Tuesday, March 15, 2016

THE HUNTRESS is out for vamp blood!

I quietly released one of my favorite books today...THE HUNTRESS! Here's some background on it...



Several years ago, I wanted to write an old-school vampire tale that might’ve come straight out of a Hammer movie, one that included superstitious villagers, a fanged menace that threatens their very existences, the tremble of fear and dread lacing the air as a hunter comes into their midst to save the day. But instead of a proper elderly gentleman slayer, I went for something different—a female who has very personal stakes in this mercy mission. She doesn’t start out as a huntress, but as the blood flows and the body count rises, she does what she has to do.

Kick major vamp ass.


The Huntress was first published in 2005 under the pen name I was using at the time, Crystal Green. This was before I wrote more vampire books, as well as slasher mystery thrillers, under Chris Marie Green.  Here's the blurb and then chapter 1!

The vampires took everything from her…

Camille Howard, who’d inherited a fortune after her parents’ high-profile murder, had lived in a lonely shell for years. But when she fell in love, light finally came back into her life.

He was her path out of darkness, her sun and moon, so when he was captured by a tribe of female vampires on a trip to mysterious Transylvania, she lost her entire world. Now she’s hunting the vicious bloodsuckers with the help of a ruthless mercenary. But when the mission takes a brutal twist, she’ll have to decide who’s worthy of saving—and who must die…

