***WAIT! Did you know that for a limited time you can get Lust for free? Find out how.***
Blood Moon Rising Book #2.5
About this story: 1) It’s a stand alone, meaning you do not have to have read any other books in the series to read and enjoy it. 2) It takes place at the same time as Protector, the second book in the Blood Moon Rising series. 3) It is a complete novel! No cliffhangers! Yay!
BUY THE EBOOK
A WOLF WHO HAS SPENT HIS LIFE IN THE SHADOWS OF HIS PAST…
Beta werewolf—and ex–bounty hunter—Shadow knew when his Alpha commanded—er, “politely growled”—for him to attend the werewolf summit, that it was going to royally suck. Not only does he not want to fool around with all that royal werewolf bullshit, but he also knows he’s not exactly everybody’s favorite guy. Considering he ruined a lot of those werewolves’ lives in his old profession, he’ll be lucky if he can survive the weekend. Not to mention his mating Fever is driving him insane—and so is the feisty Alpha female he’s Marked as his mate.
A QUEEN OF WOLVES WHOSE REIGN IS THREATENED…
Spirited Breanna Whiteclaw is barely holding it together. With an ornery Alpha named Strider out to make her—and her pack —his own, and with her pack recovering from recent attacks by an unknown enemy, she has her paws full. Attending the summit means leaving her pack in their time of need, but as a royal werewolf, she knows she has no choice. Add to that the fact that her Blood Moon is approaching, and she has yet to find a mate—until the devilishly handsome Shadow Marks her as his own.
CAN LOVE BE BORN FROM HATRED?
Shadow never intended to go through with the mating ceremony—especially with the daughter of a man he killed. But his Fever has other plans. The more he’s around her, the more he craves her touch, longs to hear her voice, and aches to claim her.
From the moment Shadow’s Mark formed on her hand, Breanna knew her mate-bond was destined for failure. The bounty hunter responsible for her father’s death is the last wolf on this earth she could ever bind herself to forever. But if she wants to remain Alpha and save her pack, she might not have a choice. As Strider closes in on her, she finds herself relying on Shadow’s quiet strength—and craving those rough hands all over her curves.
BUY THE EBOOK ***Still waiting on some links. They will be updated here as they become available.
Shadow’s nose shriveled up the second he smelled the graveyard.
This made roadkill smell good. It was a mixture of three very distinct smells: rotting flesh, decaying vegetation, with a hint of mildewed earth.
Mildewed earth that smelled like piss.
Jacque, his cocky-ass French informant, had been right about this being the hideout of those lowlife vampires. Vampires who decided it would be fun to go on a killing spree, make national news, and leave the bones of their victims on people’s doorsteps. You know, for shits and giggles.
Only, when it was the bones of children you were talking about, people didn’t much find that funny. The killers hadn’t discriminated between paranormal or human victims, either. They’d killed everything from witchlings to werewolf pups to human children, all abducted from malls, playgrounds, and other public venues across the nation. Though the human race and paranormals had their differences and were a long way off from coexisting peacefully, both sides could agree on the fact that those serial killers were the real monsters.
Shadow grinned, knowing his eyes were glowing gold with the promise of shredding those psychotic child-killing motherfuckers to pieces.
Oh, he was going to enjoy this.
And from the bloodthirsty smiles on his comrades’ faces, they were thinking the exact same thing.
They crept through the thick undergrowth of the forest surrounding the old graveyard, the tangle of brambles cutting any exposed pieces of skin. Namely, their pretty faces.
None of them gave a shit, though. Shadow knew they didn’t. Not even Naomi, who might as well be Barbie when she wasn’t on duty. Their skin was mostly scars, as if someone had decided to take a knife and play Picasso on their asses.
The rest of their very ripped, and very deadly, bodies were covered in sleek, black military-grade synthetic suits that fit like second skins. A howling black wolf head emblem was stamped on their right sleeves, just below their shoulders. The sigil was damn near invisible, if not for its glossy surface shining against the matte finish of the suit. The emblem was visible outright only to those who knew where to look for it, or for the matching tattoos they all wore on their bodies. The rite of passage to earning that tattoo, to taking the Blood Oath of the Black Moon Pack, was legendary.
