Minion (Vampire Huntress Legend #1)

Chapter 16

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When the animal turned its attention to the second trembling man on the ground, Nuit yelled, "No! He's for our guest."

Stunned, Carlos could only stare as the well-trained creature backed away to simply stand at Nuit's side, giving its master a grudging glare with its growl.

"This is power, my friend," Nuit murmured in a deep, sexy tone. The brother had an expression on his face like he'd just ejaculated. "Are you with us?"

Carlos nodded. This was the most powerful shit he'd ever seen in his life. To take another man's weapon and turn him on it like that. Images of his brother, however, made him look away from the carnage to the man who was still alive. Damn, just watching the fear in the one who was still living, who had pissed and shitted himself, and vomited … the smell of fear made Carlos spit again. The grisly sight of the remains had given him enough of a taste of revenge. This was some twisted bullshit.

"Just do the other one, the old-fashioned way," Carlos said, breathing hard, bile creeping up his throat with an acidic burn. "Two shots in the back of the head. Clean. The panther is over the top, hombre. Even for me."

"Like I said, he's new," Nuit told the others who were intently watching the still-living man on the ground. "Soon he'll have the thirst. Give him a few days."

The others nodded.

"You want this man killed clean, then?" Nuit's smile broadened.

Again, Carlos only nodded.

"You don't want to do it? After all, they murdered your brother and your cousin and your friends."

"Just do it. Or – "

Before Carlos could lift his gun or finish his statement, Nuit had reached into the man's back with his bare hand. An awful, bloodcurdling scream came from the victim, and the sound of bones and ligaments tearing echoed past the trees as Nuit's hand came away from the body dangling an entire spinal column. Carlos was paralyzed by the gruesome sight, his voice lodged in his throat as his eyes quickly shifted from the twitching body on the ground to the dripping cord of bones in Nuit's fist. A deep gully had been carved in the back of the jerking dead man, his glassy-eyed stare fixed upon Carlos's shoes.

Carlos could not move as he watched Nuit break sections of the spinal column off and toss them to the headmen who were now7panting as they grabbed the dripping bones. Nuit glared at the big cat again as she tried to approach the fresh kill, and the panther backed away with a sullen growl. The henchmen were sucking the bones, licking between their fingers. They now gathered around the body, knelt at the open gully in it, and lowered their heads. Only slurping sounds could be heard. Carlos turned away, and dry heaved.

Listening to it without seeing it was worse. "What the fuck was that shit?! Oh, goddamned …" Carlos's voice failed him as he turned around again, unable to keep his eyes from watching the grisly sight. Transfixed, all he could do was hold his gun. No, fuck it. This was too ill. He was out. Panic claimed him. He'd never seen no bullshit like this in his fucking life!

"Calm yourself," Nuit crooned in a reassuring voice. His eyes were steady as they held Carlos, his voice alluring.

For a moment, Carlos couldn't move. To get out of there, he'd have to mow down the big cat, then what? These motherfuckers might eat him!

"No one will lay a finger on you, my friend, I assure you," Nuit murmured, his eyes closing to half slits. "We have much bigger plans for you than that. Plans that involve an increase in territory, much more money than you could ever spend in one lifetime." Nuit chuckled. His voice now held a seductive resonance, like the way a man might speak to a difficult woman to talk her drawers off. "Think of the money that is out here in the woods. These men might have a perversion, but they are filthy rich and very protected … not even the feds can touch them. You want that, and you know it … to travel the world with a seal of protection … to operate with impunity, laughing at the authorities." Nuit stepped closer to him and leaned his head back with an expression of ecstasy. "Tell me you don't want that," he whispered. "Tell me … from way down in your soul."

Perspiration soaked Carlos's nylon jacket and made it stick to his skin. Beads of sweat on his brow became a quick trickle down the sides of his face. His hand trembled from gripping his gun so tightly and his fingers twitched as they remained glued to the trigger.

Nuit lifted his head, opened his eyes, and allowed his gaze to rove over Carlos, sending a ripple of carnal pleasure through him. "You can't even find the words to tell me … because it's not in you. You want what I've described, and you covet what I have, n'est pas?"

"But, goddamned …" Carlos's sentence derailed as the words lodged in his throat.

"It is damned, and it is power." Nuit inhaled deeply.