1

Camille Howard tried to control her heartbeat as she shifted under the sweating, beefy man who was straining on top of her.
She was on her back in a Transylvanian meadow, surrounded by wildflowers, her thighs wrapped around the thick, vein-strung neck of a local peasant.
Choking and gurgling, the man clutched at her formfitting khaki fatigues as she squeezed her legs together. His eyes bulged, watering. A tear dropped onto her chest from the slope of his cheek.
Good for him. He’d lasted longer than the four guys she’d wrestled so far. But he still hadn’t proved he could be of any use.
Infinite seconds passed as he huffed. A burst of wood smoke darkened the spring sun, then cleared. She had enough time to turn her head, to survey the crowd of Vasile village men watching the match.
All of them looked about ready to wet their pants.
Their fear—her own hovering fear, too—concerned Camille. None of them had the luxury of being afraid. Not if they were going after the strigoaica.
Strigoaica. Camille clenched her thighs even more at the thought of them. Five female vampires who’d survived hundreds of years on the blood of Romanian men. They roamed the countryside, looking to sustain themselves once every year, when their pet males died and the female creatures needed to replenish their food supply.
Nine months ago, they’d stocked up in the village of Juni. Now Camille wanted to take back what was hers.
Damn the strigoaica.
The peasant gave a tiny catlike yowl between her legs.
All right. So he’d had enough of her Brazilian jujitsu, a martial art that didn’t depend solely on strength. A lot of it was technique. Hell, even a five-foot-five inch, 124-pound scrapper like her could take down an ogre with her training...as she was now proving.
Camille held back a resigned sigh when, after a last-ditch grunt, the peasant tried to pry her legs apart. She calmly grasped her shin, levering her leg further downward.
“Opri!” Stop. His plea was a desperate wheeze.
Dammit. If any of these Vasile men were going to be of any help whatsoever, they were going to have to grab their sacs.
Frustration—bitterness—roiled through her veins. Instead of letting the man free, she held him steady.
He let out an anguished groan. Wuss.
“So you want me to stop?” she asked in pretty flawless Romanian, if she said so herself. Her accent had better be perfect. She’d been in Romania for most of the past year studying the language…and more. The doc, Beatrix Grasu, would throttle her if she heard even a trace of American pie creep in.
Opri! Yes!” The peasant’s face was the color of a plum that’d been crushed under an 18-wheeler’s tire.
She loosened her grip a little but didn’t let go. She needed to prove a point to these guys, these men who thought that their village women weren’t strong enough to hunt vampires.
She shot a glance at the rest of the male crowd. Their friend’s indignity had collected some perspiration on their brows, right under their fur caps.
Just you wait, she thought. This is nothing compared to what we’ll go through out in the wilds.
“Ah!”
Camille’s captive was pounding at her thighs. Oh, brother, she hated when she made men cry. Not to be cruel, but…
She allowed her fingers to linger on her ankle, almost as if she was intending to snap off the guy’s neck with one more wrench southward.
The crowd pulled in a shocked breath.
Another flex of her fingers. Ready to jam down, to cut off air with more viselike pressure.
The peasant’s eyelids fluttered.
It was a good thing she didn’t have fangs, she thought. This peach would’ve been drained three minutes ago.
Just as one of the peasant men stepped forward—right, as if he was really going to take her on—she released her victim, rolled to a sitting position, then to a stand, in one fluid motion.
She made a point of looking pissed off, of drilling a stare into each and every male in the front row. They all glanced away, clearly embarrassed to have seen a friend manhandled by a whippet-thin, pale punk with hacked-off siren-red hair and a ring in her nose.
“You think that was harsh?” she said in their tongue. “I’ve seen what those vampires can do.”
She held out her arms in invitation to the men as her victimized peasant balanced himself to his knees, grabbed his tumbled cap, and slunk away.
“So who’s next? Who’s quicker?” She lowered her chin. “Who can tear me apart before I can do it to you?”
No answer.
Killed hope tumbled through her, lost before it’d even been found. Could she go after the vampires alone?
Without thinking, she touched the ever present good-luck charm around her neck. A baby ring.
Griffin.
She clamped her fingers around the smooth circle of the totem. I’m coming for you no matter what.
Sustained by the thought of what she had to do, Camille raised her gaze, dropping her fists to her side.
“Isn’t there anyone?”
The spectators didn’t move, at least not physically. But they’d retreated just the same. It was in the way they looked at each other from the corners of their eyes, the way they kept their shaggy heads bent.
A fragile female voice said, “There is no one.”
