Dark Lord of the Night
Dominic Marchant hunched low over the BMW motorcycle screaming between his legs and tried to outrun a nagging sense of unease. He wove through I-95 traffic at two hundred miles per hour. He swerved between hurtling semis and darting sedans. He blew past other bikes so close he could have snatched their riders from their seats. He rode the highway’s shoulder when all three lanes were plugged.
The ghost of anxiety had no trouble keeping up.
Serge would not hunt with him tonight.
The old pirate-turned-vampire was no model of consistency—or sanity—but he never passed up a chance to ride on Dominic’s bike. Never said no to hunting the most vice-infested streets in South Florida. Never hesitated to prowl together as that rarest of all vampire social structures, a team.
Not tonight. Tonight Serge was ‘busy.’
Dominic gave a derisive snort. The excuse was thinner than air. What it concealed, he couldn’t guess. Or, more accurately, didn’t want to guess.
No matter. He would hunt alone and satisfy the beast that lived in his heart. Tonight the blood he drank had to be spiced with terror. If he waited much longer, he would make corpses, and he was in no mood to dispose of those, much less explain them to Cassidy.
Thinking of her made him impatient to return home. The November night was soaked in cold foreboding. The only place he wanted to spend it was cocooned in her intimate warmth.
He took the next available exit ramp.
The disquiet continued to nip at the back of his skull. He couldn’t forget the way Serge had looked at him earlier, looking right through him like he hadn’t done in many months, seeing what only he could see—Dominic’s immediate future presumably, his ultimate fate maybe, madness most certainly. Whatever it was, Serge had opted to conjure an excuse and stay home tonight, which did not bode well. Serge’s glimpses of the future were rarely happy, and they always transpired in the most horrific of ways. But he’d sooner be staked in the morning sun than share any details of what was to come. That would have been ‘meddling’ in ‘what must be.’
Dominic scoffed again, but with less vigor this time. He had changed his routine tonight by choosing to hunt the urban sprawl of West Palm Beach rather than the greater jungle of Ft. Lauderdale or Miami. Would that stop whatever disaster awaited him?
Or put him squarely in its path?
“Idiot,” he cursed. The old fool had a way of getting under his skin and into his bones that Dominic had fought against since the moment they met. A fight he tended to lose.
Shoving the anxiety out of his head, he refocused on the hunt. The faster he could appease his hunger, the faster he could return home and lose himself in Cassidy’s arms. The neighborhood he found himself cruising was well past its prime. Fissured sidewalks, squalid apartment housing, and a dingy strip club lined the street. Three hookers dressed to reveal their wares in spite of the deteriorating weather plied their trade on one corner, a junkie huddled on the other. Farther down, a dealer conferenced with the driver of a gleaming Mercedes sedan.
In his chest, the beast slithered awake. Add one hungry vampire to this cauldron of debauchery.
He stopped long enough to pull off his helmet and set it in the compartment beneath the shotgun seat. To locate the perfect prey, he needed to see, smell, and hear without obstructions. He also shook out his overgrown, ebony hair. This softened the raw, sharp lines of his face and the hard, lean cut of his body, lending him an air of pampered vulnerability. Or bait.
The first potential target consisted of a group of young men heavily inked with gang insignia, loitering by a convenience store. Their callous eyes followed him as he passed, assessing him and his ride, cataloging him as friend, foe, or mark. He slowed to see if they would climb into their tricked-out Chevy and follow but not caring if they did. There were sure to be others in less public places.
At the end of a cul-de-sac, he swung through the parking lot of a two-story motel. Several windows were boarded up, others lit up bright. A handful of cars occupied the lot. Some models and high-gloss wax jobs looked decidedly out of place and were promising indicators of the type of prey he favored.
“Hey, you look like someone who wants to party,” a youngish male voice called out to him.
Dominic pulled up in front of a tall, skinny man with cornrow hair and bright eyes. A too-baggy and too well-worn black jacket hung off his narrow shoulders. A sizeable diamond stud sparkled in one ear. “I do,” Dominic confirmed as he assessed the stranger’s thin neck. Not much blood to be had there, but an acceptable appetizer.
