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Table of Contents
ONE - WHEN YOU STRAY . . .
TWO - THE FEEDiNG
THREE - THE MYSTERiOUS WOMAN
FOUR - THE UNWELCOME
FIVE - THE WHiSPERiNG GROUND
SIX - LONDON BABYLON
SEVEN - THE MiSPLACED HEART
EIGHT - THE DUELING PSYCHiCS
NINE - THE HiGHGATE DiLEMMA
TEN - LONDON BABYLON
ELEVEN - THE TALL, THiN ONE
TWELVE - THE WickED STEPMOTHER
THIRTEEN - THE TAkEOVER
FOURTEEN - LONDON BABYLON
FIFTEEN - THE OUiJA INTERViEW
SIXTEEN - THE BLACK SPOT
SEVENTEEN - LONDON BABYLON
EIGHTEEN - THE SCHOOL FOR FiNE YOUNG GiRLS
NINETEEN - THE CALM BEFORE THE STORMiNG
TWENTY - . . . YOU SURELY PAY
TWENTY - ONE - THE EMERGENCE
TWENTY - TWO - LONDON BABYLON
TWENTY - THREE - THE RETURN
“With a dark, dramatic, and erotic tone, Green writes a complex story featuring well-defined characters and more than enough noir mystery to keep readers enthralled. Fans of Charlaine Harris and ⇒Jim Butcher may enjoy.”—Library Journal
“An exciting, high-tension horror thriller with enough unresolved trust and family issues to make it credible, a hint of romance for spice, and a bit of black humor to lighten up the often dark tone, this is a nicely conceived modern vampire tale that will keep readers guessing.” —Monsters and Critics
“An intriguing world that becomes more complex with every turn of the page . . . kick-butt action.”—Huntress Book Reviews
“Green has given her fans an inside look at the Underground culture and social class system, from the powerful Elite, bitten by the Master, to the lowly Guards, bitten by the Groupies . . . [a] fun urban-fantasy mystery.”—Alternative Worlds
“A fast-moving urban fantasy filled with murder, mystery, and a large dose of the supernatural. The vivid characterization and danger at every turn will keep readers engaged.”—Darque Reviews
“A dark, edgy, and complex series.”—Romantic Times
“A dark and thrilling paranormal tale . . . a gritty and suspenseful ride.”—Romance Reviews Today
“A book to die for! Dark, mysterious, and edged with humor, this book rocks on every level!”
—Gena Showalter, author of The Darkest Pleasure
“If you like your fantasy with an edge, then you’ve struck gold. There is a ring of truth to the biting—no pun intended—allegory. This is a fantastic start to a new series.”—The Eternal Night
“Chris Marie Green does a wonderful job of bringing this gritty, dark novel to life . . . I can’t wait to see where [she] takes the rest of the books.”—The Best Reviews
“An exciting, action-packed vampire thriller. A fantastic tale that . . . provides book lovers with plenty of adventure and a touch of romance.” —Midwest Book Review
“Dawn makes a spunky vampire slayer.”—Publishers Weekly
“An interesting take on the vampire world . . . well written and exciting. I look forward to the next book.”
—The Romance Readers Connection
“A killer mystery . . . Bring on book two!”
—Kelley Armstrong, author of Made to Be Broken
Ace Books by Chris Marie Green
BREAK OF DAWN
A DROP OF red
(with Susan Sizemore, Erin McCarthy, and Meljean Brook)
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
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This is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2009 by Chris Marie Green.
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eISBN : 978-1-101-01950-4
1. Madison, Dawn (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Women stunt performers—Fiction.
3. Vampires—Fiction. 4. Hollywood (Los Angeles, Calif.)—Fiction. I. Title.
To Sajen, Torrey, and Morgan.
I’ll love you forever.
