Chiana knelt in an alley stinking of garbage, piss and despair, oblivious to everything but her desperate need. With shaking hands, she fumbled a syringe from a tired leather case, plunged the needle into the flesh of her belly and leaned against the brick wall, waiting for sweet relief.
"Anything in there?"
She started at Mick Hardison's low and tension-filled voice.
"Nada!" she yelled, shoving the dead syringe back into the case.
"So get out here already."
Mick's voice faded as he moved ahead without her. Chiana rose, strength returning to her muscles as the terrible need faded. Her racing heart slowed, her skin cooled and the desperation to hurt someone or something slid away. Opening her eyes, she pushed away from the wall. Time to go back to work.
She ran toward the street, sensing Mick before she saw him. Guided by the yellow glow of his electronic sensor, she came up behind him and dropped to one knee. He didn't seem to notice.
Chiana watched over his shoulder as Mick moved the black box across a thin stream of what looked like transmission fluid but wasn't. She shared his disappointment as the light turned red instead of green.
"They've been here." Mick scrubbed the substance into the asphalt with the toe of his boot. "Sometime tonight, but too long ago to track."
Chiana stood and scanned the tops of the buildings surrounding them.
"Might as well call it quits," she said. "Dawn's only an hour or so away, and we've lost the trail."
Mick's face took on a look she knew too well, the one that said he'd like to argue. She knew he wouldn't. Chiana was the senior agent, and he respected rank.
On the move again, she pulled a cell phone from her pocket, hit a familiar number and waited for a reply.
"Take us off the clock," she said. "We've been chasing a couple of biters for the last few hours and gotten nothing but close. We'll get 'em on the flip side."
Approval secured, she grinned at Mick. They were officially done working for the next two days. Of course, that didn't mean they were off duty. They'd be lucky to make twelve hours without hearing from the agency, but she'd take what she could get.
"I hate vampires." Mick's tone was morose.
"Hey, they're like the rest of us, mostly good with a handful of bad guys. Last month, it was demons you hated. And before that you hated trolls. No matter what we're chasing, you hate them. You are one hard man to please."
She caught the beginnings of his smile in the glow of the streetlights. He should be happy. She couldn't remember the last time they'd been off for even twenty-four hours, let alone two straight days. There was something to be said for the bean counters throwing a hissy fit about overtime hours.
Chiana pulled off her jacket and the Kevlar vest before they reached her cherry red Mustang. She tossed them in the trunk and settled behind the wheel as Mick eased into the passenger seat.
A U-turn in the middle of the street headed them out of Louisville's industrial district. The only sound as the car rolled north to where the streetlights ended was the music rolling from the in-dash CD player. Like a baby's lullaby, it soothed them as they wound down from the adrenaline rush of the hunt.
"There okay?" Mick pointed toward a familiar 24/7 diner. Located where city conceded to suburb, it offered cheap breakfasts and limitless refills of coffee. That was nearly as big a draw as the high-backed booths offering privacy as they switched from freak hunters to some sort of normal.
Chiana slowed for her turn into the pitted lot, parking toward the back. She'd love her vintage Mustang in any condition, but she preferred it showroom perfect.
Customers were sparse at this hour between dark and day. They picked a booth away from the cash register, but still near the door, and ordered without looking at a menu. Chiana smiled as Mick's gaze lingered on the curvy waitress.
"I bet I know how you intend to spend your weekend," she said. "With something hot and blond, right?"
Mick laughed. "And you'll spend yours with a horror novel or some freaky movie. The world would end if you spent it in bed with a man."
Chiana flipped him the finger. He was the only person who knew she was still a virgin at twenty-seven. Long nights in dumpy warehouse neighborhoods led to talks that wouldn't happen in broad daylight. One of those nights, their conversation had turned to sex and Chiana's revelation.
"No offense," Mick said after a moment of surprised silence, "but wow. Sex is the ultimate trank for people like us. It's the best way I know to blank out the night before and put me to sleep. I thought everybody wound down that way."
"Hey, there's a whole lot of ways to take the edge off without putting the sprocket in the pocket," Chiana fired back. "Ask any hooker."
They hadn't talked about it again, but ever since that night, Mick had shown a protective streak. Chiana found it sweet, even if it was unnecessary.
The steaming coffee that arrived at their table in thick mugs was fresh and strong. Chiana inhaled the aroma as she took the first sip. The stuff was every bit as wonderful as she'd anticipated, and her three-egg omelet was the best breakfast she'd ever had. She sat back, the empty platter in front of her, and eyed the plate across from her.
"Hungry much?" Mick groused as she snagged a slice of bacon off his plate.
"Girl's gotta eat," she said. The shot had sent her body into hyperdrive, kicking her pleasure receptors wide open and jacking up cell activity. That always happened when she got off schedule. One shot every twenty-four hours was the rule, and she'd hit nearly thirty hours before she'd found a place to shoot up this morning.
Pink fingers lit the sky by the time Chiana tipped her mug to her mouth for the very last sip. Her body was settling back to normal, and she was turning sleepy. Time to get home and crash.
"Need a lift," she asked, "or is the guy working on your truck going to pick you up?"
"Don't worry." Mick patted the cell phone in his pocket. "I can get a ride."
"Ah, but what kind?" Chiana asked with a raised eyebrow. Mick had a contact list full of willing women.
Mick answered with a grin and a shooing motion. Chiana slapped a five-dollar tip on the table, paid for both meals at the register by the front door and stepped out into the pale dawn. The air was warmer now, carrying the hint of a summer storm. She didn't care if it rained all day.
Her plans were simple. She'd sleep like the dead for a few hours before hitting the gym and working out until she was ready to drop. Exhaustion suited her.
She was oblivious to everything but the need to sleep as she crossed the lot. She didn't sense the shadowy form behind her, catch its odor or feel its presence. Shock froze her in place and kept her there when unexpected arms wrapped around her, a rusty voice whispering in her ear, "You're ours."
She instinctively tightened her body and pushed with her mind. In the milliseconds she needed to make that shove, in the time it took for a gasp to escape from her tight throat, the visitor was gone. She staggered forward, trying to reach the Mustang before she collapsed.