Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My New Paranormal Vampire Novel Release Day + Excerpt

Today, I'm proud to present my new book, The Pining of Kevin Harding:


Here's what readers are already saying:

"The Pining of Kevin Harding is a fun YA/NA read with some easy-going paranormal writing… and plenty of action. There is a bit of gore, but not much. It has humour but also touches on topics that are relevant for teens." - Kazza at On Top Down Under Book Reviews

"Characters that become so complete that even if you won’t agree with them or even condemn the things they do, you will somehow understand them and empathize." - Joha at Littles Books

"One thing I love about Devon McCormack’s writing is that he doesn’t stick with the norm and you never know what you’re going to get when you read one of his books. The Pining of Kevin Harding is very unique and this reader appreciates that." - Cindi at Greedy Bug Book Reviews

The Blurb: Kevin Harding wanted an exciting life. Now, he’s a vampire and wishes he could go back to his average, boring one in the suburbs. His master is furious that he refuses to hunt, but Kevin knows it’s only a matter of time before he caves. The longer a person is a vampire, the more compliant they are to their master’s will.

When Kevin decides to give the hunt a try, he’s kidnapped by vampire hunters. Rather than endure their severe torture, he agrees to help them kill his master. The hunters’ plan goes horribly awry, and they flee the scene with Kevin. But they have to restrategize quick. The longer he’s away from his master, the more painful his life becomes. He craves his master. He hungers for him. He pines for him. And as they get close to enacting their plan, Kevin isn’t sure if he’ll be able to follow through.

The book is now available at...



And for inquiring minds, here's an excerpt from the story. Enjoy!

Chapter One

When are they gonna get back?
I sat on stone blocks that encircled the fountain in Master’s garden and crossed my ankles over the pebble path beneath my feet.
A statue of three mermaids lounging on a boulder rose from the fountain’s center. The big-chested, tiny-waisted, finned maidens spat arced geysers from their lips. Moonlight glistened across these arcs, creating a continuous orchestra of what sounded like rain as they spilled into a pool of water beneath the boulder.
My stomach clenched.
I leaned over and gazed at the half-moon in the water’s reflection.
A glimpse of my reflection revealed a boy with a face still plagued with baby fat. Dark strands waved over his forehead. Beneath bushy eyebrows, a wide, obnoxious nose sat in the middle of his face. He would never grow into that nose. Never develop stronger features to combat that layer of fat that had haunted him through his high school years—the years when most of his male peers had developed strong jaws and sharp cheekbones.
That was the face I was going to have to get used to. It was the one I was stuck with. I would have to live with this underdeveloped, stunted body for an eternity.
In moments like that, I thought it would have been nice if the myth about vampires not being able to see their own reflection were true. Unfortunately, it was just another myth. But not the only one. Since I’d been turned, I’d learned no crucifix or holy water was sacred enough to keep us at bay. Garlic didn’t bother us, either, though there was really no need for it now that our diet exclusively consisted of blood.
We weren’t mythical creatures, affected by mythical laws. We were animals, affected by the laws of nature. That wasn’t to suggest all the myths were wrong. We were violently allergic to sunlight, to the point where a few minutes basking in UV rays would kill us. And while we couldn’t fly, we did have super-human abilities, including improved strength and sense of smell. Our bodies even had the ability to regenerate at an incredibly fast rate. Occasionally, I’d prick my finger just to see how fast it would heal. As for immortality, Master had assured me this, too, was something I now possessed…as long as he or some self-righteous vampire hunter didn’t off me first.
There were other things that came with being a vampire, which I’d never considered. While I had expected I would crave blood, I hadn’t expected this unbearable craving for Master. It was a powerful pain that ached like hunger whenever he was away for long periods of time. I’d only experienced it as a sharp, stinging headache, but my fellow vampire siblings, Dax and Alyssa, had assured me it became so powerful that, if he stayed away too long, it would become crippling. Like the worst migraine ever. I believed this had something to do with why I wanted to be around Master. Didn’t try to escape more. Something within me compelled me to stay with him.
Those first few weeks, I tried to escape three or four times. I wanted to get back to my mom, my dad, my brother. I missed them. Even if I had been able to get away, Master would have been able to find me. Early on, he’d informed me that the bond between him and his slaves gave him the ability to track us. He had an instinctual GPS system that could guide him to us. But he never needed it to find me. After a few hours of wandering the woods behind his mansion, I returned to him. Some twisted thought. Some perverse attraction led me back. Something in me would start to want him. Miss him. Think kindly of him—this creature who had so cruelly ripped me from my life.
I’d been a senior at Millwood High in the Illinois suburbs, outside of Paducah. I was just a few weeks away from graduating. Everything was set. I’d met with my counselor. We’d gone through the checklist of all the classes I needed to graduate. Of course, the way the system was set up, the meeting was a joke. There was no way I would have gotten to that point had I not had the required credits to graduate. But I guessed it gave those ridiculous counselors something to do.
I’d planned on going to the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. From kindergarten to senior year, I knew I wanted to be an actor. It started when I was little. I would dress up like a salesman or a real estate agent and ring the doorbell. My mom, being a great sport, always played along as I tried to sell her a rake or a shovel…or talk her into putting the house on the market.
Back then, I didn’t call that acting, any more than I called it acting when me and my little brother would sneak off to sword fight with sticks or karate chop at each other in the yard. We were pirates one day, ninjas the next. To our mom’s distress, we’d pull the neighborhood kids into our games and inflict accidental injuries that would send them running back to their houses. But they’d return as soon as they recovered, begging to join our latest crusade or war with a neighboring nation and/or dragon.
When I got old enough to understand what acting was, I was obsessed with it. I wasn’t interested in movies, though. It was soap operas. I loved soap operas. For some reason, my kid brain thought that was the ultimate acting achievement—to be able to act every single day. In sixth grade, I auditioned for my first play, a modernized, kid’s version of Macbeth. I played Macbeth, and it was the most fun I’d ever had. After that, all I wanted to do was become a theatre actor and have my name in big, bold letters on the marquee: Starring Kevin Harding. Throughout high school, I auditioned for every play. Didn’t get a lot of leads, but I was in them all. Romeo & Juliet, The Crucible, Harvey, The Importance of Being Earnest…and a slew of other titles no one under the age of twenty should be expected to convincingly perform in. I loved having an audience. The laughter. The gasps. The applause. Theatre made me happy. Plays were my life.
Since sophomore year, when I’d learned about all the famous actors who’d worked with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company—Joan Allen, Gary Sinise, John Malkovich—I knew it was the place I wanted to be. The place where I could make my dreams of being a professional actor come true. I worked toward my goal, special ordering copies of the great acting mentor Stanislavski from the library and attending acting courses with the local “professionals.” Senior year, I took my SATs and fully intended on going to a four-year university if I didn’t get accepted into Steppenwolf’s acting program. But, I auditioned, got accepted, and was awarded a scholarship. That was a relief. If I hadn’t, Mom and Dad would have encouraged me to pursue something far more serious. Not like that would have been unreasonable. It just would have crushed my heart open and jaded me for the rest of my adult existence.
Although, considering my dedication to theatre from the time I started high school to nearly graduation, Mom and Dad would have probably come around and at least let me find a university with a good theatre program. Maybe I could have double majored. But, having exclusively prepared myself for the world of acting, God only knew what the hell I would have studied. The bottom line was: Mom and Dad, being practical people, weren’t going to accept that path without some assurance I was going to find something that would put bread on the table. Little did they know, bread was going to become completely unnecessary for my existence.
I was ready to move to Chicago. Ready to make my dreams come true. Then one night, I woke to a face hovering over me. A pale, chiseled face with dark eyes and slicked-back hair. Sometimes, as I reflected on that night, I was surprised the sharp fangs dripping with blood wasn’t the first thing to catch my attention. No. That wasn’t all that absorbing. It was those dark eyes, cast in the shadow of a massive forehead, surrounded by such bright whites. I just stared into them. They were mesmerizing. As if they held some great secret I was trying to discover. The key to fame, perhaps.
It’d only been two months since that night. It felt so much longer. It felt like I’d been in that mansion for years. Was the rest of my immortal life going to be this slow? Maybe one day I’d appreciate that more. Maybe one day I’d be glad 100 years felt like 1,000. Although, at the time, that didn’t seem desirable. I spent most of the day sleeping—something that evidently even vampires needed. Most nights, I wound up listening to my iPad, playing with Dax, reading Wikipedia entries, and watching videos on YouTube . I could watch a lot of YouTube videos over the course of 1,000 years.
A sound interrupted my train of thought.
Is that them? I thought, a little too eagerly.
The wind rustled through the leaves of the nearby shrubs, rattling a pine branch against one of the many windows scattered across the massive stone wall beside the garden—the side of Master’s mansion. It was an American castle, constructed in the Georgian countryside. Master had purchased and renovated the house, which had at one time, been tied to a plantation. He’d carved out a little piece of paradise for himself and his slaves to enjoy, providing us with this garden, filled with beautiful plants to distract us from our imprisonment.
We were fish. This was our aquarium.
He’d been thoughtful enough to purchase flowers that bloomed at night. White petals crept along the edges of circular pebble paths, lined with shrubbery. Yellow evening primrose surrounded a gazebo set on a platform high enough for us to gaze down at a pond of purple and pink water lilies. There were lights spread throughout the garden that Master or Alyssa would occasionally turn on, but I preferred to creep through the garden in darkness. I didn’t want to be its audience. I wanted to be a part of it.
I was disappointed when I realized the sound had just been the autumn wind.
I slid my phone out of my pocket. Master allowed us to have phones, but he had forbidden us from getting in touch with anyone from our life. As Master could easily check the phone records, and knew where my parents lived, I believed him when he told me that if I contacted them, he’d slit their throats in front of me.
3:36 AM. They were usually back by now.
Master and the others had gone out for the hunt—when my vampire family would go looking for helpless humans to feed on. Master urged me to go with them, but I’d refused every one since he’d turned me. I didn’t want to murder anyone. I just wanted to live out the rest of my ever-after existence in peace.
The serious problem with this was, I craved. I hungered as much as Dax or Alyssa or Master. And after about two weeks of not eating, it became too much to bear. This two-week period marked the hunt date. Vampires…at least these ones…were feast or famine kind of guys. They didn’t snack. They just waited until they were starving, and then let themselves suck the living daylights out of their victims. Well, Dax and Master did it that way. Alyssa had her own way. She didn’t like to just kill them. She liked to make them suffer a bit first. As someone who didn’t even want to murder someone, I had a hard time understanding her sadistic tendencies. At the same time, she’d been Master’s official partner for centuries, so I guessed Dax and I might end up the same way when we’d been vampires for that long.
Partner” was a term reserved for that special someone who acted as Master’s confidant in social circles. This included any fundraiser, play, concert—any human event Master might want to attend, but it also included vampire-exclusive functions. I only knew anything about this because Dax was a chatty Cathy and eager to share whatever he’d managed to learn about our vampire lifestyle. He’d been turned two years before me, and he was good about letting me in on anything important. I appreciated it. Alyssa had been with Master for so long, she had a hard time sympathizing with someone in our time.
I pressed my phone back into my pocket. Folding my arms over my aching stomach, I rocked back and forth. A cool breeze wrapped around my cheeks.
They’ve gotta be back soon.
As much as I didn’t want to kill people, I was starving, and every time Master returned, he brought me a body to feed on. When I was a human, I never would have thought blood would have tasted good. The moment I changed into a vampire, the scent and taste of blood was like the most delicious sweets I’d ever experienced in my human existence. It was incredible. It was intoxicating. And when I drank it, I just wanted more. That first time was the most incredible, awesome experience I’d had since I’d discovered stroking my own dick at thirteen.
Maybe it was hypocritical for me to diss the hunt, and then delight in the feast Master gave me, but I had to eat, and I was willing to drink blood. I just didn’t want to have to kill anyone to get it.
The wind carried a soft roar across my ear. It was a familiar roar.
Master’s car!
Like a pet waiting at home all day for its owner to return home, I hurried toward the mansion.

