Eternal flame, p.1
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       Eternal Flame, p.1

         Part #3 of Night Watch series by Lauren DeStefano
 
Eternal Flame
Page 1

  Chapter 1

  It was a damn sorry night to die, but then, Zane Wynter didn’t plan on dying. Killing, yeah, that was a possibility, but not dying.

  Fire exploded in the night. A white-hot mountain of flames burned right through the roof of the old three-story antebellum house on Francis Street and shot toward the sky, its greedy claws a bright orange in the darkness.

  “Sonofabitch. ” The breath of the flames scorched Zane’s skin. This was supposed to have been an easy collar. Go in, knock out the demon waiting inside, claim his bounty. A simple night’s work for a Night Watch hunter. After the collar, he’d planned to get a beer and maybe a fuck.

  He took off his jacket and tossed it onto the ground. No sense getting ash on it.

  A scream burst from inside the house. He stilled at the sound because that-that was a woman’s scream. And his prey was male.

  Victim inside. Not just the killer he wanted, but maybe an innocent trapped in that inferno, too.

  Shit. It really was a piss-poor night. He took a breath, squared his shoulders, and knew that he had to go into that damn house. Sometimes, it just sucked to be him.

  Zane raced forward even as the windows of the antebellum exploded, sending glass raining down on him. One kick and he knocked down the front door. Smoke rose, a thick gray fog. The flames crackled, and the house fell around him.

  “Jacobson!” He yelled the bastard’s name. Henry Jacobson. A demon who’d been hunting and killing for the vampires in Baton Rouge. A vamp’s bitch. Seriously, what was worse? “Jacobson, where are you?” The smoke stung his nose and made his eyes water as he thundered through the rooms, searching through the smoke and flames.

  Another scream. He ran for the stairs, a long, curving staircase that ended in fire and fury. Someone was on the steps. He saw a shadow in the smoke, someone hunched over, holding tight to the railing.

  Too small to be his prey.

  Victim. Had Jacobson been getting ready for another kill?

  Zane took the stairs three at a time. Chunks of the ceiling fell, hitting close to him, and the heat scorched his skin. He coughed, choking on the smoke that thickened the air.

  Zane reached out and grabbed-

  “Help me!” Desperate blue eyes met his. Wide and dark. So dark. They reflected the flames and her fear.

  The woman-small, curvy, shaking-threw her body against his and held on with all her strength. “K-kill … m-me … he was … g-gonna …” She broke off, coughing, choking, just like him.

  The roof groaned above them, a long, low rumble that couldn’t be a good sign. He glanced up and saw the cracks and rolling fire in what was left of the ceiling. Fuck.

  “H-help … m-me …” She shuddered again, her body rubbing against his.

  The devil could take Jacobson. Zane grabbed the woman, lifting her high into his arms. He held her close against his chest and ran back down the stairs. The flames were everywhere. The fire was so damn hot that for an instant, he thought about death.

  Nah, not fucking tonight.

  He concentrated, calling up the power that lurked inside of him, the darkness that was never far away, and those flames didn’t touch him. Couldn’t.

  The woman’s lips pressed against the base of his throat. Soft lips. A delicate touch in hell.

  For an instant, one reckless instant, his concentration wavered and those flames surged forward.

  Cursing, he dove for the door. They flew into the night, and he turned his body, protecting hers, as they slammed onto the porch. Sirens wailed. The cavalry was coming. Always a bit late in this town.

  Her fingers fluttered on his face. “Are you”-a cough- “okay?” A light voice, Southern and soft. Husky. She’d raised her body up, and now she peered at his face with worry in those big, bedroom eyes.

  He didn’t answer at first. Just stared at her. The woman was something else. Her skin was a pale ivory, but her high cheekbones and her straight, sharp nose were currently stained with soot. Her lips-damn-were full, sexy. The kind of lips a man fantasized about. A lot. And she had a thick, tumbling mass of black hair. Hair that made her skin look even paler.

  “You saved me. ” She shook her head, sending those long locks swaying. “Th-thank you. ”

  A crash shook the house. “Baby, I haven’t saved our asses yet,” he said. Then Zane grabbed her and hauled her to her feet. This was no place for a pit stop. They shot down the curving porch steps, running fast from those flames.

