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The orchestra music playing in the elevator, as it ascended to the ninth floor of the Nouveau Monde medical center, was driving Kellen Falcon mad. Or maybe it was the disease rushing through his veins that had finally pushed him over the edge.
The other people in the elevator must have noticed his growing agitation, since they were pressed against the walls, away from him. It couldn't possibly be his appearance anymore. He ran a hand through his newly grown-in brown hair. It was quite a change from his usual bald pate. All his piercings were gone; his body couldn't tolerate the metal invasion any longer.
He looked just like everyone else now. Sometimes he had to admit that looking in the mirror surprised him. Gone was the crazy-looking vampire with issues. His recently acquired blood disorder had taken care of all that.
He'd only been in the Otherworlder European city for five days now, but it was enough for the culture shock to grate on his nerves. Usually a carefree, whatever-makes-you-happy kind of guy, Kellen found the laid-back, meandering quality of the city strangely annoying. Even the quaint architecture and cobblestone streets bothered him. Walking out from his small rented room in the picturesque downtown square, he'd expected horses and buggies ambling down the old-world, narrow roads. Maybe it was because he was used to the constant rush of living in America.
Or his Sangcerritus was getting progressively worsethe reason he was in Nouveau Monde.
After being diagnosed with the rare blood disease months ago, Kellen had conducted a lot of research and found that there were a couple of doctors who were leading experts on itand one of the doctors lived inNouveau Monde. There had even been talk of a possible cure.
He didn't dare hope for that much. He was merely looking for a way to alleviate the symptoms so he could lead some semblance of an ordinary life again. Or as ordinary as a one-hundred-and-eighty-year-old vampire could get.
The elevator dinged pleasantly, announcing its arrival at the ninth floor, and the doors slid open. Kellen stepped out into a lavishly decorated lobby welcoming people to the hematology department. The effect was lost on him. A young, impeccably dressed woman sat at the impressive semicircular, raised platform desk, smiling and nodding to people as they passed by.
When he neared, she smiled brightly, the white of her descended fangs nearly blinding him. "Bonsoir. Peux-je vous aider?"
"Bonsoir. I'm looking for Dr. Bueller's office."
She gestured to Kellen's left. "His office is just down this hall, second door on the right," she said in accented English.
She smiled again, and this time there was a gleam in her beautiful green eyes. An invitation. On another day, in what seemed a lifetime ago, he would have been interested in what the alluring French woman offered. But now, given his circumstance, he just wanted to live. The clock was ticking loudly in his mind.
"Merci," he said, then made his way down the hall.
Opening the second door, he was again greeted by a huge lobby area, this one announcing the offices of Dr. Jonathon Bueller. Another young woman sat at the reception desk, grinning as he approached. The big difference here was that she was human, which surprised him.
He wasn't quite used to the idea that humans and Otherworlders lived in relative peace and harmony in Nouveau Monde. He'd almost jumped out of his skin the first time he'd seen a human walking down the street near his hotel, hand in hand with a lycan. Even to someone as out of place as he was, the coupling was strange.
He nodded. "Kellen Falcon to see Dr. Bueller."
She glanced at her computer screen, typed something, then looked back at him, handing him a clipboard with a form attached to it. "If you would, have a seat and fill this out."
Kellen took the clipboard and sat down in the far corner, near the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked the impressive Seine River. While he filled out the detailed form, he periodically glanced through the glass at the vivid green park running along the river-bank. The evening shadows were playing along the edges, reminding him of puppets on strings.
Nouveau Monde was certainly beautiful, with its lush park areas and old-world charm. Having grown up in New Orleans circa the early 1800s, he'd been surrounded by French culture and styles his whole life. So a few sexy accents and architectural gems didn't sway him much.
But still, there was something about the place that resonated in him. The fact that humans lived and worked in and around the city interested him. It was a striking difference between here and Necropolis, where the Otherworlders were caged like inmates, and the humans on the outside cowered in fear and ignorance. Europe had always been more progressive and ahead of the times. His kind of place.
He'd also heard from the gentleman he rented the room from that the nightlife in the city was spectacular. He didn't know if he'd feel up to going to clubs, although he sure could use a few drinks to try to relax. He'd been craving a distraction for months now. He'd yet to find one.
After completing the form, he handed it back to the receptionist, then sat back down to wait for his appointment. There were five other people in the waiting room, all vampires, save for one out-of-place lycan. Kellen wondered what kind of blood disease he had. He didn't think lycans could contract diseases.
Thinking about lycans made him nostalgic about Necropolis and the Otherworld Crime Unit he'd worked with for the past six years. After being diagnosed with the disease, he had applied for an open-ended leave of absence and booked a flight to France. He didn't think any of the team missed him too much; the last year hadn't been his best. On a few occasions he'd come head-to-head with various members of the team, especially the chief, Caine Valorian.
They hadn't known about his diseasewhy he was constantly grumpy, and lashing out. Then again, neither had he at the time. He thought that his irritation had been caused by the fact that most of the team members were irritating.
