LOVE IS A JOURNEY…NOT A DESTINATION.
Traian cursed as he ran after the pair of vampires he’d been tracking for the better part of the night. They were outside of the city proper now, weaving through the streets of the residential suburbs. Even as he quickened his pace, the wave of anger rolling through him increased. If he’d been unsure of the betrayers’ guilt before, the trail of dead, drained bodies they’d left in their wake told Traian everything he needed to know. And gave him all he needed to sentence them to death. Their kind was forbidden to kill those they fed from, to cause pain fulfilling their needs.
Hearing rapid footfalls behind him, he reached outward with his senses, and relief filled him when he realized it was Kenin, another Enforcer. Traian had lost him back a ways and was glad the other man had caught up. It would make what Traian had to do easier. Normally, Enforcers worked solo, so giving another even a passing thought was new to Traian. He didn’t particularly care for the experience, but when he’d crossed paths with the Enforcer while in pursuit of the lawless vamps, he hadn’t felt the need to dismiss him.
One more burst of speed and Traian grabbed for one of the vamps. Grasping the stiff leather of the long coat, he pulled, and pulled hard. The vamp flew backward and landed with a loud grunt. Before he could move, Traian was atop him, hands wrapped around his neck.
“You are found guilty of murder, of using the gifts given you to bring pain and terror.” Traian squeezed tightly with one hand as he reached for the blade at his waist. Once unsheathed, it glinted wickedly in the light cast by the street lamp as he held it to the offender’s throat. “And for that, you die.”
The form beneath him began to shake. After a moment, Traian realized with a start that the vamp was laughing.
“Not today, asshole,” he managed.
Traian barely had a moment to process the words before heat and pain shot through his torso. A long blade sliced into his lower back and was jerked up. His vision blurred as fire raced through his veins, and his muscles stiffened in agony. When the blade was pulled free, he fell to the side, and the vamp he’d been on jumped to his feet, laughter ringing through the night air.
“Didn’t expect that, didja?” the betrayer taunted.
Traian struggled to draw in a breath as confusion clouded his mind. He stared up at the figure standing above him, long blade in hand. It took him a moment to realize it was Kenin. Another Enforcer had taken him down? And why the hell was he having so much trouble moving? While the wound was bad, it shouldn’t affect him like this. His nerves vibrated painfully, and he couldn’t control his limbs to lift himself off the ground.
Kenin crouched beside him, eyeing him curiously. “Huh… I wondered if the stuff would actually work.” He ran his finger along the bloody metal of his blade. “The scientists were so sure, although I had my doubts. But you really can’t move, can you?”
The bastard. Everything in Traian ached to destroy the other man. Kenin had obviously used the poison their scientists had been developing for Enforcers to use in taking down vamps who had gone rogue, who betrayed their people, their gifts. The biggest fear of the project, though, was whatever would cripple the betrayers would do the same to the Enforcers who hunted them. They were, after all, biologically the same.
Traian moved his mouth, at least he thought he did, but no sound came out.
“It’s really nothing personal, Traian,” Kenin continued. “In fact, I quite admire you. Abdicating the throne to remain an Enforcer took balls. But you are supporting a system that is flawed, that limits us and keeps us shackled. As a member of the royal family, you need to be removed.”
Traian bared his teeth, feeling his fangs extend, and the small movement sent spikes of torment through his body. But his thoughts were on his Queen, the Regina. His sister. He had to get to her, keep her safe, but as he tried to move, his body simply refused to obey and instead convulsed. Bile rose in his throat.
“And you have to die.” Kenin looked at the two vamps watching. “Take him somewhere and destroy the body. I’ll be in contact soon.” Then turning back to Traian, he leaned down until his lips were close to Traian’s ear. “Don’t worry about the Regina. I’ll be sure to comfort her in her grief. I’m certain she’ll do the right thing when she’s shown the way. And if not…” He pulled away and rose to his full height. “Well, let’s just hope she does.”
“Where will you be?” one of the lawless ones demanded.
