Mad Blood

an excerpt

Chapter One



Dante Toren was a predator. Born a vampire, he had the natural instincts and urges of a stone cold killer. What he couldn't destroy with his fangs and claws, he took out with his blades or Glock. Never had he backed down from a battle. Hell, he usually ran headfirst into them, grinning the entire way.

Ruthless. Fearless. A killing machine. A true warrior.

A true warrior who was presently sucking down a cherry Slurpee while standing in front of the skin magazine rack at rundown, dingy party store. To be fair it was on the seedier part of Detroit and he had used a dirty cup, but it wasn't something that would get him his own comic book or video game any time soon.

The only true danger this predator faced was an overload of T&A or at worst, a nasty case of food poisoning because the slurpy machine looked like it hadn't been cleaned since Jimmy Carter was president and white loafers were in style. Even the food poisoning wasn't a real threat since vampires were immortal and it took more than mold spores or bacteria to take them down. So no. There wasn't really any danger at all.

Although there was a strange werewolf two aisles over. That counted for something, right? He glanced up at his stalker and scowled, a low curse slipping from his mouth.

Okay, not even that counted. The wolf sniffing after his trail was a teen barely out of his pup years. Even if he did decide to attack, all Dante had to do was bare his fangs, hiss and the kid would go running in the opposite direction. Funny, yes. Helpful in elevating his badass status, no.

Unfortunately, at that time he made eye contact with the wolf. The kid grinned and practically hopped over to him. Even though his movements weren't threatening, Dante still slipped a hand into his pocket to caress the butt of his gun, just in case. It wouldn't be the first time something innocent turned out to be trouble.

Dressed in an oversized army jacket, red sweatshirt and blue jeans, the kid could have walked straight out of a Grunge band video. Like most wolves, his hair was a multitude of different colors, blond, auburn, brown and black were all present. His amber gazed looked Dante up and down, whether to size him up as prey or not remained to be seen. Finally the kid flashed another one of those goofy smiles before he gave a lazy chuckle.

"Dude," the wolf drawled out slowly. "I know who you are."

"Funny, so do I," Dante replied in clipped tones. "I'm the annoyed vampire who's getting ready to leave before he gets fleas."

The kid went on babbling like he hadn't heard the insult, his tone edged with giddy excitement. "Everyone said you were dead, but I knew better. Nothing could touch a Toren brother. You guys put the bad in badass."

Dante didn't even try to deny the truth. If the kid had stepped one paw outside of the city of Detroit he would have seen the wanted posters. Hell, the only change in his appearance that Dante had made was to let his dark hair grow long in the front so it shielded his brown eyes. "I'll make sure to pass the message on to my brothers, Kane and Rafe. They might want to add the saying to our business cards."

"Vampires have business cards?" The wolf's mouth dropped, his glassy eyes somehow managing to portray surprise. "No way?"

Dante closed his eyes and prayed for a hole to open up in the dirty, cracked linoleum floor and swallow up the punk. "It was a joke."

"Oh." The teen's brow wrinkled like he was trying to process the information before he gave a slight shake of his head. "What are you doing here anyhow?"

As one, they both looked over at the rack of dirty magazines. Dante felt his face flush as he realized he was inadvertently contributing to the idiot's delinquency. It didn't help matters when a wicked grin spread over the teen's face.

"Sweet. A vampire's gotta get his groove on. I can totally understand. Do you want me to show you the one with the best pictures?" He leaned over to grab a magazine that promised Bigg Juggs.

Dante reached out to stay his hand. "Dear God, no." He grabbed his arm and dragged him a couple of feet away. "What's a little dork like you doing out so late? Doesn't your pack have a curfew for you little ankle bitters?"

"So where have you been all this time?" Again the wolf only appeared to hear what he wanted. "Every paranormal creature in the city has been wondering."

"Really?" Dante asked dryly, disbelief making his sarcasm come out full force. "Since when did they become so caring?"

