I parked my Honda and slammed the door. It echoed in the night.
Eleven-thirty was a bad time to be out in the darkness, especially lately. But it was the only time I could meet my contact. He slept during the day.
In a coffin.
The building was close, down a tree-lined street, but sweat rolled down the back of my neck. This was a bad idea. But I couldn’t bring anyone else. No one would trust me.
Except maybe Dudovich. But Dudovich was dead.
I saw the door and walked faster. Almost there—
Then a vampire jumped out of a tree, landing right in front of me.
He was short, with a bald head and big ears. His eyes burned red. “I’m hungry.”
I reached for the six-inch silver cross around my neck. “Get back.”
He took one step away, hunching his shoulders and growling. “You think that will protect you?”
I had a wooden stake in my back pocket. I’d turned down the handgun loaded with silver bullets the cops kept trying to force on me, because I’d probably shoot my foot off before I actually hit a vampire. But now I wasn’t so sure that was a good idea. My hand was slippery. And the vampire looked like it could move fast.
I stepped back into the glow of the streetlight. “I know you. Tom Jurgen. You killed Asmodeus.”
He knew my name. Oh god.
Yeah. I’d stabbed a wooden stake into the vampire king’s back right after he killed Dudovich. So that apparently made me famous in the local vampire community now? Great.
The vamp snarled. “Just as a favor, I’ll snap your neck before I drink your blood. You won’t come back. You won’t have to know what it’s like. Say your prayers now, Tom Jurgen.”
My hand was sweating as I crouched. “Asmodeus killed a friend of mine. You want to be next?” I tried to sound tough and fearless. I just wished I had a pair of fresh boxers in the car. “Come and get me, asshole.”
Not very snappy, I know, but I’d had a bad few days. Dudovich dead, and my girlfriend Rachel gone—mad at me. Okay, I’m not very brave. But I can do a lot when I’m scared.
The vampire laughed. “Oh, I’m going to enjoy—”
His voice cut off as a dark shape from behind lifted him up and hurled him against a tree. The vampire yelped, and then cowered in the dirt. “No! Wait!”
Big clawed hands grabbed his shoulders and lifted the vampire off his feet, dangling him over the sidewalk. “This street is mine!” His voice was quiet but fierce. “Get out of here. Stay off this street. The next time I see you I’ll kill you.”
“Right. Right.” The vampire dropped to the pavement. He scampered back on his hands and knees, staring at me. “You got lucky, Jurgen.”
“Looks like you did too.” I let the cross fall and tucked it under my windbreaker. “Thanks, Mr. Page.”
The vampire ran. Clifton Page—also a vampire—watched him disappear. Then he pointed to the door of his apartment building. “Inside.”
“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” Clifton Page glared at me from his big leather chair. His eyes glowed like red-hot coals.
“I killed the vampire king.” I sipped the beer Page had offered me, trying to calm my shattered nerves. “Asmodeus? Have you heard of him?”
“Sure.” He looked out the window, curtains open at night to let the starlight in. “He was an asshole—dangerous. To you and to us. I’m not exactly sorry he’s dead, but …”
Page was a “friendly” vampire—he hadn’t hunted humans in years. He survived on blood from animals, a blood bank black market, and a cult of kinky humans who got off on letting vampires feed from them. Plus, a human girlfriend. Still, he could be scary.
“But Asmodeus was in control!” Page slammed a fist on the arm of the chair. “What have you got now? Vampires roaming the city, citizens terrified, police hunting us down like animals.” Page took a breath. “I’m going to have to leave the city. I can’t stay here.”
“What about Jillian?” Jillian Donovan, his human girlfriend. I’d met her when Page hired me to find out whether she was really a vampire like him. Spoiler alert: She was human, but she liked vampires. And she loved Page. Go figure.
His glowing eyes dimmed. “That’s none of your business. You called me. What do you want?”
Two days ago I’d texted him for information about Asmodeus. The Chicago PD had recruited me to help with the sudden rise in vampire killings in the city. I have some experience dealing with the supernatural, and after years of calling me crazy, the cops had decided they could use my expertise.
So two nights ago we’d tracked the vampire king to his lair. It was an ambush—vamps all around the place. And then a double ambush—a police helicopter and a SWAT team.
In the end, 22 vamps were dead. Along with Elena Dudovich, the one cop on the CPD who actually tolerated me.
I was still dealing with that.
“So what do we do?” Vampire attacks were up—and the cops were having a hard time hiding it. They’d been blaming a bad load of meth across the city, but people were starting to wonder about the lack of arrests.
You couldn’t put a vampire on trial. The only thing to do was stake them. But that wasn’t something the cops could talk about.
As a former reporter, I was conflicted. My job had always been about sharing the truth. That was one reason Rachel was gone—not permanently, I hoped, but after a big fight she’d left to spend a few days with her friend in a shack in Nowhere, Indiana. At least she called when she heard about the battle. To make sure I was safe.
Page lifted a glass of red wine from the table. At least it looked like wine. “You have to find a new king.”