Soon enough, she finds herself deep in the underbelly of the city, discovering the secrets of the Demon Underground with the help of her faithful hellhound, Fang, and fighting to save those she loves. Whether they love her back or not.
“This book is a YA urban fantasy–and I love the title. Parker’s voice is edgy and smart. I smile as I read because this book takes me back to my Buffy days–yep, that kind of smart and sharp-edged humor. Love it.” — The Bradford Bunch
“What did I think of this book? I thought it was wicked fun. I loved the heroine–a YA character who felt real and had one tough attitude. Smart-talking, a fierce fighter . . . and Val (Valentine) had one heck of a funny sidekick, too. Non-stop action. Twists and turns. Monsters. Danger. And a cute hellhound. Come on, I couldn’t ask for me. Well, maybe I could ask for more . . . another book about Val.” — Cynthia Eden
“I liked her world quite a bit—I can’t think of too many other books that I’ve read set in San Antonio, and I liked how vampires were barely known. That, and I loved the characters. We primarily see Val and Dan Sullivan; she’s smart-alecky, but honorable, and has struggles (mostly with the demon inside her). Dan is a good guy, as well, and his conflicts are all on stage and felt honest to me. Of course, Fang is probably the best character in the book.” — Someone’s Read it Already
Excerpt – CHAPTER ONE
The stench of rotting garbage filled my nostrils as I scoured the dark streets of San Antonio for something to take the edge off. I definitely needed it—this was one of those nights where I felt less than human. No reason, really, except tomorrow was my eighteenth birthday, and tonight, everyone else my age was having a good old time at Homecoming, watching a stupid football game and going to some lame dance.
But not me—no, the home-schooled freak wasn’t invited. Not that I cared. They had no idea what went on in the real world, no idea what horrors prowled the night streets. Horrors like me.
A stifled cry came from a dark alley to my right. It sounded promising, so I checked it out. Sure enough, some dude had a young Emo punk pinned against the brick wall, his head buried in the kid’s neck. Either they were indulging in some heavy necking, or a vampire was having an evening snack.
Given the wide-eyed fear in the kid’s eyes, I was betting on the latter. Either way, he was going to have one serious hickey tomorrow morning.
I stepped up to the vamp and tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me?”
He whipped around, looking shocked, fangs gleaming in the meager light. “Looking for trouble, little girl?” he growled.
I grinned. It had been a long time since anyone had made the mistake of calling me a little girl. “As a matter of fact, yeah. You up for it?”
The kid whimpered. The guy let go of him and I stepped back into the small pool of illumination formed by the streetlight. Not only so I could see better, but to give the kid an opportunity to run for it.
Smart guy—he took it, stumbling off into the night as the vamp stepped into the light. Tall and muscular with long blond hair, the vamp wore skin-tight black leather. As a fashion statement, it was a bit too obvious in the Texas heat. He must think he was a real bad-ass.
He looked me up and down and his lip curled in a sneer.
At five feet, seven inches tall, I look pretty innocuous, with an average build and average brown hair that goes with my average olive complexion. Wearing jeans, heavy boots, and a down-filled vest over a long-sleeved T-shirt, I could be any girl stupid enough to wander the dangerous part of the city in the wee hours, alone.
I could be, but I wasn’t.
The vamp’s gaze was feral—hungry, yet wary. I’d obviously caught him off guard, and he hesitated. He raised one eyebrow in contemptuous query when I didn’t cringe. “You think you can handle me?”
I shrugged. “I don’t see why not.”
He seemed taken aback. “Who are you?”
My name wouldn’t mean anything to him, but what the heck. “Val Shapiro.”
“Val?” he jeered. “As in Valentine?”
Yeah. So what? But all I said was, “Bite me.”
“Love to.” He snarled, his fangs gleaming briefly in the lamplight, then charged at me with inhuman speed.
