No, it wasn’t. If anything, it was about two enemies with nothing in common sharing a bed while pistols were pointed at their heads, the irony being that vampires couldn’t even fire guns without being disfigured by the gunshot residue. Still, Rasha was to be his mate, and no one f**ked with what belonged to Hunter.
“I’m going,” Hunter said in the I’m the chief tone that shut down all arguments.
Riker unloaded a litany of curses but then kept his mouth shut as they finished weaponing up and jogged through the warren, raising the alarm and rousing the fighters. It took mere minutes to pull together a lead party of six. Myne would follow within ten with a larger second team.
Once Hunter and his boys hit the cold outside air, they put on their vampire speed and raced toward the scene of the ambush. What would take humans days to reach took them only hours, but they were still too late. The bloodied battlefield was empty of even the dead.
Which meant that either ShadowSpawn had cleaned up… or the humans had. As he tracked the battle, studying footprints and blood, an icy knot formed in Hunter’s chest. The humans had outnumbered ShadowSpawn’s team, and while most of the blood belonged to the humans, it was ultimately they who had carried the vampires away… dead or unconscious.
If Rasha and Aylin were dead, they’d right now be getting butchered for parts to sell on the black market. If they were alive, they were suffering at the mercy of barbarians who would use them for sport until it was time to sell them into either the legal or the illegal slave trade.
“Split up,” he called out. “Find Rasha and her sister. We’re looking at a couple of dozen male humans, so don’t engage until Myne gets here with backup.” He bared his fangs in anticipation. “And then they’re all yours.”
Riker flanked Hunter as they followed tracks and blood trails. The humans hadn’t even tried to conceal their movements, at one point even dragging one of the ShadowSpawn males along behind them. Hunter paused now and then to scent the air, and when he finally caught the unmistakable fragrance of an injured female, he growled. She was bleeding badly, and he was going to make every human he found pay for that.
“Shit.” Riker sprinted ahead, halting at the top of a ridge that looked down on a thickly wooded river valley. Smoke spiraled up from the trees, and raunchy laughter came with it. “Their camp is down there. Isn’t that Yakima Indian land?”
“Yep.” And didn’t that just figure?
Native American reservations were off-limits to vampires. Didn’t matter that Hunter was full-blooded Cherokee. Ever since scientists had discovered that the virus that caused vampirism had originated in Native American tribes, the Native Americans had been trying to distance themselves from vampires and shed the negative stigma. Now vampires were killed on sight on Native American land.
The human poachers were well aware of that fact and had no qualms about taking advantage.
Too f**king bad.
Using dense brush and thick tree trunks as cover, Hunter and Riker crept to the very edges of the surprisingly organized camp. A hound tied to a stake leaped to its feet, but Riker stared the animal down, and the dog, falling victim to Riker’s ability to hypnotize, settled on its haunches and panted quietly.
From behind, Hunter heard Myne’s whispered voice, and a moment later, he joined them with Baddon and Takis. “I’ve got three warriors closing in from the west,” Myne said softly. “Aiden, Tena, and Harleigh will come in behind us.”
Riker gestured across the way to four positions where the warriors who had accompanied Hunter and Riker were waiting for the go signal.
Hunter peered down at the camp, the odors drifting from it indicating the presence of at least twenty human males and five vampires, two of whom were female. The three males were hanging upside down from tree branches as their blood drained from gashes in their throats. Nearby, several human males were guzzling beer and telling jokes as they sharpened their butcher knives.
Rage turned Hunter’s vision crimson. As much as he despised every ShadowSpawn clan member in existence, he hated the humans more. No vampire, ShadowSpawn or not, should be treated like a side of beef.
“Hunt,” Riker whispered. “We’re outnumbered. I strongly suggest you hang back.”
Outnumbered and outgunned. The humans definitely had the advantage here. Oh, his warriors would take down the humans, but the hunters were heavily armed with weapons that were extremely lethal to vampires. The potential for one of them to be injured or killed was real. And there was no way Hunter was sending his warriors into battle without him.
