The Beast WithinS. C. Stephens
The Beast Within
Conversion Book Five
Copyright © 2017 by S.C. Stephens
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Editing by Madison Seidler Editing Services
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Also by S.C. Stephens
It’s All Relative
The Next Generation
For the fans. Thank you for your continued support!
Table of Contents
About the Author
I WAS THIRSTY, but that was nothing new. I was always thirsty. My throat was like a wasteland that had been devoid of any hydration for decades. When I swallowed, my muscles tightened and rubbed together like course sandpaper, permanently scarring the tender flesh inside me. There was only one reprieve from my misery, but I wouldn’t allow it. I couldn’t. Just the thought of what I needed made me light-headed, nauseous.
Blood. What I craved, what I hungered for, was blood.
And I hated myself for it.
Against my wishes, against all my hopes, desires, and dreams, I’d been turned into a vampire. My father had all but done the deed himself. I was a monster. A demon. Condemned. All because of him.
It had happened four months ago, on a cold, dark November night, when I’d found myself in a fight to the death with my girlfriend’s family. They were vampires, almost every single one of them. But, in some strange way that I still didn’t fully understand, most of them were human too. An impossible blend of both races. I’d dated Nika without even realizing her true nature, and when I had realized, it had been too late. I’d already been in love with her, even though I’d done my best to deny it.
When I’d refused to fight the Adams, my father had set a trap for them—with me as bait. But Dad hadn’t anticipated just how many vampires were in their family. If he had, maybe he would have done things differently—done things that would have ensured my safety, instead of my death. But his plan had failed, and I was the casualty. The collateral damage.
But that wasn’t the worst part.
I would have been okay with dying in the line of duty. It would have been an honorable way to go. My ashes would have been set inside my urn, marked with the prized fangs of a hunter, and I would have been given a place of honor in my father’s home, next to my sister. Yes, that fate I would have been okay with. But Dad had done the unspeakable. He’d forced a vampire to change me. I couldn’t even fully comprehend what had compelled him to do that. Why couldn’t he let me die? Why did he damn me? Why did he abandon me?
These were questions that plagued me, and I was positive I’d never receive answers to them. Dad was gone. My brave, sickly sister was gone. I was alone for the first time in my life. But no, that wasn’t entirely true.
Thanks to the curse passed on to me with the vile blood pumping through my veins, I was bonded to the monster who’d created me. Halina. Just the thought of her made me cringe, and at the same time, made me long for her. Not in any sort of sexual way, but how a child longs for a parent when they’re alone or scared. I wanted to reach out for her, let her hold me, comfort me…and yet, her very existence utterly abhorred me. And I was eternally stuck in this dichotomous relationship. The bond was permanent. It couldn’t be broken. I would always want her…and always revile her.
Escape was impossible; I’d tried. I’d only get a few hundred miles before the yearning was too much, before I couldn’t go on until she was near me. And she always came to me. No matter how far I tried to flee from her, she always followed. She wouldn’t leave me. Ever. A part of me was thankful for that; I didn’t know what I’d do without her.
I certainly wouldn’t drink if it weren’t for her. I knew enough about my species to know that not drinking wouldn’t kill me, but it would be bad enough to make me wish I were dead. Then again, I already wished I were dead, so starvation wasn’t much of a threat. Halina would never let me get that hungry though. She forced food on me, either exposing it to the air when my will was gone, or even, sometimes, pouring it down my unwilling throat. I hated every time I ate. And I loved it.
Blood filled every thought, every dream. I smelled it in the air, on Halina’s skin, on my clothes. Every animal we passed as we traveled the countryside had its own distinct, rhythmic heartbeat. I’d become so attuned to them, that I could tell what creature was lurking in the night, just by the sound of its pumping organ. I’d imagine that creamy warmth traveling down my parched throat and want to crumple into a ball and scream in pain and longing. I wanted it so much, but it sickened me. I wouldn’t become one of those mindless, blood-lusting animals that killed everything in sight. I wouldn’t kill a single creature. I would suffer in silence instead. That was my penance, and I gladly accepted it.
I stayed far away from humans. In fact, I hadn’t seen a single person since I’d said goodbye to Nika. God, Nika…if I wasn’t thinking about blood, I was thinking about her. When the cravings got so bad that I wanted to suck on my own blood, Nika was the vision I held onto—the innocence in her countenance, the deep brown, soulful eyes that were too old for someone her age, the small freckle on the corner of her left eye that nearly disappeared when she smiled, the fullness of her lower lip, a lip that tasted as sweet as strawberries…or blood. I held onto her image when the nights were bad, and they often were. I wondered if she thought of me too. I hoped so. I hoped not. She des
erved so much better. She deserved the world.
