Opus had a smell to it. All the cities I’d visited did, even the pristine elven capital of Viridi, but something about Opus was different. Other cities carried the stench of people—of the sweat and shit that followed them wherever they settled in large numbers.
But in Opus, the skies were thick with the smoke of the factories and industry that had only begun to take over in the last few decades. It made the very air we breathed suffocating and toxic, and the elven half of my heritage hated it.
That was all bad enough. But Opus also carried the stench of monsters—mortal and otherwise.
I signed up for the Opus Hunters’ Guild to fight those monsters. To do my part to clean up a city that was foul in every sense of the word.
My partner, Caleb Daryn, signed up because he liked shooting things with arrows, and the Guild gave him an outlet for that desire that was both legal and encouraged.
To each their own, I supposed.
Still, as much as I loved hunting the monsters, I was looking forward to getting a break from the stale, oppressive stench of the city.
As I crouched on the ground and gathered my weapons and belongings, Caleb leaned against a nearby wall, watching me with narrowed eyes.
I did my best to ignore his gaze, as I always did. I liked Caleb well enough, but his focus on making the job as bloody as possible wasn’t an appealing trait in a potential partner. Not to mention the fact that my elven mother wouldn’t appreciate me bringing home a human, though she’d done the same at least once.
My mother’s hypocrisy aside, I still had a lot of packing to do before I was ready to leave the city. So even if I did return Caleb’s interest, now wouldn’t be the time for it.
“What are you doing?”
I looked up at my partner. “Packing. You should be, too. We’re leaving at dawn.”
“I take it you haven’t heard.”
I waited for him to continue, and he waited for me to ask.
Fine. I’ll bite first.
“Heard what?” I asked.
“You and I aren’t going to Caracta.”
I let go of my bag and got to my feet. “What do you mean, we’re not going?”
“I mean they passed around the list of hunters they’re sending out, and we’re not on it.”
He shrugged. “You can ask Sam next time you see him, if you want.”
I kicked my bag aside and stormed through the building, hurrying toward the office on the third floor. Samuel Ashe, leader of the Opus Hunters’ Guild, had to be the one behind the decision to hold me back, and I wouldn’t stand for it. I’d already been passed over for a trip to Viridi over the winter, and I refused to be sidelined again.
I didn’t even bother knocking before I entered.
“Jordan Kane.” He looked up at me and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. “To what do I owe the pleasure of you breaking down my office door?”
“You personally told me I’d be going to Caracta. Why am I being held back now?” I asked. “My numbers have been great recently. You know I’d be an asset on this hunt.”
“I’m sure you would,” Samuel agreed.
“So? Why are you keeping me here?”
The guild leader gestured at the door and waited for me to close it before continuing. “It’s not you we’re keeping back, Jordan. Your hunting has been exemplary.”
Samuel nodded. “He’s been a bit… unpredictable. I’m sure you’ve noticed.”
I bit my lower lip. My partner had always taken issue with the rules, but even I had to admit that he’d been crossing too many lines recently. I’d filed some of the complaints myself.
“He hasn’t been that bad,” I said, knowing damn well it was a lie.
Samuel raised a brow. “Just last week, he went after a civilian, claiming he was certain he’d seen her shift into a werewolf.”
I remembered the incident well; I’d been the one to stop him from hurting the woman. When we brought her into the guild for questioning, it was clear she was every bit as mortal as the rest of us. From what I heard, Samuel had a rough time smoothing things over with the city guards. The guild’s relationship with them was already tenuous at best, and attacking a civilian did little to inspire good will.
“So, assign me a different partner and send me.”
“You and Caleb are a good match,” Samuel said. “You’re both better off together.”
“Bullshit.” I put my hands on his desk and leaned forward. “I’d do just as well with another partner, and you know it.”
I enjoyed working with Caleb, even if he went too far sometimes. He was efficient, and he got shit done. But I didn’t enjoy working with him enough to sacrifice my own career goals.
“You’re right, Jordan,” Samuel said, keeping his voice even. “You could work with anyone. Caleb can’t. He’s been with us for years, and he’s never had a partnership last this long. You two make a good team.”
Part of me wanted to scream at Samuel, to demand he tell me how long my partner’s unpredictability would keep me from advancing in the guild. Instead, I took a deep, shaky breath and backed away from the desk.
Screaming at my boss wasn’t likely to help my case.
Besides, my half-elven heritage meant I’d still have at least a good century of hunting in me by the time Caleb passed his prime. My mother always reminded me to be patient, though the human in me wasn’t fond of that.
Now wasn’t the time to make a scene. I could tolerate my position in the guild a while longer. In the meantime, I’d just keep filing complaints whenever Caleb stepped out of line.
“I know you wanted to go,” Samuel said. “For what it’s worth, I am sorry to keep you behind. But don’t worry. This won’t be our last trip like this. Vampires are starting to become a real problem in the east, and I have a feeling their need for us will only grow over the coming years.”
I nodded. “Sure.”
“In the meantime, I have a hunt tonight, if you’re up for it.” He slid a few pieces of parchment toward me.
I flipped through the pages, skimming through his notes.
“Vampire attack on the north side of the city?” I asked.
Samuel nodded. “It shouldn’t be a big job.”
They never were anymore. The Opus Hunters’ Guild was the most prestigious guild in all of Nymphera, and we’d eradicated most of the larger vampire clans from our city. There was only one left, as far as I was aware, and they never seemed to gather in large groups anymore.
I tossed the papers back on his desk. “Fine. I’ll get Caleb, and we’ll gear up.”
Our boots sloshed through muddy puddles on the cobblestone as we walked through the dark streets. Even with the rain soaking through my clothes, the guild leathers were uncomfortably warm. Summers in Opus were brutal.
At least the sun staying out longer in the evening meant there were fewer hours for vampires to play.
“Did you find anything out from Sam?” Caleb asked.
I shrugged. “Not really. They can’t send everyone, so some of us will have to stay behind. It is what it is.”
The last thing I needed was a sulking partner who couldn’t handle the fact that he was the problem. Caleb’s ego couldn’t take it, and I needed him to stay focused on the hunt. We could discuss it later.
Humans were always so gods-damned emotional, my mom had always said. It was a wonder she maintained a relationship with my human father long enough to produce me.
“Something on your mind?”
“Mm?” I looked up at Caleb, who was eyeing me curiously. “No, I’m fine.”
His eyes narrowed, and for a moment, it seemed like he might press the issue. Instead of giving him a chance to open his mouth, I pointed at the building in front of us.
“Looks like this is it.”
“Should we take the serum now?” Caleb asked.
“Not yet. Let’s wait until we’re anticipating a fight,” I said.
Being able to match a vampire’s speed wasn’t much use in an interrogation, and the guild’s supply of the special formula wasn’t unlimited. I didn’t like wasting it if we didn’t have to.
The sign on the window next to the door had been flipped around to show the shop was closed. A single leyline lamp shone inside, suggesting someone might still be around.
I tried the locked handle, then pounded on the wooden door. “Opus Hunters’ Guild! Open up.”
Everything was silent.
Beside me, Caleb made a kicking motion to tell me he’d like to force our way in. I shook my head.
We had the authority to break in if we thought it was necessary, but though the drained body had been found right outside, I didn’t have much reason to suspect we’d actually find any vampires there. A coffee shop didn’t seem like the sort of place vampires would hang around often. Especially one that was only open during the day.
I knocked once more. “We’d just like to ask you some questions, and we’ll be on our way.”
There was a long silence before the lock clicked, and a young elven woman opened the door. Her soft brown eyes darted between Caleb and me.
“We’re supposed to be closed,” she said.
“We won’t be here long,” I assured her. “My name is Jordan. This is my partner, Caleb. We have a few questions we were hoping you could answer.”
“You said you’re from the Opus Hunters’ Guild?” She eyed us warily, as though we might attack her at any moment.
And before that, I hadn’t been suspicious of her at all.
“That’s right,” I said, taking a slow, careful step toward her. The last thing we wanted to do was scare her off. “Can I get a look at your teeth?”
“Just give us a smile,” Caleb said. His threatening tone undermined the pleasant conversation I’d been trying to have, and I resisted the urge to roll my eyes.
The girl turned her lips up in an uncomfortable grimace.
“Thank you,” I said, offering her a tight-lipped smile in return. “What’s your name?”
“Why don’t we have a seat and discuss this over a cup of coffee, Mynda? Buying a drink is the least I can do, considering we’re making demands of your time.”
The girl looked over her shoulder. “We’re supposed to be closed. I’ve already cleaned out the equipment—”
“Forget it,” Caleb said, dropping all pretense of warmth. “Just sit down, and let’s get this over with.”
Mynda winced, but she took a seat at one of the tables, keeping her eyes cast down on the menu in front of her. “What did you want to know?”
“There was an attack outside this shop a few nights ago. Were you here that night?” I asked.
“Oh, no.” She shook her head vigorously. “That happened after the shop was closed. We’re never open after nightfall.”
“Why not?” Caleb asked.
Before the girl could answer, I shot my partner a glare. “Because no one’s drinking coffee at night.”
She nodded. “Right. Of course.”
“Did you know the victim?” I asked.
A banging sound from the back room cut off her response, and she flinched as though she’d been struck.
Before I could ask what happened, Caleb jumped to his feet and crossed the room, his hand hovering over the crossbow on his back.
“Oh, leave the girl alone, won’t you?” A man clad all in black stepped out from the back room and flashed us a fanged grin.
