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CRAVEthe vampire legacy
By KAREN E. TAYLOR
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Kensington Publishing
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHe moved through the narrow streets like a shadow, in stealth and darkness, stalking an unsuspecting prey. I followed close enough to keep him in my sight, but also hidden, my presence merging with the night. His muscles coiled beneath the black sweater, his legs, taut and powerful, and his silvery hair glistened in the moonlight. I held back a gasp at the magnificence of this creature; I did not want to be heard. But my caution made no difference, he was oblivious to my presence. He remained a mysterious and nameless figure intent only upon the quick footsteps of his chosen victim, leading him around a corner and down a darker alley. I hurried to catch up with them, not wanting to miss the moment of capture.
Standing at the head of the alley, I squeezed tightly against its rough brick wall, watching in fearful anticipation. My legs trembled and the breath froze in my throat. Then, when I thought I could stand the waiting no longer, he struck, suddenly and ferociously. His hand snaked out and grasped the young man's shoulder, spinning him around, silencing his protests with a single glance. His mouth came down on the man's neck and my hand traveled to my own throat; my pulse pounded in excitement, my breathing quickened, my tongue darted out to lick my lips. The tangy, acrid smell of blood exploded in the air; its odor, enticing and invigorating.
He drank hungrily, silently, but his pleasure was almost tangible, as easily heard as the strangled moans of his victim.
"Ahh." The slight whisper escaped my lips involuntarily and although it was barely audible, he heard and pulled away to face me. His mouth was bloodied, his canines, sharpened and lethal, and the ecstasy of feeding shone on his features. I do not need to fear him, I thought, he is of my own kind. But the internal reassurances did no good, and, in spite of myself, I shrank away from him, in awe and fright. A look of puzzlement flashed across his face, then he smiled and his eyes, with their intense blue glow, met mine and broke the spell under which his presence had held me.
"Mitch." I murmured his name and slowly moved toward him, claiming my place at the man's neck. Delicately, I placed my bite within the marks he had left and pulled deeply on the strong, rich blood. As I drank, Mitch stroked my hair with one hand. His other arm held me and the victim in an iron embrace until I finished my feast. Then with a few hoarsely spoken words, he calmed the man, urged him to forget, and gently deposited the now sleeping form on the sidewalk.
We linked arms and walked back down the alley to return to the pub. I nestled into his strong arm and glanced up at him, smiling. He kissed the top of my head and I sighed. Mitch had adjusted to his new life better than I had ever expected.
"So how'd I do?" It had been his first solo stalking since his transformation and the apprehension he had shown before we came out was now replaced with an exhilaration I knew all too well.
"At first I thought you would have been better off with someone older, someone slower perhaps. But you picked well, he was young and strong and you ..." I sighed again. "You were perfect, Mitch. No, more than that, you were magnificent. You took my breath away."
"Well," he shrugged and pulled me closer to him, "I had a wonderful teacher."
"Yes," I said, "I suppose I should offer professional tutoring in bloodsucking. Such a valuable skill." I tried to make my voice light and teasing, but the acid of the words splashed through.
We walked in silence until we were about a block from the pub. Mitch stopped and turned me around to face him. "What's wrong, Deirdre? You've been edgy and nervous all day. It's crazy, but I can't help but think it has something to do with me. Are you tired of me this soon?" The anger and hurt in his voice made me want to cry.
"No, my love," I reached a hand up to stroke his cheek, "it's not you. I wish I knew what it was. I'm tired. Perhaps that's all it is."
"But we slept all day and just fed pretty well. You should feel great; I know I do."
I gave him a sidelong glance. "You slept all day, you mean. I don't sleep much anymore."
"Why not? Do I snore?" His voice was slightly indignant.
"No, that's not it," I said with a small laugh, then sobered instantly. "I feel uneasy, like something is nagging at my mind, but I can't pinpoint it." I glanced up at the night sky, mentally numbering the remaining hours until dawn. "We'll have to leave here soon, you know."
"I know. Pete's expecting us back at the pub soon so he can go home. It was nice of him to stay, while we ran out for a bite." He winked at me and I smiled, but shook my head slightly, for both the bad joke and his misunderstanding of my words.
"No, I meant that we will need to leave England soon."
"But we just got here. And everything is just starting to fall into place, the house, the pub, and you and me. What else could we possibly want?"
"More than four hours of darkness at night would be nice. You've never spent an entire summer at this latitude. I have and it's an experience I am not anxious to repeat."
"Oh, yeah." He paused a minute and ran his fingers through his hair. "I was never real good at geography. Where should we go, do you think?"
I shrugged. "Any place is as good as another, I suppose, as long as we get at least seven hours of darkness. Any less than that and we might be in for trouble. What would you think about Spain?"
