The Vampire Always Rises (Dark Ones Book 11)Katie MacAlister
THE VAMPIRE ALWAYS RISES
A Dark Ones Novel
Copyright © Katie MacAlister 2017
All rights reserved
Published by Keeper Shelf Books
Cover by Croco Designs
Book format by Racing Pigeon Productions
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
When writing dedications, I always try to think of who had an impact on me while writing the particular book. During the time I was writing this book, and the twelve years before it, my beloved girl dog Kelsey was my constant furry white companion. In 2016 she lost her brave fight against cancer. I miss her every day.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
About the Author
Other Books by Katie
“Well, if it isn’t Merrick.” Two men emerged from an alley, pausing outside a run-down building.
The second man turned to where the first had pointed. “What? Where? Why, so it is, so it is. And he doesn’t look happy to see us.”
“Not happy at all. Why isn’t he happy? I wonder,” the first man asked, and removed a toothpick from his mouth, grinning to expose teeth that were crooked and stained the color of mustard.
The second man grinned, as well. It was about as pleasant as when his compatriot did so. “Vampires have strange ways, Henri. They most definitely have strange ways. But we could ask him why he is so angry-looking. Would you like to do the honors, or should I?”
“I would, Jens, but if I recall correctly, the last time we had speaks with Merrick, he called us lowlifes.” Henri, the man with the toothpick, affixed a hurt expression to his unlovely face.
“Lowlifes! Shocking,” Jens said, shaking his head. “Shocking is what I say it is when an old friend like Merrick has that to say about us. It’s as if he didn’t know us at all, not at all.”
Merrick Simon halted in front of a rooming house located in an unsavory part of Prague long enough to give both men a considering look. “What did you call me here for that couldn’t be handled via text messages?”
“Now, don’t be hasty, Merrick, old friend,” Henri said smoothly, jabbing the less-than-pristine toothpick toward Merrick. “You’re the one who told us that secrecy is of the utmost importance.”
“That he did, that he certainly did,” Jens said, nodding his head, moving to a spot behind, which Merrick assumed gave Jens a false impression of security. “We’re just doing as you asked.”
“Giving you information you said you wanted,” Henri said quickly.
“And now you look angry at us for doing our jobs,” Jens added, leaning nonchalantly against a railing behind Merrick. “It’s sad, it is.”
“Get on with it,” Merrick said, fast losing his patience. “What is it you have to show me?”
“You said you wanted to know of any movements of that man. Rex, was it?” Henri asked.
“Victor,” Merrick said, well aware of Jens standing behind him. He wasn’t a fool—he trusted the men about as far as he could spit, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t use them if they really had information.
“That’s right, Victor.” Henri opened his eyes very wide. “It seems his right-hand man traveled to Prague two days ago, and hasn’t left.”
“Right-hand man?” Merrick frowned. It was the first he’d heard of his nemesis having a partner. “Who is that?”
“Don’t know his name,” Henri said from behind him, absently picking his teeth with his toothpick.
“We heard through the grapevine that he was doing some work for Rex.”
“Victor,” Jens corrected.
Merrick glanced at the house, unsure of whether to believe the two men. “Who passed along this information to you?”
Obligingly, Henri held out his mobile phone. “You can read the text yourself.”
Merrick read, his frown smoothing out when he saw the sender’s name. “That’s Nico’s informant. The one he has watching the airports.”
“And he told us, so we told you,” Henri said smoothly. “We figured if a man who works for the Four Horsemen says something, it must be true.”
“The right-hand man is inside,” Jens added, pulling out a small pocketknife and paring his nails. “Top floor. First on the right. We thought that was worth coming out to see.”
“It is indeed,” Merrick said, giving them a curt nod. Something felt off about the whole thing, but there was no denying the text Henri had shown.
Henri jerked his head toward the blue door. “You going in?”
“Yes.” Merrick shifted his weight so that he was better balanced, and gave Henri a look that appeared utterly unaware of anything around him.
“Alone?” Henri asked.
“Unless you wish to join me.”
“Now then, you know we prefer to keep a low profile,” Jens said, and snapped his switchblade closed.
“He should know that about us,” Henri said conversationally, which was all the warning that Merrick needed. “He should know that we don’t like to get involved in these little disputes.”
Merrick felt the air behind him stir, heralding movement, and spun around, grabbing Jens from where he leaped forward, the now-opened knife poised to stab Merrick in the back. Merrick slammed Jens into the wall, spinning around to land a kick on Henri’s chest, pain burning through his left arm when the gun Henri held spat twice.
Henri flew back several yards before colliding with a trash bin, the gun spinning away from his hand and skittering along the pavement until it came to rest against Merrick’s shoe.
