|Home > Pamela Palmer > Vamp City > A Blood Seduction (Page 27)|
|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
She had no idea how long they'd walked, or how far, when Jeff finally started up another ladder.
"Do you know where this one goes?" Celeste asked.
"No clue. There's one way to find out." He put his finger to his lips, then slowly lifted the lid as those below doused their lights. As before, the rest of them waited silently, listening.
Quinn felt the change in the air as the hatch lifted and smelled the faint scent of manure. A moment later, the soft telltale click of fingernails gave the all clear, and the others started up the ladder. Quinn scrambled after them, climbing into the dark, her hands landing on a hay-covered wooden floor. A barn? It was hard to tell in the low light though the place did appear big enough. It certainly smelled like a barn - one with animals. Downtown like this, it was probably a stable.
As Marcus closed the trapdoor behind them, Jeff crept toward the large, open doors that were letting in the only light. The other slaves waited behind, ready to make a hasty escape, if needed.
Several minutes later, Jeff returned. "There's a house that way, and it looks lived in. We'll go out the other way. There has to be a back door." He turned on a flashlight, revealing the stable she'd imagined. Jeff motioned them to follow, and he led them around several large piles of wood that appeared to be old building timbers. Finally, they stopped before the back wall. Quinn could just make out the outline of a door in the dark wood. Jeff grabbed the latch and lifted it slowly, but as he pushed the door open, rusty hinges squeaked loudly enough to wake the dead.
Or the undead.
"Look what we have here."
Quinn whirled, along with the others. Not ten feet behind them stood a male vamp dressed in jeans, a red Washington Nationals T-shirt, and muddy boots, his fangs long and deadly, his eyes dotted white.
"My favorite snack." He laughed. "Blood rats."
He moved too fast to track, but a moment later, two of their number were gone. Jeff began pushing people out the door. "Go!"
Quinn grabbed her stake and whirled to Marcus. "We need to kill him."
"He's too fast."
"We can't just leave them!"
Marcus pushed her toward the back door. "Know when to cut your losses."
But they never made it to the door. One moment she was standing by the back door arguing with Jeff, the next she felt herself flying through the air, a hard band around her middle. Then she was being slammed back against something hard.
Her vision swam, her senses tumbled. Slowly, she realized she was standing within one of the stalls, shoulder to shoulder with Marcus as he struggled to free himself. The vamp must have carried them back here with his superhuman strength and speed. He now had them both pinned between his bulk and the wall.
Turning to Marcus first, the vamp gripped her companion's face, forcing him to look into his eyes. Marcus's struggles quickly fell silent. Slowly, the vampire turned those white-centered eyes on her.
Tell him you're a sorceress, tessoro. He will not kill you.
Jeez, could Arturo see what was happening to her? Could he feel the push of glamour?
She forced herself to relax, forced her eyes to unfocus even as her pulse raced. Finally, the vamp released her, then darted away so quickly that Quinn barely saw the stall gate swing open and shut. Marcus wandered a short distance away, moving as if in a trance to join the first two women to disappear. All were now enthralled.
Clearly, the vamp wanted to collect the whole set of humans. Which meant she might actually stand a chance of taking him down.
But the minutes passed, and he didn't return. Marcus and the two women walked slowly, aimlessly, around the stall, and Quinn forced herself to do the same in case the vamp returned with more victims. If only she could unenthrall the three. She refused to leave them at the mercy of the vamp like this.
Where was he?
Had the other slaves killed him and taken off? No, she was the one they would never leave behind. She was their ticket home. Maybe the vamp had killed the others. But, then, why hadn't he come back right away? Maybe he was fetching Traders to pick up the lot of them for auction.
That final thought chilled her to the bone.
But as she tried to come up with an explanation she liked better, the vamp pushed open the stall door, holding it. "Come," he said. Marcus and the two women moved toward him as commanded. Quinn quickly followed. Outside the stall, she found Celeste and one of the male slaves already enthralled. So he had gone back for more. And he seemed to have decided six were enough.
