Another Silhouette Nocturne author, Caridad Piñeiro, joins us today. Caridad is a multi-published and award-winning author whose love of the written word developed when her fifth grade teacher assigned a project -to write a book that would be placed in a class lending library. She has been hooked on writing ever since.
Today she gives us a sneak peak at her urban fantasy novel, Undead Uprising.
Also one lucky commenter will win a a SINS OF THE FLESH t-shirt along with a copy of TEMPTATION CALLS. Just leave a comment on this post to be entered. Winner will be announced at end of Full Moon promotion. Last day to enter Saturday, April 25th at midnight central U.S. time.
New York City, June 2007
A good kill no longer brought satisfaction, only despair.
Pain lanced through Catalina de Villalobos’s side as she neared her latest victory. She raised her arm and glanced down at the four angry claw marks raked deep into her ribs. The vampire she had confronted that night had been a Wolverine wannabe, sporting a glove with razor sharp claws. Claws with which the vampire had successfully slashed through the protection of the leather jerkin she wore for battle.
Catalina ran a hand over the wound. It came away wet with blood.
Shit. Too much blood.
She nudged the body of her undead foe with the point of her polished black boot. Bent beside him to examine the claws. Picking up the vampire’s gloved hand, the gleam of silver shone bright in the moonlight along with the shock of blood along finely honed talons.
It explained why her wounds weren’t closing yet. The silver was messing with her body’s ability to heal. She couldn’t delay. Weakness slowly crept into her extremities from the loss of blood. She couldn’t afford that. The vamps would be out in force on a night like tonight, thinking they could have a vamp’s version of Mardi Gras before others like her emerged during the three days that were the height of the lunar cycle. When the werewolves came out to hunt, the smarter vampires retreated into their lairs for safety.
Ño, she said, cursing her stupidity at allowing the demon to get close enough to wound her. With that thought came a wave of wooziness, reminding her she couldn’t linger.
Hurrying, she removed the silver throwing knives from the vamp’s heart, wiped them clean on his shirt and then tucked them back into the leather vambrace along her left forearm.
She stood and glanced at the body. The moonlight illuminated the young vampire’s pale face. Barely out of his twenties human-age wise, but also fairly fresh to the undead life. She had sensed his power was not as strong as that of an older bloodsucker. That could explain the clawed glove he had added for protection. Newly turned, he had somehow become aware of the fact that he lacked the strength to defend himself against anything other than a human.
Guilt blossomed within her as she wondered whether the young man had chosen his undead life or been sired against his will. The latter made her hesitate until the vampire’s hand gave a sudden twitch, reminding her she had a job to finish. No matter how he had been turned, the end result was the same — a thirsty bloodsucker. She had stopped this one from draining an NYU coed he had dragged to the rooftop from the street below. The coed had fled, screaming, as soon as Catalina had arrived on the scene.
Funny, but she didn’t know if the coed had been more afraid of her in her human state and battle gear, or the vamp.
Easing her blade from the scabbard where she had sheathed it earlier, Catalina raised the Crusader’s sword high in the air, uttered a small prayer for the young man’s soul and hers, and then brought the blade rushing downward, cleaving the vampire’s head from his shoulders.
The body jumped one final time, confirming that the smaller silver knives had only slowed the demon. Her sword had finished the job. The morning sun would quickly dispose of any evidence of the kill.
She wiped down the sword on the vamp’s shirt. The silver-plated blade was as toxic to vamps as it was to those of her kind. A weakness the vamps had passed on to the werewolves they had inadvertently created.
Once back in its scabbard, she laid her hand on the leather wrapped hilt of the sword and the cross deeply engraved into the silver pommel glittered in the moonlight.
Somehow apropos, she thought. Her father had chosen a Crusader’s sword for her and Catalina formed part of the front lines of such a campaign. The cross a symbol of the righteous battling against immoral demons who no longer recognized any kind of god.
Once more despair rose up strongly within her. This would be the rest of her life, until one of the undead got luckier than the callow youth she had dispatched tonight.
Werewolf versus vampire. Catalina and her brethren against the unholy bloodsuckers.
Life was truly a bitch.
But it was her life, as much as she hated the fighting. Hated the lack of control that arose when the wolf took over her body.
Unlike the others of her kind, she was useless during the full moon which forced her to do her fighting the rest of the month. Every day of the rest of the month.
A wave of dizziness swept over her again, reminding her she would be useless for the remainder of the night. She needed to return home and heal.
She would never make it on foot. Too weak, she thought.
Hurrying down the fire escape, she slipped into an alleyway and rooted through the garbage cans, looking for something she could wrap herself in.
