The old memory leapt out at her from the dark, locked corner of her past. Alex felt its sharp bite, heard the screams that had shattered the night--and her life--forever.


No.


Alex didn't want to relive that pain. She didn't want to think about that night, least of all now. Not when she was surrounded by so much death. Not when she was so totally alone. She couldn't bear to dredge up the past she'd left eighteen years and thousands of miles behind her.


But it crept back into her thoughts as though it were yesterday. As though it were happening again, the unshakable sense that the same horror she and her father had survived so long ago in Florida had somehow come to visit this innocent family in the isolated wilds of Alaska. Alex choked back a sickened sob, brushing at the tears that burned her cheeks as they froze against her skin. Luna's low grunt beside her broke into Alex's thoughts. The dog was digging at the snow near the body, her muzzle buried in the powder. She moved forward, sniffing out a scent that led toward the trees. Alex got up to see what Luna had found. She didn't see it at first, then, when she did, the sight did not compute in her mind.


It was a footprint, bloodstained and partially obscured by the new-fallen snow. A human footprint that she had to guess would have fit a size fifteen or larger boot. And the foot that left it was naked--more than improbable in this deadly cold, impossible.


"What the hell?"


Terrified, Alex grabbed Luna by the scruff of her neck and held her fast at her side before the dog could follow the tracks any farther. She looked out to where they quickly grew lighter, then simply vanished into the elements. It didn't make sense.


None of this made any sense in the reality of the world as she wanted to view it. From the direction of her plane, she heard her cell phone ringing, accompanied by the airless crackle of the Beaver's radio as an agitated male voice squawked for her to report in.


"Alex, goddamn it! Do you copy? Alex!"


Glad for the distraction, she picked up her rifle and ran back to the plane, Luna keeping pace at her side like the canine bodyguard she truly was.


"Alex!" Zach Tucker shouted her name over the airwaves again. "If you can hear me, Alex, pick up now!"


She bent in over the seat and grabbed the radio. "I'm here," she said, breathless and shaking. "I'm here, Zach, and they're all dead. Pop Toms. Teddy. Everyone."


here, Zach, and they're all dead. Pop Toms. Teddy. Everyone."


Zach swore a harshly whispered oath. "What about you? Are you okay?"


"Yeah," she murmured. "Oh, my God. Zach, how could this happen?"


"I'm gonna take care of it," he told her. "Right now, I need you to tell me what you can about what you see, okay? Did you notice any weapons, any explanation for what might have gone on out there?" Alex shot a miserable look back over at the carnage of the settlement. The lives cut short so violently. The blood that she could taste on the icy wind.


"Alex? Do you have any idea how these folks might have been killed?" She squeezed her eyes shut against the barrage of memories that assailed her--the screams of her mother and her little brother, the anguished cries of her father as he grabbed nine-year-old Alex up into his arms and fled with her into the night before the monsters had a chance to kill them all. Alex shook her head, trying desperately to dislodge that awful recollection ... and to deny to herself that the killings here last night were stamped with the same kind of unthinkable horror.


"Talk to me," Zach coaxed her. "Help me understand what happened if you can, Alex." The words would not come to her tongue. They remained trapped in her throat, swallowed up by the knot of ice-cold dread that had opened in the center of her chest.


"I don't know," she answered, her voice sounding detached and wooden in the silence of the empty, frozen bush. "I can't tell you what could have done this. I can't ..."


"That's okay, Alex. I know you must be upset. Just come on back home now. I've already got a call in to Roger Bemis out at the airstrip. He's going to fly me out there within the hour and we're gonna take care of the Tomses, all right?"


"Okay," she murmured.


"Everything's going to be okay now, I promise."


"Okay," she repeated, feeling another tear spill down her cold cheek. Her father had said the same words to her all those years ago--a promise that everything would be all right. She hadn't believed him. After what she had seen here today, the sense she had that something evil was closing in on her once more, Alex wondered if anything would ever truly be all right again. Skeeter Arnold took a long drag off a fat joint as he kicked back in a battered baby blue velvet recliner, the finest piece of furniture he had in the shithole apartment he kept in the back of his mother's house in Harmony. Holding the smoke deep in his lungs, he closed his eyes and listened to the yammering of the shortwave radio on the kitchen counter. The way Skeeter saw it, the kind of enterprise he was in, it just made good business sense to keep a handle not only on the Staties but also the local yokels too stupid to keep their asses out of trouble.


