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Between Love and Lust
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-633-5
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Vampire
eBook Length: 219 Pages
Published: January 2009



From inside the flap

All vampires hunger for blood, but for Mika the pleasures of the flesh are as nourishing as blood. Since the start of her unlife, she has indulged her need for carnal satiation. After the death of her mater-sire, she began to comprehend the complexities of the political struggles embroiling the clans of Haven, and now that knowledge fascinates her. Her pater-sire introduces her to a world of intrigue, where information is as valuable as blood. Mika’s particular ability to seduce and enchant allows her to assist her pater-sire in uncovering the perpetrators of the assassination of a clan leader. While deep with the slums controlled by Clan Corbius, Mika meets a handsome and dangerous exile who is as renowned for his fighting skills as his ability to seduce. Hail McMahon is as sexy as he is unpredictable, and with his aid, Mika is able to escape from the territory of Clan Corbius after a mysterious attack by a mob of crazed vampires.

The streets of Haven run red with blood following several assassinations that leave the members of the Council of Clans accusing each other of treachery. Mika is forbidden to see Hail, a known associate of Clan Corbius, by a council decree, but that does not stop her from desiring him. Mika combines business with pleasure as she tries to unravel Corbius’ plot and identify the spy operating from within the council. With the assistance of Erik, her ever-present and perpetually disapproving bodyguard, Mika gets closer to uncovering Corbius’ plan to take over the city. At the same time she realizes that her feelings for Hail maybe more than lust.

Mika suffers a broken heart when she finds out that Hail has promised to form a blood-bond with Alexa, Corbius’ youngest childe. Despite Hail’s assurances that his union with Alexa simply forms a convenient means of gaining information about the inner workings of Clan Corbius, his attempts to kill Mika’s pater-sire and bodyguard convince Mika that all along, he has been using her. Grudgingly, Mika agrees to form a politically motivated blood-bond with Erik, her bodyguard, in order to secure his clan’s participation in the coming war. Before the ceremony can be performed, Mika is kidnapped by Corbius’ minions, with the help of Hail, who has been placed under a spell that causes him to be enslaved by Alexa. Forced into a dark world where pleasure is often mixed with pain, Mika is surprised by her willingness to satisfy the vampires who threaten the stability of Haven. Mika knows that she must not only find a way to stop Corbius from taking over the city, but she must also resolve her conflicted feelings for Hail.

Reviews and Awards

"Pain, pleasure, and power fight for dominance in a story so strong you cannot help but take notice." ~ Lototy, Reviewer for Coffee Time Romance.com

Read the entire review

"This is an ambitious, well-conceived erotic vampire novel intended to be the first of a series. There is definitely enough material here for a series of novels, and for a cult following." ~ Jean Roberta, Reviewer for Erotica Revealed.com
 
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"Nikko Lee is a bright and talented author. Her words jump right off the
page making you hang on every word. Her characters are bright and full
of life, which helps to bring you right into the story." ~
 Zollyanna, Reviewer for Night Owl Romance.com
 
Read the entire review


Between Love and Lust (Excerpt)


Chapter One

It wasn't until night fell that the city of Haven truly came to life. While the sun shone, the humans of Haven went about their daily toil, but after the sun set, Mika's kind rose from their resting places and indulged in decadence and delight. Mika had lived in Haven all of her human life, but it wasn't until she was drained of all her blood and had it replaced by the vampiric blood of her mater- and pater-sire that her life truly began. Ten years passed in what seemed like a blink of an eye, and yet, as Mika traced the outline of her lips in a deep shade of crimson, she knew that countless years lay before her: years in which she could explore the nature of her kind and the depths of her own desires.

Her mater-sire had spent Mika's first few years teaching her the ways of her kind and the limits of her undead body. She looked at her reflection in the Victorian brass vanity, which had been a gift from her mater-sire, Miriam. She was reminded of how surprised she had been to discover how far off the mark the movies and stories that had formed her education about vampires had been. Aware that all the foolish stereotypes that she had learned were far from true, she was nonetheless glad to see some kind of reflection. The image was a pale reflection of the stunning undead creature that sat in front of the mirror. In time, as her mater-sire had told her, the image would fade further but never truly disappear.

Mika slept in a lavish apartment above a popular night club. She was not bound to the grave. Other stereotypes, she had learned, were based on partial truths. Sunlight burned, but even the worst pain could be tolerated for short periods of time. She had heard that holy relics and blessed items attacked the demonic origins of vampiric blood, but since she had never been very religious as a mortal, she simply avoided going to church. Miriam also impressed upon her that immortality did not mean living forever, but it lasted longer than even the wisest vampire could withstand without losing his sanity.

The vampiric blood that kept her body alive offered gifts as well as the curse of hunger. All of her senses were heightened and her emotions accentuated. Perhaps that was why the loss of her mater-sire had struck her so hard.

Miriam's sentence of eternal sleep came at the hands of the only law that bound all of the bloodlines or clans of Haven. The decrees of the Council of Elders formed the only law that all the clans had to respect or risk eternal sleep themselves. The council members, the final arbitrators between clans, were charged with upholding the tenets set forth by the first vampires to roam the earth. The council members had to maintain the balance between mortals and immortals. Their tenets ensured that no vampire killed more than his share of humans, and that the vampires did not overpopulate their cities with undead children.

