would have to pick the most humid night of the year," Juliette
Sangria whispered to her sister. She wiped sweat from her forehead
and crouched lower in the shrubbery to keep from being seen.
A spotlight swept the area of thick vegetation
where the two girls were hidden, but it couldn't penetrate the
lush shrubbery and multitude of vines and creepers hanging from
the trees. Jasmine waited for the light to pass before shrugging.
"I saw them bring in three animals tonight. We have to get
them out before they hurt or perform experiments on them. You
know that's what this place is all about."
Juliette swore under her breath and melted
back into the shadows as the spotlight slid by them in a long
sweep. She was certain the light was more for the superstitious
guards, always afraid of the creeping jungle. She knew from experience
the jungle never slept and it always tried to regain what man
The building was concrete and mortar,
fairly new, but already covered with moss and fungi, a dark moldy
green as the jungle crept back. Creeper vines climbed the walls
and wound around the top of the building as if seeking a way in.
There were no windows and Juliette could imagine how hot for the
animals it was inside even with the thick walls. Humidity was
always high in the jungle and the research center had been built
in the most unlikely of places. She knew it was simply to get
away with using animals on the endangered species list for illegal
"Jazz, we'll only have six minutes
to get as many animals out as possible. Some of them will be highly
agitated. If any are beyond out help, you have to leave them.
Is that understood?" She knew her sister's affinity for wildlife.
"These people play for keeps. I think they'd kill us, Jazz.
Promise me, no matter what, you'll get out in six minutes and
head for home and stay there. I'll hang back and make sure they
don't recapture any of the animals."
"You'll lay a false trail into the
jungle to keep them off of me," Jasmine said.
"That too. We both know I can lose
them. Yes or no, Jazz, do you give me your word? We aren't going
in otherwise." Juliette would take her younger sister home
and come back another night if she didn't promise. She detested
that these men could come into her jungle and capture and torture
animals and get away with it, but she wasn't losing her sister
"Six minutes," Jasmine confirmed
and set the alarm on her watch.
"Then let's do it. I'll take out
the guard at the main entrance and you cut into the security system."
Jasmine frowned as she nodded her acceptance
of the plan. Juliette always made it sound so easy. Distracting
and taking out the guard was always dangerous. She moved into
a better position, covering her sister and getting her closer
to the main box where the wires were stored. Few people paid attention
to that little box, but Juliette and Jasmine knew it contained
the highway for the main alarms. At night, only the guards were
in attendance and they were always nervous and highly superstitious.
They seemed as afraid of what was out in the dark interior of
the jungle, as they were afraid of what was inside the building
Juliette unbuttoned her blouse to just
below her breasts so that the thin material gaped open revealing
the generous swell of soft inviting skin. She pulled a thick banana
from her pack and slipped around the building, slowly unpeeling
the fruit as she went. As she emerged from the thick shrubbery,
she paused deliberately in the streak of moonlight, bringing the
banana to her mouth and running her tongue over the tip of it.
The light shone through the thin fabric of her blouse, caressing
her rounded breasts so that her dark nipples thrust invitingly
against the fabric.
The guard's attention was immediately
riveted to her breasts. He licked his lips, and stared. Juliette
smiled at him around the banana. "I had no idea this building
was here. I'm camping with a small party of friends just beyond
the stream." She used tentative Spanish as if she didn't
know the local dialect. Juliette turned slightly, giving him a
more intriguing view of her body and pointed back into the darkened
vegetation. She turned back to him, allowing her gaze to sweep
him up and down, to linger for just a moment on the sudden bulge
growing in his trousers. "Oh, my, I certainly didn't expect
such a big strong man as you."
He couldn't talk, staring at her mouth
as she sucked on the fruit, her lips sliding up and down suggestively.
Juliette pulled the banana from her mouth, gaining ground, her
hips swaying, her smile flirtatious. "Are you hungry? I'll
share." She held out the banana and seemed to notice her
blouse gaping open for the first time. "Oh, I'm sorry, it
was so steamy in the jungle, I can hardly stand having clothes
on. Doesn't the heat bother you? It makes me feel
One hand went to her blouse as if to close it, but her fingers
trailed over the ripe swell of her breast.