Camille turned around, finding her mentor, Dr. Beatrix Grasu, a silver-haired matron decked in a tweed skirt suit, horn-rimmed eyeglasses, and a pair of furry boots. Camille’s heart melted a little at the sight of her. Bea—the woman who had taken Camille in, cared for her, given her strength after the most harrowing night of her life.
“An entire population of Dracula snacks.” Camille jerked her chin at the crowd as she switched to English. She strode away from the circle, not seeing the point in announcing her defeated faith to these men. “We should’ve hired those female in Bucharest. Even untrained, they’d last longer than these guys.”
“Random women,” the doc said. “They have no personal issue in this. The people of Vasile have much more at stake. They want to fight at your side, these men do.”
“Their good intentions aren’t enough.”
The elderly woman rolled her eyes at the irony of it all, then lifted her face to the sky, sniffing. “There are more charms decorating doorways, darling girl. Garlic and wild roses. They are ready for an attack, even more so than yesterday.”
“Superstition isn’t going to cut it.” Camille stood by her friend’s side, shook her head, and glanced over her shoulder at the gathered males. They shuffled their opinci, rough pigskin shoes, and withstood her withering inspection.
She lowered her voice. “Catering to male egos has cost us an entire morning. No matter how much these guys want to protect their women, let’s get those girls out here. We can’t screw around anymore.”
Bea smiled sweetly, making Camille think that maybe everything would be okay. The ever-optimistic doc had always told her so while educating Camille in the ways of vampires and science, giving her a sense of wary hope.
“And how will you select your females?” the doc asked. “Your prey—they do not wrestle. Why you are practicing a triangle hold on these men, I do not know.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Camille’s natural impatience returned, in spite of Bea’s calm. “But you’re right. I could recruit a mob and just give them our toys, but I need people who think on their feet, people who can get themselves out of a fix. They have to be speedy, just like those creatures, or else they’ll only be token sacrifices, and we’d find ourselves in a situation just like I found myself in at Juni—”
Her voice caught.
She’d tried so hard to forget about it—a nightgown flapping over moon-pale skin, Griff yelling her name and reaching out for her…
Camille closed her eyes, fighting the memory, hurting too much to continue talking.
The clang of a goat’s bell filled the silence as she steeled herself. She opened her eyes to find Bea smiling at her with familiar concern.
“Aunt Bea,” Camille said, using the Americana nickname that reminded her that, somewhere on earth, there was a place that felt like home. “Any male who can’t take me on is going to die within the first second of confrontation with those bitches. I can’t let that happen.”
Bea’s gaze softened in sympathy and, even though Camille just wanted to fold herself into the doc’s safe arms and pretend she was a real aunt who’d just baked gingerbread in the kitchen, she couldn’t.
Retreat wasn’t an option.
Wiping all feeling from her body, she walked back to the crowd, switching to Romanian.
“Are your females any tougher?” she asked.
There was a ragged laugh from the back, near the faded planking of the inn walls.
Camille waited for the designated smart-ass to step forward. She loved knocking the piss out of people who didn’t take her seriously.
The peasant men turned around to see who was stupid enough to be ticking off “our huntress”—a moniker they whispered behind her back. The crowd parted, revealing a tall, muscle-honed man clad in army-green fatigues, combat boots, and a wicked machete sheathed by his side. He had hard-edged features, squinting eyes that still echoed his mocking laugh, a pugilist’s often broken nose, a cleft in his chin with a day’s worth of beard stubble. His light brown hair wasn’t exactly cut in military fashion; it was too long. The style smacked of the way his type—army assassins—singled themselves out more than a regular soldier by refusing to conform to the basic grunt shave.
And then there was the ugly scar decorating his neck.
Without even an introduction from him, she knew who he was.
The man everyone called Sargent leaned against the inn and extracted a cigarette from a box in his T-shirt pocket. A thorny cross positioned by the side door lingered above his head. Two men framed the notorious mercenary: a platinum-haired guy dressed in white hippie wear, and a time-wrinkled peasant wearing a hand-embroidered shirt and a sheepskin-lined vest. He seemed fascinated by Sargent.
“Gee, I knew my luck would run out sooner or later.” Camille tweaked a sarcastic smile to Bea. Translation: Just what we needed, more male vampire munchies to slow us down.
Holding back a grin, the doc shook her finger at her student, then whispered, “Be nice to the boy.”
While Camille surveyed Sargent, the old man next to him stared longingly at the killer-for-hire’s ciggie. The commando shrugged and gave him one. Then he lit flame to his own, the furious shade of red bathing his face. An instant later, the nasty glow subsided as he handed the match to the old guy.
“Women have no place in war,” Sargent said in Romanian, the cigarette bobbing between his lips. “Especially rich heiresses.”
