The Demon Accords Compendium, Volume 1: Stories from the Demon Accords Universe

The Demon Accords Compendium, Volume 1

How it all started – from another pair of eyes. How to raise a God Touched exorcist. Extracurricular college fun. What do you get the vampire who has everything – excitement. Four stories from the Demon Accords Universe starring some favorite characters and introducing a new one. Novella length fun.

Praise for The Demon Accords Compendium, Volume 1

If you’re a fan of The Demon Accords series, you’ll enjoy these short ancillary stories to tide you over until the next installment. We see the main characters and their friends with greater depth and complexity as the stories are told from different points of view. It’s fun to see our heroes and their buddies through another lens. I love these books, pure escapism with a firm understanding of martial arts techniques and firearms to back up the fantasy. Such fun to read!

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First Impressions

It all started for Chris with a trip to a NYC club. But what was that like for the others? Let’s take a look through Lydia’s eyes and find out…

“Five minutes,” Stevens said from the driver’s seat of the limo.

“Thanks darling,” I said with a smirk. Stevens was an unabashed player, a skirt chaser… or a philanderer, as my mother might have said. But only with humans, and never with staff. For some reason, he got ultra-embarrassed when it was brought up in front of Tanya. I could literally feel the heat rise in his face from my spot in the backseat.

Tanya’s face stayed blank… until Stevens’ attention reverted to the road ahead. Then she gave me a little smile. Nothing wrong with her sense of humor.

Her smile changed and she turned it fully on me. I sighed. “Of course we will dance,” I said. Her smile broadened. I couldn’t read her mind like Nika could, but I had been reading my girl her whole life. She could convey entire volumes with very, very small shifts of expression or body language, at least if you knew her well enough.

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She smoothed her short white dress against her thighs, a sign of happy anticipation. She does love to dance. Not as much as fighting or winning at business, but a close third. I glanced across her to the stunning blonde in the red dress on her other side. Nika, the third of our fearsome three. Red, white, and… black. My dress was the black one.

Nika’s eyes were unfocused and I suspected she was checking things out at Plasma before we got there. She frowned, still unseeing.

“Everything copacetic?” I asked.

“Vadim seems concerned,” she said, still concentrating.

I sat up a little while Tanya chose to slump back in her seat. Prior history had shown that a concerned head of security often meant a cancellation of the night’s dancing.

“And?” I asked, slightly annoyed that I had to drag it out of her.

She frowned again, then her eyes cleared and she turned to look at me. “Some NYPD, off duty. One’s a regular, the other two are new, likely rookies. One of those has piqued his interest,” she said.

“Cops? Is he sure?”

“Yeah, the senior guy is a Plasma regular; you’d know him if you saw him. Vadim always lets him through the line. Looks like he’s leading a celebration of sorts.”

“So what’s the deal with the one rookie?”

“Well… he’s got violet eyes,” she said, frowning again.

“That’s it?” I asked, making no attempt to hold back a snort. “What’s the matter with violet? Is Vadim smitten or something?”

Galina, who sat across from the three of us, put her hand over her cell phone and turned her sharp eyes on me. Oops. Might have gotten a little loud there. But for good reason. Tanya had perked up as soon as I had spoken. I’d take heat from the Ice Queen anytime if it resulted in my girl being even remotely happy.

Point made, Mama Fang went back to her business call. I looked at Nika and raised both eyebrows. Well? I thought as loud as I could.

“Well, the eyes caught Vadim’s attention, and on top of it, he thinks the guy is a fighter,” Nika said, giving me a slightly apologetic smile.

“He’s a cop. They’re supposed to be fighters—it comes with the job,” I said.

“Yes, but he’s different. Got a different feel to him,” she said.

“And?” I pushed. It honestly wasn’t usually this hard with Nika, but mind reading isn’t an exact art and she’s the best there is, so I had to be patient. Or at least as patient as I could be. While I waited, my hands grabbed a laptop and I signed into the security system at the club.

“Not sure. I can’t explain it. But he’s not like any human I’ve ever scanned. Nothing overt or seemingly dangerous, but, well… curious,” she said.

The camera by the front door was very high quality, but the detail of the three men in front of Vadim wasn’t good enough to deflect my sudden concerns. One of the men, the shortest, stood in a confident stance. Not enough information either way.

Tanya was looking at her hands on her legs, but now her eyes cut my way. I sighed again. “Dancing is still on, but I think it’ll be you and Nika. I’m gonna have to at least put some eyes on this cop,” I said.

She held my gaze and when I didn’t blink, she gave me a little nod. She’d be happier if all three of us were dancing but she understood how seriously I took her safety.

The limo braked smoothly, Stevens handling the big car as well as most Darkkin could. We were at the back of the club and a small army of Darkkin streamed out of the darkness to surround the car and cover our exit from it.

“Clear,” was the soft word from the young Darkkin security guard who was leading this effort. Trenton was his name, I seemed to recall. The three of us moved—clearing the car and into the building in a literal blink of an eye. Galina chose to follow at normal speed, still talking on her ever-present phone. She was young to hold the responsibility that she did, but much of that was due to her daughter. Still, she was at least three times my age and for all that, she’d taken to modern technology like a wino takes to booze.

Inside, I could feel the beat of the band, even as far from the dance floor as we were. Nika and Tanya headed toward the staff rooms while I veered off and found the club manager.

“Three cops, newly arrived—I’ll take their table,” I said. She raised both eyebrows. “At least for the first round,” I said. Brows still raised, she just nodded. “Second floor, east alcove bar,” she said as I pulled on a Plasma t-shirt over my LBD. The shirt was a small but it was still loose enough to cover the top of the dress and make it look like I was regular staff. Grabbing a tray, I headed out into the club.

The joint was packed, pretty much as it had been ever since we’d opened it. The place was in the black, profit wise, in less than six months after the ribbon cutting. The whole idea of the club came from Tanya, silently conveyed to her mother on paper.

Humans are weird. I know I used to be one, but it’s been long enough that I find it harder and harder to relate to them. Some were dressed in black Victorian clothing, fashions that I actually remembered. Others wore regular club clothes, but more and more, the clientele was shifting to the goth look. I spotted my cops right away, sitting at a small table near the railing. Nika was right—the senior cop was a regular, and enough of a skirt hound in his own right to give even Stevens a run for his money. He looked slightly annoyed, most likely because none of the staff had approached their table yet. He spotted me beelining for them and relaxed ever so slightly.

I swished up to them, slipping into the role. “Ah, hi. I’m—” the player started but I interrupted before he could finish. “You’re Officer Henderson. Welcome to Plasma. I am Lydia,” I said, putting on my vampire voice, whatever the hell that was. Honestly, I’d been skeptical about the whole vampire club thing but Tanya had been adamant it would both be a huge hit and that the world would not take it seriously. She’d been so right.

Henderson was tall and good-looking in that confident alpha way a lot of cops had. The guys with him were young, early twenties, both staring at me, eyes slightly widened. The one to his left was boy-next-door bland, excited to be out but trying to act cool. Tall and thin. The other one… had honest-to-God purple eyes.

Other humans likely wouldn’t really notice them in the low light of the club, but to my eyes they popped. A fantastic violet color that I had never seen on any person in my life. He was shorter than the others, maybe five-ten or five-eleven, but much better built. Wide shoulders, and his thin sweater clung to a nice chest, while the pushed-up sleeves revealed muscular forearms attached to large, strong-looking hands. Even features, good cheekbones; he was cute, but different. His smile was quick, too brief, and his purple eyes had something about them—a sadness maybe.

Henderson ordered a Moscow Mule, while tall and skinny asked for a Bacardi and Coke. Purple eyes quietly requested a Corona—with lime.

