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A Novel of the Enclave
By Jessica Lee, Erin Molta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Jessica Lee
All rights reserved.
Fairfield, South Carolina
"You look like you could use some company, darling."
The syrupy drawl of the female's voice dragged Arran MacLain's attention from the beer he nursed. Damn, he'd chosen the darkest and most isolated table in the bar for a reason. To drink alone. Despite the fact the bitter shit did little to numb his brain, no matter how hard or how often he tried to drown the gray matter in it.
Without an invitation, the buxom brunette maneuvered herself onto the seat beside him. Every muscle tensed, including the grip he had around the thick neck of his beer bottle. Tobacco, mixed with the minty remnants of chewing gum, assaulted his nostrils. He jerked his head away from the offensive odor and studied the label on his Heineken. Maybe she would get the hint.
"My name's Star."
"Whatcha doing all the way back here by yourself, handsome? Hiding away from the world?"
He swung his head around, intending to inform her to find someone else to hit on when the light, reflecting off the bold highlights in her hair, jammed the words in his throat.
Shit. For a moment, the color had reminded him of the woman whose face was a permanent fixture in his head every time he closed his eyes.
Star leaned in. "You and I could have a real good time," she whispered in his ear. "I betcha I could put a smile on those gorgeous lips. I'm told I'm the best."
Arran squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed hard. He should get rid of her. He didn't have time to fulfill those needs. At least that was what he had tried to tell himself. The real problem was that no one ever fulfilled his needs. Not in the two years since that night when he'd held Gabrielle in his arms. The night he'd tasted her lips for the first time ...the sweet scent of honeysuckle from her hair had invaded his mind, leaving him forever marked. The memory of that evening unfurled once more inside his head — vivid, bold — as if it had only been days, not years.
He was inside the former Enclave mansion during the DEAD invasion, battling one of the bloodsuckers. DEADs or Death Euphoria Addicts, were the sick vampires who got their rocks off by draining their human victims dry. DEADs were merciless and it had been the Enclave's job to curtail their activities.
Tapping his earpiece, he checked in with Gabrielle, who was monitoring the mansion's surveillance. "Gabrielle, status update." Moments passed in silence on the other end of the comm unit. "Gabrielle, come in. Status update." A sick feeling took root in his gut. Spinning on his heels, he hauled ass in her direction.
Two strides into the hallway, a crash ricocheted off the walls coming from the security office. Less than a heartbeat later, he entered the room.
Gabrielle's broken chair lay shattered behind a DEAD who held her against the wall.
"Well, well," the bastard slurred. "Lookit the prize I found. Baby, you gonna be so sweet."
The DEAD reached for her face. Arran snatched his hand before he connected with her flesh. He wrenched the vampire's arm. A loud pop of bone surrendering under extreme pressure filled the small confines of the room. Nice. A scream tore from the bloodsucker's throat as he was pulled away from his victim. The Enclave warrior held on and matched the DEAD's movements until he found the perfect angle to sink his blade into the DEAD's chest.
Before the smoking body hit the floor, Arran crouched by Gabrielle's trembling frame. She flung herself at him, knocking him to his knees. The sudden warmth of her body shattered him. Her full breasts had pressed into his chest, and the honeysuckle scent of her hair had filled his nostrils, setting his body on fire.
Gabrielle leaned her head back. Sparkling amber eyes had met his from under a thick fan of dark lashes. Her pupils dilated, darkening her gaze. His ability to draw a breath wilted into nonexistence.
Before he knew it, his fingers were tangled deep in her hair. The silky feel of her tresses against his skin had echoed like strokes along the ridge of his cock, bringing him to an immediate throbbing erection.
The pink tip of her tongue had darted out, and she had licked the top and bottom of her lips. One simple act, and it had fried what minuscule control remained.
Gabrielle sealed her lips with Arran's before he'd realized either of them had even moved. He wanted to savor every second. But the moment her sweet lips touched his, he devoured her.
She fractured his mind, his sanity.
Her tongue battled with his for dominance, as crazed as he for a taste.
But ... even though he had never thought fate, for any reason, would bring Gabrielle into his arms, the baggage they both carried was an insurmountable mountain of shit they could never climb over. And his personal collection was not something he wanted Gabrielle to pry open. She was reason one why he'd left and his ass sat in a bar a couple of hundred miles away from the Enclave's headquarters. Reason number two: his former partner, Markus. The vampire who'd betrayed them all with the Master of the Enclave's psychotic sire, Marguerite. He should've detected sooner that something was off before Markus had ordered Marguerite's DEADs to overrun the mansion. He'd known the male had been having headaches and not acting like himself. It had been right there in front of his damn face. The other warrior had not only been his partner, but the closest thing to a friend he'd ever had. What a fool he'd been not to see the obvious changes in him before Markus had nearly destroyed the Enclave. Now it was Arran's job to find him and make things right. And, when he found the bastard it would be a bitch. Killing a friend couldn't be described any other way.
