Chapter One CHAPTER ONE
Darius, begotten son of Tehrror, forsaken son of Marklon, decided to drive into town the night his destiny came to claim him. Two weeks before, he had directed his trusted, elderly doggen, Fritz Perlmutter, to go to the BMW of Caldwell dealership and accept delivery of a brand-new 735i. The car had been ordered about six months before, and although vampires did not celebrate the human Christmas holiday, as its arrival date drew nearer, Darius knew all about sugarplums dancing in the head.
The sweet anticipation had been an antidote to so much dread and duty in his life, and the wait had been interminable. There had even been a delay or two, the production in Germany hitting a snag, and then the cross-Atlantic shipping taking longer than scheduled. But then, finally, the call had come in, and when Darius had returned home after a weekend away of fighting, covered in black blood that smelled like baby powder, with a gunshot wound through the meat of his upper left arm, Fritz had whipped open the back door and proclaimed that “she is being prepared and is ready to be gathered tomorrow afternoon!”
Darius had stood there on the kitchen stoop like a big dummy, his sluggish, exhausted brain failing to process whatever news had made his butler light up like a streetlamp. And then it had sunk in. Talk about your second wind.
As a doggen, Fritz could go out into the spring sunlight, and given that he was the most faithful servant on the planet, he had been as excited as his master when he’d headed off twelve hours later to pick up the new car. The last sixty minutes or so of patience had been a slog of centuries-long duration, and Darius had churned through the time pacing in his subterranean bedroom, circling his desk, his bed, his seating area. The hearth. The bath. Rinse and repeat.
Fritz had come down to report she was safely on the premises as soon as he’d gotten home, but given that the gracious Federal mansion had a detached garage, there had been no way to go see the car until the sun was under the horizon. That it was spring in upstate New York meant there had been another forever-wait, and Darius had wished, even though the nicer weather was more enjoyable, that the calendar had been closer to December 21.
Hell, in winter, he could have gone to the dealership himself.
And then it was time.
Bursting out of the back door, he had all but skipped across the asphalt court. Fritz had deliberately closed up the garage bay, and Darius had twitched through the final thirty seconds as his butler had scooted in and hit the opener.
The panels rising and revealing the BMW, inch by inch, had been like opening a present, and there had been no disappointment. The bronze metallic paint had gleamed, and those four headlights had stared back at him as if the thing were alive. Initial shock and awe over, Darius had prowled around the sedan, trailing fingertips on the cool steel, on the smooth glass, on the hood, the roof, the boot.
And it drove like a dream.
Which was why a vampire like him, who could dematerialize anywhere he wanted, chose to take the long way home sometimes…
As he passed through a part of town congested by newly constructed developments of mid-market apartment buildings, he turned up the volume on the stereo so Supertramp could tell him more about lonely days and lonely nights. He didn’t need the primer. Sure, he had no wife at home, but he did feel like a piece of furniture in his own life: When he was fighting lessers, those pale, soulless killers who hunted vampires, he was as animated as they came; inside of himself, though, he had become an inanimate object. He’d noticed this fossilization about a year ago, and ever since then, he’d been trying to figure out exactly what his problem was. A rereading of his diaries, whereupon he’d probed the fact patterns of his life as if he were a disinterested third party instead of the main character, had yielded nothing of note.
And endless, contemporaneously penned entries detailing the fact that he was rereading his diaries hadn’t gotten him any further.
Then again, maybe it was because he already knew what ailed him and he just didn’t want to look at all that he couldn’t see ever changing.
His cycles of days and nights were always the same: Fighting. Eating. Sleeping. Feeding in a chaste way from a Chosen. Doing it again. And again. And again. As the pinwheel of time continued to spin, and humans went in and out of different fashions, fads, and presidents, he was the trudging same. Not even the noble purpose of his existence—saving the vampire race from the Lessening Society and protecting the King who refused to lead—was enough to relieve the rote detachment that blanked him like anesthesia.
And this was why he not only needed a nice new car, but had to drive the thing.
Running his hand over the top of the steering wheel, he breathed in deep. He didn’t require a vampire nose to appreciate the rich perfume of hand-tooled leather, that delicious new-car smell—
As he rounded a turn in the road, the movement came at him from the left, the streak the kind of thing that his peripheral vision caught and his hair-trigger instincts reacted to without any conscious thought on his part. In quick coordination, he punched the brake pedal and yanked the wheel to the right. The tires did their best to find purchase, squealing in their slow-down efforts, but there was too much mass, too much acceleration. A sickening jolt of impact registered, and then the BMW veered off the four-lane road and jumped the curb.
The tree in his headlights was enormous.
The biggest arboreal anything he had ever seen.
Then again, when you were about to crash your brand-new BMW, that did lend a certain distortion to things—
Like a bomb going off, the impact was loud and had shock waves. As his ears rang, he was thrown forward and the steering wheel punched back, defending its territory with the stiff arm of its column. A flop of the head later and he was close as his own nose to the windshield before a boomerang effect snapped him back into his seat.
At which point he smelled gas, heard hissing, and started cursing.
As his eyes focused, he found that the trunk of the maple was just about centered between those two sets of headlights, like the blue-and-white hood ornament was a target. And what do you know, that badge was now halfway up into the engine block.
With a deflation characteristic of people who find themselves in the crosshairs of chaos theory, he opened his door. The damage had not extended back far enough to affect its release, hinges, or panel, and glancing into the interior as he got out, he closed his lids against how pristine everything remained in the cockpit, the dash and seating still so fresh and new. When he was ready, he turned to—
The fact that mid-pivot he caught sight of the unused seat belt seemed like a tap on the shoulder from Fate, a little reminder that this time—this time—he’d gotten away with it, but in the next accident, his head was going right through that safety glass.
Maybe he should buckle up in the future—
Freezing in his tracks, he caught the scent of fresh blood, and as he ripped his head around, he saw the human woman lying in the center of the four-lane street on the yellow line. She was tucked into a ball, crumpled as if by a fist, and he had an instant impression of a blue skirt that was the color of a morning glory, and a white blouse that was untucked. A red sweater was tied around her waist. The shoes were brown with no heels. No stockings.
She wasn’t moving.
Oh, God, he’d hit someone. That was what the jolt had been.
Darius bolted across the two lanes he’d been traveling on. As he knelt down, he touched her shoulder. “Madam?”
No response. Then again, he’d felt the impact even inside the car, had heard the terrible sound.
“Madam, I’m going to roll you over.”
With gentle hands, he unfurled her tight contraction, and as she flopped half onto her back, he didn’t like the way her head was so loose on the top of her spine. The moan was good, though. It meant she was alive.
“We need to get you medical treatment.” He glanced back to his car, which turned out to be at the tree line of a park-like area. “And I have no transport to offer—”
“Help…” she whispered. “He’s going to hurt me…”
A cold rush hit Darius on the crown of his head, and he bared his fangs. “What did you say?”
When she just mumbled, he looked across the other two lanes. A short-stack, inter-connected collection of apartment buildings was set back from the street on a rise, with a stretch of grass separating them from the road. There were lights on inside almost all of the units, but no one was out on any of the balconies, and there were privacy blinds drawn across every window—
Another flash of movement.
In the breezeway of one of the building blocks, a figure ran out of the shadows—and then jumped back into the darkness as if they didn’t want to be seen. Given the shape, it was clearly a male, and Darius flared his nostrils, scenting the air.
“Please, don’t let him get me,” the woman said in a reedy voice. “He’s going to kill me.”