This might be New York City where anything went, but her weapons and the blood dripping down her side might raise an eyebrow on the subway. Finally, deep at the back of the alley, she encountered a homeless man beside a shopping cart brimming with possibilities.
In the dark of the alley, the whites of his eyes glowed with fright as he noted the weapons and the blood. He probably imagined that she had come for him.
“I won’t hurt you, old man,” she said in gentle tones, reached into a small pocket in her jerkin and tossed some money in his lap. “I just need a blanket.”
The man grabbed the money with gnarled fingers and motioned to the cart. “In there.”
Catalina rooted through the filth and debris of his life until she encountered a thin, dark grey blanket. One large enough to hide beneath. It smelled ripe — a good thing. The odor would mask the scent of her blood.
Wrapping the blanket around her, she strode from the alley and continued until she reached her goal — a loose grate above the subway stop. Easily shifting the grate even in her weakened state, she listened and tried to sense any physical signs of the subway. No clang of the tracks. No tremble of the ground beneath. She jumped down, landed at the edge of the tunnel and peered out.
A few humans, lingering as they waited for the train. She slipped unnoticed onto the platform. Huddled into the blanket and mumbling to herself, she walked toward the first pedestrian. As expected, the sharply dressed man’s face screwed up with disgust and he moved away so she could pass.
Good. Her act was working, especially when she wobbled like a drunk from the blood loss. She pressed onward, needing to be at the front of the train. In the tunnel beneath her clan’s building, the entrance to their lair lay beyond the head of the train. At that subway stop, smack in midtown Manhattan in a highly traveled area, she couldn’t risk drawing attention.
Especially when she might not be all that stable.
Weaker by the moment, she thought, as her vision wobbled out of focus. She struggled onward. Thanked whatever god there was when the subway pulled in moments later and she limped onto the train, plopped down at the first seat by the door.
The impact with the hard plastic brought pain. She moaned, covered it by mumbling a little louder, driving yet another few passengers from her side. That and the pungent smell from the blanket.
Each jostle of the train brought renewed pain. The claws must have dug deeper than she realized. The warmth of her blood bathed her side. Her nose twitched involuntarily as that smell began to overwhelm her wolfen senses.
She risked a glance to see if anyone else had noticed, but they were all busy ignoring her. Another typical day in New York City, she thought.
Multiple stops passed until with what seemed like a bone-jarring thud, the subway reached her destination. She rose, stumbled off onto the platform. There were more people here, but luckily, they were all headed in the opposite direction toward the exits that would put them closer to Rockefeller Center and Radio City.
The Villalobos building was directly above, an impressive fifty story building on New York’s Sixth Avenue. The first forty stories housed the vast complex of businesses that made up Villalobos Industries. The top ten floors housed rooms for the clan business and the home of Rafael de Villalobos, her father, and all his children and wives.
She snuck quickly into a tunnel, leaned on the wall heavily as she labored to reach what everyone supposed was a service shaft for the subway.
Only it wasn’t.
It had been put there by her father nearly twenty years earlier as an emergency entrance. At the rusty and banged up metal door, she placed her hand over what looked like a plain old square stone, but was actually a biometric reading device. Bright laser light read her palm and a second later, the decrepit-looking door slid open with a smooth whoosh.
She stumbled in and dropped the blanket, unable to bear its stench for a moment longer.
The clan’s physician, Ramon Santander, waited for her. “The guards told me you were on your way.”
As he finally noticed her condition, he rushed to her side to offer support. “You’re hurt.” He gently raised her left arm to triage her injuries.
Weaker by the second, Catalina laid a hand on his shoulder to steady herself. “It’s not healing. Silver.”
With a nod, he picked her up into his arms and strode with her to the elevator. She nestled her head on Ramon’s chest, snuggling into his warmth since a chill had settled into her body. His strength and calm washed over and she finally relaxed her guard. Being strong all the time wore her down. Only with Ramon could she allow herself some weakness.
The alpha wolves of the clan would try to take advantage of that weakness. Attempt to assume control over her. Ramon would not do the same. First, because he was human. Second, because he cared for her. Or at least, she suspected he cared for her.
Once inside the special infirmary for her family, Ramon laid her on the examining table. Quickly and almost impersonally, he removed her leather jerkin to reveal the four ugly and deep slices along her ribs. Almost to the bone, she realized.
Ramon probed at the wounds gently with his fingers, but she still winced from the pressure. With the danger of the battle over, she could finally allow the pain to bring the unwanted sexual desire that seemed to be part of her unusual legacy.
