Bullets peppered the big screen of the Teatro de la Noche. Screams rang out around me, and I dropped to the floor, pulling my cousin Chandra down with me. Tension ached in my shoulders, and my heart pounded in my chest like a trapped animal, desperate to escape.
Gunpowder stung my sensitive nose, but through the overpowering scent, I caught a whiff of a hunter heading our way. “Chandra, we have to move.”
If Chandra and I didn’t get out of here we’d end up dead—or worse,
test subjects for the Cazador—human hunters ordered to scour the land of nocturnes by the plutocratic government.
“How? They’re all around us.” Chandra peeked over the seats before dropping back down beside me. “A few of them are chasing down those who ran from the first assault, but two more are heading straight for us.” She ran a manicured hand through her honey-brown hair, which was only a shade darker than my own. “Come on. I have a plan. Let’s try to sneak out the side door.” She crawled in the opposite direction, down the row of seats.
The sight of my cousin’s butt cheeks hanging out of her short skirt filled my vision; some things were better left unseen. I lowered my gaze, particularly since Chandra had forgone panties. She almost always held herself with an air of power and purpose. Perhaps that’s what it took to get attention from other werewolves. Chandra got it in heaps, but her lower social status stopped a lot of relationships.
While it was a horrible time to second-guess my modest fashion sense, I couldn’t help wonder if I should take a lesson from my cousin. My own blouse and dark blue jeans had much less pizzazz. But I doubted my father would allow me to dress like Chandra; we had a privileged image to uphold.
I bit my lip, struggling to turn my thoughts back to the problem at hand. This was all too much. How could we get out of here unscathed when the roar of gunfire continued to close in?
We reached the end of the aisle. Chandra moved to glance over the seat, when a shout came from the opposite end, startling us both.
“Run, Chandra!” I barely kept my voice to a whisper.
She sprinted toward the bright red exit sign at the front of the theater, and I chased after her, trying to keep my pace natural though her long legs made it challenging. Maybe if they suspected we weren’t nocturnes, they’d leave us alone.
The stomping of heavy boots on the theater’s plush carpets said otherwise. Then again, they weren’t opposed to taking their fellow humans down too. The very rich in power thrived on oppressing those less fortunate. What better way to keep the populace down than to have their thugs strike whenever possible.
“We should split up.” Chandra shoved a heavy trashcan in front of the door, but that wouldn’t be much of an obstacle to the pseudo-military bastards.
“What?” I couldn’t believe my ears. “No way. If we do that, we’ll—” The trashcan scraped the cement as the hunters tried to open the door. Maybe she was right. If we were together, there was a better chance of them catching us both. Alone, we might survive the night.
I nodded to her, and we took off in opposite directions down the alleyway behind the Teatro. The door slammed open, smacking the wall hard, as I turned the corner and headed toward the main street. I had to find somewhere to hide out before the hunters spotted me again.
In front of me, another group of Cazador chased a few werewolves down the main road. I slowed to keep my distance from them, but if I didn’t get somewhere fast, they were going to catch me. Ugh. As much as I loved getting out of the house and going to the movies, I wished I’d listened to my instincts tonight and stayed home.
Two sets of feet pounded the sidewalk behind me. Perhaps they’d spotted me before I reached the corner.
I picked up speed a little, pumping my arms as I struggled to keep to a human speed while staying out of range. The temptation to race through the streets nearly drove me to action, but I glanced back, seeing my pursuers for the first time.
One of the men had greying hair and a rounded belly, which explained the slower, heavier footfalls, while the other guy appeared younger and super-athletic. No wonder I was having trouble getting away. If he hadn’t been so scary, he might’ve been attractive. Pure masculine aggression raged through him, tensing his shoulders as his gaze focused solely on me, his prize. Each man carried a large-caliber handgun. I was just glad they were too busy running to try to shoot me…for now, at least.
My sandal hit an uneven patch of concrete in the sidewalk. My body lurched forward, but I caught myself before I could go down. I should’ve been paying more attention to the street. Up ahead on the opposite side of the road, I spotted a dark alleyway running alongside a row house. If I cut through, I could safely turn up the speed without exposing myself, and lose them.
The older hunter slowed; his breathing had become increasingly labored. He cocked his revolver’s hammer, and I darted across the empty road, making a beeline for the alley. The last thing I wanted tonight was to see Dr. Matthews. Just a little bit farther. A bullet smacked the ground at my feet, hitting me with fragments of pavement. I bit back a yelp, not wanting to give them the satisfaction of knowing my fear.
“I got this one, old kook,” the younger hunter grumbled, and his footsteps slowed too.
Another gunshot pierced the hazy night air. White-hot pain rocked my shoulder, nearly toppling me to the ground. I screamed, unable to hold it in, and picked up speed, no longer caring if I appeared human or not. The faint creak of a door barely registered before a pair of arms wrapped around my waist, jerking me inside the dark row house.
My rescuer softly shut the door, careful not to make a sound, and shoved a hand over my mouth. “Sshhh,” he whispered. “I won’t hurt you. You’re safe.” His voice was deep, with an English accent. He pulled me away from the door and hunched down in the darkened room, holding me close, waiting and listening.
