Blood Cross Chapter 10

Feeding frenzy

An hour later, still early by vamp standards, I asked directions to the powder room and excused myself. The crowd had reached maximum capacity, with shoulder-to-shoulder partygoers. I saw Bruiser in intense conversation with another blood-servant; was watching when he paused, drew up short, and disappeared into the crowd. I smelled vamps from Clan Pellissier several times, Leo's scent pungent on them. Two looked familiar from the fire threat in the aftermath of the hurricane. They saw me, but ignored me with vamp disdain.

The warehouse air was permeated with the stink of vamps, humans, and blood-servants.

The smell of sex and fresh blood intermingled, wafting down from the second story.

The mixed stench prickled my nose, a sneeze-warning, and blunted my senses, or I'd have caught the predatory smell of a hunter. But my mind was full, mulling over the twisted skeins of vamp politics.

I slid open the pocket door to the darkened powder room, seeing myself in a slanted mirror, haloed by the hall light. Stepping in, I flicked on the light.

A blur swept toward me from the left. Across the mirror. Time dilated and slowed.

Beast screamed within me. Shoved her strength and reflexes into my veins with a rush of power and heat. Teeth and claws flashed in the mirrors. Falling toward me.

I dove down and right. Pulled a stake and my knife. The impact came hard, knocking the breath from my lungs. Stunning me. Stopping Beast's raging scream. Slamming my elbow to the tile. The knife spun from my nerveless grip. Clattered away.

I crashed to the tile in a jumble of limbs. Twisted my spine. Banged my knee. Myoof of pain was buried beneath two vamp bodies. As their weight crushed down on me, my brain caught up. Before I could consider the meaning of an attack at a vamp party, they had me immobilized. Hands gripped and held me, my left arm twisted, canted painfully against my chest. Legs secured my torso and lower limbs.

I drew a breath that stank of my own fear, realizing what had happened, but too late.

Angled mirror images had confused everything. My attackers had planned on and used my momentary confusion.

Mouths bit and slashed, the cuts like blows, the pain delayed. I couldn't see for the bodies. Couldn't strike out. Vision and movements were constricted by powerful hands, locked arms, and snake-fast legs. Pinning me as I struggled. Fangs buried behind my knee with none of the painkilling gift of vamp saliva. Another set buried in my right arm, above the elbow. That arm went numb as teeth grazed the nerve. I grunted with pain. The legs constricting my chest tightened with killing force. I couldn't get a breath.

They intended to drain me dry. I saw, above me, another vamp, watching. Her eyes were wide, her lips parted with excitement.

Beast shoved her strength into me. With numb right fingers, I tugged the packet free of my dress and shook my cross out. The vamp's teeth cut deeper with my action, but Beast blunted the pain. The cross flared with silver, retina-burning light. I pressed it into the skin closest. A wrist. A vamp shrieked. Ululating into my eardrum. Deafening. The sound was like a fist, beating my head. Abruptly cut off. Her body flipped away, leaving behind the acrid smell of burned vamp skin.

Fangs pulled from my knee and the body holding my chest shifted up, clamped into my jugular, cutting like twin knives. Agony branded me. Lightning shot through my veins.

The legs constricting my chest were gone, but my breath was frozen in my lungs, the pain so sharp I couldn't expand my ribs.

My vision telescoped down to a narrow image, like looking through a straw. If I went out, I was dead. Beast took me over. Undulated my lower body. Held my upper torso unmoving to avoid ripping out my throat.

I shoved the silver cross into her cheek. Her wail began, low, deep, and full of torture.

She rolled away, her fangs tearing out. I sucked in a breath of precious air. My blood rolled from my wounds in rivulets and splashed on the mirrors. I had a glimpse of burned face, my blood on her fangs. I pulled my legs under me. Curled my injured arm into my chest, fingers against my bleeding jugular. I recognized the two scarlet-clad vamps from the aborted confrontation in the hallway and remembered my worry from earlier.Another tag team? I didn't have the breath to laugh.

In the mirror I met the third vamp's eyes. The unknown. She stood over me, where I crouched on the floor. Cold power flowed from her like icy air from a glacier. Red hair, curly and wild, fanned out around her. Resting on her collarbones was a gold torque etched with Celtic symbols, and a gold cuff shaped like a snake climbed one upper arm.

