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    Part One

    HALLOWED GROUND

    You must be dead, because I don’t know how to feel. I can’t feel anything anymore.

    —Elliott, E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, 1982

    Riley’s not the same since she lost Eli. She’s . . . hardened. Closed down. She lets off just enough emotion to seem human. I can tell her brain has given up hope. But her heart hasn’t. And that makes her dangerous and unpredictable. If anything, I can read a woman. And I’m reading her right. Which means I’ll just have to keep a closer eye on her. She’ll either love me for it or kick my ass. I’m betting on the latter.

    —Noah Miles

    It’s cold here. Ice cold. The kind that burrows straight through your skin and jabs deep into your bones. I can’t shake it. I inhale, and that frigid air rushes down my windpipe and bangs into my lungs. It clings to my insides, and I puff it back out. Funny. No frosty air comes from my mouth. I’m more cold-blooded than warm-blooded, I think. My core temperature isn’t even human enough to heat my breath. What does that make me? Hell if I know. I don’t even know what I’m doing here. My eyes drifted shut, and the next thing I know, I’m here, in this place. Something wants me. That much I know. I can feel it.

    As I jog up the darkened street, I notice how barren it is here, too. No trees. No grass. No shrubs. Not even a single bird. Only gray concrete, gray sidewalk, gray stone, gray sky. Even as I fine-tune my hearing, nothing happens. No beatings of hearts—not even a rat’s. Is there nothing alive here? Am I? Hell if I know.

    I let my hands skim the building’s stone surface as I turn the corner. My body is pressed close to the stone, and I peer ahead. A heavy mist has crept in, fallen over the ground like some white vaporous blanket. It swirls around my feet as I walk, and the farther I go, the higher it climbs. Soon, it surrounds me. I see nothing. I hear nothing.

    Then the stench knocks into me, full force. It’s many things, all rolled in one. Rancid old blood. Decay. Rotting human flesh. Scorched tissue. The more steps I take, the stronger the scent becomes. I follow it.

    One second I’m on a cobbled road; the next I’m on the river’s bank. The mist rolls across the black water like a live thing, and the stench seems to come from below. The loch. I ease down the embankment. I stop at the water’s edge, and inhale. That horrible smell of death is coming from beneath the water.

    “You’re so easy.” A voice sounds from behind me. “Too easy.”

    That voice. I whip around, but the speaker’s strong arm has snaked around my throat and pulled me tightly against him. Yeah, a male. Big. Hard. The back of my head presses against his chest. There’s no heartbeat. What a shock.

    Just as I move to raise my foot, his muscular leg traps mine. He drops his free arm over my breasts and pulls me closer. He thinks I’m thoroughly trapped. I let him think it. His head drops to my ear.

    “I can’t decide if I want to fuck you, then kill you.” His graveled voice brushes against my cheek. “Or just kill you.” He pulls me closer, and I feel his hard cock press into my back. “Difficult decision.”

    I look down at the arm holding me prisoner. Leather jacket, leather gloves. Vise as tight as iron. My head falls to the side, exposing my neck, and I move my ass seductively against his crotch. “How ’bout now?” I ask, my voice low, teasing. I peer into the loch, but it’s cloudy with mist. I can’t see his face. I can’t see anything.

    His laugh against my throat is deep, more like a whisper. Edged with certain . . . hatred. Yet . . . there’s something about it. I don’t know. “Convince me,” he says. His teeth graze my skin. “Tell me what you’ll do to me if I let you live.” His lips move to the corner of mine, and it’s an achingly familiar gesture. “Make me want you.”

    With slow, rhythmic pressure, I move against his groin, pushing against the thick bulge. His body tenses at my movement, and I know he’s turned on. I don’t know why, but I am, too. I gotta get my head back in the game. That is, to live.

    “I can make you come without laying a hand on you,” I whisper, and I press my back into his chest.

    His arm that is still banded over my breasts slides, and through the thin silk of my bra, his hand cups me. I press my ass against his crotch, and he hardens. “And how would you do that?” he whispers against my jaw.

    “Because you’re going to touch me,” I answer, and before the words fully leave my mouth, his hand leaves my breast and skims my stomach. “And when you do, I’ll explode.” A moan escapes my throat, and my vision blurs. I blink. I gotta get it together. “And you won’t be able to help yourself. You’ll come.”

    His gloved hand moves over my hip, over my groin, and I thrust against him. He cups me, his thumb pressing against me through my jeans. Just as the climax starts, his grip relaxes and he starts to turn me around. I go limp, and slide to the ground. In the next second, I leap, and I land, crouched, about ten feet away. Through the mist, I blink. The orgasm still lingers, and I will it away.