Shadow hadn’t come across a single Black Moon bounty hunter outside of his crew. Sometimes, he thought the “top-secret international organization” he worked for was more like a private club.
Of those who were left, few survived. And those who did… well, let’s just say they’d earned Shadow’s irrefutable respect.
His crew, made up of five men and two women, halted and knelt at the edge of the forest, blending in with the shadows as easily as if they were made of them.
“Are you in position?” came a man’s voice from the earpiece in the captain’s ear. Shadow glanced at his commander, who knelt next to him, and adjusted his weight as his bad foot started to fall asleep. The subtle shift in movement resulted in him brushing shoulders with the man who led them, the same man who’d saved his life and became his best friend for the past six years he’d been in service.
The brief contact was comforting, familiar.
A reminder he wasn’t alone anymore.
Still fucking weird, but after a lifetime of solitude, he wasn’t complaining.
“Fucking A,” Captain Riley murmured back, his voice barely audible above the rustling of leaves and other foresty shit that sashayed and swayed around them in the autumn breeze.
Shadow’s nose tingled as the wind kicked up dirt and pollen off the forest floor. Hey, at least it was carrying that godforsaken stench downwind. For the first time in a mile, he felt as if he could take a full breath.
From his left, Naomi stifled a gasp. “Holy hell, that was rank,” she muttered.
“Keep your voice down,” Riley snapped.
Shadow caught something that sounded like, “Don’t get your panties in a bunch, princess,” but it was difficult to tell over the symphony of chirping crickets, belching frogs, and dancing leaves.
Riley let the quip roll off of him without so much as a snarl.
There was an unspoken rule that Riley’s orders were indisputable, even if you didn’t entirely agree with them. Sure, they may joke around, but when it came down to it they knew who was in charge.
And if they ever needed a reminder… well, all they had to do was glance at the twisted flesh morphing Riley’s face, arms, pretty much every damn inch of his body, to remember what that son of a bitch was capable of.
In broad daylight, it was hard not to stare at Riley’s ugly mug. Cloaked in the shadows of night, he became downright mesmerizing, like a demon straight out of your worst nightmare. You wanted to look away, if only out of politeness or the fact that looking at him made you want to piss your pants, but you just couldn’t.
Darkness pooled in the trenches of razed flesh that had been dug by wicked claws nearly twenty years ago. Riley shouldn’t have been alive after falling into a cave of demons, but if anyone could make miracles happen, it was him. He’d been tracking them for days as part of his latest mission. Heaven and hell had strict rules about full-blooded angels and demons being on this plane of existence, and let’s just say the demons had broken all the rules and then some. Riley had known he was close to finding them and had gotten reckless. No one saw the hidden entrance to the cave where the demons were hiding out until Riley fell through the earth and plunged straight into a horror movie.
He should have been dead. Really, he should have. Any other wolf or paranormal would have been killed in a heartbeat, but not Riley.
Shadow had once seen the man decapitate three vampires using a butter knife. His boss took ingenuity to a whole other level. If not for his creative use of a vial of holy water and a simple wooden stake, the demons would have done a whole lot worse than marked up his body with their claws and teeth.
The whole “demon slayer” thing was a legend among their troop by now. He’d thought Thompson, their newest recruit, was going to shit a brick when Shadow had first told him the tale.
“Making the im-fucking-possible possible.” That was Riley’s slogan.
And thank God for it. Otherwise, Shadow might not be breathing this rank-ass air right now.
“On my mark, move in,” said the gruff voice through the earpiece. Riley’s boss, whom they all affectionately called “Midnight.” No one knew what he looked like, except for Riley, and they sure as hell weren’t getting any answers out of that poker-faced douche bag. They’d all speculated, of course. Judging by his voice, Midnight was in his midfifties, with graying hair shaved in a military cut, cool, steely eyes, and a mouth that was perpetually stuck in a frown.
Riley didn’t much like them talking about Midnight. Shadow had once tried prying the reason why out of him, but in typical Riley fashion, he’d changed the subject.
