Shadows & Dreams (Kate Kane: Paranormal Investigator, #2)
This title is #2 of the Kate Kane, Paranormal Investigator series.
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Second rule in this line of business: be careful who you kill.
My name’s Kate Kane. And right now, I don’t know which is more dangerous: my job, or my girlfriend. My job makes me the go-to girl for every supernatural mystery in London. My girlfriend’s an eight-hundred-year-old vampire prince. Honestly, I think it’s probably a tie.
A few weeks ago, I was hired for a simple missing person case. Next thing I know, I’m being arrested for murder, a vampire army is tearing up London, and even my dreams are out to get me. Something ancient, evil, and scary as hell is on the loose and looking for payback. The vampires are in chaos, the werewolves are culling everything, and the Witch Queen can’t protect everyone.
Which means it’s down to me. And all I’ve got to hold back the shadows is a stiff drink, a quirky sidekick, my creepy ex-boyfriend, and the woman who left me for a tech startup. It’s going to be another interesting day.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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Lovers & Murders
My name’s Kane, Kate Kane. I’m a private investigator, operating out of a dingy office just off Bow Street.
Thirty-something years ago, my deranged faery queen of a mother left me on my dad’s doorstep wrapped in a wolf skin, in a basket made of briars.
Fifteen years ago, I was deep in the closet, dating a vampire dickhead who hated himself, failing my A-levels, and trying to come to terms with being a faery princess. A faery princess with a bunch of scary hunter powers and a mum who keeps trying to take over her body.
Ten years ago, I’d dumped the vampire, moved to London, done a BTEC in private investigation, and got a job with a bloke named Archer.
Last year, I split up with my long-term girlfriend, slept with a client, and got my partner killed (not entirely in that order).
Three months ago, I was hired by Julian Saint-Germain, one of the four most powerful vampires in England, to investigate a murder at one of her clubs. I saved her from a crazy faery sewer lord, but along the way, I ended up striking a deal with a giant rat gestalt, swearing fealty to the Witch Queen of London, and playing sex chicken with an alpha werewolf. Also, I sort of accidentally killed a thousand-year-old vampire prince.
Oh, and me and Julian are sort of seeing each other.
Brothers & Bureaucrats
Snow was falling through silver mist on the Dream of a city.
I edged forwards over the icy bridge, my sword raised to strike. The Sorceress raised her hand to the pearl-grey sky. The clouds cracked open. I threw myself aside, and a lance of green-tinted lightning struck the place where I’d just been standing. I rolled to my feet and charged.
Our blades met in silence.
The snow glistened on the edge of my sword and dusted the dark green coils of the Sorceress’s unbound hair.
I wrapped my free hand round her sword arm and pinned it against my body, turning my own blade back to bring the point level with her throat.
She smiled. Her eyes gleamed like absinthe behind her ornate mask. She leaned towards me and ran her fingers gently across my cheek. In the half light, her nails sparkled, bright as emeralds.
I ran my sword through her throat.
She billowed into green smoke and dissipated into the mist.
I awoke to the smell of fresh coffee and the taste of wormwood. I’d been having these dreams since I’d sworn fealty to Nimue. Sometimes it was a lady in green, sometimes it was a giant pig, sometimes it was shadowy armies, and once it had been this weird monster with a snake’s head, a lion’s body, and rabbit’s feet that I’d chased in circles and then lost somewhere in Seven Dials.
To be honest, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with my new nighttime adventures, and I missed the days when the dreams I remembered involved three nuns and a set of handcuffs. But Nim had given me her help when I’d asked for it, and it could have been a lot worse.
There was a knock on the door. “It is eight o’clock, Miss Kane.”
Speaking of deals with supernatural beings. Elise had been foisted on me by a crazy rat god as the price for some annoyingly vague information. She turned out to be an animated statue, but she doesn’t take up much space, she brews a mean cup of coffee, and she fixed my washing machine. So it was working out pretty well.
I pulled on my fluffy dressing gown and went through to the living room. There was a mug of coffee and a banana waiting for me on the dining table. Elise was a big believer in the practical value of the humble banana.
I do not like bananas.
“Did you sleep well?” asked Elise.
She still looked like a supermodel, but since she’d started buying her own clothes, she’d taken to dressing like a librarian. She was currently wearing a long tweed skirt and a silk blouse with a grey woollen cardigan over the top. She told me once that she chose her clothes partly for their texture. I unloaded her laundry a couple of weeks ago and she’s got some of the nicest underwear I’ve ever seen. And I like to think I’m an expert.
“Same old, same old.” I slumped down at the table. “Misty London, scary chick in green, faint sexual undertone.”
“I am concerned, Miss Kane. Restful sleep is a necessary biological function. I do not believe this can be good for you.”
“Elise, I drink, I smoke, I’m dating a vampire.” I picked up the banana and waved it under her nose. “Apart from these, I don’t think I do anything that’s good for me.”
“That is poor reasoning. The fact that you undertake many activities that are harmful to you should lead you to minimise risks in other areas of your life. But I am pleased you are still eating your bananas.”
I diligently ate my banana, finished my coffee, and got dressed. By the time I got down to the car, Elise was settled in the driver’s seat and was programming the TomTom. Since Elise doesn’t eat and only pays me a nominal rent, she spends most of her salary on gadgets. My flat is piling up with coffeemakers, sandwich toasters, automatic coin sorters, and hard-core power tools. She also has this remote control helicopter, but after the incident with my drinks cabinet, she’s no longer allowed to use it in the flat.
I got in and buckled up. I never used to be comfortable in the passenger seat. It was kind of a control thing. But driving makes Elise so damn happy that I feel like a dick saying she can’t. And I’ve come to appreciate the headspace. Or the extra twenty minutes sleep.
A lilting Welsh woman instructed us to turn left out of the driveway.
I gestured at the TomTom on the dashboard. “You’ve been driving us to work for three months now. Why do you need a satnav?”
“I thought it would be useful to have a second opinion.”
“And I don’t count, do I?”
“Your voice is not so pleasant, Miss Kane.”
“What’s wrong with my voice?”
“I do apologise. I was merely teasing. I assure you, your voice is sweet and melodious.”
Sometime later, the Welsh woman helpfully informed us that we had arrived at our destination, and we went up to the office. Archer’s name was still on the door, but Elise had taken his desk. She’d made a few other changes too, like getting the paperwork off the floor and into the filing cabinet, and I had about half as many unprocessed invoices and unpaid bills as I’d had three months ago.
We were just wrapping up the Fletcher case. Mrs. Fletcher had hired us to find out if her husband was cheating on her. That sort of job is the bread and butter of the detective business, but it’s fucking depressing because, basically, everybody loses. Either they’re cheating and so your marriage is ruined. Or they’re not, in which case you’ve wasted a tonne of money and destroyed the trust in your relationship. Mr. Fletcher had been cheating, but it had been tough to get evidence because his mistress was a ghost, so she hadn’t actually shown up on film, which meant we’d had to shell out for some good, old-fashioned spirit photography.
Wrapping up the job left me officially between cases, and frankly, there wasn’t much chance of anything major coming up until after Christmas.
Elise would probably want to use the time productively to get on top of the bookkeeping. I was looking forward to taking a break, spending some quality time with my vampire girlfriend, and heading back up north to visit the folks. I hadn’t seen much of Julian since I’d rescued her from the King of the Court of Love, because there’d been some major political fallout since I’d taken the Prince of Swords down a sewer, and he hadn’t come out again. The advantage of not seeing someone as much as you’d like is that when you do, the sex is fucking amazing. On the other hand, since Julian is the vampire prince of pleasure that kind of comes as standard. So you’re mostly left with the disadvantage, which is, well, that you don’t see them as much as you’d like.
I’d known what I was getting into from pretty much the moment I walked into her office, and I’m well past my spend-every-moment-together-I-am-nothing-without-you phase, but I don’t like keeping to someone else’s schedule. Maybe I’m messed up, but missing her makes me feel needy, and that makes me feel annoyed, and that makes me drink too much, and that makes Elise sad, and that makes me feel guilty, and that makes me more annoyed.
And then I see Julian and it’s all wonderful.
I stared moodily out of the window and thought about going outside for a fag break. Since Elise started working for me, I’m legally obliged to provide a smoke-free environment so I don’t give her lung cancer, despite the fact that, as far as I know, she doesn’t have lungs.