Quinn slid the stake out of her pocket, gripping it tightly. As the vampire led the way out of the stables, Celeste and the male tried to merge into the line, jostling the others. Quinn took advantage and cut to the front, right behind the vampire.
Gripping her stake, she took a deep, nervous breath, knowing she'd only get one shot at this. Okay . . . go! She leaped, circling the vamp's neck from behind with her left arm as she drove the stake into his back, up beneath his ribs, with all her might.
A second later, she was flying through the air, crashing back first into the soft ground with a whump that left her struggling for air. Terrified, she was about to be leaped upon and her throat ripped out, she rolled, pushing to her feet. And saw the vamp on the ground, facedown.
Hot damn. I did it.
"Quinn?" Marcus blinked, confused.
She smiled, unable to help herself, and nodded to the downed vamp. "I got him."
Marcus's mouth dropped open. To her surprise, he dove for the vamp, rolling him onto his back. The vampire, who'd looked no older than his late twenties moments ago now looked sixty. No . . . seventy. Eighty? He was aging a decade every three seconds.
Marcus dug through his pockets, pulling out coins, keys, tossing them in the dirt a good distance away. Then he scooted down to the man's feet and yanked off his boots, one after the other, tossing them, too. Behind him, the others stirred, and they all watched as the skin began to fall off the vampire's bones.
Quinn grimaced. That was just . . . gross.
Marcus jumped back. "Quinn, back up!" Quinn did what she was told and was glad a moment later when the skeleton, clothes and all, erupted in a puff of flesh and ash that rained onto the dirt a good five feet in every direction.
No wonder Marcus had taken what he could. Everything he'd left had disintegrated along with the vampire. Very, very strange. As the three women swooped in to pick up the things Marcus had claimed from the body, Marcus strode over to her. "You staked him?"
Quinn nodded. God, she'd just killed a man. A vampire, but still.
Marcus gripped her shoulder. "Are you okay?"
"He would probably have killed us, you know that."
She looked up, met his gaze with a frown. "I know." She'd been so proud of herself at first. Now she felt . . . numb.
Releasing her, Marcus motioned for the others to join them. "Let's get going. We'll find Jeff if we can. If not, we'll head toward the gladiator camp."
As they left the stables, she realized they were still downtown. There were buildings all around them though more suburban in density than modern D.C. And most appeared long abandoned.
As they started down the sidewalk, keeping close to the buildings, none of them seemed as tense . . . or were watching for vampires as carefully . . . as they probably should be. Quinn suspected they all felt the same - that if there were any vamps close by, they'd have heard the commotion and already come running.
Quinn kept feeling Marcus's gaze, his brows drawn as if he were trying to decipher a puzzle.
"What?" she finally demanded.
"He didn't enthrall you. Why not?"
"I suppose because I'm a sorceress. None of them seem to be able to."
"A handy trick."
"Especially since they never expect it."
Marcus grinned. "Thanks for the save."
And just like that, the pall lifted, and she found herself smiling back. "You're welcome."
Marcus made a funky little move that was almost a jig. "I might actually get home."
"How long have you been gone?"
The smile left his face. "Over a year. It was spring when I was captured. My wife was five months pregnant. I'm a dad." But the words held no joy, no pride, only a devastating heartache. "I wasn't there for her, to help her give birth, to take care of her afterward." Fury leaped into his eyes. "I've missed my son or daughter's entire first year. And my wife probably thinks I'm dead. For all I know, she's found someone else."
"At least she wasn't caught with you."
The sound he made was heartfelt. "Thank God for that. I was walking home from the gym after work. A drunk bumped into me, then turned and stared at me. The next thing I knew, I was in the slave auction." He glanced at her, his heart in his eyes. "I need to get back to my family."
Quinn touched his arm. "I'll do what I can, Marcus. If I can get you home, I will."