“And no matter what you think when you see them, remember what they’ve done,” added Midnight sternly. “These vamps are evil. They are the enemy, plain and simple.”
“It’s black and white,” Riley said, keen eyes fixed upon the silent graveyard. “No problem. For a quarter of a million dollars apiece for this bounty, we won’t second-guess.”
A promise, or a command, whichever way you looked at it. And just what the hell did Midnight mean by “no matter what you think when you see them?” Did the vamps look weird? They were child-killers. It didn’t matter what the hell they looked like. Shadow was going to enjoy the shit out of putting a couple of bullets through their heads. Or maybe Shifting into his wolf form and taking his time with killing them in a more creative, satisfying way. None of his teammates was above torture, especially when the one suffering deserved it and then some.
A moment of silence passed, filled with the sounds of the night. Shadow scanned the graveyard. Even the dead bodies of paranormal creatures gave off signatures, which those vampire bastards were probably using to mask their own.
No matter. If he couldn’t sense their paranormal signatures and hone in on their exact location, then his nose sure as hell could sniff them out.
Just follow the scent of stale piss and body odor. If it smells like a Dumpster at noon in July, it must be a vampire.
Shadow felt Riley tense before he heard the command.
“Go,” Midnight clipped.
Riley raised a hand and pointed. As one they moved out, guns ready, footsteps silent. A lethal, synchronized unit. They knew each other’s movements. Knew one another’s fighting styles. Riley had taken special care with his team. Even after they’d lost one of their own last year on a mission gone bad, Riley had put the candidates through hell and back before at last selecting Thompson. The kid might be a bit green, but he was second only to Riley when it came to fucking shit up. Seriously, even Shadow, sadistic as he could be in the heat of battle, got the heebie-jeebies sometimes when watching Thompson do his thing.
It took less than thirty seconds to surround the graveyard and get into position. One wolf every ten feet, spread out equally around the circumference of the graveyard.
A light fog had moved in, covering the ground and all but the tops of the crooked tombstones. A darkened mausoleum stood at the graveyard’s center. Not even a fence wrapped around the place. It was old as dirt, with some of the graves dating back to the Revolutionary War. The earth had sunken in at spots, tipping a few gravestones into one another, while the rest lay chipped or broken in the dirt. Most were so weatherworn you couldn’t even read the writing on them anymore.
Shadow idly wondered if when he died he’d even get a gravestone, and if he did, if they’d put his real name on it. Either way, he didn’t think he much cared. Being forgotten might not be so bad, considering all the wicked things he’d done since joining the Black Moon Pack.
Better to let the world think he’d never existed.
The wind shifted, carrying the smell of decaying bodies toward Shadow’s direction. Bracing himself, he took shallower breaths. Inside his head, Thompson sputtered and cursed through the telepathic link all members of a pack shared.
Good God! It’s choking me! Thompson said.
Must be fresh kills, sometime within the past two weeks, murmured Orion, a tall tank of a man with dark skin, hazel eyes ringed in gold, and thick ropes of dreadlocks he always kept pulled halfway back. Orion was from New Orleans and more than a little versed in voodoo, so Shadow had wanted the Southerner’s code name to be “Spooky,” but Orion would have none of it.
All the more reason to get this taken care of, fast, Riley said. Shadow, you’re up.
On it. Shadow slinked into the graveyard, bending and twisting his body so as to remain hidden in the darkest shadows. There was a reason he was named after them. Growing up in the slums of New York City, he’d quickly learned that the difference between jail time and remaining free lay in your ability to hide and keep moving while staying out of sight. When your momma was MIA and your dad too drunk to care about cooking dinner or paying the bills, you had to get real clever real fast about finding food and money. So from the time he was seven to the time he turned eighteen and left that shit hole for good, he’d had plenty of practice at “turning into a shadow.”
Luckily for him, the graveyard had plenty of them. The thick cloud cover overhead helped in that department, obscuring the full, bloodred moon just enough to hide his swift progress through the graveyard.
