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Laurell K. Hamilton





  "...just keeps getting better and better."

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  "Anita Blake is one of the most fascinating fictional heroines since Scarlett O'Hara--and a hell of a lot more fun than most."

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  "...[has] the sure touch of a master."

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  "Harris weaves storytelling magic."

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  " irresistible."

  --New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster "Erotically passionate, absolute delightful wicked fun!"

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  " a new writing talent heading for the stars...exhilarating."

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  "Chills [and] thrills...a sexy tale. The future belongs to Knight!"

  --Emma Holly



  "...delivers sensuous sizzle and...mystery certain to thrill."

  --Romantic Times


  Laurell K. Hamilton

  Charlaine Harris

  MaryJanice Davidson

  Angela Knight

  Vickie Taylor



  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

  Penguin Group (Canada), 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4V 3B2, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.); Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England; Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.); Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.); Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi--110 017, India; Penguin Group (NZ), Cnr. Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.); Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  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.


  A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the authors.

  Copyright (c) 2005 by The Berkley Publishing Group.

  "The Girl Who Was Infatuated with Death" copyright (c) 2005 by Laurell K. Hamilton.

  "One Word Answer" copyright (c) 2005 by Charlaine Harris.

  "Biting in Plain Sight" copyright (c) 2005 by MaryJanice Davidson.

  "Galahad" copyright (c) 2005 by Julie Woodcock.

  "Blood Lust" copyright (c) 2005 by Vickie Spears.

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

  For information address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

  a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  ISBN: 1-101-14684-2


  Jove Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  JOVE is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  The "J" design is a trademark belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.


  The Girl Who Was Infatuated with Death


  One Word Answer


  Biting in Plain Sight




  Blood Lust




  Laurell K. Hamilton

  This short story occurs in the interval between BLUE MOON and OBSIDIAN BUTTERFLY.

  IT was five days before Christmas, a quarter 'til midnight. I should have been asnooze in my bed dreaming of sugarplums, whatever the hell they were, but I wasn't. I was sitting across my desk sipping coffee and offering a box of Kleenexes to my client, Ms. Rhonda Mackenzie. She'd been crying for nearly the entire meeting, so that she'd wiped most of her careful eye makeup away, leaving her eyes pale and unfinished, younger, like what she must have looked like when she was in high school. The dark, perfect lipstick made the eyes look emptier, more vulnerable.

  "I'm not usually like this, Ms. Blake. I am a very strong woman." Her voice took on a tone that said she believed this, and it might even be true. She raised those naked brown eyes to me and there was fierceness in them that might have made a weaker person flinch. Even I, tough-as-nails vampire-hunter that I am, had trouble meeting the rage in those eyes.

  "It's alright, Ms. Mackenzie, you're not the first client that's cried. It's hard when you've lost someone."

  She looked up startled. "I haven't lost anyone, not yet."

  I sat my coffee cup back down without drinking from it and stared at her. "I'm an animator, Ms. Mackenzie. I raise the dead if the reason is good enough. I assumed this amount of grief was because you'd come to ask me to raise someone close to you."

  She shook her head, her deep brown curls in disarray around her face as if she'd been running her hands through what was once a perfect perm. "My daughter, Amy, is very much alive and I want her to stay that way."

  Now I was just plain confused. "I raise the dead and am a legal vampire executioner, Ms. Mackenzie. How do either of those jobs help you keep your daughter alive?"

  "I want you to help me find her before she commits suicide."

  I just stared at her, my face professionally blank, but inwardly, I was cursing my boss. He and I had had discussions about exactly what my job description was, and suicidal daughters weren't part of that description.

  "Have you gone to the police?" I asked.

  "They won't do anything for twenty-four hours, but by then it will be too late."

  "I have a friend who is a private detective. This sounds much more up her alley than mine, Ms. Mackenzie." I was already reaching for the phone. "I'll call her at home for you."

  "No," she said, "only you can help me."

  I sighed and clasped my hands across the clean top of my desk. Most of my work wasn't indoor office work, so the desk didn't really see much use. "You're daughter is alive, Ms. Mackenzie, so you don't need me to raise her. She's not a rogue vampire, so you don't need an executioner. How can I be of any help to you?"

  She leaned forward; the Kleenex waded in her hands, her eyes fierce again. "If you don't help me by morning she will be a vampire."

  "What do you mean?" I asked.

  "She's determined to become one of them tonight."

  "It takes three bites to become a vampire, Ms. Mackenzie, and they all have to be from the same vampire. You can't become one in a single night, and you can't become one if you're just being casual with more than one."

