Scanguards Vampires #4
After being kidnapped by a vampire hunter, vampire bodyguard Yvette’s first instinct is to kill the bastard. But before she gets the chance, she realizes that he was double-crossed by the witch he was working for and now is in as much danger as she is.
To get his brother out of trouble, bounty hunter / vampire slayer Haven has to deliver the young actress Kimberly to a witch. Unfortunately, she’s protected by the very creature he hates most: a vampire.
As Yvette and Haven try to escape their prison and rescue the actress and Haven’s brother, will their natural hatred for each other keep them apart or is the passion that bubbles up between them strong enough for them to dare risk their lives to defeat the witch from harnessing the greatest power of all?
Haven was the first one to hear his mother’s alarmed cry. Immediately, he seized his younger brother Wesley by the collar of his polo shirt, making him squeal in protest.
“Let go of me, Hav. I wanna play.”
Haven ignored his eight-year-old brother’s objection and slammed his hand over his mouth. “Shut up,” he ordered, keeping his voice low. He could sense his mother’s mounting fear, despite the fact that he and Wesley were in the den and their mother’s panicked scream had come from the kitchen where she was mixing potions.
“Someone’s in the house. Keep quiet.” He gave his brother a stern look. Wesley’s eyes widened in fear, but he nodded nevertheless. Haven took his hand off Wesley’s mouth and was rewarded with his brother’s silence.
Anticipating something just like this, his mother had drilled a strict protocol into him and his brother: hide and keep quiet. As much as Haven wanted to obey his mother, her scream had torn through his gut; he’d be a coward if he didn’t help her. He was tall for his age, almost a man. Being abandoned by their father less than a year ago had forced him to grow up fast. He was the man of the house now. It was up to him to help his mother.
“Go get Katie and hide under the stairs.” Their baby sister was sleeping in the downstairs bedroom, rather than in the nursery upstairs, so she could be heard if she woke. She wasn’t due to be fed for another two hours, and hopefully that meant she’d remain asleep.
Wesley took off, running down the hallway, his sock-clad feet making no sound on the hardwood floor. Haven mustered all his courage and crept toward the kitchen door.
“You know you have to sacrifice one of them, so who’s it gonna be?” a man hissed from inside the kitchen. The malevolence in the stranger’s voice was unmistakable, and a cold shiver slithered up Haven’s spine like a snake.
“Never,” Haven’s mother answered, a flash of white light accompanying her words. He knew if she was using magic so openly on the intruder it meant he was a preternatural creature: not human.
A burglar Mom would have no problem dealing with, but this was different. That’s why she needed his help, whether she’d forbidden it or not. She could ground him all she wanted later, but he wasn’t going to stay away and hide like a spineless weasel. Wesley could take care of Katie by himself, but Haven was old enough now—eleven to be exact—to help his mother defeat an attacker.
Haven inched forward and glanced around the door frame into the well-lit kitchen. Aghast, he pulled back.
Without a doubt, her attacker was a vampire—top of the food chain. His fangs were extended and pushed past his open lips, his eyes glaring red like a car’s taillights in the night. While vampires weren’t immune to witchcraft, Haven’s mother was merely a minor witch with no powers beyond her potions and spells. She’d never mastered control of any of the elements: water, air, fire, and earth, as others of her kind had. She was nearly defenseless.
The tall, slim vampire had his hand clamped around her neck even as her lips moved as if trying to cast a spell. But no words issued from her throat. She struggled in his hold, her eyes darting to her side, searching desperately for a means of escape. There was no way out—no way she could free herself if she couldn’t utter a spell to make the vampire release her. And even then . . .
Haven knew what he had to do. Summoning all his courage, he rushed through the door and charged for the kitchen counter where an assortment of kitchen utensils stood in an earthen jug. He reached for the wooden spoon and broke it in half.
At the sound, the vampire snapped his head toward Haven and flashed his fangs in irritation. A warning snarl ripped from his throat. “Big mistake, little boy, big mistake.”