Camille had known he’d speak the language. In fact, when she’d discovered that Sargent had been hired by Flora Vladislav and the other Juni peasants to go after the strigoaica, she’d learned a lot of other things about him, too. How he enjoyed slaughtering just for the hell of it. How he was relentless in his pursuit of anything remotely associated with fangs.
She absently touched her baby ring.
Sargent stepped away from the wall and walked toward her, a drift of cigarette smoke curling from the side of his mouth. His hippie friend shook his head, then entered the inn, abandoning the scene.
The mercenary saluted her with the cig. “You got here before I did.”
So Flora Vladislav had told him about her, too. “Get used to second place.”
He didn’t find that funny. “Word travels fast out here. I understand you’re on some kind of mercy mission.”
“From what I hear, I doubt you’d understand the meaning of mercy.” Her pulse started thudding at the thought of what he’d do to Griff if he found him before she did. What he’d do to all the captives, as well as the vampires.
According to Flora, Sargent had killed his first vampire years ago. He’d been on some secret military mission and was attacked by a female vampire informant during an ambush she’d orchestrated. Supposedly, Sargent had snapped. Robbed of trust and his perception of the world as he knew it, he’d gone on to make a name for himself as a preternatural terminator.
As he sauntered closer, Camille’s gaze lingered on his neck scar. The web of dead skin.
What, exactly, had turned him into a killer in the first place? And what deep instincts had changed him from a soldier to an animal with the worst of reputations?
He came to stand right in front of her, forcing her to lift his chin to meet his gaze.
Just make me back down, she thought.
With an amused lift of an eyebrow, Sargent grinned and sucked on the cig until it burned into a crackling column of ash. Then he tossed it into a patch of dirt, grinding it to gray matter beneath the toe of a beaten combat boot. He puffed out a final cloud of smoke.
This time he used English. “You can pack up the carnival now. Time to go back on home to the States, Ms. Howard.”
His own American accent turned some heads. The peasants eyed him with a measure of relief and caution, probably because he’d saved them from further mortification at her hands. Or probably because of that white-hot badge of violence on his neck.
“You don’t trust women enough to take care of this fight?” she asked, taking one step closer to him, bringing them chest-to-chest. “If the men I’d hired to take care of this situation in the past had been successful, I wouldn’t be here to take care of business myself.”
The peasants shifted, no doubt sensing the tension.
“Never send a man to do a woman’s work, huh?” Sargent asked.
“Are you here to join the team or what?” She held back a please-don’t-make-me-ill face but hardly succeeded.
“Let me see if it’s worth my effort.” He took two steps back, then ran a slow gaze up her body.
His attentions left a running trail of reluctant awareness over her legs, her belly.
“Done yet?” she asked. “I’m on a schedule.”
Much to her chagrin, he continued his easy inspection until he got to the baby ring on her necklace.
Griff’s ring.
The wheels were obviously turning in Sargent’s head: Why would a crankbuster like her be wearing a sentimental trinket?
He didn’t need to know. No one did.
“I suppose you’re next in line for some roll-in-the-dirt schooling,” she said, gesturing to the ground.
“Thought you told your great-aunt that you’re in some kind of hurry.” Sargent winked, probably thinking that he was going to rattle her composure. “When I get you rolling in the dirt, we’ll want lots of time.”
Her spine straightened, and she mentally smacked herself for letting him get the best of her.
They continued to stare at each other. She’d be damned if she looked away first.
Knowing Camille’s stubborn streak quite well, Bea cleared her throat, then addressed the crowd in their language, thanking them for their courage and asking them to send out the village’s women since they would be their best bet against the vampires.
Everyone scattered, including the doc, who came over and pulled Camille’s face toward her, making her student lose the staring contest.
“Bea—”
“Prepare,” the doc said. And, with that, she sent a considering glance at Sargent, then left him alone with Camille.
“I’ll give this to you,” he said, grinning because he knew he’d won. By default. “That wrestling show you put on was kick-ass. But if you get a vampire between your thighs, it’s not gonna beg you to stop squeezing. Not like these friendly Vasile peasants. The strigoaica will dine on your femoral artery. You know, it’s the one near those balls of yours.”
“Bravo, Mr. Sargent. Impressive work upholding your reputation as a total dick.”
He maintained his condescending demeanor. From what she’d heard from Flora Vladislav, he’d spent years developing that battle face. Years wearing the paint of war, moving through deserts and cities without sound or error.
