“Come on! We need to get out of the room. This thing is going to blow in like thirty seconds and I promise you don’t want to be in the same room unless you want your ears ringing for the next year!” Genzo shouted. I hastily beckoned my men to follow me around the corner into the dark shroud of the tunnel and we got as far away from the detonation site as we could.
I took a deep breath, counting down the seconds until we breached the basement of the Venuti family fortress.
There was no doubt in my mind that this was going to work. I’d gotten my hands on the original blueprints for the fortified building, knowing that the only way in would be from beneath it. They’d buried their underground vault deep, but we’d dug deeper and found what would be one of the exterior walls of the massive skyscraper rooted below.
The Venuti had wronged my pack and I intended to fix that.
I would spare no expense to get my beta back. He’d been taken by the Venuti, and it was up to me to right their wrongs as the alpha of the Crescent Moon Pack. I had a reputation to uphold. I protected the members of my pack no matter what it took and that meant I had to rescue Toboe before the Venuti decided to kill him and start an all-out war between our two families.
Time seemed to slow, and I could almost sense the vibrations within the mechanism of the bomb about to engage. My heart pounded in my chest as I took a deep breath. I covered my ears.
A blast of dust, silt, and wet dirt exploded out of the doorway into the tunnel. We only waited a few seconds for most of it to settle before we charged into the room to see the damage. The walls the Venuti built were thick and it had taken quite of bit of explosive power to break through them. Mangled cement and steel practically smoked from the massive explosion, but there was a circular opening in the wall just large enough for us to make our way through one by one.
“Let’s move. Those fuckers will have heard that,” I growled, and my men smiled with exhilaration. They were looking forward to this, and to be honest so was I.
I stepped forward and dipped my head low enough so that I could make it through the opening without hitting the top. If I wasn’t so angry about my beta’s kidnapping, I would have been impressed by the rather incredible feat of engineering that had gone into making an underground fortress like this beneath the silt and sand of New Orleans. I didn’t much care about that now though. I just wanted to get him back.
I pressed forward and walked into a big room. The overhead lights were flickering, but that didn’t stop me from pulling in a small gasp of shock at what was inside that vault.
There were so many gold bars. Stacks and stacks of them piled on heavy-duty metal shelving built right into the walls. I had known the Venuti clan of vampires had been around for centuries but seeing just a portion of their wealth right in front of my eyes like this was another thing altogether. They were known to have been a part of the Roman Empire, the British Empire, and so many others in between. They were opportunistic creatures, picking and choosing various human governments to infiltrate to build and maintain their power and wealth. In the past hundred years or so, they’d pulled back and maintained their position here in New Orleans. Clearly, they’d taken all that ancient wealth and compiled some of it here. I was certain that this just barely scratched the surface.
My men funneled in behind me single file as I heard each one of them react the same way I did.
“Damn. This is something else,” Genzo whispered. “When we leave, I’m gonna snag one of these and buy my wife something nice.”
“Yeah, she probably deserves it for dealing with you all these years,” I smirked, and he narrowed his eyes at me with mock anger.
“What do you mean, boss? I’m clearly a catch,” he replied, and even though he tried to cover up his grin of amusement, ultimately he failed and started to laugh.
“You snore loud enough to wake the dead, Genzo,” I said, my voice flat, and he broke out with a raucous laugh.
“No, I don’t,” he replied.
About a dozen men behind me voiced their disagreement with his words and I just grinned.
“Well. I’ll just make it a hell of a good-sized diamond,” he finally muttered with a chuckle.
“Good man,” I said. With a quiet laugh, I stepped forward toward the door and slowly opened it, expecting to be ambushed. For a moment, I just listened. I heard nothing.
I’d expected the Venuti to move slowly. I’d specifically planned to make our entry point just after sunrise when most of the vampires were asleep. They would die if they went into the sun. They’d sizzle right up like overcooked bacon. Didn’t smell particularly good.
I knew the vampires would come for us, but their reaction times would be slower right now in deploying a team to handle our infiltration. We had a small window to find and rescue Toboe from their clutches down here and we needed to take advantage of that.
“Follow me. The holding cells should be this way,” I whispered. “From here on out, try to move as stealthily as you can. Let’s make the most out of this.”
My men nodded succinctly. They all understood how serious this was.
I crept into the hallway, keeping my footsteps light. Carefully, we made our way toward the prison. The door was locked, but Genzo was prepared for that. He reached into his bag and pulled out a rectangular box. He pressed it against the steel lock, and it stayed, held in place by powerful magnets, before he typed a short code into the watch on his wrist.