That was when Tash walked into my office.
I’d pulled her at the Candy Bar about three months ago but entirely failed to follow through. She’d given me her number and I’d given her my card, but I’d never called her and I’d never expected to see her again. It was pretty obvious this wasn’t a social visit. She still had that quirky pixie look, but it was like someone had stolen all her magic dust.
“Uh, hi,” she said. “I know this is weird, but I need your help.”
Truth be told, it was a little bit awkward, but my social weirdness threshold has gone way up since my girlfriend tried to murder my ex-girlfriend because her ex-girlfriend tried to murder her.
“Take a seat.” I waved across my desk. “Can I get you anything?”
“Perhaps a cup of tea would be appropriate?” offered Elise.
Tash huddled into a chair. “Yes, thank you.” She had surprisingly good manners for a girl who’d been up for shagging in the doorway of Pizza Express. Elise disappeared into our tiny kitchenette, and Tash seemed to relax a bit.
I shunted my midmorning whiskey behind a stack of old case notes and tried to look professional. “What’s the problem?”
“It’s Hugh.” The words came out in a rush. “My brother, Hugh, he’s disappeared. But he broke his leg. We called the police, and it’s been more than two days, and I’m worried. He isn’t answering his phone, and nobody’s seen him. There’s this leaflet, and it says ninety-nine percent of people come back within forty-eight hours, but it’s been forty-eight hours and he hasn’t come back. And I don’t know what to do.”
I should probably have said something comforting but I couldn’t think of anything. “Who saw him last?”
“I don’t know.” She picked up one of the Kane and Archer pens Elise had recently ordered for publicity which were now scattered all over the office. “Probably somebody at the hospital.”
“The Whittington. He broke his leg changing a lightbulb. Because he was standing on a swivel chair because he’s an idiot.”
“Any history of depression?”
She shook her head.
“Any personal problems?”
“No, he was doing really well. He was doing this MA at Brunel, and he’d just got this major internship or something.”
“If he was at Brunel,” I asked, “why did they take him to the Whittington?”
“He did it at his girlfriend’s house in Highgate. He was only supposed to be in overnight but there were complications.”
“And he had no enemies or anything like that?”
“You’d be surprised.” I shrugged. “I know he’s your brother, but it would be really helpful if you could find out if he gambled, drank, or took drugs or if he had any debts or dangerous friends.”
She thought about it for a moment. “He played D&D.”
Eve had tried to get me into that. I played a gnome paladin and got killed by a big cube of jelly when I was level 3. After that, I just hung out on the edges of the group and stole their pizza.
At that moment, Elise came in with tea for Tash and a coffee for me. “Would you like me to take notes, Miss Kane?”
Tash shook her head.
“Okay. Miss . . .” I suddenly remembered that Tash’s surname was not the Teetotal Lesbian.
“Okay, Miss Shawcross is looking for her brother, Hugh, who disappeared from the Whittington Hospital in Highgate, between two and three days ago. He was being treated for a broken leg. The police are looking into it, but the family hasn’t heard anything yet. The police will probably see him as low risk given his age and circumstances. He was studying for his master’s at Brunel, and he’d recently started an internship. The accident happened at his girlfriend’s house, which is in Highgate. As far as Miss Shawcross knows, he had no enemies, no mental health issues, and no personal problems.”
“Just the broken leg,” added Tash. “That’s weird isn’t it? Disappearing when you can’t walk?”
That could have meant he’d been abducted, but the police take things like that very seriously. Since he was still floating around the MPB and hadn’t been kicked up to Serious Crimes, it meant it probably wasn’t a kidnapping. Or at least didn’t look like one to the police. So that left either the plot of an episode of Miss Marple, in which a man with a broken leg discharged himself from hospital for no clear reason, or there was something supernatural going on. Right now, the supernatural explanation looked more likely. But, then again, when all you’ve got is an enchanted hammer, every problem starts to look like a possessed nail.
“It’s a little unusual,” I said, impressed with my own tact. “I’ll need his contact information, current address, a photograph, as recent as you can get, digital is fine. I’ll also need details of the internship, his friends, and the name and address of his girlfriend.”
Tash pulled out her phone. “I’ll email you some photos. It’s Kane@kaneandarcher.com, right?”
I nodded. I remember when you had to wander around with a single copy of a crappy Polaroid. It’s way easier now everybody puts a tonne of shit online, but you still have to remember that, whatever people say about our media-obsessed age, people don’t put their whole lives on Facebook—just the bits of their lives they want their friends to know about. It’s not like you ever see so-and-so has updated their status: Borrowed 20 grand from Jimmy “Machete” Carter to fund my secret crack habit.
Tash glanced up again. “Done. I’ve also sent you all his contact details and his girlfriend’s address. Her name’s Sarah. They met at York when he was in his first year. They’ve been going out forever, like three years or something.”
“And the internship?”
“It was with Locke Enterprises. Hugh wouldn’t stop talking about it.”
Well, fuck. I was about to be hired by a woman I’d very nearly slept with to find her missing brother who was working for the woman who’d left me for a tech start-up at the tech start-up she left me for.
Not that it’s a start-up anymore. I’ve never quite understood what Eve does, but whatever it is, it’s massive. She’s the only person I’ve ever heard of who’s been on the front cover of TIME, WIRED, and DIVA in the same month.
There was a slightly uncomfortable silence.
“How much is . . .” began Tash. “I mean, how much do you—”
“Well, it depends on how much work I end up having to do, but it’ll probably work out at about three hundred a day.”
Tash turned a sort of grey colour. “Do you think you can find him?”
“I can’t make any promises.”
“I’ll get the money. I’ve got some savings and I can ask my parents if I have to.”
I nodded. “Have you still got the same number?”
“I’ll contact you if I need more information. And if you think of something or hear anything, let me know immediately.”
“So, what, do I just wait around?”
“Pretty much. But I’ll keep you up-to-date.”
Tash nodded, put down her almost untouched tea, and made her way to the door. She turned. “Thanks, Kate.”
“It’s okay; it’s my job. I’ll do what I can.”
“Okay.” She left.
“Well, it looks like those accounts are going to have to wait.” I tried not to sound inappropriately happy that some guy had gone missing.
“You seem devastated, Miss Kane.”
“We’ll need background checks on Shawcross, Tash, the girlfriend, and the family as well. There probably won’t be anything, but you never know when someone is going to turn out to be a secret member of The Royal Society for the Promotion of Human Sacrifice.”
“I will take care of it.”
“Thanks. And try to find out a bit more about this internship. What it involved, who else went for it, that kind of thing.”
“Of course, Miss Kane.”
I could really get used to having Elise around. She dealt with all the things I didn’t want to deal with, like paperwork and my ex-girlfriends.
I pushed back my chair and stood up. “I’m going to head to the hospital, see if I can find out why the police don’t think this is shady as all hell.”
“I will forward any relevant information to you.”
I nodded, grabbed my hat and my coat, and jumped on the Tube to Archway. It was a short walk up Highgate Hill to the Whittington, which was one of those shiny hospitals, all yellow brick, revolving doors, and gleaming glass. The reception area looked like something out of a hotel. Or maybe a spaceship. White floor, white tiles, and a circular pine-effect desk.
I took the direct approach.
By which I mean, I lied.
“I’m here to visit Hugh Shawcross. He’s in with a broken leg.”
The receptionist tapped apathetically at his keyboard. “He was moved to Nightingale ward the morning after he was admitted but”—more tapping—“it looks like he’s no longer a patient here.”
“You mean you sent him home?”
Tap tap tap. “Mr. Shawcross appears to have informally discharged himself.”
I guess that was hospital speak for just walked out.
Nobody was paying attention to what I was doing, and the receptionist was already dealing with another enquiry, so I wandered off down a corridor. Hospitals are a funny mix of high and low security. They’ll never tell you anything, but because they’re technically public buildings, you can bod around them as much as you like, as long you don’t try to walk into intensive care or something.
I followed the signs to Nightingale ward. Once I got away from reception, it was quite busy. There was a lot of running around and people in white coats whispering to each other in the corridors. I got the feeling this was not a happy hospital. Closer to Nightingale, things got even more frenetic, and I arrived just in time to see them rushing a covered body off the ward and into an elevator.