“Perdoname,” he said in apology and stepped away from the table to assemble the needed tools and medications on a smaller rolling cart.
“No need to apologize,” Catalina said as she shifted to her side, one arm draped across her breasts, suddenly modest despite her growing sexual need. Ramon had seen her naked when he guarded her during the full moon. Touched her, only they weren’t lovers, despite her wishing for that more times than was wise.
Ramon must have sensed her interest since he became distant. As a human saved by the pack from a vamp attack, he had sworn to keep their secrets and heal their wounds in exchange for his life. Due to his position at the bottom of the Villalobos hierarchy, the other wolves would never tolerate him as the mate of their future leader.
But she would risk the censure of the pack. She wanted him that badly. She needed to imagine a normal life was possible for her. That hope was all that kept her going at times.
When Ramon returned to the table, he said, “I’d give you something for the pain, only — ”
“We never know what it’ll do,” she finished for him. A familiar statement when it came to her unique metabolism. Within their number, she was an oddity — a wolf who couldn’t control her altered state; one who couldn’t handle human medicines while in her normal state. Despite that, she could tolerate a greater amount of pain and had incredible strength while in human form, unlike the other werewolves who had to wait until the full moon to be at their strongest.
“It’s okay. I can deal,” she said and shifted her arm to allow him access to the injury.
Ramon cleansed the wound to remove any traces of the silver and then worked on closing up the deeper portions of the gashes. She sucked in a deep breath and focused on driving away any sensation of pain. As he tended to her, Ramon spoke to her in softly, which helped her keep her distress — and passion — in check.
“How did this happen?”
“Young vamp had claws.” She winced at one pull of the needle as he stitched.
“An armed vampire? They seem to be growing bolder.”
She shrugged and he admonished her to stay still. Glancing downward, she could see him working, feel the pinch and tug as he closed her wounds. “They must be tired of being attacked, both during the cycle and off.”
“Rumor has it they’re banding together. Warning the newly turned about you,” he said and reached for something on the table.
His comment made her rise and face him, the stitches in her side pulling with the movement. “Where did you hear that?”
“Hemmerich. He was with your father today in his chambers. He, too, had been hunting earlier. Only he wasn’t as lucky as you,” Ramon replied and returned to working on her side, his gaze uneasy as it darted to her breasts, and then back up to her face.
At least he had noticed her, she thought, sitting before him, her arms at her sides to expose herself.
Let him look, she thought. And touch. With her wounds tended, her strength slowly returned to normal and she finally released the passion that came from a battle well fought and the pain of her injuries.
It occurred to her that maybe some fickle god, knowing that pain would rule her life, had decided that in exchange pleasure should come with it. That the torment of becoming the wolf would bring fulfillment in those final moments before she lost control.
She cared for neither.
“Hemmerich is a fool. He’s not as strong as I am in his human state.”
Ramon tried to avoid looking at her, but it proved impossible to ignore perfection. Especially when it sat before him, inviting his touch. He reined in his desire and calmly said, “You’re right. The vampire who got Hemmerich earlier tonight had a friend with him. They managed to slice up Hemmerich before he dispatched one of them.”
“Only one?” She arched one finely waxed brow arched to emphasize the question.
He nodded, eased her arm away from her side again and finished dressing the gashes although some parts of them were already healed. “The second vampire fled when he realized he would have to fight Hemmerich alone.”
When he finished, he tenderly smoothed his hand over the gauze and tape, angry that she had been hurt. Worried at the discussion he had overheard in her father’s chambers earlier that night. He couldn’t fool her since she must have sensed his disquiet.
“What else is there? I can tell from your face that’s not the only bad news for the night.”
With a tired sigh, he laid his hands on either side of her on the examination table. Raising his face, he met her almost defiant gaze. “Your twenty-fifth birthday is in a few months.”
“And?” she replied with a regal tilt to her auburn-haired head. An appropriate posture considering that as the eldest child of the alpha wolf, she would be the next in line to rule the Villalobos clan unless someone challenged her position. Only no one would be stupid enough to do that. Even in her human state, Catalina was stronger and smarter than the best of the alpha males in the pack. She was the only choice to lead them once her father was gone, which would not be for quite some time. Rafael de Villalobos was only in his early fifties, and amazingly hale and hearty. But that didn’t mean that the rites of ascendancy shouldn’t begin.
“You’re father is talking about holding the Gauntlet to choose your mate.” Although he tried to hide the despair in his voice, he failed miserably, which only served to bring a tender smile to Catalina’s mouth.
She cupped his cheek and ran her thumb across his lips. “You know that there is only one mate I would choose.”