****

A wooden, iron-studded door opened. Master shoved me into a chamber—the one he’d brought me to feed in since I’d joined his family. A naked bulb, hanging from a fixture in the middle of the ceiling sparked to life, revealing empty shelves across gray, concrete walls.
I’d followed Master through the secret passages he, Dax, and Alyssa used to cart their food in and out of the mansion.
A black tarp dangled off Master’s shoulder.
Master’s forehead was so large it looked as if it was swelling, about to burst. Strands of black hair protested against the slicked-back style, curling across his temple. The tips grazed the corner of his eye, which sunk into his face—locked in the perpetual shadow of his forehead. His high cheek bone cast its own shadow to his jawline. Beneath the black blazer he wore were broad shoulders and a fit physique with short hairs that had scratched and itched against my body on nights when he’d requested my company. As much as I hated to admit it, those moments with Master felt as incredible as feeding.
The tarp wiggled. A muffled sound came from it. Like a person trying to scream.
I was concerned. Normally, Master killed my meal before bringing it to me. Was he going to kill it in front of me? I wasn’t sure I could handle that.
I brought you a live one this time,” he said.
He rolled the tarp off his shoulder, letting it slam into the cement floor. Reaching into his pocket, his short, unusually thick fingers pulled out a syringe. He approached me, sticking the needle in my shoulder, and injecting me with the substance.
This is a hormone,” he said. “Sometimes we masters have to use it to…encourage…newbies who have issues with feeding. It’ll be easier once you’ve done it a few times.”
But I didn’t want it to be easier. I didn’t want to be okay with murder.
Master rolled the tarp across the floor, unraveling a man, his wrists and ankles bound in rope. Blood slid from his nose and raced along the edge of bands of duct tape that covered his mouth.
He was young. Maybe early twenties. Pretty blue eyes scanned the room under dirty blonde bangs, damp with sweat that I assumed he’d emitted while he’d been cooped up in that tarp. Thick, tense, vein-streaked muscles flexed as they strained against his bindings.
He looked like a Tom or a Ryan or a Jonathan. Something plain. Something that represented the average American Joe.
Joe. That was probably it.
His hands trembled as much as mine.
A part of me was embarrassed. Here I was with this attractive guy, and I could only imagine what he was thinking about me. But I was mainly just scared as shit about having to kill him.
Kevin, you have to learn to do this sometime,” Master said as the man whimpered behind the duct tape.
My eyes watered. My hunger urged me toward him.
His scent…the scent oozing from his red nostril, made me feel like a starving man who’d just discovered a room filled with cakes.
No! No! I shouted at myself.
I had to be strong. I had to resist.
However, whatever Master had shot in me was quick to take effect. Or, was I so hungry that having a bleeding man before me was intensifying my craving?
Master smirked.
Kneeling, he took the needle of the syringe and scratched it across the guy’s throat.
Joe reared his head back and released a muffled groan.
A scent, like freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, rushed into my nose.
My teeth chattered.
I was already crawling toward him.
Stop it!
My stomach ached as if there was something in it, scratching at the sides, trying to tear through. A little alien baby eager to be born.
I avoided Joe’s gaze. I couldn’t look him in the eyes, not when I had this craving inside me.
As I reached him, my nose moved close to the wound on his neck. Sniffing.
I’m not going to bite him. I just want to smell. Just a little closer. And a little closer.
The pain in my stomach intensified, urging my mouth open and my head forward.
Stop, stop, stop!
I threw my hands in the air and forced myself back.
Do it!” Master exclaimed. “This is what you are now! You have to do this.”
I shook my head.
I can’t.”
Horrified blue eyes stared at me.
I turned to the wall.
Don’t even look that way. It’ll only make it harder.
I felt something in my hair. Then I was dragged backwards across the floor.
I told you to fucking feed,” Master hissed.
He shoved my face against Joe’s neck.
I screamed out. The pain was so strong, so powerful. This creature inside me…it was like it was going to break through if I didn’t do something quick.
My scream put the tips of my fangs on his flesh.
No,” I whimpered. “Please.”
I couldn’t do it. Master couldn’t do this to me. I didn’t want to be a murderer. I was just a kid. A stupid kid.
Master pressed my fangs further into Joe’s neck.
No!” I screamed out.
My tongue brushed against his bloody neck. My mind reeled in ecstasy.
Just bite. Do it! No!
I pounded balled-up fists against the cement.
I tried to throw my head back, but Master’s hand kept me where I was.
Tears dripped onto Joe’s neck.
The pain ripped through me.
I don’t know how much longer I can fight it.
Master yanked my hair back. My tailbone slammed against the cement.
He stared down at me, his look severe, scolding.
You’re still resisting? After two months? Really?”
Of course I’m resisting. I don’t want to do this.
He stepped behind Joe and crouched until he was on his knees.
Joe writhed about, his glistening tears mixing with the blood on the duct tape, creating a series of thin red lines as they rushed down the tape.
I wondered what Joe was thinking about all this…about me.
You can’t keep empathizing with them,” Master continued. “You have to see them as the food that they are. You aren’t one of them anymore. But, since you still won’t kill, here’s what’s going to happen. You can come over here and put him out of his misery. Or, you can watch me slowly rip him apart. The choice is yours.”
I shook my head. “Don’t. Please.”
He gripped onto Joe’s wrist bindings and pushed him forward so that his stomach was flush against the floor.
Grabbing Joe’s index finger, Master tugged it backwards.
CRACK.
Joe’s face flashed red as a scream, louder than anything he’d been able to emit before, came rushing through the cracks at the edges of the tape.
Master moved on to his next finger.
CRACK.
Maybe it would have been better for both of us if I just killed him. Maybe Master was right. I could just put him out of his misery. End all this.
I crawled toward him, convulsing so much that the room looked like it was shaking.
Wait, wait!” The words choked in my throat.
Master had the next finger, but he stopped.
Yes?” Master asked, calmly, coolly.
I crawled to Joe. Surely, he just wanted me to make the pain stop. And then, that would also end this nagging ache in me…this feeling like my stomach was about to rip from my abdomen.
Leaning over him, I brought my lips to his neck again.
And hearing his cries, I knew it was the right thing to do.
No! a voice inside me shouted.
I forced myself back again, landing on my ass and crawling back toward the wall.
I couldn’t believe how close I’d been to doing it…to convincing myself that it was the right thing to do. Pain radiated across my body. I tossed my arms around the frame to a shelf behind me, holding on for my life. I screamed out again, as if begging that someone—anyone come down here and help me.
No! I can’t! I won’t!”
Master tortured Joe some more before, realizing that I wasn’t going to cave to his sadistic game, he drew his teeth and put the poor guy out of his misery.
There,” he said, his nostrils flared, his teeth ground. “But if you don’t go on the hunt next time, I promise you, it will be so much worse. For you. For them. Understood?”
I nodded.
Splatters of tears collected on the cement before me.
I approached the corpse and hurriedly sank my teeth into Joe’s neck, allowing his delicious juice to fill me.