And yeah, maybe he liked to listen to the dispatches partly because he got a perverted amount of enjoyment out of other people's misery, as well. Nice to be reminded sometimes that he wasn't the biggest loser in the whole state of Alaska, no matter what his bitch of a mother told him on a regular basis. Skeeter exhaled slowly, thin smoke curling around the curse he mumbled when he heard the creak and groan of the old floorboards as the perpetual pain in his ass came stomping down the hallway to his room.


"Stanley, did you hear me calling you up there? Do you intend to sleep all damn day in there?" She ham-fisted a few hard raps on the door, then gave the locked knob a good, but ineffective, jiggle. "Didn't I tell you to run out first thing this morning and pick up some rice and canned beans? What the hell are you waiting for, the spring thaw? Get off your lazy ass and do something useful for a change!" Skeeter didn't trouble himself to answer. Nor did he budge from his sprawl in the chair, or even so much as flinch as his mother continued to huff and puff and bang on the door. He took another lazy hit off the joint and savored the buzz, knowing the annoyance outside his room would eventually tire of him ignoring her and slink back to her harpy's perch in front of the TV where she belonged. To help drown her out in the meantime, Skeeter reached for the radio a few feet away and cranked the volume. Harmony's one-and-only law enforcer, Trooper Zachary Tucker, sounded like he had his panties in a wad over something pretty big today.


"Stanley Arnold, don't you think you can just tune me out, you miserable no-good excuse for a son!" His mother pounded on the door again, then stormed off, her big mouth still running all the way up the hall.


"You're just like your father. Never been worth a lick and never will be!" Skeeter got up from the recliner and moved in closer to the radio as Tucker, reporting in with the State boys in Fairbanks, rattled off the coordinates of an apparent multiple death scene--probable homicide, he'd said--some forty miles out in the bush. Tucker was awaiting air transport from one of Harmony's two resident pilots. He advised that the other one, Alex Maguire, had been the one who discovered the bodies while on a supply run and was presently on her way back into town.


Skeeter felt a twist of excitement as he listened. He knew the area in question very well. Hell, he'd been out that way just last night with Chad Bishop and a few other people. They'd been getting high and drinking by the river ... right before they'd started tormenting Teddy Toms. In fact, the way it was sounding to him, the settlement the cops were talking about had to be the kid's family's place.


"No friggin' way," Skeeter whispered, wondering if he could possibly be right about that. Just to be sure, he jotted the coordinates down on his palm, then riffled through a pile of unpaid bills and other trash until he found the beer-stained area map he'd been using as a coaster for the past couple of years. He triangulated the spot on the map, disbelief and a sick sort of wonderment sliding through his senses.


"Holy shit," he said, taking a long drag off his joint before snuffing it out on the burn-scarred Formica to save the rest of the buzz for later. He was too excited to finish it now. Too lit up with morbid curiosity to keep from running a tight pace back and forth across the cramped room. Had Pop Toms or the old man's brother-in-law gone off the deep end? Or had it been Teddy who finally snapped his leash? Maybe the kid had gone home and lost it after Skeeter and the others had driven him off in tears last night at the river?


He'd know all that soon enough, Skeeter figured. He'd always wanted to see a dead person up close. Maybe he'd just head out for a little detour on his way to the store for those beans and rice his mother wanted.


Yeah, and maybe he'd skip the errand-boy bullshit and just go do what he wanted for a change. Skeeter grabbed his cell phone--the sweet new one with video capability and the cool skull-andcrossbones skin. Then he fished the key to his Yamaha sled out of the mess on his counter. He didn't bother telling his mother where he was heading, just pulled on his winter gear and strode out into the bracing chill of the day.


