My eyes darted around anxiously as I made my way through the vendors, my hand resting on the gun I tucked in the belt of my jeans, itching to pull it out for pure self-defense. I might be a healer and hurting people would break a certain part of me, but even I would have no trouble putting a bullet through a threat’s head.
Breathing heavily, I hoped I didn’t stink of fear. The last thing I needed was a group of rabid males sniffing me out and make troubles. Nobody knew I was here today, and nobody knew that I’d been coming here for the past few months, once a week, because it anyone got even a hint that I was doing this, I would be in some deep shit.
The head healer of West Coast Pack shouldn’t be going to an underground information market.
The market was called the Red Market, which is made most particularly for vampires and vampyres, both Born and Made, who wanted to purchase the blood-replacement pills called R21. I’d known about this market even before Eve, the Alpha of the Millennium’s mate and a vampire, told the inner circle about it, and by inner circle I meant the Millennium Wolves. Thankfully, Daphne, my little sister, shared it secretly with me, more so I would at least know about it. Little did Daphne know what I did with this information.
You see, the Red Market was believed by all blood-suckers to sell only pills and illegal blood bags containing many types of blood, from werewolf blood to some superhero human kind of blood. Everyone had their own taste, it seemed. But the Market also sold information at a high prize, and the brokers weren’t particular about who or what came to them to find information as long as they brought something of value with them, either money or a certain antiquity worth millions.
I settled sometimes on money, since I got a lot for my occupation as the head healer, responsible for all healers all across the West Coast Pack territory. But mostly I’d dealt with an entirely different thing, much more valuable than some dollars.
Eve, Daphne said, had thought the Red Market moved randomly from place to place. I knew for a fact it wasn’t. After Daphne disclosed the information to me, I’d made a research, something Eve had probably hadn’t bothered with. I used my limited hacking abilities to find a pirate forum on the net, in which there was a newsfeed as to where the next Market was going to be at. Since I couldn’t move from my post in Lumen, Oregon, I hoped for it to be somewhere near.
I followed the pattern of the changing Market place and figured it out after two weeks of simply following the newsfeed. It wasn’t hard, really; the Market began its tour in Europe, settling in Paris, Amsterdam, London, Rome and Istanbul. Then the Market flied to Asia, then South America, then North America. In North America they usually put the Market up in places like Wyoming and Montana, which are not that populated, but in the past few months they began putting it up in Eugene, Oregon, instead. Eugene was only a couple of hours drive away from Lumen.
So the Market landed in Eugene once a week ever since November, and I’d been going there every time it was in town, driving the bike I’d bought just for this little mission of mine, and looked for the Market.
Tonight, the Market was in an abandoned underground parking lot. I hadn’t even known such a thing as an abandoned parking lot existed, but apparently you learned new things every day. So I was now walking among the booths and stalls, trying to avoid making eye-contact with any of the blood-suckers in here, as I searched for Fred, the information broker I usually worked with. When I researched the newsfeed before the first time I’d come here, his name popped up as one of the best and fairest brokers out there.
The newsfeed hadn’t lied.
I found Fred sitting on a chair at his usual spot, sipping blood from a glass of wine. He was a vampyre, one of the Made, and unlike most vampyres, Fred didn’t belong to a House, a place of some sort of community for vampyres led by the one who Imprinted them, turning them into immortal leeches. Instead of that, Fred was a rogue, a vampyre left to fend for himself and would be left alone as long as he didn’t break the general vampyric rules.
Fred eyed me with eyes gone neon-blue from his high of drinking blood. I gulped and walked forward, looking around me to make sure no one paid attention to me. While their senses were as sharp as those of a wolf, most vampyres weren’t skilled enough to distinguish a werewolf’s scent from all the other vampyric scents in one, stuffed area.
Still, I’d rather be paranoid than to be caught off guard.
“Daisy Luxford,” Fred murmured, blatantly checking me out as I grabbed a reluctant seat in front of him. “You’re as delectable as always, pretty lass.”
I tried not to scrunch my face in disgust and failed. “Stop leering at my legs, Fred,” I said, shifting jumpily in my seat.
“They’re pretty good legs,” he mumbled and let his eyes travel north until they landed on mine. His neon-blue put my own blue eyes to shame. “My offer still stands, beautiful,” he smirked.
His offer was to be my lover for the upcoming Mating Season, which would hit the world approximately in a month. The knowledge about the Season’s exact timing was usually not that accurate, but both Eve and Raphael felt it when the Season was near, and so I tended to believe them. Immortals were rarely wrong about things like that.
“My answer is still a resounding no,” I said, then decided to get down to business. Fred could go on and on about having sex with me, but since I’d dealt with his kind of offers ever since I turned sixteen, I’d had enough. I was twenty-three now, for God’s sake. “Fred,” I said, giving him my persistent look. “Have you found what I asked of you?”
