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|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
No, it wasn't.
She ran for the closest door and turned the knob with shaking fingers, but the door was locked tight. And fully on its hinges. Shit. Veering away from the riders, she ran for the next doorway, but the horses were too quick. One of her pursuers kicked up a choking cloud of dirt as he passed her, then pulled up, bringing his horse around to face her, blocking her path. The second rider came to a stop behind her, effectively cutting off any means of escape. If she'd ever had one.
"And what have we here?" the one in front asked in an annoyingly nasal, high-pitched voice. As the dust settled, she got a halfway-decent look at him in the low light and had to fight not to gasp. He clearly was not human. His ears were a little too large, his head a little too big for his body. But it was his eyes, glowing bright orange, that gave him away. Oddly, he was dressed in modern clothes, his khakis stained, his polo shirt sporting a good-sized hole in the front. Angling herself so that she could see both of them, she glanced at the second, noting that he looked much like the first, his eyes also glowing orange.
Quinn crossed her arms over her chest, gripping her stake. "Who are you? And what are you doing here?" A good offense was often the best defense.
"We're Traders." The first male cocked his head at an odd angle. "Looking for runaways. Who did you run from, girlie?"
"Who says I'm a runaway?"
"Yer human, aren't ye? Free humans in V.C. are always either runaways, or they've come in through a sunbeam. Is that what ye did then?"
"What about the slayers?"
"You said humans are either runaways or accidental visitors. What about the vampire slayers?"
The other one hooted. "Vampire slayers?" A deep-belly chuckle rolled out of his mouth. "Ain't no humans who stand a flea's chance against a vampire, girlie. None."
That stank. "What are you two? You're not vampires."
"Traders," the first one repeated, as if that was supposed to mean something to her. "Come, now. You had a nice little run, I reckon, but you're ours, now."
Like hell. Quinn carefully unfolded her arms. "Do Traders die from a stake through the heart?" she asked quietly, giving each of them her best touch-me-and-I'm-going-to-rip-out-your-eyeballs look.
Grins twisted their faces into masks that looked increasingly inhuman. "Looks like we got us a fun one, Bart," the first Trader crowed.
Damn them both. Cold fear shot down her spine as she got a vision of them having fun with her, throwing her to the ground and tearing off her clothes. Well, they were going to have to catch her first.
Pivoting, she took off the way she'd come, her boots eating up the dirt. Behind her, the Traders shouted, horses leaped. She'd always been a runner and was damn good at distance. If she could just get back to the alley she'd just come out of, she might be able to dodge . . .
One of them grabbed her, hauling her face-first across his lap with startling strength.
"Troublesome bitch." A second later, something crashed against the back of her skull.
The lights went out.
Quinn woke to the sound of chaos.
Screams rent the air, crying, yelling. Someone fell on top of her, twisting Quinn's right leg at a painful, awkward angle. As she opened her eyes to the firelit night, she caught an elbow on the cheekbone.
Eyes stinging with pain, she struggled to sit up, to free herself from the tangle of limp bodies and flailing limbs, trying to make sense of her surroundings, trying to remember . . .
Her heart fell to her stomach. She'd gotten herself caught. Again. Dammit.
She looked around and saw what appeared to be a roped-off corner of some kind of open building, the once whitewashed walls dirty and liberally stained with . . . blood? Lamplight flickered on the walls as men and women dressed in a weird mix of nineteenth- and twenty-first-century garb stood in a wide circle around them, their heads tipped back, their eyes half-closed as if in a rapture of prayer, or the throes of orgasm.
She knew that look. She'd seen it on Arturo's face often enough. They were feeding on the fear of their captives.
An elbow caught Quinn in the back as the others struggled to sit up around her, their faces reflecting a terror Quinn understood all too well. Unlike them, she knew where she was this time.
Something pulled at her ankle, yanking her foot hard and fast, making her fall into the person beside her. The loud clank of chains clued her to the problem a moment before she caught sight of the shackle around her ankle, a shackle chained, apparently, to someone else. Two someone elses. No wonder they were so badly tangled.
