Regan Matthews was going to die.
She knew it as sure as she knew the sky was blue. Knew it as sure as she knew the baby inside her was a boy.
Knew it as sure as she knew the baby’s father would be the one to end her life.
Screaming, she bolted upright in bed, her eyes focusing on the glow of the nightlight in the bathroom. It took a second to realize she was awake, safe and secure inside The Aegis’s Berlin headquarters.
The dream had come to her again, the one where she saw herself lying on a floor and covered in her own blood, too much blood. Thanatos, known to much of the human population as Death, fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse, knelt next to her, blood coating his hands, dripping from his pale hair, and splashed across his bone armor.
She took a deep, calming breath, forcing herself to relax. Thanatos couldn’t touch her. Not here, in the apartment complex deep below the headquarters building that housed the twelve Elders who ran the ancient demon-hunting organization. Most of the Elders used their apartments only when they came to Germany for Aegis business, but Regan had called this spartan apartment home for years, and despite the fact that she was due to give birth in less than a month, she hadn’t done a single thing to prepare for the baby. There would be no decorating, no toys, no cribs.
She’d always hated pastels anyway.
Her hand, so pregnancy swollen that she no longer wore her Sigil ring, trembled as she rubbed her belly through the cotton fabric of the maternity nightgown, hoping the baby would stay asleep. He was one hell of a kicker, and her organs were still recovering from his last round of hackeysack.
Regan fumbled in the darkness for the bedside table lamp. Her hand fell first to the hellhound-spit coated Aegis dagger all twelve Elders were required to carry as defense against evil Horsemen, and then to the bit of parchment next to the lamp. She allowed herself a moment to smooth her fingers over the inked lettering. The Latin words were a prayer of sorts, but that wasn’t where Regan found comfort.
No, as a psychometric empath, she could divine information with a touch or, more specifically, feel the emotions of the person who put ink to skin. This particular bit of writing had been penned while the author was feeling serene. Regan had kept the page with her for years, borrowing the emotions of the author like some sort of psychic vampire, and she’d needed it more than ever over these last few months.
With one Horseman turned evil, his Seal broken according to the Daemonica’s, the demon bible’s, prophecy, the earth was falling into chaos. No apocalypse promised a party, but Regan often wondered why they couldn’t be dealing with the Bible’s prophecy instead. At least in the Biblical version, the Horsemen would be fighting on the side of good instead of evil.
But that was only part of why she’d needed the parchment. Her regret over what she’d done to Thanatos ate at her, and she while she didn’t deserve anything less, for the baby’s sake she had to find peace where she could.
She allowed the parchment to soothe her for another thirty seconds, thankful to have it. The final page from a tiny book penned by an angel who had given her life to save a Guardian, it was beyond priceless. Regan’s fellow Elders had been after Regan to give it up for years, but they’d have to wait. She wasn’t giving it up until she was dead.
Which might be sooner than she’d like, if Thanatos got hold of her.
She lifted her fingers from the parchment, but before she found the lamp switch, a noise froze her. It wasn’t a loud sound, and in fact, she thought the echo of footsteps might be in her head. But what she couldn’t dismiss was the trickle of awareness that filtered through her system, an internal alarm that made no sense.
No place on Earth was safer than where she was right now.
Still, she found herself fisting her dagger and easing out of bed. Heart pounding, she crept across the room and put her ear to the door. Nothing. So why was her entire body quivering with static undercurrents that warned of danger?
You’re just being paranoid. The nightmare about Thanatos must have freaked her out more than usual.
But it couldn’t hurt to check things out. Her Guardian instincts had never failed her, and she’d known more than one Guardian who had paid the price of ignoring that deep-down sense that something was amiss.
As quickly and silently as possible, she tugged on a maternity blouse and a pair of khaki pants, and at her waist she secured her weapon belt and cell phone clip. She didn’t go anywhere without being armed. She traded out the dagger with a stang, preferring the double-ended, S-shaped blade in battle.
Clutching the stang in a white-knuckled grip, she opened the door and slipped out into the hallway. The darkness, usually her friend, now became a liability without her Aegis ring, which would have lent a measure of night-vision.
Regan put her back to the wall and moved toward the light switch outlined in a faint green glow. But when she flipped it, nothing happened.
“Just a burned-out bulb,” she whispered to herself. She even said it again, but a niggling sense of doubt joined the feelings of danger.
She glanced back toward her room, wondering if her smartest option was to go back inside and lock the door, but duh…anything that was a threat to her inside Aegis headquarters wasn’t going to be stopped by a measly slab of wood and a twenty-dollar lock.
Besides, she had a secret weapon, one she’d been forbidden to use — unless the baby’s life was in danger.
She crept forward, the hairs on the back of her neck prickling with every step.
“Who’s there?” There was no answer, but then, no demon would happily offer up his name.
The baby had clearly turned her brain to mush, and she’d become a classic horror movie dipshit who got killed in the first five minutes of the film. Awesome.
She thought she saw a flicker of movement ahead, near the entrance to the auditorium. Where was everyone? Even in the middle of the night, Guardians patrolled the building or spent shifts researching in the massive library or organizing worldwide operations. This was The Aegis’s nerve center, and it was never this quiet.