With a harsh sigh, he said, “I am forbidden to you.”
His words tugged painfully at Catalina’s heart since as much as she wished to deny it, he was right. As a mortal, he could not be the consort for someone who would one day head the pack. The rules of the clan made it clear that only the strongest alpha could be her life partner.
But that didn’t stop her need or the attraction she felt for him. Lowering her hand to his shoulder, she urged him closer until the tips of her breasts brushed his chest. They hardened immediately, accompanied by a surge in the passion that had been simmering within from her injuries. He would have pulled away, but she exerted pressure on his shoulder.
“I want you.”
“This can bring nothing but pain,” he urged and once again made a motion to leave her, but she increased the strength of her hold.
“I want to make love with you,” she beseeched, but his face was harsh as he answered.
“Is that a command or can I refuse?” he said, raising the differences in their ranks as a last resort. They both knew he couldn’t refuse her if it was a command since he had sworn his obedience in exchange for his life. Normally she wasn’t one to take advantage of that vow, but if a command was what it would take for him to make love with her tonight, Catalina wouldn’t be honorable.
She moved closer and nuzzled his face with hers, trailing her lips along the straight line of his jaw. “Can you refuse me?” she asked as she hovered near the edge of his lips until he turned his face that fraction of an inch to meet her gaze.
“What do you think?” Ramon said, but knew that no answer was needed as he met her lips with his and gripped the back of her head.
She might be forbidden and get furry a few nights each month, but that wasn’t enough to keep him from wanting her like he had never wanted any other woman. Catalina knew it and took advantage of his weakness.
And he didn’t care, he thought as he slipped his arms around her body and pressed her close.
The power of her rippled beneath his hands, her lithe muscles strong. The heat of her animal side warmed his palms as her passion rose and his own, almost puny human desire answered.
Over and over he kissed her lips. Slipped his tongue into her mouth and tasted the sweetness of her breath. The smoothness of her perfect teeth which soon would become fangs sharp enough to tear him to bits. Again it came to him that this was insanity.
Destiny demanded that she be the next pack leader and giving into this would only cause problems for her. Hurt her.
He cared for her too much to be the source of such anguish and gently eased her away.
A knock came at the door.
Catalina made a face of annoyance. “Ignore it. Maybe they’ll go away,” she said, wishing to continue with their encounter.
“Catalina, this can’t — ”
The knock came again, more insistent this time and followed by her mother’s hushed, but concerned voice.
“Mi’ja. You’re father has requested that you come to his study.”
Catalina was tempted to defy her father, only she had no doubt that he wanted to talk about the Gauntlet and Hemmerich’s failure that night, both topics she eagerly wanted to learn more about.
“I have to go.”
She dropped a quick kiss on his lips and wrapping the sheet from the examining table around her, she hurried to the door and opened it. Her mother waited there, anxiously wringing her hands together at Catalina’s delay.
“Mami.” She acknowledged her mother’s presence with a bow of her head.
Her mother didn’t look her in the eye as she lowered her head. Even between mother and child, rank in the pack still demanded certain actions. “Mi’ja. Your father is waiting for you.”
“Let him wait, mami. I need to dress.”
Her mother’s gaze darted uneasily to Ramon and maternal instinct overrode the pack’s rules about challenging a superior wolf. “This,” her mother began, finally raising her head and motioning with her hand in Ramon’s direction, “is unwise, mi’ja.”
“I should go,” Ramon said and started to walk away.
“Don’t,” she commanded and he obeyed, inclining his head in acknowledgement. His body posture confirming her authority over him.
She stood before her mother, who looked back down and almost cowered. She hated seeing her mother this way. Even more, she hated her role in causing her mother’s fall from her alpha position.
“Mami,” she said and laid a gentle hand on her mother’s shoulder. Her mother didn’t pick up her head, but shot her a shrouded half glance.
“You are my mother. My equal. I appreciate your concern for me, but Ramon . . .”
She glanced back at the man she wished to be her lover as he stood waiting. A grim smile marred his face, for he knew that many of the pack’s rules troubled her. “I care for him.”
“Your father is calling — ”
“For the Gauntlet. I know,” she jumped in and at her words, her mother’s head shot up in surprise. “Let’s go see papi,” she said and strode from the infirmary to her bedroom, just a few doors down.
“He will not change his mind about the human,” her mother warned as she chased after her.
Her father occasionally indulged her in different ways, but she knew, much as her mother cautioned, that he would not be dissuaded. But then again, neither would she.
She had already given her heart to Ramon. Nothing her father said or did would change what she felt.