THE CHANGELING image by Pywacket



THE CHANGELING

by Winnie


A/N: Warnings-Violence, language, blood, dismemberment….hopefully in true Halloween spirit. If this bothers you then please heed the warning and don’t read. Thanks to Pamela for the wonderful collage and to Antoinette and Marti for the great beta job.

 

The wind whistled through the trees, bringing with it a sense that all was not as it should be. The Eve of Samhain, also called All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween, was her favorite time of year. It gave credence to her very existence without making her hide as she did most of the year. She belonged to a race of creatures who had died out long ago, except for a few dozen who still walked the strange world they’d been sent to eons ago.
 
She knew things were changing, and could feel her body withering with the passing of time. There was no way back to her own world and the only thing that could rejuvenate her internal clock and restore her youthful beauty was to take a mate…one that chose to go with her. She’d taken many mates over the years, taken being the operative word because she had never given them a choice.
 
Now she had to find someone compatible, someone who would live a life of solace with only her and Edward as companions for they would not be able to live a normal life. She needed the darkness and could no longer stand the bright sunshine of the daylight hours for very long. Her body required a fresh supply of nourishment that would not come from the food the humans ate. She would need to choose several victims so that her chosen mate could feed when the time came.
 
“Edward,” she called and reached for the long black form fitting gown she’d chosen for tonight’s foray.
 
“Yes, Mistress,” the tall dark haired man answered from the open doorway.
 
“Bring the car around front. Tonight we begin the search for my beloved,” the female called and knew he would not question her orders. She knew she would have to choose a name, but for now she had other things to do. She looked at herself in the mirror and knew the creatures of this world would find her appearance hideous and smiled as she changed into a raven haired beauty with the body of a Goddess. She quickly donned the dress and smiled at her own reflection before slipping on a set of high heels and hurried out of the house. The sleek black sedan was parked next to the front door and she waited for Edward to open it before getting into the back seat.
 
“Where to, Mistress?”
 
“I’m not sure, Edward, tonight we go searching for my beloved for the Eve of Samhain is a perfect night for a wedding,” she answered and smiled when the man got back into the car and drove away from the dark house she called home.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Chris ran his hand through his hair and cursed the headache that began shortly after he’d left the office. He pulled to the side of the highway and searched through the dash for the pills Stacey Midland prescribed for his migraines. He cursed and clenched his eyes as the nauseating pain spread across his forehead as if someone was driving hot pokers through his eyes.
 
“Damn it!” Larabee cursed and groaned loudly as a car sped toward him with the high beams glaringly bright. Chris had time to close his eyes, but not before it felt like his head exploded. The pain was worse than anything he’d experienced in a long time and he knew he was going to be sick. Several times he tried to grab the handle and finally managed to shove the door open and exit the truck. He staggered to the edge of the road and wretched violently. His shoulders shook and he wiped at his mouth as the bitter taste made his gut clench.
 
With nothing left in his stomach the churning nausea eased, but the headache blinded him to the darkness. Chris felt his legs begin to buckle, but fought to stay on his feet. Whatever had started the damn headache was not letting up and he wished he was tucked in his bed with the blinds pulled down and that there was no light anywhere.
 
Chris knew he had to get back to the truck, but was not sure he even knew which direction it was in. The sound of an approaching car had him slamming his eyes shut against the advancing lights and he took a steadying breath. Again he tried to move, but swayed and would have fallen had it not been for the hands that gently reached out to touch him and hold him steady.
 
“Hold him, Edward,” the beauty dressed in black ordered.
 
Chris tried to look at the woman who spoke, but even the meager light from her car sent daggers through his mind and he fought to stay upright. He couldn’t remember ever having suffered a migraine so debilitating as this one and was grateful when someone took the initiative and supported him back to the road.
 
“Put him in here with me, Edward,” the woman said and smiled when the handsome stranger shook his head.
 
“My…my truck,” Larabee mumbled.
 
“Your truck will be fine until Edward can retrieve it. Right now I would say the top priority is to get you some help.”
 
Chris tried to open his eyes and focus on the illusive figure already seated in the car, but his eyes refused to cooperate and all he saw was shadows as the man eased him inside. He felt his head cradled on a soft lap and a cold hand touched against his forehead as the pain increased tenfold and threatened to send him into a pit of darkness.
 
“Tell me all your secrets…you cannot keep from me what I so desire.”
 
Chris groaned and tried to move, but the hand held him firm and seemed to probe his subconscious. The agony twisted through his skull and he tried to keep his secrets, but the woman continued to press forward until a scream echoed through the inside of the car. He writhed beneath her touch, mentally pushing her out even as his mind was invaded by cold tendrils that sought every corner of his mind until they found what would make him bow down to her every whim.
 
“So, you do have pain that can be tapped into.”
 
“Did you say something, Mistress?”
 
“Yes, Edward, I did. This one should prove very interesting.”
 
Edward looked into the mirror as the creature shifted and changed as easily as most people changed their clothes. Her straight dark hair lightened and became curly as it hung below her shoulders. Her eyes changed color, while her mouth become fuller and her breasts ripened. Her body changed dramatically until the shape-shifter was no longer the hideous creature he often saw, but an elegant beauty who could easily turn the head of any man.
 
“Am I pleasing to the eye, Edward?”
 
“Very much so, Mistress…who is she?”
 
“A more fitting question would be who was she? She was his wife, but she no longer poses a threat…she died in a fire several years ago. Her name was Sarah Larabee and he still grieves for her.”
 
“Is he the one?”
 
“Yes, I believe he is. He will come to me on the Eve of Samhain and give himself freely,” the woman said, but continued to probe his mind. There were layers to his subconscious such as she’d never experienced before and she felt the strength of those memories nearest the surface. She frowned and drew back her touch as if it burned and knew she would have to take care around this man.
 
“Is something wrong, Mistress?”
 
“No…yes, but it can be dealt with. He has friends…strong willed friends who will try and fight me, but they cannot be allowed to interfere. Take me to my home,” the woman ordered. “I need time to explore his subconscious and find their weaknesses.”
 
“Yes, Mistress,” Edward said, his eyes adjusted to the darkness and he flipped off the lights while listening to the soft, painful moans from the back of the car. His mistress had changed him a long time ago when she was but a child herself, and he had proven his loyalty and unlike so many others had been granted a life at her side. He would never be an equal to her power, but she had shown him how to use the night as a cloak to hide his appearance from others who would see him for what he truly was.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Chris could not fight the icy tendrils that were touching his mind and body. He trembled uncontrollably and screamed when a hand seemed to sink into his chest and hold him in place while fingers sank deeper into his skull. Slowly, as if she understood what he was guarding, the fingers peeled away each layer until she found the secrets that could break him.
 
Chris struggled harder, but again the scream echoed through the interior of the car and he gasped for breath. The air no longer entered his lungs and he could feel his body slowly dying with each loud beat of his heart. His eyes shot open and he caught sight of the hideous creature whose lap his head rested in and tried to draw away from the biting touch against his mind.
 
“Just relax, Chris, this will all be over soon and your secrets will no longer matter. You will come to me willingly and you will give your heart to me in one week’s time. The Eve of Samhain is when my power is at its strongest and you will become my mate. Together we will take what is rightfully ours and kill anyone who tries to stop us.”
 
“NO!” Larabee screamed, fighting to hold onto what little sanity he had left. The creature shifted and seemed to liquify until it took on another shape and Chris gasped at what he saw. The fingers were removed from his skull and a half smile formed when he tried to reach out for her.
 
“Is this more pleasing to you, Love?”
 
“Sarah,” Larabee whispered hopefully.
 
“That’s right, Love, I’m here now…everything is going to be all right now. No one will hurt you or interfere in our lives. You and I are going to be joined forever and no one will be able to stop us.”
 
The words, the hint of an Irish accent, and the soft curls framing a face he knew intimately was like a jolt of electricity through his mind and body, but it was not enough to hold him enthralled. Chris knew his wife could not be here, that the creature he’d seen was somehow manipulating his mind and he tried to fight her.
 
“You’re not…Sarah is gone…she…she…” His mind was invaded once more as she touched his forehead and slowly drew on the memories that made Chris Larabee who he was. He tried to hide, tried to draw away from the creature, but the icy tendrils returned and his body shook with a force that could not be stilled.
 
“You are strong, Chris Larabee, but you cannot hope to win. I will have you…body and flesh and you will accept me for who I am. The years have been hard on me, but I have the power to make you see me as I wish you to and I will draw on your own weaknesses to solidify our joining and make sure you know that you will not be able to escape me.”
 
The pain of the migraine returned bringing with it the churning nausea that rose on a sea of bile and erupted from his throat. He groaned and fought, but the touch deepened and pressed forward taking every memory and he felt tears slip from his eyes as his mind was defiled by something he could no longer fight. Darkness reached out for him, and he embraced it in hopes of finding some salvation and peace, but there was none, only more of the tentacles that bored through his skull.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
“Easy, Love, just relax now…we’re almost home.”
 
Chris felt as if he’d been drained of what little energy he had left after the debilitating migraine. He fought to open his eyes, but the lids seemed glued shut. “Where…Sarah?”
 
“I’m right here, Chris. Relax now…you’re home and I won’t let anyone hurt you again.” She knew it was going to be hard to keep this shape for long, but for now she wanted to ease his mind until she could make him accept her and the life she had chosen for him. He was strong, virile, and everything she craved in a mate, and she knew she would have to fight to keep him. There were several men who would fight her, amongst them an ex-preacher who could be a challenge if given the chance. Challenges were something she coveted because her victories made her stronger and she fed on their blood before their hearts stopped beating.
 
“Head hurts,” the blond whispered.
 
“I know it does, but I’ll get you something once you’re settled in our bed.”
 
“Are…are you real?”
 
“As real as you want me to be, Love,” she said and gently touched his cheek. She did not allow her touch to go any deeper, for fear of undoing what little she’d already accomplished.
 
“Sarah…Adam…is he here?” Larabee asked hopefully.
 
“No, Love, Adam was taken from us…he could not come back with me…I am sorry,” the shape-shifter whispered, smiling as the sea green eyes opened and looked up at her. “You should rest…but not until we get you inside.”
 
“Tired…”
 
“I know you are, but Edward can carry you if he needs to,” the female told him.
 
“No…can walk,” Larabee assured her when the back door opened and a large man blocked the exit. A hand was offered and Chris reached out for it, shuddering at the cold touch. “F…feels dead…”
 
“It’s cold tonight and Edward didn’t have any gloves,” she offered and stepped out of the car. She watched the man closely and knew the headache had returned and that played right into her hands. Sarah Larabee had been a nurse and during her probe of his mind she’d learned that the woman had often treated Chris Larabee’s ailments at home. She had everything she needed, and what she didn’t have Edward could bring her. The probe had also showed her that the six men who posed the most danger were not expecting to see Chris until Monday morning which gave her plenty of time to plant the seeds she wanted to grow.
 
“Damn light’s too bright,” Larabee groaned.
 
“Honestly, Love, when are you going to learn to take something before these damn migraines get so bad they make you sick?”
 
“Probably never,” the blond said, silently cursing when someone scooped him up and carried him toward the Victorian house he’d caught sight of in the darkness. “Put me down!”
 
“Nonsense, Edward can easily carry you! Now you behave or I’m going to…”
 
“Love that fiery Irish tem…temper…hate when you fi…fight dir…ty,” Larabee stammered, but kept his eyes closed as his stomach churned uncontrollably. He groaned softly, but knew she’d heard him in spite of his effort to keep his pain to himself.
 
“Put him in my bed, Edward,” the female ordered and hurried into the lab to find the items she would need. She had medications that could be injected to ease pain, but she also had poisons that would make the pain worse without killing the victim. She knew she could not hold this shape much longer, but it would last until she had sedated Chris Larabee and could begin exploring his mind more thoroughly.
 
Edward carried the semi-conscious male up the stairs and deposited him on the bed in his mistress’ room. He could see why she would find the man attractive and could see the merits of taking him as her mate, but it would be hard to watch her with someone else.
 
“Get his clothes off,” the shape-shifter ordered upon entering the room.
 
“I can do it,” Larabee said and sat forward, sliding his legs over the edge of the bed. He sat there, wavering like a drunk who’d been on a binge way too long and soon felt cold hands easing the clothes from his body. He put up a mild resistance, but was soon lying flat on his back with nothing but blankets covering him.
 
“I am going to give you something to help you rest, Love.”
 
“I’d rather hold you, Sarah,” Larabee said and reached for her, pulling his hand back when it touched against her frigid skin.
 
“I know and you will, but first I must make you more comfortable.”
 
“How…how is it possible for you to be here?” Chris asked when the man held his arm and allowed her access to his forearm. “I hate needles…”
 
“I know you do, but with the pain and nausea this bad you are in need of quick relief. This is the best way,” the female told him and injected the medication into his arm. It would indeed ease the pain, but it would also open neuro-pathways that would allow her access to his inner thoughts without the deep probing he had experienced earlier. “Sleep, Love, and then we will talk…”
 
“Sleep is g…good,” Larabee sighed and closed his eyes.
 
“You must rest now, Mistress,” Edward said as the shape-shifter dropped the façade and showed her true form. He knew it would probably drive a human insane, but for him there was real beauty in the creature before him.
 
“I am fine,” the shape-shifter whispered, but she could no longer control her body and allowed him to ease her down on the bed beside her chosen mate.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
The shape-shifter used everything she had learned through the years to get what she wanted and Chris Larabee would not remember the invasive search of his mind. There were times during the long hours when she’d been forced to dig deeper through his subconscious and she knew she had marked him, but it was a necessity if she was to succeed. Edward had helped her maintain control and made sure she rested when her body could no longer stand the strain. If she could make him choose her over the others she would no longer need to use her mind to control his.
 
“Are you sure it is safe to allow him to go free, Mistress?”
 
“No, but I don’t have a choice right now. If I don’t allow him to return to his people they will become suspicious and begin searching for him. I cannot allow them to find us here, not until the time is right. We have less than a week to prepare and it is up to you to bring the others.”
 
“They will not be happy that you have chosen an outsider.”
 
“I don’t need their approval, Edward, only their presence. Chris Larabee is filled with pain and that alone makes him the perfect mate for me.”
 
“What of his friends…the six men you told me of? Won’t they be a danger to us all?”
 
“Yes, I have seen how loyal they are to Chris Larabee and each other. If they interfere they will make a great sacrifice at our joining.”
 
“Have you fed off him?”
 
“I have not felt the need to until tonight. I will mark him so that I can call him to me at any time, but I will not take too much for fear of our joining not being a true choice for him.” She lay beside the blond and gently pulled him to her. His body was weak from the repeated assault on his mind and the drugs she’d plied him with and that made him even more susceptible to her wishes. Here, if she took what she needed properly, she would gain strength by feeding from his life force and reliving his memories through her touch.
 
She felt him tense beneath her touch and knew he would not be able to withstand her assault. Her fingers grabbed a fistful of blond hair and she pressed her lips to his as her fangs distended and she bit into his upper lip. She tasted the rich blood, but would not take enough to satisfy her cravings yet, the joining had to be done properly or she would lose her chance at prolonging her life. Contrary to what the legends said, a vampire, especially one who had shape shifting abilities did not live forever unless the mate they joined with came to them willingly.
 
She released her hold, having taken less than a pint of blood from his lips and licked her mouth as a smile formed. “Edward, I think he is going to be as strong as any human who has undergone the complete change.”
 
“Will you be able to control him if he is, Mistress?”
 
