Little Miss Muffet and Little Boy Blue are all grown up—and hunting the world’s most famous vampire—in this gritty paranormal romance novel.Ever since Make Believe characters were transported into the ordinary world, their Happily Ever Afters have been a thing of the past. So when Trish Muffet is attacked at a grisly crime scene, the last person she expects to come to her rescue is Nicky "Little Boy" Blue. But these days Nicky's doling out vigilante justice as "The Spider," taking on predators of the night in the hopes of locating his ultimate target—Vlad Dracula. And he needs Trish's help.
Although Nicky's renegade style goes against everything Trish stands for, she'll do what she must to bring Dracula down. With danger stalking her, Trish knows the only person she can count on is the one man who has the power to leave her breathless. There's no way she's letting this spider frighten her away.
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Along Came a Spider
A Transplanted Tales Novel
By Kate SeRine
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 Kate SeRine
All rights reserved.
I pulled on a pair of latex gloves, the no-nonsense snap as comforting as always. As the head of Forensics for the Fairytale Management Authority, I never quite knew what I might find at a crime scene, but as I strode toward the shadowy figure standing at the mouth of the narrow alley on Chicago's South Side, I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, mentally preparing myself for what always came next.
"What do we have, Grimm?"
Nate Grimm, the FMA's lead detective and part-time Reaper, doffed his fedora and ran a hand through his dark hair, stirring the shadows that surrounded him. "It's not good, Trish."
I raised my brows, perplexed by the fact that he seemed a little distressed. The guy had been a Reaper for centuries. Seeing him rattled by death was enough to drop a cold stone of dread smack-dab in the middle of my stomach. "Is that why you called me personally instead of going through headquarters?"
He nodded. "I didn't want Red to show up here."
That stone of dread got a little heavier. If he was keeping something from his fiancée, who was six months pregnant with his child, this was going to be even worse than I'd thought. "She'll be here eventually," I told him. "I was in the lab when you called. My assistant knows I went out. Tess is probably already on her way, and she's going to be seriously pissed when she finds out you were trying to keep this from her."
Nate placed his fedora back on his head, pulling it down a little over his eyes. "Come take a look and you'll know why."
I followed him into the alley and felt the hair on my arms begin to rise even though I was bundled up against Chicago's bone-numbing February winds. I'd been working for the FMA as a coroner and forensics investigator for going on a century, but that initial hit of negative energy surrounding a violent death still had the power to bring me to my knees if I let it get to me. And this one was particularly nasty, sending a chill of apprehension up and down my spine. I swallowed hard against the bile rising in my throat and focused on the details of the crime scene, making note of everything I saw and cataloging it in my head to include in the report I'd write later that night.
I glanced up as I walked, searching the network of fire escapes for anyone who might be lingering to watch as his deeds were discovered by the authorities, but the rusting ladders were deserted. And no one peeked out from behind the curtains of the dilapidated apartment building. Apparently, whatever had occurred had gone down quietly, not drawing the attention of any of the people living in the low-rent apartments.
Dumpsters heavy with trash that wouldn't be picked up until morning lined the length of the alley in evenly spaced groups of two. It was just beyond one of these groupings in the darkest part of the alley that Nate paused and jerked his chin toward the shadows. "There."
I peered into the darkness and gasped, my arm coming up reflexively so I could bury my nose in the sleeve of my FMA standard-issue wool pea coat. "Shit."
I shook my head slightly, clearing away my emotional response, and ran the facts in my head. White male, medium build, sandy blond hair. Deceased. But the manner of his death was what got me. His throat had been ripped open. No, that wasn't exactly true. It had been gnawed open. And his blood had been drained from his body so quickly, his skin had shriveled and sunken in upon itself.
Frowning, I pulled my small flashlight from my pocket, shining it on the ground, the wall, the dumpsters, but there were no blood splatters that I could see in the immediate area. He'd either been killed elsewhere and dumped here, or drained so swiftly no blood had even dripped from the wounds. Either way, not good. I'd seen wounds like this before and knew the kind of creature behind it.
