Minion (Vampire Huntress Legend #1)

Chapter 17

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A tall, angular blonde sashayed from behind the table and nearly purred as she sidled up to Nuit. Her black sheath clung to her gaunt hipbones, and her nipples hardened beneath the semi-sheer fabric as she neared them. She licked her lips and stared at Carlos.

"Has he been broken in yet?" she murmured, her gaze narrowing on Carlos.

"No, love, this one is for Raven," Nuit intoned with a smile, cupping her face with his hand. "Next time."

She let out a sigh with the pout, and walked back toward the table and picked up a red laser pointer. "We have the entire North American territory, with expansion throughout the Caribbean." She eyed Carlos with a bored expression reinforced by her equally weary, disgruntled tone. "We have the Pacific Rim, and Europe to the old Czech Republic – "

"That includes Transylvania, one of the most historic landmarks, I might add," Nuit cut in. "My dearly departed mentor brought fame to that region. Now I own what he owned, and then some."

The blonde nodded. "We've recently picked up Moscow; Brazil, and a section of East Africa. We have a lock on five key locations for the international concert, sir."

"Carry on," Nuit ordered, dismissing the team as he turned to face Carlos. "Some of the other territories are still in dispute, but that is a mere temporary inconvenience. Shall we go to my office and have a drink?"

Carlos hated the way his body was forced to move, and the satisfaction of power that Nuit lorded over him. Each question Nuit proffered was rhetorical, teasing Carlos as though he had an option to do anything else but follow. His legs walked against his will down another bending corridor and another female smiled at him as she stood up behind her desk.

"Mr. Nuit," the sexy, dark-haired secretary murmured, "the senator called while you were out, and I have three CEOs that would like to book a late-dinner appointment with you."

"Isabella," Nuit crooned, "tender my regrets to the CEOs and have one of my vice presidents handle those nominal social affairs. Smooth it over by sending the yacht for them with a nice assortment of the girls on it. But do get the good senator for me on line one, won't you, darling?"

When she smiled, Carlos felt the immediate erotic pull that arced between the two. Nuit chuckled low in his throat.

"Forgive me. I have been rude. Isabella, Carlos Rivera … my newest hire."

She studied Carlos with an assessment that made him feel naked. "Will he have direct access to you, Mr. Nuit, or should he go through any particular screen?"

"No," Nuit replied with a half smile. "This one won't require a screen – I made him myself, and we have pressing matters that will require my personal oversight of his assignment."

She nodded and sat down, and began to carry out Nuit's previous instructions as Carlos found himself being ushered into an inner office.

Several artists that he recognized were lounging around on a wide, circular, black leather sectional sofa facing a half-moon-shaped glass table. Once more, Carlos could only stare for a moment. It looked like an entire neighborhood's shipment of pure Peruvian rock cocaine had been dropped in the center of the small table. Dazed artists passed the hose from a giant, six-foot water pipe to each other. Carlos sniffed the air while the pinkish-white smoke filled the pipe cylinder, and oddly he felt himself salivating for some unknown reason.

The artists gave him a cursory glance before going back to their get-high. Why was the burning sensation coming back to his stomach? Carlos glanced at Nuit who had an amused smirk on his face. The pain was getting worse, yet he hadn't said a word to further piss off Nuit! Hunger buckled Carlos's knees.

Crack, opium, heroin, hash, Ecstasy, acid, ludes, Vs, weed, and top-shelf liquor graced the table. Carlos didn't have to see it, he could smell it burning, taste it all in his mouth as it coated the back of his throat. He knew each product that he'd distributed by heart. Everything laid out was potent, pure, and stronger than anything he'd ever sold. But the hunger?

His line of vision became riveted on the thick, bubbling, dark liquid in the water pipe. Carlos watched the surface of it splash red globs of wetness against the Oriental design of a translucent dragon. The siphon of a smoker sent a rhythmic sound through-

out the room beneath the ever-present music, creating a dense cloud of smoke within the pipe chamber before it was sucked out in a hit too large for one person to consume. Then he scanned the room.

Two large bouncers with dark, aviator-type shades stood by a food-service buffet table. The smell coming from it was as intoxicating as the contact coming off the pipe. Carlos felt a gentle caress at his back that made him spin quickly to stare at Nuit.

"Hungry yet?" Nuit asked in a teasing, suggestive tone.

One of the bodyguards walked over to the silver trays and removed the lids. Entrails filled one platter, and raw, bloodied meat that Carlos was afraid to guess at was piled on another. Small cordial glasses of dark Merlot-colored liquid were set on a third tray, and the others around it had tiny dripping hors d'oeuvres that sickened his mind but stabbed at the hunger in his gullet.

