Heart of Darkness

Felicity Heaton
Available from www.felicityheaton.co.uk

It had been an easy kill.

Aleksandr Nemov stood over the body of the vampire hunter, their blood splattered across his black shirt and saturating the leather and metal vambraces that protected his forearms. It coated his fingers and the curved dagger they gripped, and the sweet scent of it heavily tainted the crisp night air. Strong moonlight caressed his back, throwing his shadow out long in front of him, across the hunter's corpse.

A female.

She hadn't been strong enough to fight his kind. Too young and inexperienced to best him. It had been foolish of her to try.

Aleksandr raised his hand and swallowed at the sight of the blood glistening on his fingers. It tempted him to taste it.

He dragged his eyes away and settled them back on the female laying on the grass of the small public space, her blood warming the frozen earth. He hadn't fought a woman in a long time and hadn't expected to find a hunter so soon after arriving in Prague.

The fountain nearby bubbled regardless of the frigid temperature, defiant of the frost that caused the grass around it to glitter.

Aleksandr glanced at his bloodied hands again and then closed his eyes against the temptation. He took no thrill in the hunt. Yet he found no calm in its aftermath. There was only the threat of unending darkness that beat within his chest and encroached upon his soul. It bled into his eyes. He could feel the jagged points of black that speared the red. He had too much blood on his hands but he couldn't give up now, not when he was so close to attaining his vengeance.

With great effort, Aleksandr sheathed his dagger against his left hip and wiped the blood away.

The smell of it still permeated the air, taunting and filling him with the dark urge to feast on the hunter's remains. He refused to obey the voice within that commanded him. His kind had fought hard against it and no Nemov had turned to the darkness. They were stronger than that, and he would die before it happened to him.

"You… what are you dooing here?" A light female voice shattered the darkness within him.

Aleksandr glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. She stood with the fountain at her back, the cascade of water providing wings that completed the vision of beauty. Moonlight bathed her skin, turning her round eyes dark and her hair as black as the uniform she wore.

An angel.

The red bled from his eyes, returning his irises to grey, and he straightened to his full height, desiring to look his best even when he looked his worst.

She brought her right hand up to reveal the blade clutched tightly in her fingers, held backwards with the blunt edge tucked against her forearm, ready to slash at him if he made a wrong move.

"I won't ask you twice." Her strength surprised him.

Such a beautiful creature.

Before Aleksandr could find his voice, she was gone. He turned, blocked her attack with the metal covering his left vambrace around his forearm, and attempted to disarm her. She dodged his counter-attack with ease and came around behind him. He spun and blocked her again, and this time managed to get a hand on her before she leapt backwards, out of his reach, and bared her fangs.

His heart beat harder.

She attacked again, her cry piercing the silent wintry night, and brought her blade down hard. It was difficult to block it. She was strong and skilled for a female. He strafed left and right to avoid her knife, trying to find an opening that he didn't really want to take. She was fascinating. Beautiful and deadly. Everything a vampire should be, yet there was something more to her. She turned and brought her leg around in a swift kick. The heel of her black knee-high boot smashed into the side of his head, sending him down.

Aleksandr rolled onto his feet and blocked her again. Why couldn't he bring himself to fight her? He could barely bring himself to defend.

Her red eyes narrowed on him and she growled, exposing her extended canines again. His cheek throbbed where she'd caught him. He would bear a bruise there before the hour had passed. She lunged at him and he barely avoided her blade. If he survived the fight that was. He ducked when she swung at him and swept his leg around to take hers out. She jumped it and rewarded his effort with another hard kick to the head, sending his brain spinning out of control. The darkness threatened to return, goading him into attacking. He didn't want to. He would not attack another vampire, especially not a female.

Definitely not her.

She huffed as though disappointed. Was it because he wasn't fighting or wasn't falling? Aleksandr kept his arms in front of him, blocking her swift attacks with his vambraces, and staring at her face the whole time. Fascination wasn't the right word for what she did to him.

The warmth he felt, the intense attraction, the abject desire to look into her eyes forever, even when they only promised him a slow death. It was more than fascination.

He wanted her.

"I do not wish to fight you." Aleksandr leapt backwards, away from her, and raised his hands.

Her grip on her blade tightened and she attacked.

He left himself open to see what she would do. Her clothing was formal—a black military-style jacket that only reached her waist aand tight black trousers coupled with polished riding boots. She looked like a guard. If she were, she surely wouldn't kill him.

If she weren't, he was making a terrible mistake.

The moment she neared him, she sheathed the blade, threw herself forwards so her hands pressed into the dirt, twisted and launched herself at him feet first. Had he wanted to defend himself, it would have been impossible. The speed at which she locked her knees around his neck, sending him falling backwards with her momentum, and slammed him into the icy earth knocked the breath from him.

Aleksandr stared at her where she perched on his chest, straddling it with his arms trapped in the crook of her knees and her blade against his throat.