"Vampire," I announced, a wave of apprehension washing over me again as I uttered the word aloud. I heard Nate curse roundly under his breath. There was no shortage of vampires that had crossed over from the folklore of Make Believe — and even some who'd already been hanging out in the Here and Now long before we ever showed up — but their attacks rarely resulted in death. We made damned sure that our bloodsuckers were rehabilitated and taught how to control their cravings to keep them from showing up in the Ordinaries' tabloid newspapers and blowing our cover among the humans.
Every once in a while one would lose it and we'd need to call in FMA's Damage Control agents to spin some ridiculous story that was promptly debunked and then forgotten. But this particular attack — so savage and brutal — wasn't like anything I'd seen in decades. Not since —
"Dracula," Nate growled. "He's back, isn't he?"
I glanced over my shoulder at the Reaper, understanding the deadly edge in his voice. It'd been almost two years since the infamous vampire had gone to ground after being involved in a series of killings perpetrated by an enchantress named Sebille Fenwick. Nate had killed Sebille when she'd tried to add Red to her list of victims, but a radical group of Tales had tried to raise her from the dead a few months ago, believing she would lead them to a new day where Tales ruled supreme in our adopted world. I'd been around to witness that incident first-hand, having nearly become one of Sebille's victims myself. But Lavender Seelie, Cinderella's former fairy godmother and the reason why we'd been transplanted in the first place, had killed Sebille for good, making it impossible for her to ever return.
Knowing that Sebille and Dracula had been in league once before, I'd done a full investigation of the events at The Refuge, but had found no connection between Vlad Dracula and the plot to resurrect Sebille Fenwick. The findings were comforting in that he hadn't been behind the plan, but had also left me with more questions.
Like what the hell Dracula had been up to since he'd disappeared.
There'd been murmurings of sightings now and then — but they always turned out to be unsubstantiated, Tales who'd been spooked and just blamed the ultimate villain at large. What was indisputable, however, were accounts of Ordinary women found dazed and confused with two puncture wounds in their skin. Unfortunately, even then we couldn't confirm anything beyond that a Tale was to blame.
I had my suspicions that Vlad was responsible, taunting us, leaving a trail of blood-soaked bread crumbs as part of his game to draw Red out so he could make his move and finally claim her for his own. I couldn't prove it, but my findings would've been enough to send Tess after him. She had a score to settle and was determined to bring him down at any cost — even if it put her in serious danger of getting herself killed.
Which was why I'd been doctoring my reports and burying any evidence that could've been even remotely connected to the bloodsucker of legend.
I'd promised Nate I'd do whatever I could to keep Tess safe, and I was going to keep that promise no matter what. Not just because I'd struck a deal with Death or because Tess Little was my closest friend and more like a sister to me than my own back in Make Believe. The fact was, we Tales needed her. She was one of the only reasons we had it as good as we did in the Here and Now, and I'd protect that safety and security with my life if I had to.
"Shit," Nate muttered. "Looks like we've got company."
I turned toward the mouth of the alley and saw Red's brand-new Range Rover screeching to a halt, a black FMA van right behind her. "I'll get what I can from the victim," I told Nate. "Then you can take his soul."
Nate gave me a tight nod, then headed toward Red, starting his apology before he'd even reached her. I grinned for a moment, imagining the kind of hell Nate was catching, then turned back to the victim. The dead man was a Tale — the auralike impression Tales could sense in one another still hovered around him, although it was growing faint. I analyzed the blurring edges. He'd been dead only about an hour.
Damn, Nate was fast.
I squatted down in front of the victim and carefully lifted his suit jacket, looking for a wallet or some other form of identification, but he'd been stripped of anything that could make my job easy.
I braced my elbows on my thighs and took a deep breath, preparing for what came next. The man's eyes were wide open, glazed over with that faraway gaze that was unique to the dead. Swallowing my nerves and pushing my fear aside, I locked onto his gaze and felt the connection taking hold.
