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       Paranormal Hunter Box Set, Books 1-3: Sonnet Vale, Phantom City, & Demon Touched, p.15

           Gena D. Lutz
 
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  Anya’s slow-beating wings sped up as she flew over to the barstool next to Sonnet, the leather-like appendages almost whacking Sonnet in the face as she came in for a soft-footed landing.

  “What brings you to this fine establishment, if not the tantalizing flesh on display?”

  “I need to ask you something, if it’s cool,” she said, swiveling her barstool so she and the demon would be face-to-face.

  Anya hesitated but then shrugged. “I don’t think I could stop you from talking, even if I tried.”

  Sonnet shrugged. “You’re probably right.”

  The bartender deposited Sonnet’s drink in front of her and zipped away. She brought it to her lips and took a sip. With the slow burn of whiskey still coating her tongue, she asked, “Do you know anything about the current venom outbreak?”

  “Oh, honey. Anything worth the price of admission around here, I know about.” Anya’s tail wound between them, twisting like a snake. The spade tip darted forward, patting Sonnet softly on the side of her head. “I can read minds, remember? Secrets are never safe around me. Is there anything specific you’d like to know?”

  She did, in fact, remember. It was the reason Sonnet had decided to drop in on Anya before heading over to Nightshade with Bane to see Remy. Her gut twisted at the thought of having to face him again. His utter darkness, not only in appearance, but also within his aura, gave her the heebie-jeebies.

  “Tell me everything you know on the subject,” she urged, setting her glass down on the twerk napkin. “If I can somehow find the person selling the venom, then maybe I won’t have to ask Remy for help.”

  Anya cocked her head sideways. “You’re actually considering striking up another deal with the demon king? That’s a depressing scenario.”

  Sonnet frowned. “My thoughts exactly. So if you can help keep that from happening, I’d be grateful.”

  “I can help. But I must warn you. This is the kind of curiosity that brews storms.”

  Sonnet shook her head slowly as she uttered, “The drugs are seeping into my city. I can’t let this go. Besides, clear skies can be highly overrated.”

  Anya’s eyebrow’s jumped. “Oh yeah? Tell that to Dorothy and Toto.”

  Thwack!

  “Arrgh…”

  Thwack! Thwack!

  Sounds of pain sliced through the sensual music streaming into the club. Slow, erotic beats designed to keep customers in the mood. Sonnet turned around to investigate.

  If she were to describe the scene playing out on stage in one word, it would be—fetish.

  A man of undetermined species was strung up by the wrists between two stripper poles. His eyes were lust-laden, dark hair was mussed. He had on a blue shirt that draped open to reveal a set of remarkable abs. Two blue she-demons were dancing around him. They wore nothing at all, their spaded tails twisting around their bodies in time with the slow beat. Every few seconds, the long appendages struck out like bullwhips to slash across the man’s bronzed skin. And with each punishing blow, he made a sound of protest that was quickly followed up by pleasure-filled moans. He looked like he was enjoying every second of it.

  “If you think that’s something, just wait until the late-night show,” Anya said.

  Sonnet laughed. “I think I’ll skip it.”

  Unable to get the sound of the leather swatting against flesh out of her ears fast enough, Sonnet stood up with a gesture to the front door. “Can we find someplace quieter to discuss this?”

  “You know what? I have an even better idea.” Anya hovered in the air and palmed Sonnet’s shoulder, causing her stomach to flip, and her head to go hollow. “Let’s just sit here and have a talk my way.”

  Images within her subconscious, that she didn’t even know she’d been thinking, rapidly cleared to make room for Anya.

  Can you hear me?

  “Yes.” Sonnet responded to the voice that burned deep within her mind with each word. The internal sound echoed inside her skull.

  Sit down.

  She did as the demon asked. “Okay.”

  Anya tapped the side of her head. Use your inside voice.

  “I’ve never done anything like that. So I don’t know how.”

  You just think at me. It’s that easy.

  Sonnet pressed her eyes tightly together. Her forehead crinkled in concentration, but nothing happened.

  You don’t have to do that.

