Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tribes of the Vampire 2: THE JADED HUNTER by Michelle M Pillow

Tribes of the Vampire 2: THE JADED HUNTER
Paranormal Romance

Tribes of the Vampire Book 2:



Michelle M. Pillow

Trade Paperback ISBN 1-58608-716-9


This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author’s imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.


To Leah, for all the wonderful translations you do for me. To all the readers who support my work. To the editors, proofers, family, and friends who help that work see print. Thank you.


New Orleans, Louisiana, May

"Ye dinna understand, lass!"

The cryptic call pierced through the night. A frown creased Jaden MacNaughton’s features as she concentrated on establishing the position of the voice. When she lowered herself to the rain soaked concrete, her hand slipped over the grainy texture. Irritated, she steadied herself.

Luckily, the sky had stopped its midnight torrent long enough for her to track her prey into the old graveyard. Narrowing her eyes, Jaden peered around the crumbling stone pillar at the entrance. Her gaze darted over the grounds, moving towards the dirty crypt the vampire apparently called home.


The vampire’s Scottish accent fell thick through the dark night. Jaden had an eerie feeling something was off. Duncan was of Scottish descent, but according to her file he was human-born in the American old west. His accent shouldn’t have been so strong. Shrugging off her suspicions, she focused her feelings. Her logical assessment had been off before when she hunted. She needed to trust her instincts now--and her file. Tonight was just another night in her life. No matter how much Duncan protested, one of them wouldn’t be leaving the graveyard walking.

The moonless sky made it hard to see, and the street lamps didn’t shine on this part of the old city. She couldn’t detect more than the stretches of shadows cast by weathered tombstones and mausoleums. Scowling, Jaden pulled back. It wouldn’t do for her target to see her before she was ready to strike. Vampire eyes didn’t need the benefit of light, but unfortunately hers did.

Why couldn’t it have been, Jaden, the poltergeist stalker? I’ll rid your family crypt of pesky, ethereal relatives or your money back! Jaden grimaced, trying not to get distracted by the sarcasm invading her thoughts. Unable to resist, she added, At least I would get paid in cash for my services, and a damned ghost would be like fighting a gust of wind instead of being swallowed whole by a walking, immortal snake.

"We know what you’ve done, Duncan. Last week you tried to change a woman in labor. Even your beloved tribal council has rules. Besides, you’ve been killing innocent people," Jaden said in disgust. She refused to think too deeply about it. It had been her job to terminate the life of the child and mother. The infant had been in too much pain to try to save. Besides, once the vampiric disease was in your veins, there was no turning back. There was no cure. Dispassionately, she said, "Care to come over here and read what happened to the mother in my file? Care to hear what happened to her baby?"

"But that is what I’ve been tryin’ to tell ye, lass. I’m not this Duncan," the vampire returned. His voice was nearer. The nightstalker had drawn close to her hiding place. Vagueness stirred in her senses, a remembrance she couldn’t place. Ignoring the déjà vu, she swept her lashes low over her eyes in concentration.

"And I dinna care what ye wish to be called, laddie," Jaden growled under her breath, mimicking his soft burr. She knew the vampire could hear her as if she shouted, just as she could detect his whispering chuckle at her defiance. His arrogance was no surprise. Immortality tended to convince the vampiric beings that they were Gods upon the earth. And like the ancient Gods, they wielded their power with pleasure and contempt.

Closing her eyes, Jaden reached out her senses to feel for him. With the help of her uncle she had tracked the vampire from New York. Her uncle was methodical in his business. He wouldn’t have made a mistake. Not in something like this. It was too important to her. She needed to avenge his victims.

The father of the baby came to her mind--his face contorted in grief and pain, his limbs flying in desperation as he ran helplessly through the alleyway next to the hospital. The poor guy was lost without his wife, with no evidence to bury, no idea what happened to them. And he would never be told the truth. Besides, what could she tell him? Hi, I assassinated your vampiric wife and baby? Want to go get coffee?

"Which one of the bloodstalkers are ye, lass?" the vampire asked calmly, breaking into her thoughts. He wasn’t afraid. Jaden could feel his emotions swirling thickly with her own. It was her gift and her curse. It was the reason she could track. It was the reason she was alone. She was a dhampir, daughter of a mortal woman, daughter of an undead father.

