Hunter’s Choice

a Hunters world short story

This short story was originally published in the Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance…The biggest names in paranormal romance have created a fascinating array of 30 short stories of hot blood and inhuman passions that will leave you thirsting for more.

Authors include Sherri Erwin, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Jenna Black, Jenna Maclaine, Raven Hart, Delilah Devlin, Keri Arthur, Kimberly Raye, Alexis Morgan, Lilith Saintcrow, C.T. Adams, Cathy Clamp & Susan Sizemore.

Hunter’s Choice
By Shiloh Walker 
Copyright 2010 Shiloh Walker
Initially Published in The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance 
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real.  Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. This ebook is free.  Thank you and I hope you enjoy!

Shit.”

The cold wind cut through her clothes like she wasn’t wearing anything, blew her hair into her face, made her eyes water, and generally made it twice as hard to do what she needed to do. But she didn’t look away from the couple in the alley, and other than that quiet curse, she made no noise, made no movement.

She held a crossbow in one hand, kept the other on a pair of military-issue binoculars with night vision capabilities and a built-in digital camera. She was more used to using the crossbow than the binoculars, but up until a year ago, the only time she’d ever used the crossbow was out on a shooting range.

That had been another lifetime ago.

Before 22 February 2007.

The day her life changed forever–the day her twin brother and his wife, Sara’s best friend were found murdered in their hotel room while on their honeymoon.

Joseph and Darla had been the only family she had left and to lose them would have been devastating, no matter what. But to have them so brutally murdered and to live with the gut-deep belief she’d never know who’d killed them, made it so much worse.

The question of who would go unanswered. But Sara knew what had killed them. A creature that couldn’t exist, that shouldn’t. A monster that looked just like a man, acted, walked talked, sounded like a man. She’d been watching this one for a week now. Something about the way he moved, the way he watched people, had set off an alarm in her head.

He shifted a little, lifted his head away from the woman in his arms. The lighting in that alley was too damn dim but Sara was used to it. These freaks never made a move unless it was someplace dark and shadowy. Through her night-vision binoculars, Sara watched as the woman unbuttoned the man’s shirt, pressed her lips to his bared chest.

The man’s head fell back and Sara grinned with feral satisfaction as his lips parted, revealing exactly what she’d suspected.

Two sharp, ivory fangs.

“Got you,” she muttered, snapping a picture and then setting the binoculars aside and lifting her crossbow. The woman was about to get a very rude awakening but Sara figured it was better the woman see somebody get shot in front of her than have some bloodsucker drain her dry.

Behind her, the wind kicked up. Her ears caught a strange rustling sound, a quiet, muffled thump–and then she heard a voice. A familiar voice.

“Not a good idea, Sara.”

She spun around, keeping the crossbow aimed and ready, as she faced a man she hadn’t seen in since she walked out of his hotel room last year. Wyatt Cooper. Blood rushed to her face and a sick sensation of panic exploded inside her.

Stunned, she blinked and squinted at him in the thin light, but there was no mistaking that face. With her heart racing, she lowered the crossbow to her side. “Wyatt?”

He glanced over her shoulder and she had the weirdest sensation that he knew exactly what she’d been doing. Her heart kicked up a few beats, slamming away at her chest wall with a force that left her breathless.

A faint grin tugged at his lips and he said, “Fancy running into you here.” His gaze lingered on her crossbow. “Weird place for target practice.”

“Ahhhh…”

“I seem to recall you being a bit more talkative than this.” He cocked his head, still watching her with that faint, almost amused smile on his lips.

“Yeah, well, you caught me a little off guard. What are you doing here?”

Wyatt shrugged. The cold wind’s knife edge didn’t seem to bother him as it blew his hair back from his face.

He looked incredibly out of place, she realized, but Wyatt was the kind of man who’d stand out no matter where he was. Under the open trench coat, he wore a dark shirt that shimmered in the faint light and dark trousers. The one week they’d spent together, he generally looked like he’d stepped off the pages of GQ and that didn’t seem to have changed.

Well, when he hadn’t been naked and on top of her. Or under…

His shoes looked like they were more suited to pacing the floors of a boardroom than a busted-up, litter-strewn rooftop in the slums of Chicago. But he moved across that rooftop like he did it every day of his life, unconcerned by the cold, by her weapons, or the way she watched him.

“What are you doing here?”

He slid her a look as he approached the hip high brick wall where she’d spent the last two hours. “Looking for you.”

“Looking for me.” Shit. Alarm bells started to sound. Time to make a run for it. Her Canon digital camera and one of her bags lay just a foot away. She could grab them. Grab them and get the hell out. “Why are you looking for me?”

“I’ll answer that question after you answer one for me.” Crossing his arms over his chest, he stared down into the alley.

From the corner of her eye, Sara followed his gaze. Her heart sank to her feet as she realized he’d distracted her at the worst possible time.

Down in the alley, the vampire was feeding. The woman stood still, almost passive, in his arms and there was a look of utter rapture on her face.

Damn it damn it damn it! “I should have gone to Gary,” she muttered. Jerking the crossbow up, she aimed quickly, knowing she’d only have a second–

Less. There was no time to aim before Wyatt moved, grabbing the crossbow out of her hands with uncanny strength. “Damn it, give it back!” Sara reached for it, but he slipped away. “He’s going to kill her.”

