Jaeger needs blood. Half Vector, half human, newly coming of age, he is now drawn to human blood for the first time in his already long life.
Rhiannon, a witch, has a problem with her blood–she produces too much iron to safely live. She decides on a partnership with the Vectors, but before she can approach them, she is attacked and left for dead beneath a pier. Jaeger finds her, unconscious and bleeding.
Fighting against the lure of her blood, he helps her instead. His actions set them both on a course of pain, hunger, terror and love. But can he save her from himself?
GENRE: Fantasy: Vampire ISBN: 978-1-920972-82-0 ASIN: B003YUCBOQ Word count: 50, 438
My life had been the sun but now I have no choice to be who I am. After all these years I notice that to the lonely moon there are also stars in the sky. A single, bright star will affect my existence. Rhiannon. She shows me that the moon is actually not an enemy but a companion.
Jaeger looked down at his hands. They were shaking. Hell, his whole body was shaking. His gaze moved to the unconscious young boy sprawled on the ground. This was insane; totally mad. Jaeger raked one hand through his hair and took several steps away.
His gaze swept over the surrounding fields. Grazing land, mostly, but a thick copse of maple trees stood on either side of the lane, plunging it into cool, blue-black darkness. The trees had hidden Jaeger, and he spooked the child’s horse when he stepped into the open without warning. Now, guilt raged through him as he once more approached the unconscious youth.
How could I have done this? He’s a child, just a child. Still…
He hunkered down beside the boy and ran one long, slender finger along the child’s neck. The skin was soft and warm; the vein pulsed with each heartbeat.
Jaeger’s mouth watered at the thought of the blood surging through it, back and forth, never ceasing, giving life…
A soft moan startled him. He drew back as the boy roused.
“What happened?” The child’s voice was groggy.
“You fell from your horse,” Jaeger said with a calm he didn’t feel.
The boy glanced at the horse grazing nearby. “I’ve never fallen before.”
“Perhaps my sudden appearance alongside the road frightened your animal.”
The boy shot another quick glance at the horse, then looked back at Jaeger. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
“I’m but a passerby.”
“You’re trespassing,” the boy snapped, getting unsteadily to his feet.
Jaeger lifted his eyebrows in surprise. “Oh? I saw no boundary signs.”
The boy sneered at him. “You imbecile! Everyone knows these lands belong to Lord Dain.” He brushed his leathers clean with disgusted short strokes.
“Ah, Lord Dain. Then you must be his heir, Fellowes.” Jaeger regarded him thoughtfully. He was a nice-looking boy with a mop of golden hair and wide, expressive brown eyes. His clothing was expensive, his boots of the finest leather. He wore a gold crest ring on his smallest finger and some sort of gold medallion about his neck. Overall, he seemed the picture of innocence. So, his next words surprised Jaeger.
“You’re not as stupid as you look,” he said.
Jaeger drew a slow breath, holding back his irritation. “As far as stupidity goes, I am not the one falling from my horse.”
Anger reddened Fellowes’ face. He stomped over to the horse. “Well, it’ll be the last time this old nag throws me!” He snatched his riding crop from its holder on the saddle, and before Jaeger could stop him, brought the whip down sharply against the horse’s flank.
The animal cried out in pain, attempting to dance aside, but Fellowes had a tight grip on its halter. He raised his hand to deliver another blow.
Jaeger leapt forward, seized Fellowes’ wrist and tore the crop away from him.
“How dare you!” Fellowes raged.
“No. How dare you?” Jaeger countered, his voice cold and soft. “The horse was not at fault here. She deserves no punishment.”
Fellowes struggled against Jaeger’s grip. “She will be punished if I say she will. She’s my horse.”
“No longer.” With his free hand, Jaeger removed the horse’s halter and loosened the saddle girth. A sharp slap on the rump sent the animal bolting, rearing, and kicking to escape the saddle. It hit the ground with a solid thud, and the mare tore away into the surrounding grasslands.
Fellowes gasped in open disbelief. “Who the hell do you think you are? My father is going to hear about this. And when he does, your life will be forfeit.”
Jaeger paused, his grip on the boy’s wrist tightening. “No, I think not,” he said softly, then drew the boy close, his mouth hungry for the pulsing vein and the blood therein.
Jaeger hunched into his black cloak, keeping his gaze on his half-empty stein. The large pub was crowded and noisy. Pipe smoke mixed with that from the hearth and mingled with the scents of goat stew, ale, and sweat. The unpleasant stench settled on Jaeger’s clothes, crawled through his hair, and coated his tongue. He took another long pull from his stein to drown out the taste.
Several dozen men, mostly local herdsmen, gathered about him, boisterous and excited. Jaeger listened to their words, his heart pounding. Lord Dain’s son had been found dead alongside the trail just hours earlier, his body drained of blood. There had been no signs of a duel, no outward injury to the boy, save for several small puncture wounds on his neck. Word had traveled fast through the small hamlet, and settled on the Vectors, the “undead” who wandered the land searching for human blood to quench their thirst.
