Although he was old and powerful enough to get up while the sun was still out, Eryx wasn’t what you’d call an early riser. He liked to wait until the rest of the household was awake and moving. That way he could listen for any discordant notes—any sign of trouble. The evening following the attack, he heard the usual murmur of voices and the mixed tread of boots and shoes on each floor. There was more commotion downstairs near the front of the house, but the noises were consistent with men working on window repair. If Melody or Cierra had lured humans out here this quickly to fix the damage—after dark, no less—they must have offered a substantial bribe.
Having gauged the rhythm and mood of the household, Eryx finally climbed out of bed. He cleaned up and dressed in his customary black, which was not only his favorite color but excellent camouflage for a soldier at night. Of course, that was the reason it was his favorite color. The matching dual-pistol shoulder holster was a natural extension of his wardrobe. It tucked his guns beneath his arms about elbow height and gave him double the shooting power since he was ambidextrous.
These twin beauties were Dracula 98s—the model 1998 machine pistol, 9mm. Ironically, the Romanian factory that had manufactured them also armed the human infantry to combat the vampire problem in that part of the world. Eryx could have attached spare magazines beneath the muzzles as forward grips, but he didn’t see the point. He couldn’t have holstered them that way, and if you couldn’t take down your enemy with forty goddamn rounds, you deserved to die.
For a quieter kill, he had his dagger, which slid smoothly into his leg holster. He liked to have both his blade and his bullets handy even inside the house. It was a habit that had served him well on multiple occasions, including last night.
Fully dressed, Eryx grabbed his cell phone on the way out. He needed to get tonight’s patrol schedule from Victor, but first he went looking for a trembling blonde. Melody was usually downstairs in her office at this time of night, busy scouring the world through her computer. He figured he’d head that way first, but he didn’t even make it to the top landing.
Melody’s sweet laughter reached him from farther along the upstairs hall. His feet carried him toward the sound before his brain even gave the command. He gritted his teeth when he stopped in front of Wess Gage’s closed bedroom door.
“I’m sure it wasn’t that bad,” Melody said in response to whatever the human had told her.
“It was worse!” Wess insisted.
Melody laughed again.
Eryx leaned closer to listen.
“I’m curious.” Melody’s tone turned somber. “It didn’t really hit me during all the craziness last night, but you said you grew up in the Human Rebellion. What did you mean? I assumed you joined when you lost your sister to vampires.”
“Our father is a captain with the Rebellion,” Wess told her. “Alex and I were both raised with the Rebel agenda and trained in combat and weaponry since we could walk. To be honest, Alex was always better at it than I was. I mostly went through the motions to appease our dad.
“Then my sister was sent on that last mission. She helped people who needed to escape Gyula Tavarius for one reason or another. Alex worked as a coyote, smuggling humans across the border to the vampire-free states. After her last run, she didn’t return.”
“I’m sorry,” Melody said.
“Apparently one of the humans she was transporting betrayed her. We didn’t know she’d been turned. Everyone assumed the vampires had killed her. Suddenly every horrible thing my father and his friends had told me about bloodsuckers was true, not just talk. They’d murdered my sister, and I wanted revenge. I guess you could say that’s when I really joined the Rebellion. Dad didn’t want to risk me at first, but he knew he couldn’t stop me. I started with small missions and worked my way up. When we learned three master vampires would be gathered in one place, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to launch a major strike. Imagine my surprise when I discovered one of the master vampires was my big sister.”
“It had to be a shock.” Melody sounded sympathetic.
Eryx was suspicious. He had no problem with killing vampires who terrorized innocent people, but the Rebels weren’t exactly discriminating. They were fanatics out to torch anything with fangs. Could Wess Gage really overcome a lifetime of brainwashing simply because his kin had turned vampire? Or was he looking for another chance to strike?
Lately the Human Rebellion had been recruiting gullible young men and women to act as suicide donors. The volunteers poisoned their blood with some kind of coagulant cocktail and then offered their necks to the nearest hungry vampires. The poison was not only lethal to bloodsuckers, but also to the humans carrying it—hence the name suicide donors.
Eryx had to wonder how much Wess, as the son of a Rebel captain, had been involved in the manufacture and distribution of the poison.
“Did you know about the suicide donors?” Melody’s thoughts must have traveled the same path as his.
“No!” Wess sounded genuinely horrified, though he could have been faking it. “I heard about the plan to use poison, but I was never part of it. I certainly didn’t know the stuff killed the donors.”
“And your father?”
He hesitated. “Dad changed after we lost Alex.”
The quiet scuff of a shoe on carpet made Eryx turn his head. Only vampire hearing could have picked up on the sound, but he knew the noise had been deliberate.
“What are you doing?” Victor asked.
Eryx didn’t care if he was caught eavesdropping—or intelligence gathering, as he saw it.
“Wess’s father is a captain in the Human Rebellion. Did you know that?”
Victor frowned. “No. Alex didn’t give me the details, but then we’ve had our hands full.” He appeared to consider this new fact. “It could prove to be an advantage. Alex must know Rebel strategy and how they think, and she may be able to influence her brother and father.”
“Or her brother could turn on her,” Eryx pointed out. “And her father could come gunning for us.”
“They can try.” Victor sounded like he was itching for another fight. “I don’t think Wess Gage is likely to betray Alex, but people are unpredictable when emotions run high. Their father is the greater threat.”
