Take A Chance On Me
Chapter One

God, she was starving.

The ache in her gut was overwhelming. Grace licked dry, cracked lips and for a moment risked the fantasy of a juicy throat, full of delicious blood flowing into her body like a wave of pure life and power, like manna from the gods. It was utterly the opposite of how she was feeling right now. There was a fierce need to feed. She was so desperate to sink her fangs into a nice, supple neck that just about everyone she saw looked tasty, even the nerdy freshman she’d seen as she’d fled through college grounds. She was realistic enough to know that was probably all she could handle at this point, too, the weakness causing her body to fold up into itself, a useless effort to distract herself from the pain.

Hiding like a pathetic human behind some prickly bushes in one of Sunnydale’s ridiculously numerous boneyards, she unfurled her limbs from the self-protective huddle and tried to prepare to move. She hurt so bad she had to bite down hard on her lower lip to not cry out. Staying put wasn’t an option. Priority number one was to get as far away as she could get from wherever she currently was. She needed time to work out a plan, preferably somewhere safe from government-issued heat scanners that could pick up instantly that she was a vampire, homing in to stun her again with their tasers. Right. Underground it was. Just so she could rest. It wouldn’t solve her feeding problem, though, and her hunger was acute. She so hated being weak, and it would be even worse if anyone saw her like this. They’d reduced her to a pitiful excuse of a vampire, so wretched she didn’t even recognise herself anymore. Things had to change, and fast.

A shout in the distance forced her into action. She wasn’t the only one who’d escaped. She’d seen the flash of peroxided hair as she’d found her own way through the tunnels, finally feeling hope for freedom from that monstrous place underground once the wind was on her face. She hadn’t known Spike had been captured as well, and for a second she felt sympathy. It didn’t last. Self-preservation had no room to care for vampires who’d never paid her any mind. Spike was on his own. From what she’d heard, he was going to have to get used to it since his nutty girlfriend had apparently sent him packing. Still, not her problem, though maybe one day she’d let him know she was grateful for the distraction he’d created so she could finally make good on her own plans of escape. She might even think about including him when she launched her vengeance against the fools that thought they could destroy her—who’d made the very grievous mistake of underestimating her. It was almost funny how they that had discounted her—and Spike. They had no idea what they’d inevitably unleashed.

She was loathe to head back beneath the earth, but it made the most sense to her right now. Sunnydale was built upon a maze of underground tunnels and caves, and she knew in her gut that was where she needed to be. It went against her nature to hide, but she didn’t have the strength to take the soldiers on. They’d done something to her while she’d spent months locked away behind a transparent door, having her every move watched with eyes filled with loathing and menace. Except for that evil bitch in charge. She’d observed her experiments with an enthusiasm borne from fevered excitement, bordering on lunacy. Grace wasn’t positive what it was they’d actually done to her, but until she knew for sure, she didn’t want to lay her eyes on any figure dressed head to toe in khaki. Nor the Special Ops black wardrobe they seemed to be garbed in tonight.

Carefully, she made her way to the edge of the forest, ducking into the darkness as she heard the sound of pursuit getting closer. Grace shook as she anticipated the claustrophobia, but at least this time, she wouldn’t be trapped behind electrified doors. She stumbled as she ran, weakness making her slow. Her senses were dulled but still she could hear the heavy footfalls behind her, not as sure-footed as she’d expected, but maybe, she thought snidely, they were afraid of the dark. The cave entrance loomed up ahead, its entrance only obvious to those who knew it was there, the opening shielded with a mix of well-placed vegetation and remnant magic leftover probably from when the Master had thought he’d rule the Hellmouth. Grace almost laughed at the memory. She’d never been one of his minions, but she’d been around enough to know how pompous and egotistical the older ones had been. About the only good thing of having a Slayer in town was her helping Grace out and clearing the refuse out of the way.

The dampness inside the cave entrance to the tunnels made her skin crawl. She hated the dark earthiness of it all, the primitive nature of hiding out from the population. Grace liked her comforts—like a hot steaming shower, a hairdryer. A nice, big comfy bed. Trying to deck out a cave with the little luxuries in life was just asking to cultivate mould. It was disgusting. And smelly. And totally beneath her.

She was only a few steps inside when the glorious scent of freshly spilled blood flowed through her nostrils and hit the back of her throat. Without thought, she let her senses guide her, and barely five minutes later she was standing stunned as Harmony slid off her gargantuan bed at receiving an unexpected guest, an enormous smile taking over her face.

“Come in. Welcome to my humble home.”