The Council of Elders held the power to put any vampire that broke the tenets, opposed the council's decisions, or attempted to unseat one of its members to the highest punishment: eternal rest. Once the council ruled that Miriam was guilty of conspiring to kill her sire and clan leader, Dawson Laury, nothing she or her blood-bound companion said could change their verdict. Mika had never shed such bitter tears - not even when her mortal life was ripped from her body, and her soul was infused with the blood of her sires, thereby tainting her soul with demonic essence for all eternity. If Mika stared long enough at her pale reflection, she could see the sadness left by the loss of her mater-sire in the depths of her eyes.

The doorbell chime pulled Mika from her thoughts and reminded her that she still had an eternity in which to honor her lost mater-sire. Fortunately for her, the loss of one sire had brought her closer to Jacob, her pater-sire. He had been the one who first opened her mortal eyes to the night world and had seduced her into the embrace of darkness. His debonair attitude and the boyish mischief that lurked in his green eyes belied his graying hair and full beard. He'd charmed Mika first into friendship, captivating her mind, and then took possession of her body. The sweet longing he generated reduced Mika to begging for his every touch.

Only after Mika grew enraptured by Jacob and his beautiful wife did they reveal the secrets of the night to her. Mika felt blessed to be their playtoy and honored that they chose her as their first childe to embrace and bring into the night world. Once Mika recovered from the brutal change that her body had undergone during the transition from life through death into unlife, Miriam took charge of her education. Jacob remained as mysterious and elusive as he had been when they had first met. Now he visited her on a nightly basis and became the center of her unlife. Before Mika reached the door to her loft condo, it opened, and her pater-sire barged into her living room. He had a knack for appearing and disappearing suddenly, leaving Mika pleasantly perplexed.

"What do you know about the murder of the clan Leonard's founder and namesake?" Jacob asked as he headed straight for the whiskey bottle she stocked especially for him.

"Judging by what I heard, it was an accident." Mika was used to her pater-sire's asking questions to which he already had the answers, just to see her reaction. "A combination of too much ecstasy-laced blood and an early sunrise."

It was common practice for vampires to encourage their human prey to indulge in various drugs to heighten the pleasure of feeding. Each vampire had his own vice that could be traced back to his original embrace, as her pater-sire had once explained. Some vampires longed for chemically-induced euphoria, especially if their would-be sire had drugged them, thereby aiding them to withstand the horror that followed the rapture of the embrace. Others longed to re-create the violent hunt that preceded their transformation.

Mika did not need her pater-sire to explain to her the vice that was her weakness above all others. The memory of her embrace was seared into her soul and her sex. Hunger for blood produced such wanton desires in Mika that her lust would make a streetwalker blush. The feel of a lover's manhood hardening under her grip or her nether lips moistening against his lapping tongue produced a satisfaction that was only paralleled by the consumption of fresh blood.

"Unlikely," Jacob laughed before bringing a glass of the caramel-colored liquid to his lips. "If you believe that story, I will disown you here and now for all eternity."

Mika could only smile at her pater-sire. As much of his blood flowed through her veins as did that of her mater-sire, but it offered her only a little understanding of his nature. Where Miriam's blood had blessed Mika with social graces and charisma, Jacob's had heightened her natural curiosity and love of intrigue. The circumstances of Miriam's sentence of eternal sleep had awakened Mika's need to know and explore what lay beneath the thin veneer of order in which most vampires chose to believe, rather than add to the confusion that being a vampire brought to her once-human brain.

"I have heard that he did not necessarily know that the human slave in whom he was indulging was so heavily laced," Mika added. "Nor that the morning fog that would have protected him on most mornings would be long gone by the time he regained enough of his senses to stagger back to his coven."

Jacob dismissed her with a wave. "All old news. The questions remains: who would be clever enough to lace a human with just enough ecstasy to cloud Leonard's judgment but not completely incapacitate him? And more importantly, why would someone do that?"

With her pater-sire, it was always a matter of remaining patient until he revealed fragments of his true motives for visiting her with these questions. Rarely, if ever, did he visit Mika without some ulterior motive, be it a lesson to be learned or a riddle to solve. Gone were the nights when he would take pleasure in her company and body. His passion-inspiring kisses had ended on the night in which she had become a vampire, and had been replaced with quasi-fatherly gestures that hinted at the desire they used to share: desire now forbidden by the conventions of vampiric society. Mika had accepted the loss of one relationship for the creation of another without regret. Still, she was eager to learn from him about the undercurrents that moved the thirteen clans and ruled the unlives of every vampire in Haven, even if they choose to lose themselves in their indulgences.

"I think I will go slumming," Jacob said, emptying his glass. "Care to join me for some illicit entertainment?"

To ask for more information would only result in more subterfuge. Mika had realized that long ago. She could go about her planned evening of socializing with reputable vampires or accompany Jacob on a foray into a mystery which no one, least of all the Council of Elders, wanted investigated. Jacob was Clan Chavel's top assistant, even though his alliance to the clan had only come through binding Miriam. He had even invited Mika to accompany him to the council meeting on more than one occasion. Jacob knew far more of what went on behind the scenes than did most council members.

