Home > Burning Ash (Forgotten Brotherhood #3)

Burning Ash (Forgotten Brotherhood #3)
Author: N.J. Walters

Chapter One

   “You have got to be kidding.” Asher stood in the shadows at the back of the abandoned church in rural Kentucky, exasperated by the spectacle unfolding in front of him. A multitude of candles flickered in the light breeze as two dozen fawning acolytes—or as he liked to call them, idiots—stood with their attention focused on the man standing on the slightly dilapidated raised dais.

   “I am Prince Vlad. I am the father of all vampires.”

   He barely kept from snorting at the ludicrous pronouncement. It was all kinds of wrong. Not only was Vlad the Impaler not the father of all vampires, he was also very dead.

   And how did he know that for certain? He’d been the one to handle that job some three hundred years ago when the former prince had gone on a rather long and extensive bloody spree across Europe.

   But then again, Vlad always had been bloodthirsty with a flair for the dramatic.

   “You are my chosen.” Fake Vlad dramatically raised his arms up into the air and flashed his fangs. The audience gasped in awe and took a collective step back.

   Boring. If he hurried, he could probably catch an episode of the Real Housewives of somewhere. It would definitely be better than this second-rate theatrical performance.

   “Who will be the first to offer me their blood?” The pretender had barely finished his request before everyone there flung themselves toward him. Okay, not everyone. No way in hell was he offering up his vein to this baby vamp.

   He wasn’t certain why he was here other than pure curiosity. An unusual email had come in. Not to the Forgotten Brotherhood website where all potential clients made contact, but to his personal inbox. That in itself was odd enough to require investigation.

   Even more curious, he couldn’t trace the email. That was cause for concern.

   With the technical skills he’d acquired over the years, he was a master of the electronic world, could trace virtually anyone anywhere. Whoever had sent the message was equally wily at shielding themselves. He’d chased it through servers scattered around the world before running it down to a dead end in Beijing.

   The information in the note had been short and simple. Humans were being lured by the promise of immortality and then being slaughtered.

   Normally, he wouldn’t get involved. As one of the Brotherhood, he worked by contract only. His days of freelancing were long done. It was the job of the Vampire Council to monitor these kinds of situations. As soon as they got word of what was happening, they’d send someone—likely the vamp’s maker—to clean up his mess.

   Asher’s skills were kept for those the Council couldn’t handle—the very old and powerful that were too deadly and dangerous for most.

   Because everyone and everything could be killed. Even the gods.

   Those that had lived the longest were sometimes the worst. They locked themselves away, fearful of losing their lives.

   He didn’t understand it. What they were doing wasn’t living. They might as well be dead. But who was he to judge? His life certainly hadn’t been without fault.

   Which brought him back to his current situation. Even though he’d expected tonight to be a trap, a way to lure him to a specific location by whoever sent him the note, he’d come all the way from New York.

   But there was no one here but the motley group in front of him.

   Who had sent the email? And why?

   The watered-down version of the great Vlad laughed and ran his hands lovingly over the faces of his intended victims. The guy was getting off on the adoration as well as the hint of fear that permeated the space.

   It was ironic that he’d chosen an abandoned church to commit this atrocity. The building was small but well-built, a testament to the love and attention that had gone into creating it. There were too many of these buildings tucked away in rural America, places that time had forgotten as communities shrank or were abandoned altogether because the search for work led people to larger centers.

   It was sad, but it was the way of life.

   While he’d been lost in thought, Vlad had pulled his first volunteer forward. He supposed he should do something to stop it, but these folks were not only willing, they were eager to offer their lives for the promise of immortality without fully understanding what it was they were giving up.

   The air stirred in the doorway. Asher melted deeper into the shadows and went completely still. A silent figure stealthily crept into the space, moving along the opposite wall.

   Whoever it was, they were human, not another paranormal.

   Curious, he followed the newcomer. He doubted the crowd in front would notice them if they ran through the place naked.

   Everyone in the room focused on Vlad as he sucked the blood from his first victim.

   It took more than being bitten to become one of the undead. He had to share his blood back.

   Call me crazy but I don’t think Vlad is a sharing kind of guy.

   The newcomer stepped into the light. “Vampire.” The melodic voice carried easily through the building. The hood of a long, leather duster was shoved back to reveal a tall, stunning woman with a deadly crossbow held easily in her hands.

   Asher’s heart skipped a beat. Blood pounded through his veins, hot and thick. Confident and deadly was always a huge turn-on. This woman was both those things and more.

   As soon as Vlad turned toward her, she fired. A steel bolt whistled through the air, speeding toward the intended target—the vampire’s heart. At the last second, Vlad yanked the person he was holding upright, using them as a shield. The bolt pierced the man’s spine.

   “Shit,” she muttered and released the crossbow. It was secured over her shoulder by a leather strap so it fell to her side. Reaching behind her, she pulled a short sword from a sheath on her back. “Come and face me, you coward,” she ordered.

   Her fearlessness was captivating. Who was this woman?

   No way could he allow anything to happen to this delectable creature.

   Several people screamed, shaking the rest of them out of their stupor and causing a stampede. They shoved their way to the exit, seemingly more afraid of the hunter than the vampire.

   Because that’s what she was—a vampire hunter.

   He’d crossed paths with many of them over the years. Some were fanatical, slaying paranormal and human alike, without discrimination. A small few had good intentions, confirming their prey was legitimate before they struck. He’d stayed out of their way.

   It wasn’t his fight.

   Blood wafted on the air as the last of the intended victims fled, not realizing the deadliest predator in the room was right beside them. But they were safe from him. He didn’t prey on innocents or idiots, and all his attention was on the woman holding the sword. It was obvious she’d had training and practice.

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