The woman finished and tossed the body aside. She said something to one of her men. He turned, lifted his battle-ax, and took off the girl's head.
Lucian reeled, staggering over, feeling the gnawing, the desperate hunger, the sexual need, the scratching in his stomach. Feeling shame- oh, God-such a sense of shame, of horror. He wanted to move, to fight, to die, but he had no more power than those caught on the shore still alive, seeing their friend, dead, the girl ... drained....
The raven-haired woman turned to the ship in the harbor. She lifted a hand.
Suddenly three men who had remained aboard were ashore.
He did not see their feet touch water.
They walked among the crowd and made their picks, selecting their victims.
Lucian cried out in pain, hearing the spurt of blood again, the slurping as the warriors-who-were-not-warriors drank. He felt blood, smelled blood, knew agony. ...
He gripped his hands into fists, grated down on his teeth, strained every muscle in his body, fighting the overwhelming agony, the hunger....
Then he looked up, forced to do so. She was staring at him, and he could see her eyes. And she smiled.
And suddenly he was there with her.
He didn't remember moving. He was on the shore with her. And she was beside a ... body. He refused to look, to see if it was a man, a woman, or a child. She had her victim by the hair, and the victim was down, the throat offered as if she had come upon a lamb ready for slaughter, rather than a human life.
She stared at him, and he was suddenly on his knees. He tried to close his eyes, his ears. He heard blood. Heard it racing in the victim's throat. He was freezing and starving, and the blood would be warm and filling. And he would ease the agonizing pain that ripped into him.
Bite. . . .
She didn't say the word out loud. He heard it anyway.
She bit into the victim's throat, into pale flesh, creating a bright spill of red blood. She licked; she slurped, sucked....
And he could bear it no more. Her hand was at his nape, her fingers tearing into his hair, and his lips were forced to the victim's throat. And the blood was on his mouth, and he could taste it, and he could feel that pounding, that pulse, the warmth. .. .
His mouth opened.
And he was desperate. In agony, frozen, thirsting unbearably.
Then he began to drink.
And drink, and drink . . .
And he was holding the victim himself, bearing into the throat, feeling the blood spill from the veins and into him. He drank sloppily, with great, gulping sounds, drank, drank, and drank until he was filled and ...
There was no more pulse. No heat within the flesh he held. No life. He held dead still, then roared with a sudden anguish of the soul. It was a woman. A young woman. Lovely, blond, perfect... life, family, home, future ahead of her.
He roared out his pain again, and he heard her laughter.
He cast down the lifeless body and rose, raging at her, ready to tear her apart limb from limb, heedless of her sex. She was not a woman but a monster.
Yet as he tore at her, she moved, and he plowed into one of her monster-henchmen. He was shoved back, amazed that his strength meant nothing at all against these men. Half-maddened, he went at her again. He reached for her, and she caught his arm and twisted it, and he was amazed, stunned by her strength. He was brought to his knees, rage and venom tearing from his lips.
She released him.
He rose, charging again.
She fought back.
And he flew....
And this time one of the three men who had remained on the boat strode toward him, picking him up, slamming him down again. He fought, finding some strength. He had once been a great warrior. A chieftain.
He slammed into the side of the tree.
Stunned, he fell.
He landed hard upon the sand of the beach. He struggled up on an elbow and saw, amazed, that the survivors from the village still mingled there, no expressions on their faces. They were like sheep, unaware of the battle before them, or of the horror they had just faced. Body parts lay about; the head of the white-haired old father of the first girl lay just by Lucian's elbow....
She was suddenly standing over him, her smile deepening.
"Bitch, monster," he told her.
She smiled. "The blood was delicious, wasn't it?"
She started to laugh, entirely entertained. "It will seldom taste so sweet; she was young. Truly an innocent."
She stared down at him.
Her lackey, the man who had come in on the fray to beat him for her, stood by her side. Tall, lean. His hair had a touch of red and was not too dark. His eyes were a light brown.
"Understand it. You are a monster, too, chieftain," the lackey told him.
Even his denial made him ill. The blood had been good. So good. Water on the desert, meat to the starving. It had tasted sweeter than any mead, ale, or wine; it had filled him, warmed him, it had ... Oh, God . . .
It had stopped the agony ripping at him, tearing at him. The unbearable pain
... "Get up," she told him.
"You will do as I say."
