Special Agent Kathryn Hunter lay on her stomach in the dirt, the butt of her Sig Sauer 3000 rifle snugged into the curve of her shoulder. She leaned into the Leupold scope and settled the crosshairs on her target. Data ran through her brain, was processed, and let go. Like all snipers, she tended to step out of the moment when she was shooting, focusing only on the target, the shot. She concentrated on taking shallow, even breaths, her entire world reduced to what she could see beyond the crosshairs. It was a relatively easy shot. Eighty yards, less than the length of a football field. A slight breeze was blowing, but at this distance, that wasn’t enough to matter. The target was stationary, but armed. Not a problem. Law enforcement snipers were trained to go for the head shot, to immediately incapacitate a subject holding a weapon, if necessary. It was a shot she’d made a hundred times on the range. No hesitation, no nerves. Just line up the shot and take it. Kathryn heard the go-ahead come over her radio.
She exhaled slowly and squeezed the trigger. “And bye-bye terrorist! Kathryn, baby, you are the best!” Eduardo Saver, her friend and the day’s range supervisor, said over the radio, confirming what she already knew. She’d hit the target dead on. His enthusiastic reaction wasn’t exactly protocol, but there were only the two of them on the range this afternoon, so he’d gone for friendship instead of professionalism. Kathryn grinned as her heart started pumping again, and she felt the rush of adrenaline begin to fade. Her body didn’t care that this was just another practice shoot in a long line of practices. Once she got behind the scope, everything narrowed down to the crosshairs and the annihilation of her target. “Thanks, Eduardo,” she said as he came up behind her. “You going out with the rest of us later?” Eduardo asked. “Time to let some hair down, chica.
All work and no play . ” Kathryn turned as she sat up from her prone position, her hand going self-consciously to her hair in its tight French braid. She forced a laugh. “Maybe. The usual place?” “Naturally,” Eduardo said. He looked down at her with a leering grin. “I’ll be waiting.” “Uh huh.” She rolled her eyes at him. Eduardo wasn’t interested in her that way.
She was too tall and too pale for his tastes. “I’ve got to stow this,” she said, indicating her weapon. “But maybe I’ll see you there.” She stood, reaching automatically for the cell phone on her belt and switching it back on. It was always off during range exercises. The phone vibrated almost at once, and she pulled it off her belt one-handed, frowning at the message she saw there. “Problem?” She looked up. “I don’t think so. It’s Penelope Bateman, my brother’s agent. He’s on one of his solitary photo adventures, and she’s probably just calling with a message from him.
He does that sometimes if he can’t get a hold of me.” Eduardo touched her arm to get her attention. “See you at the bar.” “Yeah,” she agreed absently, giving him a brief glance before returning to the call log on her phone. Penny had called several times in the last hour. She placed her weapon on the wood plank table and popped the magazine, checking automatically to be certain the weapon was empty. She then wiped it down and used a soft brush on the scope lenses before placing it in the custom-made hard shell case. After closing the case, she made a few notes in her field book, mostly range and target information, since shooting conditions had been as close to ideal as they ever got. As she wrote, she bemoaned, as always, that so far she’d never had a chance to fire her weapon anywhere except on the range. She was a skilled shooter, but since 9/11, the FBI’s emphasis was all about terrorism.
She spent far more of her time sitting at a desk than she did out in the field, and had begun to regret the Quantico posting she’d been so excited about a few years ago. She sighed and tucked the field book away, then pulled out her cell phone and hit the call back on Penny’s last message. “Kathryn!” Penny answered almost before the phone had stopped ringing the first time. “What’s up, Penny, did you—” “Something terrible’s happened! Danny’s missing!” Chapter One Two Weeks Later Near the Minnesota/Wisconsin Border The huge SUVs were three black blurs of speed as they roared through the night. Lucas Donlon sat in the middle seat of the second SUV, listening to the chatter of his vampires, both around him and through his headset for those in the other trucks. They were hyped and ready for action, almost too hyped after the hours of travel to get this far. Even with a private jet, it took time. But they were here now, and Lucas was with his warriors in feeling the rush of impending battle, the pump of adrenaline as he prepared to fight to the death. It was a rare thing in this civilized world, with its laws and cameras everywhere. But tonight’s confrontation would mark the beginning of a war between vampires—something this continent hadn’t seen in nearly a century.
And how better to start a war than with the death of a traitor? Alfonso Heintz didn’t know they were coming for him, but he would soon, and his fear would taste just as sweet as his blood. Maybe better. The trucks rolled down the unlit rural roads, running dark. The vampire drivers didn’t need the lights to see by, and Lucas didn’t want to advertise his presence to anyone yet, human or vampire. Not until he had his prey cornered. Alfonso Heintz was sworn to Lucas, but had recently moved his entire household just over the border into Wisconsin, near the small college town of River Falls. It was no more than 30 miles from Minneapolis, but crossing the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin took him out of Lucas’s PlainsTerritory and into the territory of Lucas’s enemy, the Lord of the Midwest, Klemens. Had Lucas needed it, Heintz’s move over the border would have confirmed the vampire’s guilt. But he already knew the vampire was guilty and needed no more evidence. In truth, if the traitor had known his betrayal had been discovered, he’d have moved much farther than a few miles over the border.
