Updated: Oct 29, 2020
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Blood was the essence to his madness.
The hunt was on. The adrenaline in his veins kept the creature thrilled. He found no delight in mundane things. What mattered was the chase.
And the kill.
While his initial thought suggested snagging a human for a quick snack, something changed. Though rain hindered his sense of smell by converging everything together, a persistent scent that stood out caught his attention. One that made him falter before taking the life of an earlier prey. The lucky bastard would live tonight thanks to the enriching and enticing aroma that pulled him its way.
Hunting in the enemy’s territory was such a turn on, particularly this wannabe victim who smelled like honeysuckle. Boot-clad feet planted in heavy mud as the hungry predator tilted his head back. His nostrils flared as his senses tingled with the need to devour whoever carried the tantalizing sweetness in their blood. A flavor that begged for death. One plea he would gladly fulfill.
Eyes that saw through the night, aligned in the direction his nose led him, bringing him to a dilapidated building made up of brick and mortar. His tongue flicked out and slid over gleaming teeth, careful of the fangs that sharpened with the thought and anticipation of draining the prey.
But as he stepped forth, his head twisted toward an invading pungent smell.
Dogs. And not one that could be shaken off easily.
Chapped lips peeled back and a defensive hiss slipped out with a flash of his fangs. At war with his desire to feed and the need to flee, he looked toward the building, then retreated to the woods and escaped into the darkness.
Mia sighed, looking at the papers piled on her table. She had been working on her thesis for the past couple of hours, and she needed a break before she started seeing letters everywhere. Having chronic fatigue syndrome amid finals was not something she wanted.
Her hands reached up and rubbed at strained eyes. They were probably bloodshot given how much they stung. She blinked the clock into focus. Half-past seven and she was nowhere near finished with her assignments.
On that note, she went back to focusing on the task at hand. Being an honors student meant having a boatload of work.
Her stomach all but roared a few minutes later, reminding her she hadn’t eaten in the past six hours. Her kitchen stared back, appearing just as soulless as she felt. She’d forgotten to restock it. Not that she cooked much to begin with, but throwing ramen noodles into a pot sounded a lot better than putting in the extra energy to get dressed and stroll through the streets to hunt down a place of choice.
Her stomach rumbled again, giving a final warning before it cannibalized on itself. “Okay, I’m leaving,” she told herself as she headed to get changed.
Mia locked the door behind her as she stepped out, rolling her blonde hair into a sloppy bun. Distant thunder and the moist air promised rain showers. Even more reason for her to remain in. She wasn’t looking forward to being wet and cold. Probably explained why her building that housed nearly fifty residents was so quiet. It appeared as if they received the survival notice while it missed her.
Despite how she felt about freezing in near rainfall, she reveled in the smell of crisp clarity after being holed up most of the day. The best part about the rain was the enriching scent it carried––of water and earth––the flourishing scent of life. Who would have thought mud would smell so aromatic?
Pushing her fists deep into the coat pockets before they froze off, she headed toward a local diner nearby. Dim streetlights illuminated the outline of buildings lined on the side of the empty street. Rock music drifted from one of the worn out apartment complexes. One of the lights in front of the nearby apartment flickered. The eerie glow of lights combined with the rolling thunder gave a haunted touch to her surroundings. There weren’t many shops in this part of town. Students and bachelors preferred this area for its cheaper rents.
Idly, Mia thought about her father. Where was he? What was he doing? A normal person might just pull out their phone and call him. But that wasn’t their relationship. She was used to him not speaking with her often. Occasionally, little signs of his love for her would appear. A note. A sweater. And, books among the others.
Sounded more like a butler than a father. Still, that was all it took to warm her heart.
The only time they ever shared a conversation that lasted longer than a minute was when she graduated from high school. It annoyed her when he gave her a credit card, along with a list of rules to abide by. Guess it was easier to keep an eye on her while she was still under the same roof as him. College was a different story. If it wasn’t for her career of choice, her father would have been the hammer and the anvil to leading a robotic lifestyle.
