Table of Contents
- Eleven - Twelve - Thirteen - Fourteen - Fifteen - Sixteen - Seventeen - Eighteen - Nineteen - Epilogue
Bite Me If You Can
For Dave. Next road trip you drive (grin).
Argeneau Family Tree
Leigh was only a block and a half from home when she noticed the footsteps echoing her own. Atfirst she didn’t think anything of it. This was Kansas. Nothing ever happened here, especiallynot at five in the morning. Even Dorothy and Toto had to get picked up by a tornado and droppedsomewhere else for adventure to come their way.
Of course, this was Kansas City, not some backwater town. There was crime in the city. It wasalso five o’clock in the morning, and she was a lone woman walking down a dark streetthat—while a residential area of old houses with families—was also only a couple of blocksfrom the downtown core where the homeless and druggies tended to concentrate.
A shiver of unease crept up Leigh’s spine as she became aware that the footsteps behind herhad picked up speed and were drawing nearer. She’d walked this route hundreds of times overthe last five years and never once felt uncomfortable…and didn’t like that she now was.Telling herself to stay calm, she tried to recall what she’d been taught to do in self-defenseclass, but, of course, now that she needed it, her brain was blanking on her.
Wasn’t that always the way?
She felt her muscles begin to tense as the footsteps continued to draw nearer, and feared ifshe didn’t do something soon, it might be too late.
The thought spurred her into action. Changing direction, Leigh cut toward the curb to cross thestreet, casting a nonchalant glance back as she did, as if looking for traffic. The lookdidn’t reassure her. The person approaching was a man; tall, slender, and dressed in darkclothes. She couldn’t see his face, however; it was in shadow, thanks to the hood of hisjacket. All she’d managed to do with her quick glance was make herself more uncomfortable,more on edge. More scared.
Acting as if she weren’t troubled by his presence, Leigh started across the street, her mindnow considering and discarding possibilities of what she should do. A glance around the darkhouse-lined street ahead told her she was on her own, there wasn’t a car or pedestrian to beseen. No help there.
She really should have taken a taxi home, she acknowledged, but had never had a problem before,why should she have thought this morning would be any different? Besides, it was too late forregrets, they weren’t going to get her anywhere.
Leigh felt her heart squeeze tight as the footsteps followed her across the street. Now hergaze was sharp as she scanned the houses she passed, searching for any sign of life, trying todeduce which she should approach for help. This was a quiet residential street, the houses indarkness, people having long retired for the night and not yet rising. She appeared to be theonly person in this area who worked late and was still up.
Coco’s, the restaurant/bar she owned, closed at 3:00 A.M. Well, the bar closed then, therestaurant area closed much earlier. Leigh managed the bar at night. Once the last customertrundled out and the cleaning crew set to work, she retired to her back office to do paperwork;filling out the work schedules, checking time cards, writing up orders, checking the day’sreceipts, and so on. She was usually done about the same time as the cleaners. Otherwise, shewaited for them to finish, saw them out, locked up and headed home…always between 5:00 and5:30 A.M., that dark predawn time when most criminals were tucked in bed.
Just as everyone on this road appeared to be, Leigh thought, her heart sinking. Then shespotted a porch light pop on several houses up. A moment later the front door opened and anolder lady in a housecoat appeared. The woman didn’t notice her coming up the street, herattention on the German shepherd who slipped past her to pad eagerly down the steps onto thefront lawn.
“Waking me up before dawn.” The woman’s annoyed mutter carried clearly in the near silence.“You should have gone when I took you out for your walk earlier.”
Leigh’s heart lifted. A safe port in the storm. She could seek shelter from the woman and callthe police, or maybe just a taxi. Surely the dog’s presence would discourage the man followingher from making a nuisance of himself?
She put on a burst of speed and opened her mouth to call out, but that was as far as she got.She never heard the man behind her pick up speed, never realized he’d rushed forward. Suddenlyhe was there before her, forcing her to an abrupt halt.
The sound of her name made her pause with confusion, then the man shrugged the hood off hishead, revealing his face.
“Donny?” She said with surprise, relief coursing through her. Donny Avries had worked the barat Coco’s for a year. He was always eager to please and a hard worker. Milly—Leigh’s friend,and her day manager in the restaurant—claimed he had a crush on her and had begged for steadynight shifts to be near her, but Leigh thought that was nonsense. They just got along well asfriends. She’d been terribly upset when he’d gone missing more than a week ago.