Now for the fun part.
In seconds, I was drifting into the dead man's psyche, latching on to the last impressions seared into his memory before his light had been snuffed out.
The images came fast and furious: Tingling on his tongue as the Cristal slipped past his lips. Euphoria and arousal. Blurred faces of two women — grotesque and surreal, like reflections in fun house mirrors — pawing at his clothing, pushing him down onto the bed, bright red fingernails clawing at his chest, then slipping past his waistband to roughly caress. Animalistic sounds of lovemaking and release. Then — just as he was collapsing into postcoital exhaustion — fangs plunging deep into his jugular, drawing out his blood with a snarl that reverberated through him, a persistent buzz vibrating just below his skin. He wanted to scratch, tear it out, but his limbs were paralyzed. He couldn't move. The terror pumped adrenaline into his system in a fervid rush, making his heart pound furiously against his breast.
Panic rose up from the depth of his gut and he tried to scream, but no sound came. More fangs sank into his skin, drawing away his life one great pull at a time. He was drifting now, the images growing dark as death edged closer. He was cold, could no longer feel his toes, his fingertips, his legs. ... As the shadows drew closer, an image came to him of a beautiful woman who moved with feline grace, and regret brought tears to his eyes. He felt a single warm tear slip from the corner of his eye and marked its path as it trickled across his temple and toward his ear. And then —
I started so violently, I toppled over, ass-planting on the pavement. "Damn it, McCain!" I snapped, casting an irritated glance toward the Enforcer who'd interrupted my connection and stolen the dead man's final image from me. "You can't interrupt me when I'm reading the dead."
"Ah, hell — I'm sorry," he said, having the good grace to look contrite. "Go ahead and do what you need to do. I won't say a word."
"Won't work," I grumbled, pushing up to my feet and waving away his offer of help. "I only get one shot." I brushed the dirty snow from the back of my coat and looked over at McCain, taking him in at a glance. Black male. Close-cropped hair. Brown eyes. Athletic build. Six feet two inches, two hundred twenty pounds of lean muscle. After nearly two years with the FMA, he was still considered the new guy. The kid was doing everything he possibly could to try to impress the higher-ups but hadn't quite made the marks yet.
"Was there something you needed, McCain?" I asked, trying to be patient as he stood there, rocking a little on his heels.
He shoved his hands deep into his coat pockets. "Red sent me. She thought maybe you'd like —"
I held up my hand, cutting him off. "Let me stop you right there, sparky, before you embarrass yourself," I said, my tone a little pitying. "I'm not going out with you."
He blinked at me. "What?"
I sighed. "Listen, I know Tess totally busts your balls and makes you nervous as hell, but I think you're doing a pretty amazing job. And, I'll admit, you're seriously good-looking and seem to be a great guy — you know, once you get past the constant ass-kissing."
His brows came together. "Um, thanks."
"So, really, it's nothing personal," I explained. "You're the tenth guy she's tried to set me up with in the last few months, but I'm married to the job. I don't have time for a personal life. So, you can tell Red thanks, but I don't need her to play matchmaker just because she's happy and wants all of her friends to be happy, too."
He nodded. "Okay. I can do that. But she only sent me down here to see if you wanted some coffee. She's sending me on a Starbucks run since it looks like we'll be here awhile."
I felt the heat rising in my face. "Oh."
Alex jabbed his thumb over his shoulder. "So ... you, uh, need anything then?"
I stripped off my latex gloves and wiped my wrist against my forehead. "Yeah. Thanks. That'd be great. Cream, no sugar."
He looked a little uncomfortable for a moment as if trying to figure out how to gracefully make his exit. "So, I guess I'll just ..."
"Yeah, yeah. Thanks."
As soon as he turned away, I let my head fall back and closed my eyes for a moment. "Nice, Trish," I murmured. "Way to make an ass of yourself."