Her dress was cerulean blue shot with gold threads, toga-like, knotted on one shoulder, leaving the other bare. The bare shoulder was splattered with my blood like a tattoo of my death. She looked like some ancient and feral goddess. I was pretty sure her blue eyes were not quite sane.

For a fractured second she stared at my blood running down my throat as hunger blazed into her eyes, vicious and wild. Her lips pulled back. She launched, fangs and three-inch claws striking at me.

I reversed the stake in my left hand. Pushed up from the floor with my one good leg.

Levering power into my shoulder, arm, stake.

She drove herself onto it. The wood pierced just below the torque, driving in three inches before she noted it. Her scream added to the others, so high-pitched it was like an emergency beacon, decibels strong.

An arm caught mine before I could alter the angle, driving for her heart. Icy flesh yanked me back, out of the small room, away from the keening vampires. Into the dark hallway. Whirled me around, against a cold, hard body.

I looked up into Leo Pellissier's eyes. Power crackled the air around us. Beast went silent, withdrawing her claws from me, and taking with her all the strength she had lent.

He was fully vamped out, pupils black in bloody red sclera, fangs snapped into killing position, his fingernails knives. His gaze was on my throat where my blood ran fast from the torn punctures. He growled. My death leaped into his eyes. Knowing there wasn't time, I curled my fingers into my hair for my remaining stake. But he lifted his stare away, to the woman vamp in the blue dress instead.

"Adrianna," he said, his voice silky and smooth in contrast to the snarl and violence on his face. "You trespass on what is scent-marked as mine. You and your scions attack a guest present at another's invitation. You force a blood meal. You reach across clan alliances and sow discord, a discord that is reported to me by my blood-servant instead of brought to me in a formal challenge for power."

I remembered Bruiser disappearing into the crowd only moments before my attack. Leo had arrived then, and Bruiser had told him of the conspiracy. I was sure of it. Not that it mattered. I couldn't shift in Leo's arms. And I was bleeding to death.

Leo's heart beat once, the sound startling against my ear. He leaned to Adrianna. And he smiled, fangs fully exposed and fierce. "Do you seek to challenge me for master of this city? Or is it time for you to seek the light?"

She hissed with fury. "I am not an old rogue," she said, the words accented and strange.

"Perhaps not, but you whisper discord. It is said that your blood-master seeks to form an alliance and break his oath of blood to me. Do you follow him into disgrace?"

"I am not without honor," she said, her lips pulling back to show her fangs. Which I was pretty sure was not an answer to Leo's question.

I pressed a fist against my neck wound. My knuckles skidded in my blood. I whimpered. Leo heard the faint mewling and stilled for a long moment, his body unmoving as a marble gravestone. When he took a breath, the movement of his ribs against mine was alien and foreign, as if that gravestone decided to breathe. He was scenting me the way a predator scent-searched prey. The faintest tremor quivered through him.

He blew out and swiveled his head between the two burned vamps now cowering in fear. He whispered, his words suffused with power, dark and demanding, "Lanah and Hope. Did your clan master sanction this action?" The two vamps looked at each other and then quickly to Adrianna, who faced him, her back to the sink. "Do not seek your sire for your answers," Leo said, his voice snapping like a whip. Their eyes shot back to him.

"No," one of the cowering vamps said. And her pupils constricted, her vamped state dissipating. She hunched her shoulders and sank lower, angling her neck to expose the soft tissues of her throat, the position both protective and submissive. The other ducked away, hunched, avoiding Leo's stare.

"George," he snapped. Bruiser appeared at my shoulder, his eyes on Leo as if I weren't there. "Take Jane to Bethany. Have her wounds treated."

"Yes, sir." Bruiser scooped me up as if I were a child and I gasped with pain. Started to resist. Bruiser spun into the brightly lit hallway. Fifty pairs of vamped-out eyes zeroed in on me. On my throat. On my leg. On my flowing blood. Fangs snapped down with multiple tiny clicks. My heart rate tripled and I knew they heard it, but I couldn't control my reaction, fear sliding along my skin like icy mist in a winter storm. I started shaking, hyperventilating with shock. I needed help, and not just medical. Getting out of a warehouse full of vamps with blood in my veins didn't look likely on my own. I sank against him as Bruiser strode toward the vamps. Reluctantly they parted, allowing us a pathway. Still knuckling my throat, I looked over Bruiser's shoulder.

