Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4
+ + + + + + +
She'd left Larabee sleeping in her bed when she felt the strength ripple across the magnetic resonance. That Vin Tanner was connected to Chris Larabee was of little concern to her, but the others like her did not want anything to interfere with the feeding frenzy they'd been promised. She studied the six men who walked toward the van and probed the man Larabee thought of as his brother of the heart. There was another one that stood out, one with dark hair and a moustache and it didn't take her long to realize he was the one who knew her chosen mate the longest. Her wings stretched out above her body and she hovered above the group until they disappeared into the van. It would be a simple matter to kill them all tonight, but she wanted Larabee to see them die in order to satisfy his own bloodlust. With a renewed excitement, the shape-shifter flew high above the city and headed north toward the house she called home.
+ + + + + + +
Vin looked up from his desk when he heard footsteps approaching the office. The others were already present and working on the grotesque murder spree that seemed to be spreading. Even Ezra had showed up on time and managed to make coffee before he'd had a chance to set up the machine. The only one yet to show was Chris Larabee and Vin was beginning to worry when the clock struck eight.
"Well, good morning, Chris," Wilmington greeted the blond when he entered the office.
"Hello, Buck," Larabee said with a smile, and headed for the coffee pot.
"So, are you going to tell us about her?" the rogue asked.
"A gentleman does not debase himself by kissing and telling," Standish said from the computer terminal where he was working with JD.
"Chris never was a gentleman, Ezra," Wilmington said, but it was not meant as an insult.
"Maybe not, Buck, but I'm not going to tell you about her," Larabee said, sipping the aromatic brew. "Coffee's great, Ezra."
"What makes ya think Ez made the coffee?" Tanner asked, trying but failing to look insulted.
"That's simple, Son, he doesn't need a knife to cut it," Sanchez offered.
"Real funny, J'siah...see if'n I make it next time I'm first one in," the Texan vowed.
"Is that a promise or a threat, Tanner?" Larabee asked with a grin.
"Chris, what happened to your neck?" Jackson asked, noting the blond was wearing a turtleneck, something he said he thought had been developed to torture a man.
"What do you mean, Nate?" Larabee asked.
"You swore you'd never wear a turtleneck," the medic said. "Don't tell me things got a little heated between you and he lady last night?"
"You could say that," Larabee lied and adjusted the white collar.
"A hickey?" Dunne asked. "You got a hickey?"
"Well I'll be damned...let's have a look, Stud!" Wilmington said and reached out to pull down the material.
"Leave it be, Pard," Larabee warned and smiled in an effort to ease the tone he'd used.
"Must have been a hot night with a hellcat," the rogue said, frowning when he read something he didn't like in Larabee's eyes.
"Did you guys turn up anything yesterday?" the blond asked.
"Nothing you didn't read in the report Steven gave us," Wilmington answered.
"Damn, all right keep me updated on whatever you find out," Larabee said and entered his office, closing and locking the door behind him. He knew the others were watching him, but there was nothing he could do to stop what was happening to him. He no longer fought the touch of cold fingers in his mind and smiled at the idea of spending his time in Sarah's arms. His hand went to his throat where her 'love bites' burned, and knew there would be no denying her whatever she wanted. He loved Sarah...his Sarah...and she was his Sarah...wasn't she?
The pain, the familiar agony that swiftly spread through his skull was back and he knew what caused it and fought to push it away. There was nothing he could do to stop the tendrils that dug into his mind and forced him to accept her touch.
'No...no more...please no more, Sarah,' he thought and breathed through chattering teeth when the cold encompassed his body leaving him shivering in the wake of her frigid touch.
+ + + + + + +
She smiled, knowing the pain she caused was awakening him to her control and allowing her to move deeper into his mind. She grasped for his memories and chose the ones she would need over the coming days. She would strip him of the power he needed to fight her and on the Eve of Samhain she would take away what had once been a human soul and make him her changeling. He would be everything she wanted and would provide her with more than just companionship...he would be her mate and sire many more of her kind. With a flapping of veined wings, she flew back to her nest.
+ + + + + + +
JD studied the article he'd pulled up and frowned. The author was not well known, but Dunne had come across several of his pieces while back tracking through the gruesome case they were now involved in. Arthur Galloway had been delving into weird, unsolved cases and had deemed these particular murders as 'The Samhain Slaughter'. The series had been run in one of the tabloid newspapers beside such headlines as 'My Son's Wife is an Alien Incubator'.
Once he'd discovered there were several articles, JD began placing them in a file for later reading. Galloway would be in his late fifties now, and had an address in Billings, and if things went as planned Dunne was going to drop by his home after work. It was nearing five now and the others had already left, except for him and Buck who seemed to be checking into the background of several victims.
"JD, what's got you looking so serious?" Wilmington asked.
"Buck, you remember Josiah telling us about changelings?"
"I remember him talking about them, but what's that got to do with this case?"
"Have you ever read anything by a man named Galloway?"
"Can't say I have. Who is he?"
"He writes for them tabloid papers..."
"Ah, now that explains why I never heard of him and you're probably the guy's number one fan," Wilmington teased.
"Wrong...I never heard of him until I ran a search of the descriptions of the murders. Galloway seems to think there could be a common thread between Halloween and these murders. In several he draws on old stories and compares them to the murders in recent years."
"I suppose you're going to tell me that he thinks some kind of shape-shifting/vampire is killing young men?"
"I don't believe in vampires or shape-shifters, Buck, but this guy has drawn some interesting conclusions about the murders," Dunne told him.
"JD, the only real monsters are the people who write that crap!" Wilmington told him.
"Maybe, but Galloway has an address in Billings so I figured I'd stop by and talk to him," Dunne said.
"You're going to question a monster hunter about the case we're investigating? Chris'll have your hide, Kid."
"What's wrong with him, Buck?"
"With who? Galloway?"
"No, Chris. He's acting like he's..."
"In love?" Wilmington asked.
"No...not really, but there's something strange about the way he's closing himself in his office as soon as he comes in and then leaves without a backward glance. It's like he doesn't give a damn whether we solve this case or not!"
"JD, Chris has never turned his back on a case. It may seem like he's not paying attention, but you can be sure he knows everything that's going on," the rogue said and stood up to leave. "I need to check into a couple of things before I head home...I'll see you there."
"All right, Buck...don't forget it's your turn to cook," Dunne reminded the older man and watched him leave. A shudder ran down his spine and he stood up to go after his friend, but shook off the nagging feeling that maybe monsters did lurk behind the dark cloak of midnight.
+ + + + + + +`
Buck sat behind the wheel of his green Mustang and wondered why this case seemed to be pointing toward the darker side of human nature. He didn't believe in monsters or werewolves or shape-shifting vampires, but Halloween was just around the corner and seemed to bring out all sorts of crazies when the sun went down.
Chris did seem like he was distant, but didn't they all tend to seem that way when involved in a case of this caliber? There were more bodies than you could count on fingers and toes and each one had been grotesquely dismembered and drained of blood. He finally shoved the key into the ignition and drove out of the parking lot. Without realizing where he was headed, Buck drove north out of town and it dawned on him that he was headed toward Larabee's ranch on Old Pear Tree Road.
+ + + + + + +
Edward knew what she wanted and followed the green Mustang until they reached a deserted stretch of road north of Billings. He knew she wanted Wilmington alive and had chosen him to be the first captive because of his long standing friendship with Chris Larabee. She would use him to taunt her changeling until he begged for the man's life, but Wilmington would still wind up dead at Larabee's hands.
