The Witch Hunter
Zachary Degaud was twenty-three when he died. The problem was, he didn't stay that way.
Present day, he's just another vampire with another unremarkable story... until he manages to get on the bad side of a two thousand year old witch.
His only chance for survival is to summon the ancient and unpredictable vampire known as the Witch Hunter.
When Aya is awoken from a century long slumber, she finds the witch she's been hunting for thousands of years has resurfaced and marked a young, arrogant vampire by the name of Zachary Degaud. Unless she does something, he will die a slow and painful death — and she's not so sure she wants to help. At least not until Zac proves he's worth saving...
Zac is just looking for a way out of his witch problems, but instead he finds himself falling headfirst into a two thousand year old blood feud fought between the first vampires and those that created them.
And in eye of the storm is the Witch Hunter herself.
The Witch Hunter Saga is an Urban Fantasy series like no other... Vampires, witches, werewolves, and ancient blood feuds abound in this thrilling new twist on an ancient myth. You haven't read vampires like these before.
Release date: March 20, 2013
Print pages: 346
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The Witch Hunter
Nicole R. Taylor
Zac was twenty-three when he died. Problem was, he didn’t stay that way.
He was a captain in the Confederate army until a Union soldier shot him. Captain Zachary Degaud. That was one hundred and forty-seven years ago, in 1865, circa the American Civil War. It was cold comfort the fight had ended shortly thereafter.
Actually, it was like a punch in the face.
Today was his one-hundred and seventieth birthday and he sat at the bar, in a dive posing as a respectable restaurant, in the small southern town of Ashburton, Louisiana—the hole in the swamp where he was born a puny human being.
But at least the sun wasn’t burning him alive, the liquor was flowing, and he was undead. Zac Degaud was just another binge drinking vampire with an unremarkable story, languishing in the midst of the murky swampland of the South. Edward, Louis, Armand, Lestat… if these vampires existed, he hadn’t met them.
“Happy birthday, brother.” A man slapped him on the shoulder and sat on the neighbouring stool.
Zac’s younger brother Sam was just as dead as he was. Stuck together for eternity.
They were both dark-haired and green-eyed, but Zac took after their mother. He was tall and wiry, while Sam was shorter by a head and heavily built like their father. Their parents had died shortly after the Civil War had ended, and neither talked about that time anymore. It didn’t do well to dwell on things they couldn’t change.
“How does it feel to be a year older, old man?” Sam joked.
“I don’t feel a day over twenty-three.” He rolled his eyes. Like time mattered anymore.
They drank a few rounds before Sam stood and said, “That’s my lunch break done. Gotta go back to the grind.”
“I’ll never understand why you got a job. It’s not like we need the money.” Their family had been extremely well off, owning a large plantation before they’d died. One-hundred and forty-seven years of interest made them wealthy vampires.
“No, but you know it helps with the whole human thing,” Sam whispered in his ear, conscious of the busy restaurant around them.
“Assimilation.” Zac rolled his eyes. Yeah, assimilating as a gardener.
“You got it, brother.”
The bothers had returned to the town they had grown up in just over a year ago. Their nomadic life had done nothing but serve as a constant reminder of what they’d become. It had done Sam good blending in with the humans and reconnecting with his old human life, but for Zac, it wasn’t quite the same. Something was still missing, though he could never work out what. He ended up spending more time in the local bar than anywhere else. The alcohol helped curb the cravings typical for a creature who fed on human blood.
Sam lingered. “You’ll be okay?”
“As long as I’ve got my dear old friend scotch whisky, I’ll be just fine.”
“Okay, well, just make sure you pay your tab this time.”
“I’ve got a down payment all ready,” he muttered, slapping a fifty-dollar bill down on the bar. “Don’t let the sun bite, Samuel.”
The sun hadn’t been a problem ever since they’d found a bruja in the south of Mexico willing to help them with a little anti-uv spell…in exchange for a grisly favour, of course.
Looking over his shoulder as Sam left, he caught sight of Liz embracing his brother outside.
Liz was tall and lithe with long, golden blonde hair and blue eyes. All American. Twenty-one years old and almost a year since she had died. Sam had found her dead in the forest…until she’d woken up.
She kissed Sam on the lips and lifted her pale hand, smoothing her fingers through his hair. They looked perfect together, which felt like pouring salt on the open wound that was Zac’s entire vampire life.
Zac couldn’t tear his eyes from her. He and Sam had fought the way only brothers could over a pretty girl while she was still human. When she became… Well, now it was different. She was his brother’s girl, but it didn’t stop the fact that he cared for her more than he ought to.
