Free Dark Fantasy: Taste Of Blood – Chapter 1

Taste Of Blood, my fifth book in the Indigo Skies series and my latest dark fantasy novel, is to be released on Sunday 15th April. Preorder it now so you can wake up on Sunday morning to a new book to devour.

But if you can’t wait that long, I have a surprise for you….

That’s right, I’m going to let you guys have a sneak peek at the first few chapters over the course of the next few days, ready for the release!

Taste Of Blood

Taste-Of-Blood-Vampire-Fantasy-Book

Prologue: New Beginnings

“You seem really jumpy lately.” I glanced feebly at the rolled magazine in Simon’s hand. “Is everything okay?”

The fly was upside down on the bar top. Its wings were flat against the wood, vile hairy legs stilled in the air. But the sight of those furry limbs wasn’t the cause of the nausea in my stomach. No. That was a product of the cold death aura permeating the air around its minute corpse. The icy zing heated the entrance to my throat with acidic bile. A shaky gulp forced it to retreat.

“I’m fine,” I lied, clutching at straws for a less complicated reason to look so drawn and pale. “Just a difficult client.”

It wasn’t a difficult client. Far from it.

It would be easier if it was. A difficult client would mean more cases than I was currently getting. Ever since Detective Bakiir had let slip about my deathly powers, things had slackened off on the work front.

I glanced at the dead fly. Having power over souls wasn’t something the average customer found comfortable, even if the only souls you could control were already dead.

But the thing bugging me was something far more disturbing than a ‘difficult client’…

A grin spread across Simon’s face. He bought the lie. “See, I told you work would pick up after that last job!”

I smiled back. My heart had dropped into my shoes, guilt chewing through my flesh like a necrotic parasite. “Yeah.”

“Everything’s working out. New bar and new powers for me. More work for you. It’s finally all normal.”

Unease tugged the curve of my lips. All normal…?

I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth. That everything wasn’t normal.

Or, at least, it wasn’t for me.

He held out his hand, concentrating on his palm to form a small ball of golden light energy that he disbanded into nothing with a satisfied smile. The unease clung, but I forced myself to appear impressed. After all, he hadn’t been casting for long and I didn’t want him to think his mage abilities were below par. Moreso, when they were abilities that had been induced by an unwanted medical procedure. It had been an unwanted ‘treatment’ that had finally made him average in the eyes of the normal population.

If only the procedure had had that effect on me…

I closed my eyes for a pained moment, remembering that last big case. We’d both been experimented on by our enemies. And I’d let Simon (and everyone else) think that he was the only one who’d been affected by their combination of man made lightning and DNA altering serum.

After all, like anybody born after the last century’s wave of human evolution, I’d already had supernatural abilities. So how was I supposed to change? It was not having any abilities at all that was the rarity these days.

A rarity like Simon had been.

Before we visited New York, the site of my last case, his supernatural abilities had been non-existent, marking him a mute. A mute transported through time from the 21st century, no less. And that had made him the ultimate control test for the bad guys’ power advancing machine.

I cleared my throat, quickly cutting Simon off before he could keep talking about ‘normalcy’ any more. My hand circled my glass, condensation dribbling over my fingers as I rocked the tumbler on its beermat whilst I spoke.

“Listen, thanks for giving Logan the job. He might not seem like he appreciates it, but he does.”

There was a lot of change in my life right now, but this had to be one of the biggest alterations. It was also probably the only reason why I was managing to hide my current condition so well, too. After all, it was easier to hide things when nobody was there to see them.

Since that last big case and Logan’s last major stupidity, both my lodger and my brother had all but moved out, leaving me all alone in the house. It was stupid to complain about that, really. Especially when it meant the government had finally come to a decision regarding Simon’s extremely backdated financial matters. And that had been something we’d been fighting for for months.

After he’d disappeared from the last century (unwillingly transported by criminals) and reappeared in this one, it was to find that he’d been deemed dead by the government in the past. Of course, they’d digested all of his assets. Displaced in time and his finances wrongly absorbed, Simon hadn’t had any money of his own. He’d considered returning to work, but, far flung into the future, all of his scientific qualifications were now outdated, keeping him from supporting himself in the field he knew.

