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Adeath for a life.
Jachin leaned against the rain-slicked brick building in New York City's theater district and stared at the name written in red ink on the five-thousand-dollar bill in his hand. Such a wasteful use of obsolete paper money indicated either his client's sheer wealth or his complete disregard for preserving items of the past. Jachin didn't care which. His client paid, he did his job.
He crushed the bill in a tight fist, mentally sending heat to his palm. Damp, cool summer air blew in the alley between the theater and the warehouse, bringing with it faint scents of car exhaust and day-old trash from a nearby alley. Jachin uncurled his fingers and ashes floated from his hand, dispersing in the wind. No trace, exactly the way he preferred to operate.
How many kills had he made over the past decade? He'd stopped keeping track after fifty. Dealing in death had become his means to live, yet doing so had darkened his soul.
A sound in the dark recesses of the alley drew his attention, and his shoulders tensed. He slowed his breathing to one breath every thirty seconds. His heart rate followed suit while he harnessed his energy to enhance his sight. Anger lashed through him, and his sharp gaze narrowed on the culprit. He'd ignored the hunger pains for four days longer than he should have. No one would screw with this deal.
Small, vivid green eyes stared back at him in the alley's darkness before the cat hissed then fled.
The low rumble of voices exiting the front of the building told him the show was over. His gaze dropped to the old-fashioned watch on his wrist. It was more accurate since it didn't depend on a consistent pulse rate to power it. When it came to hisjob, timing was everything. Thomas Ramos's security would be escorting the senator out of the building in forty-five seconds.
Jachin slid his hand under his lightweight black leather trench coat, his muscles tensing again as he pulled his pulser weapon from its holder at his lower back. As the weapon powered up, he reveled in the high-frequency zing and the knowledge the weapon was a detached extension of himself. He could easily kill Ramos and his security detail with his bare hands, but this was business, not an act of vengeance.
Bright light flicked on above the theater's back door, bathing the dark alley in a circular glow.
The door began to open and Jachin's fingers flexed as he gripped his gun. A female voice had him stepping back behind a stack of crates.
Damn. A woman.
He ground his teeth at the unexpected complication and ran his thumb up the weapon's dial, moving the power from kill to stun.
Four people spilled out of the Wesley Theater's back exit. A tall security guard and a short, thick-necked guard preceded a blond woman and Ramos. Expensive perfume, spicy cologne, hyped-up testosterone and the scent of sex surrounded them as the woman giggled at the senator.
She gave Ramos a quick kiss on the cheek, short curls bouncing around her laughing expression. "Honestly, Tommy, how was I supposed to keep my mind on the play with your hands doing their own kind of entertainment?"
Jachin stepped out of the shadows and pegged the woman with his stun burst.
She crumpled to the ground amid yells from the men. Jachin mentally slammed the theater door shut before the men could retreat inside. Instincts on high, he dove out of the way of a pulse burst that missed his chest by a couple of inches.
"Sonofabitch!" The tall man fired constant bursts while using his body as a shield to back the senator toward the Dumpster at the end of the alley.
Squawks from a comm unit echoed in the narrow space. The short, bald guard spoke into a communicator attached to his wrist. "He moves like an animal, so fast I can't get a make on him. Gotta be Slayer. We need backup now!"
No one would come. Jachin had already taken out the security detail sitting in the car outside the front of the theater.
He advanced with rapid speed, using the alley's brick walls as springboards. The security guards yelled, and pulser fire exploded around him, leaving singe holes in the brick wall one step behind him. With each leap he edged forward, corralling the three men.
When one of them nicked his jacket, the close call made Jachin's heart beat faster, heightened his senses. Predatory excitement grew within him. His mouth watered and his gums tingled as he forced the men behind the Dumpster in the back of the alley. The inevitability of the kill was almost upon him.
Jachin leapt over the Dumpster to land in front of the tall security guard.
Before his quarry got one shot off, Jachin grabbed the man's scrawny neck and squeezed, his primal instincts taking over. The dead man's body dropped to the ground with a heavy thump.
Holstering his gun, Jachin flexed his leg muscles and vaulted in the air. He landed in front of the last two men, blocking their path to the door.
The security agent's weapon discharged, and surprising, excruciating pain ripped through Jachin's upper arm. The burning sensation spread down his bicep as if his arm were being burned from the inside out.