I reached for my crossbow, but another vampire was already behind me, his hand blocking mine. When had he gotten there?
Two more stepped out from the back room.
Caleb and I weren’t equipped to fight off four vampires. We both had the guild’s speed serum packed with our equipment, but we needed to take it before the vampires showed up. Now that they surrounded us, we’d never get it injected in time.
And even if we did, we would only match the vamps’ speed. They still outnumbered us.
Fear sank to the depths of my stomach as I realized the inevitable.
We would never make it out of here alive.
Itook a few steps away from the vampires until my back pressed against a window on the side of the shop, then raised my hands. “Why don’t we take this outside? I’m sure the lady doesn’t want a fight in her coffee shop.”
The vampire standing in the doorway chuckled. “Did you hear that, Mynda? She wants to know how you feel about a fight in your coffee shop.”
The girl let out a nervous laugh, keeping her gaze cast down toward the ground.
“What’s funny?” I demanded.
“Mynda is my blood servant. This coffee shop is no more hers than this city is yours, little hunter.”
“Still,” I said, doing my best to keep my tone neutral, “it would be best to take this discussion outside.”
“So all your friends can ambush us? I don’t think so.”
“There’s no one else.” I reached behind me, feeling for the window’s latch. My fingers found something promising, but it wouldn’t budge. “Just the two of us.”
“All the same,” the vampire said, sauntering toward me. “I’d prefer not to take my chances. Not when I’ve got you trapped so nicely in here.”
“You’re making a mistake,” Caleb said.
“How do you figure?” the vampire asked.
“This place is important to you. You don’t think it would be a mistake to wipe out a pair of hunters here? The guild knows where we are. Give it a day, maybe two. When we don’t report in, this place will be swarming.”
While the vampire considered that, I fumbled with the latch behind me. It finally came free, and the window swung open. I fell back and landed on the ground with a hard thud that took away my breath.
Reaching for the pouch on my waist, I pulled out one of the tiny red vials. Pain still shot through my body from the rough fall, but I ignored that as I fumbled with the cap over the needle.
I just needed to inject it into my arm before the vampires came rushing out. Vampires could die easily enough, same as anyone else. But without matching their supernatural speed, they were too fast to kill. The speed serum was the only chance we had.
The vampire who’d been talking with me inside leaped out the window, landing only a few feet away. He stepped on my wrist, and the vial fell from my grasp. Glass shattered on the cobblestones, and as the red liquid leaked out, so did my hope of surviving this fight.
There were a few more vials in my pouch, but I would never manage to inject any of them in time. The vamps were just too gods-damned fast.
As he pressed his foot down harder on my wrist, pain shot up through my arm, drawing a sharp gasp from my lips. The vampire bared his fangs in a grin as he leaned over, his face just above mine.
“That was a mistake, little hunter.”
The heel of his boot slamming into my cheek sent an explosion through my jaw. I rolled over and spat out the blood gathering in my mouth.
As I pushed myself upright, something flew out from the window and sent the vampire tumbling to the ground. A small throwing dagger—one of Caleb’s—was now embedded into his eye, with only the tiny handle jutting out. I winced at the mess of blood that coated the side of his face and the street, the red mingling with the liquid from my vial as it seeped into the cracks between cobblestones.
I’d been doing this job for years. It was never pretty, but some sights were a bit much, even for me.
There was no time to dwell on it, as one of the others shoved Caleb out the window. My partner landed on the ground near me, his fall much rougher than mine. I helped him to his feet as the rest of the vampires dropped from the window to join us in the empty side street.
They paced around us, taunting us with the reminder that they could have killed us before a fight even began. But even with one of their own dead on the ground, they were enjoying this.
As they circled us, I freed my sword from its sheath. The blade glowed a soft purple with the drugged coating I’d applied earlier while preparing my gear. Just a cut, even the slightest grazing of flesh, would knock the vampires unconscious within seconds. We usually used the drug to capture them alive, to take them in for interrogation, but it was also useful for taking them out of the fight without needing to land a killing blow. With three of them surrounding us, we’d need every advantage we could get.
The hard part would be getting a hit on them without the speed serum rushing through my veins. I would only get one chance to strike, so I readied myself for their attack.
One of the vampires sped past me and rushed for my weakened partner. His fangs sank into Caleb’s neck. The bite’s venom worked its way through his system quickly, immobilizing him within seconds.
The vampire lowered Caleb to the ground, still feeding from him. Before I could get to them, one of the others caught me around the waist and tackled me into the wall. My head hit stone as he disarmed me with unsettling ease.
The world around me blurred for just a moment. My vision didn’t take long to clear, but I didn’t have time to take in my surroundings before the vampire punched me.
Apparently, he wasn’t as interested in a snack as his friend.
He straddled me, his knees pinning my wrists to the ground as his weight crushed me.
“Don’t think I’m going to kill you just yet, hunter,” he said. “I’ve been looking for a new blood servant. What do you think? Doesn’t that sound better?”
“No,” I snarled as I tried to push him off of me.
It was true; I’d rather die. The last thing I wanted was to spend the rest of my likely short life as a vampire’s toy.
He hit me again, and my vision swam.
Before I could make any sense of what was happening, the weight on my chest disappeared, and he was gone.
I coughed as I pushed myself upright, head still spinning.
While I’d been pinned to the ground, someone else had shown up to help. The third vampire lay on the ground a few feet away from me with his neck twisted at an impossible angle. Caleb’s attacker had been taken care of similarly. My savior now focused all of his attention on the vampire who attacked me.
I squinted at him, trying to get a better look. He matched the vampire blow for blow with inhuman speed that made it impossible to tell who he was. I couldn’t recall Samuel saying we would have backup, but it was a damn good thing we did.
I didn’t even know where my sword had ended up, but my crossbow had fallen within reach. I hurried to load an arrow and held it ready in case the man who saved me needed help.
The two paused their dance long enough to back away and size each other up. I had assumed the man who saved me came from the guild—who else would bother? But he wasn’t wearing guild leathers, or any of our standard issue gear. He wore civilian clothing, a simple tunic and vest with a plain pair of light brown pants.
If he wasn’t a hunter, there was only one thing he could be, and that idea was too absurd to even consider.
But as he used his teeth to tear into the throat of my attacker and painted the wall with his blood, I couldn’t deny the obvious truth; the man who saved me was another vampire.
As he stood up, slowly righting his body, I trained my aim on his back.
Ignoring the warning in my tone, he spun around slowly, arms raised.
I hesitated as I took in the sight of him. Wavy black hair that brushed his shoulders, piercing green eyes, and a muscular body to die for. Perhaps literally, if I waited too long to put a crossbow bolt between his eyes.
Gods damn me, he was beautiful.
And that was how I knew I’d hit my head too hard.
Don’t ogle the monsters, Jordan, I scolded myself. Kill.
“Do you really think that’s going to be fast enough to stop me?”
Even his voice was silky smooth. How was that fair?
“It’s stopped plenty of vamps before you.”
Of course, most of the time I’d be juiced up on speed serum before running into a fight, so being fast enough wasn’t usually an issue.
He waited, hands still raised in surrender even though he and I both knew he could kill me before I ever released my crossbow bolt.
“Who are you?” I asked.
The guild made it our business to learn the names of active vampires in the area before we cleared them out. I couldn’t remember a Reyes on the list. At least, not among those we knew about.
“And you?” he drawled once it became clear I wasn’t returning the courtesy.
“I’m asking the questions,” I said, pointedly moving my crossbow. “What was your business here?”
Reyes shrugged. “Just passing through and happened to see a lady in trouble. I was raised better than to let that stand. My mother would return from the After to haunt me if she found out.”
With the mention of the After, I glanced at his ears. I hadn’t noticed the pointed tips that poked out through the waves of his hair. He was an elf… or at least, he had been one before he was turned.
Now, there’s a male Mother would approve of.
What was wrong with me? He should have been dead the moment I loaded my crossbow.
Still, he could have killed me by now, too. For some reason, he hadn’t.
“You saved me.”
“Yes,” he said, drawing out the word. “And if you’re going to repay me for my good deed with an arrow through the skull, then I suppose you should get it over with. Otherwise, I would appreciate it if you lowered that weapon.”
I wasn’t sure if the voice was my own or my partner’s. Either way, I ignored it.
I lowered my crossbow and removed the arrow.
“Thank you,” Reyes said, lowering his hands to adjust his shirt. “Now, your name?”
Before I could answer him, footsteps thundered around the corner, and a group of city guards arrived in the alley to respond to the scuffle. If it hadn’t been for Veran Reyes, they would have been much too late to save us.
Not that they were equipped to fight a group of vampires, anyway.
“Guild business,” I said, dismissing them. “Everything is under control.”
When I looked back over at the bodies of the dead vampires, Reyes was gone.
Generally, I tried to avoid Samuel’s office. Going there twice in one day? Well, that wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time.
As I sat across from him, I rested my elbows on my knees and waited for him to tear into me for the disaster of a hunt. He watched me through narrowed eyes, waiting for my explanation.
Neither of us seemed to want to speak first.
When it became clear I wouldn’t squirm beneath his glare, he sighed. “I suppose it’s a good thing we didn’t send you to Caracta.”
My heart sank. Of all the things he could have led with, he chose the most hurtful.
“We weren’t expecting there to be a fight in the coffee shop,” I said.
“You didn’t bother using any serum before going in?”
“Didn’t want to waste it,” I said, shrugging. “The attack took place outside the shop, so we were hoping to get more information from the owner. How was I supposed to know the coffee shop was a vampire hideout? It’s not the sort of place you’d expect them to be.”