There had been a list of curfews that alternated around daylight savings and seasonal changes. People not to associate herself with—which comprised of the entire student body and then some—and things not to do in her free time. Clubbing, hang-outs, even driving around with anyone that wasn’t on public transportation, were serious offenses to her father. The only thing he didn’t monitor was her diet.
Overprotective much? To most, perhaps. Paranoid was her answer—
She bumped into something bringing her back into the present.
"Watch it," the person snapped. A big guy from what she saw. Tall with dark hair and definitely the sensitive type based on the way he glared at her.
Seriously? A wrinkle on his shirt bothered him that much?
“Sorry,” she said with little meaning. He could’ve watched himself too. His pal standing behind him seemed the livelier of the duo. Handsome too with his blond hair and spring green eyes. Yeah, she supposed even Mr. Grumpy fit in that category, with his darker features.
And whew, were they tall as heck, towering over her like skyscrapers. She wasn’t short to begin with, but their height and aura seemed. . .otherworldly.
They sidestepped around her, moving on ahead. She continued on, involuntarily following their lead. Her mundane thought process halting as her instinct suddenly woke up. It was a shrieking alarm that forced her to keep her eyes on them. The same sensation you get when walking into the woods and coming across a mountain lion or a wolf. You stand your ground and hold your guard.
Goldilocks turned his head over a shoulder, a glint in his eyes that didn’t seem so nice anymore. Her internal alarm dinged off electric signals all over her, and she almost expected them to do something. But they got in their muscle car parked along the sidewalk, the windows tinted so darkly it obscured her view. The warnings still didn’t go away, and she doubted if they were watching her. Only when the angry red Mustang came to life and backed out onto the black asphalt did her senses relax.
Something was off. They were wrong. They were all wrong. And she hadn’t the faintest idea why or how.
She somehow perceived that.
Her stomach rumbled in the silence of the aftermath. Mia shook her head to clear her concern and schooled her expressions before entering the diner.
Juan suppressed a growl as he walked through the woods with his brother. They rushed here after receiving a message from the border patrol. There had been a breach. Somehow, the intruder slipped through their tight security.
They circled the perimeter, concluding their uninvited guest had escaped into the no man’s land once again. The brothers backtracked to where they started––the outskirts of the town. Scrunched leaves and the broken twigs guided them through its path.
“The trail ends here,” Juan said. His head tilted, thumb and index finger caressing his square chin. A habit he obtained in his childhood. He squatted to study the wet footprints on the ground.
His gaze lifted, peering into the darkness. Everything was calm, nothing out of the ordinary. The lingering dampness the atmosphere hinted at another downpour. His nose flared, drawing in the different scents from his surroundings––wet sand, trees, rotting leaves, small furry animals that ventured out of their holes in search of food––drifted through his nostrils.
Then there was this stench that assaulted his senses. Corrupt. Damaging. The distinguished smell was laced with thrill––excitement of a predator. Who is the prey? Being a lycanthrope, he could smell the emotions of a person. His senses never betrayed him. He has spent years, honing his tracking skills.
The furrow between his brows deepened. “He was alone,” Juan murmured, inspecting the tree line again. “And looking for prey.”
“They’ve never hunted this far into our territory before,” his younger brother, Matthew, said. “This is the third sighting this week. Two humans are missing.”
Juan’s jaw clenched. These weren’t just attacks, but an open challenge to their pack. One they’d gladly respond to.
The messy footprints belonged to one person. The creature met no one that night. Their intruder was observing. He seemed to have remained at one particular spot a little longer. The spot allowed him vantage point to one particular building. He gazed at the old structure, concluding that the prey resided in one of the apartments.
“Something’s amiss.” The leeches didn’t stalk or target a prey. They attacked out of the blue.
“Brother, did you smell that?”
He inhaled deeply, tuning in his senses before finally catching it. A mixture of citrus and flowery fragrances with an underlying stench that shouldn’t belong––
An image popped in his memory. It was coming from one of the open windows. It was her.
The girl they ran into earlier. There was a hint of a vampiresque scent on the female when they met. It set their impulses on fire. But she possessed no characteristic features that can be defined as a vampire.
Was she his accomplice?
