Read an Excerpt
Had these humans never seen a vampire before?
Seamus had gone too long since his last feeding and their rapid pulses were straining his control. As he sidestepped his way down the narrow aisle toward the nearest exit, he flashed his fangs at those closest to him, sneering when they shrank back in fear. The only exceptions were a couple of chancellors in the last row. At least they kept their own fangs safely out of sight. Their mixed blood might give them the strength of their vampire ancestors, but they weren't stupid enough to unnecessarily challenge a purebred like Seamus. What a shame. Their blood would've given him a much needed energy boost.
The door whooshed closed as soon as he set foot on the rustic platform outside, and the turbo jerked forward to speed on its way, his existence quickly forgotten. He watched as the train departed, taking his old life with it. From this point forward, he was no longer the person he'd been.
Now wasn't the time to think about that, not when he had to reach his destination before daybreak. He set off at a brisk pace but had to slow down when the path narrowed to little better than a game trail. The uneven terrain made for rough going as sweat dripped down his face and the strap from his garment bag dug painfully into his shoulder. He'd only packed the bare necessities, the kinds of things that a vampire lacking strong ties to one of the more influential clans could afford: well-worn jeans, a handful of shirts, two lab coats and his shaving kit.
In his other hand, Seamus carefully clutched a custom-made case containing the tools of his trade, the ones that he hoped would prove to be his way into the O'Day estate. His newly purchased paperwork listed him as a licensed medic, a far cry from his real qualifications. However, a medical school graduate only a few weeks short of being certified as a surgeon would draw far too much attention, something Seamus couldn't afford right now.
He approached the perimeter fence of the estate cautiously. High-level energy crackled through the wires, pretty much confirming the rumor that Rafferty had forked out big money for first-rate security around his property. Turning east, Seamus followed the fence line, finally spotting a cluster of low-lying buildings in the distance.
"That must be the gate."
Maybe he should be embarrassed about talking to himself, but all he could feel was relief that he was on the right track. Besides, lately, if he didn't talk to himself, he had no one to talk to at all. Once word of his half sister's scandal had filtered through his peers and professors, he'd become totally isolated. It had been weeks since anyone had spoken to him at all except when absolutely necessary.
Among his kind, status was everything. Once that was gone, there was nothing left except for the driving need for revenge. With the death of his half sister, he was the last of his clan, its lost honor his to defend.
The sky to the east already had a faint pink cast. The first rays of the sun wouldn't harm him. However, if he didn't get inside the compound soon, he'd have to rig some kind of shelter to avoid being fried by the rising sun.
He looked at the dry, dusty ground in disgust. His early ancestors had reportedly dug holes and covered themselves with dirt in order to survive. If his life had reached that point, he'd be better off to burn and be done with it. But he still had a goal to accomplish, one that gave him a powerful reason to keep breathing. With that in mind, he picked up speed. He adjusted the strap of his bag one last time and hurried down the slope, eager to get on with his mission.
Outside the gate, Seamus rang the button to announce his arrival, wincing at the effect the shrill bell had on his sensitive hearing. When there was no immediate response, he pushed it several times in a row. A soon as he let up, he heard a stream of cursing coming from the rustic single-story building that sat about twenty meters inside the electrified fence. He huddled close to the scant cover of the gatepost and waited.
A few seconds later the front door slammed open.
An irate male stepped out into the shade of the wraparound porch with an automatic in his hand and looking pissed off enough to use it. He glared across at Seamus before boldly stepping out into the morning light to open up a control panel on the far side of the gate. After he hit a few keys, the gate rolled open with a loud creak.
At the moment, Seamus was less concerned about his dignity than the effects of the increasingly bright sun. He squeezed through the opening and hustled toward the shelter of the porch. The roof offered some respite, but soon even that wouldn't be enough protection.
