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Olivia DaCosta banged on yet another door as the shadows lengthened ominously over Lower Manhattan. Her knuckles throbbed and were already bruising from countless other such attempts to get a response. Each time her pleas for entry went unanswered, she grew more desperate and her pulse ratcheted up another notch, just the response she didn't need.
Despite the soreness in her hand, she banged again, louder this time. "Come on, come on!" She prayed someone would be brave enough to open this door and let her in before the last faint light of day disappeared. Already the shadows seemed to move and reek with dread. If she didn't find shelter before they totally consumed the final hints of daylight, she'd be dead before the night was through.
Movement beyond the curtain caught her attention and she hammered on the door with even more force, sending sharp pains up through her hand into her lower arm. "Please, let me in!" she called out, wondering if she could claw her way through the door. But when the banging and pleas didn't bring anyone to the door, she had no choice but to choke down a sob and move on.
She checked her cell phone yet again, hoping for a miraculous resurrection. But the battery was still dead. If she made it through the night, she would never forget to charge her phone battery again.
She walked at the edge of the sidewalk closest to the street, as far as she could get from steps that led downward into the lower levels of the dwellings. The shadows gathered in those stairwells made her heart beat too fast, turning her into a shining beacon for the city's vampires.
God, every time she even thought about them, part of her still couldn't believe they were real, that they had roamed the earth for centuries. She wanted to reject the very idea of them as something horrible created by her brain. Not so many years ago, they had been the stuff of fiction. At least all sane people had believed so. Now their emergence in the wake of the massive die-off caused by the Bokor virus made going out for a night on the town, taking a romantic moonlit walk and even stargazing things of the past for humans. Those onceenjoyable activities were as much a part of humanity's collective history as the Roman Empire or the belief that the world was flat.
As soon as the sun hit the horizon, everyone without a death wish retreated indoors and didn't step foot outside for any reason. If someone had a heart attack or any medical emergency in the middle of the night, they faced an impossible choicerisk a mad dash to the hospital or hope they'd last until daylight. Either came with the very real possibility of death. But there were no ambulances running between sundown and sunrise. What was left of humanity couldn't risk losing its remaining health-care professionals with suicide runs.
Olivia tried not to dwell on the realities of the cruel new world. Nothing mattered beyond finding shelter right now. She passed the next doorway because it was padlocked from the outside with a rusty lock and chain. She fought panic and dwindling hope as she tried to rouse someone at the next three residences. When she noticed a thin line of blood on her middle knuckle, she picked up her pace even more. The only thing worse than being caught out after dark was adding fresh blood to the mix. Forget about being dead before morning. She'd be lucky to last five minutes.
She couldn't believe she was in her current situation. What was the old saying? No good deed went unpunished?
Normally, her runs to the city's parks, where the homeless and poor spent their days, were over and she was safely back in her own home well before sunset. But today, when she'd returned to the parking area where she'd left her car near Battery Park, it was gone. Where once the realization of a stolen car might have brought about anger and frustration, now it was cause for pure and utter terror. When a call to her best friend, Mindy, went unanswered and her phone then chose that moment to die, Olivia had started running and trying to find a building where she could spend the night.
If only she'd noticed her car had been stolen before the last city bus of the day had made its stop at Battery Park, picking up the homeless to transport them to whatever shelters had space. A night on the floor of a shelter would have at least guaranteed she'd live to see tomorrow.
Considering how many people had died during the virus outbreak, it was a sin there were even homeless people anymore. Even with the increasing immigration from other hard-hit parts of the world, there were more than enough apartments and even empty office space to hold the homeless now, not to mention the hotel rooms. But despite everything that had passed during the past two years, greed still reigned supreme in the hearts of many. They banked on fear of the night ensuring their survival in this dark descendant of what New York had been such a short time ago.
And with society on the edge of disorder, with thugs and gangs posing almost as much danger as the vampires, there was plenty of fear to go around.