Oh fuck, was this idiot serious? She lived in a dirt hole in the ground and she considered it home? That was really kind of sad, but not entirely unexpected when she considered the few brain cells the blonde vampire had to rub together. Grace would have even told her so if a moan from the floor on the other side of the bed hadn’t reminded her with visceral urgency that she was fucking famished. Leaping across the bed, Grace shoved Harmony out of her way and fell upon the barely conscious human. As soon as Grace’s fangs pierced his skin, all bets were off, her demon taking over. A sharp, hot streak of pain sliced through her brain, but her demon had control now and wasn’t stopping. Tears of agony flowed down the heavy, protruding bones of her face as the rush of blood on her tongue warred with the piercing agony that was spreading through her head. She wanted to stop but she didn’t think she could, the clawing ache of starvation overruling every other need.

“Hey! Fangs off. He’s mine.”

Harmony had barely lifted her foot before Grace had glared feral, amber eyes her way and growled a menacing warning before continuing to suck every last drop from the convenient meal. Ten seconds later, she dropped the body at her feet, her stomach barely registering being fed as sobs of agony echoed up through her chest. One human wasn’t going to be enough to reverse months of being starved, drugged and experimented on. She needed more. So much more.

The short burst of strength the blood had given her dissipated like it was nothing as soon as she changed face, and the shaking made her unsteady on her feet. Her insides cramped and she let the worry of vomiting up the precious liquid distract her from how much more of it she craved.

Harmony’s bed looked kind of comfy, so Grace dropped upon it like a stone. She’d have laid back and allowed exhaustion to claim her if a scuffle hadn’t sounded just outside the cave’s entrance, a precursor to the eruption of two more bodies into the space.

Grace pushed herself up with difficulty, but at least took efforts to appear like it was annoyance rather than sheer fatigue. Unfortunately, she thought waspishly, the intruders weren’t human. She rolled her eyes as Spike braced himself against the rock wall, eyes filled with wariness as he swept his gaze between her and the bimbo who’d been playing Barbie’s mansion underground. Grace looked beyond Spike, bored already with his huffing and pasty complexion. She knew she probably looked far worse, but there was no way she was going to be intimidated by a vamp whose balls belonged to his sire, and who likely was still tugging them along, even without being in town.

Spike was inconsequential to her right now, anyway. The vampire that had followed him was far more important.

“Tom?” The relief she felt to see her own minion was enormous. It was settled. They’d stay put until it was safe to leave, and then they’d find the others. Safety in numbers.

“Mistress. We thought—” He stopped, and Grace was suddenly irritated, because she knew exactly what they’d thought. If she felt stronger, she’d force him to say it, then beat the shit out of him before he never allowed himself to think again.

“You never thought to look for me?” His wide-eyed fear exhausted her. All she wanted now was to sleep without the fear of waking up on an operating table, some crazy-assed doctor standing over her head with a scalpel. Her frantic path to freedom had been enough to show her that any attempts by her followers to find her would have been next to impossible, but that didn’t mean she had to forgive them for leaving her to be the deranged professor’s lab rat. Oh yeah, that psycho bitch was number one on Grace’s shit list.

“Never mind,” she said finally, letting Tom off the hook. The relief gushed out of him in a wave of fatigue that had his legs give out. He plopped awkwardly on the floor, looking for all the world like he didn’t understand how he’d gotten there.

“Well, as fun as this has been—NOT—I think it’s time you all left.” Harmony stood in the middle of the room, hands on hips, her expression midway between assertive confidence at her gumption trying to kick her elders out of her space, and cautious optimism that everyone would just go peacefully. Grace was even mildly amused at how the clueless blonde completely missed the disgusted expression on Spike’s face as he glared at her.

Grace flopped back on the mattress and swallowed a moan at how comfortable it was. Her whole body hurt, especially her head and if Harmony thought she was going to be relieved of her guests any time soon, she had a very big shock coming. Grace found a soft pillow for her head and closed her eyes. Caution dictated that she at least attempt to make sure Harmony or Spike weren’t entertaining the foolish idea to off her while she slept, and was strangely reassured as Spike stumbled over his feet as he made his way to the vacant side of the bed and collapsed onto it. He didn’t even look at Grace as he closed his eyes and surrendered himself to blessed unconsciousness. Grace decided Harmony was too simple to try and take out her elder vamps while they slept, and followed Spike’s lead into sweet, welcome oblivion.

Her last thought was that she couldn’t wait to find Sunday and start planning her revenge.

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