As a vampire, Elijah Pike (alias Roger Neimann) has been a slave to instinct-consuming human blood to satisfy an unquenchable thirst. As a doctor, he relies on his intellect in the pursuit of a cure that will end not only his craving but also the deadly urges of others like him.
AN APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION
Master vampire Michael Morpheus's last encounter with Elijah Pike, in the Louisiana bayou, left him disfigured and consumed by hatred for those he considers traitors to the race. He went underground to lick his wounds-and to gather an army of evil that will follow him in his quest for vengeance.
A CALL TO ARMS
Pike knows that the fate of innocent mortals depends upon his victory in a battle against his own kind-one in which no mercy can be shown. Now, in the frozen wilderness of the Canadian Rockies, he'll face Morpheus once more-and the snow will be stained with blood . . .
"If you read one horror book this year, read this one!" -William W. Johnstone on Night Blood
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By James M. Thompson
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2003 James M. Thompson
All rights reserved.
Dr. Matt Carter, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, bent down and examined the hand laceration. James Smith, senior medical student doing his final rotation in the emergency room of Ben Taub Hospital, had done a good job of repairing the wound.
"Nice work, Jimmy," Matt said. "You've got the tendons approximated pretty well, but you're still making the skin sutures a bit too tight. Remember, the wound edges are gonna swell over the next couple of days and when they do, the sutures will be pulled and will bury themselves under the skin. Whoever has to remove them in seven days will not be happy if they have to dig them out."
Smith's face fell. "Yes, sir, Doctor Carter."
Matt straightened up and patted him on the shoulder. "Don't worry, Jimmy," he said, not wanting to discourage the young man too much. He had good hands and would someday make a fine surgeon. "You'll get the hang of it with a little more practice."
While Smith dressed the wound, Matt stretched and sighed, moving his head around in small circles to ease the aching muscles of his neck. Feeling strangely let down by his work in the ER this night, he stepped up to the big double doors at the ambulance entrance, punched the plate on the wall that would open them, and moved out onto the concrete apron of the receiving deck.
He took a deep breath of the humid night air of Houston, thinking to himself that it was like trying to breathe through a wet blanket. As he stood there, he wondered briefly if he would ever regain the sense of adventure and excitement that ER work and teaching med students used to hold for him. Lately, he'd begun to doubt it. After all, hunting monsters and engaging in life or death struggles with them over the past couple of years had made everything else seem tame by comparison. He shook his head in frustration and reentered the hospital.
I'm too damned young to be this bored, he thought, experiencing much the same feelings as thousands of young men had who'd engaged in mortal combat in war only to return to humdrum jobs when the wars were over.
Speaking of wars, he checked his watch. He was already late for his date. He was supposed to pick Sam up a half-hour ago. Now there was going to be hell to pay.
He looked around and saw that his replacement, Chief Surgical Resident Jeff Strickland, was already at work on a broken leg in Trauma Room 2 and so he hurriedly left the ER and made his way toward the elevators at the end of the hall. On the way, he checked his clinic jacket to make sure there were no obvious bloodstains on it, an occupational hazard of emergency room duty.
* * *
Five minutes later, Matt was in the hospital basement and headed toward the morgue. Even in this modern day and age, morgues were still sequestered in the basements of hospitals, as if to keep their grisly secrets away from the eyes of the uninitiated. He grinned as he fast-walked down the corridor, thinking that never in his wildest dreams had he ever thought he'd be cruising the morgue to pick up a woman.
He pushed through the big double doors, his nose wrinkling at the smell of disinfectant and formaldehyde that permeated the large tiled room. Several pathology residents were busily at work dissecting cadavers on metal tables while dictating their findings into microphones hanging just above their heads.
He gave an involuntary shiver. Even though he'd been down here many times since he'd fallen in love with Sam, the place still spooked him. The smell of death permeated the chilly air and the many bodies split open from stem to stern on cold metal tables was not exactly a sight he relished. For perhaps the hundredth time, he wondered how a woman as lovely and feminine as Sam could elect to spend her career in such a gloomy, depressing place. He'd made the mistake of asking her this on one occasion and she had informed him that pathology was a career made up of more than just cutting open dead bodies, and furthermore, femininity or the lack thereof had nothing to do with it. He had not asked a second time.
Matt glanced around but didn't see Sam, so he turned to the right and went into the office area.
Samantha Scott, brand new Associate Professor of Pathology, was perched on the corner of her desk, shapely legs crossed, reading the final draft of one of the autopsies she'd done.
Matt slowed, his heart quickening at the sight of her. Five-feet six-inches in height, with auburn hair that turned red in sunlight and startlingly green eyes, Sam was the most beautiful woman in the world to Matt. Her pale, milky complexion with its light dusting of freckles across the nose, tiny waist and full, rounded breasts never ceased to arouse in him feelings of adoration and pride.
"Hey, good-lookin'," Matt called when he entered her office, hoping to defuse with flattery any anger she might feel at his being late for their date.