"I will never be your arse-kissing slave, you witch. Such as him." He indicated the fellow at his side.
The man started forward, ready to tear into him again. She stopped him, just lifting her hand. "But you will," she told Lucian. She set her palm upon the chest of the other man. "Darian is my right-hand man.
Touched by power. Protected ..."
Her fingers touched the locket she wore around her neck.
"Protected by my power," she said. "I will let you exist for now. Perhaps you will learn. We do not destroy one another. Such is written in the ancient laws. But, I am above the law, chieftain. I am the law.
I made you; I will destroy you, if you learn too slowly." Lucian knew what he had to do.
He rose and suddenly turned on one of the Vikings, seizing his sword. The lackey-Darian-panicked, thinking he meant to slay the woman. He dragged her back. Lucian thrust the weapon hard into his own stomach. Pain. Blinding pain. He fell to his knees. And heard her laughing again. "Darian, get him up and back to the ship." Again, he wasn't quite sure how he got there, but he was in the ship. He should have been dead. He wasn't. He should have bled to death. The wound was almost healed.
When she stood before him next, he was no longer in pain. Just exhausted. He couldn't move. "What are you?"
She watched him a moment. "I am everything. Your sun, your moon, your stars. I am your ruler; I am your god."
"You are nothing to me."
"You're stubborn, chieftain. But you do tempt me. I'll give you far more of a chance than most." She shrugged. "I believe you will learn in time. You must." "You make me vomit." She started to laugh again, that awful, deep, cruel and taunting sound. "You lust for me, and lie to yourself. You think you have a soul still, or such a thing as a heart. You do not. You will forget your little honey-haired bride-"
"Forget her? For you?" He found strength and spoke with a raging contempt, sitting up. "Forget the sound of her laughter for the cackle of a witch?"
"We'll see." She smiled again. "You want to know what I am, chieftain? Some men call me lamia. That is the name they give creatures such as myself in the East. Among the Tartars and Huns and Gauls, my name is whispered, no more. Vampyr. But I am not just such. I am the oldest, and the most powerful. I rule. I create, and I destroy. Take care, chieftain, or I will tire of your whining. Believe me, I will destroy you."
"You have already destroyed me."
"I have given you strength, and life that can last forever."
"I am a dead man."
"Your hunger will keep you alive."
She left him.
The lackey suddenly knelt down beside him, sneering.
"She wants you now. You are a fool. But she will tire of you. And when she does, rest assured, I will destroy you."
Pale streaks of day touched the sky.
Dawn was coming.
The lackey left him as well.
He couldn't move. He had no strength then, no power. The sun was rising. He closed his eyes and felt the deepest pain and anguish.
He thought that he was dying.
And it didn't matter; he was glad.
He only slept.
Rick Beaudreaux felt as if he were burning up. He was sicker than a dog, sicker than he could ever remember being.
And all this ...
Right when he was falling in love. He smiled, thinking about her. Jade. The great thing was that she'd understood. She didn't accept pressure, and she didn't give it in return. She was great; she was beautiful.
She was sexy. And she was a friend. He wished he could be with her.
Oh, yeah. After all this time. And now, when she was ready . . .
He was a mess.
Not too much he could do.
He slept, he woke, he took medicine. He left off knowing whether it was day or night. He told himself that he needed to get to a doctor.
Hot, hot, hot. . .
It was October. Cool. The windows were open. He shouldn't be feeling this way. There were so many viruses lately that were really bad. Killer viruses. It made sense to go to a doctor.
As soon as he could get up and dressed, that was what he'd do. Hell, being a police officer, at least he had good insurance.
He was thirsty. No matter what he drank, he still seemed to be thirsty.
Laying in bed, he groaned. He had the urge to pee. He had to get up.
He made his way up, stumbled into his bathroom. The simple act of urination felt good. Except that he was even colder when he finished. Well, pee was hot. Body temperature. Something like that. He dealt with kids and drugs, and chemistry and physiology had never been his best subjects. Didn't matter. He was good with kids. Loved them. Wanted the best for them.
He started for the kitchen. His doorbell rang.
He paused, because he usually answered his doorbell. Hell. Not today.
He walked on into the kitchen in his briefs and open robe, shaking his head. He opened the refrigerator door and stared in. Water, beer, wine. Two-week-old milk. And a can of Bloody Mary mix.