Home > Redemption (The Captive #5)

Redemption (The Captive #5)
Author: Erica Stevens

PROLOGUE

Smoke drifted through the tavern as Jericho took a step inside and looked around. He didn't know the man he was looking for but even so he glanced at every table within the cluttered room. There was no one sitting amongst the tables or tucked into the shady recesses of the establishment that immediately grabbed his attention. He thought that perhaps he would somehow just know the leader of the rebels by some aura of power surrounding the man, but they all appeared to be ordinary humans.

But then, all humans were ordinary and rather boring to him.

He snaked his way through the crowd of unshaven, unwashed and drunken men to an empty table near the back. His nose wrinkled, he'd smelled better things in the dungeons of his father's palace. These men didn't seem to care though, and neither did the women that were throwing themselves at them with the hope of a little extra coin or food. He'd lived amongst the humans for two years now and though he survived on their blood, and took pleasure in what their bodies had to offer, he felt no sympathy for the plight they faced.

Grabbing hold of one of the rickety chairs, he pulled it out from a table. Years of too many beer mugs sat down with a heavy hand, and too many fights, had left the table surface covered with nicks and gouges. He sat down carefully, worried that the wobbly chair might not support his weight. Leaning back, he forced himself not to sneer as he surveyed the scene with his arms folded over his chest. He was supposed to be on the human's side in their battle against the evil vampires; he couldn't show his open disdain of them right now.

He almost chuckled aloud, but managed to keep it suppressed, as a buxom brunette shimmied up to him and asked for his order with a saucy grin. Though he wasn't overly fond of human food, he found he had a taste for the darker ale that the taverns served, so he ordered a mug. The woman's eyes practically stripped the clothes off of his body as she leisurely took him in. She sauntered away with a swish of her hips that would have been far more tempting if she'd possessed all of her teeth. He enjoyed women, and the pickings had been slim lately, but no matter how slim they were he still had his standards. They weren't as high as they had been when he lived in the palace, but a full set of teeth were still mandatory.

"I think Kelly likes you."

Jericho had been so lost in his thoughts that he hadn't realized the young blond man at the table next to him had tilted back in his chair to speak to him. He was so close that Jack could smell the spearmint leaf he was chewing on. Though the man was smiling at him, and seemed friendly enough, his youthful appearance was out of place in this world of prematurely aged men and women.

"She doesn't bite I assure you," the stranger continued.

"I imagine she would have trouble doing so," Jericho replied with a chuckle.

The young man laughed as the legs of his chair plopped back down. "That she would."

"You know Kelly well?" Jericho inquired.

"Not that well," he assured him quickly. "But I've heard the tales."

"You seem a little young for such tales."

The stranger's bright blue eyes twinkled with amusement as he leaned further away. "Not everything is as it seems."

"So I've been told." So he knew for a fact.

"I haven't seen you around here before."

Jericho shrugged and tossed a coin to Kelly after she returned with his ale. Money was scarce in these areas but he'd come into a windfall yesterday when he'd killed and robbed some of his father's own men in order to continue with his subterfuge. It had been the final test that he'd had to take in order to prove his loyalty to the rebellion enough to be led to this place, and the people he was supposed to meet. If they ever showed up.

It was easier than he'd anticipated, killing and taking money from vampires while pretending to be a mere human. However, he was beginning to realize that what the humans lacked in strength and speed, they made up for by being creative. They were devious little critters and he now knew why his father was having such a difficult time squashing their rebellion.

He'd never seen such intricate traps designed and carried out, and though he'd had to dispatch of the two surviving troops, the other six guards had been slaughtered when hundreds of wooden stakes had exploded from the spring lever traps hidden within the trees. The two wounded men had been impaired enough that it had been easy for him to take them out, even while having to pretend to be a mere "human."

"I'm new to the area," Jericho informed him as he took a sip of ale; it warmed him from his throat all the way to his belly.

A strand of blond hair fell into the young man's eye as he tilted his head to the side. "We don't get many new people around here."

Jericho shrugged and wiped the foam from his upper lip. "I needed to get away from the confinement of the palace walls and the vampires there. I've been doing some traveling, meeting different people, trying new things."

"I see." The young man turned away and waved to Kelly, she came back with a tankard of the amber colored ale and set it before him. "You've had problems with the vampires at the palace?"

"Haven't we all?"

The man raised his mug to Jericho. "That we have stranger, that we have. What brought you to this town?"

Jericho sensed something more behind the young man's twinkling eyes as he studied him attentively. As the man leaned closer to him, Jericho sensed an acuity that went far beyond this human's youthful years. He was struck with the realization that he'd just waded into treacherous waters and he would have to tread carefully. It had taken him years to get to this point, he couldn't ruin it now. He didn't know who this man across from him was, but the playfulness that he'd first exhibited was now gone.

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