Sam glanced up from the report, her eyes glittering with mischief. "Why Professor Carter, that sounds awfully much like sexual harassment," she purred in her soft voice.
Matt grinned with relief and shook his head. It was one of the many perks of dating another doctor. Sam would realize that their lives would never run on an exact schedule and that the necessities of patient care would always have to come ahead of dinner dates.
"No way, lady. The sexual harassment comes later, after we've eaten," Matt said, his eyebrows waggling and his lips curling in a lascivious grin.
"Oh," Sam replied as she signed the report and dropped it in her out-basket. "That certainly gives a girl something to look forward to."
Matt glanced over at the empty desk across the room from Sam's. "Where's Shelly?" he asked, inquiring after Sheldon Silver, Sam's boss and Chief of Pathology.
"He's meeting with the dean for drinks and dinner. He's going to try and talk him into a new gas chromatograph machine for the department. He says using our old one in like driving a Model T when everyone else has a Ferrari."
Matt was just as glad Shelly wasn't around. He didn't want to have to answer any questions about the fresh bandage on his neck. Shelly, in addition to being one of the best forensic pathologists in the country, was also an excellent clinician and his sharp eyes would have seen the bandage and would have wanted to know what was going on — and Matt wasn't ready to discuss that just yet.
Shelly had helped Matt and Sam treat Sam's roommate and best friend, TJ O'Reilly, for an infection with the parasite that caused symptoms of Vampyrism the previous year, and then just months later had consulted with an infectious disease specialist in Canada when Sam had been infected with the same bug by a vampyre named Michael Morpheus in New Orleans. Since then, Shelly had kept a close eye on both women for symptoms of a recurrence of the disease. Shelly was altogether too smart not to notice little things like bite marks on Matt's neck when Sam was supposed to be cured of such things.
Sam jumped down off the desk and put her hands on Matt's shoulders, giving him a quick kiss. Since Matt was just barely five-feet eight-inches tall, their eyes were almost level.
"Where are we going to eat?" she asked.
"We were supposed to meet Shooter and TJ almost an hour ago at Christy's Oyster Bar," he answered. "So get a move on, Missy."
Her eyes flashed, turning from bright green to hazel as her eyelids narrowed in annoyance. "Don't rush me, Matthew Carter," she snapped. "I've been ready for an hour. It's you who is late."
"I know," he said hurriedly, not wanting to get into an argument when they were already behind schedule. "I had this senior student I had to help suture a wound. He's good, but slow as Christmas."
Sam's expression softened and her eyes turned green again. "Not everyone has hands as fast as yours, darling," she said, the corner of her thick lips turning up in a smirk. "And I ought to know!"
Matt smiled and kissed her lightly on the lips, his groin growing heavy at the innuendo in her voice.
* * *
Christy's Oyster Bar, located just a few blocks from the medical center, was a favorite hangout for students, residents, and staff of the many nearby hospitals. The room was filled with people wearing every kind of outfit from expensive suits to scrubs to nursing uniforms. Matt and Sam had to elbow their way through a dense crowd of customers until they found the tiny table in a back corner where Shooter and TJ were sitting.
Steve "Shooter" Kowolski, a detective in the Houston Police Department, had been Matt's closest friend since grade school. He was easy to pick out of a crowd with his bright green-and-yellow plaid sport coat, lime green shirt, and black jeans over cowboy boots. With his dark, curly hair that looked as if it had been combed with his fingers and bright blue eyes, he reminded Matt of a young Tony Curtis. Shooter's date was TJ O'Reilly, Sam's roommate and final year resident in Internal Medicine at Baylor. She would have completed her three-year residency last year, at the same time as Sam, but TJ had lost a year while undergoing intensive medical treatment after being attacked by a serial killer the year before.
TJ, who had somehow managed to corral Shooter and end his skirt-chasing days, was a bit shorter than Sam at five-feet two-inches and had tousled black hair that usually hung so it partially covered her face. She was pretty without being beautiful and had an IQ in the genius range — none of which mattered to Shooter, who loved her more for her easygoing manner and wild sense of humor than for her good looks ... though, as he'd told Matt more than once, her looks certainly didn't hurt!
As they approached their friends, Matt saw a large platter with a couple of dozen empty oyster shells and four empty beer bottles scattered on the table, mute testimony to their lateness.
"I see Shooter has been getting ready for tonight with all those oysters," Matt said with a grin.
Shooter glanced at him with a dead serious face. "What? Those aren't for me, pal, 'cause my libido doesn't need any help. They're for TJ ... she needs 'em just to keep up with me."
"Do oysters work for women?" Matt asked hopefully, glancing out of the corner of his eye at Sam.
Sam gave him a sharp nudge in the side with her elbow. "Don't even go there, fella," she warned. "At least not until you can match me in the bedroom."
Matt made a face and looked over at Shooter and shrugged, as if to say, don't believe a word of it. As they both laughed, he noticed a couple of fresh-looking scabs on the side of Shooter's neck. The sight of the recent wound made the hair on the back of Matt's neck stand up and gave him a queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach as he unconsciously fingered the bandage on his own neck. Things weren't looking good. He made a mental note to talk to Shooter about the puncture marks when they were alone.
