Stakes Spurs Excerpt

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Dex lay sweating and restless, in the middle of a dream filled with feverish images of burning red eyes and sharp-edged shadows in candlelight. Interspersed among these visions, Dex saw flashes of Josh’s face, the man’s brow furrowed in concentration, eyes focused on a spot beyond Dex’s sightline. A man stepped into view, tall and handsome in an Army uniform. This stranger’s dark-eyed gaze was locked on Josh’s face and the intensity of his stare made jealousy flare within Dex’s chest. A steaming rage coursed through him, pushing his jealousy higher and higher. There was something between Josh and this new arrival, something Dex didn’t like, and even though Dex stood right beside Josh, it was as if Josh didn’t see him. Even when Dex opened his mouth to scream at Josh, beg him for help, Josh kept his attention on the tall man in the Army uniform.

The high-pitched screams of the woman deeper inside the cave woke Dex, brought him shivering and gasping out of his dream. His neck ached where Balthazar had bitten him, and when he sat up, a dizzying nausea rolled through him like a dark, humid breeze. Dex moaned and put his head in his hands, the chains on his wrists clanking quietly in the darkness.

He thought about the dream, felt the remnants of jealous rage slowly seeping out of him. It had felt as if he had been right there with Josh, watching him talk with the Army man. But Josh had ignored him, almost turned away from him. And Dex wondered just how real that interaction had been. Dex recalled the previous feelings he’d had about Josh, the comfort and relief he’d felt, and wished he could get that back again. In an effort to calm himself, he closed his eyes and thought about Josh, pictured his face, his smile, and the sound of his voice.

A change in the air around him shattered Dex’s concentration. He sucked in his breath and lifted his head to squint toward the opening to the cave’s chamber. Someone stood there, he could feel it even though he couldn’t see who it was.

“Who’s there?”

Something was different. It took a moment for Dex to realize the screaming had stopped. In its absence, the silence felt oppressive, like a living thing that took up too much space. He let out his breath and before he could pull in another, a strong hand grabbed him by the throat and easily lifted him off the floor. Dex kicked and reached up to pry at the cold fingers gripping him, but it was like trying to dig through stone. It was, of course, Balthazar. The cold of his body seemed to crawl from his fingers and into Dex’s skin.

“You’ve been keeping secrets from me,” Balthazar whispered.

“Don’t know what…” Dex started, but couldn’t draw in enough breath to finish. His lungs burned, demanding air.

“Your cowboy back in town is more powerful than I suspected,” Balthazar said. “I knew he was special, I could smell it in his blood, but I did not realize what gift he possessed. You never mentioned his ability to raise the dead.”

“Can’t breathe,” Dex choked out.

Balthazar made a small sound of disgust before releasing his grip. “You humans and your need for air and sunlight. You are such slaves to your bodies.”

Dex fell to his knees, coughing and gasping as he gulped in air. Tears streamed from his eyes, and he angrily wiped them from his cheeks as he glared into the darkness where he thought Balthazar still stood. “You have no room to speak of us with such contempt. You crave the darkness and feed on blood. Who are you to cast judgment with your damned soul?”

A match burst into life across the chamber, forcing Dex to squint and turn in surprise to see Balthazar lighting the candle near the entrance. The flame took and jittered in a bit of draft, throwing the vampire’s face into heavy shadow.

“You have steel inside you,” Balthazar murmured in a low, sensual voice. “I do admire that. And your devotion to Josh Stanton is admirable, if outside the acceptance of those you live among.” Balthazar approached him again, and Dex shrank back, averting his eyes. “Your blood is rich, Dexter Wells, hearty. I could make a meal of you, and I just might. Would you enjoy it if I stripped the skin from you? Peeled it away and swallowed it here before you?”

Dex had no spit in his mouth, and his voice cracked as he said, “No matter what you do to me, I will never become like you.”

“No?” Balthazar leaned a little closer. “Let’s find out.”

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