“Of course, go now and find me a victim, for tonight I will need to feed if I am to maintain the shape of his dead wife.” She knew he would bring her a strong body, one rich with blood that would give her what she needed. She waited, her tongue slipping between her lips as if she could still taste Chris Larabee. Yes, he would be strong and perfect and together they would take control of the other creatures that stalked their victims under the cover of darkness. She moved from the bed and looked over her shoulder, fighting the urge to suck the blood from his veins. It was too early and her life depended on waiting for the Eve of Samhain. She closed and locked the door to the bedroom and hurried down the stairs to wait Edward’s return.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Edward reached into the trunk and pulled out the young male he’d found searching through the dash of a car that did not belong to him. He’d quickly silenced the male and bit into his throat, tasting the blood to be sure it was pure and was surprised to find no trace of the street drugs often found in the youths who wandered the streets. He quickly wrapped the man’s wrists in metal cuffs and carried him to the trunk. He dropped the unconscious male inside and looked around, pleased that the streets remained quiet and the darkness would swallow up any evidence that he’d been here.
 
“My mistress will be very pleased with you,” he said and closed the trunk. The drive back to the house was uneventful and he parked near the door. The noise from the trunk told him his captive was awake and trying to plead for his life. Too bad his life was such a short one, but Edward wanted to keep his mistress happy. He opened the trunk and pulled the young man out.
 
“What the fuck are you doing? I got no money and my family don’t give a fuck about me!”
 
“Money has nothing to do with why you’re here!” Edward said and smiled at the creature standing in the open doorway. “I have brought dinner, Mistress.”
 
Jonathon Joseph Reynolds, JJ to his friends on the street, stared at the massive creature as the thing solidified into something from his nightmares. There was no longer any doubt in his mind that vampires existed because he was staring at one as the moon shone down on the front yard of the old house. He’d always been lazy and stolen things instead of working for them, but he had never really done anything to hurt anyone. At least not compared to the gangs he’d seen on the streets of New York. He’d been traveling west in hopes of making a better life for himself and had only picked the lock on the car in an effort to have someplace warm to sleep.
 
“He has no impurities in his blood, Mistress,” Edward explained.
 
“Thank you, Edward, go sit with Chris and make sure he hears this one scream!”
 
“My pleasure, Mistress,” Edward said and walked past the terrified human.
 
“Please…I won’t tell anyone…let me go,” Reynolds whimpered.
 
“Run…as fast as you can!”
 
“What?”
 
“Run…if you make it to the road you are free!”
 
“I don’t know which way,” Reynolds said, his head going left to right in an effort to find a means of escape.
 
“The road is at the end of the driveway…I will give you two minutes to find your way and then I will come after you,” the shape-shifter quickly transformed into a vampire with fanged teeth and a six foot wingspan. She lifted off and landed on the gargoyle at the center of the slanted roof.
 
The smell hit him first, like something dead and suspended in formaldehyde for too long. He staggered backwards when she raised her wings and the gust of wind threatened to fling him to the ground. He’d seen vampires in the old movies, but nothing compared to the creature towering above him.
 
“Time is running out!”
 
JJ turned and ran stumbling several times and climbing awkwardly to his feet. His hands were still cuffed behind his back, but that was the least of his worries. The creature would soon be after him and he had to put as much distance as possible between himself and it. He raced, falling to his knees when his right foot became entangled in an exposed root. The wind howled around him, slapping at his clothing and pushing him forward when he regained his footing.
 
“Please, God, help me…don’t let it catch me! Please, God…please God…please God,” he whimpered and realized that the creature had taken flight and was bearing down on him. JJ spotted the road ahead and thought he could make it, but something snagged in his clothing and lifted him off the ground. Talons, pointed and razor sharp dug into his shoulders and he screamed.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Chris sat bolt upright, wincing when the movement wreaked havoc with his aching head. He was not sure what woke him, but when the sound was repeated he threw back the blankets and raced to the open door leading outside. The terrace ran the length of the second floor and wind battered his body as he raced toward the end. Something large loomed above him and he squinted into the darkness in time to see whatever it was drop something from ten feet in the air.
 
Chris recognized the shape that landed on the ground and searched for a way down, but a hand landed on his shoulder and he was forced to his knees. He watched helplessly as the winged creature swerved several times, pushing the helpless man to the ground each time he tried to escape. The man’s screams reached his ears and Chris struggled to get away from his captor, but Edward held fast and he could only watch what was happening in front of him.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
JJ knew he was going to die and prayed for it to be over quickly, but that was not to be. The creature toyed with him, digging its talons into his back before allowing him to climb back to his feet. He’d heard a distinct human voice cry out and turned to see a man on the terrace and screamed for help, but again the creature attacked and drove him to the ground. He could feel the blood draining from his body and thought maybe he’d been wrong about the creature being a vampire, but that thought left him when the creature landed on his back once more. He knew he was going to die and silently sent a message that no one would hear.
 
‘I’m sorry, Mom…Dad, I guess I fucked up, but I love you both,’ he thought just before the creature began her final attack.
 
JJ stared up into the glowing red eyes that belonged to no monster he’d ever dreamed of and he felt his heart trip hammer in his chest. There were times when he’d thought monsters were real, but that had only been as a child whose imagination was running wild. The truth, though, was far worse than any child could imagine as the fangs formed and saliva dripped from the gaping maw set in an elongated head that could easily have been the gargoyle he’d seen high above his head. He felt the talons grip his upper body tightly and whimpered when the head dipped toward his neck. He felt the fangs tear at his flesh and a final scream, raw with fear and pain echoed through the landscape. His blood was slowly drained from his body until the creature tore the remains apart, scattering the limbs and torso until all it held was the head with the eye sockets bulging and the mouth open in a final silent scream.
 
The shape-shifter turned, showing Chris Larabee what was left of Jonathon Joseph Reynolds. “This is what will become of your friends should they interfere!”
 
Edward felt the man’s body tremble and smiled when he lost consciousness. He knew Chris Larabee’s mind had undergone a beating since they’d found him on the highway outside of Billings, but it would be nothing compared to the nights ahead. He lifted the unconscious man and carried him back to the bed just as the shape-shifter returned. Her body was once more that of Sarah Larabee and she lay down beside her soon to be mate.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Chris stretched and smiled at the woman standing before him. She was even more beautiful than he remembered and he could not believe that she was here with him. She’d been tending to him all weekend and making sure the headache was a thing of the past. He remembered crying when he thought he’d lost her again, but when he’d opened his eyes she was beside him in the bed. She held him and cradled him while he cried for their lost child and he knew there was no one else who could understand what she meant to him.
 
“Are you sure you have to leave in the morning?” the creature asked and smiled inwardly at the change in Chris Larabee. She explored his mind during the last two days and had hidden the memory of her attack on JJ Reynolds. It would remain with the other horrific memories until the Eve of Samhain when she would show him this was where he was meant to be.
 
“Sarah, if I don’t the others will get worried about me. You said yourself that they would not understand,” Larabee said when she placed the tray on his lap. He looked into her eyes and frowned at what he saw there. “Sarah, you must be tired…you’ve taken care of me all weekend. I could call in and use a sick day…stay here and take care of you for a change.”
 
“Thank you, Love, but Edward is here and he will make sure I rest.”
 
Chris pulled her to him, and wanted to stay where he was in spite of the niggling doubts he had about whether she truly was Sarah Larabee, his beloved wife. She didn’t seem to care about where Adam was and there’d been no mention of their unborn child, yet he wanted so badly to have her with him. He knew she was right about telling the others, but at some point in time they would have to know she was still alive.
 
“What are you thinking about, Love?”
 
“How I’m going to keep from shouting to the world how happy I am,” Larabee answered and claimed her mouth. A chill spread through him, but he shook it off when he felt her heart beating in time with his own. “God, Sarah, I’ve missed you so much and I don’t ever want to lose you again.”
 
“You won’t, Chris, in a few days you and I will be joined forever and no one will be able to take away what we have. We will grow strong and powerful…”
 
“Strong and powerful,” Larabee chuckled at her choice of words.
 
“What’s so funny?”
 
“You….you sound like an advertisement for a gym somewhere. Strong and powerful…I’d settle for tender and caring and making love until the…”
 
“Wee hours of the night…”
 
“And all through the day…I don’t think I’ll ever want to leave our bed,” Larabee told her.
 
“Perhaps I’ll chain you to the bed forever and ravish you day and night.”
 
“Is that a promise or a threat….doesn’t matter ‘cause I’m all for it, Honey,” the blond said, sighing heavily when she sat up and pulled him up beside her.
 
“I wish it could be like that, Love, but you need to leave before they get suspicious. It wouldn’t look good for the boss to be late on Monday morning.”
 
“Ezra’s always coming in late…”
 
“Ezra’s not the boss, Love, now get that gorgeous butt into some clothes and I’ll have Edward bring your truck around.”
 
“How did my truck get here?” Larabee asked.
 
“Edward brought it when we found you pulled over,” she lied and could feel herself losing the ability to maintain the female form.
 
“Edward’s pretty handy to have around,” Larabee said, frowning when he caught a strong scent of blood and rotted meat. “What is that?”
 
“It’s probably just the sewer backing up. I’ll have Edward fix it while you’re gone,” the woman said and helped him into the blue jeans that fit tightly and did little to hide his manhood.
 
“Smells like something died…might want to get someone out here to check the crawlspace,” the blond told her.
 
“I will,” she whispered, spooning up against him seductively. “I am going to give you something to help you get through the day…”
 
“I’m fine, Sarah, I don’t need anything,” Larabee said, eyebrows furrowing as he remembered her giving him several shots during the weekend. He’d tried to question her about them, but for some reason he couldn’t quite get the words out.
 
“Now, Love, I know what’s best for my stubborn man and right now this is exactly what you need. Without it you’ll be bending over some toilet somewhere puking your guts up,” she warned. During the last few days she’d been testing to see just how compatible they were. She’d tasted his blood and while he was under the influence of the drugs she’d fed him several drops of her own rich essence. He’d been violently sick afterward, but she’d continued to feed him several times until she had to resort to the use of an anti nausea medication.
 
Chris found himself entranced by her eyes and the supple lips he longed to taste. He could no longer deny her anything and sat on the edge of the bed. He soon felt something sharp pressed against his forearm and the burning liquid entered his body.
 
The shape-shifter smiled as his body grew still and his eyes glazed over. Most people, when they thought about vampires thought they simply chose their victim and sucked them dry, thereby leaving a body that would eventually become a creature of the night. There was some truth to those stories, but not enough was known about her special breed. She needed to sample her chosen mate and make sure he could handle the change when it finally came. There was so much more to changing a human to a shape shifting vampire than just sucking him dry, and right now he was in the early stages of the process. Some of her kind had a name for the human mates they chose, they simply called them ‘Changelings’ and they would keep that name until they proved their worth. Others of her kind would show up at the house on the Eve of Samhain. For now she needed to keep giving him small amounts of her tainted blood and hope that when the time came he would not have the strength or will to fight her.
 
She used her fangs to puncture a small hole in her wrist and placed it before his mouth. Chris Larabee continued to stare straight ahead even as she forced his lips apart and pressed the bleeding wound to his mouth. She knew he was still far from ready to be taken over completely, but she forced him to taste her blood by squeezing the skin around the puncture wound until several drops made it into his mouth.
 
“Swallow it, Love, it will make you strong,” the creature whispered and rubbed her hand along his Adam’s apple, smiling when her touch accomplished what she wanted and he drank what she’d given him. She’d already taken steps to ensure that her touch was still inside his mind…as if a magnetic resonance ran between them. She could easily manipulate his mind and make him do her bidding so long as Edward kept her other needs fulfilled.
 
“The truck is parked out front, Mistress.”
 
“Thank you, Edward,” the shape-shifter said and pressed her lips to the dazed man’s mouth. She could taste her own blood and simply nipped at his upper lip, drawing several drops before releasing him. He gasped and drew in a deep breath before looking at her. “Is something wrong, Love?”
 
“Not sure…think I bit my lip,” Larabee answered, pressing his hand against his mouth.
 
“Let me see,” the creature told him, her voice filled with tender care.
 
“It’s okay, Sarah,” the blond said, suddenly needing to be away from her, angered at the thoughts running through his mind. He finished dressing and walked out of the room, grabbing his keys from Edward as he passed him and raced down the stairs, unaware that his hasty escape was being watched closely.
 
“He has a strong will.”
 
“Yes, he does, Edward. These past two days have been draining for me. I need new blood if I am to keep up this ruse.”
 
“Yes, Mistress, I will find several young people who will fill your needs until you are ready to change him,” The big man assured her and turned to go.
 
The creature slowly relaxed her rigid body, allowing her bones to liquify and her face to dissolve until her own haggard, cracked features remained. Through the years she’d learned that this shape, almost liquified was the best way for her to hibernate while waiting for Edward to bring her the flesh that would give her strength. The Eve of Samhain was less than a week away, but she would need to feed often in order to keep Chris Larabee under her spell.
 
Her mind turned to the six men she’d seen while exploring his mind and she knew that the bond between them was special. She would need to take care of them if she wanted to complete her joining with Chris Larabee and it suddenly dawned on her that she could use them for a special sacrifice. One that would see them drained of the blood flowing through their veins by the man they had chosen to lead them. What better way could he prove his loyalty to her than by killing the ones who would stand strong against her?
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Chris slid in behind the steering wheel and placed the keys in the ignition. He knew he should drive away without a backward glance, but he could not face saying goodbye to Sarah again. She still loved him and if he could just get past her obvious disregard for their deceased son and unborn child, his life could be filled with happiness again.
 
‘How can she not remember?’ he thought and gasped as the pain reverberated through his skull. He grabbed the steering wheel in a deathlike grip and tried to ride out the pain. Nausea churned in his gut and it felt like daggers were being driven through his skull and he screamed until his throat was raw.
 
“Don’t ever question my motives, Love.” The voice was definitely Sarah’s, but the anger and blatant attempts to cause pain did not set well with him.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
She knew he was fighting her and that the more distance there was between them the harder it would be for her to control him. Somehow she would have to keep tabs on him, but it would take more than one victim to give her the nourishment she would need. She knew Edward would return with a new victim and if she could feed on him while his fears were at their highest she could follow Larabee and stay close to him, but for now she would have to trust in the magnetic resonance she’d forged between them.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Chris gasped as the icy tendrils released his mind and sat back in the seat. He took a deep breath before sliding the keys into the ignition and driving away from the house. He tried to think, but each time his mind tried to wrap around something the pain returned and with it the nausea that filled his mouth with a bitter taste that reminded him of blood.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Vin smiled when he patted Peso’s rump and made sure the horse had everything he needed until his return later in the day. Glancing at his watch he hurried toward his jeep and knew he would easily beat Standish to work. He sat behind the wheel and headed toward Billings. He neared the city limits and frowned when a shiver raced along his spine, bringing with it a fear that could not be denied.
 
“Chris,” he whispered and drove away from his house while grabbing his cell phone. He hit speed dial and waited, not sure whether he expected an answer and if he did how he would explain what he was feeling. Something had happened, was happening to Chris Larabee…something that interfered with the gossamer threads that had kept him and Chris in tune with each other since their very first meeting. He nearly dropped the phone when Larabee answered on the second ring.
 
“What’s up, Tanner?”
 
“Chris?”
 
“Last time I checked…hang on and I’ll look in the mirror…hell yes, it’s me. Have you been on a bender this weekend?” Larabee asked.
 
“Yer real funny this mornin’…ya ain’t been imbibin’ already?”
 
“Thought I just asked you that? Where are you?”
 
