The alley Charlie turned into stank of garbage and piss. He gagged on the overpowering stench, his eyes watering, but didn’t stop moving. With his life on the line, Charlie had started running two miles back. Legs and arms pumping, muscles screaming in protest, lungs burning, he ignored the trash at his feet and the dirty brick walls, dark and foreboding, closing in on him.
Charlie hated tight spaces. Claustrophobia
was such a cold, clinical term for something as sinister and gripping as the terror that clawed at his mind like a rabid animal. It tore away every scrap of reasoning in its path once it dug its rotting, bony fingers into him.
“Just breathe through it.”
“You can’t let the fear control you.”
Easy enough for his fellow prisoners to say when they weren’t choking on their own lungs, fighting for every tiny breath as the darkness consumed them. Charlie hated that dark. He feared it more than the monsters chasing him.
Either way Charlie was screwed.
He had known—he had known
, damn it—that his freedom, such as it was, would be short-lived. After all, he had defied them. He had fled their control, and his rebellion would call down their wrath. Charlie knew there would be consequences.
But he had run anyway because life had been hell. The blood, the screaming and writhing, the torturous pain… It was too much. Worse than anything he had ever endured.
The alleys of downtown Omaha were labyrinths. Charlie chose random turns and dark openings in hope that he’d lose the Hunters on his tail. The only sounds he heard were his own gasping breaths and skittering trash—bottles, wrappers, and bags—he kicked aside. But the otherwise consuming silence didn’t mean he had lost them.
No, the Hunters were silent on their feet even when running at breakneck speed like Charlie was currently doing. Quick and deadly, they would swoop down on their prey like hawks, talons extended to rip and tear.
Charlie was their prey. His heart tremored in the tight confines of his chest like a frightened jackrabbit dashing for its den, sensing its impending doom.
They would not be kind to him, he knew. Terror pushed him, tired as he was, deeper into the rank black maze.
Until it ended.
Charlie skidded to a stop, his holey sneakers slipping in something slimy when a wall loomed before him.
With his breath coming in short bursts of burning air—God, his lungs ached
—Charlie looked around frantically, wide eyes searching for an escape route. Anything that would help him live just a little
But he was surrounded on three sides, the darkened walls throwing shadows from the pale light of the moon. A half-moon at that, which didn’t help him any, even though his enhanced vampire vision allowed him to see in even the blackest of nights.
A grim chuckle echoed in the alley. With a sharp intake of breath that sounded much like a hiss
, Charlie whirled around, searching the open lane behind him.
He had only a little time before they caught him. Charlie whimpered as he gave the dead end one last glance. They were close now, sure of his capture. Sure enough to toy with him by alerting him to their presence.
A Dumpster, long abandoned from the look and smell of it. The rotting smell burned his nose. With a quiet whimper, he ran to the Dumpster and jumped. His fingers, numb with cold, gripped the edge tightly. It took precious time, but Charlie managed to hoist his weary body up onto the plastic. He bent his torso over the top and scrambled to get his legs up behind him.
“Now, now, pet,” a low voice mocked. The sound reached him in a whisper, but Charlie heard all the same. “Don’t be stupid. Time to stop running.” The smooth, rolling accent was beautiful, but Charlie had learned that their lovely voices didn’t mask the pure wickedness inside them.
“Never,” he whispered. They would hear him. The gap between the far edge of the Dumpster and the brick barrier was about seven feet. He was small, but he thought maybe he could make it. Charlie was determined enough. Scared enough, he corrected. Knees bending, Charlie took a deep breath and made the first step.
One, two, three, four, and jump!
Charlie flew through the air, his arms extended, and—
” His body collided with the rough, crumbling bricks, fingers clawing at the top of the partial wall. He finally got a good grip on the damn thing, but he didn’t waste time feeling victorious. Using all the strength he possessed, Charlie scrabbled against the wall, his arms straining with the effort it took to pull himself up. Little by little, he raised his body until he could maneuver his elbows up.
Just a tad more. I can do this.
It was difficult for his feet to find purchase on the rough brick. His shoes kicked off bits and pieces that pinged as they rolled and fell to the ground. He was almost able to kick his leg up on the ledge when something grabbed his ankle. With a hard yank, Charlie tumbled to the ground, his chin smacking against the edge of the wall, forcing his mouth to snap shut.