Predictable. I side-stepped just as quickly. He flew past, missing me by inches. I cuffed him in the back of the head as he went by, and I grinned.
First round to me.
He stumbled to a halt, and his hand went to the back of his head as if he couldn’t believe I’d touched him. He whirled around to glare at me, totally outraged.
Enjoying this more than I should, courtesy of my inner demon, I placed one hand on my hip and used the other to wag a finger at him. “You’ve been a very bad boy.” Munching on kids was so not cool.
“Bad? You haven’t seen bad yet,” he growled.
I felt a tickling in my head—he was trying to control my mind. Good. Just what I’d hoped for. Now that he’d opened a line between us, I could read his mind. His name was Jason Talbert, and he was a truly evil vampire. But he was nowhere near strong enough to control me.
Obviously believing he had me in his thrall, the vamp rushed me again.
The part of myself I kept suppressed broke free with a burst of elation, and lust for the game fizzed through my blood. Time to play.
I braced myself and met his rush with a sharp left jab, snapping his head back. The surprise factor slowed him, but only for a moment. Baring his fangs, he tried to use his huge fists to batter me into submission, but I blocked his flurry of blows before any of them could land. It was easy when the mental connection allowed me to read his intentions so clearly.
He broke off to stare at me in surprise, circling me warily. I’ve been told my eyes flash a harsh purple, like the color of a black light, when the succubus within me—I call her Lola—comes out to play. From the look on his face, my eyes had done just that. “What are you?” he demanded. “A slayer?”
I rolled my eyes. “The name’s Val, not Buffy. Do I look like a blond cheerleader with questionable taste in men?”
“Then what are you?”
My mouth quirked into a smile. “Just a girl looking to do some community service by cleaning up the city.”
He didn’t respond, and didn’t telegraph his intention mentally, so he caught me off-guard as he slammed into me. I lost my balance and we both went down in a tangle of arms and legs. Annoyed with myself for letting him surprise me, I head-butted him right in the fangs and scrambled upright.
Good—I needed a real fight.
He jumped me again, but this time I was ready for him. We fought furiously, Jason determined to sink his teeth into my neck and rip my throat out, and me just as determined to stop him. Unfortunately, he liked close-in fighting, and I couldn’t get enough space to reach the silver stake I had tucked into my back waistband.
I grabbed his throat and squeezed, but he wrapped me in a vise hold and wouldn’t let go. He slammed me up against a brick wall, intent on crushing me. Trapped. Worse, the power I tried so hard to keep confined was able to reach him through my energy field in these close quarters and I could feel the lust rise within him as he ground his hips against mine. Pervert.
Though I was able to hold off his slavering overbite and incredibly bad breath with one hand, my other hand was caught between our bodies. He couldn’t get to my neck, but I couldn’t get to my stake either.
Time to play dirty. Remembering even vampires had a sensitive side, I kneed him in the crotch.
He screeched and let go of me to bend over and clutch the offended part of his anatomy. That took care of the lust. I hit him with an uppercut so hard that he flew backward, landing flat on his back on the sidewalk.
Whipping the stake from its hiding place, I dropped down beside him and stabbed him through the heart in one well-practiced motion.
His body arched for a moment, then he sagged and lay motionless—really and truly dead.
Now that my prey had been vanquished and Lola’s lust sated, I could feel some of the aches and pains he’d inflicted on my body. It was worth it, though. And I healed quickly, so I wasn’t likely to feel them for long.
But adrenaline pumped once more when I heard a car door open down the street. The light was dimmer here between streetlights, but I was still visible—and so was the body I crouched over. “Who’s there?” I demanded.
“It . . . it’s me.”
I recognized that voice. Annoyed, I rose to glare at my younger half-sister. “Jennifer, what are you doing here?”
She got out of the back seat of the beat-up Camry, white-faced. “I told you I wanted to come along.”
“And I told you not to.”