“Just comin’ up yer six, Cowboy…look in the rearview mirror,” Tanner answered, Waving when Larabee looked back at him.
 
“Coffee from Delvecchio’s and you’re buying.”
 
“Cheap bastard!”
 
“Bite me, Tanner. See ya on the flip side,” Larabee said.
 
Tanner gave a mock salute and turned onto the street that would lead him to Delvecchio’s deli and grocery. He still couldn’t quite get rid of the feeling that nagged at him, but speaking to Larabee had eased some of the fears. A shadow formed above him, disappearing before he had a chance to make sense of what he’d seen and he put it down to the time of year, Halloween was a time for imagining all kinds of monsters and bogeymen and he was too old to believe in any of that shit.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
She circled her prey…dipping low and nipping at the warm flesh until blood seeped from hundreds of tiny puncture wounds. She knew she didn’t have much time, but this one had been such a joy to behold. He was young…early twenties with blond hair and blue eyes, and the scent of his blood was driving her insane with hunger. Edward had found him thumbing a ride north of the city and had easily got him into the car and subdued him before the victim knew what had hit him.
 
She heard him scream as she chased him through the trees and could smell the fear oozing like blood from his body. His mind was nearly insane now and soon she would take what she needed before seeking out her chosen mate and renewing her hold on him. Her wings were spread wide as she dipped down, this time grabbing the virile body and lifting him high in the sky. She manipulated his body until he was facing her and saw insanity in the blue eyes.
 
“No…no…no…no…no…no…”
 
She allowed him to see her fangs drop into place and drew strength from the terror she was causing. Her talons dug in deeper and she lowered her head until she could bury her fangs in his shoulder. She suckled, draining the blood slowly and drawing out the fear flowing through his veins.
 
“No…no…no…no…no…no…”
 
The whispers lessened with each stroke of her claws and each flap of her wings as his heart slowed and fought to keep circulating blood through collapsing veins. The body was dying, but she was not quite through with it yet. There could still be more pain, more horror, more insanity and she quickly tore his arms from his body while keeping her fangs buried in his shoulder. The screams echoed through the early morning, but only the animals heard it and instincts had them hiding in fear from the unknown creature that had entered their domain.
 
The body no longer moved, the voice silenced in death as she finished mutilating the body and dropped the limbs and torso to the ground. She had no fear of being caught because humans were too afraid to believe in demons and vampires. If only they would realize that legends often had a basis in fact, but there were things about her kind that they did not know. Unlike the vampires from their movies she could easily walk in sunshine, she could change her appearance so that she was pleasing to the eye, but more importantly she did not have to feed every night unless she wanted to hold a form for a long period of time. She turned toward the city of Billings and flew toward her chosen mate, keeping her body invisible from anyone who looked toward the sky.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Feeling better than he had all weekend, Chris smiled as he pulled the truck into his reserved parking lot. He sat back in his seat and thought about the woman who’d held him and cared for him all weekend. He could feel her hands on his body, massaging his shoulders while her mouth explored his neck and ears. He shuddered and gasped when he licked his lips and tasted blood. Chris felt the beginnings of the pain returning and pushed it aside, clinging to the memory of holding his wife in his arms after so long.
 
“Hey, Pard, you’re going to freeze your assets off sitting there.”
 
“Good morning to you too, Buck,” Larabee said and exited the truck. It was cold and the weather station talked about getting snow early this year.
 
“Looks like the boss even beat Vin in,” the ladies’ man said with a soft chuckle.
 
“Not exactly…I met him on the outskirts and sent him to get the good stuff,” the blond answered.
 
“Delvecchio’s?”
 
“Is there anywhere else?”
 
“Not if you want real coffee. Have you seen the news this weekend?”
 
“No, why is something going on I should know about?” Larabee asked, locking the truck, hitching his coat up around his body and walking toward the building.
 
“There’s been another killing,” Wilmington explained.
 
“Damn, where did they find him?” the blond asked. There’d been several killings over the last three weeks all young males who’d been dismembered and drained of blood. Chris shivered and entered the building and tried to ignore the bitter taste in his mouth.
 
“Behind Rimrock Mall…”
 
“Chris, I want a meeting with your team in half an hour,” Travis said upon entering the building.
 
“They’ll be ready, Orrin,” Larabee vowed, nodding toward the security guard behind the main desk. “Buck, call Ezra and tell him he’s got twenty minutes to get his ass out of that feather bed and seated in his chair in the conference room.”
 
“You got it,” Wilmington said, pulling out his cell phone as the trio entered the elevator.
 
“What’s this about, Orrin?” Larabee asked.
 
“The mayor called Steven McNally and requested our help with the spate of murders,” Travis said. “Miller sent over what they have and this case takes top priority as of right now. You’ll have everything the police have and several items that Steven said might connect these killings with corresponding crimes in other cities during the last 20 to 25 years.”
 
“Damn,” the blond said when they stopped on the seventh floor. “We’ll be waiting for you, Orrin.”
 
“I’ll be there in 15 minutes…don’t be surprised if Steven shows up as well,” Travis explained and let the elevator doors close.
 
“Ezra’s already on his way,” Wilmington told the blond, frowning when Larabee suddenly seemed distant. “Chris, did you hear me?”
 
“Huh…what?” Larabee asked, shaking off the feeling that someone was watching him.
 
“I said Ezra’s on his way,” the rogue told him.
 
“Thanks, Buck, look I have a couple of things to go over before the meeting with Travis. Will you make sure I’m not disturbed?”
 
“Sure,” Wilmington said.
 
Chris nodded to the trio who were already at their desks before entering his office and closing and locking the door behind him. He made his way toward the door that opened onto his balcony and stepped outside. The sky was overcast and a chill wind blew down the alleys between the buildings. He lifted his head and his eyes caught sight of a creature that had no right to be here, but when it landed on the balcony next to him and the shape solidified he smiled and pulled her close.
 
“Sarah, what are you doing here?” briefly wondering how she could possibly have been on his seventh floor balcony.
 
“I missed you, Love, aren’t you glad to see me?”
 
“Of course I am, but what if you’re seen?”
 
“No one will see me, Love,” she whispered and pressed her lips to his.
 
Chris could taste her lips and instinctively tried to pull away, but he felt the tendrils reaching deeper into his mind and relaxed to her touch. Her tongue slipped past his lips and the kiss deepened while she probed his mouth. Again he tasted blood, but this time he did not shy away and actually melted to her ministrations.
 
“This will make you strong, Love…”
 
“Chris, coffee’s here…”
 
“I need to go,” Larabee told her.
 
“I know, but you will come to me tonight and I will share my gift with you. Soon you will become my changeling and nothing will ever come between us. My blood will flow through your body and in turn yours will flow through mine making us one in both mind and body,” the creature whispered and reluctantly released him.
 
“Sarah,” Chris whispered and felt the breeze as she slowly disappeared.
 
“Chris, quit playin’ with yerself and get on out here!” Tanner called.
 
Larabee shook himself and wondered what the hell he was doing on the balcony and hurried back inside. He unlocked the door and opened it in time to see Standish enter the office. He looked at his watch and wondered where the last fifteen minutes had gone and shivered as if chilled to the bone. “Did someone turn off the damn heat?”
 
“It’s 30 degrees out there, Pard, nobody’s turning off the heat,” Wilmington advised.
 
“Are you all right, Chris?” Jackson asked.
 
“I’m fine, Nathan,” Larabee told him and accepted the large cup of coffee from the sharpshooter. “Thanks, Vin.”
 
“Yer welcome…Mrs. D. said to tell ya she’s making up some of her special meatball subs today, the Texan said.
 
“Now that sounds good. Okay, boys, grab what you need and head for the conference room,” the blond ordered. He watched the flurry of activity and looked toward the door of his office, smiling when he spotted a shadowy silhouette against the window.
 
“Chris, are the others ready?” Travis asked, frowning when Larabee didn’t answer. He glanced at the man who’d accompanied him before calling Larabee’s name once more. “Chris?”
 
“Sorry, Orrin, I didn’t hear you come in. Hello, Steven, it’s been a while.”
 
“Sure has…how are you, Chris?” McNally asked. He’d worked with Larabee on several occasions and had nothing but the utmost respect for the man and his team. When the mayor had called his office and asked for help on behalf of Robert Miller he’d readily agreed to give Larabee’s bunch a crack at solving the vicious murders taking place in Billings.
 
“I’ve been good, Steven,” Larabee said and led the way to the conference room. He took his place at the head of the table and noticed that Vin and Buck had left the two seats next to him free for Travis and McNally. The latter dropped several thick folders on the table before taking his seat.
 
“Well, I’m sure you’re all wondering why I called this meeting,” Travis observed. “The truth is we’ve been asked to help in an investigation that’s been ongoing for over twenty years…”
 
“Cold cases?” Dunne asked, slightly disappointed at the thought of going through old files looking for hidden or lost clues.
 
“Not exactly, JD,” Travis remarked. “The cases are still open and some go as far back as the early eighties, but none of them have been closed or filed as cold cases because there is an ongoing investigation. I’ll let Steven fill you in on what’s been happening and why you’re being asked to help out.”
 
“Thank you, Orrin,” McNally said and passed each man a manila folder. “These are pictures of the victims and the pertinent information we have that draws a correlative line between them. There are 48 victims in all and there are probably more that we don’t know about. These are just the ones that were reported missing and their bodies were actually found…or should I say what remained of their bodies was actually found.”
 
“This looks like the work of a madman,” Wilmington observed.
 
“It does, but it’s hard to believe the same man could keep doing this for over twenty years and there isn’t a damn thing that can be used to identify the sonofabitch!” McNally cursed. He’d worked with several government agencies over the years before settling into an administrative job within the FBI. During the last few years he’d been asked to take on some things that were to be kept out of the papers at all cost. This case was one of them.  
 
“What about witnesses?” Travis asked.
 
“None. That’s why we need your help, Orrin. Larabee’s team seems to have an extraordinary track record for solving cases others had given up on. Brian and Robert were both in agreement about asking for your help because they know you have far better sources than they do and your hands are not tied like Miller’s are.”
 
“We still have to go through a lot of red tape,” Sanchez offered.
 
“Yes, but you know how to circumvent them in ways that the police department can’t. We know how easily Ezra and JD can break the codes that are otherwise deemed unbreakable…don’t worry, gentlemen, we have no plans to charge you with anything as long as you keep it legal,” McNally told them with a grin.
 
“There was another victim over the weekend,” Jackson said.
 
“I know, but I haven’t got the details yet,” the FBI agent told them. “We’re also compiling a list of missing persons in each of the cities, but don’t hold out much hope of finding anything conclusive.”
 
“Were you aware that there’s an increase in victims during the month of October and culminates with several victims on October 31st?” Sanchez asked.
 
“The Eve of Samhain. The name Samhain is Celtic and means summer’s end,” Sanchez told them. “Also called All Hallows…All Hallow’s Eve…Hallow E’en…Halloween. It is supposed to be the most magical night of the year and is exactly opposite Beltane on the wheel of the year. Halloween is Beltane’s dark twin. It is revered as the night when the veil that separates our world from the Otherworld is at its thinnest.”
 
“Ghosts, ghouls, and goblins,” Dunne said, shaking his head in disbelief.
 
“Let’s not forget the vampires, changelings, werewolves and other creatures of the night,” Sanchez told them.
 
“Changelings?” Standish asked of the strange name.
 
“Some believe it is a deformed child who is the offspring of a fairy or troll, but there is also the legend that a changeling is the result of a shape shifting vampire’s choice for a mate…”
 
“Boys, can we leave the legends for Halloween and get back to the case at hand?” Larabee asked, hiding how nervous this conversation was making him as pain lanced through his skull.
 
“Sorry, Chris,” Sanchez apologized and began rifling through the gruesome pictures. “Is there anything in here that will help us figure out where the murderer will strike next?”
 
“Not a damn thing, Josiah, that’s what’s got the department so frustrated. Usually there’s something in the files…especially in the back cases that could give us a clue as to what to expect, but I’ve been over them several times and don’t see any correlation between the first case and the most recent case except the dismemberment and draining of the victim’s blood.”
 
“JD, Ezra, I want you two going through the agencies files and see if there’s anything they could have missed. Josiah, you’re the expert on the ‘supernatural’ and ‘legends’ so I’d like you and Nathan to see if you can come up with anything in that area that could tie the victims together. Maybe they were all part of some cult that’s gone too far,” Larabee suggested and turned to the remaining men. “Buck, you and Vin hit the streets and check out the background on the most recent victims here in Billings.”
 
“Chris, keep me up to date on what’s happening,” McNally said.
 
“We will, Steven, and I’d like you to contact us if there’s anything new on the case,” Larabee said, shaking the other man’s hand.
 
“Chris, I’ve got a ten o’clock meeting, but if you need anything just call Peggy and she’ll get word to me…otherwise do what you have to on this one,” Travis ordered.
 
“We will, Orrin,” the blond vowed and leaned back in his chair while the others stood and exited the conference room. He stayed where he was while the others filed out and thought about the legends Sanchez spoke of. The word Changeling had hit home and he tried to focus on it, but doubled over as nausea churned in his gut.
 
“Chris, we’ll call…damn, Pard, what’s wrong?” Wilmington asked of the pale faced Larabee.
 
“No…nothing, Buck…”
 
“Chris, I know you…is it a migraine?” the ladies man asked.
 
“Yes,” the blond answered weakly.
 
“Want me to get your pills?”
 
“No thanks…just get me to my office,” Larabee ordered and was glad of the other man’s strength as he supported him until they reached the blond’s office. Buck shook his head at the others and settled Larabee on the couch before covering him with the afghan and closing the drapes before turning out the lights and leaving his friend to rest.
 
Chris took a deep breath and huddled beneath the warm cover, yet the chill that invaded his body continued to hold him in its grip. He kept his eyes closed and knew if he opened them he’d see something he didn’t want to face. His mind drifted and he heard her voice, saw her face, and felt her nuzzle his neck, but he chose not to acknowledge it even as the pain intensified and he lost consciousness with the taste of blood bubbling in his throat.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
His strength amazed her…never before had she had someone fight her and she deepened her touch before leaving the city. She would need to feed again soon, but she needed to speak with Edward first. A plan was forming, one that would keep Larabee at her side until the time of their joining. She’d reached into his mind and sought out the information the agent had given him and knew it was time to get rid of Steven McNally before setting her new plan in motion. She flew high over the city, ignoring the rich scent of blood that increased her lust for the taste of flesh.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
JD and Ezra were frustrated by the lack of success they’d had during the last few hours of sifting through the case files that dealt with the gruesome murders. So far all they had was that the victims were all between the ages of 20 to 30 and in relatively good health. There was no history of drug abuse and no major illnesses found in the autopsy done on the remains.
 
Josiah and Nathan had also come up empty and were unable to find any links to cults throughout the country. As far as they could see none of the victims had ever been involved in cults or street gangs of any type. Most came from upstanding families and Josiah had voiced the question that had been on all their minds. Could the young males have been victims of someone who believed they were vampires? There were two distinct bite marks found on most of the victims, but unlike the legend they were not always on the neck. Several were on the shoulders, or the chest and even the groin area, but no matter where the marks were, that seemed to be the site where the blood was drained.
 
“I’m going to check on Chris,” Jackson said and walked to Larabee’s office, somewhat surprised to find the man seated at his desk with the pictures pertaining to the case spread across the top. The man didn’t seem to notice his entry until Jackson spoke to him. “Chris, are you all right?”
 
“I’m fine, Nathan, guess it wasn’t a migraine after all. Did you and Josiah find anything useful?”
 