"Hey ...?" The prostitute yanked him back into the present. "Did you hear what I said?"
Reaching up, he buried his fist in her hair and stared at the strands of brown and dyed gold. Her glassy eyes met his for a moment with a drunken half smile on her lips. "Fifty bucks." She pushed back, then stopped. "On second thought." She wrapped her fingers around a loose strand of his own hair and tucked it behind his ear. "Make that forty. I have a thing for hot blond guys." Her fingertips brushed his flesh, the contact gentle, yet it scraped across his nerve endings.
A growl emanated from his chest.
She jerked, her eyes widening. "What the hell was that?"
This was not going to work. Who the hell was he trying to kid? No other woman's touch was ever going to feel right, not when Gabrielle owned a piece of his soul. He opened his mouth, intending to spit out some sort of lame excuse. Instead, he cupped her cheek.
"What are you doing?" Star grabbed his fingers.
"You need to go." The command rumbled deep from within his chest.
"Who the hell do you think you are, giving me orders?" She glanced up into his eyes and froze, dropping her hand back to her side. The sight of his blackened eyes had the desired effect.
"It's time to for you to leave, Star. Very quietly. You've made a few bucks, but you can't remember who or what the john looked like." Arran slipped a fifty from his wallet and stuffed it between her breasts, pushed high from the tight red corset. This was the easiest and safest course of action. He didn't need her making a scene.
Dazed, she nodded, then blinked rapidly before fixing him with a stare. "Who the hell are you?" She tilted her head and studied him for a moment. With a shrug of her shoulders and a shake of her head, she turned and exited the booth without a word. Good girl.
"Damn," he groaned, grabbed his bottle of brew, and extracted himself from the table. Instead of following her toward the front of the bar, he pivoted, choosing the back door to slip away.
A single streetlight lit the back alley with a dull yellow glow. Loose, wet gravel crunched under his boots as he passed a Dumpster enclosure positioned a few feet from the back entrance. The smell of rotting garbage permeated his senses.
Pausing, he turned and leaned his shoulders against the wooden frame, allowing his head to fall back against the hard surface. "Gabrielle Stevens," he whispered and closed his eyes. "How am I supposed to get you out of my mind?"
A scream pierced the alley, jerking him back into the here and now. His focus, his senses, narrowed toward that singular sound. It pierced his eardrums, and a one-of-a-kind smell registered in his brain. DEADs. Even though he was now solo, he continued what he'd started with his fellow warriors, ridding the world of the rabid bloodsuckers one DEAD at a time.
"Motherfucker," Arran mumbled.
In one swift move, he leaped to the top of the closed half of the Dumpster. A banged-up Crown Victoria sat between him and three DEADs crowding a woman against a brick wall. No, make that two DEADs. One of them wasn't showing the signs of the nasty addiction. A tall, skinny male, his jet-black hair spiked on top of his head, hung back from the rest, shifting on twitchy feet. Watching, nervously wiping his hands on his pants. He appeared new to the game. Too new.
Arran stepped back and then launched himself into the air, clearing the large car before landing on his heels behind the vampires.
All heads swung around. "Who the fuck are you?" The tallest of the group, his shaggy dark hair hanging down in a greasy clump, stepped forward and pulled a blade.
"Help me. Please, help me."
Arran glanced at the sobbing female guarded by the other DEAD. Wearing a sparkling sleeveless tank top and shorts, she appeared to be a college student who'd picked the wrong night to party. Black streaks of makeup ran down her face. "Please, don't let them kill me." She wept uncontrollably and gasped for air, on the verge of hyperventilation.
"Shut up, bitch!" Shaggy hissed. The woman screamed and went limp, collapsing onto the pavement.
Arran returned his attention to the filthy bastard before him with the big knife. "Nice blade." He reached down, without taking his eyes off his mark, and pulled a dagger from each boot. "I've got two of my own." The DEAD curled his lip and released a slow hiss.
"So, who wants to go first?" Arran lifted a brow, looking from one vampire to the other, and he opened his arms. In each palm, he clutched the hilt of a custom six-inch, silver-plated dagger. The blades curved gently toward the tip, the last three inches serrated. Oh yeah, they were sweet.
The DEADs growled in retort. The goth-looking newbie with spiked hair edged even farther away, taking a stance behind the redheaded vampire who guarded the woman. Spike looked shaky, scared. And hungry. If Arran had to guess, he couldn't be more than a few weeks out of transformation.
Shaggy tossed his weapon from hand to hand. "You didn't answer me, asshole. Who the hell are you?"
Arran grinned wide, displaying his own set of fangs. "The one who's going to kill you." Out of the corner of his eye, he didn't miss the other DEAD pulling a switchblade from his back pocket.
