Chapter 1, Scene 2
The sun was low in the sky the next afternoon as Quinn strode down 21st Street, her gun wedged snugly at the small of her back beneath the leather jacket that was a little too warm for the September day, two wooden stakes in her inside breast pocket, and a switchblade in the front pocket of her jeans. A breeze played with her hair as she kept a sharp eye out for anyone…or any thing…suspicious.
She’d spent a couple of hours at the firing range, as she did every day, now. A week wasn’t a long time to become proficient, but she could handle a gun, and her aim wasn’t half-bad. A month ago, her self-defense capability had extended no further than the tae kwon do moves she’d learned as a kid. She was still no warrior, but she was armed, now. And wary. And prepared to do whatever it took to keep her brother and herself alive.
As she neared the street where she lived, she passed a couple of college kids walking down the sidewalk, their backpacks slung over one shoulder, lattes in one hand and cell phones in the other. Just a month ago, Zack had been one of them, making plans with Lily to move to California next summer when they both graduated.
Last week, before she’d taken a temporary leave of absence from her job as a lab tech at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Quinn had run some surreptitious blood tests on her brother, hoping to find something physically wrong that human medicine might be able to cure. Some reason for his failing health and his shimmery gray eyes. Something other than magic. She’d found nothing.
God help them both if the equinox came and went and he got no better. Her thoughts in turmoil, she turned onto her street, stepping off the curb to pass a small pack of chattering coeds. But as stepped back onto the sidewalk, she caught sight of a pair of males not ten yards ahead with ears a little too large on heads slightly too big for their bodies.
Her heart stopped, then took off like a flock of doves as her feet suddenly rooted to the sidewalk. The girls she’d just passed grunted and complained, now forced to walk around her. Ahead, one of the Traders turned to his companion, revealing his profile, making her breath catch in her throat. Because she recognized him. These weren’t just any Traders, but the same two who’d caught her the second time she entered Vamp City, the pair who’d sold her to the slave auction. If they saw her, they’d recognize her in return, no doubt about it.
She reached into her pocket for her switchblade, then pivoting on her heel, turned and slipped back around the corner, her gaze flying out in every direction, her heart thundering in her ears.
What were they doing a block from her apartment? Coincidence? Or had they somehow tracked her? Were they even now heading for her home?
And Zack was there alone.
Even if the Traders were looking for her, there was no telling if they’d try to take him instead. Or hurt him if he got in their way.
She yanked out her cell phone and called Zack’s number. He could go to Mike’s. He’d be safe there, though what excuse they’d give Mike for such a cloak and dagger move, she had no idea. Maybe Zack would come up with something reasonably plausible and not too alarming.
But Zack’s phone rang and rang, flipping to voice mail. Dammit. If only she could call Mike, but the slip of paper with his number on it was still sitting on her kitchen counter. She’d never put his number in her phone.
Gripping her switchblade, Quinn began to run. Circling the block from the other direction, she entered her building from the back door instead of the front and hurried up the stairs, avoiding the elevator. When she reached her floor, she pulled her gun, then peered cautiously into the hallway. Empty.
Her pulse thundering in her ears, she eased her way down the hall, relieved to find her apartment door closed and, apparently, untouched. A good sign, unless Zack had opened the door and let them in.
Quickly unlocking the door, she slipped inside to find Zack snoring softly on the sofa. Locking the door behind her, she did a swift search of the apartment. Everything appeared normal if she didn’t count the way the beam of sunlight illuminated the gray cast of her brother’s skin.
Shoving her gun into her waistband, she shook Zack’s shoulder.
“Zack, wake up. We need to leave.” He made a sound that might have been a question, but his eyes failed to open. “Zack!” Still, he didn’t respond.
Panic bubbled up, shattering her desperate calm. He was too big for her to carry. And the Traders were too damned close.
Running to the kitchen, she snatched up the slip of paper with Mike’s phone number and made the call.
“It’s Quinn, Mike.”
“Quinn. What’s the matter?”
She took a deep breath, forcing herself to slow down. “Nothing. I just…Zack’s sick. I need to take him to a doctor, but I’m having trouble getting him awake. Can you help me get him down to the car?”