In contrast, his silent companion showed no discomfort at all as he waited for the gate to close before joining Seamus in the shade. That combined with a brief flash of fangs identified him as a chancellor rather than either purely vampire or human. Most of Seamus's kind tended to look down on the other two species, but right now the hybrid chancellor was all that stood between Seamus and sure death.
"Come on inside."
The chancellor stepped back to let Seamus lead the way into the office, probably not eager to turn his back to an unknown vampire. Smart of him. Inside, Seamus sighed with relief to be out of the sun. When his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he noted the office had no windows. No doubt a fair number of the estate's residents, including the owner, were severely allergic to the sun.
The man took a seat behind a cluttered desk and waved Seamus toward one of the other chairs. "Dump your stuff on the counter. I'll have to search it before you can go beyond this point. But first, fill out these forms."
He pushed the papers across the scarred desktop and tossed a pen down beside them.
"By the way, I'm Conlan Shea, head of security around here." He gave Seamus a pointed look when he didn't immediately respond.
Seamus picked up the pen and clicked it a couple of times before answering. He met Conlan's gaze head-on. "I'm Seamus. Seamus Fitzhugh."
He immediately looked back down at the paper in front of him and started writing furiously to avoid answering any more questions for the moment. Now that he'd successfully crossed the first hurdle, he needed time to gather his thoughts.
"So, Seamus, when's the last time you fed?"
Conlan was talking about blood, not food, and it was beyond rude to ask a vampire that question. Obviously, the chancellor had no time and no patience to pussyfoot around anyone's delicate sensibilities. They both knew older vampires could go long periods of time with only regular food and no blood. Younger ones, not so much. The last thing a chancellor would want to deal with was a vampire lost in bloodlust.
"Not since the day before yesterday, right before I got on the turbo to come here." Seamus's hand trembled, as much from temper as hunger, despite his best efforts to conceal it.
Conlan rolled his chair back to open the small fridge built into the cabinet. "Looks like I have a couple of A pos and one O neg. Name your poison."
"The A would be fine."
Conlan tossed him both of the As before turning his attention back to the computer. Keeping his eyes focused on the screen afforded Seamus some much appreciated privacy. Watching a vampire drink blood, either from a pack or directly from the source, probably didn't bother a chancellor like Conlan, but most vampires were pretty sensitive about it.
A few minutes later, Seamus tossed the second pack into the trash can. "Thank you. That helped."
"I live to serve," Conlan said with a sardonic smile. "So tell me, Seamus Fitzhugh, what brings you to our little piece of paradise?"
Seamus signed his name with a flourish, striving to act far more calm than he was. Knowing it wouldn't be easy getting inside Rafferty's estate, he should've expected to be greeted by a hard-eyed chancellor as the security officer. Because of their physical strength combined with a fierce sense of right and wrong, the word chancellor had become synonymous with justice and loyalty within the Coalition.
Seamus had spent the long hours on the turbo practicing his story, but right now he was choking on the words he'd rehearsed. Finally, he set the pen down and pushed the stack of papers back across the desk and settled for the bitter truth.
"I have nowhere else to go."
If the chancellor was shocked at the blunt statement, it didn't show. Conlan quickly scanned the papers, his eyebrows shooting up when he reached the part where Seamus had listed his marketable skills.
"You're really a medic?"
Seamus let his bitterness show. "I would've eventually become a doctor, but I lost my scholarship because of a scandal. I was asked to leave medical school mid-year. Luckily, I had accumulated enough credits to force them to license me as a medic."
"What kind of scandal?"
Once again, Seamus answered truthfully. "It involved a woman. The situation got out of control and destroyed both of us."
Conlan blinked in surprise at Seamus's stark honesty. Maybe he expected Seamus to act embarrassed or even ashamed, but it wasn't in him to cower. Instead, he let the chancellor look his fill. Finally, Conlan nodded, as if reaching a decision.
"Well, okay then. Here's how this will work—we'll check out your story, top to bottom, inside and out. You don't want to be caught in a lie. Rafferty O'Day doesn't offer second chances."