While writing this next batch of books, I had lots of help, and I’d like to thank everyone who so kindly offered aid. First, there’s my “Kingswood crew”: Claire Ross from London Walks, who served as guide and driver; Alexander Ockwell, my student guide; Philippa Watts, who arranged my tour of Kingswood; Sally Cunliffe and David Hughes from the Kingswood English department and Darryl Harding from the drama department; and Angela Snelling, the welcoming receptionist. Thank you also to Dee Lim from Royal High School for her tour and her time. To each of you—I’m so lucky to have met you and learned from your store of knowledge. Also, thank you to “C. S.” for the use of what just might be his land around the fictional Queenshill.
I’d additionally like to extend my appreciation to the authors of the books that lent insight into this world, particularly Jack Zipes for editing The Trials & Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood and Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu for In Search of Dracula. Thank you to Wally Lind and Paul from Thames Valley on the crimescenewriter web loop, as well as Ginjer Buchanan, Cameron Dufty, and the Ace staff, plus the Knight Agency. As always, I also owe a lot to Sheree Whitefeather and Judy Duarte, my incredible critique partners.
I’ve taken advantage of fictional license in some locations and historical details for the benefit of telling this story, and I claim any errors as my own.
Now, on to the hunt . . .
WHEN YOU STRAY . . .
IT was a night Kate Lansing would’ve ended up regretting.
If she had only survived to regret it.
At the moment, she was taking a numbing sip from her third cosmopolitan, her legs tucked under her on an Italian leather settee in a flat just outside of London’s financial district. Inadvertently mocking the last minutes of her life, which were ticking, ticking to an end, she tapped her fingers against the cocktail glass while an Amy Winehouse song played.
The raspberry taste in her mouth sent a giddy wave through her, and she dizzily smiled at a dancing redheaded girl across the lounge. Nearby, a second female—plump, quiet, with frizzy russet hair—sat in a chair, content to merely watch.
These were just two of the quick friends Kate had met tonight in a Brixton club, several tube stops away.
At the foot of Kate’s settee, two more of her new mates sat on the luxurious carpet while stretching their knee-high-booted legs out from under their identical long skirts. Like the other girls, their matching slender red ties were askew, their faces fashionably pale, their own cosmos untouched on a marbled table.
A fifth girl had gone to the loo and would return shortly.
They were all from the same exclusive school, they’d revealed under the throb and humidity of the dance lights after they’d used fake IDs to buy Kate and her friend Harry drinks. Then, as if a part of their club now, Kate and Harry had agreed to carry on the party here, where they said one of their cousins lived when he wasn’t traveling on business. Where they had let flow the liquor and turned the music on high. Where Harry had already gone upstairs to zonk out in a bedroom.
Where, even now, Kate didn’t have much longer to live.
“So tell us, Katie-luv,” said the girl with the long, sleek sable hair and vivid eyes that resembled her name. Violet. “With Harry cozy and warm upstairs, we girls can really chat.”
Kate nodded, her eyelids fighting a battle to stay open. Why did she seem so rat-arsed on alcohol while the rest of the group was as sober as judges?
Violet continued, voice all sweetness and light as she glanced at the curved stairway that led to the next floor, where Harry rested. “How’s the old boy in the shagging department?”
Kate coughed, and the abrupt gesture tilted her cosmo in her hand. As she righted the cocktail, she caught a warped view of Violet and the second girl—whatshername?—through the glass.
Kate shuddered at the bent vision, at their twisted smiles and piercing irises. She lowered the beverage, splashing it on her low-cut jumper in her clumsiness.
“Me and Harry?” she said in carefully enunciated drunk-speak while brushing at the wet stain on her chest. “We’re . . . chums. That’s all. No naughty involved.”
“Brilliant news,” Violet said. “He’s quite yummy, you know. You wouldn’t mind if I . . .? ”
The second girl, with her chopped-to-the-chin strawberry blond hair and a smattering of freckles, took up where the playful Violet had left off. “Vi, you wouldn’t dare keep all the fresh meat to yourself.”
They both giggled now, and Kate blinked, knowing she should join them. After all, Harry might welcome a bit of sport with a female who was actually interested. Kate had meant it when she said they were merely chums—even if Harry often pushed for more.
So why wasn’t she laughing, as well?
“Well then, Katie,” Violet said, leaning forward, her long hair spilling over a delicate shoulder. “How about other boys? Do you have any spicy stories there?”