Nobody called him little and got away with it.
A choked gurgle came from his mother. She blinked her eyes at Haven, intent upon sending him a message despite her obvious distress. He understood her all too well, but he wasn’t going to flee. She wanted him to save himself. But he was no coward. How could she even think that he would run and leave her in the hands of this monster?
“Let my mother go!” he demanded from the vampire and lifted his hand holding the makeshift stake.
Haven charged toward the vampire, letting out a warrior cry like he’d seen in the Westerns he loved to watch on TV. Before he reached the bloodsucker, the vamp dropped his hold on his mother and tossed her against the stove, the sound of her back connecting with the metal oven door blasting a wave of fury through Haven. Faster than his eyes could follow, the vampire was on him and gripped his wrist, holding it immobile.
Haven clenched his teeth and kicked his leg against the massive creature’s shin, but to no avail. A growl issued from the vampire’s mouth. Behind him, Haven caught sight of his mother getting up, moaning in pain. But her face looked determined, and her lips mouthed a spell.
“Night bring day, day bring night, help the small, and . . . ”
The vampire twisted Haven’s wrist, wrenching the stake from his clenched fist. It clattered to the floor, rolling out of reach. Then the vampire released him. Spinning around, he reached into his jacket and pulled out a knife. “You stupid witch!” he snarled. “I was gonna let you live.”
Undeterred, Haven’s mother continued chanting, “ . . . tall, and give them might . . . ”
Haven launched himself at the vampire from behind, trying to wrestle the knife from his hands, but his opponent jabbed his elbow into the soft muscles of Haven’s tender stomach and shoved him to the floor. When Haven looked up, he only saw the flick of the vamp’s wrist as he released the knife to find its target.
A startled shriek interrupted his mother’s chants. The knife had hit her in her chest. As she tumbled to the floor, blood staining her white apron, Haven scrambled to get closer, but the vampire blocked his approach.
“Haven,” his mother’s strained voiced cried out. “Remember . . . to love . . . ”
“No! You bastard!” Haven screamed. “I’ll kill you!”
But before he could do anything, the cry of a baby filled the house. Katie.
The vampire’s head spun toward the hallway. Then a self-satisfied grin spread over his mouth. It did nothing to alleviate the ugliness of his visage. “Much easier,” he proclaimed. “As if I wanted to burden myself with the likes of a troublesome little boy.”
“No!” Haven screamed, realizing he was going after Katie. The vampire had said that all he needed was one of them.
The vampire stampeded out of the kitchen and down the hall. Haven ran after him, picking up a broom that leaned against the wall. He cracked the handle over his knee and gripped the shorter end like a stake.
When he reached his brother’s hiding place beneath the stairs a few seconds later, the bloodsucker was already pulling Wesley from it, and Katie’s wails mixed with Wesley’s panicked squeals.
“Help! Haven, Mom, help me!”
The vampire yanked the little bundle that was Katie from Wesley’s arms and pressed her to his chest, while he held Haven’s struggling little brother off with one hand. Wesley’s attempts at boxing the vampire in the stomach were futile—his tiny fists did no damage to the creature.
“Stop, you little idiot.”
Neither Wesley nor Haven listened to the vampire’s command. Instead, Haven jumped, his makeshift stake in his raised hand, but the bastard turned too fast. He slammed Wesley against the wall and raised his arm to fend off Haven’s stake, holding Katie higher with his other arm. Haven was no match for the supernatural creature, even with his fierce determination to save his sister.
The vampire kicked him against the wall, the impact knocking the wind out of Haven. Pain seared through him, reminding him that he was only a human without any skills to fight the powerful bloodsucker.
“I mean you no harm. I’m only taking one of you.” There was a flicker of something in his eyes, almost as if he regretted what he was doing. “To keep the balance.”
A second later, he was gone. The front door was left ajar, darkness intruding on Haven’s devastated home, the chill and fog taking hold where warmth and love had lived earlier.
