Emma Martin had never killed a human, at least not intentionally, but her best friend, Ava, might be the first. “No. I told you. I’m not going on a blind date, so drop it already.”
Considering she battled demons on a regular basis, few things in the world scared Emma. But the one thing she feared most was giving her heart away, then losing that person.
Been there, done that. Never again.
“Fine. You’re so stubborn. At least come to the party.” Ava wove her arm through Emma’s and dragged her across the campus, toward their dorm. “Your arms are freezing, Em, why are you wearing a tank top? I know we live in the desert, but we’re up north.”
“It’s not that cold out.” Then again, Emma didn’t feel the cold, or heat for that matter, but Ava didn’t know that.
No one did.
No one could ever know.
“Whatever,” Ava said. “So, come on, already. I’ve got two hours to beautify you. The football game will be over soon, and I’m in the mood to have some fun.”
“Ava, no. I said no more blind date—” Pulsing pain stabbed Emma’s wrist. She stopped and doubled over, clutching her wrist to her stomach to hide the glowing mark on her skin. Darn Vamp detector hadn’t ignited in over three months. What the hell?
“What’s wrong?” Ava grabbed Emma’s shoulder.
She hugged her midsection. Now that the initial surprise had passed, she had to keep the pulsing light hidden from Ava. Otherwise, there’d have to be another mind-wipe.
Wonder if too many mind-wipes can harm a brain?
“Nothing. Just a cramp.” Emma stood straight, scanning the area. She never got cramps, but she had to cover when her wrist morphed into a freaky orange lighthouse beam. “I’ll be fine in a second.”
Everyone thought Emma’s mark was a normal tattoo, but they didn’t know how it came to life when the bloodsuckers were near. She slipped her hand over the piercing orange flare, silently chastising herself for not wearing her thick-band watch.
Three months, no Vamps—she’d gotten lazy.
Time to snap into Hunter mode to keep Ava safe. No way was Emma about to lose her best friend to one of those fanged beasts. She’d already lost too much.
Emma scanned the empty courtyard. The dark fence of trees encircling the campus seemed calm. No bobbing red orbs—a tell-tale sign of a hungry Vamp. Until they fixed their sights on dinner, their eyes stayed black as coal.
Ava whipped out her massive, pink leather purse. “Here, I’ve got Advil.”
“Never mind. We’re almost to the room. I’ll grab some there.” Emma straightened and rubbed her wrist while scanning the area. A couple of lights lining the sidewalk to their dorm barely made a dent in the darkening sky.
Movement to her right caught Emma’s attention. Her heart stuttered. Every muscle tensed. She needed to get Ava out of here.
“Let’s go.” Emma latched onto her elbow and hurried her along the sidewalk. Emma caught a flare of orange against the leg of her denim jeans. The Vamps must be closing in.
Bushes to the left, silent academic buildings behind them and the open courtyard to their right. She glanced over her shoulder at the mazes of deserted sidewalks leading to the various campus buildings. Slate-colored clouds rolled in, chasing away the remaining light of the setting sun. That didn’t help, despite her heightened vision.
“What’s the rush? Jeez. I’m not one of your workout buddies, Em.” Ava stumbled. “If I break a heel on these Jimmy Choos, you and I are going to have words.”
“Oh, sorry. I just want to get back to the room and get ready for the party. You said Todd was going to be there, right? I bet you’re anxious to see him again. It’s what, your third date? That’s a record for you.”
“Jerk. But you’re right. I want to look nice for him. And remember, you said I can get you prettied up a little, too.”
“I did not say you could pretty me up.” Thankfully, Ava was easily distracted.
Emma continued to hurry her roomie along. Another flare of orange pulsed. Only a hundred feet to the dorms. One more cluster of bushes to pass.
A fist that could have passed as a sledgehammer slammed into Emma’s face as a gust of wind whipped by her. An explosion of metallic-tasting blood burst into her mouth. Damn Vamps were fast. Emma toppled into Ava. Her friend yelped and tumbled to the ground. Her purse shuffled to the side along with one of her shoes when she made impact.
Emma spun, working to locate the Vamp. Only darkness. Shadows from the cluster of five, three-story dormitories up ahead provided ample amounts of darkness. Not to mention the light flickering out. Or did a rock just hit that light bulb?
“What the hell was that?” Ava pushed herself up and reached for her purse.
“Quiet. Stay there. Don’t move.”
Emma’s friend shot her a wide-eyed glare. “What—”
Emma put her hand up, silencing her, and crouched. She held up her free hand, and whispered, “Crossbow.”
In a flash of white light, the steel weapon appeared in her palm. She stroked the smooth, otherworldly, silver metal, confirming the magazine of bolts was secure and ready to fire.
She touched her throbbing cheek. Dumbass was going to pay for that. And more.
“Okay, where are you?”
Drawing in a deep breath, Emma willed her pulse to slow, then stood. The gravel crunched beneath her trainers as she stepped off the sidewalk toward the bushes. Ava sat on the ground watching Emma with wide, disbelieving eyes. Her platinum-blond hair glowed beneath the light of the lamppost beside her, giving her an angelic halo.
This’ll be a big mind-wipe for sure.
The hairs on Emma’s neck prickled. Instinct demanded she duck. Air whooshed above her, a fist narrowly missing her face. She jabbed an elbow into the creature’s soft mid-section.
She lunged forward into a summersault, then turned and crouched.
Two bolts shot out and sank into the Vamp’s chest.
White, elongated teeth flashed as the wounded creature’s mouth opened. A throaty roar rent the air as he squirmed, writhing in anguish, then vanished in a poof of dust.
As ashes settled over the gravel beside a blooming bush, she spotted another creature slithering toward her best friend. Emma trained her weapon on the beast.
Before she could fire, two gigantic hands squeezed her shoulders and yanked her into the bushes. Her crossbow clattered to the rocky ground. The creature snarled. Foul breath wafting over her triggered her gag reflex.
Lifting her hand in front of her, she said, “Dagger.”
The weapon landed in Emma’s palm. She spun it to aim the blade downward and plunged it into the creature’s thigh. His grip loosened. Emma snapped her head back and cracked the Vamp’s nose, then pivoted out of his grip. Blood gushed from his leg onto the dusty earth, but it wouldn’t keep him down for long.
The Vamp quirked his head to the side and drew in a breath. He glanced past Emma but didn’t move.
He took in another breath. “Can’t smell you. What are you?”
She flipped the knife, blade up. “The last thing you’ll be seeing tonight.”