This is the original short story I'd started writing for the WEDDINGS FROM HELL anthology, but when I was about 25% into it, I realized it was all wrong for the theme of the antho. So, I wrote Happily Never After, the story with Chance and Isa instead.
Still, I thought it might be fun to share the partial story here. The timeline for the story takes place between the events of HALFWAY TO THE GRAVE and ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE. Since it was supposed to be a new story for an anthology, not just a deleted scene excerpt, there will be some backstory and worldbuilding for readers unfamiliar with the series. Readers of the series will recognize some of the scenes that were referenced later in ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE, though. Oh, and since it's unedited and un-critiqued, there will probably be grammar and other such errors in this.
The vampire sat next to me at the bar. I was drinking a gin and tonic, light on the tonic. It was my fourth since Mr. Right walked in twenty minutes ago. I’d lost count of how many I’d had in the previous two hours waiting for him.
“Buy you another drink?” he asked, his eyes sweeping over my short, tight dress.
I could say yes. Make small talk with him, ask him to dance, or flirt for a while before getting him alone. But why waste time?
“I have a better idea.” My voice was low and seductive. “How about I pour what’s in this glass on your skin and lick it off. You pick which part.”
He tossed some money on the counter for my tab without even counting it. “Let’s go.”
Vampires. If horniness was a crime, they’d all be under arrest.
Of course, I wasn’t going to arrest him, and horniness wasn’t his crime. Neither was being a vampire, in my opinion. But according to the data my boss, Don, gathered, the man now leading me out to the parking lot had killed five people in the past month.
That I wasn’t going to stand for. Vampires didn’t need to kill to eat, so this schmuck was doing it just for fun. Well, I had my own definition of fun, and it involved the silver knives concealed in my thigh-high boots.
“From the moment I saw you, I knew I had to have you,” he said, taking me in his arms. We were at the far end of the parking lot. The darkest part. Two of the bodies had been found in the dumpster not fifty feet from here.
I smiled. “My thoughts exactly.”
Then I slid to my knees, giving him a knowing look as I set my drink down and reached for the front of his pants. He groaned and closed his eyes, but not before I saw the flash of green in them. If his mouth wasn’t closed, I knew I’d also see fangs where before there had been square, normal teeth. Lust or feeding caused vampires to shed their human disguise. I was one of the few people with a heartbeat who could spot them without that. Their creamy crystal skin was a dead giveaway to me, pun intended, plus I could feel their power in the air.
Being half-dead had its advantages.
The vampire was getting impatient. His hands curled in my hair, bringing my head closer. I stifled an annoyed grunt and pretended to fumble with his zipper while my other hand slid into my boot. I had a treat for him, all right, but it wasn't what he was expecting. Still, this was an effective ruse to distract him. I’d yet to meet a vampire who’d turn down a potential blow job, even if he did intend to murder me afterward. It was probably his motto that one good suck deserved another.
I was just about to clear my dagger from my boot when a loud voice shattered the quiet.
“What the hell?” the vampire and I asked in unison.
About twenty feet away, a man stepped out from behind one of the cars. He looked to be in his mid-forties, with a respectable gut and gray hair hugging his temples. What held my main attention, however, was the gun he pointed at us. Or rather, pointed above my head at the vampire behind me.
“Police officer, don’t move!” he said in a louder voice.
My fingers tightened on my concealed knife. There went my plans for a private game of stake and shake.
The vampire recovered from his surprise enough to laugh. “Ah, Detective Morrows. Have you been staking out this bar again? Maybe I’ll let you watch me this time, not that you’ll remember afterward.”
This could still be handled quietly, I thought. If I could get fang-boy to mesmerize the cop into placid immobility, I’d plug his heart with silver and cart away his body before the cop even snapped out of his trance. Nice, quick, and clean.
It wasn’t to be. A dozen men dressed in black wearing thickly-visored helmets fanned out around the parking lot, automatic weapons pointed at the three of us.
“Drop the gun, cop,” one of them said, a Spanish accent marking his words.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” I spat, coming to my feet. “Are you kidding me?”
The vampire looked around with an expression of amazement, but no fear. “You brought a SWAT team, Morrows?” he asked the cop.