I turned and headed to the closest bar, which was just across the room. It was a single bartender station and not meant for waitress orders, but I wanted to keep eyes on the eyes, so to speak. The vampire behind the bar turned to warn me off his station, then realized who I was. His mouth shut, thank God, and he moved out of my way while I prepared the drinks.

Watching without being obvious is literally an inborn Darkkin talent, so I had no trouble observing my cops even as the two youngest basically stared my way. Tanya had written out the underlying psychology of her business plan, and she had hit the thing right on the head. On some level, humans sensed the presence of predators when we were among them, but their modern ignorance of things supernatural blunted their instincts. The result they felt at Plasma was what Nika described as a delicious spike of adrenaline with no obvious source. Nothing bad ever happened to humans in Plasma—we were ultra careful about that—so the instinctive thrill of our presence kept them titillated but comfortably unaware.

I had read reviews that compared Plasma to a haunted theme house mixed with an exclusive nightclub venue. Humans found it fascinating to observe us but rationalized to themselves that we were just actors following a script. We were just being ourselves, which was hugely appealing to Darkkin normally forced to conceal our nature, hence the plentiful employees willing to work as servers and wait staff, jobs usually beneath our pride.

The two young cops were staring at me, their instincts likely screaming at them to keep eyes on the predator. Henderson was already making conversation with a nearby table of gothed-up office workers, leaving the two newbie cops to talk about the club. I shamelessly listened in from across the room.

“Dude, this place is off the chain!” the tall, skinny one said.

“It’s actually pretty cool,” purple eyes said. He had the tiniest of accents.

“They must spend a fortune in contact lenses, don’t you think, Chris? Did you see our waitress’s eyes?”

“Yeah, they all have really cool makeup, but look how the staff moves. I think they hire dancers or acrobats or something,” Chris Purple Eyes replied.

I brought them their drinks, freely putting my Darkkin grace on display. It was kind of liberating to move as we normally did. Henderson took his drink with a nod, attention focused on the blonde he was chatting up at the table behind them. Lanky was trying for cool but his eyes widened a bit and I heard his heart speed up. Purple eyes narrowed his peepers at me, just slightly, and his heart rate stayed surprisingly even. “Thank you,” he said, his partner just staring. I withdrew to the shadows and watched.

They were both kids but young Officer Eyes was different. Calm, focused, polite, and… sad. Oh, this one would be major bait for the real goth girls in the club. In fact, he was drawing a few stares of his own, but for all his alertness, he didn’t seem to notice. Instead, he studied everything else around him, dismissing his fellow humans but focusing his attention on the bartender, frowning slightly. His partner gulped down his rum and Coke, a not uncommon side-effect of the subconscious fear humans felt at Plasma—our bar sales were through the roof. Officer Eyes sipped his beer like it was the last one he’d ever drink.

When I noticed Officer Henderson tipping his copper mug to drain the last dregs and that the Bacardi cop had already finished his, I brought a second round to the table.

“Compliments of management. Thank you for your community service, Officers,” I said, showing off just a little as I smoothly snatched up the empties and laid out the fresh drinks. Eyes was still holding his first beer, and it was only a third gone. His eyes locked on mine as I served them. I made sure to lean close when I put his new beer in front of him, taking a slow, deliberate sniff. “You boys must be fresh from the Academy to smell so healthy and in shape,” I said, letting my eyes linger on their throats here and there.

“Six months out of it, ma’am,” the rum drinker said, his new beverage already half gone. “We just came off probation,” he said, holding out his glass for his interesting young partner to clink with his bottle.

I had thought to check out these cops, clear my concerns, and get back to my real work. But this kid was so oddly different that I couldn’t, in good conscience, stop observing just yet. Too self-possessed, too calm and controlled, too intriguing looking and too damned delicious smelling.

No Darkkin ever imbibed from a human visitor to Plasma. That was rule one and only older, strongly self-disciplined vampires were allowed at the club. This was the first time I regretted that rule.

With my odd cops under immediate control, I cycled back to check on T. She was holding court in the staff lounge. Not that she was doing anything as deliberate or calculated as holding court but, nonetheless, that was the de facto result.

Darkkin are drawn to Tanya like moths to light. I’ve seen it time and again. They don’t even have to see her; they can literally feel her presence, I think. What I found in the lounge was Tanya sipping blood from a mug, listening as vampires spoke to her. She nodded, shrugged or shook her head when needed, which wasn’t all that often. The fact that she didn’t speak, hadn’t spoken in fifteen years, didn’t seem to dampen her admirers’ enthusiasm. She listened to them all with patience beyond her years. There was only one kind of admirer who would be turned away—the ones who couldn’t contain their physical attraction for her. Male or female, she would quickly and succinctly decline their advances. She wasn’t interested. If they pushed, she’d push back. I was certain she wasn’t asexual; no one who dances like she does could be, but she hadn’t found anyone who piqued her interest in that way.

I had heard the rumors; hell, I’d had some of the same thoughts myself. That her traumatic past had blocked her emotional development, stunted her feelings. I didn’t believe any of them any more. It was more like she was… waiting.

One of the regular wait staff came in. “Oh, Lydia. Your table needs another round. Well, at least two of them do,” she said to me.

Nika raised an eyebrow at me, smirking.

Yeah, he’s interesting as hell, but I don’t know why—I thought at her. Her smirk quirked into a real smile and she nodded in agreement before turning to keep an eye on T and her current petitioner.

Blue, blue eyes glanced at me then away, telling me that Tanya was, on some level, aware of my back and forth with Nika, and a bit curious.

I circled back to the boys out of blue, bringing another Mule and another rum and Coke. Officer Eyes was only just starting his second Corona. He watched me as soon as I entered their space, eyes curious, alert, and nowhere near as intoxicated as his friends were getting.

The pattern repeated itself several times, waitress duty, Tanya duty. I judged T as being just a short time from abandoning her faithful admirers and dragging Nika to the dance floor. Taking another swing by the coppers, I took a new approach. Coming up behind the intriguing one, using every bit of Darkkin skill and stealth, I leaned down by that sweet-smelling neck.

“Falling behind your friends a bit there, ay North boy?” I said in his ear. He didn’t jump but I finally got the heartbeat flutter I’d been missing. He paused a second, taking in the tiniest gulp of air, then turned his head to meet my gaze.

“How do you know I’m from the North and not Canada?” he asked, puzzled. I’m next to his throat and that’s what he focuses on?

I didn’t let on how gratifying it was that my ear for dialects hadn’t let me down. “Your accent. Kinda like a Canadian, but still not exactly like it. Ay, ya hoser,” I said. “So you look like you could use a shot to catch up with your pals.”

His response was instant. “No, one of us needs to keep his wits about him in this wicked nest of vampires,” he said with a smile. It came across as joking but he meant it.

“Oh, you’ll be safe enough, Officer. We don’t eat our civil servants,” I said.

Mission accomplished, I spun around and headed back. On impulse, I glanced back, catching him watching my exit. A drunk guest took a swipe at my behind, but humans will never catch a vampire who doesn’t want to be caught. That second Corona was almost gone and I decided to grab him another. For some reason, I wanted to see his guard go down. Below, I heard soft Darkkin voices warning that Tanya and Nika were headed out for the next song. Instead of joining them, I decided to see what Officer Eyes thought of my girl. Fresh beer on tray, I circled the floor, coming back to my table. Officer Eyes was gone. I did a quick scan. No, he was by the railing, looking down. The house lights dimmed as they always do when our dancing is about to begin. Because it’s such a regular occurrence, many of the club guests knew what that meant.

“Tatiana, Tatiana, Tatiana, Tatiana,” began to echo through all three levels of the club. It was now too dark for humans to see much, but I could see Officer Chris like it was merely dim. He seemed to be systematically searching the crowd below. The excitement in the place was palpable, the chanters shortening their call to just “Tat.”