Kate felt her skin heat, and at the telltale sign, Violet covered her mouth with a hand, pseudo-scandalized as she half hid another giggle.
“I believe the answer is no,” Whatshername said in a voice that belonged more on a grassy hockey field than in a posh flat. “Could we actually have genuine purity in our midst?”
“Please,” Violet said, cutting the coyness. “You could smell it on her at the club.”
Kate blinked at that, then decided it was only a turn of phrase.
“I just want to hear her say it,” Whatshername said. “Especially since she gave us that bad-girl story about having skipped away from Mummy and Daddy’s home only to take up with good old Harry. Doesn’t sound so innocent to me.”
Violet raised her brow, daring Kate to contradict them.
But Kate was still back at the part about her father. Earlier, when she had first become warm and pleasantly filled with drink, she had told her new mates that he’d died last year. Kate rarely saw any old friends now that school was done, so talking had been a relief.
Yet now, it was almost as if these girls had brought her father up because, somehow, they’d known it would hurt.
Perhaps it was in the way Violet and the other girl were watching her, their chins lowered. And when Violet’s eyes narrowed so that she reminded Kate of a cat—a purring little thing ready to pounce—the thought only gained credence.
“Oh, yes,” Violet said. “I remember now. Katie told us that Daddy’s passed on. Mummy, too.”
“She’s got a stepmum,” Whatshername said.
“Ah, the mean woman back home who kicked our Kate out because she’s become a touch too hard to handle lately. Nice mothering, that. But luckily, there was Harry to turn to.”
“Good old Harry,” the strawberry blonde echoed.
A cloud seemed to be closing over Kate—a hazy weight from the buzz of her cocktails pressing down on her chest, her head, her vision.
She didn’t want to be here with these girls anymore. They’d been amusing enough back at the club, but now?
Something had changed, making Kate feel mousy and cornered.
Something unnameable but there all the same. . . .
A great smashing sound rent the air, and Kate flinched, once again blinking at what she saw.
Across the room, the dancing redhead—wasn’t her name Noreen?—had . . .
Kate refocused her gaze. Noreen was swinging from a chandelier over seven meters off the floor, whooping and laughing as her quiet friend looked on with blasé interest.
How . . .?
Kate swallowed. How had Noreen jumped that high? A chair? A table?
With one look round, Kate didn’t discover anything sufficient to have provided such a launch.
Both Violet and the strawberry blonde stood and ran to the action. And when Whatshername crouched, then zinged up to the other side of the chandelier herself, Kate’s jaw dropped.
The girl had jumped from the floor.
The room seemed to dip and sway as Kate grappled with explanations. Just how drunk was she?
Crystals banged together in demented chaos, and all of the schoolgirls clapped and urged their mates on.
Violet turned to Kate. “Join us, Katie? Come now!”
Kate couldn’t answer, couldn’t move.
The friendly smile Violet had been wearing melted.
Then, just as Kate’s heartbeat started filling her head, dampening it in cottony, far-removed throbs, she spotted something descending the stairs.
The fifth new friend, Blanche. Her normally alabaster skin was pink against her waist-long raven hair as she wiped her hand over her deep red lips.
It occurred to Kate that Blanche had been gone awhile. Had she been with Harry . . .?
When Violet saw Blanche, the room went silent except for the music. The chandelier-swinging girls even dropped to the floor with shocking ease, then straightened, cool as the fog that kept muddling Kate’s mind.
But Violet’s bristling posture was far easier to understand as she stalked toward the staircase.
The chandelier kept clanking and rocking.
“Tell me you didn’t, you slag,” Violet said, her voice different, more of a vibration than real words.
A rain of shivers attacked Kate. Go. She should just get Harry and go.
She edged toward the end of the settee, hoping no one would notice.
Blanche paused near the bottom of the stairs. “I was only visiting the lav, Vi. No need to get excited.”
Violet circled to the front of the stairs until her back was to Kate, her face hidden. All the girls’ eyes widened at what they must have seen in their leader’s expression.