In the spirit of friendship, I’d been supporting him for almost a year. Then, shortly after he’d come into his own supernatural powers, a judge had finally ruled in our favour. The government had needed to cough up the money its predecessors had taken a century ago, along with a healthy whack of interest that should see Simon financially stable well into his twilight years.

He’d paid me back for everything straight away, of course.

And then he’d bought this god awful place.

The bar was run down and nearing derelict, but it had accommodation above it and would generate Simon with a more exciting income than mere interest rates provided. He’d bought it as a project, turning it into a real, authentic retro bar, which he was adamant was truly faithful to the 21st century way of life.

I didn’t doubt that.

However, I did, strangely, miss having him around the house.

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Other novels available.

And then, of course, Logan had practically moved out, too.

He told me he was becoming more in touch with his werewolf side and had decided that it would be better to live with his pack, whatever that meant.

They’d all crammed into his girlfriend’s small house, so far. Then they’d decided they were going to sell it and get a bigger property – one of the ones especially designed for werewolf packs. Of course, Logan, being an unemployed, bitten werewolf, wasn’t going to be able to sort that out any time soon, even if he was the pack alpha.

So, it was pretty great that Simon could offer him a job to help. It just meant that I was barely seeing Logan or Simon, at all.

I was proud and happy for them both, but there was a deep loneliness scraping at my insides. And that was what had really drawn me to the bar that evening, a strange and desperate urge for company.

“You’re not his mum, you know?”

I glanced up at Simon, feeling the scrutiny of his bespectacled gaze. He was responding to what I’d said before, yet I was finding it difficult to remain on track. Anxiety seemed to haze my everyday vision at the moment.

I could still sense the cold tide of death slowly pulsing in and out from the dead fly, the waves moving slower and starting to warm to room temperature as time sped on.

“You don’t have to excuse and apologise for him to everyone.” My lips compressed, but even though he’d paused, Simon hadn’t finished. “Besides, he’s doing swell. Model employee.” He winked and I tried a smile in return. It seemed to satisfy him before his gaze was caught by movement in the other corner of the bar.

A familiar face swam into view, creased with a grin. I groaned, inwardly. More people I needed to dupe.

It was Maloney. And he had Dr Lightbaker, the police pathologist, with him. My elbow came to rest on the bar as I rubbed my forehead, puzzling the strange pairing. They fought like cat and dog at the station. Why would they come to a bar together?

“Hey, Eonsen!” He clapped me briskly on the shoulder, stopping beside my stool.

A blip of something pulled on my internal radar. It was doing that a lot, lately.

Part of my necromancer ability was that I could sense others in the vicinity, not specifically who, but just that they were there. Unless they were werewolves or vampires. Those kinds seemed to have some in built stealth that threw me off even the sense of their presence. Except, now, as with everything else, my internal radar was picking up more and more than it should. Perhaps that was the cause of the blips I’d been experiencing; nearby werewolves or vampires flashing up where once there’d been nothing.

“Finally going to have that drink with me?” Maloney continued.

I offered a tired smile. There was no way to get out of it now. “If you’re buying.”

He frowned, settling against the bar. “Business that bad?” he pressed.

Lightbaker stood patiently beside him, not saying a word, but studying us from beneath her spectacles. I didn’t realise she even liked bars. She seemed more like a quiet night in with a bottle of wine kind of person.

Maloney gave a quick aside to Simon, ordering both of their drinks and another round for me, without so much as consulting Lightbaker. She didn’t stop him, either. I tried not to pull an inquisitive face.

“It’s fine,” I replied, watching the police pathologist gently brush Maloney’s elbow to let him know Simon already had his drink on the bar.

He smiled at her, inclining his head a little and then seemingly thinking better of it.

I blinked at the action but continued talking. Acknowledgment seemed too awkward. “Nothing exciting. Petty disputes and cheating spouses.”