Samuel made a disgruntled humming noise and leaned back in his chair. “Which is why they chose it, I imagine. We’ve made this city a difficult place for them to live. They’ve had to get more creative. How were they operating the shop during the day?”
“One of them had a blood servant.”
“Ah,” Samuel said, nodding. “So, help me understand here. You and Caleb went to this coffee shop to ask some questions, ignored protocol by skipping your serum, and were attacked by a group of vampires.”
“Sounds about right.”
“The vampires overpowered you—easily, since you had no serum—and the two of you were on the verge of death.”
I shifted my weight and readjusted my legs. “Yes.”
“And another vampire came and wiped out the others.”
“Caleb says you had a shot on the vampire. Why didn’t you take it?”
My blood ran cold through my veins at the realization that Caleb had seen everything. I thought he’d still been unconscious while that happened.
“A vampire bit him. I’m not sure he was thinking clearly,” I said.
“You haven’t denied it.” Samuel’s gaze tore through me as he crossed his arms.. “Did you let a vampire go?”
I sighed. There was no point in lying about something he already knew.
“He saved my life,” I said. “If he wanted to kill Caleb and me, he had plenty of chances.”
“Irrelevant.” Samuel walked around his desk and sat on the edge, right in front of me. “Vampires fight each other just as much as they harm humans. There’s always some dispute going on between them. He wasn’t attacking them to save you. He must have had some quarrel with them.”
“He could have killed me, but he didn’t. Killing him seemed wrong.”
“I’m sure I don’t need to remind you, but there’s a vampire war happening on the other side of the continent right now.”
“I’m aware,” I said.
“Then you’re also aware that every vampire we leave alive is a potential participant in that war… and a potential for more civilian casualties.”
I held his gaze, but remained silent. I knew he was right; vampires were soulless, evil creatures that had no right to live. That’s why I signed up with the guild.
I remembered the look on Reyes’s face. He looked almost hurt that I would turn my crossbow on him after he saved me.
“They don’t deserve your sympathy,” Samuel continued. “You know how manipulative vampires can be. This wouldn’t be the first time one tried to appeal to a hunter’s sense of morality to gain an advantage. They are ruthless monsters, and we must be as ruthless as they are to defeat them.”
“Are you done?” I asked. “I made a mistake. It won’t happen again.”
“I certainly hope it won’t.” He took his seat behind the desk once more and pulled out a piece of parchment. “However, between Caleb’s injuries and your lapse in judgment, I think it would be best for you to take some time off.”
“Caleb can’t trust you out there right now.” Ignoring my protests, he scrawled his signature on the parchment. “Your suspension is effective immediately.”
“For how long?” I asked.
He shrugged. “At least until the rest of our team returns from Caracta. We have plenty of other hunters to keep Opus safe in the meantime—hunters we can trust to kill the enemy without hesitation.”
I scowled, but I kept my thoughts to myself. It wasn’t worth it. “Fine.”
“I expected better of you, Jordan.”
Maybe slamming the door on my way out wasn’t the best choice, but it felt damned good in the moment.
After gathering my few belongings from my quarters, I stormed out of the building. I didn’t know where exactly I was going. My mother was always thrilled to have me visit, but I didn’t want to deal with her hovering… or her constantly interrogating me about when I would give her grandchildren.
I could get a room at a boarding house for a few weeks. Clear my head for a while somewhere away from the guild.
I knew we weren’t supposed to show mercy to the creatures we hunted. The guild pounded that into my head since my first day of training. During my career so far, I’d done a damned good job of it.
But one lapse in judgment, as Samuel put it, and I was on suspension for weeks. Possibly months, depending on how long the hunt in Caracta took.
Some way to thank me for those years of exemplary service he’d mentioned earlier.
I spun around to see Caleb leaning against the wall next to the entrance. His left arm was in a sling, and his face was unnaturally pale.
“Why did you tell them?” I asked.
“It was my honest report,” Caleb said. “I didn’t know they were going to suspend you for it.”
“Just me?” I asked.
Caleb winced. “I’m cleared to return as soon as my injuries heal.”
“Great,” I said, scowling at him. “You can break rules left and right, but the second I do one thing wrong, I’m out.”
“Breaking rules?” Caleb asked. “What are you talking about?”
“Your refusal to follow the rules kept us back from the Caracta trip,” I said, my scowl deepening.
“That’s not…” Anger flashed across his face for a moment before he gathered his composure. “Look, Jordan. I trust you with my life. Always have. I don’t agree with their decision here. Once my arm heals up, I’ll fight it.”
“Okay,” I said, sighing. I didn’t have the energy to argue.
He moved in close to me and rested his good hand on my arm. “Why don’t you come out for a drink with me? We’ve got nothing else to do tonight.”
He was too close. The feel of his skin on mine, the faint scent of smoke on his clothes, the warmth of his breath on my collarbone… It was all too much.
I knew what Caleb wanted from me, and I wasn’t willing to give it.
“I’ll have to pass on that. Sorry.” I pulled away from him.
“You don’t have to shut out the world, you know,” Caleb said. “I can be there for you.”
There it was—my partner crossing the line.
“No, thanks. I should go.” I sprinted away as fast as my legs would carry me, hoping he wouldn’t follow.
I didn’t mind grabbing a drink with Caleb after a hunt most of the time, but this was different. It was clear he had some ideas in his head about where the night should go. Even if he didn’t want something I wasn’t offering, I just needed to be alone for a while so I could clear my head.
Still, as I ran through the humid, murky streets, I found myself drawn to a nearby tavern. The Salty Root was my favorite local haunt, and I often went there to celebrate successful hunts. Better yet, Caleb tended to avoid it since he had a nasty breakup with one of the barmaids, so it wasn’t likely he’d come looking for me there.
A drink didn’t sound so bad… As long as no expectations came with it.
I called out for a whiskey as soon as I stepped inside, and the barmaid slid it across the counter for me. I sat down and accepted the glass with a mumbled thanks, but I didn’t bring it to my lips. The liquid moved with the glass as I swirled it around.
Gods. I hadn’t realized how damn tired I was before I sat down.
The barmaid watched me out of the corner of her eye as she went about her business, arranging glasses and bottles on the shelf. “You look like you’ve been through hell.” She gestured to her eye.
I touched the skin around my right eye and found that it was tender where one of the vampires had punched me. I hadn’t looked in the mirror since then, but I imagined I must have a pretty nasty bruise forming.
“Just a typical night’s work. I’m fine.”
She gave me a strange look, but at least she said nothing more.
I downed my drink and pushed the empty glass toward her. Without another word, she refilled it for me.
A few drinks later, I was starting to feel like I could take on the entire guild myself. Starting with Samuel.
“You’re from the Hunters’ Guild?”
With a groan, I twisted around in my seat to acknowledge the gruff voice behind me. I’d been so frustrated that I’d forgotten to change out of my guild leathers before heading out, and since I was alone, that made me an easy target.
Two enormous men stood behind me, muscles bulging through their thin shirts. Their faces were rough, scarred in multiple places.
Definitely a pair of guys I didn’t want to mess with.
“You’re the one who killed our friend,” the other said, crossing his arms.
Shit. I was so not up for this tonight.
“Possibly. Who’s your friend?” I felt for my weapons, disguising the movement as scratching my leg. I had a dagger within reach, which was better than nothing. But I had no idea if these were vampires, werewolves, or just disgruntled humans who’d befriended some of the monsters.
If they were werewolves, I’d have to find a way to reach the silvered dagger in my boot. If they were vampires, I might not even have time to grab a weapon before they tore out my throat.
Best to keep them talking until I could figure out what they were and find an opening to make a move.
“You just saw ‘em tonight,” the first said.
“Guess your facts are wrong, then.” I turned back around to grab my drink, putting on an air of indifference despite the fear gripping my chest. “I didn’t kill anyone tonight.”
Not for lack of trying, but still. None of those kills were mine.
“I don’t think so. Mynda described your copper skin and dark hair,” he said, sneering just enough to bare his fangs. “She even mentioned the freckles. I didn’t think we’d be fortunate enough to run into you tonight, though. And definitely not alone. Must be our lucky night.”
I finished my drink and set the glass on the counter. As I slid off the bar stool, I stumbled, and only the bar saved me from planting my ass on the ground.
How many drinks had I actually had?
I looked over my shoulder to see the barmaid watching me. She reached under the counter—probably for a weapon that would be useless against the monsters who surrounded me.
Whatever fight was coming, I had to get away from the innocent bystanders.
I tilted my head toward the side door that led out to the alley. “Should we take this outside, then?”
The vampire shrugged. “Doesn’t matter to me where we kill you.”
I tossed some gold coins onto the counter. I had no intention of heading into the After with a debt to my name.
My head swam as I shuffled out of the bar. As soon as the hot air hit me, one of the vamps grabbed me by my hair and slammed me into the wall.
I couldn’t focus. My knees were too weak to stand upright without help, but I still reached for the dagger at my hip.
I may have been hopelessly drunk, but I wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Spinning the dagger around in my palm, I swung my fist back. Blade met flesh, and I buried it into the vampire who held me.
As he released me, we both stumbled away from each other. He landed hard on the ground while I fell against the wall.
I turned toward the other vampire as he rushed for me, realizing much too late that my dagger was still hilt-deep in his friend’s stomach.
His thick arms caught me around the waist, and he sent us both rolling to the ground.
Even if he hadn’t just thrown me around the alley like a rag doll, I couldn’t see straight, and I couldn’t even attempt to stand.