Usually prompt, and often even early for his shift, Donny simply hadn’t shown up on Mondaynight. Leigh had tried calling his apartment, but there’d been no answer. When he hadn’tshown up the next night, she’d called again, then grown concerned and called his landlady tohave her check on him.
The woman reported that while everything looked fine in his apartment, his cat was obviouslyhungry and the litter box had been overflowing, suggesting he hadn’t been home for a while.While there were no signs that he’d left on a planned trip, she’d talked to people in theneighboring apartments, and no one had seen Donny since he’d gone out Saturday night with somefriends. They’d decided to call the police.
Now, a week later, the police had been to the restaurant twice, asking questions and admittingthat he appeared to have disappeared. They told her to contact the station if she heard fromhim.
“Where have you been?” Leigh asked, anger replacing concern. She’d been worried sick aboutthe man, and here he stood, apparently fine and well.
Donny hesitated, then said simply, “You’ll see.”
Leigh blinked at his answer, not finding it acceptable after all her concern. And frankly, thewords—as well as the odd smile on his face—were creeping her out. There was also somethingstrange about his eyes.
“No, I won’t see,” she said firmly. Her fear had now fully turned to anger, and she was nolonger in the mood to hear what he had to say for himself. Turning on her heel, she continuedin the direction she’d been heading. “You can explain yourself tomorrow when you come by topick up your severance pay.”
She’d taken only a few steps before, unaccountably, stopping, her body going limp. She heardthe soft thud as her purse slid from her lifeless hands and landed on the grassy verge alongthe sidewalk, then found herself slowly turning back. Donny was no longer alone; another manstood beside him. He was tall and lanky, with long, straw-colored hair that hung in greasystrips around a thin pale face. He also had yellow-brown eyes that seemed to glow.
If her sudden lack of control over her own body hadn’t been enough to scare her, one glimpseof this man’s dead eyes was enough to make her blood turn to ice.
“Hello, Leigh. Donny’s told me a lot about you.” He smiled, and she saw his two canine teethslide down and forward to form two pointed fangs.
Some part of her mind shut off at the sight, telling her it wasn’t real, that it wasn’t readyto accept it as real and it was going to sleep now. But she snapped back with horror when theman abruptly swooped forward, enveloping her in the darkness that seemed to surround him. Shefelt a pinch on her throat, then excitement and pleasure rushed through her like a drug.
“Ah,” Donny complained from somewhere beyond the shoulder blocking her view. “I wanted to bethe one to bite her.”
Leigh blinked at the whiny sound to his voice, even as the pleasure invading her faltered andthe man before her muttered something against her throat.
“What?” Donny asked. He moved into view as he tapped the man’s shoulder. “What did yousay?”
The man muttered again, something that came out sounding like, “ ’Huh-uh!” Then he liftedhis head with an impatient tsk and glared over his shoulder at Donny.
“Shut up!” he snapped, and some part of Leigh’s mind thought, Ohhh, that’s what he’d said.
“I am the master vampire,” he went on. “I am the one who sires new children of the night.”
Leigh’s eyes widened at his words. Vampires?
She supposed it was hard not to accept that when the guy’s fangs were flashing with every wordand there was blood on his tips. Hers, she presumed. She could feel warm liquid running downher throat and dampening the front of her white blouse. It was coming from the spot where he’dnipped her, and she suspected it was blood, so…a vampire? Okay. But “children of the night”?That sounded a bit corny and too late-night-movie to her.
That’s when she realized that she might have lost it. Having such thoughts in the midst ofthis situation didn’t seem all that healthy. Unfortunately, she realized it wasn’t just her
body she couldn’t control. Her mind felt woozy, as if she’d been given a tranquilizer. Herthoughts were her own, but she couldn’t seem to work up much concern over what was happening.While her mind was urging her to scream her head off, she couldn’t seem to work up any fear,or the energy to even yell.
“That is because you are under my control,” the man holding her announced, as if he’d readher thoughts, and Leigh supposed he had. Weren’t vampires supposed to be able to control theirvictim’s minds? Of course, they were also supposed to be irresistibly attractive and suave.Unfortunately, Donny was just your average red-haired, freckle-faced guy, and Mr. I-Am-the-Master-Vampire wasn’t particularly handsome…or charismatic either, for that matter. Really,it was all rather disappointing when she thought about it.