The two cowed vamps scuttled from the powder room, their limbs contorted and spidery in their haste. Leo lifted an arm and pointed at Adrianna. A sudden gust of power rippled the air, lifting my hair like the threat of lightning. When he spoke, his voice was full-throated, ominous as storm clouds, and so full of power that it shivered through me like blizzard winds through winter trees. "Adrianna of Clan St. Martin, kneel." I heard him take a deep breath as power swamped through the room. He roared, "Attend me!"

I caught a flash of red hair as Adrianna fell to Leo's feet. All around me, vamps dropped to their knees, compelled by his voice and authority. Power lanced through the air, sharp as sword points, piercing as claws. The blood-master of the city had spoken. The only sound was the thump of falling bodies, the shush of fabric, and the clip of Bruiser's fancy shoes on the floor as he carried me away. Not even the sound of breathing marred the silence.

The sensation of command and might began to fade. I laid my head against Bruiser's chest. His heart beat fast and sure beneath my ear. Quickly we were through the short hallway and into the empty open area, the echo of our movement on the brick walls the only sounds. A place full of the dead. I knew I should be one of them, would have been had not vamp saliva constricted blood vessels and slowed bleeding. It was bizarre, but the very nature of a vamp attack meant a victim would live a bit longer.

I tried to speak and had to slide my tongue across dry lips to moisten them. "Why did he save me? He wants me dead for killing the thing that took the place of his son."

"If Leo wishes you dead, he will exterminate you himself, not allow others to kill for him. He may be deep within Dolore, but he is still master of this city. He is still cognizant of his duties and his power structure, and for now, you are necessary to him."

"And when he gives way to Dolore again?"

Bruiser shrugged slightly. "Then he may forget everything but grief and you may die."

"That sucks," I whispered.

Bruiser chuckled. And carried me outside, into the welcome heat of the night. All of the humans, blood-servants, blood-slaves, and the junkies, were on the lawn or standing beside cars, faces etched with fear, worry, or false ennui, depending on their natures or experience. Almost in unison, they turned to us, watching as Bruiser took the steps to the walkway. The buzz of voices fell utterly silent. A breeze had sprung up, uncertain of its direction, wet with river scent.

Brian and Brandon stepped close. "How is she?" Brian asked.

"I'm okay," I lied.

"Barely," Bruiser said dryly, his arms tightening around my thighs and chest. To the men, he said, "She's losing too much blood. The attack wasn't intended to close her wounds."

"And the masters?" a woman called from the dark of the lawn.

"In bloody deep shit," he said, his British heritage showing in the accent and phrasing.

To the twins he said, "Call Bethany. I presume she's in Leo's Porsche, likely 'round the block."

Brian looked at him oddly. "You sure? Bethany?"

"Leo's orders," Bruiser said. Both twins looked at me, speculation in their expressions.

Brandon punched on a cell and turned away, speaking softly. Bruiser raised his voice.

"This will be a difficult night, in the few hours left before dawn. I suggest you gather the rest of your clans' servants and slaves. The Mithrans need us tonight."

"Feeding frenzy," a voice murmured from the crowd.

"Maybe not. We can hope not," another said.

Cell phones were pulled and numbers punched in. Everywhere, bodies turned for privacy, leaving Bruiser and me alone in a sea of people. Down the street, a Porsche the maroon red of old blood pulled slowly down the narrow lane of open street, headlights picking out the servants, security, and drivers, their bodies showing tense in the sharp shadows, heads swiveling, staring into the dark as if watching for attack. Most had obviously seen something like this before, vamps on the edge of violence.

There was nothing in the lore about a feeding frenzy, but sharks were well known for it.

I knew from personal experience that big cats could go into killing mode and destroy anything they could catch. Vamps were predators of a particularly intelligent and gruesome variety. I started shivering, feeling cold, even in the humid heat.

Across the way, I saw a shimmer of magic, hazy blue and gray sparkles. Five indistinct forms stood in the shadows of a four-story warehouse that had been turned into condos, light spilling around them from a myriad of windows. Five witches, standing at what might have been the points of a pentagram, a glamour sparkling over them, making them appear middle-aged and dowdy. There was nothing threatening about them, but I wondered why they were there and what they wanted. I guessed they were the five witches Bliss and Tia had seen. I drew in a breath, testing the scents, and caught a whiff of witch. Familiar. It was similar to the witch scent I'd caught on the grave of the young rogue I'd seen rise. Similar, but not quite exact. And then it was gone, carried by the fitful currents following the Mississippi. It felt wrong for them to be here, watching vamps, but so much was amiss right now it was hard to tease out the differing strands of the tangled problems.