He was about to tell Riker as much when a burly human emerged from under a shelter of camo netting, his meaty fist clamped on the back of a blond female’s neck. Her wrists were bound with duct tape, and blood seeped from a nasty wound in her right leg, but she held her head high as the poacher shoved her, limping and stumbling, toward an iron cage large enough to hold a bear.
“Release me!” she snapped. “Do you know who I am?”
“Bitch, I don’t care who you are.” The man backhanded her, sending her reeling into a tree. Blood sprayed from her nose, and Hunter’s rage turned as cold as the knot in his chest.
Snarling, the female swung her bound arms around and managed to punch both fists into the guy’s beer-swollen belly. The man oofed and gripped her neck hard enough to make her wince.
“My father is the most powerful clan chief on the West Coast,” she said, and although she sounded calm, there was a slight tremor in her voice. Fear wasn’t something he’d expect from Rasha, an experienced warrior and ice-cold killer… so was that Aylin? “He’ll pay you three times what you’d get for me on the underground market.”
The human stopped, shifting her around so she could see the bodies of her male companions. “Is that so?”
“Yes.” She swallowed sickly and averted her eyes as the men with butcher knives began their gruesome task. “If you send Aylin with a message, he’ll bring payment. I promise. As his heir, I’m worth a lot to him.”
So that was Rasha. Which meant she was worth far more to Hunter than she was to her father. Rasha was going to bring peace to his clan, and these human scum weren’t going to get in the way.
The man leered at her. “Your daddy won’t want you back after we’re done with you.” He pawed at her ass with his free hand, and Hunter decided it was time to make that cockroach stop breathing.
“Come on, boys,” Hunter whispered. “Time for poacher blood to flow.” Fisting his favorite bone-handle knife from the sheath around his neck, he tore through the underbrush, his sights fixed on the son of a bitch dragging Rasha toward the cage.
He hit the poacher with a punch to the throat, as all around him his warriors took down several more humans with their surprise attack. Hunter’s poacher crumpled to the ground, his windpipe crushed beyond repair. Hunter wished he could have made the guy suffer more, but with humans swarming out from their tents, Hunter would have to be satisfied that the ass**le was going to spend a couple of minutes suffocating slowly.
Rasha braced herself against a tree, her injured leg barely holding her upright. Quickly, Hunter slashed the tape around her wrists.
“Are you okay —”
“Shit!” Riker’s shout came from behind Hunter. “Humans coming from all around. There’s too many.”
Hunter launched his blade at a poacher who was taking aim at Katina with a rifle. The knife punched through the guy’s temple, dropping him like a brick.
He grabbed Rasha’s arm and spun her around to him. “Where’s your sister?”
Rasha blinked at him as if she didn’t understand the question. Had the humans drugged her or whacked her over the head? Dammit, he didn’t have time for this. Shouts and gunfire came from all directions, and Hunter barely avoided being brained by a tire iron that came out of nowhere.
He dragged Rasha behind a tree. “Answer me,” he snapped. “Where’s your sister?”
“The… the far tent, I think,” she finally blurted.
“Rike!” Hunter gestured accordingly. “Grab the female and get out.”
“Roger.” Riker clapped him on the shoulder. “Good hunting.”
As much as Hunter hated to leave his warriors behind, Rasha was the priority right now. If anything happened to her, ShadowSpawn would blame MoonBound, and the war Hunter had tried so hard to prevent would destroy his clan. He wasn’t going to let anything jeopardize the mating that had to take place. Taking Rasha’s hand and ducking low, he led her away from the camp.
Luck was on their side, and they managed to slip past the humans, but Rasha’s injured leg made her clumsy and slow, and worse, it made her noisy. Charging bears made less of a racket.
Using a blackberry thicket as cover, he drew her to a stop. Her long hair was a tangled mess, completely the opposite of how he’d seen it in the past, when she’d pulled it back in such a severe ponytail that he figured she should be bald. He also didn’t remember her being so… pretty.
Or so pale.
