My screams died in the wind as I plummeted to earth. If only my sweater hadn’t ripped, or I hadn’t chased after Sam, or I hadn’t signed up for a job to capture the arrogant vampire in the first place. That night at the vampire club seemed like eons ago when in fact just over three weeks had passed. I had to stop kicking myself over meeting Sam Mason. I wasn’t in a good place in my life, but Sam was the one good thing in the hell I was living. He might be an ass—arrogant, dominant, and possessive—but he was mine. He was the only one who loved me in a way no one had loved me before.
Still, so much had happened in a short time span that I couldn’t process any of it quickly enough. But crying wouldn’t save my life or that of my unborn child’s. Stupid, stupid me. I’m going to die. I’m going to splatter on the ground, and my body parts will be strewn over the open field.
I would never see Sam again or see my baby at all. Hell, I would never have the chance to ask Dr. Vieira all the additional things I needed to know about having a supernatural kid. Above all, I would never have the chance to tell Sam I loved him.
Snow plastered my face as I continued to scream, thinking about all the what-ifs. But the number of what-if questions or regrets wouldn’t save me. Tears poured out, and my pulse pounded in my ears. I had no clue how far up I’d been, and I was deathly afraid to look.
“Mom, Dad, I’m coming to see you in heaven. Jordyn, I love you. Rianne—” My other sister’s name caught in my throat as anger overshadowed the panic gripping me.
I swore if I lived, I would kill my uncle Ray after I shook him for Sam’s whereabouts. Then I would hunt everyone and anyone who had a hand in Sam’s kidnapping, including my sister, Rianne. Trying to reason with her was a waste of energy.
But I was out of time. I squeezed my eyes shut, sucked in air, prayed harder than I ever had before, and braced for impact, preparing for the pain. But it didn’t come. It took me a second to realize someone had caught me. He smelled like a mixture of pine and earth. Maybe I’d made it to heaven—or hell. My head spun like an F5 tornado as blackness crept in from my peripheral vision.
“I’ve got you, Layla,” the man said, cradling me in his arms. The heat emanating off my savior competed with the chill coursing through my body.
“Sam?” I cried. Maybe this was all a dream, and the vampire I was hopelessly in love with hadn’t been kidnapped. “You’re okay.”
“No, darling. I’m afraid I’m not Sam.” He sounded sad with an undercurrent of anger. “We need to get you on the plane and warmed up. You’re shivering.”
“Plane?” I whispered as the face of the man who resembled Sam spun before me. “Steven?”
Sam’s dad grinned, his green eyes high beams in the growing storm.
My heart split wide open.
“You’re not dying on my watch,” he said as if he read the questions on my face.
Tears streamed down my windburned cheeks and stung my chapped lips as I locked my hands around his neck. “I’m sorry. I wanted to save Sam, and I almost killed our baby in the process.” I’d recently learned I was carrying a fanged creature—or maybe not. Maybe the embryo inside me would be born human, without fangs.
Normally when a male vampire impregnated a woman with Vel-negative blood, the child was human until the teenage years. At that time, the kid would have the choice to activate the vampire gene. However, Dr. Vieira had previously speculated the child would come out of my womb with fangs, ready to drink blood. My stomach protested as acid shot to my throat. The idea of a fanged baby was mind-blowing. But the thought of losing Sam was even more overwhelming.
“We need to find Sam.” How am I supposed to have a baby without him? We were in this together. We were supposed to be a team.
I bounced in Steven’s arms as we headed toward the plane. “We’ll get him back,” he said as certain as the snow was falling.
I rested my head against his. “Do you know where they’re taking him?”
“No, but we know where to start our search.”
Adrenaline surged through me. “Intech?” Killing my cousin Noah came to mind. Hell, murdering someone was on my list, and Jack’s son sat at the top like a neon sign shining in the night on the Las Vegas Strip.
“We still don’t know everything about Intech or Camden Industries, but we’ll begin there.” Steven continued to cross the large field.
I glanced up at the cloudy sky, snowflakes falling and melting on my skin. “I still can’t believe I’m not dead.” Maybe I had an angel on my shoulder. Or maybe my parents were watching over me.
“You weren’t that far up yet. A little higher, and…”
I swallowed an elephant of emotions, thanking whoever was listening that Steven was a vampire. I doubted a human could’ve caught me with such ease. Again, I shook off images of my body being scattered over the open field.
When Jo’s voice carried on the wind, I oriented my vision to find Sam’s twin sister jogging toward us. Her black hair billowed behind her, capturing snow along the way. “Layla, thank the heavens you’re okay.” She walked alongside Steven and me.
“Why do you look like someone died?” I asked. What am I thinking? I almost did. Plus, the events of the day weren’t exactly something to smile about.