That was the rumor, anyway. Flora and the Juni women, the ones who’d lured Sargent here with their life savings in order to finally cleanse the area, had told Camille all about him when she’d gone back to the village and announced her intention of saving their captured men herself.
“So,” she said, still stinging from the way Flora had rejected Camille’s rescue plan. The villagers hadn’t believed in her. At all. “You don’t mind being a murderer? Killing living creatures for blood money?”
“Someone’s got to be the exterminator around here.”
His offhand comment ripped at her, goaded her into resorting to her least favorite form of persuasion.
Using her Howard family fortune to make a problem go away.
“Flora and her village couldn’t possibly be paying you as much as I could,” she said.
“To kill vamps?”
“To leave.”
For a second, his rigid toughness evaporated. It looked as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
But, true to form, he recovered quickly, reverting back into egomaniac mode. “And what’re you planning to do with those beasts? Sweet-talk them into being good little bloodsuckers and playing nice with the nearby villages when they’re ready for their next replenishment?” He held up a finger. “Or maybe you’re going to jujitsu them into being wholesome, upstanding citizens.”
Jerk. In order to keep control, she intentionally backed off, sighed, checked her state-of-the-art time and vital sign bracelet. “Lecture completed?”
“I’ve got a lot more to say.”
He was starting to look as angry as she felt.
“Frankly,” he said, “it’s people like you—simple, naïve newcomers—who make my job harder.”
To emphasize his next point, he reached and grasped one side of her neck. She didn’t panic. Instead, she forced herself to watch him with what she hoped was removed detachment, daring him to go further.
And he did.
His thumb threatened the tender center of her throat, but she stood her ground, actually smiling in his face.
He smiled, too, and not very nicely.
Her ring shifted against her chest, brushing against Sargent’s hand.
“You know what vamps do,” he said softly. “They go for your pretty little necklace holder here. They feed on you, sometimes out of hunger, sometimes out of boredom. Depends where you run into them, what their culture is, what their needs are. But there’s always one constant.”
He pressed against her windpipe, not enough to hurt her, but enough to stress his meaning. She’d be damned if she allowed herself to start choking.
Sargent continued. “Uh-huh, one constant, Miss Bleeding Heart. You never give vamps a chance.”
By now, adrenaline was singing through her body, the blood in her neck veins kicking under the pressure of his grip. Her breathing quickened, but she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of hearing her voice falter.
“The vampires don’t need to be killed in order to neutralize them.” There. Strong as steel. “Beatrix and I know they can be turned.”
“Are you kidding m—”
She windmilled her arm over the one he was using to captivate her throat. Zinging up, then downward, she caught him in the soft inside of his elbow with a chop, breaking his hold. With her other hand, she planked his arm away. In the next instant, she was feet away, taking up a defensive stance, punch ready.
Sargent casually peered at the resulting red mark on his arm. “I suppose I deserved that.”
“Don’t pull it again.” She was still on guard.
“Relax, I’m done with the discussion.” He held up his hands, palms outward. “Damn, you’re a jumpy thing.”
“‘Jumpy’ doesn’t cover it. Touch me again and you’ll sing soprano.”
He laughed. Actually laughed. “All right. Just tell me why you’re so sure you can save our fanged friends. Why would you even want to save them?”
She lowered her fists but kept her distance.
“Seriously,” he said. “I’m genuinely curious about what you have up your…lab coat.”
“Funny. My sides are just splitting with laughter.”
“Come on, Howard. Coddle me a little. Spill.”
How much could she tell him without seeming as if she was on a one-way trip to failure? She’d been told she was crazy enough times to make her wary of explaining.
She paused, then said, “Dr. Beatrix Grasu—who is, by the way, a professor at the University of Bucharest and not my great-aunt—”
“Then why do you—?”
Camille held up a hand. She wasn’t about to detail her emotional attachments. Not to someone who wouldn’t comprehend the term.
“As I was saying, Dr. Grasu was able to get one of the strigoaica on an autopsy table.”
“So I heard. Question. How does the university feel about her slicing up vampires? Doesn’t that cause some unrest in the faculty lounge?”
“Dr. Grasu now works in the lab I fund. And we’ve learned enough about the strigoaica that we can contain them…and recapture their prey.”
Griff’s voice floated into her head, soothing her as it always did in her most hopeless moments. I love you, Lady Tex.
“So,” she said, “what’s your price? How much money will it take to get you out of here?”
Sargent’s lips drew into a single line of determination. Still locking gazes with her, he rubbed his cheek against his shoulder—the side with the neck scar.
Then he said, “There’s not enough currency in the world to send me away. Ever.”
Something fisted in her gut, squeezing, pulling her insides out.
“There’s something else I’ve been wondering…” he said.