Below, on the dance floor, the band began a new song, one of Tanya’s favorites. People at the railings began to shove a bit, jockeying for a better vantage point. My subject had stopped his search and turned his oh-so-interesting gaze on the dance floor. The song exploded and the spotlights blasted the center of the floor. I didn’t have to look to know that Tanya and Nika would be killing it. Hell, normally I’d be right there with them. It was too loud to hear heartbeats, but I could see the pulse jump on my officer’s neck as he took in the sight below him, finally reacting to something in a normal way. Suddenly, he stepped back, shocked for a second, and I just knew he’d seen my girl. She has that effect on almost everyone, mesmerizing the masses without effort. But his stunned look changed to something else, something that greatly disturbed me—recognition. Now my guard came up. How could he recognize her?

And then he did the unthinkable: He looked away from her and went back to his scan of the bar area below. There was something almost frantic about it and it held back my first impulse, which had been to grab him and drag him away for questioning. He had recognized Tanya, but he was looking for someone else, and he was most anxious to find them. His head scanned the crowd then suddenly snapped back, his eyes narrowing, expression changing from worried to another look that I knew intimately—predatory.

Now he was moving, heading for the stairway down. He jigged and jived his way through the crowd. I shifted to keep him in sight, and his head snapped my way. Bright violet eyes locked onto me for a split second, then he dismissed me, his head whipping around to look back. He tensed up for a moment, then relaxed minutely as he spotted whoever had dragged his attention away from Tanya. He leaned against a post, indexing his body toward the dance floor, but his face was angled toward the bar. I moved, sliding over to look down where he was looking. Nothing and no one stood out, at least to me, but he was locked like a hound on a scent.

The song ended and the regular house lights came up. Officer Chris headed down the stairs, moving through the crowd, his body language telling me he was on the hunt. For who?

“They’re leaving the floor,” the club manager said in a low voice, the Darkkin equivalent of a PA announcement. I still couldn’t see who the cop was following, no matter how hard I tried. There was a sense of someone moving through the crowd, but I couldn’t quite get a view of him. Chris the cop seemed to have no trouble and now his path took him behind a couple of the Darkkin bodyguards assigned to keep anyone from getting into the employee-only section.

I watched him walk right behind one of the guards, just slipped right through two experienced vampires.

“Hey, there you are. What do you think?” Nika said suddenly. I turned around and found her standing by my side—alone.

“Where’s T?” I asked, looking behind and around her.

“She went through the door,” she said, pointing. “She wanted…” Her voice trailed off and her eyes narrowed as she picked up something on her Nika radar. “Attack! Tanya’s been attacked!” she said, voice loud by vampire standards.

I moved, breezing past the two guards. “This way,” I said. I felt Nika and the guards behind me as I followed Tanya’s scent trail, along with the scent of the cop and something else—something that stunk of sulfur.

Vadim was suddenly by my side and when I hit the next door hard enough to tear it from its hinges, I followed it and let him by me to deal with anything or anyone hostile. My only thought was Tanya.

There she was—standing in a pool of blood, hers by the scent, her white dress now scarlet and torn. Yet she stood tall and strong, unbroken skin, healthy and whole, showing through the sections of torn and ruined cloth. She was holding up the cop, who leaned like a drunk against stacked supplies. A silver blade and two silver spikes lay on the floor in front of them.

Vadim cocked his arm, ready to kill the first human ever in Plasma and instead locked up tight at the brain-freezing sound of “Nyet!” that came from… Tanya.

I felt her command seize up my body even as my brain processed the fact that she had just spoken a word, had yelled out a command. The whole group who had responded turned to look at our natural-born princess. Then Nika and I were moving, shoving through the others to get to our Tanya.

Details speared my mind. She was holding him. He was reeling from blood loss. Her blood was spread everywhere but she was fine—perfect. A smear on the corner of her lips. She had drunk his blood—a lot of his blood. And now she protected him. And had spoken for the first time in fifteen years.

Behind me, I sensed Galina arriving. “What is all this?” she asked in Russian.

“Mother, I was attacked. This man helped me. The attacker ran down the hall and out the back exit,” Tanya said, also in Russian, not smoothly but clearly understandable.

Guards turned and moved after the attacker. Nika was right up on Chris the cop, studying him. “The attacker was thin and reedy lo-” Tanya started, still speaking Russian, but Nika interrupted her.

“He’s lost a lot of blood. He needs fluids, like now!” our blonde mind reader said in English.

Tanya turned to me. “Lydia?” she asked. From her, it was a cry for help. Not again, never again. Not another death laid upon her fangs on my watch!

“I’m on it,” I said, moving like I’d never moved before. We were in the storage section, so I only had to travel back through the torn doorway and grab the first fluids stacked on the pallets in the hallway. Behind me, I heard Galina ask the cop his name.

“Chris… Chris Gordon,” I heard in that lightly accented voice.

“He’s a cop,” I said, popping back into the room, handing him the drink. He took it, looked at it, eyebrows raising in astonishment, then, despite reeling from blood loss, surrounded by hyped-up vampires, he laughed. He was staring at the drink, red Gatorade, and it took a second for the irony to hit me. I found myself preoccupied by the look on Tanya’s face as she watched his every move. It was a… possessive look. Oh my.

“He’s here with some cop friends. I watched him follow some guy who was following Tanya,” I said.

Despite being wobbly, he got the cap off the bottle and took a healthy swig. Funny, but his heart sounded pretty good. Tanya must have either not taken as much blood as she’d lost or… No… that couldn’t be… Could it?

Nika was also studying Officer Chris, and I was dying to know what she heard. Her eyes widened. “He is a hunter of something… demons, I think. At least he thinks he is. He thinks maybe we will kill him now and he will fight us, but is almost relieved. Almost as if he would welcome it,” she said, all in Russian.

Chris frowned, clearly not understanding but somehow thoroughly annoyed with us.

“Well, you people don’t need me for your private conversations, so I’ll just be going,” he said.

He stood, weak like a kitten but ready to go. One of the guards, Arkady, stepped forward aggressively, face transforming into full-on vampire. “You go nowhere, human blood bag,” he snarled. No, no you idiot! I thought. Arkady was old, didn’t he see the signs? Nika glanced at me, eyes wide.

A mix of emotions flashed across the young police officer’s face. Fear, followed by anguish, followed quickly by rage. Nika gasped. I ignored her, too concerned with the next few seconds. Chris leaned down and grabbed one of the bloody spikes on the floor. He wiped it on his sleeve and then took a knife fighter’s stance. Shit, shit, shit! The situation was devolving quickly.

“Fuck off, Fang! Why don’t you come over here? I’ll show you where I keep the good silver,” the young idiot said to the pissed-off warrior vampire.

Before anyone else could screw up, before I could even form a thought, Tanya moved. So fast even my vampiric vision couldn’t follow her actions. She just simply was there—standing between Arkady and the cop, her back to the deadly silver spike, every bit of her focused on the threatening vampire. And she was growling. A deep, deadly growl that somehow conveyed instant death to the much larger vampire. It was a crystal clear message that if he twitched, she would end him.

For his part, Arkady was smart enough to realize that he stood no chance if she wanted him true dead. In fact, no one in the building other than Vadim stood a chance against her, and even then I’d put my money on Tanya. Vadim was her instructor and sparring partner, but I don’t think my girl had been going all out in their almost daily contests. I don’t think she’d been that motivated. But that had changed. In the last five minutes, a great deal had changed.

“Enough!” Galina said into the tension. “Arkady, get the clean-up gear and get rid of this blood. Tanya, calm down. No one will hurt him.” Her voice stayed even but her orders to Arkady were as firm as her assurances to Tanya were real. One of her gifts. She recognized that something major had just happened with her daughter, but I wondered if she realized just what. Observant but not always sensitive, our Galina.