"Sounds fine to me." Mitch's face lit up with a mischievous grin. "I hear they have some great beaches there. You know, the ones where you can get a really good tan."
A sharp wave of panic struck me. I remembered too clearly my own initial longing for the sun; how, after over a century of living in the night only, I still missed the warming rays and the brightness of summer days. "No beaches, Mitch." My voice was imperative and harsh. I reached over and grasped his arm tightly. "You have to promise me, no beaches."
"Okay, okay." He disengaged my fingers from his arm, but kept my hand in his. "Bloody hell, Deirdre, I was only joking."
"Please, Mitch, never joke about that."
He must have heard the despair in my voice and said no more, but pulled me close to him, rocking me slightly for a few seconds. "Feeling better?" His breath tickled my ear and I smiled into his sweater.
"Yes, thank you. Now, we'd better get back to the pub."
"Dottie, and Mitch, my boy," Pete's boisterous voice greeted us as we opened the front door. "Back so soon? I was just saying that you'd be a while longer. Trying to make a liar of me, are you?"
I shook my head slightly and smiled, knowing that it did no good to interrupt him. Mitch laughed, clapped Pete on the shoulder and stood next to him behind the bar.
"Sure," Pete continued, "and now I suppose you'll be sending me home right as I was in the middle of making the acquaintance of a new visitor; telling him the story of how you returned here with a new name, a new husband, and without an extra ounce of fat on your bones. Not that they're not fine bones, mind you," and he nudged Mitch, giving him a small wink, "but you both could do with a little fattening up."
I tensed slightly at his mention of a visitor and glanced around the bar, seeing no one but the regulars. Catching Mitch's eyes, I shrugged and asked the question I knew Pete was waiting to hear. "What new visitor?"
He looked around in confusion. "Why, he was just here, wasn't he, boys?" The men around the bar nodded and Pete continued. "Probably stepped off to the gents; he'll be turning up soon, no doubt. Real eager to see you, he was. Says he knew you both in the States." Pete's eyes narrowed in a fake scowl, "Seems to me, Dottie, that last time that happened you took off and left me for another man."
"But I came back, Pete."
"And that you did, Dot." He drew himself a glass of stout, and walked around the bar, lighting a cigarette. "But this wasn't the same man that dragged you away before. This one is older and has a trace of accent, not American, mind you, but someplace foreign."
As he settled himself onto a stool to finish his drink, I moved back behind the bar with Mitch. "Do you remember his name, Pete," I asked with a smile, leaning toward him, "or did you forget to ask?"
"Now, Dottie, don't give me grief, I get enough of that from the missus owing to my poor memory. Vincent, it was, or something close to that."
I knew Mitch well enough to hear the undercurrent of tension in his voice, but Pete merely nodded and announced triumphantly, "Yes, that's the chap. Know him, do you?"
"Unfortunately." This time, the anger in Mitch's voice was unmistakable.
"Well, fortunate or not," Pete said, glancing curiously at Mitch, "he's here somewhere." He drained his glass, stubbed out his cigarette and stood up. Taking off his apron, he tossed it to Mitch, then reached over to give me a delicate pat on my cheek. "Now, Dot, don't you go running off on me again without notice."
Although I knew Mitch and I would both be leaving soon, I nodded my head, thinking that we had less than a month before the nighttime hours would begin to dwindle enough to force us to move on. "Well, Pete," I began, "we won't ..." But the rest of my answer went unsaid. The air seemed to thicken over me; the hair on the back of my neck rose. I could hear nothing, but felt the presence of someone standing close behind me, as clearly as if a hand had been laid on me. I quickly looked over my shoulder and around the room, but could see only those who had been there a second earlier, no one else.
Mitch walked over next to me and wrapped an arm around my waist, his familiar touch calming me only slightly. "Don't worry," he said, "we won't leave you in the lurch. Now if you don't go soon, your wife'll be mad."
Pete's contagious laugh roared over the pub and almost rid me of the unsettling feeling of the invisible presence. "Right you are, my boy. See you tomorrow night."
The rest of the evening passed uneventfully. I was still nervous; I thought that the patrons spoke too loudly and that the smoke of their cigarettes was unnaturally heavy, curling thickly through the dark corners of the room. I breathed my relief when last call had been made and the doors were finally locked. Mitch silently poured me a glass of port, handed me Pete's cigarettes and began to clear the tables.
When I finished the wine, I lit one of the Players and sat at the bar to watch Mitch wash the glasses and the steins, admiring the grace of his movements and the strength of his hands. He looked up at me, his eyes met mine and he smiled. "What?"
"Nothing," I said. Suddenly the nervousness fell aside and I felt at peace with myself for the first time since Mitch's transformation. "I just like to watch you. You do that so well."
Mitch laughed. "I know, you brought me all the way here just so I could wash dishes for your pub."