Traveling through the clan territories was done without much thought or security for vampires like Mika and her pater-sire. Few openly dared to draw the attention of the Council of Elders in most of the clan territories, especially by attacking two prominent vampires of Clan Chavel. Neither Mika nor her pater-sire had much fondness for their clan leader, but Dawson was poised to take over the Council of Elders and reform many of its corrupt ways. Jacob had recruited Mika as he and Dawson attempted to secure the support of the often uncooperative clans of Haven, whose primary interest focused on their own struggle for power and wealth. Each clan had its price, Mika knew, and most had already been persuaded to support Dawson's reforms.

While her pater-sire gained his information from his network of spies and informants, Mika's familiarity with the pulse of the city's social activities and vices gave her access to as much knowledge. The city had been ruled by a council of elders for as long as most could remember. Change was not an idea to which most vampires took readily. Composed of elders from ten of the thirteen founding clans that survived the cleansing, the council ruled in all matters of inter-clan relations, from business to social matters. An act of vengeance against another clan had to be sanctioned. Murder of one's own kind, above all other crimes, was punishable by eternal rest. Even unfair business practices were subject to economic sanctions, including exile. The fate of a transgressor, whether innocent or guilty, resided in the hands of elders who were too easily bribed or blackmailed. While a few of the wealthy clans like Clan Leonard and Clan Vautus could manipulate the council, the other clans were often subjected to biased rulings that cost them not only money, but also territory and blood.

Dawson had been able to garner support to reform the corrupted Council of Elders into a council in which all clans where supposed to have equal say: one in which corruption would be exposed and punished. It was a noble dream that Mika respected, even if she wondered about the reality of its implementation. Her pater-sire was a key component in Dawson's plans, and Mika was more than happy to assist him in any way she could.

Most vampires chose not to question the will and motives of the Council of Elders, but after the demise of her mater-sire, Mika had begun to question everything she once took for granted - back when she had been entranced by every aspect of her new vampiric existence. Now her pater-sire was about to escort her into the territory of the only clan that offered sanctuary to exiled vampires forced from the territories of the other clans. None of the other clans would offer daytime protection to an exile, let alone feed them the blood of claimed humans. Blood was as precious a commodity to the vampires of Haven as was money or sex.

"I've arranged for a bodyguard to ensure that your modesty remains intact." Jacob motioned towards a shadow, where a vampire revealed himself. "Let it not be said that I failed to keep you chaste."

"Oh, I think it is a little late for that." Mika crossed her arms in front of her chest as she examined her would-be guardian.

He was adept at shadow arts, as was obvious from his sudden appearance that went undetected until he was practically standing in front of Mika. Only the vampires of Clan Lucienna had such skills, but they were not known to offer their service to anyone outside of their own bloodline. Tall and slim-built, the vampire looked none too pleased to be brought along on Jacob's excursion.

"Greetings. I am Erik Stalson," he announced, executing a short bow towards Mika: a gesture that was no more than a passing courtesy. He then turned his attention to Jacob. "As I said on the phone, this is a wasted effort. Corbius only protects thieves, assassins and whores. And not one of them has enough brain cells to pull together what you are suggesting."

"Let's hope you are right, my friend," Jacob said.

The Raven's Nest was far from a place where a reputable vampire of the city went to be seen. In fact, the establishment nestled in the heart of Clan Corbius' territory was the kind renowned for its willing thieves, desperate assassins and skilled whores. It was, however, one of the best places to go to learn the most current rumors and hearsay of the city. Mika entered into the seedy bar on the arm of her pater-sire, with the reluctant bodyguard provided by Clan Lucienna not far behind them.

Mika felt the eyes of several vampires fall on her as they entered. With her elegant walk and trend-setting fashion, she was used to being noticed. In fact, she knew that was why her pater-sire had brought her along on this excursion. Her beloved mater-sire, Miriam, had taught her how to draw attention to herself. She had chosen her outfit carefully that evening, not realizing how beneficial it would be for her pater-sire - black leather pants and a red brocade corset that lifted and gathered her ample breasts. The splash of color danced against her porcelain white skin. Mika's hair was held in a tight bun at the back of her head by two black and silver hair sticks, with only a few tendrils of curled hair escaping along either side of her head.

"Now, be a good girl," Jacob said as he placed a kiss on each of her cheeks: their customary parting gesture.

"Never," Mika said with a smile as she returned his show of affection. "You taught me better than that."

Mika's smile broadened when Jacob let out a hearty laugh before walking away with his bodyguard in tow. If there was any trouble to be had, it would be by his side, not hers. Mika drifted among the denizens of the Raven's Nest. Some she recognized. She could guess at the names and clans of others from the stories her pater-sire had told her. Her pater-sire often dropped tantalizing morsels of rumors and plots that Mika longed to explore. Her natural curiosity was heightened by the blood of her pater-sire, who seemed almost obsessed with a layer of Haven that lurked beneath the surface of a semi-lawful society.

Vampires of the lowest caliber mixed with those of the more renowned clans out for a night of sinful delight. It was a sight to which she had not previously been treated. She preferred to spend her time among the tamer elements of the city. Vampires openly indulged in human toys seated obediently by the side of their masters or mistresses, their eyes glazed in a mixture of equal parts horror and excitement. She saw one vampiress dip below the level of the table as the male vampire she sat next to leaned back in his seat with a smug look of satisfaction on his face.