  Jacobson.

  He pushed her behind the gate at the edge of the drive. He coughed again, hard and long, clearing the smoke from his lungs. A fire truck roared up the street, finally getting close now. He held her arms, staring into those fuck-me eyes. “Was someone else inside? Did you see-”

  “I-I think he wanted … to kill … me. ” Whispered. Her gaze fell to his throat. “H-he tried to bite me…. ”

  And he noticed her throat then. The red marks. The teeth marks. As far as he knew, Jacobson wasn’t a vamp, not yet anyway. Zane didn’t see the tell-tale bloodsucker puncture wounds on the woman’s neck. No vamp bite. But something was going on with the guy. Maybe Jacobson had been stealing some vamp blood, and he’d started to become addicted.

  Vamp’s bitch.

  “What happened?”

  The fire truck slammed to a halt in front of the house.

  She shook her head as her gaze slowly rose to once again meet his. “I-I don’t know. … I shoved him back, we fought… then-then everything just exploded. ” Her voice dropped when she said, “He’s still up there. ”

  Firefighters ran past them, pulling hoses with them. Zane’s jaw clenched as he turned away from her. He should go-

  “How … how can I thank you?”

  Now that voice was pure sex. His head turned back to hers, real slowly.

  She licked her lips, a fast swipe of a small pink tongue. “I would have died without you. ” She pressed closer to him. “You came into that fire. ” She shook her head. “I’ve never seen anything-you were like an angel. ”

  Oh, the sexy woman was so confused. “Not quite, baby. ” More like the devil. His gaze lingered on those full lips. Definitely not an angel.

  “Hey!” A hard masculine bark.

  Sighing, Zane glanced over his shoulder and saw one of the firefighters lumbering toward him. “Is anyone still inside?” the guy demanded.

  “Up-upstairs …” the woman whispered, and they all looked at the flames.

  The house seemed to collapse. Groans and shrieks filled the air, and the rest of the roof tumbled down, smashing right through the upper floors.

  Firefighters scrambled back.

  “Not fucking alive now,” the firefighter muttered as he turned away. “Dammit!”

  If the man inside was human, no, he’d definitely be dead.

  But the firefighters weren’t just dealing with a human. If only. And they’d need Zane if they were going to get that fire settled down. Lucky for them, he had a way with flames.

  Like most demons, he could control the elements, and fire was his bitch.

  But first…

  There was the little matter of a thank-you.

  Zane wrapped an arm around the woman’s waist. He tipped back her chin with his left hand. Her lips parted in surprise and she said, “What-”

  He kissed her. Caught her with her mouth open and drove his tongue inside that sweet heat. And, oh, but she was sweet. His tongue tasted her, stroked her, and he held her tightly against his body, loving the feel of those soft curves crushed against him. A moan rose in her throat, and her hands tightened around his shoulders.

  His little victim didn’t push him away. No, she tried to pull him close
r.

  My kind of woman.

  And if those flames weren’t waiting, he’d show her just how she could truly thank him. No time now. But maybe later.

  One last lick. One last stroke of his tongue. Then Zane forced his head to lift. Her eyes were closed, and her expression a bit dazed. Her lips were red now, heated from his mouth.

  He released her and stepped back.

  Her eyelashes lifted, and she blinked. Once. Twice.

  “Told you I wasn’t an angel, baby. ” He let a grin curve his lips. “But if you want to show me how much you appreciate my help just stick around a while. ”

  Her jaw dropped. He almost laughed. Almost … but his cock was shoving hard against his jeans, and the firefighters were losing their battle with the flames. They needed him.

  So he turned away from her and didn’t look back.

  “Miss? Miss, are you okay?”

  Jana Carter hunched her shoulders at the voice. More vehicles had arrived. Cops. An ambulance. She glanced to the right and found a fresh-faced EMT staring at her.

  “Were you burned?” he asked her quietly, compassion flowing with the words.

  She let her lips tremble. “N-no. ” Her “hero” had disappeared. Had tall, dark, and dangerous really gone back inside the house? To save a killer?

  Stupid move. His funeral.