Both Sam and TJ had been forced to undergo the so-called Rite of Transformation by vampyres in the last year. Though they'd been partially transformed into vampyres themselves, a radical new treatment devised by a doctor in Canada had seemed to work to reverse the changes. Only recently, Sam had been acting strangely and Matt knew he needed to find out if TJ had been similarly affected by the treatments.
"Sit down, guys, and we'll order some food," TJ said, scooting over so Sam could pull up a chair next to her.
Matt took a seat next to Shooter and reached for a menu. "What's good here?" he asked.
TJ leaned across the table and smiled as she took the last remaining oyster. She poured some Tabasco sauce onto the shellfish and dumped it into her mouth. As she chewed, an expression of ecstasy crossed her face and she mumbled, "Everything, dear, simply everything."
"I think I'll have the grilled mahi mahi," Matt said after studying the menu for a few moments, "with french fries and cole slaw."
"That sounds good to me," Shooter said, tipping his bottle of beer toward the ceiling and draining it dry.
Sam, her face buried in the menu, said, "I'll have the filet mignon, rare, with Hollandaise sauce, baked potato, and a Caesar salad."
"Ooo, that sounds good! I'll have that too!" TJ said enthusiastically. "Something I can sink my teeth into sounds great after those mushy oysters."
Matt glanced at Shooter, but he didn't seem to notice the incongruity of the girls ordering steaks in a seafood restaurant.
After they gave their orders to the waitress and asked her to bring them some more beer, the group began to chatter as if they hadn't seen each other for years instead of the few days they'd been apart. Shooter regaled them with his latest dumb crooks stories and had them all in stitches at the stupid things criminals do. They especially liked the one about the robber who went into a convenience store and carried a six-pack of beer to the counter. When the clerk asked him for identification to prove his age, the dunce showed her his driver's license. While she was ringing up his purchase, he pulled a gun and proceeded to rob the store. It took the cops only a couple of hours to round him up when the clerk remembered the name on his license.
When they finished laughing at the dumb crook's mistake, TJ sobered a bit and told them she had received notice of a malpractice lawsuit in the mail that morning.
"What?" Sam asked, staring at her friend with wide eyes. "But you're the most diligent doctor I've ever met."
"What happened?" Matt asked, his voice hard. As an emergency room physician, he was more aware than most of the many lawyers who lined their pockets off the misery of others, and who enjoyed taking good doctors to court for happenings that were out of their control.
"This man I was seeing in the free clinic at Ben Taub for hypertension a few months ago came in with a swollen finger and asked me about it. I examined him and told him I thought he ought to get an x-ray and I'd send him to an orthopedist for a consult. He begged off, saying it was just a sprain and he didn't think he needed an x-ray and besides he didn't have time to hang around and get one." She took a deep breath. "So, I splinted the finger and gave him a prescription for an x-ray and a note to call Dr. Oshman, the orthopedist on call. He left my office and this is the first I've heard of it since then."
"Well, what happened?" Sam asked.
"It seems the finger was broken, and, naturally, he didn't get the x-ray or see any other doctors until it really swelled up. By then, he had a non-union of the fracture and had to have a pin put in the finger."
"But, what's the problem?" Shooter asked. "It's not your fault he didn't do what you suggested."
TJ blushed and looked chagrined. "Yeah, but in my office notes I didn't mention the finger or my orders to get the x-ray. I wrote all about his meds and lab work and how good his blood pressure was and just forgot to put what I told him down in black and white."
"So, it's your word against his," Shooter said.
"Yes, and guess who a jury's gonna believe," TJ said sourly.
The waitress appeared and began to unload their dinners onto the table. Once she was done, everyone dug into their food as if they hadn't eaten for days.
Matt smiled to himself and thought how a good meal with good friends was just the medicine TJ needed to get thoughts of bloodsucking lawyers and whining patients out of her mind.
After a moment, Matt looked up from his fish and glanced at Shooter. "This stuff's not nearly as good as the fish was in New Orleans, is it?" he asked, remembering their recent trip to New Orleans in search of the vampire killer who'd been dubbed The Ripper by the local newspapers.
Shooter agreed. "Not by a long shot."
Sam, her cheek bulging with steak, just shook her head and smiled. "Y'all are crazy. This steak is excellent."
"Yeah," TJ agreed. She had a tiny drop of blood on the corner of her mouth from the rare steak she was chewing. "I think you boys just miss being in a distant city, shacked up in a fancy hotel with two beautiful women to keep you company." She looked over at Sam and grinned. "What do you think, Sam?"
"That's definitely it," Sam agreed. "There's just something about going to a strange town and staying in a hotel with sexy women that makes men horny."
"Wait a minute," Shooter protested, holding up his hand. "I resemble that remark."
"You should," TJ said, laughing out loud, "'Cause it doesn't take all that to make you horny — almost anything will do."
Excerpted from Immortal Blood by James M. Thompson. Copyright © 2003 James M. Thompson. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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