Blood flooded his mouth, and pain exploded in his tongue. “Oh Jesus
!” Charlie put his hand over his mouth, but that didn’t stop the agony. He would heal quickly—if he lived that long. A dark boot appeared in front of his face, silent as the night, and Charlie raised his head, up and up until he met the Hunter’s face.
Blue eyes, hard as stone, met his. Plump, striking lips curled into a wicked smirk. The Hunter’s expression was both smug and disgusted. So beautiful and lethal.
“Puny little vampire can’t even make a small jump. You see that, gentlemen?”
Boisterous laughter met his mocking. Other faces came into view as they stepped out of the shadows. Tall men with dark hair, glowing eyes, and pale skin with rosy cheeks. French rolled from their tongues as gently as water lapping at a stone in a creek bed. But even in their smooth language, the words sounded spiteful. Charlie started to shake, fear running through his veins, his heart pounding so loudly it echoed in his ears. Doubtless they could see the pulse throbbing in his neck.
The ringleader knelt in front of him, slapping at his cheek in a derisive gesture of comfort. “And then couldn’t pull up his puny little body. Tell me, avorton
, how does it feel to be the smallest, weakest vampire in existence? When Maître
told me to hunt you, I have to say, I was quite offended.” The skin around those blue eyes crinkled when he smiled; it was anything but kind. Charlie moaned, his terror increasing as he looked into the soulless eyes. He gulped, and the coppery tang of blood slicked down his throat. And then he whimpered when the Hunter drew a wicked-looking blade from underneath his leather jacket, cocking a brow in condescension.
, you look nervous. Are you nervous?”
Charlie said nothing; he didn’t dare to. He wondered if they were finally going to kill him this time. For years, he had been subjected to torture and pain, all because the Master insisted he was “special.” Why he thought that, or what he expected from Charlie, Charlie had no idea. Apparently, keeping silent was the wrong decision to make because the leader reached out, faster than his eyes could follow, and slammed a fist into his temple. Pain lanced through his head, causing Charlie to cry out, voice full of terror and anguish. Blood trickled down his face. He squeezed his eyes shut, cradling both hands to his wound, his mouth forgotten for the moment.
“I asked you a question, you little bastard.”
” the others echoed with sneers.
Charlie forced his eyes open, to look at the male who held his life in his huge, deadly hands. “Please… I’ll do anything.” And he would, because he wasn’t above offering blowjobs or sex to lessen his pain. The Hunters were virile, and as busy as they were training their hounds—or chiens
, as they called their prisoners—they didn’t get the opportunity to seek sex with humans. So they used their chiens to sate their needs. Charlie had serviced many of them in the past, and he would do so again if it meant they would offer him a painless death.
“Yeah?” the leader scoffed. “Of course you will. Little runts like you, that’s all you’re good for.” He reached for his pants with his free hand, a finger teasing the zipper pull. Charlie eyed it warily but forced down the nausea at the thought of having to suck the man’s dick. It would be worth it…hopefully. “Ask to suck me. Beg me for it.”
“Promise me.” His eyes darted back to the male’s face, silently pleading with the Hunter, although he tried to look firm. “Promise me you’ll make it fast and painless, and I’ll ask you for anything you want. I swear.”
The vampire’s face twisted into a purely evil grin. “I’ll make you beg for it, either way. Either with my knife or without it. Your decision, pet.”
Ignoring the derisive taunts from the group of males surrounding him, Charlie closed his eyes, choking on a sob. What have I gotten myself into?
The icy cold of a blade tapped under his chin. A shiver racked his body; his gut churned. Charlie had to take a deep breath in through his nose and out through his mouth to tamp down the urge to vomit.
“Please, what?” The leader’s voice was sickly sweet.
Tears burned Charlie’s eyes, and he forced himself to say, “Please…let me suck you.”
“I believe I will. Open wide, runt.”
Another sob shook him. He heard the sound of a zipper being undone and the rustle of clothes. Charlie didn’t dare open his mouth. He couldn’t. No, he couldn’t take it. There was a bump of something, likely a cock, at his jaw, and then a loud noise exploded nearby. Charlie twitched in surprise, his eyes flying open.
The lead male was flat on his back on the cold, hard ground. Blood oozed from the back of his head, forming a deep puddle. The smell made Charlie’s fangs drop; they pricked at his lower lip, sharp as needles. His throat burned with need, and his stomach clenched for an entirely different reason. Thirst.