As each of the bosses stood and wiped their mouths, Carlos stared at Nuit, paralyzed by the grotesque, transfixed by the se-

ductive, while this madman licked blood from his own hand, and sighed.

"You ripped a man's back out … then – "

"Martial arts." Nuit smiled. "Did you know that many old cultures ate of the remains of their enemies after a battle? To the victor go the spoils. It is an old custom, designed to give you the power that the other side once had over you. Just a small ritual – you don't have to participate, unless you are so moved. We accept diversity, as you can see." Nuit chuckled. "And, we can teach you how to protect yourself from a gun, or anything else more dangerous … if you want to go to the next level -  and if you want to really get to the bottom … or should I say, the top of who did your family."

Skeptical, Carlos didn't move, but also didn't nod. "I'm not doing the blood shit."

"But you are intrigued? Take your time. Think about it. We have all night."

He didn't answer Nuit. Two men that had done his family had indeed died horrible deaths. All these years he had been protected by these men and given safe passage. He had a million dollars sitting beside him, plus his own hundred Gs still intact. They were going to show him how to expand, gain more power, and be untouchable by the law. He'd never have to watch people close to him die at the hands of violence. He'd never have to worry about having children – his would be safe from what he and his brother and sister endured. He could protect his people and all that he'd built for them to enjoy. For the first time in his life, the madness would end and he'd be in a safe camp – a squad with unlimited power.

Nuit studied him with a sly smile. Carlos mulled over the options. He had everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Hmmm … Freaky rituals of revenge notwithstanding, there was some merit to the consideration.

"If I say yes, that I'll go after the rest of them – what else do you want from me? I want it all laid out, no after-the-fact negotiations."

"A true businessman," Nuit murmured, his voice cool as he continued licking the last of the blood from his hand. "I respect that." Nuit cast his gaze in the direction of the panther. "She's an excellent way to ensure that our way of life is preserved. She sends a powerful message to those that get in our way … tends to turn them to see things from our perspective." Nuit chuckled low and sinister. "So effective."

"You want me to keep that in my house?" Carlos laughed nervously and shook his head no.

Nuit chuckled from a place deep within his chest. "No. She's a lot to handle and hates the sun. We'll house her. I just want you to train her and control her."

"I don't know jack about training a beast like that." Again Carlos shook his head, and he laughed.

"We'll teach you how – just look how easily she came to me."

"So, when I do a hit, I'm supposed to make that thing – "

"Details, details," Nuit sighed, putting up his hand. "The creature is yours, but I'll keep her for now. In fact," he said smoothly, "I'll trade my pussy for the one you have under your control." He smiled. "Deal?"

Carlos shook his head and picked up the leather briefcase and stashed it under his arm, gripping the handle of his silver case along with it, while still holding his gun in his other hand. He'd heard about men like this – so rich that they'd lost their fucking minds and had gone freaky. "Name any woman of mine you want, and I'm sure she'll have no problem coming to you.

Money, power, draws women like flies. I'll send her to you," he called over his shoulder as he began to walk away.

"Wait!" Nuit said. "Say that again."

Carlos let his breath out hard, turned around, and watched as Nuit closed his eyes and seemed to inhale his exhale from across the clearing.

"I said, pick any one of them you want," Carlos restated impatiently. "Name her, and I'll bring her to you. The deal is a million for the men who did our people, and a woman – I get to own a panther, but you get to house and feed it. And I get crazy protection, with no bullshit attached. Period."

Nuit's eyes narrowed to slits, and he wrapped his arms around himself and trembled, breathing hard. "Come here. Seal this pact. Then you can go,"

He knew the custom – seal it with a handshake or a don level embrace.

"Fuck you. Lock the panther up first, man."

Nuit smiled. "Yes, she is daunting, even for her master at times. But she is so good – even in bed."

"I don't need to know all that," Carlos muttered as a disgusted shiver ran up his spine. "Just lock the monster up, and then we can shake on it." Carlos set down both briefcases, but kept his automatic. These guys were whack.

He only stepped forward when the panther jumped back in the limo, and one of the guards locked it in the vehicle.

Carlos watched the men as they continued to lick the blood off their hands. Then they wiped them with dark silk handkerchiefs, then cleaned their mouths. The thought of shaking on the deal with them was abhorrent, but he had a cool hundred thou at his left side, and a million on his right.

