A Place to Run

PROLOGUE

 

     Grace Lynn Cartwright. Age 22. Freelance copy-editor. Consanguinea.

            The girl on the arm of the vampire entering the restaurant was the same from the picture Sheppard showed me. She certainly smelled consanguinea – sweet and heady – but the rotten vampire scent was cloying. She had been fed on. Recently. I dug my phone out of my pocket, scrolling to my alpha’s number. He answered on the first ring.

            “Did you find her?” He was concerned.

            I growled, “You didn’t tell me she was his sheep.” I should kill him for even touching her.

            Sheppard ignored my anger, as usual. “Are you certain?”

            She was laughing at a comment the vampire made, squeezing his arm and stepping close to him.

            “Of course I am,” I retorted. “That vampire’s smell is all over her, and they’re pretty friendly.”

            “Dammit!” Sheppard sighed. “He can’t try to turn her, Matt. It would kill her,” he paused, “or we would have to.” Regret tinged his voice. I knew he’d hate to lose a consanguinea that way. With only six or so born to every generation, they weren’t exactly abundant.

            I wiped at my face. “Then I’ll step in.” I lowered my voice to an almost inaudible whisper, “Killing him here would be easy.”

            “Matthew,” Sheppard said sternly, “people aren’t ready for us. Just stay close to her and keep her safe.” He stressed the last three words needlessly. He had already told me to protect her, and I wasn’t about to let that bloodsucker have her without a fight.

            Silence fell between us. He knew I was still on the line, but he gave me time to cool. The girl and the vamp had disappeared into the restaurant. I was confident he wouldn’t try anything in the eatery for the same reason Sheppard didn’t want me storming in there. Our war with the vampires had been raging for the better part of 2,000 years without the rest of humanity catching on. It wasn’t our call to make. Besides, Americans usually choose the nuclear option when presented with a problem they don’t understand. They’d kill more of themselves than us, and we were just trying to keep them safe from the vampires who would otherwise wipe them from the face of the planet.

            “Fine,” I agreed finally, settling into a spot against a corner of the building across the street. I could keep easy eye on the front door of the restaurant from my vantage point.

            “Keep me updated,” Sheppard replied and ended the call.

            Making a sour face, I stuffed the phone back into my pocket and inhaled the scent of the wet city after the rain from this afternoon. I ran through the evening so far in my head:

            The sun had just dropped below the crest of the mountains when the rain cleared and I arrived at the apartment address Sheppard had found for Grace. The little purple Honda that was registered to her was parked in the lot, but I crept up to her second-floor entryway be sure she was actually home. She was. It wasn’t long after dark when the vampire showed up in his sleek, black Cadillac. He blurred up to her door with his supernatural speed and knocked. She walked with him back down to his car and got in. I followed their departure in my pride and joy: a cherry red ’69 Chevy Camaro Z28 with a pair of thick black racing stripes flowing back over the top from the hood to the trunk of the car. I drove carefully, keeping the engine noise down, but I was sure the vampire knew I was there. Clearly, he chose the public space to avoid a confrontation with me, but it wouldn’t save him if he made a move on her.

            The younger, bar-hopping crowd had started to filter in when Grace and the vampire left the restaurant. The downtown area was slowly filling with twenty-somethings looking to drink and party and fuck, their too-heavily-applied perfumes and colognes mixing to a nauseating note. The vampire steered her along with him as they walked down the sidewalk, his arm looped around her waist. She laughed at his jokes and I followed them.

            After a short distance, they turned onto a largely empty side street and he paused, looking over his shoulder. I pressed myself into a shadow. I’m not the stealthiest of our pack, but Sheppard had insisted that I be the one to follow and protect Grace. He said I would be the best choice if the vampire decided to fight. He wasn’t wrong.

            “What’s wrong, Frederick?” she asked him.

            Frederick. Good. A name to track. He smiled in my direction and then down at her. They resumed walking.

