Screams shot up from one of the many narrow, cobbled alleyways in the heart of Rome’s quaint old Trastevere ward. The shrieks of mortal terror pierced the night as effectively as a blade.
Or, rather, a pair of razor-sharp fangs.
Like the ones on the gang of lethal predators who’d shredded the throat of a human civilian in a dance club across the city only minutes ago.
Shit. Jehan swung an urgent look over his shoulder to the two other Breed warriors currently on foot behind him. “They’re getting away.”
He and his teammates from the Order’s Rome command center had been in pursuit of the four blood-thirsty Rogues since their patrol had been alerted to the killing at the club. They had contained the situation before any of the other humans had realized what was going on, but their mission wouldn’t be over until they ashed the feral members of their own race.
“Split up,” he told his men. “Damn it, we can’t lose them! Close in from all sides.”
His comrade and good friend, Savage, grinned and gave a nod of his blond head before veering right to take one of the other winding alleys on Jehan’s command. The other warrior, a hulking, shaved-head menace called Trygg, made no acknowledgment to his team leader before vanishing into the darkness like a wraith to carry out the order.
Jehan sped like an arrow through the tight artery of the ancient street ahead of him, dodging slow-moving compact cars and taxis who were getting nowhere fast in the district that was clogged with tourists and club-hoppers even as the hour crept close to midnight.
The public out and about tonight was a mix of human and Breed civilians, something that would have been unheard of just twenty years ago, before the Breed’s existence had been revealed to mankind.
Now, in cities around the world, the two populations lived together openly. They worked together. Governed together. But their hard-won peace was fragile. All it might take was one horrific killing—like the one earlier tonight—to set off a global panic.
While every Breed warrior of the Order had pledged his blood and breath to prevent that from happening, others among mankind and the Breed were secretly—and not-so-secretly—instigating war.
Tonight’s Rogue attack had the stamp of conspiracy all over it. And it wasn’t the first. During the past few nights there had been a handful of others, in Rome and elsewhere in Europe. While it wasn’t unusual for one of Jehan’s kind to become irreversibly addicted to blood, the spate of recent slayings in all-too-public places by Rogues torqued up on some kind of Bloodlust-inducing narcotic had fingers pointing to the terror group called Opus Nostrum.
Just a few days ago, the Order had scored a staggering hit on Opus, taking out its newest leader, who’d been headquartered in Ireland. The cabal was hobbled for now, but its hidden members were many and their machinations seemed to know no bounds. They and all who served them had to be stopped, or the consequences were certain to be catastrophic.
Jehan was a blur of motion as he leapt over the hood of a standing taxi to vault himself up onto the tiled rooftops above the thick congestion on the streets.
His heavy black patrol boots made no sound as he traveled with preternatural stealth and speed over the uneven terrain of the buildings. He jumped from one rooftop to the next, following his instincts—and the trace, metallic scent of fresh blood that floated up on the night breeze as the Rogue attempted to escape his pursuers.
He lived for this kind of action. The adrenaline rush. The thrill of the chase. The conviction that came from doing something with real purpose, something that would have true and lasting impact on his world.
A far cry from the posh wealth and useless decadence he’d been born into with his family in Morocco.
That old life was still trying to call him back, even though he hadn’t stepped foot on his homeland’s soil for more than a decade.
It had been twelve months and a day since he’d received the message from his father. Jehan knew what that meant, and he couldn’t pretend he hadn’t heard every tick of the damned countdown clock in the time since.
With a growl, he pushed aside reminders of the obligation he’d been pointedly ignoring. Right now, his focus was better spent on the more urgent mission in front of him.
Down below in a twisting alleyway, Jehan spied one of the fleeing Rogues. Fingers gripping the handle of one of his titanium blades, he drew the weapon and let it fly. Direct hit. The dagger nailed the Rogue in the center of his spine, dropping him in his tracks.
Ordinarily, it took more than that to disable one of the Breed, but the titanium was toxic to vampires who’d gone Rogue, and as corrosive as acid to their diseased bodies. In minutes or less, the corpse would be nothing but ashes in the street.
Jehan didn’t wait to see the disintegration happen. As he continued his dash across the rooftops, he spotted Trygg gaining ground on one of the remaining Rogues. The big warrior took the escaping vampire down in a flash of movement. The Rogue howled, then abruptly fell silent when Trygg severed its head with a slice of his blade.
Two down. Two to go.
Make that one left to go. Jehan’s acute hearing picked up sounds of a brief struggle as Savage caught up to his quarry on a different stretch of cobblestones and delivered a killing strike of titanium.
Jehan leapt to another roof, racing deeper into the ancient district of the city. His battle instincts heightened as he homed in on the last of the fleeing Rogues. The vampire made a crucial mistake, turning into an alleyway with no exit. A literal dead end.
Jehan sailed off the edge of the rooftop and dropped to the cobbled street behind the Rogue, cutting off any hope of his escape. An instant later, Savage emerged from out of the shadows, just as the feral vampire spun around and realized he had nowhere left to run.
The big male faced the two Order warriors. His fangs dripped with blood and sticky saliva. His transformed eyes glowed bright amber, the pupils fixed and narrowed to thin vertical slits in the center of all that fiery light. His jaw hung open as he roared, insane with Bloodlust and ready to attack.
Jehan didn’t allow him the chance.
He threw his dagger without mercy or warning. The titanium blade glinted in the moonlight as the weapon sliced through the distance and struck its mark, burying to the hilt in the center of the Rogue’s chest.
The vampire roared in agony, then collapsed in a heap on the cobbles as the poisonous metal began to devour him.
When the process had finished, Jehan strode over to retrieve his weapon from the ashes.
Savage blew out a low curse behind him. “Four Breed males gone Rogue in the same city on the same night? No one’s seen those kind of numbers in the past twenty years.”
Jehan nodded. He’d been a youth at that time, but more than old enough to remember firsthand. “Let’s hope we never see bloodshed again like we did back then, Sav.”
And all the more reason to take Opus Nostrum out at the root. For Jehan, a Breed male who’d spent a lot of his privileged life in pursuit of one pleasure or another, he couldn’t think of any higher calling than his place among the Order.
He cleaned his dagger and sheathed it on the weapons belt of his black patrol fatigues. “Come on,” he said to Savage. “I saw Trygg ash one of these four a few blocks back. Let’s go find him and make sure we don’t have any witnesses in need of a mind-scrub before we report back to Commander Archer at headquarters.”