The box popped as a small explosion destroyed the lock and the door swung open. It was all very quiet and self-contained, perfectly designed for missions that required a more delicate touch. Genzo had quite a superior talent with explosives and most other technology, so much so that I sometimes wondered what I’d do without him.
I swung the door fully open and strode inside. This section of the fortress was two stories tall, lined with two rows of cells designed to hold vampires and shifters alike. The metal bars were thick and as I moved closer toward an empty cell, I reached out to touch them.
My skin sizzled hot and I sucked in a furious breath. I pulled my hand away and glared down at the angry burn on my fingertips. At once, my flesh began to pull back together, and within a few seconds there was nothing but unmarred skin left behind.
“The goddamn cells are silver,” I growled.
“As expected, boss. I can handle that,” Genzo whispered, and I nodded once in acknowledgement.
I wrinkled my nose, breathing in the rancid scent of the vampires imprisoned here. To my kind, they smelled of rotten fruit and putrid stinking meat. To them, we just smelled like wet dog.
Nearby, one of the prisoners snarled. Our presence had been noticed.
Knowing time was of the essence now, I walked down the line of cells. I was surprised by the number of vampires imprisoned down here, likely from other families or perhaps they were even Venuti if they’d broken ancient vampire law. Those cells weren’t silver, but very thick ultra-hard steel strong enough to stand against the strength of their kind.
That wouldn’t stop the likes of us. That’s why they designed the ones meant for shifters with silver. It was our one weakness, and they took advantage of that as much as they could.
Having not found Toboe on the ground floor, I leapt up to the second. I vaulted over the iron railing and walked down the line until I finally saw the familiar blond hair of my beta. He was sitting on a cot in the back of the cell and when he saw me, he grinned.
“About time, Lawson,” he chided quietly, and I chuckled.
“I should have just left you here,” I smirked.
“Then who would you have to tell you that you look pretty every day?” he answered, and I snorted in response.
“Keep it up, Toboe. I’ve been thinking about promoting Genzo anyway,” I answered, and Genzo chuckled by my side.
“Liar. I’m irreplaceable,” Toboe grinned, and I just shook my head.
“What do you think, Genzo? Want to get out of here and find someplace to enjoy a nice steak?” I asked.
“Steak? Fuck, yeah. I always say yes to a good piece of beef,” Genzo replied, and Toboe glared at me, but his eyes sparkled with his amusement. Toboe would always be my second in command, no matter how much shit he gave me. Being a beta was in his blood, just like being an alpha was in mine. No matter how useful Genzo was, he was an omega and that meant he was at the bottom of the pack hierarchy, and he would always answer to the two of us.
“The bars are silver,” Toboe pointed out.
“No shit, Sherlock,” Genzo grinned as he reached into his bag. “It’s not like I was planning on pulling out the bars one by one with my goddamn hands.”
Toboe shook his head. He hadn’t stopped smirking.
Beside each cell was a digital panel that operated the door, opening and closing the cell with a code. Genzo would have to hack it to free Toboe. Firepower wasn’t going to work here. He’d need a more subtle approach so that my beta didn’t get hurt in the process.
“Get it done, Genzo,” I finally ordered, and at once my men got down to business. Feeling a bit inquisitive, I walked down the line of vampire and shifter inmates, but I didn’t recognize any of them. Some of them snarled at me, others looked on in curiosity, and yet others just trash-talked the Crescent Moon Pack as I walked by. I wasn’t surprised by that. As the alpha of my pack, I was quite identifiable. I would have been more shocked if they hadn’t known who I was.
At the end of the line, I came by an unexpected surprise.
A human female.
I stopped and peered into her cell. She stared back at me without a single ounce of fear.
That was… unusual.
“Keep walking, wolf. I’m not afraid of your kind,” she challenged, and I stared more closely at her. Long ago, the vampire and shifter families had come together to create an ancient pact to keep our existence secret from mortals. There were humans in the world that knew of us, but they were few and far between.
She was young, perhaps in her mid-twenties. The fact that she could recognize me without seeing me shift was unexpected, to say the least.
I approached the cage, casually reaching for the bars. These ones weren’t silver, and I could grasp them easily. They would be strong, sure, but no match for me. She wouldn’t be safe in her cage from the likes of a beast like me.
I took several long moments to study her fiery gaze staring back at me. Her deep blue eyes nearly glittered with challenge. Her jawline was tense, but it did nothing to hide the beautiful curve of her high cheekbones and full pink lips. Her eyes were framed by exquisitely thick lashes. In the dim light, her dark mahogany hair still shone, lush and exquisitely long enough to reach at least the middle of her back, but with her sitting against the wall I couldn’t be completely certain. She cocked her head as she watched me scrutinizing her and nearly snarled once my gaze dropped below her chin.