  "She has two bites on her thighs. I accidentally walked in on her when she was ge
tting out of the shower and I saw them."

  "Are you sure they were vampire bites?" I asked.

  She nodded. "I made a scene. I grabbed her, wrestled with her so I could see them clearly. They are vampire bites, just like the pictures they passed around at the last PTA meeting so we could recognize it. You know one of those people lecturing on how to know if your kids are involved with the monsters."

  I nodded. I knew the kind of person she meant. Some of it was valuable information, some of it was just scare tactics, and some of it was racist, if that was the term. Prejudiced at least.

  "How old is your daughter?"

  "She's seventeen."

  "That's only a year away from being legal, Ms. Mackenzie. Once she turns eighteen, if she wants to become a vampire, you can't stop her legally."

  "You say that so calmly. Do you approve?"

  I took in a deep breath and let it out, slow. "I'd be willing to talk to your daughter, try to talk her out of it. But how do you know that tonight is the night? It has to be three bites within a very short space of time or the body fights off the infection, or whatever the hell it is." Scientists were still arguing about exactly what made someone become a vampire. There were biological differences before and after, but there was also a certain level of mysticism involved, and science has always been bad at deciphering that kind of thing.

  "The bites were fresh, Ms. Blake. I called the man who gave the lecture at our school and he said to come to you."

  "Who was he?"

  "Jeremy Ruebens."

  I frowned now. "I didn't know he'd gotten out of jail," I said.

  Her eyes went wide. "Jail?"

  "He didn't mention in his talk that he was jailed for conspiracy to commit murder--over a dozen counts, maybe hundreds. He was head of Humans First when they tried to wipe out all the vampires and some of the shape-shifters in St. Louis."

  "He talked about that," she said. "He said he would never have condoned such violence and that it was done without his knowledge."

  I smiled and knew from the feel of it that it was unpleasant. "Jeremy Ruebens once sat in the chair you're in now and told me that Humans First's goal was to destroy every vampire in the United States."

  She just looked at me, and I let it go. She would believe what she wanted to believe, most people did.

  "Ms. Mackenzie, whether you, or I, or Jeremy Ruebens, approve, or not, vampires are legal citizens with legal rights in this country. That's just the way it is."

  "Amy is seventeen, if that thing brings her over underage it's murder and I will prosecute him for murder. If he kills my Amy, I will see him dead."

  "You know for certain that it is a he?"

  "The bites were very, very high up on her thigh." She looked down at her lap. "Her inner thigh."

  I would have liked to have let the female vamp angle go, but I couldn't because I was finally beginning to see what Ms. Mackenzie wanted me to do, and why Jeremy Ruebens had sent her to me. "You want me to find your daughter before she's got that third bite, right?"

  She nodded. "Mr. Ruebens seemed to think if anyone could find her in time, it would be you."

  Since Humans First had also tried to kill me during their great cleansing of the city, Rueben's faith in me was a little odd. Accurate probably, but odd. "How long has she been missing?"

  "Since nine, a little after. She was taking a shower to get ready to go out with friends tonight. We had an awful fight and she stormed up to her room. I grounded her until she got over this crazy idea about becoming a vampire."

  "Then you went up to check on her and she was gone?" I made it a question.

  "Yes." She sat back in her chair, smoothing her skirt. It looked like a nervous habit. "I called the friends she was supposed to be going out with and they wouldn't talk to me on the phone, so I went to her best friend's house in person and she talked to me." She smoothed the skirt down again, hands touching her knees as if the hose needed attention; everything looked in place to me. "They've got fake ID that says they're both over twenty-one. They've been going to the vampire clubs for weeks."

  Ms. Mackenzie looked down at her lap, hands clasped tight. "My daughter has bone cancer. To save her life they're going to take her left leg from the knee down, next week. But this week she started having pains in her other leg just like the pains that started all this." She looked up then, and I expected tears, but her eyes were empty, not just of tears, but of everything. It was as if the horror of it all, the enormity of it, had drained her.

  "I am sorry, Ms. Mackenzie, for both of you."

  She shook her head. "Don't be sorry for me. She's seventeen, beautiful, intelligent, honor society, and, at the very least, she's going to lose a leg next week. She has to use a cane now. Her friends chipped in and got her this amazing Goth cane, black wood and a silver skull on top. She loves it, but you can't use a cane if you don't have any legs at all."

  There was a time when I thought being a vampire was worse than death, but now, I just wasn't sure. I just didn't have enough room to cast stones. "She won't lose the leg if she's a vampire."

  "But she'll lose her soul."

