Knight of the Hunted FREE chapter preview

Chapter One

Upstate, New York

Present day

I woke up to the scent of blood in my room. Blood and coffee. I opened my eyes and saw my companion sitting in my armchair, sipping a mug and playing a game on his phone. I narrowed my eyes at him when I noticed he was wearing a pair of Pokémon pajamas, and no shirt. He fiddled with his rusty red bleached hair as he concentrated on his game.

“What are you doing, Cameron? You know you’re not supposed to be in here.” I stretched my arms above my head and pushed long black curls out of my face. My golden comforter crinkled when I slid off the bed and onto the soft vanilla carpet.

“I was going about my merry business and heard you shouting in your sleep. When I walked in, you calmed down, so I stayed.” He looked up from his game and gave me a half smile, his brown Japanese eyes showing sympathy. “Finneus. That’s what you kept shouting.”

I looked away as I remembered what my dreams had been about. A memory from another life. “He was my friend when I was a girl. I turned his mate, but they insisted on living in the village away from our castle. It was only a matter of time before the humans figured out they were vampires. A mob set their house on fire and burned them alive.” I could still feel that moment like it had been yesterday. The raging heat of the flames. The screams as they turned to ash. I wrapped myself in my arms to try and shake the memory off. “It was a long time ago.”

“Right,” Cameron said softly. “So, was that five hundred or six hundred years ago?”

I scowled at him, even though I knew he was joking. “I’m not THAT old.”

He made an ‘if you say so’ face at me, before we heard a knock at the door of my suite. “That’ll be Othello,” Cameron stated with annoyance. “That man does not know when to quit.” I slipped on a robe, poked Cameron in the stomach, and walked into the living room. When I opened the Venetian front door, I was hit with a huge whiff of dead flowers held by the head of my Order.

“Good morning, Lisbeth,” Othello said brightly, a smile on his gaunt face. I’m sure when he was younger he was quite handsome, but at that moment he looked like he’d walked straight out of a Dracula novel. I took the bouquet from him and heard Cameron leaving my bedroom. Othello almost showed displeasure when he noticed my companion coming from my room, but he hid it. “It’s almost time for the meeting. It’ll be in the drawing room. The bigger one.” He waited for me to respond beyond, “Of course,” but I didn’t. As the head of my order, he had the power to choose any of us as his mate, but he’d set his eyes on me.

Even though I’d told him to back off several times, he still came by every day with flowers so he could compliment my hair and scowl at my companion. It’s not like I slept with Cameron. That didn’t happen between a vampire and their companion. But the fact that a man lived in my suite drove Othello up the wall. I didn’t much care for his opinion on the matter.

“I’ll be down directly,” I told Othello, and promptly shut the door in his gaunt white face.

When I turned to walk to a display table and deposit the flowers, Cameron was sitting on one of my gaudy Victorian couches, still playing his game, but wearing a shirt this time. “Ick,” he muttered in Japanese. Well, to be specific, it was, “That was so disgusting I need a shower.” I giggled and replaced the poppy bouquet from yesterday with today’s roses. Even if I didn’t want the flowers, they certainly fit in with my furniture choices.

On a normal morning, I would’ve drunk from Cameron and then we would go down for breakfast. But today wasn’t normal. Today was the most important day of the year. I went back to my room, changed into a black and white dress, and ran a brush through my black curls until they looked presentable. When I returned to the living room, Cameron was waiting for me, also changed.

“Like what you see?” Cameron offered, smirking at me. I realized I’d been standing there for a few minutes, staring at his outfit.

I smiled sarcastically at him. “If I do, I’ll let you know.” He rolled his eyes and I headed for the door, but he got there first and shoved me playfully out of the way.

“Me first, old lady.” Instead of letting him pass, I picked him up and walked out into the hall, then deposited him on the thick red carpet. “Ugh. I hate when you do that,” he groaned. “Makes me feel so unmanly.”

I stuck my tongue out at him. “Get over it, shrimpy.”

He sighed and smiled at me. “And to think, ten years ago you didn’t know how to be sarcastic. Now it’s all I hear.”

“You created a monster,” I said, grinning. We started walking down the dark red hallway, so different from the brightness of my white rooms. I always had the windows uncovered so the sunlight could pour in. Since I was a Born vampire, the sun didn’t hurt me. If I was one of the turned, that would be a different story.

At the stairs, Cameron and I parted ways. He went to the kitchen, and I walked down the long ground floor hallway to the drawing room. The bigger one. It was a large dark green room with an enormous window that let in enough sunlight to chase away any memory of darkness. My work partner and best friend, Olivier, was waiting for me. We educated the turned vampires together. She looked alien here, her perfectly dark skin in such contrast with everyone else’s pale white skin. She wore a weird black mermaid dress, per her usual style. I was fairly certain it was a private joke about vampire stereotypes, which she denied.

I walked up to her and tugged on one of her Steampunk style dreads. “I vant to suck your blood,” I whispered, giving her my best Dracula impression.

She looked up and narrowed her eyes at me. “Are you making fun of my dress?”

I tried to look innocent. “Uhh… noooo?”

