Authors: Jackie Ivie
Tags: #blood lust, #Stonehenge, #occult astrological study, #vampire assassin romance, #Dracula, #Laird, #Scottish Historical Highlands
by Jackie Ivie
A Vampire Assassin League Novella
“We Kill for Profit”
Copyright 2014, Jackie Ivie
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portion thereof, in any form. This book may not be resold or uploaded for distribution to others.
This is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
The bastard went south, taking the
at the last moment.
Cullen debated his options, and then launched onto the railway car directly behind his prey, settling onto a ladder for the ride. This assignment was getting interesting. Good thing he’d had a nice feeding earlier at Edinburgh from a roving band of tourists. They were always in season anymore. The particular group he’d chosen last evening had been fairly young. Fit. Enormously drunk. They didn’t appear interested in historical sites. They were pub crawling. Some of them were literally on their knees. They’d made a nice cocktail of tastes, as well as a pleasant, already-dimming, memory.
He licked his lips, tasting residue of bitters and dark ales.
His prey on this assignment was Alton Lang. Cullen had scanned the file, memorizing on sight. Alton had been a senior accountant. Above-board. Cleared several years of security checks. But then, something happened. Something turned Alton into a multi-million dollar embezzler. On the run. The guy was thin. Short. Previously locked behind a pair of thick spectacles. Now, he alternated all sorts of looks. Used colored contact lenses. Differing facial hair patterns. All kinds of hairstyles. Weight was also a variable. The fellow was short, however. His height wouldn’t be easily manipulated. He was well below Cullen’s six-foot-five. Apparently, Alton had embezzled from the wrong people. He’d known what would happen, too. That explained the aliases and ID’s he’d procured. The Vampire Assassin League had discovered seven thus far. They were included with Alton’s file. He might have more by now. He was slick. He was quick. And he was desperate.
This was a bit like salmon fishing, just as Akron had portended. With a great, wily fish in his sights.
It had been dawn when Cullen first located his quarry. The fellow was dressed as a rabbi. Big beard. Black coat. Yarmulke on his head. Large, black portmanteau in one hand. He’d been standing amidst a group of tourists. Stood out like a Sassenach at the Highland Games. Since it was raining, everyone was sporting a plastic cape/hood affair with the tour company’s logo on it. Everyone, except Alton Lang. The moment Cullen had spotted him however, the man had turned. A light source hit the Star of David hanging from his neck chain. Cullen had to avert his eyes or risk sight-searing issues.
And that’s why he was headed directly to the heart of English territory attached to one of their trains.
He hadn’t been south in centuries. As far as Cullen was concerned, there was the country north of Hadrian’s Wall...and there was everything else. That held true even after Scotland’s sixth King James had ascended the English throne as King James I in 1603, uniting the two countries. Didn’t change how this Highlander thought. Cullen still had one of his wanted postings hanging from an inner castle wall. The parchment was tattered and faded. Barely readable. It was his mark of bravery and courage.
And what had been his life.
The train was slowing. Cullen glanced about. He hadn’t noticed the city closing in about them. Buildings. Streets.
. London. It looked even more peopled than he’d heard. The place was a disgusting cesspool of humanity, and then they entered the King’s Cross Train Station. They captured the space within a huge glassed enclosure. Arches supported the span of roof, probably angling to make it feel less claustrophobic. As far as Cullen was concerned, that was a failure. The place was packed with humanity. Due to the skies, it felt dank. Dark. Rain was still spitting down from dingy gray skies somewhere outside. All-in-all. It was perfect fishing conditions.
Cullen flew to a side wall before the train stopped, hanging in the shadowy area beside an arch, watching as the train emptied. No rabbi exited. A lot of men looked the same height as Alton Lang. Cullen turned his head, scanning the sea of heads bobbing and jostling about, and when that proved ineffective, he went higher, looking down at the scene from the highest vantage.
Alton was definitely missing. His voice wasn’t. Cullen had listened to the audio portion of the file, memorizing the exact timbre of Alton’s voice. That came in handy now. Through the cacophony of sound in the area, he distinctly heard Alton Lang hailing a cab from beyond his field of vision.
Cullen didn’t waste another second. A blink of time later and he slid through an exit door and hovered above the taxi line. No one seemed to notice him floating. Checking. Scanning. And...
Alton was now an average Joe. Slicked back hair of a dark color. Wearing denims, a plain button-up shirt – top button unfastened, and boots with lifts in them. He was beardless. And bald. He was speaking in dulcet tones to an extremely non-average redheaded woman already seated in the cab. Cullen watched as he shoved his black portmanteau into the cab before joining the woman. Alton then proceeded to enjoin a kiss that would send any theatergoer’s blood pressure rocketing.
Well. That explained Alton’s foray into embezzlement.
