CHAPTER ONE


The Pleasurer straddled Bacchus, teasing him with her moist opening. He stared at her ripe breasts as she played with her nipples, popping first one, then another into her mouth and sucking greedily. It was a feat few Phantom women could accomplish. Bacchus watched, enraptured.  It had been too long since he'd last partaken of such feminine delights.

He couldn’t seem to catch his breath as his entire body tightened with arousal. She rimmed the head of his shaft. Bacchus felt his fangs unfurl. The urge to bite was strong, but he resisted the temptation. Acting before the woman achieved orgasm would show little restraint on his part.

It was hard enough to book a Pleasurer for the night. The workers' schedules remained full, with so many males to attend to and not enough pleasure workers or women to go around. Some men waited months for their turn. The last thing Bacchus needed was to get a reputation for being early off the mark.

He pushed aside the sudden guilt that surfaced at the way he’d obtained this particular Pleasurer. It would be a long time before Talon would forgive the extra duty he had assigned him tonight. But Bacchus had no choice. He'd been desperate.

Tomorrow he would stow away on a ship destined for Earth. It would take incredible skill and concentration to remain cloaked for the entire journey. He needed to relieve the tension burning through him before he left or risk discovery.

“Relax.” The Pleasurer’s silky voice meant to ensnare him as she finally lowered her body onto him.

Bacchus groaned as her ribbed channel swallowed him, sucking him deep, until he was nestled comfortably inside her. She began to move, gyrating her hips so that the fleshy protrusions caressed his length, stroking him like tiny fingers. Only members of the Claw Clan were blessed with sensual physical traits. That was why they made the best Pleasurers.

He gripped the furs beneath him and grit his teeth, lacerating the inside of his mouth with his fangs. Blood pooled, then poured down his throat. He swallowed the hot liquid to take the edge off his hunger, then bellowed, “More!”

The Pleasurer tossed her head back and her hands gripped his thighs, as she bounced up and down. A moan escaped from her throat as she ground her hips into him. Her claws tore his skin, leaving furrows of pleasure behind.

Bacchus’ nostrils flared as the coppery mint scent of blood flooded his senses. He shot forward, latching onto one of her nipples and began to suck in time with her movements. She mewed, arching her spine to get closer. Bacchus sucked harder. The Pleasurer's breathing deepened as he laved and nibbled, teasing her with the tips of his fangs.

“Yes,” she hissed. The woman grasped his head and buried his nose in her flesh. “Bite me,” she demanded, increasing her speed.

Bacchus closed his eyes. The aroma of her blood beneath her skin wafted like flowers on a breeze. He gripped her back, holding her in place so she couldn’t change her mind and pull away. She wiggled closer. His forked tongue rasped her nipples twice more, then Bacchus impaled her with his fangs. He began to feed, while steadily pumping venom into her.

The Pleasurer screamed when the venom hit her bloodstream and sent her over the edge. Bacchus held her quivering body as it twitched from the explosive aftershocks. He wasn’t sated. Not yet. His hips bucked in time with the draw of his mouth. She shuddered and her skin flushed anew.

Bacchus withdrew his fangs, licking away the stray drops of blood. The venom from his bite would continue to give her pleasure for the next few hours and would ease any discomfort she might feel later. He grasped the Pleasurer’s hips and began to raise and drop her onto his hard shaft, while stroking the bundle of nerves hidden at the base of her skull.

The woman whimpered. “Please,” she pleaded. Her eyes glowed from the mixture of pleasure and pain. “I don’t know if I can—“

“More,” he bellowed, cutting off her protest. Bacchus needed his senses filled and his body emptied in order to concentrate. Failure was not an option.

The Pleasurer’s mouth descended to his shoulder. She blazed a trail of kisses to his neck, then sank her sharp, feline teeth into his skin.

Bacchus roared in surprise, then came hard with a jerk of his hips. Pleasurers never bit clients. It was against guild rules. She'd obviously made an exception for him. He stroked her erogenous spot, pinching and squeezing the nerves on her neck until the woman mewed and followed him into oblivion. She collapsed in a quivering heap on top of him, her breasts smashed against his chest, her lungs heaving.

“That was amazing.” She sounded genuinely astonished.

Bacchus hid a pleased smile. “Do we have time for one more?” he asked, already knowing the answer.

The woman sat up and looked into his eyes, genuine regret in her gaze. “Sorry, Blood Warrior, but you know the rules. I have to attend to the next warrior on my list.”

He kept his expression neutral to hide his disappointment. Just once, Bacchus would like to wake with a woman beside him, wrapped in his embrace.  “I understand,” he said. “Let me get your credits.”

She slipped off his body, leaving him semi-hard. Unconcerned by his nudity, Bacchus rose and walked to the credit unit secured to the wall in his quarters. The unit had five colored stones on it that had to be pressed in the correct order for it to work.

Bacchus’ hands flew over the stones. A moment later, a green credit crystal popped out. He handed the crystal to the Pleasurer.