Charlie needed to feed…but he couldn’t. I won’t. No, that life is behind me, no matter what. No one can make me kill again.
A shuffle of feet sounded near his head, and there was another distinct burst. Maybe a gunshot? Probably a sniper, because there was no one else there in the alley with the French-speaking vampires. The males were scrambling, pulling guns and knives, yelling orders in their language. Charlie then realized a dead male lay in front of him, and he
could have easily been the target.
“Oh God!” He went to his hands and knees and crawled to the Dumpster. It was a tight fit, but he was small and managed to wriggle underneath it. More boots appeared, jumping down from God knew where, and the yelling grew louder, the gunshots more frequent. Hollers of pain coupled with grunts and angry curses. A body was thrown up against the Dumpster, making the metal bang loudly like a hollow drum. The vibrations were too much for Charlie’s sensitive ears. He cried out, clapping his hands over his ears. “Ah!”
Bodies fell one by one, all of them Hunters. The victors didn’t speak at first. Charlie could see the dark skin of their hands, an olive tone, as they bent to disarm the dead bodies. They likely tucked the weapons into their own pockets for future use. Charlie had never seen any vampire unit, Hunter or chiens, fight with such deadly accuracy—only a vampire could sneak up on such a large group of Hunters successfully. Humans were too loud and clumsy to surprise a vampire. This was a new force, an unknown one. Something even more dangerous than the Hunters. He could only shiver and pray that they would forget about him.
Some wishes were not meant to be granted.
A large, powerful body bulging with muscles bent in front of the Dumpster. The face was fierce—handsome, even. Dark eyes like melted chocolate met his, and he called out in his language—not French—to his friends.
“Hello there, pequeño
. All the Hunters are dead. Why don’t you come out now?”
Like hell I will, he thought in a panic. If they had killed the Hunters, then he would likely suffer a similar fate…or a worse one. He shook his head at the strange male. Kind face or no, he was not about to trust anyone, and especially not after seeing the massacre that had happened here. The tang of blood filled his nostrils, and his fangs stabbed at his lip hard enough for him to bleed.
The vampire’s expression changed from kindness to amusement. “No?” he said, giving a rough chuckle. “Well, I suppose I’m not surprised.” And then he was gone. There was more conversation in their foreign language, and then another pair of boots—what was with that?—came up, close enough for him to reach out and touch. Hands gripped the bottom of the Dumpster, and Charlie got a bad feeling. His breathing turned harsh as the Dumpster lifted with a loud creak
of the metal without even a groan from the males hoisting the thing.
The same stranger who’d talked to him crouched back down and, as soon as he had room, came underneath with Charlie, taking hold of his wrist in an iron grip.
“No!” He struggled against the male, scratching with his ripped nails. When the stranger drew closer, Charlie bared his fangs, lunging for the pulsing vein in his neck.
“Dios! Ramón, ojo!
Before he could bite, something was pulled over his head. Charlie screamed and flailed, clawing at the rough material they’d put on him, but to no avail. Everything was dark, and the musty smell of the bag was the only thing he could scent. All he could do was listen, but that did him no good either because not a damn word of what they said was in English. Someone barked out what might have been orders.
“No le hagas daño, Ramón. Llévalo al coche, ahora.
They were moving now, as quick and silent as serpents. The unit ran through the alleys with more efficiency than Charlie could ever hope to copy. They were trained warriors—and now he was their prisoner.
He fought them the entire way. When he was pressed facedown onto what felt like a bench seat in a car—confirmed by the sound of slamming doors—Charlie screeched. He bucked and screamed, the scent of his terror permeating the small cloth bag over his head.
, we aren’t going to force you. Cristo!
We are not like them.”
Charlie didn’t know what a pobrecito was, nor did he care. He didn’t believe the male, no matter how soothing he made his voice. Even their speech sounded like melted chocolate—sweet and smooth—but it wouldn’t fool him.
“He thinks we’re going to rape him? Jesus, is that what those bastards do with their soldiers now?” another voice, different from the others in some way, asked. Charlie stiffened and curled his fingers into the seat when someone patted his back. He stood no chance against them all, but at least they hadn’t tied him. Maybe he had some chance.
