Published in Canada by Engen Books, St. John’s, NL.
Digital Release: April 2017
Ebook Distributed by: Shakespir
Ebook ISBN-13: 978-1-926903-52-1
Copyright 2017 Amanda Labonté
Cover Design: Matthew LeDrew
Episode One: Going Viral
Table of Contents
Mr. Tall, Dark and Devastating
Liesel Andrews had three types of vampire blood on her shoes and she wasn’t even halfway through the night’s onslaught of patients.
“Bleed out in room three!” Prisha, the triage nurse, shouted from somewhere down the hall.
“On it!” Liesel called over her shoulder. She really hated the full moon shift. The rest of the month she might have nothing more than a sunburn or the occasional fractured wrist, but once the full moon hit, all hell broke loose.
For her part, Liesel was glad she hadn’t been around to see the carnage before the Great Truce. The vampires and werewolves might still detest one another, but they usually kept to their own corners.
With one monthly exception.
Liesel hurried out of Exam Room 2, where she’d extracted a piece of werewolf tooth from a vampire’s forearm, and moved into Exam Room 3. A female vampire lay on a stretcher, clutching her side while blood gushed through her fingers.
A male stood next to the bed. He was tall, dark and devastatingly handsome – the epitome of everything Liesel had come to expect from a male vampire. Only a worried frown marred his otherwise perfect features.
He looked at Liesel and the frown deepened into a full-on scowl.
“What took so long?” he snapped.
Liesel forced herself to remain calm. She’d been up for thirty-seven hours straight and she had a full day of classes to look forward to in the morning. Her pre-med training might make her qualified to practice medicine in the underworld, but amongst humans she still had a way to go.
“I’m Dr. Andrews,” she said, trying to keep the irritation out of her voice.
“Good for you,” Mr. Personality shot back. “Now do your job and fix her.”
Taking in a deep breath and biting her tongue, Liesel grabbed the chart from the end of the bed and quickly reviewed Prisha’s notes. “Wolf bite?”
“Obviously.” The male vampire apparently wasn’t finished giving Liesel a piece of his mind. “The witch out front said you’d be right in. Where the hell were you?”
“In case you haven’t noticed, we’re a little busy tonight,” Liesel said. She got a small sense of satisfaction when she saw his nostrils flare.
He narrowed his eyes at her. “I expect to be treated with respect. We’re nothing like the riffraff you usually get around here.”
“I don’t care who you are, I don’t discriminate.” Liesel stuck her head out the door. “I’m going to need a couple of bags in here,” she shouted down the hall.
“Got it,” Prisha called back. They really needed to get the intercom system fixed. Liesel made a mental note to add that to the hospital’s list of necessary repairs as she checked the chart for the patient’s name.
“Belinda?” She hooked the clipboard back on the end of the bed and walked around to her patient’s side. “I need to do a quick exam.”
Liesel fished in her lab coat pocket for a pair of latex gloves and pulled them on with a snap. She tried to be gentle as she pried Belinda’s fingers away from the wound and examined the edges where the skin had been ripped away.
Belinda cried out.
The male vampire moved closer, taking Belinda’s hand.
“It’s ok, I’m here,” he assured her.
“Hurts,” Belinda moaned, closing her eyes.
Jax looked to Liesel. “What are you doing to her?”
She ignored the question and spoke straight to her patient. “You’re going to need some stitches. Then we’re going to hook you up and replace some of that blood. You’ll feel better in no time, ok?”
Liesel went to the cabinet in the corner of the room and began taking out the necessary items. Stitching a vampire wasn’t much different than stitching a human, except vampires didn’t require anesthetic. They might have liked it, but it didn’t work with their biological make up.
“You’re going to do this here?” Jax glanced around the exam room in distaste. The walls were water-stained and the paint peeled, but it was clean and the items were sterile. That was all Liesel needed.
Besides, the rest of the building wasn’t in much better shape.
“We are,” she replied. “And you’re going to hold her shoulders.” Liesel picked up the needle and the suture thread. She expected more attitude, but Jax moved into place, resting his hands on Belinda’s shoulders.
Liesel took a deep breath, blocking out the annoyances around her, mainly in the form of the vampire man, and began her work. She did a simple interrupted stitch, cutting the thread between each suture. She felt the sweat trickle down her back, but continued without a break. It took a total of fifteen stitches to fully close the wound but at least the scarring would be minimal. Vampire skin had many healing qualities.
When she finished, she took a step back, swiping her wrist over her sweating forehead.
“At least you did a decent job.” Jax gave her a look of grudging admiration.
Liesel had had enough.
“That’s it!” She took a step toward Jax and saw with satisfaction that he backed up. It must have been her tone that did it. Though at five-foot-seven Liesel was by no means petite, the vampire had a good five or six inches on her.
“Maybe you didn’t notice, but it’s a full moon out there. And with all the vampires and werewolves tearing each other apart, we’re a little busy.”
To her extreme annoyance, Jax smiled.
“No,” Liesel continued. “You should know I don’t do ‘decent work.’ I do good work. Really good work.”
He smiled bigger, exposing his perfect white teeth. Liesel’s palm itched.
As though on cue, Prisha rushed into the room with a bag of blood and an IV drip. She took in the scene.
Liesel felt herself deflate. “Perfect. Can you hook up that IV? The patient will be fine when her blood levels get back to normal.”
Prisha nodded, causing her long dark braids to swing. “You’ve got a werewolf with a cracked tooth in room one.”
“Ugh.” Liesel strongly suspected that the werewolf in Exam Room 1 had broken his tooth on the vampire in Exam Room 2. She hoped neither of them knew who was next door. While it wouldn’t be the first time a fight broke out in the halls, she didn’t think she could handle playing referee tonight.
“I hate the full moon shift,” Liesel repeated to herself. She took off her gloves on her way out the door, throwing them into a nearby garbage container.
“Hold up,” Jax called from the doorway of the examination room.
She turned back, only to find herself on the receiving end his intense vampire stare.
Vampires and their damn dazzling.
The power of persuasion was something that came as naturally to vamps as breathing did to humans. Many potential victims would be easily cowered by such a look. Lucky for Liesel she was very nearly immune.
She broke eye contact and focused on a spot on the wall just above his head.
“Stop trying to dazzle me.”
“Ok, I’ll stop.”
Cautiously, Liesel brought her eyes back to Jax’s face. He was smiling again, but the intensity was gone from his stare.
She cleared her throat, fighting hard to keep a professional tone.
“What was it you wanted?”
“What are you?” he asked.
“I beg your pardon?”
Jax leaned against the door frame, looking her over. Liesel shifted her weight from foot to foot.
“You’re not a vampire or a witch. Definitely not a werewolf. What then?”
Liesel understood the question. It wasn’t the first time she’d been asked it since she’d begun her internship at St. Benedict’s Hospital for the Underworld, and it wouldn’t be the last. “I’m human.”
“Human?” Jax snorted. “I don’t think so.”
Liesel felt her skin grow warm. She took a deep, calming breath.
“You don’t think a mere human could cure your ailments?”
“Oh, I’m sure you could.” He pushed away from the door frame and took a step forward. Liesel backed up but a laundry bin hindered her progress.
“But you aren’t a human,” Jax continued. He parked himself a foot in front of her. Too close. Vampires had no concept of personal space. But then, their victims rarely minded. He stared at her and Liesel found it hard to move, hard to blink.
“Stop it!” She gave herself a shake.
“Stop what?” Jax asked, all innocence.
“Stupid vampire tricks,” she muttered, annoyed at herself. She needed to work on her vampire game.
“Sorry.” Jax didn’t bother to deny it. “I’ve just never come across your kind before.”
“A human? Maybe you need a scan. Did you hit your head?”
“You want to check me over?” Jax held his arms open in invitation. “I get that. But why don’t we get to know each other first? Like I’m a vampire and you’re a-”
“Human.” Liesel filled in the pause. “Now I really have to get going.”
But Jax continued to block her path.
“Humans can’t see our kind. Not vampires or werewolves. Certainly not witches.”
Liesel shrugged. “I have a gift.
Jax crossed his arms over his chest. “Either you’re a good liar, or you actually don’t know what you are.”
Liesel had a lot of weird conversations in her line of work, but while she was a curiosity amongst the patients she treated, she’d never had such a hard time convincing one she was a human.
“I don’t have time for this. You should keep your girlfriend company while the transfusion completes.”
“My girlfriend?” Jax seemed honestly confused for a moment. “You mean Belinda? She’s not my girlfriend.”
“Friend, cousin, whatever she is.” Liesel glanced at her watch. It would be dawn in an hour or two. Once the moon disappeared in the morning light, the stream of patients would start to dry up.
“All right.” Jax took a step back. “But we’re going to pick this up another time.”
“Unless we don’t,” Liesel said. She took advantage of his retreat and hurried to Exam Room 1. She rapped on the door with a quick knock, to let the patient know she was there, and was surprised to hear a familiar voice answer her.
Liesel entered the room. The doctor looked up from the tooth he was examining. The patient, a young male werewolf who’d been injured mid-transformation, was still half covered in fur.
“Glad you were able to take the lead tonight,” Dr. Jeraldo said as Liesel came into the room. The doctor’s flaming red hair and beard were a little messier than usual, but otherwise he appeared no worse for wear. As a werewolf himself, Dr. Jeraldo was unreliable during the full moon and true to form he’d wandered off before Liesel was even an hour into her shift. Fortunately, he was an excellent doctor every other day of the month.
“I think you’re going to have to remove that tooth.” Liesel looked over the doctor’s shoulder. The young werewolf squeaked in protest.
“Gareth, if you don’t want to lose your teeth, don’t bite vampires,” Dr. Jeraldo chided. “Anyway, it’ll grow back.”
“Do you need an assistant?” Liesel asked.
“Nah, I’ve got this. Why don’t you check with Prisha? If there’s nothing pressing you can go on home.”
“ Great.” At this rate Liesel might catch a two- or three-hour nap before her morning class. She walked out into the hallway and stopped in front of the triage desk. The waiting room was less than half full and no one appeared to be bleeding out.
Liesel paused while Prisha flipped through a file. Even the boring old scrubs couldn’t hide Prisha’s sparkle. With her dark hair, bronze skin and blue eyes, the young woman was a knockout. She was also a fourth-generation witch and that came in handy more often than not.
“You look dead on your feet,” Prisha said as she sized Liesel up.
“Thanks.” Liesel tried to stifle a yawn. “I was hoping I looked better than I felt.”
Prisha smiled. She could work back-to-back double shifts and still look fresh as a pot of daisies.
“It’s all routine stuff from here on out. We can manage if you want to call it a night.”
Prisha waved her off and it was all the encouragement Liesel needed. She was heading for the staff room when Prisha called her back. Figuring she needed to fill out paperwork Liesel stopped in front of the desk. Prisha did not produce any files, rather, she looked around to make sure no one was close by.
“Am I wrong, or was there some serious tension in the exam room?” she asked in a whisper.
Prisha loved gossip. Liesel was usually happy to oblige, but not when she was part of the story. She also wasn’t particularly proud that she’d lost her temper.
“In my defense, he was being a jerk,” Liesel said.
“He was being a jerk?” Prisha repeated as though the words hadn’t made sense.
“Yeah. He was acting all self-important, like he was too good to be here.”
“Well…” Prisha looked away, flipping open a file. “He is Jax Halloran.”
Liesel had a bad feeling. If she were a witch like Prisha she would say it was a premonition. The name Halloran was well known in the vampire community.
“I could tell something was up when I brought in the blood,” Prisha continued. “But to have it out with a lieutenant, that’s something else.”
“What was he even doing here?” Liesel asked. High ranking vampires never came through emergency. They’d never mess up their hands by getting into a street fight.
Prisha shrugged. “Maybe he was slumming it.”
“Maybe,” Liesel said in a low voice, but the bad feeling wasn’t going away.
Somewhere in the distance a bee buzzed along as it gathered nectar, but Liesel didn’t care. She was surrounded by sunlight and the warmth of a lovely spring day.
“Ms. Andrews? Perhaps you can answer the question?”
Liesel snapped back to attention. She’d been drifting off again. She knew it, and she suspected Professor Drummond knew it too. The droning sound she’d heard hadn’t been bees at all, but rather the sound of a terribly dull molecular biology lecture.
She never should have sat next to the window. Sunshine always made her sleepy. Especially when she’d barely slept for the past two days.
“Could you repeat the question?” Liesel asked. She saw a few of her classmates smirk. The pre-med program was competitive and there was no love lost amongst the students.
The professor gave Liesel a scathing look and repeated his question.
“What is the key difference between molecular cloning and Polymerase Chain Reaction?”
Liesel thought for a moment, picking the necessary information out of her brain as though she were opening the correct folder from a file cabinet.
“Molecular cloning replicates DNA in a living organism while Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR, replicates in a test tube setting.”
“Close enough.” Professor Drummond clicked to the next slide in his Power Point presentation. Thankfully, Liesel managed to get through the rest of the lecture without drawing attention back to herself.
Not wanting to chance falling asleep when she had a pile of homework to catch up on, Liesel went straight to the small cafe on the main floor of the student union building and ordered a non-fat venti hazelnut latte with an extra shot of espresso.
“Someone is fighting to stay awake,” a familiar voice said as Liesel reached for her coffee. She turned with a smile to find her boyfriend Josh standing behind her. “Mind if I join you?”
“I thought you had a group meeting for your HR project,” she said as Josh led her outside. Given the sunny weather, there were several students sitting at the outdoor tables, but Liesel and Josh found an empty bench near one of the well-kept lawns and sat down.
“We finished up early so I figured I’d come get a green tea on my way to the library.” He pushed a strand of brown hair out of his eyes. Josh avoided coffee.
“Lucky coincidence.” Liesel took a sip of her latte. Perfection.
“You know, if you’re still having trouble sleeping, a good dose of a Melatonin supplement might do the trick. It’s totally non-habit-forming.”
“I’ll consider it.”
“Of course, coming home from work might also help in the sleep department.”
Liesel looked up from her coffee. Though he tried to hide it, she caught the disappointment on Josh’s face.