Movement out of the corner of her eye caused her to gasp as she jogged down yet another stoop. But it was only a gray-and-black tabby cat. He stopped and stared at her for a moment before continuing on his way. Unlike her and the rest of the human population, he had no more worries than he'd had before the pandemic. Unless he'd lost his owners and thus his fancy cat food, and really that was nothing in the greater scheme of things. At least the disease hadn't jumped species, and vampires couldn't feed from any living creatures other than humans.
It was full-on twilight now. Not even the highest floors of the surrounding buildings or the distant skyscrapers were bathed in sunlight. Olivia imagined an increased ticking in her head, counting down the minutes she had to live. A part of her whispered to just accept her fate, to take a seat on someone's cold concrete steps and wait for the inevitable. Why spend the last moments of her life engaged in fruitless, panicked flight?
But that wasn't who she was. She'd survived the world's worst pandemic when so many hadn't. She owed it to whomever or whatever had saved her from that awful death, owed it to herself and the people she helped each day, to survive yet again. Owed it to Jeremy and all the good the world lost when he'd succumbed to the unstoppable disease.
So she kept moving, kept knocking on doors, would have considered breaking out a window and forcing her way inside if all the windows weren't barred. She doubted any inhabited lower-floor residence in Manhattan was without those bars. The irony was that they weren't there to protect the residents from vampires, since vampires couldn't enter any human-owned building without being invited. No, the bars were there to prevent people like herthose seeking sanctuaryor the city's criminal element from committing home invasions. Sadly, when the world came down to pure survival, the veneer of civility and kindness too easily slipped away. Many had died at the hands of the frantic and the criminal.
A gust of wind from between two buildings slapped against her. She pulled her jacket closer around her body and continued scanning the buildings she passed, looking for what she wouldn't finda way inside, a portal to safety for another night.
One more day of living and breathing.
The moment the deadly sun slipped to bed below the horizon, Campbell Raines signaled for his V Force team to load up. Time to go to work patrolling the dark streets of New York to make sure the vamp population was behaving itself.
Colin O'Shea slid into the driver's seat of the black armored vehicle, much as he'd done in fire engines prior to his turning. Travis Wright took shotgun as he always did, a victim of motion sickness if he rode in the back despite being immortal. Campbell climbed into the back with Sophia Tanis, Kaja Belyakova, Len McBride and Billy McGoin.
"Where to?" Colin asked as he put the truck in gear.
"Head down to the Financial District. We got a tip that the black market has gotten more active in that area," Campbell said.
"Imagine that, bloodsuckers on Wall Street," Len said as he adjusted the sharp stakes and blessed handcuffs at his waist.
Travis, a former stockbroker, flipped him the bird from the front, drawing a deep laugh from Len.
Colin left their underground garage near Central Park and headed toward their first destination of the evening. No matter how long he'd been a member of the undead, Campbell still chafed at being able to move about freely only at night. Although the idea of going up in a sizzling ball of flame didn't hold a whole lot of appeal either.
As they moved down Broadway, Campbell eyed the vamps lined up outside the Times Square blood bank, one of several scattered throughout the city. It was here that humans gave blood during the day to feed the hungry vampires at night. It gave them a false sense that they were making the night marginally safer for humanity, though most of them weren't stupid enough to test it. But no matter how much they gave from their veins, the night was lost to them. He doubted they'd ever be able to reclaim it, even after generations of births helped to repopulate the planet. For now, too few humans meant too many hungry vampires.
That was the real reason the blood banks had been establishedto curtail panic in the vampire community and protect the remaining food supply.
He swallowed against his own mounting thirst. He'd gone to the blood bank the night before, but as usual the AB-negative was in short supply. He'd given his allowance to a young vampire who'd been already cramping over from thirst. She'd broken his heart when he'd seen her, not more than fifteen at her turning. Her human life had been taken before it had even really started.
As their truck rolled by the blood bank, Campbell didn't see or sense anything wrong, but he did catch the eye of a tall beefy vampire who didn't disguise his hatred of the V Force. No doubt this guy had been a thug in life and had brought his lawbreaking ways and contempt of law enforcement into life after death.