Morrows gaped as he shook his head. “I don’t know who these guys are.”
“Oh.” The vampire shrugged, then a burst of green spilled out of his eyes. “Well, don’t just stand there. Shoot them!”
Morrows, instantly mesmerized by the power in that glowing emerald gaze, took aim at the men. They abandoned formation and jumped behind various cars as Morrows squeezed off shots with robot-like obedience.
I’d had enough. My dagger cleared my boot and I whirled, ramming it into the vampire’s chest. He grabbed me, fangs snapping near my throat, but the strength in his grip – and the light in his eyes – faded as I twisted it several times. Silver in the heart was a vampire’s kryptonite.
He dropped to my feet just as the doors to the bar flung open. Onlookers goggled at the cop still shooting at the dark figures who took cover behind the cars. I gave the cop an irritated glance and pulled more knives from my boots, far smaller than the eight-inch dagger I’d skewered fang-boy with. These were smooth, curved silver blades, no handles, perfectly balanced. I flung them at Morrows, burying them into the brachial nerve in his arm. The gun clattered from his hand as he screamed. Before he had a chance to pick the gun up with his other hand, I sprang at him and punched the side of his head. He went limp.
Then I marched up to the man who’d come out from behind a nearby car. He took his helmet off, revealing shoulder length black hair tied back in a pony tail.
“What have I told you about keeping the perimeter clear, Juan?” I asked through gritted teeth.
He swallowed. “But…you looked like you were in danger, querida.”
My fists clenched. It wasn’t because of the endearment; Juan was forever calling me one of those, but he usually did it while following orders. Not while taking matters into his own hands in an idiotic, misguided chivalrous way that almost got people killed.
“Cat.” Another of the black-clad men came forward, also taking off his helmet. “Your eyes.”
Right. I took a breath, forcing down the surge of adrenalin that had kicked in my non-human traits. By the time I blinked, I knew the green glow had left my gaze and my eyes were their normal gray color again. Years of practice made perfect when it came to controlling the vampire parts of me.
Most people were happily unaware that vampires existed. It was my job to keep it that way, while protecting them from the more unruly members of undead society. I hadn’t asked for this job - it was forced on me because of the heritage I also hadn’t asked for. Thanks, Dad, I thought with bitterness. One day I’ll find you. And then I’ll kill you for raping my mother.
You could say I had family issues.
“Let’s get those people back inside and contain this area,” my second-in-command, Tate, ordered. More helmets came off as the rest of the team obeyed. The helmets had specially-designed infrared filters that blocked 90% of a vampire’s hypnotic glowing gaze. The rest of the helmet’s purpose? Well, it had saved more than a few skulls from getting cracked after some impromptu flight time. Vampires were strong enough to hurl cars if they wanted to. Humans? They could be thrown so much further.
While Tate made sure the bystanders were hustled back inside, other members of the team went about carting the vampire’s body away. I returned my attention to Juan.
“This was your first time commanding a tactical operation, and what did you do? You allowed a police officer into the containment area where the vampire and I were. Then you brought the team out of hiding to confront said cop. And then you didn’t attempt to neutralize the cop when he started shooting up the place. My God, Juan, the only thing you left out was setting off flares while calling the media!”
“You were right behind the cop, querida, I didn’t want to risk shooting you,” Juan defended himself. His Spanish accent was thicker than normal, a sure sign he knew he was in for it.
“Really?” I scoffed. “You’ve been with the team three months now, and you still think I couldn’t move in time?”
“Por favor, you’re fast, but you’re not that fast.”
“Juan.” I didn’t shake him, but I was tempted. “I didn’t get to be leader of this team because I sweet-talked the right secret government official. I got it because of my high undead body count. Now, don’t ever disobey orders again, or I’ll throw your ass off this team. Clear?”
He smiled. “Crystal clear, kitten…”
At that one word, all the emotions I’d buried over the past fifteen months came roaring to the surface. In a surge of grief, I shoved Juan backward. Too hard; I’d forgotten to check up my strength. He dented the car he landed on. Then his head smacked the concrete when he hit the ground.
Tate swung around to give me an incredulous look. So did the other team members who were still outside.