“You went by the apartment last night?” she guessed.
He nodded. “Torie told me you were at work, but I thought I’d wait it out.”
Liesel felt a guilty lump form in her stomach.
“I got called in. It was an emergency.”
“I brought Chinese,” he said with a lopsided smile and Liesel felt the guilt lump grow. Chinese was her favorite.
“If I’d known you were coming by-” She stopped mid-sentence. If she’d known he was planning a surprise, what would she have done? Walked out on her shift? Changed the pattern of the moon?
Josh reached out and took her hand. His touch was warm, comfortable.
“It’s ok, I should have called ahead. I know how much you work.”
Liesel squeezed his fingers. “I’m lucky to have you.”
“I know.” Josh laughed and let go of her hand. “Was it a busy night at the clinic?”
“It was.” Liesel sipped her drink. As far as Josh and her roommate Torie knew, she’d gotten a job interning at a walk-in clinic downtown. They’d assumed her clientele was less than respectable and Liesel hadn’t bothered to correct them. Many vampires and werewolves weren’t exactly upstanding citizens.
“Are you sure you couldn’t get a nice campus internship?” Josh brought up one of his favorite subjects. “I mean, your marks are great.”
“I probably could, but no one else would let me have the hands-on experience I get at the clinic.”
This, of course, was the truth.
“And the pay is pretty good,” she continued. “I’d like to get into med school before I have to take out a loan.”
“Well, at least you have Saturday off, right?” Josh switched topics.
“I do.” She’d booked it off weeks ago, at Josh’s insistence.
“I can’t wait for you to see this band,” he said as he popped the lid off his cup and pulled the tea bag out. He dropped it into the grass next to him. “They’re going to be the next indie wonder.”
Josh managed bands in his spare time and while most fell apart after a couple of months, a few had hung on long enough to land a small amount of success on the local scene. It was enough to keep Josh going.
Liesel liked that they both had side projects, even if she couldn’t talk about hers.
Josh was explaining the order of his band’s set list when Liesel suddenly had the feeling that something was… off. She looked around. There he was, on the other side of the courtyard, leaning against a maple tree. Though he wore sunglasses, Liesel could feel Jax’s intense gaze on her.
“Earth to Liesel,” Josh joked and Liesel realized she hadn’t heard a thing he’d said for the last minute or so.
“Sorry, I must still be tired.” She took a long drink of her coffee.
“What were you looking at?” He peered over her shoulder, squinting, but apparently couldn’t see anything of interest.
“Nothing. What were you saying?”
“It can wait.” Josh leaned in and gave her a light kiss on the nose. “I love you even when you’re off in your own little world.”
Liesel tried to smile but she was intensely aware of the vampire standing under the tree, watching.
“I should be getting to class.” Josh glanced at the time on his cell phone. “Do you have one as well?”
“No, I’m done for the day.” She stood up, gave Josh a quick kiss and watched him walk toward the business administration building. When he was out of sight she headed in the direction of the trees, where she’d seen Jax. She walked around the entire area but could find no sign of him.
Giving up, Liesel decided to call it a day and headed for the bus. Despite her unease that Jax was following her, she couldn’t help being taken with her surroundings. Especially when the sun was out. The campus of Laceflower University was full of the vintage charm that was partly responsible for luring Liesel to the big east coast city, away from the small Ontario town where she’d grown up. The buildings were made of red bricks framed by white columns. Clock towers kept time for the students hanging out in the courtyards and monuments to legends from another time were scattered about in prominent display.
It was funny that none of the other students wandering between classes knew their school was located in the center of one the world’s most populated vampire and werewolf havens.
Liesel hurried down a tree-lined path that lead out onto one of the main roads and arrived at her stop just as the city bus was pulling up. She swiped her pass, taking her usual seat near the back. As the bus pulled away she couldn’t get rid of the nagging worry over Jax. She wondered what the penalty would be for mortally offending one of the top lieutenants in the New Port Vampire League.
The clans of vampires, witches and werewolves that made up the underworld had strong constitutions that protected humans from any harm. Not because they were particularly attached to people, but because harming humans what the sort of thing that would cause unwanted attention. And drawing unwanted attention to themselves was what had driven them out of Europe and into the New World in the first place.
Though humans were born without the ability to sense the differences between themselves and underworlders, it didn’t mean they couldn’t become suspicious, looking for superficial differences. That made it preferable for underworlders to live their lives separately from the humans.
So, as a human, there was nothing much to fear from Jax.
With that reminder to herself, Liesel slipped in her ear buds and watched the buildings blur by for a few minutes, taking in the rambling campus. Laceflower University had been named not for a flower, as Liesel had originally thought, but for a boat that had carried passengers from Europe to the New World. Unlike the Pilgrims on the Mayflower, these voyagers were largely made up of vampires, werewolves and a few witches.
Though you’d never find that fact in any of the local libraries. As far as the human citizens of New Port were concerned, their ancestors had crossed over with respectable gentleman farmers and merchants. Liesel had managed to expand her own education by hanging out in the small library at St. Benedict’s on slow nights where the reading material was much more extensive.
Having read through Dr. Jeraldo’s historical collections, Liesel could see the city of New Port in a way that none of its other human inhabitants could. She knew which monuments had been erected by vampires, which parks had been endowed by werewolves, which buildings had been constructed by a combination of both.
Liesel continued looking out the window until she caught a glimpse of the city’s famous seaport, where boats from all over the world were docked. When she had a spare hour, which wasn’t often, she loved walking along the harbor front and taking in the day’s array of vessels. Sometimes she’d let her imagination take flight and wondered what her life would be like if she took off on one of those boats to some foreign land.
But she wasn’t that adventurous. Not really.
As the port disappeared, she turned on a random song on her iPhone and settled in for the ride. Eyes closed, lost in the music, she nearly jumped out of her skin when she felt a hand on her shoulder.
“What the-” She pulled the earphones out and twisted in her seat to see Jax behind her, a smile tugging on his lips. He was dressed in a designer leather jacket and jeans. Though he appeared to be in his early twenties, Liesel knew he had to be much, much older.
“I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said, but the smirk on his face was less than contrite.
“What are you doing here?” Liesel looked around, but it was too early for rush hour and the bus was mostly empty. An elderly lady dozed near the front and a couple of teenagers sat together, fully absorbed by images on a tablet.
“I told you I wasn’t done with our conversation,” he said as though she should have expected to find him in the seat behind her.
“If you have a problem with how I acted at the hospital, file a complaint with Dr. Jeraldo,” Liesel grumbled and reached for her earphones. Jax easily pulled them out of her hands.
“You think I have an HR issue?” he laughed, and Liesel hated that it made him appear even more attractive.
“What else would you want from me?”
The smile fell away from Jax’s face and he stared at her for a moment.
“Are you really this naive?”
Liesel stiffened. “There’s no need to be rude.”
Jax ignored her comment.
“You can’t expect to wander through our world as a human and not raise serious questions.”
“Not this again,” Liesel muttered. “You need help.”
“I’m not the one acting like something I’m not.”
“I am not acting like a human,” Liesel burst out. The napping old lady stirred but didn’t wake up. Liesel adjusted her volume. “I am one.”
“Humans can’t see us,” Jax spoke slowly, as though he were explaining the concept to a particularly dense child. “Not even if they believe really, really hard.”
“It’s a gift.” Liesel crossed her arms over her chest and faced forward, hoping he’d get the hint. “Accept it. Move on.”
“I wish I could.” Jax’s voice floated around her. She had the sense he was leaning on the back of her seat but she refused to turn her head to check. “I’m just doing my job.”
“Seriously? The second highest ranking vampire in the city has to spend his time following me to class?”
“You’ve been checking up on me.” Jax’s voice came right into her ear. Liesel shifted in her seat, inching closer to the window.
“Well, I’ve been checking up on you too.” His voice was low and still much too close. “We take any potential threat to our way of life very seriously.”
“Threats?” Liesel hissed. “I’m a doctor.”
“You’re a pre-med student,” he corrected and Liesel felt anger spike through her system. She twisted around until they were face to face.
“In your world, I am a doctor,” she said with a control she didn’t feel.
“You mean our world.” He was close enough for Liesel to feel his breath on her face. Unsettled, she backed up.
“What are you talking about?”
Jax leaned toward her, resting his elbows on the seat back and Liesel was once again reminded of the fact that vampires had no sense of personal space.
“If you walk amongst us in the underworld, you live by the rules of the underworld.” There was no humor in his voice and the tone sent a chill through Liesel.
“I’m not a threat.” Her voice shook and she fought to bring it under control. “I would never talk about anything I see at St. Benedict’s.”
“I believe you,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t slip up, unintentionally reveal something.”
“Even if someone followed me to work, they’d never be able to process what they saw.” Liesel knew she wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t know. “Human eyes can’t see the werewolf transformation. They can’t see beyond your vampire glamor when you feed. There’s nothing to fear.”
“But they can tell when something doesn’t seem natural.” Jax drew his mouth into a thin line. “And they can drive that away.”
Liesel tried to look at the situation from his perspective. If her history included being driven out of Europe and into the obscurity of an unchartered North American wild, she might be a little over-sensitive too.
“I was vetted. I didn’t just show up to work one day and pick up a scalpel. The hospital board had me checked out.”
“They’re a bunch of bureaucrats,” Jax said with a dismissive wave. “They don’t get security. Not like I do.”
“You know I’ve been doing the job for almost six months. If you’re so worried, where were you when I was hired?”
Jax looked out the window as they passed through a residential area.
“I’ve been out of town,” he said. “On business.”
“Well I can assure you that I’m very careful. I keep my two worlds separate.”
“So I saw,” Jax said. Liesel had a vision of him standing under a maple tree, watching her. Contrary to the myths, sunlight wasn’t absolutely fatal to vampires, but their skin was especially sensitive. Liesel had treated several nasty burns in the past.
“You should be more careful in the sun.” She leaned back against the window. It was more comfortable, but she could still see his face. “Maybe don’t stalk your victims in broad daylight.”
“Don’t worry about me,” he said with a wink. “I always wear protection.”
“How about you don’t stalk me at all?”
“Where would the fun be in that?” Jax chuckled. “You’re so very interesting.”
“I am not.” He was teasing her now and she didn’t like it.
“But you are.” Jax reached out, touching a strand of hair that had slipped from her pony tail. As he wound the lock around his finger, she caught herself holding her breath. “Diligent student by day. Vampire doctor by night. It’s fascinating.”
Liesel felt her lips tug into a smile despite her best efforts.
“But you need to drop the boyfriend. He’s dull as toast.”
And the smile was gone. Liesel sat up properly in the seat, forcing Jax to let go of her hair as she faced away from him.
“There’s nothing wrong with Josh,” she snapped.
“A ringing endorsement if I ever heard one.”
Liesel chose to ignore him and looked out the window instead, which was when she realized she was about to miss her stop.
“Oh shit!” She reached up and rang the bell.
“I assume this is where you get off?” Jax asked as the bus came to a bone-jarring halt.
“It is.” Liesel stood and grabbed her school bag. “And I would appreciate it if you didn’t follow me home.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Jax said as Liesel headed for the back exit. “But I’ll be in touch.”
Emphasis on the lots
Liesel stood in front of the bathroom mirror putting the finishing touches on her best attempt at an evening look. It was Saturday and she’d spent the day at the library, studying and catching up on her coursework before coming home to get ready for her date with Josh.
“Hurry up in there,” her roommate Torie called through the door. One of the drawbacks of their apartment was the shared bathroom.
“Coming!” Liesel took one last look at herself in the mirror. Her eyeliner was too heavy, her lips were too red and her hair had defied every attempted hairstyle so she’d pulled it up into a high ponytail to get it out of her face.
With a deep breath Liesel opened the bathroom door, ready to face the ridicule of her roommate.
“Oh my God, Liesel!” Torie shrieked. “You look awesome. You need to do this all the time.”
Liesel was going to ask her whether ‘this’ was the make-up, the skirt that felt too short, or both, but Torie pushed past her and began arranging her caramel curls in front of the bathroom mirror. Liesel envied Torie that hair. She didn’t have to do a thing with it except get out of bed and the chin length waves fell perfectly into place.
“You should come away with us for spring break,” Torie said while fixing her lip gloss. “It’s going to be so much fun.”
“I don’t think so.” Liesel could only handle her drunken friends in small doses.
“You can invite Josh too.” Torie pressed her lips together, testing her pout. “I know he’d be up for it.”
“I had been thinking of going home for a visit,” Liesel said. “Josh might like that too.”
Torie looked at her for a second as though she was trying to compute what Liesel was saying.
“Like, you mean go visit your family?”
“But you don’t have to waste your spring break like that.” Torie gave her a reassuring smile. “You have friends.”
“I’ll think about it.” Liesel decided to leave before Torie cornered her into agreeing to something she didn’t want to do.
Stopping at her bedroom to grab her purse, Liesel headed out to the common area to wait for Torie to finish up. The apartment they shared had two bedrooms and an open-plan kitchen, living and dining area. As far as student living went, it was pretty nice. It was also a twenty-minute walk to St. Benedict’s, which made the half hour bus ride to campus worth it.
Liesel’s parents hadn’t been thrilled with the living arrangement. Her mother wanted her to live in campus housing, but Liesel wouldn’t have been able to do the night shift with a dorm monitor checking up on her every move. Fortunately, Torie, a high school acquaintance, had agreed to move in with her and Liesel’s mother had backed off. For now.
Liesel sat at the small kitchen table, going through her purse to make sure she had all the essentials: ID, cash and lip gloss. She stifled a yawn as she checked her phone for updates from Josh and wondered if she had time to put on a pot of coffee.
She’d arrived at the library right after opening and hadn’t left the entire day except for lunch, coffee and to check that Jax wasn’t stalking her. It had been three days since their encounter on the bus and she hadn’t seen him once. Not lurking under any trees. Not hanging out at the bus stop. Not at the hospital during her last shift.
He’d obviously accepted that she wasn’t a risk. She was relieved.
Of course she was.