The Porsche braked to a stop and the passenger door opened. No light came on inside, leaving the interior like the mouth of a cave. Bruiser leaned in and sat me on the seat in a display of grace and sheer muscle. "Leo says to treat her."

"Yes. She is . . . weak," a soft voice said. "Injured." The accent was vaguely African and touched by French, the vowel sounds mellow and very round.

Fist still at my throat, my blood drying and sticky, wet and fresh, I turned to the driver's seat as the door closed at my side. I got my first look at Bethany. She had been a black woman when human and was now the blackest vampire I had ever seen. Unlike most vamps, whose skin paled after long years without the sun, her flesh was blue-black, her lips even darker. Her sclera were brownish and her irises blacker than any I had ever seen, blacker than the People's, blacker than the darkest night. Her hair was knotted and twisted into dreadlocks and worked with hundreds of gold and stone beads; the locks were pulled to the nape of her neck, hiding her ears except for the lobes, which dangled a multitude of gold rings.

Power surrounded her like an aura, but softer in texture than the spiked, mailed fist of Leo's vamp clout. Bethany's energies were ephemeral, questing, and carried a scent similar to witch power, but more bitter. I didn't know what she had been before she was turned, but she was old, maybe the oldest vamp I had ever seen, and full of a strange power. I thought of Sabina Delgado y Aguilera, the old vamp at the chapel, who wore the white wimple of a nun. This power was like hers, slow and roiling, building and moving as an avalanche builds and moves, but with intent and purpose.

Bethany was staring at me, her gaze so dark it was like the sky on a moonless, clouded night in the Appalachians, so deep it was like staring into an ocean trench, empty and fathomless. A primal reaction sent gooseflesh over my skin. Beast did nothing, hunched deep in my mind, watching, worried, nearly - but not quite - fearful. Without taking her eyes from me, Bethany shifted the Porsche into gear and moved along the street. She looked away from me when she turned, guiding the car right, then left. Three blocks later, we were out of the Warehouse District. My shivers worsened. I was pretty sure I was going into shock. I needed toshift .

She pulled the car into a twenty-four-hour gas station with bars on the windows and blinding security lights and eased around back into a garbage-strewn alley. Deep in the shadows, she cut the motor. "You are injured," she said. "Do you choose to be healed?"

There was something odd about the phrase but I didn't have much choice. I wouldn't make it home and didn't have the energy to shift without the fetishes or boulders. I licked my dry lips and said, "Sure."

She lifted her hands from the steering wheel and reached out, taking the back of my head in one iron-hard palm; her other palm pressed against my forehead. Her hands were icy cold, as if she slept in a refrigerator. With implacable strength, she bent my head back. I forced down my reaction to her touch. I had agreed to this, whatever this was.

Beast, who had been oddly silent since Leo appeared, came alert and sank her claws into my mind.Dead meat fingers. Trap! Beast thought, drawing up power to fight or run.I am not prey , Beast said. I gripped the door and pulled back. It was too late.

Bethany's hands stopped me, hands cold and hard as black marble. My heart rate trebled. I sucked air to scream.

She licked my throat. As quickly as her cold tongue touched me, Bethany's fangs struck. I stiffened, stopped, one hand raised, held up in silent protest; Beast hissed. An electric cold suffused my chest, seeming to fill my lungs, my heart, and travel through my arteries like a freezing river, or like the finest rum, poured over dry ice, crackling and burning. My nerves and muscles spasmed.

I had known the damage to my body was there, but the pain had been blunted by shock.

Now it hit me with a slashing charge, as if every nerve at once was scraped raw by frozen steel. It lasted one brutal moment. The pain mutated into something chilled and euphoric, like iced vodka swimming with snowflakes. The sensation flushed through me and pooled in my middle like satisfied hungers, like the sensation of falling through frigid air at the top of the world, like nothing I had ever experienced.

I drew in a slow breath, my throat and ribs moving carefully. I was held in the bite of a predator, and moving too quickly could tear out the rest of my throat. Again.

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