Hearing a throat clear, I slowly turned my head and peered up at the fierce-looking vampire that was standing beside the sofa, glaring down at me. In addition to being my mate, Jared Michaels was my co-commander...and he didn’t look happy, which was totally understandable given the circumstances. He had clearly teleported into our apartment using his very impressive vampiric gift, and now I was in seriously deep shit. As Jared’s twin brother and fellow vampire, Evan, would say: busted.
I smiled awkwardly, knowing my expression was guilt-ridden. “I wasn’t expecting you home just yet.”
“Oh, well I can see that.” Even scowling, Jared was still unfairly edible. He had a dark, raw masculinity that was so overwhelming it could make a girl feel drunk.
I flashed him an apologetic smile. It had no effect.
“This isn’t the first time you’ve done this, is it?”
Lying would be pointless, considering that our bond would allow him to sense it – a bond that had developed when we were joined through a vampire Binding ceremony five months ago. Binding was so much more than marriage; the powerful bond that formed between the couple could only be broken by death, even if the couple no longer cared for each other. So, in addition to having a brail-like tattoo where a wedding ring might have been, I now also had an extra sense; it was solely focused on Jared, allowing me to know things such as his vitals, his thirst level, and his mood. I didn’t need the bond to alert me of his current mood – he was undoubtedly pissed.
Realising that he was waiting impatiently for an answer to his question, I quietly admitted, “No.”
He folded his arms across his solid, well-defined chest. “How long has this been going on?”
“Define ‘not long’.”
I shrugged. “A week, maybe.”
His snappy comment had my snake, Dexter, lifting his head from where he was curled up on the rug. In the beginning, he hadn’t liked Jared at all. Thankfully, though, Dexter had gradually warmed up to him as he came to understand that Jared was as equally protective of me as he was. Still, Dexter would bite him in a blink if he thought Jared was any threat to me. That wouldn’t be good, given that Dexter’s preternatural venom could cause temporary blindness, mental disorientation, and then muscle paralysis. Two bites at one time could also cause excruciating pain followed by death. Sweet.
Wes, who was the Sire of the Grand High Master Vampire Antonio, had the remarkable gift of making his pictures come to life. When Wes drew an image of a snake on my arm, it automatically became a tattoo that could become a live snake. Dexter was a mix of a spitting cobra, a black mamba, a rattlesnake, and a garter snake. Wes had named the hybrid breed ‘Strikers’ due to how fast they attacked. An amazing thing about them was that they changed colour with their mood. At the moment, Dexter was jet black – which we had learned meant that he was alert and wary.
“I knew you were keeping something from me,” continued Jared, not in the least bit daunted by Dexter’s shift in mood and the possible danger. There wasn’t much that fazed Jared Michaels. “I just couldn’t figure out what it was.”
“Look, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again,” I promised.
“I would have thought you had better self-control.”
“So I had a moment of weakness. Doesn’t everyone?”
“How am I supposed to trust you when you pull shit like this?” A glint of amusement entered his intense hazel eyes, making me inwardly sigh in relief. I’d kind of expected the red tinges to his irises that marked him as a Pagori vampire to start glowing – it was something they did whenever he was angry, thirsty, or horny. Pagoris were the most powerful of the three vampire breeds, having incredible speed and strength. Unfortunately for them, they easily became aggressive and had a very strong bloodlust. “Answer me one thing honestly: did you find it by accident, or did you go looking for it?” My expression must have answered that, because he shook his head sadly.
“I just don’t like surprises,” I said defensively. Which was why I had searched our entire apartment for my birthday presents. I decided against telling him that I’d also found the other two gifts – it was bad enough that he’d caught me playing with my brand new PlayStation 6, which hadn’t yet been released in the human world, complete with the ‘Vampire Nation’ game.
Jared’s shrewd eyes narrowed. “You found the other presents, too, didn’t you?”
Crap. “I’m not comfortable with all these questions.”
