Authors: Karen Greco
The Second Book in the
Copyright © 2014 Karen Greco
All rights reserved.
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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"With plenty of action and wit, readers are lured into the dangerous world of supernatural crime fighters. Eschewing the usual lore, Greco impressively navigates a high-energy, contemporary story of vampires and witches. Her straightforward style keeps the pace moving as she deftly unfurls a story that avoids the pitfalls of the paranormal formula and successfully incorporates interesting new twists that fit organically into the plotline. The well-rendered, relatable characters easily hold their own in this captivating read." Kirkus Reviews (Recommended)
5 Stars! "One of the best urban fantasies I have read this year! A book you should not miss!" BookChickCity.com
5 Stars! "Awesome Story! The bad guys were intense and scary and the good guys totally original and kick ass. I fully recommend this book to one and all!" WiccaWitch4 Book Blog
"Refreshing...full of mystery...a fantastic new take on the supernatural world. I love when a writer can suck me into a story right from the first few sentences and this definitely happened here! All I can say now is gimme gimme gimme more!! 5 EXCELLENT ASS KICKING PAWS!" Happy Tales and Tails Blog
"A gripping tale with great characters and a dystopian feel. The suspense, action, romance, and mystery will have you reading until the wee hours of the morning! This is a great beginning to a new series!" Faerie Tale Books
"An excellent urban fantasy! Action packed and filled with vampires, anyone that loves the paranormal and fantasy is sure to love this book!" A Girl and Her Kindle
And, always, Sydney
Table of Contents
It takes a village to write a book. I am indebted to my wonderful editor Rakia Clark, who helps shape my work so patiently. And my newest team member and editor Clarence Haynes, who cleaned up my act so brilliantly. My awesome cover artist, Robin Ludwig Design Inc. makes sure the book stands out. And my terrific publicist Roxanne Rhodes makes sure I am all over the blogosphere.
I can't do this without my Beta Readers, who give many helpful and valuable comments on my rough drafts -- Lia Rensin, Andrea Freund, Lynn Villegas, Doug Strassler, Jean Teresi.
And of course, a huge thank you to Anthony and Sydney, for their unwavering love and support. I love you!
"Jesus Christ, Frankie," I muttered as the crowbar hit the worn marble floor with an earsplitting clatter. So much for stealth. We should have just ripped through the doors with explosives.
We were breaking into the Superman Building. At 26 floors, it was the first skyscraper ever built in downtown Providence. It lost its last tenant three years ago, and the gorgeous art deco structure was now a towering reminder of better days, when manufacturing was booming and people had money to burn. Years of attempts to "revitalize" the area had fallen flat. This left plenty of room for the underground supernatural factions to sweep in and take over.
Frankie flashed a fangy grin at me. "What's the fun in surprising them? It's never a good time unless it all goes off the rails."
I shook my head and sighed. Ever since Frankie was charmed by a demon to walk in the sunlight, he thought he was invincible. And, sure, being a vampire helped, but he could be staked just as easy as any other vamp. His arrogance could get us both killed.
We walked swiftly through the lobby of the abandoned high rise, keeping tight to the walls. In our all-black commando outfits, we blended easily into the dark hallway.
I stole a wistful look at the bank of elevators. The electricity was cut to the building. We'd be taking the stairs. "Want to guess what floor they're on?"
"I say top floor," Frankie said with his hand already on the door to the stairwell.
It was going to be a long-ass climb. Up the 26 stories and possibly a few extra flights to get to the tippy top of the building's airship docking station. Seriously. The very top floor of the building was built for docking blimp-like airships, so there was a pretty cool waiting area/corporate suite turned Depression-era speakeasy at the apex. Too bad we were seeing it under these circumstances.
About a week ago, a suspicious news report piqued our interest. A group of crazed individuals were caught rampaging through downtown, tossing cars with superhuman strength, punching through brick walls and causing general weird mayhem. A few witnesses described them with blood around their mouths.
Max, our newest Blood Ops member serving as double agent in the FBI, was on record as calling this a "bath salt related incident." It was simple to blame this behavior on meth-heads on a DIY bender. But we knew better. They were vampires, and they were out of control. Frankie and I were dispatched to take care of them.