She’d expected a swift, “Of course.” Instead, her question was met with silence. She’d probably interrupted his writing, probably screwed up everything he was doing. Still…
“It’ll only take a couple of minutes, Mike.”
He sighed, his tone regretful. “Quinn, I can’t right now. Maybe in a couple of hours? I’m—”
Whatever else he said was drowned out by the crash of her front door. Whirling, she stared as the two Traders pushed their way into her apartment.
“Quinn?” Mike’s sharp voice rang in her ear.
“Don’t come, Mike.” She pulled her gun and backed toward the sofa and Zack. “I’m fine. Don’t come!” Mike might be a well-built male, but unless he possessed X-men like talents, he wasn’t likely to be able to protect himself from supernatural creatures, let alone be of any help to her. He’d wind up in the slave auction at the mercy of blood-sucking vampires and that was the last thing she wanted.
If she was lucky, her power might decide to make an appearance. If not, she had other weapons, now. Tossing her phone onto the nearest chair, she aimed her gun at the nearest Trader’s face.
He just grinned at her, sending chills down her spine despite the sunlight warming her back. “You don’t really think that toy is going to stop me, do you, girlie? You’ve got quite a reward on your head.”
As she’d both hoped and feared, her latent sorcerer’s power started to tingle in her blood. That weird, unnatural heat began to crawl beneath her skin. For all she knew, her eyes were glowing. One of these days, she’d like to be standing in front of a mirror when this happened so that she could see for herself.
The reality of firing her weapon at an assailant swept over her, at once exhilarating and terrifying. What if her bullet went wide, slamming through a wall and into another apartment? What if it didn’t and she tore a whole through a living creature’s brain?
As the pair started slowly toward her, she pried her left hand away from the gun, holding it up, palm out and pointing toward her would-be-captors. Taking a deep breath, she willed her power to come to her call, to push them back, but nothing happened. As usual, when she needed it.
“Come any closer and I’ll shoot,” she warned.
A third person appeared in the doorway behind them. Mike.
“This isn’t your concern, Mike. Please leave.”
“Push them toward me, Quinn. Use your power and push them toward me. There’s too much sun.”
She froze at his words, her scalp going cold. Had Zack told him about her powers? No one knew. No one! Except Arturo. And the rest of the vampires.
Mike’s words slowly sank into her brain. There’s too much sun.
Too much sun.
Quinn swayed, the blood draining from her face as understanding crashed over her. Mike was a bloody freaking vampire. No, not Mike.
“Micah,” she breathed. Arturo had told her he had a friend…a vampire friend…named Micah who lived outside Vamp City. “You’re Micah.”
Her mouth hung open, her eyes going hard as flint as the implications bombarded her. Arturo had sent his buddy to watch her. He’d known right where she was the entire time. He’d never set her free at all!
And suddenly she understood why Mike…Micah…had hesitated when she’d asked him to help her get Zack to the car. Her car was on the street, in full sunshine.
Suddenly, the two Traders lunged for her.
“Use your power, Quinn, now!”
There was only one power she trusted. She aimed and fired at the lead Trader, once, twice, but aiming at a moving target was a lot harder than at a stationary black silhouette and she had no idea if she’d hit him. He wasn’t slowing!
With her third shot, he flew back. Micah disappeared and a second later, so did the Trader who’d hit the floor. Both materialized moments later in the dark foyer, Micah’s skin smoking from that short dousing of simple daylight. Not even direct sunlight.
But she had no chance to celebrate. Before she could swing her aim to his companion, the second Trader was upon her, ripping the gun from her hand. Though she fought him with everything she had, he pinned her easily, wrenching her arms behind her back. In her peripheral vision, she saw him make a fist, as he’d done the last time he caught her. He’d knock her out and she’d awaken in Cristoff’s dungeon. Or within the clutch of Cristoff’s torture-loving hands.
Raw terror slid through her veins, making the power inside her crackle and spark. But when she tried to use that power to throw him off, it failed her. Naturally.
A blur caught her eye, and then the Trader at her back was gone, joining his buddy a heartbeat later in the shadowed foyer, slammed up against the wall by a second male, this one scorched and charred beyond recognition.
As the acrid smell of burning flesh raked her nose, the male healed, slowly at first and then more and more quickly, revealing a handsome, dark-haired vampire she knew all too well.
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End of Excerpt
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