Authors: Janet Eckford
This is for Ms. Winter who gave me a lovely little pep talk whilst I deliberated over the title for this story.
, expert at creepy prose. It’s what you do.
“Don’t move or make a sound.”
Mia froze at the command given by a guttural male voice. The sharp point of an object pressed into her back, between her shoulder blades, was even more alarming because it could only mean he had a drawn a gun on her. She’d moved to her neighborhood three weeks ago, and though it wasn’t the best of places she could live, it was all she could afford and she hadn’t thought about midnight muggings when she signed her lease. She blinked rapidly and tried to think of how she would walk away from the encounter with her dignity intact. Fear was an emotion she hadn’t become accustomed to in her new life.
Fear in the past for her had always been an appetizer to the main course of pleasure. Even now, as she waited for instruction, the heady memory of chasing down prey caused her body to tingle with anticipation. Her senses sharpened, and her mouth watered at the remembered taste of hot flesh and warm skin. It was a hunger that would never be fully sated now that she’d left her other life behind. Mia would not be swayed by the delicious vices of her past.
“Open the door slowly,” the man hissed in a low whisper.
Mia paused; the hard press of his weapon in her back let her know he was serious about his threats but her brain wasn’t willing to comply. Actually, it was the part of herself she locked away, her other half of teeth and pain that wasn’t willing to follow orders. Her silent other self that was gnawing at her from within, hoping to burst forth and feed the constant ache of hunger she tried daily to avoid.
“Please, I don’t have much money but take what I have,” Mia said with what she hoped was the appropriate amount of panic.
“I said open the door.”
Her attacker’s voice was laced with enough menace to make his words ring true but her initial shock was starting to wear off. It was late, her shift at a local coffee shop going longer than she’d expected, but it was not so late she couldn’t hear the night sounds of cars and people making their way through the darkened city. If she screamed someone would hear her--they might not save her but they would hear her, and the risk this home invasion presented far outweighed whatever her attacker was hoping to achieve.
Stepping forward, Mia turned around quickly and looked at the man who dealt in the business of terror and strife. She had expected another example of his prowess, a strike to the face, a menacing growl, or even the flash of his weapon to illustrate he was still in charge, but instead she watched as he faltered in his step and pulled back from her.
Mia stared in fascination as her attacker tried to rebuild the guise he’d donned so recently, but the moment had passed and she could sense his fear. She’d been so wrapped in the memory of her past exploits she hadn’t noticed the sweetly enticing scent of his anxiety permeating the space between them. Her secret other half snarled at the idea of taking him apart bit my delicious bit, and she shuddered from the exertion of keeping her natural tendencies buried deep within.
“You need to do what I say,” the man rasped out.
His gun shook ever so slightly. Others might have not noticed it, but she was always aware of the telltale signs of weakness. Those little indicators of body language that indicated a person was nervous and were trying so valiantly to pretend they were not. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and inhaled the aroma of his anxiety, letting it roll over the back of her tongue like a fine wine, and breathed out through her noise slowly, savoring the promise of an invitation she could not take.
“I know they put you up to this, but you have a choice. Run now--you may not get far but at least you’ll know you tried,” Mia whispered, infusing her voice with sincerity.
The man shook his head mutely and waved his gun. He was one of their good little sheep and was determined to reap the praise and adoration of his master. She sighed sadly; she knew the fate of sheep that were cared for by wolves.
“This isn’t going to work,” she called out loudly into the night.
“Be quiet,” the man hissed, looking nervously around him into the dark.
They must be near, she thought as she folded her arms across her chest. Of course they would be near; they’d put the bait in her path and were probably waiting expectantly to see if she would take it. Mia loathed them, the Family, and loved them in equal parts. All they had ever known was the easy prey of humans, the sweet taste of their warm blood and the tangy flavor of their flesh. Centuries of conditioning as the top of the food chain, the predator that walked in plain site as it hunted within the shadows, her kind couldn’t imagine another way, but Mia was determined to try. She was young enough to have
still and planned to live her life on her terms.
“I will shoot you.” The man stepped closer, pointing his gun with more purpose.