Lord Dain had sent his best men in search of the killer, and had offered a generous reward for capture of the same. The village men discussed forming groups and argued over how the reward money would be split.
Jaeger winced at the open hostility and disdain coloring the men’s words. Their hatred of Vectors was very apparent. He took another drink and slouched further into his cloak. His only saving grace was that he had arrived in this village some weeks past and the consensus among the vigilantes seemed to be that they were looking for a stranger. And with his Illusion, that of an aged man barely capable of walking, he was quickly discounted as a suspect.
Still, he wished he could stand up for himself, for his kind. Not all Vectors were murderers. In fact, Jaeger could tick off on one hand those Vectors he considered truly evil.
If there was evil in anyone, it was in the humans. They were the ones hunting down Vectors, as if in sport. They had discovered Vector vulnerabilities, the ways they could be killed. That the death was torture for the victim didn’t seem to matter to those humans seeking their demise.
Most Vectors wanted only to live in peace, surviving the best they could on a diet requiring blood. Most Vectors didn’t kill their victims, either. They didn’t need that much blood. Why Fellowes was dead was a mystery. Jaeger certainly would never kill a child. He hadn’t taken enough to kill the boy.
Why he had taken any blood at all was a question that pounded through his mind. He had always quenched his thirst with goat’s blood, easily obtainable in the pastures spread out over the countryside. At least, he had until now.
Whatever had possessed him today? What had made him turn on a human for the first time in his very long life? He shook his head and took another pull from his stein.
“Ah, Jaeger.” The voice seemed loud, even in the noisy room. “You’re the last person I’d expect to find here.”
Jaeger looked up in astonishment. “Celd!”
He was shocked to see him here, though Jaeger was not surprised Celd had found him. Vectors had a way of honing in on their own kind, and Celd seemed more adept than most. Jaeger supposed it had something to do with the fact that they really had no others they could call friend or family.
Not that he considered Celd a friend. Quite the opposite; Jaeger had always seen him as pompous, aloof and…cruel. When Jaeger’s parents had died and he had gone to live in the Lair, he often found himself the victim of the other Vector’s jibes.
Celd could afford to look down his nose at him. His father was not only a Chosen, but also one of the Sovereign’s closest aides. His father, unlike Jaeger’s, had not been banished from the Lair, condemned for loving a mere human.
His father had not conceived a son who was ashamed of his heritage.
Jaeger sighed. When had he become so disgusted with himself?
Celd collapsed onto the bench opposite him. They were both under Illusion, as was custom in public. Tonight, custom called for the world to see them as two bent and aged men. It would not have been so easy to overlook them had they appeared as themselves; most Vectors stood more than six feet tall, tended to have raven-black hair, sharp features, and almond-shaped black eyes set into skin the color of porcelain. Their frames were lean but muscular, and their bearing regal.
They were not easily forgotten.
“So,” Celd said, gesturing at the other patrons and speaking to Jaeger in their own tongue, “I see you’ve been busy.”
“I didn’t kill him,” Jaeger said, his grip tightening on his stein.
Celd chuckled and took a drink from his own stein. “No, of course you didn’t. There was never any doubt in my mind.”
Jaeger looked at him sharply, catching the meaning in the words. “You?”
Celd shrugged. “I was hungry. Besides, he was an insolent little cur. Sharp-tongued and dull-witted. If anyone deserved to die, it was him.”
Jaeger shuddered and averted his gaze. “He was a child.”
“He was delicious,” Celd countered.
Jaeger sucked in an angry breath but did no more than tighten his jaw and change the subject. “What brings you out here? I thought you despised the country.”
“I do,” Celd admitted. “But I was on the trail of a Bleeder. Would’ve found her, too, but the fresh blood of the boy interfered.”
“A Bleeder? Out here?” Jaeger looked up at him. “Besides, I thought you had one back in the city.”
“She died.” Celd slouched nonchalantly into his chair and took another drink.
Jaeger studied him in disgust. “You bled her to death, just like the others.” He shook his head.
“It was an accident,” Celd told him. “We got a little carried away. One thing led to another.”
“It usually is an accident with you. How many does that make now?”
“I’m not keeping count. Are you?”
Jaeger ignored the sarcasm and huddled even further into his cloak.
“Well, look at that,” Celd murmured, his gaze shifting across the crowded room.
Jaeger looked up in time to see the bar wench deliver a round of drinks to a nearby table. Her bodice was laced tight over generous breasts that threatened to spill out of their confines. Long, golden locks were gathered in a loose braid reaching halfway down her back. Soft, pink lips pulled back in a genuine smile, revealing flawless white teeth. Her blue eyes sparkled in the lamplight as she glanced toward Jaeger and Celd.
Celd smiled, but Jaeger reached across the table and gripped his arm. “Leave her alone, Celd. You don’t need to feed again.”
Celd chuckled. “You just don’t understand, do you, Jaeg? It’s not a question of need. It’s a question of want.” He rose. “Excuse me. I have dinner reservations to make.”