If she thought her words might have had some sort of impact on him, she’d thought wrong. “No, Sara. He’s not. He isn’t going to hurt her.”

“You don’t know what in the hell you’re talking about.” Fine. Screw the cross bow. She reached under her shirt, pulled out the Glock holstered at the base of her spine, watching him from the corner of her eye as she aimed–again, she never even saw him move until he was pulling the gun away.

“Unfortunately, Sara, I do.”

Something cold and ugly moved through her and she lifted her head, watched as Wyatt move to stand in front of her. He studied her face with grim eyes. If her instincts hadn’t already been screaming at her, they would have started, just from that look. “What are you doing here, Wyatt?” she asked again, her voice hoarse.

Last year, just days after Joey had been buried, Sara had met a sexy stranger with eyes the color of amber, silken black hair and a wicked smile. She wasn’t the type to pick up men in bars, wasn’t the type to go back to a hotel with a guy she’d known only hours. But she’d done so with Wyatt. And she remembered it all in vivid detail.

She’d spent one week with him, one week in which they rarely left his hotel room. On the seventh day, she’d slipped out of the room while he’d been in the shower and she hadn’t seen him since.

She’d thought about him way too often for her peace of mind and what few dreams she had that weren’t nightmares had been centered around him–hot, sweaty dreams that left her aching and needy and lonely when she woke in her solitary bed. They left her wishing she could be different somehow, that she could move past the mission she’d set for herself.

She thought of him–wondered if he ever thought of her, and figured the uber-sexy man had long since forgotten about her.

But now he stood in before her, watching her with that grim look on his face. “I’m here because of you, Sara.”

“Why?” She inched backward, deciding she’d forget about her bag. The gun. The crossbow. She could get new weapons. His lids drooped and when he looked at her again, terror wrapped an icy fist around her heart. His amber eyes glowed.

When he opened his mouth to speak, she barely heard him say, “I think you know why.”

She was too busy staring at his fangs.

 

*

 

Talk about taking one for the team, Wyatt thought with disgust as Sara backpedaled away. Her pale green eyes were wide with shock, her pretty face had gone pale with fear and he could hear the rapid beat of her heart from five feet away.

Five feet and growing. Her hand slid to her waist and then fell back to her side as though she just realized he’d taken her gun away from her. A seriously mean-looking gun. Wyatt had little use for such weapons, but he knew his way around them and the weapons he’d taken from Sara weren’t the kind used for recreational purposes.

They were a soldier’s weapons. A fighter’s. A killer’s.

It hurt his heart to see what grief and rage had done to her. Wyatt’s memories of that one week were crystalline–he could recall it in such acute, exquisite detail. The way her lashes fluttered right before her eyes went wide as she came, a feline smile curling her lips as she cuddled into him afterwards.

The way those pretty green eyes had misted over with tears that she tried to hold back. The reluctant way she told him that her twin brother had been murdered, along with her best friend.

Even then she’d had secrets in her eyes, some hidden knowledge she hadn’t given voice to. Thinking back, Wyatt knew he shouldn’t have let her slip away as she had. And not just because he could have happily spent the next fifty years in bed with the woman.

When she’d slipped away from him, he had almost gone after her. Almost. But he’d been sent to make sure she would be all right–not fuck her brains out. He’d ended up doing both, and the guilt he carried was lightened only a little by the knowledge that she’d needed him. And he did prefer to think it was him she’d needed, and not just anonymous comfort sex. A man was allowed a few delusions, after all.

The guilt was back though. He’d been thinking with the wrong brain and now they were both caught in a mess.

“You’re one of them,” she whispered. There was a stricken look in her eyes that was going to linger in his mind for a long, long time.

“Sara, I’m not going to hurt you.”

She laughed. It was an ugly, brittle sound that echoed through the night for just a moment. Then it was gone and she stared at him with a mixture of disbelief, hurt, anger and fear. “Don’t give me that line, Wyatt. I know what your kind do. Hurting people is all you know.”

“If I’d wanted to hurt you, I could have done so last year.”

Sara flinched, almost like he slapped her across the face. Wyatt held still when all he wanted to do was reach for her, pull her to him.

“If you don’t want to hurt me, then what in the hell do you want?” she demanded.

Her voice all but dripped with sarcasm and he knew she didn’t believe him any farther than she could throw him. It hurt. But he’d come into this knowing he’d get bloodied over–figuratively speaking. Getting his heart ripped out again, much like what happened when he realized she’d walked out on him, was much better than the alternative. That didn’t even bear thinking about.

Focus on the problem, Wyatt. Not the consequences of failure, he told himself.

“I just want to keep you from making a mistake.” He jerked his chin in the direction of the alley but didn’t look at her face. “He wasn’t hurting her. He doesn’t believe in it.”

Sara’s lip curled. “Yeah. I bet. You know, this vampire with a soul bit has already been done. Buffy and Angel pretty much covered that story line.”

