Chapter 1

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  Tabitha's yellow combat boots splashed through a puddle as she turned the corner, leaving the alley behind. She could hear it in front of her, see its shadow turning a sharp corner. She picked up the pace. Tabitha bit her lip and grabbed one of the many stakes on her belt, letting the adrenaline feed her strength. Trusting her instincts like she had done countless times, she whipped around a corner, and into the next alley. Tabitha stopped short, plunging her stake up under the ribs, puncturing it in the heart.

Her own chest rose and fell unsteadily as she let go of the stake and stepped back, the human-looking creature falling to its knees. The body contorted and desiccated within seconds in front of her. If Tabitha had a nickel for every time she saw one of them shrivel up and die, she would be a very rich seventeen-year-old. She caught her breath and pulled her strawberry blond hair over a shoulder. Tabitha glanced around as she stepped back from the dead vampire.

Rule number one of being a vampire hunter: No witnesses.

Most people believed these creatures existed only in fiction and history. Tabitha knew different. She had grown up with a stake in her hands and hunting in her blood.

As she bent down and yanked the stake from the creature's chest, Tabitha remembered the first time she saw a dead vampire. Back as an innocent and loud little ten-year-old, her father had come home with a human-sized sack over his shoulder. Her mom was out back, and he grinned mischievously at Tabitha as she ran to the door to greet him. "Wanna see something cool Tabby?"

She had nodded, and his grin widened. Turned out the sack contained a desiccated vampire. Her mother hadn't been happy to find her ten-year-old daughter gaping over a dead body in the living room.

Tabitha blinked the memory away and shoved the stake into her belt. Three years. Three years since her father's death. Three years since she swore on his grave that she would carry on his legacy as the Sterling hunter. Time didn't pass fast enough. Sometimes it still felt like they had buried him yesterday instead of years ago.

Turning on her heels, she headed out of the alley, leaving the memory of her father behind. Time to move on... from hunting anyways. That was the third vampire she'd killed tonight.

The vampires were on the rise and as long as they gave her a distraction, a way to get her frustration out, she didn't care why they had decided to pool in the city. With each stake plunged into their hearts, Tabitha let out her irritation over the Carters who were old family friends. Mr. Carter and his son Jonas had taken her out last week to go vampire hunting with them. It may have been three years since her father's death, but the Carters had never taken any particular interest in her hunting life until recently.

Suffice to say she may have caught them off guard with her viciousness. She took hunting seriously, and she got the job done. They ran into two vampires, and she didn't hesitate when she saw them. She had ripped and slashed them apart.

Now Jonas avoided her at school and whenever she walked into a room, her mom always hung up the phone. When Tabitha asked who she'd been talking to, she said Brenda Carter but nothing else. The Carters and her mom were talking behind her back about her. Avoiding her like she was the savage vampire.

Tabitha scowled as she retraced her steps, navigating the labyrinth of city alleyways between and behind stores and towering skyscrapers and businesses. Thankfully it'd stopped raining twenty minutes ago, though the rain had left her black skinny jeans and black leather jacket rather soggy. Staking three vampires in one night had left her yellow gloves with specks of blood.

Tabitha stripped them off and thrusted them into her jacket pockets, the early spring air stinging her hands as she stopped at the entrance to the last alley and grabbed her bag. She'd stashed her black pea-coat in her gym bag. Now she pulled off her leather hunting jacket, unbuckled her belt of stakes and shoved them in there, pulling out her coat. Tabitha tied the gray string in a knot around her waist, buttoned up the front, zipped up her bag, and left the alley as if nothing had happened.

When the sun came up in the morning the vampires would dry up and people would find three piles of ash around the city. Would sweep them off and forget about them. Tabitha took her phone from her pocket and glanced at the screen. Only eleven thirty and already done for the night. She'd say three vampires were good enough for now.

Her mom stayed up and waited for her and Tabitha didn't want to keep her waiting. Mom had said to go easy tonight.

Tabitha shoved her phone back into her pocket and frowned, heading toward the parking garage where she always left her old bright blue bug in when she went hunting. She crossed the quiet street and headed inside, searching the nearly empty garage for her car, and spotted it a few feet away.

Tomorrow she planned to confront Jonas after a whole extended weekend of letting him and his parents act weird around her. Ask him what the hell was wrong with him. Tell him she had had been doing her job. Killing vampires. No one said it was clean work. Hunting wasn't clean. Or at least not to Tabitha. Tabitha was so engrossed in her own thoughts, she didn't notice someone walking toward her until she bumped into him.

"Oh my gosh, I am so sorry," she gasped, jumping back, her yellow boots squeaking. A boy–teenager maybe? –stood in front of her, his lips quirked up in a strange half smile.

Tabitha's fingers itched for her stake, and instinctively she reached for her waist. She'd put her stakes inside her bag... She could still fight off a creeper with her bare hands. Snap his neck in a second.

The boy held up his hands. "No, I'm sorry. I should have been watching where I was going. It's kind of late to be out, don't you think?"

Tabitha frowned and tilted her head, her hair falling down her back. She folded her arms, her gym bag slung over a shoulder. "Yeah, it is, but I had a late-night college class. What's your excuse?"

His lips lifted at the corners and he cocked his head too, mirroring her stance. "Touché. Nice shoes. Very bright..."

Tabitha glanced down at her boots and then up at him. In the dim light of the parking garage, shadows shrouded his face. Shadowy blond hair. Dirty blond maybe? Greenish eyes. Dark green, though. A swamp kind of green, like the old haunted Berkley's swamp. Tall, imposing stance and physique. Tabitha took all of him in, assessing how much of a threat he was. Her father had raised her to have a healthy amount of suspicion for everyone and anyone she crossed paths with. And to be able to defend herself against vampires and parking garage creeps alike.

"Thanks, I guess... I'm going to go to my car now, so excuse me."

He raised his eyebrows and stepped aside, gesturing for her to continue. "By all means, go ahead."

Tabitha didn't take her eyes off him as she passed him and headed toward her car. His predatory eyes stayed on her the whole time. Tabitha kept her hand firmly grasped around her gym bag as she pulled her keys from her coat pocket and unlocked the car. She got in and locked the doors behind her. She could still feel his eyes on her back as she started the engine. Thinking some music might calm her nerves and scare the lurker off, she plugged her phone in and turned on her playlist, turning the volume up to Ear-Drum-Shattering-Level and backed out.

But even as she backed up and headed for the exit, the teenage boy still stood there where she'd left him, watching her with a smirk on his face. A hunter's glare in his eyes. The glare Tabitha sometimes got when she came face to face with a vampire.

A cold shudder ran down Tabitha's spine. She hit the gas, roaring out of the parking garage and out onto the streets.

After turning several corners and heading out of the city, she let herself relax and glanced in her rearview mirror. No creeper. Good.

She shook herself from the chill that had settled over her, turned up the heat, and her music even louder. Tabitha let the lyrics fill her brain and empty her mind of thoughts.

Tomorrow she needed to confront Jonas and get the real story. The inside scoop as to why he and his parents were so freaked out by her. Tomorrow she would get answers.

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