He wasn’t sure about that. The elder Gage wasn’t the one cozying up to Alex’s personal assistant right now.
Speaking of which, Eryx was suddenly aware of the silence on the other side of the door. Where a steady murmur had filled the background while he’d spoken to Victor, there was now nothing. He reached for the doorknob, but it was jerked out of reach before he could grasp it. A feminine body collided with his and bounced back a step.
The contact lasted all of a second, yet every inch of Melody left an impression on him. Blood rushed to his cock when he saw her blush. The rosy tinge to her cheeks was a special enticement to a vampire, as were her pink lips, which were parted to reveal the tips of two dainty fangs.
“Mel, wait!” Wess called.
The human appeared behind her, and Eryx could hear the man’s heavy breathing and the rapid beat of his heart.
In a flash, it wasn’t lust that inflamed him, but rage. “What did you do, human?”
Wess shook his head. “I didn’t do—”
“He didn’t do anything.” Melody finished the sentence for him. Her voice was strong despite the quiver he saw running through her. “Leave him alone.”
Her protectiveness of the human made Eryx angrier. Before he could demand answers, she slipped past him and headed for the stairs. He took a step to follow her, but a hand on his arm detained him.
“You should stop and think,” Victor warned him. He let go and turned his attention to Wess. “And you should go back in your room and close the door.”
Under different circumstances, Eryx might have admired Wess’s refusal to be cowed. It took balls to stand up to a pair of vampires, especially when one of them wanted to rip your head off. The human then proved he was smart as well as brave by heeding Victor’s advice.
“I don’t care whose brother he is. He’d better watch himself.” Eryx glared at the closed door. “He probably had his hands all over her.”
“Only if she wanted them there,” Victor said. “You forget she’s a vampire. She could have broken every bone in his body if he stepped out of line.”
“She’s too soft and sweet to defend herself.”
Victor gave him a pointed look. “Then how do you suppose Mel has survived this long? The previous masters in this area weren’t exactly civil to females, and neither were the scum they had running loose through the population.”
It wasn’t easy to frighten Eryx, but the thought of Melody alone under Tavarius’s tyranny had his heart skipping a beat.
He realized his friend was still staring at him.
“So you and Mel?” Victor finally asked.
“Don’t go there.”
Victor smiled. “I already did. I’m usually good at reading people, but I didn’t pick up on this one.”
“Maybe you were distracted by a certain green-eyed brunette,” Eryx fired back. “I didn’t see Cierra making a personal delivery to anyone else last night.”
That wiped the grin off his friend’s face. “There’s nothing there.”
“We’ll head out to patrol downtown Columbia in an hour.” Victor changed the subject to one they were both comfortable with. “Alex wants us to make sure everyone is behaving themselves down there. She also wants us working with her assistant to identify last night’s attackers. Mel sent photos to our phones. I recognized a couple of faces, so see if you can add to the list. Alex also mentioned that you’ll be teaching Mel weaponry and self-defense. You’re off rotation tomorrow night so you can see to that.”
“It will take more than one night to train her,” Eryx pointed out.
“Let me know what you need. Or you can tell Mel since she handles most of our scheduling.” There was a note of humor in Victor’s tone as he made the suggestion.
Eryx didn’t stick around for chitchat. It only took him a minute to reach Melody’s office downstairs. She had the door open, as usual. He wondered if she kept it that way because she liked to hear what was happening in the rest of the house or because she didn’t like being shut in.
She glanced up from her computer when she noticed him. “What?”
Her sharp tone had him biting back a smile. Leaning casually against the door frame, he took his time pulling out his cell phone.
He held it up so she could see the screen. “It’s frozen again.”
“You’re kidding me. How do you keep doing that? What did you hit?”
“I don’t know.”
“Never hit buttons on a phone you don’t know how to use. You’ll only be more hindrance than help.” She threw his words about gun safety back at him.
This time he did smile, and she didn’t seem to know what to make of his reaction. She had no idea how much fun he had with her. He rather enjoyed trading barbs.
“The difference is I can’t kill anyone with the phone,” he retorted.
“You’re killing my patience,” she said. “Here. Let me see it.”
He crowded her and made sure to brush her fingers with his as he handed her the phone. She had soft skin, and her hand looked delicate and feminine.
Melody’s focus appeared absolute as she hit a few buttons and scrolled through the menu. He was curious. Would she bring that same level of concentration to lovemaking, or would she finally cut loose under the right man’s touch? He’d love to see her tremble with passion instead of nerves.
“There you go,” she announced as she handed back the phone. “You’re all set.”
“What about the photographs? Victor said you got the dead guys on here.”
She stood and moved closer to his side so they could both look at the screen. “Press this to bring up the pictures and flip through them like so. Even if you don’t know their names, if you have any background on them, that could help. Let me know.”
“You’ll be the first,” he promised. “What are you doing tomorrow night?”
Melody was cute when she looked suspicious. “Why?”
“You and I have a date for self-defense and weapons training.”
He supposed he should have been insulted by her groan.
“You and I have different definitions of ‘date,’” she said.
Eryx looked deeply into her blue eyes. “I don’t doubt it, but I’ll give you what you need. You’re far prettier alive and uninjured.”
He enjoyed her blush for a moment before he left to join the rest of his team.