I'm posting this a day early because tomorrow, weather permitting, I will be going to a meet & greet with Peter Facinelli. So I will be standing in line all night tonight (in the freezing rain and snow-eep!) and most of tomorrow morning. Unless of course it gets cancelled. But I will be too exhausted either way to post when I get home. Also, this is the last of my pre-written chapters. I will absolutely try to keep to my weekly updating schedule, but I make no guarantees. I'm not even sure it's possible for me to get one of these monster chapters written in a week. I'm nowhere near that awesome.

Audio for an Enhanced Reading Experience:
Grave - Hungry Lucy
Eat Me, Drink Me - Marilyn Manson
Get Even - Angelspit

Happy reading. -P.

P.S. I tried to make everything as accurate as possible. As I know nothing about private jets, airports in California, or foreign languages besides Spanish (think of this as a late apology for the French in the last chapter; any mistakes are mine alone), I apologize in advance for anything that's totally wrong.

Far From Human

by R.P. Evans

Chapter Six

Off the top of my head, I could think of several reasons why a master vampire—especially Stavros in particular—would want to meet me. None of those reasons were good ones. In fact, the most likely reason was the worst one of all. He probably wanted to meet me so that he could kill me. I mean, I was a hunter. A freaking vampire killer. To say that he simply wanted to "meet" me was like saying the president wanted to invite Charles Manson over for tea. It just didn't happen. Master vampires didn't "meet" vampire hunters. Not anymore, anyway. Master vampires killed hunters before the hunters could kill them.

I tried to sit up again and managed to get myself into a pseudo-sitting position, although it wasn't without cost. Sharp pain accosted my entire body; a car-crash analogy wasn't too far from the truth. When I tried to sit up was when I noticed that, first of all, I had on no shirt, and second, my midsection had been bandaged. That could only mean one thing—when that vampire bitch had crashed into me, she'd managed to crack, or at least bruise, a few ribs. Judging from the amount of pain, I was guessing she'd cracked them.

Chase watched me struggle with the pain for a few moments before he turned back to Morgan. "She's in no condition to be moved."

"I don't think Stavros cares," was her answer.

He tried again. "Angelique's doctor said she shouldn't be moved."

Morgan had an answer for that, too. "Our Master has given us an order. He wants to meet Kayla." Ouch. I could tell from the way she'd said my name that not only was Stavros already on a first-name basis with me, but that Morgan wasn't happy about it.

There was a mini-staring contest between Chase and his sister. Morgan won, because Chase was the first to look away. He directed his electric blue gaze at me and asked, "Can you stand?"

It was a simple enough question, but the answer would require putting myself in more pain than I was willing to at the moment.

"Probably not without help," Morgan answered for me. I looked at her and could feel my eyes narrowing. What a bitch. Her comment, more than anything, made me want to try.

"Of course I can stand," I snapped, pushing myself into a full sitting position. My broken ribs screamed in protest at the harsh action, and I did my best to ignore them. It wasn't without difficulty. Slowly I used my legs to pull myself to the edge of the bed, and it was a struggle to get my feet to touch the floor after that. Poised at the edge of the bed, I had to stop. It was hard to even breathe without feeling pain, and here I was, having just done more work than anyone with freshly broken ribs should ever do. I could feel my arms trembling just from the strain of trying not to buckle underneath the pain. I wasn't sure I could take that last step and actually push myself to my feet.

The two werewolves watched my struggle silently. After I didn't move for a few minutes, Chase moved to grab my arm. I flinched away from him.

"No," I said. "I can do this."

I leaned forward, and this time the pain brought with it a wave of nausea. I closed my eyes and sat still until it passed. I was not about to throw up on the floor of Angelique's pretty white room.

"You're going to hurt yourself even more," Chase argued. Briefly I looked up at him.

"What does it matter?" I asked. "If Stavros is...going to kill me anyway..." Jeez, who knew even talking would be painful? "It shouldn't matter if I'm...damaged goods..."

The fact that he remained silent confirmed my theory that, should I even make it to L.A., I would only be going there to die.

All right, Kayla, I told myself. No more pussy-footing around. I would stand on my own, damn it. I leaned forward until all my weight was on my legs, and then I pushed up until I was standing. I had a sweet moment of victory, and then it happened. The pain washed over me like someone had dumped a bucket of it on my head. I became dizzy; the room swam around me. Colors that were impossible in this snow-white room danced in front of my eyes as the nausea came back ten-fold. I was aware of falling, and then someone caught me. I didn't care who, because at that moment I had other things to worry about.

A sharp pain that had nothing to do with my broken ribs shot through my head—a migraine that only affected one specific point. It was like someone had taken an ax to my occipital lobe, the area in the brain that processes what your eyes see. I knew that was what part of my head was being affected by the pain, because although my eyes were open, I wasn't seeing Angelique's white room anymore. Though I could feel Chase's arms around me, I couldn't see him. I knew I wasn't having another one of my tripped-up flashbacks. This was something different, something worse.

