Veil of Midnight (Chapter Eleven)
The news of the latest Gen One killing, this time in France, weighed him down. It seemed to him that the world was going increasingly mad around him. Not only the world of the Breed – his world – but that of humankind as well. So much death and destruction. So much anguish everywhere one looked.
He had the terrible feeling, deep in his gut, that this was only the beginning. Darker days were coming. Perhaps they had been coming for a long time already and he'd been too ignorant – too caught up in his own personal pleasures – to notice.
One of those pleasures came up behind him now, her elegant stride unmistakable as she walked through the estate 's manicured gardens and down onto the grass.
Helene's lithe arms wrapped around his shoulders. "Hello, darling."
Reichen reached up to caress her warm skin as she bent over him and kissed him. Her mouth was soft, lingering, her long dark hair fragrant with the lightest trace of rose oil.
"Your nephew told me when I arrived that you've been out here for the past couple of hours," she murmured, lifting her head to gaze out at the lake. "I can see why. It's a lovely view."
"It just got lovelier," Reichen said, as he tipped his chin up and looked at her.
She smiled without coyness, having long become accustomed to his flattery. "Something is troubling you, Andreas. It's not like you to sit alone and brood."
Could she know him so well? They had been lovers for the past year, a casual dalliance that had somehow turned into something deeper if not entirely exclusive. Reichen knew Helene had other men in her life – human men – as he also occasionally took his pleasure with other women. Theirs was not a relationship plagued by jealousies or possessiveness. But that didn't mean it was devoid of affection. They shared a mutual concern for each other, and a bond of trust that extended beyond the barriers that generally made human and Breed relationships impossible.
Helene had become a friend and, of late, an indispensable partner in Reichen's important remote work with the warriors back in Boston.
Helene came around to the front of the chair and seated herself on the broad arm. "Have you relayed the news to the Order about the recent assassination in Paris?"
Reichen nodded. "I did, yes. And they tell me there was also an attempted killing in Montreal a few nights ago. At least that one failed, by some miracle of fate. But there will be others. I fear there will be many more deaths to come before the smoke finally clears. The Order is convinced they will put a stop to the madness, but there are times when I wonder if the evil at work here isn't greater than any amount of good."
"You're letting this consume you," Helene said as she idly petted his hair off his brow. "You know, if you were looking for something to do with your time, you could have come to me instead of the Order. I could have put you to work at the club as my personal assisant. It's not too late to change your mind. And I assure you, the fringe benefits alone would be worth it."
Reichen chuckled. "Tempting, indeed."
Helene bent down and nibbled his earlobe, her breath tickling and heated on his skin. "It would only be a temporary position, of course. Say twenty or thirty years – a blink of time to you. But by then I will be wrinkled and gray, and you will be eager for a new, more appealing plaything who can still keep up with your wicked demands."
Reichen was surprised to hear the twinge of wistfulness in Helene's voice. She'd never talked about the future with him, nor he with her. It was more or less understood that there could never be a future, given that she was mortal with a finite life span and he – barring prolonged UV exposure or massive bodily harm – would continue living for something close to eternity.
"What are you doing wasting your time with me when you could have your pick of any man? " he asked her, running his fingers along the smooth line of her shoulder. "You could be married to someone who adores you, raising a litter of clever, beautiful children."
Helene arched a flawlessly manicured brow. "I suppose I never was one to make the conventional choice."
Neither was he, in fact. Reichen acknowledged that it would be very easy to ignore everything he and the Order had discovered a few months ago. He could forget about the evil they'd tracked to that mountain cave in the Bohemian hills. He could pretend none of that existed, renege on his offer to help the warriors in whatever way he could. It would be the simplest thing in the world to retreat to his role as head of his Darkhaven household and slide back into his carefree, libertine ways.
