Authors: Kiersten Fay
A Wicked Night
The acrid scent of sterilizing agents coupled with rusted metal, rotting wood, and blood-dampened soil dogged him constantly. Five years in this hell and he still hadn’t grown accustomed to it. At least he thought it had been five years. Sometimes it felt longer.
Outside his cell, the consistent orchestra of murmured voices and shuffling feet, choired by the occasional scream, used to give rise to Brayden’s piercing consternation. Now it only inspired mild irritation. How was anyone to get any shuteye with all that commotion going on? Especially shackled to the wall as he was, hands parallel to his head, legs little wider than shoulder-width apart.
He’d ceased complaining after the first six months when it became painfully clear his echoing roars went ignored.
The only thing keeping him alive was his resilient vampire blood and the strength inspired by age.
Not all were so lucky.
Vampires younger than he easily succumbed to death due to poor the treatment in this vile place—which really put out their captors, who, in the beginning, had been like a pack of bumbling idiots, not knowing how to properly feed their captives in order to keep them weakened and manageable, yet alive.
In five years, he’d counted ten other captives besides himself, seven of them now silenced while the remaining three resided in separate cells, spouting varying degrees of insanity.
He could relate.
On occasion, it was as though a creeping madness stalked him from the recesses of his declining mind, teasing him like a dark storm on the horizon. Nevertheless, he remained sane, sometimes to his dismay.
At times like these, sanity was overrated.
He often envied that vamp at the end of the hall, the one that he’d aptly named Giggles, who regularly fell into delirious fits of laughter for no apparent reason. That is, until that laughter delved into despairing, lamenting wails, so affecting, Bray had to sing to himself to block it out—a jaunty tune about a man readying to wed a widow who had seven husbands before. He would come to scream the verses till his own voice was all he could hear.
Maybe he was insane.
The ominous murmurs outside his cell door grew louder, the footsteps sure—probably coming to draw his blood again. Humans coveted vampire blood ever since they’d discovered its healing properties. However, as other beings were ought to, vampires loathed to be parted from their essence. Aside from the risk of forming a bond with a blood exchange, it was intrinsically abhorrent for it to be siphoned unwillingly, and considered a violation—a great gift when permitted. Ironic that his kind frequently tricked and seduced humans into parting with theirs.
He never cared to debate the ethics of it. That was for some omniscient being to evaluate. To him, it was just the way of things. It wasn’t like he’d been able to draw out the parameters of his own nature when he’d been turned. If that were the case, there would have been a lot less animalistic urges and sun allergies involved.
The price for immortality, he supposed.
If his captors decided to toss him out in the mid-day sun, he’d likely die in a matter of hours, especially since they’d been keeping him practically lethargic with seldom feedings. When they did give him blood, it was invariably from a chilled hospital bag and was only enough to keep him from collapsing under his own weight. In exchange, they’d take several pints of his blood.
In the beginning, the humans had nearly drained him to the quick with their clumsy methods of extraction. It was like something out of the dark ages. Spanish Inquisition type stuff. Those first few weeks were a blur. However, the human’s savvy greed had inspired swift competence—unfortunately at the expense of several casualties—and gave way to what was undoubtedly a flourishing business.
At least now his blood was extracted by IV rather than a sliced wrist over a metal bucket. Kudos to modernization.
He had no illusions that his blood wasn’t at this very moment circulating the black market for those who craved miraculous health or the sexual high brought forth by overindulgence.
Sometimes he passed the time by wondering how the humans transported the product. Hand delivered? Did they have their own courier service? Or was it more like a drug deal with a brown paper sack on some nondescript street corner? How much were they making? What was his worth?
That these humans made a profit off his pilfered blood rankled. If he ever got free, the doomed masterminds would face a wrath seeped in five years of boiling rage.
And even if he died in here, he was consoled by the knowledge that once these humans were discovered—and he had no doubt they would be. You can’t abduct vampires and sell their blood on the black market and expect to live long—vampires would sniff them out and introduce these humans to a painful, drawn-out punishment.
He’d told them as much during those first few months. They hadn’t listened.