“No, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of cult involvement,” Jackson answered. “It looks like Ezra and JD have hit a dead end as well.”
 
“Damn,” Larabee cursed. “Any word from Buck and Vin?”
 
“Nothing so far,” Jackson said. He studied Larabee’s face, frowning at the lines he saw in the pale face. “Chris, did you eat anything?”
 
“Not hungry, Nathan,” the blond said and returned to studying the pictures and reports.
 
“You should eat…”
 
“I will…later,” Larabee said and dismissed the other man’s concerns. “Is there any coffee?”
 
“There is…I’ll bring you a cup and a bagel.”
 
“All right, Nate,” the blond said with a grin. He really didn’t have an appetite and the very thought of eating made his stomach churn, but Jackson would not let it go until he ate something. He sat back and watched Jackson leave and licked at his lips, worrying over the mark Sarah had made to his upper lip.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Edward smiled when the shape-shifter landed near the car and reached out to steady her. As always happened at this time of year, she used up her energy faster than he could supply her with victims. This year was especially hard because she was sharing her ‘feast’ with the human who would be her changeling. She would continue to do so until they were mated and then it would be time to move on. Perhaps it was time to go back to the origin of their roots, but he was not sure she would agree to such a move.
 
“Edward, there is something I need you to do for me.”
 
“Anything, Mistress,” Edward told her.
 
“There is a man…I want him brought to me tonight after Chris arrives. I want to hunt him as I always do, but this time I want Chris to be awake and aware of everything I’m doing. I want you to make sure he can’t escape until I tell you to release him.”
 
“Are you going to hunt him?”
 
“Yes, but unlike the others Chris will not be killed. I need him to see what I am offering him…”
 
“Are you sure hunting him down is the best way to do that?”
 
“It will open his mind to the reality of his situation. I will be able to touch his mind at the deepest level and make sure he will not be able to resist me. He has to be open and ready or I will lose him and I am not willing to let him go. You will bring McNally here and hold him until Chris arrives, but don’t let him see you…don’t let him see anything until it is time for the hunt.”
 
“Yes, Mistress, I will leave immediately,” Edward said.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Buck and Vin canvassed the area where the victims had been found and kept coming up empty. The information they gathered from the families of the most recent victims was exactly the same as what was in the files. It was nearing five PM when they decided to call it a day and returned to the office, somewhat surprised to find that Chris had already left for the day.
 
“Did you find anything new?” Sanchez asked.
 
“Nothing. Whoever did the interviews with the families covered all the bases. Vin and I went to every single name on the list and questioned the neighbors, but came up empty. What about you guys?”
 
“Same here. There’s no evidence of any cult involvement and it doesn’t look like the victims used drugs of any kind,” the ex-preacher offered.
 
“Hell, none of them even smoked from what I read,” Dunne told them.
 
“The victims were athletic and didn’t seem to have any enemies,” Standish said and shut down the files he’d been working on.
 
“What time did Chris leave?” Tanner asked.
 
“About half an hour ago,” Jackson asked. “He said he hadn’t slept much over the weekend because he couldn’t get rid of a migraine.”
 
“He seems to be getting a lot of migraines lately,” Wilmington observed.
 
“Well, after looking at the pictures and reports today I seem to be developing one of my own,” Standish told them.
 
“It’s frustrating, but it’s only the first day,” Sanchez offered and sat forward. “I don’t know about you boys, but I could use a drink or two.”
 
“Sounds good, Josiah,” Wilmington agreed.
 
“You guys go ahead…I’m gonna head home and check on Peso,” Tanner told them. The truth was he wanted to stop by Larabee’s ranch and make sure the blond was all right. Something kept nagging him about Larabee’s actions during the day, nothing concrete, simply the flickering resonance that was usually so strong.
 
“Come on, Vin, Chris is a grown man…besides you owe me one from last week,” the rogue explained.
 
“Yeah, Vin, that way maybe Buck’ll be able to buy me the one he owes me,” Dunne said.
 
“Come on, Son, we won’t stay long, but after the things we’ve seen today we all need something to ease the shock,” Sanchez said and was somewhat surprised when the Texan finally agreed. The six men left the office unaware that their lives were about to be intimately touched by the evil that lurked nearby.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Steven McNally drove along the outskirts of Billings, glad he’d taken a room at the hotel near the airport. He’d been sickened by he files he’d brought with him, but knew there was nothing he could do tonight. He’d stayed in town, speaking with Robert Miller until later than expected and darkness had fallen before he’d made his way toward his car.
 
Miller was a good cop and they’d known each other a lot of years…good years where their families had grown close and often vacationed together. Today’s meeting had nothing to do with that side of his life and had been purely business. They needed to find out who was killing, dismembering, and draining the blood from young males in twenty different cities around the country.
 
McNally blinked rapidly when a car came up behind him, high beams blinding him momentarily. “Sonofabitch!” he cursed and glanced in the rearview mirror. A dark car had driven up close behind him and still had the high beams directed into his own vehicle. He finally pulled off the road and waited for the other car to pass him and get his license plate, but the car hit the back of his own before stopping.
 
McNally shoved open his door and strode angrily toward the other car, shocked when a tall man unfurled from behind the wheel. The man had to be well over seven feet tall with broad shoulders and long dark hair pulled back in a pony tail that framed the angular jaw line and high cheekbones. The man was an imposing figure, but McNally had seen bigger men and this one did not scare him.
 
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” McNally spat, checking for damage to the rented vehicle. The man didn’t answer, simply stood in the light from his own car until McNally rounded on him. “You damn well better have insurance!”
 
Edward simply reached out and wrapped a beefy hand around the agent’s throat and lifted him off the ground. McNally’s hands clasped onto his wrists, but Edward simply tightened his grip, choking the agent until the man began kicking and gasping for air. It took less than a minute for McNally to lose consciousness and Edward dropped him into the trunk of the sedan before pushing the rented vehicle over the road and down into the gulley. He watched as it entered the deep water and slowly sank beneath the surface before making his way back to his car and driving toward the house he shared with the shape-shifter.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Chris frowned when he stopped the car in front of the Victorian house and tried to form rational thoughts, but for some reason he couldn’t quite grasp the reason he’d bypassed his home and driven here. A light shone from the open doorway and the confusion quickly disappeared when he spotted the beautiful woman waiting there for him.
 
“Sarah,” he whispered and exited the truck. He ran up the rocky footpath and took her into his arms, kissing her soundly before placing her back on the ground.
 
“Welcome home, Love, have you eaten?”
 
“Not yet…but there’s only one thing I’m hungry for,” Larabee whispered and heard the sound of an approaching vehicle.
 
“Edward is home.”
 
“Damn, here I thought we would be alone for a change.”
 
“Now, Love, you know Edward is loyal to me and I need him to protect me when you’re not around,” the creature said, nodding for Edward to join her.
 
“Hello, Mistress.”
 
“Hello, Edward, did you bring him?”
 
“Yes, Mistress.”
 
“Bring who?” Larabee asked, fighting the tendrils that reached into his mind. He screamed as they dug deep and allowed him to see what she truly was before withdrawing from his skull. He tried to escape, but Edward grabbed his arms and held tight, forcing him to remain where he was.
 
“You will watch and learn, Chris Larabee, for I have chosen you to be my changeling and we will hunt together when darkness falls.”
 
“Get the fuck away from me!” Larabee snapped, as the woman disappeared and a hideous creature took shape before him. He knew he was looking at the monster responsible for the killing and mutilations and fought against the hands that clamped down on his shoulders bruising them to the bone. The creature advanced on him, allowing him to see her for what she truly was with her wings spread wide and her taloned hand held before him as her muzzle elongated and fangs distended.
 
“I am allowing you to see me so that you will understand what is to happen. You will be unable to stop me or fight me once we are joined on The Eve of Samhain. Until then you will come to me each night and share my bed and I will feed you until you are able to hunt on your own!”
 
“No fucking way, Bitch!” Larabee cursed, gasping when the creature lowered its head and sank its fangs into his shoulder. He bucked against the hands holding him, crying out when he felt the thing drawing blood from his body.
 
“You will kill him, Mistress,” Edward told her and managed to stop the creature’s feeding before it was too late. The human he held slumped forward, but he held him up when the shape-shifter changed into the female form once more. Her lips were full and rimmed with the blood she’d taken from him and he watched her bite into her own wrist. Edward tilted the blond head back, smiling when she pressed her ravaged arm against his mouth and forced her blood into his mouth.
 
Chris tasted the foul liquid and choked, fighting to spit it out, but unable to stop it from flowing down the back of his throat and hitting his empty stomach. He gasped as the creature pulled away and tried to spit out her offering, but Edward clamped down on his mouth and she held his nose until he was forced to swallow in order to bring air into his oxygen starved lungs.
 
“You cannot fight me, Love, we are destined to be joined and you will share in the feast I offer.” She shifted until she stood before him as a vampire and flapped her wings. “You will be allowed to watch a hunt tonight, but I have changed my mind about hunting you until the night of our joining. On that night there will be many of my kind present to witness my hunt and then our joined hunt.”
 
“Fuck you!” Larabee managed, struggling against the hands that still held him in place even as her taloned fingers cupped his jaw.
 
“On that night…after we are joined and I have drained your body of blood and you have feasted off me, you and I will hunt together as mates for the first time. I have chosen a special prey for that time and you and I will feed off their flesh. Their blood will sustain you for many nights because of the connection I’ve sensed between you and the six you call brother…”
 
“You touch them and I swear I’ll rip that ugly head from your shoulders and shove it up your…”
 
“Silence, Chris, or I will be forced to move up my time clock and toy with your friends,” the shape-shifter warned, saliva dripping from its muzzle. “Make sure he can see everything, Edward.”
 
“Yes, Mistress.” The big man said and solidified his hold on the struggling man.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Steven McNally awoke to the screaming curses muffled by the tomb he was imprisoned in. He struggled to free himself, growing quiet when he heard something scratch across the trunk of the car. He didn’t consider himself a coward, but there were times when a man just had to be honest with himself. Right now whatever was outside the car terrified him beyond belief. He tried to move as far back in the recess of the trunk as he could, but the sound of the lock mechanism disengaging made his heart beat faster.
 
“Please, God,” he whispered when the trunk lid was lifted and the creature from his worst nightmares stood framed by the white glow of the moon.
 
“You have five minutes to make it to the road…make it and you live…if you don’t then I will feast upon you as was written so long ago.”
 
McNally could no longer breathe while staring at the winged creature hovering above the open trunk. He heard the words and slowly climbed over the edge to stand below it. The wind cause by the wings threatened to beat him to the ground, but he managed to stay on his feet and was shocked to hear a familiar voice to his right.
 
“Steven! Leave him alone you bitch!”
 
“Chris, what the fuck is going on? What is that thing?” McNally shouted, but any answer was drowned out by the rapid beating of veined wings.
 
“Four minutes and counting!”
 
“Damn you! Don’t do this!” Larabee raged, but could not free himself from the steel like hands that held him in place.
 
“Chris!”
 
“Run, Steven! Get the fuck out of here!”
 
McNally turned away from the demonic creature above him and raced toward the promise of freedom. He had no idea where the road was, but right now anywhere away from the car seemed liked a good choice. He could hear Larabee behind him, but there was nothing else until he spotted a copse of trees to his right. He raced toward it, but before he reached the opening something landed in front of him and he quickly changed direction. Faster and faster he ran, aware of his heart beating painfully within his chest, but unable to stop for fear the creature would catch him.
 
Chris could only watch as again and again the shape-shifter manipulated her prey and drove him away from the road and back toward the house. He watched in horror as it ripped into McNally’s back and drove him to the ground before rising high into the air and circling like a vulture waiting for a gourmet meal. The creature would hover, waiting for McNally to regain his footing and even allowed him to run several feet before she pounced on him again. As impossible as it seemed the white orb of the moon shone off the man’s blood soaked back, giving Chris a good idea of how much the man had already lost. The creature reached her victim, but this time she changed her attack. Instead of driving him to the ground she dug her talons deep into his shoulders and lifted the screaming man high above the ground before winging her way slowly toward him.
 
Chris could not tear his eyes away from the gruesome sight before him as the vampire like creature showed him her blood stained fangs before dropping her muzzle and digging her fangs into Steven McNally’s throat. Chris could hear the man screaming and realized it wasn’t just the agent’s screams he heard, but his own as well. His throat was raw from exertion, but he couldn’t stop as the creature slowly tore its victim apart, throwing away what it couldn’t feed on until it tore into the dying man’s chest and tore out the still beating heart.
 
Chris knew he was going insane when he watched the shape-shifter lift the heart above its muzzle and tear into the warm organ. It didn’t stop until there was nothing left and then lowered its head and stared straight into Chris’ wide open eyes. He fought against the man holding him, but could not get free as the monster returned to the form of his beloved wife. She strode toward him, blood dripping from her mouth while she spoke to him.
 
“You see, Love, there is nothing you can do to stop me…”
 
“There’s always a way,” Larabee ground out, but there was nothing he could do to stop what was about to happen. She lifted her right hand until it was directly in front of his face. He swallowed several times when the fingers elongated and touched against his forehead.
 
“I will not release you again, Love, but I needed you to understand that there is no fighting me on this. You and I are destined…”
 
“No fucking way!” He screamed as she touched his skin and he felt the daggers enter his skull as the vice-like grip on his shoulders was released and he sank to his knees before her.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
“Easy, Vin, just be still,” Jackson warned the trembling sharpshooter. They’d been enjoying a game of pool when Vin had grabbed his head and screamed as he sank to his knees. Buck’s Bar and Grill was practically deserted at this time on Monday nights, but the few people present watched in stunned silence as Tanner was lowered to the floor. “What happened? Where does it hurt?”
 
“Not me…Chris…Jesus, Chris is in trouble, Nate,” the Texan told them and forced his way to his feet in time to see Wilmington pull out his cell phone. A chair was pushed toward him and Nathan and Josiah helped him sit while Inez pressed a glass of water into his hands.
 
“Vin, do you have any idea what kind of trouble you’re sensing?”
 
“He’s in pain…and he’s afraid, Nate,” Tanner said and grabbed at his head, looking toward Wilmington hopefully.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
The phone was ringing and he wanted so badly to ignore it, but the beautiful woman in his arms placed it into his hand and he knew there was no choice, but to answer it. “Larabee.”
 
“Chris, are you okay?”
 
“I’m fine, Buck, or I would be if you’d hang up and leave me alone…”
 
“Vin said you were hurt…”
 
“Not me…if anything I’m enjoying myself and would like to get back to what I was doing.”
 
“And that would be?”
 
“None of your business, Stud,” Larabee teased and felt the woman nuzzling at his neck. He could feel her breath and hear the soft laughter that resonated between them.
 
“Who is that?”
 
“As I said, Buck, none of your business. Now if there’s nothing pressing I’d like to…”
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
“Shit, Pard, get to it and enjoy,” Wilmington said and turned to see the others watching him.
 
“I take it our esteemed leader is not in pain…at least not the kind that would leave him screaming,” Standish asked.
 
“Oh, I don’t know…ol’ Chris just might end up screaming, but it’s not from pain.”
 
“What are you talking about, Buck?” Jackson asked.
 
“He’s with a woman and from what I heard he’s enjoying himself,” Wilmington explained.
 
“It’s a lie,” Tanner said simply.
 
“Now, Vin, I know what I heard and it definitely wasn’t someone in pain. Let it go…let Chris enjoy himself without worrying about us,” the rogue said.
 
