The Hunted

Chapter Sixteen

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Chapter Sixteen

Much better than venison. Chasing down a herd and cornering a huge beast that fought hard to live was so much better than the deer begging him with their eyes not to attack before bolting. He loved the primal feel, the power behind his capability to shape-shift. Though he wouldn't do it in front of Damali anymore, since it bugged her out.

Damn, he hadn't even gone all the way, and she'd freaked. That was cool. Some things she didn't need to see. There were plenty of other pleasures he could expose her to that he hadn't even draped on her yet, guaranteed to blow her mind. He chuckled just thinking about a few options. She'd liked that mist thing, though... touching everywhere at once, turning the entire surface of her skin into one aching erogenous zone, then materializing inside her on a hard thrust. She'd definitely liked that. He shook his head.

Still, there was nothing like the big cats. A part of him could understand the female vamp's proclivity for it, although hanging on level five was a little over the top. But that realm did have some fantastic shit to draw from. Yeah, he liked panther.

Wolves were cool, too. He'd tried that shape once or twice. But he was more of a panther kind of guy. They rolled solo. But if her team ever came into such power as to be able to transform, he imagined Damali's guardians more as wolf types, a group, a pack. Cool people. Hung tight as a strategic unit. He liked them, and respected that about them.

But his baby was definitely all panther. Not because of the way she hung tight with family; that was not a panther trait. It was the way she moved that gave him a jungle-cat image of her... feline, agile. A huntress. No, not a panther, but rather a lioness. Fought with ferocity. Was loyal. Loved pleasure, could give it and take it all night. Regal. Yeah. A young queen. That's what his Leo baby was. Golden colored.

Sexy as hell... Damn, if she could bear fangs... He immediately banished the thought.

It was dangerous to even go there, thinking of any of them as an extension of his vampire life. It had to be the environment, and the simple fact that he'd never turned a single soul into a vampire. Maybe one night? No. He was serving time and on a mission to reclaim his soul. That would not be forgiven. An affair, maybe they'd turn a blind eye... but if he jacked a human, all bets were off.

Decisions, decisions, and forbidden knowledge dangling before him that was so tempting. He smiled, thinking of Eve. Had he been in the Garden, he mighta had to take a bite of apple, too. Wasn't all her fault. Shit, if Adam couldn't hang, what was the sister supposed to do? All she wanted was learn from a master, and the guy who came to teach her was the best in the business. Girlfriend got a bad rap.

Carlos sighed and looked up at the full moon. Knowledge acquisition was in his nature as a vampire. What did they want from him? At the base of all power was extreme knowledge. At the core of every vampire was a hunger for power, which rivaled their thirst for blood, and their razor-sharp minds siphoned and absorbed new information like a sponge. That was what they were, as an entity—siphons, Carlos reasoned. Even their language, Dananu, meant "to be strong." Its roots were in ancient Babylonian, the true first language of his kind - pure decadence, and it morphed and updated every time a new master was added to the lines, bringing knowledge to the collective body at council, which then drank it all in like fresh blood.

To not know, through experience, what a double plunge felt like... or what pleasure a turn bite could explode within him, was torture. And he'd come to a dangerous place in a very dangerous frame of mind, loving the complexity of living on the edge, while also hating it - not good. But the polarities of his life drew a tension line through it that was highly erotic.

Yeah, Brazil was dangerous because of her polarities. It was an erotic epicenter of tensions held in check by a fragile, taunt thread. Just like him. The very ground throbbed with a different type of energy. Sensual energy. Passionate battles. Rich, black earth. Crime, poverty, and wealth living in extremes side by side. Horrible pollution and factory encroachment. Wilderness still uninhabited - virgin. Like him in so many ways... unexplored regions in his own darkness. The Amazon running through it like a serpent... rain forests that provided a third of the world's air supply.

He breathed in the wondrous, unpolluted air, licked the remains of blood off his paw, flexed his claws, stopped, smelled the air again, and turned his head to the side.

"Save me any?" a husky female voice purred, loping in his direction, her green-gold eyes glistening in the night.

Carlos remained very, very still. She circled him, edging toward his kill. He snarled, she purred deeper. Her black coat glistened with moonlight shards of blue.

"Mind if I have some of your leftovers... since, like you commanded, I'll have to take sloppy seconds these days?" Her voice was low and sultry, inviting.

