Halfway to the Grave

Page 6

The sound of his pacing bounced off the stone walls.

"Bugger, you're telling the truth. You have to be. You have a pulse, but only vampires have eyes that glow green. This is unbelievable!"

"Glad you're excited." I peeked at him through my hair, which had tumbled back onto my shoulders. In the near-complete darkness I saw he was definitely worked up, his steps brisk and full of energy, eyes fading from feeding green to snapping brown.

"Oh, this is perfect! In fact, it could come in right handy."

"What could come in handy? Either kill me or let me go already. I'm tired."

He spun around, beaming, and clicked the lamp back on. It cast the same harsh light it had previously, flowing over his features like water. He looked ghostly beautiful under its blanket, like a fallen angel.

"How would you like to put your money where your mouth is?"

"What?" To say I was baffled didn't begin to describe it. Seconds ago I was a nick away from eternity, now he wanted to play guessing games.

"I can kill you or let you live, but living comes with conditions. Your choice, your pick. Can't let you go without conditions, you'd just try to stake me."

"Aren't you the smart one?" Frankly, I didn't believe he'd let me go. This had to be a trick.

"You see," he continued as if I hadn't spoken, "we're in the same boat, luv. You hunt vampires. I hunt vampires. Both of us have our reasons, and we both have our problems. Another vampire can sense me whenever I'm close, so that makes it bleedin' difficult to stake 'em without them expecting the try and running. You, on the other hand, put them completely at ease with that juicy artery of yours, but you aren't strong enough to bring down the really big fish. Oh, you may have beaten some green ones, probably no older than twenty years, tops. Barely out of their nappies, as it were. But a Master vampire...like me..." His voice dropped to a scathing whisper. "You couldn't bring me down with both stakes blazing. I'd be picking you out of my teeth in minutes. Therefore, I propose a deal. You can continue to do what you love the most-killing vampires. Yet you will only hunt the ones I'm looking for. No exceptions. You're the bait. I'm the hook. It's a capital idea."

This was a dream. A very bad, bad dream, brought on by liver poisoning from too many gin and tonics. Here it was, a deal with the devil. At what price my soul? He watched me expectantly and threateningly all at the same time. If I said no, I knew what would happen. Save the glass, waitress, I'm drinking from the bottle! Happy hour, with my neck on tap. If I said yes, I'd be agreeing to a partnership with pure evil.

His foot tapped. "Don't have all night. The longer you wait, the hungrier I get. Might change my mind in a few minutes."

"I'll do it." The words flew out without thought. If I gave them thought, they'd never be spoken. "But I have a condition of my own."

"Do you?" That made him laugh again. My, what a jolly guy. "You're hardly in a position to demand conditions."

My chin stuck out. Pride or peril, take your pick. "Just challenging you to put your money where your mouth is. You said I wouldn't last minutes against you, even with both weapons. I disagree. Unchain me, give me my stuff, and let's go. Winner takes all."

There was a definite spark of interest in his eyes now, and that sly smile was back on his lips. "And what do you want if you win?"

"Your death," I said bluntly. "If I can beat you, I don't need you. As you put it, if I just let you walk, you'd come after me. You win, and I play by your rules."

"You know, pet," he drawled, "with you chained there, I could just have a nice long drink out of your neck and go about my business as usual. You're pushing your luck quite a bit saying this to me."

"You don't seem the type that likes a boring drink out of a chained artery," I boldly countered. "You seem like the type who likes danger. Why else would a vampire hunt vampires? Well? Are you in, or am I out?" My breath sucked in. This was the moment of truth.

Slowly he walked over, letting his eyes slide all over me. With a raised brow, he pulled out a metal key and dangled it in front of me. Then he inserted it firmly into the center of my manacles and twisted. They fell open with a clink.

"Let's see what you've got," he said finally. For the second time that night.

Chapter Three

W E FACED EACH OTHER IN THE CENTER OF A large cavern. The ground underneath was uneven, just rocks upon rocks and dirt. I was dressed again, sans gloves, the stake and my special cross dagger in my hands. He had laughed again when I demanded my clothes back, saying the jeans didn't have give and they would cost me fluidity. Tartly I responded that, fluidity or no, I wasn't battling him in my underwear.

There were more lights strung up around the area. How he had electricity in this cave was beyond me, but that was the least of my concerns. Underground as we were, I had no idea what time it was. It could already be dawn, or still be deep in the night. Briefly I wondered if I'd ever see the sun again.

He wore the same clothes as before, fluidity apparently not a concern for him. His eyes snapped with eagerness as he cracked his knuckles and rolled his head around his shoulders. My palms were sweaty with trepidation. Maybe the gloves would have been a good idea after all.

"All right, Kitten. Because I'm a gentleman, I'll let you have the first try. Come on. Let's do this."

Without further encouragement I charged him, moving as fast as I could with both weapons pointed murderously. He whirled in a semicircle that left me sailing past him, chuckling infuriatingly as he did so.

"Going jogging, pet?"

Catching myself, I glared at him over my shoulder. God in heaven, but he was fast. His movements were almost a blur to me. Gathering my courage, I feinted a broad overhead right swing. When he raised an arm to block, I swiped low with my left hand and slashed him before getting a devastating kick to the midsection in return. Doubled over, I saw him examine his garment with a slight frown.

"I liked this shirt. Now you've gone and ripped it."

I circled again, breathing slowly to combat the pain in my stomach. Before I could blink, he came at me and punched the side of my head, hard enough for me to see stars. In mindless defense I kicked, punched, and stabbed at whatever was near me. The returning blows came heavily and rapidly. My breathing was ragged and my vision swam as I lashed out with all of my strength. The room suddenly spun as I was thrown backward, rocks cutting into my skin.

He stood about ten feet from where I was sprawled. Clearly, in hand-to-hand combat, I was outclassed. I felt like I'd been dropped off a cliff, and there were hardly any marks on him. With a sudden flash of inspiration, I flung my cross. It flew with incredible speed and sank into his chest but too high, too high.

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