Zac’s line of sight was broken as a dark figure passed in front of him. Shaking his head, he turned back to his drink, aware of an ominous shadow that loomed as if waiting for him to acknowledge its presence. Zac knew a man stood there, and he knew he was a vampire—they both did.
The stranger sat beside him, his black leather jacket creaking as he leaned forward. He rested his elbows on the bar and waited.
Zac didn’t look at him straight away; instead, he downed the last of his glass of scotch before sliding the empty glass toward the bartender, who caught it and began to refill the contents. He knew all too well that Zac wanted another. His reputation, and his down payment, proceeded him.
Finally turning, he nonchalantly looked at the stranger and made his assessment.
On first glance, the man was a typical vampire. He had a similar stature to Zac and a grace in his actions that betrayed what he was. There was a hardness in his eyes that suggested he’d seen more than his years, exaggerated by the sharpness of his close-cropped blond hair. With his black clothing and leather jacket, he looked out of place with the typical lunch crowd. That, and it was a humid cesspool outside.
“What do you want?” Zac asked with a sigh. In his short stint as one of the undead, he knew vampires didn’t bother to speak to one another unless they wanted something, and that something was often bad news.
“I’m looking for a woman vampire. Black of hair, blue of eye,” the stranger said like he was from another time.
Zac snorted, stifling a laugh. “Are you serious? Are we at a renaissance fair? Shakespeare’s Globe?”
The stranger didn’t blink. “I am deadly serious.”
“Look buddy, if you want to blend in, maybe you should change up your language a little. Get with the times and all.”
The vampire’s eyebrows rose. “And who are you to speak to your elders in this way?”
He was old then. Ancient, maybe. Zac could never tell exactly how many years they had on him until they were trying to beat the crap out of him. The older vampire, the stronger they became, but that didn’t mean they got any smarter.
“I’m the one who has claimed this town,” he said with a sneer.
The vampire looked him up and down like he didn’t believe a word he was saying. “Then you will be able to answer my question. It would be better if you do, then we could avoid any trouble.”
Zac knew a threat when he heard one—he’d given them out often enough. “Tell me who you are, and I’ll think about it.”
The vampire laughed. “Either you’re idiotic or very brave. I am Alistair Payne, and who are you?”
“Zachary Degaud, vampire extraordinaire.” He inclined his head.
“And the answer to my question, Zachary? Have you seen this woman? It would be unadvisable to withhold her whereabouts.”
“I’m the only vampire in these parts, so your answer would be no,” he said with a shrug. “Did your girlfriend hurt your big bad vampire feelings?”
“Oh, come now, Zachary. I saw two outside not a moment ago. Do you really think I’m that stupid? She’s wanted for crimes against her own kind.”
He couldn’t help it. “What are you, the vampire police?”
“Keep prodding, vampire, and we will see how stupid you truly are.”
Zac had no idea who this woman was and didn’t really care. There were no other vampires in this town. “I have no idea who this woman is. She’s not here, unless she’s turned up in the past day and even then, I haven’t seen anyone.”
Alistair stared at him as if he were trying to gauge the truth in his words.
Zac didn’t dare look away from the vampire’s hard gaze. Even though he was telling the truth, it would be taken as an admission of guilt if he backed down. Except, he couldn’t help himself and turned back to his drink a little too soon. Rattling cages ought to be in his job description.
Alistair’s lips curved into a malicious smile. “One thing I have plenty of, is time. I’ll be seeing you again, Zachary Degaud. And it will be sooner than you think.”
Zac watched Alistair’s receding form and grimaced. He was in trouble…again.
“Game on,” he muttered, turning back to his scotch. Better get out another fifty.
* * *
Afternoon light filtered through the tops of the tall, moss-ensnarled trees as Liz made her way through the forest bordering Ashburton.
She’d grown up here, spending her entire human life exploring the streets, woods, and bayou. Human life…it was still an alien description to her.
Sam had found her not far from here the day she’d died. They’d been friends for months before, but it wasn’t until she’d woken up that she found out that Sam and his brother Zac were vampires and that she was becoming one, too.
She never knew who’d turned her and left her for dead. It wasn’t like they hadn’t tried to find out, but they never had found any insight.
Liz never doubted the brothers when they swore they had nothing to do with it. They had a friendly rivalry over her when they had first moved to town, but they’d never take it that far. Especially since they’d both been turned against their will, too.
Liz stood in the dappled sunlight. She smiled when she saw Sam’s dark form flash through the trees. He was fast, and before she could dodge him, he grabbed her around the waist and swung her around, laughing.
“Hello, beautiful.” He grinned, kissing her lightly on the mouth. “Are you ready?”