Jachin bit back an unholy roar of pain and fisted the senator's lapel in a tight grip at the same time he hammered his other hand against the security guard's barrel-like chest.
When the guard's lifeless body fell to the ground, the senator's jowls quivered as he stared up at Jachin. Stunned shock briefly replaced the fright in his eyes. His gaze flicked to his attacker's elongated canines. "You're a vampire? But but we thought you were extinct."
"Isn't that a helluva rub?" Jachin leaned close to him. "My race was made by humans, condemned by humans, yet humans have no problem hiring one of us to do their dirty work."
Ramos's rapid heart rate stuttered and a look of pain crossed his face. Sweat trickled down his temples as he crushed Jachin's coat with his meaty hands and gasped for breath. "You can't."
"Watch me." Jachin pulled the man close and sank his teeth deep into his thick jugular. Rage made Jachin's chest constrict. As Thomas let out a low scream, flashes of Jachin's Sanguinas clan members suffering from the humans' torturous testing, dying before their time, flew through his mind. Decades of vengeful instincts demanded he rip the human's throat out.
Taking deep breaths through his nose, Jachin fought the urge to inflict pain.
This was business.
Instead, he merely swallowed the warm blood. Thomas's low scream dwindled to a hoarse whimper a few seconds before the corrupt Senator's heart jerked to a halt.
Jachin had only taken two swallows when the familiar nausea slammed into him, twisting his insides. Disgusted, he retracted his fangs, swiped his tongue over the bite wound and dropped the dead man on the damp asphalt.
Not a single ounce of remorse entered his thoughts as he pulled his gun from the holster, adjusted its setting back to kill mode and put two pulse bursts into the senator's chest. After he reholstered his weapon, he picked up the unconscious woman and set her inside the theater door.
Wiping the remnants of blood from his mouth, Jachin turned away from the carnage and never looked back.
A short time later, Jachin stood in an upscale gardened courtyard on the Upper East Side, banging on Roach's door.
"Hold yer horses, for God's sake," Roach said from behind the thick, intricately carved wood.
When the old man opened the door, Jachin barely held on to his consciousness. He stumbled through the threshold and fell on the tiled kitchen floor.
"Six pints," he said in a hoarse voice.
"Damn it, don't you die in my house!" Roach stamped his foot on the floor in irritation.
As the geezer bent and ran his hand through his spiky gray hair, scowling at him, the smell of aftershave wafted his way. Jachin would forever associate that strong spicy scent with irritating yet necessary salvation.
Roach's pale green eyes narrowed. "Payment first. Ten thousand."
Jachin gritted his teeth. Ten thousand was half his take. "Extortionist! Dim the lights," he growled, then tossed the bastard his payment.
"Bloodsucker." Roach's bony fingers gripped the slim card Jachin threw his way. Once Roach ran the card through a handheld scanner he'd pulled from his robe pocket, he nodded his approval and slid his finger across the touch pad on the wall to lower the lights. Before he left the room, he tossed Jachin his card back and grumbled,
"Don't you bleed on my new floor."
In order to remain conscious, Jachin slid his card into his coat pocket and focused on the newly remodeled kitchen with its contemporary black cabinets and stainless-steel appliances. The hard white tile beneath him felt surprisingly warm. Heated tile. Roach had spared no expense on his new kitchen. How ironic, considering Jachin sought out the man for his ability to concoct a palatable meala meal from a lab, not a kitchen. He didn't know how Roach was able to make human blood viable for him. All he knew was the man was a retired chemist.
Jachin lay very still. Every sound echoed in his throbbing head. Even the soft glow of indoor lights made him want to puke if he had anything in his belly to toss. He'd already retched up the senator's foul blood on the way to Roach's.
The grating shuffle of shoes announced Roach's return. Several pints of blood smacked on the floor next to Jachin. He winced at the deafening noise reverberating in his head and grabbed the pouches.
Holding three bags together, he ripped the plastic corners with his teeth and sucked down the pints in two large swallows before he reached for the next set.
A chair scraped the floor. "Who bought it tonight?"
Annoyed that his hand shook, Jachin ignored Roach's question and lifted three more full bags to his lips.
"Serves you right for attempting to take tainted human blood." Roach snorted while lowering himself into the chair.
