Back to Bite You Excerpt
“Okay, Nathan, let’s go over the plan for tonight. When the bad vampire shows up, I’ll throw a binding spell at it to incapacitate it,” Jessica waved her hands, “and then you’ll jump in and do your thing—”
“What?” Nathan cuther off. “No. That is not going to happen. If a feral vampire makes an appearance here tonight, you are staying in the car. I will handle it.”
Now it was Jessica’s turn to say, “What?”
“You heard me.”
“Then why am I even here? You said I could come hunting with you.”
He looked at her from the driver’s side of the car’s darkened interior, incredulity shading his deep blue eyes. “I said you could come. I did not say you would be hunting. You are here…for moral support.”
“Moral support? On a vampire hunt? Really?”
“And for companionship,” he said, and now his eyes gleamed as he looked her over, one corner of his mouth twisting up in a smirk. “I enjoy your…company very much.”
A smile spread across her lips. “Well, I enjoy yours, too. But I haven’t been training with Kiefer and the girls all these weeks just so that I can sit around looking pretty. I’ve got magic skills now, too, you know.” She waggled her fingers again. “I can do cool stuff, see?” She held out her right hand and spoke a few words, and a tiny blue flame flickered to life in the center of her palm.
It took a great deal of effort for Jessica to hold the flame together, and to keep it from dying out, but Nathan looked at it as if she’d done nothing more interesting than strike a match.
“Cute,” he said. “If the vampire needs you to light his cigarette, I will let you know.” And then he leaned over and snuffed out her magical fire with his thumb and forefinger. To really rub it in, he gave her a smug look and turned his attention back to fiddling with his weapons bandolier, ensuring all of his wooden stakes and scary knives were fastened to it securely.
Jessica made a disappointed noise but didn’t argue anymore. She knew he was right, and she had only been joking around with him, anyway. Although she had been training with Kiefer, Lucy, Dara, and Chloe a little, she knew her magical “skills” were still puny at best. Unlike those other four, Jessica didn’t have a lot of spare time in which to practice, nor did she seem to possess an innate knack for the dark arts. Which was fine by her, really. There were other things she was good at. Like tracking down obscure books and doing hours of research.
And providing companionship on stakeouts.
With a smile, she glanced out the windshield at the Christmas lights illuminating the public park Kiefer had assigned her and Nathan to watch tonight. She could see cars circling around, their drivers searching for parking, and she spotted plenty of regular people, families with children, wandering around with cups of hot cocoa clutched in their gloved hands, as they goggled over the decorative lights and stood in line to have their pictures taken with Santa. She saw no vampires, however. For that, she was both grateful and disappointed. She was glad, of course, that there weren’t any monsters popping out of the trees tonight, harassing innocent folks just out for a night of holiday cheer. But at the same time, Jessica knew there were vampires out there somewhere, lurking around the city. She knew Nathan and the gang needed to find them all and deal with them as soon as possible.
It had been over a month since Dorian had let twenty-eight bloodsuckers loose in the area, and so far, Jessica’s friends had caught only seventeen of them. Lucy and Aaron had taken down three together, while Jason and Dara had nabbed four. Nathan, Chloe, and Kiefer—either individually or in some combination together—had dealt with the other ten. Every one of the vampires had been feral, and had needed to be put down immediately. Reports of attacks continued to trickle in on a semi-regular basis, however, letting the hunters know the rest of the vampires were still out there, wreaking havoc. The thought kept Jessica up at night, even though she knew she and the others were doing everything they could to stop them. She had simply never been the most patient person, and she wished they could just hurry up and find the despicable creatures already and end them once and for all. Then they could move on to their next order of business, which was finding and killing Nathan’s master, Marta. Once they’d managed that, Nathan would be human again. He would finally think it was okay to be romantically involved with Jessica. Not that he wasn’t already romantically involved with her. He was just sometimes a little uptight about it.
She glanced at him again and saw he had taken out a cloth and was polishing a gigantic, lethal-looking serrated blade.
“I don’t think any other vampires are going to be visiting us here tonight,” she said glumly.
“No,” he agreed. “I fear you are correct.”