Her keen ears sifted through the dim of conversation and pulsating music, catching snippets of conversations. One vampire sought an enforcer to rectify a business transaction that had not gone according to his plans. Another looked for someone to seduce her blood-bonded companion so that she could petition for his eternal rest at the hands of the Council of Elders. When a vampire sought his own justice and didn't have the money to bribe or the knowledge to blackmail a member of the Council of Elders, that person came to Clan Corbius.

Mika sipped a tall glass of some concoction the bartender had insisted she try. Never once did he take his eyes away from her prominently displayed round breasts. Mika watched her pater-sire as he sat down with a group of vampires from clan Corbius. Even her keen ears could not pick up their conversation from across the sea of misfits, exiles and pleasure seekers.

Jacob had been reluctant to include her in his plans, but after the eternal death of her mater-sire he had taken Mika to his side and insisted that she learn his ways. Her mater-sire was everything to Mika. Smart, beautiful and vivacious, Miriam had introduced Mika to the night world. She had brought her to many gatherings among the rich and powerful vampires of the city. Miriam was a social diva and a darling of Clan Chavel. She had won the hearts of many of the other clan vampires, who were often too absorbed with their own unlives to think of any outside of their own clans. Yet Mika had seen how Miriam could gain entry into every clan coven and no one refused her invitation when she hosted a nighttime celebration.

Mika had always marveled at her mater-sire's ease at conversation and ability to beguile even the coldest undead heart. She hardly believed her mater-sire capable of plotting to assassinate her own sire and clan leader, but the Council of Elders had found her guilty despite Jacob's best efforts, and had condemned her to eternal rest. Even the thought of those events that happened several years ago brought fresh tears to Mika's eyes. Forcing the memories from her mind, she concentrated on her pater-sire's instructions for the evening: she must observe.

Sitting across from Jacob was an elegant vampiress whose age did not detract from her stunning beauty. Long black hair mixed with streaks of silver cascaded down the length of her exposed back. She looked more out of place in the Raven's Nest than any of the slumming fledglings of Clan Leonard, but Mika recognized her as Corbius' blood-bonded companion, Camilla.

No matter how hard Mika concentrated, she could not catch even the faintest sounds of their conversation. The two older vampires were wise enough to position themselves in the lowest light of the busy room, their faces shrouded to the point where even the movements of their lips could not be detected. Jacob had taught Mika to lip-read and to interpret the unspoken language of the body, but despite every trick and skill he had taught her, she knew that he had held back much more. He was the only vampire of any of the clans that Mika knew she could not read or even predict with any degree of certainty. His blood flowed through her veins; his gift of immortality kept her from death's grip. Nonetheless, she felt she knew him least of all her kind.

Shrill laughter redirected Mika's attention to a table populated by the echelons of Clan Corbius. At the center of the attention was a red-headed vampire Mika recognized as Corbius' youngest childe and the so-called princess of the back alleys: Alexa. She tossed her short hair back as she laughed. Mika quickly identified the source of her amusement. The vampire sitting next to Alexa held her leather-booted foot in his hands and brought it to his lips. Alexa nearly fell from her chair as the vampire raised her boot in the air. The rest of the tabled joined in the laughter, as if they did not see or care that the vampire's eyes burned with hatred. More than likely that sight added to their entertainment, Mika thought, knowing Clan Corbius' penchant for humiliation and depravity. It took a moment for Mika to realize just who she was watching kowtow to Corbius' little princess.

"I'm glad someone finally put that asshole in his place," Erik said as he appeared beside her. "I'm surprised the Council didn't put him to eternal rest for his crime."

"From what I hear told," Mika said while carefully watching the table where Alexa's entertainment progressed, "most of his clanmates respect him for acting when the Council of Elders would not. Besides, wasn't his mater-sire a Lucienna?"

"I doubt that a single drop of her blood flows in his veins," Erik replied. "Seguines just think they can go around doing whatever they want, when they want."

"You do know that Jacob was originally of Clan Seguines?" Mika felt a stirring of her protective feelings towards her pater-sire.

"My point exactly," Erik said, turning away from Mika. "But at least he knows a thing or two about hierarchy and law. You can't just go around killing vampires because they deserve it. Without order, we are no more than animals."

"Maybe."

"Come on. Jacob has found us a table."

Mika followed Erik to a secluded table where her pater-sire had sat all the while watching Alexa enjoy tormenting a most unlikely plaything. Hail McMahon was known for being many things, but a loyal servant was never one of them. His dark eyes betrayed the depths of his hatred for Alexa. One moment she was sucking on his earlobe, her hand disappearing below the table, and the next she was raking her painted fingernails across his neck, drawing blood. Despite all this, he never once flinched or protested.

Mika looked for his hand to fly to Alexa's neck or capture her lips in a breathless kiss. Either would have fitted the less than favorable descriptions she had heard associated with Hail. The only times she had heard his name spoken was in association with either blood or tears, and most often both. His hair was cropped close to his head and the goatee he sported gave him a fierce look that would weaken the knees and resistance of any vampiress.

"Have you already found your treat for the night?"

Jacob's voice broke Mika's gaze and luscious train of thought.

