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Sarah Vida shivered. The aura of vampires seeping from the house in front of her was nearly overwhelming. She drove around the block once, then stopped her car a couple of yards away from the white Volvo she had been following. Her sapphire Jaguar was flashy, and she hadn’t had time to change the plates.
She was lucky she had been planning on crashing a different party, or she would never have been ready for this one. She had come across the white Volvo’s owner at a gas station and had tailed her here.
She cut the motor and ran her fingers through her long blond hair, which was windblown by the drive in the convertible. Flashing a killer smile at no one, she checked her appearance in the rearview mirror. The girl in the glass appeared attractive, wild and carefree. The core of stone was not visible in her reflection.
As she stood, Sarah smoothed down her blue tank top and cream jeans and automatically checked to make sure her knives were in place—one in a spine sheath on her back and one tucked into each calf-high boot. Only then did she approach the house.
With blinds and shades pulled, the house appeared empty from the outside, but the illusion was quickly shattered. Before she even had a chance to knock, someone pulled open the door.
Leech, Sarah thought, disgusted, as she flashed a smile as practiced as the one she had given her rearview mirror at the vampire who had opened the door.
Whoa. Her smile did not waver, even though the vampiric aura in the house hit her like a sledgehammer to her gut. Her skin tingled at the sense of power, the feeling as unpleasant as sandpaper scraping across raw skin.
Unpleasant feeling or no, she began to mingle, looking always for the prey she was risking her neck to find—Nikolas.
Nikolas was one of the most infamous of his kind, a vampire who had hunted blatantly since the 1800s. His first known prey had been a young mother named Elisabeth Vida. Elisabeth had been a witch, a vampire hunter, and incidentally, Sarah’s ancestor. Her family had been hunting Nikolas ever since—without success.
Nikolas was clever—he had to be to have eluded hunters from the most powerful family of witches for so long. But he was also vain, and that would be his downfall. Every one of his victims wore his marks, decorations cut into their arms with the blade of his knife. Nikolas allowed some of his victims to live, but he twisted their minds to make them sickeningly loyal to him. Hunters had caught more than one of those warped humans, but they each professed to choose death before they would betray the vampire.
One of them, however, had made a mistake. A flat tire on the way to this bash had left her fuming at a gas station off Route 95, and she had been too preoccupied to cover the scars on her arms. The attendant, a member of the hunters’ complex system of informants, had called Sarah; she had followed the girl’s white Volvo here.
Taking a breath to focus her senses, Sarah searched the room with all six of them. Human scents mingled with the overpowering aura of vampires. Sarah felt pity and a slight disgust for the living who flitted among the vampires like flies clinging to dead flesh. Though Sarah did see one human boy leaving just after she came in, most of these humans would stay, out of either ignorance or perverted loyalty.
She didn’t like being inside this group without backup, but the short drive between the gas station and this house had only allowed for a few cell-phone calls, which had reached only busy signals and answering machines. She couldn’t risk making a serious kill, outnumbered as she was, but if she played nice tonight, she had a good chance of wangling an invitation to the next bash this group hosted. She could bring in the big guns then.
The trick was to avoid being killed—or munched on. She was posing as free food, human and helpless, but letting a vampire feed on her was further than she was willing to go. Besides, even the weakest vampire would be able to taste the difference between the bland vintage of human blood and the power in her own witch blood.
It was past ten o’clock at night, and the back of Sarah’s neck tingled with apprehension. Any hunter worth her blade generally knew better than to stay at a bash after midnight. Called the Devil’s Hour, midnight was when the killing was done.
Yet if Sarah wanted an invitation, she needed to stay and convince these creatures she was one of the idiotic humans who bared their throats willingly. Any hunter, from the most amateur to the most respected, would give his right eye and his life for a chance to take down a group of vampires this strong.
Sarah befriended the girl she had followed, and within fifteen minutes she had charmed her way into receiving one of the slick white cards that stated the time and location of the next bash this group was hosting.
Now all she had to do was follow the two simplest rules any hunter ever learned: Don’t get caught, and clean up after yourself.
As the Devil’s Hour drew near, Sarah found the weakest of the vampires and made sure she was alone with him when the clock struck.
“I don’t think Kaleo meant this room to be open to the public,” her companion pointed out, referring to their vampire host. Sarah recognized the name with revulsion. Nikolas was not the only creature in this group the hunters would love to take down.
Hiding her thoughts, she smiled and put a hand on her companion’s shoulder, forcing herself to ignore the unpleasant thickness of his aura. “Maybe I just wanted you all to myself,” she teased, meeting his black vampiric eyes.
The fiend got the message and leaned closer to her. Sarah ran her fingers through his ash blond hair, and he wrapped a slender hand around the back of her neck, gently urging her forward.
She leaned her head back, knowing where his gaze would travel. He fell for it, as they always did, and as she felt his lips touch her throat, she reacted.