“We’d better get a move on,” Torie called as she left the bathroom. “We don’t want to miss the opening set.”
Liesel didn’t want to disappoint Josh so she abandoned the coffee pot, picked up her purse and joined Torie out front as they waited for a cab.
Four hours later, Liesel no longer cared about disappointing Josh. The bar was crowded, there was nowhere to sit, and she wanted to go home. Though the band had been playing the entire time, she hadn’t been able to distinguish one song from the next. Josh kept assuring her they were only staying for one more song. Three songs later she threw up her hands and headed for the bar.
It took a while to fight her way through the throng of patrons, but finally she reached the front of the crowd and got the bartender’s attention.
“I’ll have a cranberry juice on ice,” she shouted over the pulsing sound of the electric base. She would have preferred something stronger, but the bouncer at the door had pegged her as underage and made her wear a stupid wristband.
“I’ll have what she’s having.” A familiar voice caused Liesel’s stomach to flip over. She looked over her shoulder and saw Jax standing behind her. He was smiling.
“You want a cranberry juice?” The bartender asked him.
“Yes, but with vodka. Actually, make them both with vodka.”
“You got it.” The bartender, who no longer seemed to care about Liesel’s wristband, went to get their drinks.
“Please tell me it’s a coincidence that you’re here,” Liesel said to Jax.
“Hell no. I’d never come here on purpose.”
“That’s what I was afraid of.” Liesel sighed as the bartender returned with their drinks. Before she could get her purse open, Jax handed over a bill and grabbed both the glasses.
“Hey!” Liesel called after him. “Where are you going?”
Instead of answering, Jax headed into the crowd.
Annoyed, but also curious, Liesel followed Jax toward the back of the bar. He was taller than the most of the patrons, so it wasn’t hard to keep him in sight as he disappeared down the hallway where the bathrooms were located. As she rounded the corner, Liesel wondered if he’d gone into the men’s room – she certainly wasn’t following him there – but spotted him standing in the doorway of a fire exit.
“Come on.” He held the door open for her. Liesel went through to a scruffy yard surrounded by a chain link fence. The area was furnished with a couple of beat up lawn chairs, and the scattered bar glasses filled with cigarette butts made it clear what the staff used the area for.
Beyond the fence was a view of downtown New Port in all its seedy glory. Generally, Liesel stayed closer to the center of town. It’s where she lived and went to school. Downtown, drugs and prostitution flourished. Even the police were afraid to patrol at night.
But it did have the best night clubs.
Liesel took her drink from Jax and perched carefully on one of the chairs, not convinced it could handle her weight. Jax leaned against the wall of the building.
At least they couldn’t hear the band out here, Liesel thought to herself as she sipped her drink.
“Your boyfriend’s band sucks,” Jax said. “What are they playing? Rusty chainsaws?”
“No, hedge trimmers,” Liesel joked, and immediately felt disloyal. “Why are you here anyway? You can’t still be doing a background check.”
“No,” Jax agreed. “For someone who splits her time between two worlds you do remarkably dull things in both.”
“I am not dull!”
“I never said you were dull. Just your actions.”
“I don’t see the difference.”
“That’s not my problem.”
“If I’m not a threat then why are you still following me?”
Jax brought his drink to his lips and took a long sip. Liesel knew the vodka wasn’t enough to give him a buzz – vampires metabolized alcohol at a much faster rate than humans – but she wondered if the cranberry juice reminded him of blood.
“I need a favor,” he said.
“You need a favor?” Liesel repeated. “From me?”
Liesel could only think of one thing a vampire would want from her.
“I’m not letting you feed off me.”
At Jax’s affronted look she immediately regretted her assumption.
“I wasn’t asking,” he said.
“I’m sorry-” Liesel started, but he cut her off.
“I have lots of girls willing to let me feed from them,” he said. “Emphasis on the lots.”
She’d stepped on his vampire dignity.
“I didn’t mean to imply otherwise.”
“And anyway, I prefer blonds.”
“Now you’re being offensive.”
“You started it.”
“You want to tell me what was the favor is?” Liesel prompted, hoping to change the subject.
“For the love of-” Liesel began, but didn’t finish.
“I’ll pick you up at your apartment in twenty-eight hours,” he said.
“Twenty-eight hours?” Liesel reached for her phone and counted out the hours. Why did vampires have to be so damn cryptic?
“No way, that’s 6 a.m. on Monday morning,” Liesel said, looking up. But to her extreme annoyance she was completely alone.
She put away her phone, finished her drink, and wondered if the risk of getting mugged was worse than going back inside and sitting through another set. She hoped the vodka would kick in soon.
Heart attack serious
Liesel’s annoyance had not diminished when her alarm went off at 5:45 Monday morning. Whatever Jax wanted should have been able to wait for a more normal hour.
She briefly contemplated ignoring his summons, but he’d been following her for days. She didn’t doubt for a second that he knew exactly which apartment was hers or that he would wake up the whole neighborhood beating down the door.
Throwing on a pair of jeans and a hoodie, Liesel put her hair in a ponytail and grabbed her bag and keys. It was too early for make-up, so she put on a pair of sunglasses with wide lenses instead and headed out the door, making as little noise as possible. Torie was a light sleeper.
Though she still had two minutes to go, Liesel wasn’t surprised to see Jax in the pre-dawn light, leaning on a fancy red sports car. She locked her apartment door and hurried down the stairs to meet him.
“You’re early,” Liesel said, stopping in front of the car.
“Here’s a peace offering.” Jax handed her a coffee cup. As Liesel took it out of his hand, Jax plucked the sunglasses off her nose. “The sun’s not even up yet.”
Liesel grabbed the glasses and stuck them in her bag. She didn’t bother pointing out that the main reason for the glasses was to hide her tired eyes, not block out the light. Besides, it didn’t matter if Jax thought she looked tired. It didn’t matter what he thought of her at all.
She took a sip of coffee and couldn’t hide her surprise.
“Where did you find a hazelnut latte at this hour?”
“I know people,” he said with a shrug.
Liesel narrowed her gaze.
“How did you know I drink hazelnut lattes?”
“We should really get moving.”
Liesel stayed put.
“I’m not moving until did you tell me where we’re going at this ungodly hour.”
“It’s not an ungodly hour.”
“Your very early is my very late.”
“Right,” Liesel said, feeling stupid. Her brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders. She switched topics. “Then tell me where we’re going.”
“It’s a house call.”
“I don’t do house calls.” Liesel adjusted her bag on her shoulder.
“Not even for the city’s head vampire?”
“What?” Liesel asked, though she was certain she’d heard him correctly.
“We need your help.”
While Liesel knew a lot about vampire anatomy, she didn’t pretend to be an expert on their social dynamics. One thing she knew with certainty was that Dr. Jeraldo would not look too kindly on her upsetting the head of the vampire league. That was the sort of thing that could really affect the hospital’s funding.
“I guess I can’t say no, can I?”
Jax opened the passenger door for her. “I didn’t think you would.”
Of course it’s a convertible, Liesel noted as she got in. But, because the driver was a vampire and the sun was quickly rising, the top was up.
“Nice car,” she said as he turned the key in the ignition. Music blasted from a rock station and he tapped the steering wheel with his left hand, keeping time with the drummer for a few beats before turning it down.
“Thanks.” He pulled away from the curb and Liesel sat in silence for a few moments, taking advantage of the rare opportunity to see her neighborhood while everyone else was still asleep. It wasn’t the best area of town, but it wasn’t bad either. It was mostly older townhouses that had been converted from family homes to apartment units.
As she watched the buildings go by, she was reminded of the fact that she’d never given Jax her address.
“So you did follow me home during your stalking excursions.” It was a statement, not a question.
Jax pulled up to an intersection, treating the stop sign as a polite suggestion, before making a hairpin left turn. Liesel casually gripped the dashboard with one hand while steadying her coffee with the other.
“No, not exactly.” He glanced at her for a moment before turning back to the road. “I’ve been busy.”
“Then how did you know where I live?”
“I assigned someone else to follow you.”
“That’s not creepy,” she said, taking a sip of her latte.
“I had to make sure you were the real thing. I can’t risk bringing you in on something this important unless I know with absolute certainty you can be trusted.”
“This is about the house call?” Liesel asked.
Jax nodded. “We don’t have a lot of options for medical attention.”
“I suppose Dr. J is out of the question?”
“I know he’s a werewolf.” Liesel felt driven to defend her mentor. “But he doesn’t discriminate in his care.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Jax said. “He can’t come into our headquarters.”
“Right, headquarters.” The fact she was headed to the vampire headquarters, the hub of all vampire activity, was starting to sink in. “You must think it’s serious if you’re letting a human into your sanctuary.”
“Heart attack serious,” Jax said, his eyes never leaving the road.
Liesel let Jax’s words sink in. Whatever this house call was about, it wasn’t going to be a routine checkup.
“You know, one of the things we picked up on in our surveillance is that you aren’t very careful,” Jax said, breaking into her thoughts. “Walking home from the hospital by yourself, in and out at all hours. You do understand who your clientele is, right?”
“I’ve never felt threatened by an underworlder,” Liesel said as Jax blasted through another stop sign. “At least, not before now.”
“Like I said, you need to be more careful,” Jax continued as though she hadn’t spoken. “That boyfriend of yours won’t be able to do much in a werewolf attack.”
“I’m not going to be attacked by werewolves,” Liesel snapped, but she had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. She looked at Jax, considering his words. Was it possible her lifestyle could put the people around her at risk? It wasn’t something she’d ever thought about.
“I agree, it’s unlikely anyone would ever target you,” Jax conceded. “But you never know. What if one of your patients died and an angry family member followed you home?”
“My patients don’t die,” Liesel said. She was annoyed now.
“Always a first for everything.” Jax swung right and Liesel reached out just in time to keep from hitting off the passenger side window.
“Nice,” she muttered as the houses and buildings blurred together outside her window. She was thinking it was a good thing she didn’t get motion sickness when she saw Jax watching her. He smiled. It was his gorgeous, dazzling vampire smile. Liesel felt the corners of her mouth turn up. She couldn’t help it.
“There is one thing you do well though,” Jax said, turning back to the road. “You’re pretty good at fitting in as a human.”
The smile died on her lips.
“That’s because I am one.”
“Whatever you say.” He took a turn with such force the tires screeched. Liesel was grateful she was already holding the dash.
“Vampires,” she muttered under her breath.
“All right,” Jax said. “I’ll go along with you on this human kick if you explain one thing to me.”
“What’s that?” Liesel asked with caution.
“How can you see our kind?”
She thought about how to answer that question. It was common knowledge amongst the underworld that humans couldn’t see their members. Not witches, or werewolves, or vampires. Not as they truly appeared anyway. Human brains couldn’t process the unnatural. A woman looking at Jax would see a hot guy, but she wouldn’t get that he was a vampire. Not even if he took out his fangs and fed on her.
She’d just chalk it up to a wild night and wake up with a bad hangover.
Liesel leaned back on the headrest. It felt too early in the morning for a game of truth or dare.
“Dr. Jeraldo calls it a gift but I have no idea how I got it.”
Jax stopped at a red light and Liesel was pleasantly surprised to see him follow some basic road rules. He tapped on the steering wheel again, though this time there was no music.
“Have you always had this gift?”
“I don’t really know. The first time I saw anything was when I was sixteen. I’d been in a car accident, but I have no memory of it. What I do remember is waking up in the hospital to find Dr. Jeraldo treating me.”
“And you knew he was a werewolf?”
Liesel sipped her coffee. “I knew he wasn’t human.”
Jax seemed lost in thought for a moment but as soon as the light changed he laid onto the gas and charged ahead.
“Before you were sixteen, you never encountered anything?”
“No,” Liesel confirmed. “But to be honest, I come from a small town in Ontario. In all likelihood, there was nothing to see. I doubt there are vamps bagging groceries or serving donuts in rural Canada.”
“Ok, so when you were in the hospital, you woke up after a car accident, realized your doctor was a werewolf, and then … what?”
“Well I screamed for a bit,” Liesel admitted. “But once I knew I wasn’t hallucinating, I talked it out with Dr. Jeraldo. He was as shocked as I was by my ability.”
“Did he look for an explanation?”
“Yeah. We both did.”
Liesel waved a hand in front of her, like a magician doing a big reveal.
“Here I am. Still no explanations, but a decent job.”
“Working at St. Benedict’s.”
“After the scare I gave him, Dr. Jeraldo decided to stop working human medicine. But he needed an assistant and, since I was looking to study medicine, it seemed to work out for everyone. Well, everyone aside from my mother.”
Liesel peeked out the passenger window and noticed Jax had slowed, just a little. The houses were getting bigger and the space between them more spread apart. They were moving into the historic district. Many of the houses were well over a hundred years old and their property value would easily be in the millions. Liesel didn’t even want to think about how much the upkeep cost.
“What about your mother?”
“What?” Liesel tore her gaze from a Tudor style mansion.
“Your mother doesn’t approve of you coming to New Port?”
“Not at all.” Liesel still remembered her mother’s reaction to the news. For a Sunday school teacher, Nora Andrews had a shown a vibrantly colorful vocabulary. “As far as she is concerned I’m living in ground zero of the war on drugs.”
“Not in it,” Jax said. “Maybe next to it.”
“I don’t think that would be a ringing endorsement.”
“Yet here you are.”
“True,” Liesel agreed. “I am can be independent.”
“Never doubted it.”
“And Josh helped smooth things over with my mom.”
Jax turned the convertible onto a long tree lined drive. Liesel assumed there was a house somewhere ahead, but couldn’t see it yet.
“Josh gets along with your mother? How terribly surprising.”
Liesel was about to make a retort but as the trees thinned a massive stone mansion came into view and she was momentarily lost for words. She’d somehow entered a fairytale realm. Winding green vines climbed turrets and wound their way around the gargoyles standing guard on the edge of the roof. The building was at least four stories high, with row upon row of narrow, cathedral style windows.
“We’re here,” Jax said, bringing the car to a stop.
“Are we ever.” Liesel leaned forward in her seat to get a better view of the fountain with a frolicking mermaid sculpture that made up the centerpiece of the circular drive.