I saw a fancy hotel suite, the double doors leading between the living room and the bedroom open. The windows were open, too, and they moved with a breeze that I couldn't feel. In the middle of the floor, lying on an expensive Persian rug, was a girl. She couldn't have been more than fifteen or sixteen. She was crying. I wanted to reach out to her, but I couldn't. It was like watching a movie, but without the sound. I wanted to help her, but she was just a figure on a two-dimensional screen. She couldn't see or hear me. I was watching the scene helplessly from above.

Suddenly I was aware of someone else in the room, a dark figure walking along its outer edges, watching the girl with a hawk-like eye. And though I couldn't hear what she was saying, I could tell from the expression on her tear-streaked face that she was pleading with him, begging his mercy.

I watched him as he moved; he looked familiar, but it was like he was hazy. I couldn't make out his features. I stared at him, and concentrated. Please, show me what he looks like, I thought. It seemed to work. The haze lifted. I gasped.

Though I knew the gasp had happened in real time, in Angelique's white room, I also knew that he had heard it, too. Somehow, Mikhail had heard me.

He looked up sharply, but his expression wasn't angry. It was thoughtful. And though I could hear Chase and Morgan's voices, they were just a buzzing in the background. Mikhail's voice, on the other hand, I heard loud and clear as it echoed through my head.

"Can you feel me, Kayla?"

I couldn't answer. I wasn't sure I knew how. But he knew that I could see him, and hear him. And it was like he could see me, too. He smirked and then turned back to the girl. She was still begging. Why could I hear Mikhail, but not her? Was it because he'd thought his question rather than said it out loud? Could I hear his thoughts, now?

Mikhail stalked toward the girl. There was nothing pretty in his actions. He didn't sugar coat what he was doing, didn't try to fool her into thinking she wouldn't get hurt. He grabbed her arm roughly and hauled her to her feet. Grabbing her blond hair, he wrenched her head to the side and sank his fangs into her throat.

As soon as he did, I wanted to gag. I couldn't just see Mikhail drinking the girl's blood. I could feel it. It squirted into my mouth, hot and coppery, and made its way like slime down my throat. I could feel my gag reflex working, trying to get me to spit the blood up, but there was nothing there. It was an illusion.

However, something else started to happen. The pain of my injuries—which I had been aware of this whole time—seemed to be somewhat...lessened. The more blood I felt Mikhail drink, the less pain I was in. And suddenly I knew what was happening. I'd heard of this sort of thing. Vampires gained energy and power through drinking blood, which was one of the reasons they could regenerate so quickly. When a human had a tie to a vampire, especially a master like Mikhail, the vampire could feed on someone and pass along whatever energy they gained through the tie to the human that belonged to them.

That was what Mikhail was doing to me. He was pushing energy from the girl through the bond that had been created when he'd bitten me. He was healing me.

Fuck if I knew why, though.

It seemed that as soon as I figured out what was happening, whatever spell I'd been under was broken. The weird vision dissipated, and soon I saw nothing except the white room in Angelique's apartment that I'd been in the whole time.

The two werewolves were on the other side of the room—I hadn't even felt it when Chase had let go of me—just staring, like I'd sprouted another head. Both of them had eyes that glowed yellow. Wolf eyes. Something had brought them close to changing.

"What the fuck?" Morgan asked. Her voice was the two-tone of someone about to change into animal form.

"You smell like vampire," Chase told me. His voice was normal, but those eyes certainly weren't.

I sucked in a breath, and there was no pain, no protest coming from my midsection. I glared at Chase and I couldn't help but sound a little accusatory as I said, "I thought you said Mikhail didn't drink from me long enough to form a tie. That's what you told Angelique."

"Mikhail?" Chase sounded confused, like the one thing he hadn't been expecting me to bring up was Mikhail.

I nodded. "I just had some fucked-up vision...thing. He was there, and he was feeding from this chick and then..." I let my sentence trail off when I saw the looks on the two werewolves' faces.

"And then you were healed," Chase said. His voice was flat, no emotion, the way some vampires could sound.


"Shit, we can't take her to L.A.," Morgan growled. Her voice was slowly going back to normal. "Mikhail could watch our every move through her."

I started to stand, ignoring Chase's hand when he offered it. I was fine now. No pain. I was betting that if I removed the bandages from around my stomach, all the bruising would be gone. "Where's my shirt?" I asked no one in particular. I was tired of being in just my bra.

"It had blood on it, so Angelique threw it away," Chase said.

I rolled my eyes. "Well, that's just fucking great."

Suddenly a bundle of white cotton hit me in the side of the head. The shirt fell into my hands and I glared at Morgan, who had thrown it at me. She shrugged. "One of Angelique's humans was your size; she donated a shirt."