A new dampness crept down Carlos's chest and the center of his back. He briefly shut his eyes and then glanced toward the huge gurgling water pipe that sat on the floor within the arch of the half-moon table. A trickle of sweat rolled down the side of his face from his temple. Immediately he knew why the dense smoke that rose within the water pipe turned pink. Blood was in the base of it. Carlos felt saliva build in his mouth and he swallowed hard as a disoriented artist took a full hit of the substance.

A female vampire appeared out of the haze around the artist who was too gone to pass the hose nozzle without assistance. She took a hit from it, handed it to a person beside her, dropped to her knees, and opened the guy's pants. No one around the table even seemed to notice as her head began to skillfully bob above his lap.

"Let's allow the children to play. Step into my private office,"

Nuit said calmly, the display apparently holding little interest for him. "We have business to discuss."

This time, Nuit didn't have to thrust Carlos forward with invisible force. Thoroughly impressed, Carlos followed behind Nuit on his own volition.

A thirty-foot vaulted ceiling greeted Carlos as he walked in and then stepped down three wide, kidney-shaped onyx stairs toward Nuit's glass desk. All his life he'd dreamed of owning a setup like this one. Carlos glanced at a wall with sixty sections of black screen flanked by more industry awards and real Gram-mies. Nuit snapped, and the monitors came to life and flickered with disparate scenes.

"Villas and casinos in the vacation paradises," Nuit murmured with pride. "Electronics, pharmaceuticals, and bio-engineering firms in Europe and the Pacific Rim. Certain products that fly in under radar come from my Russian and South American holdings. East Africa has vast natural resources for more legitimate enterprises. Then, of course, there's Blood Music and all her splendor – from CD royalties, commercial endorsements, concerts, motion-picture soundtracks … the entertainment industry is one of North America's greatest global exports. We have reserved a piece of this for you, if we can come to terms."

Nuit sat down slowly in the plush, high-backed leather chair behind his crested marble desk and opened a crystal decanter, pouring himself a drink while Carlos stared at the monitors. The yacht on one monitor looked like it was the size of a Carnival Cruise ship. A jumbo jet with the Blood Music logo landed on a private airfield on another. Villas with outrageously rich appointments filled each screen, and then a mosaic of casinos entered the monitors, each scene in a different country, a different province … and Nuit owned it all. Damn …           •

But the smell wafting from the open decanter drew Carlos's attention away from the screens. Nuit simply waved his hand to offer Carlos a seat before him. Carlos glanced around, noting the floor-to-ceiling windows, the built-in wall bar, and the heavy furniture that had to be at least twenty-five feet away. Ten of his offices could fit within one of Nuit's. Nuit smiled.

"I told you mine was bigger than yours," he said with a sexually charged smirk, taking a leisurely sip from his glass and rolling the liquid around on his tongue. He made a face, studied the contents of his glass, and let out a slow exhale in Carlos's direction.

The scent that flowed over the desk and toward Carlos sent a shudder of need through him. It was a pull that went beyond want or desire. Tears began forming in his eyes from the torturous seduction. The intercom buzzed just before he opened his mouth to beg for a small taste. He hated this rich motherfucker, but at the same time, he'd love to know how he'd done it… amassed so much, so young. Vampiri, huh? Yeah. Carlos studied Nuit as he reached for the black telephone console and pressed a button.

"I have the senator for you, Mr. Nuit, on line one," a sexy female voice intoned through the intercom.

Nuit's smile broadened. He pushed back in his chair, put his feet up on his desk, ignoring Carlos's agony, but never breaking eye contact with him.

"Senator … yes … it is also my pleasure. What can I do for you?"

Carlos watched like a hungering dog, swallowing fast as Nuit stirred the blood in his glass with a finger then sucked it clean.

"But I thought you needed to keep your lovely wife around beyond the election?" Nuit chuckled and let his breath out. "Cancer could be arranged. I know some people who know some people … Yes. Might kill two birds with one stone. You can be the dedicated husband, good for public opinion ratings, and she can succumb just after the election. Very simple … And, I'm sure, especially after such a heavy campaign contribution, my enterprises will have few problems with the Environmental Protection Agency… . Yes, it has been troublesome getting our nuclear plants certified. I know, I know. We always understand each other. Hmmm … we will have to do dinner one night soon – so you can pick out a new bride." Nuit laughed low and deep. "Oh, I always have a few you can choose from."