Simon slid away from our group, his eye caught on a young blonde that had appeared at the other end of the bar. She was alone, but she smiled and greeted him genially. I couldn’t catch any snippets of their conversation. Still, it seemed Simon was already enjoying their chatter judging by the rose flush creeping up the back of his neck.

I frowned, unsure of how I was supposed to feel. I didn’t care for Simon in that way, but…

Two months ago, during my last big case, we’d slept together. It wasn’t as if it had been planned. It was a vampire lust induced furore that should never have happened. But it had. And it had only served to complicate things even more.

Vampire lust was an airborne scent that the creatures could release at will, heaped with pheromones, able to turn any human into a jellyfish mess of need. Unfortunately, we’d both had a lungful, as the vampires had hoped, distracting us from the case.

I hesitated and then drew my gaze away from Simon and his possible sweetheart. Warring sides of me felt both glad and disappointed that he’d forgotten what had happened between us so quickly.

It seemed like everybody except me was swiftly moving on with their lives.

Another blip on my internal radar. I gulped down a mouthful of alcohol. Some werewolf or vampire in the room was playing havoc with my senses. I tried not to focus on it, but it wasn’t the first time it had happened that day. Or even that week. Sometimes it happened when I was alone or at home, too.

The only conclusions I could draw regarding why were unhelpful. Unhelpful and worrying. Was this simply another side effect from my unwanted electric shock treatment from those bastard vamps? Or… was somebody following me…?

I gave myself a mental shake, fingers tightening on my condensation strewn glass. Maloney gave Lightbaker a little smile and her hand touched the small of his back.

“How’s thing’s with you both?” I asked, refocusing my attention.

Lightbaker nudged Maloney and muttered something in his ear. I frowned, watching her disappear to the bathroom facilities as Maloney uncomfortably cleared his throat.

“She er… She wants me to warn you. I told her that you’d be fine, but…” He sighed and then nodded towards Simon. “There’s been a reporter digging around at the station, trying to find out about when he appeared and where he lives. And not just that. They’ve been trying to find out about the time machine, too.”

“But that was destroyed, right?” I took a sip of my drink and slipped a covert glance towards Simon. He was deep in conversation with that girl still.

“No idea. I haven’t really looked into it since that business was finished.”

Nor had I, if I was honest, but the idea that the machine was still around was ludicrous. It had exploded and the woman that had built it was dead. If it was around, there would just be chunks of metal left.

“So, this reporter. Male? Female? A description?”

“No idea. Sorry. The most I can tell you is that she’s female and she’s very insistent. She only calls, but she calls every day.” He took a sip of his pint, licking the foam from his top lip. “I’ve instructed the officers not to answer any of her questions.”

“Great,” I muttered, glancing at Simon again. It wouldn’t do to upset him. He was finally getting on with his life. News like this might only set him back.

I watched as he laughed nervously in response to his female patron. At least one of us might end up in a relationship in the near future.

Lightbaker put her arm around Maloney and leaned in to whisper something else in his ear. I tried not to look, loneliness and isolation eating me up inside.

“So, any more bad news for me?” I quipped. Maloney stalled. “Oh god. What else?”

“The vampire chick. The one from New York?” He grit his teeth, no doubt thinking about his son, the reason why we’d all ended up over in the States in the first place.

The vampire chick he was referring to was somebody that Simon had once known by the name of Celia, except she now went by the name of Lia. They’d worked together back in the twenty-first century, where Simon had time travelled from. He hadn’t known she was a vampire then, of course; so, it had been a shock when we’d met her in New York. And even more of a shock when we discovered she was helping to abduct mutes.

“Well, there was no body recovered from the building. She might still be out there.”

“Do vampires always leave bodies? Maybe she’s turned to dust?”

Lightbaker shook her head. “It doesn’t work quite like that. Even for those types. Not with fire, anyway. Anything else, maybe, but with a fire there should have been a corpse.”

“Great…” I glared down into my drink. “My night can only get better.”

