Home > Dark Predator (Drak #22)

Dark Predator (Drak #22)
Author: Christine Feehan

Dark Predator (Drak #22)


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thank you so much to Renee Martinez and Denise Tucker for making the trip down the Amazon and bringing me the research, footage and pictures of the region I needed. I appreciate their guides so much—thank you for answering all my questions and for continuing to do so as I’ve written this book. A special thanks to their guide Victor Ramirez for answering all the questions we needed on making canoes and the names of trees, flowers and wildlife. You were an amazing help. Thank you to Dr. Chris Tong for all your help; you are truly wonderful! And to Brian Feehan for your wonderful imagination and steadfast dedication to getting it all right. Thanks to Cheryl Wilson and Kathie Firzlaff for the encouragement when I was faltering, and of course to Domini! Special thanks to Lea Eldridge for her contribution to the Jr. Diabetes auction. She won the bid for a character in a book. Thank you so much, Lea, for your generosity.

 

 

1

Smoke burned his lungs. It rose around him in bellowing waves, fed by the numerous fires in the surrounding rain forest. It had been a long, hard-fought battle, but it was over, and he was done. Most of the main house was gone, but they’d managed to save the homes of the people who served them. Few lives were lost, but each one was mourned—but not by him. He stared at the flames with hollow eyes. He felt nothing. He looked on the faces of the dead, honorable men who had served his family well, saw their weeping widows and their crying children and he felt—nothing.

Zacarias De La Cruz paused for just a moment surveying the battlefield. Where before the rain forest had been lush, trees rising to the clouds, home to wildlife, there were now flames reaching to the heavens and black smoke staining the sky. The scent of blood was overwhelming; the dead, mangled bodies staring with sightless eyes at the dark sky. The vision didn’t move him. He surveyed it all—as if from a distance—with a pitiless gaze.

It didn’t matter where, or which century, the scene was always the same, and over the long, dark years, he’d seen so many battlefields he’d lost count. So much death. So much brutality. So much killing. So much destruction. And he was always right in the midst of it, a whirling, dark predator, merciless, ruthless and implacable.

Blood and death were stamped into his very bones. He’d executed so many enemies of his people over hundreds of centuries, he didn’t know how to exist without the hunt—or the kill. There was no other way of life for him. He was pure predator and he’d recognized that fact a long time ago—as did anyone who dared to come close to him.

He was a legendary Carpathian hunter, from a species of people nearly extinct, living in a modern world, holding to the old ways of honor and duty. His kind ruled the night, slept during the day and needed blood to survive. Nearly immortal, they lived long, lonely existences, color and emotion fading until only honor held them to their chosen path of looking for the one woman who could complete them and restore both color and emotion. Many gave up, killed while feeding to feel the rush—just to feel something—becoming the vilest, most dangerous creature known—the vampire. Every bit as brutal and violent as the undead, Zacarias De La Cruz was a master at hunting them.

Blood ran steadily from numerous wounds, and its poisonous acid burned all the way to his bones, but he felt calm steal into him as he turned and walked quietly away. Fires raged, but his brothers could put them out. The acid blood from the vampire attack soaked into the groaning, protesting earth, but again, his brothers would seek that vile poison out and eradicate it.

His stark, brutal journey was over. Finally. Well over a thousand years of living in an empty, gray world, he had accomplished everything he had set out to do. His brothers were safeguarded. They each had a woman who completed them. They were happy and healthy, and he had eliminated the worst threat to them. By the time their enemies grew in numbers again, his brothers would be even stronger. They no longer needed his direction or protection. He was free.

“Zacarias! You’re in need of healing. Of blood.”

It was a feminine voice. Solange, lifemate to Dominic, his oldest friend, with her pure royal blood, she would change their lives for all time. He was too damned old, too set in his ways and oh, so tired, to ever make the kind of changes to continue living in this century. He had become as obsolete as the medieval warriors of long ago. The taste of freedom was metallic, coppery, his blood flowing, the very essence of life.

“Zacarias, please.” There was a catch in her voice that should have affected him—but it didn’t. He didn’t feel as the others could. There was no swaying him with pity or love or gentleness. He had no kinder, gentler side. He was a killer. And his time was over.

Solange’s blood was an incredible gift to their people; he recognized that even as he rejected it. Drinking it gave Carpathians the ability to walk in the sun. Carpathians were vulnerable during the hours of daylight—especially him. The more the predator, the more the killer, the more the sunlight was an enemy. He was considered by most of his people to be the Carpathian warrior who walked the edge of darkness, and he knew it was true. Solange’s blood had given him that last and final reason to free him from his dark existence.

Zacarias drew in another lungful of smoky air and continued walking away from them all without looking back or acknowledging Solange’s offer. He heard his brothers calling to him in alarm, but he kept walking, picking up his pace. Freedom was far away and he had to get there. He had known, as he’d ripped out the heart of the last of the attacking vampires trying to destroy his family, that there was only one place he wanted to go. It made no sense, but that didn’t matter. He was going.

“Zacarias, stop.”

He looked up as his brothers dropped from the sky, forming a solid wall in front of him. All four of them. Riordan, the youngest. Manolito, Nicolas and Rafael. They were good men and he could almost feel his love for them—so elusive—just out of reach. They blocked his way, stopping him from his goal, and no one, nothing—ever—was allowed to get between him and what he wanted. A snarl rumbled in his chest. The ground shook beneath their feet. They exchanged an uneasy glance, fear shimmering in their eyes.

That look of such intense fear of their own brother should have given him pause, but he felt—nothing. He had taught these four men their fighting skills, survival skills. He had fought beside them for centuries. Looked after them. Led them. Once even had memories of love for them. Now that he had shrugged off the mantle of responsibility—there was nothing. Not even those faint memories to sustain him. He couldn’t remember love or laughter. Only death and killing.

“Move.” One word. An order. He expected them to obey as everyone obeyed him. He had acquired wealth beyond imagining in his long years of living and in the last few centuries he had not once had to buy his way into or out of something. One word from him was all it took and the world trembled and stepped aside for his wishes.

Reluctantly, far too slow for his liking, they parted to allow him to stride through.

“Do not do this, Zacarias,” Nicolas said. “Don’t go.”

“At least heal your wounds,” Rafael added.

“And feed,” Manolito pressured. “You need to feed.”

He whirled around and they fell back, fear sliding to terror in their eyes—and he knew they had reason to be afraid. The centuries had shaped him—honed him into a violent, brutal predator—a killing machine. There were few to equal him in the world. And he walked the edge of madness. His brothers were great hunters, but killing him would require their considerable skills and no hesitation. They all had lifemates. They all had emotions. They all loved him. He felt nothing and he had the advantage.

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