A sharp tap on the passenger side window alerted her to the fact that Jax had gotten out of the car and was now waiting less than patiently for her to join him. Liesel opened her door and got out, but she couldn’t take her eyes off her surroundings.
“You know, some of us really don’t do well in the sun,” Jax reminded her, squinting against the dawn light. He was already several steps ahead of her.
“Right.” Liesel hurried past the ornate fountain and caught up with Jax at the foot of the stone stairs that led to the entry. “So, this is your headquarters?”
“It is,” Jax answered as he climbed the steps. His legs were longer and Liesel had to move to keep up.
“Do you live here?” She did a mental count of the windows lining the front of the house again and figured an army of vampires could easily be accommodated.
“I have my own place,” was Jax’s vague answer.
“Why?” Liesel couldn’t imagine not wanting to take advantage of these surroundings.
“I prefer privacy.” Jax reached the top step and watched her finish the climb.
Liesel took in a deep breath, not wanting to admit how winded she was by a simple set of stairs. She figured part of it could be attributed to keeping pace with Jax.
“Are we going in?” Liesel looked at the glossy black double doors that marked the entrance.
“Yes, but first we need to go over some rules.”
“What kind of rules?”
“First off, whatever you see here, stays behind these walls.”
“Got it.” She was used to keeping secrets.
“Second, you stick with me at all times.”
Liesel wrinkled her nose. “I’m not going to go poking through your vampire stuff.”
“That’s the least of my worries.”
Jax cut her off. “It’s for your safety.”
Liesel let that sink in and found she didn’t much like what Jax was suggesting.
Jax reached out, pushing a hi-tech doorbell with a speaker attachment. It was the kind that hooked up to a sophisticated security system and seemed like a strangely modern touch in the otherwise storybook surroundings. After what seemed like ages but was probably only a minute, one of the doors opened and a petite woman with dark hair and a heavy bang peered out at them. She looked from Liesel to Jax, then back to Liesel again.
“Who’s she?” Though she was looking at Liesel, the question was clearly aimed at Jax.
“Liesel, Jenna, Jenna, Liesel,” Jax said by way of introduction.
“Nice to meet you.” Liesel held out her hand. Jenna ignored it.
“You brought a human here?”
“I brought a doctor,” Jax corrected her. “She works at St. Benedict’s.”
Some of the hostility left Jenna’s expression. “I heard they had a human working over there, but I thought it was a rumor.”
Liesel spoke up. “Not a rumor.”
“Are you going to let us in?” Jax’s voice had an edge. “It’s getting hot out here.”
Jenna eyed Liesel one more time but continued directing her remarks to Jax.
“I hope you know what you’re doing.” She opened the door wide, letting them into a massive circular foyer. The walls were covered in mahogany wood paneling and a great glass dome opened over a winding staircase that was covered in a deep, blood red carpet. Liesel was wondering who was responsible for all the vacuuming when she felt a prod in her upper back.
“Get moving.” Jax pushed her toward the staircase Jenna was already climbing.
Just like outside, Liesel found herself completely taken in by the grandeur of her surroundings. The house was every bit as magnificent inside as out.
“What do vampires do for a living?” Liesel whispered to Jax as they passed an enormous stained glass window that depicted an intricate seascape.
Jax shrugged, non-committal. “We have a diverse investment portfolio.”
Liesel had heard gossip about some less than legal activity and decided she didn’t need specifics.
“Are we going to see Christophe?” She asked as they reached the top of the stairs and turned down a wide hallway lined with doors and artwork.
“Yes,” Jax said as they approached a set of doors at the end of the hall. She assumed Christophe’s office was behind them. Jenna turned the handles, opening the doors wide and Liesel stepped into the space and stopped short. She was not in an office, but rather an oversize bedroom.
For a moment, all Liesel could do was take in the vastness. Her entire apartment could fit into that one space. Probably with room to spare.
To her right was a seating area with sofa, wingback chairs and fireplace. Floor-to-ceiling drapery covered what was probably a wall of windows. The area was lit by lamps, giving it a warm, dim appearance, like eternal twilight. A four-poster bed took up much of the left-hand side of the room. That was where Jenna and Jax were headed now.
Liesel followed but stopped short again when she reached the bed.
“Is that … Christophe?”
“Yes.” Jax’s expression was tight, but he kept his eyes on his leader.
The size of the bed in no way dwarfed the figure in it. He was a large male, even by vampire standards, and his golden blond hair gave him the appearance of a Viking king. But as Liesel took in her first glimpse of Christophe, the leader of an army of vampires, what she noticed most was his face. He was covered in a sheen of sweat, his eyes were closed and his cheeks had an odd pinkish glow.
“Christophe?” Jax spoke gently. “I’ve brought a doctor. This is the woman who fixed Belinda up.”
Christophe did not respond. Liesel moved to the head of the bed. She reached out to touch his brow. He was burning up.
“He’s ill,” she said, her shocked voice ringing in quiet space. Though she could see the evidence before her eyes, Liesel couldn’t believe it.
“You didn’t warn her?” Jenna asked Jax, but he didn’t answer.
“How long has he been in bed?” Liesel asked Jenna.
“He collapsed two weeks ago.”
“And his appetite?”
“Gone,” Jenna said.
Liesel bit her lip. It was something she did when she was thinking. Or stressed. Or both.
“Well?” Jenna pushed when Liesel didn’t respond.
“If I didn’t know better, I would say he has the flu.”
Jenna shook her head. “Vampires can’t get the flu.”
“Vampires can’t get sick at all,” Jax pointed out. “But here we are.”
Liesel looked at Christophe again. Jax was right. Vampires didn’t suffer illnesses. They got injured, sure. They could die of starvation. But they couldn’t catch a cold.
Yet, as Jax had said, here they were.
Liesel needed to think. What would she do if Christophe were a human who had a mystery illness?
“I’m going to need a blood sample,” Liesel said. “We’ll run some tests.”
“Ok,” Jax agreed. “Then what?”
“Then we’ll see,” Liesel answered honestly.
“Before you do anything you’re going to have to speak to the other lieutenants,” Jenna said to Jax.
Jax’s gaze didn’t move from Christophe. “Are they here?”
“I believe so,” Jenna said. “I’ll call everyone to the library.”
“We’ll be down in a minute.”
Liesel waited for Jenna to leave before speaking to Jax.
“You could have warned me about what I was walking into here.”
“If I told you his symptoms, would you have believed me?”
He was right, of course. This was something she would have needed to see for herself.
“So,” she said, changing the subject. “We can’t proceed until you speak to the vampire lieutenants?”
“No,” Jax said, his face grim. “We can’t proceed until you speak to the lieutenants.”
You can be my bodyguard
Ordinarily, the library would have been a room of immense fascination to Liesel. The ten-foot-high walls were lined from floor to ceiling with shelves of books, broken up by the occasional window or oil painting. Richly patterned rugs were scattered over the warm wood floors and comfortable arm chairs peeked out from alcoves and nooks. Liesel longed to run her fingers over the leather-bound volumes and sit in one of the armchairs with a dozen books and a large hot chocolate.
But today her attention was forced elsewhere. A round oak table dominated the center of the room and, by the time Liesel and Jax entered the library, five of the six chairs were already filled.
“You’ll need to stand,” Jax whispered to her.
Liesel raised an eyebrow. She didn’t mind standing, but she did wonder at Jax not offering her a chair, or at least asking for one to be brought in.
“Because you’re presenting to the council,” he continued, as though he reading her thoughts. “The presenter always stands.”
“And I’m the presenter,” Liesel said, mostly as a reminder to herself.
Jax led the way into the room, taking the empty seat. Liesel remained standing at his side. The muted conversation stilled and all eyes focused on them. Liesel was surprised to recognize one of the faces at the table. Belinda, the vampire who’d come in with Jax to be stitched up, gave her a small smile.
“Who’s she?” A male with bleached hair and vivid green eyes nodded at Liesel. He didn’t sound hostile, exactly, but there was an edge to his voice.
“This is Liesel Andrews,” Jax said. “She’s a doctor at St. Benedict’s. Liesel, this is Peter.”
Peter spoke again, ignoring Liesel. “But what is she? She’s not a were.”
“And she’s not one of us,” said a woman with curly red hair as she looked Liesel over. Liesel stiffened. She was getting tired of being sized up and she knew these lieutenants had bigger issues to deal with than what she was or wasn’t. Their leader was unconscious in a bed upstairs. Fortunately, Jax responded before she lost her temper.
“Liesel’s a human, Tara. But she can see our kind.”
“What a strange gift.” A male, the only one present who hadn’t yet spoken, drew Liesel’s attention. He had wavy brown hair and his eyes were so blue, and so deep, Liesel was convinced she could get lost in them …
“Caleb, stop it!” Jax’s voice was sharp and Liesel snapped back to attention. She gave herself a shake. It had been a long time since any vamp had managed to dazzle her without her realizing it was happening. She didn’t much like it.
“Sorry,” Caleb said with a lopsided grin.
“Show off,” Peter muttered under his breath.
“If we could get back on track here,” Belinda said with more than a hint of annoyance in her voice. “I assume Liesel checked out Christophe? That’s why she’s here?”
“It is,” Liesel said before anyone else could interrupt. “And from what I can gather, he’s very ill.”
“We know he’s sick,” Tara said. “But what’s wrong with him?”
“I don’t know.” Liesel realized how ineffective she sounded. “I’d like to take him to St. Benedict’s to run some tests-”
“No!” Several voices objected at once and Liesel turned to Jax, unsure of her misstep.
“Christophe can’t be moved,” he said. “He has to remain here.”
“But he could get much better treatment at the hospital.” Liesel wondered if argumentativeness was a part of vampire nature in general or if it was unique to this group.
“I know,” Jax said. “But no one outside this room can know he’s sick.”
“Not even other vampires?” It made some sense to Liesel that they’d want to keep a secret from werewolves. Christophe’s illness could be a weakness. But why keep it from each other?
For a moment, no one answered. It was Jax who finally spoke.
“If word gets out that our leader is compromised, there could be a coup.”
“Or at the very least absolute anarchy,” Caleb added.
Liesel looked at the lieutenants around the table. Several had thin lipped expressions.
“Do whatever you think is necessary,” Tara said. “But Christophe must remain here.”
Liesel could tell she’d hit a wall. “Fine, but I’ll need to take some blood samples and set up an IV.”
“Let us know what you require and we will get it for you,” Caleb offered.
“Fine. I’m also going to need to come back and forth to check on him.”
There was general agreement around the table. Liesel took a deep breath before continuing, knowing this last request was going to be the most contentious of all.
“And, of course, I’m going to need Dr. Jeraldo’s help with finding a diagnosis and course of treatment.”
Liesel could feel the mood around the table shift.
“But he’s a werewolf,” Tara said.
“He’s the head doctor,” Liesel said. “There’s no way I can do this on my own.”
“We can’t allow it,” Peter said. “He’ll tell the other werewolves about Christophe’s weakened state.”
For the second time since she’d entered the room, Liesel fought for control over her temper. And, for the second time, it was Jax who stepped in.
“Dr. Jeraldo is a professional. You will get complete confidentiality from him.”
“You’re vouching for the doctor?” Caleb asked Jax.
“All right then,” Caleb sat up straighter. “I think that settles it.”
“You think so, do you?” Peter asked Caleb. “Maybe I need more convincing.”
But Caleb was already pushing his chair out.
“You’re being emotional Peter. This is the logical solution.”
“I agree,” Belinda said. “And that makes a majority.”
Jax stood up and rested a hand at Liesel’s waist. “If that’s all, I suggest we let Liesel get to work.”
“It was nice to see you again,” Belinda called.
“You too,” Liesel replied. She wanted to stay to ask Belinda about how her scar had healed but Jax was already leading her out of the room and she was strongly aware of the warmth of his hand on her ribcage. In their fictional works, humans tended to assume that vampires were cold. But that wasn’t the case at all. Their blood ran warm, especially after they’d fed.
Liesel gave herself a mental shake. That wasn’t a particularly safe train of thought in a place like this. Particularly not with Caleb on the loose.
“Let me know what you need from the hospital and I’ll have it brought here,” Jax said as they entered the foyer.
“I’ll make a list,” Liesel said.
“And let me know when you plan on coming to check on Christophe and I’ll pick you up.”
“Don’t worry, I can get a ride,” Liesel assured him, but Jax used the hand he had on her waist to stop her at the foot of the stairs.
“I don’t want you coming here on your own.” His look was intense and if Liesel hadn’t known better she would have said he was using his powers of persuasion on her. She assumed he was still hung up on what had happened in the library.
“I can handle myself around Caleb,” she said.
“I doubt that.”
Liesel was about to respond when the vampire in question walked by.
“Everything ok here?” Caleb asked.
“We’re good,” Jax said.
“Peachy,” Liesel agreed.
Caleb smiled, revealing perfect teeth. “You need anything, you let me know, yeah?”
He reached out to fix a stray strand of hair behind her ear before walking toward the front door.
It wasn’t until he was gone that Liesel realized she’d been holding her breath.
“Point taken,” she said to Jax. “You get to be my bodyguard.”
“It’s nice to be needed.”
Liesel walked into the library just before noon. She’d spent the rest of the morning taking blood samples, connecting with Dr. Jeraldo and getting Christophe hooked up to a transfusion. She’d thought about giving him some kind of treatment, maybe an antibiotic, but after consulting with Dr. Jeraldo over the phone, had decided against it, at least until they had some idea of what they were dealing with.
The curtains were drawn and with only the light from a small desk lamp to guide her it took Liesel a moment to locate Jax. She found him lying back in an arm chair, eyes closed and apparently dozing but without the deep inhale and exhale of breath that came with human sleep. It never ceased to freak her out, that lack of breathing.
“You’re staring,” Jax said, startling her. His eyes remained closed.
“No, I wasn’t,” Liesel lied. She looked around. An old oil painting of a boat in high seas hung on the wall nearby. “I was admiring the artwork.”
Jax opened his eyes. “Of course you were.”
“It’s a very interesting seascape.”