I’m not a doctor, but this wasn’t looking good.
Nightingale turned out to be the respiratory unit, which struck me as a strange place to stick a guy with a broken leg. The whole ward was in lockdown. I went to peer through the glass panels in the doors, but then I got pulled out of the way by a man in blue pyjamas who told me I shouldn’t be there.
“I heard my friend was transferred.”
“The ward is off limits to visitors at the moment.”
I faked concern. Probably not very convincingly. I’m fine with lying, but emotions, in general, are outside my comfort zone. “Oh no. Why? What’s wrong? Will he be okay?”
“The ward’s very crowded, but everything’s under control. Why don’t you try calling the hospital for an update in a day or two?”
My distraught visitor impression had exhausted my limited acting ability. “Okay.” I walked off the way I’d come.
So, Hugh had been admitted with a broken leg and ended up with some unknown contagious disease. This is exactly why I don’t like hospitals.
I really, really hoped this wasn’t going to be another zombie plague. There’d been an outbreak when I’d taken Eve up to Lake Windermere for our third anniversary, and we’d spent the whole weekend under siege in the hotel, making Molotovs from the minibar and clubbing reanimated tourists to death with souvenir walking sticks.
It sounded like the only thing I was going to pick up hanging round the ward was a horrible illness. It was time for a new approach. I don’t know much about hospitals, but I do know if you want information about pretty much anything, you find an administrator. It’s easy to be dismissive about pen pushers and bean counters, but there comes a point in your life when you really need to know where your pens are and how many beans you’ve got.
I followed the signs to the admin block and blustered my way into the hospital administrator’s office. She was young, hot, sleek, and irate. But then I had just barged in on her unannounced. The plaque on the desk read Rhona Conway.
“Can I help you?” she asked, in a tone that suggested she intended to do nothing of the sort.
There were two ways to do this. I could be subtle and clever and tease the information out of her with a plausible sequence of well-constructed fictions. Or I could not do that.
“Name’s Kane, Kate Kane. I’m a private investigator. I’ve been hired by the family of Hugh Shawcross to investigate his disappearance.”
Rhona raised one perfectly shaped brow into a delicate arch. “Thank you, Miss Kane, but I’ve already told everything I know to the actual police.”
Was it wrong that I kind of wanted to do her right there?
Okay, Kate. Be professional about this. Also you have a girlfriend. A girlfriend who can juggle cars.
“A man is missing, Ms. Conway. One of your wards is locked down. Mr. Shawcross was admitted with a broken leg, contracted an unknown respiratory infection, and then simply disappeared. This isn’t looking good for you.”
“I’m under no legal obligation to talk to you. In fact, I’m fully entitled to have you ejected from the building.”
“Look,” I said, “I don’t care how you run your hospital. I don’t care what’s going on in Nightingale ward. All I want to do is find Mr. Shawcross. I don’t want to make your job difficult, but I can.”
Rhona’s eyebrow went up again. Ngh. “Can you?”
“Mr. Shawcross’s sister is very upset and very photogenic. And the only thing the newspapers love more than a kidnapping is a health scare.”
“He wasn’t kidnapped,” she snapped.
“You seem pretty certain of that.”
She sighed. “Fine, you can see the tapes if it’ll get you out my hair. But there’s no mystery here. He just got up and walked out.”
“With a broken leg?”
“People leave hospitals with injuries and illnesses all the time.”
“Why was he transferred to Nightingale?”
“That is none of your business.”
“His health will affect his behaviour. Is he dying? Is he delirious? It makes a difference.”
“I absolutely can’t discuss a patient’s confidential medical records with you.”
Well, it had been worth a try. “Can you at least tell me who was on duty the night he disappeared?”
“Give me a moment.” She keyed a few commands into her computer. “All right. It was Tony Suen. He’s on days from Thursday, but if I find you harassing my staff, I won’t hesitate to press charges.”
“Don’t worry, I don’t harass people. I just annoy them.”
Ten minutes later, I was sitting in a back office, going through security footage with a bloke called Reg. This basically came down to watching empty corridors in real time for about six hours. And it’s not like you could kick back with a beer and a bucket of popcorn, although Reg did have a packet of dry-roasted peanuts, which he was happy to share. You can speed the process up very slightly by spinning through the bits where there’s blatantly nothing happening, although that can be counterproductive if you’re looking for supernatural creatures. Vampires move so quickly they’re hard to see even at regular speed, never mind on fast-forward. Sometimes I’d see a flicker and I’d have to go back and watch ten seconds frame by frame. By the end, Reg probably thought I was nuts.
A little bit after midnight on the third of December, the doors to Nightingale ward opened and Hugh Shawcross strolled out. Well, no wonder the police ruled out abduction. He was wearing jeans and a shirt and a knitted tank top, no coat and no cast. For a man with a broken leg and an unknown respiratory ailment, he seemed remarkably healthy. It took a moment to synch up the camera feeds but I managed to track his progress through the hospital. He didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, and nobody stopped him, but why would they? The last shot was him walking across reception before he disappeared into the night.
I get quite a few missing persons cases that go this way. I’d been trying not to jump to any conclusions, but from where I was sitting now, it seemed fairly clear-cut. Sudden disappearance. Short respiratory illness. Immediately healed of minor physical injuries.
Sorry, Tash, your brother’s a vampire.
Abductions & Arguments
I rang Elise from the front entrance of the hospital.
“Good evening, Miss Kane.”
“Hugh’s a vampire.”
“Are you attempting to convey information, or are you trying to recreate a popular Abbott and Costello routine?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I am sorry. I thought you may have wanted me to reply ‘I don’t know’ so that you could respond with ‘No, I don’t know’s a werewolf.’”
“Elise, you can rest easy in the knowledge that I would never, ever want you to do that.”
“That, Miss Kane, is because you have no soul.”
I started walking down the hill back towards Archway. “Okay, let me start again. Elise, Miss Shawcross’s brother is a vampire.”
“Does this mean the case is closed?”
“Well, I still haven’t found him. But at least now I know what I’m looking for.”
“Do you wish me to continue my current tasks?”
“There’s no point shutting anything down at the moment. I don’t know why he was turned, or who did it, but it’s even more important we find him quickly. He could freak out and nom a bunch of people.” I paused. “Actually, prioritise finding the girlfriend because she could be in danger. New vampires tend to go back to what they know, and they can have real self-control problems.”
I arrived at the Tube station and started pushing my way through commuters. I’d really timed this badly.
“Very well, Miss Kane,” said Elise. “Shall I meet you at home, or does this merit an all-nighter?”
“It’s okay for you. Some of us actually sleep. But you’re right, this is important. I’ll come back to the office.”
“Would you like me to compile the takeaway menus?”
“Can we just get pizza this time?”
I looked up and saw Sir Caradoc, the eldest vampire kid of the last Prince of Swords, coming towards me. People were getting out of his way quickly. I’d only met him once before, and I’d been unfortunately naked at the time.
“Give me a minute, Elise.” I slipped the phone in my pocket but didn’t hang up. You never know when you’ll be glad someone was listening.
I glanced over my shoulder. There was another vampire behind me and two more coming in on either side. They wore sharp black suits and crisp white shirts, which made them look like the undead FBI. But, for some reason, they seemed to have the St John Ambulance cross embroidered in red on their ties.
This was also probably not a social visit.
And they also probably weren’t going to teach me how to put people in the recovery position.
Sir Caradoc came steadily through the crowd and got right up in my grill. He was a chiselled, blond Hasselhoff-alike. If we hadn’t been in a crowded place, and he hadn’t been an eight-hundred-year-old vampire who could have ripped my head off without thinking about it, I’d have lamped him one.
“Katharine Kane,” he actually fucking intoned, “by the authority of the Council, I arrest you for the murder of Aeglica Thrice-Risen, Prince of Swords.”
I was dead.
I didn’t even bother to think about running. He’d have caught me before I could turn round. And trying to resist arrest would look really bad. Not that I was expecting a fair trial. People who get taken away by vampires don’t come back. When all else fails, try bravado.
“I don’t think so. First off, I didn’t do it. Secondly, if I go with you I’m fucked. If I don’t go with you, I’m fucked. If I try and run, I’m fucked. If I try and fight, I’m fucked. I’d rather you just killed me now and got it over with.”