The guard swallowed hard, staring at her.
She held the banana to his mouth. "Are all the men in the
jungle as handsome as you?"
He took a bite of the offered fruit, he
couldn't help himself. He was smiling down at her, still staring
at her breasts when she used the pressure syringe on him, tranqing
him. He was heavy, but Juliette was strong and she dragged him
into the cover of the bushes, sending up a small prayer that no
predatory animal would find him defenseless, propped up against
a broad tree trunk. She hastily prepared the scene while Jasmine
penetrated the alarm system. From her pack, Juliette spilled a
small amount of liquor on the guard's clothes, settled the flask
in his hand and removed the bullets from his gun, flinging them
into the dense undergrowth.
Juliette and Jasmine stayed in the shadows,
avoiding the open where a camera might pick them up as they hurried
through the large building. The first few rooms appeared to be
empty offices, but just beyond them, they could hear the uneasy
sounds of animals in distress. The laboratories were fairly large,
each holding several cages. They separated, glancing quickly at
their watches and blowing a kiss for luck as they took separate
sides of the huge building in the hopes of freeing as many animals
Both had the ability to calm and control
even the largest of cats. It was more difficult when the animals
had been teased and abused or tortured, but both women were certain
of their talents and they moved fast and efficiently, teamwork
Juliette kept an eye on the time as she
opened cages and directed animals. The last laboratory held the
biggest animals. A sun bear, a Jaguar and a sloth. She cursed
under her breath as she saw the sloth was beyond all help. The
Sun Bear had several injuries from someone poking it with a sharp
instrument but the Jaguar was still in good shape, one of the
newest animals the laboratory had acquired. She spoke softly,
soothing the pacing animal, growling once low in her throat when
it leapt at the cage walls in agitation. It took a bit longer
than she had to manage the lock and herd him out of the room down
toward the entrance, using her telepathic link to guide him. She
took three steps after the cat when she felt the tremendous draw
toward her left. To her dismay there was another door.
The door was heavy, a thick, soundproof
vault with several bars and locks. Juliette glanced at her watch
a second time. She should be running to get out, but something
outside herself demanded she investigate. Praying Jasmine kept
her promise to depart and head home immediately, Juliette set
to work on the door.
Riordan lay on the cement floor in a pool
of blood, dispassionately watching as it seeped toward the built
in drain. His blood looked like a thin pale gray trail of liquid
pooling in an ever-widening puddle. It was unthinkable that he
had been trapped like this, that one of his kind could be shamed
and dying at the hands of his enemies. He was an immortal, a Carpathian
male, no fledging, but a man of honor and skill. He lay in a pitiful
heap, unable to gather the strength needed to move. Unable to
summon help from his own kind.
His brothers would be seeking him now,
wondering why his mind was closed to them. He dared not draw another
into the trap as he had been drawn. He would not be bait to kill
more of his kind. The enemy had found a way to poison the blood
of their people, to immobilize them long enough to drain their
blood and keep them weak. He had thought he was skilled enough
to push the poison from his body. In the past he had done so on
numerous occasions, but the new poison held him helpless and weak
and paralyzed against the continual torture.
There was no way to transmit the news
to his Prince, no way to warn of this new, even more lethal drug
their enemies had devised. Riordan lay very still, propped against
the wall, examining the compounds racing through his system. They
had used some sort of an electrical charge to stimulate the cell
deterioration in his blood. Riordan allowed his breath to escape
in a long slow hiss of deadly promise. Of deadly despair.
Riordan lay chained to the wall, drained
of his massive strength, weak and exhausted with the drugs they
continually injected into his system. He would not die easily,
his body would continually regenerate, but without the necessary
blood, without the healing earth, it would happen, slowly and
painfully. It was the last death for himself he had ever envisioned.
The drug was crawling through his body,
a chemical monster nearly as lethal as the dark demon lurking
deep within him. Before he died, he intended to transmit as much
information on the poisonous compound as he could to his brothers.
He would issue a warning, but he would not do so until his death
was imminent. He would not betray his kin. He would not be used
as bait to draw in the others. His Prince needed to know that
a master vampire was using the humans, playing puppet master.