Not saying anything, I pulled the T-shirt over my head. It was a small, and I was afraid to move too much in it, lest it rip open over my breasts. There's a reason I bought mediums when it came to most shirts. When I inquired about my sweatshirt I was informed that it, too, had been trashed. I was ready to shoot someone when Chase handed me my leather jacket—if he'd told me it had been chucked out, too, I would have shot him.

I felt a lot better when I had my shoulder holster on, and my gun was resting at my side beneath my jacket. It says a lot about a person when they feel more at ease if they're armed. Then again, you might feel better armed, too, if you were in a building full of creatures who could kill you faster than you could blink.

"I think we should call Stavros," Morgan said as we left the white room. "He needs to know."

"Now, Morgan," Chase said. "Our master has given us an order."

I would have laughed—take that, bitch—had she not let out a menacing-sounding growl. She moved quickly, grabbing his shoulder and whirling him around to face her. Her fist reared back as she prepared to punch him, but he got to her first, and the force of his hit sent her into the wall. She quickly bounded up from where she'd fallen on the floor, preparing to attack him again.

"Morgan," he said. His voice had a tone to it unlike anything I'd ever heard before, and to my surprise, she stopped in her tracks, like she'd hit an invisible wall.

Huh. Omega power level at work.

Chase may have stopped his sister from attacking, but he couldn't stop her from talking. Unfortunately.

"You'd risk leading Mikhail to our Master for her?" she glared at me, her eyes yellow again.

I waited for him to answer. Bitch that she was, Morgan did have a good point. I mean, if Mikhail did have a tie to me—and obviously he did, if he could heal me from all the way in San Francisco or wherever he was—then he could have been keeping tabs on me for the past ten months. That was not a thought I enjoyed having, but it was more than likely a true one. And if he could keep tabs on me from afar, then he could very well be watching right now. Who was to say he wouldn't keep watching all the way to L.A.?

I was sure Chase, being third-in-fucking-command to Stavros and all, wouldn't want to give away the location of Stavros's true lair. And if they were taking me there, he wouldn't have a choice.

However, you would think that Chase would put his master's safety way above mine.

Then again, the guy had saved my life twice now.

Well. This situation was just fucked ten ways to hell, wasn't it?

Chase never did answer Morgan's question, to her chagrin and my disappointment.

In the main room of the apartment, Angelique joined us. "I have a car waiting for you in front of the restaurant," she told us. "It will take you straight to San Diego International." She didn't mention the little altercation that had just happened in the hallway, which was probably wise. I knew it was a big no-no to meddle in another master's business, especially if you were in their territory. But what if another master's business spilled into your territory? Could you act then?

See? I told you vampire politics are all fucked up.

We followed Angelique out of the apartment and down the stairs to the restaurant. Beside her walked a male vampire that I hadn't been introduced to, but from eavesdropping I knew was her second-in-command and husband, Gaspard. Chase followed behind them. I made sure to stay close to him, considering that Morgan was behind me. Bringing up the rear were two of Angelique's guards, who weren't human, but weren't a flavor of supernatural that I recognized, either.

As we made our way through the main dining room of Le Palais de Sang, I caught up to Chase. "I hate to bring this up," I said, trying to speak softly so I wouldn't alarm the people dining around us, "but before we go to the airport I'm going to need to go by my motel room and get my things."

He looked over at me with a frown. "We can buy you new clothes in L.A." It was a really polite way of saying, You're not going to need clothes when you're dead.

"It's not the clothes I'm worried about," I snapped. "I'm not about to leave thousands of dollars in custom-made weapons lying around for anyone to—"

I never got to finish my sentence, because several very huge and distracting things happened at once. One, the front window—with the words Le Palais de Sang painted on it in monstrous gold letters—shattered. Two, the humans dining in Le Palais de Sang screamed, jumping up from their tables and running around in the generally confused way that humans, especially the normies, are wont to do. And three, I was shoved to the ground by Chase, who threw himself over me like a human—or rather, werewolf—shield.

Together we scrambled behind a table that had been overturned in the panic. Angelique was nearby—I could hear a steady stream of curse words that sounded a whole lot prettier in French than they did in English. Between bouts of cussing she yelled, "Someone needs to tell me right this minute why my restaurant is being shot at!"

I screamed as another bullet was fired; this one hit the edge of the table I was behind and a large chunk of wood went flying, almost taking my arm with it. Quickly I got to my feet and, keeping as low as possible, ran to a different hiding spot. Chase followed me. We ended up on the other side of the stage that the string quartet had abandoned when all the shooting started.

Sitting there, cowering behind the stage, it didn't take me long to come up with the answer Angelique needed. I mean, I had gone for ten months without anyone knowing I was alive, and on the one day I make myself known, I suddenly have people shooting at me? Someone smelled like a rat.