She was wearing a dark long-sleeve jacket and a dark shirt, but I could see enough to know that her breasts could fill each of my hands. Her hips curved in the most delicious way and her long legs were a sight to behold.
She was sinfully beautiful, and I breathed in deep, catching her scent for the first time.
My cock hardened almost immediately.
The aroma of fragrant wildflowers and brown sugar and vanilla swirled around me, holding me captive for several long moments before I managed to get ahold of myself. Carefully, I wrapped my fingers around an iron bar and cocked my head in her direction.
“What could the vampires want with a human like you?” I asked.
She shrugged, feigning indifference. I knew at once it was a lie. Everything in her body language screamed to me that she knew what she was here for. She just didn’t want to tell me.
“I can’t imagine they’d let a pretty thing like you go. They’d drain you before they let you walk out their doors,” I murmured. Her gaze hardened. I’d struck a nerve.
“They wouldn’t dare kill me,” she answered, and I raised an eyebrow in disbelief. Even though she knew we existed, that didn’t change the fact that vampires and shifters were far more powerful than any human just by sheer strength alone. She wouldn’t be able to fight off even a single one. She didn’t have a chance.
Quickly, I glanced over at Genzo and my men. They were still hard at work on getting Toboe’s cell open so that we could rescue him.
“Are you sure of that, human?” I asked carefully, turning my gaze back toward the furious eyes of the curious little package I’d happened to find locked away down here. If I left her, she’d be trapped in a viper’s den of vampires. There was no way she’d ever get out of here alive.
The only chance she’d have was to come with my pack.
I grasped the bars of her cage and pulled on them hard, using my strength to bend them far enough apart so that she could slip through. She watched me with skepticism, studying my expression as I worked to free her. She didn’t say a word, probably trying to figure out why a random shifter stranger would help free her from a vampire prison deep underground.
Once I bent the bars enough, which wasn’t that much because she was pretty small, I took a step back and casually glanced at her.
“If you want to get out, you’re welcome to come with us. If not, you’re welcome to stay here and die with the Venuti,” I offered.
I turned away and it was at that point that all hell broke loose.
Our presence had apparently been noticed.
The odor of vampire grew even stronger and more rank. There were at least two dozen coming for us, if not more.
I grinned. This was going to be a good fight.
I heard the tiny female scrambling behind me and I turned back. She shouldn’t be here for this. I wouldn’t allow it. I looked around and saw Lucas close by. I called out to him.
“Lucas, see to it she makes it out safely. I don’t want her here when the fight breaks out. Take her and move,” I ordered. Without a word, he obeyed me. He pushed past me and just when I turned my back, the sounds of a scuffle made me pause and look to see what possibly could be holding him up.
She was fighting him. He was a wolf shifter at least double her size and she was holding her own against him.
That was unheard of. I’d never seen or heard of anything like it.
Even though a small army of vampires were so close that the hair on the back of my neck was raised in alarm, I watched in awe as she spun out of his range and then back to just dip out of his grasp so that she could strike him.
She had a knife.
Where the fuck had she gotten a knife? Surely the vampires had searched her before they flung her in that cell. They’d have found any weapons on her.
Apparently, assuming that was wrong.
She fought him hard. There was a distinctly fluid motion to the way she fought, as if she could anticipate Lucas’ movements before he made them. I watched her gaze studying him, so intently focused that I realized that was exactly what she was doing. She’d had training and a lot of it. I couldn’t be certain exactly which martial arts she had studied, but her skill was impressive.
Honestly, it was a little arousing just to watch.
I couldn’t help but smirk as I watched Lucas try to contend with the feisty little human. He’d clearly underestimated her, as had I, but I wasn’t the one everyone would see fighting against her.
After this was over, the rest of the pack wouldn’t ever let him live that down.
He tried to grab at her arm, and she slipped far enough away that she just barely escaped his reach. She didn’t make a run for it as I would have expected. Instead, she moved in with her knife with brutal intent. She slashed at him, her movement extremely precise.
I crossed my arms, enjoying the show. If she managed to cut him, it wouldn’t much matter. Getting slashed with a knife was certainly no walk in the park. It would hurt, but he’d heal almost instantly. Our healing abilities were insanely useful for things like that.
As I expected, he didn’t jerk out of the way. He’d thought to use her closer proximity and take the blow so that he could grab her and disarm her quickly, but as she cut across the right of his torso, his roar of agony was far louder than it should have been.
His flesh sizzled where the knife pressed against it. I could see the steam rising into the air from it.
