Excerpt: Blood Debt
Council Of Night 1.0
Night crept in through the crack in the drapes and found the creature where it lay sleeping. Traveling the same path the sun had taken earlier in the day, it gently caressed the strip of newly blistered skin that the light had left on the creature’s arm...
Adrian jackknifed up in bed as the ringing of his phone shattered the connection. “This better be important.”
“Hello to you too.”
The voice was a familiar one. Adrian raked his hand through his hair. “What do you want, Nate?”
“What do I want?” Nate’s voice rose several octaves and then settled back into what Adrian had come to think of as the cleaner’s default tone, deep snark. “Well fuck, let me think. For starters, I would love to know when you’re planning to get your privileged ass in gear and find this scumbag bastard before we’re all up to our eyeballs in blood—and not in a good way.”
Cradling its burned arm against its chest, the creature climbed out of bed and stumbled almost immediately on the remains of its last meal...
Adrian winced as his vision shimmered for an instant, and then went dark. “Shit. He’s killed again, hasn’t he?”
“You’re damn right he’s killed again. Wait,” Nate’s voice was suddenly sharp with suspicion. “You said he—has that been confirmed? What have you learned?”
“No. There’s nothing new. It’s just a hunch.”
“Which you’re basing on..?”
“I’m basing it on how far off the ground I appear to be when I look out of its eyes.”
No, he couldn’t say that. Nate might not have been specifically tasked with assassinating those whose deaths were deemed necessary for the general good—as Adrian had been—but that didn’t mean he was obligated to stay his hand either. There was no safe distance between Adrian admitting that he felt at times that he was in the killer’s head, and Nate assuming that meant Adrian was the killer. Shoot first, ask questions later was standard operational procedure among the notoriously paranoid seneschal. Posthumous vindication was not attractive enough to tempt Adrian into outing himself.
“Several factors,” he said instead. “Wound analysis. A study of the victims—who they were, the condition of their bodies when they were found, et cetera. Mind you, I’m not ruling out anyone yet—not by any means—but experience tells me we’re looking for a guy. Also, I’m tired of using ‘it’ as a pronoun. Whoever they are, they’re a person. They have an identity, and very probably a family who may be aware of what’s happening and is protecting them.”
“He, she, they, whatever—call it what you want, just as long as you find it and make it dead. This thing is a monster, and so’s anyone who’s protecting it. ’Far as I’m concerned you should take them out as well.”
Adrian said nothing. There was no sense in pointing out the obvious. They were vampires—he, Nate, the killer, his family. Which meant, by most people’s standards, they were all monsters. As for Nate’s second suggestion—that Adrian should also execute the killer’s family—they both knew the council would never approve such a step.
Nate sighed noisily. “Anyway, the reason I called is because we may have caught a break. One of our people found the latest victim and, mirabile dictu, called us instead of the police.”
That got Adrian’s attention. “Are you saying the scene hasn’t been processed yet? It’s still intact?” If that was the case, it was an unexpected gift. So far, his investigation had been hampered by the fact that, by the time he got to the scene it had been polluted by the presence of too many others. He’d been unable to get a clear reading.
“Yeah, it’s intact—for now. But, lest you forget, my job is to clean this sort of thing up, to make it all go away as quickly as possible. So if you want the chance for a walk-through before I get to work, you need to get your butt down here. STAT.”
Well, fuck. Adrian pushed back the covers and got out of bed. “Damn it, Nate. Why are we wasting time talking? Text me the address. I’m on my way.”
Five minutes later, preoccupied with his mission, Adrian pulled open his front door. He jerked back, startled to find himself face to face with a woman whose finger was poised to ring his doorbell. They stared at each other for the space of several slow heartbeats in stunned surprise. I should have sensed her presence before opening the door. The fact that he hadn’t said a lot about his state of mind this evening. He registered honey blond hair, pale hazel eyes, and a shocked expression, then his senses were abruptly overwhelmed with hunger—a desperate, unquenchable need—and he knew her for what she was. “Compar,” he growled, the howling in his blood turning the title into an accusation. “Why are you here?”
The woman’s eyes widened. Adrian caught just a flash of what may have been dismay before her expression iced over. Belatedly dropping her gaze, she inclined her head, her manner deliberately deferential. “If I could have but a moment of your time, sir,” she said speaking so formally that Adrian’s heart sank. It was his own fault for having recognized her, for forcing them both into roles that perhaps neither of them wanted. “I wish to speak with you.”
Adrian suppressed a groan. Time was precisely what he didn’t have. “Of course. Perhaps you could come back later? As you can see, I’m just on my way out.”
The woman’s lips compressed. “Praeses, please,” she answered, naming him by title as well, reinforcing his sense of obligation. She raised her gaze to his face and now he could see the fear that lurked within them. “I seek protection.”
It wasn’t a formal declaration, but it was close enough. Too close to ignore. Adrian held the door open and gestured for her to enter. “You've got five minutes.”