I returned his laugh. "That's right, my love, regular dishwashers don't come cheap and you know how Pete is about spending money."
He gave a noncommittal grunt and completed his work behind the bar. Then he pulled out a glass for himself and filled it and mine with tawny port. He took both glasses and sat down at the closest table. I followed and sat down next to him.
"So," his voice had lost all of its humor and was intense and serious, "what exactly was that?"
"You mean right before Pete left? I don't know. I've never experienced anything like it."
"Wasn't Max, was it?" After having lived with the ghost of Max for over two years, I discarded that theory immediately. "No, it didn't have his imprint, somehow."
"I didn't think so."
I turned to him in surprise. "You felt it too?"
"Yeah." He ran his fingers through his hair in a tired gesture. "But it was vaguely familiar." Then he shrugged and touched my hand. "Another thing, what the hell is Victor Lange doing here? And where in bloody hell do you suppose he disappeared to?"
I shook my head and my eyes drifted to a corner of the bar, where the smoke of the night had collected and the darkness was impenetrable. Rubbing a hand on my face, I looked again and a shiver of amazement flowed over me. "Why that son of a bitch," I whispered in a trembling voice, "he never left at all. He's been here all night."
"What?" Mitch looked at me in surprise, then glanced over his shoulder. When the figure behind the bar began to materialize into an almost recognizable form, Mitch jumped out of his chair, knocking his glass to the floor in the process. Its crash was the only noise for what seemed a long time. Then there was the sound of footsteps and suddenly Victor stood in front of us.
"Good evening, Deirdre," he nodded, "and you too, Mitch. It's good to see you again."
Mitch and I just stared at him; neither of us ever had any inkling that what Victor had just done was even possible. Mitch cleared his throat and tentatively held out his hand. Victor shook it, grinning.
"Jesus, Victor," Mitch said with a touch of both anger and awe in his voice, "how the hell did you do that?"
Chapter Two"Forgive me for the theatrics," Victor began, ignoring Mitch's question. He brushed a spot of invisible lint from his impeccably tailored jacket, and sat down at the table. "I did think that our meeting would best be conducted in private. We have a lot to discuss, we three."
I glanced at Victor uneasily, then glanced away, feeling, as I usually did in his presence, shoddily dressed in my jeans and black sweater. He exuded an elegance and a confidence as easily felt as the power and magnetism of his being. Mitch was still staring at him and I could almost hear the questions racing through his mind. Was what Victor had done possible for us? And if so, how was it accomplished? But where I shrank away from the inhumanity of such a trick, Mitch, I knew, would pursue this new power effortlessly and relentlessly, as he had so readily embraced the unnatural life he had been given.
I shuddered and looked down at the tabletop. Victor reached over and lifted my chin. "Cat got your tongue, Deirdre? I do apologize for the abruptness of my appearance. I didn't mean to alarm you."
"No," I found my voice and was amazed that it sounded even and calm, "it was just a surprise, seeing you appear like that. After all, we had been told you were here."
"Yes, well," Victor looked over to Mitch, "what if you pour me one of whatever you two are having and we'll get down to business."
Mitch walked back behind the bar to get the bottle and another glass for Victor. My mouth curved in an almost smug smile as I watched him; Victor might be elegant and powerful, but he could never be a match for the utter intensity and sensuality that Mitch possessed. A low noise escaped my throat, almost a purr, and I blushed, but Victor merely laughed.
"He is developing nicely, my dear. You've done a good job with his training."
"What do you mean?"
"Come now, Deirdre," Victor admonished, "I do have eyes and my senses are even more finely honed than yours. The glow of transformation still lingers over him. He will do well, and for what it's worth, I approve."
Mitch came back to the table and handed Victor his wine. "And exactly what is your approval worth, Lange?"
Victor looked up at him calmly. "Quite a bit, actually. As head of the Cadre, I have the final decision on most transformations, especially one such as yours, since you now both fall into the house of Leupold. Never underestimate the ties of blood, Mitch. As you grow older, you will eventually lose your human family, but your blood clan will continue. And," Victor gave a low chuckle, "like it, or not, I am the head of that clan."
"I'd like it a lot better if you could teach me that little trick you entered with." Mitch sat down and leaned back casually in his chair. "How on earth do you do it?"
Victor gave me a puzzled look. "Deirdre should be able to teach you. It merely requires concentration and practice—years, or more properly, decades of practice. I wish I could take the time to teach you, but I'm afraid my business here is not pleasant and my time is short. I am needed back at the Cadre before tomorrow evening." Victor stood up and brushed at his jacket again. "And, although I hate to interrupt your honeymoon, the
Excerpted from CRAVE by KAREN E. TAYLOR Copyright © 2011 by Kensington Publishing. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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