Though he’d rather dump a tub of oil over himself and light a match, he forced the putrid air in and out of his nostrils, sifting through the smells of death and latching on to the vampires’ perfume of stale piss. He still hadn’t felt signatures yet. No surprise. A lot of vamps had magic, and it wasn’t the first time he’d come across someone who could hide their paranormal signatures. Though a valiant effort, it hadn’t saved them, just as it sure as hell wouldn’t save these sons of bitches.
As he crouched behind a large tombstone covered in black ivy, he bit back a curse as the phantom injury flared up in his foot. He’d earned it while stealing goods from a supermarket owned by a local crime lord—a move he would not recommend, but hey, he was desperate, young, and stupid at the time. The security guard was kind enough to leave him a reminder not to be so stupid by giving him a bullet in his foot as he’d been running away. The medical bills for removing the bullet and patching up his foot were steep, considering he had no insurance. He’d evaded paying them by moving from city to city, often twice within the same month. He thought his foot would be permanently fucked up until he fell in with the Black Moon Pack, finally got some decent fucking money, settled his many debts, and was able to visit a doctor who knew what the fuck she was doing. “Surgery will help it,” his shiny new doctor had said. And by help, she’d obviously meant fuck it up beyond repair, because that was exactly what she’d done. Not even a Blue Witch or Warlock could heal that kind of fuck-uppery. He’d sued the shit out of the doctor, of course, and while more money was always nice, it couldn’t buy back the full use of his foot. It made him a liability.
One he was seriously afraid Riley would cull someday very soon, for the safety of the team.
Fuck, Shadow didn’t know what the hell he’d do without the Black Moon Pack. Roam? Get a nine-to-five day job, like civilized folk? God, that sounded like dying and going to hell right there. He’d rather gouge his eyes out than work a desk job.
He could picture his resume now. “So, Mr., um, Shadow. We see you have a background in ‘fucking people up’ and ‘killing a lot of shit,’ and yet you have no record. Care to explain?”
Knowing his temper, some paper-pushing manager would try to get cute with him. And he’d get real cute right back by bashing his face into his desk.
Yeah, he’d have to rethink the desk-job idea.
Shadow’s bad foot screamed in pain, making him wince.
That foot bothering you again? Riley asked quietly. Shadow knew the question would be directed only at him through a private link. Riley was a lot of things, but at least the guy was courteous.
Shadow shrugged off the question. The silent “Can you do your job?” Eh, it’s the weather.
My busted knee does the same thing. Don’t sweat it, man. Translation—I don’t let my injuries interfere with my job because I’m a badass motherfucker, and you’d better not let yours interfere either. Picked up on anything yet?
Shadow gave the graveyard one last scan for good measure. Nope. Just me, the pack, a whole lotta dead, rotting things stuffed somewhere around here—in the mausoleum, I’m guessing—and a whole lotta gravestones and—
Child-like laughter filled the graveyard, the sweet, delicate sounds echoing off the tombstones. Shadows ran through the mist, faster than even his wolf eyes could catch a glimpse of.
The electric tingle of paranormal signatures had the hairs all along his body standing upright in unison. There’s three of them, from what I can tell, Shadow said through their pack-bond. He didn’t bother saying they were all vamps. If he’d felt it, the others had too. And judging from the tension crackling through their bond, they certainly had.
Something whizzed by, and sharp pain lit up Shadow’s cheek. Son of a—
The tang of blood filled the air as warm liquid dribbled down his face. That motherfucker had cut him.
“You taste sweeter than you look.”
With a shriek at the innocent, young voice, he whirled, gun raised and pointed at…
At first, he thought maybe the vampire’s claws had been dipped in poison, which had seeped into his bloodstream and begun to fuck with his perception of reality.
Because this kid, this innocent little person no older than five, couldn’t have glowing red eyes. Or little, cherubic hands stained in dried blood.
Or tiny fangs poking just beneath her upper lip.
The little girl—the vampire—sucked on her fingers as she watched him like a hawk eyeing a mouse. “That’s the first time I’ve had full-grown wolf blood. It’s different from what I expected. Sweeter. Judas told me not to drink it because it’s poisonous, but Mr. Tavers says that’s just an urban myth.”