His eyes narrowed, and he loped away from her. This bitch was in his head, blocking Damali. He could feel it as she was speaking to him. Probably why he'd been close to the edge earlier, too. No wonder D was acting so weird when they got to the lair. His baby was walking the perimeter of the room like he'd attack her or something. Perhaps she had sensed the presence of something trying to take hold of him, enter and bend his will to deliver a turn bite, but couldn't place her finger on it - especially coming from him. Carlos snarled.

"Couldn't hang, could she?" the female said, edging closer to him than was advisable.

He snarled again, swatted at the female vamp to back her up, then got a whiff of her and pinned her under all fours, his jaws over her throat, warning her. He could taste Neteru on the back of his tongue, along with a slight hint of sulfur that made him release his jaws. The combination was disorienting. Half of him tensed, ready for a were-demon taken down, the other side of him was ready to begin a full-fledged vamp-on-vamp seduction. Hard core. He let her go and just glared at her, but still kept her pinned beneath, deciding.

She laughed, catching him off guard, and transforming into a naked woman right under him. He couldn't move, and felt his shape slowly shifting into man.

"Listen, I got somebody, okay?"

"Don't we all?"

She touched his chest, and he was surprised to find that it was bare. The sensation she sent through him lowered his incisors.

"She burned you, baby. You've suffered a lot for her, and she doesn't appreciate it. Made you miss your chance to rule the world, and has you in agony every moment of your existence... I can give you hot daylight like you've never imagined." She traced a searing line around the outer edges of his scar with her tongue. "Take me to the vanishing point, lover, and I promise you, you won't ever look back."

His arms were trembling under his own weight, but he knew it wasn't from the push-up. It started when she arched, dropped fang, and the moonlight glinted off them.

"Seven more years before she'll grow up. Think about it."

"How'd you conjure Neteru?" he murmured, knowing that he should just roll off her, but at the moment was transfixed.

"I'll tell you, later," she whispered hoarsely, then nipped his shoulder, sending a mild shudder through him. "You like it?"

"Yeah," he said on a deep inhale. "But that's not the point."

She allowed her hand to trail down his abdomen as she tangled her legs around his. "Isn't the prime directive of all master vampires... pure... pleasure?"

He swallowed hard. There was no arguing that. He pushed her braids over her shoulder as she closed her eyes and offered him her throat. Immediately, the urge to sink into her sopping valley was almost as great as his thirst for the blood in her jugular. It was the false scent she emitted. But how did she collect and transmit it? Not even council-level master vamps could corner and hold the fragrance. And certainly no mere second-level female vamp had ever been able to. His scar tingled. She opened her eyes.

"Talk to me," he whispered. "Where did you come from? What makes you think you can push up on a master vampire after he's told you no, and not lose your throat?"

It annoyed him that he was breathing hard and she was smiling. When she gripped him tightly in her hand, he drew a sharp gasp and closed his eyes. Yeah, he was gonna have to repent.

"I come from here," she murmured. "But that's ancient history, and you know the last thing you feel like doing right now is talking to me."

He nodded, that was no lie. But the thin thread that held him back from entering her was the need for knowledge. Information was power, and if a female vamp in his territory had figured out how to conjure ripened Neteru, that was absolute power in his realm. He kissed her shoulder, buying time, ignoring her moan. It meant he'd have a substance that not even council could manufacture without killing their vessel.

His mind attacked the puzzle, coming away with an opportunity in its grasp. He nipped down on her collarbone and then looked at her hard, his gaze traveling down her voluptuous body. If this babe had a stash of Neteru, and she was a female in his territory obliged to follow his orders, then just before Damali ripened there was a chance to set up a decoy. Very interesting, and very powerful. Didn't she know that power was the most potent aphrodisiac among vampire men? Finding out the answer to her secret would be a discovery more satisfying than cuming. He rolled off her and took several deep inhalations.

"What's wrong?" she asked in a breathless murmur.

He smiled. Damn she was fine, but she had something more important that he needed. "You never answered my question."

She smiled. "Curiosity killed the cat." Her hand slid down her belly and disappeared between her legs. Her eyes held his then slowly closed as she let out a quiet gasp.

He chuckled. She was pulling out all the stops. Had gone succubus on him. She had filled his shaft and made pre-cum ooze. He loved the challenge of it. Master-to-strong-female in a mental duel of seduction. Brand new shit that he'd never tried... never had to go this extreme. It was so thoroughly titillating to his most sensitive erogenous zone - his mind. Damali didn't require that of him, their bond was different, pure passion. This was a power struggle of the most erotic kind. He'd never allow a female vamp to best him at the foundation of his vampiric skill set.