Jaeger watched him saunter away, knowing he would change his appearance, then make his move on the barmaid. Jaeger downed the last of his drink and rose as well. He would be no part of it. He made his way to the door of the pub and stepped into the cold night air. He sniffed the air to separate and distinguish the various scents oozing from the darkness as he thought about what Celd had said.
A Bleeder? In this area? Why hadn’t he noticed? Had his self-enforced diet of goat’s blood affected his Vector senses that much? He should have been able to smell the iron.
Celd had mentioned it was female. A woman, or a girl? A child? Jaeger didn’t think that Celd would bother with a child. He tended to seek out those of the female gender old enough to show him a good time before he drained them of their life’s fluid. The boy had been a diversion, a temptation Celd had not been able to resist. Therefore, this Bleeder he was looking for was a woman, at least 18 years of age.
Jaeger walked away from the pub, keeping his senses alert. The pipe and wood smoke still clung to him, making his assessment of the surrounding area difficult. He noticed nothing more than the usual–grass, trees, goats, along with all of the various scents associated with the pub he had left behind.
With a heavy sigh, he turned his steps toward the small village of Skyther and his temporary home there at the inn. This was what he hated most about being a Vector–no sense of place. He never stayed long at one village, worried that suspicious fingers would begin to point his way. It was one thing to lose a goat or two to bloodthirsty predators; but when the losses continued, people looked for a reason. Jaeger didn’t want to be that reason. He had seen what happened to those accused of being a “blood-eater”. Thinking of it made him shudder, and he quickened his pace.
As he rounded a corner leading to the dark alleyway alongside the inn, a familiar scent cut through the night air. Jaeger stopped, the pupils of his dark eyes widening like a cat’s, taking in what little light there was.
Blood. Freshly spilled blood. Human blood.
A tremor ran through him. A tremor of excitement. He squelched it with a grimace. One human. He’d had only one human, and already he was yearning for more. He shook the thought aside and kept walking.
The smell grew stronger. It wafted through the alley, floated on the air, wrapped around him like a lover’s embrace. Warm, sensual, exotic, alluring. Jaeger could not resist it, didn’t want to. He let it lead him forward, out of the alley, across a deserted street, to an empty warehouse by the wharves.
Black lake water lapped quietly against weathered wood as it pawed at the stony shore like an animal stripped of its claws. Jaeger pulled his cloak tighter, keeping well away from the edges of the tilting docks. He hated water when he couldn’t see what lay beneath its surface. Still, the blood scent was coming from down there, under the wooden slats on which he stood. He paused, heart pounding, keeping time with the shush, shush of the waves.
He wanted to turn, to go back, to settle into his lumpy bed and take what sleep this night would afford him. But, at the same time, he was drawn to the scent. Carefully, he retraced his steps until he found easy access to the shore. Once there, he hesitated, drawing a deep breath. Brine, oil, tar–and blood. They combined into an alluring potpourri. Jaeger closed his eyes, trying to dispel the urgency tugging him forward.
After a moment, he moved back toward the docks, his gaze searching the black pit beneath. The scent was stronger now, almost overwhelming. It was young, warm, and full of life. Yet, at the same time, Jaeger knew its source was dying. As it flowed, the blood pooled in the dark rocks, chilling, mixing with the fetid waters, lost forever to both him and its host. The thought almost angered Jaeger. Almost. He was still far enough removed from Blood Thirst to be concerned about the wellbeing of whomever was bleeding so profusely.
He crouched, holding on to the coarse wood for balance.
Jaeger saw her now; a frail form huddled into a corner, limp and unconscious. It took him only a moment to reach her side, to find the source of her injury. A gash crossed her left wrist. Blood flowed out, crawled across her small hand, and dripped into the rocks beneath her. He pulled his kerchief from his pocket, lifted her arm, and wrapped the wound, intent upon stanching the incessant flow of blood. His hands shook. Warm blood touched his skin; the scent assailed his nostrils, and captured his gaze. Black and shiny in the absence of direct light, the blood looked like a glittering jewel against the girl’s white skin.
Jaeger forced his gaze to her face. She was young. She was beautiful. She was covered with filth. Her head was tipped back, her dark hair fell to one side. Her slender white neck tilted alluringly, enticing him closer. He set his jaw. He had promised. Jaeger had made a vow to his mother so many years ago. Goat’s blood would be his diet. Goat’s blood. Not human. Not ever human.
A soft, shuddering sob escaped him. He had broken that vow, drawn by some unexplainable force. He had tasted human blood. He had enjoyed it. Even now, it coursed through his body, making him feel young and vibrant. Alive. So alive. Goat’s blood had never done that, could never do that. Now…lying here before him, like an offering, was this sweet, young human. Here for the taking. He had only to bend his head, take what was left. No one would know. If her body were found at all, it wouldn’t be in any shape anyone could recognize.
She moaned softly. Her eyes fluttered open, as if uncertain they could still do so. A lightning-blue gaze met his black one. “Help me,” she whispered. “Please, help me.”