Once Jachin downed his sixth pint, the cramping in his stomach abated somewhat. He elevated himself on his elbow and focused on Roach. "I should've drained you dry. Keep upping your prices and see if I don't one day."
Roach laughed out loud and ran his gnarled fingers across the old scar on his neck. "Just like all humans, my blood is still poison to you. Can't you come up with any new threats? I feel slighted that you don't make the effort to be original with me."
A lingering pain slashed through him, stealing Jachin's breath. Doubling over with pain, he growled while flipping off Roach.
"Eh, that's what you needa good lay." The crotchety man thrummed his fingers on the table.
While the sterilized blood spread through his system, Jachin took a deep, inhaling breath. He shuddered at the sheer power and nutrients it provided, the awakening of his senses. The rush was almost arousing.
"I don't need sex. I need sleep." He glanced past the hole in his jacket and touched the burn on his arm. At least the partially healed wound had begun to close. It would fully heal. There was only one scar he cared about.
Roach slid his gaze to the empty plastic bags littering his floor. "You wouldn't need so much if you didn't continue to believe in the ramblings of an old vampire on his deathbed."
Jachin stood to his six-foot-four-inch height and narrowed his gaze on Roach. "The prophecy is true." It has to be. It's the only thing that keeps me going, he mentally finished. He turned to leave, and dizziness made him grab the back of the kitchen chair.
Roach let out a heavy sigh. Pulling two more pints of blood out of his plush terry robe's pocket, he handed them to Jachin. "On the house."
"Your generosity overwhelms me," Jachin said, taking the plastic pouches.
Roach snorted at his sarcasm. "I have to keep my income source in fit condition."
Jachin turned to leave, calling over his shoulder, "Friggin' opportunist."
"Don't let the door slam you in the ass on your way out, bloodsucker."
Once he'd tucked the two pints of blood into his coat's inside pocket, Jachin took the subway to the Lower East Side. Jamie's Pub was within a couple of miles of his home. As he walked inside the pub and sat down at the bar, the scent of burnt almonds, peanuts, smoke, sweat and free-flowing alcohol slammed into him. The place was packed with men staring at the curvaceous blond newscaster currently displayed on the large projector screen along the far wall.
"We interrupt tonight's sports event to bring you breaking news," she said, eliciting groans from the men, who were obviously there to watch the tournament game while they downed a few beers. "Senator Ramos and his entire security team were murdered tonight in what appears to be a brutal assassination. The only survivor of the crime was a female theatergoer, but she was knocked unconscious before she could see the assassins. We'll keep you informed once autopsies have been conducted."
As the newscaster cut to another journalist on the scene, Jachin scanned the room. He caught a whiff of Landon's scent before he saw the man with short, light-brown hair get up from a table at the back of the room and begin to weave his way around the tables.
"Your drink, sir." Kip set the imported whiskey down in front of Jachin. Jachin picked up the double shot and inhaled the alcohol's strong aroma.
"Know anything about that deal tonight?" Landon narrowed his green eyes on him before he turned a deliberate gaze to the thin man sitting on the stool next to Jachin. Jerking his head toward the main room, he addressed the man. "There's a better view of the game out there."
Landon's broad-shouldered stance, his entire dominating presence, demanded respect.
"Fine," the man slurred. He cast bleary, bloodshot eyes Jachin's way before he swiped up his drink and slid off the stool to stumble to a nearby table.
Landon ran his hand across the cleft in his chin and assessed Jachin with shrewd frankness before he sat on the stool next to him and signaled for the bartender.
Jachin threw back his entire drink in one swallow. While the alcohol did its magic, burning all the way down to his belly, he deliberately eyed the smashed bullet plug dangling from the silver chain around Landon's neck. The small piece of metal stood out against his black T-shirt. He knew what that bullet meant to Landon and where the man's loyalties lay.
"You asking in an official capacity?"
Landon cut his gaze from the beer Kip just set down in front of him back to Jachin. Picking up his cold longneck, he took a deep swig. "Do I need to?"
Jachin noted the rise in Landon's heartbeat, the increase in his musky, primal scent. He was tensing, preparing to fight if need be. Jachin knew he could probably take Landon. Hell, in the past he could've overpowered him with one hand tied behind his back. But he was done with his share of violence for the night.