"Oh, but, baby," he said in a deep resonating tone designed to run all through her. "Satisfaction brought him back." He sent a hard phantom thrust into her, then pulled it out real slow, making her arch and look at him with hunger. Shit, this was his game - and he was master of it.

She rolled over and pushed herself up on all fours, and glanced over her shoulder at him with a sly smile. Her pendulous breasts swayed and the moonlight struck her back and covered her ass like a glistening splatter of pale blue paint. She was breathing through her mouth and he could see the little gold ball on her tongue bounce with each inhale. "You know..." she purred, allowing her voice to emanate from her chest like a cat's, "she can't take a panther love bite."

Okay, now it was on. She'd made him stop breathing for a second.

"Vampires can only heal the normal puncture wound and maybe the bruises around it in humans," she said, low and throaty as she dipped her spine and crouched closer to the ground. "But if you get rough, and accidentally get carried away, you could break her shoulder with the impact from your jaws." She licked her lips and then whispered. "I can regenerate, baby. She can't. Go for it. You know you want it."

He would not allow her to see him swallow hard. That she'd used Damali's phrase pissed him off to no end, but he let it slide to trap her with her own drama.

"I know," he said, licking her with sensation from where he sat. "That's why I'm here with you. Just show me how you make Neteru. I won't tell." He opened her with his tongue, and traced her sphincter with it. "Come on, baby... why you making us suffer like this?"

Then he looked at the moon and made the sensation instantly go away. "You ever been with a master that's hyped on Neteru?" He glanced at her and mentally captured her hips with both hands as he studied his nails, allowing the sensation to trace each ample cheek as he dragged his palms down them and opened them hard. "It's an experience. Trust me. And girlfriend could hang."

"It's not important where it's made, as long as I wear it for you, right?" she said on a ragged breath, looking at him eagerly, but then closed her eyes as he mentally came to her and bit her. "I'll show you... after... just..."

"I want to know now," he said, then shape-shifted and growled low in his throat and began stalking her. It was with no small measure of satisfaction that her voice caught and she shape-shifted for him with tears of desire in her eyes.

In two fast lunges, he'd pounced her, pinned her, and had bitten her shoulder without breaking the skin. The sound that came up from her insides almost messed him up, and had almost made him stop playing with her. He shook off the shudder, licked her throat hard, and raked her side with a claw, then let her go. "Talk to me."

He stood up and walked away transformed and put on a pair of leather pants - just to help him focus. He blocked out the sound of her short pants, and flattened her on her back, forcing her to shape-shift back into a woman. In his mind he envisioned her navel ring and sucked it.

"All right. Shit." She sat up and wrapped her arms around her knees.

For a moment neither of them said a word. The atmosphere was thick with their scents, but her Neteru fragrance was giving way to a definite hint of sulfur. He could feel her tensing behind him while trying to come down from the duel. He had to admit that he was glad she gave in when she did. A couple more rounds, and he might have had to concede.

"Why do you always have a hint of sulfur trailing you?" he asked, honing in on the scent that stripped his desire for her. "If I didn't know better..."

"No," she said, standing. "It's not what you think."

He stared at her hard, no amusement in his eyes. If he'd been going one on one with some fucking were-demon...

"Okay. I go to level five a lot," she said quietly. "I felt you when you passed through." She looked up at him, but kept her distance. "All-male, knocked my head back, made me come out to investigate what new master had come down from topside."

She was pissing him off. Stroking his ego would work about as good as stroking his dick at this point.

"What's a fine female like you doing down on five in the were-realms?" He crossed his arms, becoming outraged at the thought of it. "From my fucking territory, too. Total disrespect. I ought not even consider - "

"Baby, listen," she said fast. "Okay... I know it's not done. But, I'm a second-generation, two-hundred-year-old vampire. There is not much in the world that easily rocks my boat. What haven't I seen or heard or done? The council forbids many things but we lower gens have to find our amusement somewhere... as well as our power."

She looked down. "The last thing on most masters' and certainly the council members' mind is the amusement of their lower gens - that is, as long as they don't find out about them." She shrugged. "Besides, I was made by Nuit, so I guess I am a little... twisted."

He unfolded his arms and raked his fingers through his hair, and then let his breath out hard. What could he say to that? Nuit had a lot of strange shit going on topside, and his bites had demon hybrid all in them. Foul motherfucker... and turned a woman this fine into a serious freak? He halfway felt sorry for her. Carlos shoved his hands in his pockets and just stared at her.