“I just…” Tanner closed his eyes and reached for the familiar gossamer strands, but there seemed to be a disturbance there now and Vin knew in his heart something was terribly wrong.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
She took the phone from his hand before easing him back to the bed. She’d dug deep into his mind and found that there was something strange…something strong about his connection to the man called Vin Tanner and knew the Texan would be the final straw that drove Chris Larabee insane. Insanity, although not exactly what she wanted, could make him more susceptible to her wiles. She could easily snip the strands between them, but for now she would simply allow the touch to remain until such time as it interfered with her plans.
 
She looked into the wide open eyes and ran her fingers along the strong jaw line and knew the warmth she felt would quickly disappear once she made him her changeling. He would no longer hold the body heat that radiated from him now and would be as cold as she was. That saddened her, but it was something she was willing to give up in order to have a mate who suited her tastes. She relaxed and allowed her body to take on its natural shape until morning came and she had to let him leave. 
 
“Soon, Love, soon your friends will no longer matter…it will be just the two of us and the world will be at our feet.”
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
In spite of Buck’s assurances, Vin could not shake the feeling that something was very wrong. He reached for the quicksilver resonance that had always told him that Larabee was there…that nothing was wrong, but even that seemed to be troubled. He took a deep breath, laid down his pool cue, and without a word, made his way toward the exit. Wilmington’s hand on his shoulder stopped him.
 
“Vin, I don’t think Chris would appreciate you interrupting him and his lady,” the rogue explained.
 
“Buck, somethin’ jest ain’t right ‘bout this. I feel it in my gut and it ain’t wrong,” Tanner said.
 
“Ever?” Wilmington asked and saw a sliver of doubt. There were times when the Texan was wrong, but it wasn’t often. The problem was that he’d spoken with Larabee and heard the joy in his voice and didn’t want to ruin a romantic evening for his friend. God knew they were few and far between since the loss of his wife and son. “Gut feelings aside, Vin, I spoke to him and believe me he wasn’t hurting.”
 
“Not that you could hear, Buck…it’s jest…”
 
“Look, call him yourself, but please don’t ruin this for him,” the ladies’ man said and handed the younger man his cell phone.
 
Vin took it and hit speed dial before placing it to his ear and waiting for the call to go through.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
She was aggravated when the phone began to ring and looked at the familiar number. Larabee was semi-conscious and she touched his forehead before speaking. “Make sure he is not suspicious!”
 
Larabee pressed the talk button and placed the phone to his ear. “Look, Buck, you keep this up and I swear I’ll shoot you…”
 
“Ain’t Buck, Cowboy, it’s me.”
 
“Vin, is something wrong?”
 
“No, I’s jest worried ‘bout’cha. Where are ya?”
 
“Now a man doesn’t kiss and tell, Vin. Look, I’m fine, but the lady I’m with is a little shy and she’s not ready to meet you yahoos just yet. I’m at her place, but I’ll be at the office in the morning and I’ll tell you more about her then.”
 
“Ya sure yer all right?”
 
“Never been more sure of anything. Sounds like you boys are at Buck’s place so go have another beer and enjoy yourself. Tell Ezra he’d better be on time or I’m going to deny his expenses for the week.”
 
“I’ll tell him, Cowboy…ya know I could come out there and give ya some pointers.”
 
“In your dreams…good night, Vin.”
 
“Good night, Chris.”
 
“Well done, Love, sleep now and tomorrow things will liven up for your friends,” she said and took the phone from his fingers before releasing her touch from his mind. She knew she could manipulate him with just a touch of her fingertips, but when he was away from her she would have to control him through the link she’d bridged between them.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
“Satisfied?” Wilmington asked when Tanner handed him back the cell phone.
 
“He sounds okay…but it ain’t like him ta spend a night with a lady he’s only jest met.” the Texan agreed, unable to find a reason for his fears, yet unwilling to relax and let it go.
 
“What makes you so sure he just met her? Maybe they’ve been seeing each other for a while.” Wilmington suggested. “Vin, look Chris is a grown man and if he wants to spend the night with a lady…any lady, then that’s his choice. In this case the old saying ‘you’re not your brother’s keeper’ fits.”
 
“Are you gentlemen calling it a night or are we going to complete the pool game?” Standish asked from behind the duo.
 
“My money’s on you, Vin, don’t let me down now,” Wilmington said and herded the younger man back toward the pool table where the others waited patiently.
 
“Is everything okay?” Jackson asked.
 
“It’s fine,” the Texan said, unable to explain why he felt like hell was about to visit earth.
 
“You know Vin’s just excited about Halloween…I think he found the perfect costume for the party,” Dunne told them. Buck’s Bar and Grill held a costume party every year and Vin always had a unique take on his costumes. Last year the Texan showed up dressed as Zorro and cut a dashing figure as he imitated Antonio Bandaras’ romantic accent.
 
“What’s it going to be this year, Vin…are you going from Zorro to Zero?” Wilmington teased.
 
“Zero is for you, Bucklin,” Tanner said and checked out the impossible shot Sanchez had left him.
 
“Real funny…but we’ll see who’s laughing in four days when I bring the Tower triplets to the party,” the rogue told him, wagging his eyebrows expectantly.
 
“Buck, we all know you’ll end up with Mrs. Thumb and her four daughters,” Dunne quipped, wiggling his fingers suggestively as he ducked out of the older man’s reach. He enjoyed the camaraderie he had with Wilmington and knew his roommate could take the jokes, especially when they used them to ease the tension that often plagued the group when on a case.
 
“Gentlemen, I believe Mr. Tanner is in need of silence in order to ascertain the appropriate angle for his shot. Not to mention that you are interrupting my calculations,” Standish told them, already counting his money when he saw the angle of the balls and knew Sanchez would win the game with his next shot.
 
“Ezra, have you ever heard the old adage about not counting your chickens before they hatch?” Jackson asked.
 
“Au contraire, Nathan, I had the opportunity to peruse the shot and know there is no possible technique Vin could use to…”
 
“Ain’t lost yet, Ezra,” Tanner said and told the others exactly what he was about to do. The others moved closer and watched with baited breath as the Texan made a trick shot that should have been impossible.
 
“Holy shit, Vin, where’d you learn how to make a shot like that?” Dunne asked.
 
“Chris,” the Texan answered with a grin, grabbing the money from Standish’s hand.
 
“Chris never made a shot like that,” Wilmington said. Larabee was a damn good player, but he’d never seen him make anything close to the shot Tanner had made.
 
“Gives a whole new meaning to the term sharpshooter doesn’t it?” Sanchez said, clapping the Texan on the back. “Well done, Vin.”
 
“Thanks, Josiah,” Tanner said and handed Wilmington his share of the winnings.
 
“Chris showed you how to do that?” the rogue asked, awed by the revelation that his long time friend still played, let alone knew how to make trick shots.
 
“Sure did…he’s thinkin’ ‘bout changing his extra bedroom into a pool room,” Tanner explained.
 
“A pool table…cool,” Dunne said excitedly.
 
“Yep,” the Texan said and tucked the money into his wallet. “Well, boys, I think it’s time to call it a night.”
 
“Ezra, Chris said you’d better be on time tomorrow,” Wilmington said as they settled up the bill with Inez Recillos.
 
“I am always on time…”
 
“Your own time maybe,” Jackson quipped. “Contrary to your mother’s beliefs the day doesn’t start at noon.”
 
“Whoa, Vin, how many beers did you have?” Sanchez asked.
 
“One or two,” the Texan said, grabbing the bar as dizziness assailed him. His head pounded and he thought he was going to be sick.
 
“Vin, maybe you should spend the night at my place,” Sanchez offered.
 
“I’m okay…”
 
“You might be, but why take a chance driving out to the ranch when there’s a perfectly good bed with your name on it at my place,” the ex-preacher said, taking the keys from the younger man. Nathan had not been drinking and would be dropping Wilmington and Dunne at their place before driving him home. They’d taken the agency’s seven passenger club van and there was plenty of room for one more passenger. The group made their way out of the bar and across the parking lot, unaware of the creature that watched from the tree tops at the edge of the parking lot.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
She’d left Larabee sleeping in her bed when she felt the strength ripple across the magnetic resonance. That Vin Tanner was connected to Chris Larabee was of little concern to her, but the others like her did not want anything to interfere with the feeding frenzy they’d been promised. She studied the six men who walked toward the van and probed the man Larabee thought of as his brother of the heart. There was another one that stood out, one with dark hair and a moustache and it didn’t take her long to realize he was the one who knew her chosen mate the longest. Her wings stretched out above her body and she hovered above the group until they disappeared into the van. It would be a simple matter to kill them all tonight, but she wanted Larabee to see them die in order to satisfy his own bloodlust. With a renewed excitement, the shape-shifter flew high above the city and headed north toward the house she called home.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Vin looked up from his desk when he heard footsteps approaching the office. The others were already present and working on the grotesque murder spree that seemed to be spreading. Even Ezra had showed up on time and managed to make coffee before he’d had a chance to set up the machine. The only one yet to show was Chris Larabee and Vin was beginning to worry when the clock struck eight.
 
“Well, good morning, Chris,” Wilmington greeted the blond when he entered the office.
 
“Hello, Buck,” Larabee said with a smile, and headed for the coffee pot.
 
“So, are you going to tell us about her?” the rogue asked.
 
“A gentleman does not debase himself by kissing and telling,” Standish said from the computer terminal where he was working with JD.
 
“Chris never was a gentleman, Ezra,” Wilmington said, but it was not meant as an insult.
 
“Maybe not, Buck, but I’m not going to tell you about her,” Larabee said, sipping the aromatic brew. “Coffee’s great, Ezra.”
 
“What makes ya think Ez made the coffee?” Tanner asked, trying but failing to look insulted.
 
“That’s simple, Son, he doesn’t need a knife to cut it,” Sanchez offered.
 
“Real funny, J’siah…see if’n I make it next time I’m first one in,” the Texan vowed.
 
“Is that a promise or a threat, Tanner?” Larabee asked with a grin.
 
“Chris, what happened to your neck?” Jackson asked, noting the blond was wearing a turtleneck, something he said he thought had been developed to torture a man.
 
“What do you mean, Nate?” Larabee asked.
 
“You swore you’d never wear a turtleneck,” the medic said. “Don’t tell me things got a little heated between you and he lady last night?”
 
“You could say that,” Larabee lied and adjusted the white collar.
 
“A hickey?” Dunne asked. “You got a hickey?”
 
“Well I’ll be damned…let’s have a look, Stud!” Wilmington said and reached out to pull down the material.
 
“Leave it be, Pard,” Larabee warned and smiled in an effort to ease the tone he’d used.
 
“Must have been a hot night with a hellcat,” the rogue said, frowning when he read something he didn’t like in Larabee’s eyes.
 
“Did you guys turn up anything yesterday?” the blond asked.
 
“Nothing you didn’t read in the report Steven gave us,” Wilmington answered.
 
“Damn, all right keep me updated on whatever you find out,” Larabee said and entered his office, closing and locking the door behind him. He knew the others were watching him, but there was nothing he could do to stop what was happening to him. He no longer fought the touch of cold fingers in his mind and smiled at the idea of spending his time in Sarah’s arms. His hand went to his throat where her ‘love bites’ burned, and knew there would be no denying her whatever she wanted. He loved Sarah…his Sarah…and she was his Sarah…wasn’t she?
 
The pain, the familiar agony that swiftly spread through his skull was back and he knew what caused it and fought to push it away. There was nothing he could do to stop the tendrils that dug into his mind and forced him to accept her touch.
 
‘No…no more…please no more, Sarah,’ he thought and breathed through chattering teeth when the cold encompassed his body leaving him shivering in the wake of her frigid touch.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
She smiled, knowing the pain she caused was awakening him to her control and allowing her to move deeper into his mind. She grasped for his memories and chose the ones she would need over the coming days. She would strip him of the power he needed to fight her and on the Eve of Samhain she would take away what had once been a human soul and make him her changeling. He would be everything she wanted and would provide her with more than just companionship…he would be her mate and sire many more of her kind. With a flapping of veined wings, she flew back to her nest.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
JD studied the article he’d pulled up and frowned. The author was not well known, but Dunne had come across several of his pieces while back tracking through the gruesome case they were now involved in. Arthur Galloway had been delving into weird, unsolved cases and had deemed these particular murders as ‘The Samhain Slaughter’. The series had been run in one of the tabloid newspapers beside such headlines as ‘My Son’s Wife is an Alien Incubator’.
 
Once he’d discovered there were several articles, JD began placing them in a file for later reading. Galloway would be in his late fifties now, and had an address in Billings, and if things went as planned Dunne was going to drop by his home after work. It was nearing five now and the others had already left, except for him and Buck who seemed to be checking into the background of several victims.
 
“JD, what’s got you looking so serious?” Wilmington asked.
 
“Buck, you remember Josiah telling us about changelings?”
 
“I remember him talking about them, but what’s that got to do with this case?”
 
“Have you ever read anything by a man named Galloway?”
 
“Can’t say I have. Who is he?”
 
“He writes for them tabloid papers…”
 
“Ah, now that explains why I never heard of him and you’re probably the guy’s number one fan,” Wilmington teased.
 
“Wrong…I never heard of him until I ran a search of the descriptions of the murders. Galloway seems to think there could be a common thread between Halloween and these murders. In several he draws on old stories and compares them to the murders in recent years.”
 
“I suppose you’re going to tell me that he thinks some kind of shape-shifting/vampire is killing young men?”
 
“I don’t believe in vampires or shape-shifters, Buck, but this guy has drawn some interesting conclusions about the murders,” Dunne told him.
 
“JD, the only real monsters are the people who write that crap!” Wilmington told him.
 
“Maybe, but Galloway has an address in Billings so I figured I’d stop by and talk to him,” Dunne said.
 
“You’re going to question a monster hunter about the case we’re investigating? Chris’ll have your hide, Kid.”
 
“What’s wrong with him, Buck?”
 
“With who? Galloway?”
 
“No, Chris. He’s acting like he’s…”
 
“In love?” Wilmington asked.
 
“No…not really, but there’s something strange about the way he’s closing himself in his office as soon as he comes in and then leaves without a backward glance. It’s like he doesn’t give a damn whether we solve this case or not!”
 
“JD, Chris has never turned his back on a case. It may seem like he’s not paying attention, but you can be sure he knows everything that’s going on,” the rogue said and stood up to leave. “I need to check into a couple of things before I head home…I’ll see you there.”
 
“All right, Buck…don’t forget it’s your turn to cook,” Dunne reminded the older man and watched him leave. A shudder ran down his spine and he stood up to go after his friend, but shook off the nagging feeling that maybe monsters did lurk behind the dark cloak of midnight.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Buck sat behind the wheel of his green Mustang and wondered why this case seemed to be pointing toward the darker side of human nature. He didn’t believe in monsters or werewolves or shape-shifting vampires, but Halloween was just around the corner and seemed to bring out all sorts of crazies when the sun went down.
 
Chris did seem like he was distant, but didn’t they all tend to seem that way when involved in a case of this caliber? There were more bodies than you could count on fingers and toes and each one had been grotesquely dismembered and drained of blood. He finally shoved the key into the ignition and drove out of the parking lot. Without realizing where he was headed, Buck drove north out of town and it dawned on him that he was headed toward Larabee’s ranch on Old Pear Tree Road.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Edward knew what she wanted and followed the green Mustang until they reached a deserted stretch of road north of Billings. He knew she wanted Wilmington alive and had chosen him to be the first captive because of his long standing friendship with Chris Larabee. She would use him to taunt her changeling until he begged for the man’s life, but Wilmington would still wind up dead at Larabee’s hands.
 