            “Nothing at all,” he said. “The city just stinks of wet dog tonight.”

            It was all I could do to stay put, but I bared my teeth at his back. “It would be my absolute pleasure to kill you where you stand, bloodsucker, but it would scare your sheep away and bring an abundance of unwanted attention.” I knew he could hear me.

            He laughed then and pulled her closer to him. She welcomed the closeness and looped her arm around his waist as well.

            “This is nice,” she said wistfully, “I haven’t been able to go out much since my friends moved away last year.”

            His smile was feral, but she didn’t seem to notice. “Well, you just call me anytime you wanna go out,” he replied. “My treat.”

            “I can’t always let you pay for everything,” she said.

            He laughed then. “Freelancing is paying you more than beans now?”

            Hey!” she said sharply, stepping away from him and smacking his bicep. That was a dangerous thing for a human to do; the vampire could simply snap her arm for the pleasure of it. “At least it keeps the roof over my head and the lights on!”

            Frederick made a placating gesture, but his smile remained predatory. “I wasn’t trying to offend you, Grace,” he said, looping his arm around her waist again. “I just don’t want you to have to stay in all the time. You gotta live a little!”

            “Which is why I’m here with you, now,” she said, tossing her hair and leaning her head against his shoulder.

            I hadn’t noticed where they were going. The nauseating smells from the main street had distracted me, but the bass of the club thumped in my ears. They were headed to the Chateau, the club where the vampires met their sheep in the night. Dammit. I couldn’t let her go in there, but I certainly couldn’t go in there without backup. It would take too long for Sheppard and the rest of the pack to get here, and we hadn’t made a move on this club yet for tactical reasons. The vampires sorely outnumbered us in there, and there were countless more in the den and tunnels underneath the club. We’d lose nearly everyone if we attacked it straight on, nevermind the amount of sheep that would die as well in the fight.

            Frederick nodded to the bouncer, a solid linebacker of a vampire clearly meant to intimidate. He ushered the girl into the club and smiled back over his shoulder at me. The thumping bass got louder and wisps of fog and smoke curled out of the door as the bouncer pulled it shut again. He smiled at me too.

            “Looks like you lost your prey, little wolfie,” he taunted. “Best run back to your pack now.”

            That was no longer an option. Frederick would bleed her dry in that club and she’d thank him for the pleasure of it. Balling my hands into fists so tight it cracked the knuckles, I bared my teeth at the bouncer. “Nah, man,” I said, “it just turns out that you should’ve taken the night off.”

            The techno drum and bass thumped in my chest as the bouncer’s body slid along the entryway to the club and onto the dancefloor. The whole place stank of fog machine smoke and the rot of vampires. The patrons, predominately human sheep who had been drugged into elation, ignored the intrusion. The seventeen vampires spread around the club, however, did not. They went unnaturally still as I stepped over the groaning bouncer’s body. Confidence was going to be the only thing that would keep me alive now. So I kept moving, my steps even and purposeful as I zeroed in on Frederick’s location. If the vampires decided to attack, I would die. I’d take maybe as many as four or five down with me if I got lucky, but I would still die.

            I stalked to the booth where Frederick and Grace were sitting with another vampire and his prey for the night. Empty shot glasses were on the table in front of them and they all had a round of a pale green liquid in hand. This was one of only a handful of places in town where you could get real absinthe. Grace and the other woman drank as I approached, but Frederick and his friend held their glasses, motionless. Both their eyes narrowed and, though they didn’t move, I could tell they were ready to fight.

            “You must have balls of steel, pup,” Frederick said coolly, “to come in here with no backup.”

            “I’m not here to fight,” I said through gritted teeth, though every cell in my body was screaming at me to do otherwise.

            Frederick’s friend smirked at me. “That’s a shame,” he said.

