Genre: Erotic Paranormal Romance
Warnings: Dubious consent, graphic violence, language, explicit sexual content, hints of child abuse, kidnapping
Length: Novel (75k+)
No fucking idea where they get that.
Ryker had certainly entertained human relationships over the years, but he knew enough not to get attached. Nothing ever changed where the lesser race was concerned. They lied, cheated, ate, fucked, squandered, professed, bought, sold, and whittled themselves into miserable sacks of skin before night finally came. True, he'd met one or two humans over the years that he had missed once their time arrived, but even if those humans made up for the rest, death was a part of the process, the cycle, and he knew better than to mourn what he could not change.
Izzie Bennett, mystifying as she was, meant nothing to him. Nothing. She was a face Connor had wanted explained. Therefore, Ryker had tracked her, watched her, and made her something relatable so his friend knew The Wall's patrons were not at risk. The fact that she had disappeared last night after running scared was no one's concern, least of all his. Humans spooked easy, even the tough ones. Throwing Izzie off her game was bound to manipulate her comfort zone. She had reacted instinctively, and her instincts led to danger.
Easy peasy. Ryker's hands were clean. He didn't care.
And fucking yet.
None of this made a lick of sense. Not the alley, not Izzie, and certainly not his interest in her. So she was different—there was bound to be a slightly more evolved human one of these days. The fact remained she was a child in a monster's world, and though her attitude might be right, her actions would get her killed one day. The girl simply had no idea what was out there. What lay beyond the world of fanged fiends. What truly made the night so precarious.
Yet she was different. For all she'd seen, all she'd tasted, Izzie remained truly unaffected. She killed when the situation demanded it, but not a moment sooner. And she did it without gaining a thing.
That separated her from the others. Unlike any hunter Ryker had ever seen, unlike any human contact he'd ever known, any mortal association he'd ever entertained . . . Izzie acted on behalf of herself, and no one else. She wasn't like the groupies—those women who either knew about vampires or desperately wanted to know about vampires. The women off which Ryker routinely fed, as their blood was rarely missed and the ladies got a killer high off his fang. Similarly, Izzie wasn't anything like the woman to whom Ryker had once been engaged—the woman who had given his chest the first of many stab wounds. Maggie hadn't taken kindly to Ryker's new body or disposition, nor had she been eager to join him, as was his intention.
The women he met were either addicted to the rush he gave or determined to end his life. Izzie was the first person to embody neither quality.
That was why he'd come out here, Ryker told himself. He didn't need to find her because he cared what happened to her; he needed to find her because she was too damn intriguing to just let die.
Whatever she'd encountered after leaving The Wall was not a friend, nor a coincidence. He'd lived too long, seen too much, to believe in chance. Any trouble she'd found was his fault. He should have sensed someone on his trail. He should have been more careful.
Immortality didn't excuse clumsiness or arrogance, and through one or the other he'd led some predator right to her.
"Damn," Ryker murmured, his hands sliding into his pockets. "Where are you?"
Footsteps bounced off pavement and carried through the alleyways, stirring him from his reverie and directing his gaze toward the area where Izzie had left her vampires the night he'd made his presence known. Her scent filled his lungs and, as though answering a prayer, she appeared. Her midnight hair was wrapped in a sloppy ponytail, her skin was flushed, and she had a bag slung over her shoulder. She skidded to a stop, apparently as taken aback to see him as he was to see her.
Ryker blinked. "Well," he said. "Guess that answers that question."
"What are you doing here?" she demanded.
She was visibly flustered, and the knowledge gave him comfort. As confused as her debut into his life had left him, it was reassuring that she hadn't escaped unscathed.
"Thought a midnight stroll sounded fun," he replied with a shrug.
"You're a few hours early."
"Yeah, well, it's always midnight somewhere." He smirked, the pressure in his chest alleviated, but not as much as he would have liked. The notion anyone, especially a human female, could have any power over him was disconcerting, and the quicker he shook the sensation the better. "Your turn," he said, gaze dropping to her duffle bag. "Something send you running scared?"
"Looks like you're all packed."
"I'm leaving town, and you might wanna think of doing the same."
His brows perked. "Oh yeah? Any reason why?"
"Look, I don't have time to explain. I just—"
"If you're scampering, why is it that you're here and not with Butch?"
"Because that's the way it is. What are you doing out here?"
Ryker spread his arms. "Already told you. Midnight stroll."
"Connor said you were looking for me."
Dammit. He didn't want her knowing that. He didn't want her knowing anything. Connor had a bit of a problem with the truth, as in he liked telling it too much. It would have been an admirable quality were it not so damn annoying.
Ryker sighed and shrugged, doing his best not to look bothered or tense. "And if I am?" he asked. "You're the one that bolted like a bat outta hell last night."
"And, what? You decided twenty-four hours later you'd give a damn?"
"Oh, is that what this is about? You wanted me to come after you? Sorry, sweets, you don't really seem like the damsel type."
Izzie's eyes hardened. "I'm not."
"Then why ask at all?"
"Because I—ahh, fuck it, it doesn't matter." She scowled, bouncing her duffle bag. "You're not safe."
"Well, yeah. I'm a vampire."
"I mean you're not safe here. They're after you."
Ryker frowned. All right, so that wasn't exactly what he'd expected. "After me?"
"Some guy named Prentiss and the two hussies he works with."
That name . . . . He did his best not to react, but the pounding in his head deafened.
"Look," she continued, "I don't know much. They say they're with something called C.R.O.S.S., but I forget what that stands for. Anyw—"
"Community Representatives of Subhuman Species," Ryker supplied, his jaw and his stomach clenching. "Goddammit."
"You know them?"
"You could say we're acquainted."
"Yeah, well, they seem to mean business."
She stared at him for a long beat, her expression melting from frenzied to confused. "All right, there's that. I guess. I just wanted to tell you."
"That I'm in danger."
He smiled tightly. "Didn't know you cared."
"Don't expect a Christmas card or anything. They wanted something and I didn't give it to them." Izzie bounced the duffle bag again. "Not in the habit of lending a hand to bloodsuckers."
"And here you are, delivering a message to yours truly."
She snickered. "Don't read too much into it. You're just the creep that pissed me off the least, so it seemed a professional courtesy."
"And it would be, if I were in the profession." Ryker frowned and took a step forward, his gaze roaming the length of her body. Clearly, he only had half the story, if that. Something lurked in her gaze—something she kept close to her chest, and likely wouldn't share even with the help of a few stiff drinks. Whatever it was had shattered the small world in which she encased herself. She wasn't here with her friend and she wasn't here to hunt. She was here for him.
Something bolted through his body, leaving him burned and rattled.
Who are you, little girl?
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