In Born Not Made (working title), magic users conceal themselves in modern society or face the risk of being imprisoned and “studied.” The most common magic types are witches, detector talents, and weres (shifters). There are also varieties of the undead that can be created through combining murder and magic, and the characters learn the hard way that real vampires are not like the ones you see on television.
Chapter 2 Excerpt
I have been unsuccessful at following it closely. It appears to be able to hear or smell me long before I come within sight. To be able to hear and smell that keenly! I can only imagine. I cannot wait to examine it. So far, I have only been able to study its trail or observe it pass by if I wait on the rooftops.
That may change soon. From my vantage point, I recognized two government men hastily placing cameras high on the sides of buildings – pointing at the area where it likes to hide during the day. I believe the mighty doctor has stumbled on my experiment and is having the same trouble with access, with one major difference: with government funds, he can afford anti-scent spells for his men.
I will let them capture it for me.
Huddled close to the ground, the little boy lifted his head and sniffed. His eyes widened then narrowed, and his whole body went on alert. Every muscle tensed, he held as still as a catapult ready for release. His ears strained for danger even as his nose promised paradise.
His rumbling stomach won. Teeth in a snarl, he darted forward towards the meat. The walls of the city blurred as he sped down the alley, running low to the ground. He saw the takeout container as soon as he rounded the corner. The smell of roasted meat was too much. Forgetting caution, he dove for the food.
He stuffed a handful in his mouth and moaned in ecstasy at the flavor. The shuffling on the rooftop cut through the pleasure, echoing against the concrete walls in a chorus of sound a regular person would never hear.
He scrambled to run immediately, but it was too late. Sharp, stabbing pains struck him in the back and shoulder. The world began to blur. Still clutching the food, he stumbled. His too sensitive senses screamed and lied. He couldn’t see or smell where to go, and his muscles wouldn’t obey.
The sound of rubber boots walking towards him were magnified into horrific attacks of sound, coming closer and closer.
“Tie its hands and feet.”
Trace woke mid-snarl and froze instantly, tensed and ready to spring. His eyes darted back and forth, searching the darkened room as his nostrils flared. No one was there. Nails scraped against the bed sheets, leaving lines of snagged threads in their wakes as Trace fought the adrenaline down.
Even once he’d succeeded and shifted his hands back, he was edgy and restless. With a frustrated breath, he pushed out of the bed and grabbed his clothes. If he shifted completely, he could be across the city in fifteen minutes. That would take care of the edginess, and he could scope out the clients’ apartment while he was out.
It wasn’t like he’d be able to sleep anyway.
• • •
The shrill, annoying blare of the alarm clock jolted Gina out of a deep sleep, and she dove convulsively for the button. She fumbled madly to shut it up and sighed with relief the instant it did. Oh, she hated that sound.
With a groan, she flopped onto her back and stared at the ceiling. Her mind spun in the usual morning argument. If she reset that alarm for an hour, she could still make it to work. Never mind that she was wide awake. Her bed felt so warm and comfortable; she wanted to wait as long as she could before she left it. And miss my run. Whimpering mentally, she forced herself to push the blankets aside and roll off.
Being healthy sucked.
After throwing on some yoga pants, a sports bra, and a t-shirt, she ran through a quick series of stretches in the foyer. Then, she brusquely tugged on her sneakers, grabbed her keys, and ran out the door. She didn’t bother walking down the steps or the sidewalk but fell immediately into a steady pace. As she did, she shifted her keys so that her mace rested comfortably in her right hand with her finger lying easily on the safety release.
Maybe, she’d heard one too many lecture on safety from her parents. Maybe, she’d seen one too many slasher flick with a dumb blonde. Or maybe, her talent made her a bit cynical. Whatever the reason, she firmly believed that it paid to be careful. That’s why she didn’t listen to music on her phone when she jogged. Ever. There was a difference between exercising and making a target of herself.
Concentrating on keeping her breathing steady, she kept the rest of her attention on her surroundings. This early, dawn was barely beginning to break, and the other condos were dark and quiet. Streetlights distorted her shadow as she ran along the empty street. The silence was broken only by the rumbling rattle of the train two blocks over and the muted thuds of her footfalls.
That hush was part of what got her out of bed. It only existed in the hours between midnight and dawn, so she savored it. Most people who met her would be surprised. She smiled to herself as she sank into a rhythm. They saw the friendly city girl who loved the bustle of meeting different people. And she did. But the stillness was hers, something she didn’t have to share.
Leaving the neighborhood of condos behind, she moved into a darker street of houses and yards. It was lined with trees, and the streetlights didn’t penetrate as far into the darkness. She didn’t like running in areas with such little visibility, but it was only a block until she’d be back in brightly lit streets and newer apartments. And it was safer than running on bigger roads. Even at this time of night.
