I wrote this novel in a number of different locationsânot just my beloved New Orleans, but in hotels in places as varied as Nassau, Long Island, and Orlando, Florida; as well as at the homes of dear friends in places like Fort Lauderdale and Pembroke, Massachusetts. Thanks to everyone for their hospitality.
I would be extremely remiss if I didn't thank everyone at Kensington Publishing, but most especially my wonderful editor, John Scognamiglio. John has wanted me to write a vampire novel set in my hometown for years, and now I've finally gone ahead and done it. I hope it isn't too disappointing.
Everyone else at Kensingtonâcopy editor, publicity, cover design, book design, etc.âis the acme of professionalism, and has made every book an absolute pleasure to work on.
Anyone who writes a vampire novel set in New Orleans must pay homage to the two great writers who made the city synonymous with vampires: Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite. I'd also like to thank both of them for the hours of reading pleasure they've given me, as well as for being incredibly gracious and kind and giving writers themselves.
I also owe a special debt of gratitude to Todd Perley and his husband, Benâfor letting me set this book in their house, Manderley.
I love and adore my co-workers, who make every day at the office fun rather than drudgery: Josh Fegley, Mark Drake, Sarah Ramteke, Matt Valletta, Brandon Benson, Alex Leigh, Robin Pearce, and Nick Parr. Still here in the office in spirit are Allison Vertovec, Martin Strickland, Daniella Rivera, Eric Knudsen, Jon Pennycuff, Tanner Menard, and Ked Dixon. Miss you all.
Oh, and my favorite nasty girl, Meghan Davidson. I really miss you, dear heart.
he damp air was thick with the scent of blood.
It had been days since I had last fed, and the desire was gnawing at my insides.
I've waited too long,
I thought as I looked around Jackson Square for a promising human. A wave of nausea washed over me as the dull ache from inside pushed every other thought from my head. The wave passed, leaving me feeling more than a little weak.
That's not a good sign. I'd better be getting on with itâif I wait any longer, I might not be strong enough,
I thought as my head began to clear. I was sitting on one of the benches between the wrought-iron fence and the massive gray stone of St. Louis Cathedral. I stood up, and my knees almost buckled under my weight.
Definitely not good.
My eyes focused on a young man walking a bicycle past the front of the cathedral. He was talking on a cell phone. His face was animated and flushed beneath the black mustache and goatee. There was a scattering of pimples over his pale face and dark circles beneath his round, bloodshot eyes. He was wearing a black T-shirt that read
Who Dat Say They Gonna Beat Dem Saints
in gold letters. The shirt hung loosely over his slender frame. His ratty old paint-spattered jeans were cut off at the knees and were so big his sharp hip bones barely seemed to be holding them up. There was a tattoo of Tweety Bird on his right calf and one of Marvin the Martian on the left. There was a bleeding sacred heart tattooed on the inside of his right forearm. His hair was dark and dirty-looking, combed to a peak in the center of his head. He seemed extremely agitated as he pushed his bicycle, his agitation seeming to grow with every step he took.
He stopped directly in front of an anemic-looking young woman who was putting her violin into a battered black case. He stopped for a moment, letting out an enormous sigh as the young woman picked up her violin case. She nodded at him and walked away. He turned his head and watched her go, a smirk dancing across his thin lips. He started walking again, talking into his phone.
I could smell his blood. I could almost hear his beating heart.
I could see the pulsing vein in his neck, beckoning me forward.
The sun was setting, and the lights around Jackson Square were starting to come on. The tarot card readers were folding up their tables, ready to disappear into the night. The band playing in front of the cathedral was putting their instruments away. The artists who hung their work on the iron fence around the park were long gone, as were the living statues. The square, teeming with life just a short hour earlier, was emptying of people, and the setting sun was taking the warmth with it as it slowly disappeared in the west. The cold breeze coming from the river ruffled my hair a bit as I watched the young man with the bicycle. He started wheeling the bicycle forward again, still talking on the phone. He reached the concrete ramp leading up to Chartres Street. He stopped just as he reached the street, and I focused my hearing as he became more agitated.
“What do you want me to say? You're just being a bitch, and anything I say you're just going to turn around on me.”