"I believe you. And if we get out of here, I want my wife to meet you. My full name is Marcus Aurelius Washington." He shrugged. "My mom was a history professor. I live on California Street in Kalorama. Look me up?"
"Yes, of course."
They lapsed into silence, taking the back roads and alleyways as much as possible. When a form detached itself from the shadows, they all pulled their stakes, but it was only Jeff. And he was alone.
"The vamp?" he asked, joining them. They told him what happened.
"Where are Tim and Janika?"
Jeff shrugged. "Tim's dead. Janika was captured by a Trader." So matter-of-fact.
Marcus eyed Jeff sharply. "And you, of course, got away."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Not a fucking thing, man."
But Quinn knew exactly what he meant. Jeff was a survivor. He might be their guide, but the only one Jeff was looking out for was Jeff.
"Come on." Jeff took off in a different direction, heading south. Not in the direction of the gladiator camp, damn him.
"Where are we going?" Marcus demanded, as if reading her mind.
"A safe house, where we can get some food and regroup."
As badly as she wanted to get to Zack, she had to admit that food sounded like a good idea. There was still time to go after Zack. And she didn't really expect to manage it with a cast of thousands. Or of seven, for that matter. Hell, she had no idea how she was going to manage it at all. The only thing she knew was that she had to find a way. First, she'd get Marcus home to his wife and baby. As her boss liked to say, you had to count your wins, not just your losses. She'd be glad for any win at this point.
They'd traveled half a dozen blocks when Jeff led them down a narrow alley and motioned them behind a small wooden storage shed. "Wait here. There's a hot spot nearby. I want to make sure it's not being watched."
When he'd gone, Quinn leaned close to Marcus. "What's a hot spot?"
"One of the places where the sunbeams are breaking through. They're multiplying." He grunted. "I'm surprised Jeff didn't take one of us to act as bait."
She'd had the same thought. "Can the vamps smell us?"
Marcus smiled, laughter in his dark eyes. "Fee fi fo fum? I've never heard of one who could, and it's a good thing, or we'd stand no chance against them. They may be as fast as Superman, and damned near as strong, but their senses aren't that much better than human." He frowned. "Other than the night vision. And the fear and pain feeding."
Jeff returned a short time later and motioned them to follow. At the end of the alley, he led them through the back door of a small row house that appeared to have been lived in fairly recently. Maybe in the past four or five years. The windows were still intact, the furniture appeared more 1960s than 1860s, but there was inch-thick dust everywhere and no sign of habitation.
When they were all inside, Jeff closed the door, then motioned to Quinn to follow. He led her to the front window and pointed next door, where there appeared to be yellow crime-scene tape roping off a good section of sidewalk and part of the street.
Quinn looked at Jeff. "What is it?"
"The hot spot. The vamps mark them if they can so they don't accidentally get caught next time it opens. Vamps fry in the sun, in case you were wondering."
She'd gathered as much.
Jeff turned to the group, moving until he stood in the middle of them and could talk quietly. "We're going to be watching out the windows, carefully. Three upstairs and three down while I rotate between you. If the ground shakes, we meet right here. If no one's seen any sign of vamps, we go. Understood?"
All nodded. All but Quinn. "I thought you said we were going to a safe house to get food."
"We are. Later. If the sunbeams don't break through."
She stared at him, her temper firing. "You lying scum."
But Jeff turned away. "Take a window and keep your eyes open."
Her fury should have blazed a hole in his back. Marcus touched her arm, regret in his eyes, along with a healthy dose of excitement and hope. The hope that the sun would blaze through. That he'd finally get home to his wife and baby. And dammit, she couldn't deny him this.
But she was getting so tired of people lying to her!
She and Marcus wound up watching the downstairs front window, one on either side, peering in opposite directions. But Jeff didn't like them to talk - any of them, and she couldn't say she blamed him. The whole game was lost if a vamp wandered by and heard voices within a supposedly deserted house. Of course, if he was a fear-feeder, he'd know humans hid nearby. A pain-feeder probably wouldn't.