She showed up at the house with a new energy that spoke of the excitement of this time of year. The legends and folklore behind the Eve of Samhain always gave her kind a chance to be free and roam the world while the unsuspecting humans dressed in their horrific costumes went door to door in search of sweet treats.
Now he was on a mission, one she'd given him as soon as Larabee had pulled his truck to a stop in front of the house. She whisked him inside and toyed with his mind, seeking out the best way to heighten his fears and open him to her suggestions. He'd been fighting her while they were parted, but while together he melted under 'Sarah's' delightful touch.
The Mustang continued north and he kept his distance until they rounded a bend where the road narrowed and there were very few houses and even less vehicles. This was an ideal place to capture Buck Wilmington and he sped past the car, squealing his tires and slamming on his brakes just as he pulled in front of the unsuspecting driver. Edward reached into his pocket and uncapped the syringe she'd given him with specific instructions on where and how to inject the substance.
+ + + + + + +
Buck cursed the dangerous driver who'd nearly sideswiped his pride and joy and slammed on his brakes. He exited the car, anger gnawing at his gut as he grabbed the sedan's door handle and pulled it open.
"What the hell are you playing at?" Wilmington asked, moving back slightly when the driver looked up at him. There was something coldly calculating in the man's eyes, but Buck had no chance to dwell on it as something was shoved into his gut. He backed up, staring at his attacker as the man seemed intent on injecting something into his gut. He screamed as fire burned through his stomach and his legs buckled.
"Wha...the f...f...fuck did you d...do to m...me?" Wilmington stammered when the sharp needle was removed.
"Just a little something to open your mind," Edward said with a grin that showed the fangs beneath his upper lip. Oh he wasn't a full fledged vampire, but he did have similarities and could feed when it was warranted. He grabbed the trembling man, ignoring the cries of pain that escaped his throat and carried him to the trunk. He opened it, dropped the victim inside, and slammed it shut.
The Mustang was still idling and he quickly drove it into a recess in the road until it was hidden by overhanging trees and brush. Satisfied that the car would not be discovered he returned to the sedan and drove toward home.
+ + + + + + +
JD watched the numbers until he reached the address he'd been looking for. He turned into the driveway and was somewhat surprised to find the place in complete disarray. For some reason he'd expected the author's home to be a picture of luxury, but instead it was unkempt as if the owner neglected it. He pulled the motorcycle to a stop and looked around. The streetlights did not quite reach this far back from the road and the light over the door was dull and probably of low wattage. Dismounting, Dunne pocketed the keys and walked up to the house.
There was no doorbell, just a rickety old knocker that looked like it was from a bygone era. It was rusted with age and JD reluctantly lifted it, hoping it wouldn't fall apart in his hands. He knocked several times and then rubbed his hands together in an effort to ward off the cold. He could see his breath and turned to look out over the yard once more. Unlike other homes in the neighborhood, Galloway's house and yard were devoid of anything remotely resembling Halloween decorations. He heard a sound behind him and turned to see the door opening to the length of the security chain.
"What do you want?" the male voice asked, staying just beyond he light as if afraid to let anyone see him.
"I'm looking for Arthur Galloway."
"You've found him and I'm not giving out autographs so get off my property."
JD held out his hand to stop he door from closing and spoke quickly. "I don't want an autograph..."
"Paparazzi are not welcome here either!"
"Look, I just want to talk to you about your articles." The door stopped closing, but it didn't open any further either.
"What articles? I've done a lot of writing over the years."
"The ones dealing with the murders around Halloween," Dunne said and thought he'd lost the man's attention when the door closed abruptly, but soon heard the sound of the chain being released and the door opened all the way. He stepped into the darkened hallway and frowned when the man gazed out into the yard before closing and locking the door.
"You've got one minute to convince me that I should talk to you!"
"My name is JD Dunne and I work for an agency called The Firm..."
"Never heard of it!"
"We're a detective agency..."
"I don't rat on no cheating husbands or unfaithful wives...Out!" Galloway said and made to open the door.
"Just hear me out for a minute. Our agency rarely has anything to do with divorce cases. We help the police with cases that need more than they can give. We work through the government and have special credentials that allow us to go beyond what the police can do."
"You mean you don't have to go through the red tape shit?"
"Exactly...but most people don't know we have governmental approval for what we do. The Firm is simply another detective agency listed under F in the yellow pages. That way we don't arouse suspicion."
"So why are you telling me all this?"
"I want you to trust me and tell me what you know about the murders," Dunne said.
"I wrote everything I know in the articles."
"I don't' think so...at least not all of it. What do you know about shape-shifters and vampires?"
"I know that sometimes legends are based on fact..."
"See that's what I'm talking about. I want to know what you know..."
"I don't know much...you drink beer?"
"Yes," Dunne answered.
"Is there any other?" the young man asked and saw the dark eyes light up.
"Good...hate drinking that skunk water they try and sell now," Galloway stated and led the way into the kitchen.
The table was as cluttered as everything else in the house, but Dunne thought there was a chaotic organization to the mess of files and papers. He took a seat at the end and accepted the cold bottle from the older man. Galloway was going bald and what little was left of his hair was decidedly grey. He was as tall as JD, but had a belly that spoke of years of drinking too many bottles of beer. His clothing was wrinkled, but clean and JD couldn't quite get a read on him.
"All right, Dunne, what do you want to know?"
"When did you first get interested in these particular murders?"
"Fifteen years ago...I lost my boy to the bastard," Galloway told him.
"Don't say something you don't mean. You never knew him, but I can tell you he was a good boy and was at the top of the dean's honor role. It was Halloween and he went to a frat party...called me about ten to say he'd be spending the night so I wouldn't worry. Thing is he had a fight with his girlfriend and decided to take a walk. They found him...or what was left of him scattered over the park next to the main building. I remember thinking there really must be monsters out there and I started searching for other murders in the area."
"Did the police tell you anything about his body?"
"Just that he was torn apart..."
"No...he was drained of blood...not a drop left for the coroner to find," Galloway told him. "I think that was the point when I knew there really were monsters roaming the earth at night. I started digging into old case files and compiled a list of murders going deeper than the police reports because they left out some pertinent facts. I know why they do it, but sometimes it fucks up an investigative report when you don't have every detail you need. The police believe there are 48 victims, but I have reason to believe there are more...maybe as many as twice that number."
"Do you have any idea who is behind the killings?"
"I have a theory, but I doubt you'd believe me..."
"You'd be amazed at what I'd believe lately," Dunne said honestly.
"I believe the murders are the work of an ancient creature that some would say is a cross between a shape-shifter and a vampire. The creature was believed to have come through a portal that opened between our home and a place sometimes called the netherworld. It's known by many other names, but this is probably the most popular term associated with it. The creatures...and yes, I believe there are more than one, kept their existence secret for a long time, but recently they've been a lot more active and I believe that has something to do with this particular Halloween."
"Why? What's so special about this one?"
"I found some very interesting pieces in some mythological books that mention murders similar to the ones that have been occurring over the last 20 years and I believe it proves that this year marks the 200th anniversary of the first murder."
"Why would this one be special?"
"Again it's nothing concrete, but the more I backtracked the more I found that pointed to this year. One hundred years ago there were multiple murders around Boston, St. Louis, and several other cities. It lasted for several days before and after Halloween and then the murders died down again until the last few weeks."
"What do you know of changelings?" Dunne asked.