I felt the burning inside.
Desire was turning into need.
I knew it was best to satisfy the desire before it became need. I could feel the knots of pain from deprivation forming behind each of my temples and knew it was almost too late. I shouldn't have let it go this long, but I wanted to test my limits, see how long I could put off the hunger.
The first lesson I'd been taught was to always satiate the hunger while it was still desire, to never
let it become need. It had been drilled into me over and over again, time after time. I'd been taught to feed daily, which would keep the hunger under control and keep me out of danger. Better to take small drinks every day, small drinks that left the donor a little dizzy for just a moment, than to wait and gorge on blood. When desire becomes need, vampires might not be able to stop drinking until the human is nothing more than a bloodless husk.
Need was dangerous. Need led a vampire to take risks he wouldn't take ordinarily. And risks could lead to exposure, to a painful death.
I could hear Jean-Paul, my maker, inside my head.
Why do you always want to take such risks? Why do you insist on always putting us all in danger? Why did I ever turn you?
I never listened to him. And now I was beginning to regret it as my head swam and the predator inside of me began taking control of my mind.
My insides ached, gnawing at me. All around me I could hear heartbeats pounding, everywhere around me a buffet of blood calling to me.
I had waited too long. I gulped, trying to control the rising beast.
I would follow him and drink as soon as it was safe.
He started walking again, and I began following him, focusing on the curve of his buttocks in his jeans. The T-shirt was a little too short, riding up on his back so I could see the dimples in his lower back just above the swell of his ass. He was more slender than I liked, but it didn't matter since I wasn't going to fuck him. I was just going to pierce his neck for a moment and drink from his veins until the desire faded and I returned to my normal state.
You haven't been normal in over two years,
a voice whispered inside my head.
I ignored it as I always did.
He crossed St. Ann Street and continued on his way up Chartres, still talking on the phone, completely oblivious to everything and everyone around him. There weren't many people about on Chartres Street as darkness continued to fall on the Quarter, and the moon rose in the deep purple sky. I felt power surging through my body with each step I took. Darkness is the vampire's friend, making us even more powerful, stronger. My eyes adjusted to the darkness, and everything became sharper, clearer. It had taken me a while to get used to the strength of my night vision and how different things seemed after the sun had vanished. My prey glowed in the night, and I could see the vein in his neck pulsing and pounding. I started walking faster, figuring I could catch up to him and pull him into one of the many shadowed doorways. Anyone passing by would assume we were simply enjoying a public display of affectionâand the groans of pleasure he would emit as I drained off some of his blood would give further proof to the lie.
The blood scent was so strong I could almost taste it, the need rising in me againâthe painful gnawing inside, the blurring in my mind as the predator struggled to take control. My knees buckled momentarily, and I knew I had to catch him soonâ
I froze, stopped walking.
“My God, it
you.” A hand grabbed my arm from behind and spun me around. “IâI thought you were
“Let me go,” I growled, the need beginning to push everything else out of my mind. I was dangerously close to losing control.
“No way, man!” My old roommate from Beta Kappa, Jared Holcomb, was smiling at me. His entire face lit up with the smile the way it always had. His thick blond hair was longer than I remembered it being, and his muscles were thicker, stronger. He was wearing a tight pair of low-rise jeans and a tight blue shirt that hugged his torso. “Where have you been? My God . . . I'm so glad to see you!”
Always feed before the desire becomes need,
Jean-Paul lectured inside my head again.
When it becomes need, you cannot control yourself and you will take risks you usually wouldn't. You put yourself at risk. You put all of us at risk. Is that what you want? You want us all hunted down and killed? Will that make you happy, Cord?
His voice faded and all of my conscious thought became consumed with the need.
It was too late.
The guy with the bicycle was completely forgotten.
Jared's vein beckoned me forward. I could smell his blood, rich with iron and protein.
And I lost what little control was left.
I grabbed Jared with both hands and pulled him into an unlit doorway, wrapping my arms around him and pressing my body up against his. He made a shocked noise as he slammed back up against the door. He squirmed a bit before I sank my teeth into his neck and started drinking.
He stopped resisting, and his body melted against mine.