She ran her tongue over her bottom lip, tasting him. “Uh-huh. Let’s go.”
Despite her last human memories, the forest was their special place. They’d spent hours hunting together; Sam teaching her how to use her vampire strength to her advantage. They only fed on the blood of animals, both in agreement that they didn’t like being predators. There were other ways to survive.
Besides, human blood messed with their attempts to remain a peaceful part of society.
Zac didn’t agree with their choice and left them to wander the forest eating ‘baby bunnies and fluffy kittens’, but Zac was the one who’d taught her control when it came to being around humans—something that was much more difficult than she’d thought it would be.
Catching the scent of deer, Liz tapped Sam on the arm, motioning to her right. He nodded and darted off silently to circle around, leaving her to stalk them head on. Just as he’d taught her.
She crouched behind a tall cypress, watching the deer. She stilled herself completely, slowing her breathing and becoming frozen. The deer’s head lifted; its nose twitched as it caught a scent on the air. If it bolted, she’d be too quick for it to shake.
Before she could pounce, she was pushed roughly against the tree, the bark grazing the skin of her cheek.
The deer bounded away, startled by the sudden laughter behind her.
Liz was pulled to her feet and shoved back against the trunk of the cypress, and she cursed. She’d been too fixated on the deer to notice anyone approach.
A group of five men stood around her in a semi-circle, eyeing her in a way that made her feel dirty. They could only be described as rednecks—unkempt beards, dirty jeans, and plaid shirts—except they had more muscle than anyone had a right to. Catching their scent on the air, she recognised the rank odour of werewolves.
Liz had only encountered the local pack once, not long after she’d turned. They’d harassed her at work, calling her names that any woman would find offensive. She wasn’t a piece of meat and told them as much, but now she was afraid. There were five of them and she knew she couldn’t hold her own against that many. She prayed that Sam hadn’t gone too far and had heard them yelling.
“Well, looky here, boys. A little vampire chasing deer in our forest,” the largest man drawled. “It’s a true shame that she be one of them blood-sucking leeches. She’s a looker.” He raked his gaze over her and sucked his teeth. “Yeah, a real looker.”
He walked toward Liz, gracing her with a waft of alcohol and sweat, but stopped in his tracks as Sam appeared. His approach had been so silent, not even the wolves noticed until he was there.
Liz sank back against the tree, not knowing how to defuse the situation. She might be a vampire, but she was still only twenty-one…and with the life experience to prove it.
Sam stood eye to eye with the hulking man, who seemed to be the alpha, his expression cold. Neither moved nor backed down.
Finally, the alpha laughed. “You’re bold for a vamper. Be warned. If you come back onto our land, you and your little girlfriend will pay.” He spat on the ground by Sam’s feet and backed away, his wolves following. “This is your final warning, leech.”
Their hooting and hollering grew fainter as they worked their way back through the forest.
It wasn’t until they were far enough away that Sam turned and took her in his arms. “Are you okay? Did they hurt you?”
“No,” she said, grasping him tight. “They just scared me, is all.” The slight scratch from the tree had already healed itself.
He ran a hand through her hair. “Good.”
Drawing back, Liz rested her forehead against Sam’s. “I have to warn Gabby. Did you smell them? They were on a tear. If they’re going to town, they might try something.”
“Moonshine,” Sam grimaced. “The wolf kind.” It was so potent, not even Zac dared drink the stuff.
Liz took out her cell and dialled. Gabby was one of her oldest and best friends, and one of the three people who knew she was more than human. If she didn’t warn her before she crossed paths with the wolves, she’d never forgive herself.
But if Liz knew Gabby, if it came to it, she’d more than give those dogs what they deserved.
* * *
Gabby sat at her desk at the Ashburton Real Estate office, tapping her pen against the tabletop, eyes focused on a faraway point across the room.
The buzz of her cell phone snapped her out of her daydream, and she glanced around. When she was sure no one had noticed her slacking off, she sighed in relief. Luckily, her boss’s office door was closed.
Picking up her cell, she saw it was her best friend Liz and picked up on the third ring, ducking behind the partition around her desk for good measure.
“Gabby, I need to warn you,” Liz’s panicked voice rushed out without greeting. “The werewolf pack is causing trouble again. I think they’re headed for town.”
“Are you okay?” she asked quietly, trying not to draw attention to herself.
“They just harassed us a little. Sam scared them off, but just be careful, okay?”
“Sure, Liz. I’ll be on the lookout.”
“Okay. I’m going home, but the boys will be at the bar later.”
“Sure. Do you want me to come over?”
