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|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
Quinn stared at her. What if I've killed her? She'd never attacked anyone outside a Tae Kwon Do sparring match. She had no idea how much force was enough, let alone too much.
But it was done. Forcing herself to focus, she slammed the pitcher against the wall, shattering it, then picked up a large, sharp piece and began to yell. "Help! She's injured!" She raced for the door, leaping behind it just as Horace lunged into the room. Quinn slipped out, slamming the door shut, and throwing the bolt.
"Hey!" the shout rumbled from inside, loud enough to bring every member of the household running.
Bright light flooded the small foyer and the stairs in a sudden, startling burst, as if someone had turned on the sun. Screams rang out both inside and out. Energy danced over her skin.
This was it! Another sunbeam. Her pulse pounded. She was finally going to learn if she could leave Vamp City the same way she'd entered.
She flew down the stairs, threw the bolt, and flung open the front door to an extraordinarily welcome sight - a wide sunbeam cutting across the dirt street a yard in front of her. And in that sunbeam, her world, cars zipping past, people walking along the sidewalk.
"Master!" Horace yelled from behind the locked bedroom door. "She's escaping!"
Quinn lunged forward. Just as it had before, the energy caught her, tingling along her arms, raising the hair on her body and head as it pulled her through. This time she was ready and only stumbled onto the sidewalk instead of falling. Her world. The sun.
Dodging a trio of businessmen in suits, she whirled, backing away as she stared at the now-sunlit Vamp City house she'd just left, the door she'd flown through still wide open. Arturo's house. From behind the safety of the curtains in one of the front windows, the vampire watched her, his mouth hard, his black eyes squinting against the sunlight, filled with frustration. And anger.
And then he was gone. As suddenly as the sunbeam had appeared, the vision of the dark world ended. The gate between the worlds had closed. She turned back to the welcome sight of a bright, teeming city, sighing with relief at the welcome feel of the sun heating her skin. Looking around, she found her bearings. F Street NW, two blocks from the Treasury Building.
Pressing her fist to her chest, she willed her heart to settle down, turned, and started the long walk home. Euphoria and bone-deep relief twined with despair. She'd done it. She'd escaped Vamp City.
But Zack had not.
Quinn slipped an extra package of flashlight batteries into the backpack that sat on her kitchen counter, ready and waiting for her return to the vampire world. And had been for six days. As she'd done more than a dozen times since she escaped, she inventoried the contents - three water bottles, a flashlight, a half dozen breakfast bars, and five wooden stakes.
Her stomach cramped. God help her, she was going back. Assuming, that was, the damn worlds ever opened to one another again. Six days she'd been waiting for that crawling sensation that would tell her she'd see that dark street from her window again. Hours on end she'd stared out the window or paced endlessly in clothing fit for the mission - cargo pants with lots of pockets, thick-soled boots, a tank top, and a lightweight jacket since it had been far cooler in the darkness than it was in the sunlight.
So far, all for nothing. She'd barely left the apartment, instead spending hours on the computer studying everything she could find about vampires. If they were real, then someone knew about them. Some of the myths had to be true. And she needed to know everything she could about how to protect herself. And how to kill them.
When she'd first gotten home, she'd immediately called work. Jennifer had been immensely relieved at first, glad Quinn hadn't become one of the missing. But as Quinn had tried to explain that she was in the middle of a family crisis and would have to take a little time off, her boss's tone had cooled. Especially with Quinn forced to be so vague about what was going on or how much time she needed. Of course, if she'd told her the truth, that her brother had been captured by vampires, and she was preparing a rescue attempt, she'd have been fired on the spot for insanity. She still had a job waiting for her when this was over. For now. But she'd worry about that later. All that mattered was getting back into that world. And getting Zack out.
Some mornings, she awoke feeling like she really was insane, that none of it could have actually happened. Then she'd walk into the living room, see Zack's laptop sitting there, and her chest would cave. It was all real. He was gone. Lost. And she was the only one who could possibly save him though she'd give anything if she weren't.