A low growl drew her attention to Mr. Master Vampire, and she noted with some concern that helooked kind of pissed off.
“You will change your mind,” he growled, staring into her eyes. “You will want meuncontrollably, desire me beyond all others, obey me without question.”
It was the obey thing where he lost her. Leigh wasn’t big on the word. It had been her ex-husband’s favorite order…usually just before he tried to use his fists to convince her. Itwas the main reason he became an ex.
“Hey, Morgan,” Donny protested, his voice again whiny. “What are you doing? We’re supposedto be turning her for me.”
“Shut up, Donald,” Morgan snapped. His eyes were narrowed on Leigh, and she suspected he wasbeginning to realize she wasn’t completely under his spell. She knew for sure she was rightwhen he asked, “How can you be thinking? You shouldn’t be thinking, but I can hear yourthoughts.”
Leigh had no idea why, either. If she’d been able to, she would have shrugged in response.Unfortunately, while her mind was somewhat her own, her body was not.
A growl distracted Morgan and he glanced down to the side. Leigh still couldn’t move her head,but her eyes did angle down and she caught a fuzzy glimpse of a dog. She recognized it at onceas the German shepherd she’d seen come out of the house up the street. For a moment shethought the animal might yet save her, but then Morgan flashed his fangs in a sort of halfhiss, half growl, and the dog backed off, head low, teeth bared, but his own growl losing someof its strength.
“Morgan,” Donny began nervously, eyeing the German shepherd, who was still close enough to beworrisome.
“Oh, do shut up, Donald,” the Master Vampire said with exasperation. Then, to her surprise,he scooped her into his arms and started back across the street.
Donny followed. He was muttering under his breath with resentment, Leigh noted, glancing overthe shoulder of the man carrying her. Then her view was obstructed as Morgan carried her aroundthe back of a black van. She’d crossed the road just two car lengths before the van earlier,and now suspected it was where Morgan had appeared from. She was sure it had only been one setof footsteps following her up the street. Donny’s. Morgan, she supposed, had been waiting inthe van, and if she hadn’t crossed the street, the side door of the van probably would haveopened as she passed and she’d have been dragged inside.
Leigh suspected she’d forced them to change plans when she’d crossed the street.
“You’re a clever girl,” Morgan said as he set her in the back of the van. “That’s exactlywhat happened.”
He’d obviously read her mind again, Leigh realized as he climbed in after her. Donny closedthe doors behind them, and a moment later she heard the driver’s door open. The van shifted abit on its wheels as he got in the driver’s seat.
“I don’t know why you still have control of some of your faculties, but it intrigues me,”Morgan announced, lifting her into his lap so that she leaned back against his right arm as the
van’s engine roared to life.
Woo-hoo, she thought dryly. She’d impressed a blood-sucking vampire.
Morgan seemed amused by her thoughts. At least, a smile curved his lips, but his voice wasdeadly serious as he announced, “And you shall be a blood-sucking vampire, too. Will you likeme better then, I wonder? Once I am your sire?”
Leigh was trying to decide if he meant from the bite he’d given her or if he’d have to biteher two more times, like in the books and movies, when he abruptly raised his left wrist to hismouth and sliced open a vein with one of his fangs.
Oh, that is so totally gross, she thought.
“Yes,” Morgan agreed as if she’d spoken aloud. “And it hurts like a bugger, believe me.However, it is necessary, I’m afraid.”
Leigh was still trying to sort out why it would be necessary when her mouth suddenly opened ofits own accord and he pressed his bleeding wrist to her lips. The tinny liquid poured over herteeth and across her tongue. She was forced to swallow or choke on it. She swallowed.
Dry grass and dead branches crunched under Lucian Argeneau’s boots as he approached the vanparked in the trees at the edge of the property. Two men stood by the open back doors, choosingand checking weapons in the gray predawn light. Like himself, they were dressed all in blackand were over six feet tall. Both were also muscular and had short hair, but one was a brunetteand the other a blond.
“Are we set?” he asked, running one hand through his own short ice-blond hair.