“It’s a piece of crap.”
Liesel crossed her arms over her chest. “Isn’t that the boat your people came over on?”
“That’s the Laceflower,” Jax confirmed, sitting up straight. “But it’s still an awful painting.”
“I don’t know.” Liesel moved closer, trying to make out the brush strokes. “I think the artist caught something of the spirit of the waves.”
“The artist caught nothing but syphilis,” Jax muttered.
“You knew him?”
“I did.” Jax stretched his neck from side to side.
“But this painting is really old.”
“True,” he agreed.
“So, you’re really old.”
“Liesel, I’m a vampire,” he reminded her.
“I’m not likely to forget,” she said. Though she had, for a moment.
“Did you come looking for me for a reason?” Jax asked. “Or did you want to borrow a book?”
Liesel gave the shelves a wistful look.
“I wouldn’t mind having a look around sometime.”
“I’ll give you a tour another day,” Jax said. “How’s Christophe?”
Liesel turned away from the books, reality seeping back in. She didn’t have any real news, but she’d done all she could for the moment.
“I hooked up the IVs, but there hasn’t been any significant change.”
“I hadn’t expected any different. Did he wake up at all?”
Liesel shook her head.
Jax ran a hand over his face. He still looked tired and slightly drawn.
“When did you last eat?”
Vampires could go a long time without blood but, like other creatures, if they were dealing with stress they burned more energy.
“I don’t know. Maybe a week ago.”
“You need to take better care of yourself,” Liesel insisted. “You aren’t any good to your friend if you don’t.”
“Yes doctor,” he replied with mock obedience. “Are you ready to go?”
“Yes,” Liesel said. “I’ll check in at the hospital later, see how the tests are going.”
Jax stood up, stretching. “I can take you home.”
It occurred to Liesel that, while she was missing lunch, for Jax this was basically the middle of the night.
“That’s ok, I’m going to campus,” she said. “It’s not far.”
“Then I’ll drop you there,” he said.
“Stop arguing, Liesel.” Jax headed to the door.
She followed him out of the library and into the foyer. There was something that had started nagging her while running tests on Christophe that morning, something she needed to clarify with Jax.
“Hold up,” she called after him.
Jax paused under the chandelier.
“You and Belinda are both lieutenants,” Liesel said.
“I am trying to figure out why two high-ranking vampires got caught up in a petty werewolf fight when their leader was lying unconscious in bed.”
Jax’s eyes lit up.
“Maybe we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Or maybe you were looking for a way to test me.”
“Maybe,” Jax agreed.
“It was reckless.”
“It was a flesh wound and we weren’t about to let you loose on our leader without seeing your skills first hand.”
Liesel wasn’t finished asking questions, but Jax was done answering. He headed to the front door, pulled it open and immediately stepped back as sunlight filled the entryway.
“Ugh.” He reached into his pocket and held out the car keys. “Take them.”
“Really?” She tried turn her excitement down a notch as she reached for the key chain.
“Just to campus and back.”
“I have to check in at the hospital after class.”
“Fine,” he agreed. “But not a scratch.”
Liesel flipped the keys over in her hand. “Can I drive with the hood down?”
“Whatever.” Jax rubbed the back of his neck and walked away, leaving Liesel to gleefully hurry out the door.
You know you’re not a doctor, right?
Liesel left the biochemistry building with an armload of homework and a smile on her face. Sure she was tired. And she had a string of assignments coming due. But right now, right at this moment, a shiny red sports car was waiting for her. She very nearly skipped to the driver’s-side door as she beeped the locks open.
She looked around quickly, just catching her books before they could slip out of her arms. Josh and his friend Brandon stared at her, mouths slightly open.
“Hey guys,” she called, finally drawing their attention away from the car.
“Are you driving that?” Josh asked.
“Can I take it for a spin?” Brandon asked at the same time.
“It belongs to a friend,” she said, regaining control of her books.
“What friend?” Josh’s brows drew together while Brandon walked around to the passenger side, peering in.
“You don’t know him.” Liesel knew she’d made a mistake as soon as the words came out of her mouth. Josh moved closer to her, speaking in a low voice so Brandon wouldn’t hear.
“What kind of friend drives a car like that?”
“Someone I know from work.” It wasn’t a lie.
Josh glanced at the car, at the glossy finish.
“Does it belong to a co-worker?”
Josh’s eyes grew wide. “Not a patient?”
“Of course not. More like a colleague.”
“And he let you drive his sports car?”
“I did him a favor.” Another mistake.
“What kind of favor?”
Liesel knew where Josh’s mind was going. He was thinking whoever owned this car was into something illegal. After all, he wasn’t under the impression her clinic treated honor students and nuns.
“It’s nothing bad,” Liesel said quickly. “He had a friend who wasn’t feeling great and I made a house call with him. No big deal.”
Josh’s face flushed with color a sure sign he was getting teed up.
“You know you’re not a doctor, right?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means house calls are for doctors,” Josh said. “I know you work at a clinic, but you’re just a pre-med student.”
“Thanks for the update.” Liesel walked over to the driver’s door and pulled it open.
“Are you sure I can’t go for a drive?” Brandon called over the roof of the car.
“Sorry, I’ve got to go,” Liesel said, sliding into the seat.
“Maybe.” Though she doubted Jax would be up for it.
She turned the ignition as Josh and Brandon backed up and swung out of the parking lot with the top still up. Her good mood had vanished.
As she watched Josh disappear in the rear-view mirror, the rational part of her brain, the part she wished would shut the hell up, was telling her that it was completely reasonable for him to be worried about her. If Josh routinely acted the way she did – working long hours, forgetting dates and keeping secrets – she’d worry too. In fact, if Josh were keeping the kind of secrets from her that she kept from him, she would lose her mind altogether.
Liesel hated keeping secrets. She hated giving anyone, especially Josh, a reason not to trust her. Maybe, once everything was straightened out with Christophe, she’d look at throwing herself into her human life more fully. She could talk to Dr. Jeraldo about doing fewer hours. After all, it wasn’t as though she could pull the full-moon shift once she was a full-time med student. She’d be expected to spend her time treating humans. She couldn’t be a vampire doctor forever. Liesel wasn’t a part of their world. Not really.
She pulled into a mostly abandoned parking lot as the sun drew low in the sky. Grateful not to have to worry about parking Jax’s car away from other vehicles, she got out, clicked the doors locked, and walked up to the side door of a building that, to any other human eyes, looked like the abandoned school it had once been. But Liesel knew it as St. Benedict’s Hospital for the Underworld, and over the last few months it had become like a second home.
Inside, she walked down hallways lit with stuttering florescent lights. Despite peeling paint and stained ceiling tiles, the building smelled strongly of cleaning solution. The staff might serve the underworld, but they weren’t animals. At least, not most days of the month.
Liesel took a quick survey of the empty waiting room with its vinyl chairs, many of which had bits of stuffing seeping through rips in the upholstery courtesy of a few particularly hostile patients. She paused at an oil painting of a bearded, robed figure with a halo around his balding head. A little brass plaque next to the gilded frame read ‘St. Benedict – Patron Saint of the Rejected.’
“Evening,” Prisha called from the check-in desk. Her dark hair was braided across the crown of her head in a style that reminded Liesel of a spring goddess. A goddess in scrubs.
“Hey.” Liesel stopped at the desk. “Slow night?”
Prisha pointed at the empty waiting room. “Aside from the invisible man and his extended family.”
Liesel rolled her eyes at the sarcasm and continued her inquiries. “No admittances?”
Prisha reached for a mug that said ‘Trust me, I’m a nurse.’
“Nope,” she said, taking a sip.
Prisha smiled. “In the staff room. I’m trying a special blend.”
“Great.” Liesel hoped she sounded enthusiastic. Prisha’s ‘special blends’ could sometimes mess with her head. Not in a dangerous way, but occasionally the walls would appear to melt.
She headed to the staff room when Prisha called after her.
“Dr. Jeraldo wants to see you in the lab.”
“Already?” The doctor usually didn’t come in until later in the evening.
Prisha shrugged. “He came in early, said he had work to do.”
“Ok, thanks.” Liesel went through the door marked ‘staff room’ – a leftover from the building’s school days – and dumped her coat and purse in a corner locker. She poured coffee into a ceramic mug covered in dancing penguins and took a tentative sip. The coffee was good. The side effects were minimal. She headed to the lab.
Again, the lab area reflected its high school origins. There were tall, black topped tables, each with a sink at one end, and wooden stools scattered around. Since converting the building to a hospital, they had added refrigerators to store blood transfusions and several storage cabinets. Liesel usually only went there to stock up on supplies.
But today the lab was fulfilling its original purpose. As Liesel entered the room, she noticed Dr. Jeraldo set up at one of the tables with a microscope and several slides and droppers. He looked up from a vial of blood as Liesel entered the room and his attention went straight to her coffee.
“What have I said about using my mugs?”
Liesel took a sip, undeterred by the scolding tone.
“I’ll clean it when I’m done.”
“You always say that,” Dr. Jeraldo muttered to himself. Since this was true, and since Liesel rarely remembered to do the dishes at the end of her shift, she decided to change the subject.
“Is that Christophe’s blood?”
Liesel had arranged to have the samples dropped off that morning but it usually took a day or two to get results, even from the most basic tests.
Dr. Jeraldo nodded. “Don’t know what you expect me to find though.”
Liesel didn’t know what to say, so she took another sip of coffee. She’d taken Christophe’s blood because she’d been at a loss as to what to do for him. Aside from the occasional battle injury, vampires were fairly low maintenance from a medical standpoint. They all carried the virus that had changed them into vampires in the first place. After the conversion from human to vampire, the virus remained dormant unless the vampire was exposed to some disease, generally while feeding on a human blood source. The vampire virus would reactivate to attack and kill the invading disease, making them immune to the kinds of things that made humans sick.
It was a built-in disease fighting system and it was highly effective.
Once, on a slow night, Dr. Jeraldo had taken Liesel to the lab and let her watch as a sample of vampire blood decimated the Human Immunodeficiency Virus that caused AIDS. It had been amazing to watch.
“I was thinking he had some kind of deficiency,” Liesel said. “Maybe his food source was weak.”
“Maybe.” Dr. Jeraldo didn’t sound convinced.
Liesel continued to drink her coffee as the doctor worked on slides.
“I already checked his blood for magnesium,” Dr. Jeraldo said. “But the levels are fine. Oxygen is low, which would make sense if he hadn’t fed in a while. But even if he was low on blood, it wouldn’t explain the symptoms you saw.”
Again, this was something Liesel already knew. Vampires needed blood the way humans needed air – it provided them with an oxygen source. Low oxygen could lead to lack of energy and eventual suffocation. It might make them weak and vulnerable, but it didn’t cause flu-like symptoms.
“I set up a transfusion schedule before I left,” Liesel said. “That will keep his strength up at least. I couldn’t think of anything else to do.”
Dr. Jeraldo put a slide under the microscope.
“I understand their need for caution,” he said. “But I wish we could have admitted Christophe here.”
“It would be better if you could see him for yourself,” Liesel agreed.
“While I am sure the vampires would welcome me with open arms into their lair,” Dr. Jeraldo said sarcastically, “I don’t think I could stomach it.”
“I thought you guys had a truce.”
“We do. As long as we stay out of each other’s way.”
“And there’s no full moon,” Liesel added.
“Exactly.” The doctor peered into the microscope. He let out a yelp, causing Liesel to spill coffee down her shirt.
“What is it?” She put down the mug.
“Hang on.” Dr. Jeraldo twisted the knob on the side of the microscope, adjusting the focus. “Have a look.”
Liesel moved to Dr. Jeraldo’s side. She peered through the eyepiece lens and gasped. The vampire virus had been activated, indicating exposure to some infection. But instead of eradicating the foreign disease as it always did, the virus was clearly under attack.
“I don’t understand.” Liesel readjusted the microscope for a better look, but the results were the same. Not only was the virus under attack, it was losing the fight.
She looked to Dr. Jeraldo, who was pale beneath his ruddy beard.
“What does this mean?”
“I think it means we’re dealing with an outbreak.”
Vampires don’t get sick
Jax sat in one of the staff room arm chairs, his lips drawn in a tight line. Liesel had called him in as soon as she and Dr. Jeraldo had finished their tests. Based on how he’d sounded on the phone, she was pretty sure she’d woken him up. Still, he’d managed to get there within minutes and had listened as Dr. Jeraldo explained how the infection was attacking Christophe’s vampire immunity.
“How is this even possible?” Jax asked.
“I admit I’ve never known anything like it,” Dr. Jeraldo said. He was sitting across from Jax on a floral love seat, his elbows resting against his knees. He had a mug on the table in front of him and Liesel suspected it contained something stronger than coffee. She could hardly blame the doctor. The discovery of a brand-new disease that could knock out a mature vampire was quite a shock for all of them.
Liesel watched their exchange from where she leaned against the coffee counter. Prisha has popped in a few minutes ago to let them know a few patients had come in with minor ailments. If she was surprised to see Jax Halloran in their staff room, she was hiding it well. They were going to have to tell Prisha about the new discovery soon. Not only was it impossible to keep secrets from Prisha, she’d need to be on the lookout for other patients. But for now they needed a plan of action.
“What do we do?” Jax looked from the doctor to Liesel. “How do we fight it?”
“I have no idea.” Dr. Jeraldo reached for his mug and took a long sip. “I need time to process.”
“What if we don’t have time?” Jax pressed. Between the stress of dealing with Christophe and the interrupted sleep, Liesel worried he might snap.
“Has there never been a vampire illness?” Liesel asked, hoping to break the tension. “Maybe something way back in your history?”
“Nothing,” Dr. Jeraldo said. “Vampires grew out of the plague. Nothing can take them out. At least, I thought nothing could.”
Liesel remembered reading something about the origins of the vampire virus. Unlike werewolves, who believed their virus originated in the animal kingdom, the vampire virus was a human construct. A group of medieval scientists had thought they could cure the plague approximately four hundred years before the first real vaccines were developed. Whatever they’d come up with had indeed healed the plague, but its side effects had been unanticipated.