****

Dax’s orange torso lay across the mattress.
Our aversion to the sun made our skin sickly pale, but Dax wasn’t about to let our condition stop him from having rich, healthy-looking skin, so he ordered boxes of spray tan, which he had stored under his bathroom sink. He’d definitely overdone it the last time he’d applied it.
Pronounced lines curved beneath his bulky pecs. Thick muscles decorated his stomach. His body was great. Much better than mine. When he’d been turned, he’d been working out regularly. I, on the other hand, though not completely unfortunate, was left with my natural physique—toned, but definitely not bulging. It almost seemed unfair that I was able to enjoy Dax’s hard-earned body when he was left with my mediocre muscles. If only Master could have given me a heads up about turning me. I could have hit the gym. Although, had I known, I doubted I would have done anything to make myself more appealing to him.
Dax trailed his finger up and down the ridge between my pecs. He pressed his lips against my cheek.
You okay?” he asked, his blue irises beaming beneath long lashes. They were blue contacts.
Black curls wrapped into a wave over his forehead. His natural hair color was brown, but he thought black was sexier, so he kept boxes of jet-black dye with the spray tan.
I’m fine,” I lied.
After Master’s threat, I’d gone up to Dax’s room, and we had some playtime. It was nice. Brought me some relief.
Dax and I spent most nights playing around. It passed the time. And it was nice to try new things. Experiment. Explore.
He was far more experienced. Knew the right places. The right ways to stroke. Even when he didn’t, he was eager to find out and ask for help, which made the experience that much more satisfying.
I wonder what Alyssa picked up,” he said. “I bet she got a nice, strong one.”
She liked ones that thought they could overpower her.
I feel sorry for whoever it is,” I said, imagining the sort of sick shit Alyssa was into.
I’d never actually seen her torture, and whenever Dax started on about it, I asked him to stop. It wasn’t something I wanted to know about. I was sure that my naive mind was unable to conjure up anything close to what Alyssa’s ancient brain had crafted.
I found this awesome bar tonight,” Dax said. “Real good music. Dancing. You’ll like it.”
I knew what he was trying to do.
Come on,” he prodded. “It’d be fun to hunt together. That’s the only chance we ever get to go to the city. We could go to a bar. Get some good dancing in. Have you even ever been dancing?”
I went to homecoming,” I said, chuckling.
Oh, no, no, no. You got to come out with me. We’ll have fun. The place I’ve been going to has some hot guys, too. Real hot. I’m talking ripped six packs. Massive chests. I think a lot of them do steroids. Wish I’d been smart enough to do steroids before Master turned me.”
I totally understood where he was coming from. At the same time, I couldn’t pity him. He was gorgeous. I was the one who had the average body.
The guy I got tonight was real cute,” he continued. “These fuck-me-lines that were like an arrow to his dick, which was huge. I bet it was ten or eleven inches. Didn’t think I’d be able to get that thing in my mouth. Kinda felt bad about wasting him. But he got a good bj out of it.”
I could attest to the quality of the bj, but all this talk about Dax’s victim made me uncomfortable.
Funny,” he went on, “before Master turned me, I wouldn’t have touched a dick, but now it’s all I can think about. Want it in my mouth. In my ass. Wherever.”
I couldn’t relate. I’d liked boys as far back as I could remember.
Oh, I’m sure,” I said. “It’s Master’s fault that you get a raging hard-on every time I see you.”
No. That’s your fault.”
I smiled. He was making me feel a lot better.
His teeth sparkled as he gazed at me. “So you’re coming next time?” he asked.
I don’t really have a choice. Master’ll probably slit my throat if I don’t.”
His lips came together. He frowned.
I knew he wanted to make it better. To make it easier for me. I appreciated it. But I just couldn’t imagine being okay with this.
You get used to it,” he said, sensing my discomfort. “But the longer you wait, the more intimidating it’s gonna be.”
I nodded.
And I want to hang out with you downtown. That’s where the fun’s at. We could play with some boys. Have a threesome. Foursome. Whatever you want.”
That sounded fun, but considering I knew how the night was actually going to end, it wasn’t as appealing as Dax’s advertisement.
I don’t see how you can do it,” I said. “You’re killing people. They have families. Lives that we don’t know anything about. They could be good people.”
Just think of it like animals. Do you ever get mad at a lion for eating a gazelle?”
Is that what Alyssa is? A really twisted lion?”
Yeah, but I’m not. And you aren’t gonna be. You have to eat, and wouldn’t you rather do it just to get Master off your case?”
That’s what I was going to have to do.
It’s gonna happen sooner or later,” he added, “Don’t fight the inevitable. One day, you’re just gonna wonder why you made it so hard on yourself.”
This felt like something worth fighting for, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to get that across to Dax. He’d been doing this for too long. I was sure he’d found plenty of ways of justifying the hunt. I was still too close to my time as a human to be thinking that killing them was a good idea.
Dax’s lips met mine.
He tossed his leg across my waist, his knees pressing into the mattress on either side of me as his torso rested on top of mine. Grabbing me by the wrists, he pulled them over my head, locking them in place.
Heat surged to my cheeks. Goosebumps pricked at the back of my neck. I felt my dick shifting under his balls.
I could never see myself with Dax romantically, but he sure was fun in bed.
Those blue eyes drew back. He flashed a smile, teeth white as pearls next to that ridiculous orange glow that shimmered across his face.
How do you feel now?” he whispered, his hot breath rushing across my lips.
A little better,” I teased, though that actually had done little to soothe my discomfort.
Oh, come on,” he said, releasing my wrists and planting his hands on either side of me.
If anyone could tell when I was faking, it was Dax.
Sorry. I’m just…I’m a little rattled.”
No. I’m sorry. I’m just trying to help. You know that, right?”
Yeah.”
As nice as it was being under Dax, I just wanted to be at home. In my own bed. With my family. I wanted to wake up on a Saturday morning to Mom making scrambled eggs. I wanted to see Dad reading our crappy, propaganda-ridden local paper.
Thinking about your family again?” Dax asked.
When I’d first arrived at Master’s, Dax had been the only one I’d been able to talk to. And every day was a conversation about how much I missed my family.
I was glad that he’d been there. He was always willing to listen. Never judged me when I teared up. To Dax, we were trapped in this together, and we just had to find a way to cope.
A little bit,” I replied.
The corner of his lip stabbed into his dimple.
He lifted his knee and rolled back onto his side, setting his hand on my stomach, his finger into my navel.
It’ll get better,” he assured. “I was that way in the beginning. Family was hard to think about, but I also had this girl, Shannon. Hot. Smart. Tiger in bed. Oh, I missed her like shit. She was the first girl I was ever faithful to. Well, not like totally faithful, but…mostly.”
Mostly?
That was so Dax, thinking there was some gray area to fidelity.
I would cry and fuss and snark back to Master,” he continued. “But after about a year, I realized that everyone was probably moving on with their lives without me anyway. Hell, Shannon probably was fucking some guy the day after I disappeared. So no harm in moving on. And eventually, I just sort of stopped missing them altogether.”
But that’s what I’m afraid of. I don’t want to be okay with not missing them.”
His face was serious, an unusual look for the usually playful Dax.
He kissed my cheek and rested his head on my chest, his curly hair tickling my skin.
At least we have each other,” he said. He pulled his finger from my navel and wrapped his hand around my torso.
Nice as it was having Dax, it wasn’t the same as having my family. And he knew that.
CREAK.
Black spikes curled around the door. White fingers, pasty as my own skin, tailed behind them, exposing a black ring. A face, white as the fingers, slid in over them. Waves of shining charcoal hair draped to the knob.
Kevin," Alyssa said.
Her voice was fairly calm for someone who’d just been violently torturing her latest victim. Although, from my interactions with her, those moments immediately after she’d been torturing were when she appeared most serene. She looked relaxed. At peace. But her ease could have just come from the much-needed feeding.
Can I speak with you for a moment?” she asked. A strapless black dress hung a few inches under her arms and hovered over her knees, accentuating her flat physique and exposing scrawny, muscleless limbs. It was more like the body of a prepubescent boy than of full-grown woman. A silver beaded necklace wrapped twice around her neck and dangled to her waist. I imagined she’d seen a model in that exact look on a fashion blog or Pinterest.
Not again, I thought. I tossed Dax a disappointed glare.
I knew what she wanted to talk about. The past three hunts that I’d missed, Master had “encouraged” her to talk to me. Although, considering Master’s dramatic torture earlier, I wasn’t sure why she felt she needed to.
An overdramatic pout stretched across Dax’s face.
I rolled out of bed, headed to his dresser, and slipped into pajama bottoms and a tee.
Alyssa leaned her hip against the doorframe, her eyes fixed on me as I dressed. They weren’t the eyes of a voyeur. If anything, she looked bored. Like she just wanted to get me out of there so we could talk.
We walked through the halls of Master’s ornate decor, paintings, and statuettes until we came to her room.
A king-sized bed with massive, rippling, burgundy drapes strung around it, was placed on the wall opposite of French doors that opened out to a view of the garden. Black drapes hung on the inside of the doors. Contrary to my initial assumptions after I was turned, vampires were not averse to windows. Just light. Windows just had to be handled with care to prevent any accidents. That said, every window had a set of black drapes to obscure daylight.
Alyssa had the best view in the house. At least, Dax made it hard for me to feel differently, because he constantly reminded me of the fact every time he complained about how he wished his room could have looked out to the garden. Despite his jealousy, he was always clear that he thought Alyssa deserved it, considering how long she’d been under Master’s control.
Alyssa sat on the side of her bed, her black dress curling into the golden coverlet. Since we’d begun our journey to her chamber, she hadn’t looked at me.
Combing her claws through her hair, she patted her other hand before her.
I sat.
Kevin,” she said.
I could smell the strong fragrance of blood on her breath. My temples tingled the way they once had whenever I’d smell fresh chocolate chip cookies.
Master wanted me to check on you. He’s worried that he was too harsh earlier.”
Yes. He definitely was.
She stared at me, as if waiting for me to respond. But I wasn’t sure to what.
We’ve gone over this.” Her words were soft. It reminded me of the way my mom used to talk to me about my less-than-reasonable grades on homework assignments and report cards.
You have to get used to the hunt—”
This was her usual spiel. She was gonna say how I needed to learn to take care of myself, because I was burdening Master, and yada yada yada.
I already said I was going to go,” I muttered through my teeth.
Alyssa’s sliver-of-an-eyebrow pushed into her forehead. Her gaze shifted to something wild, predatory. She sprang at me and latched onto my throat. Her legs slipped off the mattress. She dragged me off the bed and knocked the back of my neck against the edge of her nightstand. A book that had been sitting on it tumbled to the floor.
Flashing her fangs, she hissed. “Listen, you little monster.” Her face descended to mine, her black eyes sparkling in the light from a lamp just behind my head. Her necklace chain folded on my chest. “I’m tired of your attitude. I’ve tried to coddle you. I’ve tried to be patient. But in the process, I think there’s been some confusion. I’m not your mother. I’m not your friend. I’m a woman who’s been alive too long and suffered too many times to have to deal with an adolescent malcontent. Do you think you’re the most obstinate that I’ve ever come across? Really? You think eighteen-year-old gumption intimidates me? I’ve cracked the morale of warriors…of the gods of man. You are nothing. And it will take nothing to break you. So here’s how this is going to go down—you even consider backing out of the next hunt, and he’s gonna hand you over to me.”
The spiked nail on the index finger of her free hand scratched across my cheek.
Slow and painful is my specialty. It’s what I crave. And when I’m hurting you, I want you to remember that I don’t mind putting you through cruel, twisted pain. Nothing would give me more pleasure. You’ll wish Master was the one torturing you. So get your act together, or I will craft the most sadistic, perverse punishment that will ensure that the thought of refusing a hunt again will never even cross your mind.”
I trembled in her grip. Between her and Master, I was definitely going to have to find a way to suck it up and…well, suck it up.
Her claws relaxed. Her lips slipped over her fangs.
She sat back on the bed, her demeanor transforming back to the serene Alyssa that had come to Dax’s room.
She stroked her palm across the hand that she’d had me by the throat with.
Well,” she said, “that was a nice chat. I think I’ve made myself clear.”
Her black eyes met mine. She stared. Like she was trying to convey the seriousness of her threat.
She raised her chin and cocked her head to the side.
Goodnight, Kevin.”