She left her backpack and walked into the living room, stopping before the window where she'd begun to wear a hole in the carpet. As much as she longed to see that shadowy street appear, she dreaded it more. The last thing, the last thing she wanted to do was go back to that place. She still knew virtually nothing about it. A quick google of Vamp City brought up exactly nothing. If people on the outside did know the truth, they weren't sharing.
Staring at the traffic on the street below, she wondered for the umpteenth time if she shouldn't call the FBI. After all, she knew where those missing people had gone. She could tell them exactly what had happened to them. She could send them in to rescue them all, including Zack.
Except she wasn't an idiot. They'd never believe her, at least not until she pulled one of them through a sunbeam. The bigger problem was that she knew vampires well enough by now to know that no human could possibly be a match for them. No one. Taking others with her into that world was as good as signing their death warrants. Or consigning them to slavery for the rest of their lives. At least she knew how to get in and out. She'd gotten Zack into this mess. It was up to her to get him out. And Lily, too, if she could find her.
If only the damn worlds would open again!
She raked her hair back from her face, frustrated and impatient. Ever since she'd gotten home, she'd been a twisted bundle of nerves. If another sunbeam did break through, what then? She had no real plan other than to get back in, no idea where to start looking for him when she did. All she knew was that they'd been attacked close to the White House and that the vampire, Arturo, lived on F Street, on the other side of the White House in what had appeared to be a thriving vampire neighborhood. She was almost certainly going to have to head back that way if she wanted to find her brother. Even if the thought gave her nightmares.
Her cell phone rang. She reached for it and glanced at the number. Shit. Pressing the answer button, she lifted the phone to her ear, fighting to keep her voice calm and level.
"Hello, Quinn," her father replied formally. Too formally, as if they barely knew one another. Or as if he didn't know how to breach the chasm he'd long ago allowed to form between them. "Where's Zack? I thought you said he'd be back from that sail two days ago."
Uhn. She'd been dreading this. It was a little hard to explain to one's parent how you'd accidentally led his only son into an alternate universe where he'd been taken prisoner . . . or been killed . . . by vampires. No, not killed.
"The cruise was kind of open-ended, Dad," she lied. "I spoke with the outfit yesterday, and they said the fishing has been really good, so they decided to extend it a few more days. I'll have him call you the minute he gets back, I promise."
"Your mother and I still don't understand why he didn't tell us about this before he left."
"She's not my mother."
Silence. "I'm surprised he didn't call is all."
"He's skipping class, Dad. It's not really something a guy wants to tell his parents. Not until after the fact, at least."
"That's not like him. He's never done anything so irresponsible before."
"One last fling before he enters the real world, I guess."
"And you didn't try to talk him out of it?" There was accusation in his tone. As if none of it would have happened if he hadn't been living with her. The worst part was, she knew damn well Zack's being missing was all her fault. She was the one who'd led him to that strange column. She was the one who'd grabbed his arm as he reached for Lily's pen. If she hadn't touched him, he'd probably have picked up the pen without any problem, without ever knowing he'd breached the intersection of two worlds. He'd have passed through the sunbeam unaffected, just like everyone else. But she'd fallen victim to her curiosity - first mistake - and tried to protect him - second mistake. And gotten them both sucked into that world instead. At least her dad didn't know he was missing. Yet. "I made my opinion known, but he's twenty-two, Dad. He's an adult."
Out of nowhere, the hair on her arms began to rise. Her breath caught as she recognized the energy that meant the worlds were once more bleeding together.
"Yes, but you're five years older. Your mother . . . Angela . . . and I think it's high time - "
"I've got to go, Dad. I'll have him call you when he gets home." Without waiting for a reply, she hung up, ran to the kitchen for her backpack, and raced out the door, ignoring the elevator for the stairs. Forty seconds later, she was flying out the front door of the apartment building. There, not ten feet away, stood those odd shadows through which she could see that crumbling house with its cockeyed lion's-head doorknocker.
She started forward, letting the crowd on the sidewalk carry her forward, allowing that now-familiar energy to grab her and suck her back into Hell.