She shrugged, displaying defiance and indifference as only a sixteen-year-old could. “That’s why I hid in the back of the car.”
Stupid. I should have checked. I usually drove my motorcycle—a totally sweet Honda Valkyrie—but on nights when I went hunting, my stepfather let me borrow the old beat-up car since it had a convenient trunk. Unfortunately, it was too easy for my little sister to creep into the back seat and stow away there. Obviously.
Trust Jen to try something like this. I’d made the mistake of telling her about my little excursions, even giving her some training on how to defend herself in case she ever encountered one of the undead. She’d been eager to learn everything she could, but Mom had gone off the deep end when she found out, especially when Jen had come home sporting a few bruises.
Mom had forbidden Jen to talk about it again and had threatened me with bodily harm if I even mentioned vampires around my little sis. Lord knew what Mom would do if she found out about this.
Jen stared down at the dead vamp and grimaced. “I’ve just never actually seen one of them before.”
“A dead vampire?”
“Any dead man.”
Was that censure in her voice? “Dead vampire. That’s what he was,” I said defensively. Mom was right—Jen was far too young and innocent for my world. I had to find a way to keep her away from all this. “I don’t stake innocents.”
“I know. I saw.”
“Jen, you idiot, you shouldn’t have come. It’s dangerous.” And if one hair on her pretty little head was harmed, Mom would have my head on a platter.
“Yeah, well, we can’t all be big, strong vampire slayers,” she said. She tried to make it sound sarcastic, but it came out sounding more wistful than anything.
I sighed, recognizing jealousy when I saw it. I knew Jen envied my abilities—my specialness—with all the longing of a girl who wanted to be something extraordinary herself, never once thinking of the cost. Of course, it was Lola, the demon inside me, that gave me advantages she didn’t have. All of my senses were enhanced far beyond normal, including strength, speed, agility, rapid healing, and the ability to read vamps’ minds when they tried to control me. Unfortunately, my little sister had no clue as to the price I paid for those advantages.
And she also had no idea how much I envied her. Fully human, with All-American blond good looks and plenty of friends, she had everything I had always wanted and could never have—true normalcy, not just the appearance of it. With my Jewish-Catholic, demon-human background and the melting pot that went into my heritage, I felt like a mongrel next to a show dog. My lucky half-sister had managed to avoid the bulk of my confusing heritage since we shared only a mother.
But I couldn’t say any of that—she wouldn’t believe it. “Help me get the body in the trunk,” I said tersely.
I usually had to do this part by myself, but why not take advantage of Jen’s presence? Besides, participating in the whole dirty business might turn her off for good. I unlocked the trunk and opened it.
She hesitated. “I thought—”
When she broke off, I said, “You thought what? That he’d turn into a neat little pile of dust?”
She shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”
“I wish it were that easy.” I took pity on her. “And he’ll be dust soon enough—when sunlight hits him. Come dawn, I’ll make sure his ass is ash.”
Jen grimaced, but I wasn’t going to let her off that easily. It had been her decision to tag along—she’d have to pay the price. I grabbed the vampire’s feet. “Get his head.”
She stared down at Jason’s fangs and the small amount of blood around the stake in his heart and turned a little green. “Can’t you just leave him in the alley?”
I could, but then Jen wouldn’t learn her lesson.
Well, crap, I sounded like Mom now. Annoyed at myself, I snapped, “We can’t just leave him here for someone to trip over. What’s the matter? Too much for you?”
She shrugged, trying to act nonchalant. “No, I just thought Dad might not like it if you got blood in his trunk.”
“He’s used to it.” Besides, the blood would disintegrate along with the rest of the body when sunlight hit it.
Jen gulped, but I have to give her credit—she didn’t wimp out on me. I’d expected her to blow chunks at the least, but she picked up his shoulders and we wrestled the body into the trunk.
Jen wiped her hands on her jeans and stared uneasily at him. “Is he really dead?”
