Cathrin woke with a start.
"Oh, God." she murmured as her head throbbed in pain. She quickly glanced around. She was lying on a soft mattress, a red velvet canopy overhead. She was lying on a four poster bed. The room was lavishly furnished, surprisingly, with exquisitely carved pieces of wood.
She glanced down at herself and let out a surprised yelp. Her clothes had changed. Or rather, someone had changed her clothes while she had been unconscious. She had started off the night wearing one of her favourite grey pants suits. Now she was wearing a dress. She scrambled off the bed and stood in front of the full length mirror that was positioned off to one side. The dress was tie-dyed, explosions of colour were all over the sheer fabric. Two thin straps over each shoulder were the only things keeping it on her. There was a very generous front. It was practically non-existent, it was that low and it barely covered her breasts. It made her face go bright red with embarrassment. The dress was slit high up the right hand side, almost up to her hip, and revealed her leg as she walked.
Since it left her arms and shoulders bare, almost all of her scars were visible as white or pale pink lines on her pale skin. Cathrin usually went to a lot of trouble to hide those scars, or else people tended to stare.
On her left shoulder, there were two small circles, about a half an inch in diameter from a couple of bullets. On her upper arm there was a pair of ragged white lines spaced near enough to an inch apart. There was something similar to that on her forearm. All the way up her arms were the scars from a myriad of cuts and gashes from things ranging from knives to barbed wire.
Her right shoulder had a long white scar that followed her collarbone. On her upper arm there were two sets of ragged scars, similar to those on her left arm, and a small circular burn mark left by a carís cigarette lighter. There were two very small, neat scars on her forearm, on a big vein near her elbow. It looked like sheíd been hit by a hole-punch.
Again, she had scars from cuts and gashes on her skin.
Each and every one of those scars had been earned in small, and some not so small, confrontations with vampires.
It was a surprise not to see any bruises on her face, considering that that was where most of her pain was coming from. She carefully leaned forward, close to the mirror, careful not to fall out of the dress or stumble forward. She noticed carefully applied make-up to cover up some nasty seeming bruises. The make-up might cover the bruise, but it wonít cover up the swelling. She turned away from the mirror to stumbled back to the bed. On her unsteady return to the bed, she nearly tripped over a pair of shoes. They were in the same style, but one was violet while the other was green. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to make her look presentable. There were only two questions; who did this and why?
They were easy to answer, by Edward Andrews and she didnít want to know.
She sat down, her legs turning to jelly with the realisation that she was at the monsterís mercy. Twice now, he had caught her off guard and unarmed. She just hoped that there never was a third time lucky.
Cathrin wanted to laugh hysterically. It was that or burst out crying and she preferred the laughing option. She had shed far too many tears in her life.
She lay back and closed her eyes, hoping that when she opened them again, sheíd be at home, and all this was just one of her nightmares.
It didnít work. A bright light shone on her eyelids and she winced. The movement of facial muscles sent sharp needles of pain through her head.
"Wake up." she was told and there was a sharp slap on her left cheek. The blow connected with bruises and she gasped in pain. Her eyes flew open and she found herself looking up at the vampire who kept her captive.
Andrews stood nearby, dressed in a pair of black pants and a white shirt, its sleaves rolled up past his elbows. He smiled at her, flashing his fangs, and took her left hand, pulling her upright.
"Enough sleep, Hunter, time to get up and visit some buyers." he told her. She groaned as her vision swam and her head continued to pound. Only her blurred vision was not from dizziness or concussion. The tears she didnít want to shed flowed freely down her face. The vampire narrowed his dark blue eyes at her.
"Stop your blubbering, youíre a grown woman. Itís not like you lost any major limbs or organs. So stop your crying." he told her sharply. She wiped her face with her hands, cringing as she felt all the bruises.
"I swear, if I had a knife, Iíd gut you." she mumbled into her hands. Her right wrist was wrenched away and her jaw was being held in a vice-like grip.