She showed up at the house with a new energy that spoke of the excitement of this time of year. The legends and folklore behind the Eve of Samhain always gave her kind a chance to be free and roam the world while the unsuspecting humans dressed in their horrific costumes went door to door in search of sweet treats.
 
Now he was on a mission, one she’d given him as soon as Larabee had pulled his truck to a stop in front of the house. She whisked him inside and toyed with his mind, seeking out the best way to heighten his fears and open him to her suggestions. He’d been fighting her while they were parted, but while together he melted under ‘Sarah’s’ delightful touch.
 
The Mustang continued north and he kept his distance until they rounded a bend where the road narrowed and there were very few houses and even less vehicles. This was an ideal place to capture Buck Wilmington and he sped past the car, squealing his tires and slamming on his brakes just as he pulled in front of the unsuspecting driver. Edward reached into his pocket and uncapped the syringe she’d given him with specific instructions on where and how to inject the substance.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Buck cursed the dangerous driver who’d nearly sideswiped his pride and joy and slammed on his brakes. He exited the car, anger gnawing at his gut as he grabbed the sedan’s door handle and pulled it open.
 
“What the hell are you playing at?” Wilmington asked, moving back slightly when the driver looked up at him. There was something coldly calculating in the man’s eyes, but Buck had no chance to dwell on it as something was shoved into his gut. He backed up, staring at his attacker as the man seemed intent on injecting something into his gut. He screamed as fire burned through his stomach and his legs buckled.
 
“Wha…the f…f…fuck did you d…do to m…me?” Wilmington stammered when the sharp needle was removed.
 
“Just a little something to open your mind,” Edward said with a grin that showed the fangs beneath his upper lip. Oh he wasn’t a full fledged vampire, but he did have similarities and could feed when it was warranted. He grabbed the trembling man, ignoring the cries of pain that escaped his throat and carried him to the trunk. He opened it, dropped the victim inside, and slammed it shut.
 
The Mustang was still idling and he quickly drove it into a recess in the road until it was hidden by overhanging trees and brush. Satisfied that the car would not be discovered he returned to the sedan and drove toward home.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
JD watched the numbers until he reached the address he’d been looking for. He turned into the driveway and was somewhat surprised to find the place in complete disarray. For some reason he’d expected the author’s home to be a picture of luxury, but instead it was unkempt as if the owner neglected it. He pulled the motorcycle to a stop and looked around. The streetlights did not quite reach this far back from the road and the light over the door was dull and probably of low wattage. Dismounting, Dunne pocketed the keys and walked up to the house.
 
There was no doorbell, just a rickety old knocker that looked like it was from a bygone era. It was rusted with age and JD reluctantly lifted it, hoping it wouldn’t fall apart in his hands. He knocked several times and then rubbed his hands together in an effort to ward off the cold. He could see his breath and turned to look out over the yard once more. Unlike other homes in the neighborhood, Galloway’s house and yard were devoid of anything remotely resembling Halloween decorations. He heard a sound behind him and turned to see the door opening to the length of the security chain.
 
“What do you want?” the male voice asked, staying just beyond he light as if afraid to let anyone see him.
 
“I’m looking for Arthur Galloway.”
 
“You’ve found him and I’m not giving out autographs so get off my property.”
 
JD held out his hand to stop he door from closing and spoke quickly. “I don’t want an autograph…”
 
“Paparazzi are not welcome here either!”
 
“Look, I just want to talk to you about your articles.” The door stopped closing, but it didn’t open any further either.
 
“What articles? I’ve done a lot of writing over the years.”
 
“The ones dealing with the murders around Halloween,” Dunne said and thought he’d lost the man’s attention when the door closed abruptly, but soon heard the sound of the chain being released and the door opened all the way. He stepped into the darkened hallway and frowned when the man gazed out into the yard before closing and locking the door.
 
“You’ve got one minute to convince me that I should talk to you!”
 
“My name is JD Dunne and I work for an agency called The Firm…”
 
“Never heard of it!”
 
“We’re a detective agency…”
 
“I don’t rat on no cheating husbands or unfaithful wives…Out!” Galloway said and made to open the door.
 
“Just hear me out for a minute. Our agency rarely has anything to do with divorce cases. We help the police with cases that need more than they can give. We work through the government and have special credentials that allow us to go beyond what the police can do.”
 
“You mean you don’t have to go through the red tape shit?”
 
“Exactly…but most people don’t know we have governmental approval for what we do. The Firm is simply another detective agency listed under F in the yellow pages. That way we don’t arouse suspicion.”
 
“So why are you telling me all this?”
 
“I want you to trust me and tell me what you know about the murders,” Dunne said.
 
“I wrote everything I know in the articles.”
 
“I don’t’ think so…at least not all of it. What do you know about shape-shifters and vampires?”
 
“I know that sometimes legends are based on fact…”
 
“See that’s what I’m talking about. I want to know what you know…”
 
“I don’t know much…you drink beer?”
 
“Yes,” Dunne answered.
 
“Bud?”
 
“Is there any other?” the young man asked and saw the dark eyes light up.
 
“Good…hate drinking that skunk water they try and sell now,” Galloway stated and led the way into the kitchen.
 
The table was as cluttered as everything else in the house, but Dunne thought there was a chaotic organization to the mess of files and papers. He took a seat at the end and accepted the cold bottle from the older man. Galloway was going bald and what little was left of his hair was decidedly grey. He was as tall as JD, but had a belly that spoke of years of drinking too many bottles of beer. His clothing was wrinkled, but clean and JD couldn’t quite get a read on him.
 
“All right, Dunne, what do you want to know?”
 
“When did you first get interested in these particular murders?”
 
“Fifteen years ago…I lost my boy to the bastard,” Galloway told him.
 
“I’m sorry…”
 
“Don’t say something you don’t mean. You never knew him, but I can tell you he was a good boy and was at the top of the dean’s honor role. It was Halloween and he went to a frat party…called me about ten to say he’d be spending the night so I wouldn’t worry. Thing is he had a fight with his girlfriend and decided to take a walk. They found him…or what was left of him scattered over the park next to the main building. I remember thinking there really must be monsters out there and I started searching for other murders in the area.”
 
“Did the police tell you anything about his body?”
 
“Just that he was torn apart…”
 
“That’s all?”
 
“No…he was drained of blood…not a drop left for the coroner to find,” Galloway told him. “I think that was the point when I knew there really were monsters roaming the earth at night. I started digging into old case files and compiled a list of murders going deeper than the police reports because they left out some pertinent facts. I know why they do it, but sometimes it fucks up an investigative report when you don’t have every detail you need. The police believe there are 48 victims, but I have reason to believe there are more…maybe as many as twice that number.”
 
“Do you have any idea who is behind the killings?”
 
“I have a theory, but I doubt you’d believe me…”
 
“You’d be amazed at what I’d believe lately,” Dunne said honestly.
 
“I believe the murders are the work of an ancient creature that some would say is a cross between a shape-shifter and a vampire. The creature was believed to have come through a portal that opened between our home and a place sometimes called the netherworld. It’s known by many other names, but this is probably the most popular term associated with it. The creatures…and yes, I believe there are more than one, kept their existence secret for a long time, but recently they’ve been a lot more active and I believe that has something to do with this particular Halloween.”
 
“Why? What’s so special about this one?”
 
“I found some very interesting pieces in some mythological books that mention murders similar to the ones that have been occurring over the last 20 years and I believe it proves that this year marks the 200th anniversary of the first murder.”
 
“Why would this one be special?”
 
“Again it’s nothing concrete, but the more I backtracked the more I found that pointed to this year. One hundred years ago there were multiple murders around Boston, St. Louis, and several other cities. It lasted for several days before and after Halloween and then the murders died down again until the last few weeks.”
 
“What do you know of changelings?” Dunne asked.
 
“Not much…just what I read in some old papers I found. There are several notations,” Galloway rifled through several layers if papers and slid one across to the younger man. It was dated 1873 and written by a reporter who gave a first hand account of a death bed confession. “This one says a vampire…the kind that I believe is behind the murders, can make a changeling if she or he so chooses. The changeling becomes the mate and sires the ‘vampire’s’ offspring and has to prove his worth before he’s taken into the clan.”
 
“How are they killed?”
 
“You sound like you believe what I’ve been telling you, Kid.”
 
“I…something’s going on and I keep going back to your articles. These shape shifting vampires you wrote about and how they kill is too close to what’s been happening.”
 
“Still doesn’t mean it’s anything more than my imagination and your inexperience…I write for tabloid magazines, Kid, so don’t go believing everything I say.”
 
“Why aren’t there any Halloween decorations on your house?” Dunne asked.
 
“I don’t have any kids…but I’m also of the old thinking that we shouldn’t invite trouble by advertising that we’re here,” Galloway explained.
 
“You didn’t answer my question,” the younger man said.
 
“I thought I answered them all.”
 
“How are they killed?”
 
“Honestly, Kid, you put too much in an old man’s ramblings,” Galloway said and drank the last of his beer before motioning for the younger man to follow him.
 
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Galloway,” Dunne said when they reached the door and he stepped out into the cold night.
 
“Listen, Kid, you watch your back and don’t go wandering the streets alone. You’re just,” he sighed as if reminded of his own loss when he looked at the young man who’d come to visit him. “Just don’t tempt fate okay?”
 
“I have a job to do, Mr. Galloway and I’ve never turned my back on a case yet,” Dunne said and put on his helmet. He climbed onto his motorcycle and nodded to the writer before driving away from the house.
 
Arthur Galloway watched the young man until he disappeared from sight before turning and stepping back into his home. He closed and locked the door and made the sign of the cross on his chest before checking every window in the house. He knew it was all part of the vampire legend, but he did not want to leave an opening where a creature just might find entrance.
 
He dwelt on his conversation with JD Dunne and realized why he locked everything up tight, why he kept a bottle of holy water in every room, why he kept a bible under his pillow, and why there was always a can of lighter fluid and a lighter in his pocket. If there was any truth to what he’d learned over the past fifteen years the best way to kill one of the creatures of the night was with fire. God help him, but he really did believe in legends and myths and the loss of his son had been the turning point in his life that gave him those childish fears. Turning on every light, Galloway made his way into the kitchen and listened to the howling wind and the sound of scratching at the windows.
 
“It’s just the trees,” Arthur whispered, but deep down he knew that was not possible since he kept the tree branches trimmed away from the house. A soft rustle, like the beating of gossamer wings had him reaching into his pocket and he removed the lighter fluid and the lighter and placed them on the table within easy reach.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
“Hello, Love, are you hungry?”
 
“For you…always,” Larabee whispered and stared into the eyes set in the most beautiful face he’d ever laid eyes on. He reached for her and held her close before pressing his lips against hers. He balked at the coppery taste, but she held him firm, and slipped her tongue past his partially open mouth.
 
“Tonight is special, Chris…tonight I have made the first move toward turning you. In three nights’ time you will become my changeling and then you will feed off the victims I choose for you. Edward is bringing one tonight, but I will only toy with him,” she whispered.
 
“Why me?” Larabee asked when she changed before his eyes.
 
“Because you are a troubled soul, Chris. You have lost so much that you don’t even realize how much it hurts you…”
 
“You have no idea,” the blond whispered and fought to hold on to what was real. Sarah’s love was real, but this creature was using it to control him.
 
“Chris, you will bend to my will or your friends will suffer a far worse fate than the one I have planned for them. Come, watch me hunt, but tonight I will not feed upon him as long as you allow me to take what I need from you,” she whispered and pulled him to his feet. She led him out into the cold night and delighted in the goosebumps that formed on his bare skin.
 
Chris watched as the sedan pulled up behind his truck and shuddered at the thought of another hunt, another victim torn limb from limb while she fed on his blood. What had she said to him? That she would hunt, but this time she would not kill her victim as long as he gave her what she wanted. What did she want?
 
“Your blood, Love, I need it to sustain me while you are working…I will allow you to take some of mine…”
 
“I don’t want it…”
 
“You will…You’ve tasted my blood, Love, and it flows inside you whether you admit it or not. Soon you will crave the taste and join me…”
 
“No…”
 
“We’ll see, Love…ah, Edward has brought you a friend.”
 
“Buck!” Larabee cried upon seeing the struggling man being dragged toward him. “Let him go!”
 
“No…but you will choose whether the hunt ends in his death or in his defeat and our exchange of blood?”
 
“Ch…Chrisss…something’s wrong…he shot m…me with sss…something…burnsss,” Wilmington managed to gain his feet once the larger man released him.
 
Chris moved forward and managed to keep his friend from falling, but his victory was short lived when Wilmington was pulled from his grip. “What did you do to him?”
 
“It’s just a little cocktail that’s been passed down through my lineage, Love. He’ll be fine as long as I give him the antidote, but he doesn’t get that unless you agree to my terms.”
 
“Don’t lis…listen to h…her, Chris…”
 
“Where’s the antidote?” Larabee asked, watching while his friend’s body was wracked with unimaginable pain.
 
“He will get it, but not until I have your word that you will do as I say.”
 
“Give it to him,” Larabee ordered, his voice laced with an edge of steel.
 
“Don’t…Chrisss…please,” Wilmington shook his head at the look on his friend’s face and knew the man would do anything to make the pain go away. Buck did not want that on his conscience…he already had enough guilt of his own.
 
“Well, Love, what is your answer?”
 
“I’ll do what you want…just give him the antidote,” Larabee said and was relieved when Edward injected something into Buck’s face and the pain immediately ceased.
 
Buck fought to stand and glared at the woman, but gasped when his mind conjured up the face of Sarah Larabee. “No…it can’t be…you’re…”
 
“She’s not, Buck…”
 
“Then fight her, Chris…don’t…”
 
“He can’t fight me, Buck,” the creature said and smiled when Larabee sank to his knees.
 
“Let him go!” Wilmington raged, and moved to help his friend, but a hand clamped down on his shoulder and held him in place. “Damn you I said let him go!”
 
“Have no fear, Buck, I will not kill him. He is to become my changeling and share everything…even his flesh and blood with me,” the female gloated and released her grip on the blond’s mind. “You see there comes a time in our lives when we need to choose a mate and I have chosen him as mine. You and the others will play an important role in our ceremony and once you’re dead we will feast on your flesh and drink your blood together. It will insure our future together and no one will be able to stop us.”
 
“We’ll stop you!” Wilmington vowed.
 
“I don’t think so, but perhaps if you pass this test you can go free and warn your friends, but I doubt you’ll be able to escape.”
 
“What test?” the rogue asked.
 
“No…Buck…”
 
“Start running, Buck, and if you reach the road I will allow you to go free, but if I catch you then you will be my guest until the Eve of Samhain. On that night you will join in the ritual hunt with your friends.”
 
Buck kept his eyes on the slight female and figured she’d overestimated her abilities. He could easily outrun her, and felt confident in his athletic body. “I reach the road and we both go free and you don’t come after us any more…”
 
“No….Buck, she’ll kill you!” Larabee said.
 
“Now, Chris, there ain’t a woman alive who can outrun ol’ Buck on a bad day…”
 
“She’s not a woman…she’s…she’s…”
 
“Be quiet, Love,” the female said and smiled innocently at the handsome dark haired man. “Deal…start running!”
 
Buck smiled, made as if to tip an imaginary hat and began running away from the house. He frowned when there didn’t seem to be anyone following him, but felt a gust of wind above him. He could hear Chris screaming behind him, but did not stop to find out what he was saying. The road was within reach when he felt something dig into his shoulders and force him to the ground. He gasped and rolled over, staring at the horrifying sight that hovered ten feet above him. Buck suddenly understood why Larabee had been screaming at him and rolled over. The edge of the road was only about six feet from where he lay and he quickly got to his feet only to find his body lifted and searing pain ran down his back as he struggled to escape the talons that sunk deeper into his flesh.
 
