Home > Devil to Pay (Night Huntress Universe #3.5)

Devil to Pay (Night Huntress Universe #3.5)
Author: Jeaniene Frost

Chapter One

As soon as Blake saw the men, he knew tonight would end with death. The problem was, Blake didn't think it would end with his death.

"I don't want any trouble," he said, realizing the stupidity of those words. It was after midnight, he was in a derelict alley with three thousand dollars' worth of crack coc**ne on him-and that was the good news.

"You lost?" one of the men asked, coming closer.

The other three from the opposite end of the alley drew closer, too. There was no way out. Blake could feel him rouse, sensing the danger. He didn't have much time.

"You need to leave," Blake said, fear setting in as he felt that familiar buzzing start in his head.

Another of them laughed. "Give us those bags you just bought, bitch, and we'll leave."

For a split second, Blake hesitated. He'd bought the crack with the last of his money, and he needed it. Not because he was an addict; Blake had never touched drugs in his life. No, he'd intended his first use to be the last thing he ever did.

But that buzzing in his head was getting louder. No. Not yet. Not until I can get away from these people...

"Take it and leave me alone," Blake ground out, yanking the bags from his coat.

One of them took the bags, then shoved Blake. He staggered and fell, tasting blood as his mouth banged against a fire escape.

That rustling in his head got louder. It was too late.

"Kill me," Blake gasped.

Confusion was stamped on the faces peering at him. "He crazy," someone muttered.

Blake glanced around. No one had a gun or knife drawn. This was a dark, gang-infested alley in Columbia Heights, DC. Couldn't one of them stab him or shoot him?

Blake began to yell the most incendiary thing he could think of. "What're you standing there looking at? You recognize me from last night, when I was f**king your mother?"

"Oh, hell no," one of them said.

They surrounded Blake, kicking him. Blake twisted, making no move to defend himself. Instead, he arched toward the blows. Fear rose, but not of dying.

Break my neck, Blake thought savagely. Or take a pipe and smash my head open!

They didn't, though one of them did smash his foot into Blake's face, breaking his nose. Blake coughed up blood even as his whole body clenched. He was almost here. Blake tried to force him back, but he was too strong.

"What's the matter with you?" Blake roared with his last ounce of strength. "Kill me!"

A hard kick snapped Blake's head back before his world went white. For a brief, blissful moment, Blake thought he'd finally gotten to die, and he felt overwhelming relief .

But when Blake came back to reality, there was blood everywhere. A few people were gathered at the end of the alley. Blake didn't know how long they'd been standing there, but their eyes were wild, faces chalky with shock. They'd probably never seen anything like this, even there, in one of the worst parts of the District.

Blake let out a howl of despair as he stared at the thick red blood coating his hands and the bodies around him. Damn you, he silently screamed at the monster inside him. Damn you to hell!

But that was the problem. Hell was where the devil inside Blake came from.

Elise's living room began to shake, but she barely noticed it. She was so used to the vibrations every time a train zoomed by that it was more attention-grabbing when there were extended periods of calm.

The fifties song "Jump, Jive and Wail" played on her iPod, a recent gift from her sire, Mencheres. Elise would have continued to listen to music on her records, no matter how many times the trains made the needle jump and scratch them, but one of Mencheres's most common lectures was to embrace the changing world. Some vampires, as they got older, withdrew from society and became hermitlike, clinging to the things from their original time period. Eventually those vampires could become so disconnected that hatred for the ever-advancing world was a side effect.

Elise was already a loner. She lived under a metro tunnel, didn't socialize much with other vampires or humans, and far preferred big-band music to the noise on the radio these days. All things considered, Mencheres had reason to be concerned about her sliding down that hermit road, but she didn't hate the modern world or its changes. She was just happier by herself.

More shaking of the walls announced the arrival of the six-fifteen train. Elise put her book down with a sigh. Time to shower and eat, activities that required her to leave her comfortable home.