"Not much...just what I read in some old papers I found. There are several notations," Galloway rifled through several layers if papers and slid one across to the younger man. It was dated 1873 and written by a reporter who gave a first hand account of a death bed confession. "This one says a vampire...the kind that I believe is behind the murders, can make a changeling if she or he so chooses. The changeling becomes the mate and sires the 'vampire's' offspring and has to prove his worth before he's taken into the clan."
"How are they killed?"
"You sound like you believe what I've been telling you, Kid."
"I...something's going on and I keep going back to your articles. These shape shifting vampires you wrote about and how they kill is too close to what's been happening."
"Still doesn't mean it's anything more than my imagination and your inexperience...I write for tabloid magazines, Kid, so don't go believing everything I say."
"Why aren't there any Halloween decorations on your house?" Dunne asked.
"I don't have any kids...but I'm also of the old thinking that we shouldn't invite trouble by advertising that we're here," Galloway explained.
"You didn't answer my question," the younger man said.
"I thought I answered them all."
"How are they killed?"
"Honestly, Kid, you put too much in an old man's ramblings," Galloway said and drank the last of his beer before motioning for the younger man to follow him.
"Thank you for your time, Mr. Galloway," Dunne said when they reached the door and he stepped out into the cold night.
"Listen, Kid, you watch your back and don't go wandering the streets alone. You're just," he sighed as if reminded of his own loss when he looked at the young man who'd come to visit him. "Just don't tempt fate okay?"
"I have a job to do, Mr. Galloway and I've never turned my back on a case yet," Dunne said and put on his helmet. He climbed onto his motorcycle and nodded to the writer before driving away from the house.
Arthur Galloway watched the young man until he disappeared from sight before turning and stepping back into his home. He closed and locked the door and made the sign of the cross on his chest before checking every window in the house. He knew it was all part of the vampire legend, but he did not want to leave an opening where a creature just might find entrance.
He dwelt on his conversation with JD Dunne and realized why he locked everything up tight, why he kept a bottle of holy water in every room, why he kept a bible under his pillow, and why there was always a can of lighter fluid and a lighter in his pocket. If there was any truth to what he'd learned over the past fifteen years the best way to kill one of the creatures of the night was with fire. God help him, but he really did believe in legends and myths and the loss of his son had been the turning point in his life that gave him those childish fears. Turning on every light, Galloway made his way into the kitchen and listened to the howling wind and the sound of scratching at the windows.
"It's just the trees," Arthur whispered, but deep down he knew that was not possible since he kept the tree branches trimmed away from the house. A soft rustle, like the beating of gossamer wings had him reaching into his pocket and he removed the lighter fluid and the lighter and placed them on the table within easy reach.
+ + + + + + +
"Hello, Love, are you hungry?"
"For you...always," Larabee whispered and stared into the eyes set in the most beautiful face he'd ever laid eyes on. He reached for her and held her close before pressing his lips against hers. He balked at the coppery taste, but she held him firm, and slipped her tongue past his partially open mouth.
"Tonight is special, Chris...tonight I have made the first move toward turning you. In three nights' time you will become my changeling and then you will feed off the victims I choose for you. Edward is bringing one tonight, but I will only toy with him," she whispered.
"Why me?" Larabee asked when she changed before his eyes.
"Because you are a troubled soul, Chris. You have lost so much that you don't even realize how much it hurts you..."
"You have no idea," the blond whispered and fought to hold on to what was real. Sarah's love was real, but this creature was using it to control him.
"Chris, you will bend to my will or your friends will suffer a far worse fate than the one I have planned for them. Come, watch me hunt, but tonight I will not feed upon him as long as you allow me to take what I need from you," she whispered and pulled him to his feet. She led him out into the cold night and delighted in the goosebumps that formed on his bare skin.
Chris watched as the sedan pulled up behind his truck and shuddered at the thought of another hunt, another victim torn limb from limb while she fed on his blood. What had she said to him? That she would hunt, but this time she would not kill her victim as long as he gave her what she wanted. What did she want?
"Your blood, Love, I need it to sustain me while you are working...I will allow you to take some of mine..."
"I don't want it..."
"You will...You've tasted my blood, Love, and it flows inside you whether you admit it or not. Soon you will crave the taste and join me..."
"We'll see, Love...ah, Edward has brought you a friend."
"Buck!" Larabee cried upon seeing the struggling man being dragged toward him. "Let him go!"
"No...but you will choose whether the hunt ends in his death or in his defeat and our exchange of blood?"
"Ch...Chrisss...something's wrong...he shot m...me with sss...something...burnsss," Wilmington managed to gain his feet once the larger man released him.
Chris moved forward and managed to keep his friend from falling, but his victory was short lived when Wilmington was pulled from his grip. "What did you do to him?"
"It's just a little cocktail that's been passed down through my lineage, Love. He'll be fine as long as I give him the antidote, but he doesn't get that unless you agree to my terms."
"Don't lis...listen to h...her, Chris..."
"Where's the antidote?" Larabee asked, watching while his friend's body was wracked with unimaginable pain.
"He will get it, but not until I have your word that you will do as I say."
"Give it to him," Larabee ordered, his voice laced with an edge of steel.
"Don't...Chrisss...please," Wilmington shook his head at the look on his friend's face and knew the man would do anything to make the pain go away. Buck did not want that on his conscience...he already had enough guilt of his own.
"Well, Love, what is your answer?"
"I'll do what you want...just give him the antidote," Larabee said and was relieved when Edward injected something into Buck's face and the pain immediately ceased.
Buck fought to stand and glared at the woman, but gasped when his mind conjured up the face of Sarah Larabee. "No...it can't be...you're..."
"She's not, Buck..."
"Then fight her, Chris...don't..."
"He can't fight me, Buck," the creature said and smiled when Larabee sank to his knees.
"Let him go!" Wilmington raged, and moved to help his friend, but a hand clamped down on his shoulder and held him in place. "Damn you I said let him go!"
"Have no fear, Buck, I will not kill him. He is to become my changeling and share everything...even his flesh and blood with me," the female gloated and released her grip on the blond's mind. "You see there comes a time in our lives when we need to choose a mate and I have chosen him as mine. You and the others will play an important role in our ceremony and once you're dead we will feast on your flesh and drink your blood together. It will insure our future together and no one will be able to stop us."
"We'll stop you!" Wilmington vowed.
"I don't think so, but perhaps if you pass this test you can go free and warn your friends, but I doubt you'll be able to escape."
"What test?" the rogue asked.
"Start running, Buck, and if you reach the road I will allow you to go free, but if I catch you then you will be my guest until the Eve of Samhain. On that night you will join in the ritual hunt with your friends."
Buck kept his eyes on the slight female and figured she'd overestimated her abilities. He could easily outrun her, and felt confident in his athletic body. "I reach the road and we both go free and you don't come after us any more..."
"No....Buck, she'll kill you!" Larabee said.
"Now, Chris, there ain't a woman alive who can outrun ol' Buck on a bad day..."
"She's not a woman...she's...she's..."
"Be quiet, Love," the female said and smiled innocently at the handsome dark haired man. "Deal...start running!"
Buck smiled, made as if to tip an imaginary hat and began running away from the house. He frowned when there didn't seem to be anyone following him, but felt a gust of wind above him. He could hear Chris screaming behind him, but did not stop to find out what he was saying. The road was within reach when he felt something dig into his shoulders and force him to the ground. He gasped and rolled over, staring at the horrifying sight that hovered ten feet above him. Buck suddenly understood why Larabee had been screaming at him and rolled over. The edge of the road was only about six feet from where he lay and he quickly got to his feet only to find his body lifted and searing pain ran down his back as he struggled to escape the talons that sunk deeper into his flesh.