Agony clouded my thoughts, but I couldn’t let myself lose focus.
Footsteps thundered through the side alley. I stiffened at the sound. The hunters’ harsh voices and the clanking of metal were the only differences between them and a herd of cattle. They made no attempt to disguise themselves, taking delight in the fear they provoked. The Cazador weren’t true predators, but they held power over their fellow humans and the weaker of the nocturnes.
I stayed silent in my mysterious savior’s arms. Thoughts of my cousin Chandra sparked inside my mind. She was still out there. What if the Cazador found her and killed her as they’d tried to kill me?
This man had saved my life. I needed to do the same for my kin.
His large hand flexed slightly, crushing my mouth. I placed my hand against his wrist, hoping he’d release me since I no longer heard the disgusting Cazador who hunted me like an animal. How had I gotten myself into this mess?
Shifting my weight, I groaned as my shoulder brushed against his smooth chest, my arm hanging limply by my side. The bullet must be impairing my movement. I doubted even shifting into wolf form would fix this right now. What was I supposed to do? Not even my people were immune to blood loss.
The scent of death crept into my nostrils, which could only mean one thing: my savior was a vampire. In this weakened state, he could easily end my life, and I wouldn’t be able to stop him.
But why would he save me? Maybe he required his next meal. An icy shiver slithered down the length of my spine. For the first time, I felt real fear.
If only I’d insisted on returning home from the Teatro sooner instead of catching the night’s second movie, we wouldn’t have been there for the raid. Already my energy waned due to the rocky power of the three raging moons. The added exertion of running from the Cazador and getting shot strained my body even more.
Somehow, the Cazador had known nocturnes frequented the Teatro. Who would give that kind of information away? Wolves wanted the same pleasures in life that humans desired.
My savior readjusted his grip on me, brushing against my upper back. I swallowed a scream, unwilling to alert anyone who might be listening outside this man’s home. This vampire’s home. Clenching my teeth, I pulled at the vampire’s wrist. I would not be his victim.
He remained steadfast, proving my weakness. “Don’t scream. Don’t run. Don’t do anything that would force me to hurt you, because I’ve had a lot of practice.” His crisp voice caressed my ear, and his breath moved tendrils of light brown hair, tickling the flesh on my neck. “Do you understand?”
While he meant the words as a threat, I couldn’t help the way my body responded to his intensity. I nodded, forcing my thoughts back into place. If he attacked, I needed to remember my Militia training.
The vampire released me, but he stayed still as if waiting for my next move.
Slowly and carefully, I scooted away and turned to face him. My eyes had gradually adjusted to the darkness, allowing me to see more clearly in the dimly lit room than a humn would. What a sight he was. I brushed my fingertips over my sore lips.
Crouching in the shadows, he wore a navy-blue dress shirt with the buttons undone to show off his pale, sculpted chest, and dark jeans that snugly fit his long legs. I’d only seen a few vampires, and none of them had looked this exquisite.
My eyes widened as he ran a hand through his shoulder-length black hair. His gaze had dropped to my lips, and I lowered my hand. Hunger burned in his deep blue eyes; I prayed it wasn’t bloodlust.
What was I thinking? Our species didn’t see eye to eye on anything except survival. The Feud between vampires and werewolves had raged on for centuries now since well before bickering humans shot the moon with a nuke after a resource dispute and nearly killed the world’s population. Little did my ancestors know just how much and how fast the world would change. Instead of bridging the gap, vamps and wolves had grown even further apart. No one remembered what or whom first started the divide, but neither race spent any effort on diplomatic relations.
Kill or be killed.
I took a deep breath and sat a little straighter. With space between us, my fear lessened. The Militia had taught me to defend myself against hunters and other nocturnes. They made sure I wouldn’t be easy prey for the enemy. Of course—they preferred to have my womb protected since it ensured our race would live on.
Bitterness soured my taste buds, and the urge to spit overwhelmed me.
Admittedly, vampires were the hardest foes to defeat, and I couldn’t practice my skills much these days. Not with Father keeping me almost literally a prisoner in my own home.
But if I had to fight this vampire, I would go out having inflicted a lot of pain.
“Why did you help me?” I asked, keeping my gaze on the wall near his head. No way would I look into his eyes. While I was strong, I wasn’t stupid. His kind could easily manipulate, and I had no idea what he had in mind.
“I think it was your caramel-brown eyes, love.” He leaned into my line of sight, but I looked away. Instead, he closed the space between us in a heartbeat and gently stroked his index finger along my jaw.
The sudden intrusion on my personal space had me jerking away, but with my back so close to the wall, I had nowhere to run. “How could it have been my eyes?” I crossed my good arm under my breasts, but that drew his attention down to my chest. Not what I’d intended. “I’m sure you couldn’t have seen them while I was running from the hunters.”
With a sensual swipe of his tongue, he licked his lips. His gaze lifted to meet mine, but I quickly averted my eyes. “You caught me.”