Chris could only watch as the shape-shifter easily caught Buck and lifted him high into the air. He half expected her to tear his friend apart, but she slowly lowered him to the ground and released her grip on his shoulders. Chris knelt at his side and lifted Wilmington toward him, cradling his head against his body before staring at the hated creature standing nearby.
 
“Chris…k…kill bitch…” Wilmington whispered and reached up to touch Larabee’s chest. “Do any…anything t…to kill it!”
 
“I will, Buck,” Larabee said, but the gentle rogue was torn from his grip and pulled to his feet. Edward held him in place while the creature moved to stand before Chris and he caught the scent of death and decay from the hideous body.
 
“I have kept my part of our bargain, Love, now it is time for you to fulfill yours…”
 
“Don’t do it, Chris…don’t…”
 
“Edward, shut him up!” the shape-shifter ordered and smiled when a cry of pain came from the other human. “Are you a man or your word, Love, or do I finish the hunt tonight? You see I know there are five other men you think of as family so killing this one now would not alter my plans for our joining.”
 
“No hunt…leave him,” Larabee whispered.
 
“Will you allow me to feed from you?”
 
“No!” Wilmington ground out and watched hopelessly as his friend closed his eyes and nodded once.
 
“Look at me, Love, I am your Sarah and I…”
 
“No…you may look and talk like her, but you’ll never be my Sarah,” Larabee said and gazed into the dark eyes that were now rimmed in a crimson tide. He slowly lowered his head to the left and provided her with the right side of his neck. He knew he was damned…knew everything he’d ever believed in was a lie as sharp fangs sank into his flesh and began to feed from his veins. The pain was excruciating, worse than anything he’d ever felt in his life and he saw fear in Wilmington’s blue eyes. His legs trembled, his arms hung helplessly at his side while his lungs fought to draw enough air to sustain his depleting blood supply.
 
She fought the urge to simply take everything now and hope the ceremony would still work, and finally released her chosen changeling. She knew she’d won the first battle and bit into her right wrist until black fluid reached the surface. She knelt in front of the weakening human and placed her wrist against his mouth, anger flaring in her eyes when he tried to pull away. “Finish your bargain or I will tear him apart and serve him to you on a platter.”
 
Chris felt the loss of everything he loved as he opened his mouth and tasted the brackish liquid that flowed through the creature’s veins. He tried to pull away, but she placed a taloned hand against the back of his neck and forced him to feed from her veins.
 
“Take it, Love, take it and you will begin the journey that will bring you to me, body and soul,” she whispered and smiled when she saw the horror on Wilmington’s face.
 
“No…Chris….God no…”
 
“Your God has deserted you, Buck, and in three night’s time you will know that there really is hell on earth,” she said before removing her wrist from Larabee’s still sucking mouth. “Put him in the cage, Edward.”
 
“Yes, Mistress,” the big man said and dragged Wilmington toward the back of the house.
 
“Come, Love, tonight you took a big step toward a journey that will last hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.” The female smiled and pulled the unresisting human to his feet and led him toward her home.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
JD parked his motorcycle in the reserved spot in the basement and shook his head when he saw the empty spot where Buck usually parked his Green Machine or Love Machine as he often called the Mustang. He made his way toward the stairs and made his way up to his floor and along the corridor to his apartment. Once inside he tossed his keys on the table and grabbed a cold beer from the fridge before moving into the living room and sitting at his desk. He quickly booted up his computer and began searching for anything dealing with supernatural folklore. There wasn’t much on the shape shifting vampires Galloway had told him about and was amazed at some of the stuff that came up. Most of the articles were vague about where the legend originated or how to kill them, but JD would not give up. There were too many lives lost and whether it was a creature that roamed the streets in search of its victims, or simply a madman, it was time to put a stop to the grotesque murders.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
The streets were quiet as the wind howled down through the alleyways and rustled through the trees that lined the park near Rimrock Mall. The creature flew high above the city searching for a victim that would satisfy its needs. There were several of them nesting in the vicinity of Billings, waiting for the culmination of the special hunt to take place this special year.
 
Most of their kind had died off or been killed by the stronger of their species in order to protect themselves from discovery. Arthur Galloway was a danger to them and they’d found him living within the city, but the man seldom ventured forth and never left a single opening for them to enter. Once, nearly seven years ago, one of their kind had tried to enter Galloway’s home and found herself face to face with a fireball that had ended with her burnt husk being scattered by the winds.
 
He dipped low, following the tree line, searching like a hungry cat that hadn’t eaten in weeks. At the edge of the park, near a row of small saplings a man was huddled beneath a park bench as the creature’s eyes scanned the area. Nothing moved, not even the animals that sensed his presence and he smiled as he landed at the feet of his prey. This man was weak…had probably lived on the streets for too long and drank too much, but there was warm blood flowing through his veins and right now it would have to do. Unlike others of his kind he did not need young, healthy blood, for he was stronger than any other force in this clan. It would remain that way until the Eve of Samhain when another, a female, would take a mate, a changeling and then she would lead them for the next one hundred years.
 
The creature bent low and ran a sharp claw along the sleeping man’s leg and smiled when the man opened his eyes and tried to scream. A simple gesture with his hand had the homeless man gasping for air, but he allowed his victim to stand and run. The hunt…an exhilarating prelude to the feeding was something he enjoyed and he often toyed with his victims for hours. Tonight he would not do that for he sensed that there were warriors in the city. Men who would not bow down to his wishes and could very well turn the hunter into the hunted.
 
The man had been on the streets for so long he could not recall his name let alone where he lived or even if anyone cared about him. His life had been a hard one from the moment he’d opened his eyes and looked at the stranger in the mirror. There was simply no recollection of who he was or why he existed from that day in the nondescript motel room outside some nameless city. Yet he knew the creature that now stalked him was not of this world…could not be or everything he’d seen and heard was a lie. The wind howled and ice pellets bounced off his bare skin driving him forward, deeper into the trees that edged on the river running through the park.
 
He tried to scream, but nothing escaped his throat as he glanced over his shoulder and wished he hadn’t. The creature loomed bigger than anything he’d ever seen and then dove toward him. He screamed, but again no sound emerged and he remembered how he’d lost his hearing and the simple thing called speech, but he could not dwell on that memory. His body was lifted from the ground, yet his legs continued to pump as if he was still racing away from the creature that now held him, lifting him higher and higher as it sank it’s fangs into his neck. He knew he was dying, there was no way out of it now, and he closed his eyes as the cold enveloped his mind and body. His heart was still pumping when his right arm was torn from its socket, and his eyes bulged from his skull. By the time the beast tore his left arm from the shoulder socket, he was dead, but there were still the soft whimpering cries that would echo and re-echo through the cold air.
 
Satisfied, and full, the creature released the torso and watched uninterestedly as it sank toward the river below. The body would baffle the police for months and would end up in their cold case files as they always did. He lifted his head and scented the air around him, feeling the shift in power. He shuddered at the thought that somewhere in this city there were forces that could very well bring about his death and the very existence of his kind. He flew higher, away from the strange feelings and flew toward the house where the female held two men captive. These men had something to do with the terrible feelings the city had instilled in him and he needed to be sure she was in control of her future and not the other way around.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Chris pulled his truck into his parking spot and was relieved to see he was the first to arrive. He placed his arms on the steering wheel and leaned forward as pain ripped through his skull. He’d thought about fighting the creature that had come into his life, but each time she renewed her hold on his mind and sent daggers through his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he tried to ignore the taste and scent of her body mingled with his own and wondered how he was going to get through the day.
 
Chris opened the door and stepped out into the bright sunshine, but shivered as a cold wind blew across the nearly empty parking lot. He closed the door and hurried inside, nodding at the man who sat behind the desk.
 
“Morning, Tom.”
 
“Morning, Chris, you’re in early.”
 
“I figured I’d better be first in once in a while,” Larabee told him.
 
“Have you seen this morning’s paper?”
 
“No, why?”
 
“There’s been another one…Out near Rimrock Mall. They found a body…or what’s left of one scattered along the river’s edge,” the security guard explained.
 
“Damn…do they know who it was?”
 
“Not yet…just that it was a man and he was torn apart. Who the hell in their right mind would do something like this?”
 
“That’s just it, Tom, whoever it is doesn’t have a mind. They’re insane and they can’t help themselves…”
 
“You sound like you feel sorry for them?”
 
“No…mad as hell is more like it. Look…just be careful, okay?”
 
“Careful is my middle name,” Tom said and watched the blond leave. There was something strange about the way Chris Larabee walked away from him, but he couldn’t quite put his hand on what was bothering him.
 
Chris entered the elevator and leaned against the wall. His stomach churned and he knew he was going to be sick. He closed his eyes and fought the mounting nausea and raced toward his office as the doors opened. Chris barely had time to use his keys and raced through the dark outer pen and into his private sanctuary. He barely made it into the bathroom before being violently sick. Again and again his body shook with the force of the sickness and brackish fluid poured from his mouth. By the time it was over he was weak and trembling and knew there was no way he could fight the woman’s wishes. She’d taken some of his blood and given him some of hers and there was nothing he could do to turn back the clock. She had called him her changeling…was that what he was? Was he even now changing so that his body would crave flesh and blood?
 
Shaken to the core, Chris knew there would be no answers for him on the bathroom floor. He needed to keep the others away from the creatures and maybe he could make a deal with her…give himself to her completely in exchange for their lives. He stood up, leaning on the sink and pressed the lever that would wash away the evidence of what he’d willingly drunk the night before. Again he tried to fight her touch, but the magnetic resonance that flowed between them seemed heightened in spite of the distance. He could no longer fight her…and closed his eyes when she spoke through the strands that now tethered them like a taut rope.
 
Chris heard the others enter the office and quickly washed his face and hands before going out to meet the new day. He walked out and looked around the front office, noting the empty seat at Wilmington’s desk.
 
“Morning, Chris, you’re in early,” Sanchez said.
 
“Figured it was time I beat you yahoos in,” Larabee said and turned to the Texan.
 
“So what is she like?” Tanner asked and saw a flicker of something close to fear in Larabee’s eyes, but it was gone before he could tell if it was real or imaginary.
 
“Pretty…and that’s all I have to say,” Larabee answered.
 
“Anyone heard from Buck?” Dunne asked, frowning when he looked toward the empty desk.
 
“Yes, he came in early, but he left to check out the murder scene,” Larabee lied easily and pointed to the newspaper Standish held. “They found another dismembered body last night.”
 
“Damn, they are getting closer together,” Jackson observed.
 
“Something evil this way comes,” Sanchez told them.
 
“I thought it was something wicked…”
 
“This goes beyond wicked, JD, this is evil,” Sanchez told them.
 
“I told Buck there’s something going on…more than just a crazy murderer,” Dunne told them.
 
“What are you talking about, JD?” Larabee asked.
 
“Josiah, you remember telling us about the Eve of Samhain and how it’s supposed to be when the veil that separates our world and the otherworld is at its thinnest and that…”
 
“JD, this is not the time to talk about childhood nightmares and folklore…”
 
“Chris, let him finish,” Sanchez interrupted softly. “What does all this have to do with the murders, JD?”
 
“I was checking back through the cold cases…the murders and how there seems to be more as Halloween draws closer. I came across a series of articles by a man named Arthur…”
 
“Galloway,” Sanchez said.
 
“Yes...how did you know?”
 
“I’ve read several case files where he’s shown evidence that he believes proves his theory, unfortunately that’s all it is, Son…a theory put forth by a man who’s lost something and can’t get it back,” the ex-preacher explained.
 
“I don’t know, Josiah…see he seemed to know a lot about shape-shifters and vampires…”
 
“Kid’s stories, JD, that’s all they are. He probably wants to sensationalize everything so he can sell more garbage to those tabloid papers,” Larabee said disgustedly.
 
“No…see he doesn’t want that and he warned me to be careful. Told me to watch my back…”
 
“That’s something you should always do, JD,” Larabee told him.
 
“I do, Chris, but Galloway also told me some things about Changelings…”
 
“There’s no such thing! Look, JD, we need to concentrate on the case and not on something from a fairy tale by the brother’s Grimm!” Larabee snapped.
 
“Easy, Chris, JD is just…”
 
“Talking bullshit!” the blond spat. “I don’t give a damn if it is close to Halloween there’s no such things as…as ghosts and goblins so put that shit away and get back to finding out everything there is to know about the victims. I’ll be in my office if and when you decide to talk about this case in a serious manner!”
 
The five men watched their leader storm into his office and close the door behind him. No one spoke for several minutes, but they all knew something had upset Larabee and until they found out what it was they’d be walking on eggshells. Vin stood and walked toward Larabee’s door, but Sanchez stopped him.
 
“Give him a few minutes, Vin, it looks like he could use it,” Sanchez said and watched the Texan walk reluctantly to his desk and sit down, but his eyes were on the closed door and Sanchez began to wonder if maybe there was something to the legends and folklore surrounding this case.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
“Why have you come here?” the female creature asked when the oldest member of their clan landed before her.
 
“You underestimate their strength,” the male shape-shifter said simply.
 
“Everything is under control. Chris chose to feed from me and accepted my offering in exchange.”
 
“No, he did not choose…you forced him to decide between…”
 
“It does not matter. He was given a choice and he made it. He is strong and it has taken everything I have to keep him under my control. I have been careful which is more than I can say for you.”
 
“What do you mean?”
 
“You killed tonight and you did not hide it…I can sense them closing in on us and you are being stupid,” the female snapped and found herself gasping for air as the bigger creature wrapped his elongated fingers around her throat and began to squeeze.
 
“You may believe that you are destined to take over, but that will not happen until you have proven yourself worthy on the Eve of Samhain. Until you’ve mated with the human you are under my rule and I do not appreciate your tone. Take heed, Shareena, for I may yet kill you before the ceremony!”
 
She knew he could easily snap her neck, and the use of her given name told her he was very displeased with her actions. She continued to fight his touch and was finally released. Her body dropped to the ground and she gasped for breath before looking up at her visitor. “I may not have your skill, Tackore, but I do know that I have the right to choose my mate and to challenge you for the leadership of the clan.”
 
“We shall see, Shareena.”
 
She watched him change into his vampire form and rise high above before disappearing over the trees.
 
“He is dangerous, Mistress.”
 
“So am I, Edward,” she vowed and allowed him to pull her to her feet.
 
“You may have to kill him.”
 
“If it comes to that I will,” she vowed and hurried into the house. There was no doubt in her mind that once she was mated with Chris Larabee she would easily defeat Tackore and ban him…or kill him as was her right. She could hear the human moving around in his cage and smiled as she changed direction and made her way toward the back of the house.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
The cage was small and barely gave him room to sit up, but Buck didn’t mind. Right now the pain in his shoulders was so bad that any movement sent agony twisting along the nerves, yet he could live with the pain. He couldn’t live with what he’d seen and what she’d made Larabee do. The sight of her feeding off his friend and then forcing Chris to take her blood in return sent fear into his heart. How could he stop what was happening? Was there some way to stop what she’d put into motion? Was there some way to rid Larabee of the horrifying things she’d done to him?
 
Buck didn’t understand what she was, but he did know she was evil and there was always a way to fight evil, he just needed to find it. God, he wished Josiah was here…not in this position but within listening distance. The ex-preacher understood about evil and he knew how to deal with it. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the things he’d heard the older man preach about and vowed to pay more attention when…if, he corrected himself…he got out of this mess.
 
