Blood and Sand Page 1

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PROLOGUE

San Francisco, 1884

Don Ernesto Alvarez strolled through the streets of Chinatown, his favorite daughter on his arm. The scent of human waste mingled with exotic spices and cooking fires. On the evening fog, he could smell the ocean and the scent of fish from the bay. The mist swirled around him, teasing his energy with its call. At his side, he felt his daughter’s blood pulse.

“What is it?”

Her fangs dropped. Paula was only twenty years immortal and often had a harder time controlling her cravings.

“Blood.” Her nose lifted in the air. “Fresh. There’s a fight somewhere.”

Ernesto gave her an indulgent smile. “Shall we? The opium was disappointing. We might as well see if there are other entertainments before we return to our lodging.”

Their safe quarters that night were with a trusted ally of Ernesto’s, Ekaterina Grigorieva, a water vampire who controlled much of the Pacific Northwest. While her headquarters had recently moved to the growing city of Seattle, Katya still chose to meet with allies in San Francisco. Ernesto had traveled up the coast of California with Paula, looking for amusement in the lively city along with a more favorable price on lumber for his ships.

Ernesto let Paula lead him down the alley, which smelled of fish and laundry soap, to see a surprisingly interesting sight.

It was a human, a Chinese man, which was not surprising as they were in the section of the city overwhelmed by the foreigners. What was surprising was the flurry of activity surrounding him. It looked like the human had been thrown out the back door of a gambling hall. He must have displeased the proprietor somehow. But instead of the beating that would have been common from the four other men surrounding him, Ernesto watched, intrigued, as the human held off his four attackers with swift punches that almost appeareere>_d to flow at immortal speed.

Punches turned into kicks. The four humans who had thrown the man out were not without their strengths, and blood was flowing. He heard Paula whine at his side, eager to taste it, but Ernesto put a hand on her arm, stilling her. He wanted to watch a bit longer.

The human was abnormally fast. He did not try to hold off his attackers, but let them draw close, then used swift punches to knock them back. And throughout it all, his face was a mask of impassive focus. He seemed almost bored, despite the bruise that was forming on one cheek, another on his eye, and the blood that dripped from his mouth to his chin. His face said one thing, but the coiled tension in his body said something entirely different.

What exquisite anger.

Ernesto felt his fangs drop, and he took Paula’s hand, slowly walking closer to the fight.

The humans didn’t notice, so focused were they on their own bloody feud. Despite his skill, the lone human was starting to falter; four opponents were simply too much for him. Still, he fought on, showing no signs of capitulation. Ernesto wondered whether the other humans would kill the man. That would be a shame. He was a fine specimen, and his blood was rich with the smell of the ocean.

“Paula,” he said quietly, reluctant to interrupt the fight.

She hissed, “Yes?”

“Stop them.”

He could feel her trembling in anticipation. “May I drink, Father?”

“Drink your fill from the four, but leave the fighting one for me.”

In the space of a blink, Paula was on them, dragging one human back to a dark corner and piercing his neck with her fangs. The copper smell of blood filled the alley, drowning out the smell of garbage and fish. The three remaining men did not notice the loss of their friend; they were more focused on the slowly weakening Chinese man. The lone human did notice the absence of one of his attackers, and he scanned the alley, all the while holding off the three other men as best he could. Finally, his eyes paused on the mist-clad form of Ernesto and he blinked.

One of the attackers knocked him to the ground at that point, but within seconds, that man was gone as well. Paula had grabbed him and latched on to his neck, letting his sounds of struggle fill the air.

“Paula,” Ernesto chided. “We do not wish for attention.”

Immediately, the man grew limp in her arms and fell silent. By this point, the two remaining humans who had been beating the Chinese man had turned to see what the commotion was. Their eyes grew wide and their mouths dropped open in horror as they watched their fellow human crumble to the ground. One darted for the door of the gambling hall, but Paula was already there. He didn’t even have time to scream. The other made for the mouth of the alley, his voice pitched high as he yelled for help, but Ernesto caught him by the hand and squeezed. The man fell silent, his mind flooded by Ernesto’s powerful amnis.

He stepped closer to the Chinese man, handing Paula the human’s hand as she finished drinking his comrade.

“What are you?” the human asked in perfect English.

“You speak very well.” It was true. He had a distinct accent, but his words were clear. “What is your name?”

“What are you?” the human asked again, wiping the blood from his eyes and inching toward the dark street.

“How did you learn to fight like that? It was fascinating and very effective.”

The man never took his eyes offrewhis eye Ernesto, but he straightened a little. “My father taught me to fight.”

“He would be proud.”

“No.” The man was inching along the grimy brick wall. “He wouldn’t.”

There it was again, just a flicker in the human’s eyes. Such exquisite anger. What would it be like with immortal power behind it? What would it take to leash the power of such a creature? Ernesto’s blood pumped in his veins and he bared his fangs at the thought. The human saw his opportunity and ran out of the alley, silently fleeing the vampires and disappearing into the night. Paula appeared at his side half a second later.

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