Blake left a trail of dust in his wake as he sped toward Jim. The sight of the Major's hand gripping his brother's shoulder had Blake's eyes black with determination and fear. He barely heard Diane's shouts as she ran beside him.
"Fight it, Blake! You hear me? Fight it!"
"I can't stop!"
"—can take care of himself! Now fight your instinct and stop!"
Blake's teeth gritted in what Diane hoped to be effort, but seeing him speed up instead of slow, she growled in frustration.
Tossing her original plan, Diane quickly devised a new one, running past Blake to the nearest tree. Sharp cracks of splitting wood filled the air as she raced to the top, tearing branches out of her way and digging her fingers into the truck. She didn't hesitate once she reached the height she wanted. Leaping with all she had, she landed in front of Jim, placing herself in Blake's path, just outside the tree line.
The distance wasn't hard to calculate. Twenty-two yards and closing fast…
Diane didn't spare Jim a glance. "Jim! Stand down!"
Jim and the Major traded a look until the Major nodded, giving Jim the signal he needed to back away, wondering what in the hell the Lieutenant was thinking.
Locking eyes with the newborn, Diane held out her hands and dug in her heels. "Stop!"
Surprise flickered across Blake's face as his brain finally penetrated the fog of what his ability was demanding. When he finally fought to slow, he was confused to find that he couldn't.
"Think! Xander's not really in danger."
Blake willed his body to still. While he did slow a bit more, he'd built up enough momentum that his body still barreled toward the waiting Lieutenant.
"Fight it!" Diane commanded. She twisted her feet into the earth, bracing for the impact.
The Major growled. His hand tightened painfully around Xander's shoulder, causing the young vampire to groan.
Blake met Diane with a loud CRACK as vampire bodies collided. Keeping her hands flat against his chest, she began to slide backward, propelled by the perplexed and slightly scarred newborn.
Their blazing trail tore at the earth, creating a cloud of dust, dirt and leaves that consumed Diane and Blake. Alarm bells went off in the Major's mind when he lost sight of his sister. His grip on Xander's shoulder squeezed tighter.
Her orange-red eyes bore into Blake's wide, ruby ones. "You can do this. Focus only on what I'm saying."
Blake nodded quickly as the debris from the forest floor continued to fly around them.
"Xander is fine. You have to make yourself believe that. Say it. 'Xander is fine.'"
"Xander is fine."
"Xander is fine."
The vibration stilled in Diane's feet, and she smiled as the dust began to settle, showing they had stopped less than a yard from the back prison fence. She patted his shoulder. "Not bad for a test run."
Approaching footsteps had Blake's head turning away.
"Eyes on me."
"This is just the first step. You have to practice." Confident she had his attention, she lowered her hands. "The mission comes first. Remember that. Even if you know he's going to get hurt."
"No way." Blake backed up, his eyes searching the ground. "You don't understand."
"Hear me out. I do know what it's like to fight alongside those you care about. I've done it more than once." Moving slowly, she put her hand on his shoulder, recapturing his gaze. "You have to trust them and let them work. Part of that is letting them get hurt."
The Major and Jim joined them, but Blake's eyes stayed on her. "How do you do that? It goes against everything in me."
"I know, but you have to remember that if you don't let them help you defeat the enemy, the ones you're trying to protect are as good as dead."
Blake's brow furrowed as Diane's words sunk in. "Good point."
The Major tilted his head to Jim. "Blake, you and your brother go with him and feed some more." He flicked a finger at Blake's eyes. "The effort of fighting your ability has already taken a toll."
While the others left, Diane began pounding the layer of dust off her clothes, knowing what was coming, yet hoping her brother would leave her alone.
Crossing his arms, the Major waited until they were alone. "That was risky."
Irritation kept her focused on her task. "Not really."
"He could have taken you apart."
"And I could be put back together. Did you not listen to a word I said to him? Trusting those that fight beside you to handle themselves—you taught me that." Still slapping the dust from her pants, she scoffed. "Suddenly your wisdom doesn't apply?"