“Nyxa take me,” I muttered, a curse to the goddess of death I was sure to meet soon. I knew better than to drink more liquor than my body could tolerate.
Especially wearing my identifiable guild leathers.
I wished I’d taken Caleb up on his offer to get a drink. I could’ve gotten just as wasted, but at least I would have been safer with my partner around.
Now, it was too late. I was at the mercy of this vampire who thought I killed his friends.
A heavy boot slammed into my stomach. My body doubled over on its own, though the pain was distant and strange.
A flurry of blows came, and the coppery taste of my own blood filled my mouth.
At some point, the assault stopped.
Either that, or my mind shut down my awareness as an act of mercy.
Eventually, the world blurred together, and the last thing I saw before everything turned black was someone bending over to scoop me up.
Iwoke with the familiar ache of a hangover and a cough that sent a sharp pain shooting through my lungs. With careful movements, not wanting to jostle my body too harshly, I pushed myself upright and took in my unfamiliar surroundings.
I was in a bed I’d never seen before, sitting on a scratchy blue blanket. The decor was sparse except for an empty bookshelf, and the top edge of a window poked out above it. The thin line of golden light coming from outside suggested it was daytime.
My crossbow and sword leaned against the wall in the corner of the room, and someone had folded my leathers in a neat pile on a chair beside them.
Looking down at myself, I found that I was wearing only my undershirt and underwear. I lifted the shirt to find a white cloth wrapped around my waist. A deep brown stain that had once been red had soaked through the two layers of fabric. I ran my fingers gingerly over the cloth and frowned, trying to remember when I had gotten cut during the fight.
If I were being honest, I hardly remembered any of it. All I knew was that it had hurt, and that it had been a relief when I lost consciousness.
What I couldn’t figure out was why I was still alive.
I pulled the cloth away to examine the wound, but underneath it my skin was smooth and unmarked. Whatever had happened to me, it was now fully healed.
How long had I been out? Had I lost days to recovering from an evening I couldn’t recall?
It was a dangerous situation for a hunter to be in, and I cursed myself for allowing it to happen.
My head pounded as I padded across the room and put on my pants and boots. With my hand hovering over the rest of my gear, I hesitated. I still didn’t know where I was, or who had brought me here. Whoever they were, they’d patched me up and left my weapons within reach.
If they were an enemy, why bother?
I grabbed one of the daggers and slid it into the strap on my boot, but I left the rest. I’d take my chances and leave the larger weapons, but I didn’t want to leave myself vulnerable.
When I opened the door of the small bedroom, the pleasant aroma of freshly brewed coffee greeted me. I followed the hallway into the dining area of what looked to be a tiny apartment, barely large enough for one. The windows were all boarded up with planks of wood nailed into the wall, and the only light came from a leyline crystal lamp on the table.
A man stood at the counter, his back to me as he poured his drink into a mug. If he noticed my arrival, he didn’t bother to turn around.
“Um, hi,” I managed.
He looked over his shoulder at me, then held up a finger to tell me to wait a moment. While he poured a second cup, I froze, my mouth hanging open just a little.
For the second time in one night, Veran Reyes had saved me.
“I thought you’d be in bed longer, or I would have made more,” he said, gesturing to the now empty pot.
“What time is it?” I asked, still trying to make sense of the vampire in front of me doing something so… domestic. “I mean, how long was I asleep?”
“Early evening. We still have a couple hours until sundown.” He glanced at the second mug in his hand and tilted his head to the side thoughtfully. “Is it too late in the day for you to drink coffee?”
“It’s fine. I’m used to late nights.”
“You sure managed to get yourself in a lot of trouble last night. It’s a good thing I showed up.”
“Were you following me?” I asked.
His chuckle was warm and melodic. “A thank you would be nice.”
“So, is that a yes? You did follow me?”
“No. You just happened to be in the wrong place twice.” He set the second mug down on the table and gestured for me to join him. “And I happened to be in the right place both times.”
I rubbed my side where the blood stain had been, feeling again for a wound that wasn’t there. “What happened to me?”
“One of them tried to stab you after you went down. I knocked him away, but he still sliced you open. After I killed him, I healed you,” Reyes said.
I sat down across from him, but I left the drink on the table. My stomach was still doing flips, and even though the thought of caffeine was appealing, I wasn’t sure I could handle it at the moment.
“There isn’t even a mark here.” I brushed my fingers over the smooth skin. “How did you heal it like this overnight?”
“It is an impressive recovery, isn’t it?” One of his brows rose in amusement as he watched me, though I wasn’t sure what he found funny. His response did nothing to answer my question, and he clearly didn’t intend to.
“Why did you save me?” I asked. “You know what I am.”
He shrugged. “You needed saving.”
“I don’t understand. Why not just let me die?”
I didn’t know why I was pushing him so hard. I should have been grateful to be alive, after all. But I had to know why. I was a hunter from the Opus Hunters’ Guild, and he was a vampire. We were supposed to be enemies.
Reyes leaned forward with his elbows on the table. His green gaze rolled over me, evaluating me as though I were nothing more than a curiosity.
A familiar rage warmed my cheeks as I realized that, despite my standing among the most elite group of hunters on the continent, he didn’t consider me a threat. I hated the way he looked at me, like I was something fragile. He had no idea what I was capable of.
Then again, the two fights he’d seen me in hadn’t been my best showing, so it was no surprise Reyes didn’t know how deadly I could be. If things went poorly, the assumption that I was weak could work to my advantage.
I’d made mistakes the previous night, but I wouldn’t let that happen again.
“I could ask you the same thing,” he said finally, breaking the long silence between us. “They trained you to believe that every one of my kind is evil and needs to be put down. Why didn’t you kill me when you had a chance?”
I looked down at my cup as I considered that. The only answer that came to mind was the one I’d given to Samuel, that it just felt wrong to kill him after he saved my life. And that was true.
Was there anything more to it?
I dismissed the question with a shake of my head. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It matters a great deal to me,” Reyes said softly.
“I still haven’t decided not to kill you, you know.”
The corner of his mouth quirked up in a sly smile. “I’m sure.”
“So, tell me why I shouldn’t,” I said.
“Why you shouldn’t kill me?”
“Perhaps you should, if you truly believe everything you’ve been told.”
I let that hang in the air for a beat too long before freeing the dagger from my boot and lunging across the table. I leaned forward, sliding my hand around his thick neck as I pressed the cool steel against his jaw.
And that infuriating eyebrow was still arched. We both knew that I’d only gotten this close because he allowed it. Whatever this was, it was just a game to him.
Still, now that I was here, his speed advantage wouldn’t matter. It would take only a flick of my wrist to slit his throat and end it. Maybe Samuel would even allow me to return to the guild and end my suspension if I brought proof of the vampire’s death.
“You kill people,” I said. “You are a monster. I don’t need the guild to tell me that.”
“I never kill mortals. And I don’t touch innocents.”
“Don’t lie to me,” I said, pressing the flat of the blade harder against his throat. “You all do.”
“I only drink from criminals,” Reyes said, keeping his smooth voice low and soft. “And never to kill.”
“What difference does it make to you?” I asked. “I mean, you’re a vampire.”
“You keep telling me what a monster I am. Does it make you feel better about everything you’ve been taught to view me that way?”
Instead of answering, I relaxed my grip on the dagger and removed the pressure from his throat.
He sighed and leaned back in his chair, still holding his coffee mug. “It’s hard to blame you for well-placed suspicion. Most of my kind really are monsters. Still, I’d hope that saving your life twice would at least take us past the point of you holding a blade to my neck.”
“I guess,” I muttered, shame warming my cheeks. This man had done nothing but save my life and tend my wounds; vampire or not, I owed him better than threats. I returned the dagger to my boot and shuffled back to my seat, where the coffee he prepared waited for me.
“How are your other wounds this morning? I couldn’t touch any of the bruising… or the headache I assume you have.”
I brushed my fingers over the tender skin beneath my eye. “I’ve had worse.”
He nodded. “Opus can be a dangerous place.”
“Yeah, I know. I’ve lived here almost my whole life,” I said. “What about you? Have you been here long?”
“I just arrived a week ago.”
That explained why I didn’t know who he was. We had a decent idea of how many vampires still lived in the city, and we’d had run-ins with most of them. But Reyes wasn’t one I’d ever seen or heard of.
I took a sip of my coffee. The comforting warmth was a pleasant distraction from the pounding in my head, and though I didn’t want to say so out loud, I appreciated it. “You don’t strike me as a new vampire. But you don’t belong to any of the clans here.”
“What makes you think so?”
“You wouldn’t have attacked vamps from the Nostro clan if you had any intention of staying in the city.”
“Sounds like you’ve got me figured out.”
“Not really. Not as much as I’d like, anyway.” I eyed him as I took another sip. Maybe it was the hangover I was nursing—among my other injuries—but I was certain it was the best damn coffee I’d ever had. “What brings you here, then?”
Reyes set his drink down and folded his hands above it. His amused expression turned serious as the lines on his face tightened. “Business.”
“That’s all the answer I get?”
“For someone who just held a knife to my throat, you’re awfully demanding.” The hints of a smirk tugged at his lips.
“Fair,” I said. “I didn’t hurt you, though.”
After we finished the rest of our drinks in a tense silence, Reyes took both mugs to the wash basin. I stayed seated and watched him clean up, unsure what else I could do. His apartment was small, but it was comfortable, and far more pleasant than my tiny quarters back at the guild. If the windows weren’t all boarded up to keep out the sunlight, it could be downright homey.
