The name reverberated in Abbie’s head. In fact, he was so stunned by it that he didn’t realize Zeb was the vamp trying to strangle him until Zeb spoke.
“You were supposed to die,” Zeb spat.
Abbie couldn’t wipe at the spittle on his face, and he wasn’t as strong as Zeb, even though he was more muscular.
But he could sure as shit bring up his knee, hard. It was downright delightful to feel the solid slam of Zeb’s balls between their bodies.
“Urk!” Zeb’s eyes bulged and he immediately released Abbie’s neck.
Abbie gasped for air while Zeb flopped onto the floor, jerking and twitching like a fish out of water.
Abbie wasn’t a good enough person not to appreciate seeing his ex in agony, he decided. He also knew a vamp’s strength and quick recovery time, so he didn’t stand there and admire his knee-work.
Claude and Kennet were involved in a brutal fight. Abbie’s instinct was to jump into it, but first he had to make sure Zeb wouldn’t be a problem.
To which goal, Abbie looked for something sturdy to wallop the vamp with. A lamp was the closest thing at hand, so he grabbed it and swung away.
From outside, he heard shouts. He prayed that none of the coven members were killed. And he wondered who or what was out there attacking them, because he recognized the sounds of battle, so to speak.
He hit Zeb with the lamp, catching him on the side, then the shoulder. Zeb hissed at him and curled into a tight ball.
Abbie hesitated. He could hit Zeb repeatedly on the head and hope to kill him—
Except he couldn’t do that. The very idea made his stomach churn. “Goddamn it!” Why did he have to be such a wuss? “Roll over and fight me like a man, you asshole!”
Abbie kicked him in the butt.
Zeb huddled down smaller.
Abbie was surprised he didn’t go batty, but maybe the blow to the balls had incapacitated him for a while.
Abbie spared a look at Claude and Kennet. Kennet was huge, and scary-looking with his lank, dark hair clumped in a matted mess. He had deeply sunken in dark eyes that were streaked with red, and fangs longer than any Abbie had ever seen. Add in the claw-like talons where fingernails should be, and the black, almost sheer wings, and Kennet was a damned nightmare.
And he was trying to force Claude to look at him.
Abbie didn’t know what would happen in that case. Claude could enthrall vamps and humans alike, but his sire had taught him to do that.
Which meant that Kennet might be able to enthrall Claude. For what purpose? Abbie couldn’t figure it out and he didn’t have time to. Something very bad would happen if Kennet had Claude under his control, and Claude might not be able to resist due to Kennet being his sire.
Kennet had a first claim to Claude, at least that’s how it seemed to Abbie. It pissed him off. Then again, Abbie had the final claim to Claude. They were mates. That bond was stronger than the one of sire and vamp, possibly.
Abbie shouted when Kennet slapped Claude. Claude went flying back, breaking the wall, sending great puffs of drywall dust out.
Blood dripped from Claude’s cheek where Kennet had caught him with a claw.
Kennet’s lips twisted in a perverse smile. “Now come to me.”
Claude lowered his head.
Abbie’s heart sank. “Claude, no—“
Claude roared and shot off the remains of the wall like a ball from a cannon. He was hardly even a blur, he moved so fast.
As much as Abbie wanted to watch and ensure that Claude was okay, he couldn’t. Zeb sprung up and reached for him.
Abbie swung with the lamp but Zeb cackled and slapped it aside. He grabbed it and threw the thing out the window.
“Now, Abbie, baby, come obey your master,” Zeb crowed.
Abbie sneered at him. “I don’t have a master, asshole. You left me to die. I’m not yours.”
“Yeah, yeah, Claude finally grew a pair. I heard. Doesn’t matter. I fucked you first. I owned you. I still do. Only I took from you—“
Abbie had heard more than enough. He wouldn’t regret anything now, thanks to Zeb reminding him of all the atrocities he’d committed against Abbie.
Zeb laughed when Abbie hit him. “You should just die, Abbie. You aren’t even a good fuck. What’s your purpose in living? You haven’t got one.”
“Deflecting, that’s what you’re doing.” Abbie ducked at the same time he pivoted and kicked. His heel connected with Zeb’s knee.
“Fuck!” Zeb howled. “I’ll make you suffer!”
“Did that when I was mated to you,” Abbie snapped as he scampered backwards. “Sex with you was definitely suffering.”
“You never had better,” Zeb snarled.
Abbie huffed out a sarcastic, “Right,” then barely missed having his throat ripped out when Zeb flew at him.
Abbie got a handful of Zeb’s hair and yanked. The vamp’s head snapped back and he punched Abbie’s wrist.
He had to let go. Abbie wasn’t certain something hadn’t just broken in his wrist. He ignored the pain and reached into his shirt, where he’d tucked the one thing he hadn’t been sure he should bring.
Perhaps Abbie had known it would come to this despite his hesitation earlier. He’d brought the crudely carved stake with him, after all.
It was different, however, to drive that stake into Zeb’s chest when Zeb was actively trying to kill him. This wasn’t like bashing his head in when he was down.
Zeb turned just as Abbie thrust. The stake tore into his chest, but missed Zeb’s heart.
“Hah!” Zeb yelled, but he didn’t look so cocky now. He changed from man to bat and flew at Abbie.
It was just luck rather than skill that Abbie struck true to his target the second time. The stake sliced right into Zeb’s bat form.
Zeb screamed, his shape changing again to that of a man. “Get it—out!”
Abbie twisted the stake. For one second, when he looked into Zeb’s startled gaze, he thought he saw regret there.
Then fury replaced it, and Abbie had to admit the regret almost certainly had nothing to do with him as a person, and everything to do with Zeb realizing he was about to be ash.
Zeb screamed with pain and before the sound even stopped ringing in Abbie’s ears, Zeb was ashes floating to the floor.