Despite himself, Wyatt grinned. “Buffy and Angel are Hollywood, love. This is real life.” His smile faded and he pushed a hand through his hair, sighed. “Sara, vampires aren’t demons any more than humans are. Yes, some of my kind are monsters…” He slanted her a look and added, “But then again, I’ve seen my share of human monsters, too.”

“Humans didn’t kill Joey and Darla.”

“No.” Wyatt faced her levelly. “You aren’t mistaken in that. They were attacked by vampires. But not all vampires kill, Sara.”

She gave him a hard smile. It matched the look in her eyes. Hard. Emotionless. Empty. “Sorry, not buying it.”

“If all vampires killed…how come you’re still alive?”

For a second, she looked unsure. Wyatt pressed his advantage. “Did I hurt you once, Sara? Do anything you didn’t want me to do?”

“Just because you didn’t then doesn’t mean you never would, lover.”

He gave her a narrow look. “Sara, darling, it’s a bit insulting to imply I’m a cold-blooded murderer and then call me lover in the same breath.”

She sneered at him. “What, don’t tell me you’ve been harboring fond memories, Wyatt.”

“Fond?” His lids drooped over his eyes. Unable to stay away any more, he went to her, moving quicker than mortal eyes could track. Her eyes widened, her heartbeat kicked up and the apprehension inside her scented the air.

The predator in him stirred, the hunger rousing.

But the man ached. He reached out and hooked a hand over her neck, moving against her so that their bodies were pressed together from chest to knee.

“Fond memories? That doesn’t describe it. I remember the way you moaned in my arms, the way you smiled when you woke up and smelled coffee. I remember the way you taste.”

Lowering his head, he buried his face in the curve of her neck and shoulder. She tensed and tried to jerk away. He breathed in the scent of her, let it flood his system, and then he let her pull back.

“I remember the way you cried yourself to sleep while I held you. And I remember you walking out on me.”

He blew out a breath and shifted his gaze away from her. This was hard, even harder than he’d thought it would be. How could those few nights have left such a mark on him?

He hadn’t been with another since her and the sexual frustration alone was murder. But he didn’t want any other woman. He couldn’t see a pretty brunette without remembering her, remembering the way he’d buried his hands in her silken hair as he kissed her. The way it had spread over them like a blanket as they slept.

“I’ve got fond memories of fishing with my dad. My first dog. My first woman.” He slid her a look and added gruffly, “But fond doesn’t even scratch the surface when it comes to you.”

No. Fond was for barely recalled memories of his youth, memories of the life he’d planned to live until fate intervened. Fond was something he might enjoy reminiscing about, but nothing he’d spend his life missing. He’d missed Sara every day. Woke thinking of her. Dreamed of her. Thought about her. Ached for her.

Sara was one of those things not meant to be that he usually was able to move past. Like the life he had once so carefully planned. Like the fiancée he’d been forced to leave behind. Like his job. His home. His parents. Things, people that he’d loved. But he’d been able to move past them.

He couldn’t say the same about Sara, and as he studied her face, he knew he wasn’t going to be able to tuck her neatly away in some niche. She might be a not-meant-to-be, but he couldn’t accept it.

She started squirm, her gaze moving away as though his attention made her uncomfortable.

When he took a step towards, her gaze swung back in his direction and although she kept her expression blank, he could feel the fear in her. He didn’t stop though and she didn’t back away from him. “You’re afraid of me.”

Her chin angled up. “I’d be stupid to not be afraid.”

Wyatt cocked a brow at her. “Why? When have I ever done anything to hurt you? To make you think that I might?”

Curling her lip at him, she gestured towards his face, her eyes lingering on his mouth. Although he knew there was nothing sexual about the look, his body responded as though she had pressed a kiss to his lips rather than sneer at his fangs. “Those aren’t there for ornamentation.”

With a shrug, Wyatt said, “No. They aren’t. They serve a purpose. But I decide what purpose they’ll serve, Sara. I didn’t lose my humanity when this happened–and I didn’t choose for it to happen.”

Her lashes flickered. He’d like to think he was actually reaching her but Wyatt hadn’t ever been much for optimism.

“Leave me alone, Wyatt.”

She glanced towards her things, but she didn’t try to get them. Instead, she backed away until she reached the rickety fire escape, watching him as though she expected him to pounce on her. The idea had its appeal, although not for the reasons she seemed to think. But Wyatt just stood there and watched as she swung her legs over the edge of the roof and disappeared from view.

“That didn’t go well,” he muttered.

The wind slammed into him as he stood there in the darkness, debating his next move. For now, the vampire that Sara had been targeting was safe, as were any others in the area. She’d left her weapons behind.

It was midnight and Sara was a woman alone. He’d follow her, make sure she got wherever she was staying unharmed. His train of thought slammed to a halt as his body whispered a warning. An icy cold touch slithered down his spine and every instinct he had went on red alert. His head flew up and he narrowed his eyes, following a summons few could hear. Death. Blind hunger.

He hadn’t lost his humanity when he became a vampire. But some had.

There were monsters out there preying on humans and right now, one of them was on the hunt.

 

*

 

Sara couldn’t hear the footsteps and when she turned to look, she saw nobody behind her. But she knew she was being followed.

Hell. Screw followed.