Chris could only watch as the shape-shifter easily caught Buck and lifted him high into the air. He half expected her to tear his friend apart, but she slowly lowered him to the ground and released her grip on his shoulders. Chris knelt at his side and lifted Wilmington toward him, cradling his head against his body before staring at the hated creature standing nearby.
"Chris...k...kill bitch..." Wilmington whispered and reached up to touch Larabee's chest. "Do any...anything t...to kill it!"
"I will, Buck," Larabee said, but the gentle rogue was torn from his grip and pulled to his feet. Edward held him in place while the creature moved to stand before Chris and he caught the scent of death and decay from the hideous body.
"I have kept my part of our bargain, Love, now it is time for you to fulfill yours..."
"Don't do it, Chris...don't..."
"Edward, shut him up!" the shape-shifter ordered and smiled when a cry of pain came from the other human. "Are you a man or your word, Love, or do I finish the hunt tonight? You see I know there are five other men you think of as family so killing this one now would not alter my plans for our joining."
"No hunt...leave him," Larabee whispered.
"Will you allow me to feed from you?"
"No!" Wilmington ground out and watched hopelessly as his friend closed his eyes and nodded once.
"Look at me, Love, I am your Sarah and I..."
"No...you may look and talk like her, but you'll never be my Sarah," Larabee said and gazed into the dark eyes that were now rimmed in a crimson tide. He slowly lowered his head to the left and provided her with the right side of his neck. He knew he was damned...knew everything he'd ever believed in was a lie as sharp fangs sank into his flesh and began to feed from his veins. The pain was excruciating, worse than anything he'd ever felt in his life and he saw fear in Wilmington's blue eyes. His legs trembled, his arms hung helplessly at his side while his lungs fought to draw enough air to sustain his depleting blood supply.
She fought the urge to simply take everything now and hope the ceremony would still work, and finally released her chosen changeling. She knew she'd won the first battle and bit into her right wrist until black fluid reached the surface. She knelt in front of the weakening human and placed her wrist against his mouth, anger flaring in her eyes when he tried to pull away. "Finish your bargain or I will tear him apart and serve him to you on a platter."
Chris felt the loss of everything he loved as he opened his mouth and tasted the brackish liquid that flowed through the creature's veins. He tried to pull away, but she placed a taloned hand against the back of his neck and forced him to feed from her veins.
"Take it, Love, take it and you will begin the journey that will bring you to me, body and soul," she whispered and smiled when she saw the horror on Wilmington's face.
"Your God has deserted you, Buck, and in three night's time you will know that there really is hell on earth," she said before removing her wrist from Larabee's still sucking mouth. "Put him in the cage, Edward."
"Yes, Mistress," the big man said and dragged Wilmington toward the back of the house.
"Come, Love, tonight you took a big step toward a journey that will last hundreds, perhaps thousands of years." The female smiled and pulled the unresisting human to his feet and led him toward her home.
+ + + + + + +
JD parked his motorcycle in the reserved spot in the basement and shook his head when he saw the empty spot where Buck usually parked his Green Machine or Love Machine as he often called the Mustang. He made his way toward the stairs and made his way up to his floor and along the corridor to his apartment. Once inside he tossed his keys on the table and grabbed a cold beer from the fridge before moving into the living room and sitting at his desk. He quickly booted up his computer and began searching for anything dealing with supernatural folklore. There wasn't much on the shape shifting vampires Galloway had told him about and was amazed at some of the stuff that came up. Most of the articles were vague about where the legend originated or how to kill them, but JD would not give up. There were too many lives lost and whether it was a creature that roamed the streets in search of its victims, or simply a madman, it was time to put a stop to the grotesque murders.
+ + + + + + +
The streets were quiet as the wind howled down through the alleyways and rustled through the trees that lined the park near Rimrock Mall. The creature flew high above the city searching for a victim that would satisfy its needs. There were several of them nesting in the vicinity of Billings, waiting for the culmination of the special hunt to take place this special year.
Most of their kind had died off or been killed by the stronger of their species in order to protect themselves from discovery. Arthur Galloway was a danger to them and they'd found him living within the city, but the man seldom ventured forth and never left a single opening for them to enter. Once, nearly seven years ago, one of their kind had tried to enter Galloway's home and found herself face to face with a fireball that had ended with her burnt husk being scattered by the winds.
He dipped low, following the tree line, searching like a hungry cat that hadn't eaten in weeks. At the edge of the park, near a row of small saplings a man was huddled beneath a park bench as the creature's eyes scanned the area. Nothing moved, not even the animals that sensed his presence and he smiled as he landed at the feet of his prey. This man was weak...had probably lived on the streets for too long and drank too much, but there was warm blood flowing through his veins and right now it would have to do. Unlike others of his kind he did not need young, healthy blood, for he was stronger than any other force in this clan. It would remain that way until the Eve of Samhain when another, a female, would take a mate, a changeling and then she would lead them for the next one hundred years.
The creature bent low and ran a sharp claw along the sleeping man's leg and smiled when the man opened his eyes and tried to scream. A simple gesture with his hand had the homeless man gasping for air, but he allowed his victim to stand and run. The hunt...an exhilarating prelude to the feeding was something he enjoyed and he often toyed with his victims for hours. Tonight he would not do that for he sensed that there were warriors in the city. Men who would not bow down to his wishes and could very well turn the hunter into the hunted.
The man had been on the streets for so long he could not recall his name let alone where he lived or even if anyone cared about him. His life had been a hard one from the moment he'd opened his eyes and looked at the stranger in the mirror. There was simply no recollection of who he was or why he existed from that day in the nondescript motel room outside some nameless city. Yet he knew the creature that now stalked him was not of this world...could not be or everything he'd seen and heard was a lie. The wind howled and ice pellets bounced off his bare skin driving him forward, deeper into the trees that edged on the river running through the park.
He tried to scream, but nothing escaped his throat as he glanced over his shoulder and wished he hadn't. The creature loomed bigger than anything he'd ever seen and then dove toward him. He screamed, but again no sound emerged and he remembered how he'd lost his hearing and the simple thing called speech, but he could not dwell on that memory. His body was lifted from the ground, yet his legs continued to pump as if he was still racing away from the creature that now held him, lifting him higher and higher as it sank it's fangs into his neck. He knew he was dying, there was no way out of it now, and he closed his eyes as the cold enveloped his mind and body. His heart was still pumping when his right arm was torn from its socket, and his eyes bulged from his skull. By the time the beast tore his left arm from the shoulder socket, he was dead, but there were still the soft whimpering cries that would echo and re-echo through the cold air.
Satisfied, and full, the creature released the torso and watched uninterestedly as it sank toward the river below. The body would baffle the police for months and would end up in their cold case files as they always did. He lifted his head and scented the air around him, feeling the shift in power. He shuddered at the thought that somewhere in this city there were forces that could very well bring about his death and the very existence of his kind. He flew higher, away from the strange feelings and flew toward the house where the female held two men captive. These men had something to do with the terrible feelings the city had instilled in him and he needed to be sure she was in control of her future and not the other way around.