"Whenever someone from the top of the food chain goes missing, everyone starts to worry about what was bad enough to take him out."

"So it wasn't so much out of concern for me, but concerned about what else there may be?" Suddenly it was all becoming painfully clear to Dante.

"Something like that. So where have you been?"

Taking a slow drink to put off answering, Dante lazily looked through the grimy window at the skyline of Detroit as a bit of nostalgia tugged at his heart. It had been so many months since he'd seen it and he was shocked at how much he actually missed the city.

"I've been here and there." He evaded as he thought about how Rafe and Kane were going to react when he came a knocking on the clan doors. Would his two brothers welcome him back with open arms?

Damn doubtful. Not that he blamed them. After all he was the one who walked away on Christmas Eve without giving either one of them a goodbye or a fuck you. Plus, he hadn't bothered to contact them in all the time he'd been gone. No, he'd been too busy running. And why had the big, bad vampire left?

Because he couldn't get a frigging grip on his emotions. He was like one of the teen divas from a reality show who was suffering from a constant case of PMS. Ever since he'd been released from the paranormal prison that he and his brothers had rotted in for ten years, he hadn't exactly been the poster child for mental health. For a while he was content to ride it out. Borderline psycho on his good days, raging lunatic on his bad. But after one too many times of being strapped down on a hospital bed and injected with drugs, he'd decided it was time to go and find his inner Zen. He was still looking for that damn Zen. Maybe he should try Craig's List.

"Why did you take off in the first place? Were you rescuing someone? Maybe taking out something really bad, like a troll?" The kid persisted as he shoved his oversized hands in his pockets.

"What's your name?" Dante decided it was his turn to play the evasive card.

"My friends call me T."

"Is that short for tool?"

"No." A wounded look passed over the wolf's face.

It was so genuine that Dante almost felt bad for ribbing him. "What's your real name then?"

"Thad."

"Now why would you want to hide that?" Dante didn't even bother to conceal his grin.

"Because it sounds so stuffy and formal, kind of like a vampire name." He ducked his head as his cheeks grew pink, probably because he realized how insulting his statement was.

Lucky for Thad it took a lot more to rile Dante up. "So what would you rather it be, Fangs, Killer or Brutus?" he asked.

"Anyone of those would be better than freaking Thad," the wolf grumbled.

"Well, Thad." Dante made sure to place great emphasis on the name. "You shouldn't be out this late."

"I can take care of myself." Thad curled up the corner of one side of his mouth to show a sharp canine.

Very doubtful, not only where there humans who would love to take advantage of a teenager being out alone, but there were harpies, kubolds, brownies and countless other creatures that would just love get themselves a werewolf pelt for their living room floor. But the last thing you wanted to do was insult a male werewolf's pride. Even one who was still in high school and probably used words like kewl and hawt.

"I never said you couldn't." Dante reasoned carefully. "Still, you're out past curfew and your pack would have my ass if I didn't take you back. Since my clan is dependent on their generosity for letting us stay in their city, I can't afford to make them angry."

"Awh, man," Thad groused as he screwed his face up like he'd smelled something foul. "Do you have any idea how much this sucks?"

Dante grabbed him by the arm and led him out, pausing only long enough to throw his cup away.

As they passed the human clerk, she barely raised her head to look at them.

"Using the word suck around a vampire? You better watch it, some would think that was an invitation."

Thad put a hand protectively to his throat as he gulped. "You wouldn't."

"No, but there are plenty who would. Now, let's go." They stopped in front of his car as Dante fished the keys out of his pocket. A look of horror passed over the teen's face and this time it had nothing to do with the fear of having a vampire latch on to his neck.

"Please, don't tell me that the infamous Dante Toren is driving a Gremlin?" The kid continued to gape at the car.

Dante could see the respect the teen had for him drop a couple of notches. "What's wrong with my car?" Now it was Dante's turn to be wounded.