"Aw'ight," he said, finally relaxing. "But how do you keep the weres from attacking you? That shit is dangerous, and also way out of order - not sanctioned. You know they hate our kind, and even as fine as you are, I can't figure out how - "

"For the same reason they don't attack you," she said, her tone growing tense with repressed anger.

He looked at her and took a step toward her. "What did you say to me?"

She scooted up. "You know how this works," she said, defiance in her eyes as she lifted her chin. "Your soul gets shredded and divided on the levels you died in. Mine, like yours, had a visit down on three - with the revenge Amanthras, and bottomed out on five - rage, with the weres, before vamps claimed it." She tossed her braids over her shoulders. "That's why you can't keep yourself away from going panther every now and then, any more than I can, because you're just as angry as me." Her eyes held his, searching for compassion, and .her tone became gentler. "That's why I was looking for you so hard... we're such a good match in every way."

Carlos walked away from her. Those eyes were too intense, her argument was too logical, and she was too damn fine to be out in the dark talking to him like this. "All right. I'll buy that - for a brief visit. But hanging out there, the weres should have eaten and digested your ass by now."

"That's not what they want to do with my ass when I go there," she said, her tone holding indignation. When he turned to look at her hard, there was no apology in her eyes. "You know in your marrow that because of where your soul slid and bottomed out before the vamps got to it, you love to go panther. Don't you?"

The muscles in his jaw pulsed. He couldn't immediately answer that charge.

"When I enter that realm," she said, her voice seductive, "I come in at their mating dens and immediately go into heat."

He looked away. He was not hearing it.

"The were-realms are separated into hierarchies, based upon animal dominance in the filas above... so below," she said, her voice a warm balm against his neck even though she hadn't moved.

He could feel her stalking him as she raked his mind with new information - information that even council didn't have. He shut his eyes as her hand slid up his back and she spoke wisdom into his shoulder.

"The big cats are at the top of the food chain, then wolfen, then the others, based on predatory skill, strength, mobility. Each of the levels within level five has feeding grounds... the bones at the outer edge of that realm are dumped there and are from thousands of years of feedings."

Her hand caressed his ass through his pants, making him clench it to stave off an obvious shudder of pleasure. Her voice became a throaty whisper punctuated by a cat hiss. "The mating dens are like you would not believe." She laughed and sent him images of her travels. "There's more than one way to skin a cat, and more than one way to dog a dog."

Immediately, dark cave terrains entered his mind. Heavy vines and dense jungle foliage covered the entrances. Human body remains were piled deep before them... love offerings, dinner after, he knew what it was as soon as he saw it. He heard the brutal, grunting sounds of mating, low cat rumblings of exquisite satisfaction, deep hisses and snarls that set his teeth on edge and sent a shiver down his spine that shamed him. He tried to wrest his brain away, gathering up his curiosity and hurling it far from him. Oh, no, he did not need to see that.

But she was steadfast and adamant as the terrain changed and mentally took him up a level to the wolfen realms of dark forests. The howls almost spilt his eardrums, and the panting made him hold up his hand to signal her to stop.

"I'm a vampire, sis. I don't roll like that. You oughta know better." He walked away, offended, shaking his head, and wondering how in the hell he was gonna look at Damali in the eye ever again. He'd almost taken her there... oh shit...

"Naw," he said firmly, not caring that this stray female was laughing at him. "Uh-uh. That shit is so damned unsmooth - no style, no fucking finesse. Just flat out nasty, woman."

The more she laughed, the angrier he became. It was too fresh a wound, and he'd come too close to losing his vampire ethos when this siren's call had hit him. Around his woman, too. Oh, no! He wasn't having it.

"Don't call me again for that shit. Don't even dangle the thought my way, ever. They don't even have a damned, clean-running blood source down there - the shit is primitive! Fucking dead meat and old blood everywhere. Just living like animals! Rolling in caves and bondage dens, and shit, without the comforts of a fly lair. Motherfuckers don't know what silk is. Repugnante!" he yelled, and then hocked and spit on the ground. "Never. I forbid it in my territory."

He closed his eyes and folded his arms over his chest, summoning calm. He was not going to allow this shit to piss him off to this degree. A near miss wasn't a total disaster, and that would just get folded away in his dark mental closet with a lot of other shit he didn't want to think about.

"Don't knock it till you've tried it, Carlos. You don't know how good it feels to just let all your vampire inhibitions go and take a walk on the were-demon side. I'll take you there, and won't tell anybody, if you just promise to do me while we're down there."

"What part of what I said didn't you hear?"

Silence settled between them for a moment as her offer hung in the balance.