+ + + + + + +
Chris pulled his truck into his parking spot and was relieved to see he was the first to arrive. He placed his arms on the steering wheel and leaned forward as pain ripped through his skull. He'd thought about fighting the creature that had come into his life, but each time she renewed her hold on his mind and sent daggers through his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he tried to ignore the taste and scent of her body mingled with his own and wondered how he was going to get through the day.
Chris opened the door and stepped out into the bright sunshine, but shivered as a cold wind blew across the nearly empty parking lot. He closed the door and hurried inside, nodding at the man who sat behind the desk.
"Morning, Chris, you're in early."
"I figured I'd better be first in once in a while," Larabee told him.
"Have you seen this morning's paper?"
"There's been another one...Out near Rimrock Mall. They found a body...or what's left of one scattered along the river's edge," the security guard explained.
"Damn...do they know who it was?"
"Not yet...just that it was a man and he was torn apart. Who the hell in their right mind would do something like this?"
"That's just it, Tom, whoever it is doesn't have a mind. They're insane and they can't help themselves..."
"You sound like you feel sorry for them?"
"No...mad as hell is more like it. Look...just be careful, okay?"
"Careful is my middle name," Tom said and watched the blond leave. There was something strange about the way Chris Larabee walked away from him, but he couldn't quite put his hand on what was bothering him.
Chris entered the elevator and leaned against the wall. His stomach churned and he knew he was going to be sick. He closed his eyes and fought the mounting nausea and raced toward his office as the doors opened. Chris barely had time to use his keys and raced through the dark outer pen and into his private sanctuary. He barely made it into the bathroom before being violently sick. Again and again his body shook with the force of the sickness and brackish fluid poured from his mouth. By the time it was over he was weak and trembling and knew there was no way he could fight the woman's wishes. She'd taken some of his blood and given him some of hers and there was nothing he could do to turn back the clock. She had called him her changeling...was that what he was? Was he even now changing so that his body would crave flesh and blood?
Shaken to the core, Chris knew there would be no answers for him on the bathroom floor. He needed to keep the others away from the creatures and maybe he could make a deal with her...give himself to her completely in exchange for their lives. He stood up, leaning on the sink and pressed the lever that would wash away the evidence of what he'd willingly drunk the night before. Again he tried to fight her touch, but the magnetic resonance that flowed between them seemed heightened in spite of the distance. He could no longer fight her...and closed his eyes when she spoke through the strands that now tethered them like a taut rope.
Chris heard the others enter the office and quickly washed his face and hands before going out to meet the new day. He walked out and looked around the front office, noting the empty seat at Wilmington's desk.
"Morning, Chris, you're in early," Sanchez said.
"Figured it was time I beat you yahoos in," Larabee said and turned to the Texan.
"So what is she like?" Tanner asked and saw a flicker of something close to fear in Larabee's eyes, but it was gone before he could tell if it was real or imaginary.
"Pretty...and that's all I have to say," Larabee answered.
"Anyone heard from Buck?" Dunne asked, frowning when he looked toward the empty desk.
"Yes, he came in early, but he left to check out the murder scene," Larabee lied easily and pointed to the newspaper Standish held. "They found another dismembered body last night."
"Damn, they are getting closer together," Jackson observed.
"Something evil this way comes," Sanchez told them.
"I thought it was something wicked..."
"This goes beyond wicked, JD, this is evil," Sanchez told them.
"I told Buck there's something going on...more than just a crazy murderer," Dunne told them.
"What are you talking about, JD?" Larabee asked.
"Josiah, you remember telling us about the Eve of Samhain and how it's supposed to be when the veil that separates our world and the otherworld is at its thinnest and that..."
"JD, this is not the time to talk about childhood nightmares and folklore..."
"Chris, let him finish," Sanchez interrupted softly. "What does all this have to do with the murders, JD?"
"I was checking back through the cold cases...the murders and how there seems to be more as Halloween draws closer. I came across a series of articles by a man named Arthur..."
"Galloway," Sanchez said.
"Yes...how did you know?"
"I've read several case files where he's shown evidence that he believes proves his theory, unfortunately that's all it is, Son...a theory put forth by a man who's lost something and can't get it back," the ex-preacher explained.
"I don't know, Josiah...see he seemed to know a lot about shape-shifters and vampires..."
"Kid's stories, JD, that's all they are. He probably wants to sensationalize everything so he can sell more garbage to those tabloid papers," Larabee said disgustedly.
"No...see he doesn't want that and he warned me to be careful. Told me to watch my back..."
"That's something you should always do, JD," Larabee told him.
"I do, Chris, but Galloway also told me some things about Changelings..."
"There's no such thing! Look, JD, we need to concentrate on the case and not on something from a fairy tale by the brother's Grimm!" Larabee snapped.
"Easy, Chris, JD is just..."
"Talking bullshit!" the blond spat. "I don't give a damn if it is close to Halloween there's no such things as...as ghosts and goblins so put that shit away and get back to finding out everything there is to know about the victims. I'll be in my office if and when you decide to talk about this case in a serious manner!"
The five men watched their leader storm into his office and close the door behind him. No one spoke for several minutes, but they all knew something had upset Larabee and until they found out what it was they'd be walking on eggshells. Vin stood and walked toward Larabee's door, but Sanchez stopped him.
"Give him a few minutes, Vin, it looks like he could use it," Sanchez said and watched the Texan walk reluctantly to his desk and sit down, but his eyes were on the closed door and Sanchez began to wonder if maybe there was something to the legends and folklore surrounding this case.
+ + + + + + +
"Why have you come here?" the female creature asked when the oldest member of their clan landed before her.
"You underestimate their strength," the male shape-shifter said simply.
"Everything is under control. Chris chose to feed from me and accepted my offering in exchange."
"No, he did not choose...you forced him to decide between..."
"It does not matter. He was given a choice and he made it. He is strong and it has taken everything I have to keep him under my control. I have been careful which is more than I can say for you."
"What do you mean?"
"You killed tonight and you did not hide it...I can sense them closing in on us and you are being stupid," the female snapped and found herself gasping for air as the bigger creature wrapped his elongated fingers around her throat and began to squeeze.
"You may believe that you are destined to take over, but that will not happen until you have proven yourself worthy on the Eve of Samhain. Until you've mated with the human you are under my rule and I do not appreciate your tone. Take heed, Shareena, for I may yet kill you before the ceremony!"
She knew he could easily snap her neck, and the use of her given name told her he was very displeased with her actions. She continued to fight his touch and was finally released. Her body dropped to the ground and she gasped for breath before looking up at her visitor. "I may not have your skill, Tackore, but I do know that I have the right to choose my mate and to challenge you for the leadership of the clan."
"We shall see, Shareena."
She watched him change into his vampire form and rise high above before disappearing over the trees.
"He is dangerous, Mistress."
"So am I, Edward," she vowed and allowed him to pull her to her feet.
"You may have to kill him."
"If it comes to that I will," she vowed and hurried into the house. There was no doubt in her mind that once she was mated with Chris Larabee she would easily defeat Tackore and ban him...or kill him as was her right. She could hear the human moving around in his cage and smiled as she changed direction and made her way toward the back of the house.
+ + + + + + +
The cage was small and barely gave him room to sit up, but Buck didn't mind. Right now the pain in his shoulders was so bad that any movement sent agony twisting along the nerves, yet he could live with the pain. He couldn't live with what he'd seen and what she'd made Larabee do. The sight of her feeding off his friend and then forcing Chris to take her blood in return sent fear into his heart. How could he stop what was happening? Was there some way to stop what she'd put into motion? Was there some way to rid Larabee of the horrifying things she'd done to him?