She moved closer, and as she reached for the door, her foot slipped in something warm and wet. Her stomach did a flip-flop. She didn’t have to look to know she’d stepped in blood, didn’t need lights to know that the dark lump against the wall was a body.
Not good. This was so not good.
Something rustled behind her. Instinct kicked in, propelling her forward through the auditorium doors. It was set up like a large college classroom, with several rows of stadium seats and two aisles of steps. She moved as fast as she could to the stage at the bottom. If she could get to the exit on the far side, she’d come out near the reception desk, where she could sound the alarm—
A soundless blur streaked past her. She pivoted, stang at the ready, adrenaline coursing in a hot rush. Crimson eyes stared at her, and she swore she heard the sound of saliva dripping to the floor.
“Whore.” The deep, masculine voice rumbled, and in her belly, the baby kicked.
“I don’t know who you are,” Regan said, “but you might think twice about insulting a Guardian inside her own house.”
Rumbling laughter accompanied a snap of fingers, and suddenly, the auditorium lights popped on. A vampire stood on the stage with her, over six feet of hulking, fangy, undead. His gaze fell pointedly to her belly.
“It isn’t an insult if it’s the truth.”
She ignored the barb that hit a little too close to home. “Who are you? How did you get in here?”
At some point, Regan had placed her hand over the baby, as if doing so would keep it safe. Idiot. The stang in her other hand would do more — but only if she could cut the bloodsucker’s head off.
The vampire moved so fast Regan didn’t see it until its backswing connected with her cheek. Pain ricocheted from her jaw to her cheekbone and up to her skull as she slammed into the wall, her left shoulder taking the brunt of the impact.
“Who I am won’t matter when you and the Horseman’s bastard are dead.” He hissed, his enormous fangs dripping saliva like a rabid dog.
There was something very…off…about this vampire. Not that most vampires weren’t “off,” but she’d noticed a subtle difference between Thanatos’s daywalker vampires and your everyday variety nightwalker. Namely, Than’s vamps seemed bigger, their fangs especially so.
“You’re one of Thanatos’s servants, aren’t you?”
He snarled. “I belong to no one. I’m not one of the Bludrexe’s neutered pets.” He came at her again, and as she struck out with the stang, she lost her balance and managed only a glancing blow that nicked his biceps.
The vampire’s hand snapped out, catching her around the throat. Smiling coldly, he squeezed, cutting off her breath.
Panic wrapped around her, squeezing as hard as the vampire’s fingers. She might have had a chance if she weren’t almost nine months pregnant, but even though she’d kept herself in excellent shape, she tired quickly, and her uneven weight made her awkward.
She couldn’t die like this. She couldn’t let this baby die. But as her lungs began to burn with a lack of oxygen, she knew this could be it.
Inhaling hard to find even a molecule of oxygen, she reached deep inside herself for the ability she’d kept tightly leashed for most of her life. The ability that had gone out of control the night she had gotten pregnant.
Not the time to dwell on that.
The tingle started low in her gut. Coaxing it as if it were a stray kitten, she called it forth, but it seemed to retreat, going from a pinpoint of light to a sickly glow. And then it snuffed out completely. What the—
“Die, bitch.” The vampire hissed in her face.
Shit! Her power…she couldn’t access it. Suddenly, the vampire inexplicably eased up on his grip, giving her a sweet gulp of air, and when he smiled, she knew why he’d done it.
To drag out her death.
“Fucker,” she rasped. She clawed at his shoulders and kicked at his shins, but he didn’t budge. Again she searched for her ability, the one that would drag his soul right out of him, but now it was if it didn’t exist at all.
Her mind went sluggish, her struggles weakening as oxygen depravation took its toll. Images flipped through her brain, but not the ones she’d have expected while on the brink of death.
People lied about your life flashing before your eyes, because all she could see was Thanatos. She remembered how he looked when he was coming, how his body strained and his muscles bunched and rolled. She remembered the sound of his voice, his laugh.
And she remembered the expression on his face when he realized she’d betrayed him.
She was going to die, and it would all have been for nothing.
In her belly, the baby kicked, harder and harder, as if it too knew the end was near. The vampire smiled.
“I can sense the life within you,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy feeling it snuff out.” His hand went to her swollen abdomen, and in her mind, she screamed.
“Could you two be any louder?” A stranger’s voice joined the scream in her mind and the thud of her pulse in Regan’s ears just as a breeze whispered over her skin.
In the next instant, the vampire flew sideways and she was ripped out of his grip. She had only a split second to see the other vampire who had joined the party before he flung her aside. She hit the floor behind the podium and sat there, gasping for air as the newcomer, one she definitely recognized as one of Thanatos’s daywalker servants, attacked the vampire who had been trying to kill her.
The newcomer slammed his fist into the first vamp’s head, sending him reeling into the wall. Before he could recover, the new vampire shoved a splinter of wood — where he’d gotten it, she had no idea — into the other vamp’s chest. The first vampire hissed even as his body began to blacken and crack into dust.
The surviving vampire limped over to her, fury and pain mingling in his eyes. “You betrayed Thanatos,” he growled. “You betrayed us all.”
She wasn’t sure about the “all” thing, but the rest was true enough. “Then why did you save me?”
“Save you?” The vampire gestured to the ashy mess that used to be his brethren. “He was merely going to kill you. I’m taking you to Thanatos.” He grinned. “Trust me, I didn’t save you.”