"That's not the point." The Major forced his voice to stay low. "I'm tryin' to keep you safe."
Diane let out a loud huff as she straightened up, looking around and gauging just how quietly she needed to speak. "If I wanted to be safe, I'd be at home."
"That sounds like a fine idea. I'll help you pack."
"I can't believe you!"
"Don't try to put this off on me. You're the one who just had to come and bring my wife with you."
Rage bubbled up in Diane's chest. She was tired of the constant friction between her and Jasper. Getting through to him seemed impossible without giving in, and she had no intentions of walking away.
When she fell silent, he tried again. "Why don't you go home and take Alice with you?"
Her eyes narrowed as Diane began to pull off her jacket. "Not long ago, I was talking to my brother—who doesn't seem to be here at the moment—and he told me I was a warrior. Funny, I didn't believe him then." She stuck out a bare arm. "He taught me that these scars weren't something to be ashamed of because I got them fighting for what's right. He told me they meant I was someone worthy of respect."
"You are, but that doesn't change the fact we want you safe at home."
"You didn't try to keep us from fighting last year."
Inhaling deeply and reminding himself of their unwanted audience, Jasper watched as his sister shook out the jacket more than she needed to. "There was no choice then—there is now. I have plenty of soldiers here. Seems your services aren't required."
Diane fought to beat down the contempt that was clawing in her chest. She knew she was in a no-win situation. Quitting wasn't an option, but neither was continuing the way she'd been going.
Silence reigned as brother and sister stood, nearly nose-to-nose—glaring.
Diane knew something had to change, and it wasn't going to be Jasper, so she made a decision that crushed her heart as much as it freed her mind.
Speaking with a slow coolness, she welcomed the mental clarity her new path allowed. "I've given my word that I'd stay with you once we left the arsenal—and I have." She tugged her jacket on. "You made it clear you don't want me here." She gave the waistband of her jacket a quick pull, setting it into place. "But I'm here to fight, and I'm staying until this thing is over."
Crossing her arms, Diane closed her eyes for a moment to steel her resolve. "I can't keep doing this with you." When she finally looked at him, her eyes were hard. "So until this is over, and I get my brother back, you're the Major I follow—nothing more."
Jasper's eyes flashed in anger that was quickly replaced by disbelief as he felt the shift in his sister. Her hurt and anger were washed over with determination and pulsing bitterness that startled him.
"You're not getting rid of me, and I won't fight you. Your command is questioned every time I do. For that, I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
"Try to understand my position."
"You've made your position very clear. Mine, too, and that's where I'll be staying." Her face went blank. "Orders, Major?"
Hoping to get through to his sister, Jasper projected his remorse that only deepened when her face stayed impassive as her determination rose, covering every other emotion she felt.
Tired of arguing and at a loss, he jerked his chin to the prison. "We need to get the cleanup finished so we can move out. Scott's not here, so that makes you the second-in-command. Let's see if you can handle that."
"Yes, sir." Diane walked away, still tamping down all she felt, telling herself that her feelings had only caused trouble. Scanning the area, she stopped in the Major's line of sight and began giving orders. One by one, she assigned tasks.
"Camebria. Take the females to the river to wash up. The blood will only bring us unwanted attention."
"Carson. Assign a team to get the hole filled in. Make sure there's no blood trail. Then take the males to clean up when the females are done, and I mean wait until they're done. We don't have time for those kinds of delays."
"Jim. Once everyone is finished and clean, get them formed up and get a count. Have Xander and Blake take four more and do a perimeter check. I want them to report to me when they return."
All the while the Major watched, unmoving and silent as he replayed what had just happened in his head, wondering if things between him and Diane would ever be the same.
If they survived.
Watching to make sure her orders were obeyed, Diane began to rifle through the pockets of her jacket. She hadn't realized there were so many. The contents of the right side pocket made sense. A lighter was virtually a necessity. The left front pocket gave up only an extra pair of boot laces and small bottle of hand sanitizer. Diane scowled at it.