She was being stalked.

The skin on the back of her neck crawled, her gut knotted and blood roared in her ears. Her fingers itched and if she had her gun, she would have been holding onto it like a security blanket. She wanted to run. Desperately. But the calmer part knew that running was a bad, bad idea. Very bad. Things that ran got chased. Things that got chased too often got caught. No, thanks.

Then there was another part of her that whispered she needed to get back to Wyatt. That voice, for some reason, was harder to ignore. She had no logical reason to think that anything about Wyatt promised safety–even if he had just let her walk away. Even if he hadn’t tried to hurt her.

“Where are you going, pretty girl?”

It was a low, amused voice. Deep with a southern accent, soft and quiet. Not at all threatening. But she felt the threat. Sending a look over her shoulder, she looked for him, but saw nothing. Picking up her speed, she focused on the sidewalk in front of her.

And plowed right into him.

Instinct kicked in and she drove the palm of her heel upward, but he moved away, evading her strike with pathetic ease. His fingers were hard, the chill of them seeping through her clothes and freezing her to the bone. “Where are you going in such a hurry?” he asked, smiling.

Sara said nothing.

The smile faded away and he cocked his head, studying her face. “You aren’t screaming. Why aren’t you screaming?”

Again, she said nothing.

His fingers tightened on her arms and he jerked her close. Sara jerked her head away from him when he pressed his mouth to her cheek and he started to laugh. “There…that’s more like it. It’s more fun when you fight.”

“Then this is going to a lot of fun for you.”

The sound of that voice was about the sweetest sound she’d ever heard, Sara decided. So what if she had just walked away from him a few minutes ago? Angling her head, she tried to follow the sound of his voice, but the man holding her moved, dragging her into an alley at their right.

He moved with a speed that left her head spinning. She thought she heard them talking but their words didn’t make a whole lot of sense. At least not until a hand fisted in her hair and jerked her head to the side. “Unless you want me to rip her throat out in front of you, you’ll stay the hell back.”

That she heard, even though she wished she hadn’t. The vampire lowered his mouth to her neck, running his teeth along the arch. “Come any closer, Hunter, she dies.”

She focused on Wyatt’s face. She could see him now, moving through the alley, a smirk on his lips. Light and shadow played across his face and those piercing, pale amber eyes of his were glowing. “You know how this ends, boy. Let her go. I might even give you a head start. But that’s your only chance.”

The man at her back tightened his hand, forcing her head into an unnatural angle that hurt–shit, it felt like he was going snap her neck before he could bite her. “I know what happens if I let her go.”

Wyatt smiled. It was a mean smile, full of threat and menace. “That’s going to happen anyway. You just get the choice–painfully slow or mercifully quick.”

Behind her, the vampire tensed. His arm came up, angling across her upper body and his hand spread across her neck, gently, almost lover-like. “I got a better choice.”

“Like hell.” Sara snarled and reared back with her head. He either wasn’t as quick as Wyatt, or he’d been fooled by her silence, because he didn’t move out of the way in time. She hit him with a force that left her head spinning, but she heard bone crunch. At the same time, she lifted her foot and brought the heel of her booted foot down on his.

What happened next was too quick for her to process. One minute he had her, and then she was flying, careening through the air and hitting the wall with jarring force. Her head smashed into the brick, brilliant lights exploded behind her eyes.

Distantly, she heard her name. Wyatt. There was a roar. A rush of wind.

The pain in her head throbbed, blocking out anything, everything else. Hands touched her face. Gentle. Soothing. “Sara…look at me.”

Too hard. Opening her eyes just took too much effort. But he brushed his fingers down her cheek and she realized she had to see him. Lifting her lashes, she stared at his face, watched as it swam in and out of focus. His amber eyes were dark with worry, anger. Despite the pain radiating through her, she had to smile.

He actually looked like he cared.

But vampires couldn’t care.

 

*

 

Wyatt sat in the chair by the window, brooding as he watched the sun sink below the horizon. As time passed, some of the stronger vamps could tolerate ever-increasing amounts of sunlight. Wyatt’s Change had been nearly eighty years ago and he could take enough sun to watch as it made its disappearance.

His skin itched and burned, just like it would from a sunburn and it felt like there were blisters forming. But as the sun’s rays faded, his body started to repair the damage.

He knew when she woke, heard the subtle change in her breathing, in her heartbeat. Still he wasn’t prepared for the low, throaty sound of her voice. “I didn’t think vampires could handle sunlight.”

Closing his eyes, he steeled himself to see her face before turning to look at her. She was pale, but alive. The past thirteen plus hours had been awful. He’d fought his body’s natural instincts, remaining awake throughout the day to watch her.

Watch.

Worry.

Brood.

And worry some more. It had been more than eighty years since he’d graduated from medical school and saying that things had changed was putting it mildly. Still, a concussion was fairly basic and that was all she had. One thing about being a vampire, if she had been bleeding internally, he would have scented it.

She was still staring at him wide-eyed and Wyatt sighed, glanced over his shoulder at the darkening sky. “Most of the mythology surrounding vampires is either pure nonsense or highly exaggerated.”

“Like the sight or scent of blood turns you into a maniac?”