When I opened my eyes again, I glanced down toward the opening of the alley where Nate stood with Red, his body half wrapped around hers, a protective posture they often shared. Her arms were crossed over her chest, her chin tilted up and away from him in anger, but it was mostly for show at this point. She just wasn't quite ready to let him off the hook yet. Then, as I watched, Nate bent and pressed a tender kiss to Red's brow and rested his hand on her belly. In response, she turned and gave him a pert look but accepted his brief kiss, letting him know she'd forgive him, but he'd be making it up to her as soon as they got home. I looked away again before envy could take hold, and turned back to the dead man, wondering who the beautiful woman was who'd invaded his thoughts before dying.
Was she his lover? Wife? Unrequited love?
With a twinge of sadness I wondered what beloved face would bring me comfort in my dying moments. Whose eyes would I picture and long to see just once more? It was a question I'd asked myself over and over again since coming over, but the answer never changed. I'd had a few lovers over the years, both Tale and Ordinary, but no matter who I'd let into my life, there was no one else who'd ever come to mind.
I drew from my pocket a handkerchief with the initials NB lovingly stitched in black silk thread. Nicky Blue. I couldn't even guess how many times I'd thought of him since the day we'd come over. I'd often wondered if he ever thought of me, too, but when I'd finally come face to face with him again two years ago, the answer to that question had been made crystal clear. After all, how could he think of me when he didn't even remember me?
He'd walked into my lab when I was analyzing evidence from the Sebille Fenwick case — not to see me but to bring additional evidence to Red and Nate. And then he'd greeted me, not like an old friend but as a new acquaintance, and had handed me the handkerchief to wipe a smudge of blood from my cheek.
I didn't really expect to see him again after that. But after his wife, Juliet, had been tragically killed and Nicky grievously wounded in a confrontation with Sebille Fenwick, I'd been one of the first on the scene. I'd had to witness the pain and torment in the eyes of the man I loved as I tried to stabilize him enough to get him to the Tale hospital. He'd gripped my hand, silently pleading, his gaze holding mine. He hadn't needed to speak — I knew he was asking me to take care of his lovely bride, to make sure she was treated well. I'd nodded, letting him know he could count on me. And I'd made good on that promise.
I just hoped I'd never have to tell him what I saw when I'd looked into her eyes just before I let Nate take her soul to its final rest. With a sigh, I tucked the handkerchief back into my pocket. Seeing as how Nicky had gone off the grid after Juliet's death, the odds of me ever having to face that dilemma were pretty slim.
I made my way to the mouth of the alley and jerked my chin at Nate. "All yours."
"So, what did you see?" Red asked. "Anything to help you identify the killer?"
"Killers," I corrected. "Plural. They were women, but I didn't get much else."
Her eyes narrowed at me. "Really? That's all?"
I squirmed a little. "Vampires," I admitted, knowing she'd see through me in a heartbeat if I strayed too far from the truth. "But not Vlad. I didn't sense him at all." I frowned. "There was something weird about these women. They had a Tale aura to them but ... I don't know. It felt wrong."
Her brows shot up. "Do we need to have a chat with some of our contacts, let them know there could be a problem?"
I barely held back a groan. I knew exactly what she meant by "contacts." We didn't out ourselves to many, but there were a select few Ordinaries who'd been brought into our confidence — sometimes whether we liked it or not. So far they hadn't divulged any of our secrets, but there was always the possibility that one of them could let something slip, which made me nervous as hell about sharing any intel.
"I'd rather hold off getting in touch for a while longer," I told her, pulling on my winter gloves to keep my fingertips from going numb. "No sense dealing with them any more than we have to."
Red gave me a tight nod. "Works for me. I'll just —" She winced, sucking in air through her teeth, and bent forward a little, her hand going reflexively to her belly.
Excerpted from Along Came a Spider by Kate SeRine. Copyright © 2013 Kate SeRine. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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