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It was a stormy night.
I live in Vegas, so I can’t exactly claim that it was dark, too. I can, however, say this much.
There’s better weather in Hell.
The rain came down in solid sheets, the drops just short of hail but still hard enough to sting with cold. The wind was straight out of a late-night horror film, an unseen force that should not be sentient but still manages to have a mind of its own; pushing against me with invisible hands, tearing at my clothing, howling through the city like a long-lost soul. It was the sort of night when anyone with half a brain cranks up the knob on the gas fireplace, slips their favorite DVD into the machine, and curls up on the couch.
So what was I doing? I was pounding the streets of Vegas, soaked to the skin, tracking someone who probably thought the weather was nice.
My name is Candace Steele and I hunt vampires.
Usually I do this indoors. I work undercover security at one of the newest casinos in town, the Scheherazade. I look like a thousand other females in Vegas, serving drinks and flashing some skin. But in fact I’m one of a kind. Because while I’m making my rounds, I’m also doing something else: spotting vampires. Getting them tossed out on their undead asses if they try to cheat the casino by manipulating the minds of the humans around them, a technique vampires call “establishing rapport.” This happens to be something they enjoy. A lot. Trying to get the better of humans, I mean. Which pretty much means my job is never dull.
It doesn’t make my days off uninteresting, either. And it definitely explains what I was doing out in the weather on this awful night.
The original plan was to go to a movie. I almost got there, too, actually ducking under the cover of the theater awning. Then I felt it: a surge of cold straight down my back—one I knew damn well had nothing to do with the storm.
There was a vampire nearby.
I concentrated, trying to zero in on my own sensations. The cold felt odd, somehow. Usually when I sense a vampire is near, once the cold kicks in, it’s a constant presence. The intensity of the cold tells me the strength of the vampire. But this time the cold faded in and out in a strange sort of ebb and flow. Each time it returned, it got a little stronger, almost as if it were being reinforced.
Oh, God, I thought. Oh, no. There is just one way for a vampire to reinforce its power: by consuming the blood of something alive. Unless I very much missed my guess, the something alive in this case was a human being. And it wouldn’t be alive for very much longer.
In spite of human fears and assumptions to the contrary, not all vampires feed on human beings. Only those in the upper echelons, the big guns. Or, on occasion, lower-level vampires with special permission from the higher-ups. I didn’t think the vampire whose trail I was attempting to pick up at the moment was one of those. The cold was too intense, too strong. I left the movie theater, following the cold beyond it to the corner, then took an involuntary step back as the wind shoved me. A sudden splatter of raindrops pelted across my face like a handful of thrown pebbles. They stung.
By now my adrenaline was starting to kick in as my vampire-hunting instincts took over. I didn’t know yet whether I’d be in time to save tonight’s human victim, but I could at least promise one thing by way of consolation: I’d make sure the vampire didn’t make it, either. There would be one less bloodsucker before the night was done.
As if on cue, there was a flash of lightning, a clap of thunder almost directly overhead, and then the rain came down even harder. I flipped up the collar on my jacket in a feeble attempt to keep the rain from streaming down the back of my neck, slid one of the silver wands I always use to help control my wayward hair into my jacket pocket, and kept on going, hot on the trail of the cold.
Vampire Hunter Rule #1: Never, under any circumstances, go out into the world unarmed. Rule #2: When in doubt, make silver your weapon of choice. Silver is a purifier. A little goes a long way when it comes to vampires.
By the time I reached the far end of the block, I was completely soaked. The wind was so strong I had to lean into it, as if walking up an incline. But the internal cold I felt still pulled me forward, steady as a lodestone. I crossed the street, stepped up onto the curb, and saw the vampire.
He was young—not more than early twenties—and wearing a muscle T-shirt and skintight jeans that had probably been plastered to his body even before the rain got to them and finished the job. As he stepped out from under the cover of a parking garage not twenty paces away, oblivious to the weather, he looked entirely too pleased with himself, with his own power. New kid on the block, I thought. On a feeding high. His eyes slid over me, barely registering my presence. I felt my adrenaline kick up a notch. My biggest weapon in my fight against vampires isn’t anything I carry with me, anything external. It’s me. The fact that, unaccustomed to humans being able to detect what they are, most vampires literally never see me coming.
As if to prove he was no different from the rest, the vampire in question pivoted on one black-booted heel and began to walk away; his arrogance and enjoyment of his own power showing in every step. It might have been a balmy summer night for all the notice he took of the weather. I waited until he was half a block away, then sprinted for the entrance to the parking garage.
The interior was dark as a tomb, appropriate considering the fact that it was now the temporary resting place of something no longer alive. I moved past the entrance, stopped, turned back, swore viciously as the wind blew against me and the rain came down. Every instinct I had was screaming at me to follow the vampire. Don’t lose sight of the quarry. Don’t let the enemy get away. But if I did that, I would do precisely the same thing the vampire had: I’d put him first, and the human being second. That was a choice I simply could not make and still face myself in the morning. Before I could run the vampire to ground, I had to make absolutely certain I knew the fate of the human being he had left behind.
Well, shit, I thought. “Shit, shit, shit,” I muttered under my breath as I ducked into the parking garage. At least I was out of the rain. I gave the lapels of my jacket a quick shake to lose as much water as I could, then fished my keys out of my pocket, activating the mini-flashlight that hangs on the end of the chain. It didn’t exactly illuminate a lot of area, but even a little was better than nothing.
It was the cards that helped me find her. You see them all over Vegas, littering the sidewalks like X-rated confetti. Experience the Best of Vegas. Full service 24/7. I found a whole pile of them at the end of the first row of cars, all with the same picture on them. A slim, young blonde with a phone number covering her naked, upthrust breasts. Her eyes were on the camera, but her head was thrown back, exposing a long, white neck. A choice that had probably seemed sexy at the time. Nichole, the card read. Blond. Sweet. Very Petite.
Also, very, very dead.
She was sprawled across the hood of the last car in the row, spread-eagled on her back, skirt hiked up to expose her thighs. A position that left little doubt as to how vampire guy had talked her into ducking in here in the first place. Her big blue eyes were wide open and sightless. Her face was still beautiful, but her long white neck was a mess. I could say it was a bloody mess, but that would be a lie. There wasn’t a drop of blood, not anywhere. A circumstance that would no doubt convince the cops, when they finally arrived, that sweet, petite Nichole had been killed somewhere else, then dumped in the parking garage. But I knew better. I knew the truth. She had been killed precisely where she lay, by a killer who had taken every single drop of blood he could get his fangs on.