An Extract from BITTEN TO DEATH

Bitten to Death

I stood in the stone-paved courtyard of a Greek villa so old and refined it would’ve made me feel like a cave-dweller if I hadn’t been so pissed. I’d only just raised Grief, the Walther PPK my former roommate-turned-tech consultant had modified for me, so I had no problem keeping a steady bead on my target. Since he was a vampire, I’d pressed the magic button, transforming Grief into a crossbow. Which said vamp was taking pretty seriously. The only reason he was still pretending to breathe.

Beside me, my boss played his part to perfection. He’d already made the leap from feigned surprise that I’d drawn on one of our hosts, to acceptance that I’d once again dropped him into a socially precarious situation. Maybe he slipped into the role so easily because he was used to it. I did tend to make his existence, well, interesting.

He turned his head slightly; his dark curls indifferent to the steady breeze coming off the bay they were clipped so short. He managed to keep an eye on my target, as well as whatever vamps might come pouring out of the sprawling sand-colored mansion to back him up as he said, “Are you sure you recognize this fellow?”

“I’m telling you, Vayl, he’s the one,” I insisted. “I just saw the report on him last week. He’s wanted for murder in three different countries. His specialty is families. The pictures were—” gruesome, I thought, but I choked on the word. The twitch of Vayl’s left eyebrow told me I was on a roll. The thing was, at the moment, I didn’t give two craps about our little game. The Vampere world might be all about superiority, which was why we’d needed to make a power play the minute we crossed their threshold, but I’d have popped the vamp in front of me even if it meant we had to fight our way out of a nest of enraged vultures and their human guardians. In fact, that we should personally benefit from his demise made me feel almost . . . dirty. I know, I know. As assistant to the CIA’s top assassin, I was hardly in a position to make moral judgments. But I didn’t see why that should stop me now.

“You can’t prove anything,” snarled the vamp, whose shoulder length hair did nothing to hide his enormous bulging forehead.

“I don’t have to, you idiot!” I snapped, wishing I could objectify the rage I was feeling, hurl it at him like it was an enormous black vase full of cobras. “Much as it often pains me to say so, you others have so few official rights they could fit on the back of my driver’s license. That leaves me free to smoke you if I feel you are a clear and present danger to society. Which you are.”

“What is the meaning of this?” demanded the woman who steamed out one of the villa’s blue-framed back doors, all four of which were framed by solar lamps made to resemble antique street lights. The tendrils of her black chiffon gown batted the air behind her, making her resemble a pissed off Homecoming Queen candidate, one whose friends had voted for the other, uglier girl. Though her carefully groomed version of beauty could have landed her in any number of pageants, her psychic scent hit me between the eyes so hard I felt like I’d been drop-kicked into a garbage dump. As a Sensitive, I recognize vampires like hawks sight rabbits. But I’d never before felt so nauseated by the realization. What the hell kind of vamp was she?

Vayl turned to intercept her, placing the tiger-carved cane he always carried firmly on the gray rock between them to make sure she kept her distance. She stopped three feet from it, rearing back as if she’d hit an invisible wall. Her eyes, the liquid brown of a beagle pup, widened angrily as a how-dare-you look tried to settle on her face. But it fled almost immediately, as if she’d undergone a recent botox treatment and couldn’t sustain any sort of facial feature that might leave evidence of emotion. I struggled not to stare. I had a job to do after all. But her scent, combined with the way she strafed Vayl with her eyes, made me want to give her a closer look.

I forced my gaze back to my target. He’d taken half a step forward. I smiled at him. Come on, asshole. Make it easy for me. He stopped.

“What are you doing here?” the woman snarled at Vayl.

For a second I thought he was going to ignore her completely. Then he said, “Where is your Deyrar?”

She drew herself up to her full height, which was maybe five-one, and said, “I am the Deyrar.”

Vayl and I don’t have a psychic link. But we’re tight enough to say a ton of words with one stricken look.

Are we screwed? I asked him with raised eyebrows.

A valid question, Jasmine, his narrowed gaze replied. We must play this carefully. Obviously she was not expecting us. Which means she knows nothing about the deal.

Well, shit.

We’d been asked to come to Patras by the vampire who ran Vayl’s former Trust, a canny old sleaze named Hamon Eryx, who’d promised us safe passage in return for a shot at Edward Samos, aka The Raptor. Samos had either committed or attempted enough acts of terrorism in the last few years to raise him to the top of our department’s hit list.

We had made one great stride in identifying Samos’s vulnerabilities, and had been hatching a plan that would draw him into the open when Eryx had contacted Vayl with a thinly disguised plea for help. Samos had contacted him offering an alliance. This was not good news to Eryx, since he wasn’t interested in playing. And since he knew that those who refused Samos’s advances generally ended up dead, he’d asked Vayl to intervene. After some negotiations that ended with a contract signed in blood—no, I’m not kidding—Vayl got our boss, Pete’s, blessing and we were on our way to Greece.

Now the Deyrar had apparently been replaced, which meant our whole mission could be junk before it even came out of the box. Plus we were standing in the middle of a Vampere household. Any minute now we could be surrounded by fifteen to twenty pissed off vamps and their human guardians, who would feel they had every right to kill us for trespassing.

As if he’d read my mind, an enormous man burst out of the door the new Deyrar had just exited. His appearance, yet even more distracting than that of his mistress, made me seriously consider smoking my target just so I could stand and stare. He went shirtless, though mid-April in Greece is pretty mild and the temperature currently hovered around sixty degrees. I supposed that said something about the man’s vanity. Maybe he wanted me to get a load of that sculpted bod and wonder how many hours he worked out a day. It wouldn’t have made a difference if he was a vamp. But he wasn’t. From what I could tell with my souped-up, other-sensing abilities, he was human. The kind photographers love to feature on the covers of books with titles like Forbidden Folly and Wesley’s Wench.

“Disa, I came as soon as you called,” he said eagerly. He looked at Vayl, starting slightly, as if he’d only just seen him. “Who’re you?” he demanded.

“I am Vayl. And this is my avhar, Lucille Robinson.”

Huh. Hamon Eryx had insisted on using real names, because he said they gave us all a certain power over each other once the deal was signed. Vayl couldn’t fake his own identity, because most of the vamps in the Trust would know him. But the fact that he’d given them my favorite fake ID showed me how little faith he had that we’d find anybody we could work with on the inside now that Eryx was gone.

Cover Boy looked at Disa. “Do you want me to kill them?” he asked.

I tried not to gape. After all, I was holding a loaded weapon. How long did he think it would take me to swing it in his direction? Could he be that stupid?

Disa’s fleeting expression seemed to wonder the same. “Get the rest of the Trust,” she snapped. As he bobbed his head obediently and went back inside, she turned her glare to me. “So you are Vayl’s avhar.” She made it sound like a criminal sentence. Guilty, as charged. Hang her from the highest tree, boys!

I gave her one, hopefully, emotionless look, said, “Yeah,” and then sent my attention back to my target. He was beginning to relax. Starting to believe his Deyrar would get him out of this pickle. So I shot him in the shoulder.

His hands went immediately to the wound as he looked at me in shock. “What did you do that for?”

“Hair-trigger,” I said, though my eyes told him different. I’d read the reports. He liked to torture his victims before he killed them, half of whom had been under the age of twelve. The more I thought about it, the less control my brain seemed to have over my hand. “I suggest you stand very still. Wouldn’t want you to have a bad accident before I decide your fate.” In the deep silence that followed all I could hear was the whir of well-oiled machinery as Grief automatically loaded another bolt into my crossbow.

Copyright (c) 2008 by Jennifer Rardin