Taste Of Blood is already available for preorder at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, & more...
Taste Of Blood is already available for preorder at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, & more…
1. Bedhead

That annoying blip flashed in the corner of my mind and then disappeared again, fading into nothingness like it had never been there at all. I rubbed my head and blinked roughly into light that filtered between black, half drawn, bedroom curtains. A frown crossed my face. That didn’t make any sense.

My last wakeful memory was of closing my eyes as I rested on the sofa…

How had I ended up in the bedroom?

Gingerly, I shifted into a better position, propping myself against the headboard, brain pounding in dissent. My clothes clung close to my body, stinking of beer and Simon’s retro bar. I glanced down, noting the sheets were strangely ruffled beside me.

Was there somebody else here? Had I brought someone home with me? Dear god… But… There wasn’t a sound or movement in the house and I couldn’t sense anyone. Even that warning zing of what could have been a werewolf or vampire presence hadn’t returned.

Could I have brought one of those abominations home last night? Wouldn’t I remember if I had?

Through the pounding in my head, the only noise I could hear was the raucous cry of too many crows and ravens on my front lawn. Attracted to necromancers, the amount sitting out there had recently tripled in size, much to the chagrin of the necro nervous neighbours. Closer to home, Logan hadn’t even noticed the new avian visitors. And Simon had put it down to ‘a change in migration patterns’.

I didn’t bother to tell them the truth. The birds were drawn to death. And what was more alluring than a being that could command it?

And now that my necromancer abilities were stronger than ever, the birds were flocking to me. Just one more thing to add to the list of reasons why I was on edge.

Not to mention the incessant dreams about graveyards. I was always searching for something within them. Something I wasn’t sure I wanted to find.

A psychologist would have a field day with me. And then, of course, there were the other recurring dreams about the gene altering machine, about the dead vampire professor, about a vengeful Lia…

Cerin Douglas, the vampire who’d built the apparatus, had done so for his own ends, choosing to experiment on mutes before he would try the procedure on himself. Coward.

A non-mute, I hadn’t been part of that plan. I’d just gotten in the way, to my own detriment. The crippling electric force from his machine had seared through my flesh and bones, patterning black, lightning shaped fissures across my skin. Those markings had faded, unlike everything else he had done to me.

Of course, torturing their investigator had simply been an unexpected bonus for the lunatic and his partner.

Well, it wasn’t turning out to be a bonus for me. The only consolation I had was that I’d killed the vampire responsible.

I squeezed my eyes shut and took a slow, centring breath. If only I’d done more than just left Lia for dead in that fire. Especially now when it seemed she could have escaped. I ought to have put a bullet in her head.

Both my mage and necromancer abilities had been fierce before, but they were becoming more uncontrollable now. It was almost as if they had a will of their own. And the worst part? This new found well of power seemed to be affecting my deathly necromancer abilities most of all.

Even the smallest of demises, such as that crumpled fly back in the bar, were really hitting home. It was taking all of my control just to ignore them on a daily basis, the sensation akin to someone following me and constantly thrusting a drawing pin into my spine.

Worse. The zones of nausea-inducing cold that pulsed out from each passing showed themselves to me more prominently than they ever had before, too, spilling like ripples from every death. They were still invisible to the naked eye, though, which made me increasingly jumpy. Never had I been so acutely aware of my every movement, just in case I crushed a bug.

The whole thing had me unfairly on edge and, of course, nobody understood why. The more they asked, the more difficult it became to hide. And the worst part was that I couldn’t explain it to them. How could I make them understand?

Necromancy problems weren’t exactly something you could talk about, especially to other types. They weren’t even the best supernatural genetics to be handed. Who really wanted to be able to see and raise the dead?

Plus, other human types could be especially intolerant or frightened by the powers I possessed. Like Bakiir and the prejudice he’d shown in outing me to the local community.

Who could really blame them? I mean, I could raise the dead, force souls back into decomposing bodies, and then command them to do my bidding. I could see ghosts, too. I could even feel death in the air. So, the fact that my abilities were becoming inexplicably stronger with no notion of that levelling off…?

Well, it wasn’t encouraging me to share the real reasons why I was irritable and on edge all the time. It would only make people panic.