Diane pointed at two newborns whose names she hadn't bothered to learn. "You two, go in the back and help." She shoved the unwanted sanitizer in her pocket. "Hey, hon."
"Alice says you'll find what you need in the back left pocket."
Reaching back, Diane chuckled. "Didn't know I had a pocket back there. This thing's like wearing a backpack." Diane smiled at the small brush with several hair ties wrapped around the handle. "Tell Alice I said thanks."
"How's it going?"
"Cleaning up from the feed."
"And Jasper? How are things with him?"
"Don't really want to talk about that."
"That good, huh? Okay, tell him we've found the truck, but we're still far out. I'll let you know when we've had a peek inside."
"Be careful, Scott."
"I love you."
Diane pulled the elastic band from her matted mess of hair, unbraided it, and began to untangle her locks, all the while keeping her eyes on the action around her.
Xander and Blake stopped when they saw her, their eyes flickering between her and the Major until she paused from her brushing only long enough to wave them to her, then she continued.
Blake jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "All clear, not even a whiff of anyone."
"Or anything," Xander added.
"Good." Shoving the brush in her pocket, she began to braid. "Find Jim and give him a hand. The Major wants to move out soon." She wrapped the elastic around the finished plait and flipped it over her shoulder. "So hurry."
After they left, the Major went to Diane's side. "Well done. Guess you've been paying more attention than I thought."
"Thank you, Major."
He grimaced at the cool, professional tone she used. "Once everyone is in formation, I'll give the guards the all clear."
"Scott said they found the truck and will report when they look inside."
The Major and the Lieutenant fell silent, watching the soldiers around them complete their tasks so they could leave. Jasper was wondering if their relationship had been damaged beyond repair, while Diane refused to think about their bond at all.
In Missouri, Scott and his half of the army had headed nearly fifteen miles south after meeting up with Peter and Charlotte. They'd avoided any homes, not that there were many amongst the fields and pastures. Keeping in a tight formation, both squads covered the distance quickly.
Only when Scott began to suspect they would cross Highway 50 shortly, did the repulsive stench of rotting flesh hit—along with an undertone of fresh human blood. His fist shot up, bringing everyone to a stop. Alice, Peter and Charlotte quickly moved to his sides.
"There it is." Alice pointed. "A little over three miles away."
Scott scanned the area between them and the Braxton Logistics truck yard, where the jack-knifed truck stood. "Guess we'd better take a look. Hey, Peter? You and Char want to run the perimeter?"
"Thought you'd never ask." He took his wife's hand. "Come on, sugar."
Alice slipped into a vision. "I can't see what's in there." Her eyes slid from side to side out of focus as if she were reading. "Decide to go inside, Scott."
With a jerk, she came back to the present. "What?"
His eyes followed Peter and Char as they circled the lot. "Stop. I don't expect you to keep track of everything."
Concern drew her mouth into a frown. "But if I can look first, we can avoid surprises."
"I don't like forcing your visions when we don't have to. If they come, fine, but I know you've been using them a lot lately."
"It takes a toll on you." Relieved to see Peter and Char had completed the circuit, he faced his sister. "We'll use them plenty, trust me."
Fists tightening as she fought the urge to stomp a foot, Alice laid on the sarcasm. "I suppose I'll get nowhere arguing with you?"
Alice huffed just as Peter and Char stopped in front of them.
"One of those things is in there." Peter jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Looks like he's had quite a feed, too."
Jabbing his finger twice in the direction of the truck, Scott took off at an easy run, knowing his squads would follow. "Why didn't you keep him contained and just yell out?"
"He's huddled in the back like a baby. He's not goin' anywhere."
When they stopped at the edge of the property, Scott told Harper and Taban to spread the soldiers around the lot, making a tight perimeter. Once they were in place, Scott's eyes went along the line with a satisfied nod. "Now he's not going anywhere."
Leading his brother and sisters, Scott walked to the end of the truck, keeping some distance. He hoped to get a peek at what was inside before it jumped at him.