Riordan had to find a way to escape, there was no other option.
He could not allow his life to end until he carried the vital
information of treachery to his people. He could not let pain
and despair, his ever-present companions, weaken his resolve.
Riordan closed his eyes and crawled deep
into his mind. Almost at once he heard the soft snick of the lock
at the heavy metal door. Fearing his immense power, his captors
never came to him at night. They had drained his blood, injected
a strange compound into his system and continually subjected him
to electric shock, yet they still feared him. He did a cursory
scanning to touch the mind of the human entering the laboratory,
his prison, but to his shock, he could not read the thoughts.
He had the impression of a human female.
He sat very still, his mind working at
a furious rate. Had his captors managed to find a way to shield
their thoughts? They were protected most of the time by his own
weakness. During the daylight hours he was helpless and vulnerable,
but at night, they had been cunning enough to stay away. Although
they had drained his blood and his strength, he was mentally strong
enough to command one of them should they venture near at night.
This was his chance to escape or seek a way to end his life before
they could use him against his own species.
He studied the mind of the single person
entering his prison. She was a young female. He kept his eyes
closed, conserving his strength, waiting for that one moment he
knew would come. He would reach past the strange barriers in her
mind, rip past each strange compartment until he had total control.
He would force the human female to do his bidding. Escape or death,
whichever it took to win this battle. He could smell her now,
a clean fresh fragrance suggesting the outdoors, the rainforest
after a cleansing downpour. A hint of exotic flowers, and something
else. Something wild. Something not quite human. Riordan felt
his muscles tense at the unfamiliar odor, a strange quickening,
a heat spreading throughout his body, but he held himself under
Nothing could prevent his attack. It was
the first mistake any of them had made and he would use it, capitalize
on it. The demon in him was struggling to break free, listening
to the steady heartbeat, the steady ebb and flow of blood in her
veins. Hunger gnawed at him endlessly, mindlessly, brutally. He
waited, unmoving, listening to the soft padding of her steps.
There was only a whisper of sound to mark her footfalls, yet he
smelled her excitement, the edge of fear and adrenaline. She was
All at once the soft footfall ceased,
her breath exploding out of her in a soft hiss of shock. "Oh
no!" There was a rush of movement toward him, the rustle
of clothes. Riordan clearly heard the shocked horror in her voice.
She had not been expecting him.
Juliette couldn't believe the terrible
sight, the man pale beyond imagining, his blood draining away
on the floor. The heavy chains wrapped around his chest seemed
burned into his very flesh. His hands were manacled and blood
seeped from a multitude of wounds. She couldn't believe he could
suffer so much and still live. She knelt beside him and felt for
Riordan opened his eyes to stare into
her face as she squatted beside him, heedless of the blood smearing
her clothing as she leaned in close. Her fingers settled gently
against his neck. Her large strangely turquoise eyes filled with
compassion. "Who did this to you?" Even as she whispered
the questioned, she was pulling out a small instrument from a
tool belt hooked around her waist, to work at the lock on the
heavy cuffs. She carefully avoided looking at the cameras she
knew were locked on him.
"We don't have too long. Can you
walk? They'll send security after us and we'll have to run."
He was a big man and Juliette didn't think she had a prayer of
packing him out in a fireman's carry. She would try it though.
She had come to this place thinking it was a poacher's lock up
for exotic jungle cats. She had never expected to find a half
dead, obviously tortured man imprisoned within the walls. She
had never seen so much blood, such a ravaged face, such intense
eyes. The cuff dropped off of his left hand and she stretched
around him to work at the second one.
Her hair fell across her face in a silky
fall of blue-black strands. Faintly shocked that he could see
the individual colors, Riordan could only stare at her hair. For
one moment he couldn't think, couldn't even breathe, drag air
into his lungs. It was impossible, yet the hand he raised to the
black colored fall of hair was smeared red with blood. Red. Not
a muddy gray. His fingers brushed her hair back over her shoulder
with exquisite gentleness, an instinct bred into his bones, exposing
the line of her neck to him. She didn't seem to notice, working
meticulously on the lock of the thick steel cuff. Her skin was
soft and inviting. Like satin. He bent his head forward, slowly,
steadily, the fangs lengthening, the demon roaring, his body clenching.