The ride was long, and each passing minute felt like hours. Charlie had almost started to relax, thinking maybe they wouldn’t hurt him after all, since hands only pressed him down when he began to fight. When he was still, they would stroke his back. Interesting.
Weird, but interesting.
The panic flared fresh and strong when the car screeched to a stop, and the doors flung open. He was picked up and moved, taken somewhere that light shone through the cloth, making him blink. There were sounds he couldn’t determine the cause of—low murmuring, scraping, and thuds. And then he was deposited on what could only be a bed. The bag was removed from his head, and he blinked as his eyes adjusted to the light.
He found himself in a lush, luxurious bedroom with satin sheets on a large bed, plush armchairs, and a dresser that was so shiny it reflected the light. Through another door, there was a huge-ass bathroom with a shower that had six showerheads. His mouth dropped open as he took it all in.
“Beautiful, no?” A rich voice interrupted his adoration. Charlie’s head snapped to the left, where the male who pulled him from the Dumpster stood. He was a few feet away, which gave Charlie some comfort. Maybe they wouldn’t try anything nasty yet. “Still not going to speak to me, pequeño? I did
save your life. They were going to kill you after making you suck him off.”
Charlie’s cheeks burned. He dropped his head, too ashamed to meet the male’s eyes anymore. They’d seen him act like a whore because he was afraid. What must they think of him?
“Ah, little one, I meant nothing by it. You’re safe here. Felipe wants to talk to you, but you have time to freshen up first. Take a shower; get clean. I’ll be right outside the door, so don’t try anything stupid.” His voice turned firm with the command, but not threatening. At least it didn’t feel that way to Charlie. He nodded dumbly at the vampire and was surprised to see him smile. An honest-to-God smile that made the corners of his eyes wrinkle endearingly and gave him dimples. “Gracias.
Call if you need something. You have thirty minutes. I’ll lay out clothing for you to wear while you shower.”
And then he was gone, quick as a shadow disappearing in the sunlight, the door soundlessly shutting behind him.
Well, you could color Charlie all kinds of surprised. He never thought they would actually leave him alone. And to let him shower, and have fresh clothes? It was too good to be true. Vampires were cruel beings, not much different from the evil creatures shown in the old movies. Taking, pillaging, murdering, and raping—Charlie had seen it all. But to give him basic comforts and privacy? That was new.
And not to be trusted.
Charlie ran to the bathroom as fast as his feet would carry him, turning the dials in the shower and opening the cabinet. Shampoo, conditioner, toothbrushes, shaving kits. Holy shit, a razor!
Charlie held up the old-fashioned straight razor in quiet victory. He didn’t dare say anything, not with the male close by enough to hear him. He’d be clean, and he had found a weapon.
After grabbing what he needed, Charlie stripped out of his clothes, dumping them on the floor by the entrance to the bathroom, jumped in the shower, and washed himself hurriedly, scrubbing away the grime that covered his body like a second skin. He had been on the streets for over two months, and that had taken its toll. His ribs poked from his skin, and his hip bones jutted out disgustingly. He should be dead, but he wasn’t. It was much harder to kill a vampire than an ordinary human, and he had the disease in his blood. There was no going back.
But that didn’t mean he would live the life planned out by his captors. Not the Hunters, and certainly not these dark-skinned beauties either. Once he was thoroughly clean, Charlie shut off the water and wrapped himself in a fluffy towel, soft as silk on his skin. He was in heaven. Snatching the razor, folded down into the lacquered handle, he padded into the bedroom and found the clothing set on the bed for him, his dirty clothes gone.
He gaped at the shirt he held up. It was, like…a million sizes too large for him. It would eat him alive. And the pants were utterly hopeless, no matter how many times he tried to roll them or tie the drawstrings. Those males were the size of Sasquatches, well over six feet tall with rippling muscles to pad them. With a shrug, he dropped the pants and put on the shirt. It fit him about as well as a sheet would, and it was about as attractive. But it fell past his knees and covered the…private areas, so that was what really mattered. Charlie sent up a prayer of thanks that the shirt had a breast pocket, and he dropped the razor into it. With how the shirt draped over him, no one would be able to distinguish a wrinkle in the pocket from the razor from any other wrinkle in the shirt.
Yes, he was ready for whatever they threw at him.
If they tried to hurt him, Charlie would go down fighting.