“You have no choice. You will come with me, and you will stand trial for your crimes.”
He stared at me coldly, and fear came crashing over me. Vampires are creatures of passion, and the half of their power that doesn’t come from blood comes from overwhelming the emotions of others. Julian feeds on desire, pleasure, and surrender. My dickhead ex-boyfriend fed on the twisted needy obsession he called love. And Caradoc, like all his bloodline, feeds on fear. Things were way more fun with Julian.
I braced myself and tried to meet his gaze.
It was the primal irrational terror of childhood and phobias. The kind that freezes you and breaks you, even though you know it comes from nowhere.
I was shaking, but I tried not to show it. I dragged my head up and looked him in the eye. “Enough of that. Let’s get this over with.”
He blinked and it stopped.
His three minions swept in and deprived me of my knives and my phone. I didn’t know how much of the conversation Elise had heard or how much use it would be anyway. I wanted to tell her not to worry, but I didn’t want to let Caradoc know she might have been listening.
They marched me out of the station and into a black sedan with honest-to-God tinted windows.
I was so dead.
After a miserable stop-and-start drive through rush hour traffic, I was unloaded in front of Aeglica’s rundown mansion near Holland Park. They bundled me inside and dragged me downstairs where they locked me in the cellar.
It was one of those proper dungeony cellars that TV serial killers always seem to have. Stone walls, stone floor, reinforced doors with little bars on them. I briefly wondered how you got one of these things fitted. Is there some kind of bespoke dungeon outfitter you can call in?
I checked the obvious things. Sadly, none of the flagstones were loose, the door did not conveniently lift off its hinges, and if there were any secret passages, they were too secret for me to find.
I’d been expecting this to come back and bite me in the arse. The only question had been when. Three months ago, Julian had been abducted by a crazy faery lord and I’d formed a rescue posse, which had included Aeglica Thrice-Risen, the Prince of Swords and all-round vampire badass. Things had gone, as we say in the business, tits up, and we’d only got out because Aeglica had held the faery lord down while I ran them both through with a magic sword. I still felt pretty shitty about it. Although I was going to feel a lot worse if I got executed. I had no idea how vampire courts worked, but somehow I didn’t think they were big on mitigating circumstances.
There was a slightly grimy mattress in one corner of the room, which put it easily in the top ten nicest places I’ve ever been locked up. I went and lay down because what else can you do? I get captured a fair bit. It’s kind of an occupational hazard. I should probably take up tai chi or something to pass the time while I’m waiting for the villain to come in and explain their master plan to me.
After a while, I heard raised voices outside, and then a stream of smoke and shadows poured through the grill in the door before coalescing into Julian.
She was dressed in the closest thing she ever got to formal wear—knee boots, leather trousers, outrageous cravat, military greatcoat with gold frogging and epaulettes. She looked like the bastard lovechild of Audrey Hepburn and Captain Hook, and for a moment, despite being in prison, all I wanted to do was feed her chocolate and fuck her senseless. Unfortunately it looked like that was the last thing on her mind. She had that pale, cold look that vampires get when they’re seriously ticked off.
“Next time you murder one of the four most powerful vampires in England,” she snarled, “I suggest you tell me. Otherwise, sweeting, we all end up looking very silly.”
“I didn’t murder anyone.” I rolled off the mattress and got to my feet. “There was a fight. He got killed.”
“On the point of your sword. On the point of the sword you were given by the Witch Queen of London.”
“He told me to.” It sounded pathetic even to me.
“I’m sure he did, sweeting, but you have no way to prove it.” Julian paced the length of my cell. “Mercy and Caradoc are out for your blood, and there’s nothing I can do about it because you didn’t bother to mention this three months ago.” She whirled to a halt and glared at me.
It wasn’t so much that I hadn’t bothered. It’s just that it’s hard to find a good time to tell your girlfriend that you’ve stabbed one of her oldest mates. I hadn’t exactly been hiding it, just hoping it would never come up. “I didn’t expect you to do anything about it. It’s not your job to protect me.”
“Strange as it may seem, Katharine,” she drawled, “this is not about you. How can the Council respect me if I don’t even know what my own girlfriend is up to?”
“What, you mean if you can’t keep your pet mortal in check?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“No, but you meant it.”
“I did not. But what you do reflects on me. And if you don’t trust me enough to tell me the truth about something like this, then you make a mockery of . . . of . . .” She threw her hands illustratively into the air. “Everything.”
I scowled. “I’m sorry I reflect badly on you. What do you want me to do? Sit at home in a white dress and bake vampire cookies?”
“Sweeting, I don’t think I’m being unreasonable here.” She was pacing again. “You didn’t embarrass me at the company picnic. You murdered one of my colleagues, and now the rest of my colleagues are annoyed about it and want to kill us both.”
There was a long silence broken only by Julian’s bootheels striking the stone floor.
“Look,” I said, “I’m sorry, okay, but I did what I had to do to save your, y’know, life.”
“Yes, yes, you’re my hero.” She gave a swift, sudden smile. “But where I come from, when you rescue someone, it’s bad manners to get them executed afterwards.”
“How do they even know?”
Julian sighed. “Kauri.”
“He sold me out?” He hadn’t seemed the type.
“He didn’t have a choice. He’s young, and several members of the Council can read minds.”
I didn’t know whether that made it better or worse. He hadn’t betrayed me, but I didn’t like the idea of the vampire gestapo fucking around with his brain. “Is he okay?”
“We’re not psychopaths.” She paused. “Well, most of us. But he probably feels bad for dropping you in it, which by the way, he wouldn’t have been in any position to do if I’d known what had happened.”
I slumped back down onto the mattress and rested my back against the wall. “Okay, I get it, I fucked up. But what could you even have done about it?”
“In case you’ve forgotten, sweeting, I’m a motherfucking vampire prince. There’s always something I can do.”
“What about now?” I asked hopefully.
“That’s the thing. It’s a little late. I could bust you out of here, and we could flee somewhere beyond the reach of the Council, and we could spend our lives dodging assassins and living in youth hostels.” She ran a hand through her hair. “I should just let them have you. I’d be very, very upset for a couple of decades, but I’d get over it. And, rationally, it’s clearly the best option for me.”
I gave her a look. “Rationally, I should have left you chained up in a sewer.”
Julian came over and sat next to me. She snuck a kiss onto my cheek. “Obviously, I’m not going to do that. I have, after all, never been good at being rational.”
“That’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me all day. Then again, the last thing somebody said to me was ‘Get in this cellar.’” There was another silence, and Julian took my hand. “So,” I said, “what are we actually going to do?”
That youth hostel was starting to sound really tempting. “That’s your plan? You go and cut dodgy deals with a bunch of bloodsucking power brokers.”
“No, sweeting, you go and cut dodgy deals with a bunch of bloodsucking power brokers. The Council already thinks you’re my pocket assassin. There’s no way I can protect you and protect myself at the same time. And while I am very, very fond of you, I don’t think we’re in the lay down my life stage of the relationship.”
“Why am I going out with you again?”
“Because, my one, my only, I am spectacularly good in bed.”
I laughed. “I knew there was something.”
Julian lifted her brows. “Many, many things. Many, many times.”
I had the feeling we were getting sidetracked. “How is this going to work? And you do remember I hate politics, right?”
“Not nearly as much as politics hates you.”
“No, seriously. I haven’t got a clue. In case you haven’t noticed, you guys are really fucking secretive. I know there are four princes and you do stuff. And there’s a Council which does stuff. But, beyond that, my knowledge is pretty vague.”
Julian stood up again. “You’re worrying me now, Kate. Quick crash course: the princes are the local powers, the Council is a loose association of twenty-two vampires that monitors Europe, the Near East, and about half of America.”
“So they’re in charge?”
“Not really. They just stop things going too batshit insane. We worked out a long time ago that if too few people have too much power it gets really bad for everyone when they disagree. The Council resolves disputes, recognises princes, and deals with stuff like, well, this.”
“Holy shit, are you telling me there are twenty-two super powerful vampires in town? And I have to make them all like me? I’m fucked.”
Julian grinned down at me. “The whole Council hasn’t gathered for centuries. You only need eight for quorum, including local princes and equivalents.”
“This sounds remarkably civilised for people who drag you off the street and throw you in cellars.”
