even sure I understood. “What are you doing here?” I asked quietly, as I looked back out over the water.

He took a seat next to me. “Looking for you, of course. I was worried about you after everything that happened.”

“I’m fine,” I muttered. “I am sure my uncle wouldn’t approve of you talking to me.”

“Well, it is a good thing I don’t care what your uncle thinks,” he said as he nudged me playfully.

I smiled slightly. “How mad is he?”

He shrugged as he picked up a small shell out of the sand. “I think he is more worried than anything. You are following in your parents footsteps, and it didn’t end well for them.”

I looked down at my hands. I wasn’t sure what to say. I decided to be honest with Luca in the hope he would offer some advice. “I couldn’t let him die,” I said softly.

“I’m assuming you are talking about Aubrey,” he said, sounding slightly annoyed. I could tell he was trying hard to mask his feelings. He just wasn’t very good at it.

“Yes. I can’t get him out of my head. It is infuriating, sometimes. I think about him dying, and it feels like a knife is being driven through my chest,” I said quietly. I shivered at just the thought of the feeling. I couldn’t imagine how it would feel if he really died.

“Do you love him?” he asked, as he watched me.

I thought about it for a minute. The truth was, I really didn’t know. I didn’t know him well enough to say I loved him. I couldn’t let myself get that close to him. “I can’t love him,” I said softly.

He nodded, understanding. “I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but I am going to say it anyway. I don’t like the guy; then again, I don’t like any guy that you date, but you are being unfair to Aubrey.”

I looked at him, a little startled. I never thought in a million years he would defend Aubrey. “What do you mean?”

He shrugged and looked back at the little shell he was playing with. “He didn’t kill your parents, so why are you treating him like he did?”

I scowled. “I know he didn’t kill my parents, but he is a vampire and…”

“And vampires are all murderers because one vampire killed your parents,” he said, cutting me off.

I looked at him for a minute, then looked away. He was right. My uncle had said something similar to me before. I was just too stubborn to listen. If I couldn’t blame every vampire I saw, I wouldn’t have anyone to blame. “How do I get past this? How do I even attempt to give him a chance?”

“I don’t know. That is between you and him, but he wouldn’t have done all he has if he didn’t have a reason, and as good-looking and cool as I am, I just don’t think I am his reason,” he teased as he nudged me again.

I laughed and shook my head. I knew he was right. Everything Aubrey had done was for me, and in a way, everything I had done was for him. The old me would have never thought twice about letting a vampire sacrifice himself for Tanner. I wasn’t too sure if I liked this new me. She was emotional and annoying. “What do I do now?” I asked, hoping he would have an answer.

“Whatever you have to, to survive,” he said, like it was simple.

“Colin thinks we can stand against the vampire council and the death marshals. What do you think?” I only asked because I hoped he would say something positive and comforting, like he always seemed to do.

“I think it is going to be difficult, but if anyone can do it, you can,” he said softly.

I smiled as I leaned into him. “Thank you.”

He laughed softly. “For what?”

I sighed. “For making me feel a little less like a monster.”

“You aren’t a monster. You’re just young, and maybe a little excitable,” he said, amused.

I shoved him. “I am good at what I do,” I countered.

He laughed as he stood. “You are right. If I ever become a vampire, I will not be sticking around.”

I grinned. “I wouldn’t hurt you.”

He looked at me like as though he didn’t believe me. “I think that would depend on your mood.”

I rolled my eyes and stood as well. “I should get back. I need to get some sleep. I feel like I haven’t slept in days.”

He nodded. “I should go to. Stay out of trouble and call me if you need me,” he said, then pulled me into a hug.

I closed my eyes as I relaxed against him. “I will, I promise,” I said softly. I hated that we had to go our separate ways. I liked having Luca around when I was having a bad day. Normally I would be sleeping in his bed tonight, but things weren’t normal anymore.

Chapter 14

I woke up to the sound of the office door opening. Colin came in the room and took his usual seat behind the desk. I glanced up at the clock on the wall. It was a little after ten at night. I sat up slowly and stretched.

“I didn’t mean to wake you. I just have some things to do,” Colin said, as he sorted through papers on the desk.

“It’s fine. I needed to get up anyway,” I said as I swung my feet over the couch. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I had no clothes and no way of taking a shower. I would have to get a hotel or something. I’d crashed at the warehouse because it was easier than finding a place.

“Rumors are already starting to fly. The death marshal didn’t return, so they’ll be looking for him. Keep the guns on you and keep your eyes open. If you go near Aubrey’s club, don’t trust anyone. There are vampires that are loyal to the council everywhere,” Colin said firmly.

I smiled. He was starting to sound like Luca. Luca always worried about me. For several years I would get a huge speech from him every night before I went out hunting. “Don’t worry, I’m a big girl,” I said.

“I know that, but don’t let your confidence blind you. Stay on guard and pay attention,” he said, watching me. He wasn’t playing around. He was serious, and it worried me a little.

I stood and put the guns on, then grabbed my jacket. “I’ll check in later. I am going to find a hotel or something.”

He nodded and I walked out, leaving him to do whatever it was he did for the renegades.

 

*****

 

I parked downtown near the café and Aubrey’s club. There were a couple hotels in the area. I figured I would stay in one nearby. I hoped everyone would assume I would stay out of vampire territory. Being right in the middle of it would give me the upper hand if someone did arrive to kill me. I stepped out of my car and looked around cautiously. There wasn’t that much traffic on the street, but there was enough.

“Do you really think going into vampire territory is wise?” Aubrey asked from behind me.

I spun around and glared at him. “Do you always have to sneak up on me?” I growled.

He was standing only a few feet from me. He must have seen my car from wherever he was lurking. I wasn’t sure how else he could have known I was here. “I’m not sneaking. You just aren’t paying attention,” he said, smiling.

“I always pay attention,” I countered. His tone was slightly irritating. It was almost like he was teasing me.

His smile widened. “Then you must trust me, deep down.”

I scoffed then glanced around. Everything seemed quiet, almost too quiet. “I don’t trust anyone,” I said, then looked back at him.

He looked me over. “Why are you wearing the same clothes as last night?”

I shrugged. “I don’t have anything. Everything is at my uncle’s house. I am looking for a hotel so I can shower; then I am going to get some clothes.”

His expression darkened as he closed the gap between us. I didn’t pull away when he wrapped his arms around me. “You can bathe at my place. I am also sure I have something that will fit you.”

I was going to protest, but I didn’t have time. There was a sudden rush of cool air, and the world around me spun. We were suddenly standing in a bathroom, lit by candles. There was a huge bathtub full of bubbles. I looked at him, a little startled.

He leaned into me and pressed his lips to mine before I could speak. Part of me wanted to protest, but I remained quiet as he gently kissed me. He slid my coat off and tossed it aside. His mouth distracted me as he unclasped my holsters and set my guns aside. I could feel my cheeks burning as his mouth moved to my neck. He was right; I did trust him, even though I hated to admit it. His hands slid down my sides to my hips. He pulled me against him. His erection strained against his pants. I felt my pulse quicken at the confirmation that he wanted me. He watched me for a second; when I didn’t protest, he slid my shirt up over my head. He tossed it aside before his fingers went to the clasp on my bra. His mouth found mine again, and he kissed me aggressively as he removed my bra. I wrapped my arms around his neck, pulling him closer. I kissed him hungrily, pressing my body to his. He broke the kiss and smiled as he slowly sunk to his knees in front of me. I closed my eyes as he laid soft kisses over my belly. He unsnapped my jeans as he continued to kiss me. My body was hot; his touch was sending sensations through me that I never experienced before. He slid each off my shoes, then slid my jeans and panties down. His lips brushed my heated skin in different spots as he stood.

He smiled at me as he offered me his hand. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Being near him was so overwhelming. I took his hand, and he led me to the tub. I stepped in and sunk down into the bubbles. The water felt incredible on my already over-sensitive skin. I closed my eyes and let the feelings overwhelm me. I stiffened a little when I felt him slide in the tub next to me. I opened my eyes as he moved over me. His bare skin pressed against mine, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. His turquoise eyes were dancing with amusement. He pressed his lips to mine and teasingly kissed me. I deepened the kiss as I tangled my fingers in his silky blond hair. He suddenly broke the kiss, and I yelped in surprise when he moved forward quickly and sunk his fangs into my neck.

I gasped as the pleasure of his bite rolled over me. I closed my eyes, and a moan escaped my lips as he slowly encouraged the blood to flow. He suddenly released me and pressed his mouth to mine. The metallic taste of my blood filled my mouth, exciting me more.

He pulled away and watched me as he ran his fingers down the side of my face. He leaned into me, and I was caught in his gaze. “I have been waiting for this moment,” he whispered.

I smiled. My body was humming from the pleasure of his touch. I leaned into him and pressed my mouth to his as I ran my hands over his perfect chest. He pushed my legs apart and grabbed my ass. He pulled me closer and pushed his body forward at the same time. I cried out in surprise, breaking the kiss, as he filled me with his hard cock. He moaned in my ear, as he began to move against me. I couldn’t believe how good he felt. His mouth found mine again, and he kissed me desperately as he moved. I held onto him and moved my hips, encouraging him. My body felt like it was on fire. Every part of me that he touched was exploding with pleasure.

He sank his fangs into my breast. I cried out as pleasure from his bite came crashing over me. My orgasm was so intense I dug my nails into his back. He pressed his lips to mine, and cried out as he released. I kissed him, clinging to him as I did. He held me tightly, returning my desperate kiss.

He shifted so he I was laying on his chest. He stroked my hair with his hand. I peeked up at him. His eyes were closed, and he looked completely relaxed. It was odd; he looked so human. The thought that he wasn’t bothered me, but I quickly pushed the feeling away. I didn’t want to think about that right now. I wanted to enjoy the moment.

“Have you spoken to your family?” he asked, after a few minutes.

“No. I spoke to Luca briefly, but not my uncle. I am sure he wants nothing to do with me,” I said quietly.

“I don’t believe that. Your family cares for you. Perhaps you should just speak to them instead of assuming they want nothing to do with you,” he said softly, as he ran his fingers up and down my arm.

I sighed. “You saw the way they were looking at me. They looked at me liked I killed a fellow hunter for no reason.”

He scoffed. “They have to know everything you did was to help them,” he said quietly.

I smiled sadly. “Unfortunately, with my people, the why doesn’t matter. All that matters is what actions were taken. My actions were against my people’s laws. They won’t see it any other way.” I sat up as I spoke. Talking about it was putting me in a bad mood.

He gently kissed my shoulder. “Well, if it makes any difference, I am glad you decided to fight for me.”

I closed my eyes and leaned into him. I wasn’t really sure what I was fighting for. I hated to admit that I cared for Aubrey, but I did. The fact that he was a vampire would continually haunt me, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do about it. I was suddenly very uncomfortable at the thought. I hated it when my heart interfered with my mind. I made irrational decisions because of it. “I should go. I need to check in with a few people,” I said softly as I stood. I was making excuses; I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t want to upset him, but I had already gone too far with him.

He made no move to get out of the tub. He just watched me as I dried off. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking, and it drove me insane. “How many times are you going to run from me before you realize you and I are perfect together?” he asked softly. He didn’t sound angry, but he didn’t sound happy, either.

I looked at him, then quickly looked away. His eyes made me nervous. I felt like he could see right through me. “I’m not running. I just have things to do. Do you have clothes for me?” I wasn’t trying to brush him off. I just didn’t want to argue.

“On the bed,” he said curtly.

I grabbed my guns and walked out, leaving him in the tub. I had a feeling he was in a mood now. I hadn’t intentionally tried to make him angry, but it seemed like I was good at annoying people lately.

 

*****

As I finished up dressing, he walked out wearing nothing but a towel. My eyes skirted his body. I felt myself flush. He was a beautiful creature. His skin was pale, like it was made of marble. His hair and eyes were gorgeous with his complexion. The thought of the feelings he’d given me earlier made my cheeks burn. No one I had ever been with made me feel the way he did. He smiled like he knew I was checking him out. I quickly looked back at what I was doing, a little embarrassed that he caught me staring.

“You know you don’t have to leave. I am more than willing to take you to bed so you can look me over more thoroughly,” he teased, as he poured himself a drink.

I smiled at his suggestion. It actually didn’t sound like such a bad idea, but I was getting antsy. “I should go find out what is going on,” I said, making an excuse.

Before he could respond there was a loud knock on the door. “Come in,” he said, then took a sip of his drink. The female vampire I ran into before came in the room. She saw me and her expression darkened. “Do you need something, Ann Marie?” he growled.

Her gaze shifted to him, and she fidgeted nervously. “There was an attack in the alley. The vampire got away, but we have the man that was attacked in the other room.”

The way she glanced at me made me nervous. I was beginning to think she was leaving something out specifically because I was there. “Who is he?” I asked, before Aubrey could respond.

She glanced at him nervously, and he nodded, as if he was giving her permission to speak. “It’s that FBI agent you were here with the other night.”

I felt the blood drain from my face. I didn’t know why he would have come here again without me being with him. “Take me to him,” I said, trying to keep my tone even. I was worried that he was seriously hurt, and the way she was acting made me think he was.

She glanced at Aubrey again. It annoyed me. He nodded, and she turned and walked out. I followed her down the hall, and Aubrey trailed behind me. She held the door to one of the rooms for me. I walked in, even though I was terrified that what I would see would be horrible.

Nick was lying on the bed, unconscious. There was blood everywhere. Whoever went after him had gone for his throat. There was an older female vampire in the room. She was beautiful and elegantly dressed. His wounds were healing, so I guessed she gave him her blood. For a human, that wasn’t the ideal situation. Vampires could easily sway and manipulate humans, especially when a human took blood from one.

“Do you know who did this?” I asked Ann Marie, as I went to Nick and felt his wrist for a pulse. It was weak, but it was there.

“I believe it was a death marshal. At least, that was what he muttered before he lost consciousness,” the older female vampire said instead of allowing Ann Marie to answer.

“Who are you?” I asked, trying not to sound too rude. I was getting really upset. If another death marshal had already shown up, things were going to get bad fast.

“My name is Victoria, and you should mind your tone. You are in enemy territory,” she growled.

Before I could reply, Aubrey cut in. “She is not, and if anyone attempts to harm her they will find themselves in enemy territory.”

She glared at him as though she wanted to argue, but held her tongue. “Is he going to be okay?” I asked her.

She nodded. “In a few hours.”

“I am going to find whoever did this,” I said angrily, as I walked out of the room. I had my hands clenched again. It was almost an automatic response whenever I felt like my anger was getting the best of me.

“Is your plan to kill every single one of them?” Aubrey asked, as he followed me out into the hall.

I turned around and glared at him. “Do you have a problem with that?” I asked angrily.

He watched me for a minute before speaking. “I have a problem with the fact that you think you are invincible. You are going to get yourself killed.”

I scoffed. “I don’t really care, as long as I kill as many vampires as possible before I’m dead.” I turned to walk away from him. He made me angry. He acted like I was being unreasonable.

He caught me by my wrist and pulled me roughly against him. “I won’t let you kill yourself,” he growled.

“How are you going to stop me?” I countered.

He watched me for a minute. His expression was cold and blank. “You want the vampire that killed your parents, right?”

I looked at him, startled. “Of course I do.” I had a horrible feeling he’d known who it was all this time, and he hadn’t said anything.

“I am that vampire. So kill me, and stop your suicidal crusade,” he said simply.

I watched him horrified. I felt like I’d had the breath knocked out of me. I couldn’t move or speak.

I stood staring at Aubrey. Normally my first instinct would have been to attack, but I was frozen. I couldn’t even process what he said. “What did you say?” I asked again as my mouth went dry. I felt my anger boiling just below the surface.

“I said if you want someone to blame, blame me. I am the reason your parents are dead,” he said just as smoothly as he had before.

I realized he was still holding my wrist, and yanked it free of his grasp. He didn’t respond; he just watched me. “I don’t believe you,” I said softly. I couldn’t believe him. Part of me refused to believe he had anything to do with my parent’s death.

His expression darkened. “Why do you not believe me? If a vampire said he killed your parents I would expect you to do something about it,” he said angrily.

I backed away from him. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t tell if he was telling the truth or not. I didn’t really know why it even mattered. The old me wouldn’t have even questioned him.

He watched me, and I could tell he was confused. He’d expected me to attack. “What are you waiting for?” he growled, stepping toward me.

I didn’t speak. I couldn’t. I didn’t know what I was waiting for.

He shoved me back against the wall and glared at me. His face was inches from my own. “I should kill you, just like I killed them,” he said angrily.

I looked into his brilliant turquoise eyes. I’d never felt so lost. I didn’t believe him. I refused to believe he had any part in my parent’s deaths. I didn’t know why I was so determined to believe he hadn’t done what he was claiming.

“Damn it, say something to me,” he growled, as he pressed his body to mine. He was inches from my face. I fought the urge to kiss him.

“You’re a liar,” I said softly.

His expression changed to relief. He pressed his lips to mine, kissing me aggressively. I was confused, but I returned his kiss. I didn’t understand why he would claim my parent’s murder. “Why would you say something like that to me?” I asked, after I broke the kiss.

He looked at me for a moment, then looked away. “I wanted to know if you trusted me.”

I ran my fingers down his cheek. “I trust you too much,” I said softly. I gave him a quick, chaste kiss on the lips, and slipped out of his arms. I hoped I wasn’t misjudging him; it would be a huge mistake. “Please keep Nick safe,” I said quietly, then walked down the hall toward the exit.

*****

Normally I felt better once I left Aubrey’s club, but for some reason I didn’t feel as safe as I had when I was with him. I knew there was a death marshal somewhere, and I guessed he was looking for me. I saw blood on the ground not far from the clubs entrance. I knew it was Nick’s blood. The marshal was watching the club. He knew I was here, and he had to be waiting for me. A scuffling noise to my right caught my attention. I turned and pinned a hooded figure to the brick wall.

“Rayne, it’s me!” Tanner squeaked, startled by my sudden movement.

I yanked his hood back, and he smiled apologetically. “Why are you running around when there is a marshal somewhere?” I asked angrily. Sometimes Tanner didn’t think, and it was annoying.

He shrugged. “I was just trying to find you. I wanted to make sure you were okay,” he said quietly.

I released him and scanned the area. There was no one in sight, but I still had the odd feeling that someone was watching me. “It’s not safe,” I growled.

He shoved his hands in his pockets and shifted nervously. “I know, but I wanted to come thank you. I know my parents wouldn’t save me over protecting our people.”

I watched him for a minute, not sure what to say. He was right. My uncle was all about the survival of his people. The people I loved, like Tanner and, as much as I hated to admit it, Aubrey, were the most important peopl to me. “You should go back home,” I said softly and turned away.

Tanner caught my arm, and I looked at him. “Rayne…” he started, but trailed off.

“What is it?” I asked as I watched him. He looked like he was trying to decide whether he should speak. He obviously wanted to say something.

He dropped his hand and shook his head. “Just don’t trust anyone,” he said softly.

Before I could ask him what he meant he turned and hurried toward the alley opening. I turned to look back at the club. Before I completely turned I was being thrown against the wall. The impact knocked the air from my lungs. I slid to the ground, disoriented. A figure appeared in front of me, and I knew it was the marshal. He had the same necklace as the last one. He was also handsome, just like every other male vampire I’d met. His hair was dark brown and curly. It was short, and went well with his green eyes. He was wearing a black leather trench coat and black leather pants. Like most vampires, his clothing was expensive.

“Well, this is disappointing. I thought you would put up more of a fight,” he said, amused.

I smiled as I climbed slowly to my feet. “You know what the difference between a hunter and a vampire is?”

He looked slightly intrigued by my sudden question. “Do tell.”

I brushed myself off and looked at him. “A hunter wouldn’t take a cheap shot when a vampire’s back was turned.”

His smile widened. “That rule doesn’t apply to all hunters. I did, however, hear that you are one of the more honorable ones, as some would call it.”

“What would you call it?” I asked, trying to distract him with conversation. I slowly moved my hand behind my back and grasped the wooden stake I had hidden there.

“I call it gullible and weak. You are going to end up dead because of your so-called honor,” he growled.

I looked at him, confused. I didn’t understand why he was talking to me like he was warning me. I was under the impression he was here to kill me. “Try; you will find I am not as gullible and weak as you think.”

“I’m not here to kill you, Lillian. If I were, you would be dead,” he said, amused.

I scoffed. “Well, I’ll kill you regardless. You are a marshal, and you are in my territory.”

He tilted his head and watched me as if he was contemplating something. He was extremely odd, for a marshal. “Your father wasn’t so quick to kill. Maybe you are not as honorable as you think.”

“You attacked my friend,” I countered, as I stepped forward.

He looked a little confused. “I just got here. I didn’t harm anyone.”

“What the hell do you want?” I asked, brushing him off. It wasn’t like I could prove he did it. If he had, he would have been gloating, not denying it.

“I want an agreement between us,” he said, watching me.

I scowled. “I will never agree with anything the vampire council or the marshals have to say.”

He crossed his arms like he was getting annoyed with me. “I want a truce between you and the marshals. The marshals are working on revolting against the council. You are stirring things up and causing chaos. The marshals cannot focus on fighting the council if we are worried about being taken out by an over-eager hunter.”

I laughed. “The marshals are suddenly worried about the council? Why? The council gives you free reign.”

His expression darkened. “It is vampire business, not hunter business. All I need from you is to lay low. Let me make the council think you died. The alert will go down, and we can get back to our plans.”

“Why would I want the marshals in charge? The council keeps you in line. Even though it isn’t much, it is still something,” I said.

He stepped forward, and I saw annoyance glint in his eyes, like he trying to decide whether he wanted to kill me or not. “Like you, I am sworn to a higher power. My higher power has lost its way, as yours has, of late. I refuse to ignore it. The council will fall whether you cooperate or not. If you do not cooperate, more people will die – I can promise you that.”

I watched him for a minute. I didn’t know what to say. I was afraid he was being honest, and I didn’t want to get my people hurt. I also didn’t trust a death marshal to keep his word. “What guarantee do I have that you are not lying?”