The back doors bore the signs of having been ripped open and hung from odd angles. Blood dripped from the edge of the semitrailer floor, pooling on the ground beneath.
The eyes of the four vampires darkened not at the scent of the blood but at the stench of a decaying body that easily overpowered the sweetness of vampire nourishment.
"Come out!" Scott ordered. "Show yourself!"
Soft scraping sounds came from the depths of the semitrailer. Three distinct slides of shoes dragging over the metal flooring locked the vampires that surrounded the truck yard into crouches.
A dull WHACK was followed by something wet sliding along the truck bed…
With a splattering of blood, a body flew out of the trailer, sailing through the air in a small arc and landing on the dirt with a sickening crunch.
A woman and two men looked at the sky with dead eyes. Their bodies so mangled that it was difficult to tell where blood-soaked clothes ended and torn flesh began.
Rage tightened Scott's fists. "Out!"
Slow footsteps echoed in the metal box until a pair of bloody shoes stopped at the edge. Pants, still wet from his meal, clung to the legs they covered. The shirt and jacket, once different shades of blue, looked the same color due to the sticky liquid that soaked them.
Mr. Daniel's clothes were thoroughly dyed with the blood of his victims.
His scarf had been torn away during his hunting party, revealing his rotting, rank neck. Various wounds marred his face and hands; they had stopped healing a few days before. Not even the feast he had indulged in seemed to help. Rotting hands went up in the age-old sign of surrender.
"Please, kill me."
Rising up slightly, Scott demanded, "Anymore of you in there?"
"In here? No." A gore-stained hand jerked west. "The town of Gibson, however…"
"What about the town?" Peter pointed at pile of bodies between them. "You tellin' us you did this to the entire town?"
Alice's eyes were wide. "How is he telling us anything?" Her eyes narrowed, and she pointed. "If you're still smart enough to talk, then you're smart enough to know how wrong this is."
Only the palest of pinks still colored the irises that were fixed on the family he'd found in the office. The Braxtons had put up quite a fight—for humans.
"I didn't know what would happen!" Mr. Daniels tugged at his hair. "This hunger! It never ends." He paced the width of the trailer in short steps. "Always growing—no matter how much I eat. Always need more." He pawed at his jacket that suddenly felt too small, tearing it from his body and flinging the pieces away. "I thought they were dying, but they don't stay dead."
No one knew what to say.
"They don't stay dead!"
Scott nodded as the video he'd watched with his family ran through his head. "You don't have to explain. We know."
"Please, kill me."
Conscience and tactics raged in Scott's head as he shoved his finger at Mr. Daniels. "You, come out."
Jumping down from his place, Mr. Daniels walked slowly around the bodies he had mangled. "They'll wake up soon."
"You let us worry about that." He dipped his head toward the grisly pile. "Peter."
Letting go of Charlotte's hand, Peter gently turned her around. His hands stayed on his mate's shoulders until she nodded, submitting to his silent request.
Alice went to her side, turning her back also.
Three loud snaps filled the air as Peter sent the father, mother and their oldest son into the next life, freeing them from Mr. Daniel's fate. The dull ripping of flesh was joined by the familiar metallic screech of vampire skin tearing, reminding them all of what they were up against.
Bending down, Peter swirled his hands over the earth, coating them in a thick layer of dirt. He rubbed them together until the evidence of his task was gone.
"Light them up." Scott tossed a lighter to his brother.
Peter's head snapped up as he caught the Zippo, disbelief clear in his expression.
"There's enough venom to do the job."
A touch of the flame to a crystalline chuck of vampire skin proved the Captain right.
Staring into the flames, Scott planned his next gruesome mission. "The town was evacuated. How many could you have possibly gotten?"
"There was no evacuation." Mr. Daniels swallowed. "I got them all. I've been here for days. Why didn't they leave?" Staring his victims, his tone turned desperate. "Why didn't they leave?"
They watched the black and purple smoke twist and curl as it rose into the sky. There was only one thing to do now. Scott's eyes slid to Alice and he began to make his plans.