Shaking his head again, he plucked me from the sofa. I instantly wrapped my limbs around him, melting into the kiss that he planted on my mouth. His deliciously spicy, masculine scent swirled around me, making me want to drag him to our bedroom and have my wicked way with him on the king-size bed that we’d moved here from his old apartment.
He pulled back, smiling, and ran a hand through my long, dark hair. “I can’t believe I’m going to have to teleport your presents somewhere out of your reach. All you had to do was wait another two weeks.”
I pouted. “You don’t have to teleport them away. I already promised that it wouldn’t happen again.”
His smile widened. “Yes, you did. But I’m pretty sure there are loopholes in that promise somewhere.”
I sniffed haughtily. “Fine. Be that way.”
The randy bastard ground himself against me. “Now you’re just making me want to f**k that attitude right out of you.”
“Smooth,” I teased.
He nuzzled my neck, breathing in deeply. “Unfortunately, being inside you and hearing you scream my name with that husky voice and that British accent will have to wait until later.” He had a thing about my accent, but I happened to really like his Californian accent, so happy days. “The guys are probably already at the bar.”
Thanks to vampire speed, we would be ready in less than ten minutes to meet with our squad to celebrate the completion of our most recent assignment, which had ended two nights ago. The gated community in which we lived was referred to as The Hollow. It housed vampires and humans, and contained plenty of stores, bars, and also a nightclub. It was situated on an off-the-map Caribbean island, surrounded by a tropical rainforest, and had a man-made beach in the centre for the residents to use. Antonio, his staff, and the legion also had access to the private beach behind his mansion.
Although I had been made a commander on my first night here, it hadn’t been the position I’d applied for when I arrived from London. Having been scouted by Antonio’s tracker, Sebastian, I had participated in the try-outs for a place in the legion. The majority of people there, including Jared, had thought it completely ridiculous for a female to attend. Although I’d passed each stage and was rare in being a Feeder – a vampire able to absorb and manipulate energy – I was denied a place. It was then that Antonio made me Jared’s co-commander. Jared’s issue hadn’t just been that I was female. No, it was also that I was a Sventé vampire – the weakest of the three breeds.
Although Keja vampires weren’t as strong as Pagoris, they were still powerful in that they were hypnotically beautiful. All three breeds had a preternatural allure, but Keja beauty was enchanting enough to bewitch people, ensnaring their prey. Also, like Pagoris, their vampiric gifts were often very substantial. Kejas were identifiable by their fangs and the amber tinges to their irises – tinges that glowed when they were angry, thirsty, or horny.
Sventés, however, couldn’t boast of much. Our vampiric gifts were mostly defensive rather than offensive, and we didn’t have super strength or a bewitching allure. Still, we were stronger and faster than humans and had incredible agility. We didn’t have visible markings – no fangs, no glowing irises – and our bloodlust wasn’t overpowering. All of that enabled us to blend well with humans, and therein lay our power. But the other two breeds didn’t perceive that as strength. To them, Sventés were inferior in that we were tame and too human-like as opposed to the ultimate predator.
Although Jared overcame his prejudice and wasn’t the narrow-minded arsehole he’d once been, the vampire community hadn’t been keen on me Binding with him. As Antonio’s Heir, Jared was destined to one day hold the position; to rule and protect vampires worldwide. As his mate, I would share that position as ruler. The vampires needed to be secure in the knowledge that their rulers could protect them. As such, having a Sventé as a ruler hadn’t been an attractive idea to them.
It was only the fact that I was very powerful as a Feeder – a gift that should technically only run in Pagori lines – that had stopped a riot from occurring. Instead, the guests had spent the week approaching the ceremony testing my patience and strength. Fate had decided it would be funny for me to be weak at the time. Yep, thanks to two vampire scientists, I had been gradually altering while at the same time weakening. No one had known how I was altering or what the bloody hell would happen. We had found out pretty quickly. The sociopathic scientists had been trying to create a hybrid – a mix of all three vampire breeds.
The wackos had also succeeded.