This was getting downright intriguing. Alton was slicker than any salmon Cullen had pursued. He was going to be twice as pleasant to kill, too. And then Alton unlocked his lips from his woman and said something about Waterloo Station to the driver. Eleven minutes away. They’d make the train. Then Alton added Salisbury. And then Stonehenge.
That was the absolute last place Cullen wished to visit. A seer had given him a direct warning back in the fourteenth century. He’d been alive then. Young. Battle-tested. Extremely arrogant. The Laird of Clan Corrick’s only legitimate son. The seer’s words had frightened him. They still did. Stonehenge held complete darkness for Cullen MacCorrick; a black dearth of matter the seer hadn’t been able to peer through. And all these years of afterlife later, Cullen still remembered exactly how fear felt.
The car moved away from the curb and entered traffic.
Well. That was that. Fishing was over. Time to get serious. He’d known not to come south.
Damn this bastard accountant-turned-embezzler
~ ~ ~
It was still raining. Marla wasn’t certain how she felt about that, although the grumbling among the others in her tour group wasn’t hard to overhear. Of course everyone wanted a perfect look at Stonehenge. They all wanted pictures of the sunset on the fall equinox. It was one of two days when the earth’s days and nights were in perfect balance at twelve hours each. Somehow the ancients had figured that out, and supposedly the shadows that hit Stonehenge at either sunrise or sunset of either equinox demonstrated that fact. That’s why the tourists paid extra. The dull gray skies and rain weren’t part of the package deal.
Her break-up with Chad hadn’t been, either.
Marla slid the sunglasses higher up her nose, huddled into her hand-loomed Alpaca sweater worn beneath the clear plastic rain cape, and blinked rapidly. She looked ridiculous. She didn’t care. She’d killed off most of a bottle of wine last night. That had been stupid. It hadn’t stopped the heartache and it didn’t kill the sobs. It did give her some really blood-shot, scratchy eyes and a massive headache today, however. The headache could also be due to the restrictive bun she’d put her thigh-length hair into. She normally wore it loosely braided down her back. To her, it was a nondescript shade of brown, although it got very wavy and voluminous if she ran into humidity. Chad had told her often enough how much he loved her hair. According to him, it was her best feature. Well. Today, it wasn’t being featured at all. She’d braided the length into three parts, so tightly woven they kinked. And then she’d braided those again before wrapping it into a bun at the top of her head. And then she’d used every bobby-pin at her disposal to secure it. It was a catharsis. She didn’t want anyone liking her for her hair. Ever again.
Her sunglasses were a large design. Round. Tortoise-shell rims. Dark lenses. The kind celebrities used to hide behind. They blocked every bit of light. Even so, she was rather grateful it was rainy. And she could always see Stonehenge in a history book or DVD.
When she’d booked this tour last year, they’d been fresh off a jaunt to Peru. Chad...and her. They’d hiked the Incan Trail, camping out. Four days, three nights. Reached the pinnacle of Inca mastery high in the Andes. She’d felt the magnetic attraction of the special stone. It had been exhilarating. Fun. Exciting. And filled with love-imbued nights.
It had been such fun! That’s why she’d talked Chad into this expedition. They could visit an ancient mystical site every year. Stonehenge looked perfect for their next vacation. She’d checked and re-checked their horoscopes for any portends of trouble, before booking this. The tour included a visit to Roman baths and the pump house at Bath, an early supper at a thirteenth century inn, entrance to the inner stone circle at Stonehenge.
It was also supposed to include a wedding proposal.
She wasn’t waiting any longer for Chad to decide. Not when everything was in such perfect alignment. According to their horoscopes, Virgos were touching destiny. His star chart talked of love and harmony and adventure. It was obvious. They were soul mates destined for a lifetime of togetherness. She’d found the perfect ring; platinum, interwoven with their star signs. She’d prepared a speech. She was all set to go on her knees before him if he didn’t do it first.
And then he’d dumped her.
For her new employee. Ruby.
Marla blinked against another round of tears. It stung. Not as much as the memory. Ruby was a twenty-something bimbo with big boobs and ruby-shaded lips. She’d quit the same morning Chad had told Marla the news. He’d even had the gall to taunt her as he’d packed his things, asking if she could foretell the future so well, why hadn’t she seen this break-up coming?
Jerk. Chad was a full-fledged jerk. He’d hidden it well. That wasn’t included in the description of his star sign. Chad was a Capricorn. Mature. Loyal. Dependable. A match between them was excellent if a little predictable. She’d been so caught up with being in love and reaching for the future, she’d forgotten that little codicil. He was predictable. So was she. Their sex life had a potential for boredom.
No amount of wine seemed to make anything better, either.