Buck didn't understand what she was, but he did know she was evil and there was always a way to fight evil, he just needed to find it. God, he wished Josiah was here...not in this position but within listening distance. The ex-preacher understood about evil and he knew how to deal with it. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the things he'd heard the older man preach about and vowed to pay more attention when...if, he corrected himself...he got out of this mess.
He shifted slightly, and wrapped his arms around his body, shivering uncontrollably as the bitter cold nipped at exposed flesh. God, he was going to freeze before the hunt she talked about happened. He closed his eyes and pictured the woman Chris Larabee had married. Sarah was nothing like the cold hearted bitch who tried to take her image and Buck silently prayed for help.
'Sarah, I know I don't go to church as often as I should and maybe this is penance for that, but I'm going to need your help...God's help if I'm going to get Chris out of this mess. She's evil, Sarah...I don't know exactly what she is, but she's hurting Chris...hurting him not just physically. She's toying with his mind too. She's taken your memory and is using it against him...changing him into what she wants him to be. I can't let that happen...I'd rather kill him first,' Wilmington thought and sat upright when he heard laughter from beyond the pool of crimson light he was bathed in.
"You can't save him, Buck...not now...not when he's already becoming my changeling."
"Don't bet on it, Bitch!"
"You're in denial right now, but you know you're not strong enough to fight me. There are more of my kind nearby...I can feel them. They are as excited as I am about the celebration to come. They will be here and they will participate in the ritual hunt, but they will not drain your blood. That simple pleasure will be left as a gift to my new changeling," the creature said, smiling so that the tips of her fangs could easily be seen.
"Chris won't be that easy to turn!"
"Are you sure about that? It seems to me he would do anything to keep you and the others alive. I might even be tempted to set you free if he comes to me willingly and allows me to drain him and then give him life..."
"What you're giving is not life...it's death...cold and dead...just like you and your boyfriend..."
"Edward is not my boyfriend...he is simply a vampire...a very quiet one who has chosen to serve me since the day I first drained him and gave him a better life. You see Edward was a slave...one who'd been beaten to within an inch of his life before I came along. He practically begged me to change him and when I did I allowed him to seek his revenge. In fact I helped him hunt down those responsible for his state and tore them apart after he fed on their blood."
"He was a fool to let you use him," Wilmington spat.
"You are just angry because I am not giving you what I am offering Chris. He is going to choose to be with me," she said before turning and leaving the injured man alone with his thoughts.
Buck took a deep breath, wincing when his back rubbed against the bars of his cage. He knew the puncture wounds had stopped bleeding, but the burning sensation worried him. It could mean they were infected...or something worse if he thought about what had inflicted the wounds. Sighing tiredly, Buck closed his eyes and entered a nightmare world he never thought to see in the light of day.
+ + + + + + +`
Arthur Galloway opened his door and quickly grabbed the newspaper on the stoop before closing and locking the door behind him. He stared at the front page and knew he had to do something. The young man's visit had given him some hope, but he could not hope to defeat these creatures without help. He'd tried that before, when he first discovered their existence, but had failed miserably. His hand strayed to his neck and the raised bumps he found there. It had been so quick and so unexpected that it had nearly cost him his life, but he'd escaped, at least that's what he kept telling himself even when the golden rays of the sun gave him a headache. Maybe the answer to his prayers was closer than he thought. Maybe he needed fresh blood and a young mind to help him find a way to stop the creatures from completing the ritual set for two night's time.
Galloway tossed the unread paper on the table and reached for the phone, but stopped when he realized he didn't have the number. He knew the kid worked for some kind of detective agency and pulled out the yellow pages. Slowly he ran his fingers down the list of names until he found the one that rang a bell. He dialed the number and waited for someone to answer.
"I need to speak to JD Dunne..."
"Just a second...JD it's for you."
"Thanks, Nathan...this is JD Dunne..."
"JD, it's Arthur Galloway...you came to see me last night," Galloway said. "I need to speak to you...alone"
"I'm on my way."
"Bring everything you have on the murders...there may be something we can do to stop what's happening, but I don't want anyone else involved," Galloway told him.
+ + + + + + +
"Is something wrong, JD?" Tanner asked.
"No...I just need to meet with a snitch. He's got some information we might need," Dunne explained, hitting the button that would send the files to his laptop.
"You be careful, Son," Sanchez warned.
"I will. I'm not sure what time I'll be back....tell Chris...tell him..."
"We'll cover for you, JD," Tanner vowed and glanced toward the door behind him. No sound had come from Larabee's office since he'd stormed in there an hour ago.
"Thanks, Vin, I'll call if I find out anything," Dunne assured them.
"Just remember not everything you hear is true, Son...Galloway could be a dangerous old coot or he could be on to something," Sanchez told the youngest member of the team.
Dunne nodded his thanks and hurried out of the office, aware that the reason for his haste was that he had no desire to face off with his boss. Something strange was going on with Larabee and JD was not sure he wanted to know what it was. He certainly didn't want to explain to Chris why he had transferred these particular files to his laptop without going through channels first. He hurried out of the building and briefly wondered if he should try calling Wilmington's cell again, but pushed the thoughts away before climbing onto his motorcycle and heading for his apartment building. Once there he grabbed his laptop and headed for his car instead of the motorcycle and drove toward Galloway's home.
+ + + + + + +
Chris knew he should get to work, but right now there didn't seem much point to it. His life was changing, his mind just not interested in looking at papers, his body craving the taste of strength she'd given him. He silently cursed his weakness when he thought about Buck in the hands of the creature who owned part of his body and most of his mind. There was less pain now and he realized she probably didn't need to cause him pain, because she had something he cared about.
Chris threw the empty coffee cup across the room and stood up. He grabbed his coat from the back of the chair and strode out into the main room. "I've got a meeting...close up early if nothing turns up!"
"Chris...Chris!" Tanner called, but was surprised when the blond just continued out the door without a backward glance. "What the hell's his problem?"
"Vin, maybe you should go after him," Jackson said, knowing if anyone could find out what was bothering the blond it was the Texan.
"Go, Vin," Sanchez agreed and watched the younger man hurry after their team leader.
Vin ran toward the stairs and opened them in time to hear footsteps several floors below. He knew it was Larabee and instinct told him there was definitely something strange going on with his friend. He reached the first floor in record time and shoved open the door in time to see Larabee leave through the main entrance.
Chris had no idea where he was going, but he needed to get away. He had to fight, but he didn't seem to have the will anymore. He reached his truck and leaned his head against the cold window, gasping when he heard her voice in his mind.
'Bring him to me, Chris.'
'Bring him to me or Buck Wilmington will suffer far worse than anything you've seen so far.'
"Chris, are you all right?"
"Go away, Vin!"
'Don't fight me on this, Chris, you cannot hope to win! I will be waiting!'
"Jesus, Vin," Larabee said and swallowed several times in an effort to clear his head. He knew it was useless to fight the creature invading his mind and turned to face his friend.
"What's going on, Chris?"
"What do you mean?"
"It ain't like ya ta leave in the middle of the day...especially when we're workin' a case like this one."
"What's so special about this one, Vin? We've worked murder cases before..."
"I know, but they're not usually this grizzly..."
"The Anderson murders," Larabee said.
"Okay, they're not all so grizzly, but you've never run out on a case before..."
"I'm not running out, Vin, I have a meeting," Larabee told him.
"Really? With who?"
"Not that it's any of your business, Vin, but I do have a private life outside of the office..."