Wesley moaned. “Mom, help us.”
Haven crawled the few feet that separated him from his bother. How could he possibly tell Wes what had happened to their mother? And Katie, what was going to happen to Katie?
“Mom can’t help,” Haven whispered to his brother, ignoring the pain in his ribs as best he could. It was nothing compared to the pain he felt in his heart. He looked at Wesley and saw tears of realization run down his cheeks. Haven couldn’t cry; instead, his heart filled with hatred: hatred for everything magical, everything preternatural, everything not human. Because, despite not knowing what the vampire had wanted or why he’d killed his mother, Haven suspected it had to do with her magic. There could be no other reason. He’d not been here to rob them of any of their worldly goods. To keep the balance, he’d said. The balance of what?
Haven stared at his brother and squeezed his hand. “I will find him, and I will kill him and all vampires that cross my path. And we’ll get Katie back. I promise you.”
And he wouldn’t rest until he’d fulfilled his promise.
San Francisco, 22 years later
It was a trap—how big a trap, Haven could have never guessed.
After receiving Wesley’s text message to meet him at the abandoned warehouse in one of the less fashionable neighborhoods of the city, he’d cased the area and determined that at most one or two assailants were waiting for him. Piece of cake, he’d figured.
It wouldn’t be the first time he freed his little brother from the greedy clutches of a loan shark or other minor con artist he’d gotten himself in trouble with. Whatever the amount of money they wanted to extort from him for the release of his brother, they’d never see a penny of it. His concealed Glock would guarantee that.
The door to the warehouse was unlocked. He pushed it open and eased inside, taking in the musty scent of the building. It mingled with a strange mixture of herbs, conjuring up images of Chinatown with its foreign smells and tastes. The long corridor ahead of him was dark, the single light bulb hanging overhead covered in cobwebs and dust. There was nothing inviting about the place.
Any further explorations were cut short when a cold blast of air came his way. An instant later, Haven felt a force like a tidal wave press his six-foot-two, two-hundred-pound frame of solid muscle against the wall. Despite his strength and training in all types of hand-to-hand combat, he couldn’t push against the invisible foe.
This time he wasn’t dealing with some low-life criminals.
Haven didn’t like the feeling of helplessness that spread through his body as the assault by the force field continued. As a tough-as-frozen-shit bounty hunter, vulnerability wasn’t a word in his vocabulary. And he wasn’t going to add it now. His slate for V’s was full: vampire, vermin, vulture. No space for vulnerability. Leave that to the people at Webster’s; maybe they had use for the word.
And if he ever got out of this mess alive, he’d skin his brother, but not before he’d beaten the dog snot out of him.
“I see you got my text message,” a female voice commented calmly. A moment later, she stepped into view. She was beautiful; long red hair cascaded around her face and over her shoulders. Her cheekbones were high, her skin pale, and her lips plump. At first sight, the woman was every man’s dream and Haven bet that whatever predicament Wesley found himself in, it was because this woman had short-circuited his brain—making sure he had to use the one between his legs instead. Haven wasn’t quite as susceptible to beautiful women as his brother was. He’d never allowed himself to have his head turned like that. And he wasn’t as gullible as his little brother. No, he was tough as nails and unwavering as steel, and somehow he’d get out of this.
Haven gritted his teeth staring into the icy-blue eyes of the devilish beauty. “What did you do to my brother, witch?” Since she hadn’t introduced herself, it was fitting enough to call her by her profession rather than her name. And of her profession he was certain: the force she was using against him wasn’t something a physicist could explain. It was magic. And he recognized magic when it bit him on the ass.
“You make it sound like a four-letter word.”
She shook her head disapprovingly, her copper curls bouncing around her shoulders. “The name’s Bess, not that it should matter to you. I would have expected more respect from the son of a witch. Don’t you respect your mother’s craft?”