“We are civilised creatures, but civilisation is power and control. It does not preclude throwing people into cellars.”
“Or—” I glared. “—looming over them, blocking what little light they get in the dungeon you’ve chucked them in.”
She rolled her eyes and hunkered down in a creak of too-tight leather. “Better?”
Well, no, it wasn’t really because, to be honest, the dungeon was bothering me more than the looming. But being pissy about it wasn’t going to help anyone. “So who’s in town?”
“There’s me, sweeting, but I won’t get a vote on this one because I’m rather obviously compromised. Aeglica would have had a vote, but you sort of killed him, and we haven’t chosen his successor yet. Sebastian, the Prince of Wands, has come up from Oxford.”
“Ooh, I’m honoured.”
“And Thomas Pryce, the Prince of Coins, of course.”
“But he hates me. There’s no way he can be impartial.”
She interlaced her fingers between her knees. “It’s not about partiality, it’s about power. Besides, Thomas never lets his emotions override his judgement. It’s one of his many infuriating qualities.”
“I’m so fucked.” I put my head in my hands.
“The Regent of the North is technically entitled to a vote as well, and I heard word he’d be in town for this one.”
I had no idea how all this stuff fit together, but I’d run into Halfdan the Shaper back when I’d been dating Patrick. There’d been a big territory dispute between him and the local werewolf pack, and I’d been stuck in the middle of it, as usual. I was pretty sure I wasn’t really on his radar anymore, which is how I like to keep it when it comes to shady vampire power brokers.
“That just leaves the Council members: the High Priestess, the Emperor, Justice, Temperance, and Death.”
I looked up again. “And Death?”
“They’re just titles and largely symbolic.”
“I told you, they’re just symbolic, but he is a bit of a fucker. His name is Diego de Flores. He was an inquisitor in life and it shows. He’s coldhearted and ruthless to the point of sadism, and he doesn’t like me very much. But he cares about the truth, and if he genuinely believes you’re innocent, he’ll say so.”
“But I’m not innocent.”
“Everyone’s innocent of something. The hearing isn’t about whether you stabbed Aeglica. It’s about whether you murdered him. Whether you planned his death with, as they say, malice aforethought, and whether I ordered you to do it.” She gave me an odd little half smile. “You know, you’re sort of making history here, sweeting. We’ve never actually put a mortal on trial before.”
For some reason, I didn’t find that particularly comforting. “What makes me so fucking special?”
“Well, not to put too fine a point on it: me. I have enemies, Kate, and they can use this. In a way, I’m as much on trial as you are.”
There was a pause. I wasn’t quite sure, but I think I was giving her a look.
She patted my arm consoling. “Don’t get me wrong. This is only the second time a Prince of England has been destroyed, so you really have achieved something.”
Here lies Kate Kane. She achieved something. Beloved daughter. Sorely missed.
“Okay, so what about the rest of them?” I asked.
Julian eased herself down beside me, tucking her velvets up so they didn’t trail in the dust. “The High Priestess goes by Sybil. She was a high priestess of something, back in the day. She’s three parts bonkers and, frankly, I don’t know why she’s here.”
“The Emperor is Abu Ishaq Jabril al-Rashid. He’s a risen vampire, like Aeglica was.”
Risen vampires are a whole different deal to turned vampires. Basically they’re people who were so pissed off about dying that it just didn’t stick. They’re insanely hard to kill—though, as I now knew, not impossible—and they were far more likely to have their own weird powers. Obviously, every vampire bloodline ultimately traces back to one of the Risen at some point.
“There’s an unconfirmed rumour,” added Julian, “that Sir Caradoc killed him at the Siege of Jerusalem back when they were both mortal. So he might be bearing a useful grudge.”
That was all very well in theory but I had no idea how it would work in practice. So, that guy who killed you that one time. Bet you’re mad at him, huh? How about letting me off?
“He’s one of the big players in Istanbul, which means he’s very, very good at politics.”
I slid her a sideways glance. “Why, what’s up with Istanbul?”
“It used to be Byzantium. It was also briefly capital of the Roman Empire. Its vampire population is more than a little factionalised.”
“Justice. That’s Kemsit. She’s another Risen. She spent her first centuries of unlife buried in the tomb of King Aha. She’s a little . . . disconcerting.”
That did not sound good. “Disconcerting how?”
Julian shrugged. “She looks about twelve, she’s five thousand years old, and she has a creepy obsession with death and judgement.”
That sounded even worse. “Next?”
“Temperance is Dr. Acton Knight—”
“Wait. You mean Patrick’s dad?”
“Oh, is that what he told you?” She managed not to laugh at me, but she made damn sure I knew she’d managed it.
“Yeah, I used to go to dinner with the family all the time.”
“And you never noticed that they looked nothing alike?”
“He had two gay dads. I was pretty sure he was adopted.”
“Well, he was in a sense.” Julian smirked. “He’s one of Acton’s waifs and strays. To be honest, you probably know Acton better than I do.”
“We haven’t spoken in ten years.”
Julian blinked at me. “Vampire. Ten years is nothing. I have people I consider to be reasonably good friends who I haven’t spoken to since the nineteenth century.”
So, to get out of this alive I had to win over two vampires princes, one of whom I’d had thrown out of a window by the guy I’d killed, a bloke I’d met once when I was seventeen, a crazy priestess, a power player from the place that invented plotting, a five-thousand-year-old adolescent, an honest-to-God member of the Spanish Inquisition, and my ex-boyfriend’s dad.
I was so very, very fucked.
Questions & Cellars
We sat for a while in silence, contemplating how fucked I was, until we heard footsteps outside and the cellar door opened to reveal a slim, olive-skinned youth with startling green eyes.
“Your Highness.” He bowed gracefully. “The Council is in session and requests the attendance of the prisoner.”
There was something about his stillness and the way he stood that reminded me of Elise.
“Thank you, Hephaistion,” said Julian. “We’ll be along directly.”
He nodded and withdrew.
“If you want to make a break for it,” she added, “it’s now or never.”
I honestly thought about it. But if I was going to die, I’d rather it wasn’t in a youth hostel. “No, I’m good.” I climbed to my feet. “Let’s get this over with.”
She led me upstairs, past the dragon skull and into one of the vast empty rooms that Aeglica had never used. They’d assembled an old oak table and a few chairs into a makeshift courtroom. It didn’t seem very stately, but it didn’t have to be. I was in a room with eleven vampires who, if you put them all together, were older than monotheism. Julian was eight hundred, and I’d seen her walk through fire and toss motorcycles around like frisbees. And since vampires tend to get more powerful with age, I didn’t even like to think about how dangerous some of these people were.
I desperately surveyed the gathering, trying to work out who was who. It was like some kind of dreadful party game or one of those icebreakers where you have to find someone who plays a musical instrument and speaks Portuguese. Except you die if you get it wrong.
I already knew Caradoc, and since Mercy had six-inch talons and was dressed like an Edwardian widow, I would have recognised her anywhere. Acton Knight obviously hadn’t changed in the last ten years on account of being immortal, and wore the same look of well-groomed sincerity he’d had when I’d been dating his “son.” The Regent of the North probably hadn’t changed either, but to be honest, I couldn’t remember that much about him. He seemed shorter and slighter than I remembered, but his eyes were just as bright and just as green. He had his feet on the table. Next to him, the Prince of Coins was watching me coldly—Julian had said he wouldn’t let his feelings get in the way of things, but that wasn’t something I fancied betting my life on. It seemed like all the local vampires were sitting together which meant that the pretty blond with the faraway look in his eyes must have been Sebastian Douglas, the Prince of Wands. The Elise-alike who’d come to summon us was standing beside him, a hand resting lightly on the prince’s shoulder.
So far, so good.
That just left the Council. At the risk of making assumptions, the Middle Eastern gentleman in the sharp suit was probably al-Rashid, the guy dressed like a priest was probably Diego de Flores, and the batty hippie in the floaty dress was probably Sybil.
That just left the incredibly creepy girl sitting cross-legged in the middle of the table. She was barefoot and wearing oversized jeans and a faded green T-shirt. This had to be Kemsit. There was a set of brass scales on the table in front of her.
“Katharine Kane, Princess of the Deepwild, Knight of the Witchcourt of London,” she said, “you stand accused of the murder of Aeglica Thrice-Risen, Fenwalker, Shadowdweller, Oathbreaker, Kinkiller, Manslayer, Exile, Hero, who in England was called the Prince of Swords.”