“Set,” Bricker—the brunet—said calmly as he leaned into the van to grab two cans ofgasoline. “How do you want to do this?”
Lucian shrugged, unable to find any real enthusiasm for the task ahead. He’d done this so manytimes over the years that there was little challenge to it anymore. He found it moreinteresting to track down the nests than to clear them out, but even that was less challengingthan it used to be.
It didn’t help that this was Morgan they were going after. He had been a best friend toLucian’s twin brother, Jean Claude, right up until the other man’s death a few years earlier.The two men had been thick as thieves for centuries, and because of that, Lucian had countedthe man as a friend as well. So much so that when the first whispers and rumors that Morgan hadturned rogue started, Lucian ignored them, sure they couldn’t be true. The rumors hadpersisted, however, and he’d had to look into the matter, though not enthusiastically. Now,here he stood, the rumors confirmed and Morgan marked for death.
“Here comes the sun,” Mortimer murmured, and then repeated Bricker’s question, “How do youwant to do this?”
Lucian blinked away his thoughts and took in the first rays of sunlight creeping up to driveaway the night. This was the best time to hit. Everyone would be returned to the nest by nowand settling in to sleep the day away.
Because—of course—vampires didn’t walk during the day, he thought dryly as his gaze slidover the surrounding trees, then finally to the decrepit house where Morgan had holed up withthe pack of rogues he was creating. It looked bad in this light, but was worse—he knew—indaylight, when the sun baked down cruelly on the flaking paint, the boarded-over windows, andthe weed-tangled lawn.
How the rogues chose to live never failed to amaze him. It was as if—once their mind snappedand they decided to become the scourge of the earth—they believed normal, civilized homes werebeyond them. Or perhaps they were simply living down to what mortals thought they were, hopingto lure and hold their pack members in thrall that way. After all, if mortals knew how littlemagic immortals truly had, they might find it less attractive to be one, or at least to betheir servants.
Shaking off these cynical thoughts, Lucian glanced toward the other two men and finally gavehis answer. “The same as always.”
Nodding, Mortimer closed the van doors, took the larger gas can from Bricker, and the three ofthem moved to the edge of the woods. They paused, their gazes sliding over the windows onceagain. There was no sign of movement from the house, but half the windows were boarded up sothat didn’t mean much.
“Do we give them a couple more minutes to settle in, or—” Mortimer’s question died, andthey all glanced around as the sound of a vehicle disturbed the silence. They watched in silentsurprise as a dark van turned into the driveway and crunched up the gravel lane.
“Hmm,” Lucian said, with his first real spark of interest. This was different. Usually the“vampires” would have been in-house by now, if not already snug in the coffins they seemed tofavor.
They moved back a bit into the trees to be less visible. As they watched, the van parked closeto the house, then the driver jumped out and ran around to open the rear doors.
Lucian stiffened as Morgan swept out of the van, a brunette in his arms. Dressed in a shortblack skirt and a bloodstained white blouse, her eyes shot over the house and yard as ifseeking an escape, but the way she lay limp in Morgan’s arms told him that the rogue immortalhad taken control of her body. There would be no escape.
“That’s Leigh,” Mortimer murmured with a frown.
“She works the bar at Coco’s. The restaurant we’ve eaten at all week,” Bricker explained,and Lucian grunted. Justin Bricker was young enough that he still ate, and Garrett Mortimerwent along to keep him company and sometimes picked at food.
Lucian didn’t bother with food, but he’d heard a lot this week about the “pretty littlething” who’d served them their late meals in the bar. They both seemed taken with her charmand sense of humor, and he supposed this Leigh was the “pretty little thing” in question.Certainly, neither man seemed pleased to see her being carried up the porch steps, obviouslyabout to become Morgan’s latest victim.
“We have to help her,” Bricker said.
Mortimer nodded in agreement. “Yeah.”
“She could be willing,” Lucian pointed out, though there had been something in her eyes thatsuggested she wasn’t.
Both men were silent, their gazes locked on the woman Morgan was carrying into the house.
“No. She isn’t,” Mortimer said with certainty as the door closed behind the trio. He soundedgrim and angry. Mortimer rarely got angry.
Bricker agreed, “No, she isn’t.”
Shrugging, Lucian turned his gaze back to the house. “We should give them ten minutes or so tosettle in for the night.”
