H E McVay
Jade eyes stared at the darkened city street, passing over each face with a speed and precision recognizable only by a Predator. A slight nod was given in the direction of a familiar smell. The figure moved closer to the owner of those eyes.
Hands were curled into loose fists, fingers itching to reach for a weapon that was not there. Sure steps carried her closer to her fellow Predator. Reaching a distance within ear shot was not difficult, given the extraordinary abilities possessed by the woman with those bottomless eyes, those eyes that had seen millennia come and go through her ageless years. The woman pushed her hands into the pockets of the charcoal gray slacks she wore and canted her head to the side, the challenge clear in her words. “These are mine.”
The man stared at her with equal determination, his own eyes flaring a momentary gold. He measured her in that moment. Her stance, her confidence, and most importantly, her power. His eyes flickered indignantly before returning to their customary gray, the color that let him blend in with his Prey. “I have not encroached on your borders, Scion.” His tone, though respectful, retained a mocking quality.
Elizabeth straightened, her left hand leaving her pocket, coming to rest on her hip, one perfectly manicured nail tapping a warning. “Your disrespect will not be tolerated. Consider this your warning, Vitiate.”
He drew himself up to his full height, and sneered lightly. “My apologies, Scion. I will leave you to your hunt.”
“See that you do not disturb me or my Prey.” She lifted her chin, jade orbs flashing a bright emerald, reiterating her silent threat.
She maintained her posture until he stepped away and faded into the gloom behind him, taking with him the darkness that had pervaded the remnants of her soul. As he disappeared, she relaxed, turning to regard the passersby with no small amount of smugness.
Her arrogance was well earned; survival was not merely that of the fittest … it was that of the weakest as well. She had protected the people of her city, at least for the moment. It was her duty, not only to maintain the behavior of her Predators, but also the delicate balance of the citizens. She slipped her hands into her pockets once more and continued on her evening rounds. The hourly rotation of the Space Needle was almost complete and soon the streets would fill with the tourists who flooded her city. They would be drunk, merry and ripe for the taking. After all, no one would miss a tourist here or there.
* * * *
Adam draped his arm around Natalya’s slight form. She huddled beside him for warmth as they exited the museum. “Are you hungry, Nat?”
Natalya shivered against him and shook her head. “No, I’m just going to catch a cab and head home. That last tour group really took it out of me.”
He nodded in response and turned up the street towards McCormick’s. “I’m meeting with the new investor for drinks. You’re welcome to change your mind and join us.”
She broke away from him, head turning towards the street as she looked for a taxi. She flagged one down and glanced to him as she stepped off the curb. “No thanks. I’m absolutely beat. I’m just going to go home and take a quick shower, then it’s off to bed with me. Now straighten your tie and put your game face on. Call me in the morning. I want to know how it goes.”
“I will.” He waited until she was safely in the cab with the door closed before raising a hand to wave. In his pocket, his other hand curled around the switchblade, a habit he’d formed after being mugged a few years earlier. He never went anywhere unarmed.
Adam quickened his pace, eyes darting around nervously. He altered the mental map in his mind’s eyes as he went. Nothing seemed wrong until someone collided with his shoulder. Adam stopped cold and spun to regard the perpetrator with narrowed eyes. A quick check revealed that his wallet and car keys were still safely tucked in his back pocket.
The man who bumped into him stopped and cocked his head to the side, mirroring Adam’s expression with a mocking one of his own. Ice gray eyes sparked gold for a moment. Adam blinked, wondering if the long hours were playing tricks on him. The man’s eyes were once again a dull gray even as the man spoke. The words tickled Adam’s mind, somewhere in the back. As though he’d heard the voice before. Follow, Prey.
His feet moved towards the stranger of his own accord, following the retreating form back the way he’d come, rounding a corner into an alley. The street lamps flickered then faded until only darkness remained. Adam’s senses dulled in the wake of the darkness. The voice tickled at him again. Come.
Leaded feet carried him forward, even as he realized this was wrong. He wasn’t supposed to be here. He had 20 minutes to make it to McCormick’s and the meeting with the finicky investor. Adam opened his mouth to speak, lips working to protest soundlessly. He found himself pressed to the grimy wall behind him, the leather of his coat whispering against the brick as the stranger moved towards him. A silky voice murmured in his ear. Adam tipped his head to the side on instinct. “Good boy.”
The man was upon him now, a hand reaching out to caress his face in a gentle manner, those odd eyes sparking gold once more while needle-sharp nails traced down his neck over his jugular. “I prefer it when my pets behave. Adrenaline makes the blood bitter.”