But the simple truth was, he'd grown tired of that lifestyle long ago. Someone years past had once accused him of being a perpetual child – selfish and irresponsible. She'd been right, even then. Especially then, when he'd been fool enough to let that woman and the love she'd given him slip through his fingers. After too many decades of self-indulgence, it felt good to be making a difference. Or trying to, as it were.
"I don't expect you came by tonight just to distract me with kisses and attractive offers of employment," he said, sensing a seriousness had come over Helene.
"No, I didn't, unfortunately. I thought you should know that one of my girls at the club may be missing. You recall me mentioning that Gina, one of my newer girls, showed up with bite marks on her neck last week?"
Reichen nodded. "The one who'd been talking about a rich new boyfriend she was dating."
"That's right. Well, it's not the first time she's missed her shift at work, but her housemate told me this afternoon that Gina hasn't been home or telephoned for more than three days. It could be nothing, but I thought you'd want to know."
"Yes," he said. "Do you have any information on the male she was seeing? A description, a name, anything at all?"
"No. The housemate had never met him, naturally, so she couldn't tell me anything."
Reichen considered the numerous things that could happen to a young woman who found herself unwittingly mixed up with one of his kind. Although most of the Breed were law-abiding members of the vampire nation, there were others who reveled in their savage side. "I need you to discreetly ask around at the club tonight, see if any of the other girls heard Gina mention this boyfriend of hers. I'm looking for names, places she might have gone with him, even the smallest detail could be important." Helene nodded, but there was a note of interest in her eyes. "I rather like this serious side to you, Andreas. It's incredibly sexy."
Her hand trailed down the open front of his silk shirt, her long painted nails playing over the ridges of his muscled abdomen. Although his thoughts were grim, his body responded to her expert touch. His dermaglyphs began to saturate with color, and his vision sharpened with the flood of amber that was swiftly filling his irises. Lower still, his cock stiffened, swelling where it now rested beneath her palm.
"I really shouldn't stay," she murmured, her voice husky and teasing. "I don't want to be late for work."
When she started to get up, Reichen held her back. "Don't worry about that. I know the woman who runs the place, I'll make your excuses for you. I have it on good authority that she fancies me."
"Do you now?"
Reichen grunted, baring the points of his fangs with his broad grin. "Poor dear is mad for me."
"Mad for an arrogant thing like you?" Helene teased. "Darling, don't flatter yourself. She may want you only for your decadent body."
"True enough," he replied, "but you won't hear me complaining either way."
Helene smiled, not resisting in the least as he pulled her down onto his lap for a deep, hungered kiss.
By nightfall, Lex was fully recovered from the agony Renata had dealt him. His rage – his festering hatred for her – remained. He cursed her over and over in his mind as he leaned against a rotting wall of a rat-infested crack house in Montreal's worst slum, watching as a young human male tied off his arm with an old leather belt. The loose tail caught between a smattering of broken, decayed teeth, the junkie stuck the needle of a filthy syringe into the field of scabs and bruises that tracked along his emaciated arm. He moaned as the heroin entered his bloodstream.
"Ah, fuck, man," he rasped around a shaky sigh as he released his tourniquet and fell back against a putrid mattress on the floor. He ran his tattooed hands over his pale, pimply face and greasy brown hair. "Ah, Christ…that right there's some prime shit, baby."
"Yes," Lex said, his voice airless in the dank, urine-soaked darkness.
He'd spared no expense on the drugs; money was of little concern to him. No doubt the lowlife junkie he'd picked up selling his body on the street had never had such an expensive high. Lex was willing to bet the young man's personal services had never fetched such a rich sum either. He'd all but leapt into the car when Lex pulled over and flashed a hundred dollars and a bag of heroin in front of his face.
Lex cocked his head and watched as the human savored his fix. They were alone in the squalid room of the abandoned apartment building. The place had been overrun with vagrants and addicts when they'd first arrived, but it took Lex only a few minutes – and an irresistible mental command, courtesy of his second-generation Breed lineage – to drive the humans out so he could conduct his business in private.