He was quick to curb that notion. It didn’t make sense. He rubbed his chin out of habit. Perhaps it was a coincidence, and he was actually here for someone else. But they needed to investigate this further. How she went unnoticed for so long was something he couldn’t come to terms with.
The omegas, that comprised the majority of the pack worked around the city. They should have been able to sense her presence. Last night’s encounter could be intentional. She showed no fear or shock. Her heartbeat was normal.
“There’s more to this.” Every single thought ended with a question in his mind. How did she mask her scent? Witchcraft? What if there were more like her? The thought was unsettling to his beast.
“We should tell him,” Matthew suggested after a moment of silence.
Yes, they had to inform the alpha and the king of the lycans––their elder brother, Aaron George Randolph.
“I’ll call him now.”
The conversation was short and to the point. Not even hitting the minute mark when he hung up.
“He wants us to tail her.”
“I’m fucking tired of chasing tail,” Matthew said with rolling aggression. “We’re better off tossing her ass in a chamber.” Get rid of one pest for the day. “A fucking student at our university.”
“It’s a place with a tremendous blood supply, and no one would suspect a thing,” Juan agreed. Smart girl, though. Unfortunately, not smart enough.
“If things were easy, I’d have killed her already.” Nostrils flaring, his brother glared around. Given the tension in his body, he fought the temptation of pacing the forest floor to the dust and back, another of his habits. A natural born predator with an even deadlier side to him begged to be released from its host.
“Easy, Matt.” Phone still out, he shot a text to some of the pack members. This girl intrigued him. She didn’t have the qualities of a vampire, yet she smelled like one. There was this strange aura around her; he couldn’t put his finger on.
What are your intentions?
He’d soon discover. “We need her alive.” For various reasons, but if what she confessed wasn’t satisfactory to their ears, she would not walk away fully intact.
She was still the enemy.
He stood with his back to her. A large figure in front of the massive fire roaring, more like screaming, into the night.
She took a few steps toward him, her laced boots padding against the ground. As she got closer, the fire became brighter. Engulfing her in the warmth, but also blinding her.
Then she saw the body in the pyre. Charred and blackened. Its head turned to her, a hand reaching for her from the blazing heat, holding tightly onto her boot, screeching her eardrums to deafness. The smell of decaying and burning flesh assaulting her.
A hard grip on her shoulder forced her to face the hooded man.
“Don’t look back.”
It was a classic scene, happening in most books and movies she’d seen. The protagonist waking up in the puddle of their own sweat due to nightmarish premonitions, right before something bad was about to go down. And it was happening to her.
Sitting up in her bed, she glanced at the clock which showcased a rather disgusting number. Daybreak wasn’t in close proximity. She uncapped and gulped down the entire bottle of water kept under her bed. She set it on the table, lingering on the plastic container a moment longer than necessary.
That hadn’t been a nightmare. It had been more like a memory. The fear and pain were too real.
The sense of foreboding didn’t end with the dream, though.
Later that day, there was urgency to her step when she left class. There was no logical explanation to it, but something was wrong. And she couldn’t help but see her father as the driving force behind it since the resurfaced nightmare.
Mia stopped just as she reached the double doors that led her outside the building. Stella, the petite young woman, who approached her, was energetic as always. Her sable hair had been recently cut just below her ears, adding a sleek sophistication to her bubbly personality.
Stella usually made her want to drink twenty espressos just to keep up with her, except today wasn’t that day.
“Hey.” She kept things short and sweet. “Do you want something?”
“Want something?” Confusion crossed her friend’s face. “I thought we were going to take our mock exams together.”
Crap. She’d forgotten. It wasn’t like the weight of desperate worry looming over her had anything to do with her lack of memory.
“Ladies! What’s up!”
And here was Peter. The wrangler in decision making. He was a pretty absolute guy, though he lacked self-preservation. The all-American nice guy participated in every college event that was comprised of sports or social involvement. And he had an enormous crush on Mia.
“You guys are taking the mock exams?” Peter asked only Mia, though Stella answered in her place.
“Yeah. We are. We had no idea you were too.” She was surprised, not that Mia blamed her. He was nice, but he didn’t particularly excel in the science division, let alone participate in the practice exams.