Warning bells went off in Adam’s head. Pain registered next as the man’s teeth bit into the flesh under his chin. Adam struggled to find his voice, horrified when he found that he could only manage a whisper. Better than it not working at all, he supposed. “No offense, man. I’m not into this kind of thing.”
The man chuckled darkly, cool breath fanning over Adam’s ear. “Trust me, when I’m done with you it won’t matter.”
* * * *
Her senses prickled as she heard the whisper of the Vitiate in her mind. Elizabeth growled, rage coursing through her. The disrespectful cur, daring to trespass when he’d been so clearly warned. She spun and bared her teeth in warning to any who dared not step out of her way. She broke into a run. The Prey’s life hung in the balance.
One mortal, more or less, was not going to be missed. However, this man radiated something besides his calm fear. It was a fascinating sensation, a muted outrage, the last vestiges of an Enthralled person giving up their struggle to retain their tenuous hold on life.
Elizabeth opened her mind and let her senses soar as she embraced the Prey’s fear and let it guide her. She moved at top speed, until she could hear it physically. The man’s heartbeat quickened with every passing second. She came to a stop at the entryway of the alley. Her lips curled in disgust as she spotted the Vitiate and his quarry. “You were warned, you insolent little whelp.” The snarl was followed by fast steps that carried her closer.
Adam’s eyes flew from the gold-flecked orbs in front of him, when the cloud of passivity snapped with the new voice. He barely focused on the newcomer as she surged forward and grasped his assailant by the shoulders. The man was shoved into the wall beside him. Adam scrambled out of the way, eyes widening as the fear that had been held back by some unknown force now bombarded him fully.
Strong fingers sank into the delicate flesh of his attacker’s throat, slamming him bodily against the bricks. His head bounced off the wall and when the woman spoke, her voice was a soft hiss.
“You repay the mercy I showed you by hunting where you know you are not welcome.”
The man gurgled and clawed at her hand, struggling for breath as the woman pushed him up the wall and off his feet. Adam was barely able to make out the words when the woman spoke again. “You have pushed my patience beyond its limits. Your life is forfeit with the dawn if I lay eyes on you in this city again. Do you mark me, Vitiate?”
Adam watched in morbid fascination as she tightened her grip until her knuckles were white. Her nails broke the man’s flesh, rivulets of crimson trailed down her hand, marring the cuff of her sleeve. He should be running … should not be a witness to this act of vigilante justice. He scurried back. The woman’s eyes flashed to him, a brilliant green as she gazed at him. “I’ll deal with you in a moment.”
That intense gaze was diverted once more to the man. He snarled at her, baring his teeth. Adam blinked. Were those … fangs? His eyes widened in disbelief as she lowered the man, pulling him forward.
“You have no business commanding me, Scion. I am not one of your Cherished.” The words spat with hateful force.
“Enough.” Her left hand rose, lacing through the man’s hair in an almost gentle movement. The mugger’s eyes widened for a fraction of a second before Adam heard the snapping of bone and the sickening crunch. In the next moment, the woman’s hand snapped up. The nameless assailant’s eyes stared out at Adam from the decapitated head, frozen in mute horror.
Adam opened his mouth to scream, but again no sound came out. A new voice issued a single word into his mind, a command that would not be disobeyed. Silence. Adam’s limbs remained frozen, though he did not know why.
The woman raised her head to the sky and released her hold on the body, letting it fall to the ground with an expression of open distaste. She tossed the head to the other side of the alley and reached into her pocket, withdrawing a small plastic bottle. Adam shook his head and looked closer. Was that … antibacterial hand sanitizer?
She remained silent as she flipped the top open squirted a generous amount into her palm, resealing the container and pocketing it once again before rubbing her hands together brusquely.
The man’s fear was palpable and as intoxicating as if she’d just consumed all of the lifeblood he had to give. Elizabeth held her hands out before her and frowned; she’d gotten a fair bit of blood on her cuff. The shirt was essentially ruined. She stepped forward to the man and canted her head slightly, studying him for damage. She extended her hand to him. “Your coat.”
He frowned at her, mouth working wordlessly. Elizabeth arched a brow at him, her good humor restored. “You can speak, can you not?”
He nodded soundlessly. A smirk tilted her lips upwards. “Well, then rise and show your gratitude by giving over your coat.”
The intended pushed himself up off the ground and shrugged out of the battered leather coat, extending it to her between two fingers. His fear mounted as she reached out and accepted it from him, letting her own fingers linger on his a moment too long. She reveled in the moment, it wasn’t often she had contact with the living long enough to exchange words. If it had been any of her Cherished luring him into this alley instead of the Vitiate, he would have died unnoticed. This nagged at the long dead morals she’d pushed aside eons ago.