A sob escaped her lips. She swiped at a tear before it manifested beneath the bottom rim of her sunglasses. Nobody seemed to notice. There were twelve participants of this tour. She was in the back seat. Right corner. Against the side of the van. She had a window, but she wasn’t looking out it. There wasn’t much to see except rain-swept countryside. Eleven of her companions were nattering and showing off purchases. Sounded like they’d done justice to the ales available at the early supper. Everyone was louder. More effusive. They were all communicating. Socializing. Doing what humans did so well. She was the outcast. Alone. Bereft. Old.
Thirty-six had never felt so old. Why, the next thing she knew, she’d be hitting forty. Then, it was a downhill slide to fifty. Sixty. She could feel age creeping up on her as she sat in her seat. Bouncing slightly with the road. Jostling against the father of two beside her. His name was Stephen. His wife was Beth. Marla hadn’t been interested in introductions, but that hadn’t stopped anyone.
Stephen didn’t notice her nudging against him. He was too busy chatting with Beth on his other side, and his daughters in the seats in front of them. Everybody was excited to see Stonehenge, but slightly annoyed that it would be raining. They wouldn’t be able to witness any sunset.
That wasn’t why Marla was here. Not anymore. She’d paid for this trip and she was taking it. She was leaving Chad’s ring as an offering. And then, she was returning to her little shop on Charleston Boulevard, and never thinking of him again.
Alton Lang had the luck of the devil. Cullen realized it within two blocks of trailing the man’s cab. The man was impossible to keep an eye on. Cullen had been distracted first as a band of nuns crossed the street directly before him. He barely had enough time to duck into a shop before the group passed. He watched them in a mirror with his back to the street. Daylight had its own issues, among them weakened strength and ability. Adding religious iconography multiplied the problem.
He sped through invisible-seeming passersby, intent on Alton’s cab. Within the next kilometer, he’d had to avert his eyes from more than one religious institution. Some shopkeepers even used religious symbols to enhance their storefronts! Cullen spent more than one uncomfortable moment in the shadows, his eyes intent on the ground.
He’d lost Alton for the moment. That was problematic. It wasn’t disastrous. He knew where the man was going. He’d just have to fulfill the contract at Waterloo Station. Or during the man’s train ride to Salisbury. He had opportunities before reaching Stonehenge.
All Cullen had to do was ambush him.
But then he had to factor in the Londoners roving about. Or tourists. Or whatever the throngs of humanity all about him were named. He wasn’t going unnoticed. Quite the opposite. He was gaining stares and finger-pointing, and more than one phone lifted toward him as if they’d get anything other than a smudged image. It felt almost like the last time he’d been in London-town, although he’d been in leg and arm manacles and trotted behind a horse through the center of the thoroughfare back then. He’d ignored the taunts and jeers and finger-pointing then. He should be used to it. He was noticed whenever he appeared. His size alone guaranteed it.
What was wrong with these people? Hadn’t they seen a Highlander before? Cullen glanced back. Increased his gait to a jog. Oh. Bother. The throng trailing him appeared to be predominantly female, containing lasses of all ages, nationalities, and descriptions. If he blushed, he’d have been a-fire with it. He probably should have donned a shirt and jacket with his
, taken the time to tie his hair back, and he really should have left the claymore hanging from his hip at home. He didn’t need it. He had his knives. A plethora of the blades, known as
were tucked into his belt and socks.
He almost rued not taking the offer of help with this assignment...except Akron had mentioned sending the pipsqueak, Nigel. What help would their youngest vampire give? About the only thing Nigel would be good for was ranking the women amassed about Cullen.
So, he bent his knees and jumped, going airborne, leaving the scene behind at a pace difficult to follow and impossible to believe. He grinned at the sounds of surprise and shock and what sounded like dismay.
Alton Lang’s luck was still holding. Or he’d given false directions to his cabbie. Cullen perched along the station wall, watching the passengers load at Waterloo. The train bound for Salisbury was due to leave momentarily. No one resembling a redheaded siren with a bald fellow on her arm for an escort loaded.
There was a dapper-looking gent in a nondescript coat and hat who looked about furtively before entering the first-class car. The fellow looked very frail. That might be why he leaned on a cane. Farther back, walking toward the third-class cars, Cullen noticed a redhead woman strutting out of the building near third-class. She hadn’t much of a figure but she was swinging what ass she possessed. She had a backpack over her shoulders. The backpack didn’t go with her ensemble. She appeared to be a novice in her shoes, too. That looked stupid, as well as uncomfortable. If a woman was going to perch atop heels, she really should do some training first.
It wasn’t until the train whistled that he realized the obvious. The coat the frail gent wore was the same one the rabbi had sported. Alton must be the redhead. Cullen jumped, grasping the railing of a car as it gathered speed.
Third class didn’t have many amenities. Alton would be sandwiched between travelers and without meal service. There might not even be a loo available for him to change again. Cullen wasn’t taking the chance. Alton was an embezzler with a lucky streak, a master at disguise with at least one more change available to him in his backpack...and this was getting entirely too close to Stonehenge.
