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Hunter's Heart ~ Excerpt

Chapter 1

“Take that, ya dirty shite.” Colleen O’Hara yanked her blade from the hellthing’s flabby, white flesh, and the monster wheezed like a deflating balloon and died. Caustic green blood bubbled onto the wet sidewalk, burning a smoking hole into the concrete.

Colleen shook the gore from her magical blade, disgusted. That was the sixth low-level hellthing she’d polished off tonight. And she still hadn’t tracked down the rift in the hellflux, that invisible barrier between earth and hell.

Something powerful and very evil had slashed that rift, letting foul creatures like this one ooze through. Worse, a demon—at least a level seven, maybe higher—had come through. She could sense it. And she wasn’t going home until she’d hunted down the vile beast and killed it.

The prospect sparkled danger along Colleen’s spine, like some forgotten lover’s fingertip. A level-seven demon was mighty, with powers beyond her imagining. Most likely out of her league.

Nothing Colleen liked better than a challenge.

“Fuck, I love this job,” she announced to the empty alley.

Sweat trickled inside her leather armor, soaking her shirt, and she lifted her damp red braid from her neck. No breeze stirred the sultry night. Nearly Yule and still stinking hot, no sign of winter. Demon incursions did that. This year, the hellflux wore even thinner than usual. Dangerously thin, so the city stank of brimstone and hellflame, the horizon bleeding red beyond shining steel skyscrapers.

And some of her colleagues in the Hunter’s Guild said the damage to the hellflux was no accident. The vampires of the Guild had protected their weaker human cousins from hell for centuries, in return for peace with humans and free access to blood stocks for food. But rumor was that traitors had infested the Guild. People called them hellmongers: supposedly a gang of Hunters secretly in league with demons, who used their magic to weaken the hellflux. In exchange, they got evil powers that let them live forever, like the vampires of old. A modern vampire’s life was pitifully short, a few hundred years tops. Few people believed in magic anymore, and without wholehearted belief, magic grew dim.

Well, Colleen didn’t want to live forever. She wanted to live now, every moment rich with excitement or pleasure or sweet anticipation. And only hunting made her feel alive.

She licked thirsty fangs, her mouth dry at the prospect of illicit thrills. The Guild’s rules—so many fucking rules, Jesus, like a boarding school for babies—prohibited mixing business and pleasure. As if she wasn’t supposed to like what she did. Her Academy instructors had tut-tutted at her eagerness for battle. But only a fight sharpened her senses like this—every breath and scent and sound a molten spike of sensation.

Besides, keeping human souls safe from demons was her job. That’s what Guild Hunters did. And demons were evil, homicidal monsters who delighted in torment for its own sake. They deserved to perish horribly.

Was it wrong that the danger turned her on? Did that make her a bad girl? She could smell that demon meddler, dark whiffs of sulfur and hot male flesh. She wanted him.

Dead, that is. Demons were filth. He deserved only an ugly fate.

And she was just the one to give it to him.

Such a beautiful enemy.

In his shadow form, Seth drifted above Colleen’s head, a silent breath of blackness in the night. Invisible. Deadly.

And fascinated. The fiery glint of her spell-wreathed knives mesmerized him. Her lean shadow slipped along the moonlit alley wall like a ghost. The power that flashed in the magical bloodstone at her throat made him tingle. If he’d had a mouth right now, it would have watered.

He’d been watching this Hunter every night for a week. Stalking the stalker, tracking her sweet vampire scent through midnight streets, as she killed imps and fleshcrushers, her lethal blades flashing. Her victims were lower-level minions, hell’s dross, mere lumps of flesh and hatred. Expendable, easily replaced . . . yet her grim taste for death intrigued him.

He drifted closer, whispering his shadowy fingers over her braided red hair, and his particles shimmered, aroused. Hellfire, she smelled good, of strawberries and female sweat. She hadn’t detected Seth—but this was no reflection on her fighting prowess. Seth was a shadow demon, ancient and powerful. Just a strange shiver down your spine, a warm whisper on your shoulder, a coil of blacker darkness in the night. It was pitifully easy for Seth to drink human and vampire souls.

Warm weariness washed through him. Soon, it’d be Yule, when the hellflux would be at its lowest ebb. His mistress—Jezebel, cruel demon empress, curse her oily hide to eternities of agony—was amassing her forces for a frontal assault. And these helldamned Hunters were just getting in the way.

Which was where Colleen came in. Her powerful magic-user’s soul would strengthen Seth. Feed him. Sustain his power, make him invincible, and so on and so forth. As Jezebel’s consort—and yeah, that was about as much fun as it sounded—he’d eaten countless souls in his time, both human and vampire. It was getting old, the excitement wearing thin.

Seth sighed, a stirring of shadow. Hells, he was getting old. Couldn’t recall when he’d last properly relished a meal. He didn’t even bother taking corporeal form anymore. Just dived down their throats and sucked the soul from their fleshbags.

But this prey—this juicy lady Hunter—woke something inside him that he hadn’t felt for . . . Mmm. Would she taste as good as she looked?

Because she looked damn fine, even in that mannish Hunter’s armor. Seth drifted his senses over her, examining every tiny nuance of her body. So close, just a quiver of breath from touching. Slim ankles, lean legs, right up to her cherry-ripe ass, which was encased in rough leather trousers that stretched and ebbed with her movements. She was fit, athletic, as befitting a Hunter. Trim waist, epic breasts filling her hard leather vest. Lips begging to be sucked on, flashing green gaze promising both the fight and the fuck of his life.

And that crackling, fire-red hair . . . Seth’s particles danced, hungry. Her hair was wild, like a living creature, barely tamed into the thick, springy braid hanging over her shoulder. Whore’s hair. He wanted to grab it in his fists. To bare that swanlike white throat, lick her throbbing pulse, taste her as she whimpered with need . . .

She stole down the street like a ghost, her boot heels making only the faintest click. Knife in each hand, enchanted silver edged with crimson moonlight. Compelled, Seth tasted the air, searching for the secret flavor of her name. Colleen, the shadows whispered back.

Colleen . . .

She whirled, her fierce green eyes sharp. Then she shook her head, gave a self-deprecating smile, and walked on.

Fuck, yeah. Seth loved a woman who might kick his ass in a fight. Delicate girls didn’t interest him. He wanted a challenge, and this one had lean muscles, strong yet feminine hands, long fingers that wrapped lovingly around her knife hilts. He imagined them wrapping like that around his cock and grinned. My, my. You’re a bad girl, Hunter. Just the way I like it.

Seth followed her, enjoying the rasp of the rough brick wall against his smoky form. He was a shadow prince of hell—that bitch Jezebel’s slave, yes, but a prince nonetheless, lest she forget it—a manifestation of pure darkness and despair. His corporeal form was one of his lesser tools, a mere afterthought . . . but this wild warrior woman made him thirst for the bright shock of a kiss, the hot throb of blood in his veins, skin slicking on skin, the honey-sweet flavor of female . . .

Seth licked invisible lips, ancient desires stirring deep. Yes. When he feasted on her bloodstone’s ripe essence, her magic would be his. Her soul soon thereafter.

No rule said he couldn’t play with his food before he dined.

A dark chuckle rippled through him, laced with desire. Colleen thought she was the predator here.