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Death's Mistress

By´╝ÜKaren Chance

Chapter One

There was no sign on the abandoned church, but someone had scribbled “Let us Prey” above the main doors. As a Catholic, I didn’t approve. As someone bent on doing exactly that, it seemed oddly appropriate.

I pushed open the heavy wooden doors and went in. It looked like I’d guessed right in going with office chic when I’d gotten ready for the evening. There were a minority of Goths and some tourist types in the church-turned-nightclub, but most of the crowd seemed to be composed of those recently released from corporate hell.

I fit in well enough, in a blue silk tank top I sweated through within five minutes and a short black skirt. The tank matched the new streaks in my short brown hair; the skirt matched my eyes. I got a beer at the bar and wandered around, looking for trouble.

It didn’t take long to find it. The club was populated mostly by humans, but it was owned by a vampire. A group of the fashionable undead showed up every night for the all-you-can-eat buffet, and from the look of things, the owner was dining early.

He had a pretty brunette in a corner, his hand up her skirt and his fangs in her throat. That was frowned upon by the Vampire Senate, the ruling body for North American vampires, who preferred feedings to be kept nice and subtle. But then, this guy had already proven he wasn’t too concerned about the Senate’s point of view—about a lot of things. That was why I was here. They intended to teach a lesson, and to make it memorable.

The woman was facing out toward the crowd, and by the time I reached them, he’d managed to get her dress open all the way down. She wasn’t wearing much underneath, unless you counted the scrap of black lace he had his hand inside. He did something that caused a quick, indrawn breath and a helpless shift of her hips. One of the bystanders laughed.

There were a dozen of them, all vampires, and at least a few were masters. I’d hoped to catch him alone, or at worst with two or three others. I hadn’t planned on the show, and it complicated things.

He pulled the dress off her shoulders and it slithered to the floor, over skin already so sensitized that every tiny movement was torture. She began to breathe heavily through her nose, trembling like a fever had gripped her. He hadn’t bothered to fog her mind, because it’s no fun if they aren’t terrified. And because his boys wanted to play.

Vampires have a limited ability to project thoughts, and because of my heritage, I pick them up better than most. She wouldn’t meet their eyes, wouldn’t raise her head. But she knew what they saw by the images they thoughtfully kept sending.

From a dozen perspectives, she was bombarded with images of her body, slick and shining under the lights, of the rivulets sweat had carved through the goose bumps on her skin, of her last piece of clothing being jerked down her thighs. And the pictures came in stereo, with every sound that was ripped from her throat magnified a dozen times and sent back to her. The watchers’ emotions leaked through, too: arousal, anticipation and, most of all, rising bloodlust.

That was especially true of the monster draining her, yet still she writhed back against him. And when his hands roamed over her sweat-slick skin, she moaned desperately. She was trapped in the feedback loop of sensation that went with the feeding process. It was better than a drug as it coursed through her veins, tightening her nipples, shortening her breath and siphoning out her life.

I’d assumed that, with so many available donors, he wouldn’t choose to drain her. Body disposal was messy and time-consuming, and prompted investigations that he had every reason to avoid. But he must have liked her taste, because even as her legs gave out and she collapsed, he followed her down.

It’s crazy to interrupt a vampire when he’s feeding, when he’s at his most vulnerable and his most deadly. But then, I haven’t been sane in centuries. The toe of my boot caught his wrist, tossing it away from the girl.

“You want to dance with me,” I told him clearly, as he rounded on me with a snarl.

Odds were that no human had treated him that cavalierly before, and he clearly didn’t like it. He liked even less that some of his vamps had seen me do it. But it intrigued him, too. I was suddenly a tastier dish than the one who lay gasping like a fish out of water, the velvet of her dress crushed beneath her.

“You know, I think you’re right,” he said, flashing me a winning smile with more than a hint of power behind it.

I ignored it and tangled a fist in his shirt so I wouldn’t have to touch him. I dragged him onto the dance floor and he didn’t try to get away. He just followed me with a glint in his eye that promised pain to come.

He had no idea.

He grinned, and his eyes dropped to my hips as I followed the beat. “You look hot.”