            Grace noticed my arrival with a start. She turned her face away from me and dropped her voice. “Look at his face,” she whispered into Frederick’s ear, using her hand as a screen. No one could miss what she was talking about. Half of my face had been torn up in a fight ages ago, leaving deep and nasty scars and a milky left eye. I could only see the most basic of shapes and contrast out of that eye, though my vision out of the right was perfect. I winced anyway, I’d have to stay further out of sight after tonight, assuming she and I lived through this.

            Frederick smiled his feral smile at me. “Then what are you here for, if not to fight?”

            “I’m here for the girl,” I said, nodding to Grace. “She’s not safe here, and she’s not staying.”

            All of the vampires on this side of the club laughed, including Frederick and his friend.

            “There are so many beautiful women in this club.” Frederick gestured vaguely to the dancers in the center of the club. “Any of them more than happy by now to leave with anyone who’s nice enough to them,” he said through his laughter. “But you want mine.” He sobered, “I think not, wolf.”

            Grace inched closer to Frederick, pressing her body against his. Her eyes were unfocused and glazed over. Clearly there was more to the drinks here than just the absinthe. She giggled at me, “So you’re my dad now?” Her speech was slurred. “I don’t even know you, man, and you must be on some pretty spectacular drugs if you think I’m going with you anywhere.” Spectacular. Impressive vocabulary for someone so high. Frederick pulled her closer to him, as if it were even possible. She was practically sitting in his lap.

            “One of you,” Frederick said, pointing at me, “and no fewer than seventeen of us. You’re lucky to be alive.”

            I gritted my teeth. “You and your brood won’t make a move,” I said. “They all know what Sheppard would do if any of you killed one of his pack.”

            “You guys are too much!” Grace said, laughing obnoxiously now. Frederick handed her his shot, and she drank it down absentmindedly. I took a slow, deep breath.

            “Now, now,” Frederick said. “Let’s not make a scene.” He pulled his lips back from his extended canines and brushed the back of Grace’s neck with his fingers. She leaned into his touch. My stomach roiled in anger and I closed my hand into a white-knuckled fist.

            He blurred with supernatural speed and his lips closed on her neck just behind and below her left ear. It was an uncommon drinking place, but the blood pumped almost as easily there as the more common jugular. I’d killed more than a few vamps biting through that vein to get to the neck tendons, snapping their neck with my jaws.

            Grace’s eyes fluttered closed and I heard her heartbeat race. He was actually drinking from her before my eyes. I heard Frederick’s own heart start to beat with the rush of power her blood granted him. That heartbeat would fade and stop again as her life-blood diffused through his body, but that would be hours from now.

            Red seeped into the edges of my vision. The growl bubbling from my chest was entirely involuntary. My entire body shook with white-hot fury at his audacity. I reached across the cocktail table and grabbed the front of his button-down shirt, pulling him from her and scattering the empty shot glasses, most of which smashed to the floor. All of the vampires in the club stood as one, but the music continued thumping and the sheep continued dancing.

            Frederick licked the last of Grace’s blood from his lips and smiled around the club like he had already won the fight. “Let go of me, mutt,” he said coolly, not looking at me, “or you will die here.”

            I tried to watch the vampires around the club in my peripheral vision. Not a single one of them had moved from their spot, though they all remained standing. Was that a flicker of fear that crossed the bloodsucker's face? I pulled his face to mine, ignoring the cloying smell of rotten vampire and the sweet metallic of Grace’s blood on him. “I’ll kill you for that,” I growled at him.

            “You will try,” he said, meeting my gaze. He lowered his voice to hushed tones, “I’ve never tasted blood as sweet as hers. I will drink from her until she begs me to turn her.”

            I realized with a feral smile of my own that Frederick had not yet recognized her as consanguinea. She would never get addicted to being fed upon like most humans; her bloodline protected her. But if I died here, it would be an hour or more before Sheppard noticed my lack of contact, and Grace could be dead by then.