"You hold your tongue, Hunter, or I will cut it out for you and you can eat it, understand?" he snapped at her. She managed the barest nod. He sat down beside her, still holding her so she couldnít struggle. He turned her right hand upward, so her wrist was facing him. He smiled most cruelly at her as he raised her wrist to his mouth. She was repulsed to feel the cool wetness of his tongue on her, tracing over scars and the network of veins visible through her pale skin. He scraped his teeth over her skin, two red lines forming from the scratch of fangs. She tried to wrench her hand free, but as soon as her arm tensed, his hold on her tightened painfully.
There was a sharp pain in her wrist as his teeth pierced her flesh and his mouth settled upon her.
She clenched her hands into fists, digging her nails into her palms and bit her lower lip to stop herself from crying out in pain.
Andrew remained very still, the only sounds from him were wet, slurping ones a he fed upon her.
A shriek of pain gurgled in her throat as he finally released her, smiling in a satisfied manner.
"You are very tasty." he told her. She swung one of her fists at him. He caught it easily and squeezed her fist, driving her fingernails into her palm. This time, she let out a howl of anger and pain.
He slapped her open-handedly, snapping her head to one side in a ringing blow, and let go of her hand. She sat dazedly for a few moments, to stop her vision and head from spinning. She blinked, clearing her vision just in time to see the vampire tear at his own wrist, dark blood dripping down his pale hand. He pressed his wounded wrist to her lips before she had recovered enough to retaliate. Hot, coppery blood spilled into her mouth. She started back and spat it out. That earned her another slap, though this one wasnít open-handed. Everything went fuzzy and dim. Only the jolt of something hot, salty and metallic tasting stopped her from falling into unconsciousness.
Andrews pressed his wrist to her mouth and pinched her nose. She had to swallow or else she would not be able to breathe. As soon as she swallowed, he released her. She drew in a lung full of air, forcing it into her lungs to stop them from burning. Then she realised she was trembling uncontrollably. She squeezed her eyes shut and gasped in pain.
She went icy cold before it felt like flames were burning her from the inside out. She hugged her stomach, trying not to wretch in the violent tremors that swept along her body.
She sat, doubled over until these quakes subsided, but she couldnít stop from trembling a little.
"Now we have the business part over with, itís time for the pleasure. Get up, Hunter, and stop shaking like a leaf." he told her sharply.
"Screw you." she managed to gasp. Then the vampire was holding her, one hand clamped on her shoulder, the other on her forearm. She tensed up, surprised by the sheer speed of his movement.
"One good twist and your arm comes off. Now stop shaking like a woman and start acting like what you really are." he hissed at her.
"An-and what i-is that?" she asked shakily. His hold on her loosened.
"Like the vampire you are at heart. The killer that we all know. The Hunter we all fear. Stop being this creature that you are, let your true self show." he whispered in her ear.
"Maybe this is my true self." she managed to say steadily. He released her with enough force to push her back onto the bed.
"I donít believe you!" he said and stood. "Now, get to your feet, put the shoes on and come with me. Preferably in this century."
She managed to sit and rubbed her arms. Her skin was tingling. She was shocked to find no wound on her wrist and her head had stopped throbbing. The air around the vampire came alive. Energy surged around her and it felt like someone had taken a strangle hold on her. She gurgled and gasped for breath.
"Do it, Hunter, or my goodwill shall expire." Andrews told her as the strangled hold on her loosened a little. Cathrin could still feel the energy around her neck, and she felt repulsed by itís presence, as she hastily put on the shoes and stood.
He smiled at her quickness and the energy dissipated from around her. Andrews took her by the hand and led out of the room.
The vampire scared her. That bothered her. She was stuck in the middle of a war, completely by her own choice. That bothered her. Now she was in this mess by her own stupidity. That bothered her.
She blamed Quin for half of it. She wouldnít be in this much trouble if he hadnít decided to involve her.
"Bastard." she muttered as she was led round a corner. The hold on her hand tightened.
"I hope that wasnít directed at me, if it wasÖ" Andrews said maliciously.
"No, I was talking about Quin." she muttered. An contented sort of purr came from the vampire.
"So nice to know we share the same opinion of him." he said and pushed through a door, pulling her with him.
"I donít think any better of you." she uttered under breath as she was shoved into a parked limousine. The chauffer was told to drive.
This was a vampire convention. It had to be, they were everywhere.