I still couldn’t make any sense of this vampire who had saved me twice now… or my reaction to him. Most nights, I wouldn’t think twice about putting a crossbow bolt through his head, no matter what he said or did.
What was so different now?
I’d had my opportunities to kill him. But it still felt wrong.
Or maybe I’d just been thinking too much about those green eyes, or the hard muscles of his arms.
No wonder the guild suspended me. It had been a while, to be sure, but I didn’t think I needed to get laid that badly. And even if I did, there was no way I was crawling in bed with a monster. I had to have some standards.
Caleb was always willing.
The thought sent a shudder through me. Maybe the monster would be a better choice after all.
I looked up at Reyes. “Excuse me?”
“I came here from Caracta.”
“We heard there’s a war among your kind in Caracta.” I kept my tone casual to avoid giving too much of our guild’s knowledge away. If I navigated this conversation well, I might even come out of it with intel I could bring back to Samuel.
He nodded. “My sire was assassinated. My entire clan was wiped out. I’m the only one left.”
I bit back my instinct to express my condolences. Why should I be sorry about a vampire clan being wiped out? That was a good thing.
Reyes looked back at me and gave me a sad smile. “I’m not expecting your sympathy, hunter. Don’t worry.”
“You can call me Jordan,” I said. “Jordan Kane.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Jordan.” He turned back around and continued his cleaning. “Anyway, I found out the assassins were from the Nostro clan. So, here I am.”
“If that’s what you want to call it.”
“You can’t take down the entire Nostro clan on your own.”
“Perhaps not,” he whispered. “But I can try. I don’t have much left to live for, so it’s only fitting to go out doing something worthwhile, I suppose.”
I leaned back in my chair and kicked my feet up on the corner of the table. “So, the Nostro vamps traveled all the way across the continent to wipe out your clan? You must have really pissed them off.”
The clean mugs clinked as he returned them to the cabinet. “Our only crime was trying to stay out of that war you mentioned. I couldn’t care less about vampire politics or power grabs. My clan wanted nothing to do with it.”
“And they came to threaten you?”
“They told us to pick a side, or die,” he said.
“How did you make it out alive?” I asked.
“Dumb luck. I wasn’t home for the slaughter.” He slumped down in the seat across from me. The grief in his eyes was so mortal, so human, that I almost forgot what he was. He cleared his throat. “Anyway, I’m sure you have more important things to do than sit around listening to my sad stories. You’re no prisoner here, if you’d like to leave.”
“Just like that?” I glanced over at the door. “You aren’t worried about me knowing where you’re staying, or telling the guild?”
Reyes rolled his eyes. “Haven’t we been through this? If you wanted me dead, I would be. If I wanted you dead, you would be. Neither of us has killed the other yet, so there’s nothing to be gained from fear and suspicion.”
It sounded so simple when he put it that way. Not only had he chosen not to kill me, he’d been kind to me. He’d taken care of me and made sure I was alright. That meant something to me. I may have been a member of the hunters’ guild, sworn to destroy his kind, but I had honor. Maybe he did, too.
I shuffled into the bedroom and gathered my belongings. When I returned to the kitchen with my crossbow slung over my shoulder and my other weapons in place, I paused in front of Reyes.
“Thank you for saving my life. And for the coffee.”
“It was nice having company. I’ve been on my own a long time.”
“What will you do next?” I asked. “Keep hunting?”
Reyes turned away from me and planted his palms on the table. “I have a lead on where I might find more of them. I intend to follow it.”
His hands curled into fists. “I do what I must.”
Well, it wasn’t like I had anything better to do while I was on suspension, and killing dangerous vampires sounded like a good way to spend my free time.
I tossed my bag on an empty chair and took my seat across from him.
“Alright, then. What do you suggest we do?”
“We?” he asked. “I don’t remember anything about a we.”
That gods-damned eyebrow arched again, and I fought the urge to jump across the table and punch the expression right off his smug face.
“I’ve got some time to spare,” I said. “You’ll need help from someone who knows this city inside and out. Besides, I owe you. I don’t want to be in debt to a vampire.”
“A hunter and a vampire, working together,” Reyes said, flashing me a fanged grin. “What would your friends at the guild think?”
“Let’s just hope they don’t find out.”
Ispent the remaining hours before sundown on Reyes’s couch. I was still wounded from the previous night’s scuffles, but I’d been through worse. It had never stopped me from going out in the field before, and I’d be damned if I gave Reyes any more reason to think I couldn’t handle myself out there.
At sundown, the vampire tapped my shoulder, waking me with a start. The jacket and vest he wore made him look almost like a dignified nobleman, and I tried not to appreciate the look too much.
“Ready to head out?” he asked.
“Ready.” I pulled my leather chest piece over my head and adjusted my belts.
“You’re not going out in all that.”
“You stand out like a warship on a Caractan canal.”
I frowned. “But—”
“Not an option,” he said. “We’re trying to get information tonight. No fighting unless we have to. You’re still hurt, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“I’m fine,” I insisted.
“You’re not fooling me. I patched you up, remember?” He tossed me a thick shirt that looked a few sizes too large for me. “That won’t protect you as well as your own gear, but it’s thick leather. And even better, it’s not emblazoned with the seal of your guild.”
“I can’t go into a vampire nest without protection.”
“I’m all the protection you need,” Reyes said, grinning. “Look, I don’t need your help tonight, but you’re the one who volunteered. If you’re not comfortable with this, you don’t have to go.”
I sighed, then tugged off my chest piece and the rest of my leather armor. I hoped I wouldn’t regret this later.
“What about my weapons? There’s no way in hell I’m going in unarmed.”
He looked over my gear. “Take the daggers and the sword. Leave the crossbow.”
The leather shirt reached halfway to my knees, and when I added my belt, it looked more like an ugly dress. Even with pants on beneath it, I felt naked.
I waited until he wasn’t looking, then slid one of the red vials of speed serum into my pocket. I’d made the mistake of fighting without it the night before, and I wouldn’t risk that again.
Once I finished dressing in as much gear as I could manage beneath the shirt, I held out my arms. “How do I look?”
“Wearing my shirt suits you,” he said with a wink that made my traitorous heart flutter.
As soon as we finished working together, I was going to find my way to a tavern and bring home a nice male—a mortal one—and free myself from these damn thoughts. They were a distraction I really didn’t need when heading into a dangerous situation.
Reyes considered me a moment longer. “There’s one more thing we need to do before we leave, though.”
I followed him out to the front door of his small apartment, where he retrieved an old bottle of milk from outside. As soon as he brought it in, the stench hit the air. A violent wave of nausea rolled through me, and I fought back the urge to vomit.
“What is that for?” My voice came out muffled through my hands.
He shook the bottle, upsetting the chunks floating in the liquid… and upsetting the hell out of my stomach.
“It keeps people away from my home during the day. No one wants to come near the smell—vampire or otherwise.”
“And you brought it in because…” I waved my hand in the air, inviting him to finish the sentence.
“Because you’re going to pretend to be my blood servant tonight.”
Even if I hadn’t already been on the verge of emptying the contents of my stomach from the stench, the thought of being presented as a blood servant would have brought me there quickly enough.
“Assuming I agree to that plan—and that’s a huge if—what is the spoiled milk supposed to do?” I asked.
“I’m going to rub some on your neck,” he said, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world.
“The scent of blood servants is repulsive to other vampires. If I’m going to make them believe you’re mine, you have to smell the part.” Reyes opened the bottle and coated his finger in the vile substance.
My face contorted into a grimace.
“If you want in, this is how we’re doing it,” he said. “I’m not walking you into a den of vampires smelling like a tempting snack.”
With a sigh, I tilted my head and brushed my hair behind my shoulder. “Fine.”
He moved in close, and for a moment, I thought he might bite me. Instead, he brushed his finger along the base of my neck on each side.
If not for the disgusting stench he was wiping on my skin, it might have sent a thrill through me to be touched like that. As it was, I was grateful that the horrible odor grounded me in the moment.
A gag fought its way up my throat, and Reyes backed away from me.
“I’m alright,” I muttered. “Give me a minute.”
While I gathered my composure and tried to let myself get used to the smell, he rinsed his hands off in the wash basin.
He looked me over, then nodded to himself. “Now we’re ready. Let’s head out.”
Most of Opus was overcrowded, with narrow streets and rows of small homes and crammed apartment buildings. I grew up on these streets, and though my mother always wanted to move back to her home in the elven capital of Viridi, we never did. This was my home.
Walking into the wealthy part of town was like entering a different world. The palace at at the very center of Opus sat on the highest point of the city, overlooking the citizens.
The homes of the nobles and elites surrounded the palace walls. Unlike the buildings where I grew up, their houses were enormous, and they were spaced out enough to give their owners space for patches of grass. Those tiny patches were probably the only green in the otherwise drab, grey city.
I tugged at the ridiculous leather shirt. At least my guild leathers wouldn’t have earned me any odd looks if I’d been able to wear them. The rich folks didn’t much like us, since most civilians didn’t believe in things that went bump in the night, but they at least respected us enough to give us space.
As it was, I appeared to be Reyes’s servant. The people we passed regarded me with disdain, if they looked at me at all. Most of them shoved past me, expecting me to make myself small.
I wasn’t used to being the one who had to move out of the way when walking down the streets.
“What are we hoping to find here?” I asked, as I dodged an irritable nobleman who snapped a curse in my direction.