Chapter Two

You’re not having a good time,” Dax said, “are you?”
Dim, blue lights spilled across brick walls. Halogen bulbs illuminated a platform where a guy with spiked, black hair spasmed, his fingers gyrating across the strings of an electric guitar. Behind him, a beefy, shirtless guy’s arms jiggled as he smashed sticks into a chrome-rimmed drum set.
The crowd, less than a dozen guys and girls, who looked like they were in their early to mid-twenties, stood around the platform, holding glasses and staring at the stage, seemingly unfazed by the show.
Two weeks had passed since the last hunt.
It was that time again, and I was starving.
Not looking to start another confrontation, I’d willingly joined Dax on his hunt. We’d driven in his navy Mercedes McLaren —a gift from Master for his one-year anniversary with the family. We followed Master along the interstate, and when we reached the city, everyone split up, taking to their preferred hunt locales. Dax informed me that after we nabbed our victim, we’d wait for Master to text us a place to meet-up, and we’d head back to the mansion together.
I was happy to be with Dax. He would at least ease me into the kill and wouldn’t expect me to eagerly spring at my first victim.
Was I even going to be able to do it? To kill someone? Just two weeks earlier, I thought I wouldn’t have even considered it, but there I was, entertaining the idea that the night would end with me sucking the life from some helpless soul. Although, it would probably be better for me to do it than to watch Master brutally torture another Joe.
Dax nudged my shoulder. “Sorry,” he said. “Sometimes it’s really awesome. I just wanted to swing through to see if anything was up. Next place is a lot better. I promise.”
Well, if it’s as fun as this, I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle it,” I teased.
Shut the fuck up, asshole,” he said with that goofy smile. “But seriously, how ya feeling?”
Hungry.”
That’s not what I meant. Are you feeling up to the whole…?”
I scanned through the crowd.
I could just drag one off and kill them. And none of them had a clue. They were oblivious. Most of them probably assumed that they were just going to get a little tipsy and DUI their way home.
I don’t really have a choice,” I said.
Dax’s smile faded, leaving a line pressing into his cheek.
It’s not easy at first,” he said. “But you get used to it. It took me a lot of hunts before it got better. Come on. Let’s get out of this craphole.”

We abandoned the shit show and headed a few buildings down to a bar.
This is the last time I can come here,” Dax said as we made our way through the parking lot to a wooden porch. “At least for a while. I came here for the last two hunts. It’s a bad idea to use them too many times. People start figuring something’s up. Brings out the haters.”
I assumed by “haters,” he meant vampire hunters, which he’d warned me about several times after I’d first turned. He’d never run into any, but it was something Master was wildly concerned about.