“Let’s not dig up ancient history,” Jax said. Though he sounded flippant, she could feel the tension rolling off him. He was worried about his friend. He needed action.
“Maybe we should try to figure out how Christophe contracted the disease in the first place,” Liesel suggested.
“You mean find the source of the infection.” Dr. Jeraldo nodded eagerly, putting down his coffee cup. “That’s an excellent starting point.”
Jax glanced from Liesel to the doctor.
“I already retraced his steps from the week before he got sick. Christophe didn’t do anything out of the ordinary.”
“He could have been exposed to something in his normal life.” Dr. Jeraldo stood up. He was always a better thinker when he was moving. “Did you know there’s evidence the Black Plague was carried around Europe by rats?”
“Are you suggesting Christophe was hanging out with rats?” Jax asked.
“Of course not.” Dr. Jeraldo looked at Jax like he’d lost his mind. “What I mean is, something around Christophe could have made him ill. Until we know what it is, all vampires are at risk.”
“I haven’t heard of anyone else being sick.”
“They could be hiding it though,” Liesel said. “I mean the way you’ve been keeping Christophe’s illness quiet.”
But Jax shook his head.
“No one else would be motivated to hide. Any other vampire would want to get help. Only Christophe’s illness could be politically complicated.”
“Then maybe he was targeted,” Dr. Jeraldo said.
“Someone not only stumbled on a virus that could wipe out a vampire but also found a way to feed it directly to Christophe?” Liesel asked Dr. Jeraldo, but it was Jax who answered.
“I think feed might be the operative word here,” he said. “I should have made the connection sooner. We need to check out whoever Christophe has been sourcing.”
“You think this is an intentional attack?” Liesel asked. “Who would be able to create a virus that could take out vampires? Who would even want to?”
“Other vampires?” Dr. Jeraldo asked.
“More likely other underworlders,” Jax said.
“Either way, you’re going to want to question anyone Christophe fed from in the last few months.” Dr. Jeraldo paced the room, excited by having a plan of action. “And we’ll need to test their blood to see if any of them are carriers. Where does he feed?”
Liesel knew her mentor wasn’t talking restaurants.
“Hole,” Jax said. Liesel recognized the name, though none of her friends had ever gotten into the ironically named upscale club. Knowing it to be a vampire hang out, Liesel had never actually tried to go there herself.
“I’m hoping that’s not the source of the outbreak,” Dr. Jeraldo said. “Otherwise we could be looking at a much larger epidemic.”
“If we’re talking about investigating vampire territory, I’m going to have to talk to the other lieutenants.”
“Of course,” Dr. Jeraldo said. “Take Liesel with you in case they have any questions.”
Jax looked at Liesel and the serious expression he’d been wearing since he’d arrived at the hospital lightened just a little and the corner of his mouth quirked. “I was going to anyway.”
Liesel didn’t like being handed around, but it wasn’t like Dr. Jeraldo could walk into vampire headquarters. They both needed her help.
Jax took out his phone and typed a message. “We’d better do this meeting sooner than later.”
“What about the patients here?” Liesel asked Dr. Jeraldo. “Do you need me?”
“I can manage,” Dr. Jeraldo said. “This case is a priority. I’d rather not have to explain to the hospital board that there’s a vampire epidemic and we can’t control it.”
“You and me both,” Jax said.
Jax let Liesel drive back to the headquarters, though he did give her a hard time about going too slow. And coming to a full stop before blasting through intersections. And looking over her shoulder before changing lanes.
“Sorry, I guess I prefer to arrive in one piece,” Liesel said, easing the car into park in front of the vampire mansion.
“I got you here in one piece,” Jax said as they got out of the car.
“In a fashion,” Liesel quipped as she followed Jax up the stone steps. Her phone buzzed and she paused on the steps to read the text message. It was from Josh.
Sorry about earlier. I trust you. Supper tomorrow?
Liesel let out a deep breath. Josh wasn’t fully to blame for what happened. He had every right to worry about her.
I’m sorry too. See you tomorrow.
“By all means, take your time,” Jax called from the main door.
“I’m coming!” Liesel shoved her phone back into her pocket and hurried up the stairs, once again trying to hide the fact she was winded by the time she reached the top.
Jax leaned on the door bell and Jenna let them in. Liesel had to remember to ask Jax about her later. She wasn’t a lieutenant, but she seemed to have certain rights as Christophe’s partner.
Jenna didn’t bother looking Liesel over this time.
“How’s Christophe?” Liesel asked as the door closed behind them.
“The same,” Jenna replied in a monotone.
“I’ll come check on him before I go,” Liesel said, trying to use her most reassuring voice.
“As you wish,” Jenna said, walking away. Liesel watched her, feeling her chest tighten.
“How long have she and Christophe been together?”
“A while,” was Jax’s non-answer. “Come on, they’re waiting for us.”
If possible, the atmosphere in the library had gotten even more tense since that morning. Once again there was only one empty chair. Liesel went to stand next to it but Jax shook his head.
“You sit. I’m going to do the talking this time.”
“Ok.” Liesel took a seat and glanced around the table. Only four lieutenants were present.
“Where’s Caleb?” Jax asked, frowning.
“He said he had business,” Peter said. “But he’s willing to go along with whatever we decide.”
“Seriously?” Tara said. “This is a mandatory meeting.”
“And if you don’t come, you have to live with the consequences,” Jax said.
“Could we get on with it?” Belinda said. Her brows were drawn together and an overall weariness hung about her. “What did you need to tell us?”
“It’s an infection,” Jax said. The room went completely still.
“How’s that possible?” Tara asked. “The vampire virus protects us.”
“Not against this,” Jax said.
“But how did Christophe catch it?” Belinda asked. “Where did he catch it?”
“I don’t know,” Jax crossed his arms. “It seems most likely he was targeted.”
“By who?” Peter leaned forward, resting an elbow on the table. “Are you suggesting someone out there can create an infection that can take us down?”
“Who could even do that?” Belinda asked.
“That’s what we need to investigate,” Jax said. “We need to look into every corner of our world. No restrictions.”
“And you want us to give you the authority to do that?” Tara asked, eyes narrowed.
“No,” Jax shook his head. “I want you to give it to Liesel.”
I am in your world
“You could have told me you were going to do that,” Liesel grumbled as she pulled books off the library shelves. The other lieutenants had gone off to discuss Jax’s request and since they had to wait in the library anyway, she was making Jax show her the vampire history section.
“You would have gotten nervous,” he said with a dismissive shrug. “It was better this way.”
Liesel opened a large, dusty volume and grimaced.
“This isn’t English.”
Jax took the book from her.
“Can you read it?” She could make out a word here or there, but she wasn’t fluent. Her French was top shelf though.
“Of course,” he said, leafing through the pages. “What are you looking for exactly?”
“Any reference to the plague or illness.” She tried looking over Jax’s shoulder but he skimmed the pages too fast for her to take much in.
“See, you’re already taking the lead.”
Liesel pursed her lips. “Aren’t you Christophe’s second? Shouldn’t they want you to oversee the investigation?”
“My position is even more reason to have an impartial third party do the investigating,” Jax said. “Until we know the origin of the outbreak, everyone’s a suspect.”
Jax looked up from the book, a half-hearted smile playing around his lips. “Even me.”
“I don’t know if I’m equipped to take on the vampire world by myself.”
Jax’s half-smile turned into a grin. “Don’t worry. I’ll be there to keep an eye on you.”
Liesel pointed at the book. “You find anything yet?”
“No.” Jax continued flipping through, scanning pages. There were very few lights on and though the curtains were open it was dark outside. Of course, vampires didn’t need much light to see.
“Do you think this could be an inside job?” Liesel asked. “Another vampire trying to take Christophe out?”
“I don’t think any of us are smart enough to create a virus or infect anyone,” Jax admitted. “Medical science isn’t something we’ve needed to spend a lot of time on as species. Besides, it seems awfully long and drawn out when you could just stab him with a stake. Or, you know, challenge him the next time he runs for head vampire.
“But we wouldn’t be doing due diligence if we didn’t conduct a fully open investigation.”
“So suspect everyone?” Liesel asked.
“Exactly,” Jax said.
Liesel watched Jax’s profile as he leaned over the book.
“You know I’m a doctor, not a detective, right?”
Jax tore his gaze away from the volume to look at her again.
“You know you’re not actually either?”
“I am in your world,” Liesel shot back.
“Then you can be a detective too.” Jax glanced back at the book. “I think I found what you’re looking for.”
Jax led her away from the shelves and over to a small square table with a desk lamp. He placed the book under the light so Liesel could see it better.
The pages were covered in black ink sketches of people in various stages of suffering, mostly lying around with their eyes closed.
“Are these vampires?” Liesel shifted and leaned in more closely.
“It’s an artist’s rendition based on a memory. When the plague hit, a group of infected humans were treated with a potential vaccine. Afterward, they fell into a period of unconsciousness. This was followed by a reawakening.”
“When they woke up, they didn’t have the plague anymore?”
“No plague. Just an uncomfortable thirst.”
Liesel looked up from the page, studying Jax’s face.
“Are you one of them? One of the first vampires?”
Jax snorted. “How old do you think I am?”
“I don’t know, how old are you?” Liesel crossed her arms over her chest.
“Probably old enough to be your great-grandfather seven or eight times over.”
“But I never had the plague,” he said. “I was turned.”
“Want to tell me how that happened?”
Jax winked. “Another time.”
“Fine. What else does the book say?”
Jax studied the text.
“It mostly talks about the vampires being expelled when they got over the plague.”
Liesel looked at the pictures again. There was an angry looking fat man holding out a cross. Underworlders and religion had never mixed well.
There was another figure, a tall man in long robes with some kind of crest on them. She could just make out a crescent moon on it.
“A member of the Alliance, the group that created the virus. They stepped in when the church was trying to drive us out and arranged passage on the Laceflower.”
“But how would the church leaders drive you out? They wouldn’t be able to see vampires.”
“No, not like you. But presumably the first vampires didn’t know to hide their need to drink human blood. That would have been a sign something was off.”
“What about the witches and wolves? Weren’t they forced out too?” She asked.
“The witches were,” Jax said. “By this time, it was already becoming intolerable for them throughout much of Europe. The wolves left mainly of their own free will. I assume they figured it was only a matter of time before their eccentricities were noticed by the angry mobs.”
“Like literal mobs?” Liesel felt a shiver on her spine. “Like with torches and pitchforks?”
“The very same.”
“So the Alliance arranged for everyone to leave on the Laceflower?”
“What happened to them?”
“The Alliance?” Jax looked thoughtful for a moment. “They carried on making scientific discoveries, but they dropped off during the Spanish Inquisition. It’s too bad really, they made some pretty progressive discoveries. Before the Inquisition, that is.”
Liesel continued looking at the pictures when the library door opened and Belinda, Tara and Peter came back in.
“We’re ready,” Belinda said as they seated themselves around the table. Liesel sat down too, while Jax stood next to her.
“We’ve decided to take you up on your offer,” Tara said without preamble. “Liesel can run the investigation.”
“Excellent,” Jax said. Liesel looked around the table and three sets of vampire eyes stared back at her, assessing. Her heart was about ready to pound out of her chest.
“Don’t mess this up,” Peter said. Liesel guessed that he’d needed to be convinced to go along with the decision.
“I’ll do my best.” Liesel hoped she sounded more confident than she felt.
“Your background check was thorough,” Belinda said with a smile. “I have faith in you.”
“You’ll have to assist her,” Tara said to Jax. “She’ll need someone to guide her through our world.”
“Obviously,” Jax said.
“But she still answers to us,” Tara continued. “You both do.”
“Where will you begin your investigation?” Belinda asked Liesel.
“I … um …,” Liesel hesitated, trying to get her thoughts in order. “We need to track down Christophe’s source.”
“Ah.” Peter smiled, and Liesel noticed the expression lit up his whole face. “You’re going to pay a visit to Hole.”
“That’s right,” Liesel said slowly. Peter’s change in mood made her nervous.
Tara smirked. “Have fun with that,” she said as she, Peter and Belinda got up from the table.
“See you, Liesel,” Belinda called from the library door. Peter and Tara left without another word.
“What’s the deal with Hole? Is there something I should know?” Liesel asked Jax when they were alone in the library.
Jax slid into Peter’s empty chair.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “We should swing by tomorrow night.”
“Tomorrow?” Liesel echoed, the text exchange with Josh at the forefront of her thoughts.
“It’s too late tonight and the sooner the better.”
“Tomorrow isn’t good,” Liesel said.
“Why not?” Jax raised an eyebrow. “Are you working? Dr. Jeraldo told you to prioritize Christophe.”
Liesel was about to say ‘I need to go to dinner with my boyfriend’ when she realized how lame it would sound. The patient should come first. The patient needed to come first.
“I have something to take care of earlier in the evening. Could I meet up with you around eleven?”
“Does anything interesting even happen before eleven?”
Liesel took that as her answer.
I don’t think she’s his type
Running around in ill-fitting heels she’d borrowed from Torie and a skirt that was just this side of too short was not high on Liesel’s list of fun things to do on a Tuesday night. Neither was bypassing the long line of patrons hoping to get into Hole, all of whom were now shooting daggers at her as she strode right to the front of the line.
Whatever. The selfie takers in their designer gear could size her up all they wanted. She didn’t want to be here anyway. She should have been at the restaurant with Josh ordering dessert instead of pretending she’d been called away for work.
Or better yet, she could be at home. Liesel’s ideal evening involved a good book and a large bowl of Skittles. And maybe a cat. She really wanted a cat.
She came to a full stop as the bouncer guarding the velvet rope gave her a once over. He wasn’t especially tall, but what he lacked in height, he made up for in width. He also wasn’t a vampire, but with the way he was built, Liesel figured he could get the job done anyway.
“I’m Liesel Andrews,” she announced before he got a chance to order her to the back of the line.
To her surprise, the bouncer required no further information from her. He simply nodded and unhooked the velvet rope.
“Jax is running late,” he said. “But he’ll meet you in the bar.”