“Information,” Reyes said, stopping to talk to me for the first time since we left his apartment. “Anything we can learn about Alair Nostro. Where he is, what he’s planning—that sort of thing.”
“We’ve been hunting his clan for years, and we still haven’t found so much as a hint about where he’s holed up. Or even what the guy looks like.”
“You didn’t have me with you.” A smug grin spread across his face.
I scoffed. “What makes you think you’ll succeed where our entire guild has failed?”
“I got an address from the men who attacked you. Supposedly, there’s a meeting happening up this way tonight.”
“A meeting with Alair Nostro?” I asked.
“I doubt he’ll be there in person, but if we can get information from some of the leaders in his clan, that’ll be good enough for now.”
“We’ve never been able to touch any of the vampires who live up this way,” I admitted. “We know of a few, but they’re too well-protected by their status for us to do anything about them. They’re influential, and they’re very good at covering their tracks. Lady Arrica isn’t keen on letting hunters go after any of her respected nobles without proof.”
He leaned in close and whispered. “Well, like I said, you’ve never had me.”
A pleasant shudder rolled through my body, and I turned my head just enough so that my eyes met his. Only inches separated us, and my breath hitched at the heat in his green eyes. This close, he smelled like leather and pine carried on a crisp autumn breeze, a relief from the humid air around us that sent an entirely different heat surging through me.
“I guess I don’t have to worry about following guild rules when I’m working with a vampire,” I breathed out, trying to get us back on track. We had a job to do. “How much further?”
Reyes stared down the street, frowning. “This is the correct street, though I’m not sure which house it is.”
“And you’re sure we’re going to the right place?” I asked. “If we knock on that door and we’re wrong, we’ll end up getting arrested just for being in this part of town when we shouldn’t be. Especially since I don’t have any of my gear on me to prove I’m with the guild.”
“I don’t believe the man I interrogated was lying to me.”
“What makes you so sure? Last I heard, detecting lies wasn’t a vampire super power.”
“He swore it on Nyxa.”
I couldn’t help myself; I barked out a hearty laugh. “Since when do vampires revere elven gods?”
“Since the first vampire walked Nymphera,” Reyes said. “Among vampires, the Nostro clan is well known for being devout traditionalists, and they wouldn’t swear an empty oath. But you hunt my kind for a living—I’m sure you already knew that.”
I bit my lip and looked away from him. The guild knew plenty about vampire physiology, but our leadership had little interest in their culture. What they believed, how they interacted with each other—those things were of little interest to us.
All we needed to know was how to kill them.
The idea that we were missing out on important information about the enemy was an unsettling one.
“Well, if we’re almost there, I need a moment,” I said, ducking into a narrow space between buildings.
I pulled out my vial of serum and popped off the cap.
“What are you doing?”
Pausing with the vial hovering just above my forearm, I looked up at Reyes. “I know you just want to get information here, but I’m not going in unprepared.”
“So, drugs?” He gestured to the vial. “Seems like the opposite of what you’d want to do if you’re anticipating a fight.”
I’d forgotten how new the serum was; it wasn’t a surprise if he’d never heard of it.
“Don’t worry, it won’t impact my concentration. If anything, I’ll be more focused.”
Reyes narrowed his eyes in suspicion, but I didn’t much care what he believed. I’d already given up my armor and some of my weapons. If he had any other objections as he watched me inject the serum into my forearm, he didn’t voice them.
“We should get moving before this wears off,” I said.
“How long do we have?”
I hesitated, not sure whether I should answer. It was one thing to work with a vampire to bring down other vampires; it was another to offer that vampire guild secrets that he could use against us. Still, I needed to tell him enough for us to work together effectively. He didn’t need to know that the serum’s effectiveness varied, or that because of my small size it lasted longer for me than most of my peers. He also didn’t need to know that it made me faster than any of the other hunters I knew, and even most of the vampires we’d encountered.
“We have about an hour,” I said. “Maybe two.”
Reyes nodded his understanding. When we reached the end of the street, he paused to look around. “I’m sure it’s one of these, but—”
A group of men surrounded us, interrupting whatever he’d been about to say. They all wore the ornate clothing of noblemen, complete with golden filigrees and accents, but the garments hardly concealed their thick muscles.
These were no noblemen who lived comfortable lives. They were bodyguards, and judging by the speed with which they’d surrounded us, they were vampires.
“Hello, friend,” Reyes said to the one who seemed to be in charge, a surly man whose scalp was covered in tattoos rather than hair.
“What business do you have in Nostro territory?”
“Last I heard, anyone is free to roam the streets of Opus,” Reyes said, keeping a lightness to his tone that felt very out of place.
“You heard wrong. That may be true in the rest of the city, but among our kind, only Nostro leadership is welcome up here.”
I opened my mouth to speak up, then closed it again. It wouldn’t do us any good for me to remind them that vampires weren’t welcome anywhere in Opus, no matter how much I wanted to speak up. I was supposed to be a blood servant, and blood servants kept their mouths shut.
The leader seemed to notice my frustration, as he pivoted his attention to me. His features scrunched up, and I wondered if he’d gotten his first whiff of the spoiled milk that I’d been suffering through for the last few hours.
“I’ll ask you again,” the vampire said, grabbing Reyes by his collar. “What business do you have here?”
“I’m clanless. I’m offering my service and seeking the protection of the Nostro clan.”
“Why did you bring your blood servant?” he asked Reyes, though he kept his eyes locked on mine.
Reyes shrugged. “I don’t like to leave her alone and unguarded. She stays by my side.”
The vampire scowled. “I’ll bring you to Asher.”
“Asher?” Reyes asked.
“Nostro’s right-hand man. He speaks for Alair. He’ll decide what to do with you.”
My throat tightened at the mention of the clan leader’s name, and breathing became more difficult. Not for the first time, I felt naked without my armor and weapons, and I wished I’d brought them along anyway. If nothing else, at least I’d taken the serum.
“Excellent,” Reyes said cheerfully, as though this vampire hadn’t just threatened us.
I pressed up beside Reyes as we walked together, close enough that I could keep my hand on the weapons at my hip without the other vampires noticing. He glanced down at me, and I could see a flicker of my own anxiety reflected back at me. We were about to meet with one of the leaders of the Nostro clan, completely unprepared, and it was too late for either of us to turn back.
I just hoped my new ally knew what he was doing.
They brought us to the largest house on the street, which rivaled the size of our guild headquarters. Black shutters covered the rows of windows that lined the white exterior. Dark ivy crawled up the building’s sides, a stark contrast to that perfect white.
We walked under massive columns holding up a second-floor balcony on our way inside, where a chandelier with tiny leyline crystals of every color imaginable hung from the ceiling in the entryway.
“Asher.” The vampire who’d brought us in approached another and extended his hand. They shook like old friends who hadn’t seen each other in some time, drawing each other into a clap on the back.
“Who did you bring us?” Asher asked, inclining his head toward Reyes and me.
“A vampire and his blood servant, poking around to find the Nostro clan.”
Asher’s eyes narrowed. “How did they know to look here?”
The guard shrugged. “No clue, but I figured I’d bring them to you to decide what to do with them.”
“Not my call,” Asher said. “The boss is here.”
As if on cue, a well-dressed man descended the staircase, his hard gaze locked on Reyes. He appeared to be in his mid-thirties, though trying to guess an age based on appearance was useless when it came to vampires.
He paused on the landing, then adjusted his spectacles.
I wasn’t sure what I expected Alair Nostro to look like, but this wasn’t it. He was short and slim, more toned than muscular. His blond hair was slicked back with gel into a clean style.
He looked more like a scholar than the mob boss leader of a vampire clan that terrorized the city.
The vampires who brought us here shoved Reyes and me to our knees.
My dark curls fell in my eyes as I lowered my head. I doubted Alair Nostro would recognize me as a member of the guild, considering I’d never met him before. Still, now that I was in his presence, on his turf, I didn’t want to take any chances.
I promised Reyes I would let him take the lead. I had to trust he would know what to do.
Alair’s shoes clicked against the marble floor. He came to a stop in front of us and looked down at my vampire companion.
As far as I was concerned, he could ignore me as long as he wanted.
“I pride myself on knowing every vampire in this city, but I can’t say we’ve had the pleasure of meeting,” he said coolly.
Reyes looked up at the clan leader and gave him a half-cocked smile. “Then, I suppose you don’t know every vampire in the city, do you?”
“I would suggest you enlighten me. Quickly.”
“Rylan Quinn,” Reyes said with a smoothness that implied it wasn’t the first time he’d used the alias.
“What clan are you from?”
There was a harsh undertone to his statement, something subtle that nearly gave away everything, and I hoped I was the only one who caught it. If the Nostro clan realized he was from Caracta, from the clan they’d wiped out, we would both be dead before I would be able to blink.
Alair rubbed his chin. “What brings you to Opus?”
“I heard the Nostro clan was the strongest in all of Nymphera, so I hoped to offer my service in exchange for protection.”
“I see,” Alair said. “Let’s put the pretense aside, shall we?”
The pleasant mask Reyes wore slipped, and a dark look flashed across his face. “What do you mean?”
Alair took a seat in a plush red chair on the other side of the entryway. “I know who you are, Veran Reyes. I knew you before you walked in this door. Do you really believe I would eliminate an entire clan without doing my research?”
Reyes lunged forward, but Asher shoved him back to his knees.
“We left you alive for a reason.”
“And what reason is that?” Reyes asked.