There wasn’t a redhead anywhere in the third class car. Not even an ugly one.
Cullen stood at the back portal, partially concealed in shadow, bent down in order to look over the crowd. His eyes connected with a gentleman just leaving the loo area opposite him. This fellow sported a massive gray-and-black beard. A mass of long gray hair was pulled back in a tail. He wore a tie-dyed tunic top in rainbow hues, archaic-looking bell-bottom trousers in a striped pattern, and platform, lace-up shoes. It took a second to realize it was Alton Lang, another one to notice that he wasn’t sporting a silver peace sign from his neck chain. He had a large, ornate crucifix.
Cullen averted his eyes even as the pain hit.
Alton Lang was better than good. He was the most wily fish Cullen had every gone after. The fellow knew he’d have an assassin on his tail. He might even suspect an associate of the Vampire Assassin League. And here, Cullen MacCorrick had thought VAL was a covert organization. Bother. He could probably have used Nigel.
~ ~ ~
It had stopped raining.
Their guide turned in his seat and used the microphone to make certain everyone knew the change in viewing conditions. The crowd about her immediately perked up. Marla even looked out the window. Wow. When had they neared the monolithic structure? And how was it possible to be so close? She’d known the road went close. It was still a surprise. After the lengths of dirt and stone roads they’d had to traverse to get to Incan sites last year, the fact that Stonehenge could be viewed so easily somehow dented the experience.
That was before she exited.
Everyone shed their plastic coats as they piled from the van, giving them over to the driver. That was probably short-sighted. According to every guidebook she’d found, the weather in England was variable, at best. She noted that their guide still held his umbrella. There was a breeze in the air that carried a hint of the winter weather to come. It also shifted the clouds above them, allowing glimpses of sun. Holy cow. She really was here! And something about the place tapped a sense of anticipation. She’d been looking at this wrong. She was getting a new start. A new beginning. Why. Even the stars were aligned in her favor.
She tapped the bulge that was Chad’s ring. It was in her skirt pocket. She always wore mid-calf-length skirts. She alternated blouses and footwear according to her mood and the weather. It was her particular look. Her skirts were fashioned of wool, cotton, or sometimes linen. She never wore manmade material. In Las Vegas, Nevada, she usually wore cotton or linen. Today she’d selected a white linen blouse, worn with a dark blue woolen skirt and ankle-high boots. Good thing. The breeze couldn’t breech it. She was also grateful she’d bought this sweater last year in the Andes. Alpaca, monkey, and Incan sun-god images might look strange here in the English countryside, but it was effective against the chill in the air.
She watched as the man who’d been beside her opened his backpack, pulled out large white items that turned into hooded robes, and passed them out to his wife and daughters. That felt almost sacrilegious. They weren’t Druids. She’d overheard enough of their chatter to realize they didn’t believe in anything pagan or occult. She would’ve rolled her eyes, but they weren’t looking. The gesture would be wasted and might even pain. Besides, she still wore the dark glasses.
Their guide called out to them. Marla was near the front of the group as they assembled. Excitement filtered through her. Stonehenge was right behind the guide’s shoulder, getting hit by streaks of light from the setting sun. It was unbelievably breathtaking. She sensed all the phones and cameras getting aimed at it. She was actually here! At Stonehenge! And she wasn’t here with Chad.
For the first time since he’d walked out, she didn’t feel any inclination to mourn. Her eyes didn’t water up, her heart didn’t pain, her breath didn’t even catch. There was some higher emotion sinking right into her tissues. Raw. Wild. Exciting. Full of something so electric, every hair on her flesh felt like it lifted in anticipation. And they weren’t even in the inner circle yet!
“Follow me, folks! And hurry! Sunset is moments away! Can you feel the excitement in the air?”
Could she ever.
Marla was on the guide’s heels as he walked them closer. Closer. She lifted a bit of skirt to make walking easier. She wouldn’t be able to touch an inner stone. Everything was roped off. She pulled Chad’s ring out. Toyed with tossing it, and then felt the strangest sensation. Almost like there was an invisible barrier in front of her, preventing her from entering the innermost circle. The guide motioned for them. She couldn’t get through to where he stood. And then, it didn’t matter. She slid the sunglasses off. Put them atop her head. The clouds parted right at the horizon. She held her breath. And watched. The most incredible shaft of light speared through the atmosphere, ringing the stones with a circle of red and gold light. Marla was awestruck. Rooted to the ground. Stunned.
And then it was gone.
Silence reigned for a moment, giving the universal sigh of awe. Then, the exclamations and chatter started up. Dark descended like a curtain of shadow. Rain decided once again to bless them, starting in droplets that almost stung, before becoming a sheet of water. Most of the tour group raced past where she stood. Still impacted. Still overcome.
And from somewhere, Marla heard the distinct cry of a man.