The memory of his mother bit hard into his gut. He rammed it back, trying to stave off the emotions that came with it, emotions which he’d tried to suppress ever since her brutal death. He wasn’t going to allow this damn witch to weaken him by dredging up things that should stay well hidden. “Leave my mother out of this. Now, where’s my brother, and what do you want?”
“Your bad-boy, bounty-hunter attitude doesn’t work on me, so leave it at the door and come in.”
Haven glared at her and clenched his jaw.
“Unless you don’t want to see your brother again. I can just leave him tied up and let him rot.”
Suddenly, the pressure on his chest eased, and he was able to pry himself off the wall. He shook off the remaining feeling of claustrophobia and reached into his jacket. The thought of killing her was foremost in his mind, but without knowing whether she kept Wesley somewhere in this warehouse, he couldn’t let the bullets do their job. Not yet, anyway.
“And take your hand off your gun.”
It didn’t take being a witch to know what his hand was reaching for. Haven snorted. “Get on with it. Where’s Wesley?”
Bess walked into a fairly spacious room, a living room of sorts. He followed her. Several pieces of mismatched furniture filled the space. Rugs were spread over the concrete floor, and heavy drapes of thick velvet hung over the windows. Add the bookcase filled with old books and jars of ghastly looking herbs and animal parts, and the room had a decidedly gothic look. Not his choice of abode anyway.
In his eight years as a bounty hunter, working for different bail bondsmen along the way, Haven had seen his fair share of weird, so nothing surprised him. But even without that, he wouldn’t have been surprised by her decorative choices. She was right; he was the son of a witch, and as such, he’d seen enough. More than he’d ever wanted to see—or know.
Haven shook off the memories. “Where’s Wesley?”
The witch took a seat on one of the overstuffed sofas and pointed toward an armchair. “Somewhere safe. Sit.”
“I’m not your dog.” Witch or not, he didn’t like being ordered around.
“I can turn you into one if you like.”
Grunting his disapproval, he let himself fall into the chair, creating a dust cloud around him. “I’m sitting.”
The witch let her gaze travel over his body. Uneasiness crept over him; he didn’t like being studied as if he was some piece in an exhibition. Or worse, a subject in an experiment.
“Your brother is nothing like you. He seems much more . . . gentle. Not as—”
“I’m sure you didn’t invite me for a psychology lesson; besides I don’t appreciate the kind of invitations you send out.” Why hadn’t he guessed that his brother hadn’t sent that message? Maybe because it had originated from Wesley’s cell and sounded just like him: desperate for help and riddled with mistakes. His brother couldn’t spell for shit; Haven hadn’t questioned its authenticity.
“Would you have come if I had sent a polite letter? Anyway, pleasantries aside, we have business to discuss.”
Haven raised an eyebrow. He had no business with a witch. Despite the fact that his mother had been a witch, neither he nor his brother had inherited any of her powers. It had never bothered him because the way he liked to kill his victims was close up so he saw the fear in their eyes when they realized he’d won; he had no desire to strike from a distance using magic. And his victims had always been vampires—not that he had any qualms about adding a witch to the bunch. Whoever threatened him or his family would be dealt with swiftly. In a deadly kind of way.
“What is it you want from me in exchange for my brother?”
“You catch on fast. Given your somewhat unorthodox profession, what I’m asking will be just another day in the office for you.”
He hated being played with, and the cat-and-mouse game in which she was engaging him was his least favorite pastime. “Spit it out.”
“There’s a girl, a young actress. I would like you to bring her to me.”
“Given that you managed to get me to your lair without any trouble, I don’t see why you can’t get her yourself.”
Bess pursed her lips. “Ah, that’s where the little problem starts. See, the girl has a bodyguard.” The witch gestured with her hand. “Something to do with the paparazzi.” She rolled her eyes, her disdain for celebrities openly showing in their cold blueness.
“And you can’t get past the bodyguard? You used your powers to immobilize me. What’s the guy made out of? Steel?” Something stank. And it wasn’t the incense that was burning in the room, robbing it of oxygen.