"You should talk to Larry Anderson!" I shouted, knowing Angelique could hear me. "Your little lap-dog sold me out, Angelique."

All around us, there was chaos. It wasn't like the movies—all the innocent bystanders hadn't run screaming off the premises, leaving the place empty so that a fight could go down. Most people had been afraid to go outside for fear of getting shot down; the restaurant was still full of humans. They tucked themselves into corners and behind furniture. Some cried, others yelled. A few made frantic 911 calls. Just a few feet away I could see Angelique and her husband—he was on the phone, and though my lip reading skills have never been the greatest, I caught enough of what he said to know that he was talking to the police, too.

Angelique's face had contorted into something not-quite-human, the way all vampires tend to do when they're really upset. Or really pissed off. I knew that the next time Larry got a visit from Angelique, he wouldn't survive to tell about it. It wasn't that she was angry on my behalf. She didn't care either way if I lived or died. She was only upset that some human fuckhead had dared to attack her home. You didn't mess with a master vampire's nest. Even I knew that.

Angelique waited until her facial features had smoothed back into a passable human visage before she flitted to the front of the room, presumably so that all the humans could see her. "Everyone, please calm down!" she called, and though she hadn't like, screamed or anything, her voice managed to carry over the chaos just fine. And then I felt it—she was sending magic out into the room, calming all the humans by lulling them into a false sense of security. It wasn't enough to completely calm the mass hysteria taking over the restaurant, but it quieted them down enough that she could speak.

"The police have been contacted, and they will arrive soon," she was saying. "I would ask that you all stay calm and do not attempt anything rash. Soon everything will be under con—"

Angelique paused, her expression one of surprise, the most emotion I'd ever seen on a master vampire's face. At first I was confused, but a quick glance down absolved my curiosity. There was a hole, right where Angelique's heart should have been. Blood poured from the wound down the front of her white dress.

She'd been shot. Whoever had been shooting up Le Palais de Sang had just assassinated the master vampire of San Diego.

Angelique's knees gave out beneath her; she crumpled to the floor, her vampire husband catching her before she could hit the expensive stone. I could see all the humans peeking out of their hiding places, trying to watch what was happening despite their better judgment. Uh-oh. We'd be in really deep shit if they all saw her turn to ashes. I prayed to God that some part of her heart was still intact, and that she'd survive long enough to be moved someplace else, someplace where she could die privately.

There is a reason that God and I don't get along.

A general uproar could be heard from the humans as Angelique started to ash. Like with most old ones, it was a slow process. It started at the gunshot wound to her heart, spreading outward from that. Tiny rivulets of blood poured from the corners of her mouth, her nose, ears, and eyes. Gaspard leaned down and kissed her, smearing blood on his lips as he did. And suddenly he wasn't holding anything in his arms except a white dress, and the floor around him was scattered with ashes.

The chaos around us was replaced with eerie silence—it screamed louder than anything else. The humans couldn't make sense of what they'd seen. Or they didn't want to.

Gaspard—now the master of the city by default—looked up from what had once been his wife. His face was contorted in that skeletal mask that still managed to freak me out. He was looking right at me. "This..." he could hardly speak. "This is all your fault."

Oh, shit.

Throwing Angelique's dress aside, he charged, moving with vampire speed, uncaring of the fact that humans were watching. Chase pushed me out of the way with such force that I hit the wall on the other side of the stage. My ribs screamed in protest—just because they weren't broken anymore didn't mean they weren't still tender. The werewolf met Gaspard head-on; the sound was like a sonic boom that shook the entire room. Two immovable objects colliding at the speed of light.

Gaspard was knocked back, but landed on his feet. He snarled at Chase and came at him again. This time he managed to knock Chase aside. He rushed at me, and I braced myself. I could see him coming. He wouldn't take me by surprise.

I leapt up onto the stage as Gaspard crashed into the wall, in the spot I'd just vacated. The collision barely phased him; he turned, saw where I'd moved, and literally flew up to the stage. I pulled my gun on him. I couldn't kill him—then who would be master of San Diego?—but I could sure as hell wound him. I fired a silver bullet into his shoulder. He lurched with the impact, but it didn't slow him down. He crept at a menacingly human pace towards me, his face still in its monstrous contortion, his eyes red with blood lust. He had it out for me, all right. I am so not good at making friends.

Another shot sounded from somewhere nearby, and Gaspard clutched at his side, where a silver bullet had entered but hadn't exited. Well, shit! I was going to be responsible for killing two master vampires in one night. Once upon a time it would have been considered a job well done, but now...

Oh, well. If I made it to L.A., it would only be to die anyway. I guess anything I did at this point didn't matter much in the Big Picture.