She smiled and dropped it into a bag. “Would you like to book your next session?” The Pleasurer pulled out a device that held her schedule and looked at him expectantly.

Bacchus slowly shook his head. “That won’t be necessary.”

Something flashed in her eyes. With any other woman he would’ve thought it was disappointment, but not a Pleasurer. They saw nothing beyond the green of the credit crystals.

He showed the woman to the door. She stepped into the corridor, a faint smile ghosting her lips. Bacchus gave her a curt nod, then closed and sealed the entrance behind her. Black sweat-soaked strands of hair fell down his back and over his chest as he leaned his head against the door.

Tomorrow, everything would change. It had to.

His people were dying. He was dying.

Like the Atlanteans, a race of people who settled on Earth thousands of years ago before returning back to their home planet of Zaron, Phantom males outnumbered Phantom females thirty-to-one. Unless the Phantom people discovered a compatible female race capable of meeting all their unique needs and bearing their children, they as a people would cease to exist.

Since Atlantean women were also scarce, Phantom options were few. Many warriors chose to end their existence rather than live a life of never-ending loneliness. Others left Zaron never to return.

To outsiders, the Phantom people seemed like one large group, but they were actually made up of four distinct shifter species. Each group or clan had very different abilities and selective breeding habits, but all held the title of warrior.

The Blood Clan, which Bacchus called family, resembled Earth’s mythical vampires and present day vipers. Their fangs transferred venom that could pleasure, numb or poison, depending on what venom sac the warrior accessed. They also fed on blood—though they could digest solids if necessary.

His reptilian group constituted the largest percentage of their population, followed closely by the Winged Clan, pterodactyl-sized bird shifters, the Claw Clan, which resembled saber-tooth tigers and other predatory cats, and the Tooth Clan, wolf-bear hybrids that could walk on two legs and would probably be considered mutant werewolves on Earth. Of course, the Tooth Clan could take a more pleasing form and resemble Earth’s bears, but that was up to the individual shifter.

Phantoms grew up protecting their people’s secrets. In the past, it had been a matter of life or total destruction. Today it was much the same, except their enemy was time. Which was why Bacchus found himself in his present predicament. He had never disregarded a direct order before.

Honor was as important as breathing to him. He took his duties as a royal guard for the Atlantean King seriously, but when he'd been ordered to remain on Planet Zaron, while Commander Orion went to retrieve a friend of the Queen’s, Bacchus knew he couldn’t obey. Eros, the Atlantean King had left him no choice but to stow away.

Desperation permeated his people. Earth with its humanoid population remained their last great hope. Bacchus had volunteered to be the first warrior to attempt such an enormous undertaking. His future and the future of his people rested squarely upon his shoulders.

He may be the first to make the journey, but he wouldn’t be the last if he succeeded. The Phantom people had given him very little time to secure a mate. If Bacchus failed, he feared self-destruction or rebellion.

Success and failure weighed heavily on his two hearts as he prepared for the long journey ahead. 





                                                                                 CHAPTER TWO


One week later…


Bacchus slipped off the craft shortly after it landed on Earth. They were in a place called Los Angeles, which was apparently filled with millions of humans. Bacchus hoped those millions included females.

Commander Orion had dropped off an Atlantean woman named Cassandra, then had taken off for someplace called New York. He’d probably notice a weight discrepancy, but would otherwise remain blissfully unaware of Bacchus’ deception.

Bacchus had studied as much as he could about Earth before departure. Although he didn’t feel comfortable on this new world, he knew he’d get by long enough to complete his mission. Bacchus tilted his face up to the sun, soaking in the heat.

The crisp ocean air tickled his nostrils and gently caressed his hair, leaving the taste of salt upon his forked tongue. This planet was similar to Zaron, but more exotic in flavor and color.

Earthlings began to arrive on the beach, shattering the tranquility of the morning. Many ran in tight formation, wearing loose gray clothing that sagged on their bodies. Bacchus watched in fascination. There seemed to be no ritual behind their actions. They neither trained for combat nor executed stealth moves.

Strange, even for a primitive species.

Several people passed. He followed a woman down the wave-swept beach, taking care to blur his image in order to blend in with the environment. To the untrained eye, he would appear as a glimmer of light, a flash of sun on the sand, invisible to all until he deemed otherwise.

The woman’s ass sashayed side-to-side with each step she took. Bacchus considered approaching, but decided against it when a nearby male called out her name. She waited for him to approach, then kissed the man. Together, they continued down the beach.

More people appeared on the sand. Their activities made no sense to him. Why were they running? As far as he could tell, nothing chased them.

Bacchus needed to learn more about this planet and its people. The vidlink had been helpful, but left out much information. The only way he could make up for the discrepancy was if he absorbedthe knowledge. He frowned, not looking forward to what he had to do next.

He searched the sands for another Earth male. Bacchus couldn’t take the chance with a female. The possibility of passing on his genetic coding and accidentally mating with her was slim, but still too great and far too important to squander indiscriminately. Bacchus was saving his code for his future mate. He refused to think that he might not find her on this planet.