  She opened her eyes. “Oh. Let me try again.”

  Testing, testing. One, two, three.

  Switching back to speech for a brief moment, Anya laughed. “You’re coming in loud and clear. Now, as for the venom, was it red or was it the blue stuff?

  Sonnet’s head snapped back in shock. There are two kinds?

  Yes. Red venom is extracted from demons. The blue stuff comes from vampires.

  Sonnet pulled the pills from her pocket. She opened the tin and showed Anya what was inside.

  She drew a deep breath. Are you nuts? Put that shit away! Anya’s voice dropped to a whisper in Sonnet’s mind. Possession of venom carries a death sentence.

  Sonnet grimaced. You’re kidding me.

  Anya moved in closer. If you saw the means used to gather that stuff, you’d understand why.

  Fear crept up Sonnet’s spine. From what she’d already witness of the law enforcers in Phantom City, she didn’t want to be caught carrying venom. They were way too eager to arrest people. Shit!

  That’s an understatement.

  You’re still going to help me though, right?

  Anya blinked. If you do what’s best for you and get rid of that shit, then yes, I’ll help you.

  Sonnet nodded. Then tell me. Who is Spiros?

  A blast of cold air shot throughout Sonnet’s skull.

  I’ll show you all you need to know.

  ***

  There had been several times in Sonnet’s life when hunting down and killing an evil vampire made her feel accomplished. She was protecting the innocent and avenging the victims. Now, as she watched in horror at what Anya was showing her within her mind’s eyes, all she could feel was repulsion.

  Male and female vampires of all ages were being held captive in what looked to be a large warehouse. The kind you’d find in low-rent slums. The prisoners were strapped with their backs pressed against concrete chair-like blocks, with bands of silver metal wrapped around their throats, their legs shackled. Some of them were strapped down to stainless-steel operating tables. And they all had the same mouthpieces affixed around the bottom halves of their faces. Long tubes shot out of the crude-looking gadgets, and thin lines of blue liquid dripped down the tubes into glass jars—venom being extracted from each of the vampire’s fangs.

  At the room’s center, there was a large table covered with small machines and lab equipment. Two very tall men stood before it, mixing and packaging blue pills in plastic baggies.

  Sonnet exhaled sharply. “What are you showing me?!”

  Shhhhh! Inside voice, remember?

  She opened her eyes and glanced at Anya. How long have you known about this?

  Long enough to know to keep my mouth shut.

  Jesus, they’re being tortured!

  Anya nodded. Yes, and now that you know about it, you can save them and put Spiros out of business.

  “You knew I’d come to see you about this?”

  As Sonnet spoke, she watched a clever grin spread across Anya’s face.

  “Yes, of course I did. Hunting is what you were born to do, what you can’t resist doing. You will save them…one way or another.”

  Not what she’d expected to hear. “How do you already know me so well?”

  Anya rolled her eyes and once again tapped the side of Sonnet’s head with the tip of her tail. “I see everything, remember?”

  Chapter Nine

  Sonnet walked down Upper Clan Road in the direction of her hotel. Her hands were shoved deep inside the pockets of her leather bomber jacket, her head tilted forward, making her long dark hair cascade
into her eyes as they darted around, searching for a place to get rid of the contraband that was burning a hole in her front pocket. She mentally kicked herself for not ridding herself of it earlier, perhaps in the strip club’s bathroom, which would have been the smart move. But she hadn’t, so she’d do it now.

  A thick blanket of fog began to roll her way, seeping out from a gaping alleyway up ahead. As she approached the deep maw, she glanced down the dark passage and searched the shadowed areas within. It appeared to be deserted, the coast was clear. Good enough place to dispose of the venom.

  She swiftly turned, and as she walked, shadows and fog swallowed the bottom half of her body, moonlight bounced off of the surrounding walls, her feet trudged through rock and dirt.

  Then her hyperawareness kicked in—she could feel a huge ball of energy swirling in the gloomy shadows ahead. She moved her hand inside her jacket and placed it over her gun.

  “I hear you’re looking for me?”