“Well, you’ve come to the right place, my man. We’ve got it all right here.” ‘All’ included a long list of synthetic and prescription intoxicants which he rattled off at a high rate of speed, adding with a wave at the motel behind him, “And, of course, only the classiest girls.”
Dominic cocked his head, focusing on the muffled sounds of a struggle in one of the upstairs rooms.
Misinterpreting the lack of reaction, the pimp elaborated. “We also cater to more specialized needs, of course. Just let me know what you’re looking for.”
A scream emerged from the upstairs ruckus. Female. Frightened. Too muted for anyone but Dominic to hear.
“Merde.” He parked the bike. Catching the pimp’s attention, he laced his voice with persuasion and ordered him to not leave the bike’s side. If he couldn’t afford the time to secure it, at least he could post a guard.
Seconds later, he knocked at the door concealing the altercation. The barest whisper of blood shimmered in the night, but the door opened before he realized the implication—and the disastrous mistake he had made.
He almost didn’t notice the man standing before him, wearing a sombrero, cowboy boots, a barrel belly, and nothing else. The stink of lust was drowned out by the metallic tang of blood and fear, and the sound of the man’s verbal challenge faded beneath the hammering of his heartbeat. Dominic’s every coherent thought fled before the ravenous frenzy shrieking in his head.
The only thing he could do was the last thing he wanted to do—stand still. Perfectly still.
As long as he stood still, no one would die.
“Did you hear me? Get lost. I paid for the full hour,” the man said.
Yes, Dominic should get lost. The faster the better. But that girl on the bed could not. She sprawled, face down and naked, her wrists bound behind her back. Blood welled from a gash and coated her buttocks. She turned her head toward the door, and he saw blood smearing her face as well. She couldn’t have been more than seventeen, if that, and she reeked of fear.
Sweet, irresistible fear.
His control wavered. The beast surged. His vision shifted, making the blood glitter and her veins glow amidst her earthy-blue aura. His gut opened into a gaping maw of hunger.
The girl’s voice trembled in bumpy English and rapid Spanish as she begged for help from the vampire who craved only to tear open her throat.
The naked man laughed. “She’s good. Worth every penny. You go tell Dex.”
Dominic put his hand out to stop the door slamming on him and closed his eyes. “Aidez-moi, mon amour,” he whispered. Conjuring Cassidy in his mind, he focused on the memory of her absolute faith in him. If he did the unthinkable here, he would never be able to face her again. And without her, he was nothing more than a bloodthirsty youngling vampire. Without her, he had no reason to care about the lives he may or may not take. Without her, he had no tether to humanity.
Without Cassidy…Dominic was lost.
What he did here now would determine the rest of his existence, whether this was centuries—or hours.
The beast, sensing a possible threat to its survival, retreated. He looked up, his vision normalizing, and edged his voice with compulsion. “Your hour is up. Now shut up and sit down.”
Outrage colored the man’s puffy face. His mouth worked, opening and closing like a hapless goldfish, but he remained obediently silent as he staggered backward and dropped down. Missing the chair he aimed for, he crashed to the floor with a grunt and a fart. The sombrero slipped forward to cover his eyes.
Dominic cut the girl’s hands free with the bloodied knife lying beside her. When he inhaled to speak, he concentrated on the other smells in the room—mildew and dried vomit—while hunger pulled at his veins.
“Do you have a safe place to go?” he asked in Spanish, his tone terse.
She nodded, shaking and sniffling with relief. “Mi tía.”
While she pulled on a Lycra sheath dress that struggled to cover her bottom, he located her client’s wallet and removed the handful of hundreds it contained. These he handed to the girl. She clutched the money to her breast together with a faux fur bolero jacket and her faux leather purse.
“Go to your aunt.” Pitching his voice into its most persuasive form, he added, “You will never come back. You will never touch another drug. You never saw me.”