“To spread the word of what we did to your family. And you’ve done an excellent job of it, from what I’ve heard. Clans across the continent now know what happens to those who think they can sit out of the coming war. The feud between the two Cineris clans will determine the future for all vampires, and we all have a duty to do our part.”
“Which side are you supporting?”
“If you knew half as much as you think you do, that would be obvious.” Alair adjusted a ring on his right hand as he got to his feet. “Now, I did have one other question for you before I let my men deal with you.”
“I guess I don’t have much choice but to answer,” Reyes said dryly.
“Who is the girl you brought with you? Is she with the hunters?”
Beside me, Reyes went stiff. “She’s my blood servant. Whatever you do to me, I hope you’ll let her go. I can order her not to speak a word of anything she’s seen here today.”
“Spoiled milk is a very clever trick; I’ve been around a long time, and I haven’t heard of anyone trying that one before. But did you honestly think I wouldn’t notice the difference?” Alair cupped Reyes’s chin and forced him to look up at him. “And that serum pumping through her veins, the blood stolen from our people who were tortured? Did you think I wouldn’t notice that, either?”
My breath caught. Reyes had been so confident using the milk trick to change my scent would work, and I’d never heard of a vampire being able to detect the serum in our blood.
Alair started up the stairs, waving over his shoulder as he walked away. “Asher, take them to the old house and secure them. Do whatever you’d like, but don’t kill them just yet. They may have useful information for us.”
The vampire behind me pulled something over my head. I tried to reach for the sword at my hip, but before I could, something hard—possibly a boot—slammed into my chest. The blow knocked the breath from my lungs, and I gasped for air.
It wasn’t long before everything went dark, and I sunk into oblivion.
When I woke, everything was dark. At first I thought I might still be asleep, floating somewhere at the edges of consciousness. But as the voices nearby grew louder and the aches all over my body intensified, I realized I was awake, and I was in a hell of a lot of trouble.
“Is the girl awake yet?”
The voice sounded like it might be Asher’s, but I wasn’t familiar enough with him to be sure.
“Not yet,” said a second voice, this one much closer to me. From the sound of it, he was standing right beside me.
“Bring her over when she is. We may be able to use her to get him to talk.”
Ice ran through my veins as I realized what they intended to do with me. I shifted my body just enough to check my hip and find that my weapons were gone. Pressure against my foot told me the dagger concealed in my boot was still there, and it would have to do.
I lay in place, trying to get a sense of my surroundings without being able to see. I’d heard two voices, and there were two sets of feet walking around. If there were others, they were being remarkably quiet. Every so often, I heard a grunt of pain that sounded like Reyes, though the vampires’ voices were so low I couldn’t quite make out the questions they were asking him.
Without knowing how long I’d been unconscious, I couldn’t tell if the serum was still running through my veins, or how long I still had if it was. When the vampire closest to me walked away, I wiggled my fingers, pleased to find that they moved faster than usual. Even if it was just a small amount, I still had at least some of the speed serum to work with.
Still, between a single dagger and an undetermined amount of serum, my chances still didn’t look good.
At least they didn’t think I was enough of a threat to bother binding my hands or feet.
“Let’s take a break,” the first vampire—probably Asher—said. “We can come back to this later and bring the girl into it.”
“Should we tie her up before we leave?”
“She’s not going anywhere. And if she tries… Well, we won’t have a hard time catching her, will we?”
I waited a little longer, until the sounds of boots faded away and the door clicked shut, then shifted my body and pulled the sack away from my head.
We were in a large bedroom, though the furniture had all been pushed against the walls. Reyes hung from the ceiling at the center of the room, facing away from me. His wrists were bound above his head, which was tilting awkwardly to the side, like it was too much effort for him to support the weight. There were small cuts all over his body, and I winced at the lines of blood that still trickled down his skin.
“Reyes?” I whispered as I approached him. When I touched his arm, his entire body twitched.
“You should get out of here. See if that window works,” he said, nodding his head at the wall. A bookcase covered a window, just like the one at his apartment. If I pushed it aside, I would be able to get out, and I might even have enough speed serum running through my veins to get away.
“I’m not leaving you.”
“I’m not leaving,” I said. “Stay still.”
I lifted my foot and pulled the dagger free from my boot, then sliced through the ropes binding Reyes. He fell to the ground, stretching his arms out.
“What are they trying to learn from you?” I asked.
“They want me to tell them what clans I’ve talked to, if I’m working alone, why you’re helping me. They’re asking me a lot of questions about your guild, but I don’t know anything about it. As soon as they realize I have no value to them, they’re going to kill me.”
I shook my head. “Not happening. Can you push that bookcase out of the way? We can get out of here together.”
Reyes glanced at the door, then back to me. “One of them—Asher—had a notebook. He was referencing it while they were interrogating me. It looked important.”
“Neither of us are armed, aside from my dagger, and we’re both hurt. This isn’t a smart fight to take.”
“It’s worth the risk if we can get a notebook with all the information we could ever want about the Nostro clan,” he said.
“Are you sure that’s what it is?”
“No,” Reyes admitted. “But the way he was looking at it… It’s a hunch, I know, but imagine what we could do with that kind of information. What would your guild do with it?”
That was enough to shut me up. If we had a list of the Nostro clan’s hideouts and operations, Samuel could have us wipe them all out within a week. It would be a significant victory for the guild.
“And if that’s not what the notebook is?” I asked, though he’d already convinced me this was a risk worth taking.
“Worst case, we deal a blow to Nostro by wiping out his right-hand man. Then we look for our next opportunity to strike.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “You get on the other side of the door, and I’ll wait over here. When they come back in, we’ll jump them. I’ve got this dagger, and you’ve got…”
My voice trailed off, but Reyes finished for me. “My teeth.”
“Quick and clean,” I said.
We got into position on either side of the door. I stole occasional glances at Reyes. He looked tired and worn down, but it didn’t seem like they’d been working him for information very long. There were dozens of cuts all over his torso, but none of them were deep enough to cause concern.
I’d seen the corpses of people the Nostro clan tortured, and this didn’t even come close. If I hadn’t woken up to save Reyes when I did, this would have gotten a lot worse.
And it wouldn’t have just been him. I was sure they would have had a lot of fun with me, too.
I shuddered at the thought of some of the charred, mutilated, and broken bodies I’d seen. We couldn’t afford to mess this up.
We didn’t have to wait long before we heard the two vampires walking down the hallway in our direction. I tensed, tightening my grip around the dagger. Reyes shot me a reassuring nod.
The door opened, and we let the two vampires step into the room before launching into our attack.
As Reyes dove for Asher, I leaped into the air and wrapped my arms around the other vampire’s neck. He reached over his shoulder, snarling as he tried to throw me off, but I held firm. I swung my arm, aiming the dagger for his neck, but I wasn’t prepared for the way he dropped to the ground to disrupt my attack. The dagger sliced a small cut along his shoulder, missing the vulnerable spot I’d been aiming for.
I lost my grip on the vampire’s shoulders but held on tight to my dagger. As I tumbled off him, I rolled into my momentum and jumped to my feet, my smooth movement aided by the speed serum. I didn’t give him a chance to recover from the fall before throwing my dagger.
It came to a stop at the hollow of his throat, hilt sticking up toward his chin. He barely had enough time for surprise to register on his face before he fell to the ground once more. This time, he stayed there.
My breaths heavy, I glanced over at Reyes, who leaned against the wall, arms crossed. He’d wiped off most of the blood from the bottom half of his face, but there was just enough left to prove he’d used his teeth, just as he’d said he would.
There should have been something viscerally terrifying about a predator with blood on his mouth standing only a few feet away from me, but I couldn’t find it in me to care. I was just glad to be alive.
“You know, if you finished first, you could have helped.” I pulled my dagger free and used a corner of Asher’s shirt to wipe it clean.
“Looked like you had things under control.”
“At least we’re even now.”
“How do you figure?” Reyes asked, taking a few steps toward me.
“You saved my life, and now I’ve saved yours.”
He pretended to consider that for a moment, then shook his head. “I don’t think so. I saved your life twice. You only saved mine once.”
“True,” I conceded. “But your plan almost got me killed, so that cancels it out. Not to mention the fact that I let you cover my skin in disgusting milk for nothing.”
Reyes laughed, and the sound coated me in warmth. “Fair enough. We’re even. Are you planning on killing me now that you’re out of my debt?”
Just as he had, I pretended to mull it over. “You’re safe from me this time, Reyes.”
He crouched down beside Asher’s body and dug through the vampire’s pockets. The small notebook was just what he described. I knelt down beside him and watched over his shoulder as he flipped through page after page of notes, locations, and plans.
I let out a soft curse under my breath, thanking the gods for our good fortune. This was exactly what we needed, and so much better than we could have hoped for.
Reyes slipped the book in his pocket and got to his feet.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“To hunt down Alair Nostro.”
“Like hell you are.” I jumped to my feet and stood in the doorway, blocking his path.
“We know where to find him,” Reyes said, pushing past me. “I’m not going to just stand by and—”
“Wait.” I gripped his arm, and to my surprise, he paused. “Look at yourself. You’re a mess. And so am I right now. If we run right back in there, we’re just going to get ourselves killed. Is that what you want?”
The look in his eyes—defeated, lost, and above all else, tired—terrified me.
“You don’t want to get killed, right?”
His noncommittal shrug wasn’t reassuring. “I haven’t thought much about it. I just want him dead.”
I slammed my arm against his chest, pushing him against the wall. “I’m in this with you now. What if I get killed? Would you care?”
The words left my lips before I could hold them back. Why should he care about me? I was no one to him, just a hunter whose terrible judgment made her tag along.