My name echoed back to me from the high canyons that surrounded me, but I didn’t turn to see who’d spoken. I already knew. Ignoring the undead creature behind me, I continued staring out into the moonlit vista before me. I’d been hiding in the outskirts of Canyonlands National Park, hundreds of miles south of Salt Lake. It was the farthest from Nika I could bear to be. It was very secluded here. Halina was growing restless with the vast nothingness, but I’d come to enjoy it. My sensitive ears welcomed the silence, and the spires and rock towers were a thing of beauty. Even in the darkness, my keen sight could make out the different hues of the striations in the centuries old formations. They must be amazing in the light of day, but I would never know. I was chained to darkness now. Midnight’s captive.
“Hunter.” The voice was more insistent now, and an undisguised huff punctuated the syllables of my name.
Sighing, I tore my gaze away from the thin archways of rock soaring hundreds of feet over my head. “What?” I asked, looking behind me.
Halina was standing there with her thin arms crossed over her chest. Wearing a short dress that left most of her upper thigh exposed to the elements, and heeled boots that came up over her knee, her outfit was in no way, shape or form suitable for our surroundings. It didn’t hinder her any, though, thanks to her many supernatural “gifts.”
Much like my eyes, hers were casting a faint glow on everything around her. All vampires had that calming, hypnotic, phosphorescent gaze. Well, all except for Nika and Julian. Their eyes were deceivingly normal. A vampire’s stare was one of the things that made hunting them in pure darkness a bad idea. Those eyes could trap you, lull you into a false sense of security. I’d lost a friend that way before, a fact I was reminded of every time I noted the glow of my own eyes.
A slight breeze caught Halina’s long, black hair, emphasizing the wildness of her demonic nature. A nature she succumbed to far more than I did. With a droll expression, she asked, “Are you done here? Can we please leave?”
She asked me this so often, my response was immediate. “I want to stay, but you’re free to leave at any time.” My stomach clenched just saying it. For all my talk, for all my bravado, I didn’t want her to leave me. Just the thought of feeling her presence blurring away made my stomach tighten into anxious knots. It pissed me off. I didn’t want to be tied to a stranger like this…tied to a beast. Irritated, I turned from her again.
Halina walked over to me and sat down. Almost as if she could sense my mood, she put her hand on my arm. “I’m not going anywhere without you, and you know that. But…I’ve been gone too long. I miss my family, my nest, my daughter. I want to go home.”
The ache in her voice was palpable. It pulled at something in me, some buried desire to please her. Pushing it aside, I again said, “I want to stay. I like it here.” And in truth, I did like it here. It was quiet, reclusive. I could suffer in peace, if she’d just let me.
Exhaling in a steady stream, she mumbled, “Fine. We’ll stay…but you need to eat. It’s been weeks.”
As I shook my head, a flash of pain ripped through my stomach and up my arid throat. God…what I wouldn’t give for a nice, steaming cup of… “I’m fine,” I grunted, disrupting my aching desire. “I’m not even hungry.”
“You’re a terrible liar,” she retorted, picking up a stone at our feet and chucking it into the sky. It ricocheted off an archway, sending a small splattering of pebbles to the ground. “I can see how weak you are. You’re half-dead.”
A smirk touched my lips. “No, I’m all dead. You killed me, remember?”
“How can I forget,” she mumbled under her breath. “Regardless, you should eat tonight.”
By the imperative tone of her voice, I wondered if she’d force-feed me again. I hoped not. She’d only done it a few times, but I absolutely hated it. I was weak, she was right about that, and she could easily overpower me, forcing food into my mouth, and then forcing me to swallow. It was uncomfortable, for both of us. She usually held me after she did it, sad and apologetic. And I usually clung to her, both needing her comfort and detesting her for it. Such was the duality I lived with daily.
Trying to avoid that unpleasantness, I told her, “There’s no food anywhere close to us. What would I eat?”
Standing, Halina looked down at me. “I will get you food, have no fear of that.” She switched her gaze to the third person in our unmerry band. “Watch him for me, Gabriel?”
I rolled my eyes. I hadn’t been left with supervision since I was ten years old. It was humiliating to have a babysitter. I said nothing, though, and managed to contain my groan when a cool, detached voice answered, “Of course, my love.”
Leaning down, Halina gave me a swift hug, then kissed my head. “I will be back before you know it, and I’ll have something juicy—something you’ll really like.”