Camille went into protective mode once again. He sounded way too human this time. He wanted something. Information? The upper hand?
He must’ve taken her silence as a go-ahead. “Flora said that, last year, you were an anthropology student who came to the village asking way too many questions. And ever since then, you’ve been hiring mercenary after mercenary to track those female vampires that attacked Juni. She said your friend is among the missing—”
“Not your business.”
“Ah, short and to the point. You know, I don’t care much about your personal details, even though I do feel sorry for you, what with your parents dying like they did…”
Camille cut him off with a sharp look that hid her anguish. She’d been practicing the expression for years.
Sargent cleared his throat. “Listen, I just need particulars about the vamps. Having another eyewitness account like yours can only help me, and according to Flora, you were in the thick of things when the creatures took your…friend.”
“I’m not here to help you, remember? I’m here to bring the hostages and the vampires back alive.”
He shot Camille a pitying glance. “You’re asking for trouble if you don’t slay them. Believe me, these things are fast, like vipers. Lethal. I know from experience.”
“I’m not underestimating them. We have devices that’ll keep everyone safe while we transport them out of the area. Their bodies will be prone during the journey.”
He chuffed. “Naïve.”
“No, we’ve got this planned to the finest detail after we find them. I’m sure Flora told you that a hunter from the last team I hired stumbled into a village a month ago and told his story to an innkeeper before dying from blood loss. He found the tribe in the forests near the Borgo Pass. Five female vampires, including one woman who was converted that night in Juni, plus two male captives leftover from the five they took last year. Dr. Grasu and I have spent all this time studying their kind.”
She didn’t mention all the physical training she’d put herself through—the months of sharpening her mind and body until she’d been deemed suitable by Bea to go after the vampires herself.
“All right then,” Sargent said, “if you bring all of the suckers back ‘alive,’ you’ll have seven monsters on your hands, not just five. Got it? Because the male captives won’t be human—and that’s even if they survived this long. Lore has it that these beasts feed off their prey until they’re hollow shells. Killing those guys—if they’re alive—would be doing them a favor.”
Her hackles rose again. “A month ago there were two men left.” Repeating that fact kept her faith going. “And they could still be alive. I’ve trained and studied, banking on that, knowing that a female can succeed where the men haven’t.”
“They’ll kill you just as surely as they will me.”
“Oh, no they won’t. Another female’s just a nuisance to those bitches, and they wouldn’t seek me out like they would you. Men are life to them. You’d suffer under their ‘care.’”
Sargent looked at her as if she was ten kinds of bonkers. And maybe she was.
“What’s life to you, Miss Bleeding Heart?” He narrowed his eyes. “Is it the scientific thrill of discovering a new classification of killer animal? Do you get all tingly at the idea of studying them? Is that some kind of bonus you’d get after rescuing your friend?”
She was done with this, and she moved toward him toward the village inn. “Mr. Sargent, if you threaten those vampires…or their prisoners…I’ll be there to stop you.”
He muttered as she approached. “Flora hired me to avenge her husband and son, not to preserve their kidnappers in the name of science.”
Explaining more to him wouldn’t do any good, so she settled for one last comment. “Just let it go and wait for a check in the mail.”
When she was only a few steps away from him, the sunlight flashed, and she saw it catch the metal of her baby ring pendant. It threw a glare onto Sargent’s face, and he held up a hand, turning away from the light. As Camille passed, she slightly bodychecked him, her shoulder to his chest.
“You’re gonna need that gutsiness,” he said while she stalked away.
She ignored him and disappeared into the dark, garlic-laced doorway of the inn, blocking out the smoke and low chatter by resting her head against the wood wall.
How was she going to get rid of this buffoon? She could just imagine how the search for the vampires would be: him tailing her, her having to fight him off.
As if racing Griff’s death clock and dealing with monsters who preyed on men weren’t enough…
Camille straightened, her hands against the wall. Men. The strigoaica. Sargent.
If she used a male lure, could she bring the vampires to her, thus saving time?
A bolt of horror ripped through her. God, what was she thinking? Using Sargent as bait was immoral, unthinkable.
She hated herself for even coming up with the idea. The old Camille wouldn’t have acted like this; she respected life so much that she couldn’t bear to see it extinguished. But that girl hadn’t last everything, not like the new Camille had.
Nothing’s going to stop me, Griff.
Nothing.
As she leaned against the wall, the room seemed to darken around the new Camille, eclipsing the girl she used to be.



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