She paused a moment and then said, cheerfully, “Hey, I’ve got an idea, though. Do you want to make out with me?”
“Yes,” he said immediately, but still didn’t look up.
“But you won’t,” she sighed.
“You know I will not.”
“You kissed me that one time in my apartment,” she reminded him, “and it was really hot.”
“I remember,” he assured her.
“Do you think it was a mistake?”
“No. But it should not happen again.”
“But it has happened again. A couple times since then. Those were hot, too.”
“Yes, I know,” he sighed. “What can I say? You are extraordinarily beautiful, and…it makes me weak.” She saw the corner of his mouth curling upward, and she moved in closer, bringing her face nearer to his. “Jessica, move back,” he said, feigning irritation. “You are blocking the light from the streetlamp.”
She reached out and put her hand on his nape, running her fingers through the lush hair there. He ignored it for a while, but then his hands stilled on the weapon, and he turned to stare at her.
“Does that feel good?” she asked, pitching her voice lower as she surveyed him coyly from beneath her lashes.
“You know it does.” He sheathed the blade and set it on the dashboard. And then his hand was on her nape, and he was kissing her like crazy, his lips moving expertly over hers and his tongue seeking entrance. She gladly let him have it. The weapons bandolier, promptly forgotten, slipped between the seats with a clatter. His arms went around her and, with a faint growl, he dragged her against his chest.
Holy cow, Jessica thought. This man—this vampire—sure could kiss like a champion. She felt her head growing light and fuzzy, her body going warm and weak.
And then he bit her.
Not on purpose. It was just a quick slip of one of his fangs, nicking the tender swell of her lower lip, but still, it stung like the dickens.
“Ah!” Jessica gasped and pulled away.
Distress swam into Nathan’s gaze, cutting through the clouds of lust that had gathered there. “I apologize. It happens sometimes—”
“When you get excited, I know.” Jessica reached for her mouth.
Nathan caught her hand and moved it away, bringing his own thumb to her lip. He blotted the tiny bead of blood that had arisen there and brought it to his mouth. Jessica saw his eyes flicker as he swallowed.
“Do I taste good?” she wondered.
“You do,” he said simply. “But again, I am sorry.”
“Don’t apologize,” she waved at him. “It’s cool. Hazards of dating a vampire.”
He actually smiled at that, but he said, “We are not dating. I have told you many times, that will not happen until I am human once again.”
“Oh, okay,” she said in a skeptical tone. “Well, then what are we doing?”
He brought a fingertip to the hollow of her throat, tracing slowly into her cleavage. “You are being extraordinarily beautiful, as always. And I am once again being weak.”
She grinned. And then she leaned forward and kissed him again. He had just moaned, starting to get back into it, when she nipped his bottom lip with her teeth.
“Ow,” he pulled back, surprise flaring in his irises.
“There, let’s see how you like it,” she sniped, but with the smile still in her eyes.
His irises smoldered in response, and he took her by the arm to pull her in close again. “Minx,” he said, and fixed his mouth to hers. A moment later, his hand was on her chest, caressing her through the soft fabric of her sweater. He toyed with the top button, and Jessica unfastened it for him. She knew he would never have done it himself. As she had discovered over the past few weeks, “weak” for her or not, Nathan was still a gentleman with a strict code of self-conduct. Maybe a little too strict, as far as she was concerned. He might slip now and again, and allow himself to kiss her, but he’d never venture any further. Little did he know what a paradoxical effect his abstention had on her. His gallant restraint was meant to cool the passion between them, but all it did was make Jessica hotter for him. She could almost convince herself she was dating an old-fashioned nobleman, or maybe a medieval knight. She’d never known how much she liked it when a guy played hard to get.
Sinking her hands into Nathan’s hair, she felt herself melting again, the desire to climb into his lap and rip off his shirt almost overwhelming her. She might have tried it—had the car’s back door not suddenly flown open and scared the living daylights out of her.
“Ahhh!” Jessica and Nathan both cried out.
Chloe slid into the backseat and slammed the door closed, using her telekinesis to secure all the locks again. “I am sorry. I did not mean to startle you.”