Steven came to an abrupt halt not far from the plane. “What happened?” He hardened his jaw, his hold on me tightening.
Scanning the abandoned airport just outside of Chicago, I spotted Uncle Jack kneeling to my right on the tarmac a good distance from the plane. Flashes of Ray grabbing me flew back faster than the speed of light.
I squirmed in Steven’s arms as my nerves teetered on the edge of destruction. “Put me down, please.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Your pulse is erratic, and your equilibrium is probably off.”
My heart was trying to climb out of my chest, and I would probably collapse once I was on my feet. But it was crucial I speak to my uncles. Ray was the only one who could help, though I wasn’t holding out hope he would. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t try like hell to glean information out of him.
“Please,” I said. “I need to talk to Ray.”
My uncle’s words blared in my head. “You’ll never see your vampire lover again.” What had happened before Sam had been taken flooded my mind.
I rushed up to Sam just as the helicopter basket swung behind him. It was like the jaws of life were about to capture him.
“Run, Sam!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.
But he didn’t. He stopped, turned, and raised his arms high above his head. Then he lowered one arm and closed his hand into a fist.
He was about to unleash his elemental powers. It was the same move he’d done to Roman that night on the naval base. But when Sam opened his fist, nothing happened. He quickly tried again. No fire. No wild weather. Nothing.
He looked at his hand a little too long.
I was about to bolt over to him when someone grabbed me from behind.
Ray laughed in my ear. “You’ll never see your vampire lover again.”
I screamed like a banshee, and Ray collapsed. I was ready to kick him in the throat when I noticed blood coming out of his ears, and that he wasn’t moving.
I sprinted toward Sam, only it was too late. A guy, dressed in full SWAT gear, was shooting at Sam from the helicopter while another propelled down and shot Sam several more times, hitting him in the neck, legs, arms, and vest.
“Noooooooooo!” I was about to run into the fray until another set of hands came around me.
“It’s too dangerous,” Steven said in my ear.
Jo came to a halt beside me and raised her arms, ready to use her elemental powers, but when she whipped her arms around, nothing happened. “My powers aren’t working.” She tried again. But failed. “They must have something stopping us,” Jo said.
Steven tried to use his powers, but he failed too.
Sam stumbled to his feet and roared. The men just kept shooting and shooting and shooting until he became a rag doll. Then one of the men in the helicopter aimed his gun at us while his partner loaded Sam in the basket.
I shrugged out of Steven’s hold. Screw this. I pulled out my gun and started shooting at the man on the ground. It took me three shots until he fell.
I rushed over to Sam, whose limp body was sprawled inside the basket. I reached in to drag him out when the helicopter lifted. If they were taking him, then they were taking me too.
I was about to hop in with Sam’s lifeless body, but fate had other plans.
The feeling of icy fingers crawled up my spine as Jo’s voice penetrated through the hell I was reliving. “I’m not sure Ray or the other one will make it.”
I jerked in Steven’s arms. “Ray? Is he dying? Why? How? I never touched him.” Even though I’d wanted to kick him in the throat.
She gave me a sad smile. “I’m not sure what’s going on with Ray. It could be a brain bleed or something else. But you did scream like a banshee.”
I sucked in air along with snowflakes. “But a scream can’t kill anyone. Can it?” Dr. Vieira’s words sung in my head. In our world, Layla, you’ll learn that some things don’t have an explanation, especially when magic is involved.
Jo shrugged. “Not sure.”
Whoa! Maybe I had banshees in my family.
Then she addressed her dad. “I tried to read Ray’s mind, but my powers seemed to have short-circuited when the helicopter flew in. Can you try, Dad?”
Steven bobbed his head, easing me onto the snowy field. I wobbled and stumbled like an alcoholic after a fifth of tequila. Jo had her arms out to steady me, but I took off and ran toward Jack.
“Layla,” Steven shouted as he caught up to me. “You need to rest.”
“There’s no time for that. Sam’s life is on the line, and if Ray is about to die, then we have to find out what he knows.”
Jo jogged up on my other side. “I’ll try to read the mind of the man that Layla shot. Maybe now that the helicopter is out of range, my powers will reengage.” She stabbed a finger at her husband, Webb, and Tripp. Both of the Vampire Navy SEALs were searching the SWAT guy’s pockets not far from Jack and Ray.
“Jo, a word, please,” Steven said. “Layla, I’ll be right there.”
I ran toward my uncles before slowing to a walk, listing to one side on the slick, snowy tarmac. Steven was right. My balance was off.
Jack swiped his hand over his thinning red hair as he knelt beside Ray. “Don’t you croak on me, brother.”
“Where is Sam, Uncle Ray?” I asked through gritted teeth. “Huh? What did you do?” I clenched my freezing hands together, anger melting the chill and sending my adrenaline off the charts.