On the porch, white Christmas lights wrapped around the edge of the roof, hanging over clusters of guys that laughed and chatted with glasses and beer bottles in hand. A few streams of smoke rushed from people’s lips. A cackle came from a girl on the other side of the porch. She walked across a bench, leaning on the porch railing as she stepped between two guys’ legs. She settled in the corner, sliding her phone from her pocket and setting it on a table before her.
We walked up a set of steps and approached a bald guy in a leather jacket. He was short. About as tall as me. An ear plug revealed the dorsal fin of a shark tattoo that was inked on his neck. He stood against a red wall, beside a glass door that led into the bar.
I.D.?” he asked. He seemed to be asking both of us for I.D., but the way he eyed me assured me that he was exclusively interested in making sure I was of age. Because obviously…I wasn’t.
Dax retrieved his driver’s license, passing it to the bouncer, who pulled a flashlight from his side, ran it across the plastic card, and handed it back. As I handed him mine, he snatched it, studying it, analyzing it. It was a fake driver’s license, which Master had made specifically for the hunt. It had gotten me into the last bar, though had been equally met with suspicion from the last guy that had checked it.
He scanned me up and down. I could tell he wanted to be like, “Just get the fuck out of here.” But he handed it back and tossed his head to the side, indicating that we should just get the fuck out of his sight.
Jesus, I thought. I’m gonna get carded for the rest of my fucking life.
I’d always have to deal with this—suspicious bouncers thinking I was underage. I’d be one hundred years old and they’d still be asking to see my I.D. Although, maybe I’d be lucky and one day the U.S. would have the same drinking age as European countries. Then I wouldn’t even have to worry about it.
Get ready for a lot of attention,” Dax warned. “It’s a gay bar, and our pheromones are fairly strong.”
He didn’t need to mention that it was a gay bar. There was no mistaking it for anything else.
Guys lined the wall before a door with black male/female cartoon symbols. A guy wearing a baseball cap and red and green flannel button-up smiled at me. I evaded his gaze, but everywhere I looked, a new set of eyes met mine.
It was overwhelming. I’d never been to a gay bar before. And I’d never been bombarded with all this attention.
But as awkward as it felt, a narcissistic side of myself enjoyed the looks. The attention. It was like doing a play, but being appreciated for a performance that I wasn’t giving.
A long bar stretched across a narrow space, packed with guys.
We passed a bartender at the end closest to us. The sides of her head were buzzed. An inch of bleach-blonde hair was spiked up. She leaned over the bar, her ear to a guy in a cream tee with a four-leaf-clover print waving across his chest. The sleeves of the shirt sculpted perfectly against his biceps. He leaned toward the buzzed bartender and shouted something. As his elbow met the table, his bicep flexed, pressing a vein forward.
Hello, sexy, I thought, heat rushing to my face as I imagined an intense, aggressive moment where I ripped off that shirt and savored those delicious muscles.
The blonde bartender ducked behind the bar. The guy’s head shifted, his gaze immediately catching Dax. He smiled. Not to Dax. To himself.
Did he know Dax?
Dax and I continued through the crowd.
At the other side of the bar, a girl, with dark hair and rolls bulging from her tank top, wore earphones as she rocked back and forth in a booth a few feet higher than the crowd that danced before her.
Yellow, red, and blue specks of light flashed across a guy’s glistening flesh as he kicked his legs side-to-side, his fists pounding at his hips. For someone who looked as ridiculous as he did, he was unusually confident in his movements. A girl with long legs and heels that made her limbs look unnaturally lengthy stood beside him. She tossed her hips and gazed around the dance floor, looking like she wished she could have been anywhere else. A shorter guy in jeans and a pink tank top violently vogued to a set of breasts that looked like they were trying to shake free from the girl they were attached to.
I guess a lot of girls come to gay bars.
Dax pulled me through a pack of guys to a spot against the wall. I felt a few caresses across my back and ass as we forced our way through a mob of guys.
What do you think?” he screamed, his eyes filled with eagerness.
It’s good.”
He beamed like that was the most exciting thing I could have told him.
I became alert. A feeling—like someone was watching me—came over me.
It was an odd feeling to have, considering there were plenty of gazes flashing my way. But for some reason, this was stronger than the others. My eyes followed an instinctual pull that led them up the steps to the second floor. A guy with brown hair gelled up in the front wore a black tank top. His hands rested on the rail before him, his arms arched at his sides. As he pressed against the rail, his impressive triceps provided a quick show of trembling lines and veins.
He scanned the people on the first floor.
The sting of my hunger sharpened. It was intense. More intense than I’d felt up to that point.
He was kind of weird looking. A baby face of smooth flesh contradicted the scruff sprinkled over his lip and chin to just before his cheeks. And there was something wrong with his eyes.
My dick hardened. I could feel it trailing across the inside of my boxers.
I shifted my gaze away, searching for Dax.
Where the fuck’d you go?
A few guys away from me, he was talking to the guy I’d seen with the bartender. The one with the biceps. They smiled at each other. Dax nodded and laughed.
Biceps reached into his pocket and pulled out a box of cigarettes. He slid one out and handed it to Dax.
I listened, drowning out the voices around them, exclusively pulling theirs—one of my many new talents.
Yeah,” Dax said, slipping the cigarette between his lips, “I remember you.”
Biceps pulled out a lighter and sparked it before the cigarette.
I kept meaning to talk to you,” Biceps said, “but you ended up running off with this other guy.”
Holy shit. Was he talking about Dax’s last victim? He must’ve been, because Dax’s expression fell into a frown.
Yeah…about that…”
Hey, man,” a voice came from beside me.
What?
I felt the urge to attack, but resisted.
A blond about a foot taller than me stood at my side. His shirt was tight against a bulging chest—so tight that I could see what appeared to be unusually large nipples. Light freckles spotted across his face. His skin was nearly as white as mine.
Where’s your drink?” he asked through the side of his mouth.
Drink?” I asked, not even thinking.
Oh, that’s right. I’m at a bar.
It was my first time. I didn’t know what the fuck I was supposed to do.
I’m Ryan,” he shouted over the bar noise.
He extended his hand, and we shook.
I’m…Steven,” I said.
What the fuck am I doing?
Where was Dax? Was I supposed to use my real name? Or were we like secret agents? It didn’t matter. I was just here for the hunt. I wasn’t going to ever see any of these people again.
What can I get you?” he asked.
What?”
His eyebrows came together. “…to drink?”
Oh. Um.”
What the fuck do people drink? Say something. Name a drink. Any drink. Come on, you idiot. You know drinks. Just name one. Oh, wait…
No thanks,” I said. “I’m driving.”
That seemed like the best answer. I didn’t want him getting me a drink. What the fuck was he gonna want from me after that? I needed to talk to Dax. What was I supposed to do? I didn’t want to eat this guy.
Ryan tilted his head like he didn’t understand my comment about driving.
Really? That doesn’t make sense? I’m doing this wrong. Shit.
I flipped a glance over my shoulder. Dax was still with Biceps. He held his lit cigarette near his mouth, smoke rising in a line as he gazed across the room, at the dance floor.
I followed his gaze.
The baby face that had been on the second floor was rocking about on the dance floor, looking even more ridiculous than the guy that was throwing his fists around. He bobbed in front of the pink tanked kid, who was about half his size. The kid in the tank was clearly more into it. He turned around and rubbed his ass on the guy’s thighs.
Baby Face glanced either way, like he was trying to figure out what to do about Pink Tank. He wrapped his hand under the kid’s arm and caressed his chest.
Someone’s getting lucky.
But I wanted him. In a strange way. In a hungry way.
So, Steven,” Ryan continued.
My focus pulled back to him, even though I wanted to keep all my attention on Baby Face.
What do you do?” he asked.
Do? Like a job?
I didn’t know what to say. I’d almost taken a job at Kohl’s for the summer. To make some extra cash before I started at Steppenwolf. That was, until that douche changed my life forever.
I was worried I’d be as stumped as I was with the drink inquiry, but fortunately, I quickly came up with something I could bullshit my way through.
I’m an assistant at a dentist’s office.”
Dad was a dentist, and I’d been with him to his office enough times to know how to make up a somewhat believable story.
Which one?” he asked.
In Kentucky. That’s where I live.”
Which was true. For all intents and purposes, I lived in Kentucky. I’d been abducted and taken to Georgia.
A nudge at my shoulder.
Dax passed me and slipped through a throng of guys. He eyed Ryan, then tossed me a wink.
My eyes widened as I tried to psychically ask for help.
A broad smile swept across his face. He gave me a thumbs up, stuck the cigarette back in his mouth, and headed for the dance floor.
Oh, that’s cool,” Ryan continued. “What part?”
Paducah. What about you?” I asked, hoping to shift the focus off me.
What the…I don’t have to play this fucking game.
I’m a PA for CNN. I’ve been working—”
I’m sorry,” I interrupted. “I have to go find my friend.”
His mouth came to an “o.”
Sorry,” I said. I pushed through a stream of people that were moving away from the dance floor.
It was for the best. Talking more would only lead to one of two things: more awkwardness or him being my next meal.
Dax danced with a guy who had his shirt flipped behind his neck, revealing a six pack and happy trail, which he eagerly flaunted with a series of slick moves that no one else on the dance floor seemed capable of.
