Before the Sun Rises Series
Nicola C. Matthews
all rights reserved
After her escape, he had beaten her twin sister until she had lost consciousness, the woman finally succumbing to her injuries. He hadn’t meant to kill the girl, but he was so enraged after her sister’s escape, he had done just that, however accidental it may have been on his part. It didn’t take long for him to realize his escaped prize would be back with reinforcements. He had packed up quickly and left the secluded cabin. The twins were cops after all, and damn good ones. He had gotten as far away as fast as possible, leaving the bloody, broken body of the twin still shackled to the basement floor.
More than five years had passed since then. He had wanted Altania Lewis like no other woman before her or since. He had dreamed about her every night for years, his evenings spent systematically plotting her capture and eventual conquering. No matter how much he daydreamed and planned, he never could entertain the notion of killing the woman, a simple fact which pissed him off more than anything.
Ashton Jones was a serial killer. He had started his craft when he was only ten years old. At the age of twenty-six, his craft had been honed down to a fine art. He had gotten so good at being a killer, in fact, he had been recruited by The High Council a good three years ago. He had spent the first year following their rules, jumping through hoops, proving to all of the Elders he would not go rogue if he was turned.
Twelve months after his initial recruitment, one of the little fledgling vampires had been allowed to embrace him. The High Council wanted to be sure he would not be too powerful, so they ensured he could still be controlled by allowing a young novice vampire to turn him.
Ash was still strong enough to continue to be an assassin for the Elders, despite his humble origins. Now he had an endless supply of victims he was allowed to torture and kill at his leisure. Perhaps best of all, with his victims being members of the undead instead of mere mortals, they would stay alive for as long as he wanted. This allowed him to spend days, or even weeks, trying out new inventions and increasingly grotesque methods of torment.
Now here he was, in one of the many, many buildings owned by The High Council, waiting on his new partner to arrive. Except what was standing in the middle of the room was not the partner he was expecting, but the object of his obsession.
“I don’t give a shit if he is under the protection of The Council, Stealth. I am going to kill that son-of-a-bitch!” The Council’s oldest vampire assassin, the vampire known as Stealth, was holding the young woman by her arms, keeping her away from the man standing across the room.
He was having a hard time holding onto the woman, her constant twisting and lunging causing his long, black hair to come unfastened from the loose ponytail at the nape of his neck. She was thrashing against the vampire so hard his sharp nails were gouging out deep gashes in her skin.
The five-foot-six-inch woman paid little attention to the piercing pain in her arms. Her sapphire blue eyes were glowing with rage. She was babbling incoherently, tossing out curses, death threats, and tales of castration with a rusty razor blade.
Ash had not moved from his position inside the doorway. He had been asked to come down to meet his new partner. The last person on Earth he had ever expected to see when he entered the room was the woman he had vowed to conquer… mind, body, and soul.
“She is under the protection of The Council, Ash. If you harm her in any way, you will be marked for death.” Requiem spoke quietly to the vampire who stood as still as a statue just inside the door. “She is now your partner, an appointed Vampire Assassin as you are. As such, she is entitled to the same privileges and protections as all our assassins. You will protect her with your life. Do you understand this, Ash?”
Stealth was repeating the same speech to the wriggling woman in his arms. Ash wasn’t so sure she was listening, though. The woman was still screaming obscenities at him in addition to her vivid recounts of what she had planned for his testicles and penis. The whole thing felt like a bad dream, one he desperately wished to awaken from.
Ash merely nodded his understanding to the vampire who stood between him and the screaming woman, still too shocked to think about much of anything. His mind kept going over and over the fact he had dreamed of nothing but this woman, and what he intended to do to her once he found her. Now The Council was practically handing her over on a silver platter.
Stealth had finally released his grip on Altania, her initial anger burnt out to little more than a glowing ember. Her rage gave way to tears, her emotions so overlapping each other, she stood in a far corner, crying quietly and rambling on about how she had discovered her twin sister, Altoya, beaten to a bloody pulp and chained like an animal to the cold stone floor of Ashton’s basement.
He attempted to console her as best as he could, but she was so deep into her anguish she didn’t seem to hear him. He tried to turn her around to face him, thinking he would use his vampire glamour to quiet her down and help ease her emotional pain. Altania, however, kept her back to him. She had her hands over her face and her entire body crammed into a corner of the office. She didn’t want to be here, didn’t want Stealth to hypnotize the pain away. Still, she wasn’t sure how to deal with all the emotions which came crashing down around her.
Ash wasn’t sure what to make of the whole situation. He finally had the woman who had haunted his dreams for years, and now she was protected by vampire law. To do anything other than protect her with his last breath would mean his immediate death. His immediate, slow, and very painful, death.