Wyatt shrugged. “Older vamps have better control than that. A new one? Possibly. But new vamps are supervised until they have some sense of control.”

“You make it sound like there are laws.”

“There are.” Wyatt didn’t bother elaborating. She wouldn’t care about their laws, about his purpose, about anything.

“Apparently the laws aren’t serving much purpose,” she said, her voice bitter.

Gently, Wyatt pointed out, “Humans have laws. But humans still kill, still steal, still rape. The law gives us a way to punish the guilty but as long as free will exists, there will be those who break the law. Mortals and vampires.”

She looked away but not before he glimpsed the pain, the anger in her gaze. “The law failed your brother and his wife. I’m sorry for that, Sara. But you can’t continue on this mission of yours. It’s going to get you killed.”

Her laugh was soft and bitter. “You think I don’t know that?” She paused and looked back at him. “These laws…somebody has to uphold them. Can somebody find justice for my brother? His wife?”

“Sara.” He waited until she looked at him and then he slid off the chair. There wasn’t anything he could to take this pain from her–even if he shared all he knew, nothing would undo the pain. This much, though, he could give. He knelt in front of her and wished he could touch her, wished she could want his touch. “It’s already been done.”

She blinked. Her throat worked as she swallowed. Her tongue slid out to wet her lips and even though it was an innocent gesture, Wyatt’s blood warmed and hunger flared to life. He had to focus to even understand her next words.

“Already done?”

He couldn’t not touch her, Wyatt realized. She’d pull away, he’d feel a fool, but he had to do it. Lightly, gently. All he did was brush her hair back from her face, a quick caress that lasted just a heartbeat. Her breath froze in her lungs and he braced himself. But she didn’t pull back. She didn’t flinch. Her eyes didn’t freeze over with disgust. Her eyes lifted and met his and slowly, Wyatt reached out, cupped her cheek in his hand. “Done. They were dead before the sun set the next day.”

Sara slumped, dropping her head down. “Dead.” She was motionless for a minute and then she stood, brushing past him to pace the room. “Dead. You tell me they’ve been dead for a year. And you expect me to believe you. Just like that?”

Rising, Wyatt tucked his hands into his pockets, watched her long, jerky strides. “I don’t expect you to believe me, Sara. Not over this. Not over anything.”

She came to an abrupt halt and turned, facing him. “Then why do I? Why do I trust you? How come I look at you and I don’t have this urge to run, when I know I should?” There was naked emotion in her eyes, confusion. Doubt.

And need.

The need hit in square in the gut, because it seemed to echo the one inside him. His voice was rusty, hoarse as he said, “It’s your brain that’s telling you to run, Sara. But some other part of you realizes I’m not a danger to you.”

“How can you not be?”

A fist closed around his heart. Wyatt took one slow step in her direction. Followed by another. Another. He was close enough to reach out and touch her, but he wouldn’t let himself. “How could I? How could I possibly hurt you?” Instead of touching her, he reached behind him, pulled the Glock from his waistband. Then he allowed himself to touch her, but gently. Only her wrist. Wrapping his fingers around it, he pushed the gun into her hand and then lifted it, pressed the muzzle to his chest. “Can you hurt me, Sara? It’s still loaded–there’s one missing because I shot the one who grabbed you. But there are plenty of bullets left for me. If you really believe I’m a soulless monster, then you should pull that trigger. I’ve faced my share of monsters and believe me, I don’t hesitate.”

She jerked against his hold, but he wouldn’t let go. “You’re crazy,” she whispered. “You think I won’t? Think I can’t?”

Wyatt smiled sadly. “Oh, no. I know you can pull the trigger. I know you have…and if you really believe I’m nothing but a monster, then you need to pull the trigger.”

Her breath hitched in her chest. Her gaze lowered to the gun pressing into his chest. This close, there was no way the bullet could miss his heart. He’d be dead before he even hit the ground, just like a mortal.

“No.”

She pulled against his hold and this time he let her go, watched as she put the safety back on, carefully…oh, so carefully. Then she laid the gun on the bedside table and rubbed her hands down the front of her pants. “No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I can’t.” She shook her head and turned to face him. “I can’t.”

There was a look in her eyes that might have made him do something that would have totally humiliated him–like reach for her, like tell her that he’d spent the past year wishing things could have been different, that he could have spent it with her. That he could spend the rest of his life with her, after just one week together–and what a fantasy that was.

She was mortal. She’d die in a few short decades. He was vampire. He could die, and probably would, considering his line of work. But the odds were that he’d be walking the earth years after Sara went to meet her Maker.

But even that ugly fact wasn’t enough to keep him from touching her. No. What stopped him was the slow, careful way she backed away from him. What stopped him was the blank, expressionless mask on her face that crept across her face with each step she moved away from him. By the time she was at the door, the look on her face was as smooth and blank as a doll’s. She reached behind to open the door without looking away from him.

He was tempted just to let her leave.

He’d known this was an exercise in futility, but he couldn’t just let her walk away. And it had nothing to do with orders from the damned Council, either.