When her vision released her, Alice shook her head. Repulsion at what the future revealed crushed her voice to a whisper. "There are so many, I can't count them all."
"Do you see any big problems?"
"No, but that doesn't really say much." Her eyes closed. "It's all so horrible."
"It'll have to do." He turned to the bloody mess that stood beside him. "You really wanna die?"
Standing a bit straighter, Mr. Daniels smoothed his blood-streaked hair. "There is no alternative for me."
"What if there is? What if there's something very important you can do?"
Looking carefully, Mr. Daniels pondered the yellow eyes and the interesting yet distinctly inhuman scent. "I'm not sure exactly what you are, but you appear to have a firm grasp of the situation. What do you propose?"
Scott smirked. "You talk like a college man."
"Good. I know a doctor who is trying to find a cure for what happened to you. He's one of us."
"And you would like me to volunteer my services as his lab rat?"
Stilling again, Alice searched carefully. "I can see that Carlisle will be shocked but happy."
"Char, our job just got a whole lot more fun." Peter tilted his head as he slipped his arm around Charlotte's neck. "Think I might stop and get a camera to capture the Kodak moment when we show up with this one."
"Did she just see the future?" Mr. Daniels took a step forward only to be blocked by Scott.
"You don't get to ask the questions. There are two options. You go with him, or I kill you here."
A wry smile came across the undead face. "Guess the party's not over for me yet." He held out his hand. "I am Mr. Daniels. At least, that's what my name tag said. I'd give you my first name, but I can't seem to remember it."
"I'm Peter, and this is my mate, Charlotte. Forgive me if I don't shake your hand, Dan, but you reek."
Mr. Daniels nodded. "Politicians should have such honesty."
Scott pulled a burner phone out of his pocket. "How long can I talk before I give away our position?"
"I'm not sure." Peter jerked his chin at the phone. "I wouldn't be telling any long tales."
Returning the phone to his pocket, Scott frowned. "Why don't you call Carlisle when you get close to the house? Fill them in as much as you can, and be sure to explain why we haven't called." He smirked. "Especially to Esme."
Peter pointed at Mr. Daniels. "Don't you give me any trouble, and keep away from my woman."
"I have no intention of harming the lady."
Charlotte snickered. "Boy, I may be a lady, but I will take you apart if I have to."
After a round of brief goodbyes, Peter and Charlotte left with Mr. Daniels in tow. Scott watched until they disappeared from sight and then turned to Alice and his guards. "Looks like we have a town to clean up."
Harper and Taban nodded while Alice scowled at the dirt.
"We're going to go in fast and hard. We're not looking for information and we're not trying to save anyone. Got it?"
Getting nods from them, Scott called out for his squads to fall in and laid out his plan. He divided each squad into three groups, assigning tasks to each group and a few individuals.
Alice listened in silence, wondering if she could handle witnessing the carnage Scott detailed with the cool detachment everyone else seemed to possess. Sure she could put on the facade, when she had to, but she didn't really feel as composed as she thought she should be—as much as Jasper was.
She had been Jasper's mate for decades, and before they'd come to the Arsenal, would have sworn that she knew her husband in every aspect possible. She'd thought there was nothing else to learn. Seeing him as she had—ordering, unyielding, punishing—had revealed the side of him he'd always managed to keep hidden…even from her.
"Any questions?" Scott's eyes went over the rank and file assembled before him. Getting none, there was nothing to do but get the job done. "Taban, send two scouts ahead. Your squad goes in first. Let's move out."
Diane stilled when Scott's voice came to her, detailing the mission ahead. Seeing no reason to hide from those she'd grown to trust, she didn't attempt to hide their gift by keeping up with the conversation going on around her.
The Major continued speaking to Jim and the Clayton brothers as if nothing were happening, leaving them to wonder until Diane recounted Scott's plan word for word.
"Excuse me, Lieutenant." Blake looked around. "The Captain isn't here, so how'd you know that?"