“You don’t get a guarantee. There are no guarantees,” he said angrily, as he stepped forward again.

“I wouldn’t,” Drake said from behind the marshal. I hadn’t even heard him approach. I was too distracted by the marshal’s presence; caught off guard, he was obviously distracted by mine.

The marshal turned so he was able to keep his eyes on me and Drake. “You have no business here, wolf,” the vampire growled. He was clearly used to dealing with werewolves.

Several other werewolves stepped out of the shadows. There had to be at least twenty of them, and I hadn’t heard any of them approach. The thought was a little unnerving. “Who are you to say what wolf business is, and what isn’t?” Drake asked, amused.

The marshal glanced at me, then looked around. He was in a tight spot. “So this is how it works now? Hunters in league with werewolves.”

“First off, I am no longer a hunter, so you will not get a truce with the hunters through me. Second, is it really so hard to believe that werewolves and hunters can coexist?” I asked, feeling a little braver now that I had backup.

The marshal glared at me. “Why are you even a concern if you are not part of the hunters? They said you killed a marshal on hunter’s orders,” he said, annoyed.

I laughed. “You know better than that. The hunters are scared of marshals. I killed that marshal because I wanted him dead. He threatened someone I love, so he paid. You will, too, if you do not leave my city now.”

He watched me for a minute as his expression darkened. “You are a renegade, like your father,” he growled.

“My father was a good man,” I said defensively. He acted as though my father was a horrible person.

“Your father was a troublemaker. He brought havoc. I don’t suggest you follow in his footsteps,” the marshal growled.

“Let’s just kill him,” Drake said, and moved forward.

The marshal stiffened, preparing for a fight. “No,” I said softly. Drake looked at me, startled. He was prepared to attack. Even the marshal looked surprised and confused. “You may leave. Don’t come back,” I growled, and pushed past him. He wasn’t the marshal that hurt Nick. I wasn’t sure how I knew, I just had a feeling that he wasn’t.

“Rayne, we can’t…” Drake started.

“We will not just kill. We are not animals. That is what separates us from them. Let him leave,” I ordered, cutting him off.

Drake pressed his lips together as though he wanted to argue, but he decided against it. I continued on my way. I needed to go back to the warehouse. I wanted to know what other information I could find on my parents. There were so many different stories and opinions, it was getting confusing. I didn’t know who I should and shouldn’t trust.

Chapter 15

I sat flipping through my father’s journal. Colin watched me, but he hadn’t spoken. It had been a few hours since my encounter with the marshal. He should have been long gone by now.

Colin cleared his throat; he was finally going to speak. “Drake said you let a marshal go.”

“I did,” I said absently, as I focused on the journal.

“Do you think that was a good idea?” he asked. He didn’t sound accusing. If anything, he sounded like he was just trying to understand.

“He had no intention of attacking, unless provoked. I wasn’t going to kill him for no reason,” I said, trying not to sound annoyed.

“He would have killed you for no reason if Drake hadn’t shown up when he did,” he countered.

I glanced up at him for a minute, then looked back at the journal. “He wanted a truce. He said the marshals are trying to overthrow the council.” I didn’t elaborate; I didn’t have anything to add. I was still a little confused about the whole thing. I was hoping my father’s journal would offer some guidance, but so far it hadn’t.

“How do you know he wasn’t lying?” Colin asked, as he sat up straighter.

I shrugged. “He had the element of surprise. He could have hurt or killed me, but he decided to talk instead. I don’t think he would have done that just to lie.”

“I don’t understand why you didn’t just kill him,” he said quietly.

I sighed impatiently as I stood, and tossed the book onto the couch. “Just randomly killing isn’t going to solve anything. I don’t know who to trust or what to do.”

He leaned back in his chair and watched me. “I suggest you do just what you are doing. Trust your instincts. They haven’t been wrong so far.”

I nodded and grabbed my coat. “I need some fresh air,” I said, as I put my coat on and walked out of the office. I didn’t feel like trying to come up with answers that I didn’t have.

 

*****

 

The air was cool, and I could smell the water. I wound my way through the warehouses to the riverbanks. It was a huge river that went to the ocean. There were a few ships here and there, passing by.

“I can’t seem to get out of this fucking town,” a familiar voice said.

I spun around and faced the same death marshal I had run into outside the club. He was beat up and bleeding heavily. “Who attacked you?” I asked, looking around. If someone could do that much damage to a marshal, I wanted to see him coming.

“Another marshal,” he said, through gritted teeth, as he collapsed to his knees.

“Where is he?” I asked, looking around. I was on guard, now. I had a feeling there was another marshal, but he hadn’t shown himself to me.

“Don’t worry, he’s dead,” he said softly, watching me.

I looked at him. I didn’t know what to do. He was injured and vulnerable. No one liked the death marshals. I wanted to be heartless and walk away, but I couldn’t. “Do you need help?” I asked, as I moved toward him.

He smiled weakly. “It would be appreciated,” he said through gritted teeth.

I helped him up and supported him as we walked back toward the warehouse. I was guessing the other marshal had followed me. Maybe this guy had, too. “What is your name?” I asked, deciding it was time I found out.

“Justin,” he said, quietly.

I stopped a couple warehouses over from my car. I didn’t want to lead him straight to the renegades. I was going to take him to Aubrey. Aubrey would know what to do. Colin would freak out. “Stay here. I am going to get my car,” I said quietly.

I left him and hurried over to my car. It was close to dawn, so everyone was inside. I didn’t have to answer any questions, which was a relief. I pulled up to where I’d left Justin. I got out and helped him into the car.

I drove toward the club. Justin was paler than normal, and he was still bleeding. He was going to have to feed soon. I definitely wasn’t going to allow him to feed on me. I picked up my phone and dialed Aubrey.

“This is a surprise. What can I do for you, Lillian?” he asked softly. He sounded a little annoyed, and I knew I wasn’t going to make him any happier.

“I need a favor,” I said as I tried to focus on the road and figure out what I was going to say.

“What would that be?” he asked dryly.

“I found an injured vampire. Well, he found me. He is going to need blood, and a place to sleep,” I said quietly.

He didn’t speak for a moment. “Who is he?” he finally asked.

I glanced at Justin, trying to decide what to say. Justin looked at me, amused. I reached over and pulled his necklace off. He glared at me as if he was about to protest, but I shot him a warning look. If they didn’t see it, they wouldn’t know what he was. “He’s new in town. He’s nobody, as far as I can tell,” I said to Aubrey, as I shoved the necklace in my coat pocket.

“Fine, I will take him for a night or two,” he said simply, then hung up. I hung the phone up and shoved it back in my pocket.

“You really think Aubrey is that stupid?” Justin asked, amused.

I shook my head. “I am hoping he is that trusting. If he refuses to help you, then you’re on your own. I won’t bring you near my people.”

“Which people are those – the hunters, or your new found friends, the renegades?” He sounded like he disapproved when he asked the question.

“I don’t understand why it matters. You are a damn marshal. You can’t really claim you know right from wrong,” I said dryly.

He looked out the window, but didn’t speak. I pulled into the alley so no one would see me get the beaten and bloody man out and call law enforcement. I helped him toward the club entrance. He was getting weaker, heavier.

I walked into the club, and the room quieted. “I am guessing you don’t save vampires often,” Justin said.

I smiled. “No, I don’t make a habit of it.” I spotted Aubrey. He signaled for two male vampires to take over for me. They carried Justin off to the back. I hoped he wouldn’t start any problems. I would feel horrible if he did; I was the one who had brought him here.

Aubrey approached me slowly. After everything that had happened between us, I wasn’t sure what to say to him. He stopped just in front of me. Suddenly, he stepped forward and pressed his lips to mine. “You have to quit hiding things from me. Tell me who he is,” he pleaded.

I looked at him, but I didn’t speak. He would probably deny Justin help, maybe even kill him. I didn’t want to take the chance. Having something of an ally in the marshals might be helpful. “I’m sorry, it is your turn to trust me,” I said softly. I turned to walk away, but he caught my hand. I looked back at him, and I could see the anger in his eyes.

“You have to let me help you. You cannot fight this war on your own,” he said quietly.

“It’s not your war,” I said quietly before I pulled away. I walked back toward the exit. I couldn’t stay here with Aubrey, even though I wanted to. I had too much to figure out. I needed to go back to the warehouse and see if I could find anything else in the journal.

Chapter 16

I woke up when the door to the office slammed. I was so startled I rolled off the couch and landed on the floor with a hard thud. I looked up at Colin and Aubrey glaring down at me. I guessed someone had told them about Justin. Maybe Justin ratted himself out.

“What now,” I groaned. It felt like I had just fallen asleep, and they were already bothering me.

“You saved a death marshal? What the hell were you thinking?” Colin growled.

“Saving him is beside the point. You brought him into my coven, and didn’t tell me!” Aubrey growled.

I sighed as I sat up. “He isn’t going to hurt anyone, unless you attempt to hurt him. Where is he now?”

“The same place he was before, in my coven. I told everyone not to confront him. I don’t want their deaths on my hands,” Aubrey snapped.

“This wasn’t a very good idea, Lillian. You are making some pretty irrational choices,” Colin said firmly.

I stood and glared at them both. “He is a vampire, plain and simple. If you trust him right off then you’re fucking idiots. And you are the one who recruited me, Colin. If you don’t want to do things my way, I’ll walk away.”

“How is it you kill one marshal and not another? What is so different about him?” Colin asked, sounding confused.

“He wants a truce. He doesn’t want to kill us. He was hurt fighting the marshal that hurt Nick. If he hadn’t fought him I would have, so in a way he saved me a lot of trouble. So just help him out until he is well enough to move on!” I yelled, tired of explaining myself. I was tired of everyone looking at me like I was insane. I didn’t understand why they insisted on following me if they thought I was irrational. They all needed to just leave me alone. I stormed out, determined to get away from both of them. I was tired of the accusing looks and the harsh tones. I barely understood why I was making these decisions. I couldn’t explain it to them.

“You don’t get to just keep running away. Tell us your grand plan!” Aubrey yelled as he followed me.

I stopped and turned around. He almost ran into me. “I don’t have a grand plan. Don’t you get it? It’s called winging it and hoping it works out! I don’t know what else to do!”

He looked at me, a little startled. He acted like he thought I had it all put together. I really had no clue. I was at a complete loss. I didn’t know who I should trust, and who I shouldn’t. Like Colin said, all I could do was trust my instincts. “You are telling the truth, aren’t you? You really have no plan,” he said softly.

“I don’t have a plan. All I have is hope that somehow this huge mess will work itself out,” I said, then turned and kept walking toward the exit. I needed to see Luca. He was the only one I was positive I could trust.

*****

 

I pulled up to the entrance of my uncle’s gate. I was sure the gate codes had been changed once I left. I hit the intercom button. “Who is it?” Damon said. I inwardly groaned. He was watching the gate, and I would never get past him without a fight. He was too much of a dick.

“You know who it is, Damon,” I said impatiently.

“Ah, if it isn’t the traitorous bitch,” he said, mockingly.

“I’m not a traitor. If you knew anything about me, you would know that. I need to speak with Luca,” I said, annoyed.

“You know how it works. I will have to search you and escort you from the gate. Park out of the way and wait for me,” he said. The intercom clicked off.

I rolled my eyes. He was going to make things difficult. I parked and took all my weapons off, then stepped out of the car.

I stood and leaned against my trunk as I watched Damon approach. He stepped out of the gate and grinned at me. “Turn around and place your hands on the trunk. I’ll search you, then escort you inside,” he said amused.

I wanted to argue, but decided against it. I wanted to talk to Luca. I would just have to put up with Damon. I sighed and did what he said. His hands started on my lower back. He wasn’t really searching me. It was more like he was feeling me up. “Is this necessary?” I asked, annoyed.

He laughed, then nuzzled my ear. “For me it is,” he whispered, as he cupped my ass.

I’d had enough. I shoved my elbow backwards into his stomach. He doubled over and stumbled backwards as I knocked the air out of him. I walked past him and slipped in the gate.

“Damn it, Lillian, I will shoot you if you don’t stop,” he growled, as he pulled out a gun.

I turned and looked at him. He had it pointed at my chest. My eyes went from the gun to his face. “You are going to have to kill me,” I said softly, then turned and continued walking toward the house.

I took the steps two at a time. Damon was close on my heels He hadn’t shot me yet, so I assumed he wasn’t going to. I walked into the house without knocking. Luca and Kai were standing in the entranceway, talking. Luca looked surprised to see me.

“Luca, I need to talk to you in private,” I said quietly.

“She barged in. I tried to search her,” Damon said, sounding apologetic.

“You tried to grope me,” I countered.

Luca smiled and waved me toward him. “I trust Lillian with my life,” Luca said, smiling.

“I am not so sure that is a good idea anymore,” Kai warned.

I wanted to argue, but Luca cut in. “She is a good person and a hunter. You two would do well to learn that. Come on, Lillian, we can talk in my room, where I am sure we won’t be overheard.”

I followed him up the stairs to his bedroom. Once we were inside, he closed the door behind us. “Your uncle will not be happy that you are here,” he said softly, as he took a seat on his bed.

“I don’t care. I needed to talk to you. I am confused. I don’t know who to trust. Every time I think something is one way, something happens that changes that,” I said, as I paced in front of him.

“You are smart, Lillian. You will figure it all out,” he said softly.

“What if I don’t? What if I just get everyone killed?” I asked, worried, as I ran my hands through my hair.

He watched me for a minute before speaking. “It is part of being a leader. You have to make the hard decisions. Sometimes those decisions are good ones, and sometimes they aren’t. All you can do is rely on your instincts.”

I sighed and sat down in a chair across from him. “Everyone keeps saying that. The few times I did follow my instincts, I managed to piss someone off.”

“Then you are doing a good job,” he said, amused.

I looked up at him, confused; he was smiling. “What do you mean?”

He stood up and walked over to me. He knelt in front of me and took my hands. “Not everyone is going to like your choices, Lily. You have to just make the choice and see it through. In the end, they will see what you did was for the best. You cannot worry about pleasing anyone. You just have to do what you have to.”

I looked at him for a few minutes. Maybe he was right. I just had to make decisions and see them through. “Maybe you’re right,” I muttered, as I looked away.

He smiled and brushed my hair out of my face. “I’m always right,” he teased.

I laughed and shook my head. Maybe he was always right. I knew he was the rational one. I looked at him, suddenly realizing how close he was to me. He was too close, but I didn’t know what to do. I remembered how I felt when I used to look at him, but they weren’t there anymore. Not like they used to be. I loved him, but as a friend. My heart belonged to someone else.

Before I could speak, he pressed his lips to mine. I felt my pulse quicken, but it wasn’t in excitement; it was in fear. I didn’t want to hurt him, but I didn’t care for him like that, at least not anymore.

I pulled away from him, breaking the kiss. I looked down, unable to meet his gaze. “It’s too late, isn’t it?” he asked sadly.

I looked at him, unsure. His expression told me everything. It was too late for us. He was with Kate, and I had feelings for Aubrey. “I’m sorry,” I said softly.

He smiled tightly and stood, moving away from me. “Don’t be. I knew better. I saw how you look at Aubrey. I never stood a chance.”

I opened my mouth to protest, but closed it almost immediately. My protests would only make things worse. I stood nervously and smiled. “I’ll go. If you ever need me, I am around. Just let me know,” I said quietly.

He nodded as he turned away from me and looked out the window. “Be careful out there,” he said softly.

I nodded, then hurried out of his room. I hurried downstairs, then hesitated when my uncle came through the front door. He looked as startled to see me as I was to see him. He looked around quickly, like he was looking either for backup or to see if I’d brought anyone.

“Lillian, what are you doing here?” he asked softly.

“I needed to talk to Luca. Don’t worry, I am leaving,” I said, as I continued down the stairs.

“No, wait. Perhaps we could talk,” he said quickly.

I looked at him, a little confused. “I guess so.”

He nodded and walked toward his office. I followed him. I thought it was odd that he wanted to talk to me. I’d thought he was angry. When my uncle casts someone out, he doesn’t give them a second chance.

He closed the door to his office, then started making himself a drink. “Do you want a drink?” he asked.

“Yeah, sure,” I said softly. I could use one to calm my nerves. My uncle’s behavior was a little odd, and it made me nervous.

He finished making the drinks, then handed me one. I downed the drink and the burning liquor calmed my nerves. He took a seat behind his desk and looked at me. “There is word that there are marshals around town. Do you know anything about it?”

“I know there was at least one. He is dead now,” I said quietly.

My uncle’s expression darkened. “Did you kill him?”

I was a little confused by his anger. I didn’t understand why he cared whether the death marshals lived or died. I shook my head. “He was killed by another vampire. It had nothing to do with me.” It wasn’t exactly the truth, but it wasn’t a lie, either.

My uncle sighed impatiently and stood. “You should never have gotten involved with the renegades. They are dangerous. They have these insane ideals that…”

“That my father had,” I finished for him.

“Your father started a war. Luckily, it ended with his death. There could have been so many more casualties,” he spat.

I stood abruptly, and the room started to spin. I stumbled backwards and looked at my uncle, confused. There was something wrong, but he didn’t seem surprised. Then I remembered the drink. “You drugged me,” I said, struggling for breath.

“I’m sorry, but I see you going down the same path as your father. I cannot let that happen,” he said softly.

I turned to run, but the room was spinning. I made it to the door, but I couldn’t focus enough to find the handle. I fell to my knees and attempted to steady myself, but the darkness quickly overtook me.

Chapter 17

I woke up slowly. I shifted and winced. My arms were tied behind me. They weren’t just cuffed; my shoulders were pulled back because my arms were tied so tightly. It was so dimly lit I had to blink a couple times. My legs were bound as well. I was basically hogtied, just sitting up. The room I was in was windowless and barren. It had to be a dungeon or basement of some kind. I tried to wiggle out of my bindings, but it was pointless.

“You aren’t going to get out of them,” Justin said, from beside me.

I hadn’t noticed him before, but he was sitting next to me. He was restrained next to me. He was beaten and bloody again. Obviously they had caught up with him. “Why are you here?” I asked, feeling a little out of it.

He looked at me, then looked away. “Betraying my position. What do you think?” he growled.

“I’m sorry,” I said softly. I couldn’t help but feel a little responsible.

He scoffed. “You have your own problems. Word on the street is your uncle turned you over to the council,” he said, amused.

I sighed as the memory of what had happened in my uncle’s office came back to me. “Where are we?” I asked quietly.

He coughed and winced as if he was in pain. “The council’s headquarters.”

I looked over at him. He had a silver steak sticking through his chest. It wouldn’t kill him, but it would sicken him and make him weak. I shifted and scooted toward him. “What are you doing?” he asked quietly.

“I am going to get the stake out. Maybe you can regain your strength and get free,” I said quietly.

He smiled. “How are you going to manage that when you are tied up?”

“I will figure it out,” I said, as I wiggled towards him. He made a noise when I moved up onto his lap. I moved a little more and he groaned. “You know, if the circumstances were different, I might ask you out,” he said, amused.

I smiled and shook my head. “You are ridiculous. I suggest you get ready for this.”

“Ready,” he said through gritted teeth.

I wrapped my hands around the stake and threw myself forward. He groaned in pain as the stake came free. I cussed as I fell forward off him. I landed on my face, then rolled so I was looking up at the ceiling. I was trying to catch my breath.

“This doesn’t really feel much better. I am just bleeding out,” he muttered.

I looked over at him. I didn’t really want to offer, but I needed him to get his strength back. He was the only chance I had to get away. “Bite me,” I said quietly.

He opened his eyes and looked at me. He looked like he wanted to take my offer, but he hesitated. “I don’t have very much control. I might like it too much.”

“This is our only chance, unless you are okay with dying here,” I said softly.

He smiled. “Just admit you are into me, and I might consider giving you what you want,” he said.

I rolled my eyes and sighed. He was going to make things difficult. “Whatever; I was just trying to help,” I muttered

He pushed himself forward and rolled so he was on his stomach over me. I looked at him. He was inches from my face. “You smell really good,” he said playfully.

I rolled my eyes. “Stop making this difficult. Just get it over with so we can get out of here,” I said as I looked away, exposing my neck.

He didn’t speak, he just buried his face in my neck. I gritted my teeth as he sank his fangs into my neck. He groaned as my blood filled his mouth. Time seemed to slow down, and I felt my mind start to cloud. I started to feel weak. He was taking a lot of blood. He finally rolled away from me, and laid still with his eyes closed.

“Hey, you are supposed to be better,” I said, trying to get used to the room spinning.

He gave me a lazy smile. I saw him flex his muscles, and the ropes binding him broke. He got his legs free and came to me. He untied the ropes binding me. I stretched my arms while he untied my legs. He knelt next to me and smiled. “Can you walk?” he asked, as he brushed my hair aside.

His touch was a little too intimate for me. “I’m fine,” I muttered, as I quickly sat up, climbing to my feet. I used the wall to steady myself when the room began to spin again.

He placed his hands on my hips to steady me. “Here, take my blood,” he said quietly. He bit his wrist and offered it to me.

I didn’t really want to take his blood, but I needed my strength. It was going to be one hell of a fight to get free. I pressed his wrist to my mouth and drank slowly. When I felt my strength return I released his arm. “Where are we, exactly?” I asked, as I walked toward the door.

“My guess is the dungeon below the council’s headquarters. We are actually not far from where you live,” he said, as he came to stand next to me.

“Well, we might as well see how far we can get. I don’t see any guards,” I said softly, as I slowly opened the door.

“They were so arrogant they didn’t consider we might work together,” Justin said, as he followed me out the door and up a flight of stairs.

“That’s good for us, I suppose,” I said, as I put my hand on the next door handle.

He touched my hand to stop me. He pressed his finger to his lips. I remained in place and waited. He started moving again. He opened the door, and we stepped into a hallway. He took the lead, and I followed. He was moving quickly, but remained being quiet and cautious.

