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       Underland, p.18

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  Zeke laughed again, deep and throaty. He slowly lifted himself off her. “How did you know I wouldn’t lose control and kill you? I could have, you know. And why did you change the direction of the stake?”

  “I don’t know, I just did.” She slid the knife back into her boot. Her head throbbed from the impact with the cement floor.

  Zeke reached down and helped her up. Too fast. Her head swam and the room started to spin. He caught her, wrapped both of his arms around her to steady her.

  She held on. Kira probably should have pulled away once the room stopped spinning, but she didn’t. She didn’t know what possessed her to stay in his arms, but she wasn’t in a hurry to leave. Maybe she craved human contact, the warm embrace of a hug. Of course, this was absolutely settling for a zombie hug and a lukewarm embrace.

  But he didn’t seem to be in a hurry to release her either. In fact, he pulled her a little closer and nuzzled the top of her head.

  “Don’t test my restraint again.” Zeke released her and stepped away. “You may think you trust me, but don’t.”

  He turned and ran across the room. The loss of him stung like rejection.

  In one long leap, he jumped ten feet up the ladder and over to the second beams. Up the next rope onto the floor he’d claimed for himself.

  So much distance between them.

  The silo door opened and Den entered.

  Den’s eyes took in the destroyed crate and bounced to Kira’s bloodied shirt. He pursed his lips but didn’t say anything at her injury. Instead, he lifted an eyebrow and scanned for Zeke. “Tomorrow’s the big day, my boy. I’ve already placed my bets, and I think we’re going to win big. I can feel it.”

  Chapter 27

  This time when Den and Zeke got ready to leave for the night, he didn’t lock her in the silo. “Come with us, Kira. Let’s have some fun.”

  Zeke’s head snapped up, and he studied Den with a worried expression, but he didn’t say anything.

  Kira slowly came down the ladder and stood next to Zeke. She looked at him, but he refused to make eye contact. Something was off. He knew something. Still, she didn’t want to question Den’s change of heart, because she needed a change of scenery, even if there wasn’t much to look at underground. Out and in the city was something.

  Zeke led the way, his hands shoved into his jacket pocket, footsteps heavier—angrier—than usual. Kira tried to keep up, but his much longer legs outpaced hers. She settled for keeping him in sight. Den was preoccupied checking the numbers on his owner’s chip. He seemed a little too happy, too content. That worried her.

  The ring events took place in an old club called Pandora. Loud music blasted inside, and Zeke stopped in front of the door, banging loudly. The door squealed as it rolled to the side, and he was allowed to enter. Den came up behind with Kira, and the bouncer stopped them.

  He leaned down and sniffed Kira’s hair. “Human.”

  “Mine,” Zeke answered. “Insurance.”

  Kira tried to keep her face neutral, but she wanted to punch him. Whatever it took to get her out and about and not locked away.

  “You have to pay extra to get it in.” The guard wouldn’t budge.

  “Do you recognize this human?” Den answered roughly.

  “They all look the same to me. How can I tell them apart?”

  “It’s the one that survived the gauntlet,” Den said in the guard’s ear.

  “Oh really? Proceed.”

  Den gave her a poke that sent her scurrying into the crowd. “Now remember, you can’t leave here. The doors are guarded. Besides, I know you want to see Zeke fight, right?”

  “No.” Her face warmed.

  “Liar.” Den just smiled and motioned to the dance floor where Zeke had passed through. She had lost him in the crowd of gyrating bodies. “Enjoy yourself, the fights start soon.”

  She’d gladly enjoy the freedom—and search for a real exit while she was at it. Moving away from Den, she hugged the walls, deeper into the warehouse. She found a bar area and thought about sneaking behind the counter and into the back room.

  Her brace beeped. She looked down and read green words.

  DON’T THINK ABOUT RUNNING!

  What in the world? She had no idea that messages could be sent across it, let alone English. She played with the buttons and tried to adjust the settings, but it was useless. She’d love to send irritating messages to Den—or Chaz even. She’d have to have to ask Zeke to teach her, but then she didn’t think he’d show her how to contact anyone, especially Chaz.