As she eased the door open, he moved, crossing the floor, moving too fast for her gaze to follow. Her eyes went wide and his ears picked up the telltale skip of her heart as he reached over and pressed a hand to the door, keeping her from opening it. “You can’t leave just yet, Sara.”

Her chin angled up. “Why the hell not?”

“Because what you are doing has to stop.”

The fear he sensed inside her had already faded and she shoved past him. Her elbow dug into his side and automatically, he rubbed it. Mean little brat. “We have laws, Sara. Laws to protect innocent people–and innocent vampires. They do exist, Sara.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right. Because bloodsucking doesn’t actually hurt people, right?”

Reaching out, he stroked a hand down her neck and said, “Actually, you’re quite right. It doesn’t have to hurt, and there’s no reason to kill.”

She smacked at his hand. “Don’t touch me.”

The ice in her voice stabbed at him, cutting into more than just his pride. He eased a little closer, but whether he was trying to soothe wounded pride or something deeper, he didn’t know. Advancing on her, he followed her as she backed away until she bumped into a narrow table.

“I remember when you begged me to touch you,” he whispered. He pressed his finger to her lips and remembered her taste.

“Don’t remind me.”

“Do you need a reminder?” Wyatt asked. “I don’t. I remember all of it. Every…last…detail.”

Her sea-green eyes darkened to jade and her breathing hitched. He heard the acceleration of her pulse, scented the change in the air around her. “You remember too, don’t you?”

The thick fringe of her lashes fluttered, shielding her eyes. But he didn’t need to see them to know the answer. He slid his hand down, curving it over her neck, his thumb resting the shallow notch at the base.

“I’m the same man now that I was then,” he told her, his voice harsh. “The same man you picked up in a bar, the same man you followed to his hotel, and the same man who made love to you and held you when you cried. If I didn’t hurt you then, why would I do it now?”

Her body shuddered and Wyatt tore away with a curse. He stalked away but the sound of her footsteps on the floor behind him made him pause. “Sara.” He turned, certain she’d be running for the door again.

But she wasn’t. She took another step towards him. Another. Another. “You can’t expect me to unlearn everything I’ve believed in over the past year, Wyatt,” she said.

“I don’t.”

She didn’t even seem to hear him. “I’m not an impulsive person…or at least I didn’t used to be. I didn’t pick up men in bars. I didn’t go to hotels with strangers. I never would have believed I could develop some bizarre Buffy obsession and start hunting for monsters who can’t exist.”

 

 

Am I doing this? Without a doubt, the answer was yes. And it was what Sara had wanted to do from the time she opened her eyes and saw him sitting in a chair, his gaze focused on the setting sun. She’d watched as his face flushed red, as though burned, watched as blisters formed and then faded moments later as the sun disappeared.

If she’d harbored doubts over what he was, they would have died in that moment. But even the knowledge of what he was didn’t stop her.

She doubted anything could.

There was no reason in what she was doing. Couldn’t be. Nothing rational, nothing sane…but she still didn’t stop. She took another step towards Wyatt and this one brought them so close, their bodies all but touched. “And I also wouldn’t have thought, even a few hours ago, that anything could change my mind about what a monster is. What a monster isn’t.”

She lifted her head, stared into his eyes. “I’m not willing to change my mind on it. Not yet. Maybe never. I don’t know if I’m ready to give that up.”

Reaching up, she traced a finger across his lips and whispered, “But I can’t change my mind on you either…” She pressed lightly and he opened his mouth, slowly, just a little, as though he didn’t to want at all. His fangs weren’t showing, but she could remember how they looked, found herself wondering why they weren’t visible now. “Even with these.”

Sara thought back. He could have hurt her at any time during the day while she slept. Or on any number of occasions a year ago and he hadn’t. Deep inside, she knew he wouldn’t…couldn’t. As strong as her grief and rage was, her belief in him was even stronger. Her knees went weak as his lips closed around her finger, sucking lightly, nipping on her fingertip as she slowly pulled her hand back. “I dream about you and I know I’m not ready to give that up.”

His pupils flared, a harsh breath escaped him. Pushing up onto her toes, she pressed her mouth to his.

For the next thirty seconds, he stood almost frozen as she kissed him. Still, so still she was starting to develop a complex but then his hands came up, grasped her waist. “What are you doing, Sara?”

“Can’t you tell?” She slid her hands under his shirt and forced herself to smile at him. “We did it last year…I thought you said you remembered everything.”

The hands at her waist shook, a convulsive, involuntary tightening that pulled her closer. “Are you sure about this?”

“No,” she replied honestly. “But I am sure about you. You wouldn’t hurt me. I’ve spent the past year dreaming about you and I’m tired of dreams.” Holding his gaze, she pushed up onto her toes and pressed her lips to his.

And this time…he kissed her back. His arms banded around her, pulling her off the floor. The room spun as he pivoted, walking backward to the bed and falling down on it, taking her with him. The year between them ceased to exist as they fought free of their clothes. His body was hard, cool against the warmth of hers but with every passing minute, his body heated until his skin seemed to burn as hot as hers.