I could feel my cock hardening. I could feel his own hardening against mine as he began to moan as the delicious warm blood filled my mouth from the little wounds I'd made, as his precious life force entered my body. It was delicious, so satisfying, and I wanted to drink forever from him, I didn't want to stop untilâ
But as the need was quenched, I knew I needed to stop.
I'd have to find someone else later, drink a little more, but I didn't want to leave him unconscious in the doorway. The last thing I needed was for him to wind up in an emergency room somewhere.
I pulled my head back, wiping at my mouth, gasping.
Jared remained leaning against the door, his breath coming in shallow gulps. His eyes were half closed, and blood was dribbling down his neck from the holes I'd left in his throat. I took a few steps back and checked the street. There was no one nearby, no one closer than Jackson Square a half block away.
“Fuck,” I muttered under my breath. I'd gotten lucky. I shook my head, furious at myself. What if he hadn't been alone? What if someone had come walking along at just the right moment or a police car had come around the corner at St. Ann just as I grabbed him?
When desire becomes need, a vampire forgets everything but the blood. He makes mistakes, takes risks he shouldn'tâand frequently gets caught. It must never become need, else you risk everything. Most vampires are caughtâand killedâwhen they've gone too long without feeding. Don't let that happen to you.
I must have been crazy to let it go so longâespecially when there were always people about in the Quarter to feed on. What had I been thinking?
You weren't thinking; that's the problem,
I scolded myself.
Seeing how long you could go? That's madness, and a one-way ticket to death.
I shook my head again and pricked my right index finger with one of my teeth, then rubbed my blood over the two little holes to heal them the way Jean-Paul had shown me.
The holes didn't close the way they usually did.
Nothing at all happened.
I stared at the wounds. It couldn't be. They
What had I done wrong?
I could feel the panic rising in me as I rubbed more of my blood over the punctures. I heard myself muttering, “Come on, come on, come on,” over and over again, but the wounds weren't healing the way they were supposed to, the way they always did. Instead, Jared's blood continued to seep slowly out through them, dribbling down his neck and staining his shirt. The pale blue was turning dark just below the collar, where the running blood came into contact with the tightly fitting cotton. His nipples were erect, and all of his weight rested against the wall. He looked like he was about to fall over, like he couldn't walk and his legs wouldn't support his weight.
I didn't drink that much,
I thought, smiling sheepishly at an elderly couple as they walked past us. I shrugged. “My friend's had a little too much,” I said apologetically. Their eyes narrowed and they looked away in disgust as they walked a little faster.
Jared opened his eyes a little wider, but they were still half closed. Other than the bleeding neck, he looked like so many other young college boys who drank more than they should in the Quarter. His eyes weren't focused and looked a little too cloudy to me. “What”âhe swallowed, his throat working, the Adam's apple bobbing up and downâ“wha . . . happened? Cord? I feel . . . I feel funny.”
I couldn't just leave him there, with his neck bleeding and his shirt getting darker with wetness every passing second. Something was wrong, something was seriously wrong, and I had to get away as quickly as I couldâbut I couldn't just leave him there.
Modern society might not believe in vampires, but when the police found himâand he would most certainly wind up in the hands of the policeâthey wouldn't believe for a minute that he'd been attacked by a vampire, but those wounds in his neck? How would they explain them?
I couldn't take the risk he would remember seeing me and mention me to the cops.
And since Cord Logan had died in a fire two years earlier on Lundi Gras, that was a can of worms best left unopened.
I put his left arm around my shoulders and placed his head down on my neck. At least the wounds were hidden that way, and in the growing darkness maybe no one would notice the bloody shirt. “Come on, buddy, you need to walk with me,” I whispered to him. “We've got to get you out of here. Can you walk?”
His head tilted back for a moment and his face lit up with a crazy grin. His eyes were still a little glassy, but he just looked drunk, thank the heavens. “Cord, buddy.” His voice sounded raspy. “I knew you weren't dead. I tole them all you weren't dead.” He shook his head, which seemed almost a little too heavy for his neck. “I tole them I'd know if you were dead, buddy, and no one believed me.” He sounded aggrieved, and for a brief moment I felt tears swimming in my eyes.