Unconcerned that Carlos was still heavily armed, the Italian stepped forward first, but grabbed Carlos's face as he offered him his left fist to pound, pulling him forward in a powerful embrace, and landing a kiss on each cheek before releasing him. Carlos wiped his nose with the back of his hand – the stench of blood, sulfur, and death filled his nostrils.

"Grazie,"the older man murmured, his eyes cold and his smile even more threatening.

By instinct, Carlos allowed himself to be subjected to each of them, as they grabbed his face, kissed both cheeks, and released him. However, their strength was the most perplexing aspect of it all. Each of these men, who were substantially older than him, had handled him like he was a baby – and he was a man in top form!

When Nuit stepped to him, he braced himself. The top man could deliver the kiss of death, or the kiss of passage. It was all in how one was released from the embrace.

Cold hands went to Carlos's face, almost stroking it with a chill. The black eyes that met his were so intense that he could not turn away. A strange current ran through him. He could almost hear his own blood rushing through his veins. His heartbeat became erratic; he could hear the sound of its thud in his ears.

"You are going to know a pleasure so profound, a power so vast that it will make your dick hard," Nuit whispered.

Uffallon Nun's icy palm cradled Carlos's cheek with a •i lover's touch. Yet his grip on Carlos was an iron hold. Immediately Carlos tried to pull away, but was held firm as Nuit's face neared his. The sexual connection, the sensuality that ran through Nuit's fingers and onto Carlos's skin fucked with everything he believed in. The combination of surrender in the wake of such power also made him high, dazed for a second, and drained any desire to struggle out of Nuit's grasp.

Then Carlos saw it in slow motion – paralyzed with horror. Massive eyeteeth replaced the ones that had gleamed in the darkness, a black tongue licked a trail of slime at his neck. His gun unloaded, firing rounds against the earth. His neck was forced to bend and expose itself, pushed by a cheek that felt like it was packed with steel. His voice was muffled by blood in his throat from Nuit's hold, then impact.

Searing pain made his whole body convulse and twitch, he heard his collarbone snap and felt flesh tear away from the bite. Something was siphoning him, pulling at the open wound. He couldn't breathe. Heaven help him! He was dying in a man's arms.

His grandmother's face flashed in his mind, he saw his mother weeping as she held the phone. Their prayers connected with the one his mind was screaming now, For Dios, not like this!

Carlos immediately dropped and saw a distorted face hovering above him, retching and spitting out blood. He tried to right himself, tried to stand. Where was his gun? He'd pulled the magnum from his waist, but his body went limp. Then he was moving fast, careening through blackness as though he were a car without windows. Putrid air whizzed by him, making him feel weightless, traveling faster and faster. The wind tore through his hair, terrible images blurred. In the distance he heard a howl, joined by more howls and screeches that made him try to cover his ears – but he was moving too fast, centrifugal force made anything but hurling forward impossible. A pinpoint of white light was in the distance, and he fought against the force that bound him and desperately reached for it. The light moved away from him. He was dying. Damali's words flashed in his mind. God in Heaven, forgive me, his mind screamed.

Suddenly, all motion stopped and he came to a halt with a thud that sent shards of pain through every cell in his body. His eyes were shut tight, and he could hear voices around him. Angry voices. Hisses, growls, an argument. Something in his pants pocket was burning his leg – -Juan's cross. Blind, he groped for the cross and took it out of his pocket. He gripped it and then screamed. It scorched his fingers, his palm, branded it, and he threw it. Carlos slowly opened his eyes.

"Sacrilege!" Nuit yelled, his voice cutting through the night air. He walked in a circle, spitting and hissing and holding his abdomen. "He died with a prayer in his heart! The blood is tainted! This one was previously marked to be a tracker guardian. This one had a slayer's prayers, and the prayers of the elderly over him! Even the slayer's team once prayed over this bastard. Why was I not informed?! I thought he was marked as one of ours!"

The others now bore fangs, their faces like demons. Weak, Carlos pushed himself up to a sitting position, and then he scrabbled with the earth to get enough of a hold to finally stand. The rows of vehicles vanished with a wave of Nuit's hand. All but his black Lexus were gone.