            “That will never happen,” I said, releasing him. “Grace leaves with me – now – or I will tear your throat out and let Sheppard get his vengeance for my death by tearing this place apart in broad daylight.” He’d lose most of the pack in the fight, but he would wipe out these vampires and their den underneath. My muscles tensed in readiness and my breathing deepened and evened out. The vampires around the club still didn't move. When they did, the fight would be over quickly, and Grace would almost certainly die.

            Frederick smoothed and adjusted his shirt. “You wouldn’t throw yourself away like that.”

            I grinned at him, the potential catalyst for my certain death. “Try me, bloodsucker.”

            He stared at me for a long moment and then his eyes flicked around the club at the unnaturally still vampires, ignoring the sheep. Finally, he looked to Grace, who swayed in time with the bassline with her eyes closed, and placed a hand against her lower back. “Grace, my dear,” he said, breaking her reverie.

            “Hmm?” She looked at him with glazed eyes and continued swaying with the beat.

            “This fine specimen is going to take you home,” Frederick said, gesturing with an open palm in my direction. “Try not to miss me too much.”

            She smiled vaguely, nodded, and clambered to her feet, unsteady.

            “The next time a wolf even steps foot in this club, mutt,” Frederick’s vampire friend added, “they will be dead before they even cross the floor.”

            Anger continued to well in my stomach as Grace tottered out of the booth. I held out a hand to her, but she missed when she reached for it, tumbling to the ground in an un-ladylike heap. I knelt and scooped her into my arms, where she laid limply. Her breathing was steady. She was unlikely to die unless these vampires attacked.

            I looked to the vampire who had spoken. “The next time a wolf steps foot into this club,” I replied, “the pack and I will be along to burn this place to the ground.”

            Frederick glared at me, but his voice stayed level, “You’d dare to throw idle threats even now, you insolent mutt?"

            I gave him my most predatory grin. “It’s a promise, Frederick. Your days are numbered.” I turned on my heel and stalked toward the door, Grace cradled against my chest. I reached the door unaccosted and stepped out into the evening. The wet and dingy city scent was a welcome relief from the stink of the vampires.

            I stalked around the corner of the building, into the back alley, and leaned against the wall with my face turned skyward. I closed my eyes in a silent prayer of thanks and attempted to let Grace down to stand on her own. She grumbled, but stood, though she was wobbly. I’d have to support her, and we’d have to take the alleys to get back to my car without too much attention. I focused on getting her safely into my Camaro and back to her apartment while she mumbled something about Frederick being a jerk to not take her home himself.

            “You’d be better off staying away from him,” I said softly. “But I’d be surprised if you remember any of tonight.” With any luck, she’ll forget my face too and I won’t have to worry so much when tracking her. “Just don’t throw up on the upholstery.”

            “Mm, she purrs like a kitten,” she mumbled, stroking the door panel. She was appreciating my car now?

            “Maybe I’ll drive you around town sometime when you’re sober,” I told her. She grunted and fell quiet for the rest of the drive. Her breathing was slow and deep, though her heart raced faster than I thought it should.

            Thank God her keys were in her tiny purse on a string. I had to carry her up her stairs to her tiny apartment and place her into her bed, laying her on her side in case she threw up in the night. The pinprick bite marks on her neck had already closed. They would be nothing more than puckered little scars by morning. "Damn bloodsucker," I grumbled. I removed her shoes and pulled the blanket up over her. I found a glass, filled it with water and placed it on her bedside table.

            I crept out of her apartment only to realize that there was no way I could safely lock her in. I would have to keep watch in the parking lot until dawn. Fine. At least she was alive and safe for the night.

            Downstairs, I re-parked, backing into a spot that would allow me to easily watch her front door and leaned the driver seat back. I sighed. It had been foolish of me to confront Frederick in the club, but the vampire had left me no other option. I got lucky. Those vampires should have killed the both of us. Sheppard was going to be livid when he heard about tonight. Frederick and his brood weren't long for this world. . . .

 

 

PROLOGUE

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A PLACE TO RUN will be available for purchase by May/June 2019!