Pushing herself up, she managed to turn onto her knees. She glanced down, glad to see that she was still fully dressed, boots and all. No backpack, of course. God only knew where that had gone.
She looked around, studying her companions in this dark game of Twister. The best she could figure, there were about twenty of them chained together by one ankle, men and women alike. All looked to be relatively young - late teens to midthirties, though that was where the similarity ended. They were from all walks of life. Black, white, Asian, Middle Eastern, wearing everything from business suits to fraternity T-shirts, fanny packs to saris. Though a couple remained unconscious, most were fighting to get free, shouting, crying, screaming.
A dull haze of smoke filled the air, along with the smell of burning lamp oil and rank, acrid fear.
"He's killing her." The woman on Quinn's left, crouched like a terrified animal, stared at a spot over Quinn's head.
Turning awkwardly, her leg caught under the person next to her, Quinn followed the woman's gaze. Ah, hell. One of the people standing around the room . . . were they all vampires? . . . had a young woman caught tight in his arms as he fed from her neck. The victim, dressed in a pair of skimpy shorts and a running bra, whimpered as the vampire lifted his head and handed her to the man beside him as if she were an oversized rag doll. The vamp met Quinn's stare and grinned at her, his fangs gleaming with blood.
Her face paled, and she looked away quickly, not wanting him to think she wanted to be next. Sweat broke out on the back of her neck. She might have come here voluntarily this time, but that didn't mean she intended to die here. And she was going to have to watch her step very carefully, or that was exactly what would happen.
One by one, the circling vamps drank their pint of blood from the young runner, passing her along to the next in line. After the third feeding, she'd fallen unconscious. By the time the seventh vamp sunk his teeth into her neck, he pulled up a moment later, his fangs clean of blood. The young woman was dead.
The disgusted vamp tossed her back into the tangle of humans, raising another round of screams as the body landed on them. The girl's head came to rest near Quinn's knee, her bloodless face a mask of calm repose, before one of the panicked men kicked her away.
Quinn turned, bile rising in her throat. Panic tore at her control. As a bloodcurdling scream rose a short distance outside the circling vamps, she began to shake. She'd thought she understood this place. One vamp had attacked her; the second, Arturo, had nearly seduced her. He'd also treated her like a guest, apologized for scaring her, and left her virtually unmolested.
The screaming continued, a horrifying sound of unendurable pain. Quinn squeezed her eyes shut, wishing she could close it all out. Arturo had treated her like a princess in comparison to these monsters. If only he'd show up and whisk her out of here. She'd happily let him tie her to his bed again. Too late, she realized that she'd understood nothing about this place. Nothing at all. And she was in deep, deep trouble.
Several of those in the tangle cried out in fear. One of the men, one who'd managed to climb to his feet, choked with horror and turned away. "Sweet Virgin Mary. They're tearing her apart."
The crying intensified, the humans huddling together in abject terror, no longer concerned with untangling the chains, no longer worried about the corpse that couldn't hurt them as they trembled from fear of the horrors that awaited them next. The smell of carnage caught Quinn's nose. She gagged and began breathing through her mouth instead.
By the time the bloodcurdling screams fell silent, Quinn was shaking badly. The vamps around the circle began to move away. One strode into the tangle of humans and jerked a sobbing girl in a pair of dirty white shorts and a navy blue GWU T-shirt to her feet, yanking her around to face him. The tears drenching her face gleamed in the firelight.
"Look at me!" The vampire gripped her tanned face between pale fingers. Her crying stopped. Instantly.
The girl straightened, her body relaxing as her expression transformed to one of calm acceptance. No, not acceptance. Blankness. Vampire mind control. The glamour Arturo had tried on her and failed.
"On your feet, all of you!" While the vamp held the arm of the now-silent girl, two others waded in to untangle the rest of them, hauling them, one by one, to their feet. Quinn tried to get up on her own and was knocked down twice, her shackled leg repeatedly jerked out from under her. One of the big vamps grabbed her arm roughly, jerking her upright, until finally, they were all on their feet.