"Hardly," Mika replied. "Besides, I think he's already spoken for."

"I told you this was a waste of time," Erik said. "Unless you are looking for a cheap whore or a laced human, you aren't going to find anything here to help you with your investigation."

"Funny. That is exactly what I was looking for," Jacob said, but added nothing further.

Patience was not one of Mika's qualities, but her pater-sire rarely disappointed. Within a few minutes a nervous, rake-thin vampiress with short hair that partially obscured her eyes sat down on the only available chair at their table. Her eyes darted about the room but didn't settle on anyone in particular.

"I can't talk here," she said, gnawing on her fingertips to the point of drawing blood. "I won't talk here. It isn't safe. Not here."

"Calm yourself, my dear," Jacob said, his voice low and soft. "There is a way you can earn sanctuary in Clan Chavel - provided that your information is useful."

"Oh, it is," the vampiress assured them. "I can't take this place anymore. They keep us locked up during the daytime in the courtyard and sell us at night. If anyone thought I was helping the Council, I'd be put to eternal rest without a second thought."

Mika had heard of the courtyard. Though the word itself conjured up visions of harems and ladies in waiting, she knew that Haven's courtyard was a far harsher reality. The exiles that survived to cross into Corbius' territory were given only one chance to swear allegiance to Corbius himself and serve him however he saw fit, in exchange for a safe resting place during the daylight hours and a meager ration of blood. For an exile, it was either servitude or death.

Mika had toyed with a few servants from the courtyard at one of Dahlia's festivals. Her dearest friend Dahlia had the means and ability to create lavish fêtes which lacked neither blood nor delightful playtoys, both mortal and immortal. The courtyard servants always possessed such hunger for pleasure and blood. Those that performed well were often purchased again for another night of decadence. Mika preferred her freedom to exile, but she often wondered what it would be like to be devoted solely to the pleasure of her master or mistress. She imagined that possession came with its own thrills and pitfalls.

"Maybe you should have thought of that before you cheated on your blood-bonded companion," Erik said as he looked on the vampiress with contempt.

So that was her crime, Mika thought, surprised that Erik knew more about the exile than she did. The informant must have been of Clan Lucienna. They were the only clan to punish infidelity. Their clan had far more punishable crimes than any other clan. The vampiress cowered under Erik's stone cold gaze. Exiles were held in the lowest esteem by all the clan vampires, especially those from the clan that had banished the offender. Their shame followed them wherever they went. Most chose eternal rest by their own hands, rather than the continuation of an existence of disgrace.

"Please, just get me the hell out of this place before anyone thinks that I'm offering any more than my body to you," the vampiress said.

"Well, it won't do for me to walk out of the Raven's Nest with a common whore by my side. No offense, my dear." Jacob bowed to the vampiress, who seemed to take no insult from his comment. "Mika, consider her my present for good behavior. Take her to your apartment after you are done doing what ever it is you do. Erik, escort the ladies from this den of ill-repute."

With little more explanation, Jacob departed, leaving Mika to guess at his intentions for the exile. All she knew for certain was that she needed to get the vampiress away from the Raven's Nest without arousing too much attention. Any vampire that saw Mika leave with a whore would simply assume that she was slumming and intended nothing more. Jacob, on the other hand - a previously blood-bonded companion - could never get away with such an indulgence.

"Can we get out of here?" the vampiress, who seemed on the verge of tears, inquired.

"What do we do - just walk out the front door?" Erik asked, looking to Mika for an answer she did not have. It was so typical of her pater-sire to leave her to deal with the details.

"I don't think that's such a good idea," a male voice said, interrupting their conversation.

Mika recognized the voice she associated with the dark eyes and willful demeanor she knew were Hail's trademark, along with his brash manner: one that put off most males and turned on most females. She turned to face him, but he'd already sat down in the chair that her pater-sire had occupied.

"And what do you think would be a good idea?" Mika said without missing a beat. She knew Hail's reputation for intimidation and seduction too well. The last thing she wanted was to explain to her pater-sire was how she let an informant slip through her fingers because of her wanton desires. "I don't suppose you know of another way?"

"In fact, I do," Hail replied with a devilish smile. "Come with me."

Rising, he walked towards the back of the Raven's Nest.

"I don't trust him," Erik declared.

"Neither do I," Mika replied as she scanned the room. Corbius' youngest daughter and her gang of thugs were nowhere to be seen, but otherwise it was business as usual. "But I don't see that we have much of a choice," she added.

Mika was loath to follow a vampire infamous for deception, but for every tale of trickery that was linked to Hail's name there were two more about how his trickery had gotten his clan and kin out of harm's way. "An ambush is just as likely out the front door as the back, in this territory. Besides, I'm curious about him. Unless you are squeamish about the possibility of a fight."

Erik's eyes burned against the challenge of her words. Clan Lucienna were warriors by blood descent, preferring to hone their skills within their clan territories rather than develop business enterprises. They were one of the few clans that required martial proficiency from each of their members, and the rigors of their training - both mental and physical - were well-known, even if those rigors were seen as little more than an antiquated tradition by the other clans. Their crest was embossed with a silver wolf with fangs bared. No member, no matter how weak or scared, would back down from a challenge, especially if it involved kin or persons they were assigned to protect. They would follow the orders of their elders to death, with pride and without question. This quality formed their strength as well as their weakness, her pater-sire had taught her. Every clan bore the traits of their blood lines for better and, more often, worse.