"I just want you dead," she muttered darkly, without compassion. She found the mother and infant in an alleyway where they were left to writhe in pain. Duncan had left them. She put it from her mind. Emotion always distracted her. That is why she never let herself feel anything for those she stalked or hunted. She couldn’t afford to be weak. One mistake and she could end up dead, or much worse--she could end up a vampire.

Jaden slowly ran her hand over the leather satchel at her waist, clutching a wooden stake. The light weight felt comfortable in her palm as if it had been carved to fit there, when in fact it was her hand that had grown around it. She’d held her first stake when she was two years old. What a game it had been to her then, striking the weapon into a feather pillow to see how high the feathers would flutter. She had danced in them like snowflakes. Now, her target was much harder and instead of dancing, she was bathed in warm blood. The stake wouldn’t kill any but the youngest of vampires, but it would slow this old one down so she could capture him. She bounced the wood thoughtfully in her palm.

Reacting on instinct more than sight, Jaden spun up from the ground, twisting around the stone post to strike the vampire in the center of his chest. Her muscles moved with the ease of frequent use. The vampire hesitated. Jaden could feel him holding back. Duncan stopped his counter-strike to let her come at him. It was as if he waited for her to hit him.

Jaden had little time to wonder at the creature’s hesitancy. In an instant, she could feel that the vampire was powerful, that he could’ve easily put up a fight, and yet he held back. Unable to stop her motions, she felt the wood meet with the unforgiving steel of undead muscle. Her palm brushed next to a cold chest as she let go.

Duncan gasped in surprise. Jaden didn’t falter, not seeing his face as she whipped around to punch his jaw. Once he was away from her, she could better sense him. If she had made a mistake in her tracking there was still time to right it. The vampire’s head snapped back and he fell to the ground. Instantly, two men clad in ninja black were at her side, one carrying a claymore. The weapon’s large blade gleamed dangerously in the moonlight.

Jaden turned to the men, automatically knowing they were mortal. Without thought, she kicked her foot through the air, hitting the unarmed one in the chest. The man deflected the power of her blow before returning one of his own. His fist snapped across her jaw, bouncing off to leave a trail of blood on her lips.

Jaden fumed, but she hid it beneath a hard smile. A red trail trickled down her pale chin. She didn’t bother to wipe it away as she returned upon the man with the full force of a fanatical demon, slashing the air until she pummeled him to the ground.

Spinning, arms held before her, she confronted the man with the blade. His sword lifted over his head, coming through the air to hack off the vampire’s head. Jaden stopped him with a whirling kick to the abdomen. His sword barely missed her arm as it whizzed past. The man stumbled before whirling to face her. He jerked the mask off. His short brown hair matted around his irritated face.

"Damn it, Jade! What’d you do to Tom?" the man asked in breathless anger, ignoring his own injury while motioning to the man on the ground.

"This is my job, Rick," Jaden returned angrily. "I warned you if you came on my turf again, I’d beat the living--"

"Damn it, Jade! Mack sent us!" Tom growled from the ground, cradling his arm as he stood. He too had pulled the mask from his sharp features. His expression fell into a sulk but his chin lifted proudly. Jaden pressed her lips together in irritation and ignored him.

Directing her stare at Rick, she said, "So you’re the one that’s been following me for the last two nights. I should’ve known."

"We were following orders," Tom said, coming to stand beside Jaden. She continued to ignore him, concentrating on Rick. Rick’s look was just as harsh. They clashed in a silent battle of will, neither backing down. Most women would’ve been intimidated by Rick’s handsomeness and cool, militant demeanor. Jaden wasn’t a normal woman.

"Why would my uncle send you?" Jaden questioned in disbelief. "It’s been a simple enough track. The cocky bastard didn’t even run."

"I don’t know," Tom spat, still angling to get his say in. "We’re just following orders."

"How many times do I have to tell you? This is not the military." Jaden scowled. Finally, she drew her eyes away to glance impatiently at Tom. When she looked back at Rick his stance had relaxed but he was still angry. "I work alone. I can’t be responsible for your lives. This was my capture. I’ll handle it."

Rick stepped forward. Lowering his voice so no one else could hear, he whispered hotly into her ear, "No one is asking you to be responsible for us, Jade. You’re not the only one out here fighting the good fight. And no matter how much you want to be alone in this, you’re not."

"I work alone," she said bitterly. She wasn’t as discreet as Rick, leaving her voice audible. "You didn’t even give me time to sense him."