“I signed up the other day.”
“Oh, gosh. That late fee is no joke. You should have paid for it when we did last semester. It was like a hundred dollars cheaper.”
“Really? I didn’t know that,” he said, scratching the back of his head and looking away. The blush on his face was a dead giveaway as to why he was doing this.
Thank you, Stella, for the rescue.
Maybe now she could sneak off—“Why don’t you come with us?” Stella offered sweetly, like bad karma. “We were just getting ready to leave.”
So, she wasn’t the saving grace Mia had thought her to be.
“Cool. Mind if I grab something to eat first? There’s this vendor that sells badass steak rolls. I’ll treat us—”
“I have to make a phone call.” She suddenly interrupted him. She didn’t wait for them to respond as she stepped to the side, took out her phone and dialed her father. When it ended with a long beep, she texted him and tried not to let her worry develop into a panic.
Everything was all right. Maybe he was just busy or just didn’t want to talk right now. Maybe she was worried for nothing, and he was actually throwing away the money he earned to pay for her college tuition, which also included the fees for these tests.
She forced herself to release the hard grip she had on her phone before returning to her entourage, finally taking off some edge by constantly chanting, “Everything is all right.” She was just overreacting over a little dream.
As they stepped outside, the feeling of being watched hit her like it did this morning when she was leaving her place. Though she kept it to herself as they crossed the street, she fought the urge to scratch the back of her neck, feeling like a flea was there.
Except it wasn’t a flea. Her problems were much bigger than she assumed.
The men sitting in the ’67 Fastback watched as she entered the brick establishment. Who would have guessed these leeches infested their territory? So far, they've learned she was the only one. They had their people run a mass background check on every faculty member and student.
Matthew tapped his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel, while Juan continued to go through the papers in his hands.
“Nothing useful,” he declared, shoving everything back inside the folder.
“Drive,” he ordered, and Matthew eased their way into traffic. He observed her from the mirrors when they passed. “Why don’t we take her into custody?”
“And warn the others if there are more?” Juan shook his head. “Don’t get carried away. Our target is the one behind her.”
Matthew grounded his molars, but said nothing to that. “So what’s the plan?”
“We have her father’s name. Ted Lawrence. We start there.”
Cold crisp air filled his lungs. But it did nothing to ease the tension. Aaron George Randolph marched to the balcony. His fists clenched.
They were in his territory again––hunting. His beast was on edge. It has just been little more than a week since his last run. Strong muscles in his arms flexed as he tightened his grip on the railing.
They wanted a challenge, and he’d give it to them. He’d hunt them all and burn their asses, erasing their species for once and for all.
The double doors to his makeshift office swung open.
His father strode in, moving further to sit on the leather seat. Aaron inherited all his physical features from his father. Both having golden blond hair and warm brown eyes with high cheekbones and strong jaw lines, but he stood a couple inches taller than his father at six-foot-three.
"Something’s bothering you.” His father, Jerome, observed.
Instead of answering, the towering male made his way back inside the room and over to the cart filled with an unimaginable variety of tea. He filled the white china with the patience of a sprouting seed, waiting for the water to come to a boil before dousing it over the organic leaves sitting in the teacup. Saucer in hand, he balanced it perfectly with every step and placed it gently in front of his father.
“I suppose you’re telling me to mind my own business." The former king closed his eyes, relaxing against the leather couch.
He smirked. “It’s nothing you should worry about.”
“I could argue that point, but I lack your mother’s perverseness. She could carry on an argument for weeks without an end in sight.” He chuckled. “But I know my boys. You’ll do whatever you want no matter the consequence.”
Smiling, Aaron pinched the bridge of his nose before sitting across his father and pulling up the slacks to be comfortable. “Are you trying to score yourself a humble brag, Dad?”
He scoffed. “Definitely not. Your mother won in most departments. I just gladly resorted myself to taking an L whenever I possibly could.”
The strapping male seated opposite to the former king visibly cringed at his modern use of words.
“God, don’t say that again.”