Arkady moved backward and down the hall, wisely clearing himself from the immediate danger zone.

Tanya relaxed and turned to check over her cop. And he was her cop. I could see that possessiveness in every inch of her being. Whoa, whoa, whoa!

Nika’s eyes kept flaring and I was dying to know what the kid was thinking that kept surprising her so.

“My apologies, Officer Gordon. Arkady is a trifle overzealous. But where are my manners? I am Galina Demidova; you have met my daughter Tatiana. This is Nika. You have already met Lydia. This is Vadim, our head of security,” Galina said, pointing us all out.

Recognition of the name Demidova flashed across his face. Then he turned and looked at Tanya, then back at Galina, visibly comparing the two. They looked enough alike to make him realize the truth of her words. The truth that had set the Darkkin world on fire twenty-three years ago. The truth that almost started a civil war. Nika smirked at the kid and he turned his puzzled gaze on her. Realization flooded his features.

“Some can,” Nika said to something he was thinking. I could easily guess the trail of his thought. Damn, this kid was fast. Low blood drunk and surrounded by vampires and he was arriving at answers faster than any normal human should.

“So is your daughter Tatiana or Tanya? I’m confused… more confused?” he asked. Of all the things to ask, he chose to ask about the girl. Either super smart or super lucky.

“Tatiana is her formal name, Tanya is her short name. Like Jennifer and Jen,” Galina answered.
“Officer Gordon, would you be so kind as to tell us what happened here?”

He looked back at her for a second, then glanced over all the vampires, looked at Nika, met my gaze, and finally looked directly at Tanya. Then he nodded, as if it was a big decision.

And launched into a story. A story of visions, demons, Hell, and our princess. He reached out and grabbed an inventory clipboard, flipping the paper over, his bloody fingers smearing the white with red. A short, stubby pencil appeared from his back pocket and he started to draw. The truly odd part was that he never once looked at what he was drawing, instead continuing to talk about demons from Hell in our club. He was done so fast, I thought he must have just scribbled, but then he handed the picture to Tanya and slumped back on his crate. I looked over her shoulder, feeling Nika and Galina moving up beside me to look as well. It was sharp, detailed, and sophisticated, showing a clear depiction of a man with a knife, body angled to attack a spiked and wounded Tanya.

“That’s your guy… er… demon. Demon ridden, if you want to get technical. I call them Hellbourne. The body is just a shell,” he said.

“How do you know all this? How can you know all this?” I asked, mouth running away from brain.

Galina gave me a glare. I don’t really answer to her although I have to keep on her good side if I want my job to run smoothly. North boy thought about my question, brow furrowing.

“The clergy say that I’m God Touched. Personally, I think He bitch slapped me. We have agreed to disagree on that point,” he said.

“Clergy?” Galina asked.

“Yeah, well, the various churches come to me for their tougher exorcisms. The prayers and holy water routine doesn’t always work,” he said with a casual shrug.

“And you do?” Galina pressed.

“I don’t use their techniques. I’m more of a hands-on kinda guy,” he said, shrugging again. “The entities that make up most possessions are pretty easy to yank out and send back to Hell. Plus I’m nondenominational.”

I knew from the moment I saw him that the kid was different, but this? This was too much. He looked around at us, swigging his drink. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he continued. “You all seem to be having a lot more trouble believing me than I’m having believing all this,” he said, waving one hand at us and especially at Tanya. Girl was focused on him like a spotlight.

Galina, who had frozen into contemplation at his words, suddenly shook herself out of the spell. “I’m afraid we need to ask you for your clothes, as we must burn all of Tatiana’s blood that has been spilled. Nika, please get Tatiana cleaned up. Lydia, would you find Officer Gordon some new clothes?”

Nika dragged Tanya toward the staff rooms while I surveyed the kid, guessing sizes, which, by the way, I’m pretty damned good at. Vadim grabbed a garbage bag and stepped up to the kid, so I shot up the hall and followed the ladies into the staff lounge. The shower was already running in the dressing room and I heard her voice again. “But is he really okay, Nika? Is he going to be… alright?”

“You heard his heart, T. It evened right out as soon as he started to drink the alligator stuff Lydia gave him,” Nika answered.

“It’s Gatorade, Nika,” Tanya said with a little relieved laugh. I listened shamelessly as I rummaged through lockers and boxes of uniforms. I could listen to her voice all night. Fifteen years and now she was back. Which reminded me. I took out my phone and texted She spoke! then went back to my rummaging. Shirt was easy; we had boxes of them. Pants, though, that took a few moments till I found the last pair of leather pants we had on hand. The kid had a waist as narrow as most Darkkin males. I judged he would fit our most common size. The shower cut off and I shot back out into the hallway.

The kid was leaning against the stack of crates the drink almost gone, wearing just a pair of black boxer-briefs, which in my opinion was the best answer you could have to the age-old question of “briefs or boxers.”

“Damn, Northern! Do you live at the gym or what?” I asked, handing him the clothes. I knew my words would be heard up the hallway, inside the dressing room, and I started a countdown in my head. Ten, nine, eight…

The kid wrestled the pants onto his well-built bod in a most enjoyable manner, barely getting them on when I heard the staff lounge door open behind me. His eyes snapped up at the sound, his body freezing, still holding the shirt. A quick glance back showed Tanya gliding down the hall, herself obviously rushed into some of her spare clothes. She was drinking him in and when I looked at the kid, he looked like Vadim had punched him in the face. Hah!

Tanya went right up to him, ignoring everyone else in the room, her focus now on the odd pendant that hung between his sharply defined pectorals. Looked like an arrowhead and a feather. She glanced at his eyes, then back down, and I read a sudden shyness in her actions. Very subtle, but there if you knew what to look for. She reached out to touch the soft feather, then looked back up at him. He nodded permission and she took the whole amulet into her hand. I saw her mouth open to ask a question but before she could, he reached up and pulled the leather thong over his head and then over hers. Her eyes widened and her mouth snapped shut.

“Aww, is cute that we are giving friendship gifts now,” Arkady suddenly said from behind me. Really, dude? Have you completely missed what’s going on? Did you forget the part where she was ready to kill you?

“Well, seeing as the Hellbourne walked within two feet of your blind ass on his way to kill Tatiana, maybe you don’t have a friggin’ clue what you’re talking about,” Chris said. Damn, he’s cheeky too. The points kept adding up.

“You call me Tanya. Not Tatiana,” our princess suddenly said, staring him in the eyes.

He didn’t know what that meant and I could see the self-doubt form in his eyes. “Oh, er, sorry. No offense,” he said. Oh shit, he was the anti-player. Not totally a bad thing, but some game would be good.

“She wants you to call her by the name her friends and family use, not her formal name,” I said. A tiny light of understanding bloomed on his face. He nodded. Then he got weird. He looked her up and down, only his eyes were unfocused. Then he backed up, using one hand to steady himself while he continued to stare at her in that strange zombie way.

“Explain please,” Galina asked, waving a hand at the necklace.

“Well, when I banish demons, I give off a lot of… power. Objects made of stone tend to absorb some of that power and sort of store it, like a battery. I usually carry a piece of carved soapstone with me when I exorcise a house or apartment, Indian fetishes. I leave it behind as a protection. If any other demons come around, they will shy away from the stone. They’ve helped a few people who, for one reason or another, tend to draw demonkind.”

“Is that arrowhead such a fetish?” Galina asked.

“Better. I’ve had it since I was a kid and it’s absorbed some power every time I have kicked Hellbourne ass. Which would be something like, oh about… thirty-seven times or so. Not counting exorcisms.”

“Why?” Tanya suddenly asked.

“Er, what?” he asked.