  I didn't even try to argue that one. I wasn't sure if vampires had souls, or not; I just didn't know. I'd known good ones and bad ones, just like good and bad people, but one thing was true: vampires had to feed off of humans to survive. No matter what you see in the movies, animal blood will not do the job. We are their food, no getting around that. Out loud, I said, "She's seventeen, Ms. Mackenzie, I think she probably believes in her leg more than her soul."

  The woman nodded, too rapidly, head bobbing. "And that's my fault."

  I sighed. I so did not want to get involved in this, but I believed Ms. Mackenzie would do exactly what she said she would do. It wasn't the girl I was worried about so much as the vampire that would be bringing her over. She was underage and that meant if he turned her, it was an automatic death sentence. Death sentences for humans usually mean life imprisonment, but for a vamp, it means death within days, weeks at the most. Some of the civil rights groups were complaining that the vampire trials were too quick to be fair. And maybe someday the Supreme Court would reverse some of the decisions, but that wouldn't make the vampire "alive" again. Once a vamp is staked, beheaded and the heart cut out, all the parts are burned and scattered on running water. There is no coming back from the grave if you are itty-bits of ashy fish food.

  "Does the friend know what the vampire looks like, maybe a name?"

  She shook her head. "Barbara says that it's Amy's choice." Ms. Mackenzie shook her head. "It isn't, not until she's eighteen."

  I sort of agreed with Barbara, but I wasn't a mother, so maybe my sympathies would have been elsewhere if I was. "So you don't know if the vampire is male or female."

  "Male," she said, very firm, too firm.

  "Amy's friend told you it was a guy vampire?"

  Ms. Mackenzie shook her head, but too rapid, too jerky. "Amy would never let another girl do that to her, not...down there."

  I was beginning not to like Ms. Mackenzie. There's something about someone who is so against all that is different that sets my teeth on edge. "If I knew for sure it was a guy, then that would narrow down the search."

  "It was a male vampire, I'm sure of that." She was working too hard at this, which meant she wasn't sure at all.

  I let it go; she wasn't going to budge. "I need to talk to Barbara, Amy's friend, without you or her parents present, and we need to start searching the clubs for Amy. Do you have a picture of her?"

  She did, hallelujah, she'd come prepared. It was one of those standard yearbook shots. Amy had long straight hair in a rather nondescript brown color, neither dark enough to be rich, or pale enough to be anything else. She was smiling, face open, eyes sparkling; the picture of health and bright promise.

  "The picture was taken last year," her mother said, as if she needed to explain why the picture looked the way it did.

  "Nothing more recent?"

  She drew
another picture out of her purse. It was of two women in black with kohl eyeliner and full, pouting lips, one with purple lipstick and the other with black. It took me a second to recognize the girl on the right as Amy. The nondescript hair was piled on top of her head in a casual mass of loose curls that left the clean, high bone structure other face like an unadorned painting, something to be admired. The dramatic makeup suited her coloring. Her friend was blond and it didn't match her skin tone as well. The picture seemed more poised than the other one had, as if they were playing dress-up and knew it, but they both looked older, dramatic, seductive, lovely but almost indistinguishable from a thousand other teenage Goths.

  I put the two pictures beside each other and looked from one to the other. "Which picture did she go out looking like?"

  I don't know. She's got so much Goth clothing, I can't tell what's missing." She looked uncomfortable with that last remark, as if she should have known.

  "You did good bringing both pictures, Ms. Mackenzie, most people wouldn't have thought of it."

  She looked up at that, almost managed a smile. "She looks so different depending on what she wears."

  "Most of us do," I said.

  She nodded, not like she was agreeing, but as if it were polite.

  "How old is Barbara, her friend?"

  "Eighteen, why?"

  "I'll send my friend, the private investigator over to talk to her, maybe meet me at the clubs."

  "Barbara won't tell us who it is that's been..." She couldn't bring herself to finish the sentence.

  "My friend can be very persuasive, but if you think Barbara will be a problem I might know someone who could help us out."

  "She's very stubborn, just like my Amy."

  I nodded and reached for the phone. I called Veronica (Ronnie) Sims, private detective and good friend first. Ms. Mackenzie gave me Barbara's address, which I gave to Ronnie over the phone. Ronnie said she'd page me when she had any news, or when she arrived at the club district.

  I dialed Zerbrowski next. He was a police detective and really had no reason to get involved, but he had two kids and he didn't like the monsters, and he was my friend. He was actually at work, since he belonged to the Regional Preternatural Investigation Team and worked a lot of nights.