Prologue – A Vampire’s Confession
Girard awoke in darkness. For a moment, the pitch black consumed his thoughts, leaving only the sound of his heart beating like a moth trapped in a jar.
Breathe in, breathe out. Panic wouldn’t help him escape.
His fingers slid on the ground around him. Pockmarked cement beneath his fingers and behind him a rough metal wall. Some sort of cell? A cold, wispy echo of air above him proved there was enough room to sit up, so he did, his legs trembling. Beads of sweat trickled down his back beneath his traditional vestments of black trousers, black shirt, and round white collar.
“There’s a chair behind you, priest.”
The man jumped, his arms flailing out. One of them connected with a hard surface. Pain shot through his palm. More careful inspection revealed a metal folding chair with a cushion on the seat. He eased himself up into the chair. If he was going to die soon, he might as well be comfortable.
“Better, yeah?” The voice was feminine, with a trace of a gravelly drawl. “I wish I could say this would be a short visit, but that’d be lying. But I get that you have a whole flock to oversee, so I promise it won’t be more than a few hours.”
The priest gulped. “A few hours? What do you—what do you mean? What am I doing here?”
A soft chuckle from across the dark expanse. Or from right in front of him. It was too dark to tell. “Think back, Father. What’s the last moment you remember?”
“I don’t see what that has to do with-”
“Just. Think.” A sigh. “Please.”
Something in the plaintive undertone pushed his mind into action. “I had just received a call. A shut-in, new to our congregation, wanted to make a confession and couldn’t come to the sanctuary. I was on my way to meet her…”
“And so you have.” Now he could feel the woman in front of him, her warm breath blowing across his face in another, heavier sigh. “I’m Lucy. Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been five years since my last confession.”
He blinked, but his mouth automatically formed an answer as his hands made the sign of the cross. “Go on, my child.”
“I’ve killed fifty. Seventeen men, twenty women, and three children.” Her voice caught. “The children were the hardest.”
“Wait!” The woman’s words sank into his mind, then rose to the surface once more, swirling in eddies of confusion. “What you’re saying is impossible. You’re a murderer—and to kill that many people—why confess—?”
A pause. “It’s complicated.”
While part of the priest recoiled in shock, another part numbly did the math. Leftover accountant skills from the time before his call to ministry. “Seventeen men, twenty—twenty women, three children—that doesn’t add up to fifty people.”
“They weren’t all people.”
“What were the other ten?” He braced his arms against the sides of the chair, not quite wanting to hear the answer.
“Vampires.” Eerily calm. Matter-of-fact. “Human, but badly twisted. Separated from everyday life.”
His heart froze for a moment. Then a laugh burst from his throat. “You can’t be serious.
Vampires are creatures from mythology and fiction. Urban legends. Metaphors for the decay of life and the isolation of sin.”
“Yes, you did preach a homily on that a few Sundays ago. It was one of the reasons I chose you. You weren’t afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“To speak about the unspeakable and treat it seriously. To engage the monsters around mankind, even in normal humans. I appreciate that.” There was warm breath on his face once more. He feared that if he reached out, he might touch the mad woman. “I can speak about it too, but for me it isn’t a leap of faith.”
“Because I’m a monster. I’m a vampire.” She inhaled. The tip of her shoe tapped on the floor. “And I’m about to do something very bad. Even for me.”
Chapter 1 – Ice Cream Headache
“She looks sad.”
Zeke’s left hand squeezed Melrose’s tightly. His other hand clung to the ice cream cone, almost crushing the waffle crisp. For a six-year-old, the child had an astonishing grip. If Melrose didn’t know better, he would think his goddaughter’s son had supernatural strength.
Ridiculous. Super humans didn’t exist. Only deluded addicts seeking their own importance. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to give Zeke another medical examination before Melrose departed in a few days.
Currently, the child needed a napkin or twenty and a thorough hand-washing. At least they were at a public park. Someone else could be responsible for cleaning up the mint chocolate chip mess dripping onto the ground.
“Yes, curious one?”
Zeke’s eyes, round and dark, stared up at him through black bangs. His mouth puckered in frustration, wreathed with cream. “We need to talk to her! See why she’s sad.”
“The lady over there!” Zeke’s iron fingers loosened. His left hand swung out, index finger pointing a few benches away.
Melrose followed his charge’s index finger across the park. A patchwork of green grass, cut through with cobblestone sidewalks. Pockets of trees stood along the paths, obstructing the view beyond a few meters and shading the ground with their thick layers of leaves. Ideal for a day as hot as this one.
Sweat clung to his skin beneath the protective layers of button down and blazer. But it was safer. No danger of melted ice cream on his skin. Clothes could be washed in quality detergent, but skin required careful inspection.
He continued scanning the park. There was no woman.
“Ezekiel, I’m afraid you are mistaken.” Melrose kept his tone gentle, but firm, staring into the child’s face. “Unless you see something I don’t? Something your father sees?”
“No, but she was right-” Zeke’s head swiveled back and forth. Then he exhaled in disappointment. “There. Nowhere. Sorry, Uncle.”
“No matter.” Melrose pushed his charge’s hair back from his forehead. Cooler, but still warm. This little excursion needed to end. “Come, we must return to your parents.”
Melrose stood, tugging Zeke along the path. He scuffed his small sneakers along the cobbles, his face flushed despite his t-shirt and shorts. Compassion stirred within Melrose. The child was too well-behaved to ask, but that didn’t mean he didn’t require a rest.
“Ride on my back?”
A grin dimpled his round face. “Yeah!”