"What's it to you who we kill?" Shaggy eased backward, his upper lip curled like a rabid dog in his attempt to appear menacing. He was going for the woman. Arran had seen this maneuver too many times; Shaggy planned to use her as a shield. A coward and a murderer.
"You're one of us, brother. Come on." The DEAD jerked his chin in the direction of their victim. "Join us." Shaggy crouched beside her and reached for her face. His grimy fingers gripped her chin.
Arran exploded. With his blades crisscrossed, he landed at the vampire's feet. Before the DEAD could so much as gasp in surprise, he swung his arms wide, cleaving Shaggy's head from his shoulders.
A roar sounded from behind him. Arran whirled in time to catch a blur of red hair before it slammed into his chest, knocking him off his feet. A burning sensation flashed across his midsection and sternum. The air punched from his lungs as his back impacted the street, sending one of his daggers flying out of his hand. Locked in battle, the vampires skidded across the wet road, concrete chewing at his T-shirt and eating at his exposed flesh.
Rearing his arm back with his palm up, Arran drove the heel of his hand into the vampire's face. Red howled. Blood sprayed from his nose like a macabre Halloween fountain. Crimson droplets splattered across his chest as the DEAD toppled over, clutching his busted nose.
He palmed the smooth surface of the remaining dagger's hilt and rocked to his feet. A wave of dizziness assaulted him. "Shit!" He staggered. The bumper of the old sedan caught the back of his thighs, preventing him from falling flat on his ass. Hot, sticky liquid saturated the waistband of his jeans. He glanced down. The front of his T-shirt lay open, revealing a gash that zigzagged across his chest and down to his navel.
"Son of a bitch," he mumbled. The bastard had cut him. Sucking in a deep breath and fisting his blade tighter in his grip, he shoved away from the car and scanned the area, sizing up what remained of his battle. The other young vamp was making like a statue against the wall. He hadn't run. Fool. But he hadn't engaged in the fight either. Wise.
He narrowed his gaze on the redheaded vampire pushing himself up from the concrete, the need for blood drumming inside his ears. It had been days since he'd last fed, and the metallic scent rode the air in a heady musk. Bloodlust seized his gut and stroked his mind like a lover.
With his prey targeted, he closed in like an assassin. He glided without a sound across the pavement, waiting for the perfect moment. The DEAD, sensing his imminent demise, scurried across the pavement and grabbed the dagger.
The DEAD struggled for air as his windpipe was placed in a chokehold. Arran lifted Red off his feet, dangling him like a rag doll. Spastic arms and flailing legs swung as the DEAD weakly attempted to jab Arran with the blade. Giving his arm a swing, he tossed the pathetic vampire to the wall. His back and head collided against the brick with a hard smack, sending the vamp into a dazed state and knocking the dagger from his grip.
Before Red could regain his bearings, Arran was in his face. "You wanted to play?" He shoved his palm into the DEAD's chest, holding him immobile. With his other hand, he slid the blade he carried into his own waistband before he gripped Red's head and jerked it to the side. The DEAD's jugular lifted, engorged by his frantic heart rate. Arran's fangs ached with anticipation, his own pulse a wicked hum in his head. Red squirmed and whimpered under his grip. "What's the matter?" He leaned into Red's ear. "Isn't this what you intended to do to the woman?"
"Fuck you!" The DEAD strained against his hold. "If you're going to kill me, do it already."
"Oh, I intend to kill you." Arran shoved the side of Red's face hard against the rough surface of the brick. His gaze darted to the vampire who still stood with his back plastered to the brick wall of the building, his eyes wide, his mouth hung like an open barn door. The look on his face said he had no intention of intervening on his buddy's behalf. Smart move. That was precisely where he needed to stay. His prey hissed a curse. Arran refocused on the situation at hand. "But first, you owe me one." He flung his head back, unveiling his fangs, then stabbed them into the DEAD's vein. The strike wasn't pretty or gentle. It wasn't meant to be. A DEAD was hardly his meal of choice. But this was more about payback than dining preference.
Hot blood poured into his mouth. His heart raced as more adrenaline spilled into his veins. He swallowed hard and released a satisfied groan. Hunger was a living beast inside him. And she demanded to be fed.
He drank until his beast calmed, and the drumbeat of need quieted in his head. Arran jerked his head away from the vampire's vein, determined to only satisfy his hunger, not to kill. Not like this. Plus he had no intention of draining the guy and running the risk of dosing his veins with traces of Death Euphoria. Stepping back, he freed his hold on Red's neck and chest. The DEAD slid down the wall, stopping when his rear bumped the pavement.
The half-drained vampire lifted his eyelids, and his over-dilated pupils rolled up into his head, exposing a rim of white beneath. A thin rivulet of blood oozed down his neck and seeped into the black cotton of his shirt. "Why ...?" Red began, gasping for mouthfuls of air between his words. "... didn't you ... kill me."
Excerpted from Undying Embrace by Jessica Lee, Erin Molta. Copyright © 2013 Jessica Lee. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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