The footsteps halted, but they weren’t outside his cell. The jingle of keys sang off the rocky corridor walls. A rusty door creaked open. Then a growling started from his next-door neighbor.
Bray had never seen the outside of his cell, but over the years he had developed mental images based on echoes and scents. In his mind, there were three to five cells nearby, possibly larger in size than his own and equipped to house more than one prisoner. He was the lucky loaner.
The hall was probably darkened with no natural light and was cave-like, mirroring his surroundings, and was likely L-shaped or curved. Beyond that, he couldn’t say.
Within his space, red-black soil made up the ground and crawled up the rough, tightly packed walls of the grotto. A small caged light hung to the right of the metal door across from him. The wire that provided it with power trickled down and snaked through the one-inch gap under the door. As a whole, this cave system seemed mostly natural with a few man-made tweaks.
He glanced at the thick unnatural gouges in the stone wall to his right. This space had been excavated, a thick layer of concrete added to the wall at his back to support his restraints. The manacles that held his wrists on either side of his head were locked on the outer rim by long metal pins; an archaic device, but effective nonetheless. The pins hadn’t been moved for years and had rusted in their perch.
The hostile sounds from the vampire in the next cell over turned into howls around wet sloshing.
When it was Bray’s turn, the door to his cell opened, and a man entered, brandishing a fire hose. The spray abraded his skin, like always, and plastered his back to the wall. He gritted his teeth and swallowed his instinctual growl. When the water disengaged, a second man entered with a soapy sponge on a stick and haphazardly brushed it against his skin.
Brayden kept his virulent gaze on them.
Their distance, again by design, did not lend itself to compulsion. They were too far away for that talent to be used, and when they were close, they never looked him directly in the eye, which was necessary for the power to take hold.
When the sponge came close to his face, he turned his head and chomped down on the wooden shaft. The stick splintered violently, and the sponge flopped wetly at his feet.
The fire hose re-engaged straight into his face.
Coraline Conwell stood in the open doorway of Knox’s dim cell, staring at him as though he were a long-lost lover.
His cell was rectangular, roughly twenty feet by ten, and the sleek gray walls were bare of any decoration. The only object was a simple cot situated in the corner where Knox currently lounged with one foot on the thin mattress, the other planted on the floor, and his back leaning casually against the wall. The dark hair on either side of his head was sheered short while the rest was loosely braided down the line of his skull, traveling just to between his broad shoulders. Although he was dressed in a simple white shirt, jeans, and black boots, he still managed to look like something from another era, which was very possible considering vampires were virtually immortal.
After his initial surprise at seeing her, his gray-blue eyes flashed over her frame in a slow perusal.
In a throaty seductive voice she had never used before, she heard herself purr, “Hello, Knoxy.” Then, to her horror, she leaned flirtatiously against the door frame and smiled.
The action did not belong to her. It belonged to some dark creature that now inhabited her body. A creature that, during the night, had taken full control of her and, for some insane reason, had decided to sneak down into this underground compound to free a dangerous vampire.
Knox hated Cora ever since she had accidentally bonded him. Well,
had accidentally bonded her, but he would never admit to that. He blamed her on a rage-filled level for their inadvertent link that meant he could only feed from her and no one else. He even threatened her life—the only way to swiftly break the bond? Someone had to die—which was the reason for his incarceration in the first place. He had no idea that she was now inhabited by a strange spirit. Probably wouldn’t matter if he did. She knew what was about to happen. Putting herself in his proximity was akin to suicide. She just hoped Mace wouldn’t be the one to find her body.
At the spirit’s greeting, he almost appeared taken aback, cocking his head to study her a moment. Then he grinned, but it was not a companionable expression. It was one of vicious triumph.
“Hello, Sadira,” he said in a low tone that Cora had come to fear. This
, who she deduced was the one commanding her body, did not seem to have such qualms.
How did Knox realize so swiftly that someone else had taken up residence within her? And how did he know her by name? She vaguely recalled him mentioning his reason for being at the cottage in the first place. Something about ghosts.