A loud vibration made me jump, flinging my hand out in automatic defence. Gold light and energy crackled from my fingers, burning the wall. I blinked uneasily at the singe. Even my mage abilities had been jacked up to an uncomfortable level. That scorch was going to be a pain to clean off later.

The vibration sounded again, bringing me to my senses. Taking a deep breath, I moved through to the living area, grabbing my iCom off the coffee table.

I paused before answering the call, frozen by the edge of the settee. My jacket was draped across the cushions, still laid out in the same way that I’d been seated last night. My heart tightened. It was as if I’d been lifted out of my coat…

I swallowed. The phone still buzzed in my hand, insistent in the face of my alarm. Wetting my lips, I slid the screen to respond with audio only.

Nobody needed to see my hungover face. Besides, it would be awkward to discuss my currently concerned expression as I remained staring at the strange sofa set up. Not that it would have mattered; half-hearted greetings didn’t even manage to pass my lips before Logan was speaking.

“Have you seen Simon?”

I rubbed my forehead, sitting down on the opposite couch to the confusing tableau, still contemplating my strangely discarded coat. “He was at the bar yesterday,” I dismissed, not really following. “Did you come home last night?”

“Yeah.”

“Weird question, but did you move me from the sofa to the bed?”

“Oh,” he stumbled. “I thought you meant ‘home’ home, not… I meant, Jenna’s place. I was at Jenna’s place. So… No. No, it wasn’t me. Maybe you were sleep walking. Who cares.”

I frowned.

“Anyway, Simon’s missing. He was supposed to open up the bar this lunch, but I’m locked outside and he’s not answering his iCom.”

I leaned forward, almost putting my head between my knees, cloaked in the semi dark of the living area. The curtains were still drawn, but, even in that shadow, my brain was pounding. It felt like I was going to fall on the floor. Or puke. Neither seemed like good options. “Maybe he’s just really slept in?” I offered, uninterestedly.

Logan made an impatient noise over the line. “It’s Simon. When has he ever slept in?” There was a pause filled with apparent exasperation. “You have his spare key, right?”

Capture the Indigo Skies world by snapping up the first four books today!
Capture the Indigo Skies world by snapping up the first four books today!

“What if he has a lady up there?” I muttered, remembering the girl from the previous night.

As it turned out, Simon had greeted her so enthusiastically because she was a regular. In fact, she was a regular who’d started coming in on her own even though she lived on the other side of town. Apparently, Simon had caught her eye and vice versa, but all they’d done the whole of last night (and presumably every other night) was dance around each other.

It was frustrating to watch.

“No,” Logan countered, cutting off any notion I had of staying home in the dark and feeling sorry for myself. “Something’s not right. We can smell vampire, so get your detective arse over here and do some detecting.”

“We?” I asked, frowning further and raising my head a little. I was still his big sister. He didn’t need to speak to me like that. And especially not if he had company.

“Rhiel’s with me. I called him as soon as I realised.”

He’d called the werewolf that had turned him? The guy that had once tried to kill him? Before he’d bothered to call me?!

Delightful. Thrilling. Fantastic.

I swallowed down irritation and pulled myself to my feet, ignoring the sudden, overzealous thumping of blood around my brain. There was no way I was allowing myself to pass out and leave Logan alone with Rhiel when Simon was missing.

“Okay. I’m on my way.”

The line clicked off.

He hadn’t even waited for a goodbye. This Alpha thing was going to his head.

My brother, the pack werewolf. Whoever would have thought it? Certainly not me. But maybe if I’d looked after him better he would never have been bitten. And now he was knocking around with the werewolf that had done the deed.

I splashed my face in the kitchen sink. It would have to do for now, there was no time to make myself any more presentable. Quickly patting my skin dry with a tea towel, I grabbed my iCom, the spare keys to Simon’s flat, and a gun. It always paid to be prepared. Especially if Rhiel was about.

When I reached the bar, the two of them were waiting outside, kicking their feet in the dirt and speaking in a frequency lower than my human ears could hear. Despite that, they both zipped their lips as soon as they saw me approaching.