I couldn’t stop the horrified, sickened reaction I had to her words. Leaning over, my head between my knees, I clenched my stomach and breathed in and out, trying not to be sick. I couldn’t drink blood. It was wrong. Twisted. Evil. I wouldn’t. She would have to make me…I just wouldn’t do it.
Oblivious to my distress, or perhaps ignoring it, Halina streaked away from me. The ache in my chest grew with every mile we were separated, and I wanted to yell at her to come back. I also wanted to scream at her to keep going. I was sure these opposing feeling were going to drive me mad one day, if the hunger didn’t first.
After a few moments, Halina’s forward movement slowed, and the tugging in my heart eased. I breathed through it as best I could. She would be back. That was one certainty I could count on.
Gabriel sat in the spot Halina had vacated. His face impassive, he watched me in silence. I didn’t know what to make of Halina’s boyfriend. All I knew for sure was he made me uncomfortable. He was a legend among vampire hunters. An ancient vampire who was well-connected and highly protected. There were several hunters who had gone after him and never returned, and here I was, sitting less than a foot away from him. If I’d been feeling anything other than pain and apathy, maybe I would have made a move on him, finish what my father and I had started in Los Angeles when tracking the blood ads had led us to his nest. But I didn’t have it in me, so I did and said nothing.
His face was attractive and youthful, with dirty blond hair and softly glowing, emerald green eyes. Looking like he did, he could have gotten a modeling or acting job if he’d wanted while living in L.A. But that wasn’t where his interests lied. Science was his passion. And not just any science, vampire science. He’d been studying the blood of his race, our race, for more centuries than I cared to count, and had devoted his undead life to making things better, easier, for his brethren. It made being around him even more unnerving. This was a dangerous man with dangerous knowledge. I should be ramming a stake through his heart, not stargazing with him.
When he finally spoke, his voice was just as aloof as his expression. “You have not acclimated well to the changeover.”
Since there was no question in his tone, I didn’t answer. Anyone could see I was struggling. And who wouldn’t struggle with becoming a bloodthirsty nightmare? In my silence, Gabriel seemed to find the answer he was looking for. “I can help you.”
That got my attention. Looking over at him, I muttered, “How can you possibly help me?” Getting an idea, I turned to face him. “Can you stake me?” Opening my jacket, I exposed my chest to him. Besides lying out in the sun, staking was a surefire way to kill a vampire, a surefire way to kill me. I’d contemplated it before. I’d even stuck a sharp stick to my chest once, but I’d never had the willpower to pierce the skin. Like I said, I was weak.
Gabriel raised an eyebrow. “No. Halina would not approve if I destroyed you.”
My momentary hope fading, I jerked my jacket back around me. “Well, great. Then my earlier question stands. How can you possibly help me?”
“I can break the bond. Then you
would be free to live…or die…on your own.”
Not sure that I’d heard him correctly, I twisted my head to stare at him. “You can…you can do that? I didn’t think it could be done.”
Gabriel gave me a simple shrug, like his statement hadn’t just rocked my world. I can be free? “My partner was able to break the link. I’m sure I can as well, given enough time.”
My mind spun faster than I had the energy to keep up with. “How much time? What do you need from me? When can you start? What do I need to do?”
Gabriel smiled, his face softening for the first time. “I can’t imagine it will take longer than a few weeks, not if I give it my utmost attention. But…” his lips compressed into a hard line again, “…you will need to return to the ranch with Halina.”
My entire hope-filled bubble burst. He was just messing with me to help her. Shaking my head, I turned away. “Why do I need to go back there?”
His answer was brief and to the point. “My lab is there. I can’t help you without it.”
Tendrils of longing tangled throughout my body, and I was again reminded of just how dangerous this man was. “Can you really help me?” I asked, turning to face him again. “Will you really help me?”
He nodded once, the movement curt. “I give you my word.”
Recalling his earlier remark, doubt filled my mind. “Halina won’t be pleased if you break the bond, any more than she would be pleased if you disposed of me.”
Gabriel pursed his lips, then sighed. “True. Killing you would destroy her, but, I believe if I break the bond, it will also break her connection to you. She won’t feel as…compelled…to be near you. She will also be freed.”
I looked back up to the archway. Breaking the link filled me with such a painful ache that I wasn’t sure if I could do it. If we were no longer bound, if I no longer felt her presence in my mind…how would I go on? But, Gabriel was right. That very thought was because of the bond. Break the link, and the feeling would be broken as well. We’d both be free. Then I could leave. Then I could die. There had to be someone out there who would be more than happy to pierce my heart.