Home > Summit at Sunset (Sunset Vampire #3)

Summit at Sunset (Sunset Vampire #3)
Author: Jaz Primo

Chapter 1: House Guest

On a cool mid-April night, Caleb Taylor carefully maneuvered through the thick undergrowth of the forest. Despite the oppressive darkness from all sides, it was a beautiful moonless night for a hunting excursion. Caleb paused at the edge of a break in the trees to appreciate the evening's gentle breeze.

Enough to mask my exact location, he speculated.

He had learned not to let the prey's scent be acquired too easily by the predator, or else the hunt ended rather quickly. Glancing at the illuminated face of his new watch, he calculated the span of time that had passed since he had entered the forest.

Always fighting the clock.

Despite his preoccupation with quietly navigating his way through the pitch-black terrain, he took the time to breathe in the fresh scent of the forest. He attempted to gauge his location against the preliminary reconnaissance he had conducted prior to sunset. As he stepped past a tree and under one of the overhanging branches, he pivoted his body closer to the ground and heard a small tearing sound. With a quick tug and a sharp scrape against his left arm, he felt a stab of pain as needle-like brambles raked across his skin.

"Damn," he muttered under his breath, tentatively probing his left arm where his clothing was torn.

Glad I'm wearing older clothes, he absently credited before quietly proceeding on his way.

A minute passed before he heard a small shuffling sound not far from his location. He froze, grasped the trunk of a nearby tree, and scanned the area in the direction of the noise. His heartbeat increased slightly, and he momentarily closed his eyes to concentrate on calming himself.

Peaceful forest, calm forest, peaceful forest.

As his mantra ended and he opened his eyes, he was more at ease and continued to sweep the area visually. His eyes widened with sudden recognition as he stared between the tree trunks across a distance of approximately sixty feet at what appeared to be two small orbs of bright green. A predator's eyes.

Realizing that all pretense of stealth had been lost, he turned and fled in the opposite direction through the bushes and tree limbs in a race against time. An image of a rabbit running from a fox flashed in his mind.

Barreling like a bullet through the darkened forest, he heard the sounds of his closing pursuer. The ground dropped sharply before him, and he half-tumbled down an incline, barely managing to keep his balance to the bottom. He righted himself and turned to run, but was startled by a whooshing sound from above. A dark image leapt over him and landed beside him with a heavy thud. He staggered backwards with surprise at the towering presence before him, crowned ominously with glowing green eyes.

"Enough!" a woman's authoritative voice commanded. "You violated our agreement."

"W-What?" Caleb stammered.

He craned his neck upwards to make eye contact with the tall, imposing woman standing before him. Her long, red hair was pulled back tightly over her head and tied into a neat ponytail. She had a model's high cheekbones, and her shapely form was displayed by a pair of faded jeans and long-sleeved shirt. She was beautiful and, best of all, his to adore. Katrina Rawlings was his mate.

My vampire, he proudly thought, my love. However, he was simultaneously concerned by her current demeanor. My unhappy vampire.

"Remember our arrangement, my love?" Katrina chastised. "If you're injured, our game stops."

Their game was called Find Caleb, invented by Alton, a friend of Katrina's who had been helping Caleb establish a way to channel her need for hunting into a sport that did not kill or harm anyone. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, he endured occasional minor injuries. Still, he easily dismissed such inconveniences in lieu of his foremost goal: pleasing her.

"C'mon, it's just a scratch, Kat," he countered using the nickname he had given her soon after they met. He had been amazed that she allowed it, because she hated pet names, much less nicknames. Only their mutual friend Paige usually got away with it.

He reached back with his right hand to touch the spot on his left arm where his shirt was torn. However, this time he felt something warm and sticky to the touch, and his arm stung when his fingers touched his skin. As he retracted his hand, he strained through the darkness to stare at his blood-covered fingertips with a wide-eyed expression.

"What the..?"

"See? How did you think I found you so quickly?" she interrupted pointedly. "Your blood scent was easily carried on the breeze to me, just as freshly-cooked hamburgers on a grill would to you."

"Yeah, I see what you mean. Sorry about that," he sheepishly offered. "I guess I'm the hamburger tonight, then."

She stared down at the handsome, twenty-six-year-old man standing before her. He was precious to her. In fact, she loved him more than life itself. And his pale, blue eyes and athletic body were simply beautiful to behold. It pleased her that he had maintained a steady exercise regimen since winter, which had only enhanced her already considerable physical attraction towards him. But it was his sincere, kind nature and caring demeanor that had captured her heart.

"More like a hot dog," she quipped.

A smile touched his lips.

Her expression softened, and she reached out gently to grasp his left arm. "Turn towards me, my love," she beckoned with a sigh. "You're so accident-prone sometimes."

"I try my best," he innocently countered.

Katrina beamed with satisfaction and conceded, "I know you do."

He's actually made great progress in a short time, she thought. But I suppose that when vampires play rough with humans, accidents will tend to happen.

She examined the cut on his arm and saw the blood beginning to seep into his shirt. Deftly ripping open the remainder of his sleeve, she bent down to lick the blood from his arm. Its fresh scent elicited a strong desire in her, but she forced it under her control. No, it's not a desire, she temporized, it's a dark hunger, a ravaging thirst. And it wants to be quenched soon.

"Ouch," he muttered under his breath as the stinging sensation continued in his arm. "Stupid thorns."

"If it's due to some of the brambles that I saw further back in the forest, then it's the poison in the thorns that's causing your discomfort. Let me fix that for you."

She pressed her tongue against his injured skin and held it in place for a few moments. He quickly felt the build of a soothing, numbing sensation. He was forever grateful that vampire physiology was so handy for first aid. Their saliva could both numb, and summarily heal, wounds. Such an ability enabled vampires to feed on humans, or other animals, relatively painlessly, if they so desired. Wounds healed in mere minutes, leaving no trace of offending fangs.

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