Minutes passed without anyone coming by. The Atlantean female was close by, so he had to be careful. He couldn’t afford for her to spot him and notify Orion. Bacchus stared down the beach, wondering if he should leave this place and go search another area. He was about to go, when Cassandra began to peel off her clothing. He couldn't seem to move or breathe as she stripped, then stepped into the water.

Bacchus had lain with Atlantean women, so he knew about their enormous sexual appetites. They were tamecompared to histrue nature, but adventurous enough to whet his desire. His shaft hardened as she disappeared under a wave. Cassandra continued to frolic like a nymph, splashing and giggling as her blonde hair floated on the surface of the water behind her. He wondered if the female inhabitants of this planet would be as uninhibited.

Cassandra bobbed up, exposing her full breasts. Bacchus’ body ached as her dusky nipples crinkled in the warm air. Atlantean women looked as if they shared that particular trait with the Earthlings, though he couldn’t be sure until he saw one without their clothes on. Cassandra let out a squeal of delight.

He debated whether to materialize. It had been days since he’d had a woman writhing above him and longer still since one had come to his rest pad without receiving payment. Entranced by her nakedness and deafened by desire, Bacchus stepped forward. He didn’t hear the man’s approach on the sand until he was almost upon him.

Firm-framed with a shadowed jaw, the man slowed his pace as his gaze locked onto Cassandra. Bacchus could hear the man’s heartbeat accelerate and sense his growing arousal. His arrival may have ruined his chance to lay with the Atlantean, but the man could make up for it by letting him absorb the information inside of him.

Bacchus lunged into the man’s path, allowing himself to pass through the runner’s body. He absorbed the man’s essence, his knowledge, his experiences, and hismemories. The man stumbled, but quickly righted himself. Bacchus felt a wave of nausea from taking in too much information. Emotions bombarded him.

So much pain. So much disappointment. And beneath it all was something called love. Bacchus had read about that last emotion, but had never experienced anything like it. The feeling was…indescribable.

The details imprinted in the man’s mind flowed into Bacchus at a dizzying speed, filling him with knowledge about the planet and the customs of its people. The male’s name was Brady Rittner, but he preferred to be called Buzz. He fancied himself a space warrior underneath his unassuming façade. So why was he in so much pain?

Bacchus caught a glimpse of a woman crying in the man’s mind. Who was she? And why did it hurt so much to see her like this? Carrie, the name whispered through his thoughts. It was followed by the word sister.

The information wasn’t enough. Bacchus had to know more. He waded through pain that took his breath away, until he found what he was looking for. Carrie had been engaged to Buzz's best friend, Ryan. The man had discarded her, leaving her broken. Rage enveloped Bacchus. He wanted to hunt Ryan down and inflict the kind of pain he’d put Carrie through.

More memories swamped him. This time Bacchus saw a large box being lowered into the ground. Carrie and Buzz stood over the hole. Carrie was crying and holding her brother’s hand. He’d pulled out of her grasp and walked away, leaving her alone at the side of the grave.

Buzz was mad at his sister. He blamed her for Ryan's death, though deep down he knew it wasn’t her fault. His best friend wasn’t perfect, but his passing had sent Buzz spiraling out of control. He’d lost his job and didn’t feel like he had much to live for. The only thing that kept him from total destruction was his fear for Carrie’s future. He didn’t want her to be alone.

Bacchus couldn’t believe the man’s selfishness. Buzz's sister needed him and all he could think of was himself. His hearts ached for her. He needed to see for himself that she was all right. Checking on Carrie would delay his search, but what choice did he have? Bacchus couldn’t call himself a Phantom Warrior if he turned his back on a female in need.

He had to locate her quickly. Once he observed that she was okay, Bacchus would be on his way and the hunt for a mate would begin in earnest. He turned back in time to see Buzz approach Cassandra. They spoke for several minutes. The man’s gaze greedily drank in her nude form.

Lust rolled off him in waves, much like the Pacific caressed the shore. After a while, Buzz and Cassandra reached some kind of understanding. She climbed out of the water and got dressed. The couple hurried off the beach and headed toward a parking lot. Bacchus followed them to a nearby transport and slipped inside the car before they pulled out onto the street.

The ocean crashed onto the shore in white waves as they raced down the highway. Seagulls squawked above the water, dipping in for a quick meal amongst the shallows. A few came up with small fish flapping in their beaks, only to be swallowed a second later.

Invisible, Bacchus stared out the car window amazed at the shapes and colors of the various females wandering along the beach. He'd never seen so many females in one spot. Dressed in modest clothing and Pleasurer attire, there was something for any warrior on this planetary oasis.

Bacchus smiled. He couldn’t wait to tell the others. He immediately pulled his thoughts back. He mustn’t get too far ahead of himself. There was still a very good chance that the females here wouldn’t be sexually compatible with his species. Their physiology was fragile compared to the Phantoms. Their primitive reproductive systems might not be able to handle the transformation process that occurred after mating.