  “Can I get you something to drink?” a minotaur asked from behind the bar. Kira looked at her band and realized she didn’t have any tokens.

  “How about a water?”

  “That’ll be ten tokens.” He held up a remote and reached across the bar toward her band. She withdrew her arm, not wanting to show that she had zero freedom tokens.

  “Really? For water?”

  “Yeah, it’s not free, honey. If you want free, then it’s bile you get.” He reached beneath the counter, and went to the faucet. A murky brown goo filled the glass. He set it on the counter with a thud and pushed it towards her. The tang of old rust hit her nose.

  “Gee, thanks.” Kira took the stein and carried it away from the bar. She couldn’t possibly drink this, but she didn’t want to upset the minotaur. She couldn’t help but hold the glass a good foot in front of her. As soon as she was out of sight she placed it on a table. It was quickly picked up by an octopus monster who splashed its contents all over its head. The same octopus tried to wrap a wet tentacle around her shoulders.

  She knocked off the offending arm and retreated into a dark corner. From there, she had a decent view to watch as odd groups and couples mixed and mingled at the tables—and even the dance floor.

  Why not? Music and parties were a part of her world. It wasn’t totally weird that monsters enjoyed music and dancing too. Although the music had a different vibe and tended to lean to the minor keys, it did have a good rhythm. She began to relax, her finger tapping the wall to the beat.

  Someone with a hint of aftershave came up next to her. It was so odd to smell something so clean and fresh that she couldn’t help but look up into the very handsome face of a guy a few years older than her. He had nice, even teeth, bright blue eyes, and his hair was a chestnut brown.

  “Hey,” he grinned her direction and glanced away, a little bashful.

  Kira was totally taken with him. She laughed. “Hi.” Did she just giggle? Oh, she wanted to kill herself for sounding so juvenile.

  “I’m Olivier.” He held out his pale hand, and she shook it.

  “Kira.” His hand felt warm to the touch.

  “You look familiar, Kira. Have you been here before?”

  “Um, no. First time.”

  “It’s so odd. I swear I’ve met you.”

  “No, I’m pretty sure I’d remember if I’d met you.” There it went. That stupid giggle again. Her cheeks burned in embarrassment.

  “Do you want to dance?” Olivier held his hand out to her. She wasn’t a good dancer, but she so wanted to be near him.

  He pulled her into the throng at the center of the dance. It took a few moments for her fear to fade—the scaly beast thrashing next to her could totally rip her to shreds—but it did. She was just dancing. She closed her eyes and focused on the music. When she opened them again, the monsters had faded into the background.

  Only Olivier mattered in that moment.

  “You have the most beautiful eyes.” He had to lean down to give her the compliment, yelling in her ear to be heard over the music.

  She threw her head back and laughed. “Thanks.”

  She felt someone watching her—was that Zeke?—and she hesitated for a moment. No, she shoved her concern aside. Why should she feel guilty dancing with someone else? It wasn’t like he had asked her to dance. She spotted Zeke against a wall and thought she saw his head shake.

  What was his problem? Now he was bossing he
r around. He wasn’t Den. If he wanted her to stop dancing, he’d better get over here and tell her to her face. She turned her back on him and focused on Olivier again. At least this was someone who seemed happy to be with her. She glanced only once more over her shoulder.

  Zeke wasn’t there. Not her problem anymore.

  It felt so good to let loose and be free on the dance floor. She didn’t worry about Den or Zeke. She just let herself be, feel in the moment. She wanted to live, and right now, she felt very alive.

  Maybe because of the way Olivier looked at her. She couldn’t tear herself away from his possessive eyes. She was drawn to him, so much that she moved closer.

  He smiled in delight and rested his hands on her upper arms. A shock ran through her body at his touch, and she couldn’t pull away. He whispered into her ear again. “Come with me.”

  This time, there was no missing his voice over the music. It hit her in her very soul. She felt her body following him to the darkened corner and into a back hall.

  She wanted to tell him no. Stop. Where are we going?