She slung the coat over one arm and swiftly unbuttoned the cuff of her shirt, rolling the sleeve up to protect it from becoming stained. She would take no chances. Her voice was soft, her tone commanding as she spoke. “You will leave this place and take no notice of this incident any longer. You will communicate what has taken place to no one. Do you understand?”
He stared at her, caught in the Thrall and began to nod before frowning and shaking his head, suddenly finding his voice. The force of his defiance startled her. “No.”
Elizabeth slipped into the stranger’s coat and lifted her hair free from its entrapment between the coat and her shirt. “You dare to question me?”
He blinked then, and she smiled inwardly at his obvious confusion. He attempted to hold himself straight under the scrutiny of her gaze. “Uh … yeah. Forget that you just ripped some poor guy’s head off without so much a blinking?” The disbelief in his voice was amusing, at least for the moment.
She watched him through impassive jade orbs, slipping her hands into the pockets of the jacket. “Does it not matter to you that the ‘poor guy’ was going to kill you?” She kept her tone purposefully even, stepping closer to the man, the first person she’d encountered in more than three centuries who’d refused to be Enthralled.
Adam stood his ground when the woman stepped closer. Her left hand slipped from the pocket of the coat, rising to her own throat and touching her pulse point. Her voice was low, accented with melodic tones he couldn’t place. “He was going to kill you by ripping out your jugular and hanging you upside until he’d drained you completely. It’s not a fast way to die, I assure you. It isn’t like the movies. Vitiates are so sloppy.” She glanced back to the headless body with a delicate sneer.
Something inside Adam finally snapped. “What the hell are you about, Lady?”
She smiled then, an icy, amused expression that just barely reached those sparkling green eyes. “Never mind that. If I let you leave here alive, it must be with your word that you will speak of this to no one. Ever. And, rest assured, I will be aware if you do.”
“What? Hell, no. I’m calling the cops.” Adam backed away from her, patting the pockets of his pants. The meeting could be damned for all he cared at that moment.
“With what?” She cocked her head to the side.
Adam scowled at her. “My cell… “ He trailed off into silence as he realized his cell phone was in his coat. The woman’s hand appeared holding the phone carefully in one hand. Her amusement mounted as she tested the weight of it.
Her smile abruptly disappeared. She drew her hand back and threw the phone at the wall. Adam watched in mute horror as it shattered into pieces and bounced to the ground. “Hear me, and hear me well. You have a choice. Either you comply with my command or you die here and now by my hand. Either way is fine with me.”
Adam swallowed hard and nodded. Was bringing the obviously delusional and psychotic woman to justice, after she’d literally saved his ass, worth sacrificing his life? It was an easy decision to make. She smiled again, evidently pleased with his answer as she approached him, her hand raising to his face. One of those impossibly strong fingers tipped his chin up gently, scraping him. He barely noticed that she’d broken the skin until she drew her hand away and studied the droplet of blood on her finger.
He stared in mute horror as she popped her finger into her mouth and licked the drop off. Her finger was withdrawn and tucked into her pocket as she tipped her head to the side and regarded him coolly once more. “It was interesting to meet you, Mr. Montrose. I do hope you’ll take better care of your life in the future. It would be a shame for the Science Museum to lose one of its tastiest curators.”
Adam’s brows knitted together as the woman turned to go. She strolled away as though nothing had happened. He trailed after her, eyes busily scanning the street as he turned the corner. His menacing savior was nowhere to be found. He swore under his breath as he glanced at his watch. He had only ten minutes to make it as many city blocks to McCormick’s. Struggling to put the bizarre occurrence out of his mind, he broke into a run towards the restaurant.
Elizabeth’s hand slipped into the pocket of her slacks, drawing out her own cell phone. With barely a glance to the keypad, she punched in a number from memory. Being a Predator certainly had its perks. One of those being a photographic memory. It came in handy at the oddest of times.
“McCormick’s, this is Sean.” A deceptively young voice caught her ear, prickling her senses. From her perch on the fire escape of the building across from the alley, she watched with a smirk as the bewildered Mr. Montrose gaped around himself. She could clearly hear him swear when he realized she was no longer within sight.
She chuckled as she spoke into the phone. “Sean, my Cherished one, why are you still working in that horrid place? We both know you could do so much better.”
There was silence on the other end before he responded. “Miss De Maigne, how are you this evening?”
Elizabeth’s voice dropped to a veritable purr. “I need a favor.” Her eyes followed the retreating form of the marked Prey.