Smiling in a predatory fashion, Knox stood and stalked toward her. Cora’s mind screamed out a warning, but Sadira, either unable to hear her or straight up ignoring her, sauntered to meet him halfway, her hips swishing like a well-seasoned seductress.
Cora saw the clenched fist coming miles before Sadira did. And the second before hard knuckles knocked into her forehead with impeccable speed, she felt Sadira’s utter surprise.
Mace rolled over and drowsily reached out to pull Cora into the hard length of his body, and to check if she was awake, perhaps ready for round two.
When his palm met the cold sheet, he jerked upright. She rarely awoke before him. He figured after his performance last night, she would have slept well into the morning, but through the window, he could see the sun was just now beginning to rise.
Perhaps her appetite had finally returned. Thinking she might have ventured down for breakfast, he dressed and padded down the stairs. The living room was dark, as was the kitchen.
“Cora?” he called.
Had she taken a morning stroll around the cottage?
Even though the front door was locked from the inside, he stepped out and was met with cool, dewy air. A light fog rolled through the forest beyond. As he circled the cottage, seeking her scent, he called her name again.
And again, he received no reply. He couldn’t even sense her through the bond, and that truly terrified him. It meant that she was either too far away or still unconscious, which didn’t make sense. Why would she have left his bed in the first place?
He jogged around in a wider arch as a panic began to simmer. Something was off.
He thought about the eerie spell she had attempted last night and a shiver crawled along his spine. She had been chanting into a mirror, trying to contact a spirit that was apparently haunting this place, and then, as if in a trance, had literally reached through the glass.
Her hand had fucking disappeared!
After his initial shock at seeing that had receded, Mace had gone biolistic and snatched her hand back. She hadn’t even realized what she’d been doing! Had instead imagined a hand had been reaching out towards her.
Had she gone back to attempt the spell again while he’d slept and somehow been sucked through the mirror? He thought it unlikely. She had been just as unnerved by the event as he. But what if her curiosity had gotten the better of her? Could it be she was trapped in some netherworld right now? When dealing in magic, anything was possible.
With no indication of her presence outside, he returned to the upstairs hall and gazed into the rounded antique mirror, finding only his own reflection. His short brown hair was tussled and his expression harried. He tapped the solid surface with his knuckle. Not that he’d actually expected one, but he received no response.
Stabbing his fingers through his bed-messed hair, he called for Cora once more.
He had no idea how to proceed. It was as if she had just vanished. Even her familiar, Meeka, a small kitten who could morph into a powerful beast and was rarely far from Cora, seemed to have disappeared. Hopefully wherever Cora was, the animal was there to defend her as it had done against Knox roughly one week earlier.
Mace considered the massive complex underneath the cottage where Knox was currently imprisoned—the only other place he hadn’t checked. No way would Cora have gone down there. Not willingly…
What if Knox had escaped his cell? The other vampire was more familiar with the compound than Mace was. What if he had known of a way out of his cell even before Mace had put him in there? Was that why he hadn’t put up a fight?
Truly worried now, he raced back to the living room, through the kitchen, and down into the dark underground.
Shadows trailed along Cora’s fuzzy vision. Her head lulled. She blinked her eyes open a crack, trying to see clearly, but her eyelids battled her like a set of rusted steel storefront doors.
She could stand to sleep another five minutes, although she was positioned awkwardly. Sitting up, in fact. The hard back of a chair pressed into her spine. She used to sleep like this often, usually curled up against a dingy wall inside some nondescript building, even when she’d hooked up with that gang for protection.
A restraining pressure around her wrists piqued her alarm and chased away much of her drowsiness. She registered a painful throbbing front and center of her skull. It felt as though an ocean liner had rammed straight into her forehead.
Oh yeah…that had been Knox’s fist.
Cora’s eyes flashed open. The memory assailed her as full consciousness took hold. Slowly, her bleary sight cleared.
Her first surprise was to find herself staring directly into the merciless gray-blue eyes of a furious Knox. He knelt in front of her with his arms on either side of her head braced against the back of her chair. A scant space parted them.
She gasped in a harsh breath and cringed away, which alerted her to her second surprise. And one she found difficult to grasp.