She was almost past the last of the houses, when her talent gave a twinge. As the buzzing quickly grew, she felt a rush of movement behind her. With reflexes honed by planning, she darted into the empty street where the light was brightest and spun with the mace held high.
The sight that greeted her made the hand holding the mace tremble. Grey pallor, twitchy movements, and red, bloodshot eyes. Vampire. Gina had never seen one in person before, but her dad had described them. And there was no question. And she thought this one had been human not that long ago. She could see the raw openings on his throat where the blood had been drained from him, and from his unsteadiness, he hadn’t been moving long since he died.
Fear warred with pity.
“Do you know what you are?” she asked without thinking.
His face twisted in a feral hunger, and he lurched for her. She dodged easily, keeping to the brightly lit areas of the street. There was no sign on his face or in his movements that he understood. So either the change was only partially successful, or blood hunger ruled him.
Lucky me. If he’d been with it, he’d probably have overpowered her already. She had no idea if the mace would do anything at all, and her magical shields could only do so much against physical attacks. Even from magical creatures. He made another grab and hissed at her when she dodged out of reach. She didn’t see any fangs. So his must’ve manifested as something else. She hoped it wasn’t his hands and put extra distance between them.
When she did, she caught a flicker of another figure emerging from the shadows. Panic rose, and she back-pedaled faster.
The rumble of an engine made her look instinctively over her shoulder. Headlights swept toward them fast. I’m saved! A scraping step was her only warning, and she spun to find the vampire inches away and about to make contact. With no time to think, she threw herself backwards, tripped on the berm, and landed heavily on the sidewalk.
Before she could recover, the headlights caught the vampire, illuminating him from head to foot. He snarled at the light. The driver hit the horn, and the brakes squealed and smoked. Instead of diving away, the vampire lunged toward the car, as if he sensed the warm blood of the person inside.
Gina flinched away from the impact and scrambled impulsively back into the shadows. The driver rushed out of the car to kneel at the vampire’s side. Gina opened her mouth to shout a warning and shut it as the ringing mental alarm of her senses slowly died away. She was no longer in the presence of evil. The driver was safe.
But what about the other one?
In a convulsive jerk, she turned and stared hard into the darkness. There was no sign of anyone else.
Did I imagine it?
• • •
She smelled good.
Standing deathly still and silent behind her in the shadows, Trace shook aside the basic response, but the breeze insisted on blowing toward him. Right past that pretty gold hair. Flowers and fear.
The strong scent of her fear had drawn him to the street along with the sounds of scraping feet. And the stench of death. When he’d realized what she faced, he’d instinctively bared his teeth in a snarl, and the muscles of his body went on red alert. She’d been brave but outmatched, and he couldn’t let her get drained. Lucky for him the car had come when it did. He might’ve been able to take the vamp out without revealing what he was, but she’d definitely know he was a freak, too. Better for both of them it hadn’t come up.
In fact, he should’ve left as soon as the vamp was dead. But ones this new almost never traveled alone, not far. They couldn’t. Eyes narrowed, he scanned the dark surroundings. It didn’t make sense. He’d only seen them around serious battlefields before, places where the magic overload and blood-drained bodies created them naturally. But there shouldn’t have been any of those here – there shouldn’t have been any in the entire country. So where did it come from?
Movement drew his attention, and he watched her rise slowly and quietly, careful not to get the attention of the driver who was frantically talking to the 9-1-1 operator on his phone. She cradled her keys and mace in one hand. Was she trying to keep them from jingling? Trace watched her ease toward him in the shadows and pursed his lips broodingly. Unless he was totally off, she was getting out before the cops arrived. Silently, he watched her approach.
She could want to avoid a scene. Or maybe she hated cops. Hell, she could be a wanted criminal. She didn’t look it – not that that meant anything. It seemed the most likely reason for creeping away. Unless she knew exactly what had attacked her and didn’t want to draw attention to herself.
Unwillingly intrigued, Trace held himself unmoving as she passed in front of him. She stepped carefully and slowly in her sneakers and scanned the trees and shadows with each step. Her fear had lowered, but he could still smell it. And one of those chemical perfumes or deodorants that smelled like flowers but didn’t at the same time. And sweat. The mix of the sweat and flowers teased him as his gaze traveled from the nape of her neck, past the curve of her backside, and down golden, toned legs. Something about those curves made his fingers itch, and his protective instinct shifted to something even more basic.
It was that or the curiosity that made him follow her. Or both. He couldn’t honestly say it was her safety. He didn’t hear anyone else ahead of her or on the side streets. But he followed anyway, watching the gentle bounce from a safe distance as she picked up the pace. He loped easily in her shadow until she diverted into a well-lit area of identical condos. There, he stopped and watched as she ran down the street and up a sidewalk. Another moment, and she disappeared inside.
Trace stared for a moment longer, then turned and made his way back home. Whatever her story, it had nothing to do with him. No point trying to change that. Pretty women were nothing but trouble.