"What is there to sense? He’s a demon," Tom hissed from behind. Jaden turned to him, ready to begin fighting anew. Rick grabbed her elbow to keep her from pummeling the man. Duncan gave a slight moan, reaching for the stake protruding from his chest next to his heart. Their attention turned briefly to the ground, distracting them from another skirmish.

Jaden didn’t have an answer for Tom’s question. He was right, of course. Nightstalkers were all demons and she should’ve been killing the vampiric scum as indiscriminately as they killed humans. Perhaps it was her father’s blood that drove her to be sure, to sense their crimes for herself before finishing them off. And maybe it was her punishment, her need for self-torment that forced her to feel the victim’s pain, to remind her what vampire blood was capable of.

Lifting a walkie-talkie to his mouth, Rick kept his eyes trained steadily on the slender woman before him, as he ordered, "Send in the sunlight. We’ve got clean up."

"What are you doing?" Jaden rotated back to Rick. Placing her hands on her hips, she glowered at him. Rick latched the radio back to his waist. Jaden snorted in disgust. She didn’t carry anything but her phone and a few simple tools--a stake, a knife or sword, her wits, and on rare occasions a rope. The militant ninjas that her uncle employed brought an arsenal of uselessness out with them--their electronic files, two-ways, swords, blades, vehicles done up like tanks, artificial lighting, backup. Seeing the handgun at Rick’s waist, she grimaced.

"Mack ordered this one done to death immediately," Rick acknowledged. He knew better than to test his luck against a dhampir. "We all heard what this creature did and we know what you were forced to do. You’re too emotionally involved. It only takes one mistake and you’re dead."

Jaden’s jaw dropped. To her thinking that was the overstatement of the century. She couldn’t afford to be ‘emotionally involved’ in anything. Rick should have known that little detail better than anyone.

Duncan began to sit up. Blood pooled around the wound in his chest, running down his sides and staining his cotton shirt a dark red. Rick kicked him absently in the chest to knock him down. The vampire wheezed, showing pointed fangs. His eyes filled with blood as his body fought to survive.

Turning, Rick motioned his men to bring forward the large circular light. They stumbled under its cumbersome weight. The light only imitated the sun. Its rays were not as powerful against a vampire unless he was completely drained of energy and blood, like Duncan on the ground before them.

Jaden seethed. Something was definitely not right. Mack had never sent his boys to help her out before. Not on a routine slay. She walked over to the fallen body. Looking at the creature fully for the first time, she froze.

"Jade," the cold, blue lips began to mouth with a rasp. His red hair was slicked back from his pale features. The vampire’s deadened gaze glanced over her shoulder in warning.

Jaden spun into action, her arm coming across her shoulder to strike out as she turned. It was too late. Tom anticipated her move before she even made it. Her arm met with the hard crash of metal. The man held a riot shield. She winced violently, shrieking in pain. Her shoulder popped out of joint with the force of her blow. Instantly one of the faceless men who dragged the light was next to her, shooting her side with a tazer. The metal hooks bit into her flesh and the heavy electric shock brought her instantly to her knees.

"No," Rick hollered. His cry came too late. The man had already brought Jaden low to the ground with his assault. "She’s one of us, fool!"

Tom stood defiantly over Jaden, smirking at her helpless form as she shivered. The other man dropped his tazer, yanking the hooks from her skin. He glanced around in confusion. Rick glared at the both of them, waving his hand back. The men obeyed the silent order, disappearing into the graveyard the way they’d come.

Jaden groaned, recovering quickly from the attack. She panted for air, unable to breathe, unable to speak. Her lungs felt as if they’d been crushed by a wrecking ball. Her arm hung limp at her side as she pulled up on her one good hand and knees. She looked to the fallen vampire, really seeing him for the first time. The old eyes stared back at her. A bright light flashed behind them, mimicking the rays of the sun. The face began to wither before her, its lips opening slightly as if to scream her name.

"Bhaltair?" Jaden whispered weakly in disbelief. It wasn’t Duncan. She had tracked the wrong vampire. Yelling at the men, she ordered hoarsely, "No, stop! Don’t!"

Jaden’s head reeled from the pain shooting in her shoulder. She dropped faintly to lie on the ground. Her mind swam in threatening blackness. The vampire shrieked, turning slowly to ash.

Jaden coughed, breathing in the grave dust of vampiric death as it swirled up gently in the night breeze. It fell over her, blanketing her body like the tender falling of feathery snow. It was too late. The vampire was dead.

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