“Hey.” He waved his hand in front of her face, but her glazed eyes didn’t track. “You okay?”
“I think…” She swallowed sickly, and sweat beaded on her forehead. “I’m bleeding again.”
Even as she said it, the scent of blood flooded his nostrils, and his gut sank when he saw a heavy stream running down her leg. She was in shock, wasn’t going to last long, and between the humans crawling around the forest like locusts and the new snowstorm he felt coming, he knew they weren’t going to make it back to headquarters this way.
Quickly, he gripped her shoulders and braced her against the nearest tree. The thuds of running footsteps and crunching snow in the distance made his heart race in an urgent rhythm as he held her steady.
“I’m going to stop the bleeding. Hold still.”
He didn’t wait for permission. He dropped to his knees and ripped the torn fabric of her jeans away from the injured area. The laceration looked like it had been made by a blade, but some sort of impact had torn the flesh and widened the gash. Oddly, the wound wasn’t deep, so why was she bleeding so badly?
A distant shout made her blood loss a question for later.
His fangs elongated, and his mouth watered as he leaned in and swiped his tongue along the ragged seam of the cut, and instant, hot pleasure jolted every nerve ending. Didn’t matter that they were in a critical situation and that Rasha wasn’t exactly in the mood for a male’s mouth on her flesh; she was a born vampire, and the purity of her blood was a powerful drug like no other.
She gasped softly, her leg trembling under his palms. He sensed her surprise and anxiety, but she didn’t protest.
He suppressed a moan as he dragged his tongue over the laceration again. His body sang with energy, and okay, he supposed that feeding from her was going to be the one good thing to come out of their mating. Nothing compared to the decadence of a born female’s blood, but, like born males, they were nearly as rare as albino deer.
He risked taking time for one more healing lick, and then, with her sweet, smoky taste swirling in his mouth, he popped to his feet.
“Do you think you can run?”
She just stared at him, her gold-spoked blue eyes wide.
“Hello?” He waved his hand in front of her face. “Can you run?”
“Y-yes.” She took a single step – and passed out.
“Son of a —”
He caught her before she hit the ground, threw her over his shoulder, and asked the Great Spirit above for a safe journey. They had a long way to go and no guarantees that they’d get there.
Aylin woke to the sensation of cool water caressing her forehead. She opened her eyes and nearly screamed at the sight of the huge vampire hovering over her, but a heartbeat later, she recognized the strikingly handsome face of the MoonBound male who had rescued her from the humans.
His sculpted, rugged features, combined with skin the color of rich sandstone, announced his Native American heritage, and he radiated a deadly aura even though she didn’t see a weapon on him. Well, those massive fangs were weapons, and from a feminine standpoint, so was his tongue.
That tongue had soothed the cut on her thigh.
An intense, heated shiver went through her at the memory. She’d been woozy and nauseated from blood loss and pain, and yet when his warm tongue had stroked her skin, he’d simultaneously eased her hurt and awakened something sinful inside her. She’d been both afraid and fascinated, and for a moment, she hadn’t cared about her future or her past. Hadn’t even cared about the present, where humans were hunting them. All that had mattered was the fact that for the first time ever, a male had tasted her blood.
What had Riker called him? Roland? She frowned. That didn’t sound right.
Roger, Riker had said, clapping him on the shoulder. Good hunting.
Okay, so… Roger wasn’t much better. Strange name for a born vampire with Native American heritage.
“Hey,” he said gruffly. “I was starting to worry. You’ve been out for hours.”
Hours? It had been hours since they’d fled from the humans? She sat up with a start and nearly whacked her head on the wooden frame of the bunk bed above her. Where were they, anyway? Where was Rasha?
“My sister —”
“She’s fine.” Roger’s deep voice rumbled through her in a wave of pure pleasure as he held up his cell phone. A text message from someone named Takis flashed on the screen.
Female is safe. Recovered their belongings as well. We lost George, but we got the heart of the f**ker who killed him. We’re holed up in the caves for now. Stay where you are until the storm passes.