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The only thing worse than being a Hunter in the fae-ridden city of Harborsmouth, is hunting vamps in Bruges.
Being shipped off to Belgium sucks. The medieval city of Bruges is quaint, but the local Hunters' Guild is understaffed, the canals are choked with dead bodies, and there's no shortage of supernatural predators as likely suspects.
On second thought, maybe Bruges isn't so bad after all.
With a desire to prove herself, protect the innocent, and advance within the ranks of the Hunters' Guild, Jenna Lehane hits the cobbled streets of Bruges with blades at the ready. Someone, or something, is murdering tourists and dumping their bodies in the city's scenic canals. With the help of a mysterious stranger, Jenna begins to piece together clues that are dotted throughout the city like blood spatter.
Determined to stop the killings, Jenna delves into a bloody local history that only raises more questions--but some secrets are best left buried. Jenna must put her combat training to the test as she struggles to unearth the truth about an ancient enemy.
Hunting in Bruges is the first novel in the Hunters' Guild urban fantasy series set in the world of Ivy Granger.
A woman’s scream pierced the night and all thoughts of sleep fled as adrenaline pumped through my body. I sprinted down the street in the direction of the woman’s cry, scanning the sidewalks and alleyways, and listening for any sign of trouble.
“Please, somebody help me!”
The voice was weaker now, but I nodded to myself, suddenly sure of where the attack was taking place. I put on more speed, vaulted over a metal railing, and raced down the embankment toward the canal. The woman’s scream had come from beneath the bridge—the same bridge that hid the mouth of the sewer tunnel with the bloody grate and magically warded door.
I palmed a silver combat knife and a wooden stake as I ran, a fierce snarl curling my lips. I was not going to allow another vampire kill. Not on my watch.
Heart pounding, I eyed the narrow ledge leading into the dancing shadows beneath the bridge. There was no way I could make my way across that expanse of moss slick stone without discarding my weapons.
“Damn,” I muttered.
I shoved the wooden stake into a loop in my battle skirt and bit down on the silver knife, holding it between my teeth. I’d need both hands free to make the climb to the bridge. If I was dealing with vamps, I’d rather lead with the stake, but there was a chance that this was a mugging or rape. Vampires weren’t the only monsters that preyed on the weak.
It would be foolish to bring a stake to a knife fight. Everyone knows that.
Shoulders tight, I shimmied across the ledge. I was exposed, vulnerable, but the whimpering sound ahead of me kept me going. As my foot hit the wet platform with a splash, a clawed hand grabbed my leg in an iron grip.
My attacker wasn’t human.
I slashed out with the silver knife and the hand retreated, leaving behind a searing pain in my calf where the creature’s talons had punctured flesh. Working fast, I retrieved the wooden stake and, with a flick of the wrist, turned on my flashlight and tossed it into the shadows. The flashlight spun, illuminating a crumpled heap near the iron grate and three vampires: one to my left, one to my right, and one scuttling along the ceiling like a cockroach.
It was a goddamned ambush.
I didn’t know if the woman crumpled on the ground was still alive or not. Her cries had ceased, but there was nothing I could do for her at the moment. I was too busy trying to stay alive.
I spun to the left, slashing upward with the silver knife. The vamp on the ceiling hissed and scuttled to the right, giving me some breathing room. I shivered, my subconscious mind reeling in horror. These vamps weren’t even bothering to maintain a glamour. Instead of being drop dead gorgeous, these guys were just dead—as in mummified.
Skin the color and texture of dried parchment was stretched tightly over skeletal bodies that moved with an insectile, alien grace, but their grinning faces were the worst. I’ve seen a lot of monsters during my time as a Hunter, but there’s something about the fanged, rictus grin of a vampire that gives a girl chills—and not the romantic kind.
As soon as a vampire dies its first death, their body begins to dehydrate. It’s part of what makes them appear so monstrous in their true form. There’s just something nauseating about seeing such a grotesque caricature of a human moving around animated with life.
These vamps with their empty eye sockets and gaping sinus cavities were a prime example. As a vampire’s body deteriorates, the soft tissue is the first to go, which makes for some butt ugly vampires. Drinking blood helps, but nothing can fully restore life, not even necromancy. Vamps are nothing more than dried up, walking corpses.
Too bad their desiccated bodies don’t slow them down.
If I was going to survive this, I’d have to out think my opponents. I feigned a minor stumble, and the vamp on my left didn’t hesitate. The monster lunged in, fangs bared, the hollow pits of his eyes intent on my jugular. One, two, three…
He closed the distance and I thrust the wooden stake up beneath his ribcage and into his chest cavity. The vamp froze, completely paralyzed, and I knew I’d staked him through the heart. It wouldn’t kill him, but it would keep him out of the fight until I had the time to finish him off—and add his fangs to my necklace.
I grinned, showing my own small, white teeth.
“Okay, boys,” I said. “Who’s next?”
I drew my sword, now glad I’d worn my hunting gear to my visit with the rusalka. I’d had a feeling I might need my favorite blade. I guess I was right.
Lightning fast, the vamp struck. One second he was circling to my right trying to flank me, and the next he was tearing away a chunk of my flesh. The iron and silver coated steel boning of my corset deflected the worst of the attack, but one of his talons managed to slash through the space between.
I heard the sizzle of his claws, knowing the silver was eating away at the tips of the talons that scored across my abdomen and flank. I let out a satisfied grunt, but the zing of pleasure was premature.
Hot blood leaked from my side and the two vampires shrieked in hunger. Shit. The blood was stirring them into a feeding frenzy. I had to end this now, or I’d be the body they’d find in the canal tomorrow.
I drove my sword through the air, separating the vampire’s head from his body. The creature continued to cling to the ceiling for a moment, but when the head hit the cement with a meaty thud, both pieces of the beast burst into ash.
The sound of the vamp’s falling head still echoed throughout the chamber beneath the bridge as ash fell like grisly snow. The remaining vamp and I warily circled each other, searching for a weakness. Vampires like to play with their food, but I didn’t kid myself. Saliva was dripping from his elongated fangs and a leathery tongue darted out to lick dry, papery lips.
If I gave this one the opportunity, he’d go straight for the kill.
I struggled to keep my sword up and shifted my weight to allow for the wounds in my leg and side. I swallowed hard and grit my teeth. Every move tugged at the edges of the gash in my side, making it burn and bleed.
My knuckles whitened as I increased the grip on my sword, readying for the kill.
“Jenna!” a familiar voice cried out. “Behind you!”
I dropped to the ground and rolled, never hesitating. As I came to my feet, I faced not one vamp, but two. A female, judging from the sagging breasts, had joined the party. I flicked my eyes to the ground where the “victim” had been curled up just moments before.
The woman was gone.
“You smell delicious, ma chérie,” said the female vampire.
Oh yeah, this had been a trap from the very beginning.
About E.J. Stevens:
E.J. Stevens is the author of the Spirit Guide young adult series, the bestselling Ivy Granger urban fantasy series, and the Hunters' Guild urban fantasy series. When E.J. isn't at her writing desk she enjoys dancing along seaside cliffs, singing in graveyards, and sleeping in faerie circles. E.J. currently resides in a magical forest on the coast of Maine where she finds daily inspiration for her writing.
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