Remember Luke Saunders, the private investigator hired by the vampire Roland Trudeau to spy on Clifford Crane and his Uwharrie pack of werewolves? In the last novel, Red Wolf Rising, Luke had finally had enough of Trudeau's evil machinations, betraying him by going to Clifford to reveal his employer's plans to lay a trap for the wolves.
Knowing Trudeau would not take the betrayal lightly, Clifford offered Saunders protection, but Luke declined, choosing instead to take his chances on his own. Using skills obtained through decades of PI work, he attempted to hide from the vampire by dropping off the grid.
Let's see how that's going for him, now.
Monday, June 27, 2011 7:15 pm
Luke Saunders glanced at the clock on the wall behind the bar and panicked. Oh, fuck, it’s almost sunset. I gotta get home.
“Jeez,” he said to the woman who’d distracted him with conversation for the last forty minutes, “I completely lost track of time. I have to be somewhere before sunset.” He dropped a wad of cash on the bar and signaled the bartender, indicating he was paying for both their drinks. “It was really nice talking to you.”
The young woman looked genuinely disappointed. “Oh, yeah, it’s been nice. You’re easy to talk to.” She placed a light touch on his hand, her fingers sending a thrill up the entire length of his arm. “Do you really have to go?”
He glanced briefly at the clock, then back at her. She wasn’t really his type. She had short hair, dyed an unnatural shade of red, with pale skin that was covered with more tattoos than clothing. She had a piercing on one side of her nose, inset with some blue stone he didn’t recognize. Around her neck was a wide choker, the same shade as her hair. Usually, he hated that kind of shit, but not on this girl.
Maybe it was the two margaritas talking, but there was something extremely compelling about her, right now. Vampire, his mind suddenly warned. But, no. Her touch had been warm, it was still a while before sunset, and this little corner of paradise was as free of the bloodsuckers as any he could find. “Yeah,” he nodded, “Sorry, I do have to be somewhere.” At home. Always safely at home, before the sun goes down.
She dipped a finger in her drink and gave the liquid a few half-hearted stirs. “You’re going home,” she whispered, then cut her eyes at him, “Alone?”
Fuck, she read me like a book. He swallowed. “Um, yeah.” He shrugged.
She nodded. Holding his gaze, she raised her glass to her lips, drained what was left, and set it on the bar. “Can I come?”
Adrenaline coursed through him. It would be a violation of the rules, but they were his rules, after all. Hell, what was the use of living in paradise if you couldn’t enjoy it, now and then? Still, he hesitated. “Um...”
“Hey,” she said, “if it’s an inconvenience…”
He detected hurt in her voice and reacted quickly. “No, it’s not that. I…uh…you just caught me by surprise. I don’t usually do…this.”
Her eyebrows rose. “This? You mean, picking up a girl in a bar?”
“Yeah,” he shrugged, “kind of. I mean…”
Her hand was back on his arm, cutting him off. “Hey, it’s okay. I never do this. But, I’m on vacation, and I figured what’s the use of being in paradise if you can’t enjoy it?”
He grinned. “Funny, I was just thinking the same thing.”
“Well,” she smiled, “you have to admit, it’s a pretty good argument. Is your place far?”
He shook his head. “Just up the beach a little.”
“Good,” she said, gathering a small purse and sliding off the bar stool, “a walk on the beach sounds nice.” She reached for his hand and entwined her fingers with his. “Ready?”
He was, very much so. Her hand was warm, her touch promising. They left the bar via the beach entrance. She guessed the direction correctly and hooked her arm through his as they ambled towards his cottage.
Walking along the water’s edge, she kept a running commentary, her voice barely audible over the crashing surf. Although she said nothing that required a response, he was forced to lean close in order not to miss her words. Her scent was intoxicating.
“Oh, my God,” she gasped, bringing them both to a halt, “that’s so beautiful.”
He followed her gaze to the horizon, where the deep red of a spectacular sunset colored a low line of clouds. “It is,” he agreed.
They watched for a time, as the red deepened to violet and the last tip of the orb disappeared into the ocean. She turned to him in the fading light and lifted her lips to his, pulling him into a deep kiss. Her breath tasted faintly of cinnamon, eliciting a vague question in his mind as to the identity of the drink she’d had back in the bar.
She pulled her lips off his, encircling her arms around his waist and resting her head against his chest. “That was nice,” she sighed. “I’m so sorry.”
She pulled back and looked up into his eyes, frowning. “Really, it’s nothing personal.”
She took a few steps back, looking down and away. Luke’s stomach turned to ice as a cold voice spoke behind him, “Good evening, Mr. Saunders. You’re a hard man to get hold of, after sunset.” An icy hand clamped down on his shoulder and the voice chuckled, “Get it? ‘Get a hold of?’”
Luke tried to swallow, but his throat was dry. The choker! I should have guessed. I’m so screwed. “You’re a fucking pet,” he accused the woman. She didn’t answer, only lowered her head further.
“Not exactly,” said the cold voice. “Chelsea is very much her own woman, I assure you. By the way, thank you, my dear. You gave your usual stellar performance. Your fee has already been deposited in your account.”
Chelsea raised her head but did not look at either one of them. “I can leave now, then.” Her tone was so flat, Luke couldn’t tell if she was stating a fact or asking permission.
“Not yet, please,” said the voice. “I have some questions for Luke, here.”