  Sonnet watched as a man melted into view from the darkness. Her hands went numb, her heart rushed with fear from the immense power he exuded. She gripped the guns handle, keeping the weapon hidden underneath the bottom of her coat. “That’s a hard question to answer, considering I don’t know who you are.”

  But she did know.

  The man’s hair was black, and gleamed with a tint of electric blue against the moon’s rays. His white irises traveled up and down her body in a way that reminded her of a carnivorous predator sizing up his prey.

  He looked her in the eyes. “Don’t play games with me, hunter. You know who I am.”

  Her heart was racing. And for the life of her, she couldn’t slow it down. Anya had warned her that Spiros was a very powerful demon. She hadn’t been exaggerating.

  Any other monsters, be it vampire, werewolf, or giant, Sonnet would have stayed and fought. But this guy? No freaking way was she that stupid. Not under the influence of Bane’s blood, and not alone. She began a slow retreat backwards in the direction of the main drag.

  His face morphed into something hellish as he smiled. “Where are you going? You just got here. Let’s chat, shall we?”

  She swallowed hard.

  He lifted his hand into the air. And in a cool, malevolent tone, said, “Come to me.”

  If he’d expected her to obey him, he was going to be sadly disappointed. “I think I’ll pass.”

  She took a few more careful steps backward. Only about four or five more, and she’d be clear of the alleyway and free of its insidious shadows.

  Spiros lifted both hands, and in a more demanding tone said, “Come to me, now.”

  She instinctively moved back farther.

  He let out a growl of frustration. A burst of magic lifted his hair, his eyes flashed red, revealing his rage. “How are you resisting my thrall?!” His voice boomed off of the walls on either side of him. Curling plumes of fog rolled thicker around his legs, stretching out like arms and misshapen fingers that beckoned for her to obey him.

  She stood there, heart in her gut, experiencing a fear she’d only ever known once before in her entire life. Her thoughts momentarily jumped back to the orphanage where she’d grown up, the same hellhole where a vampire had taken her blood, and a pretty good chunk out of her flesh.

  Shit. Shit. Shit! Logic and a healthy inclination to live urged her to run, so she did.

  “See ya!”

  And she didn’t stop running until she bypassed the hotel’s elevator, flying straight up the stairs, only stopping when her back slammed up against the door of her and Bane’s penthouse suite.

  Bane stood up from his chair. He’d been drinking a can of Sanguine Blast, an artificial blood substitute, while watching what looked to be, Phantom City News. “Did you find out anything useful?”

  “I found a lot more than I bargained for.”

  Fear had turned her voice breathy. Bane instantly picked up on it. But before he could question her any further, she locked the door, pulled the drugs out of her pocket and marched straight into the bathroom to do what she should have done in the first place. She spilled the pills into the toilet and flushed. At least the looming threat of death for possession of venom was off of her shoulders. Now she just needed to figure out how to deal with Spiros. While at the same time, figuring out how in the hell she was going to save the imprisoned vampires.

  Good thing she’d made an influential friend the last time she was in Phantom City. Because whoever, and whatever, this man was, she was going to need all the help she could get to go up against him. He was that powerful. And by friend, she meant enemy—Remy.

  Humbled, she turned, searching for Bane, but he was already in the bathroom with her, filling the doorway with his soothing presence. Serious green eyes locked with hers.

  Bane leaned in. “What happened?”

  It took several deep breathes for her to calm down long enough to explain.

  “I found the venom dealer.” She dropped the lid and plopped down to sit hunched over on the toilet. “Well, he found me, in a creepy alley.”

  “I warned you about wandering.”

  She thumbed a hole in her jeans and whispered, “I know.”

  He moved forward, kneeling in front of her. “Did he hurt you?”

  She dropped her eyes; the tips of her boots still held dust from the alleyway. She’d kicked up a lot of it when she’d turned tail and run off like a coward. “Only my pride.”

  His eyes widened at that. “Spiros is that powerful?”

  Still not looking up, she said, “Let’s just say, I’d rather face a vampire plague than him in a dark alley, alone, ever again.”