“Very well.” Zeke’s weight would make it twice as hot. Melrose only knelt on the ground, his knees balanced on the uneven stones. “Climb up. But no ice cream.”
Zeke nodded and threw the remainder into a nearby trash bin. Smeared his hands on his shorts. “Up, up, in the-”
His words disappeared in muffled yelp. A blunt force struck Melrose’s neck, vibrating through his shoulders and spine. Another force smashed into his lower back. The ground rushed to meet him. He flung out his palms, catching himself on the rough stones. Wincing against the sharp pain.
Move. He had to move. For Zeke. Melrose shoved up mental blocks. Rolled to his side and pushed up against the ground, rising to his feet.
“Zeke.” The words were a whisper, sinking into the pit of his stomach.
* * *
Electric guitars squealed in Lucy’s head. The same set of chords pounding out a rhythm over and over to the fast beat of her sneakers on the concrete. Running through the bricked streets of Old Quebec, past outdoor cafes and stone row houses converted into galleries and specialty shops. Pushing aside too many tourists with cameras and shopping bags. Her calves burned as she veered up a narrow passage between two buildings.
All the while, the guitars kept playing. Lucy hadn’t owned a music device in years. Not since Jean-Claude had stolen her life.
She tried not to think about it too much.
The kid lay limp in her arms. Knocking him out had been essential. Not that she enjoyed it any more. But maybe, just maybe, it would be easier this way.
He had long eyelashes, like paint brush tips curled on his pale cheeks.
She blinked and licked the sharp edges of her incisors. The sliver of pain focused her mind on the task at hand. Cut through the repeating guitars and dulled them to a corner of her brain. A drink would do even better. But the plastic bottles in the pack that thudded against her back were drained.
Lucy swallowed and glanced down at the kid again. No details on him, as usual. Jean-Claude never sent details through Conan, his chief lieutenant. He just emailed Conan the bare minimum—location, type of abduction, appearance of target—and then Conan passed the info on to her. Usually with one of his disappointed looks.
Five years, and Conan still viewed her like leftover meatloaf, fuzzy with mold. Not that it mattered. In fact, his disgust made life easier. Attachment was stupid and painful.
The kid squirmed in her arms, his lips pursing together in a frown. Her heart thudded. No.He had to stay asleep. She couldn’t do this to a conscious child.
She’d never even drunk from a dead one. Just turned them over to Conan and gotten her share of blood from the general supplies.
A special mission, Jean-Claude said. Something only Lucy could do. If she completed it, she’d get a rest. A real rest.
“You don’t know that.” Lucy whispered. She frowned, and slowed to let a tour group past. A few spared her curious looks. The guitars whined through the chords again, this time much louder. “He might be telling the truth.”
“He took everything from you,” the voice scoffed. Like hers, but fiercer, with a thicker drawl. Clear as the daylight that threatened to scorch her skin through the long-sleeved trench coat and broad-brimmed hat. “You think he’s being truthful now? Idiot.”
“I don’t have time for this!” She exited the passage. More tourists glanced her way. Lucy’s breath caught in her desert-dry throat. She forced her lips into a smile that hid her teeth.
Brushed a hand over the kid’s black hair. “He’s had a long day. The sun and all.”
She ducked down a side alley, past some half-finished public art. Shoot. Now they’d tell the cops. Time to finish this. Drain the child, make it messy. Leave it there for the guy to find. Melrose Durante. Whoever he was. Probably another vampire overlord like Jean-Claude.
“Maybe they’re in a turf war. Are you going to slaughter a child over a turf war?” The voice stung with disdain. “You’re better than this, Lucy. This isn’t us.”
“No. I’m me. You’re nothing.” Lucy coughed and stumbled against a wall. Her mouth ached with thirst. For the taste of fresh blood filling her mouth, calming the music and the voice in her head. Sending her to ecstatic heights far better than sanity.
Maybe she’d forget all of this, for at least a few hours. After that, it’d be time to kidnap another priest. If she could face them.
There. A stack of wooden crates jammed beside a small dumpster. A bar dumpster, surrounded by trash bags and broken glass. The stench of beer stung her nose, but there was no time to be fussy. Lucy picked her way through the debris and sat on the crates, bracing her feet on the asphalt. The wood creaked and shook. Not that strong after all.
“Lucy, don’t! There’s still a chance.”
“You always say that. Where’s the chance here, huh? Now who’s lying?” She propped up the kid in her arms. Don’t look at the face. Aim for the neck.
The guitars screeched. She’d known the rest of the song once. Now, it didn’t matter.
All that mattered was a drink.
A new voice. Flat and level and male. Lucy’s muscles seized, and she held the child closer. Had the cops gotten here this fast? Or maybe one of those nosy tourists?
Both could disappear if necessary. And it was always necessary.
After a drink. A quick one. Jean-Claude wanted this messy. Get a few gulps in now, and then finish the rest later.
Lucy bent over the child’s small, fragile neck.
“No! Wait. You don’t have to do that.”
Much closer now. Who was this guy? Shouldn’t he be quivering in fear or running away in panic? She tilted her head up, just enough to see a man in a long coat like hers, no hat, and skin the color of a latte.
Lattes. Those had been good. Before the turning.
“Go away.” “No.”
He took one step forward, then another. His brown eyes trained on her, jaw set, as if approaching a wild animal. Did he have a gun? Why wasn’t he shooting?
“I mean it! I’ll kill you too. Get out of here!”
“Release him.” His tone never wavered.
“So you can kill me once he’s in the clear?”
“No. So I can try to save you.”