He didn’t know who the hell she was talking about, but listening to her talk threw his mind for a loop. For one, the kid still had a child-like tone of voice, very high-pitched and sweet, but she spoke with the grace of a thirty-year-old woman.
Secondly, his face had been clawed by that? No one snuck up on him. Ever. And the first person to do so was a fucking toddler.
Lowering his gun a fraction, but not enough so as to be stupid, he said gently, “How old are you?”
She smiled. “It’s impolite to ask a lady her age.”
The fuck? Was she flirting with him? Nausea kicked his stomach, and he nearly hurled right there. “Are you, um, lost?”
“No. This is my home.”
“The dead don’t seem to mind.” A careless shrug, though those crimson eyes still stared at his face. It had begun to itch—the cuts were scabbing over. Thank God for accelerated healing, courtesy of his werewolf genes. “I want some more,” she said, licking the blood off her lips. She took a step forward, her feet bare and covered in so much dirt and blood that it looked as if she were wearing brown socks.
He threw up a hand. “Not so fast, sister. You have some explaining to do.”
She stopped, eyes going wide and bottom lip trembling. “Am I in trouble?”
He studied her. “I don’t think so. But your master might be.”
“Your maker. Someone had to have turned you.”
A snarl tore out of her throat, and she hissed, baring her fangs. “You think I answer to a master? I haven’t needed a master in four hundred years.”
Say what? “I’m sorry, I thought you said ‘four hundred years.’”
“I did.” She smiled sweetly. Any trace of her animalistic rage vanished in a few blinks of her doe-like eyes.
He didn’t like where this was going. “And your master released you, I assume.”
“He didn’t have a choice—I killed him. Ripped his throat out with these.” She tapped her delicate little fangs.
Fuck. She hadn’t blinked twice when saying that she’d killed her master, either. His breathing quickened, and he threw open his senses.
A twig snapped to his right; someone was moving in. And judging from the rotting smell and the tingling vampire signature, it wasn’t one of his buddies to back him up. A third paranormal signature crackled along his skin, to his left, this one stronger than the others.
He was about to be ambushed.
Keep her distracted, Riley ordered. We’re moving in.
Hurry the fuck up before she and her buddies decide to have a midnight werewolf snack.
“Who are you talking to?”
His eyes snapped back to the little girl’s. “Excuse me?”
“Inside your head just now. Do you have company?” She peered about.
His jaw dropped.
Telepathic. This freaking toddler vamp was telepathic.
With an exasperated groan, he rolled his shoulders. “You have got to be kidd—”
Gunfire rang out, shattering the symphony of the night. Something shrieked and went down hard on the ground.
The little girl whirled, hissing. Then she was gone in a blink, her platinum-blond hair streaking behind her and making her look like a ghost playing amongst the graves.
Chills crept up Shadow’s arms, making his skin tingle.
To your right! cried out Naomi’s voice.
A shadow loomed in the corner of his eye. Cursing and twisting on the balls of his feet, he raised the gun and fired—into thin air. A few seconds later, claws gripped his shoulders and violently yanked him back. The rear of his skull crashed into a tombstone, making him see stars.
Something knelt in front of him, sniffing. “You wolves really are too arrogant for your own good,” came a cultured voice filled with disdain. “You honestly thought you could sneak up on a master vampire?”
The man squatting in front of him was in his late thirties, with golden hair cropped above his shoulders, an open white button-down shirt—also sporting the bloodstained look so many vamps found fashionable—and trousers that looked as if they were from a few centuries ago. He too wore no shoes. Flickering crimson light sparkled in his eyes.
Shadow bared his fangs. The reflection from his glowing golden eyes shone in the vamp’s. “She said she had no master. That she killed him.”
“And she did—kill me, that is.” He smiled, showing off two large fangs. “Then she turned me into her servant for all eternity. Ironic, huh? That’s Lady Luck for you. She’ll kiss you one second then kick you in the balls the next, just for fun.”