The call seemed like it lasted for an eternity, and all Carlos could do was wait and hunger and wonder. This was indeed the most power he'd ever seen manifest in one entity in his life. Smug satisfaction laced Nuit's smile as he ended the call, removed his feet from the desk, and stood, bringing leftovers within his glass around for Carlos to sip, but holding the tumbler just out of his reach. Carlos wanted a taste of it so badly that his mouth went dry.

"The yacht, I rarely use … as I prefer personal air travel," Nuit added, motioning toward the screens, still teasing Carlos with the glass, and using it to make his point. "The jet is for my human VIPs, artists, those with the human transport disability, and for less conspicuous business transactions. The villas are revenue generators, just like the hotels and casinos. Carlos, if you follow my lead, I will show you a life that will feel as good as a wet dream."

He handed Carlos the nearly empty glass, toying with him by snatching it back for a second then finally allowing Carlos to take it. "Who else have you cut a side deal with?" Nuit's voice was low and seductive. "As you can see, I can meet and beat their offer. Talk to me and let nothing stand between us."

Carlos's pride was in shreds as he accepted the glass from Nuit and brought it to his mouth with shaking hands. The smell com-

ing from the liquid at the bottom of the tumbler was enough to get him high, and the sensation made Carlos close his eyes tight. But there was another part of him, the place deep within where his sense of self-respect resided, that made him take a healthy whiff and hurl the glass at the screens. "Then stop playing games, and nothing will stand between us."

Fallon Nuit's eyes narrowed as the fragile glass shattered against the monitors, creating a gash in one, and splashing red liquid across several others. Carlos pushed himself out of the chair, and immediately felt the sting of the bitch-slap Nuit issued against his cheek. He could taste the missed opportunity in his mouth. The sweetness of the blood lingered in his nasal passages. It felt like the snakes in his intestines were now slithering up his esophagus. Preserving his dignity was becoming a moot point. Carlos balled up his fists and clenched his jaw to keep from vomiting. He forced himself to keep his fists against his sides, and knew better than to swing. Not yet, but soon.

"I don't do sloppy seconds," Carlos said between his teeth. "And I don't do my own product – never did."

"This isn't drugs, it's blood," Nuit spat back, furious at the affront.

"My bad," Carlos hedged, his breaths ragged as the hunger continued to burn him from the inside out. "Thought it was tainted with product from the other room. That's the type of shit that will run your business into the ground. Become a junkie, and your days are over. I plan to be around a long time. Like you said, we have serious business to do – so let's stop jacking with each other and do business, hotnbre. You know more about this vampire bullshit than me. Think about it."

Carlos bent over, placing his hands on his thighs and gulped air. "Just didn't trust you at first. No good businessman goes into a situation on blind faith where I come from."

Nuit rubbed his hand over his jaw and paced to a window, giving Carlos his back to consider. "You are indeed an impeccable businessman. I just hope that you have the common sense to observe certain hierarchies that are in place. I would hate to lose one like you that holds so much promise. There are certain protocols that are sacrosanct. Perhaps your pure mercenary character is what turned you into one of us so fast, given that you were half predator when I made you. Nonetheless, if I ever find out differently …"

When Fallen Nuit turned around, his eyes were glowing gold and his fangs were slightly showing. For some reason, Carlos was concerned, but not afraid. Those eyes, gold, didn't seem as formidable as when they glowed red. The incisors were also at half the length he'd witnessed before. Okay, Nuit was pissed, but not enraged. That was cool. He could work with that.

Carlos watched Nuit open his fingers wide and press his hand against the glass, which instantly vanished. Now he was worried. Carlos could feel the night air blow against him in a silent threat. Then, without warning, a vacuum force snatched him from where he stood, sucking him just beyond the window's edge, and then dropped him.

A scream was ripped from his throat. The ground got closer and closer, and he grappled with the air, the nothingness in his hands, as he was hurled toward the parking lot on the ground. Porsches, Mercedes, Fiats, Jags, every car he'd ever wanted was now going to break his body into hundreds of bone-snapped pieces and splatter his guts on the pavement. Terror and anger were close companions as he realized he was going to die – again. Then calm resignation took over. It happened so fast, the end would be a second of pain then he'd be in black peace, he reasoned … and stopped struggling with the air. At least the internal burn would stop.

But instead of hitting a parking lot of high-priced cars, Carlos came to a thud on the grass in the woods, again at Fallon Nuit's feet where the entire travesty had begun.