She put on a tank top and pants, adding a jacket over that in spite of the warm temperature outside. Fewer clothes meant more attention, and Elise wanted to talk to as few people as possible. She pulled her hair into a ponytail, put on a baseball cap, and opened the creaking metal door.

A blast of smells hit her as she went into the tunnels that connected the defunct section where she lived to the operating metro tunnels above. At least she didn't need to breathe; the residual odors from the indigent who used these places as a temporary residence and bathroom, combined with the stench of rotted food, dead rats, or other animals-were bad enough.

The few homeless people who were in the tunnels at that hour didn't look at Elise as she walked by. Every so often, a newcomer would approach her. One who hadn't been warned about her by the others, or who hadn't listened. Elise didn't feed from any curious newcomers-smelling them was bad enough-she just slammed them with the power in her gaze and compelled them to leave her alone. If one was stupid enough to attack her, well... that person didn't live long enough to regret it.

Tonight it was only the regulars, so Elise passed by without incident. She walked out of the tunnel and through the station platform, keeping her head down, not needing to look to know the way. It was so familiar to her, she could have made the trip in her sleep.

Once free of the closeted atmosphere, Elise's steps became longer and more relaxed. She even hummed as she made her way down Connecticut Avenue to the fitness club. The girl behind the counter barely glanced at Elise when she came inside, but a nod indicated that Elise didn't need to show her membership card. She was such a regular sight there, few employees asked to see it anymore.

Elise went upstairs to the multitude of exercise machines. Her size would never be any different than it was now, but the club employees asked too many questions if she didn't at least pretend to exercise. After twenty minutes on the treadmill, Elise went to the locker room. She stripped and showered, then brushed her teeth with the toothbrush she kept with a few other items in a locker. After a quick blow-dry of her hair, she was ready to move on to the next item in her routine.

Some nights, when Elise was lucky, she fed from whoever was alone in the locker room. It only took a flash of her gaze for the woman to forget Elise had just cornered her and drunk her blood. But most evenings were busy at the gym. It was easier for Elise to walk the city, and find someone alone-or accompanied by fewer witnesses to brainwash.

Tonight, Elise found her meal along 7th Street, a young man who wandered away from his friends in the SculptureGarden. She drank from him, closed the holes with a drop of her own blood, and sent him back to his companions inside of two minutes. He'd be sleepier from the pint she drained from him but otherwise unharmed. It was only in the movies that vampires needed to kill to feed, along with other falsehoods like wooden stakes and sunlight being harmful to them.

As a nod to her sire's admonishments to get out more, Elise then sat and read at a local coffee shop instead of just buying more books and going straight home. She even exchanged a comment about the weather with someone who sat across from her. There. No one could say she wasn't interacting with humans except to bite them.

When the coffee shop closed, however, Elise gratefully headed home. She walked through the Capital Lawn, taking comfort in the familiarity of the gleaming white buildings and older structures. Then she followed the line of the tracks through the city until she reached the station where the tunnels connected.

She'd made it past the few remaining travelers and into the inoperative tunnels when she smelled something unmistakable. Blood, seasoned with the distinctive tang of death. Elise quickened her pace, her sneakers making hardly any sound at all. There were very few homeless left in the tunnels at this hour, though their wariness was unfounded since Elise never killed one who hadn't attacked her first. Still, those who guessed what she was didn't linger long after dark. Silly humans. Just because she preferred to go out at night didn't mean she was trapped inside during the day.

The smell became stronger the deeper Elise ventured inside the tunnel. Even over the sound of an approaching train, Elise could hear a heartbeat just ahead. Whoever it was had slunk back into one of the old maintenance alcoves but would soon find out that a sneak attack was a bad idea.

When the man stepped out onto the track with his back to her, she paused in surprise. Whoever this was didn't seem even to know she was there, let alone be lying in wait. That stench of blood and death came off the stranger, but even stronger was despair. He balanced on the edge of the track as if in indecision. The train would be here any second. The fool wouldn't try to cross the tracks now, would he?