We climbed the stairs quickly, Frankie almost a floor ahead of me as we ascended. My calves ached by the 17
floor, and I was dripping with sweat. The vamps would be able to smell me by floor 22 if they were paying attention. Since I am half vampire, I can handle a fair amount of physical exertion. But a swift walk up the stairs of a high-rise carrying an extra 35 pounds of vampire-fighting gear was punishing. Pushing through the cramps in my legs, I silently vowed to increase my workouts. It was hard enough to match Frankie's speed and strength, but now that he thought he was the Man of Steel, it was damn near impossible just to catch up to him.
We hit the top, and I finally had a chance to catch my breath. Frankie smirked at my all-too-human physical stamina.
When my heart stopped racing, I double-fisted a pair of stakes and nodded at Frankie. He kicked the door open and we launched into the penthouse. Moonlight poured through the grime-coated glass ceiling.
We rushed in like hellfire, expecting to find ourselves in the middle of a melee. But the room appeared empty.
"Top floor, Frankie? Really?" I grumbled, re-sheathing my stakes. "How much you want to bet they're on two?"
Frankie raised his arm and shushed me. I shot him a dirty look, but quickly softened it when I heard the hushed groans too.
I motioned to Frankie to move towards the sounds, and we cautiously walked to the back of the room. A shape was huddled in a dark corner with two bodies laid out on the floor in front of it. I pulled a mag light out from one of my cargo pants pockets and trained it on the shadowy forms.
A female vampire inched away from the light. Blood was smeared down her face and neck, and it covered her chest. Two male vampires were on the floor, their fronts washed in red as well. The walls were covered in sticky, black-red blood. The entire room was just dripping. It looked like a blood bank exploded.
The vampires on the floor were truly dead, their pale faces cracked like antique porcelain dolls. Their appendages were just starting to decompose, but their midsections were blown out, like they swallowed a bomb and it exploded. The one still living, for lack of a better word, looked close to meeting true death herself. The emaciated vampire half-sobbed, half-moaned as she rocked back and forth.
Although they matched the descriptions of the vamps-gone-wild group, these couldn't be our marauders. They were simply too sick. They looked like junkies who overdosed. A few times.
"What do we do?" I had never seen anything like this before. I sure as hell hoped Frankie would know how to handle this mess.
Frankie walked a wide semicircle around the vampires, his shoes making sucking noises as he lifted them off the sticky, blood-soaked floor. He was worried, clearly on guard.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Kate," she croaked out.
"Right, Kate," Frankie's voice was soothing. "How long have your friends been like this?"
"Since yesterday." Her hoarse voice was barely above a whisper. "We slept in the stairwell but they came in here last night and just...." She motioned at the carnage around her and let out a muffled sob.
"So you were able to walk back and forth to the stairwell? Can you do it now?" I asked.
She tried pulling herself up, but wasn't strong enough to handle the weight of her tiny body. So she crawled towards us, plowing over the disintegrating corpses.
"Stop, Kate! Stay right there!" Frankie visibly jumped back, his shoes making a sharp thwack as they lifted off the gummy floor. "Nina, you need to call Max and Dr. O. Max needs to get the electricity back on to this building. She's going to need to go out the elevator, and Dr. O needs to bring her down."
"Why are we taking her out of the building?" I asked. Our mission was to kill them. Two were dead, and the last one was nearly there. Mission almost complete.
"Because they are Beta-Vamps." Frankie glanced at the vamp on the floor. "Right?"
She nodded, tears streaming down her face.
"No way," I protested. "Betas don't rampage like that."
"They do if they are sick," Frankie explained calmly, his eyes still on Kate.
Beta-Vamps were like the hippies of the vampire world. They were vampires that were missing the predator genome sequence. They weren't human killers. They survived on who knows what. Maybe animal blood. Maybe blood stolen from hospitals. In some extreme cases, they ate rust for the iron content. Betas were rare, and, because of their peace-loving nature, extremely vulnerable to attack from all sorts of supernatural factions.
"So why don't we just carry her down?" I said with a shrug, stepping towards Kate, breaking my boot's suction to the floor.
Frankie was in front of me before I could take another step. My stomach rolled as Frankie dropped his guard and a wave of his panic washed over me.
A few months ago, Frankie had to bind me to him to save my life. For the most part, we're dealing with it just fine. But if he's in emo overdrive and forgets to close off our connection, I get hit with whatever he's feeling. It also works the same in the other direction.
"Don't go near her. She's been infected."
"Infected? With what? Beta-Vamps aren't vulnerable to infections."