"Let's go then," Mika said. She extended her hand towards the frightened informant, who looked petrified by the thought of following Hail. "I will protect you."

The weight of Mika's words intertwined with the subtle persuasion her pater-sire had taught her. Confidence and calm, he had said. The weak will always follow those they perceive as strong, even to their own destruction. The vampiress was no exception. Nodding meekly, she took Mika's hand and let herself be led between crowded tables and the writhing thongs of vampires and their human toys that populated the dance floor.

Mika caught sight of Hail as he glanced back towards them before disappearing through a door hidden beneath one of the heavy drapes that decorated the walls of the bar. Mika reached for the door, but felt Erik's hand grab her arm. Shaking his head, he drew a serrated knife that had been carefully concealed within his attire. She had no doubt that there were many more where that one had come from.

Mika rarely traveled unarmed. A dagger lay housed along the seam of her tight-fitting pants, but she preferred to appear as non-threatening as possible. Erik disappeared behind the door, and for a few moments Mika wondered if her pater-sire had chosen their bodyguard because he expected them to find trouble. The vampiress who clutched her hand trembled as they waited. Within moments, Erik reappeared. He motioned for them to follow. Once the door closed behind them, the dimness of the bar faded. In complete darkness, they hurried down a long corridor by feel and a heightened sense of sight.

"The shadows are empty," Erik whispered as he led them. "I don't know where that bastard ran off to, but there isn't anyone the length of this corridor."

"How far?" Mika asked, her fingers trailing the wall as they moved. She feared what the darkness would do to the mind of the already frightened vampiress her pater-sire had entrusted to her protection.

"Twenty yards." The focus in Erik's voice assured Mika that her pater-sire had chosen well. "It opens up into an alley on the west side of the building. Beyond the door, I can feel nothing."

Shadow reading, Mika thought. It was a skill that few possessed, with the exception of the members of Clan Lucienna. They had mastered the ability to lurk in the shadows while appearing to dispatch their enemies, and to retreat into them when overwhelmed. An illusion of sorts, her pater-sire had explained to her during one of his many lessons about the thirteen clans of Kabel. Each clan's crest bore one of the thirteen beasts of darkness that assisted Kabel in his escape from Hell. The legend of Kabel was a story she knew well, but as a vampiric version of a fairytale told to her by her mater-sire. Kabel was a demon of some rank among the dwellers of Hell. He committed the one act that was forbidden by the rulers of the underworld - he fell in love with Anya, a daughter of a man, and abandoned his immortal position among the demons and devils that preyed upon human flesh.

Leaving Hell was only the beginning of his trials. The hunters of Hell were sent to reclaim him, and more would follow if he could not convince them to shut the Hell portals they guarded. They took the form of one of thirteen beasts that were the messengers of the damned: crow, wolf, bear, vulture, lion, snake, stallion, bull, goat, scorpion, rat, bat, monkey. One by one, Kabel won them over and taught them the meaning of love and countless other human emotions. They broke free from the realm of Gell to protect him, sealing their portals and following Kabel and his human lover.

But for all their power, none of them could keep Anya from the curse of mortality. A wayward arrow pierced her heart while she was protecting villagers from a raiding group. Rather than see his love taken from him, Kabel fed her his demonic blood, forever corrupting her soul. Spared from death, Anya was cursed with the demonic hunger. She craved the blood of her own kind, and thus became the first true vampire.

All vampires that walked the earth from then on descended from Kabel and Anya. When the vampiric population of Haven was founded by Ida and Etienne, descendants of Kabel and Anya, they created the thirteen bloodlines from the blood of the guardians given to them by the ancients. Only nine of those lines survived the cleansing that followed the Indulgence that saw the streets of Haven run with the blood of humans and vampires alike. But it was the loss of their founding sires that caused the worst sadness.

Now the deaths of elders and clan leaders were accumulating again. A handful of the original elders of Haven still remained in the city, but only Corbius retained full control over his clan. Elder vampires were a danger to all, once their tenuous grasp on sanity began to slip with age. Something in the darkness of the night or the taking of blood warped their once-human minds. Elders like Oursa and Seguine found solace in a quick death bathed in sunlight, while others, like Lucienna and Serpus, simply disappeared. The founding elders that chose to remain in the city were rarely seen at the Council of Elders, much less in the city at large.

On the rare occasion when Vautus chose to accompany his designated representative, Miliana, to the meetings of the Council of Elders, Mika noted how his eyes shifted constantly over the council members and the shadows. She wondered what he unseen motion caught his attention and distracted him to the point of not hearing calls to vote or questions addressed to him. Mika wondered how much of his mental capacities Corbius retained, considering the deteriorated state of his territory. Crime was nowhere more rampant than in this dark part of Haven, and no one knew exactly how many exiles disappeared without a trace.

"There's some kind of ward on the door," Erik said as he stopped in front of Mika and the informant. "I cannot see the shadows behind it."

"There's only one way to find out, then," Mika said. She stepped passed him, impatient to be far from the Raven's Nest.

