Copyright © 2012 Sierra Dean
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Vampires can’t fly, but a grown man can if you throw him hard enough.
That was the hard truth vampire hunter Shane Hewitt learned when I chucked him off the top of the bleachers of the empty high school gym we were in. He bounced when he landed and slid with a squeal. I couldn’t tell if the sound was from him yowling in pain or from his face grinding on the polished hardwood.
I winced. Not very fitting of a deadly former assassin, but I felt a little bad. Shane had put up a good fight, but he was outmatched. I should have gone easier on him, but the fact of the matter was I wasn’t here to coddle him, I was here to help keep him alive. He clambered to his feet with all the grace of a geriatric elephant, moaning and groaning the whole time. When he was standing tallish again, I leapt from the top of the bleachers to the bottom row, landing steadily in my knee-high black-heeled boots.
“Do you know how I was able to do that?”
Next to me on the bleachers my human ward, Nolan Tate, timidly raised his hand. Nolan was about six feet tall and built like a college linebacker. Seeing him ask for permission to speak as though I were really a teacher was so endearing my heart swelled. Too bad my question was meant for Shane. I touched Nolan’s shoulder, and he put his hand down.
“Because you’re a freak of nature?” Shane growled.
I had to laugh because he was more spot-on than he realized. Shane thought I was a freak because it was unheard of for a Tribunal leader, one of the three most powerful members of the vampire council, to be personally helping a disrespected, no-rank, human bounty hunter. In reality, my freakishness ran much deeper. I was a vampire, sure, but that was only half the story. The other half was werewolf, making me one hell of an unnatural disaster.
Seeing as a mere handful of people knew about what I was—and Shane wasn’t one of them—I replied with, “Close, but not the answer I was looking for.”
Once upon a time I had been in Shane’s place. Lowest on the totem pole, getting zero respect from the council while they expected me to kill their rogues and obey their every whim. Since then I had become one of them, and now my own whims were those to be obeyed. It was sort of surreal what could come from beheading one bitchy blonde vampire.
Shane wiped a dribble of blood off his chin. If he wanted to live to see his thirty-third birthday, he was going to have to start listening to me more and sass-talking me less. I had a whole new appreciation of what a hardship it had been for my mentor, Francis Keats, to put up with me when I was a rash sixteen-year-old.
When Shane didn’t reply right away, Nolan shifted nervously beside me. He knew I had a notoriously short fuse and was even shorter on patience. Nolan seemed to appreciate my lessons, whereas Shane often acted as if he felt they were beneath him.
I cleared my throat and kept my voice calm like I had to in Tribunal sessions. “Shane. Tell me why I was able to throw you.”
“Because you’re stronger than me,” he admitted, staring at his scuffed motorcycle boots.
While it took cojones for him to say it, I had been hoping for a different response. “No, that’s not the reason. Why was I able to throw you?”
Nolan went to raise his hand again but appeared to think better of it and scratched his head as a halfhearted cover-up. My less-obliging student tromped over and sat beside me on the bleachers, rubbing his tender jaw.
“I didn’t see the second swing coming.”
“That’s the first part of it, yes. What else?” I sat down between Shane and Nolan, waiting for the former’s reply while the latter watched us in rapt silence. Nolan had been an incredible find in a bar full of would-be vampire hunters. He wasn’t much with the killer edge, but he had a survival instinct that was more finely tuned than anyone I’d ever met. I also loved him like a younger brother, and it made me especially protective of him.
“I don’t know.”
“Then you’re dead. Think, Shane. I’m not doing this to be cruel, trust me. If I wanted to be cruel, you wouldn’t have gotten up at all.”
He stopped touching his face and took off his leather jacket. One of the studs had bitten into my hand when I punched him in the gut. I used to think the jacket was a prop to bolster his bad-boy image, but I was starting to see a defensive logic to it. Personally, I wore mine because it looked cool. Though recently it had taken an unfortunate swim with me, and the leather would never be the same.
Shane sighed a little too dramatically and cracked his knuckles. The fighting man’s thinking posture.
“Just give me a minute,” he grumbled as I tried to goad him into answering. Then—like the proverbial light bulb going off—his eyes widened, and I knew he’d figured it out. “When I went to counter the blow, I leaned back. You took advantage of my shifted balance and used it to throw me.”
I grinned at him. “Bang.”
“But if he didn’t see the second swing coming, how could he have prevented the counter?” Nolan asked.
“That’s simple.” My smile was loose and easy as I got to my feet and stood facing them. My fist darted out, and I stopped it a hairsbreadth away from Nolan’s nose. His eyes bugged, and I could feel his hot, quick breaths on my knuckles. “You have to always expect the second swing.”
When I pulled my hand away, he let out a small sigh. The squeaky-wheeled hum of the janitor’s cleaning cart echoed down the hall outside. I offered one of my hands to each of the men, and they both accepted, allowing me to pull them to their feet. We used to panic when we heard the janitor’s cart, until we realized he wore headphones and kept the volume on his Rod Stewart cassette cranked to insane levels. Since then we took our time leaving when we heard him approaching the gymnasium.
“Let’s call it a night,” I suggested. Sometimes when we left the gym, we’d go for practice hunts in the park, taking advantage of the warmer evenings associated with early spring. We were all glad to be rid of winter’s icy shackles, but tonight I didn’t feel like hunting with the boys. The other two members of the Tribunal were beginning to suspect something was amiss with my evening activities, and I didn’t want to push my luck. I still had my freedom, and they hadn’t put me back under the watchful eye of the council’s lowly wardens. I wanted to keep it that way.
You can only tempt fate so often before she turns around and bites you in the ass.
Getting out of the gym was significantly easier than getting in. To enter, we had to scale a chain-link fence and I—being the one with supernatural dexterity—had to shimmy up a drainpipe to a high window. Afterwards I could unlock the back door and let the boys in. It was a shame they kept locking it on us every time we came because it would save me a heck of a climb if they’d leave it open.
When we were back outside, Shane and Nolan made for the fence. They were quick and agile enough for humans, but they weren’t fighting humans in the wild. They were fighting monsters like me. I waited until they were over then drove my point home by grabbing the chain link one-handed and swinging myself up to the top beam of the fence. Then, without pausing to balance, I kicked off from the metal bar and landed deftly between them.
“Show off,” Shane muttered.
“Awesome,” was Nolan’s counter.
I didn’t get a chance to put in my two cents because my phone started to vibrate in my pocket, and a moment later Billy Idol’s voice was snarling the lyrics to “White Wedding”.
“S**t.” I bounced the phone from one palm to the other, trying to make the stupid touch screen do what I wanted. It was shiny and new and stupidly expensive, and it made me miss the hell out of my old, basic flip phone. “I’m late for my meeting with the f**king wedding planner.”