As the vamp led the first girl off at a slow pace, his companions forced the rest of them to follow in chained order. Quinn found herself squarely in the middle of the line, directly behind a slim, dark-skinned cop. Most of the humans were silent, now, or crying only quietly, glad to be standing, Quinn supposed. She certainly felt more in control on her feet again. Though any control was an illusion.
As the line started forward, clanking like any chain gang, Quinn kept her gaze studiously away from the place where all the screaming had come from, terrified of the carnage she'd see. As they crossed the open floor, vampires watched them from either side, dozens of vamps. Maybe a hundred or more. Why? Was this about to turn into some horrific feeding frenzy? An all-you-can-eat buffet, vampire style. A chill slid down her spine.
The first in the chained line began to climb a short series of steps, and Quinn realized that there was a stage up ahead. Perhaps just a dais. What kind of horror would the vampires visit on them this time, just for the sheer entertainment value? Losing her focus, she got out of step with the cop and nearly lost her balance as he stepped before she was ready.
One by one, they climbed the short stairs onto the stage, then lined up, one behind the other, pushed and prodded by their vampire captors. Another vamp, a burly man with a thick black beard, strode to the woman at the front of the line - the one who'd been hysterical - and took her face in his hand, staring into her eyes. At once, she gasped, then began to whimper and cower as he moved behind her and tore off her T-shirt and bra as if they were made of tissue paper, spilling her ample breasts into his waiting hands. The poor woman cried out.
"Well stacked," he called out over the noise, clearly addressing the watching crowd. He jerked her around to face him, curling his lips back to reveal sharp fangs. The girl's cries turned to shrieks, over and over until Quinn thought her eardrums would burst. Finally, he grabbed the girl's jaw and captured her mind once more, silencing her. "And a bundle of pure terror," he said, turning back to the crowd.
"Four hundred!" shouted someone in the audience.
"Five!" shouted another.
A slave auction. Quinn tasted bile at the back of her throat.
Heart pounding sickly, Quinn watched as one after the other of her companions was paraded before the vamps like so much meat. Most of the women and all of the males were divested of their shirts, most shaking or crying, or rigidly still. Only those who screamed or fought had their minds controlled. The vamps enjoyed their fear too much to quell it with glamour.
As the humans were bought, they were enthralled and unshackled, then led away by their new masters. Quinn watched with increasing tension because when her turn came, they wouldn't be able to enthrall her. Not unless this new vamp had more power than Arturo had.
The cop in front of her was finally pulled to the fore, Quinn right at his elbow as the vamp tore off the stoic man's shirt, revealing a fine six pack.
"Show his cock!" a woman shouted from the audience.
The poor man's face turned a dark cherry.
"Drop your pants, slave, or I'll do it for you," the auctioneer ordered. "And I'll not be careful."
His jaw set hard enough that Quinn thought he might start dropping broken teeth, the man unfastened his belt and did as he was told. Quinn looked away, unable to add to the man's misery. Fury and a deep, quaking fear trembled inside her as she saw the hungry faces in the crowd. She searched for the two she'd recognize - the woman who'd taken Zack, and Arturo. She desperately hoped he was out there somewhere, ready to claim her again. But she saw no sign of him. No sign of either of them.
The cop went for more than any of the others had. Maybe after spending that much money on him, they'd take care to keep him alive.
The woman who'd demanded a look at his cock ultimately bought him, a female with a round, cherubic face and deep dimples. As he pulled up his pants, she leaped onto the short stage, grinning like a girl. "We're going to have so much fun, you and I." She gripped his chin, capturing his mind, then, once his ankle was released, led him away.
It was Quinn's turn, and she was shaking. Calm down, she told herself. Don't fight it. Now's not the time. But the moment she felt the auctioneer's hands moving around her, ready to rip off her shirt, the instinct to defend herself reared up, eclipsing everything else. She slammed her head back, colliding with his nose.
The vampire roared, and she pressed the advantage, throwing her elbow into his chest. But he didn't budge. He just glared at her with a snarling, bloody fury.