Riley Jenson Guardian series
I stood in the shadows and watched the dead man.
The night was bitterly cold, and rain fell in a heavy, constant stream. Water sluiced down the vampire’s long causeway of a nose, leaping to the square thrust of his jaw before joining the mad rush down the front of his yellow raincoat. The puddle around his bare feet had reached his ankles and was slowly beginning to creep up his hairy legs.
Like most of the newly risen, he was little more than flesh stretched tautly over bone. But his skin possessed a rosy glow that suggested he’d eaten well and often. Even if his pale eyes were sunken. Haunted.
Which in itself wasn’t really surprising. Thanks to the willingness of both Hollywood and literature to romanticize vampirism, far too many humans seemed to think that by becoming a vampire they’d instantly gain all the power, sex, and wealth they could ever want. It wasn’t until after the change that they began to realize that being undead wasn’t the fun time often depicted; that wealth, sex, and popularity might come, but only if they survived the horrendous first few years when a vampire was all instinct and blood need. And of course, if they did survive, they then learned that endless loneliness—never feeling the full warmth of the sun again, never being able to savor the taste of food, and being feared or ostracized by a good percentage of the population—was also part of the equation.
Yeah, there were laws in place to stop discrimination against vampires and other nonhumans, but the laws were only a recent development. And while there might now be vampire groupies, they were also a recent phenomenon and only a small portion of the population. Hatred and fear of vamps had been around for centuries, and I had no doubt it would take centuries for it to abate. If it ever did.
And the bloody rampages of vamps like the one ahead weren’t helping any.
A total of twelve people had disappeared over the last month, and we were pretty sure this vamp was responsible for nine of them. But there were enough differences in method of killing between this vamp’s nine and the remaining three to suggest we had a second psycho on the loose. For a start, nine had met their deaths as a result of a vamp feeding frenzy. The other three had been meticulously sliced open neck to knee with a knife and their innards carefully removed—not something the newly turned were generally capable of. When presented with the opportunity for a feed, they fed. There was nothing neat or meticulous about it.
Then there were the multiple, barely healed scars marring the backs of the three anomalous women, the missing pinky on their left hands, and the odd, almost satisfied smiles that seemed frozen on their dead lips. Women who were the victims of a vamp’s frenzy didn’t die with that sort of smile, as the souls of the dead nine could probably attest if they were still hanging about.
And I seriously hoped that they weren’t. I’d seen more than enough souls rising in recent times—I certainly didn’t want to make a habit of it.
But dealing with two psychos on top of coping with the usual guardian patrols had the Directorate stretched to the limit, and that meant everyone had been pulling extra shifts. Which explained why Rhoan and I were out hunting rogue suckers on this bitch of a night after working all day trying to find some leads on what Jack—our boss, and the vamp who ran the whole guardian division at the Directorate of Other Races—charmingly called The Cleaver.
I yawned and leaned a shoulder against the concrete wall lining one side of the small alleyway I was hiding in. The wall, which was part of the massive factory complex that dominated a good part of the old West Footscray area, protected me from the worst of the wind, but it didn’t do a whole lot against the goddamn rain.
If the vamp felt any discomfort about standing in a pothole in the middle of a storm-drenched night, he certainly wasn’t showing it. But then, the dead rarely cared about such things.
I might have vampire blood running through my veins, but I wasn’t dead and I hated it.
Winter in Melbourne was never a joy, but this year we’d had so much rain I was beginning to forget what sunshine looked like. Most wolves were immune to the cold, but I was a half-breed and obviously lacked that particular gene. My feet were icy and I was beginning to lose feeling in several toes. And this despite the fact I was wearing two pairs of thick woolen socks underneath my rubber-heeled shoes. Which were not waterproof, no matter what the makers claimed.
I should have worn stilettos. My feet would have been no worse off, and I would have felt more at home. And hey, if he happened to spot me, I could have pretended to be nothing more than a bedraggled, desperate hooker. But Jack kept insisting that high heels and my job just didn’t go together.
Personally, I think he was a little afraid of my shoes. Not so much because of the color—which, admittedly, was often outrageous—but because of the nifty wooden heels. Wood and vamps were never an easy mix.
I flicked up the collar of my leather jacket and tried to ignore the fat drops of water dribbling down my spine. What I really needed—more than decent-looking shoes—was a hot bath, a seriously large cup of coffee, and a thick steak sandwich. Preferably with onions and ketchup. God, my mouth was salivating just thinking about it. Of course, given we were in the middle of this ghost town of factories, none of those things were likely to appear in my immediate future.
I thrust wet hair out of my eyes, and wished, for the umpteenth time, that he would just get on with it. Whatever it was.
Following him might be part of my job as a guardian, but that didn’t mean I had to be happy about it. I’d never had much choice about joining the guardian ranks, thanks to the experimental drugs several lunatics had forced into my system, and the psychic talents that were developing as a result. It was either stay with the Directorate as a guardian, so my growing abilities could be monitored and harnessed, or be shipped off to the military with the other unfortunates who had received similar doses of ARC1-23. I might not have wanted to be a guardian, but I sure as hell didn’t want to be sent to the military. Give me the devil I know any day.
I shifted weight from one foot to the other again. What was this piece of dead meat waiting for? He couldn’t have sensed me—I was far enough away that he wouldn’t hear the beat of my heart or the rush of blood through my veins. He hadn’t looked over his shoulder, so he couldn’t have spotted me with the infrared of his vampire vision, and bloodsuckers generally didn’t have a very keen olfactory sense.