The cool night air was refreshing against her undead skin, which was damp from the bodies and business of the Raven's Nest. She scanned the alleyway but saw no one.

"I think we may have lost our guide," Mika said, turning to see a look of utter contempt on Erik's face.

"And if there had being someone waiting," Erik muttered as he shook his head, "you know Jacob would have every reason to petition my clan leader to send me to eternal rest, if anything happened to you?"

"Then you should do a better job of protecting her," a voice from above them said.

Mika felt Erik push her away moments before Hail descended from a fire escape, brandishing an ax. Stumbling to her feet, she placed the weeping vampiress behind her as she watched Hail's and Erik's blades clash. The two were evenly matched, but there was a desperation prompting Hail's movements that Erik could not match. Quickly, Hail positioned himself behind Erik and brought down his ax in an arc that caught the silver moonlight.

"No!" Mika shouted.

For a moment her eyes met Hail's, but he did not stop his strike. Erik crumpled to the ground, but much to Mika's relief, his head was still attached. Hail had struck him with the handle of his ax, rendering Erik unconscious but still in possession of his unlife. To kill without consent from the Council of Elders was a crime punishable by eternal death, but somehow Hail had escaped that penalty once. Mika feared that he would have no trouble if he faced that sentence again. His eyes were wild with more emotions than Mika could decipher. Her pater-sire had taught her that the eyes were a window even into the corrupted soul of a vampire - that they were the only part of a vampire that could be trusted to betray the innermost thoughts. Still, she could not grasp more than a glimpse of anger, pain and surprise.

"Please don't let him take me back," the vampiress at Mika's back whimpered.

From her side Mika drew a fine steel dagger. It was dwarfed by the ax that Hail hoisted onto his shoulder.

"I hardly think this is a fair fight," Hail said with a smirk on his lips that irked Mika.

"I agree," she said with a sweet smile. "Give up now, and I won't be forced to hurt you."

His laughter sent chills down her spine, but Mika was not sure if its source was fear or anticipation. He's eyes held a hunger no doubt brought on by the battle with Erik. But Mika felt something more.

"I'm not going back." The vampiress's voice cracked as she stepped out from behind Mika. "You do not own me. I will leave this wretched place and regain my clan status."

Idiot, Mika thought. She reached for the informant, but Hail moved too quickly for her to prevent the vampiress from being captured and pulled into his grasp. With his ax on the ground beside him, Mika weighed the possibility of overpowering him. She looked at Erik's still-unconscious body and knew that she had only herself to count on. Though she was stronger than she looked and graced with the unnatural strength of her undead body, she had no doubt that Hail could overpower her if she tried a direct attack. Besides, Mika's ways were far more subtle.

"I think it is obvious that she no longer wishes to remain under Corbius' protection," Mika said, sheathing her dagger. "I will ensure her safety from now on."

"Will you?" Hail asked as he grabbed the vampiress's throat with one hand and pressed her body to his with the other. "How will you protect her from herself?"

While the informant squirmed under Hail's touch, Mika could smell her arousal.

"And what if she'd prefer to stay with me?" Hail smirked.

Mika watched as Hail's hand descended below the informant's belt line and disappeared inside her pants. A small moan escaped the informant's lips as she melted beneath his touch. Mika's eyes met Hail's and saw the challenge in them.

"Maybe we should ask her who she's prefer," Mika said, and traced the outline of her lips with her tongue.

Without warning, Hail pushed the informant forward and grabbed her hips, doubling her over. He pulled down her pants, exposing her bare ass to the night only for a moment before he penetrated her from behind. The vampiress cried out in sheer delight, moving in time with his brutal thrusts. Her breaths grew ragged as his pace quickened. Mika could only watch and try to restrain the growing desire that ignited her senses. She could smell the moisture dripping from the vampiress's wet passage and mixing with Hail's fluids. Every moan and groan that escaped her lips echoed in Mika's ears. Her skin was alight with desire that threatened to overwhelm her reason.

"You like this," Hail asked. "Don't you?"

After first Mika was unsure to whom he was speaking, but his eyes and all of his attention were focused on the vampiress that bobbed along the length of his manhood. The strain on his face spoke of the effort it cost him to keep his emotions in check. Grabbing the vampiress's hair, he yanked her back to him, bringing his teeth to her neck. Mika's breath caught in her chest. She grew as needful of release as the vampiress beneath him.

"You want to stay here." Hail's words were muffled against the informant's skin. "Don't you?"

"Yes," the informant cried out. "Yes, I'm all yours!"

Mika's mind rushed back to the reality of the situation as she watched Hail release into the informant who yielded to him. She would never hear the end of it from her pater-sire, if she did not put forth every effort to retrieve the informant. When Hail exited the vampiress, she stumbled forward and collapsed to the ground before Mika could reach her.

"I think you have your answer," Hail said as he buttoned his pants and crossed his arms in front of his chest.

Mika's blood raced, sped on by the scent of blood and sex. The shaken informant was regaining her senses. Hail's challenge stood, and Mika was not about to let him best her at her favorite sport.

"Now, you haven't given me a chance to ask her if she's like to come with me," Mika said.

Hail chuckled as he drawled, "Be my guest, but I don't think even a pretty little thing like you can satisfy this one as I can."

