Blood Beast by Liza Street

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When Carson’s hometown sends out word begging for bounty hunters to handle a calamitous shapeshifter, Gracie knows that her trio is doomed to accept the job. The bounty is everything they usually handle: it’s personal, it’s dangerous, and no one else in their right mind would ever go after it.

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Carson drew the short straw, so he gets to cut off the vampire’s head tonight.

His beautiful face is screwed up in distaste and he winces at the sick, wet sound of his knife slicing through flesh. The orange and pink sunset behind him makes a pretty picture, so I keep my gaze trained on that while Carson grabs the head by its long brown curls and drops it in the sack I hold open in front of me.

“Glad that’s over,” Boone says in a quiet voice next to me.

Now that I know Boone’s a vampire, I notice more things about him that make me wonder how he ever managed to hide his nature from me at all. Like now, how as the sun falls farther toward the horizon, Boone’s movements take on even more of a liquid grace. His focus seems sharper, his smile deadlier. He uses some kind of charm or glamour to hide his fangs. I’ve never asked him to lower the glamour or let go of the charm.

Some terrors are best left hidden.

I twist the top of the sack and wrap a piece of twine around it. Boone and I start toward the horses. When I don’t hear Carson behind us, I turn around.“You all right, Carson?” I ask.

He stands, dusts off his knees from sitting in the dirt.

A smear of blood tracks across his thigh, thick and black, but the blood ain’t his, so I decide not to mention it. He gazes down at the headless corpse, regret spelled across his features plain as the bold heading on a wanted poster.

“I ain’t entirely all right,” he says, transferring his thoughtful gaze to me, “but I reckon I will be eventually.”

I nod and turn back toward the horses. A more nurturing kind of woman might offer to hold Carson’s hand, or give him a hug or something. That ain’t never been my way. Maybe I used to be like that, when my pa was alive, but after years of holding all my emotion close and my trust even closer, I sort of lost any impulses to express myself through things like hugging or hand holding.
Carson and Boone don’t seem to mind, at any rate, and since we started working together earlier in the summer, they haven’t complained. At times, it seems maybe the only thing they can agree on. They come up opposite on nearly every other stance and decision possible.

I reach the horses first and mount Kitty. While I wait for Boone and Carson, I fasten the sack with the head in it to Kitty’s saddle. Then I check that my revolver is fully loaded with charms. If we’re riding at night, I want to be ready for any surprises. This area of the Rift Territory ain’t too populated with fae, as there’s more desert here and the fae prefer water. It’s also too far from the Rift to have too many demons. What it’s rich in, however, is vampires and shapeshifters.

As Boone and Carson reach me, I hear them talking.

“Want to talk about it?” Boone’s saying.

“Nah,” Carson says, “she just looked like someone I knew.”

That happens sometimes—you have to kill a vampire what used to be a friend, or a family member. I shiver in my coat even though it ain’t yet cold. But night falls fast on the high desert plains, and we need to head back to the town of Salvation, turn in this head, and collect our gold. I want off these plains and back into a valley, and I don’t much care that the valley is hot and stays hot at night without any relief. The high desert’s a terrible place to be.

To underscore my thought, an eerie howl rises up from what don’t seem too far off. Carson and Boone get on their horses and I send each of them a glance. I don’t know what the sound is, exactly, but it ain’t reassuring.

“Coyote?” I ask.

Boone shrugs, looks at Carson. “What d’you think?”

“Shifter,” Carson says.

A second howl joins the first.

“They’re hunting,” Carson says.

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