"Save your thought projection energy," Nuit ordered the men around him. Then he studied Carlos. "Mine is a master's bite. You shouldn't have immediately turned, yet you've healed," he said, circling Carlos. "Something is very wrong in the supernatural order." Concern flickered in the red glow of Nuit's eyes.

A strange calmness overcame Carlos as he felt strength enter his body. There was a weightlessness that he couldn't describe. He raised his hand to feel his throat and neck, and he was awed when he pulled it away – there was no blood, no gaping wound. He looked down at his hand as Nuit continued to circle him. All the pain in his body was gone.

"The bastard immediately healed. But we still have a deal. I made you!"

Carlos surprised himself by laughing. Instinct made him know that somehow in this weird transaction, he'd gained the upper hand. He studied the angry and worried expressions of the group. Yes … he may have died, and might even now be in Hell … but if that was his fate, well then, he'd make the best of it.

Another wave of strength poured through Carlos. He looked at the night with new eyes. In the darkness he was able to make out even the veins in the leaves high above … In the dark? He trained his ears on the distance, and focused on a mouse scurrying from an owl. He rolled his shoulders, let his head drop back, and howled. Power. Infinite power made him drunk, and he laughed again.

"So, you did make me," Carlos finally breathed out. "So much for so little."

Nuit held up his hand to the group that appeared ready to lunge at Carlos, and then he smiled. "Gentlemen, gentlemen. Is this how we treat a new brother who has a marked territory? You cannot kill him anyway. He's stronger than you. Did you witness how fast he turned? I'm more interested in how – lost guardian. Whom did you do a deal with? You had to form another alliance in order to heal so quickly, to turn so fast."

Carlos looked at Nuit and shrugged. "We all have allies," he bluffed. "It's advisable for business. And you can't kill a dead man twice. If I'm in Hell, then so be it. Knew that I was going there when I died – now or later. What difference does it make when?" His voice trailed off as a renewed current of energy swept through him. "I just never knew it would be like this," he breathed, feeling an erotic pull to the sensation. "A much underrated place in the universe."

Nuit laughed. "You will make the adjustment just fine. Now bring me the girl."

Carlos fixed his gaze on Nuit. "Being one of whatever we are gives you a rush, doesn't it? I can dig it." He ignored the request. Nuit could have any of the women he screwed from the groupies that hung on him at the clubs. A woman from his club harem was incidental. Nuit had gotten the short end of this deal. Carlos felt a chuckle of satisfaction threatening his composure but secreted away his victory.

"The correct term for our race is vampiri. We are vampires." Nuit snarled, and began walking away.

"You are bullshitting me, right?" Carlos tried to play it cool, but there was no way to keep the panic from his voice. He'd tried to offer one of his usual, blase sneers, but the comment had come out more like a question than the sarcastic blow-off he'd intended. No, he couldn't just blow this off. Vampires? This had to be pure bullshit. Impossible. They were just jacking with his head.

But before Nuit could respond, Carlos stooped and grabbed his stomach. His insides suddenly felt like they were on fire. His guts moved as though snakes infested them, and a hunger gripped him that made him cry out – his agony ending in a wail. Wolves in the distance cried with him, and he dropped to his knees, digging his fingers in the dirt. Retractable claws came from his nail beds, and he could feel his ears lay back against his skull as his jaw unhooked itself. A burn filled his mouth, and he leaned his head back, panting. Soon his teeth began to rip through his gums and fill his mouth. His whole body convulsed and trembled.

"Hmmm … painful, I know. Pity," Nuit said in a calm tone, looking at Carlos with an evil grin of triumph. "It doesn't have to be this way, however."

The agony that seared Carlos's abdomen made him stare up at his tormentor for mercy that he knew would not come. A deal was in the offing; instinct told him that much. But with his insides crawling, he couldn't think, much less respond. Fallen Nuit grabbed his shoulder with an air of disdain, and the mere touch temporarily abated the pain.

"You have no idea who you're attempting to negotiate with," Nuit said coolly. "Perhaps I should show you, and then you'll stop struggling against your fate. There is a much more dignified way to proceed than this." Nuit shook his head and made a little clucking sound with his tongue. "Arrogance is laudable … but not against me."