She scowled, jokingly, then smiled at me. “Speaking of Dracula, was it roses?” She could smell the bouquet from Othello on my skin.

“Roses.” We started making faces at the idea of being with Othello, until the person in question walked over to us. We straightened up and pretended to be occupied.

He was all business this time, though he did give me looks that had that ‘I like working with you’ vibe. “Alright, ladies. They’re coming in now. Remember that flashing your fangs or making scary faces is NOT funny. The humans need to think we’re civilized.” He handed me a clipboard with names on it and walked past us over to one of the doors.

“Did you hear that, Lisbeth? Be civilized.” Olivier playfully smacked my arm. Othello’s warning was justified, though. We often played pranks on the new recruits.

“You are no fun,” I told her, sticking my tongue out.

Othello clapped his hands to get us to zip it, and opened the huge door to the adjoining sitting room. Inside the sitting room was a group of humans who had been selected and prepared for today. The day they would become the turned.

“Welcome, my friends,” Othello said brightly, holding his arms out. “Please come into the drawing room.” They all got up and followed Othello back to where we stood. “I won’t make you suffer with anticipation, so we shall journey below to the dormitory and begin.”

One of the humans apparently hadn’t been paying attention during their bare bones briefing because he brought his hand up to ask a question. “Why is it in the basement?” the human male asked.

Othello smiled at him like an old grandpa talking to a child, though as his subordinate I could tell the head of my Order was annoyed. “Once you join the turned, the sun will burn your skin and turn you to ash.” All the humans somehow ended up looking at the enormous window behind me. The warmth of the sun was pouring through the paned glass onto my arms and back. It felt nice, like a soft comfy blanket. “This is your last chance to feel the sunlight,” Othello warned them. “You will never walk outside in the sun again.” We waited, but none of the humans walked over to the window to soak in the sun. They’d already accepted their new life.

That made my job easier.

Olivier picked up the enormous ice chest filled with bagged blood and followed me to the basement door. The humans started a line behind us, and we all started walking down the darkened hallway that led downstairs.

“Hey,” one of the humans whispered, trying to catch up with me. I kept walking, but turned my head to look at him. He was an older man and had a kind face. “What’s in the ice chest?”

Olivier made a frustrated noise and grumbled in a pitch only I could hear, “Don’t humans ever pay attention?”

I smiled at the man, channeling all the patience I knew I had. “It’s blood. All part of the process.”

We reached the doors to the basement staircase and the human male stood beside me as the group stopped. “I thought we’d be given a feeder.”

“Companion,” I corrected. Calling our companions feeders was rude, but I forgave him. A feeder was a hit and run drink. Like a one-night stand. And we didn’t treat humans that way. Making them our companions gave them anything they needed in return for their service. It was only polite. “You won’t be given a companion for the first month. Born vampires have control from birth but the turned don’t have that luxury.” I glanced at Olivier, and with a nod, I opened the doors and let the humans in.

At the bottom of the stairs was the enormous turned dormitory. There were rows of coffins, each with a small nightstand and dresser next to it. The coffins weren’t necessary, it was just a bit of vampire humor, like Olivier’s wardrobe. You couldn’t say Born vampires didn’t have a sense of humor.

There was no electricity in this room so dozens of candles and torches lit up the large stone walls, illuminating the rest of my Order, all Born vampires. They stood in a circle in the center of the chamber, waiting for us to reach them. The younger vampires would turn at least one human. The older vampires, myself included, would turn however many we needed to. I glanced at my clipboard and called out all the human’s names and which vampire was to turn them. Olivier and I had three humans, and Othello had four.

Then it began.

The room started to stink of fear. No matter how much preparation the humans had had, seeing us drop our fangs brought out their primal fear. And it wasn’t surprising. They were our prey, and had been for thousands of years. Only within the last few centuries had we become a civilized species. Well, most of us.

The younger Born drank from their assigned human, just a pint or so. My three humans stood nearby, one of them the human male that had spoken to me. Their faces looked as pale as mine when I dropped my fangs and leaned in to the first human’s neck. The woman’s blood filled my mouth, and my entire body seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. I hadn’t noticed my hunger until I was already drinking. I was careful to not drink too much from them, not to spare them the effects of blood loss, but so I didn’t over drink. I took only a mouthful from each one.

When every human had been fed from, we bit into our wrists and pressed it to their mouths. The humans drank our blood, even though their faces showed they were disgusted with it. That would soon change.

As soon as our blood hit their stomachs, the process began. They screamed in agony and fell to the ground, their bodies no longer willing to support their weight. We backed away as they writhed on the floor, wracked with pain. The vampire blood worked its way through their systems quickly, but Olivier had enough time to distribute a bag of blood to every Born vampire. I balanced three of the bags in my arms, and we all waited for the writhing and screaming to stop.

The humans soon grew still. They were now technically dead, for the moment. Their bodies had changed. All imperfections were gone. Those that had been old were now young. The overweight had shed every extra pound, and their once pink skin was now pale with death.

Collectively, they all came back to life, gasping in a breath, and opened their eyes.

They were no longer humans.

They had become the turned.

 

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