Hunters & Prey (Immortalis Book 2)
The exciting sequel to Immortalis Carpe Noctem.
Rule number one: humans and vampires don't co-exist. One is the hunter and one is the prey. Simple, right? Not for newly-turned vampire Alyssa.
A surprise confrontation with Santino Vitale, the Acta Sanctorum's most fearsome hunter, sends her fleeing back to the world she once knew, and Fallon, the human friend she's missed more than anything. Now she has some explaining to do. However, that will have to wait. With the Acta Sanctorum hot on their heels, staying alive is more important than educating a human on the finer points of bloodlust.
Hot blood coursed through my veins as I gulped down the gushing fountain of my victim’s neck.
He won’t be hurting women anymore. I thought to myself as I swallowed each hot mouthful of blood. How quickly the hunter becomes the prey.
Using the power of my mind, I sent him feelings: waves of pain and grief for the murder he had committed. The human mind was easy to control, and I called upon all the skill I possessed to make him suffer.
Murderers and those who dealt in crime and abuse were my prey. It was because of them, those vile individuals, that I was a vampire. Memories of my own near-death experience and echoes of past wounds fueled me.
As a vampire, I had power, the power to stop bad people from doing awful, evil things. Fate has a way of working things out, and it gave my bloodlust a purpose. If I was to be this creature, I would ensure that my feeding stopped the unnecessary deaths of innocents.
I drained him slowly and painfully, savoring the honey-sweet elixir of his blood. Keeping him alert enough to feel every draw against his neck, I gnawed at the wound with my sharp teeth and dug my nails into his flesh. I wanted him to feel everything. I wouldn’t let him go unconscious. He needed to know and understand the torment he had inflicted on others. I only wished I had found him, sooner before he ended the life of the poor woman lying at our feet. The fearful look in her dead eyes was a painful reminder of the men who had attacked me.
This man would pay with his dying breath.
My victim moaned pitifully. He beat against my back, struggling to free himself. I tightened my grip, locking his body in my deadly embrace.
He was going nowhere.
The heat from his blood coursed through my veins, strengthening me, warming me, giving me his life-energy. I savored this feeling: the tingling rush, the ecstasy, that filled my being.
Just as the wave of pleasure crested, his heart slowed to an erratic thump, and the gushing fountain became a trickle. I knew he wouldn’t last much longer. His blood pressure was dropping.
I lifted my head and gazed into his fear-filled eyes. “It’s no fun when you’re on the receiving end, is it?” I smiled at him, licking the last few drops of his blood from my fangs.
My head swam with energy—his energy. I felt powerful, strong, and just.
The wretched man was like putty—just a lump of mush—in my hands. Weakly, he exhaled a final dying breath. The light of life in his eyes extinguished. His head lolled and then flopped backward.
I listened carefully. His heart thumped once, twice, and then … nothing.
I bit my tongue and swirled a mix of my saliva and blood across the wound on his neck, ensuring it would close. The evidence of my feeding would be gone by the time anyone found him.
A strange prickling sensation tickled the back of my neck. The hair on my arms stood straight on end. I had come to know this unmistakable feeling quite well since I’d been turned. Another vampire was close.
I dropped my victim unceremoniously on top of the woman he’d just killed and turned around to scan the area. Though the street was dark, my vampire eyes had no problem spotting another pair of pale eyes staring back at me from the shadows.
A footstep broke the silence. Still young, I’d had limited dealings with other vampires. Not all were friendly. I hoped the one watching me would be.
“I know you’re out there,” I called to the darkness. “Show yourself.”
Raspy laughter crawled out of the shadow. “Are you sure you want me to do that, Alyssa?”
In the space of a second, realization hit me. My eyes went wide and my heart slammed into my chest.
Oh shit. Santino!
Another footstep echoed around me as he moved into the light.
A trademark of the vampire kind, his blue-gray eyes seemed to glow as he looked at me. A wild mane of salt-and-pepper hair jutted out in all directions on top of his head. Deep-creased wrinkles and scars covered an aged face that had seen many battles. His lips pulled back into a predatory smile, revealing a perfect set of sharp white fangs.
I was running before I could even comprehend the thought of it. I needed to get away. Fast.
As the sun began its ascent into the sky, I settled down, safely at home, preparing for sleep. But it wouldn’t come peacefully. Somewhere, trapped between the dreaming and waking world, I felt his presence. The cold, prickling sensation. It crawled up my spine and raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
Not again. I tried desperately to rouse myself. I knew what would come next.
As if on cue, those cold, emotionless, blue-gray eyes appeared above me. They locked on me with contempt.
I’d dreamt of him for weeks after our last battle. I thought I had finally escaped the daymares that had haunted me, but now they were back.
I knew every scar on that fearsome face, though I wished I didn’t. I’d met him only once before, and against the odds, I’d lived to talk about it. That was something only a handful could claim. Santino was not one to leave anyone alive once he’d set his sights on them.
I willed myself to wake. But, just as before, the dream continued.
His piecing gaze bore into my skull. I was motionless; my body barely held the strength to gasp for air. Laid out like an offering, I was an easy target, ready to be slaughtered.
If I could have screamed I would have, but I was mute, destined to see the events unfold as they had when I had lived through them.
Santino’s mouth formed a sinister smile. The tips of his fangs poked out from behind his lips, but I knew it was not his teeth I should fear.