But Blanche? She merely rolled her eyes and descended the rest of the way, sauntering across the floor and toward the bar, with all its opened, loitering bottles.
“Vi,” she added, “it’s hardly fair that you should always go first. After Wolfie, I mean.”
When the black-haired girl offered a challenging smile to Violet, her teeth were sharp, gleaming.
Lurching to a wobbling stand, Kate forgot subtlety and headed for the stairs, intent on fetching Harry.
Fangs. Kate had only been imagining them . . . at least that was what she kept repeating.
She stumbled up the first step, falling to her hands and knees as her balance betrayed her. The music seemed to get louder as the girls lost interest in each other and laughed at her, cruel jabs of mirth knocking at Kate’s skull.
“Oh, Katie-luv,” Violet said, coming over to stand at the lip of the staircase.
Her tone was calm now, as if she had set aside her anger with Blanche. “Don’t mind us. We fight; we kiss and make up; we go to the next party. No reason to fret.”
The rest of the group—even Blanche—meandered closer, flanking Violet.
A pack, Kate thought as she pulled herself to the next stair, her heartbeat shredding her chest into slivers.
“We tend to celebrate a bit madly when we’re away from the school and its silly rules,” Violet added. “And we’re always on the lookout for girls like us. That’s why we brought you here.”
Whatshername placed a hand on Violet’s shoulder, then rested her chin there. “We thought you might be open to running at our pace.”
“Yet it seems you’re not an ideal candidate after all.” Violet addressed the girls: “Is she?”
“No,” the lot of them said in the same disappointed tone.
“From all appearances,” Violet added, “I would venture that you’re only on track to give binge drinking a terrible name, Katie-luv.”
Then, as one, they all tilted their heads at Kate.
Fear spiked in her, and that was even before their gazes started to glow.
Now that Kate thought of it, hadn’t their eyes done the same back at the club when she’d first met them and before she’d dismissed it as a trick of the flashing dance lights?
Grasping for something to hold—a stair, carpeting—Kate tried to suck in oxygen. But her lungs were too tight.
She grappled, finally clutching the edge of a step, pulling herself up, but she was too weak, the room spinning too wildly. . . .
Violet’s voice poked into her consciousness, a hollow, faraway sound.
But not far enough.
“So it appears we’ve come to that time of night,” Violet said with a sigh. “Pity you didn’t work out.”
More adrenaline consumed Kate as she tried to crawl just a centimeter more—
Then she heard a whoosh from the bottom of the stairs, felt a pair of hands on her as her body left the ground and she was lifted, forced, to the top of the landing, where—
WHEN Kate next opened her eyes, gradually making her way out of a mental blank, she was slumped on the lower portion of a massive, white-duvet-covered bed, resting peacefully with a swathed Harry at the other end. Paintings, with their bold, dark strokes, loomed from the pale walls, and a heating vent blew air at the sheer drapery ghosting the night-hushed windows.
She took a moment to regain her bearings, then remembered.
Jumping to a chandelier . . . fangs . . .
But now there was only peace. Thank goodness, just peace.
Pulse smoothing out, Kate thought, Maybe it was only a nightmare.
Had she got utterly pissed, then blacked out and fallen asleep only to have bad dreams?
Mortified, baffled, relieved that she wasn’t truly crawling up a staircase or trying to get away from sharp teeth—what had been in those drinks anyway?—Kate moved farther up the mattress, toward the shape huddled under the duvet.
“Harry?” she asked.
“Mmmm.” A deep, almost growly sleepy sound.
His form rose and fell in a rhythm that comforted her. She had never been so happy to see Harry in her life.
She exhaled, so tired now that she was safe. “You should’ve been in my head earlier. It was Daliesque.”
Moving even closer to him, she lay down, then put her hand against his rising and falling back.
His breathing picked up, and she took her hand away. She never meant to get him going, but somehow she always did.
Hollow, heavy gasps . . . Yet there was also a trace of primal urgency underneath it all.
Kate turned away, preparing to get out of bed and take him with her. Time to get back to his much-less-impressive—yet far-more-welcoming—flat.