Merrick scowled at the blood leaking out of his arm, ignoring the pain to bend down and pick up the gun. “If you ever attack me again, it will be the last time we meet. And yes, that is a promise. I’ll send the bill for the bullet hole repairs to you,” he added to Henri, before removing the magazine from the gun and tossing it into the trash can.
Jens sprawled against the wall, a bloody streak indicating his path down to the ground. He moaned, and twitched slightly, reassuring Merrick that he wasn’t dead. The last thing he wanted was another death on his conscience, albeit that of a man whose actions had guaranteed he wouldn’t be missed. Merrick pushed those thoughts from his mind when he entered the rooming house.
The small, dimly lit entrance hall was rife with scents that seemed to be engaged in an all-out war on the senses—boiled cabbage mingled with urine, with a top note of rodent droppings, and what Merrick suspected was the scent of freshly butchered mammals.
He didn’t stop to wonder at how the inhabitants of the rooming house lived in such squalor—he ran up the cluttered wooden staircase to the third floor, his senses heightened. He wouldn’t put it past his two so-called informants to have set up a trap.
At the top of the house, he paused outside the first door on the right and listened at it, but there was no sound beyond that of a radio from somewhere on the second floor.
His nose wrinkled. The smelling of butchery was stronger here, giving him a spurt of adrenaline that manifested itself into action. Without knocking, he kicked open the door and rushed inside, dreading the sight that he suspected would meet his eyes.
He stopped in the middle of the room, relieved to find that no Dark Ones were being killed. In fact, the room itself appeared to be empty, and he frowned in confusion. He’d never heard of Victor having a second-in-command. Had he taken on help?
The hairs on the back of his head stirred, but this time, he wasn’t fast enough. Two men emerged from the shadows and leaped on him, one of them slamming what felt like a cricket bat down upon his head.
Dimly, he heard one of the men say that it was a shame that they had to kill him. But even as the words processed in his brain, the abyss claimed him, pulling him into its depths with inky fingers.
After an indiscernible amount of time, the blackness seemed to part. Had it been hours? Days? Merrick had been sinking through subsequent layers of unawareness, his body languid and tired, and knew he was dying. The effort to fight for life was simply too much to make, and he allowed himself to sink deeper and deeper, even as he hoped the man who took his place in the Four Horsemen would have better luck.
That was when he realized that he would not drift to death alone. Someone else was there, someone who cast a golden red glow that started in the distance, and which grew stronger until it took the shape of a woman’s form. The glow seemed to be more than just light, since it permeated his being when she glided over to him. Her face was that of a goddess, with wide-set gray eyes, a little snub nose, and a rounded chin that for some reason made him want to smile.
His body had other ideas, however, and when she leaned over where he was lying, he had the worst urge to pull her down onto him.
“Don’t,” she said, her voice a whisper that seemed to be more a thought than a sound. “Now is not your time.”
He frowned a little, confused by her words. He expected better from goddesses. “What do you mean?”
Her hair, a curtain of wild red curls, fell alongside his face and filled his mind with the fragrance of wildflowers warmed by the afternoon sun. “Don’t die.”
Her lips touched his when she spoke, her breath soft and warm.
“I can’t help it,” he said by way of an apology, and put his arms around her, pulling her down onto his chest. She was soft in all the ways women should be soft, the mounds of her breasts pressed against his chest in a manner that, had he not been dying, would have made him as hard as granite.
His penis disregarded the likelihood of imminent death, and promptly became fully erect, demanding that he provide access to the lovely glowing goddess.
“It’s not your time,” she repeated, the weight of her on his body doing amazing things to him.
He angled her head, kissing her with a passion that was surprising, given that he had spent his entire life effectively stripping emotion from his being. Her mouth was as sweet as her breath, but hotter, oh, so much hotter, and with the touch of her tongue to his, the hunger that growled around inside him roared to life, demanding that he claim her, and take from her that which only she could give him.
“Go ahead,” she said against his mouth, her hands tangled in his hair, her knee slipping between his in a way that put exquisite pressure against his interested penis. “Feed, Merrick.”
He nuzzled her neck, breathing in long, gasping breaths that dragged her scent deep into his lungs, his fingers busy trying to extricate her from the satin nightdress she wore, wanting—no, needing—to feel her soft, warm flesh.
“Feed,” she said again, filling his head with the word until it reverberated with every beat of his heart. The hunger swelled up and blotted out all other feelings. He kissed a spot on her neck, and opened his mouth to bite, ready to fill his body and mind and being, to join his body with hers in the most fundamental way a man could ... and then she was gone, melting away into nothing.