  He stood and glanced over at the telephone on the wall next to them. “I need to call Remy.”

  She nodded. “That sounds like a good idea.”

  “I’ve never seen you afraid like this.”

  She shuddered. “There’s a first time for everything.”

  Chapter Ten

  Bane led Sonnet through the door of Nightshade. The place was teeming with vampires, as well as a myriad of different sects of demon species that called Phantom City home. Dozens of Gothic sconces in the shape of dragons lit up the lobby, casting a soft amber glow over the red walls and marbled floors. The owner was a demon, and it showed in the décor.

  Sonnet had come prepared for this meeting, with all of her weapons tucked here and there, in various places on her body. She’d also decided to forgo another helping of Bane’s blood. The only downside of drinking it was that it hampered her innate powers. And that wouldn’t do; she needed her hunter abilities revving at full speed if she wanted to be effective tonight.

  The hotel bar was in plain view from where she and Bane stood, and Sonnet could see Remy standing at the end of it, waiting for them to join him. If Sonnet didn’t know better, she’d think he was anxious to see them by the way his lips curled in greeting as they pushed up to the bar next to him. Sonnet’s body tingled within his proximity, his power pressing against every nerve ending she had.

  “Good evening, Bane.” The demon king only gave him a passing glance before his piercing black stare roamed over her, and not in a sensual way. His perusal was of a more curious nature. “It’s been a while, hunter. I thought I’d see you sooner than this.”

  Sonnet knew exactly why he’d assumed she’d be beating down his door. Because he’d never shared with her what he’d found out about her blood some three weeks past. It wasn’t that she wasn’t curios; it was on account of that whole cat-getting-killed thing.

  Ignoring his dangling statement, she smiled and busied herself with repositioning the stake inside her jacket pocket so it would stop stabbing her in the armpit. After she was finished, she sat down at the bar. Remy remained standing between the wall and the end of the counter, while Bane sat down between them.

  Remi’s dark form flowed backward to lean against the wall. His jet-black hair was loose and hung over one shoulder. He crossed one leg over the other while his arms followed suit. He appeared calm a
nd confident, as though he hadn’t a care in the world.

  “What can I help you with this time?” he asked with a wink directed at Sonnet. “Are you hoping I’ll serve up another one of my vampires to you on a silver platter?”

  “Sebastian was a murderer.” Her voice dropped about a million octaves.

  He gave a soft laugh. As if he reveled in her anger.

  Her cheeks warmed. “Whatever. No, I’m not her because of a vampire.”

  Bane turned his barstool to face Remi. “We were hoping we could help each other out this time.”

  Seeming bored, Remy checked his watch. “Really? Explain how.”

  “Turns out venom is being manufactured for recreational use. Unfortunately, it’s not just used by Phantom City residents. The stuff has found its way into the human realm. And Sonnet figured out exactly who’s responsible for it all.”

  Remy’s gaze moved to Sonnet. “So you’re saying that she’s been able to do what all of my personal trackers have failed to? Please, enlighten me. Who is behind the venom outbreak in my city?”

  Bane’s voice went low. “A demon called Spiros.”

  Remy’s body instantly tensed and his gaze darted to Bane as he hissed, “Impossible.”

  As the demon and vampire stared each other down, Sonnet cleared her throat. “I ran into him a little while ago. And let me tell ya, he’s one scary bastard. That’s why we need your help.”

  It was obvious Spiros’s name was making quite the impression on Remy. Even from where she sat, she could tell he was concerned, irritated, maybe even pissed off about something in regards to the demon. And furthermore, it seemed personal. His abysmal black irises changed into something even more menacing. His hands balled into tight fists. Power saturated the space around him, errant magic that made the hair on Sonnet’s arms stand on end.

  “What is it?” Bane asked, standing.

  Sonnet did the same, her fingers itching to grab the handle of her stake.

  “I need a minute.” Remy mumbled. Then the spot where he stood was empty.

  Sonnet plopped back down on her barstool. “May as well have a drink until he returns from whatever that was.” She was sort of happy he had left. “So you think he’ll come back?”

 
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