Stuck again in this nightmare, I tried in vain to will myself awake. Paralysis had me frozen in place, helpless. Slowly, he reached out, grabbing my head, balling up a fistful of my hair. Strands snapped under his grip, pinching and pulling away from my scalp.
I needed to break free from his grasp. I needed to somehow get out of this dream.
Fear gripped me. He rocked my head from one side to the other, inspecting me. Would this finally be the time? Would he finally kill me? His eyes focused on my neck.
Wake up, damn it!
“Not going to be much of a fight, are you?” he said, pulling out his knife—a large thick blade with jagged edges. Blood from his last kill still coated it.
He made the sign of the cross and mumbled a prayer under his breath.
I willed my muscles to listen. Move, I yelled in my head. Move, damn it. Wake up!
My heart beat wildly, thundering in my ears as Santino’s eyes opened and focused on me once more. Disgust flashed across his face, as if I were a mangy animal and it was beneath him to have to put me down. His lips again formed that sinister sneer. I shuddered. His gaze was like ice, sending a shiver slithering down my spine to the churning pit of my stomach.
He exhaled a growling breath that echoed in the room as he placed the cold, heavy blade to my neck.
I awoke with a start, shooting upright in bed. My heart pounded, and my chest heaved with each sharp breath.
Disorientation fogged my vision. I struggled to compose myself and come back into reality.
It’s over, he’s gone.
If this had been merely a bad dream, the sight of my room and Lysander sleeping next to me would have been immediate comforts, but this wasn’t just a dream. Those events were real. Re-living my first run in with Santino seemed to be my curse. The memories haunted me, playing out every detail of that bloody night, ending just before Santino attempted to finish me off.
He’d nearly destroyed my entire clan that night. I shuddered at the thought of him. Santino was well known as the Acta Sanctorum’s best hunter—a vampire who made a career of killing his own kind. He and his team of hunters had tracked down and destroyed the largest coven of vampires known to exist.
He killed their leader, Kallisto, right before my eyes. I was supposed to have been next on his hit list. If it hadn’t been for Lysander and the aid of our friends in the Peregrinus clan, I would have died.
I was lucky to have gotten away, and Lysander had almost paid for my escape with his life. Everyone assumed Santino either dead or too weak after that battle to continue his hunt.
Deep down, I felt differently.
I knew he had survived. He was the one I’d seen while hunting. I had run from him without a good look, but there was no doubt in my mind. It couldn't have been anyone else.
When are these dreams going to stop? I sighed, raking my hands through my hair, pulling away long red strands sticking to my clammy face.
Vampires aren’t supposed to have daymares.
I ran the battle though in my memory. Even though months had passed since I had been pulled out of the burning building, it still felt like it had been only a day ago. I remembered Lysander’s motionless body floating in the water. He had managed to escape the fire by diving out of a second-story window to the back yard pool below. It had taken us days to nurse him back to full health.
But Santino was never found.
Lysander believed Santino was gone, and that there was no reason to fear him anymore.
Faint rays of light seeped in through the sides of the curtains. Still daylight. The clock on Lysander’s tall oak dresser flashed as the minutes changed, confirming the time.
Great, only noon. Sunset isn’t for at least seven more hours. Damn these long summer days!
I rubbed my sleepy eyes and took a deep, cleansing breath. My heartbeat slowed, returning to a faint whispering thump.
No use trying to get back to sleep now.
A very groggy-looking Lysander rolled over to face me.
I looked into his sleepy eyes, allowing myself to feel the warmth—the connection between us. “Sorry, did I wake you?”
His face always looked so angelic among the sheets. I felt safe with Lysander. He was my guardian, my teacher, and my lover.
“Santino again? I thought you had finally escaped those dreams,” he said, yawning as he stretched out his muscular arms. My midday waking had become routine for the last few months. I’d woken him up too many times with these daymares.
“Yeah. I still can’t get the memory out of my head. What if he did survive? What if he is gaining strength?”
He sat up next to me. His dark chocolate-colored hair, messy from sleep, fell haphazardly around his pale face, highlighting his beautiful blue-gray eyes. The sheet fell to his waist, allowing for a full view of the defined ridges of his chest, corded arms, and broad shoulders. He reached up and gently stroked my face with a cool hand, tracing his thumb over my lips.
“Alyssa, please. We have had this conversation too many times.” He gazed at me imploringly, begging me to go back to sleep. “Even if Santino is still out there, he is weak. The fire almost killed me. You and the Peregrinus brought me back with your blood. Santino wouldn’t have that luxury. He will take months, if not years, feeding on the blood of animals to heal back to full strength again.”
“Why do I keep dreaming about him? Why can’t I get him out of my head?” I fisted my hands at my side, balling up bed sheets.
“You’ve had very traumatic experiences.” His voice was soft and soothing. “It is normal for there to be some after-effects.”
“It’s not only that, I saw…”
He put an arm around me and pulled me close. I relaxed a little, enjoying the feel of his strong arms. Nuzzling into his chest, I listened to his heart. It beat in a slow, peaceful rhythm. I wanted to settle down, to lie there enjoying the comfort and pleasure of being close to Lysander. But the thought wouldn’t leave my head.
The words spilled from my mouth before I could form cohesive thoughts. “I saw a man. Last night. He looked exactly like Santino. I was hunting.”
“It’s only natural that your mind is focusing on Santino.” Lysander’s voice remained soft, as smooth as velvet and as peaceful as a lullaby. He gently stroked my arm. “But you must trust me. If he is out there, he is too weak to hurt us.”
What if he isn’t? I shook my head.
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