"Well…it's a Gremlin. And a damn ugly one at that."

"Just get in." Dante gave him a gentle shove toward the puke green car.

"No wonder you were loitering by the dirty magazines. Nobody else would be caught dead in this thing. You must not have had a date in a seriously long time." Thad opened the door and immediately clapped his hands over his ears when the rusted hinges let out a squawk of protest. "Dude, if you're trying to torture me, this is the way."

"It's not that bad." Even as Dante said that, the car's antenna fell off as a strong gust of wind hit it. He worked hard to keep his face impassive as he refused to look at it. Maybe if he ignored it, they could pretend it never happened.

"Where did you get it? A goblin die and leave it to you in its will?"

"It was free so I gladly took it." Funny, finding one's inner Zen didn't pay too well.

"Shoot," Thad muttered as he got in, wrinkling his nose in a canine manner at the stinky interior. "Someone should have paid you for taking this thing off their hands."

"If it offends you that much you can stick your head out the window while I'm driving." Dante got in and slammed the door. "I hear your kind loves to do that."

"I doubt the window works in this POS."

"Very funny," Dante drawled as he turned the ignition. The car coughed, sputtered and groaned before it stuttered to life. "Just tell me where your pack is living."

Following the kid's direction, Dante drove to what used to be a church in the outskirts of the city. The entire way there, Thad continued to bombard him with questions and Dante continued to ignore the majority of them.

As soon as he pulled in front of the building, Dante knew something was wrong. His gut was yelling at him that there was danger nearby and if it was one thing he trusted, it was his instincts. It was one of the things that kept him alive all those years in prison.

He stared at the large church, searching for an answer. The stained glass windows were dark and forbidding. The stone walls seemed so damn silent and lifeless. Double wooden doors appeared to be keeping something trapped inside. The building was tall with a bell tower on top and Dante was half expecting a gargoyle to come swooping down.

"Where is everyone?" Thad whispered, all trace of his stoner accent gone. He tilted his head to the side before a soft whimper came out. "I can smell death."

Yes, there was the ripe stench of death floating in the wind, but Dante kept that observation to himself. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end and his fangs elongated, getting ready for battle. There was something nearby and it had been bad enough to take down a pack of werewolves. He inhaled deeper and the rich, metallic scent of blood interlaced with the death smell.

Reaching into his pocket, he got out a handgun and checked it to make sure it was ready. He was already armed with some knives and daggers, but it would be better to go in with some big stuff, too. Slipping his cell out of his jacket, he handed it to the teen.

The kid's hand trembled as he took it.

"If I don't come in back in five minutes, call my clan for backup," he ordered.

"I can come in with you and help." The wolf's voice shook as he made his offer.

"No, you'll just get in the way. Promise me you'll stay here." When the kid didn't answer, Dante grabbed him by the shoulder and gave it a shake. "Promise me, damn it."

"I promise," he rasped as a tear slid down his cheek. "I was only gone a few hours. Only a few frigging hours. What could have happened in that little amount of time?"

Dante didn't have any words of comfort to give him. He knew from personal experience how hollow they would sound anyway. Instead he got out of the car, weapon up and ready.

Edging his way to the church, the familiar adrenaline rush hit him. It was the same one he used to get when he was a top soldier for the Vampire Regulation Force and, after he had been disgraced, hunting as a private mercenary. Edgy and thrilling, it shot through his bloodstream, making for a high no drug could match. God, how he missed this. Screw the Zen.

Careful to make himself as small as a target as possible, he peeked into one of the few windows that wasn't stained glass. Nearly pitch black inside, he could just see the dark streaks on the wall. He didn't need his heightened vampire senses to tell him it was blood. Everything was too still and empty. No sign of the pack besides the smears of blood. Nothing but the promise of something bad.

It looked like he was going to have to actually go inside to find out what was happening. While the thought of going into an unknown situation that had already obviously killed off plenty of individuals should have scared the piss out of him, it didn't. It only sent another surge of adrenalin through him.