Rocking my way through the crowd, as I came to Dax, I pulled him to the side.
When did you start smoking?” I asked, snatching the cigarette from him.
He rolled his eyes. “What’s it gonna do?” he asked. “Kill me?”
He retrieved it from my fingers, took another drag, and blew smoke to his side.
Dude, I got a great one,” he said. His gaze flashed to Baby Face. “Looks dumb as shit. Smells real good, though, doesn’t he?”
I had to give him that. Amidst everyone in the bar, he was giving off some unreasonably powerful scent. That was the thing about being a vampire. They didn’t all smell the same. They all smelled like dessert, but some smelled like the most delicious desserts ever.
You want him?” Dax asked.
Um…”
I saw him first,” he insisted, “but since it’s your first hunt, you can take him.”
I was fairly sure that I’d seen him first, but considering Dax was willingly handing him off to me, there was no point in fighting about it.
My eyes flashed back to the dance floor.
Pink Tank had the guy pinned against the wall, his ass moving in circles as he threw his arms back, lowering one hand so that the back of his fingers grazed across the guys smooth cheeks.
Baby Face’s eyebrows narrowed. He swayed his hips slightly, his hands rubbing across the kid’s body, seemingly without much interest. He looked like, had the wall not been immediately behind him, he would’ve continued backing up.
As my dick grew even harder, I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to do more: fuck him or eat him. Both?
Looks like a real dumbass, doesn’t he?” Dax said.
Yeah,” I agreed.
He’ll be easy. I’ll help you get him.”
What should I do?”
Dax smirked. I think he was pleased to see that I was willing to go along with it. Perhaps he was just glad that there would be peace back at Master’s mansion.
Dance with him a little bit. Talk about shit. You just need to convince him to take you somewhere to fuck you.”
I have to fuck him?” I asked. A part of me thought that was unnecessary. Another part of me didn’t mind.
No. You just have to get him to drive you somewhere. Anywhere. Tell him you live off Moreland and get him to take a back street. Get him all worked up so that he has to pull over, you know what I mean?”
The overdramatic wink he gave after that made it clear what he meant.
Then just…you know.”
Yeah. Pull out the fangs. Drain him of life.
What about the body?” I asked.
I can’t believe I’m considering following through with this.
Just text me after you’re done. I’ll get the car and pick you guys up, and we’ll meet up with Master and Alyssa.”
Um…this is really intimidating. I’m supposed to do this all by myself?”
I can come with you, if you want.”
I nodded. How did he not think I needed him there right away?
Well, who says he’ll even be into me?”
Dax smirked. He set his hand on my shoulder. “That’s what the super pheromones are for.”
Right.
I looked back to Baby Face.
What about the guy he’s with?” I asked. “What if that’s like his boyfriend or something?”
Dax’s head tilted, his free hand gripping my other shoulder. “Okay, little bird. Time for mama to push you out of the nest.”
He spun me around and shoved me onto the dance floor.
I dodged flailing arms from a girl in stilt-heels. Twisting my body, I wedged between two guys’ asses.
I looked back for Dax.
Biceps had rediscovered him, and Dax had his arms wrapped around his neck. He took the cigarette out of his mouth and patted it in an ashtray at the end of the bar beside them. They gazed into each other’s eyes. I wondered if Dax would fuck the shit out of him before sucking his blood.
My gaze returned to my prey.
Pink Tank had his arms around Baby Face’s neck—the same way Dax’s were around Biceps.
Pink Tank stood on the toes of his red Converse, his face moving closer and closer to Baby Face’s.
Baby Face pulled away.
As my ears tuned in, I heard him say, “Sorry.”
What was I supposed to do? Dax really should have given me a lesson in the basic science of picking up guys. I’d never done this before. I was supposed to pick him up and kill him? That was a lot to handle in one night.
I checked around, watching the others dance. I’d danced before…at homecoming and prom. But I wouldn’t have said that I was a good dancer. I probably looked like the fist pumping, leg kicking idiot. How was I going to blend in?
I looked to the guy that Dax had been dancing with—the one with his shirt flipped behind his neck. He seemed like he knew what he was doing. I watched the way he swirled his ass around. The way his hands moved at his sides. How he rocked his head about.
My body imitated his movements, as if something more than my own will was pushing it—prodding it. I moved with the beat that vibrated in my ears.
Baby Face pushed away from Pink Tank and started through the crowd. His eyes flashed my way. My body took control, throwing a sharp, poignant glare his way.
I’d never given anyone a look like that before. It felt frighteningly predatory.
My worry about being able to catch his interested dissipated. Not because of anything that he did. Something else—something in me that soothed my concern. Before I knew it, my hand was caressing my own chest, moving down through the grooves, taking a similar path that Dax’s lips occasionally took as they trailed down my body.
Baby Face didn’t move. He looked awkward just standing in the middle of the dance floor, his eyes frozen on me.
I slithered through a few dancers, moving toward him, being drawn toward him.
I stopped right before him, still moving with the music, my eyes staring directly into his.
That’s it! Those damn eyes.
That’s why he looked so strange. They were too small…and too close together. Like they were looking at each other.
Goofy-looking idiot.
As a new song came on, the beat slowed.
Without even thinking, I spun around, pressing my ass against his pelvis.
Oh. Damn.
That was all the confirmation I needed.
I chuckled—a childish response to the surprising…and maybe even alarming length.
Guess I know what Pink Tank was so excited about.
Our rhythms weren’t matching right. He was moving with me…or attempting to, but he needed some help, so I curled my fingers through the belt loops at his waist and guided him with me.
Warmth rushed under my shirt.
A hand. On my abs.
Heat behind my ear. And then moisture.
My head fell back as his lips trailed across my neck.
His hand pulled me back, pressing me firmly against him.
Now my dick was a fucking stone.
Shit. I’m supposed to eat this guy.
I released his belt loops and spun around.
Those awkward eyes gazed at me. Like he was hypnotized. That was probably the look I’d given Master the night he’d taken me.
I leaned close to him, and as if I’d done this millions of times before, I shouted over the music, “You wanna get out of here?”
He nodded.
I smirked. It was an evil smirk. A smirk I felt guilty about making. I was gonna bite this guy. I shouldn’t have been excited. I should have been horrified. But whatever animalistic impulse was guiding me minimized my concern, my horror.
I took his hand and fought through the crowd.
Where was I taking him? Where did I think I was going?
I led him outside, onto the porch.
Streams of smoke made paths through the air. The clusters were still stretched across the porch. I pulled Baby Face to the steps that led into the parking lot. As I came to a post, I turned, resting my back against it, facing my future victim.
His eyes remained fixed on me. His arms wrapped around me, his lips sweeping over mine.
I relaxed against the post, letting his tongue raid my mouth.
I kissed back. My hand swept up the back of his neck, sweeping my fingers through his hair as I drew him closer.
My hunger, which had dissipated during the dance, rushed back through me. It ached. I didn’t just want to bite him, I wanted to rip into his flesh. I wanted to tear him apart.
I had to have his blood. Filling my mouth. Filling my body.
The intensity of my cravings was strong—so strong that I had to pull away from him.
What’s wrong?” he asked.
His slow, deep drawl made him sound as stupid as he looked.
As he stared at me with concerned eyes, I saw him as the person that he was. Just some dumb guy who’d smelled the wrong way on the wrong night.
I couldn’t kill him. I couldn’t kill anyone.
I’m sorry,” I said.
Stifling my hunger, I hurried up the steps. I had to get away from him.
He tugged on my hand. I glanced back.
Is everything okay?” he asked.
No. It wasn’t. And he needed to let go, because the longer I stayed there, the stronger his smell grew.
I’m sorry. I have to find my friend—” I muttered inarticulately.
I pulled, but he didn’t let go.
Did I do something wrong?”
Hey!” said another voice.
Ryan stepped alongside us.
Shit.
You bothering this guy?” Ryan asked.
No. He was—”
What’s it to you?” Baby Face challenged.
Um…”
The guy’s trying to be nice,” Ryan said, knocking Baby Face’s hand off mine. “Why don’t you leave him the fuck alone?”
Baby Face shoved Ryan back against the post opposite the one I’d been leaning against.
Why don’t you mind your own fucking business?” Baby Face asked.
The conversations in the clusters ceased as all eyes fixed on the pending fight.
This is not good.
I turned to the bouncer. Surely, he’d stop this before they got into it.
The tail end of an inked fin on the back of a neck moved behind the glass door, disappearing inside. The accompanying sleeve of a leather jacket followed behind it. Clearly, the bouncer had no intention of interfering.
Seriously?
He had to have known something was about to go down.
My eyes flashed back to the guys.
Ryan shoved Baby Face against the wooden post I’d been leaning on. Baby Face punched into Ryan’s abdomen, but it didn’t seem to take, and Ryan unleashed a series of hits that sent Baby Face to the ground, blood rushing out of his nose.
That same delicious smell…like cookies. Oh, I wanted it. I needed it.
I lunged down the steps. Grabbing Ryan by his hips, I lifted him off Baby Face and tossed him to the side.
What the—”
I dropped onto the pavement so that my knees landed on either side of him. I wrapped my fingers around his throat and whispered in his ear, “Leave him the fuck alone or I’ll tear you apart.”
I pulled back. Ryan’s eyes were wide. He trembled under my grip, just as I had with Alyssa.
Oh, dammit!
I hopped up.
How the fuck did that kid do that?”
We were yards away from Baby Face. Gaping mouths and wide-eyed stares covered the balcony.
That fucking super strength. Shit.
I was way too small to pick up a guy like Ryan. And everyone knew it.