“Why do you give it to me?” she asked.

“Well, the demon that wants your blood will be back. If it is during the day tomorrow, I’ll probably be able to nail his ass. But this should protect you if I’m not here. It will make you invisible to him and it will repel him, as well. But I want to boost it if I can. I’ll feel better if it is ramped up a bit more,” he said. He paused and looked uncertain.

Galina leaned forward. “So do it!” she ordered in her typical way.

Annoyance flashed across his face and I half expected him to tell her to shove it. Nika smothered a snort, earning herself a quick glare from Galina.

“Well, I’m gonna spill a drop of my own blood and I’m just wondering…”

“Go ahead. We can probably control ourselves,” Galina said, eyes narrowed. Actually, my impression was that we had better damned well control ourselves or Tanya would object—strenuously.

I’ve seen hardened combat vets and old career cops shake with fear when presented with the reality of vampires, but this kid was cool as a cucumber. Just plucked a pocket knife from his personal stuff, flicked it open, and aimed it at his right index finger. He paused for a moment, visibly concentrating, and I suddenly felt the hair on my neck lift just slightly. Something was happening. Then the knife darted down and the tip kissed the end of his finger. He squeezed the pad of his index finger between his thumb and middle finger, a big red dot blossoming.

Every vampire in the room smelled that blood and we all leaned forward, if ever so slightly. Tanya’s eyes flared and she tensed, turning slightly to let us all see her expression. The young cop standing so close to her missed all that, his attention on the arrowhead, which he turned over and pressed the blood onto.

“Ah, that needs to be against your skin, um, like under your shirt,” he said, suddenly choosing to be nervous. A room full of vampires, a bleeding finger, and he gets nervous talking about naked skin.

Tanya gently, slowly pulled the arrowhead from his hand, pulled the front of her shirt open and carefully placed the amulet between her breasts. Now the kid’s heartbeat chose to race like an engine.

He took a little step back, wiping his finger on his pant leg. After an awkward second, he let his eyes unfocus and tilted his head to look her over.

“I don’t know what you people do during the daytime, whether you go to sleep or lie in coffins or whatever, but you two,” he said, pointing at Nika and me, “might want to hang close to her. It can probably protect all three of you. You can leave Arkady out by the door as bait.” He was confident again, folding the knife and tucking into a pants pocket.

Arkady hissed at him but the big bodyguard was spraying bleach solution on the walls and floor, destroying Tanya’s invaluable blood. Without even a flinch, Chris focused on putting his shirt on. They ran a tad small, on purpose, and my selection was spot on. It was a fun show and Tanya was so focused on watching it that she didn’t notice the rest of us paying just as much attention to him. When he was done, it looked like he’d spray-painted it on. Damn I’m good.

“Officer Gordon, you are remarkably blasé about this situation. Most of your kind are scared witless by our presence, if in fact they live through the introduction. How is it that you aren’t?” Galina asked.

The friggin’ kid snorted. “You mean the vampire part? Most humans haven’t been hunting Hellbourne since they were twelve, either. Actually, I don’t think any other humans do what I do. Compared to demons, you all aren’t that scary. Plus I’m too damned tired at this point to give a crap.”

I knew nothing of demons, except that something had slid past all our security like it wasn’t there and almost killed one of the deadliest vampires on the planet. And this kid had been hunting them since puberty if not before. And his comment about being tired? Did he mean tired tonight with low blood, or tired of life?

Everyone had gone quiet, mainly to process his words. That would be unnerving to any human. This kid thought we were offended. His hands came up in a calm down gesture. “Oh, you’re scary enough, all right. Top predators and all. I’m sure that Lydia there could twist my head right off before I got done blinking, but really, what’s the worst you can do? Kill me? Torture me, then kill me? Big whup! Hellbourne can trap or foul my soul, haul me to Hell,” he said. Tanya’s eyes darted my way, narrowed when he mentioned me ripping his head off. Shit, what are you trying to do, kid? Get me in trouble?

“You really aren’t afraid of dying, are you?” Nika asked.

“You tell me, mighty Kreskin. Hell, I’ve outlived my death by about fifteen years,” he said, “Actually, I’ve been on borrowed time since the moment of birth, twenty-three years ago. Well, twenty-three in seven more days. If I get there.”

Vadim spoke just as I realized what that meant. “Halloween? You were born on Halloween?” he asked. That was Tanya’s birthday.

“Yeah. Spooky, isn’t it?” he asked with a sardonic smile. He had no idea. I glanced at Nika, then Galina. Both of them looked blank, which in Darkkin body language was the same as shock.

“Do you know the time of your birth?” Galina finally asked.

He frowned, looking around at us, baffled by her response. “Well, I’m told it was midnight. But I don’t really remember, being pretty young and all,” he said. Oh my God. The kid was a wiseass. I knew I liked him.

“Killing is not the worst,” Arkady, of all people, suddenly said. “We could Turn you.”

Chris turned to him, expression incredulous. “How is that worse? Let’s see, if the legends are true, I would be stronger, faster, tougher, and live a lot longer. The downside would be what, exactly? Liquid diet?”

My own face must have mirrored the kid’s by this time and I glanced aside at Nika. She kept her eyes on him, but her head shook gently side to side. He wasn’t lying. He wasn’t afraid of what we might do.

“Soul is lost when Turned,” Arkady said, his voice actually dramatic, like his was the final word on the matter.

If anything, Chris’s disbelief deepened. “My soul… lost? Why would my soul be lost? Yours aren’t!”

Oh my. My phone buzzed in my pocket. I ignored it, waiting to see what would come next. Nika spoke suddenly into the silence. “He believes we all still have souls,” she said, frowning.

From the moment I awakened as a vampire, I had been told that I had a new life, a life that could possibly last forever. But if I died a second time, it would be a true death. And there would be no afterlife for us.

“Yeah, because you do. I can see them,” Chris said. Then he turned and began to stuff his wallet, cash and personal stuff into his leather pants pockets.

“You can see souls?” Tanya asked him. He turned and looked at her. He nodded. “Yes. Yours all look white to me. Humans usually are some shade of blue.”

My phone buzzed again, insistent. It would only get more so, but this was too intense to even think of checking it.

Galina stepped forward a pace. “Let me get this right: you think you can see souls, and you think you can see ours?” she asked.

“Yup. I see all kinds of shit, some of which you apparently don’t. How else can I see Hellbourne? They can only occupy and use bodies that are soul-free. Meat shells,” he said.

My phone buzzed again. No, way. Too busy. “What does white mean?” I asked him.

He shrugged like it was no big deal that he’d just told the Darkkin race that their myth story was a lie. That salvation wasn’t denied them.

“I don’t know. Probably that you are a different species or something. You’re each slightly different. Tanya’s is wicked bright.” He leaned back and drank the last bit of his Gatorade. He already looked quite a bit better.

“White means evil!” Tanya suddenly said. She had been frozen, watching him, but now she looked disturbed.

“What?” he asked, frowning. “Since when does white mean evil? Why would you think that? Black means evil. Oily, greasy, stomach-turning black,” he said, shuddering as he remembered something. “I don’t think you’re necessarily evil, any more than wolves, bears, or tigers are evil. I’m not going to lie, though. You’re all pretty damn eerie, though.”

Tanya’s expression changed, changing from upset to angry. Angry he wasn’t listening to her words, angry he wasn’t taking this seriously. “You lie! You are a liar! You know we are evil!” she all but yelled. Not good.

My damned phone buzzed in my pocket again. My own fault… you can’t send that message to that individual and expect to be ignored. But this was too real-time important and that would be my rationale for taking too long to respond.