But that was when she saw it in the front corner of the room.
Her mouth opened, but the only thing that came out was a croaking excuse for a scream.
Drip . . .
A thick glob of blood fell from the gaped mouth of the dead man impaled through the stomach on what looked to be a spike embedded in the floor. The body’s eyes—Harry’s eyes? Harry’s?—bugged out of their sockets as Kate tried to scream again.
But just as she had on the stairs, as she had in every childhood nightmare, she couldn’t make a sound.
The form behind her rolled over in the bed, its weight making the mattress dip and shift.
That breathing—excited, ragged . . .
She felt a touch on her back, fingers . . . claws . . . snagging her jumper as the nails dragged downward, lower, lower. Her spine arched away, stabbed by chills.
Get out of bed, she told herself. Just go, go . . .
But before she could, a paw swiped her back to the mattress, and the thing behind her loomed over her now.
Rows upon rows of white daggers fronted by two prominent fangs and stitched together by saliva as the creature opened its mouth to take the bite it had obviously been waiting for.
Nearly One Night Later
DUSK closed over the Southwark borough of London like a falling gravestone, casting a November pall that Dawn Madison couldn’t lift.
Maybe it was because a whole year away from the California sunshine had deprived her of verve, she thought while turning away from the window with its parted velvet-curtain view.
Or maybe she was just feeling the weight of her second vampire Underground hunt bearing down on her.
After sitting in a Queen Anne chair near her four-poster bed, she flicked a cigarette lighter to flame, held it under a sharp sewing needle. Then, with the tool sterilized, she deftly threaded it and hitched up the skirt of her nightgown so she could unwind the bandage she’d wrapped around her lower thigh.
Even though she’d already cleaned her gaping cut, she wiped it with an ethanol pad from her kit, clenching her teeth at the sting.
A girl could never be too careful.
“You used to at least wince,” Costin said from the shaded corner near the head of the bed, where the creamy, diaphanous draping hid most of him from view. His voice was deep, scraped, hinting at a foreign inflection that betrayed his roots in a dark country while also revealing a centuries-long weariness.
Dawn smiled tightly, damned if she was going to give in to any pain. “Accidents happen. I didn’t lose much blood because you began healing me pretty quickly. No skin off my back.”
“No, merely layers of skin off your leg. I’m sorry, Dawn.”
“Sorry for what? Needing blood to survive?”
Or sorry she was the reason he was a vampire who, even after a year, was still finding his way?
He sighed. “Specifically, I’m sorry I was not able to heal this injury as well as I manage to erase a typical bite wound.”
This—and other recent nips—was deeper than a normal bite. He’d been getting carried away lately.
“You tried to close the injury up,” she said, “and you came pretty close this time. You even helped me to bring it to a point where I could take care of it myself, but you just need more years on you as a vamp to be a more efficient healer.” She kept sterilizing. “Right now, dealing with something way deeper than a regular bite takes more of your power than your age and inexperience allow. The older you get, the better you’ll be.”
The minute Dawn stopped talking, she realized that maybe she was sounding too mentorlike.
Was she acting like the cornered hunter who’d once used Benedikte, the most dominant creature in the Hollywood Underground, to become a vampire, herself? Of course, she’d wielded her new powers to save Costin’s fading existence by turning him into a vampire and, in unwitting return, become his creator. Yet that’s the last thing she wanted to be. His master.
It didn’t matter that she’d killed Benedikte, her own maker, and that the act had directly restored her humanity. But it’d done nothing for Costin, and she’d promised that she would never come off like she was in charge of him, even if a power trip could make up for all the betrayals he’d put her through for his quest.
She heard Costin move away from the wall, probably to offer help with what she needed to do next with her injury—a process she’d already perfected.
“I’ve got it,” she said, working quickly to pinch together the parted flesh of her wound, then slide the needle through the cut’s middle.
She schooled herself to show no pain.
Stitch, knot, snip the thread.
Damn it, damn it. . . .
Stitch, knot, snip.