Someone screamed—Thompson? Orion?—followed by more gunfire. The sounds of struggle and the scent of fresh blood filled the air.
Sensing his team’s distress, Shadow started to get up, when Big Bad Vampire pushed him back down. He dug his claws into Shadow’s shoulder, pinning him to the gravestone. “Vicious little thing, my Anne.” An amused chuckle. “I’ll never be able to match her talent for raw savagery.”
“Why the hell did you kill all those kids? For sport? Out of boredom?”
He cocked his head to the side, confused. “I didn’t have anything to do with it.” He leaned forward, his demonic eyes locked with Shadow’s. “That was all Anne’s idea.”
The child? All those murders… Toddler Vamp did that?
“Give me a break,” Shadow spat. “You’re probably trying to cover your own tracks by throwing her under the bus.”
“It’s true, actually.”
The girl appeared behind the older vampire and rested her hand on his shoulder. He flinched. Shadow’s eyes narrowed. Was he… was he actually afraid of her?
“I’ve never liked children,” she went on matter-of-factly.
“But you are one.”
“No, I am not!” she roared, coming within an inch of Shadow’s face and hissing. Blood and gore dripped from her mouth. The smell… Oh God. Naomi!
He started to struggle again, but the man’s claws dug in that much deeper, tearing flesh. “Don’t move while the lady is talking to you!”
“I have hated every child I’ve ever come across,” Anne hissed. “Liars, monsters, all of them. They said they liked me, that they wanted to be my friends. But then they hurt me. They teased and bullied me as a human for my mind-reading abilities. Called me a freak and threatened to burn me at the stake, or stone me to death, all for simply being different. I didn’t ask for this gift. I didn’t ask to be treated like dirt. I finally said no more. Children are the most villainous tormentors on earth. Childhood is cruel, one long test to see if you’ve got what it takes to survive to adulthood.”
He could only stare. This was the kid’s outlook on her peers? What the hell had her life been like?
“You want to know what my life was like?” Anne said.
That was right. In his bewilderment, he’d forgotten he was dealing with a telepath.
“My parents left me on the steps of an orphanage. Mr. Tavers”—she jerked a thumb at the man—“was our overseer. I say overseer because that place was like a slave camp. We were made to do all the chores and to answer at his beck and call. He even made us work all day and well into the night at his laundry business. The rooms where we worked were either so cold we could see our breaths, or they were so hot some of us died of heat stroke. Many of us died of exhaustion, starvation, or disease. We never got presents, never got birthday cakes. No kisses, no hugs, no signs of affection.”
“And I’ll bet that made you angry.”
Her silent glare was answer enough. Couldn’t say he blamed her. Not that his childhood was Hallmark-movie worthy, but hell, it had been heaven compared to what this little girl had been through.
“Is that why you killed all those children?” Shadow asked quietly.
Anne blinked. “They deserved it.”
“Did they bully you, like those kids at the orphanage did four hundred years ago?”
Doubt and regret flickered through her eyes, which flashed a pretty blue hue before turning red once more. “It doesn’t matter! They’re guilty! I saw all of them bully someone or something—animals, playmates, siblings. They were cruel hearted, each and every one of them. They deserved what was coming to them.” With a “humph,” she spun about, dismissing him.
Fuck. So their child-killer had turned out to be a child herself. Midnight’s warning suddenly made sense.
No matter what you think when you see them, remember what they’ve done.
“Remember what she’s done,” he murmured aloud, barely audible.
What she’d done… in her mind, he bet she thought she was doing the world a service. Saving another kid from a self-esteem beating as she had endured.
His heart suddenly went out to her. He’d never had kids, hadn’t even considered it. No one in their line of work would, not if they were still sane, anyway. There didn’t need to be another kid growing up in the world with a daddy or mommy who couldn’t be there for them. And he refused to let some fucking stranger raise his pups. He wouldn’t do that to his children, make ’em think they were unwanted.