"It's exactly what you think it is." She kept her expression neutral as his eyes went wide, sending a clear message that she wouldn't elaborate.
Jim looked unfazed by the new information. "We know what the Captain's up to. What about us, Major?"
The Major turned to the Claytons. "I have a job for you." He smirked when Blake shifted in his feet, his anticipation rising. "Xander, Jim tells me you know a bit about technology."
"It's pretty much all I remember from being human. Kinda sucks when you consider the fact that everything I know will be outdated by the end of the decade."
"I need some burner phones. I don't care how you do it but get them and make them work."
"Ah," Xander murmured, his gaze running across the sky. "You think we're being watched by big brother?"
"Something like that. Get as many as you can safely carry." He unsnapped the case from his hip and held it up. "If there's something like this to protect them, even better."
Xander turned the case over in his hands a few times. "This may be harder to find, but I'll see what I can do."
"Piece of cake." Blake bounced a few times. "No problem."
A hard glare from the Major stilled him. "That's where you're wrong. I'm sendin' you out into unscouted territory. You can travel faster and have a better chance goin' undetected if there are only two of you, but that means you have to stay out of sight. Understood?"
"This means he's trusting you." Diane cut in, her tone commanding. "Get in, get out, and don't screw it up."
The Major pulled out his map and pointed. "Go south. I know Kansas City will have what we need, but you can bet it's not empty, so go around. Lawrence looks like your best bet. Find a Radio Shack, a Walmart, somethin' along those lines. You'll have to stay and charge them, too, so I'm giving you until nightfall. That's about four hours. That's it. After that, I'm coming to get you." His gaze lifted to the brothers. "Don't make me come and get you."
Xander gave a single nod. "We're on it, Major. Consider the job done."
The Major made a sweeping motion with his hand, sending the Clayton brothers off at a run.
Shaking her head, Diane murmured, "Hope they make it back in one piece."
As the Clayton brothers made their way to the town of Lawrence, not everything was going smoothly for Peter and company.
Peter, Charlotte, and the rotting Mr. Daniels were stopped a quarter-mile from the perimeter. Mr. Daniel's near-white eyes went along the line of body parts, many of them fly-blown; a happy place for maggots. "I know this seems irrational, but everything in me is telling me I can't go near that."
"Don't be squeamish, Dan, you can do it." Peter gave him a playful shove forward.
Mr. Daniels whipped around and snarled.
Crouching in response, Peter warned, "You don't want to challenge me, Dan. The Major wants you to get there in one piece, but he'll understand if you make me kill you."
Mr. Daniels stepped back, his hands fisted. "I suggest you find another route."
Charlotte kept her eyes on the line of soldiers behind the carnage. "This place has more guards than the President. Just how are we gonna get across dragging him along?"
Peter kept his eyes on Mr. Daniels. "On the way in, we found a spot with trees on both sides and jumped it. You up for that?"
"My speed has been declining for weeks now. I don't think I'd make it. I'm also not fast enough to avoid being seen anymore."
"There's an airport on this side of the freeway." Charlotte pointed northeast. "If this mess really follows the road, we can get to it."
A slow smile spread across Peter's face. "I think my woman has a plan."
She winked at him. "Course I do."
Traveling through patches of woods and going around towns, the trio made it to Sullivan Regional Airport.
Taking a long inhale, Peter grimaced. "Great. I count three, Char. How about you?"
Charlotte nodded. "I was wondering if we'd meet up with any trouble on the way out."
"More like us." Peter pointed to his eyes.
Mr. Daniels peered into the crimson irises. "What exactly are you?"
"Let me put it this way, Dan. When it comes to people, you eat the meat, but we use them like a juice box."
Peter grinned, enjoying the light bulb go off in Mr. Daniel's head.
"Will I be one, too?"
"I've got no idea. That's why we need to get you to the doc."
"A vampire doctor?"
"Twenty questions will have to wait. We need to get out of here." He glanced from his mate to the creature. "Dan, can I trust you to stay put while we check things out?"