The sound of voices around the corner made Justin freeze. He pushed me into a nearby closet, then followed me in. He closed the door behind us. The closet was so small our bodies were pressed together. I was extremely uncomfortable, but he seemed to be enjoying it.

“This isn’t funny,” I whispered.

“It is actually quite amusing,” he said, grinning.

I rolled my eyes and attempted to look away, but it was difficult with him so close to me. I could hear the voices just outside the door. I was trying to focus on them, but I was still a little disoriented, and Justin’s presence was distracting.

“What does he plan to do with them?” a male voice said from the other side.

“He is going to turn the hunter, and kill Justin. Justin killed another marshal. There are rumors he is attempting to lead the marshals against the council,” a female voice responded.

The man scoffed. “You cannot turn a hunter. All Cornelius is going to do is start more of a war. He will give the hunters more reason to fight.”

“It has been done before. Hopefully she will just die, and it will be over with,” the woman snapped, and walked away. I could hear her high heels on the stone floor as she retreated. The male obviously followed.

Justin opened the door and peeked out. When it was clear, he stepped out. I followed, and we made our way down the hall again.

“Going somewhere?” a male voice said from behind us.

Justin spun around and quickly stepped in front of me. “We are leaving. We don’t want any problems,” Justin said firmly.

The vampire smiled. He didn’t seem to be threatened at all. Justin let out a cry of agony and collapsed to his knees. He was holding his head in his hands. The vampire was hurting him somehow. “Stop!” I yelled, as I ran at the vampire.

He moved with blurring speed and pinned me to the wall by my throat. Justin quit screaming, but he was still on the ground. The vampire looked me over, then met my angry gaze. “I have to say, you are everything you were made out to be,” he said, smiling.

“Who the hell are you?” I managed to choke out from under his iron grip. He was an incredibly gorgeous man. His turquoise eyes reminded me of Aubrey. He looked eerily similar to Aubrey. His hair was a little darker, but not much.

“My name is Cornelius, and you have been killing my marshals,” he growled.

I looked at him, confused, as I attempted to loosen his grip. “Are you the head of the council?”

His smile widened. “I am the council, my dear, and you, like your father, are standing in my way.”

“In the way of what?” I growled, as I tried to struggle against him. I noticed Justin was slowly getting to his feet. I had to keep this guy distracted. It would give Justin time to attack.

“In the way of my rule. You are giving the hunters, werewolves, and vampires ideas. Ideas that will cause them to revolt against me. I do not take kindly to this,” he hissed, as he shoved me back again, jarring me.

Justin moved to attack, but Cornelius was faster. He looked at Justin, and Justin went flying back into the wall. He collapsed, unconscious. I was on my own now. I recoiled and caught Cornelius with a punch to the jaw. He stumbled back. He looked genuinely startled that I’d even attempted to hit him. He lunged at me, and I dodged him.

He rushed me again, and I caught him in the stomach with a kick. He doubled over, then lunged at me again. He was too quick for me this time. He pinned me to the wall. He went for my throat and I was helpless.

“Cornelius, wait.” Aubrey’s voice rang out from behind us.

Cornelius quickly turned, releasing me. I slid to the floor, trying to catch my breath. “Brother, there you are,” Cornelius said smiling, as he walked toward Aubrey.

“It has been a long time,” Aubrey said softly, remaining a gentleman.

I sat still, watching their interaction. I wasn’t really too sure what I should do. Aubrey glanced at me, and it was enough to catch Cornelius’s interest. Cornelius’s expression darkened, and he was back on me in an instant. He pinned me to the wall by my throat and glared at Aubrey. “This is the reason you are here? A hunter!” he yelled, glaring at Aubrey.

I couldn’t breathe. I looked at Aubrey, terrified. “Don’t hurt her,” Aubrey pleaded, as he stepped forward.

“I should break her neck,” Cornelius growled, as he pressed against my throat. It felt like he was going to crush my delicate bones.

“What is it you want?” Aubrey asked as he hesitated, obviously fearing Cornelius would follow through.

Cornelius smiled. “I want you to prove that you are faithful to me. Kill him.” Cornelius said, as he nodded toward Justin.

I protested and struggled, and Cornelius tightened his grip. “She can only go without oxygen for so long. The clock is ticking.”

I looked at Aubrey, terrified. I didn’t want him to kill Justin, but I didn’t want to die, either. “This is between you and me, Cornelius. Leave the others out of this,” Aubrey snapped.

Cornelius thought about it for a minute, then released me. I gasped as I slid to the floor. “Fine. Whoever wins gets the hunter,” Cornelius said, amused.

Aubrey looked at me, unsure, then looked back at Cornelius and nodded. “Agreed. If I lose, you get to do what you want with her. I won’t question it.”

“I am not yours to give away,” I said angrily, as I climbed to my feet. I couldn’t believe he was agreeing to something like that. Either he had a grand plan, or he was sure he couldn’t lose.

“Hush, darling. You have a slight chance of making it out alive with my dear brother. A very slight chance,” Cornelius said, amused. Before Aubrey could speak, Cornelius attacked. Cornelius was fast, but Aubrey was able to gain his footing and fend him off. Someone grabbed my arm, startling me a little.

“We need to go,” Justin said, sounding like he was still in a slight amount of pain.

“We can’t leave. He is going to hurt Aubrey,” I said, as I looked back at the fight raging not far from us.

“Look, we don’t want to be a part of this. Cornelius is fast and mean. He will kill Aubrey, then you. We need to leave now,” he growled impatiently.

I pulled my arm out of his grasp. “If you want to run I won’t fault you, but I am going to stay with Aubrey,” I said softly.

He looked like he wanted to protest, but only made an annoyed noise before hurrying down the hallway. I looked back at Cornelius and Aubrey fighting. I had to do something, I just wasn’t sure what. Cornelius suddenly pinned Aubrey and produced a silver dagger out of nowhere. My heart went to my throat when I saw Cornelius raise his arm to strike.

Without thinking, I ran at him. I hit Cornelius full force from behind. We went rolling across the floor into the opposite wall. The dagger slid across the stone floor, and Cornelius was momentarily dazed. I took the opportunity and lunged for the dagger. As my fingers grasped the hilt, he slammed into my back. I groaned in pain when he sank his fangs into my shoulder. He wasn’t being nice about it, either. It felt like an animal bite.

I shoved my elbow backwards into his stomach and knocked him off me. I positioned myself over him and tightened my grip on the dagger. His eyes widened as I brought it down on him. Suddenly, I was knocked sideways. The dagger left my grasp, and my side ached where someone kicked me.

I looked up from where I lay. Aubrey was standing over Cornelius, but he didn’t have a weapon. He was the one that had knocked me off Cornelius. I felt the anger hit me as I watched him just stand there.

Cornelius started laughing as he climbed to his feet. “You saved me from your hunter princess? Isn’t that sweet,” he chimed.

“No more fighting, Cornelius. By any standard I have won. Let us walk out of here, and you won’t have any more problems,” Aubrey said softly.

I wanted to protest, but I had a feeling it would be useless. Cornelius looked at me, and he didn’t look like he wanted to comply. “No. I don’t understand how it is you are letting a hunter run your territory. You must have quite a weak spot for her. The Aubrey I knew would have had his fun, then dropped her off a bridge somewhere.”

“My relationship with Lillian is none of your concern. Stay out of my territory. Keep your marshals away, and we won’t have a problem,” Aubrey said softly, then walked toward me.

He had to know I was angry. He didn’t speak, he just took my hand and pulled me against him. There was a sudden rush, and the world started to spin. I was sure I was going to pass out or be sick, maybe even both.

*****

h1={color:#000;}.

I woke up slowly. I was lying on my stomach, a little disoriented. I sat up quickly as the memories of the night came rushing back.

“Relax.” Aubrey’s silky voice filled my ear as his hands gently pressed my lower back to keep me in place. I was naked except for a sheet he had pulled up around my waist.

“What the hell happened? Where am I?” I asked, trying to remember everything that had happened.

“You are safe, in my bed. I am trying to clean your wound,” he said softly.

I relaxed a little, but not much. He still kept me from killing his evil brother even though Cornelius wouldn’t have had an issue killing him. “Why did you stop me? I had him,” I said softly, trying to keep the annoyance out of my tone.

“Cornelius may be an ass, but he is still my brother. It would be like me attempting to kill Luca. Even if it was self-defense, you would step in,” he said softly, as he continued what he was doing.

“Have you heard from Justin?” I asked softly. I couldn’t help but hope he made it out alive. I wasn’t really sure what his part was in this whole thing, but he seemed like one of the good guys.

“I gave him a room here. How is it you are so fond of him when he is a marshal? Isn’t it the renegade’s motto to kill all marshals?” I could hear a hint of jealousy in his voice, but he was trying to hide it.

I smiled, a little relieved that he was jealous. I wanted him to be jealous. That meant he cared about me. I rolled to my side and looked up at him. “I am not the standard renegade. Justin doesn’t want to fight me, he wants to fight the council.”

He smiled and moved closer to me. “I think he wants to do whatever you want to do.”

I laughed. “Justin and I are acquaintances, that’s all. So, was Cornelius telling the truth about being the council?” I asked, as I settled back on my stomach and closed my eyes.

“You mean that he is the council? Yes, he took over quite a few years ago. How is it two other vampires have bitten you tonight, and I haven’t once?” he asked, as he brushed his lips along my shoulder blades.

I smiled. “Well, you haven’t attempted to kill me, and that is why I have one bite. The other bite is from attempting to save myself.”

“Mmm, what if I attempt to please you? Can I bite you then?” he asked, as he continued to lay gentle kisses over my back.

I giggled and rolled onto my back as I looked up at him. He pressed his lips to mine and kissed me gently. “You can bite me on one condition,” I whispered against his lips.

He smiled obviously enjoying the game. “Oh, I love conditions. Tell me.”

I smiled and gently bit his lower lip before speaking. “You have to bite me where no one else can.”

His expression darkened with lust and he leaned into me. His mouth covered mine, and his kiss was aggressive and needy. “My love, there are several places to choose from. That isn’t much of a condition,” he whispered, as he brushed his lips against mine.

I giggled as his lips tickled my already sensitive skin. “Do I need to spell it out for you, or can you use your imagination?” I asked.

He grinned at me, and for the first time I realized I didn’t care that he was a vampire. “I have a very good imagination,” he teased. “I could bite you here,” he whispered then bit my breast gently, just enough to draw blood and make me gasp. “Or here,” he whispered as he bit my other breast. He continued lower biting me in various places on my belly. I felt his soft lips on the heated skin between my thighs and I felt like I was going to explode with excitement. His fingers gently started to massage my clit as he covered me in kisses. I was trying to catch my breath as I gripped the bed sheets. He was driving me insane. “My favorite spot would be here,” he whispered, then slowly sank his fangs into the crease of my thigh.

I cried out in surprise as my body surged with pleasure. He was torturing me, and he knew it. I tangled my fingers in his hair as he fed. It felt so good. He was the only vampire I let take me over completely when he bit me. He was all I could think about, feel, smell, and even taste. I was his completely, and in a way that scared me.

He released me. His eyes were closed as blood ran down his chin. He opened them and looked at me. His eyes were so brilliant, they almost seemed to glow. I loved his eyes. I loved everything about him.

I surged forward and pressed my mouth to his. The metallic taste of my blood filled my mouth as I kissed him hungrily. I pinned him to the bed and ripped his shirt open. He watched me and smiled. He wasn’t going to protest; he was enjoying what I was doing. I kissed his chest. The scent of his skin was driving me wild. Without thinking, I bit the soft flesh of his chest. He groaned in pain as his cool blood covered my lips. His groans excited me more as I licked the blood from his wound. I looked at him; his eyes were dark with pleasure.

I fumbled with his pants. I wanted him naked. I wanted to kiss him, taste him. He groaned as I freed his hard cock and covered him with my mouth. I sucked on him, enjoying how he felt in my mouth. I moved forward and pressed my lips to his as I slid my body down onto him. I moaned in pleasure as he filled me completely. I sat up and closed my eyes. I started to move my hips. The feel of him sliding in and out of me was driving me insane. His hands went to my hips and he encouraged my movement as he watched me with his beautiful eyes. I dug my nails into his chest as pleasure crashed over me in waves.

He moved so suddenly, so fast. He was a blur. He pinned me to the bed and started thrusting aggressively. It hurt and felt so good all at the same time. He buried his face in my neck, and I cried out as he bit me. I felt my hot blood running down my neck, like he caught an artery. He held me pinned. His fingers were tangled in my hair, pinning my head as he fed. Suddenly, he broke his hold and cried out in excitement and relief as he released.

I was getting dizzy. Blood dripped from his face as he kept his eyes closed savoring the taste. I took his wrist and pressed it to my mouth. I bit down, breaking his skin. I needed his blood to heal. He groaned, but didn’t protest. The cool metallic taste filled my mouth, and I closed my eyes and relaxed.

Chapter 18

I woke up slowly. I didn’t even realize I’d passed out. I sat up slowly. I was alone in Aubrey’s bed. The sheets had been changed, and I was cleaned up. All my bites were healed. I sat up and pulled the sheet around me. The door opened and Aubrey came in. He smiled. “You look so lovely when you just wake up,” he said, and laid a set of clothes on the bed for me.

I stood pulling the sheet tighter around me as I walked over to him. He smiled down at me, like he knew something I didn’t. The fact that he was so smug and sure of himself irritated me. He knew I enjoyed him completely. He knew I was taken with him for sure after last night. I smacked him across the face, startling him. His eyes were wide, but still amused. “You haven’t won yet,” I whispered against his lips. I dropped the sheet and wrapped my arms around his neck.

“I am at least making strides,” he teased, then pressed his lips to mine. I relaxed in his arms and let him take over.

The door opening startled me. Aubrey quickly retrieved the sheet and scowled at Nick, the intruder. “You could knock,” Aubrey growled.

“You could tell me what the hell is going on,” Nick said, annoyed. It was obvious he’d just woken up. He probably had no clue what was going on.

“You were attacked outside the club. One of the vampires gave you blood to heal you,” I said quietly.

He looked from me to Aubrey like he didn’t know what to think. “You two are together, then?” he asked.

I looked at Aubrey, not sure what to say. I didn’t really know what we were. “We have a causal relationship. I am not the enemy, if that is what you are asking,” Aubrey said, when I didn’t speak.

“I need to check in. I am sure they are looking for me. How long have I been out?” he asked as he searched his pockets.

“A day or two. I will retrieve your things while Lillian gets dressed. She can take you from there,” Aubrey said, and walked out past him.

Nick looked at me, and I nodded to reassure him. He walked out, closing the door behind him.

*****

 

As I finished up dressing I tried to come up with a plan. I needed to confront my uncle. I still couldn’t believe he’d handed me over to Cornelius like it was nothing. The thought infuriated me. I shook the feeling; I would have to worry about that later. I needed to focus on getting Nick home; I could worry about my uncle after that.

Nick was waiting for me at the bar. I couldn’t find Aubrey, so I walked straight to where Nick was waiting, looking around nervously. His eyes landed on me. “Get me out of here,” he muttered.

I nodded and he followed me out of the club. “You would have died without their help,” I said quietly.

“Yeah, well, that is part of life. Why are you on their side all of a sudden? Aren’t you supposed to be killing them or something?” he asked, sounding slightly annoyed. I could understand his feelings. Feeling vulnerable sucked. I knew that was exactly how he felt. He probably didn’t have a chance to fight back.

“I don’t just kill every vampire. There are rules and codes that I follow,” I said firmly, as I got in my car.

He climbed in next to me. I could feel his eyes on me as I pulled out into the street. “You love him, don’t you?” he asked.

I scowled. “What? That is none of your business.” I wasn’t about to admit to him something I couldn’t even admit to myself. I had to love him. There was no way I would ever let a vampire do what I let Aubrey do.

“It is my business if I have to worry about you falling under his vampire spell and killing everyone,” he said sounding worried.

I rolled my eyes. “First of all, you are human. That means Victoria has more control over you than Aubrey will ever have over me. So maybe it is you I should worry about,” I countered.

I could see a blush creep up his cheeks. Obviously I’d hit a nerve. “Victoria wants no part in the war.”

I smiled, slightly amused. He knew what a vampire could do, it was obvious. “I don’t really think Aubrey does, either. His only link to the war is me,” I said softly. I decided not to mention the brother he wouldn’t let me kill. I pulled up to the café where I usually met Nick. I was pretty sure he had an apartment or hotel nearby.

“Just don’t trust him. Any of them. I’ll catch up with you later,” he said gruffly, as he climbed out of the car.

I sat there for a minute. Maybe he was right. Maybe I was being a little too trusting. After all, Aubrey’s brother was the vampire council, and he’d failed to mention that. There seemed to be bad blood between them; perhaps that was why he decided it was best not to say anything. I cussed and pulled away from the curve. I was so tired of the uncertainty.

 

*****

I parked about a half mile from my uncle’s house. My plan was to go in without being seen. If I’d pulled up to the gate, my uncle would probably have me killed right then. The grounds were being heavily guarded, but I could easily get around them. I knew their procedures and patrol schedules.

I reached the house and went in via an open window. I made my way to my uncle’s office and, to my surprise, it was vacant. I went to the desk and started going through the drawers. Stuck to the bottom of one I found a file. I pulled it out and opened it. I felt a lump form in my throat when I saw it was pictures of my parents.

I started reading the papers in the file. They were communications between my uncle and the vampire council. He was the one that gave my parents’ identities and location away. I sat, staring at the papers. I was frozen. I didn’t know what to do.

I gathered the file and moved away from the desk. I sat in a chair next to the door. I would wait for him to come in, then I would get an explanation.

It didn’t take long. My uncle was never out of his office for long. The door opened and he hurried in. He went straight for the top drawer. When he couldn’t find the file, he started searching other drawers.

“Looking for this?” I asked him.

He straightened, startled by my presence. His expression darkened, momentarily; then he forced a smile. “Lillian, I didn’t see you there,” he said nervously.

I could tell he was trying to hit the panic button under his desk. “Unfortunately for you, I am a hunter, so I knew enough to disable that button,” I said coldly, as I stood and walked toward the desk.

He paled a little as he sat down in his chair. “I can explain everything, Lillian,” he said softly.

I laughed harshly. “What are you going to say? You wanted to save your own ass, so you ratted. Do you really think that explanation will make me happy?”

“I am sure nothing but my death would make you happy now, but there were others involved. How do you think Luca knew to be there to protect you? Our entire clan wanted your parents eliminated for starting the renegades. They did nothing but bring havoc to our people,” he said angrily.

I watched him for a few minutes. I was careful to keep the emotions off my face. I wondered if he was telling the truth about Luca. I didn’t want to believe Luca could lie to me like that. Then again, I hadn’t thought my uncle was capable of such things, either. “It takes a special kind of evil to do what you did,” I said softly.

“I did what I had to do to protect my family. I tried to protect you, too, but you refused to just follow the rules. Look at you. You think you have everything figured out. Why don’t you ask your precious Aubrey what part he played in this whole thing? Do you really think Cornelius did his own bidding?”

“It doesn’t matter what he did! What matters is the fact that you, my uncle, had my parents murdered. Then, when I didn’t go along with your agenda, you tried to have me murdered! You deserve to rot in hell!” I was so angry I could barely think straight.

The doors burst open and Kai and Luca came in. “Get her!” my uncle ordered.

I ran toward the window, but Kai was quicker than me. He pinned me and shoved a syringe in my neck. I managed to catch him across the face with a right hook before I felt the effects of the drug.

“Please don’t fight,” Luca plead as he approached me.

“You betrayed me,” I growled through gritted teeth, as I attempted to fight the effects of the drug.

“I did it to help you. I love you, Lily,” he said, sounding apologetic.

I couldn’t come up with anything to say. His words made me sick. He didn’t love me. He never would have let any of this happen if he did.

I swayed as he reached for me. I didn’t have any strength left. I spit in his face for lack of something better to do. He looked completely startled. Everything went black as I fell to the cool floor.

*****

 

I woke up to the sound of voices. I was secured to a chair in my uncle’s basement. I recognized it because I had been in it a few times when I got out of hand and they needed to keep me secluded. They had two young guards on me. If I wasn’t bound, I would have been able to easily take them. They were using chains instead of rope. They weren’t stupid, that was for sure.

The door opened and Damon came in. “Scram, I need a minute with her,” Damon barked at the two younger guards. The two guards didn’t even question him. They hurried out, and he closed the door behind them. He walked down the stairs, and I glared at him. “Don’t give me that look. I had nothing to do with any of this. It was your precious Luca, not me,” he snapped.

“You are a part of it now. That makes you just as guilty,” I said angrily.

He rested his hands on the back of my chair and lowered his face so he was only inches from me. “Despite what you think, I loved you. I just felt inadequate, compared to Luca. That is why I cheated on you. I am not doing this because I am trying to hurt you. I am just following orders.”

“What is it you plan to do, exactly?” I asked quietly.

He smiled. “I get the pleasure of questioning you.”

“You know I won’t answer your questions,” I said softly.

He laughed. “I am a patient man, despite what you think. Now: where are Colin and the renegade’s hideout?”

“None of your business,” I said, looking him in the eyes.

He smiled. Suddenly, he recoiled and slapped me across the face. I cussed as the sting of his hand radiated through me. “Try again,” he ordered.

“Go fuck yourself,” I muttered, and he slapped me again, this time harder. I tasted blood in my mouth. Anger surged through me, and I strained against the chains.

“Come on, Lillian, just tell us what we want to know and we will let you go,” he said softly.

I laughed. “I should just go ahead and trust everything you say right?”

His expression darkened, and he struck me three more times. I felt the blood starting to pour from my mouth and nose. “Come on, Lillian. I don’t want to fuck up your beautiful face. It would be such a shame,” he said, amused.

“Go to hell, you bastard,” I mumbled as I tried to regain my composure.