“Of course I would,” he said, his voice hardly a whisper.
“I trusted your plan, and we almost died. We’re not rushing back in there blindly.”
Reyes let out a weary sigh as he rubbed his forehead. “Okay. Fine.”
I rested a reassuring hand on his arm. “Trust me, I want Alair Nostro dead, too. I’m going to do what I can, and so will my guild. But he’s got an entire clan protecting him. He’s not going down anytime soon, and it definitely won’t be because the two of us storm in alone, totally unprepared and outnumbered.”
“Okay,” he breathed out. A moment later, the vulnerability disappeared, and his smirk returned. “You have to admit, we did work pretty well together, though.”
As I started down the hallway, I kept my back to him. I didn’t want him to see the smile spreading across my face, even if he could hear it in my voice when I spoke.
“I wouldn’t go that far.”
Istepped into the cool water and closed my eyes, letting the steady stream wash over my aching body. I’d trusted Reyes, and I’d almost gotten myself killed for it. Still, he hadn’t lied to me or given me any reason to doubt his intentions. Our temporary alliance hadn’t gone as smoothly as I would’ve liked, but we survived. And in truth, it had been a success; we’d both gotten what we needed, and we struck a blow against the Nostro clan.
As far as I knew, I was the first hunter to lay eyes on Alair Nostro. I was sure Samuel was still pissed at me for letting Reyes live, but he’d forgive me once I brought him information that could bring down the Nostro clan for good.
Though, I’d have to figure out what to tell him about how I got that information.
I took a bar of soap and rubbed my neck until my skin was tender to rid myself of the smell. My body clean, I toweled off and dressed in my undershirt and pants. I found Reyes sitting on his couch, head tilted toward the ceiling with his eyes closed. Exhaustion was a strange look for a vampire, and not for the first time I was struck by how very mortal it made him seem.
He tilted his head to the side to look at me. “Well, what?”
“Do I still smell like old milk?”
His warm, melodic laugh washed over me, filling me with a sense of peace that didn’t belong in the presence of a vampire.
“No,” he said, offering me a sly smile. “You smell lovely.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere, Reyes.” I sat down on the couch beside him. “You can be honest. That stench was strong as hell. And it didn’t even work—don’t think I’m forgiving you for that anytime soon.”
“It was unpleasant earlier,” he agreed. “But I hardly smell it anymore.”
“You hardly smell it, or I smell lovely? Can’t be both.”
“You smell irresistible.” He leaned in closer to me, his green eyes flashing something dangerous. Instead of terrifying me, the look sent heat surging through my core.
“Like you could eat me up?” I teased, but my voice came out breathy and weak.
“Something like that.”
His lips found mine, and he pulled me in close. My tongue brushed against his as we explored each other. His mouth was cool, but not unpleasant, and I wanted more. I reached around the back of his neck, running my fingers through his thick waves.
Reyes kissed up my jaw, pausing at my ear, then lowered his mouth to my neck. Sharp tips lightly grazed my tender skin, and I drew in a gasp. The pressure wasn’t nearly enough to break skin—not even close—but the danger of having a vampire’s fangs at my throat was more thrilling than I could have imagined.
At the sound of my gasp, he pulled away from me as though I’d slapped him. I recognized the hesitation as another opportunity to walk away, but I didn’t want to. I wanted this. I wanted him.
Not giving him time to think otherwise, I swung my leg over his, straddling him. I kissed him again, more desperately this time, like I couldn’t taste enough of him.
Reyes dragged his hands down my body until he reached my waist, slipping his hands under the fabric. His cool fingers brushed against my hips, and the sensation made my skin tingle.
Between my thighs, I could feel his desire for me growing, and I started grinding against him.
The vampire let out a soft moan against my mouth before flipping me onto my back. He kissed me once more with a different type of passion—a soft, reverent brushing of lips that made me ache for him even more.
He kicked his pants aside as I removed my own. I spread my legs, ready and waiting, but he hesitated once more. Reyes had seemed so sure of himself since the moment I met him, but now he hovered above me with uncertainty, seeking my approval.
The world froze in that moment, our roles the only thread of doubt that remained between us. He was a creature who would devour me, and I was sworn to destroy him. But in his arms, with his soft breaths cool on my cheek, none of that mattered.
I nodded, arching my hips up to meet him, and he slipped inside of me. As he filled me, I let my hands wander over the hard muscles of his arms, down to his hips as they rolled into me.
His mouth grazed its way down my neck again. A thrill rushed through me at the sensation, but I didn’t freeze this time, even though I still didn’t know if he would try to bite me. Worse, I didn’t know if I wanted him to.
Reyes was everything I hated, everything I’d fought against in my years with the guild, but while he was on top of me, his body one with mine, he was just a man. A man who overwhelmed my senses with tantalizing pleasure, who made me desperate for more.
I couldn’t get enough of him.
And judging by the way his hands traveled over my body, he couldn’t get enough of me, either.
Our heavy breaths made way for passionate moans. As the intensity of his movements crested, I shattered, my body shuddering with the wave of pleasure. Reyes followed, filling me as my core clenched around him.
We lay together for a long time after, only our chests moving in unison as we fought to catch our breath. When our bodies settled, Reyes leaned down and left a soft kiss on my forehead.
“I thought you were going to bite me.” A nervous chuckle escaped my lips.
There was no trace of humor on his features as he met my gaze. “Never. Not unless you wanted me to.”
Could I ever want that? There was a moment while we were together that I might have considered what it would be like to tilt my head further to the side, press against his fangs until the tips broke skin…
I shook my head to clear those thoughts away. I couldn’t even let myself consider that, no matter how curious I was.
“Would it hurt if you did?” I asked.
That soft smile returned as he sat upright, settling himself on the opposite end of the couch. “It might pinch a little at first, but that goes away quickly.”
I grabbed the pillow from my side of the couch and flung it at him. “Yeah, I’m sure.”
Reyes laughed. “I’m serious. That’s how it works.”
I rolled my eyes. “Right.”
“I could show you, if you want,” he said, though his playful tone and raised brow let me know that, much to my relief, it wasn’t a serious offer.
“Keep dreaming, Reyes.”
Ireturned to the guild the next day with a report written up based on everything we found in Asher’s notebook. My report left out any mention of Reyes, saying only that the vampires who found me at the bar brought me to their clan’s leader. I described Alair Nostro and his comments regarding the vampire war in the east.
I didn’t know if it would be enough to convince Samuel to bring me back to active duty, but to my surprise, I found I didn’t much care. If the past few nights had shown me anything, it was that I didn’t need the guild to hunt. Not having serum would prove problematic, though, and the guild certainly had more resources than I ever could.
Even if the situation forced me out of the guild, hunting was my life. I wouldn’t give it up. And Reyes… Soft as he’d been with me, he was a man on a mission. He wouldn’t rest until the Nostro clan was eliminated, and that was all I needed in an ally. Even if the guild accepted me back, I doubted this would be the last time I worked with him.
I made my way through the building with my head held high, ignoring the stares and whispers. They could gossip all they wanted about how I’d let a vampire go, but when word spread that I found where Alair Nostro had been hiding, they’d be whispering something else entirely.
Samuel looked up as I walked in, not bothering to knock. “Jordan—”
I tossed my report on his desk. “I found Alair Nostro.”
My boss reached for the report, but I pressed my hand down to hold it still. “Let me back in the field, take back my suspension and accusations of working with the enemy, and I’ll let you read it. Otherwise, I’m going after him on my own.”
This hadn’t been part of the plan, but a powerful rush went through me as I watched Samuel work through what I’d just said. I was tired of how the guild had treated me, tired of being paired with a partner who held me down, tired of being held to a different standard.
If they wouldn’t respect me, I would take what I’d learned, and I’d walk.
“Jordan…” Samuel rubbed his eyes.
“Don’t give me bullshit about regulations, Sam,” I said. “I slipped up once. Once.And I don’t regret the call I made.”
As his gaze snapped up to meet mine, his eyes narrowed. “Is that right?”
“I’d make the same call if I had to do it over. If you want me around to babysit Caleb and take the hits for his mistakes, then I’m going to do things my way.”
Samuel considered that for a moment, then relaxed back in his chair. “We don’t need your report to find Alair Nostro, but you’re going to give it to me. I know you, and I know this job is too important to you to leave. Where else could you use your… rather narrow set of skills?”
I tried not to wince at the insult. It was a low blow, and he knew it; training to become a hunter my entire life had never left much time for schooling.
“I’d make a damn good mercenary.”
“I suppose you would, if you wanted to cheapen your abilities that way.”
His eyes met mine again, and I refused to be the one to back down first.
“If you hadn’t told me you’d make the same decision again, I might consider your proposal,” Samuel said finally. “As it is, I can’t send you out there to be a liability. I’m sorry, Jordan.”
I snatched the report away from him and tucked it under my arm. “Understood.”
Samuel opened his mouth as though he might say something more, but he thought better of it.
“I’ll send you the bastard’s head after I catch him,” I said.
When the door slammed shut behind me, I expected to feel the heavy weight of leaving behind the only career I’d ever known, of walking away from every friend I’d ever made.
Instead, a thrill surged through me at the thought of making my own decisions for the first time in my entire adult life. I didn’t need to be tied down to the guild to do what I did best. I could work however I wanted, whenever I wanted, and with whomever I wanted.
With my new freedom, I knew exactly who I’d choose for my new partner.
And someday, Veran Reyes and I would take down every single member of the Nostro clan.