"I'd rather tag along. I may not be as fast or strong, but I can still be useful."
"Fine, but you stay behind us and holler if you need help." Peter shoved the hair out of his eyes. "I don't feel like being on the Major's bad side."
The airport's runway and access road were deserted. Apart from an open suitcase lying near a small plane just outside the hanger, everything looked fairly normal.
Until two vampires stepped out of the terminal.
And two more from the hangar.
Peter cursed under his breath at the thought of being that outnumbered, with the added burden of someone to protect. At least he didn't care about his charge getting hurt. As long as Mr. Daniels was alive, Peter would consider his mission accomplished.
The larger vampire near the terminal walked forward at a slow pace, his smile fake and small. "Peter and Charlotte. Why am I not surprised?"
"Justin? What are you doing here, and why are you dressed liked that?"
Justin spread his arms. "I've always looked good in leather. Goes nice with the Harley." His hands slid down the sides of his open vest. "The ladies like to see the scars."
Peter slowly sidestepped toward his mate. "I prefer to let my actions do my talkin'. Guess I'm not much of a show-off." Reaching her, Peter felt a little better. "What do you want?"
"Him." Justin gave Mr. Daniels a condescending smile. "You don't want to go with them. It isn't safe out there for someone like you."
The two vampires near the hangar began to advance, drawing a loud hiss from Charlotte.
"Easy." Justin held up a hand. "Everyone relax. We don't want any trouble."
Peter analyzed the four fighters that now surrounded them, planning who he'd take down first. "Then you can move along and leave us to do the same."
"What are you doing here, Peter? This doesn't concern you. You're a simple nomad."
"Same could be said for you."
"Let's say I've been shown the big picture."
"Well, then. You've got your business, and we've got ours."
Justin chuckled. "You're still Jasper's little lap dog, I see." He laughed at his joke. "After all these years, you still feel some kind of loyalty to him? I've heard he's gone soft. Drinks from animals now."
"You don't know him or me. Just because you and me met up a few times, and shared some stories, don't mean jack." He jerked his chin at Mr. Daniels. "He's agreed to go with us. You wanna explain how that concerns you?"
"None of them leave. That's the order."
"Order, huh? Guess I'm not the only lapdog here." Peter crouched. "You ready to dance, doggie?"
"If you insist." Justin's smile spread. "It was nice knowing you."
Peter flexed his fingers. "Ravioli."
In the split-second Justin spent pondering what Peter said, Charlotte and Peter shot forward, in opposite directions, putting Mr. Daniels between them. Justin lunged at Peter and the other three joined the fray. Both mates were quickly battling two vampires each, fighting for their lives.
Mr. Daniels, being what he was, moved as fast as he could to Charlotte's side and struck the vampire closest to him. The blow didn't do much damage, but did cause the black-haired vampire to turn and hiss—but nothing more. Mr. Daniels hit him again, and this time, the vampire merely shoved him.
Mental wheels turning, Mr. Daniels tested his theory once more by jumping between Charlotte and her opponent. As expected, the punch intended for Charlotte was pulled when he got in the way.
Mr. Daniels smiled wickedly, his teeth still bloody from his feast. "It appears I'm off limits."
"I said back off!" The hand that had shoved him before shot out again.
Two rotting hands caught it, and Mr. Daniels bit down hard. The skin gave like a humans, yet despite his best efforts, the chuck of crystalline flesh wouldn't pull free.
Kicking Mr. Daniels off, the short vampire yelled. "It bit me!"
The other vampire fighting Charlotte hesitated for a few moments, giving her the time she needed to deliver a hard kick to the side of his head, sending him to the ground. With a quick leap, she was on him. "Go help Peter!"
Mr. Daniels turned to see Peter staggering as one vampire held him by the arm and another stuck him repeatedly. Peter's other arm lay on the ground in a small pool of venom. Aware of all the noise he was making, Mr. Daniels lunged for the one that held Peter. With only three feet to go, he tripped over the suitcase and fell hard. His target only a few yards away, Mr. Daniels began to combat crawl, hoping to remain unnoticed.