“Mostly,” I said, then grinned to myself when Jen took a step back. There was still the remote possibility Jason could heal if the stake was removed from his heart. But for that to happen, his friends would have to rescue him before dawn, tend him carefully for months and feed him lots of blood. Not likely.
I shrugged. “But the morning sun will take care of that.” I closed the trunk.
Just as I locked it, the headlights from a car blinded me and a red light from its dashboard strobed the street.
“It’s a cop,” Jen said in panic.
Not good. But it didn’t have to be bad, either. “Relax. Let me handle this.”
The plainclothes policeman exited the unmarked car. “Evening, ladies,” he said, obviously trying to sound friendly, though he came across as wary and suspicious.
“Evening,” I responded.
He might only be in his mid-twenties, but he had the watchful alertness of a seasoned pro. He hooked the thumb of his right hand in his belt, making it easy to draw a weapon from that bulge under his left arm.
As he came closer, I could make out his features. He was about six feet tall with short brown hair, a straight commanding nose, and a solid bod. Totally hot. I might even be interested if he were a little younger and lost the suspicious attitude.
Lola agreed, wondering what it would be like to enthrall him, get him all hot and bothered, feed on all that lovely energy. That was the problem with being part lust demon—ever since I started noticing boys, Lola had been lying in wait, urging me to get up close and personal, wanting to compel their adoration, suck up all their energy.
I’d given in once, and the poor kid had almost died. But not this time. Not again. I beat back the urges, which was pretty easy since I’d just satisfied the lust by taking out the vamp.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I’m sorry, Officer . . . ?”
“Sullivan. Detective Sullivan.” He flashed his badge at me.
I smiled, trying to look sheepish. “My little sister snuck out of the house to meet her boyfriend, and I was just trying to get her back home before Mom finds out.”
“In this part of town?”
“Yeah, well, she doesn’t have the best of judgment. That’s why she had to sneak out.”
Jen gave me a dirty look, but was just smart enough to keep her mouth shut.
He didn’t look convinced. “Got any ID?”
“Sure—in the car.” I gestured toward the front of the vehicle to ask permission and he nodded. Shifting position so he could watch both of us, he asked Jen for her ID, too.
I retrieved my backpack and handed my driver’s license to the detective along with Rick’s registration. He glanced at them. “Your last names are different.”
“Yeah—we’re half-sisters. Same mother, different father. We have the same address, see?”
He nodded and took both IDs back to the car to speak to someone on the radio.
“Ohmigod,” Jen said in a hoarse whisper. “What if he finds out there’s a body in the trunk? We’ll go to jail. Mom and Dad will be so pissed.”
“Just relax. Everything should come up clean, so there’s no reason for him to even look.”
Sullivan finished talking on the radio then handed our IDs back.
“Can we go now?” I asked with a smile. “I’d like to get Jen home before Mom finds out she’s gone.”
“Sure,” he said with an answering smile. “Just as soon as you tell me what’s in the trunk.”
Oh, crap. Busted.
“Nothing,” Jen said hastily, the word ending in a squeak as she backed against the trunk and spread her arms as if to protect it. “Just, you know, junk and stuff. Nothing bad.”
Oh, great. Like that didn’t sound guilty.
Still casual, he asked, “Would you mind opening it for me?”
Yes, I did. Very much. Swiftly, I mentally ran through the options. I couldn’t take him out—I didn’t hurt innocents. Besides, he’d just called in our names so they’d know we were the last to see him. Taking off wasn’t an option, either—he knew who we were and where we lived.
You could take control of him, force him to let you go, a small voice whispered inside me.
Heaven help me, for a moment, I was tempted. But I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t take advantage of humans like that. I’d promised the parents—and myself—that I’d never do it again.
My only choice was to do as he asked and hope he’d give me time to explain. Crap. This was so not going the way I planned.
Gently, I moved Jen aside, unlocked the trunk, and braced for the worst.