"Feed him," Nuit ordered toward the newly reappeared limo. "I refuse to, until I find out exactly what happened here." Nuit cast a disparaging glance in Carlos's direction. "Her blood won't keep back the suffering for long, but will just keep him half alive until I make a decision. Next time he may not be so hasty to cast away a sip from his master's glass."

The panther slinked out of the vehicle, turning into a gorgeous woman as it walked toward Carlos. She smelled of blood, was tall, lithe, and dark, with huge walnut-colored eyes that glistened in the night. Her hair, the hue of midnight blue, swept across her shoulders, and she held out her wrists to Carlos as he remained on his hands and knees.

"I just ate," she whispered in a sexy tone. "C'mon lover – he gave me to you."

In one deft motion, Carlos was on his feet, and had pulled her to him, taking her wrists and slitting the veins in them with the side of a fang. Then he lowered his head and allowed the sweet elixir of life to fill his mouth. The sensation was so quenching, he had to close his eyes to drink. It cooled the burn, brought strength back to every tortured cell in his body as it slid down his throat, its sticky essence putting out the flame, stilling the worms and snakes in his gizzard. He groaned and heard her groan with him. Nuit had not lied. It made his dick hard.

"Do what you will with her," Nuit stated with disinterest as he slowly walked away. "If you survive the night, she'll teach you how to feed, and you will one day feed her. When your suffering for your master's blood becomes strong enough, I will return to claim you. Just remember your bargain … and stay out of the sun. Our deal is something you can't break with your silly prayers. But I will get to the bottom of how you could resist your first taste from me."

Upon Nuit's next footfall, he vanished. Carlos pushed the woman against the trunk of the tree and glanced over his shoulder. The group of dons and henchmen became one cloud of fluttering dark smoke, then dispersed into the night on leathery wings. Intense desire turned his attention away from the bats and toward the writhing cold form beneath him. He ripped at her black leather skirt, shredding it with his nails as her legs wrapped around his waist and her talons stripped away the damp nylon that swaddled him. An equally compelling desire made him breathe her in, and sink his teeth into her exposed throat as he entered her.

Carnal pleasure had never felt so damned good.

her searchfor Carlos had ended in frustration. Damali stood in the locked foyer of the compound allowing the UV light to pour over her as she waited for the second steel safety-door of the sanctuary to open. The crew was huddled over the design tables and the computers when she entered their haven at dusk. She was thankful that they only gave her a cursory acknowledgment as she briefly spoke to them before she went to her room.

Her insides ached with a growing despair, and she found her spoken word journal – the place where she poured out her soul.

Choices. Her mind wrapped around the beginning of an anthem. Damali sat slowly at her worktable in her bedroom, watching the sun go down, and the steel security gates come down over her windows with it. Choices – a road high and a road low. Such a narrow margin of error in between.

Her hand furiously scribbled the words that spilled from her mind:

other people's floors … while remaining pleasant -  A rock and a hard place -  all sistahs know where that is. And they say the words from the master wordsmith, explaining how life ain't no crystal stair, I got dat part -  but the splinters in this are a bitch. People pulling me left, then right, shredding who I am. The gray zone, neither right yet, or wrong -  standing on the border, I wonder. There but for the grace of God, go I. Really? Cool. Who am I to judge, or cast the first stone when they judge me, first … before they know who I am? But then, I'm becoming a rock thrower myself these days, just to keep my balance -  within me -  who is that, I ask?

Because you see, they have me standing between a rock and a hard place, knowing what I know about all the women who have stood here in the past. Betta recognize -  I do, I feel you -  but yo, y'all need to give up props, too -  'cause the new millennium ain't no joke. Have you seen what's out here? What's left of the slim pickin's …for a young sistah with wisdom, with purpose, who wants more than splinters in her butt?

And I'm trying to get cool with this position that ain't changed since Eve shook things up, girlfriend was ahead of her time and said oh well -  my choice. But then, that fucked things up, for real, for real, and sistah went down hard. Been paying ever since, and they called out her name behind it. So, I do have sense. I am listening, I hear ya, but I'm still in between this funky position, when I want to feel freedom -  which I hear ya, ain't free. Prepared to pay the cost to be the boss just takes the hard place to a new level, and I'm tired of analyzing the risk factor -  just wanna have fun. Just wanna forget for a moment that when I sit down hard there will be splinters in my high, round Nubian ass.