“It is ever my pleasure to serve you, Miss De Maigne.” The implications of Sean’s words were met with an indulgent smile.
“Good.” The pleased tone was genuine before the smile dropped from her face. “There’s a man headed to your establishment with whom I have a meeting. Would you be so kind as to detain him until my arrival? Make my excuses for me and inform him that I will arrive shortly.”
“You’re running late?” Again, Sean’s words were laden with his intended meaning and the superficial one.
Elizabeth was, as a rule, never late. Time was valuable to every being, mortal or otherwise. Loathing crept into her voice as she responded. “I ran into a bit of trouble this evening, nothing more than a minor annoyance. I will be no more than fifteen minutes late arriving. Serve Mr. Montrose a drink, if you will, a good stiff drink. He’ll need it.”
“I understand, Miss De Maigne, as I said. It is always my pleasure to serve you. And will there be any other message this evening?”
“No, that will be all.“ Elizabeth drew the phone from her ear and snapped it shut, making certain it was snugly tucked into her pocket. She leapt from the railing of the fire escape, landing on the street below without so much as a whisper of sound. She needed to make a visit down the block to the proprietor of her favorite clothing boutique.
* * * *
Adam nursed his second Bloody Mary in less than ten minutes. He’d arrived at the restaurant freezing and with only 2 minutes to spare. When he‘d gotten there, the host had informed him that the person he was meeting was going to be a few minutes late. Adam was grateful for the respite. He needed a few minutes and a few stiff drinks to clear his head. The scene from the alley kept running through his head as though it were straight out of a B movie stuck on slow motion.
That someone so seemingly frail as his rescuer could be so vicious as to rip someone’s head off was, quite simply, fucked up. That she’d done it with such obvious disregard for the man she’d slaughtered with inhuman strength was downright disturbing. He was beyond relieved that the bitch hadn’t killed him, too. He could hardly believe what had happened, let alone that the woman’s delusional ranting could have been true.
Hung him up and bled him out. Yeah, right. He snorted and took another long pull off his cocktail.
“Pray tell, Mr. Montrose? Do you find my tardiness amusing?” The voice was eerily familiar, yet certainly not the voice of anyone he knew.
He hurriedly rose from his seat, face flushing brightly as he extended a hand to the woman. “No, I was just thinking to myself, Miss De Maigne.“
Elizabeth De Maigne watched him from behind black-rimmed glasses with a bemused expression. She accepted his hand and shook it briefly before moving to take a seat in the chair across from him. He frowned at her, a certainty flaring up within him as he studied her. His mind must have been truly disturbed by his brush with death; the young woman before him was a dead ringer for the psychotic bitch in the alley.
But there was no way that was possible. The murderer had possessed a head of fine brown hair, wildly whipped around her by the unusually windy night of the city. Miss De Maigne’s hair was lighter, bordering on dark blonde and pulled back into a complicated bun. She was impeccably dressed in some finely tailored, obviously expensive designer suit. Her odd green eyes were friendly behind her glasses as she studied him with no small amount of amusement. “My apologies. I was detained by an unexpected visitor.”
Adam nodded, not completely understanding, forcing his mind to focus on the task at hand. He needed to make a good impression on the eccentric woman. Her endowment to the Science Museum meant upgrades to the technology exhibit, upgrades that would make a difference in the number of patrons they drew in. Sucking up was essential, and that included humoring her every whim.
The waiter returned, bearing a drink and a smile for the woman. Adam frowned as he watched their interaction. The light flirtation between them was obvious. Evidently, their new investor was on friendly terms with the waiter.
Miss De Maigne’s hand rested briefly on the waiter’s arm as she laughed softly at something he said. The familiarity, for some reason, angered him. Adam cleared his throat, hoping his tone was even. “Miss De Maigne, thank you for your willingness to meet with me face to face.” He was stunned when she waved the server away and lifted her own drink to her lips with an indulgent smile.
“Please, Mr. Montrose, call me Elizabeth. That is de rigueur among close business associates, is it not?“ Her questioning tone seemed genuine, though it held an edge of some unrecognizable challenge.
“Elizabeth, “ he amended. “On behalf of the Seattle Museum of Science and History, I want to express my gratitude to you for your willingness to make this donation. It is vital to our institution for our efforts to update our exhibits and cataloguing equipment. The amount you have offered is beyond generous and we were hoping there was some way we could honor your efforts.”
“Like what? Putting my name on a plaque and hanging it in your facility?” Her eyes sharpened as she shook her head. “The donation is tax deductible and quite frankly, that is enough for me. However, I do have one request to make of you.”
Adam arched a brow in question as he leaned forward and abandoned his drink. “Name it. If it’s within my power as both a curator and board member, I will do everything I can to make it happen.”