He shifted slightly, and wrapped his arms around his body, shivering uncontrollably as the bitter cold nipped at exposed flesh. God, he was going to freeze before the hunt she talked about happened. He closed his eyes and pictured the woman Chris Larabee had married. Sarah was nothing like the cold hearted bitch who tried to take her image and Buck silently prayed for help.
 
‘Sarah, I know I don’t go to church as often as I should and maybe this is penance for that, but I’m going to need your help…God’s help if I’m going to get Chris out of this mess. She’s evil, Sarah…I don’t know exactly what she is, but she’s hurting Chris…
hurting him not just physically. She’s toying with his mind too. She’s taken your memory and is using it against him…changing him into what she wants him to be. I can’t let that happen…I’d rather kill him first,’ Wilmington thought and sat upright when he heard laughter from beyond the pool of crimson light he was bathed in.
 
“You can’t save him, Buck…not now…not when he’s already becoming my changeling.”
 
“Don’t bet on it, Bitch!”
 
“You’re in denial right now, but you know you’re not strong enough to fight me. There are more of my kind nearby…I can feel them. They are as excited as I am about the celebration to come. They will be here and they will participate in the ritual hunt, but they will not drain your blood. That simple pleasure will be left as a gift to my new changeling,” the creature said, smiling so that the tips of her fangs could easily be seen.
 
“Chris won’t be that easy to turn!”
 
“Are you sure about that? It seems to me he would do anything to keep you and the others alive. I might even be tempted to set you free if he comes to me willingly and allows me to drain him and then give him life…”
 
“What you’re giving is not life…it’s death…cold and dead…just like you and your boyfriend…”
 
“Edward is not my boyfriend…he is simply a vampire…a very quiet one who has chosen to serve me since the day I first drained him and gave him a better life. You see Edward was a slave…one who’d been beaten to within an inch of his life before I came along. He practically begged me to change him and when I did I allowed him to seek his revenge. In fact I helped him hunt down those responsible for his state and tore them apart after he fed on their blood.”
 
“He was a fool to let you use him,” Wilmington spat.
 
“You are just angry because I am not giving you what I am offering Chris. He is going to choose to be with me,” she said before turning and leaving the injured man alone with his thoughts.
 
Buck took a deep breath, wincing when his back rubbed against the bars of his cage. He knew the puncture wounds had stopped bleeding, but the burning sensation worried him. It could mean they were infected…or something worse if he thought about what had inflicted the wounds. Sighing tiredly, Buck closed his eyes and entered a nightmare world he never thought to see in the light of day.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Arthur Galloway opened his door and quickly grabbed the newspaper on the stoop before closing and locking the door behind him. He stared at the front page and knew he had to do something. The young man’s visit had given him some hope, but he could not hope to defeat these creatures without help. He’d tried that before, when he first discovered their existence, but had failed miserably. His hand strayed to his neck and the raised bumps he found there. It had been so quick and so unexpected that it had nearly cost him his life, but he’d escaped, at least that’s what he kept telling himself even when the golden rays of the sun gave him a headache. Maybe the answer to his prayers was closer than he thought. Maybe he needed fresh blood and a young mind to help him find a way to stop the creatures from completing the ritual set for two night’s time.
 
Galloway tossed the unread paper on the table and reached for the phone, but stopped when he realized he didn’t have the number. He knew the kid worked for some kind of detective agency and pulled out the yellow pages. Slowly he ran his fingers down the list of names until he found the one that rang a bell. He dialed the number and waited for someone to answer.
 
“Jackson…”
 
“I need to speak to JD Dunne…”
 
“Just a second…JD it’s for you.”
 
“Thanks, Nathan…this is JD Dunne…”
 
“JD, it’s Arthur Galloway…you came to see me last night,” Galloway said. “I need to speak to you…alone”
 
“I’m on my way.”
 
“Bring everything you have on the murders…there may be something we can do to stop what’s happening, but I don’t want anyone else involved,” Galloway told him.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
“Is something wrong, JD?” Tanner asked.
 
“No…I just need to meet with a snitch. He’s got some information we might need,” Dunne explained, hitting the button that would send the files to his laptop.
 
“You be careful, Son,” Sanchez warned.
 
“I will. I’m not sure what time I’ll be back….tell Chris…tell him…”
 
“We’ll cover for you, JD,” Tanner vowed and glanced toward the door behind him. No sound had come from Larabee’s office since he’d stormed in there an hour ago.
 
“Thanks, Vin, I’ll call if I find out anything,” Dunne assured them.
 
“Just remember not everything you hear is true, Son…Galloway could be a dangerous old coot or he could be on to something,” Sanchez told the youngest member of the team.
 
Dunne nodded his thanks and hurried out of the office, aware that the reason for his haste was that he had no desire to face off with his boss. Something strange was going on with Larabee and JD was not sure he wanted to know what it was. He certainly didn’t want to explain to Chris why he had transferred these particular files to his laptop without going through channels first. He hurried out of the building and briefly wondered if he should try calling Wilmington’s cell again, but pushed the thoughts away before climbing onto his motorcycle and heading for his apartment building. Once there he grabbed his laptop and headed for his car instead of the motorcycle and drove toward Galloway’s home.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Chris knew he should get to work, but right now there didn’t seem much point to it. His life was changing, his mind just not interested in looking at papers, his body craving the taste of strength she’d given him. He silently cursed his weakness when he thought about Buck in the hands of the creature who owned part of his body and most of his mind. There was less pain now and he realized she probably didn’t need to cause him pain, because she had something he cared about.
 
Chris threw the empty coffee cup across the room and stood up. He grabbed his coat from the back of the chair and strode out into the main room. “I’ve got a meeting…close up early if nothing turns up!”
 
“Chris…Chris!” Tanner called, but was surprised when the blond just continued out the door without a backward glance. “What the hell’s his problem?”
 
“Vin, maybe you should go after him,” Jackson said, knowing if anyone could find out what was bothering the blond it was the Texan.
 
“Go, Vin,” Sanchez agreed and watched the younger man hurry after their team leader.
 
Vin ran toward the stairs and opened them in time to hear footsteps several floors below. He knew it was Larabee and instinct told him there was definitely something strange going on with his friend. He reached the first floor in record time and shoved open the door in time to see Larabee leave through the main entrance.
 
Chris had no idea where he was going, but he needed to get away. He had to fight, but he didn’t seem to have the will anymore. He reached his truck and leaned his head against the cold window, gasping when he heard her voice in his mind.
 
‘Bring him to me, Chris.’
 
“No…”
 
‘Bring him to me or Buck Wilmington will suffer far worse than anything you’ve seen so far.’
 
“Please…I can’t…”
 
“Chris, are you all right?”
 
“Go away, Vin!”
 
‘Don’t fight me on this, Chris, you cannot hope to win! I will be waiting!’
 
“Chris…”
 
“Jesus, Vin,” Larabee said and swallowed several times in an effort to clear his head. He knew it was useless to fight the creature invading his mind and turned to face his friend.
 
“What’s going on, Chris?”
 
“What do you mean?”
 
“It ain’t like ya ta leave in the middle of the day…especially when we’re workin’ a case like this one.”
 
“What’s so special about this one, Vin? We’ve worked murder cases before…”
 
“I know, but they’re not usually this grizzly…”
 
“The Anderson murders,” Larabee said.
 
“Okay, they’re not all so grizzly, but you’ve never run out on a case before…”
 
“I’m not running out, Vin, I have a meeting,” Larabee told him.
 
“Really? With who?”
 
“Not that it’s any of your business, Vin, but I do have a private life outside of the office…”
 
‘Bring him to me, Love…I am waiting.’
 
“Are you…”
 
“Vin, why don’t you come with me? I’m going to meet her for lunch,” Larabee offered.
 
“You sure you want me tagging along?”
 
“Jesus, Vin, make up your mind. First you’re drilling me about where I’m going and now that I’m willing to let you ride along you’re…”
 
“Easy, Chris, I’m just teasin’ ya…I’d love ta meet yer lady friend,” Tanner said and moved to the passenger side of the truck.
 
‘No…no you don’t, Vin….God help me you don’t, but I can’t fight her any more,’ Larabee thought and climbed in behind the wheel.
 
“So where are we going?”
 
“Her place,” Larabee answered and drove away from the building with the creature’s voice echoing inside his skull and making it hard to concentrate on anything except the mounting headache.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
JD parked his car in front of Galloway’s house and hurried up the debris strewn pathway. The house and yard were in worse shape than what he’d seen during his last visit. He reached for the door knocker, but was stopped when Galloway opened the door and pulled him inside, locking the door behind him.
 
“Come on, JD, we have a lot to discuss,” Galloway ordered and pulled the younger man toward the living room. There were papers and articles strewn all over the place and he knew the story he represented would be hard for the younger man to believe, but he needed to make the kid see what he saw before it was too late to stop the creatures of the night.
 
“What’s all this?” Dunne asked.
 
“History, Kid…not ours…theirs.”
 
“Whose?”
 
“The shape-shifters. Since my son died I’ve been keeping a journal of their activities, but I’ve also kept every article or clipping that even remotely resembled their ways of killing.”
 
“You told me they were just kid’s stories,” Dunne told him.
 
“Forget what I told you, JD, or else you can kiss your buddies goodbye. There’s just too much shit for this to be a hoax or a kid’s bedtimes story…hell it can’t even be an urban legend anymore. Not when you look at everything together. It started a long time ago…and if we don’t stop it then it’ll keep right on going and a lot more people are going to die.”
 
“How do we stop them?”
 
“That’s something I don’t know, but the answer has to be in here. I figure they can be killed by fire…and it seems to scare them, but that’s only my take on it. Maybe there’s something in here that’ll tell us more,” Galloway suggested and threw a pile of aged papers to the younger man.
 
“What’s this?”
 
“Those are the earliest records I’ve found about these things. It dates back 200 years…weird thing is the anniversary coincides with Halloween. So start reading, Son, because it’s just around the corner,” the older man said and picked up a stack of papers.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
“How far out does she live?” Tanner asked. They’d been driving for well over an hour and had left all signs of civilization behind them. Larabee had been quiet…obscenely quiet even for him. They’d hardly spoken ten words between them since leaving The Firm’s office building.
 
“She likes her solitude, Vin,” Larabee answered.
 
“So do I, Chris, but this is out in the boonies,” Tanner said, smiling when his stomach rumbled loudly. “I hope she’s got lunch ready.”
 
“Me too…that beast sounds ravenous.” Larabee continued to stare straight ahead and wished there was some way to keep the others out of this.
 
‘You can’t, Love, they are a part of this. You are going to need them so be strong. I am waiting for you.’
 
“We’re coming, Sarah…”
 
“What’d ya say, Chris?” Tanner asked.
 
“I said we’re almost there,” the blond lied.
 
“Almost where? Jesus, Chris, I don’t see nothin’,” the Texan said, glancing along the tree lined gravel road.
 
“Just over the next rise, Vin,” Larabee answered and finally turned onto a narrow winding driveway. Two minutes later he pulled to a stop in front of a weather beaten Victorian style house complete with gables and columns. An old black Sedan was parked near the front door and Chris exited the truck and waited for the Texan to do the same.
 
“She lives here?”
 
“Yes, she does,” Larabee said with a slight smile. “And you say I’m a snob…what’s wrong, Vin, too rustic for you?”
 
“No…rustic ain’t the word I’d use…where’s yer lady?”
 
“Here she comes now,” the blond said and hurried toward the pretty woman who’d stepped away from the right side of the house.
 
“Hello, Love, I’m so glad you decided to join me for lunch…who’s your friend?”
 
“This is Vin Tanner…he’s a friend of mine and works for the same agency I do,” Larabee explained. “Vin this is…”
 
“Sarah?” the Texan whispered and unconsciously stepped back. “Can’t be…you’re…”
 
“Dead? Damn, he knows our secret, Love,” the creature whispered and shifted her image, showing the newcomer exactly what she was.
 
“Chris, we need to…”
 
“I’m sorry, Vin…”
 
“Chris!” the Texan said when Larabee moved away and allowed the hideous creature to move toward him.
 
“Chris belongs to me, Vin, and I am not willing to share him with anyone. In two nights’ time we will be joined in a special ceremony and at that time you and the others will take part in the sacrificial hunt. Chris will feed off your bodies while your heart still beats in your chest!”
 
“I don’t think so, Bitch!” Tanner said and tried to move around the creature, but again she changed shape and stood before him looking like a cross between a vampire and a gargoyle. “Yer one ugly Mother…”
 
“Vin…”
 
“Chris…”
 
“Get in the truck!” Larabee ordered, screaming as she turned and stared into his eyes. He sank to his knees and tried to crawl away, but she touched his forehead and the world around him exploded in white hot molten lava that burned his soul.
 
“Chris…get away from her!”
 
“He is mine!”
 
“Not fer a minute!” the Texan said and moved to stand between her and the writhing man who’d come to be more of a brother than friend to him.
 
“You cannot stop this…it is part of our ritual. I chose him…”
 
“It’s plain he didn’t choose you!” Tanner snarled and was flung off his feet when a winged appendage struck his chest. He landed hard against the sedan and crumbled to the ground, staring at the scene before him. The creature had moved in on Larabee as soon as it shoved him aside and as impossible as it seemed the fingers of her right hand were imbedded in Chris Larabee’s forehead.
 
“You are mine, Love, and I will not allow anyone to interfere,” the creature vowed and turned to stare into the Texan’s blue eyes. “Edward, put Vin with the other one and see that we are not disturbed!”
 
“Yes, Mistress.”
 
Vin heard the voice from the roof of the car and looked up when a second creature leapt to the ground in front of him. As impossible as it seemed the wrinkled creature lifted him and easily threw him over his shoulder. Vin tried to fight, but his lungs burned with the need for oxygen, and he could not seem to draw a breath. His chest hurt and he wondered if the winged creature had damaged his ribs, but he didn’t have time to dwell on the injury as he was deposited inside a cage and the door was slammed shut.
 
“Vin…is that you?”
 
“Buck…sonofabitch,” the Texan swore when he was finally able to draw air into his lungs. “How did you get here?”
 
“Not sure…got waylaid by the big bastard and he threw me in the trunk of his car. Next thing I knew the bitch was hunting me and making Chris…making Chris…”
 
“Making Chris what?” Tanner asked worriedly.
 
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you…”
 
“Try me…after what I just saw there’s nothing you could say that would shock me,” the sharpshooter vowed.
 
“She drank his blood, Vin…she sank them damn fangs into him and was drinking his blood and then she forced him to take some of hers in exchange. She said she’s going to make him her changeling…turn him into some kind of vampire on Halloween. I know it sounds stupid…”
 
“Not stupid…damn it I wish it was,” Tanner said, wincing when he felt his ribs shifting.
 
“Are you hurt?”
 
“Mostly my pride,” the Texan answered. “What about you?”
 
“My shoulders, that bitch dug her claws into my shoulders and it burns,” Wilmington answered.
 
“I seen her put her fingers into his head, Buck…she’s fucking with his mind.”
 
“I know, but there’s nothing we can do until we get out of here,” the rogue said and sifted in the narrow confines of his cage.
 
“Wish I’d paid more attention to Ezra’s lessons on lock pickin’,” Tanner said.
 
“Wouldn’t help…there doesn’t seem to be any locks on these cages,” Wilmington told him and closed his eyes as the burning sensation in his shoulders intensified.
 
“There’s always a way out of a cage, Buck, it’s jest a matter of findin’ it,” Tanner vowed and began searching for a weakness he could use.


PART 2

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