As if a few miles, or a few thousand miles, would ever stop Lucas from exacting the justice he was due. This was war. Boundaries no longer mattered. But whether or not Heintz realized he’d been discovered, he would surely have a guard or two on lookout. Unfortunately for Heintz, most of the vampires hiding away with him were also sworn to Lucas, a fact that he clearly didn’t fully appreciate, in terms of its ramifications for security. Lucas could drop any vampire sworn to him with nothing more than a thought. It was likely, of course, that one or two of Klemens’s people would be in the house tonight, and they’d require close up killing. But then, Lucas had no intention of winning this battle from a distance. He intended to punish the traitors in a very up close and personal fashion. In fact, he hoped Heintz and his fellow miscreants put up one hell of a fight, because Lucas and his people were ready to rock and roll.
The target house was big and wide, a two-story clapboard with a long, covered front porch. The building was completely dark when the SUVs skidded on the light snow covering the dirt patch of a front yard. It appeared empty, but the large number of cars and trucks parked around back told a different story. Lucas sent a small tendril of power creeping into the house and found thirteen vampires, all wide awake and jittery with nerves. By now, Heintz and his people knew Lucas had arrived, and they were probably wishing they’d hidden themselves a lot better than they had. Lucas reached forward and clapped his lieutenant on the shoulder, where he sat in the front passenger seat. “Let’s be polite, Nick. I’m sure Heintz and his minions will be excited as hell to receive a visit from their rightful lord and master.” Nicholas laughed and issued a few terse commands into his throat mike. The doors popped open on all three SUVs, and black-clad vampires poured out, deploying quickly to surround the house.
Every one of them was a highly trained and powerful fighter. By virtue of their vampire blood, they were weapons unto themselves, but they also carried whatever human weapons they preferred, from 9mm handguns to compact submachine guns. And no doubt a knife or three thrown into the mix. Lucas himself carried no weapon other than the power which made him one of the most feared vampires in North America—a vampire lord, ruler of the PlainsTerritory. Thousands of vampires literally lived and died at his command. Including Alfonso Heintz. Traitor or not, Heintz was still beholden to Lucas for every breath he drew, every beat of his heart. Klemens might have used Heintz, but he hadn’t offered his protection, hadn’t taken his oath of fealty. Which meant if Lucas wanted, he could have shriveled the unfaithful bastard’s heart in his chest without ever leaving South Dakota. But where was the fun in that? Nicholas caught Lucas’s eye and nodded once, then took up position to the left and slightly ahead of his Sire.
They climbed three short steps up to the covered porch, and Nicholas knocked on the door. Or perhaps pounded would be more accurate. It was the adrenaline. Lucas stifled the urge to laugh. He loved this shit. After weeks of playing nice, of waiting while various vampire politics played out, he was ready for first blood. The door creaked open, and a slender vampire stood there, his eyes wide with fear. “My lord,” he managed to stammer out. “We didn’t expect you.” Well, that was a lie, Lucas thought to himself.
No one, neither human nor vampire, could lie successfully to a vampire lord. This was not a very auspicious beginning. Who was this child anyway? Not one of his. Nicholas didn’t bother with further niceties. He simply shoved the vampire out of the way and pushed the door open, slamming it against the wall. Lucas followed him inside. “Where’s Heintz?” he asked the trembling vampire. “Forgive me, my lord, but he’s not here. He had to—” The sentence ended on a squeak as Lucas picked the vampire up by his throat and dangled him several inches off the ground. “Fool.
Do you think you can lie to me?” “Please,” the vampire rasped. “I only—” Lucas had no interest in what this one had to say. Heintz had sent him forward as a sacrifice, and he had fulfilled his purpose. Lucas granted him the mercy of snapping his neck before he incinerated his heart with a short burst of power. “Nicholas?” he said sharply. “Ready at your command, my lord.” Lucas sent his power raging through the big house. It spread outward like a massive concussion of air, rushing up the stairs, sending furniture crashing into walls, slamming open doors and breaking windows. Screams sounded from deep inside the structure, some of them muffled, as if in a vault or safe room. Lucas laughed out loud and turned to his lieutenant.
“The command is given,” he said and strode forward, his eyes flashing gold fire with the furnace of his power, his fangs in full view and gleaming. “Alfonso!” His voice boomed out like the wrath of God, or the wrath of a vampire lord, which was eminently worse. God was rumored to have a sense of mercy, whereas Lucas had none, especially not for traitors. His vampires moved in from all sides, and the battle began, the air filled with the enraged roars of the combatants and the terrified screams of the dying. There were no humans in the house. Heintz had been that smart, at least. Lucas passed several fights in progress, but he ignored everything in his search for Heintz. The coward was hiding. Lucas laughed gleefully and picked up his speed, racing through the house until he stood in front of a daytime sleeping vault. Heintz was behind that door, along with .