Lying flat on his back, Ray choked. His blue eyes were the color of gunmetal. His face was pale, and blood oozed out of his ears.
Jack glared at me, seething. “All you’re worried about is your vampire? Can’t you see Ray is in dire straits?”
I clenched my freezing hands together. The need to punch my uncle Jack made me itch. “Can’t you see that Ray betrayed you?” The world was beginning to right itself as the dizziness waned and my mind sharpened. “Let me summarize the convo we had earlier today in the hangar. Ray knows where Noah is, and Ray brought you here as a ruse to help in the kidnapping of Sam.”
“He didn’t bring me here,” Jack said. “I was the one who called the meeting with Steven.”
I threw up my hands. My damn family would be the death of me before any outside enemy. Or I might be doing jail time for strangling one of them. “Fine. But Ray used that opportunity to set us up.”
Ray pressed his bony fingers into his chest and choked. “Sorry, brother, but Layla is right.”
I reared back as shock gripped me. Ray actually admitted I was right. My uncle had never once agreed with me on anything, and we’d argued on several occasions about different topics, particularly how to hunt vampires. Granted, he was my elder, but he was a hothead who had gotten us into bad situations, not only when it came to the family business, but his gambling debts had also taken a toll on the Aberdeen family.
Jack bared his teeth at me. “So what? That doesn’t mean Ray should die for what he’s done.”
“I know that.” I wanted to knock some sense into Ray, or even make him feel pain, but I didn’t want him to die. “Ray, where are they taking Sam?” I toned down my ire just a bit and infused some kindness, or at least tried to, anyway.
“Fuck you,” Ray bit out. “You’ll die, Layla, if you continue to hang around vampires.”
I was ready to scream at the top of my lungs again. “You’re sprawled out on the ground, look like death, might be dying, and you are still being an ass. At least if I croak, I’ll feel content, knowing I tried to save humanity. What you’ve done could just wipe out our existence. Handing Sam over to whoever won’t only kill him but will turn humans into vampires. Is that what you want—more bloodsuckers in this world?” I shivered at the idea of Sam on some table in a lab or in a cage being treated like a test rat.
Jack tried to help Ray up. “I’m taking you to a hospital.”
Ray winced as he climbed to his feet, holding onto Jack’s shoulder. No sooner than he stood, he fell to the ground, taking Jack with him.
Jack scrambled to help his brother. “Ray, what’s wrong?”
Ray clutched his chest. “I can’t breathe.”
“I’m calling an ambulance.” Jack whipped out his phone.
Steven came out of nowhere and snagged Jack’s cell before he had a chance to unlock it. “No. Get your car. I’ll have Tripp go with you. The paramedics will alert the human authorities, and they’ll have too many questions. We can’t exactly give them answers, now can we?”
Ray swung out his hand to Jack. “If I don’t make it, take care of my family.”
Jack’s forehead creased. “Don’t say shit like that. You’ll make it.” Jack sounded like he was trying to convince himself more than Ray.
“If you want to save your brother, get the car,” Steven barked at Jack. “He doesn’t have much time.” No doubt Steven could hear Ray’s heart beating. “He might be bleeding internally.”
Jack angled his head at Ray. “Or having a heart attack. They do run in our family.”
My grandfather had died of one right in the middle of hunting vampires. My grandmother blamed his death on the fanged predator, but an autopsy proved the cause had been my grandfather’s heart.
“Wait, Jack.” Ray held out his hand. “I need you to do something for me. I need you to get the money they’re paying me for Mason.”
“Seriously?” I shouted. “You’re probably about to take your last breath, and all you can think of is cold, hard cash?”
Ray snarled, inhaling a deep breath of crisp air. “My family needs it. I owe some people half a mil.”
Steven regarded me with questions in his green eyes.
I shrugged. “My uncle has a terrible gambling addiction. Who are the people, Ray? The Mafia?”
Jack grabbed the back of his neck. “Please tell me it’s not the Irvings.”
I held my breath. That family owned several casinos, including the largest casino in Montana. The Irvings weren’t the type of people to fuck with. The Mafia was a cakewalk compared to them.
Ray winced. “Talk to Noah.”
Steven squatted beside Ray and held his hand. “Look, Ray. Do some good here. Tell us who you’re working with. Is it Camden Industries? Intech? If so, we could be looking at a worldwide humanity crisis. Camden Industries builds weapons for the Department of Defense, which could mean they want to build super soldiers. It’s been tried before by someone who wasn’t working with the human government, and that turned into a war. We lost many humans to the genetic experiment. What we’re facing now will be much larger and harder to control if the DOD gets involved. We can’t risk human lives to turn them into someone like me.” He mashed his lips together, seemingly holding back his anger. His patience was admirable given his son had just been kidnapped.