Were their noses developed enough to respond to his pheromones?

Bacchus had faced many enemies over the years and fought more battles that he could recall, but none seemed as daunting as the task before him. How was he supposed to pick out a compatible female, when they all appealed to him in their own way?

As much as he was determined not to fail the Phantom people, Bacchus knew he couldn’t select a random woman. He needed to find someone who would understand him, accept him for what he was.

The odor of fish and salt filtered through the transport window as they pulled up to a red light. More women rushed across the road, carrying towels and bags, their eyes hidden beneath black lenses and large hats.

Bacchus was tempted to jump out and taste the blood of one of the nearby females just to see if there would be a match, but he didn’t. Honor dictated that he tend to Carrie first before he addressed his own needs. For her and her alone, he remained hidden and silent.

He replayed the memories he’d imprinted from Buzz’s mind. The man seemed at a loss when it came to dealing with his sister. He loved Carrie, but thought she was making up stories about Ryan in an attempt to manipulate their sibling relationship. So, he'd stayed away, hoping the distance would make her face reality even though he couldn’t.

Bacchus shook his head in disgust, then released the lingering guilt and sadness he'd sensed beneath the blame. Reluctantly, he searched Buzz’s memories for more information about Ryan and Carrie. He saw them laughing and sneaking kisses, when they thought Buzz wasn’t looking. Bacchus’ gut clenched and he shoved the memory away. He didn’t like seeing them together. Didn’t like how happy they’d looked.

They continued driving down the coast.  From what Bacchus could tell, they headed in the right direction to reach Carrie’s home. That would make things much easier. Hopefully that's where they were going now.

He frowned when the car pulled in front of a building. The building’s windows were covered in crisp white shutters and a discreet sign displaying its name hung by the road.

Bacchus exited the car and followed the couple inside. After registering, they walked down a sand-colored hall to a room that faced the ocean. Buzz opened the door and ushered Cassandra inside, shutting the portal quickly behind him. The abrupt action left Bacchus standing in the hall, staring at the closed door. He grimaced at the momentary inconvenience, then concentrated and walked through the wall.

The pale gray room was bathed in light from the open shutters. Rich blue-green fabrics covered the bed, making it feel as if the hotel brought the ocean indoors. As Bacchus slowly looked around, sudden understanding dawned. Now he knew what kind of agreement the couple had reached. Cassandra moved fast with this Earth man. Perhaps she had a touch of Pleasurer in her after all.

Buzz strolled casually to the bathroom. Water came on a moment later. Cassandra tilted her head, listening. Her gaze strayed again and again to the closed bathroom door. Bacchus felt guilty for intruding upon their privacy, but he needed to ensure that Earthlings joined in much the same manner as Atlanteans and Phantoms. He didn’t want his first joining with an Earth female to end in disaster or worst yet, death.

More splashing came from the shower. Bacchus laughed to himself, counting down the minutes it would take for Cassandra to give into her curiosity.


Cassandra stripped out of her clothing. She’d shaved her mons, leaving a whisper of blonde peach fuzz behind. She padded down the same path Buzz took, her bare feet silent upon the carpeted floor. She didn’t knock. Cassandra simply turned the handle and walked in. Steam bellowed out the door as Bacchus followed.

He reached the entrance in time to see Cassandra grab the clear shower door and wrench it open. Buzz’s hand snaked out and clasped hers. She gasped and her body flushed in response to his touch.

“Thought you weren’t going to join me.” Buzz’s short hair lay slicked back on his head and his tanned body glistened beneath a thousand tiny droplets of water. Moisture clung to his lashes, hooding his eyes.

“You were expecting me.” Cassandra didn’t sound surprised.

Bacchus stared in fascination at the mating ritual taking place. Earth men were smaller anatomicallythan his species, but this one looked well enough endowed to please the Atlantean woman, if her widening gaze was any indication. She licked her full lips.

“See anything you like, baby?” Buzz choked, then cleared the thickness out of his throat.

Cassandra tore her gaze away from his rising shaft and glanced at his face. “Most definitely,” she purred, doing a pretty good impression of a Claw Clan member.

“That makes two of us.” Buzz’s eyes lit with hunger as his gaze devoured her. “Come in, the water’s perfect—like you.”

Cassandra stepped into the shower and shut the door behind her

It was sheer torture to listen to their soft moans and watch as they caressed each other. The sounds alone were enough to drive any man insane. The ache in Bacchus’ groin grew to dangerous levels. If he didn’t find release soon, he wouldn’t be able to maintain his invisibility.

Sweat beaded his brow and his shaft throbbed. His search for a mate couldn’t start soon enough. Bacchus had taken one step out of the room, when Buzz’s next words stopped him cold.

“This time is going to have to be hard and fast,” he rasped.

Buzz opened the shower door and grabbed a foil wrapper out of his pants. He tore it open with his teeth and quickly sheathed himself with the thin material inside. Bacchus was horrified, but couldn’t tear his gaze away.