Fred sighed and leaned back in his chair. “About that Webb Montgomery fella? Not a lot,” he cocked his head as he gave me a different look, one I regarded as his “broker look.” “I’ve checked with all of my contacts, but despite the fact they all told me he’s dead, there wasn’t much to find out about him.”
I grimaced at that. “I need to know only if he was a werewolf or not. It’s not that hard to find out.”
“Unfortunately, something very weird is going on with that Webb bloke,” Fred said, shrugging. “Someone made sure no one could reach the truly juicy information about that man. I have a suspicion, but it’s more of an intuition, really.”
I’d been trying to find everything I could about Webb Montgomery. First, before I even found that name, I asked Fred to search for any man, werewolf or human or whatnot, who ventured into the West Coast Pack territory without permission. When he narrowed down the list after three months to only twenty men who fit what I specifically wanted, the times and dates and so on, I asked Fred to find everything he could on all twenty men. Then, after three more months, he found everything about only nineteen. The one left was Webb, and the only thing he’d found out about him was that he was dead and buried somewhere in the Mexico Pack territory.
So by now, it’d been six months, almost seven, since I started the research about the man who’d appeared in the West Coast Pack territory twenty-three years ago, and I was getting desperate. So I told Fred, “Your intuition is better than this stupid dead end. Tell me.”
Fred studied me for a few moments before nodding. “I have a feeling our little dead friend is not a werewolf,” he said, pausing to sip his blood before continuing, “I also believe that he wasn’t human, either. And, if you really want my honest, humble opinion,” his eyes flashed, “I think he might be one of that secret group we vampyres aren’t really supposed to know about but we actually do so the point is moot.”
My lips pursed. “Are you talking about the Hunters?”
He grinned. “Bingo.”
I was slightly stunned. I hadn’t even considered the Divine Hunter – a mysterious group that believed werewolves to be unnatural and fought them guerrilla-style in order to kill as many as they could – might be involved in this, but my own gut instinct told me that was not true. The Hunters weren’t involved in what happened twenty-three years ago. But one of the Hunters, perhaps...
“Can you search into it?” I asked him, almost pleading. “I know the Hunters keep a low profile, but if Webb had truly belonged to them and they buried him, there must be something there. Try to find out if Webb was religious, maybe even Jew. Jews are known for having their own rules regarding burials and memorials. So do other religions.”
Fred frowned at that. “I’ll try, but as I said, I can’t promise anything. Now, that’s all I found out.” He grinned then. “Payment, please.”
I grimaced again. This was the part of information brokers in the Red Market I didn’t understand and disliked immensely. They usually didn’t want plain money, and in Fred’s case, money was just a piece of paper he didn’t need. Instead, he wanted blood. Powerful blood. Most specifically magical blood.
And since I lived in the Pack House with abnormalities like Eve, Raphael, their daughter Snow, and even Reyna Morgan, a would-be-queen of a Born vampiric bloodline who started emitting a sense of unusual power, magical blood were easy to come by. Of course, if either Eve or Raphael figured out what I was doing, they both would kill me.
But I was getting really, really, desperate, and so the wrath of two immortal, powerful beings was not the true issue anymore.
I slid my backpack off my back and unzipped it. From inside I pulled out a nylon bag with crimson blood inside. “This belongs to the same source,” I said flatly as he snatched the bag from me and pulled it open, sniffing the blood. He shivered in blunt ecstasy.
“Mana,” he murmured, sounding drunk, “all week I’ve been waiting for you to come to me and bring me this.”
This blood belonged to Snow Knox, an immortal sixteen-year-old who was the only known mana-fueled living being in the world. Mana, according to Claire, the only Necromancer werewolf in the world and the mate of Zachary Greyson, the Beta of the Millennium, was a form of magic usually found in magical objects. It was not a good kind of magic, and probably wasn’t bad, but whenever Claire talked about it she seemed to cringe. To her, mana ruffled her fur the wrong way. For vampyres, apparently, mana-soaked blood was like nectar.
Snow didn’t know that when I took her blood weekly, I only needed a pint and not a full bag in order to check everything was okay with her. The rest of it I saved for Fred, who always emptied the bag when I gave it to him so not a drop was left. It was a condition of mine; the last thing I wanted was for Snow’s secret to come out because Fred was foolish enough to leave even a hint of her blood.
And now, Fred swallowed the blood until nothing remained in the bag, then threw it away. “Thanks for the meal,” he winked at me.
I gulped hard, trying not to think about what Eve would’ve done to me had she discovered what I’d been doing for the past few months, and rose to my feet. “Keep looking into what I asked of you,” I said, trying to sound firm even though the nervousness returned and my eyes began to jumble around me, to make sure no one was prying on us.
“Hey, Luxford?” Fred suddenly stood and stepped forward so he was close to me. “Why are you trying so hard to figure out a dead man’s past?”