Still reclining on the floor, the junkie stripped out of his sleeveless T-shirt then began to unbutton his loose-fitting, grime- stained blue jeans. He crudely fondled himself as he worked the fly open, bleary eyes rolling in his skull, searching listlessly through the dark.
"So, you want me to suck your dick or what, man?"
"No," Lex said, repulsed by the very idea.
He stepped away from his position across the room and walked slowly toward the junkie. Where to begin with him? he wondered idly. He had to play this thing out carefully or he'd be back on the street, searching for someone else. Wasting precious time.
"You like my ass instead, baby?" the human whore slurred. "If you want to fuck me, you gotta pay double. That's my rule." Lex's laugh was low, genuinely amused. "I'm not interested in fucking you. Bad enough I have to look at you, that I have to smell your revolting stench. Sex is not the reason you're here."
"Well, what the hell then?" A note of panic edged the stale air, a sudden kick of human adrenaline that Lex's heightened senses easily detected. "You sure as shit didn't bring me here for a little polite conversation."
"No," Lex agreed pleasantly.
"Okay. So, what the fuck do I look like to you, asshole?"
Lex smiled. "Bait."
With movements so fast not even the soberest human eye could track them, he reached out and hauled the junkie up off the floor. Lex had a knife in his hand. He stuck it into the human's gaunt belly and ripped a slash across his midsection. Blood surged out of the wound, hot and wet and fragrant.
"Oh, Jesus!" the human screamed. "Oh, my fucking God! You stabbed me!"
Lex drew back and let the man fall back limply onto the floor. It was all he could do to keep himself from lunging after him in a blind thirst.
Lex's physical transformation was swift, brought on by the sudden presence of fresh, flowing blood. His vision sharpened with the narrowing of his pupils, an amber glow washing over the room as his eyes changed to that of a predator. His fangs stretched long behind his lips, saliva gushing into his mouth as the urge to feed swelled.
The junkie was sobbing now, sputtering pathetically as he clutched at the gaping wound in his belly. "Are you crazy, you fucking asshole? You might have killed me!"
"Not yet," Lex replied thickly around his fangs.
"I have to get out of here," the man murmured. "Gotta get help – "
"Stay," Lex ordered him, smiling as the feeble human mind wilted under his command.
He had to force himself to keep his distance. Let the situation play out as he intended it to. A gut wound would bleed hard, but death would come slowly. Lex needed him alive for a while, long enough for his scent to travel out onto the street and into the surrounding alleyways.
The human he'd bought tonight was merely chum to be tossed into the water. Lex was looking to attract bigger fish. He knew as well as any other member of the Breed that nothing drew a vampire faster, or more surely, than the prospect of bleeding human prey. This deep into the underbelly of the city, where even the dregs of human society rushed about in an unspoken state of terror, Lex was counting on the presence of Rogues.
He wasn't disappointed.
The first two came sniffing around the crack house in mere minutes. Rogues were hopeless addicts, as much as the junkie now curled up in a fetal position and weeping quietly on the floor as his life slowly leeched out of him.
Although few of the Breed lost themselves to Bloodlust – the permanent, insatiable thirst for blood – the ones who did rarely, if ever, came back from it. They lived in the shadows, savage, rootless monsters whose only purpose in living was to feed their hunger.
Lex slid back into the corner of the room as the two predators crept inside. They immediately fell upon the human, tearing at him with fangs that never receded, eyes burning with the color and heat of fire.
Another Rogue found the room. This one was larger than the others, more brutal as he threw himself into the carnage and began to feed. A scuffle broke out among the feral vampires. The three of them turned on each other like snarling, rabid dogs. Fists pounding, fingers tearing, fangs ripping through flesh and bone, each powerful male fought viciously to win his prey.
Lex watched transfixed. Giddy from the violence, and drunk from the scent of so much spilled blood, human and Breed.
He watched, and he waited.
The Rogues would fight one another to the death, like the base animals they were. Only one of them would prove the strongest in the end.