His hands raced over her, touching her with a desperate greed that she recognized. It seemed as though Wyatt was as greedy for her as she was for him. He nipped her lower lip, kissed his way down her neck, took one aching nipple in his mouth. As he suckled on her, he wedged his hips between her thighs and pressed against her. She moaned on his name, fisted her hands in his hair and tugged until he lifted his mouth back to hers. His taste–it was like nothing she’d ever known. She loved it. It was addictive.

Just like his touch. Just like his hands and his body…the way he looked at her, the way he stared at her as he played with her hair, the way he whispered her name as she drifted off to sleep in his arms. All of him. Everything.

He pushed inside her and she tore her mouth away from his to suck in a desperate gasp of air. His lips brushed against her cheek, to her neck. He kissed a hot, burning path down to her neck, across her collarbone before he pushed up onto his hands and stared down at her as he started to move. “You wouldn’t believe how often I’ve wanted to do this,” he rasped.

She reached up, brushed her fingers across his upper lip, lingering at the faint bulge just underneath. He tensed, tried to turn his head away, but she slid her hand behind his neck, tangled her fingers in his hair. “As often as me?” she asked, tugging his head down towards her. “Kiss me.”

He did, but it was careful. Cautious. She hated it. Instinct drove her and she deepened the kiss, took it rougher. She felt the response inside his body, in the hard, driving rhythm of his hips against hers. Not enough…again, it was instinct that had her pulling back from his kiss–just a little. Just enough. Enough so she could sink her teeth into his lower lip and bite. He froze. A smug smile curled her lips as she met his gaze.

A rough growl escaped him. His eyes dropped to her mouth and he swore, crushing his lips to hers. At the same time, he slid a hand down her side, palmed her bottom and lifted her. One deep thrust…another. Another. It hit hard, fast, hot, slamming through them with hurricane force. Tearing her mouth away, she cried out his name while he buried his face in her neck, groaning.

Blood pounding in her ears, struggling to breathe, she closed her eyes. He rolled off her and pulled her up against him, stroking a hand up and down her back. “Are you okay?”

“Hmmmm.” Sara couldn’t quite find the energy to lift her lids, but that was okay.

“Not an answer…damn it, you’ve got a concussion. What in the hell was I thinking?”

Heaving out a sigh, she forced her eyes open and reached up, pressing her fingers to his mouth. “Stop. I’m fine. Tired. But fine.”

Very…very tired, actually. Her lids felt weighted and she didn’t bother fighting it any more. With his hand stroking up and down her back and his body warm and strong against hers, she felt more at peace than she had in…forever. Sleep dropped down on her hard and fast.

 

*

 

She could have been asleep for two minutes or two hours. Sara didn’t know. All she did know was the warmth and security she’d felt while she slept in Wyatt’s arms was abruptly gone and she was unceremoniously shoved off the bed, hitting the floor on the far side.

“Stay down,” Wyatt growled.

Blinking, trying to force her brain to wake up, she peered up over the side of the bed as the hotel door flew open. The vampire standing there was the one who’d grabbed her the night before. He flicked her a glance, a wide grin spreading across his face and then he looked at Wyatt. She saw his hand come up. Saw her crossbow.

She screamed.

Wyatt dodged away, evading the other vampire with ease. Sara scrambled across the bed, reaching for her gun. A cold hand grabbed her ankle.

Wyatt snarled. “Let her go.”

She kicked out, connecting with a belly that felt as hard as iron but the other one didn’t let go. He tugged and she lunged, made another grabbed for her gun–and this time, she got it. Because he’d let her go–or rather, been forced to let her go. Drywall cracked as Wyatt threw him into the wall.

Sara turned just in time to see Wyatt reaching for the other vampire–and the other vampire lifting her crossbow. Time slowed down to a crawl. There was a scream trapped inside her head, one that couldn’t break free. But as the silver tipped bolt pierced Wyatt’s chest, Sara jerked her gun up, sighted, pulled the trigger. The muffled pop sounded terribly loud, although logically she knew nobody outside the hotel room could have heard it.

Blood, bone and more grisly matter exploded and the other vampire slumped back. Dead. Totally dead, his body limp, the top half of his head gone.

But Sara didn’t care. She was too busy moving for Wyatt, catching his swaying body before he could crash to the floor. Under his weight, she fell onto the bed, clutching him against her. “Wyatt…”

His amber eyes turned blindly towards her. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. “Get out of here, Sara. Somebody…probably called the…cops.” He started to cough and more blood stained his lips when the fit passed. “Get out.”

“Not without you.”

His lids lowered. “Can’t. Too close to the…heart. I’m not going…” his body arched and shuddered. “Anywhere. Not strong enough right now.”

Desperate, Sara shoved him off her lap, braced his weight on his side. “You’re not dying. I’m not leaving you here.” She closed her hand around the bolt and jerked. It wouldn’t budge. “Help me, Wyatt.”

“Get out of here, Sara!” he rasped, his voice harsh, but weaker.

“You want me out, you help me.”

He swore, but reached up, grabbed the bolt and ripped it out. It fell to the bed beside him as dark, dark red blood flowed from the wound. “Get out, Sara.”

She barely heard him. She was too busy staring at the silver-tipped bolt. Her bolt. Her weapon. He was going to die because of her.

No.

His voice came back to haunt her as she studied the bloodied arrow. Most of the mythology surrounding vampires is either pure nonsense or highly exaggerated.