Once his problem was under control, he wondered if he'd be able to return to work with them. Leaning back in the chair and glancing out the window at the darkening indigo sky, Kellen considered the thought that maybe he didn't want to. He bet he could find work here with little effort. He certainly didn't need the money, as he'd amassed enough over the past one hundred years. Maybe a change in scenery was what he needed to heal, to get his life back on trackinstead of just existing from one day to the next.
A few bars of a hard-core metal song thumped from his jeans pocket. He fished out his cell phone and flipped it open. "Falcon."
"How's Europe? Are they trying to deport you yet?"
Kellen smirked at the humor in Caine's voice. The chief was usually not one for jokes. "Not yet. Give me a few more days."
Caine's unexpected chuckle suddenly made him feel homesick.
Kellen glanced at the receptionist. She was motioning to him with a wave of her pen.
"Hold on, Caine." He put his hand over the phone. "Yeah?"
"No cell phones, please." She pointed to the sign by her desk, the one with a big red X over a picture of a cell phone.
Waving that he understood, Kellen stood and wandered out of the office and down the hall, then said into the phone, "Are you still there?"
"Yes. What happened? Did you get kicked out of somewhere?"
"Yeah, my doctor's office. I guess they don't like cell phones around all the electrical equipment."
The vampiress at the main reception desk smiled at him as he leaned against the wall near her. He nodded at her.
"How's it going?"
Kellen appreciated Caine's query about his health. They hadn't parted on the best of terms after Caine had accused him of blowing up the lab. "It's my first appointment. I'll know more after I talk to this guy."
"Okay. You'll call when you find out?"
"Yeah." He ran a hand over his head, feeling strange about Caine's concern. Not exactly good friends, Kellen could count on one hand the number of times they'd ever engaged in a personal conversation. But he had to admit, he liked that the chief had called. It made him feel a little less alone.
Static filled his ear. Pushing away from the wall, Kellen turned the phone in his hand. "Caine?"
"Yeah, I'm here. I can barely hear you, though." More static crackled through the line.
"There's a lot of interference in here. I'll call you later." Kellen flipped his phone closed and slid it into his pants pocket.
A loud, piercing, shrill sound echoed from the doctor's office down the hall. Everyone in the reception area looked up at the strident noise.
"Looks like someone else didn't turn their phone off," Kellen said to the receptionist.
She smiled at him, and then went back to her keyboard.
He glanced at his watch. He still had five minutes to kill before his appointment. He squinted down at the watch face. Something was wrong with it.
The second hand seemed to have stopped. He tapped the plastic covering. No, it hadn't stopped, but it was barely moving, as if suspended in some kind of liquid. Looking up, he noticed that other things in the lobby were off.
The clock on the wall over the receptionist's desk displayed the same effect as his watch. Even the vam-piress seemed to be moving more slowly. Her actions and reactions to things were about a second off in time. There was a blur of motion over her body. Like when a photograph is out of focus.
The hair on his arms rose. A multitude of heartbeats from everyone on the floor thundered in his ears, making him wince. All of them were in sync.
All except for one. He recognized that ticking for what it was.
In a blink of an eye, he crossed the distance between him and the receptionist. Grabbing her around the waist, he brought her down to the ground and covered her with his body.
The sound of her scream was the last thing he heard before everything around them exploded.
The ringing in his ears was deafening. Leaning forward in the chair he was seated in, Kellen put his head in his hands to try and dampen the discordant noise. He was dizzy, and it was making him sick. His stomach roiled in protest.
He tried to focus on what the uniformed officer standing in front of him was saying, but it sounded like mumbled nonsense. He couldn't concentrate on anything but the body bags being carried out from the demolished medical offices. Three of them lined one end of the foyer.
The only other survivor that he could see was the receptionist. She was strapped to a stretcher, with an oxygen mask on her face. Another officer was standing alongside with an open notebook, trying to ask her questions. She didn't look as if she was in any shape to talk, let alone answer any queries about what had happened. He didn't even know, and he was at least coherent. Mostly.
Blinking at the officer, Kellen shook his head and grabbed the man's arm. "I can't understand what you're saying. Can you write it down?" Even his own voice sounded muffled, as if coming through water.
The officer glanced over his shoulder at another man roaming the scene with an open notepad and pen in his moutha plainclothes officer dressed in dark jeans, blazer and tie. He waved the man over.
As the new cop approached Kellen, he could feel the man probing him with his intense stare. The man's power wasn't vampiric, though. It wasn't strictly lycan, either. He had the same swagger that most lycans possess. Confident and sturdy, with an understated intelligence that most people missed. Kellen was not most people. He knew the look of a clever predatorfrom one to another.
The plainclothes officer grabbed a chair and set it beside Kellen, settling himself into it with an air of casual indifference. He leaned back and set his notepad on his lap.
"I'm Inspector Gabriel Bellmonte."
There was something in his voice that pushed aside the other interfering noises in Kellen's ear, stabilizing the spinning in his mind. Kellen heard the man clearly. He'd never heard of a lycan possessing that kind of power.