“I don’t want to watch this,” she said. Her tone was now more animated, and Luke’s testicles drew up to join the knot in his stomach.
The cold voice behind him became irritated. “You won’t have to, if you can help me get some answers,” it said.
“It doesn’t always work, you know,” she complained, “especially if…” She took a deep breath. “Under torture, people’s minds go in directions I can’t always follow.”
“I’m going to have to ask you to try.”
Chelsea ground her teeth a moment before nodding. “Very well.”
The voice waxed sarcastic. “So accommodating of you. I found the perfect spot on the very deck of Mr. Saunders’ cottage, overlooking the ocean. I’ll go get him ready. Take your time.”
Luke felt himself suddenly whisked off his feet and carried swiftly over a stretch of dunes to where his beach front cottage stood. When he regained his equilibrium, he found himself on his back deck, securely tied between the hooks where a hammock had been strung before he’d left for the bar earlier that afternoon.
Before him stood a tall, pale man, unmistakably a vampire, regarding him purposefully with half-lidded eyes. “I know you don’t want to answer my questions,” he explained, “so I’m going to have to use my venom to put you…in the mood, so to speak.” He rubbed his chin, speculatively. “This is not an exact science.”
A shudder ran through Luke’s body before he found his voice. He reached for as much defiance as he could muster. “You think your saliva can get me high enough to tell you anything?”
The vampire’s lips spread in a wide, humorless smile. “No, I don’t. If Roland Trudeau had wanted you turned into a compliant pet, he would not have sent me. You see…” He was interrupted by the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs from the beach. “Ah, she’s here. We can get started. How close do you need to be, Chelsea?”
Luke craned his head around as Chelsea reached the top step. He watched her take a seat on a low bench built along the railing. “I’m fine over here,” she stated.
“Okay, then,” continued the vampire, turning back to Luke, “as I was saying…hey, hold on there, what are you doing?” The vampire’s finger was suddenly in Luke’s mouth, pressing his tongue away from the tooth Luke had been working at, the tooth the vampire was now holding in front of his face, between two fingers.
“Tsk, tsk, Mr. Saunders. Nice try. You really are a clever fellow.” The vampire sniffed at the tooth. “Cyanide?” He looked at Chelsea, frowning, “You didn’t pick up on that?”
She shook her head. “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention. I was…getting ready.”
The vampire crushed the false tooth between his fingers and wiped the residue on his shirt. “Let me know when you are ready,” he told her.
“Go ahead,” she sighed. “Let’s get it over with.”
“Humph,” the vampire grunted, turning back to Luke, “why does everyone have to be in such a hurry all the time?” He grasped Luke’s chin, moving his head back and forth to inspect his neck. “You’re an unusual man, Mr. Saunders, having been closely associated with our kind for this long without being bitten. I understand there is a clause in your contract for the ongoing investigation into the activities of Clifford Crane that specifically states you are not to be turned into a pet. For some reason, Trudeau has chosen to honor that contract, despite the fact you have broken your end of the bargain.” He frowned. “You know how a pet is made, don’t you, Mr. Saunders?”
His chin still in the vampire’s iron grip, Luke could only cut his eyes at his captor in response.
“Well, let me explain. Vampire venom contains a paralytic poison designed to immobilize a victim during the feeding process. The poison is so fiercely painful, however, that our original creators mixed with it a pain killer that relaxes the victim, so that the human adrenal system won’t kick in, rendering our meals…unpalatable.”
The vampire raised his eyebrows in a question. Luke didn’t notice, however. His eyes were wide, casting desperately in every direction. They settled on Chelsea for a moment, begging. She shifted uncomfortably and looked away.
The vampire cleared his throat, unnecessarily. “Ahem. Anyway, the pain killer has a euphoric effect that is extremely addictive, or so I am told. If bitten more than a few times, a victim will develop such a craving for the high that they’re pretty much willing to do anything, or say anything, or betray anyone, just to get another fix. It’s sad, really, but very effective. We call these addicts ‘pets,’ a rather demeaning term, if you ask me. You know, it says something about you and your skills that Trudeau chose to ensure your compliance with a contract rather than…you know, our usual methods.” He leaned close, positioning Luke’s head so he could look in his eyes. “Based on the trouble I’ve had to go through to find you, I’d have to agree with him.”
The vampire released Luke’s chin and straightened to his full height. “But, I digress. Let me get to the point. A small percentage of humans lack a certain chemical substance in their systems, called…sorry, I can’t pronounce it…but, it’s the same thing that makes them immune to such plants as poison ivy, sumac, that sort of thing? If one of these humans is turned to vampirism, their venom lacks the pain killer that would allow them to create a pet. In fact, their bite is so painful that it is best to kill a victim quickly and feed later, which is not as enjoyable a meal as it could be. Or, so I am told.” He sighed. “I am one of those unfortunate individuals with no pain killer in my venom.”
He shrugged. “Oh, well. I don’t enjoy feeding as much as my brethren.” He leaned closer, again, and smiled. “But, I really…really enjoy inflicting pain.” He straightened and turned to Chelsea. “Have you gotten anything, yet?”
She shook her head.
He grinned, turning back to Luke. “Good. Let’s get started, then. This may hurt a little.” His jaws opened wide, his fangs clicking into place. He sank them deep into Luke’s neck, oh so slowly.Luke’s screams carried on the breeze, past the surf and out to sea, where no one could hear.
Stay tuned for more, readers. Feel free to leave a comment below.