I cringed in guilt, resisting the urge to run over to Juan and check on him. He’d be okay – I’d give him some of the vampire’s blood later to ensure that. But as for now…better the guys think I was a heartless witch than show weakness and spur their concerns that I wasn’t tough enough to lead them.
“I hate that nickname,” was all I said. “Now maybe Juan will remember that.”
I walked through the graveyard, not needing the bright moonlight to lessen the darkness for me. There were crumbling headstones with fading inscriptions etched on them around me. A large evergreen towered in the middle of the cemetery. Several yards away, a scarred tree extended over a cliff, like a wraith leaning over the edge of eternity.
I looked around with deliberate casualness, sensing I was no longer alone. A waft of charged air seemed to caress my back, announcing the approach of a vampire. Come closer, I thought, tightening my grip on the knife in my pocket.
The vampire came up behind me as silent as a shadow. I waited until I could almost feel the brush of his hand on my skin before I whirled, my knife raised to strike. Then I saw his face…and my weapon fell to the ground.
His hair seemed almost white under the glow of the moonlight, and those deep brown eyes locked with mine.
“You left me,” he whispered, but the accusation in his voice may as well have been a scream.
I dropped my gaze. “I-I had to.”
He laughed, low and bitter. “Did you?”
I reached out to him, a stab of pain going through me when he pulled away. “The law was chasing me, other vampires were chasing both of us, and then the FBI’s version of the Spook Squad found out I wasn’t totally human. You would have been in too much danger trying to hide me and my mother. I couldn’t let you die, Bones.”
“You didn’t give me a choice,” he shot back, his eyes flashing green. “You left me with only a bloody note. How could you do that? You said you loved me.”
“I do,” I said brokenly.
Bones grabbed my shoulders, pulling me close. “I told you I’d find you if you ran from me, Kitten. I have, and you will never run away from me again, do you understand? Say it.”
I stared at him, heartbroken. “I can’t.”
He started to fade. I snatched at him, but it was as if he’d turned to smoke in my hands. Desperately I tried to hold onto him, but the more I clutched at him, the more he disappeared into the air.
“Bones,” I screamed, suddenly willing to say anything, do anything, to keep him with me. “I won’t leave again, I promise. I love you, please come back…!”
The ground reared up to hit me – and I woke up on my bedroom floor. There was no graveyard, no moonlight, no Bones. Just me, tormenting myself with another dream about him.
“Goddamn it,” I whispered, my heart pounding. I must have fallen out of bed during my dream, chasing someone I could never have. After being gone over a year, I should have gotten a grip on my emotions, but I hadn’t. No, I still missed Bones with the same gut-wrenching ache I’d had the day I left him.
One thing could be counted on to help. I showered, then got dressed and drove to work. The military compound Don recently renovated was about thirty minutes from my house. By the time I got on the road, I usually hit the lunch time rush. It was my vampire blood that made mornings not my thing, plus you could safely say most of my job activities took place at night.
After my obligatory stop at the three, count ‘em, three security checkpoints leading up to the compound, I made it in the building. Most of the levels were underground, completing the image of “nothing strange goin’ on here, folks!” that Don wanted to perpetrate.
He was waiting in his office for me. It was my routine to stop there first, go over reports from the previous evening’s activity, and then get back to training my team. Unless there was another string of suspicious murders to discuss, of course. Then it would be flying to the scene of whatever gruesome event to figure out if we were dealing with the wrath of humanity against humanity…or something else.
Don’s gray head was bent over his laptop when I entered. He didn’t bother to look up as I sat down in the chair opposite him.
“Juan’s still in medical, Cat,” he said by way of greeting. “The doctors say he’ll be unconscious for another day.”
Guilt poked me again for my unwarranted reaction to the name I’d only let one person call me.
“He’d be back in the training room today if you’d bend your stupid rules. Between my blood and the blood from the vampire corpse the other night, Juan could be good as new,” I replied.
Don’s eyes were almost the same gray shade as his hair. “I won’t have the men getting careless because they think vampire blood makes them invincible. And I won’t have them becoming addicted to the other effects it would have on them.”
Don thought vampires were evil, plain and simple. If not for my usefulness to his operation, I was pretty sure Don would be happy to see me dead. One less blight on society and all that, considering my mixed lineage.