Clearly he does not know with whom he is dealing, Mika thought as she gently brushed aside the informant's hair from her face. Having seduced many a male and female into her bed, Mika had no doubt about her abilities. She fought not to appear too eager as she drew the informant's face into her hands.

Mika's gaze held that of the vampiress. Such a sad creature, Mika thought, but full of desire. Her lips sank gently onto the informant's, parting them with her tongue. She strengthened her embrace, even as the informant's hands moved onto Mika's hips. Mika pulled away to lick her fingers. The informant's eyes grew wide, and she bit her lower lip in anticipation. Only when Mika was sure that she knew exactly what was on the mind of the vampiress did she slip her fingers beneath the informant's pants and part her nether lips. Mika's fingers slid with ease into her well-lubricated canal. When Mika placed her thumb on the informant's clitoris, she felt her shiver.

"You always have a choice," Mika whispered into the informant's ear.

"But I'm afraid." The vampiress shuddered under Mika's attention.

Mika's desire gripped her body. Her tongue lapped the blood that trickled from Hail's bite, while her fingers worked inside of the vampiress, even as her thumb stroked her clitoris. The vampiress nodded weakly, and her grip on Mika's hips tightened. Another climax washed over the informant, but unlike the one she had achieved with Hail, Mika ensured that it was a gentle wave that crested over and over, until the informant sighed contentedly and relaxed in Mika's arms.

"Either way, you choose," Mika said as she withdrew her fingers and brought them to her lips. The scent of the informant's sex still mixed with Hail's. "You deserve joy."

Tears welled at the corners of the informant's eyes.

"You may have convinced her," Hail walked up to Mika. "But you still have to convince me."

Mika was at eye level with Hail's crotch. He did little to hide his renewing erection. Mika's eyes traveled up the length of his muscular body until she met his eyes. She could feel the desire radiating from his body: desire that called to hers. She brought fingers still damp with the smell of sex to her mouth and licked them, never once taking her eyes off his.

"Maybe there is something I can offer you in exchanged for escorting us helpless damsels out of this treacherous territory?"

"I'd like nothing better," Hail said with a hint of regret in his voice. "But I'm every bit an exile as your little friend over there. Outside of this territory, any vampire, even you, would have every right to take my head."

"Is there nothing I can say?" Mika asked as her fingers tugged on the zipper of his pants. "Is there nothing I can do to convince you to escort us to the border, then?"

Mika could see the flash of interest in his eyes mix with sadness that she could not identify. Too quickly, his eyes swirled with darkness. He's as unreachable as my pater-sire, Mika thought. It was obvious that they shared the same blood at some level, since they both were embraced into Clan Seguine, the crest of which was that of the monkey. They were a poor clan by birth, but her pater-sire had married into clan Chavel, leaving behind the struggle for healthy humans and the business ventures that were so hard for clan Seguine to come by. Clan Seguine was a clan of tricksters and chameleons: vampires who behaved in accord with their own personal rules. It was no wonder that they were lost in a city that thrived on enterprise, blackmail, and back-room deals that required conforming to the desires of those few clans that held sway over the Council of Elders and, by extension, the city as a whole.

"What the hell is going on here?" Alexa's shrill voice broke Hail and Mika's gaze.

"She was just leaving," Hail said, extending his hand towards Mika.

With some reservation she slipped her hand into his and rose to her feet with little effort on his part. Her body was so close to his that she could feel his desire. She fought to keep her own in check.

"The girl comes with me," Mika informed Hail.

He turned to face her with a mischievous smile, "And do you think you can convince the princess here as easily as you can Eliza?"

One of Alexa's thugs soon arrived on the scene. Mika began feeling outnumbered, even though there was usually a gang of three that accompanied her wherever she went. She could arouse desire in just about any vampire or human, but if truth were told, Alexa was definitely not her type, and holding the attention of many was not an easy task. She hated to leave the informant behind, but she hoped that her pater-sire would appreciate her conserving the unlife of his only childe. She felt Alexa's eyes bore into her as she stepped away from Hail. The princess is possessive, Mika thought. She stored that information for later use.

As Mika moved towards the entrance of the alleyway, Alexa's thug stepped in front of her to block her way.

"I don't think Dawson would miss this one," the male vampire said with a smile.

"Move aside," Mika said. "Camilla assured my pater-sire of my safe passage. So unless you want to take it up with her, I'd suggest that you move."

Mika felt the shift in the atmosphere as soon as she spoke Camilla's name. It was a bluff, but a reasonable one, considering that Jacob had spoken to Camilla openly in the Raven's Nest. Even Alexa tensed at the sound of her mater-sire's name. She looked back as Hail pulled the informant to her feet. Mika did not relish explaining this situation to her pater-sire.

"I don't care what she told your pater-sire," Alexa said, putting her hands on her hips. "I don't like the looks of your kind on my turf."

"If you are looking for a fight," Erik muttered as he rubbed his head, "I'm ready for round two." With some effort, he struggled to his feet.

Mika sidestepped Alexa's thug to join Erik. Putting a hand on his arm, she shook her head, saying, "It's obvious we aren't wanted here. Besides, I know a few places where the hospitality is infinitely better."

"If you know what's good for you," Alexa said as they walked away, "you'll stay away from where you don't belong."