“No, it’s fine. I just don’t want to run into them, not today.”
“Okay. Well, take care. Call me if you need anything.”
Gabby put her cell back in her pocket and tucked her unruly brown hair behind her ear.
As if werewolves and vampires weren’t enough, Gabby Cohen was a witch.
Liz and the brothers were the only ones who knew her secret, and she liked it that way. If anyone ever found out, she’d probably become a science experiment in a military installation in Nevada. At least, that’s how it went in the movies, anyway.
As far as she knew, out of all her family, only her grandmother seemed to have had magic. Too bad she’d disappeared years ago after her husband tried to have her committed—all the more reason for Gabby to keep her uniqueness under wraps.
Soon after she’d stumbled upon her witch heritage, Gabby had found her grimoire, a book of spells and incantations, amongst some of Grams’ things in the attic. It was only then that she began to understand her affinity with magic.
She started visiting the cemetery near the old Degaud Manor, conducting her ’experiments’, trying different spells and rituals that were written in the grimoire. Silly things like lighting candles, making things levitate, and communing with the earth. The last was her favourite.
Every witch had an earth sense of varying strengths. She didn’t quite understand what it meant, but when she concentrated, she could feel living things around her—plants, trees, insects…even the stars if she focused hard enough.
That’s why she was surprised when she’d first met the brothers.
She was sitting cross-legged in the old cemetery early last winter, feeling the shift of the seasons in the surrounding plants, when she began to feel uneasy. She understood later that it was her latent power warning her that she was being watched. When she opened her eyes, a man was standing in front of her.
For a moment, she almost believed he was a statue until he grinned at her.
“Well, well, well…” he said. “What do we have here?”
Gabby panicked. She hadn’t sensed the man at all, and she could always feel people when she had her earth sense focused. That would mean that the man was... dead? That couldn’t be right. She scrambled to her feet and took a few steps back.
“Leave her alone, Zac.” Another man appeared out of thin air to stand beside the first.
The first man, Zac, rolled his eyes. “I wasn’t going to eat her, brother, if that’s what you’re thinking. I don’t want her to point her witchy juju at me.”
“Y-you’re both d-dead,” she stammered.
“As a doornail,” Zac said with a lopsided grin.
“Forgive my brother,” the other man said, stepping forward. “I think you know what we are. We can’t hide from you, but we mean you no harm.”
“Vampires,” Gabby said, finally realising. The only undead creature that she was aware existed.
Zac started clapping. “Ten points to Glinda.”
“From The Wizard of OZ,” he replied. “I’m trying to be nice, but it gives me heartburn.”
“Ignore him,” the other man said. “I’m Sam. The moron is my brother, Zac.”
Zac smirked. “Stupid is as stupid does.”
It took her a while to trust the vampire brothers—being their mortal enemy and all—but she quickly came to realise that they were different despite all their faults. Zac was always an asshole and Sam was always kindhearted, but they never hurt anyone.
They’d ingrained themselves into the town as normal young men. Sam had even gotten a job as a gardener with help from her childhood friend, Alex. Zac…well, he became a professional boozehound.
So when Gabby walked into Max’s, the bar they frequented after work, she smiled when she saw them sitting in a booth along the far wall.
She elbowed Zac as she sat down. “Happy birthday, you musty old man.”
“Please, don’t remind me.” His eyes rolled in exasperation.
“Can I get you a drink?”
“Go for it, Glinda.” They watched her retreating form. “I’ve been looking for you all afternoon,” Zac hissed once Gabby was out of earshot.
Sam fidgeted. “I was out with Liz.”
Zac didn’t notice the gesture, he was too busy eyeballing Alistair, who’d just walked in. “Uh oh.” He gritted his teeth.
Sam frowned. He knew all too well from his tone that Zac had gotten himself in trouble again. “What did you do?”
“I didn’t start it, just so you know.”
Like they needed more trouble. “Start what?”
“Big, bad, super creepy vampire over yonder is out to get us.” He gestured toward Alistair, who was now over at the bar. “He’s looking for some black-haired, blue-eyed woman who pissed him off, and he seems to think we know something about it.”
“Obviously, we don’t.”
“I told him as much, but I don’t think it matters anymore.”
“You couldn’t help but talk back, could you?”
Zac raised his hands in defence. “Hey, he came in talking like he was out of Lord of the Rings, even you couldn’t pass on the opportunity. And it’s my birthday. I deserve a potshot.” Looking over at Alistair, he noticed Gabby standing beside him. They were talking and he was buying her a drink. Damnit, did she know he was a vampire? What kind of witch was she?