What had the man done to his shaft? Why would he do such a thing? Did it somehow enhance his size?

Buzz slipped back into the shower and immediately started kissing Cassandra. He lifted her off the ground. She automatically wrapped her legs around his lean hips. Buzz fumbled with his shaft as he searched for her moist entrance. He groaned when he finally found it, then thrust hard, burying himself to the hilt inside of her.

Cassandra’s lips parted and she cried out as he pressed her against the wall tiles and drove into her hard and fast. Her breasts bounced with each thrust and her nails dug into his back.

“Buzz,” she gasped.

The mention of his name seemed to spur Buzz on. He captured her mouth, devouring her as he rolled his hips to get even deeper.  “So good,” he snarled against Cassandra’s lips. “What are you doing to me?”

Her eyes fluttered open. “Don’t you like it?” 

“Love it. That’s the problem.” He laughed mirthlessly. “Nothing this good ever lasts.”

Bacchus held his breath, waiting to hear her response. This man was a fool to push a perfectly acceptable Atlantean woman away. Were Earthmen stupid enough to believe a good woman was easy to find? Did they mean so little to them that they were willing to discard them without thought?

The idea was unfathomable to Bacchus. He had seen enough. It was time for him to go, before he did something stupid like materialize and punch Buzz in the face. He made his way to the door.

Bacchus slipped Buzz’s transport key off his key ring, then dropped the rest of the keys back onto the table. He shoved some of the replicator-created money that Cassandra brought with her into his pockets. He didn’t bother to walk through the wall. ‘Twas time to blend in and adhere to Earth customs. Bacchus opened the door and slipped outside, then headed to the parking lot.

He found a tote bag in the trunk of Buzz’s car. It was filled with T-shirts, a pair of jeans, shorts, and rubber soled shoes. It was a tight fit, but somehow Bacchus squeezed into them.

Once he was dressed, Bacchus morphed his appearance to lessen the red of his eyes and pulled his long black hair into a queue at the nape of his neck. Buzz may not know it, but if Cassandra had her way, he'd be going back to Zaron with her. Atlantean women always got their way.

With Buzz’s imminent departure looming on the horizon, Bacchus didn’t have much time. He had to find Carrie and somehow let her know that her brother would soon be gone.




                                                                              CHAPTER THREE


Driving ended up being a bit more difficult than it first appeared, but Bacchus eventually got the hang of it. He quickly learned how to wave with one hand while honking and steering with the other, just like the drivers who passed him.

Bacchus still didn’t quite understand why they’d put that red octagon-shaped sign on the side of the road, but it mattered not, since it now sat in his back seat, along with a couple of orange cones, the car’s bumper and a small pine tree. It shouldn’t have been planted so close to the sidewalk, anyway.

Finding things in Los Angeles was difficult with its one-way streets here, no entrance areas there. He’d barely missed the man holding the 'slow traffic ahead' sign. If he hadn’t dove out of the way into a nearby pile of dirt, Bacchus would’ve flattened his feet. He could still hear the man’s curses ringing in his ears and see his raised fist punching the air.

Bacchus arrived as darkness descended upon the palm-lined neighborhood he’d seen in Buzz’s mind. He was grateful he’d made it. He wasn’t sure he would with the car in two pieces. He pulled over to the side of the road and parked.

Take a quick look to make sure she’s fine, then get back to searching.

Bacchus slipped out of Buzz’s borrowed clothes, folding them neatly on the leather seat beside him before killing the engine. He sat in the car for a few minutes, listening to the sounds of the night. His forked tongue darted out of his mouth so he could scent the air for predators. The streets were relatively quiet, except for the constant hum of traffic on the freeways in the distance. Nearby dogs barked as underground sprinklers sprouted to life.

He could hear alien music thumping, couples making love, murmuring television sets, yet no ocean. Bacchus strained to listen for the gentle lapping of the distant waves. There it was, buried beneath the cacophony of existence. He stepped out of the vehicle, his feet falling silently on the pavement, and faded into the darkness.

Shrubs lined the sides of Carrie’s small yard, creating a green wall of privacy around her little white home. Fragrant flowers surrounded the windowsills, their red and yellow blooms adding a burst of color to the otherwise plain palette.

Neat and obviously well tended, the space was cozy and seemed to fit the personality Buzz assigned to her. Curious, Bacchus allowed his image to solidify. He stood in the shadows, searching the windows for any sign of life.

Would she look like the image Buzz created in his mind? Would she have short brown hair and a pixie face? Or had she changed since then?

The questions filtering through his mind brought Bacchus up short. Her appearance shouldn’t matter. That wasn’t why he was here.

A light came on in the room at the front of the house. It was followed by the sound of up-tempo music. Bacchus held his breath and waited. A moment later, a fair-skinned woman stepped into view. Like taking an Atlantean energy blast to the gut, the air rushed from his lungs in a whoosh, leaving him winded.