  Her mouth wouldn’t work. He pulled her against a wall and his hand brushed against her hair. He leaned in and pressed his lips to her temple.

  “Oh, Kira, you smell so sweet. I must taste you.”

  Her body froze, and her soul screamed no. He was controlling her. She didn’t know how, but he was controlling her.

  His mouth moved lower and he kissed her ear, then along her jaw line. Something sharp grazed her cheek.

  She started to panic, but she couldn’t move away. Couldn’t call for help. Her mind cried out for help, but she couldn’t move. A mirror across the hall played the scene like a horror flick, and she had to watch. His jaw muscle flexed and—

  Sharp. Prick. He bit into her neck.

  Her mouth opened. It was nothing like the movies. They lied. It wasn’t pleasure to be seduced by a vampire. It was pain.

  Finally, a scream escaped her mouth. A few moments later, he withdrew from her neck. She saw the blood, her blood, dribble from his lip.

  Horrible.

  Olivier lifted her hand above her head and turned her band over. She heard the sound of tokens being transferred, and he smiled softly at her. He was paying her for services rendered. How humiliating.

  She never consented to what he did.

  “It’s been so long since I’ve tasted human. I look forward to another rendezvous.” He smiled and she saw his vampire fangs. How foolish she was.

  She couldn’t move, still in his thrall. Trapped within her own mind. When he moved away, she slid down the wall and collapsed on the floor. Her neck burned like fire where he’d bitten her, and tears poured out of her eyes, but she was unable to even control her eyelids and blink them away. Her vision blurred and her soul cried out in fury.

  Chapter 28

  She saw red. A lot of it.

  And it wasn’t her blood. It was her fury burning.

  Someone ran down the hall toward her, and then Zeke’s face swam through her tears. She focused on him.

  “Kira.” He helped sit her up, and she was finally able to blink. The rush of tears poured down her cheek.

  “Heh bith me!” The bite hurt like someone had branded her with a hot iron, and the rest of her neck felt really wet. The worst of it was that her strength still felt like it was draining.

  “Let me see.” He pushed her hair off of her shoulder and gasped at her wound. “He bit you too deep. He nicked something.”

  When he pulled away from her, his eyes flashed in hunger. “You need a doctor, fast.”

  She tried to stand but almost immediately started to fall. As Zeke caught her, his cool mouth brushed her bleeding neck. He shoved her body against the wall and snapped his head away, his arms like iron as he held her there immobile. Kept her at a distance. He wouldn’t even look at her.

  A smear of blood remained on his mouth, and he shook his head, trying to focus. His body quivered.

  “Zeke. Make the pain stop.”

  His body trembled at her request. “Kira.” He exhaled her name and it came out like a growl. “I can help you, but you’ll hate me after.”

  She looked into his deep brown eyes, knew it would be impossible to hate him. “Please.” She didn’t even know what she was asking. She just knew that she trusted him.

  Zeke dropped his arms and crushed his body to hers. He pressed his lips to hers and kissed her—hard enough to bruise her lips. His desire rushed through her, but then he softened against her.

  She answered his kiss with her own. Matched him with emotion. He pulled away from her, his eyes now flashing with power. He reached down and pulled the knife out of her boot. Pressed the handle it into her right hand.

  “Just in case,” he said. His lips brushed hers with another kiss, and then he ducked to press his mouth to her wound.

  Where the vampire’s kiss burned with pain, the zombie’s kiss bathed her with warmth. Her skin stretched and her muscles pulled as they slowly healed. She felt strong, invincible and exhilarated. She wrapped her arms around Zeke to pull him closer, but he yanked himself out of her arms and flung himself across the room.

  Blood, his blood had made a trail on her shirt. He’d nicked himself on her knife. His eyes were flashing white, and he was panting. Kira watched the mirror across the hall—her neck healed before her eyes. Zombies had regenerative abilities, but she’d never imagined he could heal her with his own kiss. Was it because he tasted her blood?

  Zeke had curled up into a ball, groaning like he was in pain. “Zeke,” She ran to him.