Suddenly Chase was beside me, pushing me behind him as Gaspard, though wounded, continued his ill-fated mission. Namely, to kill me. "You would stand in my way?" he hissed to Chase. "I have the right to kill the one responsible for my master's death!"

"She is under Stavros's protection, and mine," Chase answered back. And his? What the hell was that supposed to mean? Whatever it meant, Gaspard found it funny. He laughed, but it sounded cruel.

"You are not a wolf king yet."

Wolf...king? If I lived, someone was going to have to do some major explaining to me. I felt like I was getting information whiplash.

A growl escaped Chase's lips, and I swear, his skin moved like his fur was bristling, only, you know, he was in human form. Before he could make a move, though, another bullet tore its way through Gaspard's body. The vampire cried out, but the sound wasn't human in the slightest.

"Stop fucking around, Chase!" Morgan called.

Without another word Chase turned, grabbed my wrist, and pulled us both off the stage. He landed gracefully on his feet; I probably wouldn't have if he hadn't had such a tight grip on me. Thankfully he let go as we sprinted across the restaurant. I could hear police sirens nearby; outside on the street, blue and red lights were reflected off neighboring buildings.

We ran past a sleek black car that I assumed was the ride that Angelique had arranged to take us to the airport. Up ahead a man in a business suit was getting into a cab. Morgan, using that dandy supernatural speed, reached him first, pulling him from the recesses of the cab so hard that he fell to the sidewalk, stunned. Chase reached the cab before I did, ducking into the dark back seat. I guess I was going too slow when I started to climb in, because Morgan pushed me. I ended up sprawled across the back seat, my face in Chase's lap. If we hadn't been running for our lives, I would have been embarrassed.

"Airport. Now." Chase growled to the driver. He seemed a little spooked, so Morgan pulled her gun to help persuade him.

The cab rocketed down the street—busy even at this hour of the night. Morgan was kneeling in the floorboard, her gun aimed at the base of the cab driver's skull, so I was able to pull myself out of my embarrassing position. It was hard to accomplish without kicking her in the face, though—and believe me, I thought about it.

After I'd struggled into an upright position, I glanced toward the back window of the cab. I could see the police cars now, swarming the street in front of Le Palais de Sang. I had visions of Gaspard chasing after us, but of course, that was ridiculous. He would have to stay and deal with the humans, and the police. I wondered how he was going to explain away what had happened, the fact that Angelique had ashed in front of all those people. I was betting there was going to be some mass hypnosis involved. It was hard to mind-fuck a group that size, but it could be done.

From beside me, Chase asked quietly, "You okay?" He had leaned in close, to give the illusion that our conversation was actually private.

I turned to him and couldn't help the hysterical-sounding giggle that escaped my lips. "You kiddin'?" I didn't even mind that my accent had come out a little bit. You can take the girl out of Louisiana, but you can't take Louisiana out of the girl.

The cab driver got us to the airport in record time. Or, what I'm assuming was record time. I'm surprised the poor man had managed to get us there at all without wrecking; he was trembling as we exited the cab, Chase throwing some money onto the back seat. I didn't think it was enough. The driver didn't say anything.

If this were a movie, we would have run brazenly through the airport, shoving businessmen and their Blu-Tooth headsets and old ladies with their pet carriers out of our way as we rushed to make our flight. But this was real life, and the fact that we were armed and dangerous could put a damper on our travel plans if we brought too much attention to ourselves. So we tried to look perfectly normal as we walked through the airport; not an easy task for two werewolves and a monster hunter.

You can always spot the humans who know about the supernatural world; they're the only people who don't look away when faced with a supernatural. Normal humans, ones who don't know about the existence of monsters, have enough sense to look the fuck away when being approached by something not human. Have you ever walked past someone and for some inexplicable reason, you had to avert your eyes? Like you knew you weren't supposed to look at them? They were probably a non-human. Normal humans recognize the fact that supernaturals are dangerous, and they act accordingly—i.e., they avoid them. Then there are jaded humans who can look a supernatural creature in the eye and not be frightened off. That's how you know they're privy to the Big Secret.

So when a little luggage-check guy approached us, even though we had no luggage in sight, smiling congenially, it was pretty easy to tell that he was used to our sort of people—namely, ones that weren't people at all.

"I'm Gerard," he greeted, bowing a little. "Madame Angelique said you'd be coming. Let me show you to her private runway."

I could barely hold in my sigh of relief as Gerard turned, expecting us to follow. News was traveling slow by supernatural standards. He wasn't aware that Angelique was dead—if he had been, I doubt he would have been quite so friendly.

Or maybe Gerard was just out of the loop, because when we got outside, there was a bevy of armed guards standing near the small Hawker 400XP. Their guns were drawn, and they all looked like they would shoot us in the head without a second thought.

We all paused. Poor little Gerard looked confused. "What is going on here?" he asked, apparently just as surprised by the guards' appearance as we were. Or weren't.