He opened his eyes. Reality snapped back, and he turned around and looked at her hard. "A master vampire, caught down in level-five mating dens, with a female vamp fronting like a jaguar in heat?" He laughed. "Are you insane? You got a death wish?" He walked away from her when she didn't blink. "Sis, I don't know that much about the were-realms, but I know what male vamps are like in-lair with females in a state... I might be all that, but if twenty or more amped-up motherfuckers smell a master vamp in their mating dens - " he held up his hands as she began to near him. "Don't even go there. I'm just trying to keep were-demons out of my territory topside."

"But that's where the Neteru scent is, lover." She smiled and shook her head.

"What? How?" He put his hands on his hips. "Bullshit!"

"Only male vampires have this thing for Neteru. The were-demons are impervious to it. Since their borders were strong - "

"How'd they get the shit?"

"Simple," she said with a wave of her hand. "They took down a Neteru five hundred years ago."

He just stared at her.

"They killed her, Carlos. Neterus can heal from any realm's turn bites, but she's still mortal. They bit her while she was sick from a human disease to mark her for their zones, and took the body when she died. Her soul ascended because she never gave in to the realm's pull, but they had the essence of her from her carcass... it's their secret weapon against male vampires, especially masters. And, there's not much left of it - her body was injured and disease-decayed when they got it and the potion is so old... they keep the remainder of her flesh in a special container in their Jaguar Senate sector."

"Damn..." He rubbed his jaw and nodded. Girlfriend was dropping serious science and about to make him run a fool's errand behind it. "All right, then," he said, beginning to pace. "Coupla questions. One, how did you find out, and two, how did you gain access to it?"

She smiled and flashed him full fang. "I fucked a were-wolf good, and made him howl at the moon. He told me about the rumor that was an intra-level lower down with the big cats. I shape-shifted, and found a senator who wanted to know what a double plunge was all about."

"Shit!" Carlos backed up and put his hands over his ears and closed his eyes. "That's a capital offense, and you never told me! I never heard it. Cool?" He looked at her hard and dropped his hands and grabbed her by both arms. "You know how dangerous that shit is? You took that motherfucker to the vanishing point?"

"Curiosity killed the cat." She laughed and stepped closer to him. "Well, actually the hunger for power killed the cat. He thought that if he was the one who came out of the V-point then he would possess my vampire powers and the weres would still hold the Neteru scent. Not a temptation to resist easily. Besides, I'm the one left standing."

He shoved her away hard. "Listen, sister. I'm not going to report it, only because... well... shit, because you were on a mission to find out something that could rock the vamp empire. Neteru is volatile substance - like a damned nuclear bomb. It would have every male turn on each other and wipe each other out, even at council level. I'm talking major implosion and unrest."

"I know," she murmured, unfazed. "That's why Neterus primarily hunt vampires - the most advanced level of the dark realms. And that's why they always cremate their bodies on hallowed ground when they die. Poor thing... she died in the jungle before her team could get to her."

"But to take him to the vanishing point, you had to double plunge a top-ranking - which means, a black blood transfer," he whispered in horror. "When y'all came out of the fusion point, it was a fifty-fifty chance that you would have vanished, been sucked into his body, and could have given a strong were-demon all the powers of our vampire level."

Carlos started pacing again as he wiped his brow. "You could have given a were-demon the potential to turn their victims in three days, instead of having to wait a whole lunar cycle until the moon went full again. You would have sped up their breeding process."

"That's why he was so anxious to try it. Only vampires know how to go to the vanishing point, baby. Were-demons can't produce the euphoria rush, or do the velocity... they need a good engine to get their thing off." She dropped her voice to a sensual purr. "I'm rocket fuel."

He spun on her as the magnitude of the offense swept through him, and pointed at her, his arm outstretched so taunt that his hand shook. "You could have given him unlimited mobility like us. He wouldn't have been bound to hunt in the region where he was first made - he could travel without boundaries like we can. He wouldn't have to wait till the full moon to feed and come topside. That's why it's a capital offense! If one of them got that juice from you, baby, and then they did blood exchanges with each other - "

"Uhmmm-hmmm," she said, running her hands through her hair. "It was a risk, but it was worth it - since I came out of the fusion, and he didn't."

For a moment, all he could do was stare at her.

"But you're missing the point," Carlos said cautiously. "It could have gone down way differently, and their side could have become our greatest nemesis, beyond what they already are."

"No, you're missing the point," she said, her voice very quiet but firm. "I came out with everything he had." She paused to let the information sink in. "I can do daylight."

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