Carrie had changed her hair since Buzz had last seen her. It was now shoulder length and blonde, without a trace of the brown that had been there before. Tiny boned but long of limb, she moved with the grace of a dancer as she walked from room to room, lights twinkling on in her wake. She came back into the main area with a rolled magazine grasped in her hand. Carrie brought the pages to her mouth and began to sing into it. She tossed her head back as she held a long note, while her hips swayed in time to the beat.

Bacchus stared, gaping, unable to look away. Blood rushed from his head straight to his shaft as she dropped the magazine and bent over to pick it up off the floor. She held it in her hand, carefully unfurling it, before placing it onto a side table. Bacchus knew without looking in a mirror that his eyes glowed red to match the heat churning inside of him. He could feelthe color as it surged through his body, making demands.

Suddenly, observing Carrie wasn’t enough. He needed to possess this woman, but he couldn’t exactly march in and demand she mate with him. He didn’t even know if it was possible for a Phantom to take a human as a mate, but the lack of knowledge didn’t stop him from wanting her. 

In his current condition, he’d scare her to death. And that was the last thing Bacchus wanted. He’d have to approach her when his beast was under control. But how? He hated the idea of deceiving Carrie. She’d been through so much this past year, but what choice did he have? She’d never believe the truth.

She pursed her lips. His dark gaze locked on her mouth. Bacchus longed to taste those lips to see if they were as sweet as they appeared to be.

His three-inch fangs unfurled without warning and hunger beat at his brow. Bacchus brought his hands to his temples and rubbed. His gaze traced the curve of her mouth down to her chin and over her throat. He could hear Carrie’s blood pumping just below the surface of her milky skin. It called to him, demanding that he taste her. Bacchus had never felt anything like this urge. This went beyond simple lust into something deeper, darker, and far more primal.

What was happening to him? Did humans possess a hidden pheromone that affected Phantoms? It would explain a lot.

Bacchus swallowed hard and fought the instincts that told him to mark her. Helpless in the face of such overwhelming need, he continued to watch her. 


* * * * *


Carrie turned off the stereo and tuned into her favorite show. Despite the noise, the quiet pressed in around her. She'd tried singing to fill the silence, but it hadn’t helped for long. Ryan had brought the house to life with his raucous laughter. Always one to pull childish pranks, he kept her in stitches for the short time that they'd lived together. His goofy sense of humor was one of the reasons she'd said yes, when he'd asked her to marry him. As Brady's best friend, Carrie thought she knew him well. Thought she could count on him. Turned out, she didn't know him at all.

Despite the ugly breakup, she still missed him now that he was gone. The blame and guilt over his death lingered, but the pain wasn’t quite as acute as it had been in the beginning.

She had always thought that she’d been in love with Ryan, but lately…Carrie wasn’t so sure. She was beginning to think she’d wanted to be in love so badly that she’d simply convinced herself that she was.

Even her brother’s desertion nine months ago didn’t hurt as much as it once had. Carrie wasn’t sure what that said about their sibling relationship. Oh, she loved her brother dearly and knew that Brady loved her, but there'd been a darkness growing inside of him for years. Ryan's death and the loss of his job had only hastened its spread. As much as she wanted to, Carrie couldn't save Brady from himself.

She stared at the empty spot beside her. Loneliness rose so quickly that Carrie barely had time to tamp it down. She loved this house, but she'd been thinking lately that a change might do her some good. She wasn’t sure where she’d go yet, but it would certainly be easy enough to sell the place, since she was only a few miles from the beach.

With the money she’d make from the sale, she could settle Ryan’s debt and maybe have enough to start over. Maybe she would even take the time to get back into her original field of study, not that there was a huge demand for herpetologists these days. She sighed.

There was nothing wrong with training and breeding dogs, but the job wasn’t the same as working with amphibians and reptiles. Some girls loved warm and fuzzy, she loved cool and scaly. But then again, Carrie had always been a little out of step with her friends.

A particularly funny line from the TV show drew her back from her musings. Carrie laughed, temporarily forgetting about her plans. The screen switched to a commercial and suddenly the skin on the back of her neck prickled and heated.

Carrie looked at her alarm system to make sure it was set, then glanced out her living room window into her front yard. Darkness met her. The shadows clung to the bushes, making them seem particularly dense for this time of night. Her eyes strained to penetrate the inky mass.

No movement came beyond the hiss and spray of the sprinkler system. There was nothing to explain the sudden wave of hyper-awareness coursing through her body or the heaviness in her breasts.

Carrie looked down at the front of her shirt, noting her pebbled nipples and frowned. She crossed her arms over her chest. She might not be ready to start dating again, but it was obvious her body had other ideas. She gave the darkness one last glance, before dismissing the whole thing as an overactive imagination and settling back in her chair.


* * * * *


A car pulled into her driveway and cut the engine. Two men climbed out of the transport and headed for Carrie’s front door. Bacchus sank deeper into the shadows. The taller of the two men raised his fist and banged on her front door.