He was on me again, beating me mercilessly. When he got tired of hitting me in the face he went to my stomach and chest. Relief washed over me when he finally stopped. He wiped the blood on his fists off on a towel as he watched me. “I will give you a little while to think about what you want to tell me,” he growled, then walked out.

I sagged in the chair. I felt hot tears roll down my cheeks, and could feel my face swelling. I knew I had broken bones in my face and ribs. He was going to end up killing me because I wasn’t going to speak.

Time seemed to creep by, but after a few minutes Damon came back in. I glared at him defiantly, letting him know I wouldn’t relent. He walked behind me and leaned over me so he could whisper in my ear. “I am going to give you a taste of what I am going to do if you don’t speak. Your uncle has given me permission to do whatever it takes,” he whispered, as he traced his finger down my cheek.

I pulled my face away from his touch. “Don’t touch me, you bastard,” I growled.

He tsked. “It wasn’t so long ago you were begging me to touch you,” he whispered, as he touched my hands. I screamed in agony as he yanked my finger backwards, breaking it. I felt like I was going to vomit. I pushed the feeling away and took deep breaths. “You are so defiant. I wonder if I will have to break every finger,” he said softly, as he snapped another finger.

I cried out and tears stung my eyes. The pain was incredible. I thought I was going to lose it. I bit my tongue to keep from pleading or telling him what he wanted to know. He broke a third finger and I sobbed. I started breathing quickly. I was going to hyperventilate and pass out.

The door at the top of the stairs opened, and Luca rushed in, followed by Kai. “What the hell are you doing?” Luca asked, horrified.

“What I was ordered. Take it up with management if you have a problem. Now, get out and let me finish my job,” Damon growled, as he grabbed a fourth finger.

“Please, Luca! Don’t let him do this!” I plead. Damon broke my finger, and I screamed in agony and lowered my head so they couldn’t see my tears.

Damon was suddenly knocked backwards. Kai had him pinned to the wall. Kai punched him one good time and Damon crumbled to the floor. Luca rushed over to me and started undoing the chains.

“I can’t believe he did this,” Luca whispered, as he supported me.

“Get me out of here,” I begged.

“Luca, you have to let her go. She has to get away on her own. No one can see us helping her,” Kai said firmly.

Luca looked at me, then nodded and set me on my feet. I leaned against the wall for support. I was close to passing out. Luca walked over to a door and opened it. It led out into the woods. “Go, and don’t come back,” he ordered.

I stumbled toward the door. Just the few steps I took felt like they took all my strength. I made it outside, and fell into the grass.

“Lily, you have to run, you have to go now,” Luca pleaded.

“I can’t,” I said softly.

“How do you expect her to run when she has been beaten almost to death?” Aubrey growled.

Luca stood quickly and stumbled backwards. Kai came out ready for a fight as well. “Just take her, get her somewhere safe,” Luca pleaded.

“I should kill every one of you,” Aubrey hissed, stepping forward.

“Aubrey, please don’t,” I begged as I reached for him.

He came to me and easily picked me up. He looked at me, then looked back at Kai and Luca. “If anyone touches her again, they will die whether she begs me to spare them or not,” he said softly. The world blurred, and everything went black.

Chapter 19

I woke up with a start. “It’s okay, I am just getting your clothes off,” Aubrey said softly.

The pain came back full force and I cried out. Aubrey pinned me to the bed. “Look at me, Lillian,” he said firmly. I looked into his blue eyes and relaxed a little.

“Let’s get this over with,” Justin said from beside me. I hadn’t even heard him come in the room. He might have been there the whole time. I was just too disoriented to realize it.

Justin took my hand and straightened my first finger. I screamed in agony and struggled. It felt like they were being broken all over again. I heard Aubrey speaking, but I couldn’t make out the words. I was too panicked. I couldn’t even breathe properly. I gasped, and the world seemed to slow when Aubrey sank his fangs into my neck. I could feel Justin straightening my fingers, but I didn’t feel the pain. When Justin was done, Aubrey released me and bit his own wrist. He pressed it to my lips and his cool blood instantly made me feel better. He pulled his wrist away when I had enough. “Rest now,” he said softly, then covered me with a blanket, and walked out. Justin followed him, and I was alone.

My mind was cloudy, but the thoughts of what my uncle said haunted me. “Why don’t you ask your precious Aubrey what part he played in this whole thing? Do you really think Cornelius did his own bidding?”

What if Aubrey did play a part in my parents’ death? What if he was still playing a part even now? He hadn’t let me kill Cornelius; there had to be a reason. I couldn’t just lay there and pretend everything was okay. I needed to talk to Colin. Maybe Colin knew more than he was telling me.

I sat up and groaned. My body still ached, but it was slowly healing. I was still in my clothes. I was only missing my shoes and my coat. I got my shoes on, and found my coat. I looked battered and beat. My clothes were dirty and bloody, but I didn’t have anything else to wear. I walked slowly down the hall toward the main club entrance. I was hoping Aubrey and Justin wouldn’t be around. As soon as I walked through the door I spotted them sitting at the bar. Aubrey immediately spotted me, and his expression darkened.

I hurried toward the exit, but he blocked me. “You are in no condition to go out,” he said firmly.

“I’ve been in worse conditions,” I said softly as I attempted to push past him.

He caught my arm and forced me to remain still. I glared up at him, and his expression changed from annoyance to confusion. “When I looked at you earlier, I could see nothing but love for me; now I see nothing but hate. What has changed?” he asked softly.

I looked away quickly. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t have any facts. All I had was what everyone said. I had no real proof of anything. I was ten years old when it happened, and I couldn’t remember anything. “I don’t know what has changed. Please, just let me go,” I said quietly.

He released me and stepped back. “You always come back to me,” he said softly, then turned and walked away.

I was confused by his words, but I wasn’t going to question him. I walked out into the cool air. I hurried to my car and set off for the warehouse.

*****

 

I walked into the warehouse. Colin was in his office like he always was. He looked up, a little startled when I walked in. “Lillian, are you okay?” he asked, sounding worried.

“I’m fine. I need to know what happened the night my parents died,” I said quietly.

He watched me for a second. “I wasn’t there. I don’t know. You were there, not me,” he said quietly.

“I know I was there, but I can’t remember anything. Everyone keeps saying Aubrey was involved somehow and I don’t know how. Then I find out that Cornelius is the vampire council, and he is Aubrey’s brother. What if he was involved? I trusted him. My own uncle was part of it. I don’t know what to do!” I said, as I paced back and forth.

Colin grasped my shoulders and forced me to look at him. “Lillian, calm down. Have you ever considered just asking Aubrey?”

“He said one time that their death was his fault, but I didn’t believe him. I don’t know what to believe anymore,” I said, as tears rolled down my cheeks.

He pulled me into a hug. “Just follow your instincts. You have done well so far. No one could have known your uncle was involved.”

I pulled away from him. I didn’t feel like being touched. “I should have known he was involved. He was always so quiet about my parents. I thought it was because he was upset that they were dead.” I paced back and forth, thinking about everything my uncle had said over the years.

“You can’t blame yourself for this, Lily. You need to focus on the task at hand. We cannot change the past,” he said softly.

I scowled. “What is the task? I don’t even know what it is. What are we going to do, just kill every vampire that is faithful to Cornelius? How does that solve anything?”

“It gives people freedom. People like Justin. Justin was a prisoner, but what you have done gave him strength to fight back,” he said quietly.

“I have done nothing but cause havoc and destroy my own family,” I said.

“Your family is not who you think they are. What kind of leader turns his own brother into the vampire council? You don’t want a family like that,” he said softly.

I looked at him, but I didn’t speak. I knew he was right. A real family didn’t do the things my uncle had done. He’d had Damon nearly kill me. I had a feeling he might have made sure I didn’t walk out of there alive. I shook my head. “I need a shower. I need to find a hotel,” I said quietly.

“Come stay with me. I have an extra room,” he said, as he put his arm around my shoulder and guided me out of the room.

I let him lead me to his car. I didn’t feel like driving, anyway. I just needed to get a shower and get some sleep. I would figure out what my next move would be when I was healed.

Colin’s house was in the middle of downtown. It was a small apartment that was right on the river. It was a really nice place. I didn’t take much time to admire it. I was too tired. He showed me to my room, and I started the shower. He was supposed to be finding some clothes that would fit me.

I felt a little better once the hot water hit my skin. I closed my eyes and attempted to clear my head. Everything happened so quickly, and it was all so overwhelming. Sometimes it felt like there were at least three sides, and I had to choose, but I couldn’t. There was my uncle and the hunters, who I grew up idolizing. Then there was Colin and the renegades, the ones who seemed like they just wanted freedom from the anarchy of the councils. Finally there was Aubrey; the master vampire of the city, and the man I was beginning to think I was in love with. It seemed like he wanted to distance himself from the others. He didn’t seem like he wanted any part of it. I shook my head in annoyance. Thinking about everything wasn’t getting me anywhere.

I turned the water off and stepped out of the shower. I wrapped the towel around me and stepped out into the room. I was a little startled to see Aubrey sitting on the bed. He was playing with the hem of the nighty Colin left me.

“Hey,” I said softly. I wasn’t really sure what else to say to him.

“I can help you remember,” he said, without looking at me. He continued to play with the delicate lace hem like he hadn’t even spoken.

“Remember what?” I asked softly. I had a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had a feeling I knew what he was talking about.

“The night your parents died,” he said, finally looking up at me.

I rushed over and sat next to him. “How can you do that?” I asked, hoping he wasn’t lying.

“Well, you can see what happened through my eyes. Maybe it will stir some memories for you,” he said softly.

“Please show me,” I begged, as I took his hand. I needed to know what part everyone played.

He tangled his fingers in my hair and pulled me closer to him. “I am so afraid you will walk away from me if I show you this,” he whispered desperately.

“Please, I have to know,” I pleaded, hoping he wouldn’t change his mind.

He closed his eyes and looked away from me for a moment. Then he nodded and leaned into me. “I am going to bite you. Try to relax. It is the easiest way to get you to see what I saw,” he said softly.

I nodded nervously. I didn’t know what he was going to do. I didn’t know what to expect. I was afraid of finding out some horrible truth about Aubrey. I wasn’t sure if I could handle him betraying me. He laid a gentle kiss on my neck before he gently sank his fangs into my neck. The room started to blur, but not like it did when he transported us. It was more like my vision was fading out…..

Chapter 20

When I opened my eyes, I was standing in a room. I hesitated when I saw Cornelius standing at a desk. He was looking through paperwork. Fear gripped me, and I stepped back.

Aubrey’s voice filled my head. “You are in a memory. He cannot see you or hurt you,” he said softly, and I immediately relaxed.

The door not far from me opened, and Aubrey came storming in. “End this war now, Cornelius!” Aubrey demanded.

His brother looked up at him and smiled. “It has just started, Aubrey. You should start taking your responsibilities seriously.”

Aubrey scoffed. “This is below you, Cornelius. Going after Lyle is one thing, going after his family is another.”

Cornelius straightened. “Lyle started the war. He is going to feel the loss of war. Now, do what you were ordered, or get out of my sight.”

I won’t do it. Find someone else. I am no longer your gullible little brother!” Aubrey hissed and walked away.

My vision clouded as Aubrey walked past. Suddenly, I was standing in my parent’s house. I felt my heart clench when I saw my mother carrying a bowl of popcorn into the living room. My father and the ten-year-old version of myself were already sitting on the couch.

My mother set the bowl down and walked over to the window. “Are you sure everything will be okay?” she asked my father. She sounded worried, like she knew something was going to happen.

Of course. Carl said he would have hunters watching our house. Everything will be fine,” my father said, as he put his arm around her shoulders.

My ten-year-old self screamed, catching my attention. I turned, and Aubrey was standing in the doorway. My father pulled a stake out of his belt as my ten-year-old self ran to my mother. I felt my stomach twist. The thought that Aubrey had killed my parents had occurred to me, but I’d quickly pushed it away. Now I wasn’t so sure I could push it away anymore.

Aubrey suddenly raised his hands like he was there in peace. “I am not here to hurt you. I came here to warn you. The vampire council is sending a marshal to kill you and your family. You need to leave.”

My father scoffed. “There are hunters everywhere outside. The marshal will never get a chance.” My father sounded confident; he had no idea what was coming.

Don’t be a fool. Your brother is the one that told them how to find you. He doesn’t have hunters out there. How do you think I got in?” Aubrey sounded like he was pleading with them.

My father looked a little unsure, but he didn’t let his guard down.

What if he is telling the truth, Lyle?” my mother asked, sounding frantic.

He isn’t. Leave now. We will be fine,” my father said softly.

The sound of screaming and shattering glass caught everyone’s attention. My mother barely had time to scream before the vampire pinning her ripped her throat out. The younger me was knocked to the side, unconscious. That was why I couldn’t remember anything.

My father yelled in anger and panic. He tackled the vampire, but it was too late for my mother. “Get my daughter out of here!” my father yelled at Aubrey.

Aubrey hesitated, then rushed over to me and picked me up. He was suddenly gone, and my vision faded again.

Suddenly I was standing near the woods of my house. Aubrey had the young me. He laid me on the ground, then attempted to wake me up. I had blood coming from my head, and I didn’t look like I was breathing. Aubrey bit his wrist and pressed it to my lips. A noise in the brush caught Aubrey’s attention. He ran, leaving me alone on the ground. Luca appeared out of the trees.

Oh god, Lily,” he whispered, then picked me up and ran off into the woods with me. My vision started to blur again. I wasn’t sure if it was because of the memory fading or because I was crying.

I opened my eyes, and was back in my room. Aubrey released me and looked down at me, worried. My face was wet from the tears. I wasn’t sure if I was better or worse off seeing my parents die. I didn’t remember because I never saw it in the first place.

“I’m sorry, Lillian,” Aubrey said softly, as he kissed my cheek gently.

“You didn’t do it,” I said relieved. Not only did he not do it, but he’d saved my life when he’d given me his blood.

He smiled softly. “No, I didn’t; but I should have done more. Everything happened so fast. I should have warned your father when I first found out about Cornelius’s plan.”

I reached up and touched his face. He’d saved me. I would have died with my parents if he hadn’t been there. Luca found me because of Aubrey. I pressed my lips to his and kissed him gently. I was so relieved he wasn’t the one that killed my parents.

“You are not angry with me?” he asked, between my desperate kisses.

“No. I love you,” I said softly.

He hesitated and looked at me, like he wasn’t sure what to say. It felt like time stood still as he watched me. I wasn’t sure if I’d made a mistake telling him I loved him. The way he reacted made me think so. “You can’t love me. I am the reason they died. I should have stopped Cornelius before things got out of hand.”

“You did everything you knew how to. You warned my father, and you did what he asked by saving me,” I whispered, as I pressed my body to his.

He looked at me for a minute longer, then pressed his mouth to mine. His kiss was hungry and needy. I tangled my fingers in his hair and closed my eyes as he pinned me to the bed. I tore his shirt open and covered his chest with kisses. His mouth found mine again. My fingers went to the button of his jeans. I wanted him inside me. I was sure of how I felt now. I no longer doubted him. I was in love with him.

*****

 

I laid on my side. Aubrey ran his fingers playfully down my arm. I loved the feeling of euphoria he gave me when we were together. The memories he showed me earlier were haunting me. Cornelius gave the order to murder my parents, but who was the vampire that actually did it?

“Who was the vampire that took your place and killed my parents?” I asked softly.

“His name was Ricardo. He died shortly after your parents. He was not able to give Cornelius proof that Lyle and your mother were dead. The hunters burned the house as soon as they could.”

When he said that I sat up and looked at him. “The hunters burned the house?” I asked, confused.

He nodded then looked away. “Why do you think Luca was there?”

I felt my stomach knot up. I didn’t want to believe Luca had any part in the whole thing. I was raised to believe Luca saved me. There were so many nights I spent crying in his arms. I felt like such an idiot, now.

“Don’t think about it anymore tonight. Let me help you forget,” he whispered, as he pulled me back down onto the bed and kissed me gently.

*****

 

As much as I wanted to sleep, I couldn’t. I heard Aubrey leave not long after he thought I was asleep. I lay in bed, contemplating my next move. I wasn’t really sure what that move would be. I knew I wanted Cornelius dead; I just wasn’t sure how I was going to do it. Despite Cornelius trying to kill Aubrey, Aubrey refused to kill Cornelius. That was going to be a problem for me, because Aubrey wouldn’t disclose Cornelius’s location, but I knew someone who might.

I got out of bed and showered. Once I was dressed I walked out to the kitchen. Colin was already up, which was a relief. I needed a ride to my car.

“I saw Aubrey leave last night. I take it you two made up?” he asked.

I nodded. “I need a ride to my car,” I said softly. I didn’t really feel like explaining myself to him.

He nodded as he walked toward the door. I was just getting ready to leave. I followed him out to his car.

“What are your plans for the evening?” he asked as he drove toward the warehouses.

“I need to talk to Justin. Aubrey said he was staying with him,” I said absently.

“I take it this has to do with Cornelius in some way?” Colin asked softly.

I watched him for a minute, wondering how much I should tell him. “Maybe. What do you know?”

He shrugged as he continued to keep his eyes on the road. “I don’t know where he is, if that is what you mean, and despite Justin’s hate for Cornelius I doubt he will give you the directions to kill yourself.” Colin’s tone was clipped, like he knew what I was thinking and he disapproved.

“He took everything from me, Colin. I don’t expect you to understand,” I said softly.

He scoffed. “I know a lot more than you think. How do you think I ended up a vampire? Not every vampire has the ability to turn a hunter.”

“Cornelius turned you?” I asked, startled. I remembered when Justin and I were trying to escape Cornelius’s dungeon; we heard a vampire say he planned to change me.

“Yes, he just didn’t realize I wouldn’t be as controllable as a standard human. I was able to walk away,” he said quietly.

“How did you meet him in the first place?” I asked, now very interested in what he had to say.

“You are not the only one that has family members Cornelius murdered. I went after him when my sister turned up dead. You were young then, so you probably don’t remember. When I went after him, I realized he was stronger than most vampires. He thought it would be funny to turn me instead of kill me. He will do the same thing to you if he gets the chance,” he said softly, as he parked the car in front of the warehouse.

“I will make sure he doesn’t get the chance, then,” I said, as I climbed out of the car. I would go after him like I did the death marshal. He couldn’t be that impossible to kill. I walked directly to my car and set off for Aubrey’s club. I needed to get Cornelius’s location.

 

*****

 

It was starting to get late, so traffic on the street was picking up. I parked in my usual spot and walked down the alley toward the club. I was hoping I could speak with Justin without Aubrey interrupting. Aubrey would do nothing but try to stop me.

I walked into the club and all the regulars were there. I spotted Justin sitting at the bar drinking. Luckily, he was alone. I took a seat next to him and ordered a drink.

He looked me up and down, then looked back at his drink. “You look better than you did,” he said softly.

“I agree,” I said, slightly amused. He’d helped Aubrey when I got worked over by Damon. I still owed Damon for that. I didn’t know what I was going to do about the people I thought were my family. Once the lie came out, I felt pretty alone.

“I take it you want something. Why else would you come talk to me?” he said dryly.

“I need to know how to find Cornelius,” I said softly, hoping no one else would hear what I had to say.

He laughed and shook his head. “No, hell no. You might as well let me kill you right now.”

I sighed. I knew he was going to be difficult. “I really need to find him,” I said quietly.

“No. Don’t ask me again,” he said, sounding annoyed. He got up and walked away.

“Rayne,” Nick said, as he approached me from behind.

I was a little startled to see him in the club. “What are you doing here?” I asked as he took a seat next to me.

He shrugged and adjusted his collar. I caught a glimpse of the bite mark on his neck and guessed Victoria called him. He probably thought he was in love. Unfortunately, it was just a vampire’s charm. He would learn eventually. “I was in the area,” he lied.

I brushed it off and took another sip of my drink. “Yeah, well, nothing is going on here. I am just hitting a bunch of dead ends,” I muttered in annoyance.

“Maybe I can help. What are you trying to find out?” he asked, as he pulled his notepad out.

I looked at him for a second. Maybe he could find something out. It was possible Cornelius was on record. Nick might be able to get me an address for him. “I need an address for a guy named Cornelius. I don’t know his last name, but he looks extremely similar to Aubrey. He lives around here. I just need to know an exact address.”

He nodded as he wrote. “I am going to the office now. I will run it and call you if I come up with anything that might help,” he said, as he put his notepad away.

“Thanks,” I said, and smiled.

He nodded. “Well, I’ll see you around. I’ll call you when I find something.”

I nodded, and he walked away, leaving me by myself again.

“You will not go after Cornelius. It would be a suicide mission,” Aubrey said, as he came to stand beside me. He signaled for the bartender to get him a drink.

I rolled my eyes. I was guessing Justin tipped him off. I should have known he would do it. I just didn’t think he would go right to Aubrey. “He killed my parents,” I said softly.

“No, he gave the order. Your uncle let it happen. Why aren’t you going after him?” Aubrey asked angrily.

I stood abruptly. He was starting to annoy me with how hard he was working to protect Cornelius. “My uncle will pay in time, and he knows that. I am not going to wait for Cornelius to decide someone else should die.”

Aubrey caught my arm to keep me from walking away. “Leave it alone, Lily. Going after him will only cause more hurt and pain.”

“I don’t understand why you are protecting him, but it will eventually come down to him or me. I suggest you make that decision quickly,” I said softly, then pulled away.

I walked outside and immediately felt a little better. As I walked toward my car my phone started to ring. I answered it, but didn’t recognize the voice on the other line.

“Is this Rayne?” a young female voice asked.

“It is,” I answered, a little confused. She sounded like such a young girl. I really didn’t understand why she would be calling me. There was a scuffling noise, and the next voice I recognized.

“Now that I have your attention, we can talk,” Cornelius said, amused.

I pushed the anger away and attempted to keep my tone even. “How do you figure you have my attention?”

He laughed like something was extremely funny. “I don’t know. I figured having a ten year old girl with hunter parents who are recently deceased would be ironic.”