He clutched at the air desperately, his body singing a dirge of loss, but there was nothing left to hold, nothing but the endless darkness that seeped into his pores, extinguishing the light, and filling him instead with despair.
He would die alone, unloved, and unmourned. The golden red goddess would never know just how much he would have given to be with her.
He released the last little shred of hope, and let himself sink down into oblivion.
“Underwear, check. Toothbrush, check. Brand-new cosmetics, check. Gin for Allie, check.”
“Gin for Allie?” Ellis, a friend since we were both shy, geeky kids in grade school, wrinkled his nose in the manner that a former boyfriend had told him was utterly adorable, and gave the bottle I held a scornful look. “Why are you taking gin to the Czech Republic?”
“I’m taking this bottle of expensive and hard-to-find gin because my aunt Roxy’s friend Allegra supposedly likes gin, and it’s my way of thanking her for hooking me up with whatever vampires are in the area.” I rolled a couple of pairs of yoga pants around the bottle, and wedged it in the bottom of the suitcase. “I figured it was the least I could do. OK, that’s it for me. Are you set?”
“Darling, I don’t leave for another week,” Ellis said, giving an airy wave of his hand. He was currently lounging on my recliner, sipping the bottle of wine he’d brought to bid me bon voyage, and offering criticisms of my wardrobe, packing technique, and general outlook on life. “I’m not the sort of person who makes lists like you do. I toss a few well-chosen and exquisitely cut garments in a bag, and then I’m off to face adventure with a style and panache not seen since the days of William Powell and Errol Flynn.”
“That 1930s movie class has really changed you,” I said, chewing my lower lip for a second over the last couple of items laid out on the bed. “Hmm.”
“What are you hmming about?”
“Swimsuit.” I said the word with the distaste it deserved.
“What about it? You know, this rosé is really quite drinkable. I wasn’t sure about it because rosés can be so temperamental, but this is tolerable.”
“The ‘hmm’ was whether or not to pack it. The swimsuit, that is, not the wine you brought.” I held up the swimsuit. “Do you think it’s too ... revealing?”
“I couldn’t possibly comment unless you were wearing it.”
I stared in horror at him. “I’m not going to let you see me in a swimsuit.”
“Because!” I said, sputtering a little and turning bright pink at the very idea. “Because you’re—”
“Gay?” he asked.
“No! I don’t care about that. But you’re ...”
“Well ... yes, I guess that’s part of it.” I flapped my hands around helplessly, trying to think of how to explain one of the many weird hang-ups I’d had to deal with. “But mostly it’s because you’re my friend. What you think matters, you see, and if you think I look pudgy in my swimsuit, then I’ll be crushed.”
“Pudgy?” He tipped his head and considered me. Instantly, I sucked in my gut. “I wouldn’t say ‘pudgy’ is the word to describe you. ‘Titian,’ now, that’s a good word. You’ve got the red hair and the lush curves to stand up to the most nubile of Titian’s ladies.”
sweet of you,” I said, relaxing a bit. “I just ... it feels weird to let a man see so much of my body.”
He snorted into the wineglass. “If I managed to keep from succumbing to your many and various charms in the tenth grade when we sat behind the gym and necked, I think you’re safe now.”
“That’s because you don’t like women in a sexual way,” I pointed out, and wadded up the swimsuit and stuffed it into a corner in the case. It was followed almost immediately by the oversized man’s shirt I used as a cover-up. “The necking was just you trying to figure out who you were. Rats.”
I sighed and dug out of my nightstand drawer a battered and somewhat dusty box. “If I’m going to wear the swimsuit, I’m going to have to ... er ... deforest.”
“Deforest?” Ellis did the nose-wrinkling thing again. “DeForest Kelley, from Star Trek?”
“No, deforest, as in prune the lady garden.”
He stared at me, the glass of wine held motionless at his mouth.
I sighed even louder, and waved the box toward my crotch. “Wax my pubes, you boob.”
Enlightenment dawned at last. “You mean you’re not already spruced up down there?”
“No, of course not.” I held a protective hand over my pubic mound, and consulted the box of wax strips. “That sort of thing is for special occasions, isn’t it?”
He shuddered delicately, and took a long pull on the glass of wine. “Darling, I couldn’t in a hundred years imagine being with someone without first removing everything unsightly.”
“Uh-huh,” I said, reading the instructions.
“There is no sensation quite as delightful as that of a shorn scrotum. You’re not listening to me, are you? Tempest. Tempest!”
“Hmm? What does this mean? ‘Once the strip has been applied, pull it off quickly in the direction opposite of the hair growth.’ Pull off quickly like pulling a bandage?”
He gawked at me. “You can’t possibly mean ... when you said special occasion, you didn’t by any chance mean that you’ve never waxed?”