He laughed. “I’ve got to find ways of keeping myself entertained. Bringing good stories to tell your mother when I meet her again. Otherwise, she’ll have my ass for being such a gloom bucket.” His oldest son looked across the table at his father, noticing the deep, dark bags under his eyes that once shone with authority and love. Jerome was slowly but surely becoming a skeleton of the male he once used to be. But this was the curse of their race––one mate for a lifetime. Since the loss of his mate, the words have slowly proven themselves true as sorrow etched all his features. Anything and everything reminded the male of his dead mate, their mother.
To live out such a life even after finding your soul mate. . .
Aaron looked away, swallowing hard before standing. He’d been trying to rub the edge off, but this made matters worse.
He thought back to the time when his parents used to live happily, eyes twinkling with joy and love for each other. Often enjoying brunch and evening tea together. Esmeralda Maria Randolph, his mother, was always the voice of reason. He gained that quality from his mother.
“It isn’t healthy to hold your beast a hostage for so long, son.” A quiet sip escaped his father. “A good run ought to set you both on track.”
“No time,” he said.
Aaron knew his father was right. He’d have to let it out soon or risk hurting someone. Having a mate would square all that out, but now it was not what his mind was occupied with. The war was looming on their heads. He had no time for anything else. “Juan and Matthew are following a lead, and I’m conflicted about the winter ball.” The pack would expect him to choose a mate.
"You don't have to hurry, son. Wait for the right female. You have better control of your beast than I did." Jerome’s hand combed through Aaron’s hair. A deep sigh escaped his lips as he tilted his head, leaning toward his father.
“Is there any progress with the clans?”
“No.” The leaders of the three fellow clans were siblings, and Henry, his grandfather, was the firstborn. They lived together until the war among the supernaturals for the greed of power ripped them apart. The losses were too great, and the brothers didn’t agree with Henry’s views regarding the war. The estranged brothers now lived with their families and their own packs in different cities. Packs run by betas. Didn’t they realize the beasts needed their alpha?
“What about the others?”
Aaron sighed. “I suspect Helius is in bed with the vampires.” The hot-headed demon king was a constant pain in their asses. His spies spotted said demon with the leeches, not on one but two such occasions. It was bad enough that the demon was already on the fence. Despite his promise to stay away from the war, his sword was now tilting toward the wrong side of the playing field. Aaron knew he couldn’t trust that bastard. Demons were tricky. It was for the best to not assume anything with their kind, even if things looked rather bleak.
“And what about the fae?”
“Their three subjects were abducted last week. King Luvon wants help.” He stood and walked to his massive desk, sipping his tea thoughtfully. His gaze drifted through the stack of papers waiting for him. He’d send out a team of his best trackers. He wondered how much more successful his team would be this time. The trail always ended cold. It was as if they disappear into thin air. Perhaps that was what they did.
He could see the need to have someone else in the field. Someone, who could trace magic back to its origin.
"Now tell me about the girl your brothers found," his father asked sitting upright, cold fury replacing the warmth of his brown eyes.
Aaron sensed the pain behind that fury. "She’s under surveillance.”
Anger flared within him. The recent discovery had been a crest to his ever-growing problems. He wanted nothing more than to drag her sorry ass to the torture chambers.
He had never hurt a female before. But I want to hurt this one.
Her kind had been their mortal enemies ever since they came into existence.
"Let me know when you have something; and son, be careful with this one.” Jerome stood.
His nod was grim. "Sure."
He dialed the familiar number for the third time today. Maximus, his third-in-command hadn’t checked in this afternoon.
“John!” He reached out through their telepathic link. A convenient ability the lycanthropes and the werewolves possessed. It helped them to communicate with one another telepathically. It sure came handy often, but they had to be in close proximity for it to work. The link weakened with the distance.
“Max is in trouble. Get Frankie to track his phone.”
“I’m on it.”
“See what the leeches outside the city know of this girl.”
He knew a few vampires were forced into this life. Hundreds of them lived on the outskirts of his territory with his approval. However, none had warned him about the intruder.
How dare she barge into my territory without my permission? He refused to believe the things he heard about her. Her innocent appearance helped her blend with the humans. Looks could be deceiving. She has an agenda. That much was clear. Why else she would be in his territory under the disguise of a student?