Her eyes became unfocused as they slid away from him, not seeing him, forgetting him. Without a word, she left, taking the temptation with her.
The naked man hoisted his bulk off the floor. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing? Where do you get off telling me what to do and then give away my money on top of it?” He flung the sombrero on the bed. “Do you have any idea who I am?”
Dominic inhaled deeply, feeding on the outrage as much as he would feed on the blood.
The blood. The air was thick with the girl’s blood.
“You are a man with a blood fetish?” he ventured without quite facing his imminent meal.
“Hey, I paid Dex plenty for something special,” the man insisted, stabbing a finger toward him. He looked ridiculous wearing nothing but boots, but he behaved as though dressed in suit and tie. “Dex is gonna hear about this, punk. You’re messing with his best customer. Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?”
Dominic’s vampire senses surged. A raw, brutal need seized his body from the extending razor-sharp canines all the way down to his toes.
The beast unchained.
“I am a man with a blood fetish,” he said, his voice no longer passing for human. Turning to the prey, his hunger honed further at sight of the plump veins, which made a pulsing web of light beneath the leathery skin. “And you appear to have plenty.”
The first hint of apprehension narrowed the prey’s eyes. “What? No. You can’t…”
Dominic came closer. His eyes were solid black now, his fangs obvious, and the flesh tightening around his bones lent him the skeletal appearance of a vampire at his most dangerous.
Though the prey stumbled backward, only a confused outrage surfaced. Not fear. “What the fuck was in those pills Dex gave me?” He pushed the heels of both hands into his eyes. When he looked up to find the grim reaper—as Cassidy had dubbed Dominic’s alter ego—still hovering, he clutched at his chest. “My God.”
Dominic sucked at the air. Shock. Surprise. Still no fear. He snarled his impatience. Know me! screamed the beast. Know me! Fear me! Drench your blood in terror!
He took a step closer, menacing. “Justice has come for you.”
“Oh God, oh God, oh my fucking God,” the prey wheezed. A dark shade of panic sloughed off his flushing skin. He dropped onto the squeaking mattress, and hunched his shoulders. His fingers clawed at his sternum as though trying to pry through his ribs and grip his heart in a fist—the heart Dominic heard struggling with desperate, walloping thumps.
“Non.” He rushed forward and leaned into the prey’s face. “No no no, do not die, you piece of shit,” he growled.
Wide, watery eyes locked with the empty black pools of Dominic’s true self. The man’s ruddy face went slack with something that might have been wonder. His jaw worked, tried to form words, but only a breathless groan emerged. Then he sagged across the bed.
Astonished, the beast released Dominic. He prodded at a dangling leg with the toe of his boot. Nothing.
“Merde.” So much for a speedy hunt and making no bodies.
He raked the long fingers of both hands through his hair. So close. He had denied himself the innocent in favor of this deviant, and now he had not even that.
His vampire-self raged with disappointment, dragging fiery claws of hunger through his innards, but calmed a little when he recalled the pimp waiting for him downstairs. That one didn’t seem like a heart attack looking for a reason.
Trembling with the effort to maintain what little control he had left, he barely remembered to pocket the knife and pull down the sleeve of his leather jacket to operate the door handle. He also swiped the sleeve across the spot where he had placed his hand earlier. Officially deceased as he was, his fingerprints had no business showing up in a police report.
His agitation spiked when he found his bike unmolested but also unguarded. The compulsion had worn off in record time, which was about right, considering how the evening was going so far. He strained his senses for only a few seconds before hearing a moan from the dark recesses of a breezeway. Dispensing with all efforts at stealth, he stalked toward the wayward bike guard, his new prey, who was presumably named Dex.
By the time he located him, Dominic no longer cared about the name. In mid-step, he froze into supernatural stillness. There was the miscreant he had compelled, propped up against a leaking ice-maker with his pants and boxers pooled around his ankles and his head thrown back, mouth open with shallow, panting gasps. A woman cleaved to him, her small, white hand expertly working his cock. Her face was buried in his neck.