The light she’d left on earlier to illuminate her front door caused the dark metal of his gun to shimmer. She could see a silencer fitted snugly to the weapon, and she was sure he would indeed shoot her. The Family was big on making a point, and a lesson was never quite learned unless pain was involved. He had probably been told to shoot her where it would hurt but not enough to cause “real” harm. The poor fool didn’t understand he would have to shoot her in the heart or the head to do any real damage. If shot, the old Mia would have smiled as she pressed her fingers to the wound, pushing and prodding until her fingers were coated with her own blood. Humans were usually squeamish when faced with blood, and to see a nightmare come to life, reveling in their own pain, always sent her prey into a tailspin.
“What’s your name?” she asked softly.
“I will hurt you.”
Oh, she thought, they’d chosen well with this lovely little bit of male delicacy. He would hurt her and enjoy every minute of it. With each second that passed and she didn’t attack him, the sadistic nature that helped herald him into the loving bosom of her family became stronger. She was no longer the monster he’d initially feared; she was weak and easily controlled. The fact that the family had sent him to cause her pain probably reinforced this belief, bolstering his confidence. Mia didn’t need the gift of mind reading to know he would enjoy breaking her, but it would be done with a slow precision that would ensure that, once broken, she would never be put back together again.
“Shoot me if you must, but when I step inside and shut the door I suggest you run and run fast. As I’m sure you’re aware, they do not tolerate mistakes.”
Mia turned quickly and opened her front door, stepping inside the dimly lit hall of her tiny, first-floor apartment, and shut the door quickly. The man didn’t shoot her, and before she could exhale the breath she’d been holding she heard a muffled cry. It seemed as if the night sounds disappeared, and all she could hear was the sound of that man’s death. They’d chosen him because in the past she’d hated men like him, sheep that tried to pass themselves off as predators. They were always too loud and too rough, taking when there was no need, and lacking the patience to really learn how to hunt.
The sounds of fabric ripping and then flesh caused her heart to race in anticipation. She could smell blood mingling with the scents of the night, and the slurping gulps of who that had sent him caused that forbidden half of her to moan in ecstasy. Mia clenched her hands at her sides and tried to
herself to walk away from the door, to go into her bathroom and run a hot bath with lavender and jasmine. She would cleanse her senses of the blood and gore that was right outside her door and survive another day of sobriety.
was the operative word, because as the sounds of teeth rending flesh from the bone filled the quiet night she found she couldn’t move.
Mia was tempted--she was paralyzed, actually, with the desire to open the door and beg for the bits that were left. Savor the taste of a meal like no other, but she didn’t because she knew if she failed this test she’d never be able to pass any other the Family chose to send her way. She was her own woman now, and though it was difficult, she pushed that dark half of herself that craved the hunt back down into the deepest, darkest hole within her she could find. Her skin prickled and sweated from the exertion, but as with most challenges she faced, she surmounted it and breathed a sigh of relief.
Pushing from the door, she shook her whole body and felt the tension of the last few minutes fall off her like discarded water. She tuned out the noises from the other side of the door and walked through her tiny studio apartment, touching the now-familiar things she was collecting in her new life. The gesture grounded her and helped keep her in the present. All of this stuff was an example of the life she’d planned for herself, a life that was away from The Family. She could do this, she thought as she headed toward the bathroom and the promise of a hot bath.
“You’re getting sloppy.”
The cultured tones and deep timbre of a male voice startled Mia. She should have known the Family wouldn’t have stopped with the attraction outside her door but would also send backup just in case she was stubborn enough to pass on what they were offering.
“This is my sanctuary. I guess I assumed wrongly you all would respect that.”
She turned slowly and watched as he unfolded himself from the dark shadows that danced at the very edges of the room. It was as if they were one and the same, and as he stepped fully into the low light she’d turned on when she’d left for work earlier in the day, Mia resisted the urge to sigh out her appreciation.
It was hard, because one could not look at the sheer perfection that was Galen and not utter a sigh of contentment. He was darkly handsome with olive skin, burnished golden from his time in the sun, a tall, leanly muscled body that spoke of agility as well as strength, and a rakish mop of wavy raven hair that seemed to balance perpetually between groomed and wild. It was his eyes, though, that always held her captive, and as she gazed into them she resisted their magnetic pull.