Lucas tilted his head as his mind reached out . two other vampires. And they both belonged to Lucas. What an ass. These vaults had been designed to withstand human assault, not that of a powerful vampire. If the traitor was going to try to hide here, he should at least have been clever enough to hide behind someone Lucas couldn’t easily control. Almost bored with the simplicity of it, Lucas sent his mind out and touched each of the two vampires cowering inside the vault with Heintz, ordering them to open the door and present themselves to their master. He could have ordered Heintz to deliver himself, too, but it was much more pleasurable to drink in the sweet taste of the bastard’s terror when he realized what was happening. The heavy vault door swung open to reveal the two vampires already dropping back to their knees, heads bowed. Even Heintz had assumed the penitent posture.
As if that would save any of them from their treachery. Lucas entered the vault, moving with the preternatural speed of his vampire nature, and ripped the heads off the two vampires flanking Heintz. Blood sprayed from their severed arteries, coating Heintz in the thick red stuff. He swayed, moaning with fear, hands clasped in front of him as if in prayer. Lucas regarded him dispassionately. “The sniper talked, Alfonso. He didn’t even bother to put up a fight. Saved himself the agony of torture. Unlike you, he was smart enough to see the writing on the wall.” “Please, Master,” Heintz whispered.
“I had no choice—” “Silence, worm. You had a choice. You simply made the wrong one. Bad enough that you betrayed me—” Sudden rage rose hot and heavy in Lucas’s heart, nearly choking him with fury. He shoved his closed fist into Heintz’s open mouth, shattering his fangs as he rammed the fist down the vampire’s throat and used it as a lever to lift him into the air. “You conspired with my enemy and hired a human to assassinate my Sire,” he snarled, and saw Heintz’s already terrified eyes fill with horror. Very few vampires still alive knew that Raphael was Lucas’s Sire. Both of them wanted it that way. It was a weapon they wielded in secret, and Lucas only voiced it now, because he wanted Heintz to understand the full magnitude of his sin before he died. Painfully.
The vampire was trying to shake his head, making guttural sounds deep in his throat, no doubt of denial. But it was far too late for that. Lucas shook Heintz off his fist, dropping him to the floor. “I beg you—” The worm began whining almost immediately, and Lucas flicked his fingers, silencing him. He gazed down at the sniveling vampire dispassionately, then stepped back and started breaking bones, beginning with the little ones, fingers and toes, the delicate bones in the hand. Heintz groaned softly at first, but by the time Lucas had started on the big bones—the tibia and fibula in the calf, the thick femur in the thigh—the vampire was grunting like a rutting pig, the only sounds of pain he was able to make. Bloody tears streamed down his face as he groveled on the ground, unable to even wipe the snot from his chin. Lucas worked systematically, splitting the skin open when he ran out of bones, slicing the abdomen and watching the vampire’s gray entrails spill onto the blood-slicked floor, making certain to keep the spinal cord intact and the heart beating. He wanted Heintz to feel every last ounce of pain before he died. He was crouched over the bloody form of ruptured flesh and shattered bone when Nicholas found him.
Heintz was whimpering weakly, his heart still beating, his vampire blood keeping him alive despite the destruction of every other major organ. “Well?” Lucas asked Nicholas, never taking his eyes off Heintz. “The other twelve are dead and dusted, my lord,” Nicholas said, crouching next to him and eyeing the wreckage of Heintz curiously, like a bug splayed for study. “What about this one?” A small smile tipped the side of Lucas’s mouth. “His heart is still beating,” he said. “I could take him with us, see how long it takes him to regenerate enough to crawl.” Nicholas winced. “He’ll get blood all over the new Gulfstream.” Lucas laughed. “Good point.
Very well.” He dug through the gore until he found Heintz’s beating heart and ripped it from its moorings. The vampire gave a final squeal of pain, and then died as his heart burst into flame on Lucas’s palm. The bloody mess turned to ash in moments, leaving nothing but a dark stain as testament that Alfonso Heintz had ever lived. Lucas stood, slapping his hands together and eyeing his clothes in dismay. The black fabric went a long way toward concealing the blood, but he knew it was there. It was wet and sticky and damned uncomfortable. And it would soon begin to stink. Plus there was the new jet’s interior to consider. “It’s late,” he said, automatically sending his thoughts out, verifying the well-being of each of the vampire warriors he’d brought with him.
“We’ll take the trucks back and overnight at the Minneapolis house.” “What about the FBI visit? Even if we leave first thing at sunset tomorrow, it’ll be hours before we get there.” Lucas shrugged. “She’s dealing with vampires. If she’s stupid enough to show up too early, she’ll just have to wait. God knows she’s made me wait long enough.” He spared the stain of Alfonso Heintz a final glance, then started for the front of the house. “Come on. I want this place burned to the ground before we leave.”