“Uh,” I tried, “not guilty.”
The Inquisitor laughed. I’ve heard some evil laughs in my time, but this guy sounded like he practiced.
Great. I was fucking this up already.
“This is not a mortal court, Katharine Kane.” Kemsit’s voice was, at once, girlish and ancient. And, it went without saying, creepy as fuck. “We care only for the truth.”
“So what am I here for?”
“To give it to us. Now speak.”
I looked at Julian, hoping for a clue, but she wouldn’t meet my eyes. Thanks a lot, Your Highness. I took a deep breath. “I did not murder Aeglica Thrice-Risen.”
“Lies!” cried Caradoc, banging his fist on the table.
Kemsit turned her head slowly and stared at him. I guessed this was some kind of faux pas. Perhaps I’d get really lucky and my enemies would fuck this up worse than I did. Finally, she turned her searchlight gaze back to me. “We have a witness who saw him die on the point of your sword.”
This was where it got tricky. I was not at all comfortable standing in front of a vampire court and presenting a defence that basically came down to well, it depends what you mean by murder.
“We were fighting a faery lord called the King of the Court of Love. Aeglica was caught in full daylight. The only chance we had was for him to pin the creature down while I ran it through.”
There was a moment of silence. Kemsit stared at me, black eyes unblinking.
“If it please the Council.” Mercy turned to me. “It seems to me that you knowingly sacrificed the Prince of Swords to save Julian Saint-Germain.”
And I was pretty sure he told me to wasn’t going to cut it either. It had sounded bad enough when I’d said it to Julian. “Aeglica knew what he was doing. None of us would have escaped if it hadn’t been for him.”
There was another silence. I could feel a prickle of sweat on the back of my neck.
To my surprise, the Prince of Wands spoke up. “It seems to me,” he murmured, “that it is manifestly implausible for Miss Kane to have overpowered Aeglica Thrice-Risen. That she was able to hurt him at all is surely evidence that the situation was truly as hopeless as she claims.”
I hadn’t expected anybody to be on my side. This was either really good or really bad in ways I couldn’t work out yet.
Diego de Flores leaned forwards, with his chin on his hand. “You forget there was witchcraft involved.”
“We have already spoken to the Witch Queen and the Priestess,” said Kemsit. “I am satisfied they were not part of this.”
“I am not satisfied.” Diego again.
Kemsit stared at him. It was kind of like watching tectonic plates push against each other. “That is your right.”
“What of her sword?” asked Halfdan, so casually it had to be a big deal. I just had no idea how.
I squirmed a bit. “It’s enchanted. Nim— I mean, the Witch Queen told me there was nothing it couldn’t kill. It was the only thing that could stop the King of the Court of Love.”
Al-Rashid cast an incredulous glance in the direction of the London vampires. “Is this correct? Have you permitted the sorcerers to unleash a weapon that could kill all of you?”
“Only one at a time,” I offered. And immediately regretted it.
Until about twenty seconds ago, they’d all been looking at me like I was some kind of bluebottle, mildly irritating but probably too much effort to swat. And now they were looking at me like I was a deadly Australian spider that had been smuggled in on a pot plant. Potentially highly dangerous and best crushed quickly.
Caradoc shot to his feet. “We do not tell you how to run Constantinople. Do not tell us how to run London.”
Wow, this guy was worse at politics than I was. Maybe I was imagining it, but I was pretty sure Mercy was smirking behind her veil.
“Forgive me,” said al-Rashid calmly, “but I was not aware that you did, in fact, run London. Nor will you, unless the Council recognises your petition.”
Thomas Pryce looked up sharply. “Sit down, Caradoc. You’re making us look foolish.” Caradoc took his seat, glowering, and the Prince of Coins continued. “While this blade does, indeed, sound dangerous, I would remind the Council that we are long past the age in which the sword is the pinnacle of military technology. We will, of course, keep Miss Kane and her mortal instrument under observation, but there are other weapons in this world that pose a far more significant threat to our interests.”
“This is a distraction,” interrupted Kemsit. “Katharine Kane if you have anything more to set before us, do so now.”
I couldn’t think of anything, and I thought it was probably best to stay silent, so I shook my head.
“You may return to your cell. The Council will disperse while its members deliberate your fate.”
Knowing vampires, that could mean two hours or two years. I had a case to solve and a client potentially in danger. I couldn’t afford to sit on my arse in a cellar until a bunch of glorified cadavers decided whether or not to execute me. I needed a Plan B, and I needed one now.
Julian stepped forwards. “With the Council’s permission, I would ask that Miss Kane be released into my custody. She has proven useful to our interests in the past.”
The Prince of Coins raised a polite hand. “With the Council’s permission, the extent to which Miss Kane’s behaviour supports the interests of this body is exactly the matter under consideration. And, even if she is to be given the benefit of the doubt, to release her into the custody of someone known to be her lover is—if you will pardon my bluntness—laughable.”
Typical. You kill a guy’s progeny and you get him thrown out of a window, and he goes and holds it against you.
“Agreed.” I was getting the feeling Diego didn’t like me.
“It does seem inappropriate.” And neither did al-Rashid.
Acton Knight coughed gently. “While I share the Council’s concerns, I have known Miss Kane for many years. I can certainly vouch for her. If the Council feels the Prince of Cups is not a suitable guardian, then I will gladly offer myself.”
They took a vote, and to my surprise, twenty minutes later I’d been given my shit back and released into Acton’s care. I just had time to say a brief good-bye to Julian and call Elise to tell her I was still alive, and then I was being whisked through London in Acton’s Mercedes S55 AMG.
Well, this was weird.
“So, um, how’ve you been?”
He smiled. “Very well, thank you, Katharine.”
“How’s the family?”
“Thierry’s just back from Paris. He’s been designing a new park. Shelley and Heather are in New York for the magazine launch. Endymion is still trying to find his path, poor lamb. And Thom has a show opening at the Saatchi Gallery.” He paused for a moment. “Oh, and Patrick, of course, is still working for Sebastian. He’s undercover in a school in Finchley. I think he’s met someone.”
“When you say met someone . . . she’s not seventeen again, is she?”
“He’s a hundred and fifty.”
“As I said, he’s still young. It’s different for our kind.”
I let it go. Nothing good could have come out of telling Acton his son was a dickhead. And maybe this would get Patrick off my back.
“Thanks for letting me crash.”
“It’s a pleasure to have you, Katharine. You’re still family, after all.” Oh God. “I’ll try to persuade the Council to relax the terms of your release. But I’m afraid until I can, you’ll be confined to the house.” Oh God. “Of course, you must make yourself at home.” Oh God. “Thierry and I are having a small dinner party tomorrow. I hope you’ll attend.” Oh fuck.
“That’d be great.” I gave a rictus grin.
The Knights lived in a converted church hall in the fashionable part of Hackney. It was way less spooky than it sounds. It was all Dutch oak flooring and marble. It had decor. When I was seventeen, it was the kind of place I’d only seen in movies. Nowadays it was the kind of place I only saw if I’d been placed under house arrest by a cabal of ancient, amoral fiends. I guess that’s what you call progress. Patrick had the attic room, which he’d decorated in shades of granite, wrought iron, and self-loathing. At the time, I’d thought it was unbelievably cool and edgy.
Endymion was tinkling apathetically on the white grand piano in the open-plan living room, looking bored and beautiful. Thierry was sitting by the fireplace, wearing a turtleneck sweater and reading the sort of book which had a cover that looked like flock wallpaper. As I stomped inside, he looked up with an expression that suggested he was genuinely pleased to me.
“Katharine, chérie,” he exclaimed. “To what do we owe this pleasure?”
His accent was much less outrageous than I remembered it being.
“On trial for my life,” I said cheerfully. “Long story.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Acton, my love, what is this?”
Dr. Knight had come in behind me. “Council business. It seems that Katharine killed Aeglica Thrice-Risen.”
Thierry glanced from Acton to me and back again. “I’m sure you had a very good reason. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll make up the guest room. Perhaps you would like a bath? It must have been a long day.”
“Thank you, my love.” Acton went over and kissed him lightly on the lips.