I took a deep breath and tried to focus. He was trying to get to me. I had to stay focused and not let him win. “What is it you want from me?” I asked without betraying my tone.

“I want you to surrender. Come to me and the girl will go free. Deny my request and she dies,” he said amused.

“Why would I care about some random little girl?” I asked as I hurried toward my car.

“Because you are your father’s daughter. There is a car waiting for you. If you want the girl to live you will cooperate,” he said then hung up.

I hesitated when I saw a black town car waiting for me. It was parked behind my car. Two vampires stood outside the car. When they saw me approach they opened one of the doors. I hesitated and looked back at the club. I wasn’t sure what I should do. I didn’t know the girl but it was my job to protect anyone I could. The girl was only in Cornelius’s grasp because I pissed him off. I decided to go to him. I wanted to find him anyway. I would have rather had the element of surprise, but this would have to do. I climbed into the car, and one of the vampires climbed in the back with me. The other climbed in the driver’s seat and set off.

Chapter 21

The drive was long and boring. The vampires did nothing but look straight ahead. I silently kept my eye out for landmarks, so I would be able to find my way back if needed. Cornelius obviously wasn’t worried about me returning. He probably hadn’t planned on me leaving in the first place.

The driver finally pulled into the gate of a huge mansion. The place was crowded, as though Cornelius was having some sort of party. I really wasn’t looking forward to this encounter. The vampire next to me climbed out and held the door for me. I followed him out, and they led me inside the house.

I was surprised that neither vampire checked me for weapons. I couldn’t believe Cornelius was so arrogant. I could hear the yelling and excitement as the party raged on just a little further into the house.

My escorts opened a set of double doors, and straight ahead, Cornelius stood. He was toasting and smiling. He was having a really good time. I couldn’t help but want to ruin that. I took a deep breath and unfurled my fists when I realized my fingernails were cutting into the skin of my palms.

“Ah, Lillian Rayne. Please, come in; join the party,” he said happily.

I stepped further in the room, and they closed the doors behind me, making me feel closed in. “Where is the girl, Cornelius?” I asked, refusing to play his game.

He smiled a devious smile that suggested he had one up on me. “Brittany, darling,” he called.

A young girl stepped out from behind someone else. She was dressed up for the party, and she was smiling. She looked to be about ten or eleven years old, but I could tell she was a vampire. She was an older vampire, which meant there had never been a young girl in danger. It was all a trick to get me here on his terms.

“Don’t look so disappointed, darling. There is no one actually in danger, other than yourself of course,” he said, amused.

I smiled. “You really think I worry about myself that much?”

He hesitated for a second and watched me. He’d obviously thought I would cower in fear when I realized it was all a trick. “You aren’t afraid, are you?” he asked cautiously.

“Not even a little. I was in the process of finding your address so I could pay you a visit myself. I didn’t have to look far. You offered it up to me,” I said, unable to wipe the smirk off my face.

He actually looked worried. He quickly changed his expression and smiled. “You are nothing but a weak hunter,” he growled.

As I started walking toward him I could see him stiffen. “Maybe I am. It’s funny how revenge can make someone so much stronger. It takes away the fear,” I said softly.

He nodded at two vampires, and they stepped in front of me to block my approach. “You are here on my terms. You will not be walking out of here again, love,” he countered.

“I would gladly die to see you killed,” I said, as I halted just a few feet from the vampire guards.

His expression darkened. “Get her,” he ordered.

The guards lunged at me, but I quickly defeated them. They really acted like they’d planned for me not to fight at all. I squared with Cornelius, and he smiled. His expression changed quickly. He was no longer afraid. He was like me. He was ready to fight until the death, if necessary. I decided not to wait for him to lunge. I attacked first, knocking him backwards into a table. He quickly recovered, and pinned me to the wall by my throat.

He moved close to me, only inches from my face. “So this is what Aubrey sees in you. I see it now,” he said softly as he caressed my cheek.

I brought my knee up and caught him in the crotch. He doubled over, and I took the opportunity to get him off me by shoving him backwards. I grasped my stake and lunged at him. He caught my hand just before the stake reached his chest. He shoved me backwards, and slapped me across the face. He pinned me by my throat again and pressed his body to mine.

“I am going to have fun killing you,” he whispered as he kept a firm grip on my throat. I struggled, but it was useless. Everything in the room started to fade to black.

 

*****

 

I woke up slowly. I didn’t feel right. I was cold, and I didn’t feel like I could breathe. I started coughing, and my chest ached. I rolled off the bed clawing at my chest. There was something wrong. I couldn’t breathe, and I didn’t understand how I was even conscious.

I had no clue where I was. I looked around the room, but I didn’t recognize anything. I continued to cough, trying to gather myself. The door opened and Cornelius walked in. He was holding a dress.

“Ah, you are awake, darling. Welcome to your new life,” he said, amused, as he set the dress on the bed, then knelt next to me.

“What do you mean?” I managed to choke out between my coughs.

“You are one of us now, darling. Stop trying to breathe and you’ll quit coughing. Breathing is not necessary anymore.” He was still smiling like it was a big joke.

Fear gripped me as I climbed to my feet and stumbled to the bathroom. I covered my mouth with my hand to stifle my scream of horror when I saw my reflection. I was a vampire.

“I think the new look suits you,” Cornelius said, smiling as he leaned against the bathroom door jamb.

I spun around to face him. “I am going to kill you!” I screamed, and lunged at him. I really didn’t have much of a plan. I had no weapons. I was so angry I wanted to tear his throat out with my bare hands.

He laughed as he caught my wrists and forced me to my knees. “You are weak. Fighting me is pointless.” He shoved me backwards and I landed on my back.

I glared up at him. He was right. I was weak. I could feel it; I felt drained. I slowly climbed to my feet, fighting the sluggish feeling.

“I have just what you need,” he said. He walked out of the bathroom, and I stumbled toward the bathroom door. If he left I was going to attempt to run. As soon as I stepped into the bedroom, I smelled it; fresh blood. Part of me wanted to gag, and another part of me wanted to find the source and taste it.

Cornelius pulled a man into the room. I felt my chest tighten when I saw it was Luca. He was shirtless, and his chest was covered in bleeding cuts. I stepped backwards. I could smell the blood, and I wanted it. My mouth watered. It took everything I had not to run to Luca.

Cornelius pushed him down onto the bed. He was barely awake. I wanted to run to him and check him, but I couldn’t go near him. I knew I would kill him.

“Cornelius, please don’t do this,” I begged, as I dropped to my knees. I didn’t know what else to do. I was fighting with everything I had not to move.

He laughed harshly. “I know you’re hungry. I thought you would enjoy some fresh blood.”

“Please, don’t do this! Take him away,” I begged, as tears rolled down my cheeks. I knew it was what he wanted, that he wanted me to suffer.

“Have fun,” he said haughtily, then walked out. I heard the lock click on the door behind him.

My eyes landed on Luca. He was watching me, and looked like he was in pain. My mouth watered even more at the sight of the blood. I swallowed hard, forcing the hunger down, then turned and ran into the bathroom. I slammed the door shut, and ran to the furthest wall. I sat down, and buried my head in my hands. I should have listened to Colin and Aubrey. Everything was so messed up now.

I tried to breathe in, and a fit of coughs followed. I heard the door open. I could smell Luca’s blood. I squeezed my eyes shut even tighter fighting the hunger. “Luca, please go away. You have to stay away from me,” I whispered, panicked.

“Lily, what happened?” he asked, sounding a little confused and disoriented.

I shook my head without opening my eyes. I didn’t want to look at him. I didn’t want to see the blood. “I don’t know. You just have to stay away,” I begged.

He didn’t advance on me, but he didn’t leave, either. “Are you okay?” he asked, sounding worried.

“No!” I yelled glaring up at him.

He stepped back when he saw my eyes. “You’re a vampire,” he said, sounding terrified.

“Why do you think I want you to stay away?” I asked angrily.

He didn’t listen. He hurried over to me, knelt, and offered his wrist. I groaned low in my throat and pulled away. I didn’t want to hurt him. I could feel my will wavering as the scent of blood strengthened. “You have to feed, Lillian. Bite me,” he ordered, as he offered his wrist.

I shook my head and turned toward the wall. “I would rather die,” I said softly. The hunger was painful, and it was getting worse. The closer he was to me, the more painful the hunger, and he wouldn’t get away.

“Please,” he begged, touching me.

“Don’t!” I screamed and threw him backwards. He slid across the floor and hit the opposite wall. I immediately felt bad, but he was safer across the room than he was touching me.

He sat up and looked at me defiantly. “I know you won’t hurt me. You have to feed. I know you’re hungry.”

“I have no control, Luca. I haven’t fed yet, and I don’t want to feed,” I said softly.

“You have control. A normal new vampire would have been on me before Cornelius got me through the door. You are in this small room with me and you pushed me away. That is control. You can feed on me. I know you won’t hurt me,” he pleaded.

“I don’t trust myself,” I countered, as I closed my eyes again. I had to get out of here; had to get Luca out of here. If I stayed, I would end up hurting Luca. Cornelius would find a way to ensure that. “Does anyone know you are here?” I asked, trying to focus on the task of escaping instead of the scent of blood.

He scoffed. “Let’s just say it isn’t a good idea to cross your uncle.”

I looked at him for the first time. “He gave you to Cornelius?” I asked angrily.

“He drugged me and I woke up here,” Luca said softly, as he leaned back against the wall. He was weak and tired.

I stood angrily. My uncle had drugged me before, so it wasn’t surprising he would drug someone else and hand them over to Cornelius. I just didn’t really think he would do it to Luca. “We have to get out of here,” I said softly.

He nodded and slowly climbed to his feet. “I don’t think it is going to be easy.”

“Yeah, I know. I haven’t figured the how out yet,” I said, watching him. I wasn’t going to attempt to walk past him. I would probably end up killing him if I did. “You have to walk out first. I can’t get close to you.”

He nodded and walked out of the bathroom. I followed slowly, battling the urge to feed. The hunger was so incredibly strong it was painful. Luca was sitting on the bed, so I went to the door. I tried the handle, but as I’d thought, it was locked. I surveyed the room for anything that would be helpful. I walked over to a small jewelry box sitting on top of a dresser. I opened it and went through the contents. There were a couple of pins that would be perfect for getting past the lock. I walked back over to the door and knelt down. I played with the lock for what seemed like hours. It finally clicked, and relief washed over me.

I opened the door slightly and peeked out. The hallway was clear, but I knew that could quickly change. Cornelius had a way of thwarting my plans, like he did the last time I tried to escape. The only reason we’d made it out was because Aubrey showed up. “Let’s go,” I ordered Luca.

He stood and followed me out into the desolate hallway. I could hear a party going on downstairs. The scent of fresh blood was stifling. It was apparent Cornelius’s parties involved humans.

“Are you okay?” Luca whispered, startling me a little. I was so focused on the scent of blood I wasn’t paying attention.

I swallowed the hunger down again and nodded. “Let’s go,” I said softly, and started moving toward a window. I looked out, hoping it would offer an escape. Relief washed over me when I saw it led out onto a roof. Just below the roof was a patch of grass, then woods. It was the only logical way to escape. I worried about walking further down the hall. I wasn’t sure if we would end up running into someone, and decided it would be best to just escape as quickly as possible.

I felt weak just pushing the window up. Luca came up alongside me and helped me. I stepped away quickly. The scent was too strong. He was too close. He hesitated and looked at me, but before he could speak, I cut him off.

“Just go. We don’t have much time,” I said softly.

He nodded and climbed out the window. I followed, trying to keep my distance, which seemed almost impossible. He jumped down and landed in the soft grass with a thud. He cussed and fell over. He was getting weaker, and I was starting to get worried. I landed next to him. The movement was almost effortless to me. It was the first time I’d realized I had vampire abilities. I knew I was a vampire, but I didn’t realize I was moving like one. The hunger was so overbearing I couldn’t focus on anything else. “Let’s go,” I muttered, as I put his arm around my shoulders, and pulled him to his feet. He was limping as I hurried through the woods. I was weak, but I was determined. Luca was heavy, but I wasn’t leaving him behind.

It seemed like we had run miles when we made it to a road. I was pretty confident we had escaped Cornelius, but I had no clue where we were going or how we were going to get there.

I stepped off the road and set Luca in the grass just inside the tree line. I collapsed to the ground and closed my eyes. I was exhausted. The hunger was getting worse. Luca’s scent didn’t affect me as much, since his injuries were not fresh. Fresh blood was much worse than dried blood.

“You should leave me behind. You would move faster on your own,” Luca said softly, as he moved to lean against a tree.

“I don’t leave people behind,” I said softly, as I tried to come up with my next move.

“Come on, Lily. You have to know what the hunters did to your family. What I did,” he said quietly.

“I know, but it doesn’t change anything. I am angry with you, but you were my friend at one point in time,” I said softly.

“I am still your friend, Lillian. I love you, you have to know that. I was young and stupid back then. I was determined to follow orders,” he argued.

I groaned and sat up. “We all have choices to make. You made yours, and I made mine. Now look at us,” I said, trying to hide the annoyance in my voice.

“I’m sorry for everything,” he said, as he watched me. He made no attempt to move. I was kind of relieved; I wasn’t in the mood to be touched.

I climbed to my feet, then looked down at him. “We have to keep moving. The longer I stay still, the more I don’t want to move at all.”

He groaned as I pulled him to his feet. “I’m telling you, you would move a lot faster if you would just leave me behind. You could come back for me.”

“No, I…” I started, but quit speaking when I heard the howl of a wolf. A slight amount of relief washed over me. Somehow, I knew it was Drake. “Come on,” I said excitedly. I started walking deeper into the woods.

“What are you doing?” Luca asked, sounding concerned.

“We have to find the wolves. I can hear them. They aren’t far,” I said, as I continued to move into the denser woods.

He stopped making me halt. “Werewolves are just as bad as vampires. They will kill me,” Luca said, sounding worried.

“No. I know these wolves. They’re not like that. Drake isn’t like that,” I said, trying to make him understand.

He shook his head. “Go without me.”

I scowled and attempted to pull him. “No!” he growled, and shoved me backwards. I fell, landing with a thud. I felt my head hit something hard, and everything went black.

Chapter 22

I woke up with a start. I rolled off a bed and landed face down on the floor. I groaned in pain. The hunger was back, full force. It was what woke me up in the first place. I laid my head down, trying to focus.

“You have to feed,” Aubrey said.

The sound of his voice was both relieving and painful. I knew I was safe with him, but I knew he wouldn’t be happy with me for going after Cornelius. Now that I was a vampire, I wasn’t even sure if he would love me anymore. “No,” was all I could manage to say.

“You will not die. You will only suffer. Feed, or I will make you. I refuse to watch you suffer,” he said angrily. I could hear him move closer to me.

He grasped me around the waist and pulled me to my feet. I looked up at him. I felt so weak I didn’t think I could hold my own weight. “I know you are angry with me,” I said softly.

His expression softened and he ran his hand over my cheek. “Don’t worry about any of that. I just can’t watch you suffer. Please feed. I will not let you hurt anyone. Luca is safe. He is recovering. You obviously have control, or you would have killed him.”

I looked at him fearfully. “I had to fight so hard. The only thing that stopped me was my love for him. If I don’t have feelings for the person I know I won’t be able to stop myself.”

He watched me for a minute longer then he lifted me, and carried me back to the bed. “I will get you someone you cannot hurt,” he said, and walked out, leaving me alone.

My body felt weightless, but I was starving. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to fight the feeling. It was getting harder and harder to fight.

The door opened again, and Aubrey walked in, followed by Drake. Drake looked a little hesitant. Aubrey’s big idea was to have me feed on Drake. Drake was a werewolf, so I couldn’t hurt him very easily. He didn’t look like he wanted to volunteer for the job.

Aubrey walked over to me and lifted me so I was in a sitting position. “Drake, please come here,” Aubrey said softly.

Drake reluctantly walked over to us and offered Aubrey his wrist. Aubrey bit into it. The scent of fresh blood hit me. My mouth watered as my eyes stayed locked on the stream of blood coming from Drake’s wrist. Aubrey pressed Drake’s wrist to my lips. Hot blood filled my mouth. I cried in relief and grasped his wrist. I could feel Drake stiffen, and Aubrey tightened his hold on me. I felt my body strengthen and the hunger ease. It felt like taking a sip of cold water after having none for hours.

“That’s enough, love,” Aubrey whispered as he pulled Drake’s wrist out of my grasp. Drake turned and walked out. Aubrey cradled me as he stroked my hair. I felt a lot better, but I was still tired. I wanted more, but I pushed the thought away. It was easier to do now that I’d had a little.

“What happens now?” I asked, as I laid in his arms, content.

“I don’t know,” Aubrey said, as he gently kissed my head. “I suggest you come see your friends. They are worried about you.”

The thought was not an appealing one. I didn’t want everyone seeing me like this. I was a monster. I wasn’t even sure if I was the same person. “I don’t know if I can,” I said softly.

Before Aubrey could speak, the door slammed open, startling me a little. Colin stood there, taking in the scene in front of him. “You went anyway? Against everyone’s warning!” he yelled.

I sat up slowly. I knew he would be the maddest of them all. “I thought I was strong enough to handle him,” I said, feeling chided.

He scoffed. “Aubrey can barely handle Cornelius. How could you possibly think you could?” he asked angrily.

“I wasn’t thinking, and now I am paying for it. Yelling at me isn’t going to solve anything,” I countered, trying not to lose my temper.

Colin looked at Aubrey. “This is your fault.”

Aubrey stood obviously offended by his remark. “I suppose you thought it best that she be lied to. After all, you used to be a hunter. Now you are masquerading as a vampire who is part of a rag-tag resistance because you can’t make it with the real vampires,” Aubrey countered.

Colin moved in a blur of speed and slammed Aubrey up against the wall. “I care about her! I knew this would happen if she was told. You led her right to him. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were working with your dear brother!” Colin spat.

Aubrey shoved him back and straightened his clothes. “I did no such thing, and I won’t justify a fight with you over this. Perhaps your entire issue is over the fact that she is mine, not yours.”

Colin scoffed. “You are no good for her,” he growled, then stormed out.

I looked at Aubrey, unsure what to say. “I know everyone is angry. I can’t change anything now,” I said softly.

He sighed. “They’ll get used to it. Just give them a while. Luca is asking for you; I suggest you go check in before he gets antsy.” He walked out without waiting for my reply. I knew he was angry at me, just like Colin. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t plan on being changed. Cornelius claimed he was going to kill me. Part of me was beginning to think that would have been the better option.

*****

 

I knocked gently on the door to Luca’s room. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to say. We hadn’t addressed the fact that he had been lying the entire time I knew him. I wasn’t even really sure how I was going to handle it, or even if I should.

The door opened and Luca looked me over. He looked slightly relieved. He pulled me into a hug. I stiffened a little. As much as I tried not to, I could feel the hunger just beneath the surface. I could hear his heart pumping the blood through his veins. I was starting to understand vampires, and I didn’t like it. I pulled away and pushed the hunger back down. “Aubrey said you wanted to see me.”

He nodded as he pulled me into the room and shut the door behind me. “I wanted to make sure you were okay. I didn’t mean to knock you out like that. You were talking about finding werewolves. I didn’t realize they were your friends like that.”

“It’s okay. I understand you were afraid. I was, too,” I said softly as I sat down on the bed.

“What are you going to do now?” he asked as he sat down next to me.

“Stay here, I suppose. Find a way to kill Cornelius. I have a few plans,” I said absently, as I looked around. It looked like he had made himself at home in Aubrey’s hideout.

“I was going to try to join Colin’s group, but as you can imagine, he isn’t very happy with me. He seems determined to blame everyone for what happened,” he said dryly.

“I know; he was yelling at Aubrey earlier. So, are you staying here, then?” I asked, watching him. I thought it was a little amusing that he was going to stay in a vampire hideout. I frequented the place, but I didn’t stay permanently and never imagined I would.

“Aubrey said I could. I want to stay wherever you are. I swear, from now on I will never lie to you again.” He sounded more like he was begging for my approval than asking.

I wanted to be angry with him, but for some reason I wasn’t. We had too much history. There were so many times when he was the only one there for me. He was my only family. In a way, I had betrayed him by joining the renegades just as much as he had betrayed me. He was young, and following orders; maybe I was just being selfish. Everything seemed so messed up. Nothing was as clear to me as it had been before. “I don’t really know what I am going to do. Whatever it is, I don’t want you getting hurt.”

“I owe you,” he said softly.

I sighed as I stood. “No, you don’t. You didn’t know any better. It would be safer for you to avoid me.” As I turned to walk away, he caught me by my wrist.

“I won’t take no for an answer,” he said firmly.

I smiled softly. “Just get some rest. I will see you around,” I said, as I pulled away from him. I walked out, leaving him sitting there. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next, so I walked to the bar. I needed a drink. Vampires seemed to drink alcohol a lot. I hoped it would help me think more clearly in some way, but I doubted it.

I stepped into the bar. The place quieted. It was probably shocking for some of them to see a hunter turned into a vampire. They were probably worried I would kill them. I could imagine a normal hunter would have been angry if he or she were turned. The vampires probably thought I was out for revenge.

I ignored all the curious, worried stares and walked to the bar. I took a seat and the bartender looked me over. “Tough night?”

“You have no idea. I’ll take anything as long as it is strong,” I muttered.

He smiled and started mixing me a drink.

“Well, I see you found Cornelius,” Justin said, sounding slightly amused as he took a seat next to me.

“I am glad you think it’s funny,” I growled, trying to control my temper. I noticed I was really quick to get angry, but not very quick to get sad or happy. It kind of bothered me.

He sighed. “It isn’t funny. It was kind of expected. Well, I thought you would be dead. I didn’t think Cornelius was dumb enough to keep you alive.”

“You know what? It is funny. I thought he would kill me, too. I guess I am not that lucky,” I said dryly.

“You really aren’t,” he said.

I smiled and shook my head. At least he felt the same way I did about the whole thing. He was the only one not acting like I was an idiot. It was actually a relief to be around someone who wasn’t giving me a look of disappointment.