Loud cracks rang out as Justin enjoyed himself, working Peter rapidly like a punching bag. Not one to give up, Peter jumped back, using the one that held him as a springboard and landed a hard kick to Justin's head.
Recovering quickly, Justin growled as he flashed forward, his hands going to Peter's head.
Mr. Daniels bit down on the left leg of the vampire that held Peter, wrapping his arms around the stone appendage and holding on with all he had.
Trying to jerk his leg free, Franco was shocked to find he couldn't and resorted to trying to shove the creature off with his free foot. Mr. Daniels increased his assault, biting three more times.
The creature's efforts proved successful when the vampire fell, quickly consumed with the burn he'd never expected to feel again.
Peter ducked as the restraint gave way, barely avoiding the hands that sought his head, and with a hard right uppercut, sent Justin back and into the air. Flashing forward, Peter was waiting, ready to help Justin meet the ground with more force than gravity could provide. Shoving the falling Justin down, Peter helped him create a dent in the concrete beneath them. A loud crack rang out as Peter's boot planted in Justin chest.
Knowing time was not on their side, Peter shoved all the questions away and took Justin's head.
Charlotte had already lit a pyre that held the remains of one of her opponents. The other lay on the ground writhing.
Still holding the leg he'd latched onto, Mr. Daniels didn't move until Peter nudged him with his boot. "We got them, Dan. Let go."
Now there were two writhing vampires.
Seeing that neither was going anywhere, Peter tossed Justin's head in the pyre and made quick work of the rest of the body, sending it into the flames. His eyes went over the two that were left, and he pointed to the one with less than ten scars. "Char, torch this one."
Now there were three bodies burning.
Peter slowly circled the last of his opponents, watching in fascination as the vampire grimaced in pain as if beginning the change anew. "Who sent you for him?" Peter demanded.
"We had orders," the vampire cried out. "That's all I know. Please, help me!"
"You know how to fix this?" Peter pressed his boot into the wound, causing the vampire to yell.
"I need to feed. At least two, maybe more."
Peter scoffed. "Hate to break it to you, but you're in a human-free zone, my friend."
"No! Some refused to leave!"
"How about you answer some questions first? What's your name, sport?"
"Franco." His teeth snapped together. "You have to hurry, the wound is spreading."
"Our wounds don't spread, stupid." Charlotte walked around Peter's outstretched hand, knowing he'd want to stop her. She reached down and tore the leather pants away at the knee. "Well, I'll be."
There on the side of Franco's shin, the three bites Mr. Daniels had inflicted had become one large wound that was indeed growing.
Franco's eyes went wide with alarm as he studied his leg. "See! I told you. You have to help me!"
"You gonna answer my questions?"
"I can't tell you what I don't know!"
Peter backed away, flicking his hands for Charlotte and Mr. Daniels to do the same. "Looks like you're on your own."
"I can't hunt like this!" Franco scrambled to his feet and stumbled, growling at the pain. "What am I supposed to do?"
Peter tiled his head to the right, flashing a wide smile. "Consider this Motel Six. We left the pyre on for you."
After a quick glance around, Charlotte ran to the hanger. A Bell 206 helicopter with a Sullivan Police Department logo brought a smile to her face. "Get in here. I found us a way out."
Charlotte got the craft into the air just in time to see Franco jump into the flames, screaming as the fire consumed him.
Mr. Daniels gaze stayed locked on the pyre as they lifted off. "You should have killed me."
"You'll do more good where you're going." Peter looked out over the soldiers as they crossed the line. "Char, baby, I hope your plan includes us gettin' away from them."
"Sure does." Charlotte slipped the headset on and turned a few dials. She cleared her throat dramatically and shouted into the microphone, "Help! Someone help!"
©2013 Midnight Ariel
Betas: Evelyn-Shaye and Claireybeary12
Without my betas, some of this simply wouldn't have made sense.
Graphic Artist: IllicitWriter
Thanks for reading. Please review.