“Chloe,” Jessica’s hands flew up to refasten her sweater. She stared at the nosferim—Chloe’s term for a vampire/human hybrid—in the backseat with alarm. “I thought we talked about you sneaking up on people?”
Chloe looked at her with big, innocent blue eyes. “I deliberately made noise as I approached.”
“Yeah, well, noisy for a vampire and noisy for a human are two different things, I guess,” Jessica huffed.
And that wasn’t the only difference between them, either. As a hybrid, Chloe shared a few characteristics with vampires, while lacking many others. She had a typical human life expectancy. Sunlight didn’t harm her. She had retractable fangs, and could subsist on blood, but chose not to. Crosses and holy water had no adverse effect on her. She wasn’t particularly fast, but she had increased strength and some psychic ability, including light telekinesis. Her biggest asset had nothing to do with her heritage at all, though, but rather came from her knowledge of magic and the supernatural in general. She’d spent the first few years of her life in an undisclosed “village in Britain,” but had afterward roamed the globe with her parents, her grandfather, and a revolving door of other vampire hunters from around the world, tracking and destroying nosferatu, and honing her spellcraft. Despite being only twenty-two years old, she was a proficient magic user and experienced hunter. There was no denying she was impressive, but…she was also a little odd. Even Chloe admitted it. She’d once told Jessica, with a sardonic twist to her lips, that among her own family members, she was considered the “most socially adept” of them. Hybrid vampires, it turned out, tended to be even weirder in some ways than the full-blooded variety.
Chloe’s expression, if one could call it that, didn’t change. She said, “If nothing else, I thought you two would hear the door locks opening.”
Nathan grumbled, “We were…preoccupied.”
“I noticed.” There was no discernible judgment in Chloe’s tone. Her slim white hands came up to straighten her impeccably fitted black leather jacket, which she wore over a black turtleneck and black jeans. Black boots capped her feet. She looked like a shadow with a white porcelain mask floating above it. “Once again, I apologize. I just spotted you here and thought I would come by and say hello. I did not realize Kiefer had assigned you to the park tonight, else I might have chosen another location to surveil. Have the two of you had any luck here?”
“Well, I think I might’ve been about to get lucky, if someone hadn’t rudely interrupted,” Jessica grumbled under her breath.
Nathan shot her an amused look before turning back to Chloe. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “Despite two attacks having previously been reported in this park, we have seen nothing. Not a single feral vampire. You?”
Chloe shook her head, too. “Those reports from Frankie came in weeks ago,” she reminded him. “It seems the vampires we seek have moved on from here. I doubt they will return.”
“You think they’re gone?” Jessica asked. “That they’ve left the city?”
“No,” Chloe said. “I believe the majority of them are holed up somewhere in the area, but it is anyone’s guess where their lair might be.”
“I tend to believe you are right,” Nathan admitted thoughtfully. “If only we did not live in such a sprawling metropolis; it might be easier to pinpoint their location.”
“I do have some good news,” Chloe offered, sitting forward. “The earlier part of the day proved more fruitful for Kiefer and myself. Before sunset, we found one of the strays slumbering in a cemetery across town.”
Jessica and Nathan exchanged an excited glance. “No kidding,” Jessica grinned. “That’s great!”
Nathan was more subdued. “It was feral, I presume? Like the others?”
“You killed it?” Jessica gulped. She knew it was the right thing to do. As their appellation suggested, feral vampires were wild. They couldn’t be reasoned with. If left alone, they would go on a rampage, biting and killing until they were finally dispatched by a stake through the heart or a blade through the neck. Still, Jessica could never forget that four of the men she knew and respected most these days—Nathan, Kiefer, Jason, and Aaron—had all been turned into vampires once upon a time. One of them—the one she was head-over-heels in love with—was still as undead as the day was long. The feral vampires they now hunted had once been normal people, too, with families and hopes and dreams. It just didn’t feel like much of a triumph to have to put them down like dogs.
But then Chloe said something that startled Jessica out of her gloomy thoughts. “It is not dead.”
“What?” Jessica glanced at Nathan and saw he was surprised, too.
