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Home > Angel's Blood (Guild Hunter #1)

Angel's Blood (Guild Hunter #1)
Author: Nalini Singh

Chapter 1

When Elena told people she was a vampire hunter, their first reaction was an inevitable gasp, followed by, "You go around sticking those sharp stakes in their evil putrid hearts?"

Okay, maybe the actual words varied but the feel was the same. It made her want to track down and exterminate the idiot fifteenth-century storyteller who'd made up that tale in the first place. Of course, the vampires had probably already taken care of it-after the first few of them ended up in whatever passed for an emergency room back then.

Elena didn't stake vampires. She tracked them, bagged them, and returned them to their masters-the angels. Some people called her kind bounty hunters, but according to her Guild card, she was "Licensed to Hunt Vampires & Assorted Others"-which made her a vampire hunter, with the attendant benefits, including hazard pay. That pay was very healthy. It had to be to compensate for the fact that hunters occasionally had their jugulars torn open.

Still, Elena decided she needed a pay raise after her calf muscle started protesting. She'd been stuck in a cramped corner of an alley in the Bronx for the past two hours, a too tall female with pale, almost white hair and silver eyes. The hair was a pain in the butt. According to her sometimes friend Ransom, she might as well wear a sign announcing her presence. Since dyes wouldn't work on it for longer than two minutes, Elena had a great collection of knit caps.

She was tempted to pull her current one down over her nose, but had a feeling that would only intensify the malodorous "ambience" of this dank piece of New York City. That led her to thinking about the virtues of nose plugs-

Something rustled behind her.

She swiveled . . . to come face-to-face with a stalking cat, its eyes reflecting silver in the darkness. Satisfied the animal was what it seemed, she returned her attention to the sidewalk, wondering if her eyes shone as freakily as that cat's. It was a good thing she'd inherited dark gold skin from her Moroccan grandmother or she'd have resembled a ghost.

"Where the hell are you?" she muttered, reaching down to rub at her calf. This vamp had led her on a merry chase-through his own sheer stupidity. He didn't know what he was doing, which made him a little hard to second-guess.

Ransom had once asked her if it bothered her to round up helpless vampires and drag their sorry asses back to a life of virtual slavery. He'd been laughing hysterically at the time. No, it didn't bother her. Just like it didn't bother him. The vamps chose that slavery-of a hundred years' duration-the instant they petitioned an angel to Make them almost-immortal. If they had stayed human, if they had gone to their graves in peace, then they wouldn't have found themselves bound by a contract signed in blood. And while the angels did take advantage of their position, a contract was a contract.

A flash of light in the street.

Bingo!

There was the target, chomping away on a cigar and boasting on his cell phone about how he was a Made man now and no prissy angel was going to tell him what to do. Even with several feet of distance between them, she could smell the sweat pooling under his armpits. The vampirism hadn't yet advanced enough to melt away the fat he wore like a spare coat, and he thought he could run out on a contract with an angel?

Idiot.

Walking out, she pulled off her knit cap and stuffed it in her back pocket. Her hair tumbled around her shoulders in a soft cloud, distinctive and bright. It wasn't a risk. Not tonight. She might have been well known by the locals, but this vampire had a distinct Australian accent. He'd recently arrived from Sydney-and his master wanted him back in that city, pronto.

"Got a light?"

The vampire jumped and dropped his phone. Elena barely stopped herself from rolling her eyes. He wasn't even fully formed-the canines he'd flashed in surprise were only baby teeth. No wonder his master was pissed. The bonehead had to have scuttled after not much more than a year or so of service.

"Sorry," she said with a smile as he retrieved the phone and weighed her up. She knew what he saw. A lone female with bimbo blonde hair, dressed in black leather jeans and a form-fitting long-sleeved top in the same color, no visible weapons.

Because he was young and stupid, the image made him relax. "Sure, sweet thang." He reached into his pocket for the lighter.

That was when Elena leaned forward, one hand sweeping behind her back and under her top. "Tut-tut. Mr. Ebose is very disappointed in you." She'd retrieved and locked the necklet into place before he processed the meaning of that huskily spoken censure. His eyes bulged red, but instead of screaming, he stood silently in place. A hunter's necklet had a way of freezing a man. Fear was a live thing skittering across his face.

She'd have felt sorry for him if she hadn't known that he'd torn out four human throats in the course of his escape. That was not acceptable. The angels protected their get but even they had limits-Mr. Ebose had authorized the use of any and all force necessary on this one.

Now, she let that knowledge bleed into the open, let the vampire see her willingness to hurt him. His face lost what color he'd managed to retain. She smiled. "Follow me."

He trotted behind her like an obedient puppy. Damn, but she loved the necklets. Her best friend, Sara, liked to shoot the targets with honest-to-god arrows-the arrowheads were doctored to contain the same control chip that made the necklets so effective. The instant it touched skin, the chip apparently emitted some kind of an electromagnetic field that temporarily short-circuited a vampire's neural processes, leaving the target open to suggestion. Elena didn't know the science of it all, but she knew the limits and advantages of her chosen method of capture.

Yeah, she did have to get closer to her targets than Sara, but conversely, there was no chance of missing and hitting an innocent bystander. Which Sara had once done. It had cost her half a year's pay to settle the lawsuit. Lips curving at the thought of how pissed her friend had been at not making the shot, Elena opened the passenger-side door of the car she'd parked nearby. "Inside."

The baby vamp squeezed in his girth with effort.

Making sure he was belted in, she called Mr. Ebose's head of security. "I've got him."

The voice at the other end instructed her to drop the package off at a private airstrip.

Unsurprised by the chosen location, she hung up and began driving. In silence. It would've been a bit redundant to try to make conversation, as the vamp had lost the ability to speak the instant she clamped him. The muting was a side effect of the neural straitjacket created by the necklet. Before the inception of the chip-embedded devices, vampire hunting had been something of a suicidal career choice, as even the babiest vamps had the ability to tear a human to pieces. Of course, according to the latest research, vampire hunters weren't quite human, but they were close enough.

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