She knew enough to have a silver knife in her possession.
This little female was growing far more interesting by the second.
Lucas roared once more and his hands rushed to his side, trying to stem the flow of blood as he collapsed to the floor. She’d cut him deep. It probably wasn’t a wound that would kill him, but with the coming fight he would be severely weakened.
Wounds made by silver weapons didn’t heal like they were supposed to. I grimaced. I needed to protect my pack, not her.
“Shift, Lucas,” I demanded. “Leave her to fight her own way.”
He didn’t even hesitate. At once, his body began to grow bigger, thick gray fur spurting out from beneath his skin. In a flurry of movement that took no more than a second, his spine expanded and crouched forward so that his paws met the floor. His teeth lengthened and his nails sharpened into thick claws. He roared as he shifted into his wolf form and he staggered under the pain of the injury the woman had inflicted, but it would be better for him this way. Silver knives were more effective in our human forms when we had nothing to protect us. In wolf form, however, our fur made it far more difficult to inflict that kind of injury. Plus, we shifted into an animal about the size of a bear. Our enemies were less likely to be able to get close enough to strike us in our wolf form.
The woman took a step back, probably trying to evaluate her strategy going forward. Her angry eyes met mine, her pretty little mouth set in a firm scowl. As much as I wanted to handle her myself, now was not the time for it. My pack needed me and as their alpha, I would never abandon them. She’d have to get out on her own.
“Good luck, human,” I snarled, and I rushed into the fray just as the metal door we’d broken through slammed against the wall. A stream of vampires armed to the teeth rushed through the doors, many of them with rifles and a few of them with flamethrowers and even more with knives and pistols.
I would bet that all of them were armed with silver bullets.
Fuck. This was bad.
Just in time, Toboe’s cell door slid open. Genzo had been able to hack it and Toboe raced out of it.
“Shift,” I ordered my pack and they obeyed immediately. At once the room was full of massive red, gray, white, black, and brown wolves. I followed suit and in a rush, my sense of smell was stronger, my vision remarkably improved, and my hearing was heightened. Even in human form, my senses were quite strong, but in my wolf form they were truly extraordinary.
Our only true equals were vampires. Our wolf forms had evolved so that we could stand against them. A cocky wolf would think himself stronger than them, but that would be foolish.
Vampires were exceedingly fast and exceptionally strong. Their senses were just as heightened as ours. Different vampires were afforded various powerful abilities, including the charisma to force their human prey to do whatever they wanted, the skill to paralyze their prey, or the terrifying talent of causing them to go insane. The Venuti were strong, but they were fairly typical as far as vampire powers go. They could use their potent influence to make their human prey piss their pants in fear or fall in love with them even as they drained their blood. Their powers of persuasion were unmatched, but luckily that didn’t affect us.
Their guns would though, especially if all of them were loaded with silver bullets. Getting through Venuti security was going to be a fight. In all likelihood, people were going to die from both sides.
My pack included.
“Be mindful of their guns. Do not underestimate them. Be smart. Our mission is to get out of here alive. Not to kill them all. Do you understand me?” I commanded. I didn’t speak out loud, but the mental link between my pack members and me allowed us to communicate in silence even in the presence of our enemies.
A chorus of “yes, alpha” followed and in concert we branched out around the room. I didn’t see any fully automatic weapons in our enemies’ hands, but I wanted to err on the side of caution, nonetheless.
Slowly, the vampires and my pack circled each other. The head guard took a step forward and leveled a gun in my direction, but by the time he squeezed the trigger, I’d already moved far out of range of the shot. I bounded toward him, and he moved the gun to fire directly at me, but I had expected that. I feinted in one direction and caught him off guard before I closed my teeth around his wrist hard enough to shatter his bones to gristle and dust. The gun clattered down to the floor.
It wouldn’t slow him down for long. I knew that.
The only ways to kill a vampire were sunlight, a stake through the heart, or the separation of their heads from their shoulders. They had several additional weaknesses, but none of those would be particularly useful to me right now.
The vampire faltered and I took advantage, lurching forward and capturing his throat in my teeth. I tasted blood as I bit through his throat, separating his head from his body in the process.
Vampires didn’t have blood flowing through their veins. They didn’t have a beating heart for that, which could only mean one thing. This one had fed recently.
Viciously, I jerked my head away and the vampire’s head fell to the floor. The sickening sound of his cold body slapping against the floor echoed noisily. It took several seconds, but eventually his body began to wither away until the only thing left behind was a stinking dehydrated corpse.
I looked back, trying to see how the rest of my pack was faring. Not all of them had been as successful as I had been.