“What happened to it?” he asked. “It escaped you?” Jessica could practically see the gears turning in his head, as he sought to formulate some plan with which to track down the vampire again, and this time to subdue it for good.
But Chloe gave another shake of her head, causing a golden curl to spring loose from her ponytail.
“Where is it?” Jessica asked.
“Perhaps…” Chloe hesitated, measuring her words with care. “Perhaps it would be best if the two of you returned to the safehouse with me and saw for yourselves.”
Jessica had initially heard of Kiefer’s safehouse nearly two months ago, when she’d first met Nathan’s magic-using best friend. At the time, the sorcerer hadn’t trusted anyone but Nathan enough to allow them there, but circumstances had changed since then. Once Jessica and her friends had earned his confidence, Kiefer had thrown open the doors to his haven and revealed to them many of its hidden secrets. The group of friends had now spent weeks training down there, as well as plotting against Dorian and his feral vampires.
The place had turned out to be a four-bedroom family home situated in the woods outside the city. Kiefer had purchased it for a song, years ago, and then spent more than a decade renovating and reinforcing it, creating what he considered a “fortress against evil” that was both practical and cozy. The surface level was furnished and outfitted just like any other normal, modern home, but the real essence of the place existed underground, where a honeycomb of concrete bunkers spread beneath the bulk of the entire property.
According to Kiefer, the estate’s previous owner had been a doomsday “prepper” who had built the catacombs in anticipation of Armageddon. Or perhaps Ragnarök. The man’s rambling conspiracy theories hadn’t been totally clear to him. He knew only that the grumpy, disheveled seller had since decided the location was too risky, being so close to the fourth most populous city in the country, and therefore a natural target for terrorists. Or angry gods. He had off-loaded the house to Kiefer without asking too many tricky questions, and then quickly shambled off to someplace quieter and more remote. Now Kiefer used the subterranean shelter to house not only food and supplies but also weapons, books, computers, and ingredients for spellcraft. Rooms at the north end were reserved for training and storage, and it was to one of these gymnasiums that Jessica now followed Nathan.
“What is this?” Nathan was staring at an enormous cage looming in the corner. The cage had always been there—precisely why, Jessica had always been afraid to ask—but it was usually empty. Not tonight, though.
Kiefer stepped forward with his hands raised. “Now, before you freak out,” he said, but Nathan’s face had already begun to cloud over, his eyes turning stormy.
“What is going on here?” he demanded.
Jessica could understand why he was upset. The scene before them was…well, more than a little disturbing. A female vampire, barefoot and clad in dirty rags, slumped in a corner of the cage with an iron collar clapped around her neck. Shackles encircled her wrists and ankles. The creature appeared crazed, her teeth bared and her eyes rolling wildly, but her restraints must have been enchanted, because she looked frozen from the neck down, her arms and legs limp.
Nathan turned to Chloe, who had entered right behind them. “This was your idea, wasn’t it?” he accused her.
Chloe’s face remained impassive, and though she opened her mouth to respond, Kiefer beat her to it.
“Actually, it was mine.”
Nathan spun back to him. “What?”
Kiefer’s hands were still in the air, as though he were surrendering. “It was sparked by something Chloe said to me, though.”
Nathan’s eyes narrowed. He muttered under his breath, “I knew it.”
Jessica examined Chloe, searching for a reaction to Nathan’s distrust of her, which still lingered—and clearly ran deep—even after weeks of his being acquainted with her. But the vampire hybrid remained as inexpressive as ever, her face unchanged.
Kiefer said, “I knew you wouldn’t like it, man, but hear me out. You know Chloe’s got decent psychic powers. She thinks she might be able to read one of the feral’s minds. Then we might be able to figure out what Dorian was doing with them, and what he wanted with Celia. And why he wanted you so bad, too. You still want to find all of that out, don’t you?”
Jessica could see Nathan’s skepticism fading as he considered these possibilities. Because of course he wanted the answers to those questions. They had haunted him for over a month now. He rounded on Chloe. “Do you honestly believe you could perform such a procedure? Is it even possible?”
Chloe stood with her long legs apart and her hands behind her back. “It is possible, and in fact, I have already attempted it. I did not succeed, but I think perhaps under the correct circumstances, I might attain more satisfactory results.”