But while slumming it, he’d been the victim of plenty of abuse at the hands of street gangs and asshats who thought they owned everything and everyone they saw. As though because their life was hard, the world owed them something. You get abused long enough, and you start to feel pretty resentful—and mad as hell. Something he could relate to firsthand. He’d spent a lot of years dealing with the aftermath of that anger, until he’d found martial arts as an outlet, a way to channel all that pent-up aggression and purge it from his body before it could do him serious harm.
This kid had most likely been holding in her pain for so long—literally, hundreds of years—that it had eventually exploded. The result? A mass murdering spree to exact her revenge on people who mirrored her childhood demons.
Immense sympathy swelled in his chest, making it hard to look at her with the knowledge that he had to end her. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered.
She stopped and turned back around. “What did you say?”
His eyes lifted to hers. Her cheeks might be round, her voice might be sweet, but she is not a child. She’s a murderer, the target. Pure and simple.
“Keep it simple,” he muttered. Still, his heart picked up speed, pumping doubt into his veins.
When you were in the Black Moon Pack, you couldn’t afford self-doubt. It could shut you down, which could make things very tricky indeed. And possibly result in getting you, or your pack, killed. He’d already failed Naomi and who knew how many others on his crew by not acting immediately when he saw Anne and realized what she was. He wasn’t going to let the rest of them down.
He Shifted before he could overthink it and change his mind. Mr. Tavers screamed, throwing up his hands as a massive wolf, black as pitch, descended on him. Shadow pinned him with his paws and swiftly relieved him of his throat. Blech. He hated the taste of vampire blood, especially that of a vamp who’d been gorging himself on children. The thought of it made him almost throw up.
Anne ran. Shadow went after her, sensing her fear. The smells around him were amplified in his wolf form.
Three of his comrades were injured or dead, he couldn’t tell. So much blood saturated the air, mingling with the stench of the corpses the trio of vamps had stashed somewhere. That was the other thing—where the hell was the third vampire? He’d felt its presence earlier via its signature, but then it had vanished.
Riley was shouting something at him telepathically, but the chase was on. His prey drive overshadowed his common sense. Shadow tore after Anne, leaping over gravestones as though they were nothing.
Anne burst through the mausoleum doors and skidded to a halt in front of the far wall. She whirled about, eyes wide with fear.
As his jaws opened wide, prepared to sever her head, his humanity screamed at him to stop.
She’s just a child, a victim!
And above all other oaths the pack had sworn, they said they’d never harm an innocent.
Yes, she’d killed.
Yes, she was a liability.
But he saw only a little girl thrown into a monster’s body, harboring years of hatred for the cruel hand life had dealt her. It wasn’t fair—she didn’t deserve to die. She needed a second chance. And the longer he looked at her, the more he saw his little sister, Amelia, in her eyes. A hurting soul, crying out for help the only way she knew how.
Through violence and death, just as the world had showed her.
Amelia hadn’t gotten a second chance, and for that, Shadow had failed her. Failed to protect her. Failed to keep his promise to his mother before she’d skipped town when he was a kid.
But for Anne, life didn’t have to be so cruel.
The biting urge to save her gnawed at him until he couldn’t take it anymore.
Veering to the right, he snarled and slammed into a row of coffins lining one side of the mausoleum. The old structure shuddered, raining dust and debris down from the ceiling. His paws scraped against the stone floors as he righted himself, panting hard as he eyed the vampire staring at him with mouth agape.
“You stopped,” she said. “You really shouldn’t have.”
Nails scraped along the insides of the coffins. Shadow growled, whirling about as lids opened and fell to the floor. Tiny white hands reached out, hefting up little bodies that were asleep before now.
Before their master awakened them.
Pair after pair of red eyes lit up the inside of the mausoleum, until the crimson light drowned out the moonlight drifting through a lonely hole in the ceiling.
The ground began to tremble beneath his paws. With dread, he chanced a glance at the graveyard. The earth stirred, looking like a roiling sea that tipped over the gravestones. Like something straight out of a zombie flick, tiny hands shot out of the earth. Bodies emerged from the soil, rank skin dripping off of shattered bones. Some were missing limbs or an eye, an ear, or in the case of one particularly gruesome corpse, a head. From the size of their bodies, they were all children, just like those that stared at him in the mausoleum. Only, unlike his glowing red-eyed friends, the corpses out in the graveyard weren’t vampires.