One of the guards found it in his heart to answer Gerard's question. "We've received orders from the master not to let them leave the city."

Gerard frowned. "I received no such order from Angelique."

The guard remained silent for a moment before he said, "The order was from Gaspard. Angelique is dead."

Gerard was stunned silent. I caught the hurt on his face, and on the faces of the guards, surprisingly enough. They'd all cared for Angelique. Vampire or not, I had a feeling she'd been a good master. A good employer. And now she was dead. Because that fuckhead Larry couldn't keep his mouth shut about the fact that I was alive. If Gaspard didn't take my advice (and since he hated me now, there was no reason why he would) and kill Larry, I was totally willing to do it myself.

If, you know, I lived that long.

I wondered vaguely how we were going to get ourselves out of this mess. Then two things happened at once. Chase rushed the guards with the guns, and Morgan grabbed Gerard, snapping his neck and letting his body drop to the ground before joining her brother. And what, you may ask, did Kayla do? Well, I stood there. Stood there like a fucking normie and watched Gerard not move. But I wasn't seeing poor Gerard. I was seeing someone else.

Then I realized someone was shooting at me, and I came back to reality long enough to dodge the bullets—barely.

I rolled on the ground, ending up in a crouch several feet away. I was right in front of one of Gaspard's guards. He brought his foot up to give me a good square kick to the jaw, but I managed to dodge that and reach out with my own foot, sweeping his leg out from underneath him. He fell to the ground hard, his gun clattering out of his hand. I dove for it, almost making it before he grabbed my legs, his fingers latching themselves onto my calf muscle with bruising force, and started to pull me back towards him. Flipping onto my back—which was easier said than done, considering he didn't let go of my leg—I kicked with my free leg. There was a sickening, yet satisfying, crunch as the heel of my boot connected with his nose. He loosened his grip long enough for me to pull away from him; I grabbed his gun, and just as he went to grab me again I turned and shot him. It was a silver bullet, so there was quite a mess made when it was all said and done. I almost felt bad. Then I remembered that he'd tried to kill me, first, and suddenly all my sympathy was gone.

By the time I'd hauled myself to my feet, Chase and Morgan had already dispatched the other guards. I didn't care that they'd gotten one up on me, though—I was just happy to be alive, yet again.

We hurriedly climbed up into the private jet, eager to be gone by the time more of Gaspard's people showed up. The jet was smaller inside than I'd expected—there were only seats for eight people. Immediately Chase opened the little sliding door to the cockpit.

"Hey, did you take care of—" the pilot turned, his sentence dying when he saw that he wasn't talking to one of the guards. As the pilot stood—no doubt to reach for the gun that I'm sure he had stowed somewhere—Chase grabbed him, forcing him out of the cockpit and into the main part of the plane. The werewolf threw the pilot down into one of the two front seats, drew his own gun, and planted one in the pilot's skull. I could only stare, although the fact that Chase had just shot the man for no reason wasn't what bothered me.

That's probably a bad thing.

"You shot. The pilot," I said, having to put a pause between the words because I was just that stunned. "How the hell are we supposed to escape when you shot the pilot?"

Chase didn't answer me. He was already sliding into the pilot's recently-vacated seat. He pushed a lot of complicated-looking buttons. Holy hell, was he going to try to fly this bird?

I started for the cockpit, but Morgan pushed me into the seat next to the dead guy. "He's got his pilot's license," she said, as if that was supposed to make me feel better. "Now put your seatbelt on."

And really, what choice did I have?

It was a forty minute flight, give or take a few minutes, from San Diego to LAX. We hadn't even landed yet when Morgan's cell phone rang. She didn't answer it right away; instead she went to the open door of the cockpit and crouched, answering the phone and hitting the button to put the call on speaker phone, I'm guessing so that her brother could hear the conversation, too.

"Morgan here," she greeted. She didn't sound nervous. Point for her.

"You guys are in so much trouble," a voice crackled over the line.

Even though I was behind her, I could practically see her roll her eyes. "Is there a reason you called, Frithick?"

The voice, that now had a name—Frithick; how weird—chuckled. Apparently he was enjoying the current plight we, or rather, they were in, seeing as how he didn't know me.

"Yeah. Where are you?"

"Circling LAX," Morgan answered, just as Chase radioed his request to land.

"We'll meet you on the tarmac," said the voice named Frithick, and then he hung up.

Chase exchanged a look over his shoulder with his sister. He didn't look very happy, and I was betting she didn't, either.

And sure enough, when the small jet finally landed on the tarmac, there was a group of four people waiting for us. Well, I say people, but once I was on the ground with them I could tell they were anything but. Two of them—average-sized men with dark, Eastern European features—were vampires, and the other two were some sort of wereanimal. If I had to guess, I would have said werewolf. And I'm usually a pretty good guesser.