Chris was dumbstruck. His face went through a host of emotions: hurt, disbelief, anger, and did I mention hurt. He’d, purportedly, fought a demon, been fed on by a vampire (thus discovering that we were real), almost to the point of death, faced down a dozen of said vampires, and revealed that he was apparently, a demon hunter, almost from birth. But Tanya freaking out about her own identity issues (because when you accidentally kill your nursemaid as a child, you get the mother lode of issues) was the thing that rocked his world. Or maybe it was her calling him a liar.

The anger won out. “Righhht,” he said, his expression closing down. He set the empty bottle down and turned to Galina. “Well, thanks for the clothes and Gatorade and shit. Unless you’re gonna eat me, I’m leaving.” He stood up and marched forward. Two things struck me; one, he really wasn’t afraid of Vadim, and two, he was much, much steadier than he had been just minutes ago.

Both of theses mental items fought for my attention as the young cop walked out of the hallway, through the broken door, and out into the club, leaving the rest of us standing in various states of bemusement. Tanya immediately turned to me, her face screwed up with self-doubt. I read her concerns before she could voice them. Nodding, I followed the kid out into the club, his scent easy to track, even among the sweaty, hormone-ridden masses. A waiter passed me. “The cops you were watching left with some female guests,” he said. The thing about Darkkin is that we hear everything. Most of the staff knew about the attack and much of what was going down.

The only remaining cop, and the only one that mattered, was standing at the table he’d had with his friends. A new group had taken it over and one girl asked if he worked at the club. “Oh hell no! Just wearing the colors,” he said, tone cold enough to make the girl flinch. A little brutal, and yes he was still angry, but it was decidedly for the best if she lost interest immediately, if my guesses were true.

He turned around, putting his jacket on. “Your friends left with the girls they were hitting on,” I told him, stopping him in his tracks.

“Lucky them. Did they pay the tab?” he asked. “No,” the bartender thirty feet away said, only loud enough for me to hear. “Hundred and ten dollars.”

I shook my head at Chris.

“Bastards! How much?” he asked, jamming a hand into his pocket.

“One ten. But it’s on the house,” I told him.

He frowned, shook his head, and pulled out a money clip. Peeling off three fifties, he pushed them at me. I took them, a sudden flash of insight telling me that rejecting his payment would further alienate him.

He walked out of the club, not knowing I was following. Nika, I need a car and driver, asap, I thought. Outside, I found him pacing while he waited in the cab line. A black Aston Martin pulled around the corner and parked, the driver, Trenton, keeping his eyes on me. The kid finally got a cab and climbed in.

I slid into the Aston Martin, nodding at the cab I’d seen our young cop get into. Trenton pulled smoothly up behind it and I finally pulled out my phone. There were six texts, all the same: Update now.

Time was up. I typed furiously, as fast as my Darkkin speed would allow me.

Tanya attacked at Plasma. Rookie police officer intervened. She was gravely wounded and drank from him. She spoke when we arrived on the scene. Cop is some kind of exorcist. He says attacker is a, “Demon from Hell in a human shell.” The demon walked past Darkkin security without detection. Cop can sense and see them. Tanya exceedingly concerned with safety of this cop. I am following him to be sure he gets home.

And press send.

The response came in seconds. How badly was Tanya injured? How much blood taken from human? What authorities know? Analysis.

I sighed. The first parts were easy. It was her final command that would be… taxing.

T lost substantial volume. Wounded by silver in both shoulders. Ingested several pints from cop. No authorities know. Analysis: Cop has some arcane abilities. He says given by God. Tanya is fully healed with just one feeding. Should be on her way to Dr. S now. Cop should be showing more signs of blood loss. Isn’t. T extraordinarily focused and protective of cop. Press send.

Then after a second, I added a line—the most impactful. I believe she has Chosen. Press send.

I watched the phone, but nothing happened. Up ahead, the taxi carrying young Chris was threading smoothly through traffic and Trenton was staying back far enough to make it difficult for anyone in the cab to even see the black Aston.

My phone buzzed. G called. Similar report. Lighter on details. Then spoke to T, herself. Incredible. Continue your present course. Make sure this officer gets home safe. Nika has very interesting details. Confirm cop healthy.

Damn it. I was dying to know what Nika had picked up, but here I was trapped in the car babysitting a cop.

“He’s stopping,” Trenton said. I glanced up in time to see our subject get out of his cab next to an apartment building.

“Drive past and let me out. Circle back and wait for me,” I said, watching the young cop enter his building.

Trenton let me out half a block ahead and I ghosted into the shadows, moving back toward the building.

One wall was in darkness and I climbed it, Clinging to the side, sticking to every shadow and bit of gloom I could. I could hear nothing from the elevator, but moving around the outside a bit, I picked up the plod of tired feet climbing stairs. A door opened and closed on the second floor and footsteps walked down a hallway. A key turned in a lock and another door opened. Then a fridge door. Pouring sounds, followed by a cracking sound which took me a second to identify as an egg. Followed soon by two more eggs. Chugging sounds. A sigh. Glass on countertop. Feet plodding. Shoes falling to floor, one at a time. Sound of a body hitting a mattress. Steady breathing. Strong breathing. I strained my hearing to its utmost. Heartbeats. I focused, eliminating the old ones, young ones, small ones until I found just the right one: strong and even. Sleep tight, Officer Eyes.

Back on the ground, I located the car and moved quietly through the darkness till I could slip inside.

“Where is Tanya?”

“Vadim says she is at the mansion. Dr. Singh is giving her a check-up,” Trenton reported.

“Okay, let’s go.”

When we got to the massive brownstone that Galina was using as her current home in the Big Apple (she tends to change them up often), I found Doc Singh wrapping up his thorough check-up of our princess. She had her clothes back on and was recounting for a bemused Singh, his assistant, Nika, and Galina, the play-by-play of her encounter with the demon and the cop.

“You say you didn’t see this man till he had already shot you?” Singh asked in disbelief.

“I heard the door and turned but it was like there was this fuzzy blur, then I felt a hit in my left side, then my right and it burned, Doctor Singh, like a hot coal. Then Chris came in and drove the guy off.”

“Yes, my dear, silver burns a great deal, which is why I’m trying to wrap my head around your condition,” he said.

“Which is?” I interjected.

“Perfect.”

“Completely back to normal?” I asked, a hint of disbelief finding its way into my own voice.

“No… better. Her already superior vitals are slightly elevated,” the doctor said, shaking his head. “Just who is this cop? I want a sample of his blood.”

“NO,” Tanya said, her eyes narrowed. Instant response, instant anger. And she didn’t blink as she glared at the doctor who had taken care of her all her life. More evidence for my case.

“Ah, I was just interested in its composition, Tanya. You heal very fast, but silver slows all of us down,” he said, holding both hands open, clearly shocked at this new Tanya.

For her part, Tanya’s expression changed from an angry frown to a worried frown. “I took so much, Doctor. He can’t give any more,” she said, turning to me. She might be talking now but I could still read her body language.

“He’s fine. He went home, drank fluids with eggs, and went right to sleep. Heartbeat strong and normal,” I said.

“You saw his home?” she asked, eyes opening at the thought. The good doctor exchanged glances with Nika, who smiled, and Galina, who frowned.

“He lives in an apartment which I didn’t see, but the building looked pretty good,” I said.

“Does he have a roommate?” she asked. Oh, I see where this is going.

“No one in the place but him,” I said.

“Oh, I thought there might be someone… else,” she said.

“He strikes me as the loner type. He was very ill at ease in Plasma,” I said.

“He doesn’t like vampires,” she said, making it a statement.

“I don’t think it’s that, kiddo. His accent is from upstate, way, way upstate. He completely ignored most all of the people in the club except for me and the bartender and, of course, you when you were dancing,” I said.

“He saw me dance?” she asked, suddenly shy like a middle schooler. She’s almost twenty-three, the deadliest fighter I know, with killer business instincts, but in some ways she is still a child.

