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The hunger burning beneath his hot skin told the vampire that he needed a woman. Needed her until the bed was wrecked and her husky cries were filling his head. But despite the half-clad dancers eyeing him with hopeful yearning, Ashe Granger knew he wouldn't be touching any of the females filling the noisy London nightclub.
There wasn't any point.
He'd already tried screwing his way to relief through at least a dozen women in the past month alone, his hunger only mounting with frustration at each useless attempt to control it. Sex no longer brought him those satisfying moments of peace. Instead, it left him restless and in a foul moodso he'd given it up for the time being, going cold turkey. It sucked, but at least he didn't have to face that bleak feeling in his chest every time he came inside the wrong woman. A bitch of a situation for a man to find himself in, considering he would never be coming inside the right one. And the idea of living like a monk for the rest of his life didn't appeal. He'd rather die.
"It's just for now," a voice said inside his mind. "Just until you figure out a way to break the Burning."
Burning. Baking. Being in heat. They all meant the same, each referring to the primal change that a normally cold-skinned Deschanel male experienced once he found his intended mate; that one woman meant to bring balance to his life. A violent, visceral wave of heat that twists and turns through his veins, growing more intense the longer he waits to claim her. It didn't always happen, now that their numbers were no longer what they used to be. But when it did, it was hard to miss, hitting the vampire's system with the punch of a nuclear assault.
With a snarl, Ashe shook his head, wiping his irritating thoughts clean. At the moment, he had more pressing matters to worry about. Namely, the man he was there to meet.
Ashe wasn't in the habit of conferring with anonymous sources who claimed they had important information they were willing to divulge. Especially when there wasn't a price attached. People just didn't tend to do things out of the kindness of their hearts. Especially the kind of people who sent anonymous notes to his hotel room, like the one he'd received an hour ago, telling Ashe to wait for him in this seedy club. And he hated waiting. Hated the way it felt. The way it coiled through his muscles, through his mind, leaving him edgy and restless on the verge of violence at the slightest provocation.
The only reason he'd come was because the message had mentioned information about the Sabins. They were an extensive family, consisting of several generations, probably about fifty of them in all. For the past nine years, the Sabins had been serving time at their compound within the Wasteland. It was a vampire's worst nightmare, but then that was the point. Prisons weren't meant to be enjoyed, and that's exactly what the Wasteland was, only without the steel bars and armed guards. Instead, the vampires who had been banished to the desolate realm hidden within a Norwegian forest were bound within its borders by powerful magic. While the noncondemned could move freely in and out of the mystical realm, the prisoners were forced to permanently reside within the cold, bleak, dangerous pit.
An explanation for exactly why the Sabin family had been sentenced to the Wasteland was something that Ashe had been working to get his hands on for the past year, ever since he'd become acquainted with the family during a little quest he'd shared with a group of shape-shifters who were out to save the world. But despite his determination, no rulings by the Deschanel Council could be found in the record books. And no one he'd asked had been able to provide him with any answer other than that the details were "classified."
Ashe needed that information. Needed it badly enough that when he'd received the note saying to come to this club, he hadn't been able to ignore it.
Now he was sitting in a chair that was too small, sipping a beer that was too warm, while house music barreled its way through his brain like a hammer and the foul stench of sweat filled his nostrils. He wouldn't have thought this many people would be out clubbing in the early hours of the evening, but the annoying crowd clearly proved him wrong.
Maybe I'm just getting too old for this shit, he thought with a grimace, though at nearly two centuries in age he was still considered to be in his prime by vampire reckoning. Though not immortal, his species could usually enjoy long life spans, until such time as they took a mate. Then the man and woman's internal clocks aligned, ensuring that one never lived for long without the other. Most couples had little more than a hundred years together but for the majority, it was meant to be one hell of a century.
Or in my case, he thought, a hundred years of hell.
Finishing the last of his beer, Ashe took another visual sweep of the steadily growing crowd, determining which of the writhing bodies on the dance floor were human and which were from the ancient clansthose nonhuman races, like the Deschanel vampires, who had lived for centuries hidden among their fellow humans.