One of the werewolves—he was blond, and only a little bit taller than me—stepped forward, and when he spoke I recognized his voice as that of Frithick, whom Morgan had talked to on the phone. He didn't greet his fellow werewolves. No, the first thing he said when we were all settled on the ground was, "He is going to kill you."

I don't think he meant it as a joke.

"I'm sure once we explain everything to Him—" Chase started to say, but Frithick interrupted him.

"You don't understand. He's pissed, man," said the blond werewolf. "I've never seen Him this angry."

Chase fell silent. That's when I felt Frithick's gaze go to me. "So this is her, then?" he asked. "I was expecting someone...bigger."

I wasn't sure whether to be insulted, or flattered.

Luckily, Chase saved me from doing something I might regret when he said, "Stop flirting, Frithick. I want to get this over with."

Well I didn't want to get it over with. Over with for me meant death. But how could I possibly argue? The most I would accomplish was getting myself killed even sooner.

Nodding at Chase's words, Frithick came forward. He was wearing black gloves, and when he reached into his pocket, I saw why. He was holding a pair of silver handcuffs; didn't want to touch those with his bare skin. "Gun, please," he said to me, smiling cordially. Well, hell. Reaching into my jacket, I pulled my gun from its shoulder holster and handed it to him. He tossed it to the other werewolf, who was tall, dark, and creepily silent.

"Now, if you'd just put your hands behind your back." He continued to act friendly. I was seriously considering shooting him as soon as I got my gun back.

As I put my hands behind my back he turned me around—none too gently, I might add—and slapped the handcuffs on my wrists. The two vampires did the same with Morgan and Chase. I couldn't help but frown. I mean, at least the silver didn't do anything to me. But the werewolves would have burns on their wrists from where the silver had touched them.

When the three of us were securely handcuffed we were escorted back through the airport. LAX is a busy place even on a bad day; no one noticed us, and even if they did, it was L.A. Stranger shit had happened.

There were two nondescript black cars waiting for us outside the airport. Chase, Morgan, and the two vampires got into one. I knew why the vampires had been chosen to guard them, or at least, to guard Chase. As an omega-level werewolf, he had a certain amount of control over any other wolf. He could have very well ordered Frithick, or his silent counterpart, to simply release him and Morgan. Vampires, however, were outside Chase's realm of control. So the werewolf guards got into the other car with little old me.

The ride was awkwardly silent; I wondered where we were going. Where did the master of Los Angeles make his home? Across from me, Frithick was tapping his foot nervously, like he wanted to say something, but couldn't find the words.

"What?" I finally asked, because the tapping was starting to annoy me.

"Oh, nothing," he said. I raised an eyebrow at him. "Well," he amended. "I mean—you're her. We grew up hearing horror stories about your dad." He elbowed the dark-haired wolf at his side. "Isn't that right, Broderick?"

Broderick merely grunted in response.

Oh, great. Maybe they'd ask for my autograph before Stavros did me in.

Thankfully, it wasn't too long before we pulled up in front of a severely tall skyscraper, the kind where all the windows are that mirror shit that reflect the street back to you, so you can't see what's going on inside. I guess, for a building full of vampires, that was a good thing. They were probably UV proof, too, you know, to block out those pesky rays of sunlight.

There was a parking garage next to the skyscraper, and that's where we were taken. Unlike most parking garages I'd ever been to, this one was brightly lit, fairly clean, and well-guarded. And I could see why as a pair of uniformed security guards let us in the gate. The place was full of expensive cars. And when I say expensive, I mean it. This must have been where all the vampires parked when they came for a visit.

We drove to the top floor of the garage, where the identical black cars parked in two side-by-side spaces. My two canine escorts got out of the car, and then the big one, Broderick, reached in and pulled me out roughly by my arm. He pushed me forward; I stumbled, and almost toppled over. Someone behind me snickered. Okay, they were all dead. Just as soon as I got my gun back. We were led to an elevator, where, to my surprise, our handcuffs were removed. Chase and Morgan rubbed their wrists; I could see red, angry-looking burns where the silver had touched their skin.

The three of us piled into the elevator. I frowned. Why weren't Frithick, Broderick, and the two vampires coming with us? That didn't bode well.

To add to my growing unease, Frithick handed me back my gun. "Good luck," he told me, the elevator doors closing before I could ask what the hell he meant, or shoot him.

The little buttons by the door lit up as the elevator began its ascension. "What the hell was that all about?" I asked no one in particular. Neither of the werewolves beside me felt the need to answer.

A few too-short seconds later, the elevator doors dinged open to reveal an empty penthouse. Chase and Morgan stepped immediately off the elevator, but I lingered, unsure. I mean, here I was—in the belly of the beast. And yes, I knew there was no escape at this point, but it seemed to me that stepping off the elevator would somehow make everything more real. I mean, at least in here, I could always push the button and travel down a few floors before the big, scary werewolves caught up to me.