    I look at my captor.

    My breath hitches.

    My mouth opens to call his name.

    “E—”

    Just that fast, he’s on me again. His hand encircles my throat, and his face contorts to full-raged vampire. His jaw juts forward, almost broken, and jagged teeth drop from his gums. His eyes turn bloodred, and his scent blends with that in the loch. The air is squeaking from my lungs, so audible I can hear it in the misty air around me. He lifts me, my feet dangling over the water.

    “You will die now,” he says, and lowers me to the loch. “And watching the life drain out of you is what’s going to make me come.”

    I try to kick, to shout, but I’m paralyzed. Screams not my own pierce the air, and he starts to lower me down. The stench grows stronger. I feel water at my back, and hands upon hands pull at me from below. He holds me there, my face and eyes just beneath the surface of the loch, staring up at him through the water. Had he not been squeezing the life out of me, I would have died from just seeing his face. Full of hate. Full of loathing.

    A monster.

    It’s Eli.

    As I thrash about, and what little air is left in me seeps out, my lungs explode. Unseen hands grab me from the depths of the loch, and before the blood vessels burst in my eyes, I see the others who have gone in before me. . . .

    “Hey, Ri.” A familiar voice seeps into my conscience. “What are you doing?”

    For a moment, I’m speechless. Slowly, I open my eyes. I can’t focus. I can’t speak.

    He grasps my forearm and squeezes gently. “What the hell’s wrong with you, darlin’?”

    I blink and focus. It’s only Noah. And we’re in a cab.

    Noah flashes his big white, wolfish smile at me. “Anything I can help you with, babe?”

    With a heavy sigh, I push my thumb and forefinger into my eye sockets. “No. Bad dream is all.” I shake my head. “Are we there yet?”

    “Yeah, we’re here. You okay?” he asks.

    Weird. I remember driving along on the A-96, looking out across the Moray Firth. That’s it. As I glance out the window into the night, I see we’ve ended up on Montague Row, at the guesthouse Jake Andorra, our boss, rented out for us. Rented the whole damn guesthouse so we wouldn’t look so suspicious coming and going like we do.

    WUP. Worldwide Unexplained Phenomena. That’s what we do. It’s an elite organization Noah and I, and a handful of others, belong to. Weirdly enough, I’m probably the most normal of the group. WUP is made up of vampires, werewolves, ancient Pict immortals with wicked skills and sick fighting abilities. Then there’s, well, me. A human with vampiric tendencies. So far, I’m the only one. Jake Andorra, a vampire with lethal skills, asked me to join. Although I’m pretty sure most of my team members would argue my tendencies have gotten way the hell out of control. But damn—I’ve been bitten by three powerful Strigoi vampires from an old Romanian family, as well as my vampire fiancé, Eli. All of their DNA bound with mine, and I took on a little of each one of their traits. I can now speak French and Romanian fluently. I guess my mind control is the strongest trait I’ve acquired, and I’d be a big fat liar if I didn’t confess to thinking it was cool as shit. Anyway.

    WUP members are dispatched and assigned the most difficult of cases involving things humans can’t even begin to grasp. Basically, we’re hunters. Anything involving supernatural beings vs. humans, we’re on it. Vampiric situations are the most common, although there’s a pretty big werewolf war going on farther west in the Highlands, which is where the rest of the WUP team is right now.

    A werewolf war. Sounds pretty big, right? Apparently, two clans have waged war between themselves, and once again, innocent mortals inevitably get in the way. Werewolves are bat-shit crazy and unpredictable as all holy hell. WUP will need every spare set of hands they can use. But under Jake Andorra’s orders, me and Noah have been assigned here, in Inverness. Our mission is simple: Take out the rogue vampire or vampires wreaking havoc on innocent humans. Noah’s strength combined with mine is more than enough to wrap up this job. Usually, they’re newbloods—humans newly transformed and just coming into their vampirism. And totally fuck-wild with bloodlust. It’s not too uncommon, rogues. They travel, hardly ever staying in the same location long. But any time is too long. They kill. Innocents die a horrible death.

    So me and Noah will hunt down these rogue vampires and make the humans and city safe again. Shouldn’t take long. But there’s something else I have to do here. Something I have to do alone. And the selfish part of me says it’s more important.

    • • •

    Sometime between the Firth and here, I dreamed. Again of my fiancé, Eli, except this time was different than the others. It was . . . bizarre. That’s another thing I do—I have wicked dreams that sometimes place me in real situations, and sometimes in other bodies. I almost experience things others have experienced, and it is intense as hell. I shake it off and finally answer Noah. I give a nod. “I’ve never been better. Let’s go.”

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