I don't want to have to listen to the brothers call me baby, then in the next breath bitch -  when I make my choice and it's not in their favor, and I want the old dolls to back up and give me space to breathe, to figure this complex shit out on my own -  respect, notwithstanding. Naw, I ain't trying to be a baby's momma, when I'm just a baby myself… and I like my new power to turn heads, and make men shiver without touching them, I'm just playing -  just seeing how strong my vibe is, but that don't give them the right to violate it. Naw. Don't give the old dolls the right to judge what's on my mind, neither, just 'cause my body's talking to me loud and clear –

The light tap on her door made Damali stop writing and look up. She murmured for the intruder to come in and then watched Marlene close the door behind her and cross the room. When Marlene sat on the corner of her bed, Damali turned her director's chair around to face her mentor.

"You're back to writing again," Marlene said quietly. "That's good."

"Yeah," Damali murmured. "It's all good."

The two women sat in strained silence, Marlene's gaze going toward the sealed windows and then to the floor as she clasped her hands in her lap.

"Damali, I'm sorry," Marlene finally murmured as she let her breath out slowly and then studied her hands. "I've been really tough on you for a long time, and I don't even know where to begin. There's so much to teach you, and so little time."

The silence made Marlene look up to connect with Damali's gaze.

"I'm trying so hard," Damali whispered, "to be what everyone says I am, or that I need to be … but I'm human, too."

"Yes, baby, you are," Marlene whispered back, and then glanced away.

"I don't understand everything that's happening. I don't even know how I feel about anything anymore," Damali admitted, making Marlene look up at her again. "Everything feels like it's spinning out of control, and like as a team, we're on the verge of another catastrophe … and I don't know how, or if, I can stop it."

The two women quietly stared at each other for a long time, until Marlene nodded.

"I should have told you everything earlier," Marlene said. "I just couldn't."

"Why now? That's the part that hurts so bad, Mar. You didn't trust me."

Marlene shook her head. "I trusted you. I just didn't trust my own fears." Marlene looked at Damali directly, her gaze furtive. "Fear is a terrible emotion. It makes you look at things from a very restricted point of view. I didn't want to lose you to the fallen night."

Damali's gaze softened and she could feel her body relax. "I know that, Mar. But where's your faith? You have to allow a person to figure out some of this stuff on their own."

Marlene nodded and laughed sadly. "From the mouths of babes come words of wisdom. When you live a long time, fear starts to make your bones… your mind … your spirit brittle to any change. That's because change always seems to have pain associated with it – and comes at a frighteningly high price."

Damali stood and went over to sit next to Marlene. Her arms found her mentor's shoulders and she hugged her. Marlene let out a long, exhausted breath. The worry laced within that breath threaded its way through Damali's heart, touching the core of her.

"I love you so much, Mar. I would never do anything to hurt you. Don't you know how I feel about you and the group? You're family."

Marlene nodded and pulled away gently so she could stare at Damali while holding her hands. "You are so young and so beautiful that I guess I just wanted to wrap you up in a bubble of safety and keep you away from any of this big, bad world. I'm a mother. One day, God willing, you will be one, too. Then you'll know a level of fear that goes beyond your own personal safety."

Tears formed in Marlene's eyes as she spoke. "Even if there were no such things as vampires or demons, I'd still have this fear. I pray daily for each of you, but not as hard for the others as I pray for you, my baby girl."

Wiping at the tears that had fallen from Marlene's wise, aging eyes, Damali kissed her cheek. "I love you. Do you understand?"

Marlene nodded and smiled, and then chuckled in a tone so sad that Damali swallowed as tears threatened her own composure.

"I've taught you almost everything I know to make you strong, independent, and courageous, and I tried to pass on all of that – then, when you were ready to fly, I was the one clipping your wings. Like I said, it's insane, but real. I'm sorry."

"No, don't be sorry, Mar." Damali shook her head and pushed a stray lock off Marlene's shoulder. "Momma eagle, you have flown through storms, hunted and brought back food for the nest, and battled in the wilderness. It is dangerous out there, and I'm so new … just floating on air … while you have the eagle eyes that know there's a storm coming, there's a cliff nearby, fierce beasts in the night, and you did what you knew, screeched a warning for me to get back to the nest. Your eyes and instincts are still good, Marlene. Know that I respect that. Please."

Marlene chuckled again softly, wiping at her own tears as she broke Damali's hold to do so. "Then why did we both go blind for a moment… especially after that show in Philadelphia? That scared me, baby. And we haven't been on the same page since."

Damali stared at Marlene.

"It's like my gift is waning as yours strengthens … and it's the same with the rest of the group. But your gifts are so new and so untested that the warnings come in fits and starts – and I'm concerned about the times when your sensors are down -  you understand?"

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