Like before, Quinn landed on her hands and knees on the pavers. The pull was oddly stronger going in than coming out. Unlike before, she knew exactly where she was and why. She'd done it!
The moment's triumph dissolved in a rush of gut-cramping terror. She was back in Vamp City.
The sunbeam lit the street, revealing the same disintegrating house it had the first time. Dust floated in the sunlit air while the sunlight illuminated her like manna from Heaven. Or dinner to a vampire.
With a chill, she pushed to her feet and ran out of the sunbeam. Rounding the nearest corner, she slipped into the shadows, taking care to make as little sound as possible. If only they'd been more careful the first time, maybe she and Zack would still be together. Maybe he'd still be free. The ache of loss had settled beneath her breastbone, a constant dull throb.
Heart pounding, she stopped close to the wall, avoiding the moldy brick as she listened for the sound of a horse or Jeep. Or vampire. No sound met her ears. She and Zack had found nothing and no one between here and the White House the last time. Maybe she'd be lucky again. But she was taking no chances.
With a deep breath, she continued on, cutting between buildings, staying to the shadows until the sun went out, which she suspected could take anywhere from a minute to possibly an hour or more. If Lily really had disappeared through the same sunbeam she and Zack first passed through, an hour wasn't unrealistic.
As she rounded the front of an abandoned building on Nineteenth Street, in the distance she spied a glow in the sky. Another sunbeam? It was north of where the vampire's house would be. They were obviously breaking through in multiple places, which was a good thing to know in case she needed another quick out. Looking both ways, her heart drumming in her chest, she slipped across the street, feeling like she had crosshairs aimed on her forehead, then dove between another pair of buildings on the other side. Halfway through the block, the light from the sunbeam disappeared behind her, blanketing the landscape in the gloom that marked day around here.
In the distance, she heard a shout. And a scream. Sweat broke out on her brow, and she pressed deeper into the shadows, her stomach cramping with fear. Now that she'd finally gotten back into the place, all she wanted to do was run the other way. Find another sunbeam and escape again.
But she had a mission this time. And the sunbeams were gone. She had no choice but to continue forward.
In the distance, the cheer of a crowd lifted into the air, followed by the peal of laughter. It was as if the sunbeams had silenced everything, and with their retreat, the world had come alive again. That was probably exactly what had happened. The sunbeams threatened the vampires' existence. That part of the legend was almost certainly true, or they'd never have created a dark world in the first place.
The pounding of horses hooves carried over the still air.
Quinn pulled one of her wooden stakes out of her backpack and gripped it tight. She'd never before hated the dark. As a kid, she'd been notorious for escaping into the backyard in the evenings, scrambling up the trees, feeling the darkness close around her like a security blanket. Angela would yell and yell for her to come down from the tree as Quinn huddled, shaking with fury and hatred and hurt. But Angela couldn't see her in the dark and couldn't have climbed the tree after her if she had. How many times had Quinn snuck back into the house, long after everyone else had gone to sleep, and slid into bed with bark scratches on her shins and elbows? If she could have slept on a tree branch, she'd never have gone back inside at all.
But there was nothing safe about this dark. Nothing comforting. Because this dark was home to the real monsters.
If only she had a guide. Alice had had the white rabbit. Lucy, Mr. Tumnus. Dorothy hit the jackpot with the scarecrow, tin man, and cowardly lion. Quinn wasn't picky. Even a talking pigeon would do. Anything that could tell her where to go to find her brother.
There was never a fairy godmother around when you needed one. And she needed one, badly.
Reaching Eighteenth Street, she looked both ways, then started across. She was nearly in the middle of the dirt street when she heard the hoofbeats again, stronger. Closer. Hell.
She'd barely run three steps when she saw the horses enter the intersection out of the corner of her eye. The sudden shout told her they'd seen her, too. Dammit. Her gaze darted, hunting for a way through the wall of row houses that lined the street, but she saw nothing. Did she dare run inside one? It might collapse on top of her. Then again, was that fate so much worse than being caught again?