Some days being a bounty hunter stunk.
The vampire snarled in Shane’s face, her breath rank with the copper tang of old blood and her spit wetting his cheek as she bared her fangs like a wild dog. Her lips were caked with red, as though she were a child who hadn’t quite mastered keeping her mother’s lipstick inside the lines.
Lady vamps had been the worst for Shane when he first started his job for the vampire council. He wasn’t exactly an old-school-chivalry kind of guy, but still…something hadn’t sat right about punching a chick in the face. Or blowing her head off with a .44 Magnum.
Until one had bitten a hole in his arm when he’d had a moment’s hesitation.
That’s how he’d learned not to hesitate.
Balling his fist so tight the skin pulled taut and white over his knuckles, Shane Hewitt drove an uppercut punch into the vampire’s cheek and smiled when her jaws snapped together with a loud clack. His hand burned with protest, the bones grinding against each other as he shook off the punch. Hitting a vampire felt a lot like throwing your fist into a brick wall. Only a brick wall couldn’t rip your throat out.
Expect the second attack, he warned himself. He didn’t want to think he needed the training he’d been receiving from the council’s sole female Tribunal leader, but Secret had kept herself alive for a hell of a long time when she’d been in his shoes. Maybe it wasn’t just because she was a freaky half-vampire. There might actually be some skill behind her bluster.
When the lady vamp lunged at him for a second time, he had to admit Secret was right about the advice she’d given him on the attack habits of the undead. She would know. She was one of them after all.
He dodged the vampire’s attack and landed a kick in the center of her back with one of his heavy motorcycle boots. With the fight odds shifting in his direction, he was thankful for being given the upper hand. Who cared where the wisdom came from, so long as it was right? The vamp bounced off the narrow alley’s brick wall and stumbled to the ground.
The first lesson he’d learned doing this job—don’t wait for a second chance, because vampires rarely give them. He stepped on her spine, hard enough he heard her vertebrae groan under his much heavier weight, and pointed his loaded Magnum at the back of her head.
“By decree of the Tribunal, I find you guilty of being a rogue. You are hereby sentenced to death by execution.” Blam. She didn’t have time to struggle or argue. Vampire justice was quick and lethal, just like the monsters themselves.
Shane whipped out the ancient LG cellphone he’d been given by the council. If it had been up to him, he’d be old school all the way and not carry a phone at all. But the council insisted his warden had to be able to reach him. He typed a quick message to Bellamy, his warden, and cursed the tiny keys on the cell for making him spell like a third grader with dyslexia.
Once the message was sent, the dead vamp stopped being his problem. He didn’t want to know what they did with the bodies, whether they destroyed them or if they monitored the site until the sun came up and did the dirty work for them. He was better off being ignorant about that.
Shane rolled the body under a stack of old boxes and kicked some garbage over the blood smeared on the concrete. Now tired and sweaty, he checked the safety on his holstered Magnum for the third time before he left the alley. He’d been shot in the arm a month earlier, and the memory of it still made his clavicle sting. He didn’t have any desire to repeat the experience at his own hand.
The alley was between an abandoned townhouse and an old brick church, so when Shane staggered out onto the sidewalk of West 124th Street, there was no one around to notice him wiping the sweat and blood off his face. Harlem was a great place to kill the undead. No one glanced twice at a rough-looking guy in leather, and people rarely called the police over the sound of a single gunshot.
Running a hand through his damp black hair, Shane fought the urge to light a cigarette. Not only did he not have one on him, he’d quit almost six years earlier.
But when the urge struck it struck hard.
He pulled an orange sucker out of the pocket of his motorcycle jacket and shucked off the plastic wrapper before popping the super-sweet candy into his mouth. Shane had no doubt he looked like a knob, but the suckers helped keep his mind off smoking. Only the orange ones though, for some bizarre reason. He’d tried every flavor under the sun, but orange was the only thing to successfully distract him from the craving for Marlboro.
The crinkling of the plastic wrapper was loud enough in the otherwise silent evening Shane didn’t immediately notice the new sound, and when he did he didn’t think much about it right away. Clacking heels on pavement wasn’t an unusual noise to hear on the New York streets, even on a late night in Harlem.
Hearing them running, however, was a little disconcerting. And hearing them running in his direction was enough to bring Shane’s attention around to the sidewalk behind him.
“Oof,” he exclaimed when a small woman collided with him.
“Move,” she shouted in response.
It wasn’t like New Yorkers were in the habit of apologizing for causing bodily harm, but it was still an unusually rude way to greet someone you’d just smacked into.
“Well, hey now, I think—”
“No.” She grabbed hold of his jacket’s sleeve and pulled him behind her as she started running again. “I don’t mean get out of my way. I mean move your goddamn ass.”
Shane—no stranger to bossy women telling him what to do—thought, What’s the worst that could happen?