That was a first of Fred. He’d never broached the subject about my intentions regarding finding about who Webb Montgomery truly was. But now he did, and as I looked into his luminous eyes, I simply said, “I suspect that he’s done something irrevocable, something that even death couldn’t pay for it.”
Fred didn’t expect my dryness, and gave a short nod before stepping back and leaving me be. Gathering my backpack I pulled it on and made my escape from the Red Market.
As I drove my bike from Eugene to Lumen in Deschutes National Forest, my mind wandered to Webb. My obsession with finding out about him, not Webb in general but the man he was supposed to be, started a few years ago, when I was sixteen and Gabriel Fernandez challenged the previous alpha, who’d been one cruel son of a bitch, and won, becoming the alpha himself of the West Coast Pack. After Gabe became the alpha, he took Zavier Greyson to be his beta, and since both Daphne and I were showing some seriously strong healing abilities, he decided to have one of us as his head healer instead of the former weak one.
Then the Alpha of the Millennium came. Gabe claimed they were brothers, and while there were some similarities, it was obviously not the case. However, Gabe was the descendant of one of Raphael’s brothers, so they were sort of related. Anyway, Rafe had already had Zachary, Zavier’s younger but stronger brother, as a Beta, and he had Shade as his Gamma, and was searching for a Healer for his crew. So Gabe told him about Daphne and me, and both of us were required to take a healing test to determine which of us was stronger.
Daphne had been only fourteen back then, and while she told me she didn’t care who was stronger among us and went with the One True Alpha on his adventures, I could see she truly wanted it. I was the older one, the responsible one, and so I knew what had to be done.
Healing abilities reached their full potential in the selected werewolf when they turned ten. Mine were already fully fledged when I was five. I knew I was stronger than Daphne, one of the strongest werewolf healers to ever exist, but I didn’t want to be part of the Millennium Wolves if it caused her jealousy and betrayal. Daphne was important to me, and losing her because of this kind of thing was not acceptable.
So I blew the test. Daphne won the position as the Healer of the Millennium, and I became the head healer of the West Coast Pack. It was enough of for me.
After Daphne got accepted into the Millennium Wolves and began traveling with them, I went back to our parents’ house to visit the folks. When I arrived home, my mother was in tears, and my father was kicking everything in his way. I’d been dumbstruck to find them like that, because that was so out of character. Lyra and Cyrus Luxford were usually a level-headed, laid back mated couple. My mother, coming from a family of healers, was exceptionally chilled out.
But that day they were a mess. They’d been drinking, and they broke down. When they saw me standing there, they took their anger on me. They told me it was my fault Daphne left home when she was barely fourteen, that it was my fault I didn’t protect her. It didn’t matter how much I tried to tell them she was the safest with Raphael Fernandez, that she wanted it, they didn’t listen.
Then my mother let it slip that I wasn’t who I thought I was. I’d been crying by then, and her words were barely audible, but I’d heard them clearly. I still did. “You need to be grateful we even agreed to give birth to you, Daisy. You’re not who you think you are. You are inhuman, the embodiment of the monster who gave you to us. We thought you’ll be better than that, but we were wrong. Look what you’ve done; you sent your little sister with a group of deadly killers! You’re a menace! Get out of this house and out of our life!”
My parents, when they were sober the next morning, called me to apologize, but while I numbly accepted their apology, my mother’s words wouldn’t stop echo in my head. They’d never shown me any different feelings than they showed Daphne. We’d been raised equally, we’d been loved equally. But something happened that day I let Daphne win, and so I began digging the dirt out.
At one time, when I came to dinner at the parents’ with Daphne, who was visiting town, I lied that I was going to the toilet and instead went to my parents’ library room. Since they were both scholars, professors in the Lumen College, they actually had their own library. There, I searched for my birth certificate, since they kept all the important files there. I wanted to be sure before I jumped to conclusion or even dug farther.
I found that, while my mother was my mother, my father’s name was unknown.
For the next few years I’d tried to find who my true father was. I tried to understand how it could be that my mother got pregnant with another man’s child while she had a mate. It took me some time to reach the obvious conclusion.
My mother had been raped, and despite what had been done to her, she saved the child. She saved me. And her mate supported her, even though he must’ve been on the edge of feral at finding out his mate had been abused in such a brutal way.
The next thing I realized about the rapist who was my father was that he must not have been werewolf. Werewolves scented mates from miles away. Even if the mated one was hot, they would never even look at them again, because werewolves respected mates, even the worst of our lot. The probability of the rapist being a werewolf was low, and my gut told me he wasn’t one, either.
Humans were the next obvious option. But humans lived among werewolves, knew how to recognize someone if he or she were mated, so while the probability was higher for the rapist to be human, I was still not convinced.
Webb Montgomery, I believed, was something else. And that made me something else, too.
I just wished I knew what that something was.