Kenin pinned him with a glare. “I need to be away from this, seen elsewhere, to ensure there is no suspicion of my involvement. Do as you’re told. Destroy the body, and await further instruction.”
With that said, he strode away. As the two vamps argued about where to take him to finish him off, Traian focused on his own body. The pain had lessened considerably. Now, if he could just move. Narrowing his concentration, he attempted to control his body. His fingers flexed, and he was able to shift his arms slightly. Making sure to keep his movements small and inconspicuous, Traian continued to listen to the others. Let the bastards argue as long as they wanted. He sure as fuck wasn’t going to give up without a fight. And since they assumed he was out of commission, he had the element of surprise on his side. As head of the Enforcers and part of the royal family, he had access to information and research Kenin and these idiots didn’t. One of the flaws of the poison was the vampire’s ability to metabolize it quickly. It was only an advantage if one quickly eliminated the threat.
His arms were seized. Seemed as though the decision on where to take him had been made. Traian kept his body deadweight as they dragged him into an alleyway lined with garages and trash cans.
The arguing started again as the two let him drop to the concrete. This time about how to divide Traian’s possessions. Their attention diverted again, he continued to flex and test his muscles. While painful, he had control of his body again. Slowly, he inched his hand to his waist and gripped the second blade secured there. It was entirely too easy to free the long knife without detection. He kept his breath controlled as he waited for the moment to strike.
“Keep a look out while I take care of this, then we’ll figure out who gets what,” one of the vamps directed. The other moved to the mouth of the alleyway, his back to his companion and Traian.
The one remaining turned and pulled a small bottle from his coat. Accelerant, Traian decided. The only way to ensure he was dead was to behead or burn him.
“Not so high and mighty now, are you, Your Highness?” the vamp sneered.
Traian moved his mouth, pretending to try to speak. The betrayer leaned forward, fangs gleaming in a grotesque smile.
“What is that? Last words?” He laughed.
Traian knew he only had one shot at this. He tightened his grip on the hilt of his knife and pictured his sister in his mind. He waited until the vamp came a little closer then struck out. The blade arced through the air with barely a whisper before slicing through the traitor’s neck quickly, cleanly.
Forcing the pain he felt to the back recesses of his mind, Traian rose and crept silently to the other vamp, who was oblivious to what was going on, still keeping watch. Stupid fucker.
Without a word, Traian swung the knife again, separating head from body. Determined to finish quickly, he sheathed the knife and moved the bodies together. Standing over them, he reached into his coat and pulled out his own bottle of accelerant and matches. Jaw clenched, he doused the traitors and lit them ablaze. He stood back and watched until nothing remained but traces of white ash. After a moment, he pocketed the bottle and matches then slid his ring from his finger—the ring that identified him as royal. Tossing it onto the ash, Traian turned and left the alley. Let it be found, he thought. Let Kenin believe he was dead and out of the way. For now.
After he retrieved his other blade from where Kenin had attacked him, Traian walked down the street, trying to figure out where to head now. After a block, he couldn’t control the shaking of his body. His legs felt as if they were lead. He stopped and leaned against a tree near the street. Lifting his shirt, he cursed when he saw the gash on his abdomen, where Kenin’s blade had run through from the back. It wasn’t healing as it should. A side effect of the poison, perhaps, or because he’d lost too much blood. Or both. He needed to get to a safe house, one few knew about. He had no idea who he could trust. Who knew who was involved in this plot?
Pushing away from the tree, he stumbled and fell back against the trunk. Fuck. He couldn’t stay here. He was too exposed, too vulnerable. And, he thought, eying the sky, the sun would be rising soon. While sunlight wouldn’t necessary kill him, burns and blisters on top of his current injuries… It wasn’t a combination he wanted to experience.
Even as he told himself to move, his body slid down until his ass hit the ground. His vision wavered, darkened around the edges. He fought against black oblivion…and lost.