“There you are. Did you check in with Luca?” Aubrey asked, as he came to stand beside me. He signaled the bartender to make him a drink as he did.

I nodded. “I hear he is going to stay here for a while.”

“Until I can get Colin to take him. But, as you can tell, Colin and I aren’t on the best of terms,” he said dryly.

“What do I do now?” I asked quietly, as I spun the glass in front of me.

He watched me for a second, then looked away. “You learn control, learn your abilities. You do what every other vampire in the world does.”

I sighed as I stood. “That isn’t good enough,” I muttered, then downed my drink. I turned and walked toward the exit. I wanted to get out of the place. I didn’t want to be a vampire.

Aubrey appeared in front of me. “Where are you going?” he asked in a clipped tone.

“For a walk. Why?” I asked. I was a little annoyed that he was attempting to stop me from leaving.

“You had a hard time resisting a hunter’s blood. That is far less appealing than a human’s. I cannot allow you to walk outside when a buffet is waiting,” he snapped.

“I already fed. I will be fine,” I countered.

He scoffed. “You had barely anything. Just enough to sate your hunger temporarily. I guarantee you, the moment you see a human, you will rip their throat out. Do you want that?” He was speaking louder than necessary. Everyone in the bar was watching us, and it was slightly embarrassing. I felt like a child he was reprimanding. In a way, I guess, I was.

“Fine. I will go to my room,” I growled. I turned and walked back toward my room. I was furious that he was treating me like a child. I knew he was only doing it to help me, but it still irritated me.

 

*****

 

I really didn’t need to spend hours in my room alone with my thoughts. I was going stir crazy. I couldn’t calm down, and I was hungry again. I didn’t want to feed. The thought felt wrong to me. When I had finally fed on Drake, I’d felt guilty for liking it. I was beginning to think my hunter side was counteracting with my vampire side. I started to wonder how I was going to make it work. I wondered how Colin made it work.

I found my phone and dialed his number. Maybe talking to him would help me.

“I assume you are on lockdown, and that’s why you’re calling instead of coming to the warehouse?” Colin didn’t really sound that happy to hear from me. I wasn’t sure if I should just hang up or tell him the reason I was calling.

“I don’t want to fight, Colin. I need help,” I said softly. I knew I sounded pathetic, but I wanted him to talk to me.

“I’m sorry, Lily. What do you need?” he asked, softening his tone.

“I want to know how you feed,” I whispered.

“What do you mean?” he asked, sounding slightly confused.

I rolled my eyes at the ceiling. “I don’t mean the mechanics. I mean… How do you do it without feeling like you are doing something wrong?”

He paused. “It never goes away. All you can do is try to bury it.”

“I don’t know if I can bury it. I fed on Drake’s wrist, and I felt like I shouldn’t have. I feel like such a monster.” I knew he had to feel the same way. He used to be a hunter. He had to know how it felt to be different from other vampires.

“Most vampires don’t fear killing. Their sole mission is to survive, and in order to survive they hunt. Even though we are vampires, the hunter part of us remains. The part of us that wants to help instead of hurt. It is what makes us stronger than them. We can fight the urge to kill,” he said, like it would make a big difference.

“But we have to feed, so what does it matter?” I asked, confused.

“Because that is what makes you more human and less of a monster. It will keep you from being a tyrant like Cornelius. You have to learn to live with it, and realize it isn’t a bad thing,” he said softly.

“You say I’m not a monster, but I feel like one. I feel like if I even attempt to feed I will hurt someone,” I said, trying to make him understand.

“Listen to Aubrey. He will train you. It is not as impossible as it seems,” he said, sounding confident.

“Thank you. It’s nice to know I am not the only one who feels like this,” I said, smiling.

“If you need anything, just call. I will come see you when I can,” he said, then hung up.

I sighed, tossed the phone aside, and closed my eyes. I felt a little better, but not much.

My door opened and Aubrey came in, followed by a young man. I sat up a little straighter when I caught the man’s scent. He was human. I felt the hunger hit me hard, but I stayed where I was. “Don’t bring him in here!” I said angrily, glaring at Aubrey.

“You have to learn to be around them, and to feed on them. You will not be able to reach your full potential without human blood,” he said.

He took the guy’s arm and brought his wrist to his mouth. Aubrey’s eyes locked with mine, as if he needed to keep his eyes on me. The second Aubrey’s fangs broke the man’s skin I knew it. I scrambled backwards; off the opposite side of the bed. I pressed my body to the furthest wall, trying to get as far away from them as I could. I squeezed my eyes shut; tried to fight the hunger, block the scent.

“You cannot fight it. The more you fight, the hungrier you will get. The hungrier you are, the faster you will kill,” Aubrey said firmly.

“I will feed off a werewolf. Please, Aubrey, don’t do this to me,” I begged as I crouched down. The pain was unbearable. I could see why Aubrey refused to let me leave.

He cussed and pushed the man aside. He walked around the bed and grabbed me by my arm. He yanked me to my feet and dragged me toward the man. I struggled, trying to fight Aubrey, but he was strong and I was weak. He grabbed the man’s wrist and forced it to my mouth.

“No!” I pleaded as the hot blood touched my lips. The scent was overwhelming. It was all I could smell. I refused to open my eyes. I felt like if I saw it I would want it more.

“Stop fighting, Lillian!” Aubrey ordered, as he pressed the man’s wrist firmly to my mouth.

The sweet hot blood filled my mouth. I cried in pleasure and grasped the man’s wrist. I drank quickly, savoring the taste. I wanted to pull away, but I couldn’t.

“That is enough,” Aubrey said softly, but I ignored him. “Lillian!” he growled as he pulled the man’s wrist from my grasp. “Leave now,” he ordered the man.

I attempted to go after the man. I wanted more. The hunger was still there. It still hurt. I needed more blood. Aubrey wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me back to the bed. I struggled, trying to fight him, but he had an iron grip. I wanted it. I couldn’t fight it. I had to think of something else.

I pressed my mouth to Aubrey’s, trying to distract myself. I was surprised when he kissed me back. I was beginning to think he understood what I was trying to do. He relaxed his grip and deepened the kiss. It was working; the hunger was easing, and lust was taking over.

I tore the front of his shirt open and ran my hands down his chest. I fought his shirt off, and my hands went to the button on his pants.

“Lily, I don’t think…” he mumbled against my lips.

“Please, it’s working,” I pleaded as I undid the button of his jeans.

He relented and undid my jeans. He slid them off along, with my panties. He attempted to undo my shirt, but I didn’t want to wait. I pulled him over me and lifted my hips. His hard cock filled me, and pleasure rushed over me. I’d anticipated the feeling so much, and when it happened, it was incredible.

We moved together. My body felt like it was on fire. “Slow down, baby,” he whispered softly.

“I don’t want to. I need this,” I whispered breathlessly. Pleasure was building. It felt so incredible. My nails dug into the soft flesh of his back. The scent of blood filled the air as my nails broke his skin. I cried out as a rush of pleasure coursed through me.

He cried out, and I felt him release. My body completely relaxed as the euphoria filled me. The hunger was gone. I hadn’t even thought about it the entire time. All I could think about was how good he felt.

“This is an avoidance mechanism. This is not how it is supposed to work. I will not always be there to fuck you into control,” he growled, as he got to his feet.

I didn’t say anything. I knew he was right, but he didn’t have to be so rude about it. He dressed, but refused to look at me. I didn’t understand why he was treating me like this. I knew he was angry, but I didn’t understand how that overrode his love for me.

“You should go out with the others. Staying in your room isn’t the answer,” he said curtly, as he reached for the door handle.

“Why are you so angry with me? I thought we loved each other,” I said, confused.

He hesitated, but he didn’t look at me. “I loved Lillian Rayne, the hunter, not the vampire,” he said softly, then walked out, closing the door behind me.

His words hurt. I felt like he’d ripped my heart out. I stood and dressed. I was shaking with anger. I had to leave, to run. He’d just told me he didn’t love me because of what I was. The thought made me sick. All I could hear, over and over again, was, “He doesn’t love me,” and it was driving me insane.

I walked back to the bar. It was early morning and the crowd had thinned out. I walked toward the door.

“Aubrey said you couldn’t leave,” Justin said from behind me.

I turned and glared at him. “Are you going to tell?”

He raised his hands in surrender. “I’m not going to say anything.”

I turned and walked out. I didn’t want to fight with him; I wanted to leave.

I walked down the alley quickly. Drunk club-goers were spilling out onto the street as the clubs began to close. I could smell them, all of them.

I walked quickly down the sidewalk. My car wasn’t far. I got in and started it. I sped off in the direction of the warehouse. I didn’t know where else to go. I knew Aubrey would be angry, but he was already angry. He hated me.

*****

I pulled into the warehouse and turned my car off. There wasn’t much going on due to the time. I just sat there, trying to decide what my next move would be. I kind of wondered if anyone here even wanted me around. They could all feel the same way Aubrey did.

Colin stepped out of the warehouse and walked toward his car. He hesitated when he saw me. He changed direction and walked toward my car. I sighed and climbed out.

“I thought you were on lockdown,” he said, watching me.

“I was, but I couldn’t stay there any longer.” I didn’t want to elaborate. I didn’t want to say out loud what Aubrey had said. The memory alone hurt enough.

“Well, you can’t stay on the street. You can come home with me,” he said softly. He obviously sensed I didn’t want to talk about it, which was a relief.

“Or she can come home with me, her maker,” Cornelius said, appearing out of nowhere.

Colin moved to stand between Cornelius and me. “Leave her alone. You might have made her, but you don’t own her, just like you don’t own me.”

Cornelius smiled. “Lillian is special. She is going to stay with me. I suggest you step aside.”

“You know I will fight you until the end,” Colin growled, stepping forward.

Cornelius raised a knife and smiled. “Before you do, you should know something about your precious little Lillian.”

We watched as Cornelius ran the silver blade across his palm. I cried out, startled, and looked at my hand. There was a cut across my palm; a cut identical to the one Cornelius had made on his own palm.

Colin grasped my hand and examined it. He glared at Cornelius. “You son of a bitch. You linked yourself to her!”

Cornelius smiled. “I did. So if you are thinking about fighting, know you will cause her whatever pain you cause me.”

I felt my stomach knot up. If Colin knew he would hurt me by hurting Cornelius, he wouldn’t fight like he could. Cornelius would end up killing Colin.

“I will go,” I said, stepping past Colin.

Colin caught my wrist. “You can’t,” he said, worried.

“I don’t have a choice. You aren’t going to die because of me,” I said softly, then pulled my wrist out of his grasp.

I walked to Cornelius and stood in front of him. “Leave him alone. I will go with you freely.”

He smiled and offered his hand. I swallowed hard and put my hand in his. He kissed the back of my hand. I wanted to pull away, but I fought the urge. He pulled me into his arms. There was a sudden rush and we were back in Cornelius’s house. I was back in hell.

“What do you want from me, Cornelius? Don’t you think you have taken enough from me?” I asked angrily.

He moved closer to me. I wanted to move away, but I was rooted in place. I knew he was controlling me. Strong vampires had that ability over the vampires they created. He leaned into me and breathed in my scent. “Perhaps I just enjoy your company,” he whispered, as he brushed his lips against my neck.

“You can enjoy my company from a distance. Obviously you feel I will reject you, and that is why you are forcing me to stand here,” I growled.

His eyes met mine. I couldn’t read his expression. He cupped my cheek. “You are so defiant. It won’t be long before you will be able to break my hold over you.” He turned and walked away from me. I felt his hold on me release.

I relaxed a little, but not much. He walked over to the bar to make himself a drink. I didn’t understand what his mission was. He made it so no one could hurt him without hurting me. There had to be a reason. Suddenly, it occurred to me that the spell might go the other way as well. If I hurt myself, maybe it would hurt him. I looked around me to see if I could find some form of weapon. The stair rails had a sharp post on the end. His back was turned to me, so I walked over to the rail. I took a breath to prepare myself for the pain. I pressed my palm down onto the sharp point.

I saw him freeze. He suddenly spun around and glared at me. “Yes, you can hurt me if you hurt yourself,” he growled, annoyed, as he walked back toward me.

I pressed my hand down onto the post further. “Stop and be still,” he ordered.

I felt my body freeze. He was back in control of my body; it was irritating. “What is the point of linking us? What could you possibly gain?” I asked angrily.

He smiled. “I gain you. And to make things even sweeter, if my brother kills me, he kills you – the love of his life,” he said dramatically.

I swallowed the pain his words caused. He really had no idea. I wasn’t Aubrey’s love, not anymore. Cornelius had already won, he just didn’t know it yet. “It won’t work,” I said softly.

He smiled confidently. “I am pretty sure Aubrey won’t like the fact that you are in my care. It has been a long time since he was fond of me. Go sit on the couch so you are comfortable,” he ordered.

I didn’t have a choice. I walked to the couch and sat down. He was controlling me, and it was an incredibly odd feeling. I felt like my movements weren’t my own, even thought I was making them.

“Would you like a drink?” he asked as he walked back to the bar.

“That depends on whether you are going to drug me. Or is that just something my uncle does for you?” I asked, trying to be difficult.

He smiled. “As you can see, I don’t need drugs to encourage you to do as I wish.”

I scowled. “I will have one,” I said, relenting.

He turned back toward what he was doing. “I thought so. So, are you going to tell me what the look of loss was for when I mentioned your dear Aubrey?”

I scoffed. “I am not telling you anything.”

He laughed. “You know I could make you, but I don’t think I will. I believe one day we will be friends. You and I are not as different as you think.”

“I am nothing like you!” I said angrily. I attempted to fight his control, but it was useless. I didn’t even know what I was fighting.

“Calm down, and keep your voice down,” he said, amused, as he set my drink on the coffee table in front of me. He took a seat in the chair next to the couch I was on. “Once all your friends turn their backs on you, and your true colors start to come out… You will become like me, I can assure you.”

“I will never kill anyone. Colin said I can fight it, just like he did!” I said angrily. I wanted to yell and scream, but I was stuck, motionless. All I could do was talk.

He started laughing. “Colin is a liar and a weakling. I should have known he would feed you lies to make himself look better. Colin killed four young women his first day as a vampire. Frankly, I am shocked you haven’t killed anyone yet. Hunters seem to have more of a bloodlust then human fledglings.”

I watched him for a second. “You’re a liar,” I said softly, even though I wasn’t completely convinced he was lying.

“I was there. I think I would know,” he said, amused.

“If he did kill like that, it was your fault. You were his maker; you should have controlled him,” I countered.

He laughed. “I didn’t care if he killed humans. That is what they are there for. How do you think vampires learn control? They learn by gorging themselves until they eventually level out.”

“I know I will never be like you. I don’t dismiss life so easily,” I said softly.

“Correction, love, you do not dismiss human life so easily. Humans to me are like vampires to you. You didn’t mind putting a stake through as many vampires as you could find, but you call me a monster for surviving by feeding on humans. That is a little hypocritical, don’t you think?” he asked, amused.

I didn’t reply. He was technically right, but I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of admitting it. “What are you going to do with me?” I asked tiredly.

H smiled. “That is completely up to you. I could tell you what I would like to do, but I do not think you will be very agreeable,” he said suggestively.

I scoffed. “I figured you would force me, just like you have been.”

“You can have your drink,” he said, as he nodded toward the glass on the table. “I am not going to force you to be with me, because I know you will come to me on your own one day.”

It was my turn to laugh. “That will never happen.”

“Never say never, dear,” he said, amused. “Why don’t you go up to your room? Do not leave without my permission.”

I sighed and downed my drink. Then I walked up the stairs and back to the room he had me in when he originally turned me. I was glad to be away from him, but I was still in his house.

Chapter 23

I woke up when my bedroom door opened. I hadn’t even realized I’d fallen asleep. I guessed it was another one of Cornelius’s tricks. I straightened when a human man walked into the room. He smiled at me. It was a lazy smile; I could tell he was under a trance.

“Leave,” I ordered, when I felt the hunger hit me.

“I am here to feed you. I can’t leave,” he said softly.

Something glinted in his hand, and I realized he was holding a knife. I stood watching him as he slid the knife across his wrist. He didn’t even act like it hurt as blood poured from his wound. The scent of fresh blood overwhelmed me, but I refused to give in. He went to cut his other wrist and I lunged at him. I snatched the knife out of his hand and he looked at me, confused.

“You are supposed to eat. He said not to stop cutting until you did,” he said, sounding out of it. He was definitely in a trance. Cornelius must have sent him, knowing I wouldn’t give in easily. He was going to let the guy cut himself up.

The hunger was still there, but my anger was quickly overriding it. I looked down at the knife and tried to decide what to do. I was going to retaliate. It may not last long, but it would hurt Cornelius a little. I closed my eyes and plunged the knife into my stomach. The pain was excruciating. I was comforted slightly by knowing Cornelius would feel it as well.

I fell to my knees as I cried out in agony. The man came to me and offered me his wrist, but I shoved him away. I knew that if I fed, I would heal. I was afraid Cornelius would heal as well. I twisted the knife deeper, causing more pain. It wouldn’t kill me or him, but it hurt like hell.

The door slammed opened and a female vampire rushed in. She hauled me to my feet and ripped the knife from my abdomen. “You are a stupid girl,” she growled, before throwing me against the wall and marching out. The human followed her out. I was losing a lot of blood, fast. Everything slowly went dark. I couldn’t help but feel a small amount of satisfaction. Obviously he’d sent the female vampire because he was in too much pain to come after me himself.

 

*****

 

I woke up choking on something cold and disgusting. Someone put their hand over my mouth to keep me from spitting.

“You are going to drink cold blood out of a bag, since you refuse to feed like a normal vampire,” Cornelius growled.

He dumped more of the cold blood into my mouth, and clamped his hand over my jaw. I tried to pull his hand off my mouth, but it was impossible. The blood was disgusting, but I was starting to feel my strength come back and my wound heal. He forced me to drain the entire bag.

He released me, and I rolled off the bed away from him, coughing and sputtering. The stuff was disgusting, but it worked. I landed on my knees on the opposite side of the bed.

“I hope you feel better. This was donated blood; no one died for it,” he said, amused. He had to know how nasty it was.

I just glared at him. “I didn’t need any blood.”

“Yes, you did. I can tell by the amount you lost on my Persian rug. Thank you for that, by the way. That rug was one of my favorites, and now it is garbage,” he said as he climbed off the bed and stood.

“You look a little pale yourself,” I said, smiling slightly.

He watched me, grinning. “I am sure you thought your little stunt was amusing. Just remember – I don’t mind killing a few innocent humans to heal.” He turned and walked out before I had a chance to reply. I wasn’t really sure what to reply with.

I stood slowly and looked down at myself. My clothes were covered in dried blood. I needed a shower and a change of clothes. I looked around the room for clothes, but all that was in the closet was the stupid dress he brought me the first night I was here. It was a beautiful blue velvet, and I was sure it would be stunning on me, but I didn’t want to wear it. On the other hand, it didn’t really look like I had a choice now that I’d ruined the only other clothes I had.

 

*****

 

I stood in front of the mirror. I looked like a vampire, and I hated it. It was my eyes; my eyes betrayed what I was.

The door opened and the female vampire that ripped the knife out of me walked in the room. She looked me over, and she didn’t look happy. “He requests your presence downstairs. If you say no, he has given me permission to make you. I really would enjoy making you,” she said snidely.

I rolled my eyes and marched out past her. I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of making me do anything. I walked down the stairs and waited at the bottom for her.

“This way,” she ordered, as she walked past me. I could hear what sounded like a party going on. There always seemed to be a party going on in Cornelius’s house. I followed her into the room where the party was happening. I spotted Cornelius first; then my eyes landed on Aubrey. Aubrey wasn’t standing far from Cornelius. Relief and excitement washed over me.

“Aubrey,” I said excitedly, and hurried to him.

He wrapped his arms around me, and I felt a little better. “Are you okay?” he asked softly as he looked me over.

I nodded. “I am fine.”

He looked at Cornelius. “Let her go. You have had your fun.”

Cornelius smiled. “No, I won’t let her go. Quite frankly, brother, I am surprised you even still want the girl. I figured once she was turned you would lose interest. Isn’t that right, Charlotte?” Cornelius looked to my escort. She stiffened, but didn’t answer.

Aubrey looked from Charlotte to Cornelius. “My relationships are none of your business. Let her go,” he growled.

“No. You can come see her, but she remains with me. She is my fledgling, and I refuse to turn such a beauty over to you,” Cornelius said amused as he sat down in a chair. He was so arrogant it was irritating.

“I don’t want to stay with you,” I growled, stepping toward him.

“Ah, ah. Behave Lillian. I don’t want to make you in front of our guests,” he said, smiling.

I balled my hands into fists and pressed my lips together. It was irritating that he had power over me. I felt helpless when it came to him, and I hated it.

“There must be a reason for this. What do you want in exchange for her?” Aubrey asked as he stepped up beside me.

Cornelius looked from him to me. “Nothing. I want her. Now, enjoy your time with her and stop irritating me, or I’ll make you leave.”

Aubrey muttered in annoyance. He grasped my hand and led me away from Cornelius. He stopped on the other side of the room and turned to face me. “I can’t fight him. I will end up hurting you if I do,” he said, sounding upset.

I looked away and tried not to cry. I felt the tears right under the surface. “I thought vampires didn’t cry,” I muttered in annoyance.

He laughed softly and brushed my hair out of my face. “It will go away with time. It takes a few years for us to lose most of our human emotion. I am kind of glad you want to cry.”

I smiled sadly and shook my head. “Why is he keeping me here? What does he have to gain?”

“I haven’t figured that out, but I will. I will find a way to break this link he has created, so you can be free.” He moved closer to me as he spoke.

I knew he was going to kiss me, and I was anticipating the feeling of his lips on mine. He gently pressed his lips into mine. I closed my eyes and pressed my body to his. The sudden searing pain on my hand made me cry out, and I pulled away from him. I looked down at my hand and it had a burn. I looked over at Cornelius, and he smiled, amused. He was sitting next to a candle. I knew he did it, and it infuriated me more. I started to advance on him, but Aubrey caught my wrist.