He saw Carrie startle, then hurry to the door. The light on the porch came on and she opened the door. She immediately took a step back, when she saw who was there.

“Where’s the money?” the taller man asked.

“Like I told you yesterday and the day before that and the day before that, I don’t have it,” she said. “Ryan never gave me anything.”

“Mr. Bing is losing his patience,” he said. The man took out a small object and flicked it with his thumb. Flame erupted from the end of it. “I’d hate for anything to happen to your house, while you’re in it.”

Carrie trembled and tears filled her eyes. “I’ll get you your money. I told you I would.”

“Chop! Chop! Next time we won’t be leaving here without it.” He motioned for the other man to head back to the car. He was about to follow, but stopped. “By the way, how’s your brother doing?”

Blood drained from Carrie’s face and her grip on the door tightened.

The man laughed. “See you tomorrow,” he said, then hurried back to the car, climbed inside and drove away.

Bacchus didn’t understand what had just occurred, but he recognized a threat when he heard one. What had Carrie gotten herself into? Did Buzz know that she was in danger? He searched the man’s memories, but all he could come up with was a brief dismissal when Carrie had tried to tell him that Ryan had been in trouble before he died.

This changed everything…

Bacchus watched over Carrie’s house until she went to bed. Once he was sure the men would not return, he drove around the neighborhood aimlessly, while he planned how to intercede.

The open window delivered cool air to the inside of the car, but did little to diminish his anger. He was so distracted by his strategizing that he almost missed a woman’s muffled screams in the distance. He hit the breaks and the car skidded to a stop in the middle of the road. Bacchus listened, his hearts pounding in his chest. Silence ensued.

Had he imagined the cries?

Bacchus pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the engine. He glided out of the seat, his tongue testing the air for danger. It took two turns to the right, but he found what he sought. The trail of sweat and fear was faint, but he’d be able to follow it. Bacchus got back into the vehicle and made a U-turn.

It didn’t take long to locate the darkened alley where the scream had come from. As he killed his lights, Bacchus saw a woman sprawled across the ground. Her knees were cut, along with her hands. Bruises marred her pretty face. Her eyes watered and her body trembled as shock took hold. The buttons on her shirt had been torn and her skirt was ripped, leaving her skin and underwear exposed. A group of men surrounded her, taunting her like a pack of hungry wolves. Each man had the word fuegoburned into his skin.

Bacchus didn’t know what the word meant, but from the smell, it wasn’t anything good. Listening, he caught snippets of the conversation, something about pulling a train, which made no sense, since they were miles from the railroad tracks.

No one in the nearby houses responded to her pitiful cries. It was as if they didn’t hear her. Or didn’t want to. Televisions were turned up to their highest volumes and radios blasted distorted songs.

His forked tongue slithered out of his mouth once again. Bacchus tasted sexual need, along with depravity. So they planned to take this helpless woman once they finished beating her.

Rage boiled inside of him fueled by his unexpected hunger for Carrie. Bacchus stepped out of the car. His feet were silent upon the uneven ground as he moved closer to the men.

One of the men noticed his approach. “Nice ride,” he said. “You lost, man?”

“No, I’m exactly where I want to be,” he said.

The men exchanged confused glances.

“I think you’d better get out of here, punta,” a dark-haired, pock-faced man said, stepping toward him in a manner Bacchus was sure was meant to be threatening. “This isn’t a safe neighborhood.” Aggression oozed from his pores.

The man had no way of knowing the creatures that he’d faced in battle in order to prove himself a warrior. His stern stance was little more than an annoyance that Bacchus could easily dispatch with no effort whatsoever. They thought they were the most dangerous predators out tonight. They were wrong.

Bacchus’ gaze flicked to each man, before focusing on the woman who wept silently.  Her brown eyes were both pleading and fearful. The beast inside Bacchus rejoiced. A good fight would alleviate some of the tension strumming through his body.

The young man pulled up his shirt to show Bacchus the gun hidden in his low-riding pants. “You’d better leave, punta. Not going to ask you again.”

A bullet couldn’t penetrate his flight suit, but it could leave a nasty hole in his head. Bacchus doubted any of these men were good enough shots to pull off that feat, especially with him moving in and out of their sights. Even so, he wouldn’t give them the opportunity to try.

He felt his power flow until his eyes blazed red in the darkness like a demon from their religious texts.

The men gasped and stepped back.

In the next instant, Bacchus’ fangs unfurled and venom shot out ten feet, spraying three of the men in the face. Screams rang out as the men wiped their eyes. The toxins would temporarily blind them while he took care of the others. Bacchus roared, blurring his image until he was a nightmare come to life.

He surged forward.

The young man who’d been speaking pulled his gun out and fired rapidly, but he wasn’t fast enough. The bullets penetrated a wall nearby, sending plaster raining onto the ground. He kept firing until nothing came out.

Bacchus grasped the man’s fingers and squeezed.


The man screamed in agony, as his bones snapped and crumbled to powder.