Moving to the front door, he slowly opened it, gun still up. A heavy silence met him, not even a moan or a wisp of air was present. The only thing more disturbing than screams and gunfire, was quiet like this. The smell of blood and death was even stronger inside, making him gag slightly. While the kills were so fresh a human may have been able to detect the blood, they wouldn't have been able to detect the decay. Only monsters like him could do that.

He moved from room to room, finding nothing but scattered belongings and more blood. In the kitchen, food was all over the floor and smeared onto the countertops. A pot of something had boiled over and his nostrils twitched at the scent of burnt meat. Even more unpleasant memories were brought forward with that bitter scent. Bothered more than he cared to admit, he paused long enough to turn it off, his hands fumbling with the knobs of the stove in his haste to get the task done.

Don't lose focus. Keep your eye on the target and don't let them see any weakness. It wasn't his voice chanting those commands in his mind, but his older brother Kane's. After years of fighting next to his siblings, he knew his oldest brother's lectures by heart.

On instinct, he opened his mind to touch his brothers' following the same mental path they had shared from the crib. He'd kept a barrier up for so long it felt good to finally let it down. After a couple of seconds, he frowned in frustration. Just a hint of static, which meant that they were too far away to touch.

Or something was blocking him. His skin crawled with fear. Fuck, not good. That meant whatever was in here already knew about him. Even so, Dante continued to press on because the word retreat wasn't in his dictionary. Obviously suicidal and stupid were though because he should have turned tail and waited for backup. Screw it though. He grinned as his heart started to pump harder and a cold sweat broke out over his body. There was a reason they called him the Mad Toren Brother.

He found the bodies in the common area. Piled like cordwood, what used to be a pack of virile, healthy werewolves, were now just a pile of corpses. Men, woman and, dear God, children were all mixed together. Dante wanted to run to the corner and vomit, but he fought he urge, not wanting to let his guard down. He did allow himself to swallow the bitter saliva that was pooling in his mouth as his stomach objected to the mass carnage around him.

A rush of husky laughter filled the empty air.

Sensual, dark and evil, it made his hackles rise. "So fucking dead. So fucking dead." He wasn't speaking about the slaughtered pack, but rather to his unseen enemy. "You hear me? When I get my claws on you, you're so fucking dead!"

The laughter switched to a throaty song.

Dante strained his ears to pick up the words, but all he got was a humming melody. A slow comforting warmth settled over him as every muscle in his body relaxed. The song invaded every essence of his being, making him feel so peaceful. It was soothing, warm and not at all what you would expect from a killer. It was…nice. Very, very nice.

A female came out of the shadow, her white skin stark in the dim lighting. Dressed in head-to-toe black from her torn dress to her fuck-me boots, she was what all the humans imagined vampires looked like. She even had the heaving bosoms and raven, glossy hair. Then she opened her mouth and revealed a row of razor sharp teeth, instead of the regular fangs and vampire would have.

Empusa.

Empusa were blood drinkers like vampires, but that was the only similarity they had. Empusa feed on anything they could get their claws on and they had an insatiable appetite. Driven by a hunger that could never be satisfied, they were crazed with blood lust and wouldn't stop until they were killed. Their bite also carried a poison that would make their victims go crazy. Provided they lived long enough.

Even as he rattled off this data in his head, he didn't feel any fear of the creature. Somewhere inside, Dante knew that he should shoot the bitch. Especially when five more of her sisters came out of the shadows and started humming with her. The funny thing was, he couldn't pull the trigger. If he killed them, then he couldn't hear the song anymore and right now, there was nothing more he wanted to do. In fact, if someone were to come along and try to stop the singing, Dante would attack them.

One of the empusa stopped singing and crooked one finger at him.

"Hello, beautiful," Dante slurred in a drunk-sounding voice as he moved forward, letting the gun slip from his limp fingers.