Unfortunately Morgan seemed to sense what I was thinking; with a small growl, she reached back into the elevator and pulled me out by my arm, her grip tight enough through my leather jacket that I knew I'd have finger-shaped bruises where she'd held me tomorrow.

Oh, well. Now that the elevator was gone, hurtling its descent back to the lower floors of the building, I might as well have a look around. The entire penthouse—at least, what I could see of it, which was really just a living area of sorts—was decorated in a very modern manner. People usually have this misconception that all vampires enjoy that dark, gothic stuff—candelabras and cobwebs and all that jazz. The master of Los Angeles was spending eternity in style. The furniture was designed very geometrically, all lines and square edges. The color scheme was simple, yet modern. White, gray, black. I had to swallow the lump in my throat as I tried to picture which part of the room would be stained red after this little visit. Maybe I'd be killed near the couch—it was black; a blood stain wouldn't do much damage.

However, there was one significant thing that the room was missing, and that was the master of the city himself. Where was Stavros?

Almost as soon as I thought the question, the television flickered to life, filling the quiet-as-a-grave room with sudden noise. I drew my gun, a reflex for whenever I was startled. Luckily, I didn't shoot the television.

"—restaurant shooting in San Diego, which resulted in one death, that of the restaurant's owner Angelique Talón. This just in: police have confirmed six more deaths. The victims, who were found on a runway at San Diego International Airport, are believed to be connected to the shooting at the Le Palais de Sang restaurant. Their names have not been released at this time, however—"

There was a gasp at my side, dragging my attention away from the news anchor on screen. The gasp had come from Morgan, who, looking like she was in some sort of pain, collapsed to her knees. I wondered what in the world was wrong with her, but then I felt it. A slight breathing—there was no other word for it—of power, washing over the room. Almost like a wave of air. The power felt cold, like a tomb. That meant that whatever wielded it was no longer living.

I didn't even try to pretend I wasn't frightened as I turned my gaze on to Chase. He was still standing, barely. His fists were clenched at his sides, so hard that his knuckles were white. I could see the veins popping out in his neck. He was trying so hard not to succumb to the power that washed over us now, threatening to drown us.

But even an omega werewolf can't hold out for long against the master vampire that commands them. Chase fell to his knees, and I could tell he wasn't happy about it. Too soon, I was the only one left standing, because while I could feel the power, and it made me uncomfortable, it didn't quite work on me. I wasn't this vampire's puppet to control.

A voice sounded, as cold as the power that surrounded us. "I send you to San Diego to kill a few insignificant vampires. A simple task. And what do you do instead? You create a disaster which threatens to expose us all."

Even I had to flinch, not at the words themselves, but at the way they were spoken. If tone of voice could kill...

I stood stock still. I knew the proper way to greet a master vampire, especially one as old and powerful as the one standing behind me. But this wasn't a social call. I'd come here to die. Did you have to observe proper, polite protocol when you were heading to your own execution?

Some vampires can read your thoughts. Stavros was one of them. "You may turn and face me, hunter," he said. I cringed. Here it was—the moment of truth.

I spared a glance to the werewolves on either side of me, who had been forced to their knees under the weight of this vampire's power. Anyone that powerful could snap me like a twig before I even had time to blink.

Here goes nothing.

I took a deep breath, squeezed my eyes shut, and turned around. Maybe he'd kill me quickly.

There was a cool whoosh of air as Stavros moved with vampire speed across the room. I could feel the disturbance in the air as he appeared in front of me. I held my breath, expecting it to be over quickly. "Open your eyes, please," he said. Oh, great. He was going to make me look at him while he killed me.

When I opened my eyes the first thing I thought was, Wow, I've never seen a tan vampire before. Of course, he wasn't that tan, being a vampire had paled him up a lot, but he must have spent an awful lot of time in the sun when he was alive to retain such a skin color. His hair, clipped short, was a few shades from being true black, and his face was all sharp planes and dark features. He was, in a word, gorgeous. I think that's the rule. If someone is too beautiful to be human, then they aren't.

I don't know what I was expecting him to do—well, all right, I was expecting him to kill me—but I was mildly surprised when he placed fingers underneath my chin, tilting my head up and back to expose the bite scar on my throat. "So it's true," he mused, looking from the scar to my eyes. "This does pose a problem."

"If you're going to kill me, just do it already," I snapped. I was sort of hoping that my general demanding, bitchy nature would win him over, as it has done so many people over the years, and he would kill me quickly out of annoyance, just to be done with me.

Again, Stavros did the opposite of what I'd expected him to do. He laughed at me—a full-throated, genuinely amused laugh. "My dear girl," he said. "I didn't bring you here just to kill you.

"I am going to offer you a job."