My gaze flickered over Rhiel. I tried to hide my dislike, but I couldn’t trust him. Even if he had previously helped me to find Logan and save his life, which was all well and good, except for the fact that he’d still tried to kill him, too. I didn’t doubt that it wouldn’t be too long until he swapped his allegiances again.

Today, he didn’t seem to have a weapon on him. Not that it mattered. With werewolf strength, he didn’t need one.

“Have you been drinking?” Logan asked, wrinkling his nose in disgust.

My eyes narrowed. So much for ‘hello’.

“Nah, the brewery smell is stale,” Rhiel responded before I could, stubbing the toe of his trainers in the dirt once more. “That’s from last night. Right, Princess Vi?”

My lip curled, but I bit down on my irritation.

Logan had accepted Rhiel as his ‘beta wolf’. It was like he was replacing me. It hurt. He’d changed so much since he’d been bitten. It was as if he wasn’t my little brother any more.

My fingertips sizzled, fractious energy surging in my veins from my emotional charge, too ready to conjure. I pushed the upsetting thoughts away. I couldn’t let Logan see that I was damaged.

Maybe he’d truly cast me aside if he realised my last case had broken me in some way. Werewolves, as a rule, were intolerant of weaklings in their family groups. Not that I wanted to think of Logan in those terms.

“Have you tried his phone again?” I asked, meaning Simon.

Logan raised an eyebrow. “Every minute since I hung up on you. No answer.”

“I climbed around the back to look, but you can only see into the bedroom,” Rhiel said, clearing his throat. “And the bed’s made.”

Something unbalanced in my stomach, but I ignored it. Keys jangled as I fished them from my pocket and headed to the side entrance of Simon’s flat. My brother and his beta followed like guard dogs, something else that made my skin crawl.

“Let’s not panic, yet,” I muttered.

The key scraped into the lock, turning easily. Maybe Simon had just stayed out last night. Perhaps he’d walked that girl home. That sounded like the kind of stupidly chivalrous thing he would do. And then maybe he’d been invited in.

Maybe.

I turned the handle and pulled the door slowly open. Logan’s muscles bunched, reflexively, as he took a deep breath of the air escaping from the room beyond. Rhiel shouldered in front of us, barging his way into the door frame.

My mouth opened, ready to tell the eager mutt to take a step back, when Logan touched my shoulder. His glance was a warning. Rhiel was just doing his job as beta, protecting his pack alpha and the alpha’s sister. I needed to take a step back.

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Or, at least… that was what his eyes were saying.

What I really wanted to do was pull my gun and tell Rhiel to cool off and let me go first. After all, he was the certified criminal here.

Biting my tongue, however, I followed the werewolf up the narrow staircase, mottled umber carpet silent underfoot. A small furrow deepened my brow as I glanced at my entourage. The two werewolves were flanking me. Subconscious act or not, I wasn’t keen. Even if one of them was my brother.

Simon’s living room was an uncharacteristic mess. I squeezed out from between the two werewolves to get a better look at the devastation and swore. Furniture was toppled or smashed and there were burn marks in the paintwork of one wall where Simon had obviously tried to use his developing mage abilities to blast somebody. It was a good job he’d been planning to redecorate soon.

But where was he?

Logan sniffed the air. His gaze crossed to his second. “Definitely two foreign vampire scents.”

A shiver ran down my spine. Vampires were one of those supernatural types that I just wasn’t keen on. Not to mention, it was thanks to two psychotic vampires that I was in my current health predicament. And there was still the chance that one of them had survived our encounter.

“Do you think you can trace them?” I asked.

“I’ll go,” Rhiel volunteered.

I felt the frown fall instantly into place on my face. He was eager to follow the criminals. Why? Was he working with them? Was he going to betray my brother already?

“The tracks are at least twelve hours old. You two should stay here and see what else you can find.” He caught my eye and added, “You’re probably both better at picking up clues than I am.”

Buttering me up wasn’t going to work. I still didn’t have any confidence in his character, even if Logan did. He’d mess up this act and, when he did, I’d be there waiting.