His breath was warm against her skin. His teeth almost touched
her pulse, that vulnerable pinpoint beckoning seductively.
Her blouse gaped open revealing exquisite
breasts, lush and full and soft enough to pillow his head. He
wanted to slip his hand inside her shirt and hold warm flesh as
he bent to her neck.
She made a sound, frowning, still absorbed
in her work. Riordan inhaled, taking the scent of her deep into
his body. He didn't have control of her mind, and he was too weak
to waste what was left of his strength on working out the intricate
puzzle. The moment the heavy steel dropped from his wrist, he
whipped up his arms, locking her body to his as his teeth sank
deep into her neck.
White-hot pain lashed through Juliette's
body, danced like a whip of lightning through her bloodstream,
heating her body so that every nerve ending was alive and pulsing
with fire. The pain gave way to a dark erotic slumberous ecstasy
she was helpless to resist. Juliette was certain she struggled,
but he was like iron, her softer body battering itself against
his hard one, and he didn't seem to notice. She felt the strength
growing in him, spreading through him, even as her own strength
seemed to slide away from her. There was a part of her that seemed
to be separate, standing apart, watching and feeling in a kind
of horror. Feeling things so intensely seductive, she was shocked.
There was fire in her blood, moving through her body, muscles
clenching, tightening, going boneless, pliant in his iron-like
Riordan glanced up at the camera trained
on him, his mouth twisting in a humorless smile, a flash of his
white teeth. With his eyes staring straight at the lens, he lowered
his head and stroked a caress across the pinpricks on her neck
with his tongue. That look would tell them everything. He knew
each of them, knew their scent, he knew his enemies. Their stench
was in his very lungs and he was a hunter. He had gone from the
prey to the predator with one small infusion of blood. It wasn't
enough to completely heal him, but it was enough to allow his
He lifted the woman's limp body easily
to his shoulder, moving with a graceful show of strength. He had
every intention of drawing his enemies to him and away from his
family. But first he would destroy everything they had built out
in the jungle. They hid their laboratory away from prying eyes.
They hid their hideous torture chamber deep within the jungle,
thinking they were far from the law, far from justice, but he
would show them who owned this part of the world, who had owned
it for a long, long time.
The woman erupted into a wild struggle,
attempting to squirm away from him.
Riordan tightened his hold on her. "Stop
it," he ordered. "You have no way to escape. It is impossible.
Lie still." His voice was a soft menacing command.
Juliette lay quietly, feeling the enormous
strength in his arms. She fought down her panic, trying desperately
to think. Her body had become lead. It was an effort to lift her
arm, make a fist, pound on his back. She was dizzy and sick. His
emotions were swamping her, a wild swirling of dark danger beating
at her. She had never come close to feeling such overwhelming
emotions. She had never even encountered anyone able to feel such
intensity of emotions. They welled up like a volcano, explosive,
violent, very intense. She sensed something wild and untamed,
a predator without equal. Her neck throbbed and burned and she
wondered what manner of demon she had unleashed.
She actually felt the strength gathering
in him. Felt it. A spinning cauldron of enormous power.
It built in him and seemed to spill out of him, out of his pores,
bursting from his masculine body so that the building frame shook
and creaked ominously, until the very air was so filled, the walls
actually bulged outward in an attempt to contain such power. Juliette
clutched at the tattered remains of his shirt, her fist bunching
the material in her palm, needing something, anything to hang
"My sister might be in here,"
she managed to whisper the words, terrified Jasmine would be caught
in the massive destruction of cement and mortar.
"No one is in the building but us,"
he assured. He moved then, his speed so incredible, everything
around her blurred. Juliette squeezed her eyes shut tightly to
prevent the dizziness from overcoming her. Her stomach lurched
and she clung grimly. She could feel the powerful muscles bunching
beneath her, she could feel the rush of air over her body. She
swore at one point they left the ground, moving through space
so quickly they were flying.