The Knights had always walked a fine line between heartwarming and nauseating. Right now they were getting a pass on account of saving me from a cellar.
Endymion had started picking out the Danse Macabre on the piano. It was the closest he came to acknowledging my presence.
I followed Thierry upstairs, drew myself a bath in their second bathroom, which was just as vast and marble as the first, and then crawled into an oversized but perfectly made bed and passed out.
Exes & Apple Juice
I opened my eyes in the unfamiliar Dream of an unfamiliar room. I rose and took up my sword. An unexpected heaviness dragged at my limbs as I stumbled through a greyscale echo of the Knight family home. I could feel them nearby: one a presence like a sea without waves, another twisted round the house like ivy, the third something hard and cold, like a jewel without warmth or light.
Nimue waited for me downstairs in a dress of mist and silver. She held out her hand.
I reached out to her and we were standing in a glass and steel chamber high above the city. It was like looking down on a map. No, it was like looking at a hundred maps, pressed one on top of the other. I could see streets and houses, the grey serpent of the Thames, but also the multicoloured ribbons of Tube lines spiralling out from King’s Cross, the glittering fragile spiderwebs of wireless networks, the shadowy imprints of the sewer system with its lost rivers, and eight million points of pulsing light, each one a heartbeat and each one tied to countless others by threads of love and hate and loyalty.
“Yes,” said Nimue, her hand resting lightly against the small of my back.
I realised the heaviness had gone.
“I felt strange.”
“Vampires. They draw strength from the Dream, though only the most dangerous realise it.”
“Why have you brought me here?”
“To show you. This is my kingdom. War is coming.”
“What about that green chick I’m normally fighting?”
Nimue was silent a moment. “She is something else.” The glass around us shattered and she swept her hand over the cityscape below. The mists swirled into new configurations. “Look.”
I saw a shadow fall over London like black wings.
Nimue turned her hand palm upwards.
And I saw streets with darkness flooding them like ink.
“What is that?” I asked.
“I do not know. It clouds my vision. It challenges my sovereignty.” Nimue turned to face me, and everything fell away into a silver mist. Snow began to fall in soft, thick flakes. It glistened on the edge of my sword and dusted the dark coils of her unbound hair. “Find it.”
“How?” I asked the ceiling in Acton Knight’s spare room.
It did not answer.
I scrabbled for my mobile. I’d slept ’til nearly noon. Turns out that the threat of execution really wears you out. I rang Elise, explained the situation, and asked her to drop off a change of clothes, the charger for my phone, and my work laptop.
I lay around on the ridiculously comfortable mattress enjoying the ridiculously soft sheets and then went for a ridiculously lavish shower in the ridiculously lovely bathroom.
It would have been a great place to stay if I’d actually been allowed to leave.
I pulled on the clothes I’d been wearing yesterday and went downstairs to see if there was any hope of coffee in a house whose occupants never drank . . . coffee.
Endymion was lounging on a sofa, one arm draped over his brow. And Thierry was bouncing around the pristine kitchen doing terrifying things to food. Clearly when you’re immortal, life is no longer too short to stuff a mushroom.
“What’s going on?”
Endymion turned his head almost imperceptibly in my direction. “Father is cooking for mortals,” he drawled, “and he’s fearfully excited about it.”
“Don’t be like that, Dimmy,” trilled Thierry. “We have this enormous beautiful kitchen, and we never use it.”
“Yes, it’s amazing how little use you get out of a lemon zester on an all-blood diet.”
“Is there any chance of any coffee?” I asked.
“Absolutely, chérie.” Thierry busied himself with a French press, and soon the smell of cooking was overlaid by the—frankly superior—smell of coffee.
There seemed to be a lot of food happening. Thierry had already prepared three plates of canapés.
“Uh, how many people are you expecting tonight?”
“And how many of them actually eat?”
“Two, but it’s all about the presentation.”
“Right. Hang on, who’s the other one?”
“Patrick’s new girlfriend. We’re all really looking forward to meeting her.”
Well, fuck. I hated big social gatherings, I hated seeing Patrick, and I was about a decade too old to be hanging around with teenagers. I had no idea what seventeen-year-olds were into these days but, unfortunately, in this girl’s case, the answer seemed to be Patrick, which would make for some awkward conversations.
Hi, so, One Direction, eh? They’re a popular beat combo. Has he started watching you sleep, yet?
If they were at the meeting-the-family stage, that meant they’d probably had about a month of him pretending to hate her, another month of no, no, stay away from me, and a month of I cannot exist without you. If they kept to schedule, people would be trying to murder her by Christmas.
I drank my coffee and made small talk until the doorbell rang.
“That’ll be for me. Do you mind if we use the study?”
“Oh, make yourself at home,” said Thierry, with an extravagant gesture. “You’re still family as far as we’re concerned.”
I went and let Elise in. She looked worried.
“Are you well, Miss Kane?”
“Honestly, I’m fine. Obviously I won’t be so great if they execute me, but so far, so good.”
“What can be done?”
“Nothing really. Anyway, we’re on a case.”
“Indeed. I brought the files.”
I led her into the study and sat down on Acton’s huge leather swivel chair. I’d seen these things in catalogues, but they cost more than my car. Though, to be fair, that wasn’t difficult. I’ve probably had takeaways that cost more than my car.
Elise stood like always and de-bagged my laptop. I booted it up and plugged my phone in to charge. That was one crisis avoided, at least.
“I’ve located the girlfriend, Miss Sarah Katz. She works as a new media consultant and owns a small flat in Highgate.”
“Good work. She’s not a vampire or anything, is she?”
“Not that I could ascertain, Miss Kane.”
“What about his friends?” I couldn’t help myself. I started spinning round on the chair.
“My investigations revealed that Mr. Shawcross was not an especially sociable young man. He has a small, closely knit circle of friends with whom he had a weekly Vampire: The Requiem game.”
I stopped spinning. “What: the What?”
“I spoke to a particularly helpful young gentleman who went by the name of Warlock. He informed me that it was a form of interactive collective storytelling in a modern gothic milieu. He invited me to join their group.” Elise paused a moment. “He seemed most insistent that I would find it pleasurable.”
I’ll bet he did. “I take it this has nothing to do with actual vampires?”
“No, Miss Kane. When I enquired, Mr. Warlock was very keen to explain to me that they understood the game to be a work of fiction, and they would under no account become lost in the steam tunnels under the university, nor would they ritually sacrifice anyone in an attempt to, and I quote, ‘take the game to the next level.’ I confess, Miss Kane, at this stage I had rather lost track of the conversation.”
“No shit.” I found the tilt lever on the side of the chair and put it all the way back. A little footstool unfolded underneath. “Is there anything else about Mr. Shawcross?”
“I ran thorough background checks. Student loans aside, he was financially solvent. He was living on campus at Brunel, where he was pursuing a master’s degree in computer game design. I believe he was particularly interested in motion capture. I found no evidence of any serious personal problems and nothing that would have brought him into contact with vampires.”
I was really comfortable, but I try to avoid talking business when I’m horizontal. I propped myself on my elbows. “What about this internship? It seems like a lot of supernatural power players have Locke Enterprises on their radar. Maybe someone’s using him to get to Eve.”
“All I know is that the internship itself was entirely aboveboard. I believe he was part of a research group specialising in image analysis.” She paused. “You seem disappointed, Miss Kane. Have I done something wrong?”
This was turning into a big pile of dead ends, and I guess my frustration was showing. “You’ve done fine, Elise. It’s just that we’re still looking in the wrong places. If Mr. Shawcross has become a vampire, and I’m pretty sure he has, then we probably won’t find him, unless we find out who made him one. And how. And why. And we’re no closer to that than we were yesterday.”
The door opened and Thierry stuck his head round. “Sorry to interrupt. I just wondered if I could get you anything?”
“No, thank you, Thierry.”
“I’ve got that cloudy apple juice you like.”
I dimly remembered that when I’d come here fifteen years ago, I’d said that I liked the cloudy apple juice they had in their fridge at the time, and Thierry had dutifully provided it for me at our every meeting since. I gave up. “That would be lovely.”
He turned his smile on Elise. “What about you, Miss—”
“Oh, sorry,” I said. “Thierry, Elise. Elise, Thierry.” Try saying that six times fast.
“If it is not too much trouble, I would like a mug of boiling water and a tray of ice cubes.”