I shrugged. “Your call, boss, but then don’t blame me because you’re afraid to use the resources available to you.”
“How is your mother?” Don asked, changing the subject.
I glowered at him. Boy, did he go for the low blows. “Fine, thanks. She says she missed you at her last Undead Pride party.”
A faint smile touched his lips. Don knew my mother was even more prejudiced against vampires than he was.
“We have a possible case I want you to review,” Don said, bringing the subject back to business. “Here are several hard-copy files, newspaper microfilm, and floppy disks to go through.” He pushed a thick manilla envelope across his desk to me. “I’ll want your report tomorrow on whether you think there’s anything supernatural involved.”
“What’s the rush? If you’re having me sort through old newspaper films and floppy disks instead of fresh bodies, why don’t I have more time to do a proper evaluation?”
Don gave me a thin smile. “Just have the report ready when you come in tomorrow.”
I stood up. Too bad for him he didn’t specify what time tomorrow, because I was feeling a late start coming on. “Whatever you say, boss.”
After a bruising day of running my team through staged drills and hand-to-hand combat, I left the compound at ten. It occurred to me that I hadn’t eaten anything, so instead of heading straight home, I stopped by a fast food place. It was chilly out, but despite that, I decided to eat my hamburger and fries sitting on a bench near a park instead of in my car. It was so rare to be out at night unless I was hunting something. Even more rare to be out without someone from my team spying on me.
Don didn’t know I could hear the teams he put on me, or the faint clicking in my phone that revealed the extra wiring. He knew a lot about my inhuman abilities, but I’d held back a few things. Like how far my hearing range really was. I wasn’t planning on anything devious, despite Don’s suspicions, but some things were best left undiscovered. Don had relaxed somewhat in the past couple months, to give him credit. Now I was only tailed a few times a week instead of every day.
I chewed the salty goodness of my fries and wondered, for the millionth time, what Bones was doing right now. Whatever it was, I hoped he was okay. He might be undead, but that didn’t make him impossible to kill, and with his line of work, a lot of people wanted him shriveled. Please, God, keep him safe, I thought. Let him understand why I did what I did, and not hate me for it. Or, let him hate me if that’ll make him happier. Just let him be okay.
A choked-off scream snapped my head up. I fixed my gaze in its direction, moving toward the sound. There. Behind the thick clump of trees about a hundred yards into the park. I pulled out one of the silver knives I always kept in my jacket, concealing it in my sleeve.
“Is someone hurt?” I called out. Maybe that sound was the muffled scream of passion during a clandestine tryst. Or something else human in nature. I crept closer.
There was no response to my question except a slurping noise. I knew that sound.
When I burst through the trees, the vampire didn’t even pick his head up from the girl’s neck. Two things registered with me in an instant. He’s not feeding to get a harmless snack, his teeth are sunk in too deep. And he hasn’t even bothered to put her under.
The girl’s wide eyes met mine, silently pleading. This was no consensual exchange of blood. If it had been, I would have turned around and walked away, same as I’d done many times before. This was different, however. It was attempted murder.
“Hey, buddy,” I said. “I taste better. Come see.”
The vampire laughed, the sound muffled against the girl’s neck. He wasn’t alarmed - why would he be? I had a heartbeat, I breathed, and I was all alone. No undead person in their right mind would find such a combination a threat…which was why it was such a perfect disguise.
His emerald gaze drilled into mine as he lifted his head. Good. Fangs no longer in her artery where they could rip it open.
“I’ll have to do that.”
I flung myself at him with a blurring speed. Fang Face didn’t even have time to look surprised before my silver blade sank into his heart. One, two, three twists, and all the strength left him for good.
I knew it made me a homicidal witch, but oh God, did I enjoy that! There were few things that made me happy these days, but evening the score against murdering bastards like him made me still believe there was a reason to live. I couldn’t be with Bones, but I could save a few people. I did have that to keep me going.
The girl was staring at me in disbelief, swaying on her feet. A flow of red leaked from the two holes in her neck with steady, rhythmic pumps. I gave that flow a swift, calculating glance before leaning down and hacking off the vampire’s hand with one hard slice.