“Thanks.” Liesel hurried inside, ignoring the angry murmurs coming from the line behind her. It was a Tuesday night for goodness sake. Didn’t these people have jobs to go to in the morning?
Immediately to her left was an arched doorway covered with heavy red drapes. It didn’t look like the entrance to any club she’d ever been to. Liesel turned right, heading to the coat check instead. She handed her jacket to a stunning blond in a pin-up style dress. Again, she was human.
“Head straight through the curtains,” she told Liesel as she handed over a coat-check ticket. Liesel followed her instructions, pulling back the heavy velvet drapes.
She stopped dead.
For a moment, Liesel couldn’t process anything in the low light except red and black. The colors dominated the room from floor to ceiling. The floor was tiled in red and black diamonds while the circular bar in the middle of the room served as a lacquered black centerpiece. The benches and bar stools around the room were upholstered in blood-red leather while the walls, which were painted in a matte black finish, were broken up by mirrors and more of the floor-to-ceiling red velvet curtains.
It was, quite simply, unlike any place she had ever seen before.
It was also packed with beautiful people. Humans and vampires lounged on chairs and benches, sharing drinks, conversation and, in many cases, something more. Though Liesel could hear the music in the background, it was clear this wasn’t a dance bar. It was a pick-up bar.
She moved past a couple who were valiantly trying to occupy one small chair with two bodies and headed straight to the bar where she ordered a drink from yet another perfect specimen of feminine beauty. This one was a brunette. And, surprisingly, a vampire.
“What can I get you?” she asked.
“A diet Coke,” Liesel answered and felt a presence slide up behind her, a touch too close.
“You sure you can handle the hard stuff?” a familiar voice murmured in her ear. His breath tickled.
“Nice to see you again, Caleb.” Liesel turned around as the bartender went to get her drink. Standing next to him, she noted he wasn’t quite as tall as she’d first thought. Though he wasn’t short by any means, he was only an inch or two over Liesel in her heels. She could peer right into his eyes. She gave herself a mental shake and turned back to the bar.
“Nice to see you too.” Caleb somehow managed to keep his voice low and still be heard over the music. “Especially when you are looking good enough to eat.”
Liesel whipped around so that she and Caleb were face-to-face again.
“Excuse me?” she asked, giving him time to rethink his statement. And back up. He did neither. Instead, Caleb continued his assessment, his eyes roaming her body from head to foot and lingering on the heels. If she were an ordinary girl she’d probably be in a puddle on the floor.
But Liesel wasn’t an ordinary girl.
“Bet you’re something else in a lab coat,” he said. “You can check me over anytime.”
Liesel barely kept a lid on her temper.
“I think you know that I’m here to work,” she said. “So either you keep your commentary on my looks to yourself, or you can find another doctor to do this job. Oh, wait. No, you can’t.”
She noticed with satisfaction that she’d managed to wipe the smile off his face. Caleb scowled.
“I can’t give a compliment?”
“Is that what you think you’re doing?” Liesel shot back.
The sound of someone clearing their throat, barely audible above the music, alerted them to the fact that they were no longer alone in their conversation. The dark-haired bartender was grinning at them.
“Hey Caleb,” she said as she set down Liesel’s drink.
“Hey Miranda. Busy night?”
“Not bad. Typical Tuesday. Can I get you anything?”
“Maybe in a bit,” Caleb answered. Miranda gave him a quick nod and went to serve another customer. Liesel picked up her Coke and took a sip. Caleb didn’t bother speaking, but he also didn’t leave her side.
Liesel put down her glass. “So, do you come her often?”
That got her a laugh and she saw Caleb’s confident smile return to his face.
“You could say that,” he answered. “I run the bar.”
“Seriously?” Liesel never would have taken him for a businessman. Then she remembered how Peter had laughed the night before when she said they’d be starting their investigation at Hole. He’d known what she was getting into.
“All lieutenants have areas of responsibility,” he told her, taking in the bar with a sweeping gesture. “I manage the food supply.”
Liesel looked around at the scantily-clad women and overly muscled men who made up the human clientele of the bar.
“You’re the delivery guy?” The question slipped out but Caleb’s low chuckle let her know he wasn’t offended.
“The relationship between the vampire and his or her source is very visceral,” Caleb explained. “I’m giving them what they want. And it’s not like the humans are complaining.”
As though on cue, a male who had to be a body builder walked past them with a female vampire on his arm. He seemed completely enthralled.
“Well, your vampire charms would help with that,” Liesel said as she watched the couple disappear behind one of the red velvet curtains. She was suddenly reminded of why she was there.
“Do you keep track of who feeds from who?”
“Of course.” Caleb’s demeanor became serious. “A human can’t sustain more than two or three vampires at a time. Four if the vampires have more than one source. We keep a complete record of who’s with who at any given time.”
“Then you know who Christophe was feeding from?”
“I can find out.” Caleb leaned over the bar and snapped his fingers once. Miranda finished up the order she was working on and came over to Caleb.
“Snap your fingers at me again and it’ll be the last time you use them,” she said sweetly.
Caleb winked at her. “I need information. About Christophe.”
“What do you need to know?” Miranda’s expression went serious and she looked at Liesel pointedly before turning back to Caleb.
“She’s clean,” Caleb said. “You can talk in front of Liesel.”
“You’re Liesel Andrews?” Miranda’s eyes lit up. “The doctor?”
“That’s me.” Liesel picked up her drink, more to distract herself from Miranda’s scrutiny than because she was thirsty.
“You stitched up my friend Veronica.”
Liesel remembered the incident. Werewolf bite to the left shoulder.
Caleb jumped in. “I need to know who Christophe’s source is.”
Miranda looked Liesel over again, this time with a pensive look on her face.
“I don’t think she’s his type. No offense.”
Liesel nearly choked on her drink while Caleb rolled his eyes.
“Just answer the question,” he said.
“Christophe used to mix it up,” she said. “But the last month or so he’s been sticking with Olivia.”
“Olivia?” Caleb repeated. “Are you certain?”
“She was one of yours?” Miranda asked.
“She was.” Caleb did a scan of the club. “Is she here tonight?”
Miranda shook her head. “Haven’t seen her in over a week.”
“Are any of her friends here?”
“I saw Rinalda earlier.” Miranda nodded her head toward a set of velvet curtains at the other end of the room. “I think she was with Lucas.”
“Thanks,” Caleb said to Miranda and the bartender gave him a nod before turning back to her customers. He took Liesel by the arm, leading her away from the bar.
“Where are we going?” she asked as they neared a set of velvet curtains.
“A feeding room.” Caleb pulled back the curtains to reveal a dimly lit alcove with a U-shaped red velour couch. Liesel could see a male vampire with oily dark hair with a human woman draped over his lap, giggling in a way that grated on Liesel’s nerves.
The couple on the sofa glanced up when she and Caleb entered their space.
“This room is taken,” the male called.
Ignoring the comment, Caleb walked in and sat across from the couple, leaning back into the velvet seat. Liesel continued standing, taking in the mood of the room, which had shifted from ‘annoyed’ at Caleb’s arrival to downright ‘frosty’ now that he’d made himself at home.
“We need to talk, Lucas.”
Liesel watched the male vampire glare as he shifted the woman off his lap. She knew it was never a good idea to interrupt a man when he was hungry and it seemed vampire men were no different.
“What do you want from me this time? I paid my dues.”
Caleb examined the fingernails on his right hand before answering.
“You were late though. And you know I hate it when people are late with their bills.”
Lucas shot him another angry look and Liesel decided it was time to step in.
“Caleb, that’s enough.”
Lucas looked from Liesel to Caleb with a weird expression on his face.
“You gonna let your piece talk like that?”
“I’m not his piece.” Liesel reflexively clenched and released her fist.
“We need some information,” Caleb said before things deteriorated further.
“What do you want?” Lucas snapped.
“Not from you.” Caleb pointed at the woman. “From her.”
The woman seemed startled. Though Liesel knew she wouldn’t recognize either of the men as vampires, they were still both incredibly attractive and she figured it would be pretty overwhelming to be the subject of their conversation.
“What do you want from Rinalda?” Lucas asked, more curious now than annoyed.
“We were wondering about her friend, Olivia,” Liesel said.
“Livy?” Rinalda looked at Caleb, her deep red lips parting in surprise. “But she doesn’t come here anymore.”
“I guess you’ll need to find a new source,” Lucas said to Caleb, seeming to think the conversation was done. He did a chin lift in Liesel’s direction. “The one you got there looks all right.”
Liesel fought back the urge to point out, again, that she was not available as a food supply, but figured she would either confuse or scare Rinalda. As it was, the young woman would walk away from the evening with a mild hangover, a small mark on her neck and some pleasant memories of making out with a hot guy. Liesel didn’t need to ruin that for her.
She kept her mouth shut and joined Caleb on the couch.
“Where can we find Olivia?” Caleb continued. “Do you know where she lives?”
Rinalda shook her head. “We’re not close. We mostly just party together.”
“What about a job?” Liesel pressed. “Does she work?”
Rinalda twisted a lock of dark hair around her finger, her forehead creased as her inebriated brain worked overtime.
“She’s a student,” Rinalda finally answered. “She’s doing classy studies or something.”
Caleb gave her a blank look. Even Lucas looked at Rinalda in confusion.
“Do you mean classics?” Liesel said, and Rinalda broke into a smile.
“All right,” Lucas said. “You done now?”
“Yeah, we’re done.” Caleb stood and Liesel followed suit. “Thanks for your time.”
“No problem.” Lucas gave Caleb a pointed look. “Tell Christophe I said hey.”
Caleb’s lips thinned at the mention of Christophe.
“You can stay and watch if you want,” Lucas said as he settled Rinalda back onto his lap. “As long as you don’t ask any more questions.”
“I wouldn’t mind seeing how this whole feeding thing works,” Liesel whispered to Caleb. “Purely from a scientific perspective.”
“Do you ever get hungry watching someone else eat?” Caleb asked her.
“I guess?” She thought about the question, then looked at Caleb. He was staring right at her and she realized he must be hungry. He reached out, taking a lock of hair and twisting it around his finger.
“What the hell?” A voice broke through Liesel’s thoughts. Jax stood in the curtained doorway, a look of thunder on his face.
Five-foot-two with a wicked rack
Jax grabbed Liesel by the shoulder, giving her a light shake. “Are you ok?”
“I’m fine,” she assured him. And it was the truth. Barely.
“All of you out, now!” Lucas pointed to the doorway. Rinalda had hidden her face in his shoulder.
“We should go.” Liesel headed for the door. To her surprise, Jax and Caleb followed without argument. She pushed aside the curtain and headed for an empty table, hoisting herself onto a tall stool while Jax and Caleb remained standing. Caleb leaned his elbows on the back of a chair. Jax glared.
“What was happening in there?” Jax asked Liesel. Apparently, he’d decided to ignore Caleb for the moment.
“We were getting information. About Olivia.”
“Olivia?” Jax repeated. “The blond girl with the legs?”
“She’s the one,” Caleb said. “Christophe has been exclusive with her for the past month.”
Jax crossed his arms over his chest. “Christophe had an exclusive source? I had no idea.”
“Jenna doesn’t like it when he gets too close to one girl,” Caleb said. “I imagine that’s why we he kept it quiet.”
“I should have been on top of this,” Jax muttered.
“You had no reason to suspect Christophe’s source,” Liesel said.
“It’s no excuse. I’m head of security. I should have known who Christophe was hanging out with.”
“Well, this has been swell.” Caleb straightened and turned to Liesel, his charming smile firmly in place. “It was nice running into you, but I need to get back to running this place.”
“Before you go, can you get me a list of everyone who fed from Olivia in the last month?”
Caleb’s smile disappeared. “What for?”
“They’ll need to be watched.”
“But I’m on that list,” Caleb pointed out. “And I’m fine.”
“For now,” Liesel said.
“Get the list.” Jax sounded like he was ready to snap.
“Fine.” Caleb left their table, heading to the bar. Jax focused on Liesel when he was gone.
“I thought I told you not to go off without me? You know what almost happened in that feeding room?”
“I would have stopped it,” Liesel said, trying to sound confident. “Besides, he wouldn’t have hurt me.”
“No,” Jax agreed. “But if you have a hard time getting Caleb to respect you now, try letting him snack on you and see where that gets you.”
Liesel felt a shiver run down her back. She didn’t want to be anyone’s snack. She decided to change the subject.
“Where were you anyway? We were supposed to meet at eleven.”
Jax pulled out a chair and sat down.
“I got caught up with business.”
“Business?” Liesel repeated. “What kind of business?”
“The kind that comes up when your boss is out of commission.”
Liesel took in Jax’s appearance. He looked tired, and less than thrilled about his temporary responsibilities. She figured all the lieutenants were working hard, but as Christophe’s second there was probably more falling on Jax’s shoulders.
“That Lucas guy made a comment about Christophe,” Liesel said, remembering how Caleb’s expression had tightened. “He said to tell Christophe he said hi.”
“Great.” Jax waved at a waitress. “Sounds like Lucas heard the rumors.”
Liesel waited while the waitress took Jax’s order and decided it was time to have something a bit stronger, too. She requested a gin and tonic.
“Put it on my tab,” Jax told the waitress.
“I can get my own drink,” Liesel said when they were alone again.
“Not legally,” Jax said.
“Does that matter here?” Liesel looked around and couldn’t imagine a cop busting in.
“There’s a first for everything.”
Liesel decided to let him buy her drink. It’s not like they didn’t have bigger issues to deal with.
“What kind of rumors are going around about Christophe?”
“The main one is that that he ran off,” Jax said. “If that happens, if Christophe abandons his position as our leader, then we’re supposed to call everyone together to hold an election.”
“I think it’s very evolved, the way vampires are into democracy,” Liesel said.
“We’ve found that it leads to less bloodshed.” The way he said it led Liesel to believe Jax was speaking from experience.
“What if the truth got out?” Liesel asked. “About him being sick?”
But Jax was shaking his head even before the words got out of her mouth.
“That can’t happen,” he said.
“I know.” Liesel tried not to get annoyed. “But what if?”