And Cathrin was stuck in the middle. Andrews kept her at his side, with energy like a collar around her neck. If she tried to move more than a yard away, it tightened around her and she couldnít breathe until she was back beside him. People milled around, at her last count there were ten. She recognised a few of the vampires, others were complete strangers.
There was Calahan, of course, the short man standing away from everything, but watching with those keen green eyes, not missing a thing.
Terry Marimoore sulked in a dark corner, her child-like appearance making her stand out. Vampires generally seemed to look like they were in their early twenties to early thirties. Terry only looked sixteen.
There were the twins, the so-called double trouble, Dian and Lily Devereux. There didnít seem to be any way to tell them apart other than the way they were dressed. One wore a short blue dress, the other wore jeans and a dark sweater.
Thomas Woods stood near the twins, but slightly away. Cathrin had heard some stories about a small tiff between the twins and their sire, but then, Woods was a ladies man.
The rest were unknown to Cathrin. Why they were gathering here was also unknown.
Just as her feet were beginning to ache from her standing up for such a long time and she was beginning to yawn, Quin melted out of the shadows. He walked right up to Andrews, ignoring greetings from those around him and dropped a reasonable sized box in front of the other vampire. The box landed with a thud.
"Open it." he told his sire. A mocking expression came to Andrewsí thin features.
"You dare order me around, boy?" he asked disrespectfully.
"Call it a gift." Quin replied and smiled nefariously. His sire narrowed his eyes suspiciously before bending down and opening the box. He started back, one hand clamped over his mouth. The energy around Cathrinís neck tightened for a moment before disappearing completely.
With one shaking hand, Andrews bent down and picked up the contents of the box.
It was a mass of silvery threads. Something dark dripped from the bottom. The vampire dropped the mass onto the floor. It rolled around for a few moments before lying still. That was when Cathrin realised what it was.
Quin wasnít joking when he said he had sent a few before. Andrews stood in horror for a few more minutes, staring at the head of his daughter, before turning even paler.
"You killed my daughter, now Iíve killed yours. Itís a fair trade." Quin said icily. Andrews looked up at the other vampire, eyes wide, before lunging at him. Quin stepped out of the way, a pleased expression working its way over his handsome features.
The expression didnít last. Andrews lunged again, this time knocking the other vampire hard against the wall.
He let out a snarl and lashed out at his sire, hitting the blond vampire squarely in the face. Andrews staggered back with the force of the blow, his jaw bent at an odd angle. He gingerly touched it as it darkened and straightened before lightening again. He snarled back at Quin.
"Enough!" Calahan announced. "This is a meeting, not a battle field. Keep your fights to yourselves."
Quin muttered something unintelligible, but it seemed to anger his sire further. Andrews started toward the other vampire, his face twisting into an expression of pure hate.
For the first tome since arriving, Quin noticed Cathrin. He just looked at her, his face emotionless.
"What have you done?" he asked, still looking at her. She saw Andrewsí hate drain away with one vicious smile.
"Do you wish to bid for her, boy?" he asked, his contempt returning. "A good slave auction always brightens my night."
"No. I will not be a part of this!" Quin said, snarling.
"Youíre the one who hired her to hunt me, itís only a fair trade." the other vampire retorted, throwing the otherís words back at him.
"Hey, nobodyís going to bid for me!" Cathrin protested. Andrews shot her a warning look and energy surged toward her.
She braced herself for it to hit her. However, it did not. One word stopped all of it.
"No." Quin said firmly. All eyes were upon him. He stood, deathly still. It didnít look like he was even breathing. It took Cathrin a moment or two to work out what was going on.
The power radiating from Quin was enormous. It flowed like waves of heat, washing over everyone.
"If this was something worthwhile or important, then perhaps that would justify the message I received. But it is only the petty matter of the Hunter. Ordinarily, that would not validate my presence, but since I am here, letís make this worthwhile and discuss this in a civilised matter elsewhere. I am sure the Hunter would like the time to think of her fate and then we would not have to expend all our energies to keep her under control." he said slowly, calmly, emptily.
There were a few murmurs of agreement. Most were watching him warily, some fearfully. At that moment there was no doubt who was in control of the situation.