What were they planning this time? They were on the move. His hatred was directed to their king who set this in motion. No one knew where he hid his sanctuary, guarding it with the magic of witches. And Lilith, the witch, was the key. Escorting her to Brookedge was the task given to Maximus.
He strolled to the balcony. His clothes ripped as his beast pushed forward. Bones snapped and realigned. Razor sharp claws burst out of his fingertips. Midnight black fur replaced his human skin. The beast of the night rolled its shoulders. He jumped over the railing, landing gracefully on the ground before taking off toward the east.
Mia woke up soaked in her sweat. The nightmares were becoming her constant companion, and it troubled her. She checked her phone, frowning when there was no reply from her father. He never went this long without responding. Is he in trouble? No. He could protect his own hide.
Hopping out of the bed, she strolled toward her tiny en-suite bathroom for her morning ritual. Mia longed for a run. Sometimes physical exertion helped clear the mind. An annoyed groan hissed out from her mouth entering the small space of the bathroom. At least they had running water though she’d have preferred it to be hotter. The worn-out cabinets that held the toiletries made her wonder if they’d survive this year. She could hardly see herself in the old mirror with rusty edges. The sense of foreboding subsided as she started the shower.
A soft masculine hum reached her ears and her lips stretched to form a smile. These mundane things reminded her how ignorant the humans were. Would they be still singing if they knew they lived in a world filled with mythical creatures? Creatures that shouldn’t exist. She lived with that blissful ignorance until the incident a couple of years ago.
The thin walls of her cozy apartment offered little privacy. She could often tell when her neighbor was awake or when he was moving around his house. Mia was thankful that he was a friendly guy who never had guests or female friends over. That’d have been awkward.
An audible breath whooshed out of her at the thought. . .
Dressing in a pair of tight jeans and turtleneck long-sleeved T-shirt, she pulled on her sweater. It did little to keep her warm in the ever-growing cold weather. Thanks to the centralized heating system that kept her room relatively warm.
There was nothing much to do with exams around the corner. She was tempted to skip school, but then remembered she had a meeting with the college’s Career Services Counselor. The lack of caffeine was catching up with her. She ran out of coffee among other things and made a note to restock her pantry.
While she blamed it on her reluctance to spend what’s more than necessary, she didn’t want to live under her father’s roof. However, with all the academic work, it was hard to find a part-time job without risking her grades. The time had finally come for her to pursue her dreams.
“Good morning, Mia.” Logan chirped with his signature smile when she bumped into him in the corridor. She threw him a smile over her shoulder while locking the door.
“Morning. How’s work?” she asked as they took the stairs down.
“Busy. How is college?”
“Aren’t you graduating this year?”
Logan worked somewhere in the city. Their conversations were limited. She preferred it that way. Less is better. She bid him goodbye once they reached the diner and took the bus to her college.
She couldn’t wait to get back to her apartment once the day was over. However, sleep was a luxury she couldn’t afford with finals drawing closer. She only had a week to prepare.
Mia whirled around to see Stella, who ran toward her with a set of books hugged to her chest, hair whipping around her face as she ran.
“Hey, I thought you left early,” Mia said as a greeting.
“No. I was in the office, clearing up my dues. Are you done with your thesis yet?”
“Yep,” she replied enthusiastically. A sense of accomplishment filled her. She was now one step closer to her freedom.
“So how did your meeting go?”
Mia adjusted her shoulder bag. “Good. There are a few internship opportunities I’m looking forward to.”
“That’s great. Randolph’s on-campus recruiting is the best.”
It was at that moment that the hair on her neck stood, and her skin prickled with awareness. Her heart thundered against her ribs, and her senses seemed to have heightened without her realizing it. She turned around to see no one. Hesitant feet moved when Stella dragged her along. She let out a shaky breath as a spot on her back tingled.
“Did you see what Peter did the other day?”
No, and I don’t care. Her mind was on the invisible stalker, who set her instincts on fire. Stella distracted her momentarily when a shadow moved past the tree line in her peripheral vision at the far end of the football field. A sudden flash of fear washed over her as her mind replayed the memory she tried hard to forget.
I wish it’s just my mind playing tricks.