“Tell him, Ray,” Jack pleaded.
“You’ll never see your son again,” Ray said to Steven while glaring at me.
Jack briefly closed his eyes.
Restraint was a monumental task on my part. My dad had always said never hit a man while he was down, unless the man was a vampire.
Steven’s fangs shot out. “Careful, Ray. If you live, you might not like what you’re heading into.” Steven’s caustic tone cracked through his placid veneer.
Jack sighed. “Please, brother.” He sounded frightened. “Where are they taking Sam?”
I hated to think of what would happen if we couldn’t find Sam. Steven would go on a rampage, and I would be right beside him with my heart shattering into a million pieces. More importantly, the little one growing inside me would suffer more. A child needed both parents. Even still, humanity? If we were right, and Sam’s kidnappers wanted his DNA, then humans, including my family and me, were in trouble. Fuck, they could use me as a guinea pig, especially if they learned I was pregnant with a Mason baby.
Steven rose, his black shoulder-length hair blowing in the raging storm. “I can’t read Ray’s mind. My powers are nonexistent.”
My eyebrows pinched together. “Sam’s didn’t work either.” I couldn’t even begin to speculate on a reason. Nevertheless, it was rather strange that the three most powerful vampires had lost their abilities in a blink of an eye. Maybe the helicopter emitted some kind of radio or sound waves that interfered with their abilities.
“Ray,” Jack snapped in a harsh tone. “Tell us something. Where’s Noah?”
“Jack, get your car,” Steven said. “Ray isn’t going to talk.”
Jack hesitated for a second, frustration and despair washing over him.
Ray’s eyes fluttered shut briefly. “I don’t know where they’re taking Sam. Noah is in Chicago. He’s expecting me to call him.”
“Go,” I said to Jack. I was starting to fidget. I wanted to strangle Ray and save him at the same time. The selfish part of me thought Ray might be able to help us find Sam. My moral side had to spare his life. After all, he was my dad’s brother, my uncle, and Ray had a wife and kids. I knew what it was like to lose a father, and I didn’t wish that on my cousins, no matter how much Ray could get under my skin.
Jack finally dashed off to his car, which was about a football field away.
I stepped over Ray, knelt beside him, and grabbed his hand. “Uncle Ray, you’re not that bad of a person. I understand you have a gambling addiction, but think about what it would be like if one of your kids was taken.” I had to find some way to get through to him. He loved his kids and his wife, and despite the idiotic things he’d done, he was a good dad. “Who are you working with?” If he didn’t have a clue where Sam was, he had to know who his benefactor was.
Ray sucked in a large breath. “The guy from Carly’s company.” His breathing slowed.
“Lester Worthington?” I asked.
Tears leaked down his cheeks, and suddenly my heart was breaking for him.
“Talk to Noah,” he whispered. Then his eyes widened as he stiffened.
The car engine blasted through the buzzing in my head. “Ray.” I tapped his face.
Jack skidded to a stop, the car fishtailing on the snowy tarmac.
“His heart stopped beating,” Steven said.
I checked Ray’s pulse just the same. Nothing. I swallowed down my nerves and emotions, not ready to deal with his death.
Jack rushed over. “He’s gone?”
I rose. “I’m sorry.”
“This is all your fault, Layla,” Jack shouted as he dove into action, administering CPR.
I ignored Jack’s accusation, shoving them into a compartment for now. There would be plenty of time for us to exchange words and process what had happened. I would shoulder part of the burden, but I wasn’t the only one with blood on my hands.
Jack gave Ray mouth-to-mouth, then I performed compressions. After my first round, Steven took over.
Several minutes later, when Ray didn’t budge, Jack threw his head in his hands. “I don’t know how this happened.” Then he pushed his fingers through his thinning red hair with murder in his gray-blue eyes. “What did you do to him, Layla?”
I ground my back teeth together, trying not to yell at my uncle. “I didn’t touch him. All I did was scream.” Surely, I didn’t possess that supernatural ability to wail right before an impending death, which if I wasn’t mistaken, was the definition of a banshee.
Webb, Tripp, and Jo joined us, severing my crazy thought. I mean, if Mom had vampires in her family, maybe she had other supernatural beings.
Webb combed a hand through his brown hair, his blue eyes glowing in the waning daylight. “The SWAT guy didn’t make it. Steven, we need to regroup. I’ll get Sawyer and his tech team on the phone. Let’s meet in the hangar.” He glanced around. “With the snow coming down, we might be here for the night.”
It was probably best we didn’t fly in this weather. I wasn’t afraid to fly like Sam, but I wouldn’t chance it. Then something hit me. I only had a small amount of Sam’s blood on hand, so time was of the essence for the baby and me.