Her eyes bugged. Before she could do anything stupid, like run while her artery was punctured, I grabbed her. Then I held the severed end of the vamp’s hand to the holes in her neck, clapping my other hand around her mouth so she couldn’t scream.
Her heartbeat was a loud staccato in my ears as she struggled. I gave the unattached hand a few good squeezes to get the remaining blood out of it, since it was already starting to shrivel. After a moment, I pulled the stump off her neck to examine her wound.
Her bleeding had stopped and those two fang holes were gone. Satisfied, I dropped the dead vamp’s severed hand.
“Works like a charm,” I muttered. Stupid Don and his prejudices. Nothing but nothing healed like vampire blood.
Then I took my hand off her mouth and let her go, about to give her my rehearsed speech on how trauma can make people see things that aren’t really there, when she spoke.
“He was a vampire, wasn’t he?”
She asked it in a very matter-of-fact way. I regarded her warily, wondering if this was a prelude to full blown hysterics.
“Miss, you’re confused. Sometimes, when people go through a traumatic experience, their mind can play tricks on them –”
“You sure killed the shit out of him,” she interrupted me. “I mean, wow. I owe you a beer, at least.”
I stared at her with the same disbelief she’d bestowed on me earlier. Most people, after having their necks chewed on and then seeing their fanged attacker stabbed to death, were pretty overwrought. Not poking the dead vampire with their shoe and mumbling about how he hadn’t even bought her a drink before getting one of his own.
I shifted on my feet, torn. Protocol demanded that I keep her here, call in the team, and let Don arrange a little memory-altering session between her and his staff of highly skilled, always on-call hypnotists. After all, we couldn’t have people running around screaming, “Nosferatu!” and rallying the villagers, could we?
“I have to call this in,” I said. “Remove the body, gather up any evidence…” What was wrong with me? Why was I admitting that?
She nodded like it made sense and then sat down. Her pulse was steady now, though a little weaker than it should have been. Still, some iron pills and rest, and she’d be good as new.
“Is this your job or something?”
Why wasn’t she acting like every other victim I’d come across, male or female? She’d almost been eaten by a vampire! She should be screaming, crying, or demanding to talk to her lawyer. The usual stuff.
“Have you been around vampires before?” I asked suspiciously. That would explain it.
She shook her head. “No, this was definitely a first for me.”
“Then why are you so calm?” I couldn’t help but blurt.
She gave me a jaded look. “I just moved here from New York and my old boyfriend was a cabbie there. Does that answer your question?”
Caught off guard, I laughed. Yes, now her relative nonchalance about discovering the existence of the undead did make sense.
“I’m Denise,” she said. “What’s your name?”
Unbelievably, I answered her with the truth. “Cat.”
She smiled. Though it was a trifle shaky, it was genuine.
“Cat, I’m very glad to meet you.
The manilla envelope landed in front of Don. I took my seat and propped my foot up on the edge of his desk. Few things pissed Don off as much as than that, which of course was why I did it. It's not like I was worried about getting fired. Jeez, that was a dream of mine.
“Do you mind?” Don asked acidly.
I smiled. “I’m comfier this way, so why would I?”
He gave me a scathing look, but picked up the folder and didn’t comment further on the location of my foot.
"Since it’s almost six p.m., I assume you’ve conducted an extensive evaluation of the materials here?”
I nodded, rocking back in my chair just to see how deep his scowl could get.
“You’ve got yourself a creature on the loose, all right. Seven prominent husbands go missing right after their weddings, never to be seen again…unless you count the random parts. Coincidentally, their wives all look like the same woman, barring the changing hairstyles and clothes, but hey, you can’t expect fashion to stand still for a hundred years, can you?”
Don leaned back with a satisfied expression on his lined face. “Just as I thought. She’s a vampire, preying on these men after she marries them.”
“Not so fast,” I said. “She’s not a vampire. She’s a ghoul.”
Don pulled on his eyebrow. He hardly had any hair left on the end it of. “Are you certain?”
“Certain as death,” I replied. “Most of those photos are older – she obviously smartened up as picture quality got better and avoided the camera more – but the newer ones show more detail. She looks exactly human. No telltale crystal clarity to her flesh, so unless this chick uses the fountain of youth for her daily bath, she’s got to be a ghoul.”