Sam snorted his disagreement, and before he could speak, Zac interrupted, “Yeah, yeah. Don’t say it, bro. I get it. We can’t afford to be exposed as blood-sucking parasites. Believe me, I get it.”
“We have another issue to deal with.”
Zac raised his eyebrows. “Oh, this ought to be good.”
“Liz and I had a run in with the werewolves,” Sam said, not looking at his brother.
He grunted and thumped his fist on the table. “Oh, so you want to have a go at me when you’ve been out riling up the puppy dogs? Did you cross into their imaginary territory?”
Sam nodded. “Seems like they want to claim the land bordering the manor.”
“Sounds like they already have.”
“They warned us off, but given any opportunity, they will attack us anyway,” he said through gritted teeth. “They’re getting bolder.”
Zac felt anger rising inside him. He knew the only thing that had stopped the wolves from attacking was the fact that the moon wasn’t even half full yet. Even juiced up on that rank moonshine they liked to drown themselves in, they couldn’t take on vampires as old as he and Sam were.
He was thinking about the many ways he’d like to eviscerate the werewolf pack when Gabby sat back down at the table.
“I see Sam told you about the pack,” she said when she noticed the scowl etched on his face.
“Wait until you hear who Zac pissed off today,” Sam said, changing the subject.
“Your boyfriend over at the bar.” Zac nodded toward Alistair.
“H-he’s a...” Gabby stammered.
“You stammer a lot. It’s unbecoming.” Zac rolled his eyes.
“I didn’t know,” she hissed.
“What kind of witch are you that your witchy compass doesn’t work?”
Gabby fidgeted and pushed away her glass as if she were suddenly wary of drinking it.
“What, do you think he put a vampire roofie in there?” Zac snorted and took the glass from her. Waste not, want not.
“Shut up,” she snapped.
Zac stood, promptly ignoring her. “I’m going to have a word. You better leave, Sam. I don’t want you more involved than you already are. You better split too, Tabitha.”
“I like it better when you call me Glinda,” Gabby muttered.
“Just don’t go doing anything stupid,” Sam warned, more out of habit than anything. Sam never expected him to act anything other than reckless…especially when he called Gabby Tabitha from Bewitched.
“Too late for that.”
* * *
Zac sat next to Alistair at the bar. Gesturing at the bartender for a drink, he caught the glass that slid down to meet him.
“You don’t know what’s good for you, friend,” Alistair said, lifting his glass to meet Zac’s.
“What can I say? I have a knack for trouble,” he replied with a note of irony.
“Are you ready to tell me what I want to know?”
“Well, gosh darn it, Alistair, I can’t tell you what you want to know because I know nothing about it.” Zac downed a mouthful of scotch.
Alistair sipped his drink. “I see the werewolves aren’t too pleased about your little brother and his mate running about their forest.”
“It’s not their forest or their town,” Zac snarled, not wanting to play games anymore.
“I believe they would beg to differ.” Alistair swirled his drink around the bottom of his glass, the ice clinking. “And I believe they would like to do something about it, given the right persuasion.”
“Be careful what you say.” He stood abruptly, the stool scraping against the floor.
Alistair rose gracefully and stared at his adversary with disdain. “Do you know how old I am, vampire? I am over five-hundred years. I could squash you like the pathetic ant you are.”
Zac stood eye to eye with the vampire and snarled, “Maybe you shouldn’t come to my town and threaten the people I care about.”
“This is your town? We’ll see about that.” Grabbing Zac by the scruff of the neck, Alistair dragged him through the kitchen, no one paying them any attention, and out the back door to the service lane. Before he could try to wrench himself free, he was thrown clear across into the fence opposite, the chain-link rattling.
Zac groaned, rolling onto his front. “I see you pre-compelled the staff so they wouldn’t piss in your soup.” Compulsion, otherwise known as the vampire party trick of mind-control, was nearly the only fun thing about being able to live forever. Until moments like these.
Ignoring him, Alistair walked over to the fence and pulled free the iron cross bar. Weighing it in his hands, he nodded in appreciation before approaching Zac, who was trying to drag himself to his feet. The vampire swung once, an audible crack as the pole broke both of Zac’s legs, and swung again, this time breaking his spine.
“Consider this a warning,” Alistair said as Zac groaned in pain. “Piss me off again and I will put this through your heart.”
The iron bar clattered to the ground and Alistair disappeared, leaving Zac on the ground with nothing to do but wait until his bones healed.
The back door of the bar opened, and a grease-stained cook walked out, his eyes glazing over the vampire on the ground, and lit a cigarette.
Great, Zac thought, staring up at the starry sky. Best birthday ever.
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