'Bring him to me, Love...I am waiting.'
"Vin, why don't you come with me? I'm going to meet her for lunch," Larabee offered.
"You sure you want me tagging along?"
"Jesus, Vin, make up your mind. First you're drilling me about where I'm going and now that I'm willing to let you ride along you're..."
"Easy, Chris, I'm just teasin' ya...I'd love ta meet yer lady friend," Tanner said and moved to the passenger side of the truck.
'No...no you don't, Vin....God help me you don't, but I can't fight her any more,' Larabee thought and climbed in behind the wheel.
"So where are we going?"
"Her place," Larabee answered and drove away from the building with the creature's voice echoing inside his skull and making it hard to concentrate on anything except the mounting headache.
+ + + + + + +`
JD parked his car in front of Galloway's house and hurried up the debris strewn pathway. The house and yard were in worse shape than what he'd seen during his last visit. He reached for the door knocker, but was stopped when Galloway opened the door and pulled him inside, locking the door behind him.
"Come on, JD, we have a lot to discuss," Galloway ordered and pulled the younger man toward the living room. There were papers and articles strewn all over the place and he knew the story he represented would be hard for the younger man to believe, but he needed to make the kid see what he saw before it was too late to stop the creatures of the night.
"What's all this?" Dunne asked.
"History, Kid...not ours...theirs."
"The shape-shifters. Since my son died I've been keeping a journal of their activities, but I've also kept every article or clipping that even remotely resembled their ways of killing."
"You told me they were just kid's stories," Dunne told him.
"Forget what I told you, JD, or else you can kiss your buddies goodbye. There's just too much shit for this to be a hoax or a kid's bedtimes story...hell it can't even be an urban legend anymore. Not when you look at everything together. It started a long time ago...and if we don't stop it then it'll keep right on going and a lot more people are going to die."
"How do we stop them?"
"That's something I don't know, but the answer has to be in here. I figure they can be killed by fire...and it seems to scare them, but that's only my take on it. Maybe there's something in here that'll tell us more," Galloway suggested and threw a pile of aged papers to the younger man.
"Those are the earliest records I've found about these things. It dates back 200 years...weird thing is the anniversary coincides with Halloween. So start reading, Son, because it's just around the corner," the older man said and picked up a stack of papers.
+ + + + + + +
"How far out does she live?" Tanner asked. They'd been driving for well over an hour and had left all signs of civilization behind them. Larabee had been quiet...obscenely quiet even for him. They'd hardly spoken ten words between them since leaving The Firm's office building.
"She likes her solitude, Vin," Larabee answered.
"So do I, Chris, but this is out in the boonies," Tanner said, smiling when his stomach rumbled loudly. "I hope she's got lunch ready."
"Me too...that beast sounds ravenous." Larabee continued to stare straight ahead and wished there was some way to keep the others out of this.
'You can't, Love, they are a part of this. You are going to need them so be strong. I am waiting for you.'
"We're coming, Sarah..."
"What'd ya say, Chris?" Tanner asked.
"I said we're almost there," the blond lied.
"Almost where? Jesus, Chris, I don't see nothin'," the Texan said, glancing along the tree lined gravel road.
"Just over the next rise, Vin," Larabee answered and finally turned onto a narrow winding driveway. Two minutes later he pulled to a stop in front of a weather beaten Victorian style house complete with gables and columns. An old black Sedan was parked near the front door and Chris exited the truck and waited for the Texan to do the same.
"She lives here?"
"Yes, she does," Larabee said with a slight smile. "And you say I'm a snob...what's wrong, Vin, too rustic for you?"
"No...rustic ain't the word I'd use...where's yer lady?"
"Here she comes now," the blond said and hurried toward the pretty woman who'd stepped away from the right side of the house.
"Hello, Love, I'm so glad you decided to join me for lunch...who's your friend?"
"This is Vin Tanner...he's a friend of mine and works for the same agency I do," Larabee explained. "Vin this is..."
"Sarah?" the Texan whispered and unconsciously stepped back. "Can't be...you're..."
"Dead? Damn, he knows our secret, Love," the creature whispered and shifted her image, showing the newcomer exactly what she was.
"Chris, we need to..."
"I'm sorry, Vin..."
"Chris!" the Texan said when Larabee moved away and allowed the hideous creature to move toward him.
"Chris belongs to me, Vin, and I am not willing to share him with anyone. In two nights' time we will be joined in a special ceremony and at that time you and the others will take part in the sacrificial hunt. Chris will feed off your bodies while your heart still beats in your chest!"
"I don't think so, Bitch!" Tanner said and tried to move around the creature, but again she changed shape and stood before him looking like a cross between a vampire and a gargoyle. "Yer one ugly Mother..."
"Get in the truck!" Larabee ordered, screaming as she turned and stared into his eyes. He sank to his knees and tried to crawl away, but she touched his forehead and the world around him exploded in white hot molten lava that burned his soul.
"Chris...get away from her!"
"He is mine!"
"Not fer a minute!" the Texan said and moved to stand between her and the writhing man who'd come to be more of a brother than friend to him.
"You cannot stop this...it is part of our ritual. I chose him..."
"It's plain he didn't choose you!" Tanner snarled and was flung off his feet when a winged appendage struck his chest. He landed hard against the sedan and crumbled to the ground, staring at the scene before him. The creature had moved in on Larabee as soon as it shoved him aside and as impossible as it seemed the fingers of her right hand were imbedded in Chris Larabee's forehead.
"You are mine, Love, and I will not allow anyone to interfere," the creature vowed and turned to stare into the Texan's blue eyes. "Edward, put Vin with the other one and see that we are not disturbed!"
Vin heard the voice from the roof of the car and looked up when a second creature leapt to the ground in front of him. As impossible as it seemed the wrinkled creature lifted him and easily threw him over his shoulder. Vin tried to fight, but his lungs burned with the need for oxygen, and he could not seem to draw a breath. His chest hurt and he wondered if the winged creature had damaged his ribs, but he didn't have time to dwell on the injury as he was deposited inside a cage and the door was slammed shut.
"Vin...is that you?"
"Buck...sonofabitch," the Texan swore when he was finally able to draw air into his lungs. "How did you get here?"
"Not sure...got waylaid by the big bastard and he threw me in the trunk of his car. Next thing I knew the bitch was hunting me and making Chris...making Chris..."
"Making Chris what?" Tanner asked worriedly.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you..."
"Try me...after what I just saw there's nothing you could say that would shock me," the sharpshooter vowed.
"She drank his blood, Vin...she sank them damn fangs into him and was drinking his blood and then she forced him to take some of hers in exchange. She said she's going to make him her changeling...turn him into some kind of vampire on Halloween. I know it sounds stupid..."
"Not stupid...damn it I wish it was," Tanner said, wincing when he felt his ribs shifting.
"Are you hurt?"
"Mostly my pride," the Texan answered. "What about you?"
"My shoulders, that bitch dug her claws into my shoulders and it burns," Wilmington answered.
"I seen her put her fingers into his head, Buck...she's fucking with his mind."
"I know, but there's nothing we can do until we get out of here," the rogue said and sifted in the narrow confines of his cage.
"Wish I'd paid more attention to Ezra's lessons on lock pickin'," Tanner said.
"Wouldn't help...there doesn't seem to be any locks on these cages," Wilmington told him and closed his eyes as the burning sensation in his shoulders intensified.
