Soul Kisses by Neko4

Prologue

Sakura Haruno leaned close to the canvas to add a dot of gold highlight to one painter brown eye. Stepping back, she tilted her head and studied the portrait she'd been working on for the past two weeks. Her best friend who is like a sister to her sat in a spill of white lace and seed pearls, her tall, handsome groom standing behind her in a dark and elegant suit. Hinata Hyuga big pale eyes glowed with happiness and Naruto looked downright besotted as he gazed down at her.

Sakura decided she'd caught both likenesses pretty well. Except…the painting still needed something.

An idea struck, inspiring a wicked grin. She dropped her brush in the jar of turpentine and chose a sable one that was even finer. Humming under her breath, Sakura leaned forward and added a tiny, delicate shape between the grooms' painted lips – the barest hint of a fang. Not enough for a casual observer to notice, but her brother–in–law would spot it immediately. Naruto Uzuamuki, former Texas Ranger turned vampire would probably laugh his ass off. What better gift for the couple's fifth wedding anniversary?

Her portable phone rang from amid the litter of paint tubes and brushes on her art table, jolting Sakura from her artistic haze. She gave the phone a wary glance and picked up, hoping it wasn't Orochimaru again. She wasn't up to another creepy conversation. She really needed to get caller ID. "Hello?"

"What's wrong?" Hinata's creamy Russian drawl rang with instant alarm.

Sakura winced. She'd set off her sisterly alarm. "Nothing."

"Don't give me that – I know that tone. Something's bothering you."

Oh hell, might as well come clean. Besides, she might need the help. I've got an ex-boyfriend who's pushing a little hard."

"Are you saying you're being stalked?" Hinata took on that God-Help-Anybody-Who-Threatens-My-Sister-Tone. "What's going on? What's he been doing?"

Now Sakura was beginning to feel like an idiot. "Look, it's not that big a deal, really. I broke it off with this guy and he's not happy about it. I can handle it."

The Line clicked as Naruto picked up the other phone. You want me to come to New York and have a word with him?"

It was a tempting thought. Five minutes with Naruto and his psychic powers and Orochimaru would forget he even knew Sakura. On the other hand, she hated the idea of turning to her vampire relatives to solve her problems. "I don't know if you'd notice, but I'm a big girl now. I can take care of myself."

We didn't say you couldn't, babe,'' Hinata said. "But back when I was a reporter…"

"…You wrote a story about a stalker who ended up hitting his ex." No matter what the topic of conversation, Hinata had usually written a story about it.

"Not a story – more like ten to fifteen. Stalkers are nothing to screw around with."

"Look Sakura just humor us," Naruto said. "Tell us about this guy."

"Well, Orochimaru had gotten a little scary lately. "Not much to tell." Brooding, she rubbed at a spot of wet Cadmium Red on her jeans. "I met him at my gallery showing last month. He seemed charming enough at first – good looking, had this kind of Johnny Depp thing going…"

Let me guess – he's married," Hinata said.

"I wish. He might be easier to get rid pt. Anyway, after we went out a few times, I started to suspect there was something nasty under all that char." Needing to move, she began to pace her studio restlessly. "So a couple of days ago, I told him to get lost.

"Good," Hinata said. "When you get a psychic impression that string, you need to listen to it."

Sakura frowned. She'd never been comfortable with the idea she might share her sister's mental abilities. "I don't know that I call it a psychic impression, but he definitely freaked me out."

"Are you sure this guy isn't a vampire?" Naruto was beginning to sound worried.

"Orochimaru?" Oh now there was a nasty thought. She shook her head. "Can't be. We went out five or six times and he never gave any indication he was anything more than just a guy. A son of a bitch, but not supernatural."

"If he is a vampire, who knows what kind of game he's playing?" Naruto said. "You're Kith, Sakura. That makes you damn rare. There are vamps that'd go to any length to get their hands on a Kith female. Few people could survive being infected by the virus that causes vampirism. Vamps called those who could the Kith, as in kith and kin.

By transforming a Kith, a master vampire could enslave him/her and use the new vamp's psychic powers to strength his own. Ugly as that enslavement could be for a man, a woman would suffer an even worse fate. Some vampires had very ugly tastes indeed and would like nothing better that torturing a woman whose vampire powers could heal any injuries. The possibility of falling victim to someone like that was terrifying. Sakura had come far too close to it once before, when she'd been kidnapped by Naruto's vampire sire, the Akatsuki leader Yondaime.

"Boy, that's a disgusting thought," Sakura said, grimacing. "Come to think of it, I haven't seen him during the day. That might be a coincidence, though."

"Or it might not." There was a long, chilly pause. "I think I should come to New York."

She sighed. "Maybe that wouldn't be a bad idea. I…" The doorbell rang, cutting her off. "Hold on a minute, there's somebody at the door."

"Sakura…"

Carrying the phone, Sakura walked out of her studio and down the hall to the apartment's front door. Automatically, she checked the peephole. "Oh, hell."

It was Orochimaru, tall and elegant in a charcoal suit, his gleaming dark hair tied in a ponytail. Her heart began to pound. Could Naruto be right? Was he a vampire? Licking her lips, she automatically checked the deadbolt. It was locked. That was something, anyway. "Orochimaru, go away or I'm calling the cops," she called though the closed door. "I've told you I'm not interested."

"The problem is, my dove," he purred back in that thick British accent, "I am."

"Too bad." Lifting the phone with a hand that shook, she turned to move away. "I've got to cal the cop. Orochimaru is at the …"

The door exploded inward with a crash. With a startled yelp, Sakura whirled as Orochimaru shouldered though it's splintered remains. "Are you nuts?" She backed away, wondering nervously if he'd broken it with vampire strength. "Get the hell out!"

"I don't think so, my dove." He looked crueler than handsome now, his snakiest face stark with hunger and feral anticipation. When he smiled, her blood chilled. He had fangs. Well, that answered that question.

Sakura whirled to run, but Orochimaru grabbed her before she could take another step. His grip sent pain lancing though her arms. She dropped the phone and went for his eyes with phone and went for his eyes with her nails. He hit her, a stunning backhand slap that sent her staggering back to trip over that coffee table. She fell, hitting the floor in a bruising tumble. Blackness crowded in.

The last thing she heard was Naruto roaring her name over Hinata's frantic question. "Sakura? Sakura, what's happening? Sak…!"