Dominic stared at this apparition, this hooker glowing with a vampire’s bright, cold aura, and knew a searing flash of fear. If he had not sensed her presence before now, she must have been aware of him and remained hidden. Likely she had chosen Dex for her meal to force Dominic to discover her just like this—feeding and vulnerable.
These were not the actions of a blood-drinker concerned for her safety. More a prelude to killing another.
He tried to catch her scent and caught everything but. A miasma of cloying perfume, urgent sex, and hot blood assaulted him like a blow to the head, the gut and the groin all at once. Lust exploded in every cell of his inhuman body.
She lifted her head and pinned him with the empty, jet-black eyes of her vampire beast. Blood shimmered on her full lips. His pants grew tight around his groin, and his ears rang with his beast’s greedy screech.
The pimp thrust his hips a little, weak and moaning. She latched onto his throat again.
Dominic’s world collapsed with stunning speed. Only this moment remained, only this hunger clamoring for satisfaction as helplessly as that man begged for his release even as he spiraled toward death. The female stroked him faster now, and Dominic could almost feel those strong fingers working his own needy shaft. Could almost feel the warm skin beneath his tingling lips. Could almost feel the slick blood sliding down his parched throat. Nothing mattered. Nothing except plunging his fangs into that vein and drinking until the prey’s ecstasy became his own.
The moment he reached for him, the pimp shuddered and cried out as he spilled himself. Then he wilted into Dominic’s arms.
Gasping, he released the body, letting it drop on the stained concrete floor.
The female was gone.
He leaned one shoulder against the wall, stared at the corpse, and tried to make sense of what happened. No blood on his tongue or in his belly. His wicked teeth had not found their mark. Warm relief trickled down his spine—to disappear in a pool of cold disappointment.
The female vampire stood across from him, dabbing lipstick to her rosebud mouth and smoothing her short, platinum-blond hair. No hint of blood marred the snow-white perfection of her skin or the brief, silver-green dress hugging her petite, voluptuous curves. He sought her scent again. A heady floral aroma. She was older than him, though not by much. Decades rather than centuries divided them. She was no true threat to him—if he kept his wits about him.
Which he had not.
Nausea pinched the back of his throat when he realized she could have easily killed him while he tangled in the fevered, mindless web she spun. This was why vampires hunted alone. Feeding made them vulnerable.
He pushed off the wall. “Who are you? What do you want?”
She tucked her mirror and lipstick into a small clutch that matched her dress and stiletto shoes and regarded him with enormous, innocent green eyes. “I hope you won’t be this slow next time.”
The implication that there might be a next time was only half as shocking as the fact that she proclaimed it in a flawless French he hadn’t heard since fleeing his French Caribbean island home of St. Barth.
“Who are you?” he asked again, making no attempt to hide his astonishment.
A slow smile curved her polished lips. A smile that made his flash crawl for all it promised to conceal. “Perhaps we will discuss such things another time.” Her smoky voice hinted at far more than conversation. “But for now, be a darling and clean this up. Won’t you?”
Before he could form a reply, she was gone, leaving him alone in the dark with the dead pimp.
And a hunger unlike any he had ever known.
By the time he returned to his lair, Dominic had lost count of how many pushers, pimps, and petty criminals he lured into quiet side streets and terrorized into whimpering, slobbering, bowel-losing incomprehension. His hunger and rage ebbed with every voracious gulp of blood. None but the first two or three had been in any real danger of dying. None of them would remember the impetus behind their decisions to forsake their lives of crime. None would remember him. Their blood warmed his body like a liquid furnace and lulled the beast into blissful contentment.
But the blood could not make him forget about the kill he almost made—the kill that would have been no accident.
Dawn was only an hour away, and chill mists swirled around the seaside cottage he shared with Cassidy. The subtropical summer had lingered well into November only to end abruptly tonight of all nights with the advance of the season’s first cold front. The brisk air spread across the land much as a black crust of ice spread within his chest.