And that was the one Lex needed.
After a whole day of waiting for nightfall, now he had another two hours to kill before he could catch his ride back to Boston. Nikolai seriously considered skipping the airport rendezvous and heading out on foot instead, but even with his Breed stamina and hyperspeed, he would hardly clear the state of Vermont before sunrise drove him into hiding again. And frankly, the idea of bunking down in some low-country barn with a bunch of agitated livestock didn't exactly have him dying to strap on a pair of Nikes and hit the open road.
So, he would wait.
He and patience had never been the closest of friends. He'd been just about batshit with boredom by the time the sun had finally set and he was able to get out of the mausoleum shelter.
He supposed it was that same boredom that led him into the humid tenderloin of Montreal, where he hoped to find something diverting to do while he cooled his heels. He didn't much care how he used the time, but he'd deliberately sought out the one area of the city where the odds of finding a reason to burn off steam with his knuckles or his weapons were better than good.
In this particular block of rat-infested alleys and low-rent slums, his immediate choices were limited to crack-heads, traffickers – be they dealers in narcotics or skin – and vacant-eyed streetwalkers of both genders. More than one idiot eyeballed him as he strode the block in no particular direction. Someone was even stupid enough to flash the business end of a blade at him as he passed, but Niko just paused and gave the toothless scumbag a dimpled, fang-tipped grin of invitation and the threat was gone as quickly as it had appeared.
Although he wasn't opposed to confrontation in any form, fighting humans was a bit beneath him. He preferred more of a challenge. What he really itched to find right now was a Rogue. Last summer, Boston had been knee-deep in blood-addicted vampires. The fighting had been hard and heavy – with at least one tragic loss on the Order's side – but Nikolai and the rest of the warriors had made it their mission to sweep the city clean.
Other metropolitan areas still lost the occasional civilian to Bloodlust, and Niko would have bet his left nut that Montreal was no different. But aside from the pimps, pushers, and prostitutes, this stretch of brick and asphalt was feeling about as dead as the crypt where he'd been forced to spend the day.
"Hey, baby." The female smiled at him from a shadowed doorway as he walked past. "You lookin' for something specific, or just window-shoppin'?"
Nikolai grunted, but he paused. "I'm a specific kind of guy."
"Well, maybe I got what you need." She grinned at him and hopped off her perch on the concrete stoop. "Matter of fact, I'm sure I got just exactly what you need, sugar."
She wasn't a beauty, with her brittle, teased-up brassy hair, dull eyes, and sallow skin, but then again Nikolai didn't expect he was going to be spending much time looking at her face. She smelled clean, if deodorant soap and hairspray could be considered clean-smelling scents. To Niko's acute senses, the woman reeked of cosmetics and perfumes, with an undercurrent of recent narcotic use that seeped from her pores.
"Whattaya say?" she asked, sidling up to him now. "You wanna go someplace for a little while? If you got twenty bucks, I'll give you half an hour."
Nikolai stared at the pulse point ticking in the woman's neck. It had been several days since he'd last fed. And he did have two hours of do-nothing ahead of him…
"Yeah," he said, giving her a nod. "Let's take a walk."
She took his hand and led him around the corner of the building and down an empty alley.
Nikolai didn't waste any time. As soon as they were secluded from potential onlookers, he took her head in his hands and bared her neck for his bite. Her startled cry was squashed the instant he sank his fangs into her carotid and began to drink. The woman's blood was unremarkable – the usual copper heaviness of human red cells, but laced with a bittersweet tang of the speedball she'd had before stepping out for her night's work. Nikolai gulped down several mouthfuls, feeling the blood's energy course through his body in a low vibration. It wasn't unusual for a Breed male to get aroused by the act of feeding. The response was purely physical, an awakening of cells and muscles.
That his cock was fully erect now and straining for relief didn't surprise him at all. It was the fact that his head was swimming with thoughts of a certain raven-haired female – a female he had no intention of seeing ever again – that made Niko rear back in alarm.