"We have a fan," Colin said, picking up on the guy's pissed-off vibe. "I'm guessing he's not looking forward to the bagged stuff."
That was nothing new. Even Souled vampires such as his team had to admit fresh blood tasted better. They just weren't willing to risk tapping into a pumping vein to get it. In addition to the practice now being illegal, they ran the risk of being overtaken by bloodlust and killing someone. And they knew better than anyone what happened to vampires who killed humans. V Force took them out. As odd as it seemed, even immortals could die.
He made a mental note to stop by the bank himself later to see if they'd restocked the AB-negative supply. It'd been seven days since he'd fed, and that was the max before a vampire tipped over into the danger zone. Just another of the odd quirks of his species. He shook his head slightly. Even after all the time that had passed since his turning, it was still surreal to think that he'd actually changed species that night. It was like a bad late-night horror movie.
He pushed that thought away and stared out the tinted window. If he didn't feed tonight, he was going to have to take himself off the work rotation until he could replenish himself. Already he could feel the edginess clawing at him, whispering to him to jump from the vehicle and drain the first human who met his body's needs. That whisper was going to increase in volume throughout the night until it was screaming at the ravenous animal he'd become.
Campbell hated the double-edged curse of having the rarest blood type before he'd been turned. Since vamps could only feed on humans who had the same blood type the vampire had before being turned, he had fewer sources of sustenance. Campbell and all the other AB-negative vampires were less likely to walk into a blood bank and find an adequate supply of blood, especially after the Bokor die-off culled the human herd. The irony? When he did feed, he experienced a huge rush and came out the other side with greater strength than other vampires.
He noticed Kaja staring out the window with an odd look on her face, almost like longing. That was strange for Kaja, who more than any of them liked being a vampire because it meant she'd never get old or lose her beauty. Well, she didn't particularly like drinking blood, but she took the bad with the good. He should probably ask her what was bothering her, make sure it wouldn't impair her ability to do her job, but asking a woman a question like that was a potential minefield. He ended up not having to since she noticed him staring.
"You ever go see a show before you were turned?" she asked.
He looked out the window at the darkened marquees and shrugged. "A couple of times, on dates. Wasn't really my thing. I much preferred a good Yankees game."
"At least you can still see that."
"On TV isn't the same as sitting in the stands drinking beer and eating a giant hot dog."
He laughed at the look of disgust on her flawless face. He very much doubted Kaja Belyakova had ever deigned to eat a hot dog.
"What's wrong, princess?" Colin asked from the driver's seat. "Hot dog not on the model diet?"
"Shouldn't have been on anyone's diet. Gross." She shuddered with her normal amount of drama, eliciting laughs from most of the team and an eye roll from Len McBride. He was a former ironworker, and his life experience had been about as far from Kaja's parade of fashion shoots as a person's could get.
"You ever been to the Damask?" Sophia asked Kaja, referring to the former Broadway theater vamps had appropriated for their own, the only one to still stage productions at night.
"Once. The acting was terrible, so I never went back. You'd think vampires could put together a decent drama."
Things outside the truck remained pretty quiet until they passed into Tribeca. Almost as one, they all sensed it. Fear. The air was ripe with pulse-pounding, raw human fear.
Olivia knew she was in trouble the moment she looked over her shoulder and saw the pale blue eyes in the dark. Her heart rate picked up even more as she launched herself onto another stoop and banged on a final door in a last-ditch effort to save her life. She knocked with one hand while slipping a knife out of her pocket with the other.
Please don't let anyone look out and see those vampire eyes. If they did, she had no hope.
"Help me!" She pulled back her fist to bang again, but cold hands latched on to her wrist and pulled her off the steps as if she weighed no more than a string of spaghetti.
"Careful," one of the vampires hissed. "We need her alive if we hope to get paid."
Olivia slashed at the vampire holding her, but he was too fast and her knife went flying across the street.