He shouldn’t have come back, not given what she would ask of him. But he was drawn to her as if by a silk thread fused in his being, knowing instinctively that there was no salvation except through her. Cassidy was the keeper of his soul and the source of his humanity. Both of which he had come dangerously close to losing tonight.
In the back downstairs bedroom, he stripped out of the motorcycle leathers and silver-studded boots, and then spent only enough time in the shower to rinse away any remaining traces of blood. He hesitated before pulling on a t-shirt and a pair of gym pants. Then he ghosted up the stairs and into the master bedroom.
The woman in the bed made a shapeless lump beneath a blue and yellow comforter. Only a riot of russet curls was visible in the pillows at the top. He stayed by the door and watched her sleep in the diffuse glow of a nightlight in the adjoining bathroom. Her scent permeated the cool damp squeezing past the aged window frames. Like honeyed nuts, rich and deep, the aroma was distinctly Cassidy and a balm to his frayed nerves.
He closed his eyes, savoring, listening to the slow cadence of her heart. Thinking.
This was to be the night of their ritual. Every two weeks she bared her throat to him and he tasted her glorious blood. Though it wasn’t about the blood. Nor about the sex that inevitably followed. It was the telepathic bond forged by the serum in his bite that they craved.
While Dominic could always read the thoughts behind every vein he pierced, only Cassidy was able to read his thoughts in turn. It was this rare link between them, this absolute intimacy that allowed her to survive being his lover. So long as the beast perceived her as a part of himself, it would not harm her. The link had been fading for days, the hum of their minds ever more distant, but renewing the bond any more often risked starting the process that would turn her into a blood-drinker.
This was to be the night.
Except now it could not be.
The sheets rustled. He opened his eyes to see her deep blue gaze regard him over the comforter’s edge.
“That must have been some hunt,” she said. No judgment. Only understanding. She knew him so well, it was a given that his late return to her side was not by choice and did not bode well.
He found himself slipping beneath the covers without conscious intention, knowing he shouldn’t, knowing he courted heartache just being in her presence. But every risk paled before the comfort of her warm weight nestling against his side the way it did now.
He curled one arm around her. “It was, chérie. Quite the hunt.”
Her hand caressed his chest, brushing his shirt, silently questioning its presence. “Show me.”
Unbidden, his thoughts flashed back to the scenes she would see and experience if their minds became one. The pimp, the female vampire. Her ruthless seduction, his unholy reaction. The hunger that still simmered in spite of all the blood and terror he had consumed since.
His jaw tightened in an effort to lock away these truths along with his deadly teeth. Never could she learn these things. They were more than a betrayal of their intimate relationship. This new lust to feed on sexual passion to the death was too close to how she had almost died only a few months ago at the hands of another blood-drinker. For all that she understood about him…there would be no understanding this.
Her hand slid up his shoulder, a thumb brushing the spot on his neck he would normally lance on hers. He shivered. “It’s almost dawn.”
Ignoring his flimsy excuse, she shifted closer and seared a kiss against the slow pulse below his jawbone. He felt her mouth all the way down to his toes and plenty of places in between. He drew a deep, involuntary breath, saturating his body and senses with her inviting warmth.
He stilled, alarms clanging in the back of his brain. Breathing again, slowly this time, he focused. Burning cedar? Or his imagination playing on his fears? But it was gone. Nothing in this air but salty seas, winter winds, and the woman in his arms offering the gift of her body, her mind, and her blood.
Something heavy landed on the mattress, startling them both. Eddie, Cassidy’s enormous black Maine Coon cat, marched across the lumpy comforter toward them. For months the cat had avoided Dominic, recognizing the vampire as the superior predator. Eddie’s willingness to approach him was a recent development and had thrilled him beyond measure.
She sighed. “Oh, Eddie. Not now.”
Eddie head-butted her scrunched-up face and then gave Dominic’s nose a thorough sniff. Any other night he would have been elated at this sign of trust and acceptance from his little predator brother. All he felt now was an inexplicable anger. With the tips of his fangs showing, he snarled at the cat. Saucer-eyed and flat-eared, Eddie bolted backward as though blown by a wind. He thumped off the foot of the bed with an uncharacteristic lack of grace and hustled out the door.