“But the longer we wait, the worse it could be for Leigh,” Bricker protested.
“He’s already bitten her and given her his own blood,” Mortimer pointed out, obviouslyhaving gained the news from her thoughts when he’d read her. “There isn’t much more he’dbother doing to her before she finishes turning.”
Bricker frowned and glanced at Lucian. “We’re taking her out of there, right?” When Lucianhesitated, he argued, “She hasn’t bitten anyone yet, and doesn’t want to be there. Leigh’sa nice lady.”
“We’ll see,” Lucian said finally.
Realizing it was all he’d get for now, Bricker fell silent, but he looked worried.
Lucian ignored him and proceeded to examine his equipment. He gave his crossbow a once-over,then counted the specially made wooden arrows in the quiver strapped to his leg. Satisfied thatall was in order there, he retrieved the gun from his pocket, checking to see that it was fully
loaded and the safety was on before putting it back.
Lucian glanced toward the house, impatient to get things going. Then he forced himself to waitthe full ten minutes, but the moment the digital face of his watch said that time had passed,his hand tightened on his crossbow and he started forward without a word.
Mortimer and Bricker fell into step on either side of him as he emerged from the trees andapproached the dilapidated house. They mounted the front porch as silently as possible.
“Careless,” Mortimer murmured when Lucian turned the knob and the door opened. The red-hairedguy hadn’t bothered to lock it. Lucian wasn’t terribly surprised. If he was newly turned, theman would see himself as invincible, and none of Morgan’s followers should be more than amonth or so old. That was when the first whispers that Morgan had gone rogue started.
The three men eased into the house, eyes alert, ears straining for any sound. As expected, theupper floor appeared deserted. After setting the cans of gasoline in the kitchen, theyseparated to make a thorough, silent search of the top two floors, just to be sure. Oncefinished, they regrouped in the kitchen and approached the door they knew led to the basement.
Lucian was thorough by nature and had trained anyone who worked with him to be so, too. Theyalways sought out all the information they could on a nest before approaching it. Knowing thelayout made things much easier, and this time they’d managed to track down the daughter of theprevious owner. The woman had sold the house when her mother died, but had grown up there andknew it well. From her, they’d learned all they could and even got a crude drawing of thelayout before erasing all memory of their visit.
Now, Mortimer and Bricker moved to the left-hand side of the door while Lucian moved to theright. Once situated, he nodded at the other two men, raised his crossbow and reached for thedoorknob with his free hand. That hand froze an inch away when the knob began to turn on itsown.
Lucian jerked his hand back and waited. The door only opened halfway before the brunette namedLeigh slid through and took a cautious step into the kitchen.
As Lucian stared in amazement, her head slowly turned and she blinked at the sight of him. Hesaw fear leap into her eyes, and moved quickly, clasping one hand over her mouth and drawingher silently away from the door so that her back was pressed hard to his chest.
Her body briefly tensed, as if preparing to struggle, then she abruptly went still. When Lucianglanced down, he saw that her wide eyes were on Mortimer and Bricker on the other side of thedoor. Both men were giving her what he supposed were reassuring smiles. To him, they justlooked like a pair of idiots, but it apparently worked on Leigh. As he watched, Bricker placedone finger to his mouth to warn her to be quiet, while Mortimer stared at her with aconcentration that suggested he was sending her reassuring thoughts and perhaps also the same,silent warning. The woman relaxed against Lucian, and he found himself responding as her bodymolded to his, her bottom unintentionally nestling his groin.
“I just fell asleep, Donald. I don’t appreciate being woken up for this.”
Lucian stiffened as that voice floated up the stairs, aware that Leigh had gone still. She wasactually holding her breath, he realized, and found he disliked that she was so afraid.
“I’m sorry, sire,” someone—presumably Donald—responded, but in truth he sounded moreresentful than apologetic. “But I’ve searched the basement and she—”
“Because she’s not going to hide in the basement. She’s going to run, you idiot!” Morgan’sangry voice snapped back.
“But why? Why isn’t she willing?” Donald’s voice had turned frustrated and even whiny.
“Not everyone wants to be a child of the night. I warned you of that. I told you, youcouldn’t turn your back on her for a moment until we have control over her. Not for a damnedmoment! I told you that! She isn’t a willing turn. Until she accepts me as master, she’ll tryto run.”