“I’ll say. Knocked him for a loop, but then he started looking for the Hell thingy, almost frantic to find it. Remember, he said he had a vision about you?”

She blurred across the room. Damn, that girl can move. She was back on the exam table, holding a certain piece of paper with a familiar picture on it.

Doc Singh had apparently not seen it and she handed it right over. Then a new frown appeared. “He shouldn’t have done that,” she said.

“Done what, dear heart?” Galina asked.

“When he pulled out the second dart, a piece broke off inside my chest. I pounced on him and drank from him and he… he reached in and pulled out the piece,” she said, pointing at a table in the corner where I could see a silver knife and dart and a small piece of silver. “I was preying upon him and he helped me. Why would he do that?” she asked.

“He likes you,” Nika said. “And to answer your earlier question, he has no girl in his life, or even close friends.”

Tanya didn’t say anything but instead just looked down at her lap, her hands smoothing her sweats on her legs.

“So what’s the story with him?” I asked Nika. Everybody in the room turned to look at our family telepath.

“Christian Gordon, rookie cop. As you say, he grew up way, way up state. Something tragic happened to his family many years ago. It involved one of those demons. He’s the only survivor. He had a few flashbacks, especially when Arkady got in his face. He was telling the truth. He’s been hunting demons his whole life and basically exorcises them by willpower or something. Something supernatural. It’s incredibly dangerous, as we saw by Tanya’s near call,” she said.

“Why was he so nonchalant about us?” Galina asked.

“He doesn’t expect to live very long. He’s also sad, tired, and lonely, and has been dealing with Hell since he was a child. He understood our advantages but he was already invested in Tanya’s survival. He thought we would kill him. I think he almost welcomed it,” she said. I snuck a peak at Tanya. Blue eyes as big as quarters soaked up every detail of the story with utter and complete fascination. She blinked at the last part and turned those eyes on the rest of us.

“We won’t. Kill him,” Tanya said. It wasn’t a question, more like a statement of fact. Or maybe… maybe a command. Her first ever. Actually, her second.

“Did you tell Senka all that?” I asked Nika, pointedly not looking at Galina and ignoring Tanya’s words . I caught a frown in my peripheral vision from Mama Fang.

“Not yet. Galina and Tanya spoke to her. She’s freeing up her schedule to get here before Tanya’s birthday bash if at all possible,” Nika said. Nika and I work together and we really only answer to Elder Senka, but Galina continually tries to bring us both to heel.

“I will inform Mother of the details,” Galina said, right on cue.

“Of course,” I said.

“He said he would be back,” Tanya said. “Tomorrow, to look for the demon.”

“We’ll have to see what he does, dear heart. He’s only human,” she said. Oh, that’s the direction? Wrong choice, Mama, wrong choice. She really hadn’t figured it out. Or was attempting to ignore the facts in hope that they would go away. Her little girl, who was also the basis of her personal power, had changed, drastically, in the course of five minutes. And those changes were still coming.

Decades ago, as a young girl, I traveled by train with my family out West on a winter trip. As we passed through the Rockies, the conductor pointed out an avalanche sliding down the side of one vast peak not overly far from our tracks. He turned to me with a wink and said, “Little lady, if you ever find yourself caught in an avalanche, don’t try to fight it. It will crush you. Instead, try to float on it or sort of swim with it.”

We were in the beginnings of an avalanche and Mama was fighting it. Nika and I were gonna sail a boat over the top of this one. My blonde friend caught my eye and winked.

“Well, Tanya. Lydia reports the police officer is okay and the good doctor has pronounced you fit. Perhaps it is time you settled in for the day, hmm?” Galina suggested.

“Okay,” Tanya said, back to looking demure. She agreed much, much too quickly. Galina eyed her for a moment, but she was the very essence of innocence when she looked up at her mother.

“Come on T, let’s go settle in. I’ll do your nails while Nika tells us about your personal cop,” I said, smiling at Tanya without a glance Galina’s way. I grabbed Tanya’s hand and pulled her toward her quarters, catching Nika’s eye. The three of us took off, leaving a frowning Galina behind.

Tanya has a huge room on the second floor, with its own private patio garden on the top of the conservatory space. It’s basically my second bedroom, mine and Nika’s. We’ve spent many, many days with Tanya. Not all, but many. Vampires are at least as social as humans, usually more so, although how we socialize is maybe different from the stock species. Touch and contact are often part and parcel of our connections.

Once inside, we changed into sleepwear and I broke out the nail care supplies. Tanya sat cross-legged, her left hand draped on my knee while I removed her old polish. Our nails extend when we fight, becoming true claws, and it’s hell on manicures. Hers were cracked and flaking.

“So… Nika?” Tanya asked. Nika lifted her head, ready to speak, but I held up a hand.

“Nope. Not yet. First, you maybe want to tell us what you’re feeling?” I asked. She looked reluctant. “Tanya, you’re speaking again. Hello, fifteen years?”

She met my gaze, then looked away. “He saved me. Then I attacked him and he saved me again. I think he touched my heart,” she said. I smirked and her eyes narrowed. “No Lydia, I mean it. He literally touched my heart when he took out that piece of silver. It was like a big shock.”

“Wait, you’re saying he reached into your open wound and literally touched your heart?” I asked.

“He reached in and grabbed the shard of silver. I think one of his fingers brushed my actual heart. I felt a shock. I think he did too,” she said.

“What happened after that?” I asked.

“It stopped me from feeding on him. Probably just in time,” she said, eyes going off to the side.

“Maybe, maybe not. But you stopped. That was your decision. He could have punched you in the head and you could have just ignored it. You needed blood. I saw what was on the floor. You, yourself, lost more blood than most Darkkin could and still function. And you only took a portion of his, nowhere near what you lost,” I said.

“But I’m fine, Lydia. Better than fine,” she said.

“Exactly my point, my dear,” I said, deciding to change topics. “So how did it taste? Your first live blood in fifteen years?”

Her eyes got wide. “Like no other blood I’ve ever had. Live or bagged.”

“Well, it has been a while,” Nika said.

“No, Nika. I’ve had blood so newly donated that the donor was still being bandaged when I drank it. People have brought me flavors of blood from all over the world. Nothing tasted like his,” she said, frowning.

“So your boy toy has super blood,” I said, picking through the reds in her collection of fingernail polish. Cliché, yes, but it seemed right. I picked a deep red.

“He’s not my boy toy,” she protested, suddenly crestfallen. “He doesn’t even like me.”

I looked at Nika, giving her a little head tilt, while taking Tanya’s hand in mine.

“Oh, but he does, dear one. That’s why he was so mad and hurt when you called him a liar,” the blonde telepath said.

“He’s mad at me?” Tanya said.

“Well, he was when he left. Which is why I know he likes you. You wouldn’t get that level of emotional response if he didn’t care about your opinion,” Nika said.

“But now he’s mad,” she protested, looking down at the deep, blood red I was painting onto the nails of her left hand.

“He’ll get over it,” I said with a shrug. “He’ll remember how hot you looked and forget all about his anger.”

“That’s actually really true. Men are simple, visual creatures, Tanya. They are easily overwhelmed by good looks,” Nika said.

“Well, he’s pretty good looking too, don’t you think?” our vampire princess asked.

“He is. And he has amazing eyes,” I agreed, watching carefully.

“I know, right?” she exclaimed. Her hand twitched, just a small tremor really. On Tanya, that was the equivalent of a regular person jerking their hand right out of mine. Someone was pretty hyped up. “So you think he’ll come back, to, ah, hunt that demon thing—the Hellbourne?”

“He strikes me as a young man of his word. I would expect him to follow through with his intent to protect you,” I said.

Nika nodded. “He went away mad but still determined to hunt the thing,” she said.