Logan touched my arm again as if my skin was visibly bristling. He put on a soothing voice like he was coaxing a wild cat, but it did nothing to comfort me. “I trust him.”

Fine. But I didn’t.

My eyes snapped over the werewolf that had almost wrenched my little brother from me and was now trying to take him away through other means. I’d shot him in the foot, once, and now I was wishing I’d managed to shoot him higher up.

Logan’s fingers squeezed my arm, gently. I grit my teeth.

“Fine, but I’m calling Maloney and getting the cops on it.”

Rhiel nodded, disappearing down the stairs in a flash. If the police came and saw him, they’d arrest him on the spot. He knew that, and I knew that. And part of me, angry and hurt, hoped it would be the case.

Logan released his grip on my arm. He floated through the tiny apartment, sniffing for evidence, as I flipped open my iCom and video dialled Maloney. My ex colleague picked up almost immediately, joking about the previous night until he saw the expression on my face.

It didn’t take long to relay the news about Simon. Minutes later, I was hanging up with the promise of search and forensics teams.

My stomach rolled with unease.

I’d paused to ask Maloney if he’d come into the house last night and put me in bed. He’d laughed until he realised I was serious and then confirmed that he and Dr Lightbaker had merely said goodbye at the door.

It was beginning to unnerve me, to say the least. After all, I certainly hadn’t managed to move myself and had no recollection of anybody else.

So, if it wasn’t Maloney or Logan, who did that leave? Simon?

My eyes squeezed shut and I rubbed a spot in the centre of my temple. Logan’s voice rose above the din of pounding pulse in my ears.

“There’s some of Simon’s blood on the carpet.” He was squatted by the smashed chair, examining an area of the flooring where a small stain was visible.

My keen detective’s eye observed the fallen furniture from a different angle. It was plausible that Simon had been confined to the seat not long before it was pulverised. But had it been demolished when he was sitting on it or had that come about through some separate struggle?

Had he already been seated when the intruders had arrived? Were they intruders or had he invited them in? If he’d been forced to sit then that suggested somebody wanted to talk to him or torture him. But why? And who?

And there’d been no forced entry. Did that mean he’d willingly opened the door or his assailants had been waiting for him to open up? And why had the door been locked when they’d left? That was the perplexing bit. A real criminal wouldn’t bother. After all, what did it matter if a burglar showed up afterwards? That would only give them more time.

But somebody had obviously gone out of their way to lock Simon’s front door after what was looking like his abduction. It didn’t make sense.

“We’d better find him soon,” Logan muttered.

He straightened up from his crouched position, looking out of the living room window into the crisp light. It illuminated his face, elongating lines and wrinkles that I’d failed to notice before.

“Who would do this to him?” he asked, turning to me. “He’s a dork. He hasn’t got any enemies.”

I shrugged. My gaze scraped over the dark, frazzled pattern adorning the wall just over Logan’s shoulder. The scorch marks spread out like a pyrographic sun sigil. Simon had been getting better at casting them. Hopefully he’d managed to frazzle one or both of the vampires that had accosted him.

“There were vampires involved in the New York case,” I said, partly to myself.

One of them, Lia, had known Simon in the time period he’d been transported from. She’d been Cerin’s partner and girlfriend, helping him to subject mutes to their horrendous experiments. If only I’d made sure to dispose of her the way I’d disposed of her boyfriend. Now I was doubting more than ever that she’d died in that blaze.

But, vampires and fire didn’t mix, right? She had to be a crisp, for sure.

“Maybe whoever these guys are, they’re acquaintances of those we dealt with in New York and they’re out for revenge. We can’t know anything for certain, yet.”

Certainties were a luxury in this business. It was entirely possible that Simon was already dead.

“Do you think he’ll be okay?” Logan pressed, watching me closely. He gestured to the burnt wall. “I mean, he’s not a mute any more. That has to count for something, doesn’t it?”

“You shouldn’t speculate,” I warned.