“He will only make you suffer more if you play his game,” Aubrey said softly.

“What else am I supposed to do?” I asked angrily. “I am stuck here until he gets bored.”

Aubrey looked away, then looked back at me. “Maybe you are safer here. At least you are in control here.”

I looked at him, startled. “How could you say that after all he has done?”

Aubrey shook his head and looked away. “He is a vampire. He is no different than me. He can help you control yourself and learn yourself better than I can.”

I pulled my hand out of his and glared at him angrily. “I can’t believe you would say that. Obviously I am as important to you as I was beginning to think!” I said. When he didn’t respond, I turned and walked away. I hurried back up the stairs away from him and away from Cornelius. I didn’t want to be near either of them. I preferred to take my chances on my own at this point.

I paced my room, trying to decide what to do. I could try to run, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t get far. Cornelius had a close watch on me. Not to mention he could make me do whatever he wanted. I was trapped, and Aubrey, my only hope for escape, thought I should stay.

Chapter 24

 

I opened my eyes. I wasn’t in my room. I was in a bed with curtains all the way around it. I looked down at myself. I was naked. The curtains moved to the side, and Cornelius smiled down at me. I looked at him, confused. “What the hell is going on?” I asked nervously.

He climbed over me. He was completely naked. My eyes wandered his body. He was a very good-looking man, like Aubrey. He smiled down at me. “Relax, Lillian; this is just a dream. We can have sex in a dream,” he whispered, and pressed his lips to mine.

I pushed him off me and sat up. “What about Aubrey?” I said, worried. If I slept with Cornelius I would lose Aubrey. He was saying it was a dream, but it didn’t feel like one.

Aubrey left you behind. He doesn’t want you. You are no longer human. He doesn’t want a monster,” he whispered, as he laid kisses over my shoulder.

That isn’t true,” I whispered, trying to hide the sadness in my voice.

I believe he said it to you, my dear. I am the only one that wants you now,” he said softly as he ran his hands up my arms. He laid gentle kisses along my neck. I closed my eyes. I felt myself starting to enjoy his touch. I stood abruptly when I realized what I was letting him do….

I woke up with a start. The room was dark and I was alone. I was completely dressed. I groaned in relief and collapsed back on the bed. It was just a dream. I wasn’t actually thinking about having sex with Cornelius. I wouldn’t betray Aubrey like that. I didn’t understand why I would have a dream like that. It made me a little uneasy.

I felt the hunger just below the surface. I stood and walked to the window. I peeked out, then looked at the clock. It was just after dusk. I’d slept through the day and hadn’t even realize it.

I walked to the door and stepped out into the hall. Cornelius was walking toward my room. He smiled and waved a bag of blood in front of me. “I was looking forward to the fight.”

I scowled and snatched the bag from him. “I will eat it on my own.” I turned to walk back into my room, and he caught me around the waist.

I felt his lips brush my ear, and my thoughts went back to the dream. “Sex in a dream isn’t a betrayal.”

I turned and glared at him. “You made me have that dream, didn’t you?” I asked angrily.

He smiled playfully. “I was bored. I almost had you.”

I scoffed. “No, you didn’t,” I muttered, as I opened the door and walked back into my room. I slammed the door and sat down on my bed. I looked down at the bag of blood. It really didn’t look appealing, and I knew it tasted horrible compared to the real thing.

My door opened and Cornelius walked. “You look so enthusiastic over that bag of blood. I can still get you the real thing. We could feed together. It would strengthen our bond.”

“I don’t want to strengthen our bond, you ass,” I growled, and turned so I was facing away from him. I felt him climb on the bed. I rolled my eyes when his hands touched my shoulders. “Go away.”

He laughed softly as he took the bag from my hand and pulled the cap off. He leaned me back against his chest and pressed the bag to my lips. I didn’t fight; I knew if I did, he would just force me. I closed my eyes as the cold blood filled my mouth. I slowly drank. Even though it wasn’t great, it was still nourishing.

I felt his hand stray lower to my belly. I was a little nervous about how brazen he was being, but I didn’t argue. He fingers gently tapped on my belly as I fed. When the bag was empty, I groaned, disappointed. I wanted more. “Can I have more?” I asked softly.

“Of course,” he said amused. “Charlotte is bringing more.”

After a few minutes Charlotte opened the door and handed him a bag. “She can’t feed herself?” she asked haughtily.

“Go, Charlotte,” he ordered.

She rolled her eyes and marched out, leaving us alone. Cornelius opened the second bag and pressed it to my lips. I slowly drank, savoring this bag. The first bag I’d consumed quickly. I wanted this bag to last. Once it was empty, I sat up. I felt better, more relaxed, stronger.

Cornelius pressed his lips to my neck. I felt my stomach tighten in pleasure. I didn’t like the feeling, so I immediately stood. I turned and glared at him. “I am not having sex with you,” I growled. I hated how he made me feel. I wanted to hate him, and he was making it impossible.

He sighed and laid back on the bed. A lazy smile played at his lips. “How long is it going to take you to realize Aubrey doesn’t want you anymore? I can give you everything you could ever want, but you still push me away. Why?”

“I don’t want to be a monster like you! I want to be free. I want to be with Aubrey. I love Aubrey!” I said angrily.

He scowled and stood. “Fine. You are free. Go to Aubrey. Tell him how you feel, but do not come running back to me when he rejects you.” He turned and stormed out.

I stood looking at the door, not sure what to do. I wanted to go. I wanted to run to Aubrey, but I was afraid Cornelius was right. What if Aubrey no longer wanted me? The fear I would leave and not be allowed to come back seemed irrational, but it was there. I was afraid to find out Cornelius was telling the truth, that I wouldn’t have anywhere to go. As fucked up as Cornelius was, he could have been a lot worse. He could force me to feed on humans, but he didn’t.

I sat down on the bed, unable to make up my mind. I didn’t want to stay, but I was afraid to leave. Maybe this was another one of Cornelius’s mind tricks. I suddenly realized I felt very alone and cold. I was actually scared. I never used to be scared. It had to be Cornelius’s doing. I stood with my fists clenched and stepped toward the door. I put my hand on the knob, then hesitated. The fear was stifling. I closed my eyes and pressed my forehead to the door. The cool wood made me focus a little better. Maybe I should wait and see what happened. Aubrey had suggested I stay with Cornelius. There had to be a reason for it.

I cussed and turned away from the door. I walked to the window, and looked out. It was after dark, and I knew the party would be in full swing downstairs. I could hear the music, and if I focused I could hear voices.

I felt my cheek dampen and realized I was crying. I angrily wiped the tears away and turned away from the window. I was hungry and afraid. I wanted to run, and I wanted to stay. I was so confused I could barely think straight. I walked to my bed and lay down. I felt so weak and tired. I knew it was because I was fighting so hard against feeding, but I was so afraid of becoming a monster if I allowed myself to like it.

*****

 

I woke up with a start. My door opened, and Cornelius stood there. I rolled onto my side, so my back was to him. “Leave me alone,” I muttered.

“I didn’t even think you would be here. What are you doing here?” he asked, as he came into the room and shut the door.

“I don’t really know,” I said softly. I was relieved that I hadn’t started crying immediately.

He climbed on the bed and lay next to me. I immediately felt safer, but I didn’t like the feeling. It was confusing. I didn’t want to feel safe with him; I wanted to be with Aubrey. I quickly pushed the thought away. The fear that Aubrey would reject me was too much to bear.

“Has Aubrey called or checked in on me?” I asked quietly hoping he did, but I had a feeling he didn’t.

“He just saw you last night. It is not like Aubrey to continually check on someone. Besides, deep down, I am sure he knows you are safe.” He was obviously trying to let me down easy. I knew Aubrey hadn’t called; I was just hoping he had.

I sat up trying to get rid of the feeling of overwhelming sadness. “How do I stop feeling so miserable?” I asked angrily.

“You start enjoying what you are instead of fighting it. You are starving yourself, so your powers cannot manifest. You have no idea what your abilities are because you won’t nourish yourself enough to let them out. The emotions will go, eventually, if you focus on other things. Everything is only overwhelming because you are determined to fight,” he said softly.

“I’m afraid that if I let go, I won’t be the same person,” I said, trying not to cry.

He moved closer to me and wrapped his arms around me. “You are not the same person, love. You are much better than you were. Stronger, faster, more beautiful. Change isn’t always bad,” he whispered. His lips brushed my ear, and I could feel my body start to give in to him. I fought the urge and stood. I turned and looked at him.

He looked slightly disappointed, but amused. “Can I go see Aubrey? I will come back, I just have to see him,” I begged. I didn’t want to have nowhere to come back to, but I wanted to talk to Aubrey. I needed him to tell me how he really felt.

He sighed relenting. “Yes, you may go see him…” I felt my heart leap. He was going to let me go. “On one condition,” he continued.

I suddenly didn’t feel as enthusiastic. “What condition?” I asked nervously.

“You feed with me. You are hungry, and I won’t let you go out starving. You will end up doing something you will regret, and we are not like humans. Our regrets last much longer,” he said, as he climbed to his feet.

I shifted nervously, watching him. He was right. I needed to feed before I left. I would have preferred bagged blood, but bagged blood wasn’t going to work forever, and I knew it. “Okay,” I said softly.

His smiled widened. “Excellent,” he said, standing. He offered his hand to me. I slipped my hand in his, and he led me out of the room.

He led me down the stairs to where the party was going on. It was a little after midnight. I would feed; then I would go find Aubrey. I really wanted to get it over with. I would have much rather been in Aubrey’s company then Cornelius’s.

He led me into the main room, and several women and men rushed over to Cornelius. They were all humans offering themselves to him. My mouth watered, and Cornelius tightened his grip on my hand. He obviously sensed I was on the edge of losing control. I could hear and smell their blood. The hunger was almost stifling. I was a little relieved that Cornelius had insisted I feed before I left.

“Pick one, love,” Cornelius whispered as he moved closer to me.

I looked over their faces. They were all so eager to please. I could see why the vampires were so arrogant and self-entitled. The human’s admiration and dedication was a little overwhelming. I was wondering if it was forced by Cornelius, or if they truly wanted to be there. The thought didn’t linger long in my mind; I was quickly distracted by a young male who grabbed me around the waist. It was the same guy that Cornelius had sent to my room. I had tasted him before, and I remembered how good he tasted. It was all I could think about as I breathed in his scent. “This one,” I said softly.

“Good choice,” Cornelius said, amused. He took the guy’s hand and led him along with us. The others remained where they were, as if Cornelius had given them a silent order.

Cornelius released my hand and took a seat in a private cluster of couches. He pulled the young man into his lap and exposed his neck. My eyes went to the man’s pulse, and it took everything I had not too lunge for it. “Listen carefully, Lillian. I am going to show you where you can bite him on the neck. If you bite him wrong, you will kill him quickly. Understand?”

I nodded, shifting my gaze momentarily back to Cornelius’s eyes to make sure he knew I was paying attention. Cornelius began explaining how and where to bite the man. The man just watched me patiently. He was completely unafraid. I would have been terrified if I were in his shoes. Then again, I knew vampires had extreme influence over humans. Maybe he actually loved Cornelius, in a way. He seemed to treat them all like pets. They were all well-dressed, well-groomed, and they wore expensive jewelry.

“Ready?” Cornelius asked, smiling. He saw my eagerness. He knew I was hungry, and he was having fun.

I nodded and stepped forward. I leaned over, trying to control the urge to attack. Even as docile as he was being, I still wanted to hurt him, and it scared me. “What if I hurt him?” I asked, hesitating.

“You won’t. I won’t let you. Christopher is one of my favorites,” he said.

I nodded and moved in. I felt Christopher’s pulse quicken as my lips touched his skin. I slowly sunk my fangs into his neck. Hot blood filled my mouth, and I groaned. I drank greedily, savoring how good he tasted. I felt my body start to hum. It felt like I was coming to life for the first time since I was turned.

I grasped his shoulders and buried my face deeper into his neck. His body pressed to mine. He groaned, and I could feel his erect cock pressing against my belly.

“Enough, Lillian,” Cornelius said firmly, but I didn’t pull away. I wanted more. “Enough!” he said, louder; then I went sailing backwards. I landed with a thud against the wall. I was slightly dazed, so I didn’t move immediately. I licked my lips, savoring the high the blood gave me. It felt so incredibly good, almost like the after-effects of an orgasm.

Cornelius knelt next to me and smiled as he brushed my hair out of my face. “You are eager, that’s for sure,” he said, amused.

“I didn’t hurt him, did I?” I asked nervously.

He laughed. “No, I believe you did a little more than feed from him.” I was a little confused, but he didn’t elaborate. He offered his hand and pulled me to my feet. “There is a car waiting outside. He will take you to Aubrey, then bring you back when you are ready.”

“Thank you,” I said excitedly, as I wrapped my arms around his neck and hugged him. He stiffened, like he didn’t expect the response. I didn’t really understand why I’d hugged him. I was just so excited.

I turned and hurried out before he could change his mind, or force me to stay.

*****

 

The car ride was agonizing. I felt like I had so much energy and nothing to do with it. Feeding on Christopher was far better than the bagged blood, but I was still hesitant. I didn’t think I would ever be able to feed on my own without Cornelius there to stop me. The thought bothered me a little. I was starting to accept Cornelius as part of my life, despite all he had done. There was a part of me that knew I should hate him, but I couldn’t get that part to work all the time.

I was starting to understand Cornelius. In a way, he was right. The hunters were just as brutish as the vampires. Hunters killed vampires the way vampires killed humans. It was survival; that was all each group was trying to do. Now that I was on the other side, I began to understand it all.

The car pulled up outside Aubrey’s club, tearing me from my thoughts. I quickly climbed out of the car, and hurried down the alley to the entrance of the club. I walked inside, and the place was the same as it had always been. I scanned the room, but Aubrey was nowhere in sight. I hurried through the main part of the club to the back, where Aubrey’s rooms were.

“Lillian, what are you doing here?” Justin asked as he caught my arm.

I looked at him, confused by his sudden appearance. “I need to see Aubrey.”

“Aubrey’s preoccupied,” he said softly. He would barely meet my gaze. I felt my heart wrench at the thought. He was with someone else. Justin was just trying to tell me nicely.

I yanked my hand out of his, and walked toward Aubrey’s room. I was angry. I could feel it burning inside me. It was almost blinding. Justin went to grab me again. I slapped his hand away and shoved him. I was a little startled by my own strength; he went sailing into the wall and crumpled to the floor. I considered going after him, but I wanted to see who Aubrey was with. I was too focused on his door.

My hand touched the handle. I heard a female voice giggle, then Aubrey’s low tone as he talked to her. I felt my anger burn hotter. I was so angry I could barely see straight. Don’t do something you will regret, a voice in my head said softly. It was Cornelius. I could hear him and feel him. The anger dissipated, and it was replaced by sadness, a horrible sadness that overwhelmed me. I stifled a cry as I pressed my hand to my mouth. I backed into the wall and slid to the floor. I felt like my heart had been torn from my chest. I didn’t even open the door. I didn’t have to. I knew what I was going to find.

Justin touched my shoulder, and I recoiled and stood. I felt like I was trapped. The fear and anger was stifling. I had to get out of the club. Running was all I could think about. I didn’t want to see Aubrey. I didn’t want to look at him. I couldn’t look at him, not without completely losing control.

“Rayne, I am sure…” Justin started, but I didn’t stay to listen. I turned and ran down the hall, back the way I had come. I ran through the club, and out into the alley.

I screamed in anger and punched the dumpster next to me. I put a sizable dent in it, but it didn’t ease any of the pain. The hunger came back full force. I’d just fed and it felt like I hadn’t eaten in days. I wanted to feed, had to feed.

“Lillian,” Nick said as he came out of the club. He was sliding his coat on, and had a fresh wound on his neck from Victoria.

“Get away from me,” I growled. I knew that if I fed on him I would kill him. Victoria had already fed, and he would be weak to begin with. He wouldn’t be able to handle my bloodlust.

“Damn, Lily, I thought we were friends,” he said, confused.

“We are, and as your friend, I am telling you to stay away from me,” I said angrily.

He looked like he didn’t understand, but he stayed where he was. The door to the club opened again, and Aubrey walked out. Justin followed. He’d obviously alerted Aubrey to my presence. Aubrey looked me over, and there was a sudden fear in his eyes. “Nick, get behind me,” he growled stepping in front of Nick. He obviously thought I was going to lose it, but he had to know there was no way I would kill Nick.

I watched him. My hands were balled into fists. I was wound so tight with anger, sadness, and hunger, it was almost unbearable. I didn’t speak. I wanted to run, but I was frozen. My eyes were locked with Aubrey’s. I was stuck between loving and hating him.

“Lillian, you need to calm down,” Aubrey said softly. He spoke to me like I was a rabid animal, and it only infuriated me more. “You are losing control; I can see it. Where is Cornelius?”

I began to wonder the same thing. Where was he? If there was ever a time I needed him, it was then. He always seemed to be there when I didn’t need him. Now I was sure I would kill if I was given the chance. My need for Cornelius’s guidance was more overwhelming than ever.

“I am here, love,” Cornelius whispered in my ear. His lips brushed my ear, and I knew he was real, not just in my head. I closed my eyes and sagged in relief as his arms wrapped around me, cradling me. “How could you betray her like that, brother?” Cornelius growled, directing his attention to Aubrey.

“It is obvious I am not the only betrayer here,” Aubrey countered.

“She has done nothing but cling to her love for you. She has done it to the point that it has become exhausting, and this is how you reward her?” Cornelius said angrily.

Aubrey didn’t speak. His eyes met mine, and I turned away. I buried my face in Cornelius’s chest. “Take me away from here,” I begged Cornelius as I desperately clung to him.

“Lillian, I…” Aubrey started, but Cornelius cut him off.

“You made your choice, and so has she,” Cornelius growled. There was a sudden rush. I felt safe now. Heartbroken, but safe.

*****

Cornelius laid me on my bed and brushed the hair out of my face. I looked away. I felt that if I looked at him too long, I would start crying. He reminded me of Aubrey. Everything reminded me of Aubrey. I felt like part of me had died.

“Vampires live a very long time. Infidelity is common among us because of the length of time we live. Monogamy is not a common practice for us. My brother is one of those who easily gets distracted. I am sure if you just…”

I cut him off. “I want nothing to do with him. I feel like my heart has been ripped out. I don’t want to feel like this.”

“You have to understand, your emotions are a rollercoaster right now. Everything is amplified because of the change. It will pass with time,” he said softly.

I hoped he was right, but I didn’t think a pain like this would pass so easily. I’d loved Aubrey when I was a hunter. Now, the thought of the word “love” left a bitter taste in my mouth. I wondered if he had ever been faithful to me, or if it was all just a lie. I also wondered if Cornelius had something to do with it all. Maybe that was why he was suddenly fine with me running to Aubrey. “Did you know he was with someone else? Is that why you let me go?” I asked, sitting up. The thought infuriated me. I needed someone to blame; it might as well be him.

He looked both offended and amused. “Darling, I would never do that to you. However, if you need a punching bag for your emotions, I will be glad to take the hits.”

I looked away, a little let down. I had been looking forward to having someone to blame, someone other than myself. I was being a stupid, naïve girl, the kind of girl I hated. “I didn’t kill anyone,” I said absently.

“Is that a good thing?” he asked, taking a seat on the bed next to me.

“I wanted to. I really wanted to. I was so angry I was sure I could kill anyone, but I didn’t,” I said, turning toward him.

“That’s good; you are learning control,” he said, smiling.

“Or you are helping me more than you claim,” I said haughtily. I had been thinking about it. I did feel him at odd times when I started to get overwhelmed. It was a little confusing, considering he was all for killing humans. I didn’t understand why he would stop me.

He looked down at his shirt and picked at an invisible piece of lint. “I may on occasion attempt to calm your emotions, or keep you from ripping your friend’s throats out.” His eyes met mine, and I knew that it was more than just “on occasion.” It was the only way I functioned. Without him, I would be like every young vampire. I would kill constantly until I learned, or had so much regret that I stopped.

I moved closer to him and laid my head against his shoulder. “Thank you for that. I don’t know what I would do if I hurt someone.”

He rested his hand on my thigh. I felt my stomach clench from the feeling of pleasure he gave me when he touched me. It was an amazing feeling, when I thought about it. Aubrey didn’t give me the same feeling. “You would learn not to care, like the rest of us,” he said, standing suddenly. He moved away from me, like I’d done something wrong.

“Did I do something?” I asked, confused.

He laughed nervously. “No, you are just very vulnerable right now, and I should take my leave.”

I knew he was right, so I didn’t argue. I was clinging to him because it felt like everything else was falling apart. I was surprised he was being a gentleman about it, but I didn’t want to make the same mistake with him that I did with Aubrey.

“Get some rest. I will see you this evening,” he said softly.

I nodded, and he left me alone. I didn’t feel completely alone, like I had before. I felt like he was still there, just not in the room. I lay back and attempted to relax. I knew it was going to be nearly impossible, but I was going to try.

Chapter 25

I opened my eyes and found myself lying in the same bed as my last dream. I smiled slightly. I knew this was Cornelius’s doing. I sat up, and was surprised to see I was clothed. Well, I was in a shear nighty and a pair of panties, anyway.

I thought you would rather be dressed,” Cornelius said, amused. He was sitting in a chair near the bed. He was only wearing a pair of silk pajama pants, and was holding a drink, as he always seemed to.

You call this dressed?” I teased as I climbed out of the bed and walked toward him.

He smiled as his eyes traveled the length of my body. “You are as dressed as I can stand.”

I climbed into his lap and lay against his chest. I closed my eyes. “I like this dream,” I murmured.

He laughed. “I have to say, I do, too. Heaven knows you wouldn’t crawl into my lap if it were real.”