"With..." Frankie stopped. He looked shattered. "My God, I haven't seen this since 1877."
"What is it?" I pushed.
"Did you just say opium?"
"Blood-born opium poison. If it gets into our bodies, we die." Frankie was visibly nervous, moving in a jittery semicircle around the woman. "We can't go near her."
"Oh. Shit. Does Dr. O know what to do?" I shrunk back. Opium. Who knew? Apparently Frankie. That explained why vampires were always told not to get their fix from heavy drug users.
"I'm not sure. That's why you need to call him. And he'll need Max since we really shouldn't stay here. Now please. She doesn't have much time."
Right. I pulled out my phone. I'd start with Max. He'd need time to power up the building anyway.
He answered on the sixth ring.
He sounded groggy. "What's up?"
"Sorry to wake you but we're at the Superman Building with two seriously dead vamps and one who is really sick. We need to turn on the power to get her out of here with the elevator. Can you get this building back on the grid?"
"Christ, can't one of you just carry her down the stairs?" His voice was muffled, like he was pressing his face into his pillow.
"Frankie and I can't touch her. She has some sort of infection, something that only vampires can contract. And it kills them."
"Really?" He jolted awake. I heard the bed sheets rustle as he got up.
"I don't know, really. I've never heard of this before. But I know Frankie is freaking out, and said we need to get her out of here. And he only freaks out if there's a damn good reason."
"You know I worked for the FBI all day, right?" he groused. I heard a closet door slam.
"Seriously? Are you going to do this right now?"
"You both were going up there to stake them anyway. So they die of something else. It's the same outcome. Why save her?"
"Because, she's not a predator vampire."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Look, I'll explain later, but we are running out of time. I need to get Dr. O here, and you need to get the electricity on at this place."
"Jesus, you people are complicated. I'll be there in 20." He hung up before I could respond.
Like Frankie, Max had made a deal with resident demon and Providence mayor Ami Bertrand. As a result, Bertrand had turned Max into a Berserker, a supernatural warrior that went extinct with the Vikings. Well, extinct up until Bertrand's curse.
Since Max had been turned into a supernatural entity, but one that was supposed to be extinct, he joined our team as a double agent with the FBI. Our team is Blood Ops, an elite government agency that deals with rogue supernatural factions. Technically, we also don't exist. To humans, anyway. Our existence — hell, the very existence of anything supernatural — was on a "need to know" basis, and even the president of the United States didn't need to know. Only a very select few Department of Defense members knew about Blood Ops. That's plausible deniability for you.
But damn, the Berserker in Max sure made him grumpy.
I hit the speed dial button for Dr. O. Dr. Lachlan O'Malley led our unit of Blood Ops. Though he mostly resembled your favorite 60-something college professor, Dr. O was a Druid priest, which made him pretty damn old. And, like the Druid priests before him, he knew absolutely everything.
"Nina, what's wrong?" Dr. O asked in his thick brogue. I could tell I woke him up.
"Sorry Doc, but we have a problem here. We have Beta-Vamps that ingested opium. Two are dead — like for real, seriously dead. One is barely hanging on."
"Opium? Are you sure?" Dr. O sounded a lot more awake suddenly.
"Frankie says he's sure. Said he hasn't seen this since 18-something or other."
"Frankie would know. Do you have her quarantined?"
"Quarantined? Frankie said not to touch her. He didn't say anything about a quarantine." This was weird.
"You are in the same room with her?"
"Where else would we be?" I asked, impatience getting the best of me.
"If any of their blood gets into your blood stream, or Frankie's, that would be very bad."
"Yeah, Frankie already explained that to me. We aren't touching her.
"Nina, I am afraid it's much more serious than that. Opium poisoning tends to make infected vampires projectile vomit out blood before they die. Then their torso explodes."
That sounded bad. And gross.
"When? When would that happen?" I gripped the phone tightly, eyeballing Kate. She whimpered in the corner near the vampire bodies with her back against the wall.
"It could happen at any time. Lock her in wherever you are, and wait until I get there. Do not wait in the room with her, neither you nor Frankie. Do you understand?" Dr. O's tone was stern.
"Yes, I got it. Okay, we are on the top floor. Max is on his way to power up the building to get her out of here. Just get here fast."
"I am on my way."
The phone went dead. I hightailed it over to Frankie, who was staring helplessly at Kate.