When she finished, she tried not to act as if she’d been holding her breath. But Costin wasn’t fooled.
A shadow slanted over the top half of his face as he lingered at the bedpost, dressed in a silken black shirt and pants, his arms loosely crossed over his chest, as if to counter the long-suffering sorrow in the topaz eyes that burned out of the near-darkness. Where he used to have scars marking his sculpted face, he now had smooth, pale skin, which contrasted with the dark, lustrous hair that fell just past his neck.
I took away those scars by making him this way, she thought. But I gave him injuries that go so much deeper.
Her chest constricted, yet she didn’t know what else to do to assure him that she was a big girl, that she could handle another night of making things up to him.
“Getting excited while you’re feeding is par for the course,” she said casually, hoping it would get them out of this funk. On the wound, she dabbed a smudge of healing wonder gel that a team member had developed once upon a time, then secured a fresh bandage over it. “It happens to all of us.”
“Yes, all of us.”
She caught the emphasis on the word “all,” and she knew he was referring to Jonah—the covetous owner of the body Costin had once “rented” so he might carry out his crusade against the Underground vampires. Since Costin was a soul traveler, he had required the aid of a healthy host, but the arrangement had backfired in this bargain with Jonah—the body Dawn had trapped him in when she had made the choice to save him.
Thing was, Jonah’s consciousness was now enclosed inside this vampiric form, too, suppressed by Costin, but every once in a while, the original owner managed to emerge for a short time before Costin tamed him again.
But even from inside, Jonah urged Costin’s hunger, more and more.
“Stop thinking about him.” Dawn eased her nightgown over her bandaged injury, which throbbed with the cadence of a stilted apology. “You’ve managed to keep Jonah at bay for a while. He didn’t crash in on tonight’s feeding.”
“There are reasons other than Jonah for losing control, Dawn. The sensing I felt last night . . . It’s still enough to stimulate, to make me overly excited.”
She glanced up to find a fervent glimmer in his gaze. So that’s what had pushed him overboard—the perceptive twinge that assured him an Underground was active somewhere nearby. He wouldn’t have begun to constantly sense this master unless a rival blood brother was running around above the earth in the London area and the other vampire wasn’t bothering to shield his powers, either.
“Or,” Dawn added hopefully, fishing for more information, “there was that phone message you accessed after waking up?”
“There was that, as well.”
“What was it about?”
He hesitated, still so unused to sharing information with her, even after so much time had passed.
A whole year after that terrible night.
Flashes of seeing Costin crumpled on the floor of Benedikte’s quarters, his borrowed body—Jonah’s body—slick with blood, his soul shut away by the strange bargain he’d made with a higher power so Costin might find a state of grace after erasing each and every Underground in existence.
A soldier with a mission to win back his own soul.
She stood, going to him. It was as if there was a magnetic pull, a link between a master gone human and her progeny.
A force neither of them could fight.
She got so close that heat vibrated between their bodies. Trembles cascaded down her length, melting her under the skin until need pooled low in her belly, pulsing.
Always hungering . . .
She folded her arms over her midsection, as if to contain her constant desire for him. “When I tricked the Master into making me a vampire so I could exchange with you and save you, I really thought it was the only way.”
“I know.” He touched her hair, which she had worn long and loose tonight, just the way he liked it.
Leaning into his palm, she felt his preternaturally soft skin hiding a harder layer beneath.
She closed her eyes. Sometimes it was hard to see Jonah’s face with Costin peering out from behind the facade.
“It sounds like you’re okay with the way things are,” she said, “but remember, we’ve got Awareness—or whatever it is that can open your mind to mine now. Don’t bother sugarcoating.”
He drifted his fingers from her hair to her face, to the cheek where she used to have a blazing scar from a fight with the vampire Robby Pennybaker. But becoming a vampire herself, even for a short time, had healed all the outer wounds except for the ones she’d gotten recently.
Yet the so-called healing had also left behind a stain in her returned soul, a heaviness.
She almost gave in to the slump of it when Costin used their Awareness to come in to her. He was light, drifting through her head like a brushstroke of bright color.