The situation was not any easier to understand for the woman crying in the corner. For five years she had criss-crossed the entire country, going from one crime scene to another in search of clues which would ultimately lead her to the monster responsible for the brutal murder of her twin sister. Her obsession with finding and bringing Ashton to justice had caused her to lose her job with the Shadow Cove Police Department. She had been so preoccupied with Ashton’s trail of blood and gore, she had nearly gotten herself and her fellow officers killed during her last assignment.
Concerned with her declining mental stability, her former captain had her reassigned to The Vampire Council’s assassin division. He had hoped the change of scenery would help her heal after the death of her sister. Instead, she discovered herself in the same room as her sister’s killer. It begged the question of whether or not her captain knew The Council was going to partner her with Ashton, or if this was solely the perverted plans of The High Council Elders?
“How could they do this to me, Stealth?” Altania asked with a calmness that worried the nearly 300 year old vampire. She still had her back turned to him, so he wasn’t sure if she really was calm, or if she was slipping into some sort of manic state.
“To help you heal, Altania,” Stealth said quietly. “Ash is a valued member of the Assassins Guild. He went through the same training as you. He has been taught the value of life. His only victims are assassinations sanctioned by The Vampire Council. He is forbidden to harm any other being, or face the same tortures and demise as his victims. He knows the rules, Altania, and he follows them to the letter. He has changed.”
The woman turned around swiftly and glared up at Stealth, her hands balled into fists. “He has not changed, Stealth,” she said through clenched teeth. “You of all people know it takes more than a few years of study with The Council Elders to change a heart blackened by decades of immorality. That person there will never fully understand the value of a life, not even his own. He would give up his own mother if it meant getting what he wanted. And what he wants, is me. Now, thanks to your Council, you have just delivered me to my sworn enemy.” She looked at Ash with disgust. “You might as well have put me into a cage with a rabid werewolf and been done with it.”
She was angry, but that anger gave way to a deadly calm as she pushed past Stealth. She walked up to the eldest vampire on The Council, a man whose name had long since been forgotten except by the other members of The Council. “What happens when this bastard tries to kill me in my sleep? Do I at least have permission to defend myself? Or would you all rather I roll over and let him kill me?” She glared up at the vampire, looking at his eyebrows instead of directly into his eyes.
The vampire looked back and forth between the frail looking woman directly in front of him, and the much taller, much stronger fledgling vampire who had finally moved into the room to stand a few feet away, his dark eyes intense as he watched the whole scene quietly.
“The two of you listen, and listen well. You are partners now, and as such you will defend each other with your very lives. If either one of you should come up dead, be it by your partner’s hand or another’s, the remaining member of your team will be tortured to death, along with any and all remaining members of his or her family.”
The old vampire’s gaze shifted from Ash and back to Altania as he spoke. “A better question, Miss Lewis,” he said in hushed tones, “would be exactly how much of your family are you willing to sacrifice to avenge the death of one?”
Altania glared up at the Elder. “You think threatening him with death will keep him from killing me the first chance he gets?” She laughed hysterically. “He would happily put the gun in his mouth and pull the trigger so long as he got to be alone with me first. Has the centuries of immortality replaced your brain with cobwebs?”
The High Council Elder stared at the young woman for a few moments before he moved to where Ash stood. He walked around the still form of the vampire as he spoke. “Do you notice anything different about your ‘sworn enemy’ as you call him?”
She watched the vampire as he circled around Ashton, the younger man still standing perfectly still as he watched Altania’s tirade. For the first time, Altania looked at him closely. It was only then she noticed Ashton’s normal dark brown eyes were now flecked through with gold, the iris ringed with a yellow-gold hue.
Her mouth dropped open. “You embraced him,” she mumbled in quiet surprise. “You sick, son-of-a-bitch, you actually embraced him.”
Altania stood in stunned silence for a moment before the vampire’s threat and all it implied finally settled into her brain. The Council was not going to force them to work together without killing each other. They were going to make certain they protected each other with their final breath. While her family was being used against her to make sure she didn’t chop Ashton’s head off in his sleep, The High Council was using his new-found immortality to keep Ash in line as well.
He would be given access to an endless supply of victims he could keep alive and torture for as long as he wanted. If he were to harm her, The Council would hand him over to an assassin who had been applying his tricks of the trade to vampires for centuries untold.
Seeing neither was going to argue with him, the Elder moved back to his desk. “You two have your orders. You will go now. I expect updates every morning.” He sat down in his leather chair, going back to his mountain of paperwork, effectively dismissing them all without so much as looking up from his desk.
Requiem and Stealth ushered Ash and Altania out of the room. Neither vampire spoke as they turned and made their way down the hall, moving from the front entrance to go deeper into the building, Ash and Altania both eerily silent as the older vampires left them alone, together.