"Mmm, don't stop," his human companion moaned, pulling his mouth back to the wound at her neck. She too was feeling the effects of the feeding, enthralled as all humans became when held under the bite of the Breed. "Don't stop, baby."
Nikolai's vision was swamped with amber fire as he clamped back down on her throat. He knew she wasn't Renata, but as his hands skimmed up the woman's bare legs and under the short denim skirt she wore, he pictured himself caressing Renata's long, beautiful thighs. He imagined it was Renata's blood that fed him. Renata's body that responded so eagerly to his touch. It was Renata's fevered gasps that drove him as he ripped at the cheap thong panties with one hand and worked to free himself with the other.
He needed to be inside her.
He needed –
A light breeze eddied through the alleyway, carrying with it the stench of vampires gone Rogue. And there was spilled blood too. Human blood. A damned lot of it, mixed with the vile odor of bleeding Rogues.
Nikolai froze with his hand still on his fly, shocked stupid in one blinding instant.
What the fuck was going on?
He yanked the woman's skirt back down and swept his tongue over her neck wound, sealing up his bite.
"I said, don't st – "
Niko didn't give her a chance to finish the thought. With a glance of his palm over her brow, he scrubbed her mind of the entire thing. "Get out of here," he told her.
He was already jogging up the alley by the time she shook out of her daze and started moving. He followed his nose to a dilapidated building not far from where he'd been. The stench emanated from inside, a couple floors off the street.
Nikolai climbed the lightless stairwell to the second floor. His eyes were practically watering from the overwhelming stink of death that rolled out from under a closed door. His hand on the gun holstered at his hip, Niko approached the place. There was no sound on the other side of the battered, graffiti-tagged door. Only death, human and Breed. Niko turned the loose knob and braced himself for what he would find.
It had been a massacre.
An apparent junkie lay in a supine sprawl amid discarded syringes and other trash that littered the blood-soaked floor and a fouled mattress. The body was so ruined it was hardly recognizable as human, let alone a distinguishable gender. The other two bodies were savaged as well, but definitely Breed – without question, both of them Rogues judging by the size and stench of them alone.
Nikolai could guess what might have happened here: a lethal struggle over prey. This fight was fresh, maybe only minutes old. And the two dead suckheads wouldn't have been able to shred each other so thoroughly before one or the other went down. There had been at least one more Rogue involved in this scuffle.
If Niko was lucky, the victor might still be in the area, licking his wounds. He hoped so, because he 'd love to give the diseased bastard a taste of his 9mm's custom rounds. Nothing said "Have a nice day" like a Rogue's corrupted blood system going into allergic meltdown from a dose of poisonous titanium.
Nikolai went to the boarded-up window and tossed the crudely nailed panels aside. If he was looking for action, he'd just found it in spades. Below, on the street, stood an enormous Rogue. He was bloodied and battered, looking like ten kinds of hell. But holy shit…he wasn't alone.
Alexei Yakut was with him.
Incredibly, Lex and the Rogue walked toward a waiting sedan and got in.
"What the fuck are you up to?" Niko murmured under his breath as the car roared up the street.
He was about to leap out the open window and follow on foot when a shrill scream sounded behind him. A woman had wandered into the carnage and now gaped at him in terror, an accusing, shaky finger pointed in his direction. She screamed again, loud enough to wake every crackhead and dealer in the neighborhood.
Nikolai eyed the witness and the bloody evidence of a struggle that looked anything but human.
"Damn it," he growled, glancing over his shoulder in time to see Lex's car disappear around the corner. "It's all right," he told the shrieking banshee as he left the window and approached her. "You didn't see a thing."
He wiped her memory and shoved her out of the room. Then he took out a titanium blade and stuck it into the remains of one of the dead Rogues.
As the body began to sizzle and dissolve, Niko set about cleaning up the rest of the mess that Lex and his unlikely associate had left behind.