Just as he decided that he'd waited long enough, a tall, lanky guy slipped into the empty chair on the other side of the small table. The guy's scent immediately told Ashe he was a vampire. Just not a very smart one, judging by the sour stench of drugs leaking through the male's pores. Spiky black hair shot out in every direction from the vamp's pale head, no less than seven piercings marking his face in different locations. Nose, lips, eyebrows and cheeks. Big black discs elongated his earlobes, at least an inch and a half in diameter. Fucking ouch. Ashe liked a little pain with his pleasure as much as the next vamp, but he didn't get how some guys could embrace it for the sake of an image.
The stranger shot him a nervous smile, revealing his crooked front teeth. "Hey, man. I'm Jax."
Ashe narrowed his eyes, waiting for the guy to get on with it.
Jax shifted in his chair with a kind of nervous energy that probably had more to do with needing his next fix than it did with fear. Fiddling with his earlobe, he said, "So you're, like, a Formyndare, aren't you?''
Formyndares were an elite, highly skilled group of soldiers whose job was the protection of the Deschanel vampires. They were often considered the most ruthless hunters out of all the ancient clans and they were not to be screwed with.
Instead of answering the question, Ashe just leaned back in his chair and glared. He had no intention of discussing his profession with the jonesing vampire.
Jax's nervousness was increasing, his right eyelid starting to twitch. "So, yeah, I'm, uh, here to give you some info that's gonna rock your world."
A cocky grin lifted the corner of Ashe's mouth. Drily, he said, "I can't wait to hear it."
Jax licked his lips. "Yeah, well, why don't you buy me a drink and then we can have our little talk."
Oh, now that was just funny. Was this idiot really stupid enough to try and milk him? reaching over the table and snagging the junkie's scrawny wrist in a lightning-quick move, Ashe applied enough pressure to let him know he was done getting dicked around.
"Hey, man, ease off," Jax wheezed. "I'm just the messenger."
"Then deliver your damn message and get the hell out of here," Ashe demanded in a low, deadly rasp.
"All right, okay." Jax's eyes shot from side to side, as if he was having trouble deciding where to look. "All I know is that there's a woman eating dinner at an Italian place called something like Zizzi over on James Street. It's only a few blocks from here. She's wearing a green sweater, sitting out on the patio. She'll give you the location."
"What location?" he sneered, using his other hand to grip the vamp's chin, forcing him to hold his stare. "What the hell are you talking about? You were meant to give me information about the Sabin family!"
Jax's throat worked as he swallowed. "Look, don't hurt me, okay. The guy"
"I don't know, man." Jax was practically whining, his scent steeped in panic and fear. "He was one of us, you know. Brownish hair, Desch-gray eyes. He found me at a bar around the corner, described what you look like, then told me that if I wanted to earn a grand, all I had to do was come in here and tell you that the woman in the green sweater can give you Juliana Sabin's location. He said to hurry. To get your ass moving now."
Juliana's location? That didn't make any sense. He already knew her location. She was bound within the Wasteland with the rest of her family, and that's where the little criminal would remain.
With a grunt of disgust, Ashe released the guy's wrist and moved to his feet. He threw a twenty-pound note on the table to cover his drinks and headed through the crowd, out into the bitter evening. The wintry winds whipped around his ears and neck like a ghostly caress, but he didn't feel its chill, his body seething with heat. Christ, just the thought of Juliana had him so twisted up inside he felt like a knot.
Shoving one hand through his hair, he started down the crowded sidewalk, barely noticing the people who scrambled to get out of his way, while he recalled the way he'd spent the past year comparing every woman he met with the mysterious little vamp. Even when he was bedding another woman, it was Juliana's face he'd see in his mind. Her slim, strong body he'd imagine spread out beneath him. Her pale, slender throat he pictured driving his fangs into, deep and hard and thick, until her blood was flowing in a sweet, blistering rush over his tongue and his hips were slamming against hers, demanding she give him everything she had. Every stubborn, breathtaking, infuriating part of her.
Strange, that he could want her so badly, and yet have never actually touched her with anything more than a brief, fleeting contact. But then, he and the exiled vampire had never hit it off, constantly butting heads and bickering over everything from the serious to the trivial.