Dax stepped out from behind one of the clusters on the balcony. He hurried down the steps, greeting me on the pavement.
Ok,” he whispered. “Mama bird’s a little concerned.”
He looked back at our audience. “So…we’d better go.”
He wrapped his arm around me and urged me through the parking lot. We walked down the sidewalk adjacent to the bar, heading toward houses that lined either side of the street.
Well,” he said as we got out of earshot of the bar. “That could have gone better.”
Shut up,” I said.
My body trembled. I was still reeling from the ache that had stirred when I’d been kissing that guy.
It was that hunger. Severe, extreme hunger. Not as bad as the kind I’d felt when Master had shot me up with that shit, but still pretty bad.
Hey! Hey!”
I tossed a glance over my shoulder.
Baby Face jogged down the sidewalk toward us.
You fucking moron,” I muttered.
Dax threw his arm in front of me. I stopped. He tossed me a glare. And I knew what he was thinking. This was our chance to nab him.
As Baby Face approached, his scent intensified, overloading my nostrils and stirring that same aching feeling that had made me want to run from him…and leap at him.
A patch of blood between his nose and lip glistened in a nearby streetlamp.
I licked my lips.
I could just jump him now. A quick bite. Throw him in the bushes. It wouldn’t take long. What the fuck?! Stop it!
Thanks for back there,” he said.
No…problem,” I said, uncertain about how I should respond.
Yeah, that was pretty crazy, right?” Dax said.
At first, I was alarmed. Why was he acknowledging the strength I’d displayed? Then I realized that he must’ve been doing it so that we would appear more normal…like maybe we didn’t even realize where it had come from. Smart move.
He had a little coke earlier,” Dax added. “Must’ve had something else in it, if you know what I mean.”
Baby Face looked at me. Or maybe at his nose. Considering his wonky eyes, I couldn’t be exactly sure. “I didn’t get your name,” he said in that deep, slow voice—the one that had solidified my impression of him as a complete moron. At the same time, it was incredibly arousing. Or was that just the hunger making me feel that way?
Steven,” I said, sticking with the name I’d given Ryan.
I’m Morgan.”
Hey, Morgan,” Dax said. “I don’t want to bother you, but do you mind giving us a ride? We parked down a few blocks, and we’re not exactly eager to walk around this part of town, you know?”
We were just two streets over, but I knew we weren’t going to Dax’s car. He was just taking advantage of this opportunity.
Oh, yeah, yeah,” Morgan said. “It’s the least I can do. Here, I’m this way.”
He led us across the street, down the sidewalk of the intersecting street.
Rows of trees blocked the streetlights.
Is he taking us to his car or somewhere he can rape us?
I hoped the latter. It would’ve made me feel better about killing him.
Dax fidgeted with his phone. He was texting someone, but who? Master? Was he telling him about what I’d done. Shit. I was gonna be in so much trouble.
You guys from around here?” Morgan asked.
We’re OTP,” Dax said, not pulling his gaze from his phone. “We don’t get down too much.”
OTP?” I asked.
Dax chuckled. “Outside the perimeter,” he explained, as if I’d just asked the stupidest question ever.
Oh, that sucks,” Morgan said. “What part?”
Was Dax going to tell him the truth? I guessed it didn’t matter. At this point, if we were gonna kill him, then we could’ve told him we were vamps and flashed our fangs and everything. But I still didn’t want to kill him. I wondered if it was because I just didn’t want to kill…or if it was those weird eyes and that dumb voice that made him at least somewhat adorable. Like a lost puppy.
My pant leg vibrated. I slid my phone out, checking the message. It was from Dax: It said:
ill. get we’ll share’
I was relieved that I didn’t have to do it. But my chest tightened. When was Dax going to strike? Soon? How was he going to strike? Were we gonna pull him into the bushes? Was I going to need to do anything? Would Morgan scream? How would we get the body to the car?
Too many questions.
Dax had done this before, so I relaxed into the idea of him leading me through the process. Not that I should have relaxed, considering how he’d pushed me out on that dance floor and let me get into all that trouble.
Roswell area,” Dax lied.
Oh, that’s cool.”
What about you?” Dax asked.
Off Moreland. Over by the Starlight Drive -in.”
My gaze met Morgan’s. Was he looking at me or at his nose?
He wore a sort of sad expression. I couldn’t figure out what it meant. But why were we looking at each other this long?
Weird.
I turned away.
Dax started rambling, but I wasn’t listening. I was too absorbed in thoughts about how and when he was going to snap. I figured he’d wait until we reached Morgan’s car. That would’ve been the easiest, right? Then we’d just clean up the mess we’d made there? Or would we get back to his place first? Did Dax want to have sex with him? Would we have a three-way first? That sounded kind of hot. Though considering the ache this guy stirred, I didn’t know if I’d be able to make it all the way through before tearing into his neck.
Oh my God. This is actually going to happen, I thought in a panic. It’ll be fine. Master has killed people in front of me before. It’s the same thing.
But it wasn’t. I didn’t know any of those guys. Hadn’t talked to any of them. They were strangers. They were nobodies to me. I’d actually talked to Morgan enough to know I didn’t want to kill him.
We stepped into a shadow created by a nearby dead streetlight.
Bushes and trees packed along the sidewalk, before a few, surely condemned, houses.
Just beyond the shadow, in a sliver of orange light from a streetlight across the street, a beat-up compact car sat alongside the sidewalk.
Why the fuck did he park all the way in Mug-Ville?
He slid his hand into his pocket, pulled out a set of keys, and unlocked the door.
Hold up,” he said. “Just gotta clean out the back real quick.”
He reached between the seat and the side of the car and undid the lock on the backdoor.
No automatic locks? Was this car made in the Jurassic era?
I guessed between Master’s Rolls-Royce and Dax’s Mercedes McLaren, I was kind of spoiled.
As he opened the back door, Dax turned to me. His eyebrows rose the way they usually did when he was approaching me for playtime.
Is he gonna do it now? Or is he just excited about doing it soon?
He flashed me his fangs. I supposed that was his warning that if I didn’t want to look, I was gonna need to turn away...like now.
I had to stop him. I couldn’t do this. No. It was wrong.
A shrill sound filled the air.
Dax’s chin quivered and the rest of his flesh followed suit.
What the fuck?
He collapsed onto the sidewalk.
Morgan stood behind him, holding what looked like a giant tuning fork. What had it done to Dax?
Oh, now I’m gonna tear you the fuck apart.
I flashed my teeth. I lunged at him, when I felt a sharp pain at my back, like someone had stabbed me in the spine.
My body shook, just as Dax’s had.
It was as if I had a giant vibrator was pressed against my back.
An intense pain radiated through me. My knees locked, and I dropped to the pavement beside Dax. He lay there, his eyes staring forward. I imagined I looked the same. Motionless. Paralyzed.
What the fuck is that thing?
I couldn’t feel my arms or legs.
Another guy, wearing a cowboy hat and knee-high boots, crept over Dax. Though the brim of his hat cast a shadow over his eyes, the streetlight managed to capture his short, yet full beard that was trimmed at the base of his jaw, as if to prevent it from intruding upon his neck.
He held one of the giant tuning forks Morgan had used on Dax. He must’ve been hiding somewhere, slipped out, and done the same thing to me.
I continued working to will my limbs back to life.
It was useless. Whatever that tuning fork shit had done to us, it had to have been strong—far stronger than anything that would have paralyzed a mortal. These guys must’ve known who we were...what we were.
Shit.
Were they vampire hunters?
Morgan and the guy in the cowboy hat wrapped chains around Dax’s legs and wrists and secured them with padlocks.
What am I gonna do?
Hurry up!” Cowboy Hat exclaimed, grabbing Dax’s ankles. Morgan wrapped his arms under Dax’s shoulders, and they hoisted him into the air.
We got thirty seconds max,” Cowboy Hat continued.
Get up, Kevin. Get up!
They carried Dax around me.
Where were they taking him? Were they going to take me, too?
I lay there, staring at the front tire of Morgan’s car.
Move, you idiot!
My fingers! I could feel my fingers!
I tried to shift my head to see where they were going. All I got was slight movement to either side. It took a few moments before I was able to feel my body again. I pushed my head to the side, inching my muscles until I was able to glance over my shoulder.
Morgan and Cowboy Hat shoved Dax into the back of a van parked beside the curb at the other end of the street.
I had to get up. I had to get out of there before they came back and took me off to God-knew-where.
My muscles trembled with sporadic jerks.
I crawled to my feet and limped into a nearby cluster of bushes, ducking so they couldn’t see me, but peering through a crack between two so I could keep my eye on them.
Morgan and Cowboy Hat hopped out of the back of the van.
Morgan searched around.
Fuck. Where’d he go?” he asked.
Shit. Doesn’t matter. We have one. Let’s just get the fuck out of here before the other one tries anything.”
Oh, I was gonna try something all right. They weren’t getting away with Dax. Not that easy.
I could feel my strength replenishing, and when it was back to normal, they were in serious trouble.
They closed the back door and hurried into the front seats. The van started up and sped to a stop sign at the end of the street. It curved right and sped along the intersecting street. The rear lights of the van moved through slits in the trees from the yards on the other side of the street.
I rose from the bushes and limped across the pavement. As my muscles recovered, my limp evolved to a run, and soon, I was sprinting over bushes and shrubs, dodging the occasional tree in the backyards of the little houses that lined the street.
I stayed in the yards so the guys in the van wouldn’t know I was coming.
Soon, my body was back to its peak state. The one I was used to, and I was determined to save Dax from those assholes.