"There's always a way out of a cage, Buck, it's jest a matter of findin' it," Tanner vowed and began searching for a weakness he could use.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah looked at the clock and tried Tanner's cell number again. There hadn't been any word from either of the missing men since they'd left the office and Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra were getting worried. JD's cell phone was busy, Larabee's and Tanner's were out of range, and Buck's seemed to be turned off.
"Josiah, who was that writer JD said he was going to see?" Jackson asked.
"Galloway, Arthur Galloway," Sanchez answered.
"Ezra, do we have an address on him?" the medic asked.
"I believe so, if not I will find it...hold on," Standish said and began tapping the keys on his laptop.
"This just doesn't feel right, Josiah. Something's going on and it's not something I want to see," Jackson observed.
"I know what you mean, Brother, there's something out there and somehow it's feeding off our fears. Lord knows there are enough references to evil and its incarnations in the Bible, but I've never truly believe it was something we could reach out and touch."
"What does the Bible say about fighting it?" Jackson said.
"It says a whole lot of things, including faith, but my father always said when faith is not enough then use bullets, knives, and anything else you can hold in your hands. He called it going Old Testament on them," Sanchez offered with a toothy grin.
"Your father was a smart man," Jackson said.
"Here it is," Standish told them and printed off the address.
"I think it's time we had a talk with Arthur Galloway," Sanchez said and waited for the two men to finish what they'd been doing. It was nearly quitting time anyway and nothing more could be done until they had the reports from the police department or Larabee, Wilmington, Tanner, or Dunne called in.
+ + + + + + +
"Edward, I want them brought here tonight," the creature said as she ran her fingers through Larabee's hair. She'd caused him more pain than she meant to, but at least now she had him under her control and would hold him here until the ceremony was completed. Chris Larabee was proving to be a lot stronger than she'd given him credit for, but that pleased her because it was something he would pass on to their children.
"It will be easy to get Standish, Jackson, and Sanchez, but the young one...Dunne...he is holed up with Galloway," Edward explained.
"When all of this is over I want that nosy bastard dealt with," she said and looked into Larabee's glazed eyes. She had fed on him again and easily cajoled him into drinking from her veins with just a threat to Tanner's life. It would not be long before Chris Larabee was a full changeling and would never question or fight her again. Until then she would enjoy his little attempts to betray her and use his friends to make him cooperate.
"Go get the others and bring them here," she ordered and continued to toy with Larabee's soft hair. She heard him leave and knew it would not be long before the other three men were in cages and that would leave just one on the loose. Perhaps she would leave him alone and see if he truly believed what Galloway was telling him. He would not be able to hurt them so long as they left Billings and found a new place to start over.
"Please, let them go..."
"So you were not sleeping as you wished me to believe. You know, Love, there really is no point in fighting me."
"I will do everything you ask...just don't hurt them."
"You will do everything I ask anyway, Love, they are simply a means to getting you to cooperate. It will be up to you whether they die quickly or if I prolong it so you can hear their screams. Perhaps you would enjoy hearing them scream, Love...it would be a reminder of what happened to Sarah and Adam."
"God has nothing to do with my kind, Love, it's time you realized that," she whispered and nuzzled his neck. Slowly she slid down his body, touching his mind with her own and allowing him to see how many lives she'd drained over the last 200 years. She could feel his disgust at what she'd done, but it didn't matter because soon he would be responsible for killings of his own.
+ + + + + + +`
Nathan offered to make the drive in his car and they'd readily agreed. They drove north as darkness began to spread across the city. The streetlights drove back some of the shadows while lengthening others and sometimes ominous images developed along their peripheral vision.
Josiah watched the streets, amazed that there were even fewer people around than normal. So far he'd seen only two people in the six blocks they'd driven and that was low even for a cold night like this one. His gaze swept the edge of an alley and he frowned when he saw movement just inside the entrance.
"I saw it," Jackson said and quickly pulled a U-Turn and headed back to the alley. He kept the beams on high which drove back the shadows and revealed everything in the debris covered alleyway. There were several garbage bins and a couple of recycle containers, but what caught their attention was the dark sedan parked near the back fence.
"Ezra, stay here," Sanchez ordered.
"Josiah I can..."
"I know you can handle yourself, Ezra, but I'd really like to have someone watching our backs," the ex-preacher warned and exited the car. He saw the younger man nod once before he too joined them on the street. "You see anything you yell!"
"I will," Standish assured them.
Josiah stepped deeper into the alley and could feel Nathan following close behind. There were several soft, whimpering noises from the shadows cast by the sedan and Josiah motioned for Nathan to cover him.
Ezra watched the two men closely, ready to move should anything seem out of the ordinary. He turned and gazed toward the abandoned building to his right, but nothing moved. Turning back to the alley he saw Josiah step into the shadows while Nathan covered him and couldn't stop the niggling feeling that something wasn't quite right. A sound, more of a soft whispering breath at his ear startled him and he tried to turn, but his body refused to obey his mind's commands. He saw an impossibly large figure of a man, but there was something wrong with it. The arms extended, showing gossamer wings with throbbing veins running through them. Ezra tried to warn his friends, but the creature seemed to draw the very air from his lungs. Darkness reached up to claim him and Ezra tumbled into the waiting abyss.
"Josiah, did you hear that?" Jackson asked and turned back to his car.
"I didn't hear anything," Sanchez said, pointing his flashlight inside the empty car.
"I thought I heard Ezra call out...you okay here for a minute?" the medic asked.
"I'm fine...doesn't seem to be anyone in here," Sanchez answered. He heard Jackson walk away from the car and tried the door handles. Finding the back door open, Josiah opened it and looked inside. Too late he remembered no one was watching his back and turned around in time to see something aimed straight at his skull and he fell into the backseat with a soft thud and whoosh of air escaping from his lungs.
Edward turned to see the last man reach the car at the edge of the alleyway. He smiled at how easy it was to capture the humans and looked forward to being part of the ritual hunt. With a quick check on the two unconscious men, he moved to retrieve the third man.
Nathan heard a sound behind him and turned, but there was nothing behind him. He looked back down the alley, but could not see Josiah and that coupled with Ezra's disappearance sent a chill through his spine. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone even as he yelled the ex-preacher's name. "Josiah!"
The wind gusted along the street and he pulled the jacket tight around him as he looked through the numbers in his cell phone directory. A sound above him had his head snapping up in time to see something impossibly large hovering above his car. "What the fuck!"
Edward landed in front of the handsome male, and smiled allowing the human to see his fangs drop down, but he knew he could not use them on either of these men. His mistress wanted them brought to her and sucking their veins dry was not part of her plans.
Nathan tried for his gun, but the shock of seeing the creature land before him made his movements slow and his arms felt as if they were wrenched from their sockets. He cried out, dropping to his knees in pain, but could not fight the vampire that now loomed above him. The creature quickly raised its winged hands and brought them down on the male's neck and shoulder sending shockwaves of agony twisting through his gut. Consciousness was a feeble thing, and was quickly lost to the darkness.
Edward lifted the human into his arms and carried him toward the sedan. He opened the trunk and dropped Jackson inside before moving to retrieve Ezra Standish. He placed him inside and closed the lid before moving to the third victim. He quickly wrapped a length of cord around the man's wrists and did the same with his ankles before covering the unconscious form with an old, moth eaten blanket from a bygone era. He climbed into the car and drove out of the alley, stopping next to Jackson's car. He quickly got out, drove the second vehicle inside where it could not be seen from the main road before getting into the sedan and driving away from the city.