Chloe cast an imperturbable look at the vampire in the cage. “She must be starved for several days, and there is a ritual that must be performed. It would involve ritualistic cutting and binding—”
“No,” Nathan said before she could finish.
“Nathan,” Kiefer tried, but Nathan swung his turbulent gaze toward him and held up his index finger.
“I have read about the sorts of rituals of which you speak,” he said to Chloe. “The subject must be awake throughout the ordeal, correct? With no anesthetic magic administered to dampen her pain?”
“Of course not,” Chloe said. “Pain is a necessary ingredient to the procedure. It is what will break the vampire’s spirit and make it docile, pliable enough that it will open up its mind to me.”
“Then what you are describing is torture,” Nathan said through gritted teeth, “and I will not allow it. Kiefer should have known that. In fact, I am certain that he did.”
Kiefer started to say something, but Nathan glared at him, and he shut up.
“Now, one of you put this poor creature out of its misery,” Nathan ordered. “This instant.”
“I do not understand, Nathan.” Chloe inclined her head thoughtfully. “This creature is beyond reason. It is bestial. And you planned to kill it anyway. What difference could a few days of discomfort prior to its demise possibly make to you?”
The words were hardly out of her mouth before Nathan yanked a stake from his belt and flung it into the cage. The wooden point found its target, burying itself in the vampire’s heart, and the creature scarcely had time to hiss one last time before she dissolved into a pile of ashes. Her shackles and collar tumbled to the floor with a dismal clank.
Kiefer’s face fell, and Chloe sighed as she dropped her chin. “I wish you had not done that,” she said to Nathan. “It was no easy matter getting that vampire here and restraining her thus.”
“I am sorry for your inconvenience,” Nathan replied sarcastically.
Chloe eyed him coolly. She took a step forward. “Nathan, when I first came to you, it was to ask for your help hunting a master, Gregor, who had long eluded me in the Himalayas. You told me you would help me find him, but only after you’d located and dealt with every stray vampire Dorian had let loose here in your city. I agreed your focus should remain here, given the dire circumstances, and I offered to aid you in your pursuit. Then you informed me that even if you found all of Dorian’s vagrants, you would not be free to help me until after you had tracked down your own master, Marta, and dispatched her to regain your humanity. I found this rather disappointing, as you would obviously be a more useful partner to me in your vampiric form, but even so…I strove to understand your motivations and, again, offered you my help. I thought perhaps eliminating these vampires alongside you would give you and Kiefer and the others a chance to get to know me better, and to see that you all could trust me.” She shifted her shoulders, straightening her neck. “But now we have been hunting these strays for weeks and, meanwhile, the trail for Gregor grows colder and colder…”
“As I said,” Nathan ground out at her, “I am sorry you have been inconvenienced. But it was your choice to stay and help us, Chloe. There is nothing holding you here, should you desire to leave. By all means, if you feel so compelled, go and hunt this other master down—on your own.”
Chloe watched him for a moment, contemplating. “Nathan, I know my recent report to you about Marta was difficult for you to hear, and that you have taken it badly. But that is no reason to let emotion cloud your judgment on other matters.”
Now Nathan scowled. He used his super-speed to get in Chloe’s face, and he curled his hand around her throat. Jessica could see he wasn’t putting any real pressure behind his gesture, but the nosferim’s head jerked back, and she stared at Nathan with slightly widened eyes.
“This is not about Marta, Chloe,” he seethed. “It is about the way we do things around here, and how that does not include kidnapping and torture.” He paused, considering the girl’s face before adding with a small sneer, “And if this is your attempt at earning my trust—by sneaking around behind my back and breaking my rules—then allow me to inform you, you are going about it in entirely the wrong manner.” He dropped his hand from her throat and stalked past her, out the door.
Everyone else stood perfectly still in the wake of his exit. “Well,” Kiefer finally broke the awkward silence, “that could have gone better.”
Jessica flashed him a cringing smile. “He’s, uh…I think he’s a little tired tonight,” she offered feebly. Then she turned and followed after her boyfriend, trotting to keep up with his long, angry strides.