She was alive!
And mostly unharmed…for now. Her future wellness was yet to be determined, and didn’t look promising.
But logically, she never should have woken up in the first place. Knox made no secret of his desire to see her dead and free himself from their inadvertent blood bond. So then what did he intend to do with her?
She gulped and glanced at the white nylon rope that trapped her wrists to the arm of the chair. Her ankles were equally constrained.
Seemingly back in charge of her own body, she was now at the whim of the most dangerous creature she could imagine: an angry, unpredictable vampire.
Sadly, this was not her first rodeo.
Her initial instinct was to make herself as small as possible, to avert her eyes from Knox’s drilling glare, and play the submissive in order to temper the inherent dominance of the capricious beast before her. It was how she’d learned to survive in the clutches of that mad vampire, Edgar, years before. But recently, Mace had instructed her to do the opposite, at least with Knox, suggesting he would otherwise see her as weak. As easy prey.
prey; he the predator. And right now she was a mouse in a hawk’s nest.
Still, she forced a steady gaze and straightened her spine. If nothing else, she would go out with a little dignity.
But why hadn’t he disposed of her already?
Perhaps he’d waited for her to awaken before the killing started. He was just the type to enjoy watching the light dim from his victim’s eyes as they gulped their last breath.
“The way you look at me with such contempt,” he sneered, displaying his sharp canines.
His accent had always sounded odd to her, a bastardized mixture of sorts. With that foreign cadence, he could have originated from Europe, but he had probably spent some time in Australia, yet there was also a hint of a southern inflection. His age combined with steady travel must have colored his speech.
He stood and retreated to lean against the plain gray wall. Were they still in his same cell?
“It must be Cora looking out through those pretty eyes now.” He cocked his head as if expecting her to confirm or deny.
She did an internal sweep, checking for any sign of the spirit’s hold over her. Had Sadira cut and run when she’d realized her
wasn’t in the mood to play, leaving Cora behind to take the punishment of her heedless actions?
“What does it matter when you plan to kill me all the same?” she replied. “Just get on with it and stop wasting my time.”
One corner of his mouth lifted. “You’ve got something to do just now?”
He crossed his arms over a black leather coat that he hadn’t been wearing previously. While she was out, he’d had time to change, maybe even shower. No longer was his hair in one thick braid, but fell loosely past his shoulders and appeared damp. The sides of his scalp were freshly shaved, leaving behind a fraction of dark fuzz. The scruff on his severe jaw was gone as well. He would look attractive if he wasn’t so evil.
Cora replied, “I’d rather be doing anything than sitting here waiting for you to do whatever it is you plan.”
“I suppose you think Mace will come to save you?”
She frowned. That was exactly what she had hoped. By now, Mace should have discovered her missing from his bed. He should be frantic to find her. Had Knox done something to him as well? Trapped him like he had before?
Alarmed, she reached out to sense Mace through their bond. She sighed when she discovered he was in fact in a frenzy. Thank the goddess, he was alive. Then, as if he sensed her too, a touch of relief joined his worry.
How long had she been unconscious? How long had Mace been searching?
Where the hell was she?
She glanced around the room, trying to determine if Knox had moved her from his original cell. There was nothing to distinguish it except that it might be a bit larger and there was no cot for a prisoner to lie upon. It was just an empty room but for her chair in the center. A canvas waiting for paint; hopefully not red.
“The compound is huge,” Knox said, sniffing out the trail of her thoughts. “And I know every nook and cranny. I helped draw up the blueprints.”
She slumped, dejected. Then Mace might never find her. Not in time anyway.
She lifted her chin, determined to conceal her discouragement. By Knox’s smug expression, the attempt was pointless. He could decipher her emotions just as easily as Mace. And because she was bonded to Knox as well, she was able to deduce his.
. He seemed skilled at blocking her whenever he wished. Cora had been working to learn that little trick ever since she’d discovered it was possible. As Knox smirked at her bravado, she imagined a mental wall slamming shut between them. She wasn’t sure if it worked in pushing him out completely, but he did frown at her.