They were the walking dead. The stench that had filled the air, all the bodies of the missing children that had never been recovered… Anne had been stowing them away in the graveyard for safekeeping.
To use as a trap. And if the dead could walk, that meant she had a—
Boots clicked on the stone floor of the mausoleum as a figure stepped out of the shadows. A handsome young man in his teens stepped into the pool of red-stained moonlight, palms raised toward the ceiling. Pools of murky green light gathered in his hands, shimmering with faint red sparks.
The vampire stopped beside Anne, red eyes fixed on Shadow and a wicked grin on his fanged face.
“Your friends were fun but no match for my power,” the boy said. He had dark-blond hair styled in a tousled look and pale skin that matched Anne’s. His clothing was also not from this century, more like circa 1700s.
“Judas was also shunned by society in his time,” Anne said, admiring her child. She stroked his arm lovingly, like petting a favorite animal. “Like me, he was an outcast for his abilities. Whereas I could read minds, Judas could bring back and control the dead. As I’m sure a wolf of your expertise knows, necromancy is an extremely rare gift. I couldn’t let it go to waste. So when he sought me out and begged me to turn him, I did. He understands me. He’s the only person who knows what it’s like to be me.”
More screaming came behind him as the dead crawled free of their graves. Though gunfire still rang out, there wasn’t as much of it.
His pack was losing.
Ivy—the only other female on the team besides Naomi—cursed. Her wail pierced the air, and a moment later the dead began moaning and hissing. The sounds of tearing flesh rang in Shadow’s ears—a feeding frenzy.
Oh God. Ivy! he screamed.
Shadow, fucking listen to me! I’ve been screaming at you for five minutes! Get out of there! Riley yelled back. Abort the mission! I repeat, abort—
Stark silence. Their telepathic pack channel was completely void of life. He felt his pack’s absence down to his core. It was as if his own soul had been ripped out, leaving him feeling empty and very alone. He tipped back his head and let loose a pained howl.
Shadow’s heart pounded. How the fuck had Midnight missed the enormous power these vampires had? These were far from normal vamps they were dealing with. Why the hell hadn’t he said anything?
Unless… unless he’d meant to leave it out because he’d wanted the team to fail.
But to what end? It didn’t make sense.
Shadow’s mind spun with questions and theories, none of them pleasant.
“I guess you’ll never get to find out. Soon, it won’t matter anyway.” Anne looked at Judas and nodded. “Kill him.”
Shit. He had to get the fuck out of there, had to—
His body slammed to the floor as the child vampires waiting in the coffins leapt onto his back, pinning him.
His skin lit up with red-hot pain as fangs sank into his flesh, tearing and sucking. The venom from one bite wouldn’t kill him; that much he knew. But from fifty or so vamps…
He fought to buck them off, but where he freed himself of one, another latched on like a leech. They dug their claws into his fur to anchor themselves to him.
As the venom spread through his system, slowed his mind, and blurred his vision, he kept thinking of his teammates.
Of all the good and bad times they’d had together, like a big, dysfunctional family.
What have I done?
His vision started to turn black, zapping his strength to live along with it. His body felt so heavy, as if he were slowly turning to stone. He fell to the floor, his head slumped toward the entrance.
Clouds had moved in, obscuring the moon. Then the cloud cover shifted, raining red moonlight down on the grisly scene below.
The graveyard was soaked in blood. Pieces of his teammates littered the ground. A shred of torn, dark flesh bearing the wolf head tattoo lay by the mausoleum—it had come from Orion.
There was no more gunfire.
No more screams.
As the vampires continued to feed off him, and the darkness overcame all conscious thought, there was at last no remembrance of the guilt he felt at having failed his entire team because he’d hesitated to kill his target.
Because he’d been too soft.
Not enough. He was never enough.
Not strong enough to save his team. Not strong enough to save Amelia.
Not even strong enough to save himself.
BUY THE EBOOK