A screech. An engine revving.
They must’ve been heading down a nearby street, and from what I could tell, they were moving toward me. Good.
A security light at the back of one of the houses flashed yellow across a wooden fence that looked to be about seven feet tall.
I bounded over it. Making my ascent, I saw the van flying down the street.
I landed on the sidewalk.
The van flew passed me. Running alongside it, I clasped my hands together and smashed them into the side window, near the back.
Glass shattered, pouring into the van, creating a hole lined with jagged edges.
I gripped onto the edges, which pierced into my palms as I pulled myself in.
Dax lay in the back, writhing in his bindings across gray carpet.
I was gonna have to deal with his bindings later. Right now, we just had to get the fuck away from these guys.
I wrapped my arms around him, lifted him like an overgrown baby, and dumped him out the window. I jumped after him.
Something seized my ankle and pulled me back.
It was Morgan. He had my leg.
I lunged at him.
That asshole! He deserved to die. I couldn’t believe I was about to stop Dax from biting him.
I punched his jaw.
Ride, help!” he shouted, “Ride!”
A familiar sensation…like the one I’d felt back by Morgan’s car…swept through me.
The bearded guy in the driver’s seat, who I assumed was Ride, had that same tuning fork. He pressed it against my arm.
I shivered onto the floor.
Morgan and Ride shouted back and forth, as Morgan climbed into the back and wrapped chains around my wrists and ankles, as they’d done with Dax.
Fucking dick. I’m gonna rip him apart.
He slipped a syringe out of his pocket and stuck me with it.

What the fuck is he putting in me?