Most. Not all. She barely remembered reaching for the bolt. Didn’t remember pressing the barbed, sharp edge to her wrist or slicing her flesh. Didn’t remember anything until she fisted a hand in his hair and guided his mouth to her wrist.

He jerked back. “No.”

“Yes.”

Wyatt grabbed her wrist and shoved it away. “No. Get out of here, Sara. Get out, now.”

“You want me gone, you’ll have to make me. You can’t do that if you die.”

He shook his head, but even that took too much effort.

She went cold, somehow realizing that he was out of time. Sliding off the bed, she knelt so he could see her face. “Don’t die on me, Wyatt…please don’t die. I haven’t spent the past year dreaming about you because the sex was good. I need you.”

His lashes barely flickered. Breath rattled out of his lungs. All but blinded by her tears, she shoved her wrist to his mouth once more. He brushed his lips against her wrist. His lashes lifted and she stared into his eyes. “Please.”

He struck.

It didn’t hurt. That was all she could think of as his mouth worked at her wrist. It didn’t hurt–and it didn’t last more than a few minutes. Still too much time, though because as he shoved off the bed, moving far too slow and stiff, she could heard the wail of sirens in the distance. “Get out of here,” he muttered, turning his head to look at her.

The hole in his chest was no pumping out blood but he still looked too damn pale. She grabbed her shirt from the floor, her jeans and hurriedly put them on. “Sure. You’re coming.”

His lids flickered. But he nodded, stumbled towards the door, then outside. Stark naked. Sara followed along behind him and just barely thought to grab the keys from the table and his shirt. On the way outside, she wrapped it around her wrist in a messy, cumbersome bandage.

“Benz,” he mumbled.

She got the door open and he collapsed inside. She ran around, climbed in, started up the car.

“Don’t speed,” he said, his voice thick, slurred.

“I won’t,” she said, forced herself to smile. “I’ve been evading the police off and on for close to a year now.”

The next thirty minutes were silent. Too silent. She kept sending him looks, terrified he wasn’t going to make it and a few times, she almost started to panic, because he wasn’t breathing. Did he have to breathe? But then his lids would move, he’d shift and her heart would start to beat again.

When he spoke up, his voice was strong, cutting through the silence. “Pull over.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m sitting here buck-naked. Sooner or later somebody might notice.”

A familiar blue sign reflected back at her as her headlights splashed across it. “There’s a rest stop in a mile. I’ll pull over there.”

He was quiet. Didn’t speak at all as she pulled over or as he reached behind the seat and grabbed a bag, hauled it up and dressed. He managed to do it both gracefully, and silently–not easy considering he was sitting in the passenger seat of a car. Luxury car or not.

“We ready?”

“Not quite.” He grabbed her and hauled her into his lap, his eyes focused on her face. His fingers closed around her wrist, unwrapping it. Tossing the bloodied, ruined shirt aside, he lifted her wrist studied the gash. “You shouldn’t have done that,” he whispered, lifting her wrist to his mouth. She hissed as he licked it and automatically tried to jerk away.

“Be still.”

“You’re licking a very sore open wound,” she said dryly.

“Hmmm. It will help it heal, keep it from getting infected.” From under his lashes, he shot her a look. “Why did you do this?”

She went still. “I…I don’t really know. But I had to. I couldn’t stand to think about you dying.”

He brushed his fingers across her cheek. “You said you needed me. How can you need me? I’m a vampire. We’ve spent exactly eight days together. One week last year. And today. How can you need me?”

She licked her lips, leaned in and pressed a kiss to his cheek. “I don’t know…but probably for the same reason that I couldn’t hurt you. Probably for the same reason you told me to leave you there to die.” Looping her arms around his neck, she cuddled against him. “You’re okay, right? You’re not…” A sob escaped her lips and she buried her face against his shoulder.

“Shhhhh.” He stroked a hand up her back. “I’ll be fine. Thanks to you.”

She wasn’t going to cry. She wasn’t. Wasn’t. Wasn’t. And after about two minutes and dashing away her tears and sniffling, she almost believed it. Lifting her head, she self-consciously wiped the damp tear tracks from her face before looking at him.

“So now what?” he asked.

“I think maybe you should take me with you….wherever you’re going. After all, I’m not exactly safe to let out around you vampire types.”

A faint smile curled his lips even as he shook his head. “You don’t want that, Sara.”

“Why not?”

“You come with me, I won’t ever let you go.” He sighed, laid a hand on her cheek. His flesh was still cool, too cool.

Laying her hand over his, she whispered, “Promise?”

His eyes glowed, for just a second, reflecting golden light back at her. “Sara, you’re asking for trouble.”

“You’re trouble. Sexy. Broody… Not entirely truthful when we first met. Vampire. And I’m asking for you…so yeah, I am asking for trouble.” She pressed her lips to his, forgetting that he’d had his lips pressed to her bloodied wrist. By the time she remembered, she didn’t even care.

“We don’t really even know each other,” he muttered against her lips.

“So? We’ve got time, right?”

A slow, reluctant smile curled his lips and then he laughed softly. “Yeah. We got time.”

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