The chancellor met Seamus's gaze again and held it for a few seconds before releasing it. "So you have a choice. If you want to leave, you can wait here until nightfall. If you decide to stay, you'll live here in our guest quarters until I know more about you than your own mother does. Pass muster and you'll meet Rafferty and his wife, Joss, next. It's up to them whether you've found a new home. Clear?"
Seamus nodded. "Yes. I want to stay."
"Let me see your gear, and then we can get you settled in."
The chancellor rooted through Seamus's worldly goods with ruthless efficiency. It was hard not to take offense, but the man was just doing his job. At least he treated Seamus's med kit with respect.
After snapping the lock closed, he handed the case to Seamus. "I can't promise anything, but I know Rafferty has been hoping to find a licensed medic for the estate. If your credentials pan out, he'll be anxious to talk to you."
Then Conlan hefted Seamus's heavy duffel off the counter and headed for a different door than the one they'd entered through. "If you'll follow me, I'll get you set up. Right now, you're my only guest, so you can have your pick of rooms. There's a common bath at the end of the hallway we keep stocked with towels and the like. Help yourself."
There were about ten doors lining the hallway. A quick peek told Seamus they were all more or less the same, so he settled on the convenience of being near the bathroom. Conlan dumped Seamus's bag inside the door, but then stepped back out in the hall.
"It's been a long night, so get some sleep. I'm going to turn in myself." He paused outside the door. "By the way, the electric fence also separates this facility from the estate itself. One way or the other, you're stuck here until I let you out. If you get hungry during the day, that O neg is still in the fridge. You're welcome to join me for meals while you're here, too. Any questions?"
"Not that I can think of." Especially none he could ask of one of Rafferty's trusted employees, anyway.
"Okay. We'll talk some more tonight."
Seamus listened as Conlan's footsteps disappeared down the hallway to his own quarters. When he was sure the grim-faced chancellor was really gone, he sank down on the edge of the bed. He was fed, safe from the sun and ready for some sleep. The first part of his journey toward vengeance was over and without mishap.
Suddenly, a shower sounded awfully good. Just like the bedroom, the bathing facility was strictly utilitarian in design, but fresh and clean. He stripped off his sweat-stained travel clothes and tossed them in the refurbisher. After programming the water temperature to parboil, he ducked under the stinging spray to wash away the grime and grit from the train and subsequent hike to the gate. Fifteen minutes later, he crawled under the covers and closed his eyes.
Megan's stomach cramped; that was nothing new. She'd been feeling that way for days now, but it was getting progressively worse. In between the waves of crippling pain, she tried to convince herself that the twinge was nothing to be concerned about, but it was a losing argument. When the sharp pangs began to fade, she staggered forward again.
Only a few minutes had passed before the next wave of agony started. The pain built to a sharp crescendo, the intensity worsening with each new attack. It took every scrap of willpower to keep moving when all she wanted to do was lie down in the dirt. If it were only her own welfare she had to worry about, she'd have given in, given up and surrendered to her body's demands for rest.
But she wasn't alone in this, so she trudged on, step by step as the sun slowly rose overhead. At least that made traveling a little easier along the rough path. Her knee ached from an earlier mishap, and she could ill afford to risk an injury that would leave her stranded out in the middle of nowhere.
She was concentrating so hard on walking that it startled her to realize that she'd finally reached the gate.
Tears of relief burned down her cheeks as she rang the bell, asking—no, begging—for admittance. As she waited for someone to answer her summons, she did her best to scrub the dust off her face and straighten her hair. She had no baggage, having abandoned it some distance back when it became too much for her waning strength. Only the small pack she carried on her back mattered.
No one came. She rang the bell again, this time really leaning on it. There was no way to know who manned the gate for her cousin Joss's husband. But if Rafferty had hired a vampire, she might have to wait for nightfall to get in. The sour taste of fear burned the back of her throat as she prayed that someone would hear her.