I sighed. “I don’t ever want to feel that way again,” I said sadly.

Betrayal is one of the worst feelings. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most common feelings,” he said dryly.

Why did you kill my parents?” I asked, changing the subject.

I felt him stiffen at the sudden topic change. “I am sure you understand the vampire – hunter rivalry by now.”

It doesn’t seem like you would be so irrational. You seem so put together and calm,” I said, confused.

I wasn’t always that way.” He stood suddenly. “You need rest,” He carried me to the bed and laid me down.

I looked up at him. He was avoiding giving me details, and it bothered me. I wanted to question him more, but he saw it in my expression. He pressed his finger to my lips. “Sleep,” he ordered, and everything drifted to black.

*****

 

I woke up slowly as the hunger began. I was a little less appalled by the prospect of feeding. In fact, I was actually looking forward to it. I could hear the party going on, like it always did, and was surprised Cornelius hadn’t come for me yet. It was well after dark.

I showered and dressed. Cornelius had some clothes brought to me. I now had a selection of dresses, instead of just one. I smiled when I came across the scant nighty from the dream, then scowled, suddenly remembering his avoidance of my question.

I slipped out into the hall and hurried downstairs into the main room. I immediately spotted Cornelius sitting in his throne-like chair. Several humans sat at his feet. I made my way through the room. A surprised grin crossed his face when I crawled into his lap, and nestled against his chest. I felt safe with him, as strange as it sounded. I felt devotion and a sense of belonging when it came to Cornelius. It was a feeling I’d never even experienced for my own people. I never felt like I belonged with the hunters, but I belonged here.

“You are in a mood,” he said amused.

“I guess I am,” I said softly, as I ran my hand over his chest. I wanted to question him about my parents, but I had an odd feeling he wouldn’t give me the answers I wanted.

The door slammed open, catching everyone’s attention. Aubrey stormed in, followed by Colin, Luca, Justin, and a woman I didn’t recognize. Aubrey’s expression darkened when he saw me curled in Cornelius’s arms.

“Lillian, we found a witch that can break the binding spell he has on you. You can be free of him,” Aubrey said, watching me.

I felt Cornelius stiffen, but he didn’t argue. I stayed where I was. The idea of being away from Cornelius wasn’t appealing. He was my control, as fucked up as it sounded. He was at my side despite my initial hate for him. He stayed no matter how up or down I was, he was a constant in my life. I couldn’t imagine him not being part of me, keeping me from making mistakes. “I don’t want to be free,” I said softly.

Aubrey, Luca, and Colin looked horrified. Justin looked slightly amused. “How could you say that? After all he has done to you and your people?” Aubrey asked, confused and hurt.

I shrugged absently. “I understand it now. I didn’t understand then.”

“He is controlling everything you say and do,” Colin said angrily, stepping forward.

Luca caught his arm, and Colin glared at him. Luca shook his head. “I know Lily, and I know that is her talking, not him.”

“I am not controlling her as much as you seem to think. In fact, the only thing I have done to control her was to keep her from making mistakes,” Cornelius growled, offended.

“Lillian, he is making everything seem like it makes sense, but it doesn’t. He kills hunters and humans without blinking an eye. He would kill Luca, too, if it suited his need,” Aubrey argued.

“I was just like him. I killed vampires, never caring who they were. I did it because it was a role I was handed. I even tried to kill you the first night we met. I am no different than him,” I said firmly.

Aubrey looked stunned. “So that’s it? You have given in to him. You are going to accept your role as a vampire, and what kill whenever you want?”

“I haven’t killed anyone, and the only reason I haven’t is because Cornelius won’t let me,” I said softly.

“Think about what you are saying, Lillian. He has you where he wants to. All he has to do is flip a switch, and you will lose control. You are afraid of killing, and he is using that to his advantage. He can manipulate you if you get out of line,” Colin argued. His anger was getting the best of him. I could see it.

I looked at Cornelius. I couldn’t read his expression, but I felt an overwhelming sense of trust. “He’s the only one that hasn’t lied to me,” I said, as I looked back at them.

“It is obvious she does not want my help. It’s not my style to force it, and she is not in his trance. I will be taking my leave,” the woman who was obviously the witch said, before she turned and walked out.

I turned my attention back to Aubrey. He looked like he wanted to say something, but he shook his head. “I will leave, then, if you are truly happy here.”

I scoffed. “I never said I was happy. I said I was in control. There is no making me happy, and I fear without Cornelius’s control I will destroy everything I ever loved.”

“Maybe she’s right. Normally a vampire’s maker is the best thing until they are older,” Luca said, watching Aubrey.

“You are asking me to surrender the woman I love to my brother,” Aubrey growled.

Justin scoffed. “You really loved her last night.”

Aubrey turned on him. Justin stood his ground, ready to fight if necessary. Cornelius stood suddenly. He set me in his chair and walked toward them. “Tearing each other apart will solve nothing. Brother, your love changes like the seasons. I have no doubt you care for her, but love is a strong word for you.”

“Don’t you tell me what love is!” Aubrey growled angrily. “You have no clue. The last woman who had your affection you let the hunters murder!”

Cornelius suddenly lunged at Aubrey, sending him he crashing into a table across the room. “Don’t you ever speak of her again!” Cornelius yelled, then stormed out.

I was momentarily stunned by the exchange. I got up and went after Cornelius. Aubrey blocked me. “Please, Lily, come with me. He is blinding you,” Aubrey begged.

“So you weren’t with another woman last night?” I asked angrily.

He hesitated, and I knew the answer. I went to push past him and he grasped my wrist. “It was a mistake. It will never happen again. Cornelius will not be faithful to you.”

I scoffed. “You are mistaken. Cornelius and I are not lovers. He is simply my friend.” I pulled away from Aubrey, and hurried toward the stairs. I wasn’t sure where Cornelius would be, but I was going to find him.

*****

I peeked into the library, the last place I knew to look. If Cornelius wasn’t in the library, then he was nowhere in the house. I’d searched high and low for him.

I spotted him sitting in a chair with a book in his hand. He looked relatively relaxed for the amount of emotion he’d showed earlier in the night. He looked up at me as I entered, and a cool, calm smile played at his lips. He was back to being himself. “I was worried about you,” I said softly.

He cleared his throat as he set his book aside. “I am fine. I have a little bit of a temper problem, like everyone else.”

“Who was she?” I asked quietly, as I leaned against the door.

His expression darkened a little, and he looked away from me. I had a feeling he was going to avoid my questions, like he had in my dream. I knew almost nothing about him. He was very secretive, despite his open demeanor. “She was everything to me, and your father took her away,” he said, as he looked at me. I could see all the anger and rage he had for the hunters. There was a reason he’d targeted my family; the same reason I’d targeted him, when I first learned he killed my parents.

“He killed her?” I asked, barely whispering.

“Yes, rather mercilessly. I never paid much attention to the hunters until after that night. I would cross paths with one occasionally, but that was it. He surprised us when we were on our way home from an outing. He injured me and killed her. I couldn’t save her then, but I vowed to take from him what he took from me.” The way he spoke made me shiver. There was so much hate and regret in his voice.

“I’m so sorry,” I said softly. I wanted to touch him, but I was afraid to go near him. His memories of my father may have stirred some hate for me, and I didn’t want to be near him if it had.

He forced a smile and shook his head as he picked his book back up. “There is nothing for you to be sorry for. You didn’t kill her, he did.”

“Why do you keep me around if you hate my father so much?” I asked, a little confused.

He looked up at me briefly, then looked back at his book. He shrugged. “Boredom, I suppose.”

His words hurt a little. I was actually surprised at the effect they had on me. I’d never thought I would care what he thought, but I did. I tried to keep from showing my hurt by changing the subject. “I need to feed.”

“Then go feed. You should be fine on your own, darling. I have confidence that you can handle it,” he said, without looking up, dismissing me.

I didn’t like his sudden coldness. I didn’t think I was ready to be on my own, but he didn’t seem to care. I didn’t argue; I knew he wasn’t in the mood. I turned and left, leaving him alone with his bad memories and his book.

I walked down the stairs to the main room. As always, there were vampires feeding on people. The group of Cornelius’s humans came to me. The hunger was there, but there was also fear, more stifling then the hunger. I wasn’t going to be able to do this on my own.

I turned to walk away, but Charlotte blocked me. “Why are you so hesitant to feed? Do you seriously need him to hold your hand?” she asked, sounding annoyed.

“I am not hungry,” I mumbled, and went to move past her.

She scoffed. “It is obvious you are. You don’t hide it as well as you seem to think. Pick one, and I will help you.”

I looked at her, unsure if I should trust her. But I was hungry, and Cornelius was unavailable. “Okay,” I said nervously, and took a girl’s hand. She was around my age, a pretty, doe-eyed blond.

“Come with me,” Charlotte said, smiling. I followed her, leading the girl with me to a secluded corner. “I am sure Cornelius told you where you can and cannot bite?”

I nodded. “The last time I fed.”

She waved her hand. “Then go ahead,” she said, and smiled.

I looked at her hesitantly. “You will stop me?”

“Of course. I would never let you do anything stupid. Do you have any idea how angry Cornelius would be?”

She was right. Cornelius would be furious if she let me go too far.

I leaned into the girl and bit her. Her hot blood filled my mouth, and I moaned.

The hunger hit me full force; it was almost blinding. I closed my eyes as I drank greedily. My body hummed with pleasure and strength. I was beginning to enjoy the feeling that feeding gave me. It was almost like a drug.

The blood suddenly quit flowing as well as it had been, and my eyes flew open. Panic filled me as I released the girl. She fell to the floor, landing with a thud. Her eyes were open, but they were blank. Her chest wasn’t moving. The feeling of fear and panic overwhelmed me. I looked up at Charlotte, terrified.

She couldn’t hide the smug smile on her face. “Congratulations, baby vampire, you’re a killer,” she chimed.

I backed away from her, panicked. I wanted to scream in horror, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t think. My eyes went to the girl again, and I felt like I was going to vomit. I turned and ran through the front door, deciding I wasn’t going to make it to my bedroom. I landed on my knees in the grass and vomited. Red blood covered the grass in front of me, and the horror of everything made me vomit again. “No! No! No!” I cried, holding my head as I remembered the girl’s eyes. The image was permanently burned into my vision. They were so empty. I’d killed her.

“Lillian.” Cornelius’s voice was tight with worry as he came down the steps toward me.

I stumbled away from him. “Leave me alone!” I screamed in anger and panic. He’d said I could handle it. He’d said I would be fine, and I wasn’t. Now the girl was dead, and it was all my fault.

“Lillian, this is not your fault. Charlotte should have…” He started raising his hands, like he was trying to show me he was trying to help.

“You should have been there! You should have helped me! Now she’s dead because of me!” I screamed in agony and collapsed to my knees. I couldn’t handle it. It hurt too much. I felt sick; I hated what I was. To make matters worse, I’d liked it when it was happening. I liked killing her. I was the monster I feared.

“Lillian, you have to understand,” he said softly as he touched me.

I recoiled from his touch like he burned me. “Don’t touch me! I don’t understand! You said you would help me! Why didn’t you stop me?”

He looked at me. He looked as lost and hurt as I felt. “I never meant for this to happen.”

I climbed to my feet and stumbled toward the woods. I didn’t know where I was going, but I was leaving. I wanted to run. He blocked my path, and I glared at him. “Get out of my way!” I yelled. I started hitting his chest with my fists, but it was useless. Tears rolled down my cheeks and I collapsed into his arms. He kissed my head, lifted me, and carried me back into the house.

“Is everything okay?” a male vampire asked as he approached.

“Tell Charlotte I’d better not find her, and get rid of the girl’s body,” Cornelius ordered.

The vampire nodded and hurried away. I felt my chest tighten at Cornelius’s words. He didn’t even know her name, and neither did I. The more I thought about it, the worse I felt.

Cornelius passed my room and walked to his. He set me on the bed and walked into the bathroom. A full length mirror across from me showed my reflection. Blood covered my face and clothes. I looked like a monster. I stifled a cry and slid to the floor. I wrapped my arms around my knees and cried. I felt so helpless and guilty.

“Lillian, please don’t do this to yourself,” Cornelius whispered, as he pulled me to my feet. He cupped my face and pressed his forehead to mine. His embrace didn’t make me feel any better.

“I killed her,” I said in a small voice. I could barely hear myself. He looked worried as he looked into my eyes. He pressed his mouth to mine, and I pulled away. “I’m a monster,” I whispered.

“No, you are not. You are a smart, beautiful, caring woman who made a mistake,” he growled, forcing me to look at him. I looked away, but didn’t argue. He led me into the bathroom and started stripping my dress off. Once I was completely naked, he pushed me into the shower. “Wash. I will be back to check on you,” he said softly before closing the glass door and leaving me alone.

Blood and water ran down the drain, and a renewed sense of horror filled me. I started washing my face and hands. I wanted the blood off me. I wanted this to be some horrible dream that was going to end soon. I never killed humans, not even as a hunter. Humans were off-limits, powerless against us. I slid to the floor and buried my face in my knees. The sound of the water hitting my back was all I heard, other than Charlotte’s chanting voice: “Congratulations, baby vampire, you’re a killer.”

*****

 

I wasn’t sure how much time had passed. I didn’t move from the position I was in. The water turned cold, but I didn’t care. It was far less painful then the memory of the girl’s lifeless eyes.

The glass door suddenly opened. Cornelius cussed and turned the water off. “You are freezing,” he said softly, as he wrapped a towel around me and picked me up out of the shower. I let him carry me to the bed. He dried me off and covered me up. He climbed in the bed next to me and wrapped his arms around me. “This was not your fault,” he whispered against my ear. The normal pleasure I got from his touch was no longer there. I felt numb and sick.

“What was her name?” I asked softly. I felt like I was going to cry, but there were no tears. I was beginning to think I’d cried them all out.

“Knowing that will do nothing but make it hurt more,” he said firmly.

“I want to know,” I said quietly.

He sighed, relenting. “Her name was Frances. She knew the risks of her lifestyle, and she still participated willingly.”

I didn’t reply. I had nothing to say. I doubted she’d expected me to kill her. He didn’t understand; he was used to killing humans. It had been so long since he was human, he forgot what it was like to feel.

*****

 

“Lillian, you have to feed,” Cornelius’s soft voice cooed as he nuzzled my ear.

The thought of blood made me sick. “No,” I said quietly, pulling away from his touch.

“It has been two days. I will get you a bag,” he said firmly, and stood.

I heard the door open and shut. I didn’t care if he brought the bag or not. I wasn’t going to drink blood. I would rather die. The only problem with dying was that I would kill Cornelius as well. That thought did not sit well with me. I was angry with him, but I didn’t want him dead. Part of me loved him. I sat up suddenly when I remembered the witch. Aubrey had said the witch could break the link between Cornelius and me. If she broke the link between us, I would be able to kill myself without hurting him.

I slipped my shoes on and found the stake I had hidden away in case I ever needed it. I would need it tonight. I hurried from the room before Cornelius returned. I went out the same window Luca and I had used earlier, and I ran for the woods. I made it to the road and followed it into town. I made it downtown in record time, thanks to my new found speed. Cornelius still hadn’t showed up to stop me; I was hoping he wouldn’t.

I walked down the sidewalk, passing people. The scent of blood was revolting now. I could still feel the hunger, but I had no urge to feed it.

I walked to Aubrey’s club and stepped inside. Aubrey, Luca, Colin, and Justin were sitting at the bar. They stood when they saw me.

“Lillian, what are you doing here?” Aubrey asked, looking worried.

“I want to talk to the witch you said could break my link with Cornelius,” I said softly, glancing at the others as they approached.

Aubrey reached out to touch me, and I pulled away. “What has he done to you?” Aubrey asked angrily.

I shook my head. “He didn’t do anything,” I snapped, glaring at him. I tried to relax so he didn’t ask too many questions.

“Lillian, you look like you haven’t fed in a couple days,” Colin said, sounding worried.

“I haven’t. Aubrey, can I talk to you in private?” I asked softly.

He nodded and guided me toward a back office. He shut the door and came to me. He pressed his lips to mine, and I pulled away. I didn’t want to feel anything for him. “Please tell me what is wrong,” he begged. “You seemed okay the other day.” I could hear the worry in his voice, and it made my heart ache.

“I am not strong enough for this life, Aubrey. I want to die, but I don’t want to hurt Cornelius,” I said quietly.

He stepped back, appalled. “I can’t let you kill yourself. Why would you want to do that?”

“I don’t expect you to understand. I am just asking for your help. If you ever cared about me, please help me,” I pleaded, hoping he wouldn’t continue to question me.

He ran his hand through his hair. I could tell I was stressing him out. I didn’t expect this to be easy, but if anyone was going to help me it would be him. “Lillian I can’t. You…”

“I am a monster. I am not the same girl you fell in love with. You said it yourself.”

He watched me for a minute longer, then he looked away. “If you are sure, I will help you.”

I hugged him, relieved. It was the first time in days I’d felt anything other than sadness and guilt.

“Come on,” he said pulling away. “It is only a little after eight. She should still be at her shop.”

I followed him out of the office. The others gave him questioning looks, but he shook his head. I followed him out of the bar. He led me down the alley, and onto the street. He didn’t speak as he walked. He looked like he was contemplating what he was doing. I could only hope he didn’t change his mind before we got there.

He stopped in front of a small shop. It looked like an antique or natural remedy shop. He turned and looked at me. “You have to tell me why you want this,” he said, finally speaking.

I looked away. “I killed someone. I am the monster I was afraid of becoming, and I am not strong enough to bear it, like you or Cornelius. I cannot just accept it and keep going.”

“I am sure it was an accident. Cornelius…” he started, but I raised my hand, cutting him off.

“Cornelius has already said everything that can be said. I don’t want this life. It isn’t what I signed up for,” I said firmly.

“Things change. You are new to all this. Your feelings will change,” he pleaded.

“I don’t want them to. I want to feel this. I want to hate myself for taking an innocent life. I don’t want to be the thing I hunted, the thing that killed my family without even blinking an eye,” I said angrily.

“What about your friends? What about me?” he asked, sounding desperate.

I shook my head. I’d known this was coming, and I didn’t want to handle it. “I love you, I really do, but I am not what you want anymore. I can see that, and I don’t blame you. The others don’t look at me the same way, either.”

He pressed his lips together. I could see he was trying to find a reason, any reason, to stop me. “What about Cornelius?”

“What about him?” I asked tiredly.

“Do you love him? Does he give you enough of a reason to live?” he asked, sounding slightly cold.

I looked at him for a minute. The truth was that I didn’t know what I felt for Cornelius. I knew I was a lot like him in many ways. I no longer blamed him for his retaliation against my family. I would have done the same thing, if I were him. “I don’t know. Can we just go in?” I asked.

He nodded and pushed the door open. I followed him through the store. The woman that had accompanied him to Cornelius’s house stood behind a counter. She set a book down and looked from him to me. “Has the girl changed her mind?” she asked softly. She had a hint of an accent, like she was not born in America. She sounded like she came from Europe, maybe.

“I have,” I said, before Aubrey could speak.

The woman gave Aubrey a questioning look. “Please just undo the link, Maude,” he said softly.

She nodded. “Come this way,” she said softly.

I started to follow her, but hesitated when Aubrey didn’t follow. “Go, I will see you when you are done,” he said, and smiled reassuringly.

I nodded and continued following Maude to the back of the store. She walked down a set of stairs, and I followed. The place was a little creepy, and it smelled of dried herbs and incense. It wasn’t a place I would go, unless I absolutely needed something.

Once we reached the basement Maude indicated a circle on the floor. “Go stand in the center,” she ordered.

I walked to the circle and stood as she directed. I didn’t know much about witches or witchcraft. Growing up, I’d been around a couple, but I hadn’t learned much about them.

She stood in front of me and closed her eyes. She started chanting, and I felt my body stiffen. I gasped in surprise when I felt a sudden pull. She continued to chant, then suddenly stopped. I had a sudden sense of loneliness and coldness. The warm protective layer that was Cornelius was suddenly gone. I felt the hunger hit me hard. Maude raised her eyebrows in warning, as if she knew what I was thinking.

“Thank you,” I said quietly, before hurrying up the stairs. I hesitated at the top. I considered going out the front, where Aubrey was, but the thought of seeing him was too much to handle. I went the opposite direction and found a back door. I slipped out into the night. I knew exactly where I was going.

*****

 

I stepped out of the woods, and looked at the remnants of the house. It had burned over eight years ago. Sometimes it still felt like yesterday. My uncle owned the land, and he’d never rebuilt. I was sure it wasn’t a good memory for him. I could imagine the guilt of betraying his own family was overwhelming.

I walked up onto the platform of the house. It was cracked and overgrown with weeds. I remembered where each room was as I looked around. The moon was directly overhead. It was a beautiful night.

I saw something glint in the moonlight. I walked over to the area and knelt down. I brushed the dirt aside and hesitated. It was a necklace, my mother’s necklace.

I fought tears as I retrieved the necklace and brushed the dirt off it. She had been wearing it the night she died. I put the necklace on, and closed my eyes. This was it; this was where I wanted to die. I wanted to be with my family. I pressed the stake to my chest, and braced for the pain I would feel next. I only hoped it would be over quickly.

Lillian Rayne Book 2 is now available on Amazon. For updates on this and other series follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ellaprice.ella


Lillian Rayne Trilogy: Book 1

Lillian Rayne, a vampire hunter on top of her game, is forced to follow a new set of rules when the hunters call a truce with the vampires, Lillian is trying to find her place in a world where it is no longer the hunter vs. the hunted. Her hate for vampires has been ingrained in her since the death of her parents. She is being forced to put aside everything she feels, so she can try to make the truce work. On top of everything else the master vampire Aubrey is forcing her to feel for him in a way she never thought she could for a vampire.

  • ISBN: 9781311505712
  • Author: Ella Price
  • Published: 2016-06-25 20:20:22
  • Words: 72501
Lillian Rayne Trilogy: Book 1 Lillian Rayne Trilogy: Book 1