Elizabeth chuckled softly. “You are well-trained in the art of ass-kissing, aren’t you Mr. Montrose?”
“Adam,” he corrected with a smile, his relief evident. “And though we ass-kissers prefer the term brown-nosing, it’s a necessary evil when all funding is entirely from donations and government grants.”
She smirked in amusement. “I was rather hoping you might be willing to let me personally examine some documents in the museum's archives.”
Adam’s expression shifted into a frown. “This is beginning to sound vaguely like bribery.”
“Only vaguely,” she agreed cryptically. “I will not withhold the funding I have offered should the answer be no, I was merely hoping it could be seen as a … perk, if you will.”
“A perk?” He relaxed into his chair, good-humor restored. “It would take a lot of strings to pull that off. Only certain people are allowed in the archives, and only then with an escort. What is your specific interest?”
Those strange eyes nailed him without flinching. “They are original documents from the middle ages written by some long-dead scholar referencing myths of angels and demons. It is a peculiar obsession of mine, rare and interesting documents. I enjoy studying them.”
“And you would want liberty to study them at length, I take it?”
Elizabeth nodded with a small smile. “Of course, a glimpse is hardly worth the trouble, don’t you agree?”
“Yes, that’s true.” He supposed she was right. And what she was asking was not outlandish, though it would take a great deal of smooth-talking with the board chairman to secure that kind of permission. “I’ll do what I can, Elizabeth, although I can’t make any promises.”
“Thank you for your efforts, even if they do not pan out.” She finished off her drink in one long gulp then set it aside and wiped her fingers on a napkin. Her hand disappeared into the breast pocket of the fitted black jacket. A second later two envelopes appeared in her hand. She slid these across the table to him.
Adam lifted them, eyes moving to her in question. The benign smile appeared again. “Two checks. One to the museum for the agreed upon amount, the other to you. A token of my thanks for your efforts.” Her head cocked to the side. “Another for the same amount will follow should I be permitted to view the documents.”
Adam’s eyes widened in disbelief. He slid the envelope bearing his name back to her, gray eyes hardening. This was a bribe, outright. There was no other, more innocuous term for it. “A favor is fine, considering the generosity you have shown to the museum. However, I will not accept a bribe in any form.”
Elizabeth’s brows quirked in blatant surprise. The man was displaying a spine, for the second time in a night. Most people whose palms she greased to secure her will were easily swayed, not only by money but by being Enthralled. Their silence, bought and paid for with their very lives as leverage, was necessary for the balance of her city. She relaxed her face into a semblance of a rueful smile, willing a naïve blush to stain her cheeks. “You misunderstand, Mr. Montrose.”
She leaned forward, covering the hand that still rested on the envelope with her own. “I am not in the habit of offering bribes. However, among the powerful in this city, a reward here and there is standard procedure. An expression of gratitude, if you will. I am not seeking to sully your character. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Please, take the money. It is important to me that you are rewarded for your efforts, be they successful or otherwise.”
He stared at their joined hands for a moment before pinning her with a hard stare. Were she any lesser being, she would have been cowed by the quiet indignant anger that lay in those baby blues. “I can assure you, I need no reward for doing the right thing.” He jerked his hand from beneath hers and rose from his seat.
Elizabeth remained as she was, genuinely stunned for the first time in centuries. She remained silent when he pushed the other envelope to her once more. “If you want your check back, now would be the time to take it.”
Her expression relaxed as she shook her head. “No. I am a woman of my word. The museum will have its donation.”
Something in his eyes shifted once more. “And you, Elizabeth, still have my promise that I will do everything I can to let you see the documents you asked about.”
This Prey was an interesting person indeed. Honor was a rare virtue in mortals, and one that Predators did not dismiss easily. It was an uncommon trait, presenting with it an inherent desire to break the Prey who exhibited it; to see how far they could be pushed before they succumbed to the base desires that set the Predator apart from the Prey.
Elizabeth’s smile was genuine. “In that case, Mr. Montrose…” She paused, lifted the envelope and ripped it in half. “Forgive me for my unintentional insult to your integrity.”
He stared at her a moment longer before withdrawing the proffered envelope, folding it in half to tuck it into his back pocket. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Elizabeth. Be careful going home. The city is a dangerous place for a person alone.”
Had they been in any other century, he would have given a proper bow before leaving. As it was, he gave a nod before disappearing through the doorway of the bar towards the exit.
Elizabeth let the smile drop from her face, returning her expression to its customary impassive state. This Adam Montrose was interesting Prey, a man who warranted her closer attention.
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