Bacchus kept his grip on the man and yanked him forward. He sank his fangs deep into his throat. Blood pooled in his mouth. He swallowed. The man’s terrified wails increased, along with his struggles, but Bacchus refused to release his prize. Suddenly he went limp in surrender. The man may talk tough, but he behaved like prey.

He continued to feed. The man's blood tasted sour. Something tainted his body. Bacchus dropped him onto the ground and stepped over his prone form. He’d remain paralyzed for the next few hours due to the venom he’d expelled. Bacchus turned to face the final three, only to see two of them swivel and run. The third stood his ground, a knife clutched beneath white knuckles.

“Come on!” he shouted. “I’m not afraid of a vampire. I have a cross.” He pulled his shirt open to show Bacchus the large silver chain around his neck, grasping it like a talisman.

The hypocrisy of the move did not escape him. Bacchus threw his head back and laughed, licking blood from his fangs as he did so. The young man’s taste triggered his hunger. He fought the need for satiation.

“Do you expect me to fear the metal pressed against your chest, when youdo not?” Bacchus asked.

“Vampires can’t look upon crosses. It hurts them.” The man glanced around as if help would suddenly appear. "Everybody knows that."

Bacchus brushed his clothing. “I did not,” he said, then disappeared before the man’s eyes.

The man frantically searched for him. 

Bacchus reappeared behind him. The brush of breath on his neck was the only warning the man received before he plunged his fangs into his neck.

The man tried to stab him, but Bacchus caught the weapon before it could do any damage. He bent the knife blade with little effort and dropped it onto the ground.

He retracted his fangs to speak. “You shouldn’t have done that,” he said. “Your aggression just makes me hungrier.” Bacchus gripped the man’s chin and craned his neck for better access, then struck without mercy.

Bacchus drank until his hunger was sated. The rich fiery taste of blood filled every cell in his body. He was enjoying feeding so much that he almost missed the sound of the man’s heart stuttering in his chest. Bacchus had no moral qualms when it came to killing, but there was no challenge in taking down human prey. He let the man fall to the ground. He landed with a thump. He’d think twice before he pounced upon a stranger again in a darkened alley. They all would.

The woman remained on the ground, her eyes wide with horror. She bled from so many places it was hard for Bacchus to concentrate.  He took a couple of deep breaths, his body fading and solidifying repeatedly while he wrenched back control. The smell of blood permeated the air like coppery perfume. Finally, he stilled, his mind and beast firmly back under his command.

“It’s okay.” Bacchus held his hand out in a soothing gesture and lowered his voice. “I won’t harm you.”

The woman whimpered and hunkered down in an attempt to make herself smaller.

Bacchus heard her mumbling prayers under her breath and forced his fangs to retract. He hadn’t intended to scare her, but he’d had no choice. The men would not have let her go without a fight. 

“Where do you live?” he asked.

He needed to get her home, so her family could get her medical attention. Bacchus didn’t think the men had sexually assaulted her, but the shock of the beating wouldn’t wear off anytime soon.

The woman glanced up tentatively, eyeing his mouth as if she didn’t trust what she’d seen. Bacchus relaxed. Soon she would doubt her recollection, which was for the best. She’d been through enough.

“A couple of blocks over to the east.” She took a shuddering breath and clutched her tattered clothes to her chest, then struggled to her feet.

“I’m not familiar with this place,” he said. “Can you guide me?”

She glanced warily at the men on the ground and nodded. “Are they going to die?” Tears welled in her eyes. “They were going to kill me after…”

Bacchus clenched his fists. He knew what they’d intended to do, even before he’d taken their blood and confirmed it. “They will not harm you again or I will return and finish what I started. Next time I will not be so merciful.”

The men whimpered in response.

The instinct to kill was tempting. This wasn’t the first woman to suffer at the hands of these men. Others had not been nearly as fortunate. Bacchus could have killed them easily, but he wasn’t here to battle an enemy, however deserving of death.

“Come,” Bacchus said before he changed his mind and put the men down for good. He reached out to support her, but she flinched and backed away. He let her, but kept a close eye on her in case she stumbled. Bacchus opened the car door and waited for her to step inside. “I’ll be right back.”

He strolled over to the incapacitated men. The three blinded ones wept in fear as they heard his purposeful footfalls, while the fourth and fifth lay supine, unable to move, their dark eyes filled with terror.

“If I ever see any of you around this woman again, I will kill you. I can do so at any time and you'd never see me coming." Bacchus allowed his fangs to unfurl as he bent over one of the paralyzed men. Venom clung to the sharp tip, dropping onto the man’s white shirt. “Blink if you understand me,” he snarled.

The man blinked rapidly and tears ran down his cheeks.

“Good.” Bacchus smiled, flicking his forked tongue into the air. He could hear the rapid heartbeats of the two men who’d ran away before the fight. They were hiding not far from the alley. No doubt they’d retrieve their friends the second he left.

Bacchus didn’t understand this planet. With all the resources here, including healthy women, why did they take so much for granted?


© 2023 by Jordan Summers