  “Go away before I do much worse to you than the vampire.”

  “No, I won’t leave you.” She kneeled next to him and lifted his head, so that his flashing eyes stared directly into her soul. “You saved my life. I owe you.”

  “I didn’t save it just to take it from you,” he whispered. “I needed your blood to heal you. Healing makes me hungry. I need to feed and you’re too close.”

  “Oh!” Of course he did. Here she was tempting him with herself.

  “Go! Go away. Please, I’ll find you later, but leave me before I do something I regret.”

  She wanted to, she did. But she couldn’t just leave him there in such misery.

  “Go AWAY!” Zeke growled and pushed her away so hard she flew backwards and hit the wall.

  Her back hurt. She looked up at Zeke’s horrified expression.

  She was furious—but not at him. She was angry at herself, for what she had let herself get duped into. She wanted revenge and, right now, with Zeke’s healing ability flowing through her, she felt like she could take on the world.

  Even a vampire.

  Heck, that’s what they were here for. A fight. Well, she was going to give it to them.

  Ready to destroy Olivier, she turned back out toward the large room. Whoa. While she was under the vampire’s thrall and then healing, the room had been transformed. She’d had no idea.

  The music was still just as loud, but now the DJ was announcing the fights. A keg had been placed in the middle of the dance floor. No one stepped onto the wooden square, but bodies were pressed almost up to the edges.

  She stayed on the outskirts and watched as the first challenger stepped into the makeshift ring. A man with a mohawk, a leather vest, and black pants raised his arms, and a cheer came from the crowd. He strutted around the floor, taunting challengers. Whenever he leaned back, a plume of fire and smoke blasted from his mouth. She watched as his skin rippled—scales underneath.

  Dragon.

  His challenger was a man whose metal skin reflected the lights, creating a liquid metal look. Kira watched the huge wall-mounted TV screens light up with bets as people made wagers from their bands. Den’s name appeared at the top of the screen. He’d placed a large sum of money on the dragon.

  A bright orb floated down from the rafters and a spear appeared on the keg. Whoa. Who had the power to conjure items? This event had a different feel than the others. More personal.
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  And perfect for getting revenge.

  Kira stalked the floor, hunting her prey. Beside her, the battle ensued between the dragon and metal man. She couldn’t help but think of a knight fighting a dragon. Legends had been born from this kind of epic battle, and it was now worthy of a mere bar brawl. Maybe because it was always obvious that the knight would win.

  “Boo!” The monster next to her yelled, and she heard the two fighters clash. The dragon roared in pain.

  “Finish him!” another called out.

  She moved on, walking on her toes to catch a glimpse of Olivier.

  An uncontrolled blast of fire spewed across the crowd a mere foot from where Kira had just stood. Her back warm, she turned and saw that nothing but ash remained of the loud bystander who’d taunted the dragon.

  By now, fear would have kicked in to a normal girl, but Kira realized in that moment, she’d never been like most girls. Didn’t care about hair or clothes. She cared about honor and respect, and both of those had been stolen from her tonight.

  There he was. Olivier watched the ongoing battle with delight. His eyes burned red with power, probably because he had just fed…on her.

  A loud, anguished roar filled the air, quickly drowned out by the loud cheers of the winners and the hiss of the losers.

  The ring was cleared, and another challenger was called the floor. She hadn’t even seen who won.

  Olivier strutted onto the floor, and she heard a collective boo from the crowd. Not a crowd favorite then.

  The werewolf next to her started to growl, and he moved forward to challenge the vampire. Kira grabbed his arm. Powerful muscle ripple through his arm—he almost shook her off. He snapped at her, but she pulled at her bloody shoulder to show him the scar on her neck.

  “I have unfinished business with the vamp. Do you mind?”

  The werewolf eyed her, surprised. “He’ll just mind roll you again.” He gave her a cursory sniff and paused, his hackles rising. “I smell blood. Hmm…not yours…dead man’s blood.” He touched the still-wet trail of Zeke’s blood on her shirt.

  “If I fail, then you can have your chance after me.”

 
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