I saw him grit his teeth, fists bunching at his sides, and I braced myself for the childish tantrums I’d grown accustomed to over the years, but it never came. Instead, he turned on his heel and took a deep breath, pushing the air out between his lips in one therapeutic exhale.

I frowned.

What had happened to my brother? Where was the petulance I was used to?

Not that I should have been complaining, but it was such a dramatic change. Was this alpha thing really altering him so much? If it could do this to him, then what else could it do? Would it flip his personality completely?

I’d seen so many murderous werewolves over the years, both bitten and born. I didn’t want Logan to turn into one of those.

It was time to change tack. “Does he have a camera system set up in the bar, yet?”

Logan nodded, snatching up a set of loose keys from a hook on the wall. He ushered me back towards the stairs. “You think it was a customer who showed up last night?” he deduced, wrongly.

I followed close behind as he hurried down the steps, suddenly eager to access the main building that housed the bar. “No. I’m convinced it wasn’t just some opportunist. Don’t get your hopes up, but it’s possible they came in to scout the place out beforehand and the camera might have caught them. That’s all.”

Logan nodded, more enthused than ever despite my cautions.

We slipped into the bar. The wooden shutters were down over the windows, light petering in around the edges. There was a mop and a bucket discarded by the end of the counter. Logan skirted them, leading me into the small private area where the recording equipment stood. He flipped a couple of switches and then started the video from the previous evening.

I hit the fast forward button. People sped by, myself included. Then a face in the very corner of the screen caught my attention. A solid lump formed in my throat. I prayed I was wrong.

Logan rewound the video and we watched again. But there was no mistaking her. I swore under my breath.

Lia. She really had escaped the fire.

And somehow, she’d escaped my attention last night, too. I glanced at my frozen figure with Maloney and Lightbaker by the bar. The tumbler was clutched too tightly in my digital hand. I’d been in too deep at that point. Damn it.

“Someone you know?”

“Unfortunately,” I replied, scrutinizing as much of her as I could on the pixelated monitor. Simon hadn’t really needed to pick retro security to go with the theme of the bar.

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Why was Lia here? Revenge?

My eyes narrowed on what appeared to be a headless body beside her. Simon hadn’t positioned the camera very well. Next time I saw him, he was going to get a crash course in proper bar security. Especially whilst he was employing my brother.

“Is she with someone? I can’t tell.”

Logan rewound and replayed the images over again, but nothing significant stood out. He shook his head, scrutinising the picture carefully. “There’s nothing conclusive there.”

“Right… You stay here and wait for your guard dog.” My brother grimaced, raising his eyebrow in protest at the description of his beta wolf. Even with his apparent display of concern, Rhiel wasn’t winning me over yet. “And I’m going to head home. I have some research on her there that might help.”

“What if she comes back?”

I was already halfway to the door, but I paused. “If it is her that’s taken Simon, and I’m almost certain it is, then she won’t come back in a hurry. She’s too clever for that. Besides, Maloney’s on his way if you need anything.”

He looked like he was about to pull that trademark Logan pout and spit his figurative dummy out about being babysat, but I cut across him and instructed him to wait for the police, adding that he should open the bar up as normal. Simon had sunk so much money into the place, it would be a shame to see him lose it all through no fault of his own.

I turned to go and then caught my hand on the door, calling out as an afterthought, “And put Rhiel in the back if you don’t want him arrested. He still has a mugshot for a face.”

Logan grimaced. He didn’t argue, though, which was new.

Hesitation held me immobile. “Simon trusts you.” I paused, wetting my lips. “And… I trust you.” There was another pause. I glanced down at the floor and then at the chasm waiting between the door and the jamb. “I’m sure you can look after the place until we get him back.”

“Thanks, Violet. That means a lot.”

Did it?

I nodded without looking at him and slid outside. Maybe he meant it. Maybe he didn’t. There was no way to truly know any more. It didn’t seem like I could read him these days. And I certainly couldn’t predict his reactions like I used to.

Did that speak ill of me as a detective or as a sister?

Or both…?


Don’t forget, Taste Of Blood is out on Sunday 15th April! Preorder now to receive your copy as soon as it goes live!

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