Too weak to even brush off Nuit's hold, Carlos again felt himself moving fast – but not falling. It was as though he was instantly airborne. A rush of night wind slapped his face and blew back the sweat-soaked hair that had clung to his scalp, sending a cold chill against it as the scenery below him became a blur of dark green forest, and then buildings, lights, followed by a hard crash against a smooth surface. Rock music made him cover his ears for a moment. Dazed, he was staring at a pair of expensive black shoes, and without looking up he knew he was at Nuit's feet. The piped-in music made the floor beneath him pulse. Nausea consumed him, and he nearly dry heaved to the beat of the acid rock sounds.

For a moment, Carlos allowed his cheek to rest against the coolness of the black marble floor. Drenched with perspiration, his clothes stuck to him, and soon mild laughter entered his ears. Too disoriented to immediately stand, he peered around his new environment, and was met by a scene that his mind could not comprehend. Never in his life had he witnessed such a decadent display of pure wealth.

"This is all mine," Nuit said proudly, waving his arm as he spoke toward several well-dressed henchmen. "Just like they are all mine. But there's more."

Pushing himself up to a sitting position on the floor, Carlos stared at the luxurious black leather sofas, marble and gold-chrome furnishings, and the huge marquee that said BLOOD MUSIC, INC., which took up half of the walnut walls by the elevators. The receptionist's area alone was a massive twenty-foot semicircle of marble with the company's logo engraved in it, and a stunning blonde with ruby-red lipstick gave him a sly glance, her smile widening just enough to show a hint of fangs. She toyed with a gold chain at her throat that ended with a crest at her voluptuous cleavage. Mounted gold and platinum records in heavy chrome frames lined the wall behind her, but she cast no reflection in their glass casings. Nuit chuckled, and pulled Carlos to stand.

"Just one of the many benefits of this lifestyle, n'est pas?"

There was no other response but to nod. Carlos's gaze ricocheted around the lobby. Although surrounded by windows on three sides, he had no idea how high up he was. The only thing he was able to tell was that there was no other building blocking his view. A pounding headache pierced his temples, stabbing his brain with the artificial track lighting.

"You like?" Nuit pushed Carlos forward without touching him, but by simply waving his hand. "Sixty-six floors, L.A. earthquakes notwithstanding, with six hundred and sixty-six employees who all belong to me. However, this is only a paltry example of my holdings. Why don't we take a little tour?" Nuit rounded him to lead the way.

Again, Carlos felt his body moving from an external force as against his will he stumbled behind Nuit down a wide corridor bustling with activity and crowded with expensively dressed employees. Modern art, murals, and Grammy replicas encased in Lucite collided with awards, mounted covers of Rolling Stone magazine, Teen Choice Awards, and MTV Awards, the glare from platinum and gold records making him squint. Photos of top Hollywood stars alongside recording artists and a who's who in the entertainment industry created a veritable wall of fame as they walked while all the while hunger clawed him.

Each busy female they passed looked better than the last, and each woman gave a sly, deferring smile toward Fallen Nuit as they made their way deeper into the Blood Music terrain. But what Carlos couldn't figure out was, why in the world would Nuit want any woman from his clubs? It seemed like the entire Baywatch set had been emptied into the Blood Music offices. Brunettes, redheads, blondes, sisters with braids, and every male that walked by was bufF, wrapped in designer gear; no one appeared to be over thirty-five in the whole joint.

"You've  noticed  my  substantial  evening staff,"  Nuit an-

nounced over his shoulder, pride oozing from his voice. "While we have a significant day-presence in the building, I'm sure you can appreciate that a considerable number of those in my employ do their best work during evening hours – so we have flexible scheduling to accommodate such necessary preferences. Diversity."

Staffers quickly nodded at Nuit, moved out of his way, practically genuflecting as he passed and ignored them. With a wave of his hand, the double onyx-and-chrome doors to a huge conference room opened. Nuit crossed the threshold and sighed.

"Permit me to introduce my marketing team," Nuit added with bravado, motioning toward a large ebony table that had a backlit, glass-etched world map in the center of it, and then toward a huddle of three men and three women – each bearing fangs when Nuit pushed Carlos forward. "Ladies and gentlemen, meet our newest employee, Carlos Rivera."

A series of disgruntled snarls met Carlos, and Nuit laughed.

"I know, don't worry. Once he feeds he won't still smell so human. But please, show him our holdings."

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