“And it’s very dangerous. I never even saw that thing till it had already shot me,” Tanya said.

“I don’t think they can sneak up on him, Tanya. He tracked that thing like a bloodhound, right through the club. And he’s done this many times. He’s probably no more in danger from this demon than from our own security guys,” I said. Her head snapped up, staring into my eyes. Then she was gone, the door left swinging open as the wind of her passage left lilac and jasmine notes hanging in the air.

We tracked her down, moving to keep up. Found her on the main floor, standing in front of a startled Vadim and Arkady.

“And you will tell Mr. Deckert not to hurt him if he shows up here?” she was asking. Actually, it seemed more like a demand.

“Yes, Tanya. I will convey that message to Deckert when he comes on shift,” the big vampire said. Him in his snakeskin vest, staring down at the compact beauty in white and pink footie pajamas. “Although he doesn’t likely know where we live.”

“He’ll find us. He is very resourceful,” Nika said. Vadim nodded at her words but Arkady just stared at her. Nika and I wore more abbreviated sleepwear than Tanya, and everyone in Demidova central knew Arkady had a bit of a thing for our telepath.

“Satisfied?” I asked. Tanya held Vadim’s eyes for a moment, then turned to me and nodded. Nika grabbed her hand and led her away. I waited till they were on the staircase, talking about what Nika had meant about the cop’s resourcefulness.

“A word of caution? Make sure the day crew understands how important that cop’s health is. I think it is safe to say it is literally a matter of life and death… theirs. And you,” I said, turning to Arkady, “don’t even glare in that particular human’s direction.”

“You can’t think she has Chosen?” Vadim asked.

“I can and I do.”

Upstairs, we got our excited princess calmed, talking about boys and kissing and boys, as the sky outside began to lighten. The automatic shades slid down over the windows and gradually the three of us succumbed to the pressure of the new day, falling into our normal deep slumber.

Sudden movement brought me awake all at once. Tanya was sitting upright in her massive king bed, and then she was gone—again. Outside, night was falling.

It took me longer to track her through the house, but her angry voice was as clear as a bell. She was in the back of the ground floor, standing in the door of the security office. She had a hand on each side of the doorframe, her nails extended and driven deep into the splintering wood.

“Who hurt him?” she hissed at Deckert. I smelled urine as I got closer… and fear. Lots of good old human fear.

There were five heavily armed, highly trained ex-special ops types in that office, and they were all smart enough to realize that their immediate death was standing in the doorway.

“What happened?” I asked, loud enough to at least get the daytime security chief’s attention. Deckert was a retired Marine (never say ex-Marine, trust me). Like all the other human security staff, he was battle hardened and highly experienced. But Deckert took the whole confident, unruffled thing to lofty new levels for a human. We liked to joke that Tanya was the only born vampire, but Deckert was born with the mind of one. He was sweating.

“The individual that Security Chief Vadim warned us about, Officer Chris Gordon, entered the rear compound over the wall and apprehended an individual we failed to detect, despite Vadim’s warning and description. He then proceeded to conduct some form of arcane exorcism ritual and the other intruder was left dead. During his altercation with the intruder, Officer Gordon scraped his check on the stone of the patio. To our knowledge, that is the only wound he sustained,” Deckert said, eyes alternating between me and Tanya. The other four had moved their eyes to me, refusing to risk looking at the angry death angel in front of me.

“Oh, and it bled a little, right? The cheek?” I asked, understanding blooming in my head.

“Just a little. He did not require any first aid and would not stay. He said he had to help a child with a problem tonight. A demonic problem,” Deckert said.

I put my hand on Tanya’s arm, feeling the steel hardness of it relax to merely oak density.

“He is alright?” she asked, her voice much, much less harsh than seconds before.

“He bounced right up in front of all my guys like he was ready take us all on. Then Sykes brought Apollo out and the damned dog just lay down on this cop’s feet like a lap dog. Wagged his damn tail,” Deckert said.

“Apollo likes him?” Tanya asked. By now the guys had shifted from fear of her to astonishment at her speech.

“Of course the dog liked him. He’s like a damned guard dog himself. All purple puppy dog eyes,” I said.

Tanya giggled, just a little. “Lydia, you’re being facetious,” she protested, yet she was smiling at my words.

Deckert’s eyes widened at the abrupt change in our princess, but he wisely kept his mouth shut.

“So he’s helping out a child?” Tanya asked him.

“He got a text while I was talking to him. He didn’t like it. I told him he needed to be here for when Galina woke up, but he refused. Said he had to leave but that you all could likely track him down if you needed to,” Deckert said.

“What was your impression, Mr. Deckert?” I asked.

“Kid has bal… guts. He scrambled over our wall way too easy and he’s got good ground fighting skills. Ran a background check; he comes up spotless. First name is actually Christian. Got very high marks in the police academy. Also, he’s not easily intimidated, ma’am. ”

“No, Mr. Deckert, he’s not,” I said.

“He fought well?” Tanya asked.

“Ahem, I have the footage here, ma’am, if you like,” one of the other security guys suggested, pointing at the CCTV system.

“Oh yes, I would like that very much,” Tanya said. Then she turned to Deckert. “I am sorry I was so abrupt with you and your men, Mr. Deckert. I smelled his blood and thought he’d been harmed,” she said.

“Ah, well, we were very careful to follow Vadim’s instructions regarding Officer Gordon, ma’am,” Deckert said, clearly confused but adapting.

Tanya nodded, then turned to the one guard who had pissed himself, his khaki pants wet down the inside of both legs.

“I am sorry to frighten you, Samuel. I will buy you new pants. Maybe in black or navy blue this time?” she asked, eyebrows raised. Was that a joke?

The guy by the monitors snorted. “You might need to get those for all of us, ma’am. I wasn’t far behind Sam myself. Here’s the footage,” he said. My suddenly talkative ward moved smoothly over to the bank of monitors, the men hastily making space for the girl in footie pajamas.

Deckert waited till she was engrossed in the action, then turned to me with raised eyebrows.

“Mr. Gordon saved Tanya from that demon last night. She was grossly wounded and fed from him. He promised her he would come back today and see if he could catch that thing,” I explained. “As you’ve noticed, she’s decided to talk to us again.”

Tanya sniffed. “Well, of course I had to talk. I had to speak to Christian,” she said, not looking away from the monitor. “Oh, that’s some kind of modified armbar,” she said, hands darting to the keyboard to back up the footage and roll it again.

“The thing didn’t seem to feel pain, ma’am. He was obviously trying to be real fast, then he held up his arm and that bird thing came and it was all over,” another guard, Benson, said.

“Bird thing?” Tanya asked.

“Something supernatural. It just kind of popped in, grabbed something from his hand, then popped out. Huge. As big as a hang glider,” Benson said, pointing to the screen. I found I had moved myself closer to see, and the images defied logic.

Tanya turned to me, eyes wide. “Lydia, do you think that was an angel?”

“Seemed like a really big, smokey eagle or hawk, Miss Tanya. There was this kinda sound, like a note on a bell or crystal or something. But it didn’t strike me as angelic. Not that I’d be a good judge,” Benson said.

“Benson was there when it happened,” Deckert explained.

Tanya turned to me but didn’t speak. She didn’t need to.

“Yes, we will track him down. Somehow,” I said.

The guys were all exchanging glances but none of them dared comment.

“Good. I want to see him,” she said, her tone brooking no argument.

Why did I suddenly think we were all going to be seeing him—a lot. Fifteen years of silence and it all changed in one night, in less than five minutes. She was like a whole different person, like she had grown in years over the course of hours.

Demon hunter or cop or whatever, there was way more to this guy than anyone knew. But deep down in my gut, I did know that whatever we found out in the days ahead, it was gonna be huge.

Copyright John Conroe