Vampires filed out of the room, leaving Cathrin alone. Alone to ponder over her fate.
"Why should I? I am not the one who broke the rules!" Quin snarled.
"Nobody cares but you. You are the pariah here. You are the only one who kills your own kind. You are the one they all fear. You even scared me, Quin, with that little outburst. As far as theyíre concerned, you and the Hunter are from the same flock, therefore you should share her fate. Which is why you have to wait with her until theyíve deliberated." Lily hissed back and cast a wary glance over her shoulder at a closed door.
"Oh, thatís just grand, isnít it? They all sit on their thumbs for hours on end while Iím stuck in a room with the Hunter. Theyíd love it if she decided to end my existence." he fumed.
"Put it this way, do it voluntarily or they will get nasty. You have next to no chance against us all." she told him. He glared at her.
"Very well. I know a threat when I hear one." he said and let her herd him into the room with Cathrin in it. He heard the lock turn and the bolt slide into place. He was now trapped again. Twice in as many days. That was not good for a vampire, a Court Lord no less.
Cathrin was seated on an ornately carved chair, her feet on a table, miraculously balancing on only two legs. She was busy staring at a wall, a thoughtful expression on her face. The head of Caitlin Andrews still lay on the plush carpet, a dark stain spreading under the stump of a neck.
"That was an interesting argument outside." she said, not looking at him. "And it looks like Iím stuck with you again. Too bad the door doesnít swing inward."
"That would not work. Lily would have been told to post guards." he said as he leaned against the wall nearby.
"Why on earth are you here?" she asked.
"They werenít impressed by my loss of temper earlier on." he replied. That was putting it mildly. The entire Court had been up in arms over his lack of control. They all knew he was powerful, but they had not even tasted the full extent of it. It had frightened them. A smile came to her lips as she glanced at him.
"Loss of temper? Is that what you call it? That is the biggest understatement I have ever heard." she said and let her smile fade. "But seriously, with all that shouting and arguing going on out there, I thought World War III was going to begin. You know, for age-old, all-powerful monsters, you all act like a bunch of hyperactive three year olds."
"Have you finished insulting us yet?" he asked.
"No. And whatís this about you having a daughter? You donít seem to be the married-slash-family type. Youíre too much of a cold-hearted, parasitic, son of a bitch." she said before hastily adding; "No offence."
"None taken." he told her. "Itís the truth."
She took her feet off the table and let her chair fall back onto all four feet. "What? Have I grown a second head and not known about it?" she asked. "Youíre looking at me funny."
Quin smiled. "Do you have any qualms with admiration?" he asked, letting his gaze wander over her shapely figure. The dress clung to accentuated her form in all the right places. As much as he hated his sire, Quin had to admit the man had taste when it came to showing women off.
"It depends on what youíre admiring." she said flatly as she stood and began to pace. "At least youíre not gawking at me like Andrews was. But youíre not much better, so kindly stop looking at me like that."
The vampireís smile grew. "So you do have qualms with admiration. I donít see why, you are an admirable woman." he told her. Her cheeks flushed pink.
"Now Iíve heard it all. Admirable, hah!" she muttered.
"Whatís wrong with my admiring you?" he asked as her face turned a darker shade of pink.
"Everything. Youíre a leech for starters and can we change the subject? Iím more concerned with whatís happening to me than what you think of me." she replied.
Quin laughed softly. "Really now? Whatís to be concerned about? As long as I am here, you have nothing to worry about because the rest of the Court will be talking about me behind my back. When I return, that will be when the discussion will return to you. Until then, the only thing you have to worry about is me and vice versa." he told her. Cathrin shot him a heated look as her blush began to fade, making him banish his smile.
"Oh? And I donít suppose that in any of those arguments outside, Andrews didnít mention that heís taken the first steps to making me his servant? Or how about the fact he wants to auction me off to the highest bidder?" she asked, silent rage in her voice.
"How many of the first steps?" he asked. She narrowed her eyes at him.
"The point where he forced me to drink his blood. I know thereís only two more steps, so Iím halfway his servant and frankly I donít want to be." she replied.