Chapter Two


BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS


Heat blasted out of the Range Rover's dashboard vents as Brock upped the temperature another few degrees. "Damn, it's cold tonight." The big male from Detroit cupped his hands in front of his mouth and blew into his palms. "I hate winter, man. Feels like goddamn Siberia out there."


"Not even close," Kade replied from behind the wheel of the parked SUV, his gaze fixed on the decrepit brownstone they'd been surveilling for the past couple of hours. Even in the postmidnight darkness, with a fresh blanket of snow masking everything in pristine white, the place looked like total shit from the outside. Not that it mattered. Whatever they were peddling inside--drugs, sex, or a combination of both-was bringing a fairly steady stream of human traffic to the door. Kade watched as a trio of frat boys wearing university colors and a couple of bundled-up young women climbed out of a piece-of-crap Impala and went inside.


"If this was Siberia," Kade added once the street got quiet again, "our balls would be jingling like sleigh bells and we'd be pissing ice cubes. Boston in November is a picnic."


"Says the vampire born on a friggin' Alaskan glacier," Brock drawled, shaking his head as he held his dark hands in front of the vents and tried to rub off the chill. "How much longer you think we need to wait out here before our man decides to show his ugly face? I need to start moving before my ass freezes to this seat."


Kade grunted more than chuckled, as impatient as his partner on tonight's patrol of the city. It wasn't the humans that brought Brock and him to this address in one of Boston's roughest areas, but the inpidual purported to be behind the illegal activity. And if their intel proved valid--that the vampire who ran the place was also dealing in another forbidden commodity--then the night was going to end on a very unpleasant, probably bloody, note.


Kade could hardly wait.


"Here he is now," he said, watching as a pair of headlights swung around the corner and a pimpedout black Mercedes with gold trim and gilded hubcaps prowled to a stop at the curb. out black Mercedes with gold trim and gilded hubcaps prowled to a stop at the curb.


"You have got to be kidding me," Brock said, smirking as the spectacle continued. Music throbbed from within the sedan, the rhythmic bass and punching lyrics vibrating impossibly louder as the driver got out and went around to open the back passenger-side door. A pair of leashed white pit bulls were the first to exit the car, followed by their master, a tall Breed male trying hard to look badass even though he was wrapped in a long fox-fur coat and had gone about ten pounds beyond the respectable limits of bling and guyliner.


"Forget about the shit Gideon turned up on this asshole," Kade said. "We'd be in the right to waste him just for going out in public dressed like that."


Brock grinned, showing the very tips of his fangs. "You ask me, I think we ought to waste him just for making us freeze our stones off waiting for him out here."


At the curb, the vampire gave his dogs a harsh yank of their studded leather leashes when they dared to take a step ahead of him. He kicked the one nearest to him as he strode toward the door of the brownstone, chuckling at the dog's sharp yelp of pain. When he and his driver and his pair of hellhounds had all disappeared inside the building, Kade killed the Rover's auxiliary power and opened his door.


"Come on," he said. "Let's find a way in through the back while Homeboy's busy making an entrance."


They moved in behind the building and located a ground-level window half obscured by snow and street rubbish. Squatting on his haunches, Kade brushed away the ice and crusted-over filth, then lifted the hinged panel of glass and peered into the darkened space on the other side. It was a brick cellar, littered with a couple of rotted mattresses, spent condoms, used syringes, and a combined stench of piss, vomit, and various other expelled bodily fluids that assaulted Kade's acute senses like a sledgehammer blow to his skull.


"Jesus Christ," he hissed, lips curling back off his teeth and fangs. "Homeboy's housekeeper is so fired."


He slipped inside, landing soundlessly on the rough concrete floor. Brock followed, 280-plus pounds of heavily armed vampire lighting as quietly as a cat beside him. Kade motioned past the revolting mess on the floor to a pitch-black corner of the room, where a short length of chain and a pair of shackles lay. A strip of silver duct tape had been cast off nearby, with several strands of long, light blond hair stuck to it.


Brock met Kade's hard stare in the dark. His deep voice was more growl than words. "Skin trader." Kade nodded grimly, sickened by the evidence of all that had taken place in this dank, dark basement prison. He was about to head for the stairs and crash the party above when Brock's low curse made him pause.

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