  Two cops began to approach her. Time to leave. Jana pressed her lips together and realized she still tasted the man on her mouth. Zane Wynter. Bounty hunter extraordinaire. Yes, she knew who he was. Zane’s mistake was not knowing her identity. He should have been better prepared.

  Weren’t the Night Watch hunters always supposed to be prepared? Like freaking Boy Scouts? Night Watch … the multistate bounty hunting agency had a reputation for always getting the job done. Whether the agents were chasing the worst human criminals out there-or stalking the Other who’d crossed the line, they brought down their prey.

  Most humans didn’t know about the Other in the world. They didn’t know about the vampires, the demons, the shifters, and the hundreds of other monsters out there on the streets. They didn’t know because they were blind.

  Jana wasn’t blind. She knew the real score in this world. And she knew that her “hero” hadn’t been an average hunter, either. No, a man hadn’t hauled her out of the flames. A demon had.

  Angel, my ass. She’d almost choked when she told him that one.

  “Miss, I need you to get in the ambulance. I want to check you out. ”

  Ah, now that sounded promising. The ride in the ambulance would let her get away from the cops. Because those boys in blue were already eyeing her with too much curiosity and she really didn’t want to get into an explanation of just why she’d been in the house on Francis Street.

  Jana’s knees buckled. The EMT grabbed her, and she let her lashes sag. “So … weak. ” Though she’d rarely been weak in her life. Appearances could be so deceptive, but the EMT didn’t realize that.

  “It’s okay!” He scooped her up and yelled for help. Seconds later, he was loading her into the back of the ambulance. The doors slammed shut behind them, and the cops were left out in the cold.

  Well, with the cold-and with the flames.

  The ambulance’s siren screamed on and when the vehicle lurched forward, Jana smiled.

  Too easy.

  Or maybe she was just too good because Jana had just taken out her prey, destroyed the evidence, and even been given a getaway car. A chauffeured ride away from the scene of her attack.

  Not bad for a night’s work.

  Poor Zane. The guy obviously thought he was the big, tough demon badass. He’d be realizing soon enough that there was a new sheriff in town.

  “I didn’t get the demon. ” Zane rubbed the back of his neck, felt every ache and pain in his body, and met the stare of his boss, Jason Pak, head-on. “When I got to the house on Francis Street, the place was a damn inferno. ” The flames had spread so quickly that the firefighters thought accelerants must have been used to soak the place.

  Everything just exploded. The woman’s voice whispered through his head. Yeah, the house had exploded all right. With a little help.

  He exhaled and dropped his hand. “The bastard had a victim with him. He was still hunting. ” Not just hunting, but acting like a vamp. Trying to bite prey. No longer slicing them with claws and knives, but biting, vamp style. What the hell? “She was lucky to get out alive. ”

  Pak’s leather chair creaked as the owner of Night Watch leaned forward and flattened his palms on the desk. “Was she?”

  Zane’s shoulders straightened a bit. “I pulled her out of the flames. ” That good deed had to be worth something, right? No matter what most folks thought, he didn’t spend his whole life telling the world to screw off.

  “Where is she?” Pak’s fingers drummed on the desktop. There was a skeletal staff in the Night Watch office then. Most of the bounty hunters were out on cases. Dragging in prey.

  Pity. This time, Zane wouldn’t have any prey to bring in.

  “The EMTs took her to the hospital,” he told Pak. “She’d sucked in a lot of smoke, and that jerk-off Jacobson bit her. ”

  “Any other injuries?” Pak’s dark gaze was steady.

  “Uh, no. None that I saw. ” He hadn’t smelled blood on her, but the smoke had been clogging his nose. He didn’t think the woman had been hurt. But she’d trembled against him.

  Desire? Fear? Or pain? “What did she look like?”

  Zane blinked at that. “Ah … pretty. About five-foot-four, curvy, black hair, blue eyes-”

  “Could have changed her appearance,” Pak murmured and his fingers stopped tapping.

  And Zane got a really bad feeling in his gut. “Uh, excuse me?”

  Pak’s black brows shot up. “Did I ever tell you I thought you handled yourself damn well when all that shit went down with Dee?”

  Dee. Dee Daniels was another bounty hunter in the office. She’d watched his ass, he’d watched hers, for years. He’d trusted the woman with his life more times than he could count. Then she’d become a vampire.

 
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