There was a brief pause. It looked like Thierry was trying to work out whether this was a completely bizarre request or perfectly normal for a mortal. “Yes, of course. And I’ll bring some biscuits as well.”
We’d made very little progress by the time Thierry returned with a tray. It was a classic chicken-and-egg problem. We wouldn’t know who had turned Hugh into a vampire until we found him, but we couldn’t find him until we’d worked out who’d turned him into a vampire, and we couldn’t do that until we knew why he’d been chosen. A thought struck me.
“Thierry,” I said. “Do you mind if I ask a personal question?”
He perched on the edge of a low bookcase. “Not at all, Katharine.”
“Why would you make someone a vampire? I mean, vampires in general, not just you.”
“All sorts of reasons—love, jealousy, loneliness, pity, guilt, obsession. Sometimes you think someone will be useful.”
“Could it ever be an accident?”
“Thank heavens, no. We are not like humans. Making someone a vampire takes time. It is a delicate process.” His eyes went all dreamy. “When I turned Acton, I stayed with him all day and all night for a week.”
“So you’d normally stay with the person? You wouldn’t, say, just let them wander out of hospital on their own?”
“That would be highly dangerous. Unless you were very old and very powerful, you would have no way of controlling them.”
I got that sinking feeling. “Just how old and how powerful are we talking?”
“Older and more than powerful than me.” He shrugged. “But it would still not be a good idea. Without care, they may simply die.”
“So if, just hypothetically, someone had been turned and left to fend for themselves in a hospital in Highgate, what sort of vampire would have done it?”
He thought about it for a moment. “Someone very cruel or very careless.”
“Thanks, Thierry. You’ve been really helpful.”
“Of course, chérie. Can I get you anything else?”
“We’re good, thanks.”
“And the hot water and ice cubes are what you wanted?”
Elise took a sip of the water and then picked up an ice cube. “They are perfect, thank you, Mr. Thierry.”
He beamed. “You must join us for dinner, this evening.”
She glanced at me uncertainly.
I gave her my best Oh God, yes please, come to dinner look.
“Thank you, Mr. Thierry, that would be lovely.”
He went to the door and then paused. “I apologise if this question is a little intimate, but are you, in fact, human?”
Elise turned slowly to face him. “That is an interesting philosophical question, Mr. Thierry. I can think of no qualities that humans do not share with me that they do not also share with other entities that are not human. Certainly I am a representation of a human. And I believe, on reflection, that I consider myself to be one.”
“I think,” I said, “he’s asking if you’ll be eating the food.”
“Oh. I can eat, Mr. Thierry, although I derive no pleasure from it. I can, however, simulate pleasure if you so wish.”
“But—” Thierry’s forehead creased. “—you like ice and hot water?”
“And,” I added, helpfully, “washing machines and helicopters.”
“I will see what I can do.” He rushed out.
“So,” I said, as the door swung closed behind him, “as far as we know, Hugh had no vampires in his life. That means we’re looking for someone who would turn a complete stranger in a building full of other people, and then just leave them to wander out on their own. That pretty much narrows it down to a psycho, probably a powerful psycho.”
“Where does that leave us, Miss Kane?”
“It sounds callous, but our best chance of finding this guy is to wait until he kills someone.”
“That seems suboptimal.”
I fiddled with the chair again and managed to get it more or less upright. “It’s all we can do. Our best hope of keeping everyone alive is to protect the people who were in his life before his transformation, but unfortunately, fifty percent of our operation is currently under house arrest.” I struggled off the chair and started pacing while I gathered my thoughts. “It’s most likely he’ll go for the girlfriend, assuming he doesn’t just randomly start killing people in the middle of Trafalgar Square. Of course, we can’t rule out the possibility that it’s someone so powerful they’re controlling him from a distance. In which case, it was probably targeted, in which case, it was probably about Eve.” I sighed. “Which means when I get out of here, I’m going to have to call my ex.”
“This thought appears to sadden you, Miss Kane. If you prefer, I could go in your place.”
“It’d be better coming from me,” I said. “No offence, but sending an employee would look really, really pointed.”
Elise was silent a moment, and then, “I am sorry, Miss Kane. I am only eleven months old, and sometimes the subtleties of these things pass me by. My creator imbued me with all his knowledge of conventional social interaction, but I am discovering that this seems to be inadequate.”
“It’s okay, it’s complicated.”
“What would you like me to do now?”
“Just dot the Is, cross the Ts. I think we’re on the right track, but take another look at Hugh’s background in case he had a secret trip to Transylvania we somehow overlooked. Or, y’know, was cheating on his girlfriend with a vampire. And after the dinner party tonight, could you just swing by Sarah’s house and make sure she’s not being murdered or anything.”
“Would it, perhaps, be more prudent to watch Miss Katz’s residence all night?”
Walking wasn’t helping, so I dropped back into the chair. “That shouldn’t be necessary. He’s been quiet for the last three days, which means he’s either controlling himself or something’s controlling him. Most vampire attacks happen around midnight. It’s when they’re strongest and hungriest.”
“That is good news.” She smiled happily. “I was so looking forward to tonight’s party.”
I stared at her. “It’s going to be awful. It’s going to be me, you, the dickhead ex you helped me stab, his new seventeen-year-old girlfriend, and his crazy vampire family.”
“But Mr. Thierry seems very pleasant. And I have never had the opportunity to see so many people interacting in a confined space.”
Wow, way to make me feel like a loser, Elise. “Well, at least one of us is going to have a good time.”
Elise leaned down and gave me a hug. “Do not be sad, Miss Kane.”
I patted her back awkwardly like the way straight dudes do when they hug each other to show they’re not gay. “Uh, thanks.”
She packed her things and left me alone with my mobile, a laptop, a glass of cloudy apple juice, and the realisation I was going to have to ring the love of my life to ask if any vampires wanted her dead.
I still had Eve’s personal number in my address book because I’d never had the bollocks to delete it. It was strange that I could still dial Patrick’s number from memory because we dated in the 1990s when mobile phones were these weird luxuries only posh people had. But I couldn’t remember any of Eve’s contact details because they were all stored under Eve in a file somewhere in my phone.
I was going to need more than cloudy apple juice to handle this.
A couple of hours and the key to the Knight family drinks cabinet later, I was just about ready to talk to my ex.
I pressed dial.
She picked up after three rings. “Kate?”
“We need to talk.”
“What do we need to talk about? I know I didn’t get you pregnant, and you’ve already broken up with me.”
Wow. Harsh. “I broke up with you? You walked out on me.”
“Because you told me to.”
“Because you were never there anyway.”
“What was I supposed to do? Let my company go under to make you feel better?”
This wasn’t going the way I’d planned. “I was there for you when you had nothing but a half-built smartphone app.”
“And you held that over me for three years.”
Okay, change the subject. “Look, Eve, is anyone trying to kill you?”
There was a very long silence.
“Well, that’s a new one,” she said, finally.
“I’m looking for one of your interns. I think he’s been turned into a vampire. I’m worried someone’s trying to get to you.”
“I’m not a faery princess, Kate, but I’m pretty sure I can handle one neonatal vampire.”
“It’s not the intern. It’s whoever sent him. And you didn’t say no one was trying to kill you.”
“Not your problem.”
The line went dead.
The world was a bit fuzzy, and I wasn’t thinking too clearly, but I had a feeling that hadn’t gone so well.
This second Kate Kane novel is just fabulous and the series definitely has not lost its wondrously hysterical quality...a whole host of new folks and incredible situations making this three hundred and forty-six page book simply fly by.... I totally recommend this book to everyone. Brilliant!
I laugh more at Alexis Halls book than I do at any others.... Highly recommended.
That. Was. AWESOME. Seriously, that was so. So good. ...I loved everything about this book. The characters are great - especially Kate! She's so bad ass and wonderful. Elise is awesome, too. Eve. Everyone is just so well written. And the mystery, the mayhem, evil and ancient vampire queens. God rituals. It was all so cool and I love the world and the writing.
Alexis Hall has a way with words. And by that I mean Alexis Hall has a way of writing that combines snark with sarcasm and deadpan humor to the perfect degree.
...even better this time around....a fast-paced trip into a bizarre world where even the most common supernatural devices are bent into something different and new...Kate Kane is one of a kind.