“Unfortunately, her bodyguard is a vampire.”
Haven listened intently now. Things had just started getting interesting. He leaned forward in his chair, intrigued by her words.
“I see I have your attention now. You could kill two birds with one stone: free your brother by bringing me the girl and kill the vampire as a bonus. It’s a win-win situation.”
Win-win, but for whom? “Are you trying to tell me that you can’t defeat one measly vampire?” Haven knew for a fact that witchcraft worked on vampires just as well as on humans. And by the looks of it, this witch appeared strong enough to fight a vampire with her spells and potions and the way she was seemingly able to control at least one element: air. He’d felt it used on his own body earlier. A witch who controlled the elements wasn’t to be trifled with.
“I could, if I got close enough. However, vampires can sense witches from afar. I’d never get close enough to work my magic. That’s why I need a human; you’ll be able to approach him without drawing any suspicions to you.”
She dug her hand into the pocket of her cardigan and pulled out a little vial. It was filled with a purple liquid. “Once you’re close enough, you’ll smash the vial, and the gas it produces will render the vampire unconscious within seconds. And you know what to do then.”
Haven grinned despite himself. While he didn’t like the idea of being ordered by a witch, who held his brother captive, the thought of being handed another vampire to kill was appealing. Ever since his mother’s death, he’d searched for the one vampire who’d killed her and kidnapped his baby sister. He hadn’t found him yet, but he’d killed plenty of other vampires since.
However, the thought of handing over an innocent human to this witch created an uncomfortable knot in his stomach. “Who’s the girl?”
The witch made a dismissive hand movement. “Nobody to concern yourself with.”
Haven shook his head. “What do you want with her? If she’s just an actress like you say, why would you be interested in her?” There was plenty Bess wasn’t telling him. Maybe he shouldn’t dig too deeply, maybe he should just take the assignment and get his brother out of her clutches. But he still had a smidgen of a conscience left.
“It doesn’t concern you,” she snapped and rose. “Get me the girl, or I’ll crush your brother.”
“And where is my dear brother?” he asked casually. Once he knew where she was keeping him, he could figure out a plan for how to free him without doing her dirty work for her.
“Even if I tell you where he is, you won’t be able to free him. His cell is protected by invisible wards. You won’t be able to break through them.”
If Haven knew one thing about witchcraft, it was that once a witch died, all her wards and restraining spells would dissolve as well. Now there was an idea in the making. “So, he’s here then,” he hedged and watched her face for any affirmation of the truth of his statement. He wasn’t an excellent poker player for nothing.
Her left eyelid twitched, and he followed the direction. He almost didn’t see the door; it blended well into the bookcases next to it. When he looked back at her, he noticed how her lips had pressed together into a thin line.
Haven tilted his head toward the door. “I see.”
“It’ll do you no good. He’s too well protected. You’ll never break through the wards.”
He didn’t have to. If the witch was dead, there’d be no wards.
“Fine. We’ll do it your way.” He rose from his chair and turned slightly, attempting to conceal the movement of his right hand. He was a fast draw and had won plenty of competitions against the best in the field. Bess was as good as dead.
Haven slipped his hand inside his jacket, wrapped his fingers around the gun’s handle and pulled it from its holster.
“Ow!” he yelped, releasing the weapon from his hand a moment later and dropping it onto the carpet where it made a muffled thumping sound. Shocked, he stared at the angry red skin of his palm. The gun had turned sizzling hot in his hand. “What the fuck?”
“It’s better that you learn right now that there’s no crossing me. Either you do what I say—or your brother dies.”
Haven glared at her and recognized the impatience in her eyes. He swallowed his own anger, forcing himself to calm down. Losing his head now would not serve Wesley. He had to push his pride and scruples aside. Only his brother mattered. Wesley was all that was left of his family.
For now, he needed to keep a cool head.
“You win. What’s her name and where do I find her?”