Abbie almost dropped the stake. Only the knowledge that he might need it to help Claude kept him from doing so. His mind wanted to flip out over him killing Zeb, but Abbie refused to go there. Later, when he and Claude were safe, he could lose it.
Or perhaps much sooner, he thought as he spun around to see several unfamiliar vamps storming in through the doorway.
Claude had to fight against the mental pull, against shock and against Kennet himself. The vamp was bigger than he used to be, and insane as fuck as far as Claude could tell. The wings weren’t from a vamp nature, and Claude suspected Kennet had done something horrific involving demons and bargaining. But for what and how, he had no idea. Demons weren’t to be messed with, that was the one thing he knew with a certainty. They were almost impossible to kill, and they were evil incarnate.
Kennet seemed to be some vampire-demon mix, and the power radiating off of him was frightening.
Claude’s mind was under assault as much as his body was. Kennet slapped him and Claude’s entire brain rang, not just his ears. The impact against the wall jarred him through and through.
Had Abernathy not been standing there, looking at him, believing in him, Claude might have just given up. He was hurting and aware that Kennet was more powerful than he.
Abernathy’s faith gave him strength. If he was going to die, it wouldn’t be there against that broken wall.
“Leave,” he tried to shout to Abernathy, but his vocal cords didn’t cooperate. Claude slammed into Kennet, fighting dirty. This wasn’t about honor; it was about survival.
Kennet laughed at him and grabbed Claude, digging the tips and first inch or so of his claws into Claude’s arms. He shook Claude like Claude was nothing, a child in his grip at the most.
Claude’s teeth clacked together and those nails dug deeper into his flesh. He flailed, kicking, trying to strike out, but Kennet only laughed at him.
“Such a disappointment,” Kennet said, those red and black eyes of his flashing. “So stupid and easy to fool. I was never ash.”
“Obviously,” Claude gritted out, tasting his own blood.
Kennet leaned in and licked his lips with a forked tongue. “I’d make you one of us if I thought you’d obey me, but the way you’ve fought my thrall… you simply must die.” Kennet shook him again and Claude felt his bones rattle. “Should I fuck your mate before or after I kill you?”
Claude knew Kennet was trying to piss him off, was enjoying it and possibly feeding off of Claude’s anger and fear. Demons were like that; human suffering strengthened them, and it seemed, so did vamp pain and turmoil.
So Claude did his best to clamp down on every emotion he felt, including hatred. How Kennet had deceived him, why—it didn’t matter. Surviving, keeping Abernathy from being harmed, those were the important things.
Kennet gnashed his teeth in Claude’s face. The fetid scent of his breath was repulsive, and that serpentine-like forked tongue was unnerving. Kennet flicked it and slithered it between Claude’s lips.
Claude quit gritting his teeth long enough to do some snapping of his own.
Kennet’s howl was his reward but the taste of the vamp-demon’s blood was vile.
Claude spat and gagged as Kennet shook him again. Then the room spun when Claude was thrown again.
This time, Claude caught himself, morphing into his bat form and darting up.
Kennet changed as well. In their current incarnations, they were more closely matched in size. Claude attacked with vigor. Fighting as a bat wasn’t a completely new experience for him, but it was still an odd one.
He tore at Kennet’s wings, the skin there frail and vulnerable.
Kennet squeaked at him and veered down. Kennet shifted and bellowed as blood streamed down his right arm. The wound was deep, with bone exposed.
“I will kill him for this!”
Claude knew exactly who Kennet was referring to.
And it was then that Claude saw the four vampires surrounding Abernathy.
He also saw his coven members, human and vamp alike, rushing in the door. The human members held wicked looking stakes and bottles of water he’d bet were considered holy. There were white things floating in the liquid too.
That was all Claude had time to register before the screaming and ashing began.
Claude and Abernathy locked gazes for less than a second, but in that minute span of time, Claude understood—he had to trust his coven to protect his mate, and trust his mate to survive.
Because Kennet wasn’t going to make any of that easy.
Claude gave the barest nod before diving at Kennet. At the last second, he zipped up, almost smacking the ceiling.
Kennet leapt and swatted at him. Claude veered left then right, trying to concentrate on his foe and not the fighting by the entryway.
The screams were distracting though, as was the scent of burnt flesh and ashes in the air.
Kennet grabbed him by one foot. Claude morphed immediately. It wasn’t a good move for either of them. He fell onto Kennet and dug his fingers into the wound on Kennet’s right arm.
Kennet screamed and punched him as they fell to the floor together.
Claude tore at the bloody flesh. It burned his fingers and hand. Anywhere that Kennet’s blood landed, burned him.
“Claude!” he heard someone shout to him.
The next thing Claude knew, a piece of wood was pressed into his hand.
It was every vamps nightmare, but he didn’t hesitate. Claude stabbed at Kennet again and again, first the arm, then the shoulder, the neck, anywhere he could reach.
Kennet’s agonized shrieks would haunt Claude for eternity. He’d never heard such a sound, as if a soul were being torn slowly in two.
But Kennet wasn’t dying, at least not fast enough, and he was using the claws on his left hand to tear at Claude’s back.
Perhaps because he was more than just a vampire now.
“Holy water,” Claude rasped, uncertain anyone would hear him.
“Duck,” Abernathy said very close to his ear. “Better yet—“
Claude was jerked away, ripped from Kennet’s grip. The pain was excruciating, those long nails tearing through his flesh.
Abernathy stepped in front of him, throwing something at Kennet.
Through his pain-hazed vision, Claude saw that it wasn’t only Abernathy dousing Kennet. Every human there was contributing to Kennet’s demise.
So it was, with a sulfur cloud and an ear-blistering shriek, that Kennet, Claude’s sire, was truly turned to ash.