Cassidy sat up. “Okay, that’s it. What is going on with you? What the hell happened out there?”
Dominic studied the ceiling. “I’m not sure.”
“What do you mean you’re not sure? Who did you kill? Anyone I know?”
“Non. Nobody you know.” Though that would have been so much simpler to explain.
A small fold creased the skin above her freckled nose. “But someone did die?”
He told her in French.
“I get the bastard part but not the rest,” she said, her words clipped with agitation. Her lack of comprehension of his first language was yet another sign that their minds were currently far from one.
“He died before I ever touched him,” he clarified. “Apparently I scared him to death.”
She stared at him. The corner of her mouth twitched before she gave a small cough that sounded suspiciously like a stifled giggle. “Oh. Really. I can’t imagine how that might have happened.”
He shot her a sour look.
“Your alter ego must have been terribly disappointed, poor baby.”
“Beside himself,” he muttered. He couldn’t meet her eyes anymore.
After a brief silence, she said, “But that’s not what you don’t want to show me, is it? That’s not why you won’t bite me.” The disappointment in her tone scratched at his heart, but he remained still. “You know better than that. I know you do. There is nothing you could have done that you can’t share with me. Or that you haven’t already shared with me.” She cupped his face in one hand, her fingers grazing against the stubble that had begun to shadow his cheeks in recent weeks. “I’m here for you, my love. Always. No matter what. We’re a team, remember?”
A well-spring of uncertainty opened within him. His whole body ached with his need for her. How could he exist without being part of her? How could he exist without her love?
How could he exist with her knowing what he had almost done?
He gathered her close. Emotion clogged the back of his throat, squeezing the words into a harsh whisper. “I made you a solemn promise that I will be by your side as long as you will have me. On my eternal life, this is an oath I will not betray.” And he would do nothing to motivate her not to have him. Nothing at all. “But I need time. Just a little time. To think about some things. On my own.”
“Vampire things?” she wondered against his chest.
He loosened his hold far enough to meet her eyes, making no effort to hide his hunger for her, nor his love, or his gratitude. “Oui.”
“Don’t I know all about those by now?”
“Perhaps too much,” he admitted. How she stayed sane knowing all she did about his hellish world mystified him.
Her eyes glistened, but her voice remained steady. “I see.” She inclined her head in a tiny surrender. “All right. Maybe I should think about some human things. For a change.”
He kissed her, tasting all the resignation and disappointment she felt—and feeling all the hope in her tender response. Always hope. “J’taime, mon amour,” he murmured, pressing his forehead against hers. “I am yours. No matter what, I am yours. Never forget that.”
She nodded, wordless, and stretched out beside him in his arms. They lay together cocooned in an alien silence such as they had not known since their earliest days together, before he first tasted her blood. He would have killed her then. If not for Serge.
Dominic’s thoughts reluctantly returned to the three-hundred-year-old blood-drinker pirate who had saved both their lives twice over since that night. Serge who frequently teetered on the edge of madness because he claimed to witness the future unfold in the blood he drank and sometimes in the auras he saw around others. Serge, who had looked through Dominic tonight as though gazing into another reality. Serge, who loitered in the yard, making small, impatient noises only Dominic could hear.
The crushing weight of the sun rolled over him. By the time it mounted the horizon, both he and Serge would be miles away and buried deep beneath the dunes. Staying in the house during the day when they were unconscious was not an option. Not with a vampire hunter lying in wait for them.
He lingered over a parting kiss with Cassidy as he did every morning and slid out from under the comforter, taking care not to expose her to the nippy air. She snuggled into the spot he had vacated, buried her face in his pillow, and inhaled his scent. What he wouldn’t give not to have to leave her now.
“You should talk to Serge,” she said when he was almost at the door. He knew what she would say next, yet her words—the words he dared not even think—still shot a spike of apprehension up his back. “Whatever happened to you tonight…maybe it’s part of the prophecy.”