He laid beneath her, sprawled out, his back aching and freezing.

Utterly in love.

She leaned forwards. A single strand of her dark hair had fallen out of the tight bun at the back of her head and grazed her cheek. Her soft breath against his face carried the enticing scent of her blood. Her eyes went from darkness to a lighter colour that the moon stole from him. Beautiful.

Aleksandr swallowed, causing the knife to grate his Adam's apple through his thick beard. He wished that he had cleaned up now before coming to Prague. She wasn't exactly catching him at his best.

"You will answer for entering my bloodline's territory." She pressed the blade harder against his throat. "I'm taking you in."

"No need to be rough." Aleksandr smiled slowly. "Unless you like it that way, of course."

She was off him in an instant, her weapon still held at the ready.

Clearly, she wasn't into the rough stuff like so many of his kind. With the thrill of hunting denied them, they had to find excitement elsewhere. Dancing with death through sharing blood was the most intoxicating thing a vampire could do without risking their humanity and many of them did it often. He had never been into that sort of thing.

Aleksandr sat up, grazed his fingers over the silvery scars on his wrist, a reminder of why he was tracking and killing vampire hunters, risking his humanity, and then got to his feet.

The female backed off a step, but remained close enough that she could easily attack him if he tried to leave. He didn't want to, but if he did, she wouldn't be able to stop him. A woman was no match for him.

First a female hunter and then a female guard. Prague was a modern progressive city, or the world was changing faster than he realised. He had noticed it for a few years now and had been struggling to adjust ever since. He hadn't expected the change to happen within vampire society too. The males had always been the ones to take care of the females. His gaze settled on her. Now there were females capable of taking care of themselves. It was both disturbing and intriguing.

Aleksandr went to move but she was in front of him before he could take a step.

"Can I at least gather my belongings?" He motioned towards the coat and bag that waited near the fountain.

She looked at them and her gaze tracked back and settled on the corpse. Her pupils narrowed and then she frowned. Had she only just noticed that he had killed someone? She sniffed and then looked at him, her pale eyes falling to his shirt and then his hands, carefully taking all of him in. He liked the assessing edge to her gaze, and the way it lingered on his body a moment before coming up to meet his. She stared into his eyes, long enough that he felt as though she was renewing the spell she had cast on him, and then nodded.

"I desire an audience with your master." Aleksandr crossed her path and picked up his long heavy black coat. Her gaze remained on him, intent and focused.

He put his coat on, picked up his black bag and slung it over his shoulder. When he turned to face her, she was looking at the dead hunter again. The way she stared at it, studying it closely, made it clear that she hadn't seen a fresh kill in a long time.

Or she hadn't seen anything quite like the butchery that had happened tonight.

Aleksandr clenched his fists and reined in the dark hunger that the memory evoked. He was in control now, not his instincts. The hunt would continue until he had avenged her and had rid the world of her murderer's progeny.

He would not surrender until then.

For four centuries, he had tracked and killed them, his anger still fresh in his heart, the pain of losing her still raw. He would not surrender until he had killed the last of the hunter's line and protected his people.

The woman stepped forwards and his attention was back with her. The second his gaze locked with hers, the darkness inside him receded, washed away by the light in her eyes and her beauty. He had thought of nothing but the hunt for four hundred years, had closed himself off to society and focused on his duty, but the woman before him stole his attention away from it so easily. It drifted to the back of his mind with the darkness, unknown to him in this moment while her eyes held his. She wasn't afraid of him. She had fought him without fear, and with strength and skill that he had never expected to find in a female. She enthralled him.

Looking into her eyes, Aleksandr realised something dreadful. He was too close to the edge. The feelings she evoked in him were ones he had long forgotten existed. It was strange to feel warmed inside by happiness to have met her, desire to make her belong to him, and hunger for the feel of her bare body against his. He had not felt such positive emotions in decades.

He was losing himself.

"Follow me," the woman said and he did, using her as a distraction from his dark thoughts.

She was young. He placed her at barely over two hundred years old, her appearance somewhat of a human in their mid-twenties. She was at least six inches shorter than him, and slender. Her strength had surprised him because of those facts alone. Young females were often weak and needed protection. She had strong blood in her veins.

Aleksandr ran a hand over his matted long dark hair and then rubbed the several months' worth of beard on his face. What did he look like? He felt like a mess now, both inside and out. She had definitely caught him at his worst. If he had looked as he had back in his days at court, he was sure she would be looking at him differently.

He was sure that she would recognise him for who he was.

She walked swiftly ahead of him, not once looking back to check if he was still there. She had mastered her senses then. He could feel them fixed on him. How strong were they? He had honed his to perfection through years of training and hunting, but he hadn't sensed her approach. He had been too lost in the darkness.

His gaze slid down to her small backside and the way it moved as she walked mesmerised him.

He hadn't really wanted to meet her master, but saying that he did seemed like the easiest way of remaining near to her.

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