Becca Stewart nodded to the driver as she exited the bus. Exhaustion weighed heavily over her body. She’d just finished a double, and while she welcomed the paycheck, her muscles and sore feet weren’t thanking her at the moment. Right now, all she wanted was a hot shower and her bed. She hurried down the street toward her little house, eyes watchful as she went. She didn’t exactly live in the best neighborhood, but it was all she could afford at the moment. Bigger and better was waiting for her. At least that’s what she told herself as she stuck to her budget religiously and squirreled away as much of her paycheck as she could manage each month.
Two houses from home, a muffled sound caught her attention. She stilled and listened. Even though logic told her to move, hurry, and get inside, something inside urged her to pay attention. She narrowed her eyes and tilted her head, waiting to hear the sound again. It was moaning. Becca moved forward, searching the darkness for its source. A man sat at the base of one of the large trees lining the street. Without a second thought, she rushed to his side and crouched down. Hand to his forehead, she bit her lip at the heat radiating from his sweaty brow.
“Hello? Mister, are you sick? Hurt?” Becca said softly.
She continued to assess him. In the dim light, it was difficult, but she did her best. When she laid a hand on his abdomen, he groaned loudly. Sticky wetness coated Becca’s palm, and she knew, before she even held her hand up, it was blood. Nothing else quite felt like that.
She fumbled in her purse with her other hand and withdrew her keys. A small penlight hung from the chain, and she clicked it on then pointed the beam at his stomach. Lifting his shirt, she sucked in a shaky breath. A nasty wound, still bleeding, marred his stomach right above his navel. She lowered the garment and, dropping her keys, shrugged out of her lightweight jacket. Bunching it up, she pressed it to the wound with one hand and used the other to fish out her cell.
Damn this neighborhood and the criminals who thought they owned it. She saw too many injuries like this in the hospital. Good men and women who were hurt or killed because some addict wanted their money or valuables to score some more drugs. Or God, just because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Suddenly, his hand shot out and circled her wrist before she could dial nine-one-one. “No,” he rasped.
“It’s okay,” she crooned. “I’m calling for help. An ambulance will be here—”
“No,” he repeated, more firmly this time.
“Sir, you’re badly hurt. You need to go to the hospital.”
“What’s…what’s your name?”
Becca smiled, hoping to comfort. “I’m Rebecca, and I’m going to get you some help. Just relax and… No, no, don’t try to move,” she protested as he struggled to sit up straight.
“Rebecca,” he said, locking his eyes onto hers. “No ambulance. No hospital.”
Poor man was delirious. Becca slid her wrist from his grasp, set the phone down, and moved to hold his hand. “I want to help you,” she said slowly. “Let me help you.”
He shook his head. “Can’t put you in danger. Being with me…danger.”
“No,” she said firmly. “You’re a good man who’s hurt.” She didn’t question her statement. Reading people, she was damned good at that and was never wrong. This man was not a danger to her; she knew that as well as she knew anything. She felt it deep inside. It was her gift—to know someone from a touch or being near—and it had never failed her before. She trusted her power more than she trusted most people. He closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. His fingers tightened around hers, and he brought her wrist to his lips. Becca’s brow furrowed as he pressed a kiss to her pulse and her stomach flipped in response. Well, that was inappropriate as hell.
“What’s your name?” she asked shakily.
“Traian,” he murmured, his hot breath washing over her skin.
“Let me call an ambulance, Traian. You’ve lost a lot of blood, and need medical help.”
“That’s not what I need,” he whispered.
She gasped as his tongue flicked across her wrist. Definitely delirious, she decided and looked down to locate her cell. She was calling ambulance, period. He wasn’t exactly in any position to stop her, anyway. Then he closed his mouth over her skin and sucked gently, erotically. Her pulse quickened, and she lifted her gaze to stare at him. His eyes were on her. She tried to speak, to tell him to stop. Clearly the blood loss was making it difficult for him to think clearly.
“I’m sorry, Rebecca.”
His voice was seductive, strangely hypnotic. She shook her head as he settled his mouth on her wrist again, then everything blurred, went hazy.