In despair, I watched as one of the vampires shot a silver bullet right in between Lucas’ eyes. Having been injured by the human woman, his movements were slowed. His massive wolf form collapsed to the floor and slowly shifted back into the shape of a human.
The vampires had killed him, but there was no time for grief.
I looked around the room, only to see a few more of my men falling as they fought against the vampires. Some of my men were tearing through the vampires too, but from my cursory glance we were evenly matched.
“Run. Don’t fight if you can manage it,” I commanded.
I rushed at another vampire, trying to open a path for the rest of my pack to flee through. I bit down on his wrist and threw him aside into the wall, but the bastard landed like a spider and flew back toward me with wild abandon. I rolled out of the way just before he landed on me. He reached for a gun on his belt. I bit his hand clean off. That would grow back, but it would take a minute or two. He snarled in response and circled me. I growled right back at him.
In a flurry of motion, I rushed at him, using my massive form to knock him aside once again. A few of my pack members made it to the door and out into the hall, but there were still too many of them left behind me for me to make my way out.
I fought tooth and nail so that as many of them could get out as they could. Toboe’s massive gray form finally bounded to my side, and he grunted as a single silver bullet grazed his right shoulder. He didn’t let it slow him down even though I knew it hurt.
As the alpha, I was the largest and strongest wolf. As my beta, Toboe was my second in command and his size and strength followed suit. We were the only two with a definitive edge over these guards. The silver bullets made even that difference difficult though.
I tore through several vampires before all my remaining men were able to make it out the door. By the time that happened, I’d already lost six of my men. Just as Toboe and I were about to exit the room, something strange happened.
The human woman flew into the midst of the battle just as all of us were about to make a run for it.
I snarled, wanting to jump back in and carry her out myself, but then she pulled a sleek-looking little gun from God knows where.
Impressive. Apparently she’d smuggled that in too.
She leveled the gun at the vampire closest to her and he laughed. She pulled the trigger at almost point-blank range and I watched as a gold bullet burst forth. He let it hit him right between the eyes, fully expecting it to bounce off his forehead.
It didn’t. It pierced right through his unnaturally hard vampire skin.
I saw the wound for a split second before a blinding, extremely powerful white light burst forth from within him. It was as bright as the sun and the vampire’s head exploded in a violent display of light. He’d probably fed recently too because an alarming amount of blood and gore splattered all over the place. The body of the vampire collapsed to the floor, headless and entirely motionless. He wouldn’t come back from that. She shot another before she burst toward the door and sprinted down the hallway herself. I watched her go before I bounded out in the hallway to follow my men.
Well, wasn’t that something. I’d never seen anything like it. I’d never even heard of anything that powerful that would take out a vampire. Ever.
And she’d taken out two of them. A human.
I sprinted after her with Toboe at my side.
At first, she raced in the same direction as we did. Silver bullets peppered the floor as the remaining vampires raced after us, but a lot of them missed, ricocheting off the walls and the floor behind us. One grazed my ear and I bit back a snarl of agony as it burned away at my flesh, but I didn’t slow down. I expected her to go the same direction, but when the time came for me to turn into the vault, she kept running past it.
I couldn’t go after her. I had to make sure that my pack made it out alive.
I swerved into the room and pulled back just enough for Toboe to dive through the hole first. I quickly followed suit and tore out into the tunnel with the rest of my men.
“Now, Genzo!” I roared.
I watched as he rushed forward and slammed his paws on top of the platform ignition that he’d set up in the event that we were followed in our hasty retreat out of this place.
The earth rumbled beneath our feet. I sprinted out of the tunnel after my pack, and behind me the world exploded into an elegant display of fire and dust.
There was one more way to kill a vampire. They couldn’t put themselves back together if you blew them to smithereens.
As I ran out of the tunnel to join my remaining pack members, I wasn’t thinking about those I lost. Instead, my mind was embroiled with thoughts of the tiny human woman who had not only injured one of my wolf shifter brethren, she’d also killed two vampires with some kind of exploding light bullets.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Why would a human have access to something like that and why would she be held prisoner by the vampires when she could kill them as she pleased?
I wanted to know more. I needed to know more.
She’d gotten away from me today, but I had her scent now. The only thing I had to do now was follow it. I’d find her and she would tell me what I wanted to know.
As much as I wanted to deny it, I had a feeling this wouldn’t be the last time I broke into the Venuti tower, and it most certainly wouldn’t be the last time I had to deal with the Venuti themselves.
If I was able to get my hands on that woman’s weapon… that might change things. That could tip the odds in our favor in a major way.
She could run, hide, and fight me all she wanted. I was going to find her, and I was going to get some answers.