Don digested this. Ghouls weren’t our operation’s forte, mainly because they weren’t my forte. Bones taught me everything there was to know about vampires, but ghouls? Bones had only covered the most essential basics there, i.e., how to kill them. Decapitation. And they didn’t part easily with their heads.
“How much of a problem will this represent?” Don finally asked.
I shrugged. “On the plus side, ghouls don’t have any power in their gaze, so we wouldn’t need to worry about her mesmerizing anyone. But rest is all on the negative side. For one, this chick goes after men. You’ve put me in a bunch of disguises, but unless you’ve got someone seriously talented in wardrobe, I won’t be able to fake that. Two, she’s not just trolling bars looking for an easy meal. She goes after rich men who don’t have a lot of public visibility and even fewer family members. Three, she doesn’t just eat them and run, she marries them first. I’m assuming this is to get her hands on their inheritance, but that throws a real curveball into our plans. We can’t just check all the published engagement announcements to catch her before she eats her next husband.”
Don pulled harder on his eyebrow. I resisted the urge to point him to the scissors, so he could take care of it once and for all.
“Are you saying it can’t be done?”
I’d been asking myself that same question since I realized what we were dealing with. On one hand, as Bones would say, we had to fight the battles we could win. It was impossible to bring every murderer to justice, no matter how much he or she might deserve it, so sometimes, we had to walk away. Live to fight another day and all that. On the other hand…
“It would involve a long-term operation the likes of which our team isn’t properly prepared for,” I said after a pause. “But yes. It can be done.”
Don nodded, satisfied. “Then let’s get started.”
The forty-two members of my team stared at me with varying degrees of shock. Not that I blamed them. It wasn’t every day I asked who wanted to volunteer to be a ghoul’s boy-toy turned chew-toy.
Don stood behind me, a rarity. Normally he let me give the mission details to my team alone – unless you counted those secret sessions where picked whose turn it was to spy on me. But in this case, his presence was a show of support for my dangerous, highly improbable plan.
“I’ll do it,” Tate said. His dark blue gaze swept over the men. “I’m second-in-command, so it’s my risk to take.”
My opinion of Tate had come a long way over the past fifteen months. When we first met, I thought Tate was a tight-ass who hadn’t had an ounce of inspiration since he was a baby deciding on one tit or two. Now I knew Tate was someone who would walk through fire to save one of his men if they needed it. Hell, the only reason Juan led the last mission was because Tate still had some internal bleeding from the one before it, after trying to save a new recruit. Tate had almost worn his guts on his back after one hard undead punch. The recruit died anyway. Once someone’s throat was gone, there was no saving them. But the point was, Tate had tried.
Yeah, Tate was fearless and tough. Which was why he couldn’t be the volunteer.
“No,” I said shortly. “You’re right, Tate, you’re second-in-command, so the risk does fall to you. But it’s the risk to lead these men if I go down for the count. Not to be ghoul-bait on this mission.”
“Juan would be perfect for this…once he wakes up,” a recruit named Dave chuckled.
There was more laughter even as I cringed in guilt over Juan’s condition. Yes, Juan was a real ladies’ man, to put it nicely. Calling him a tramp would be more accurate.
Come to think of it, being knocked out for a couple days might do Juan a world of good. But if he doesn’t wake up by tomorrow, I promised myself, I’m giving him a pint of my blood, Don’s rules be damned.
Three more of the men volunteered. I waited, but there were no more takers. Then I gave the three guys a cool, evaluating stare. No, not Peter. He’s too prejudiced against the undead; he’d puke in the ghoul’s mouth the first time she tried to kiss him. Jeff, hmmm. He’s a good soldier. Open-minded enough for the job, too, but…oh forget it. He’s as sexy as a vegetable sandwich!
That left Edward. He was a newer recruit, which made me hesitant, but he’d performed well in the field, didn’t have a pathological hatred of the undead, and he was easy enough on the eyes.
“You, Edward,” was all I said.
He gulped and nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
Now, to turn Edward into irresistible man-meat that no inheritance-hunting ghoul could refuse…