Thanks to them, I was now the only hybrid in the world. In addition to having the Sventé manageable bloodlust, I also had the hypnotic allure of a Keja, and the strength of a Pagori. Nonetheless, I was a Sventé at heart.
A side effect of this hybrid business was the new mercury tinges to my irises – tinges that glowed when, yes you guessed it, I was thirsty, angry, or horny. Jared swore they looked beautiful, but I personally believed he was talking tripe and I rather missed having normal eyes.
Some might think it would be fabulous to be a hybrid, to be so strong. But the very few of us who knew about it were all set on keeping it secret, coming up with bullshit reasons for the new mercury ring to my irises and my sudden increase in power. Everyone believed Antonio’s excuses as they had no reason not to; they trusted him. If they knew the truth, they might not be too comfortable with letting me live. After all, if hybrids became a breed in their own right, they would be stronger than the other three, messing with the current dynamics. Pagoris would lose their ‘throne’, Kejas would be knocked down a notch, and Sventés would be even more vulnerable than before. No one would like that.
Less than ten minutes later, Jared and I were ready to leave. Before going to meet with the squad, Jared unfortunately lived up to his word and teleported my presents out of the apartment and hid them somewhere. It was probably for the best. I was addicted to the ‘Vampire Nation’ game, so there was a high chance that I would have dug it out and played with it again before my birthday came around.
Finally arriving at our destination, we found six of the squad gathered at the long bar, ordering drinks. Damien, Salem, Butch, Stuart, and Denny were making a huge fuss of David, who had proven to be the most valuable member on this particular assignment – they were like a football team, ecstatic with a player who had ‘scored the winning goal’. The youngest of the squad was actually the strongest; David’s gift was to produce a psionic boom that could cause such extreme pressure on the skull that it totally overwhelmed the brain and led to a temporary coma.
“It wasn’t all me,” I heard David say as Jared and I approached. “We’re a team. Plus, if it wasn’t for Butch, I wouldn’t have got close enough to the building to get inside.”
That was true. Butch used his ability to negate or deflect anything that came at him to produce a shield and protect David – being so powerful meant that David was always an immediate target. When the others turned to Butch and made the same fuss of him, he smiled and nodded. One thing I had noticed about Butch was that his crooked grins never quite reached his eerily dark eyes. Whether that meant he wasn’t good with emotion or that he was simply a sociopath that experienced none, I wasn’t sure. Given how creative he could be with his kills, it could very well be the latter. But I didn’t have much room to judge.
Noticing Jared and me, they all turned and greeted us with pats on the back. Yeah, they thought of me as one of the boys. I wasn’t sure whether to be offended or touched. Even out of work hours, they all called me ‘Coach’ rather than Sam. Of course, that didn’t stop Damien dishing out a compliment purely to annoy Jared.
“Coach, you’re looking good.” Seeing the murderous glint in Jared’s eyes, Damien’s dark skin paled slightly, but he was still as amused as always by Jared’s degree of possessiveness.
Groaning at Damien, Salem nudged him. “Maybe you should astral project onto the dance floor before you say something else that will endanger your life.”
Damien snorted. “No way. The last time I left my body alone with you bastards, I got back to find myself na**d with some of Chico’s thorns stuck in the cheeks of my ass. My body didn’t wake up for, like, three hours.” Chico’s gift allowed him to release poisonous thorns that caused a victim to temporarily lose consciousness.
“Where is Chico?” I asked. He was usually at the centre of the group, since he was kind of like the ‘chief’ in a social sense.
Denny flashed me his dimply smile – he had the most adorable baby-face and guiltless blue eyes – and pointed to a spot behind me. “On the dance floor.”
Turning, I saw Chico dancing with Jude. The female Sventé had remained at The Hollow after we had helped her get justice on a criminal organisation that had been snatching human babies and selling them to vampire couples. One of those babies had been hers. On becoming a vampire, she had tried hunting the people responsible but hadn’t gotten very far all alone.