The man clutched his head, muttering, "No, not yet!" several times. The tunnel vibrated as the train approached. With growing awareness, Elise saw that the man was going to jump right in front of it.

Even as she charged forward to snatch him back, something happened. The despairing scent pouring off him changed to the choking stench of sulfur. His mouth opened in an impossibly wide snarl as he whirled, gripping Elise with more strength than any human should have. Pinpoints of red shone in his eyes, like sparks before a fire, and before her gaze, his skin seemed to turn to a waxy ashen shade.

"Vampire," he hissed, reaching for her throat.

Elise didn't pause to wonder what was going on. She punched him in the head, watching in relief as he collapsed to the tunnel floor.

Chapter Two

Blake's first thought on waking up and seeing duct tape around his hands instead of fresh blood was, Thank God. A year ago, the same sight would have shocked and terrified him. Now it was a better start than most days.

Then it occurred to him to wonder where he was. Or who the blond woman watching him with an unreadable expression was.

Blake glanced around, noting with relief that the room was empty of blood or bodies. It was also empty of windows, and it was shaking with a powerful vibration.

Was he still in the District? How long had the most recent episode lasted?

"You need to get away from me," were Blake's first words. He eyed his bound hands and feet. He would feel threatened as soon as this registered. Blake tensed, expecting that buzzing in his head to start up, but so far, there was silence. Still time for the woman to get away.

"Why did you try to jump in front of the train?" she asked.

Blake closed his eyes. That's right, the last thing he remembered was the train.

"Did you stop me?" he asked incredulously. "Damn it, why?"

She raised a brow. "You could say thank you."

Blake wanted to slap her. So close to being free, and she ruined it. "You don't know what you've done, but you'll be making a bigger mistake if you don't leave right now."

She gave a pointed look at his wrists and ankles. "You think you can hurt me?"

The memory of being shoved in a police car, handcuffed, flashed through Blake's mind. He'd been fighting the encroaching noise in his head and hoping desperately that the cuffs and the reinforced backseat would hold.

The next memory followed without pity. The crashed police car, kicked-in barrier between the front and back-seats, and the mangled remains of the two officers.

"I'll kill you." Blake's voice was hoarse with self-loathing. "Leave now, before it's too late!"

"You can't kill me," she said, a sort of detached amusement in her tone. "I'm already dead."

As Blake watched, her eyes changed. They became impossibly green and began to glow, bright as traffic lights. Her smile widened to show more of her teeth, where her front two incisors extended down to form sharp, pointed tips.

Blake found himself smiling. A vampire had kidnapped him. Today might be a good day after all.

Elise watched the man's reaction with interest as she revealed her inhuman nature. Surprisingly, he didn't look afraid. In fact, the strangest expression of relief crossed his face.

He tilted his head back. "All right, then. Kill me."

She wrinkled her nose. "You think I'm going to bite you? Not with how you smell."

He made an impatient noise. "So plug your nose while you drink my blood. But hurry. I don't know how long it'll be before he takes me."

Elise considered him. She'd met suicidal people before but none who gave off the kind of vibes this man did. Considering what she'd seen after she grabbed him back from the oncoming train, Elise had a good idea about what was driving him to kill himself. She'd never personally come across someone in his condition before, but in her long life, she knew people who had.

"You're possessed, aren't you?"

Elise asked it matter-of-factly. His eyes widened as if he'd been struck.

"Yes," he whispered. A spasm crossed his face, too raw to be labeled pain. "For about six months now."

He didn't look to be the type to play with a Ouija board. Maybe he was one of those foolish humans who trifled with spirits, seeking to tap into the dark power of the other side. "How did it happen?"

"A car accident." Her brows went up, but he just sighed. "I was driving home from work when this woman jumped in front of my car. I called 911, tried to help her, but she died in my arms. Witnesses cleared me of being at fault, and I thought it was just a terrible accident. About three weeks later, the blackouts started. I'd hear this buzzing in my head, then wake up in places I didn't remember going to, with no idea what I'd done. I thought I was crazy. Then-"

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