He studied her while he thought about what he could do to help, watching the way she moved as she paced. It was distracting, making it hard for him to think, but at the same time, forced him to try and come up with something to help this poor creature. Lust was a wonderful thing, he thought sarcastically. And it was lust. Both of them had it. He was used to women lusting after him, but this one was different. She didnít want to be in pursuit of him. Nor did she want him to be in pursuit, not really. That was the fun of it, the challenge. Ah, a challenge, that was the perfect word to describe her. Challenge accepted.
"What on earth are you thinking?" Cathrin asked in a shocked tone, her cheeks flaring pink again.
"Why do you ask?" he asked.
"I donít appreciate having every little detail about me studied." she said disgustedly. He couldnít help but smile.
"Well, sorry for wanting to help you. I guess youíll just have to stay under Andrewsí thumb for a while. At least until you die and that could be a few centuries. A side effect of being a fully fledged servant is longevity." he said as the colour drained away from her face.
"Then kindly tell me what youíre thinking." she said and sniffed irately.
"Iím trying to decide whether to kill you or kiss you." he said with one of his best smiles. Her anger wavered slightly and she paused to look at him, taking him in. It was then he used the opportunity to do the latter rather than the former. He snaked an arm around her waist and sandwiched her between the wall and himself, pressing his mouth onto hers. She struggled for all of a heartbeat before giving in to the kiss. He drew back slowly and eased up a little.
"Youíre good." she murmured, opening her eyes to look up at him.
"Why thankyou." he took the complement and went to kiss her again, but felt her hand on his chest, separating them.
"That was an affirmation, not in invitation." she said quite firmly. "And what does this have to do with my situation with Andrews?"
"You could always agree to be my servant, then you wonít have to answer to my sire." he said softly as her breath caressed his lips. She glared at him.
"You mean to say that instead of being his play thing, Iíd be yours? Now I really will be thinking the worst, especially after this. And besides, I thought you can only have one servant at a time." she muttered and tried to squirm out from between him and the wall.
"A fully fledged one, yes, but that doesnít stop us from having bonds with other potential servants. And maybe Iíll go knock on the door and say Iíd like to bid for you. Make a decision, right now, Andrews or me." he told her, enjoying watching her wriggle. She let out a small groan.
"Gee, which is the lesser of two evils, you or him? Itíd be easier if you both werenít so Goddamn disgusting." she complained.
"I object to that. I like to think of myself as less disgusting than he." Quin told her.
She smirked at him. "You donít honestly expect me to say ĎYou! Of course I pick you! Youíre much more handsome than he!í because it ainít gonna be anytime in this life. I know what you are and looks canít cover it up, no matter how good they are." she said, sneering.
"Then what will it be? Andrews or me?" he insisted. Her face sobered quickly and she pursed her lips.
"If, and this is a pretty big if, I choose you, what will you get out of it?" she asked doubtfully.
"What makes you think I will get anything out of this? Do you think I want to be bound to the Hunter? Do you think I want you to be my servant?" he asked.
"Maybe. I donít know what goes on in that head of yours. I know youíve done some very, how to I put this?, artistic things when it comes to hunters and their deaths. I wouldnít put it past you to do something twisted if I agreed." she replied.
"Then what do you want me to do? Promise that I wonít do anything to harm you?" he asked. That brought a devious smile to her lips.
"Now that you mention it, that would do just fine. Swear that you, or someone on your behalf, wonít harm me." Cathrin said just as deviously as her smile.
She had him there. If he swore, then he would have to keep that promise, no matter what and she knew it.
"You know, I donít have to agree to this, I can just leave you to Andrews." he told her. Her smile grew.
"You wonít, because if you do, I wonít kill him for you. Iíll leave you two to pit it out for a few more centuries. You want me to work for you, you get me out of this and you swear no harm to me." she informed him.
"And I thought I was the only vampire in this room." Quin snarled at her and took a couple of steps back.
"Was that an agreement, Quin? Was that an oath? I didnít quite catch that." she said and cupped a hand around her ear, as if she had trouble hearing what he said.
"All right, Hunter, I swear it." he said loathingly, hating how he could have let her get the better of him. "Now give me your wrist."
Her smile turned to a cringe before she sighed. "Gotta do wotcha gotta do." she muttered as she offered him her wrist.