“It would be pandemonium.”
“One gin and tonic and one scotch on the rocks?” Caleb’s voice cut in as he set two glasses on the table. He also slid a piece of paper toward Liesel. “And a list of Olivia’s patrons over the past six months.”
Liesel did a quick scan of the names. There were only half a dozen and while Caleb’s name was on there she was relieved to see that Jax wasn’t included. It wasn’t because she had any special attachment to him, she assured herself. It was because she couldn’t afford to lose the link that Jax provided to the vampire world. It was perfectly natural and appropriate for her to be concerned about his health.
“Thanks Caleb.” Liesel handed the list to Jax. “Can you have someone keep an eye on these guys? Make sure they aren’t showing any symptoms?”
“I can do that.” Jax put the paper in an inside pocket.
“We agreed to leave Christophe where he is, but if anyone else gets sick, they go straight to St. Benedict’s.” Liesel looked to both Jax and Caleb. “Got it?”
“Yeah, fine,” Jax agreed. Caleb gave a curt nod.
“I’ll stake out the classics department,” Liesel continued. “But is there anything else you can tell me about Olivia?”
“Yeah,” Caleb nodded. “She’s blond, about five-foot-two with a wicked rack.”
“Yeah, thanks, but I was thinking more like a last name.”
Caleb shrugged. “Sorry. I don’t usually ask.”
She was always odd
Liesel stifled a yawn as she waited in the hallway outside the main lecture hall of the Arts and Humanities building. She’d had to skip out of a biochemistry lab ten minutes early to make it before the second-year Latin class finished.
She’d done her research and the classics department had a small faculty. After combing through the university calendar, she discovered that in order to do a degree in classics you had to complete two Latin courses. There was only one tenured Latin professor on campus.
The clock in the hallway ticked the half hour and Liesel peeked through the rectangular glass in the door to see the students closing books and shutting down lap tops. Then the first student hit the door and a wave of bodies exited the class.
Liesel waited until the room was mostly clear and no one was hovering around the professor’s desk before entering the hall. As she descended the stairs to the desk at the front, she noted Dr. Fanshaw’s appearance. He was younger than she expected, probably in his thirties, with a full head of hair and a slim appearance. In university circles, he’d be considered an out and out hunk. It was no wonder he had to conduct his classes in a lecture hall.
“Dr. Fanshaw?” Liesel said when she was only a few feet from the desk.
“Yes?” The professor glanced up from his lecture notes. He probably thought Liesel was one of his students.
“I wanted to ask you about someone,” Liesel said. “A student. I think.”
Dr. Fanshaw looked her over with what she could only describe as curious disdain.
“You want to ask me about one of my students?”
“Her name is Olivia. She’s blond, about five-foot-two.”
“And, assuming I knew her, why would I be telling you anything about her?”
Liesel had expected this kind of response, but she’d been hoping the professor might let something slip. Like her last name.
“She’s a friend and I haven’t seen her in a while.”
“If she’s a friend, then you should report that to campus security.” Dr. Fanshaw picked up his papers and headed to the stairs. “If you’ll excuse me.”
Liesel felt her face heat up. She knew she’d messed up. She dropped into a seat in the front row, planning to wait until she was certain she wouldn’t run into any students who might have overheard their exchange.
“Hi,” a female voice called from nearby. Liesel looked around. She saw a girl, close to her age, hesitating a few seats away.
“I heard you asking about Olivia.” The girl moved closer, taking the seat next to Liesel. “Are you a friend of hers?”
“Kind of.” Liesel decided to play the relationship down. After all, if this girl was Olivia’s friend she’d know Liesel was lying. “She’s a friend of a friend.”
“And this friend knows she’s missing?”
Liesel nodded. “He asked me to try to find her.”
The girl looked Liesel over, the skepticism apparent on her face. “Why you?”
“I have connections on campus. He was hoping I could give him a lead.”
Liesel wasn’t completely comfortable with her lies, but she wasn’t straying too far from the truth. Christophe and Olivia were friends, of a sort. And Liesel had been asked to investigate.
“All her friends have been worried about her,” the girl said as she adjusted her backpack on one shoulder. “She hasn’t been at class in over a week.”
“Are you and Olivia close?”
“About as close as you can get,” the girl said. “Olivia isn’t really close to anyone. She knows lots of people but doesn’t let anyone in, you know?”
“Sure,” Liesel agreed. Olivia sounded like a girl who kept secrets.
The girl stood up and gave Liesel a once over. “I’m headed back to my apartment. If you want, we can stop by Olivia’s place and you can talk to her roommates. They’re beyond stressed but they might be able to tell you something.”
“You know where she lives?” Liesel nearly jumped up and down at the twist her fortune had taken.
“Yeah, it’s campus housing. We can be there in a minute.”
As they walked along the tree-lined walkways, Liesel learned that the girl’s name was Jade, that her mother hated the spacers in her ears, and that classics was the third major she’d tried and she hoped this one would stick.
“Here we are.” Jade walked through a courtyard of four-story buildings, all named after former university chancellors, and headed up the closest set of stairs. She stopped at the second floor, where half a dozen identical doors lined the outside walkway. Jade stopped in front of one and knocked.
“Olivia lives two doors down from me,” Jade explained while they waited for someone to open the door. “That’s how we met.”
“Cool.” Liesel looked around, taking in the yard below. Students sat together on benches, studying. Jade had waved to several on her way up the stairs. For a moment, Liesel felt a pang of envy at the obvious sense of community among the students living on campus. Then the door swung open and a very pale, very thin, very hairy male wearing nothing but a towel stood before them. The pang immediately subsided.
“This is Carlos,” Jade said.
“Hey.” Liesel gave him a nod.
“Can we come in?” Jade asked. “It’s about Olivia.”
“Sure.” Carlos opened the door wide and led them into the living area, keeping a precarious hold on his towel. The main area wasn’t much bigger than what Liesel shared with Torie, but instead of two bedrooms leading off the living room, there were four.
“Trina! Barty!” Carlos yelled as he flopped onto a sagging plaid couch. Liesel took a seat next to Jade on a matching and equally dilapidated love seat.
“Why are you yelling?” A girl in pajama bottoms that were eerily similar to the pattern on the couch stumbled out of a bedroom.
“Get Barty, we’re having a roommate meeting.”
“Barty’s gone to class.”
“Class?” Carlos asked as though the concept were foreign to him.
Pajama girl came into the living area, eying Liesel and Jade.
“What’s going on?”
“Hey Trina,” Jade said. “This is Liesel. She came by our Latin class asking about Olivia. I hope you don’t mind me bringing her here.”
Trina looked at Liesel.
“How do you know Olivia?”
“We have mutual friends,” Liesel said. “She lives here?”
“She did. Until about two weeks ago.”
“What happened?” Liesel asked. “Do you know where she went?”
Both Carlos and Trina shook their heads.
“She up and left,” Trina said. “No note or anything.”
“We only figured it out because the bathroom was suddenly free in the mornings,” Carlos added. “She used to take forever getting ready.”
“She never mentioned she was leaving?” Liesel asked. “Nothing at all?”
“No.” Trina flopped on the couch and Carlos just barely grabbed his towel before it went flying. “I thought we were closer than that.”
“We told campus housing. They said they’d received a formal letter that she was withdrawing from university. We were told to clean out her room and be ready for a new roommate.”
“And did you do it?” Liesel asked, hoping the answer was no.
“Didn’t have to,” Trina said. “She took everything.”
Liesel had a sudden desire to hit her head off a wall.
“She was always odd though.” Trina reached for a half empty beer bottle on an end table. She took a swig, made a face, and took another drink. “She had the worst nightmares.”
“Night terrors,” Carlos corrected. “She used to scream the place down, yelling about vampires and witches. We’d calm her, get her back to sleep and when we asked her about it the next day she’d act like we were the crazy ones.”
Liesel couldn’t help taking in the two figures before her on the couch. She had to agree with the absent Olivia.
“Suffering from a sleep disorder is fairly common,” Liesel told them. “Especially given how stressful college can be.”
“Oh, I don’t think she was stressed.” Jade surprised her by speaking up. “I always got the impression Olivia didn’t much care about going to school. Kind of a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude.”
Liesel made a mental note of what Jade was saying, what they all were saying, but none of it gave her a clue as to where Olivia had gone.
“I need to get to class.” Trina stood up and ran a hand through her hair. Liesel thought she was going to go change but instead she reached for her backpack.
“I should go too.” Jade stood and Liesel followed, not wanting to hang with Carlos.
“Thanks for your help,” Liesel said as they headed down the hallway. Trina reached for the door, but it opened before she got a chance to turn the handle. A broad male of medium height stood in the doorway.
“Jeez Barty, watch it!” Trina pushed past her roommate. Liesel hurried after her, avoiding making eye contact on her way out. She couldn’t risk letting on to Barty that she knew he was a werewolf.
I’m a sucker for an open floorplan
Liesel barely took time to exchange phone numbers with Jade before rushing to the bus stop. She texted Jax on the way, telling him she had news. He texted back an address. Liesel used an app on her phone to figure out how to get there. It was on a popular bus route but she still had to make a transfer.
About thirty minutes into the trip the bus crossed into the downtown core and the scene outside her window reflected the change. They passed boarded up buildings and a warehouse where two cops escorted a man out the front entrance and into a waiting cruiser.
The warehouses gave way to a cluster of mirrored glass skyscrapers. Probably built by the drug lords, Liesel thought to herself as she rang the bell for her stop. Consulting her text from Jax, she located the right building and walked into a marble and glass lobby, coming to an abrupt stop in front of the concierge desk. A middle-aged man looked up from a computer screen and looked her over, taking in her jeans, messenger bag, and her ponytail.
“Can I help you?”
“I’m looking for Jax Halloran?”
“One moment.” The concierge picked up the phone on his desk. “I have a Ms. Andrews here to see you … yes, of course.”
He hung up and looked at Liesel. “You can go on up. Top floor.”
Liesel crossed the marble floors and headed to a bank of elevators. She pushed a button going up. A set of doors opened almost immediately and she got in, pushing the button with the highest number. When the doors let her out, she followed the short hallway to a sleek, heavy gray door with a peephole in it.
Liesel knocked once. She heard a shuffling noise and Jax opened the door. He had a cell phone to his ear, but indicated she should come in while he finished talking.
“I don’t care how the banking used to be handled,” he said into the cell. “If I have to handle it, then it’s going to be done this way.”
She followed him past a small foyer and had to stifle the urge to whistle when she entered the main living area. It was open concept, with a sunken living room and floor to ceiling windows that would have had a gorgeous view of the city if the blinds weren’t drawn. Liesel followed Jax into the kitchen area with its ultra-modern appliances and granite counters. She sat at the breakfast bar, waiting for him to be done with his conversation.
“Deal with it,” Jax said. “And don’t call again.”
He ended the call, dropping the phone on the counter.
“Sorry about that.”
“What is it you do for a living?” Liesel waved an arm around the apartment. “This place is something else.”
“You had something urgent to tell me?” Jax rubbed his forehead, avoiding her question.
“Though, you probably get a deal, considering the neighborhood. Why do you live downtown anyway?”
“I’m a sucker for an open floorplan. Now what did you want to tell me?”
“I went to Olivia’s apartment.” Liesel leaned on the counter. “I talked to her roommates.”
Jax perked up.
“Do they know where she is?”
“No, she moved out,” Liesel said. “Took all of her stuff and didn’t tell anyone where she was going.”
“How is that possible? A university student doesn’t just disappear.”
“Maybe not,” Liesel said. “But there’s something else. One of Olivia’s roommates is a were.”
Jax looked up, his brows snapping together.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure.” Liesel couldn’t keep the hint of annoyance out of her voice.
“What’s his name?”
“Why?” Liesel asked, though she suspected she knew what Jax was thinking.
“Because I’m going to bring him in.”
“Why?” Liesel repeated.
“Seriously?” Jax snapped. “They’re obviously behind this.”
“By ‘they’, you mean all the werewolves?”
“They move as a pack.” His lips curled into a snarl. “That’s how werewolves work.”
“There’s no evidence against them,” Liesel said calmly.
Jax slapped his hand on the counter.
“You can’t protect them Liesel, that’s not your job.”
“My job is to investigate,” she said, getting to her feet. “And I’m not going to let you run off half-cocked.”
Jax moved to stand in front of her. Liesel hated that she had to look up to properly see him.
“Don’t think that you have the power here,” Jax said. “I can get the other lieutenants to put a stop to your investigation at any time.”
“By the time you call them together, I’ll already have questioned the werewolf,” Liesel said, keeping her tone calm, though her heart was racing. “You can join in, or you can be in meetings with the lieutenants, it’s your call.”
Jax continued to stare her down, but Liesel, though she desperately wanting to move away, held her ground. Finally, Jax took a step back, sticking his hands in his pockets.
“You at least agree he’s got to answer some questions?”
“And how are you going to arrange to do that?”
“I’m going to ask Dr. Jeraldo to help me,” Liesel said. “I trust him.”
“Your trust had better not be misplaced,” Jax said. “And I want to be there when you question the were.”
“Both you and Dr. J can be there.” Liesel resumed her seat at the breakfast bar.
“Stop playing the diplomat,” Jax scoffed.
“I’m the only one who doesn’t have any prejudices. I only want the truth.”
He leaned toward her, forearms on counter, looking Liesel right in the eye. The edgy expression slipped and his face took on a softer appearance, the corners of his mouth moved into a playful smile.
“That’s all I want too.”
Liesel turned her back to him.
“Stop trying to dazzle me. You’re not going to get your own way on this.”
“That was a terrible attempt,” Liesel continued, twisting back around on her chair so she was facing him again. “Are you feeling all right? You look a little tired. Do you keep blood in your fridge?”
“No.” Jax was practically growling. “I don’t need to keep it in my fridge. I fed from a nice girl named Carmen the week before last.”
“Good for you.”
“Not as good as it was for her,” Jax continued, stepping away from the breakfast bar. “I like her. I think I’ll put her in the regular rotation.”
“If your last feeding was two weeks ago, you’re going to need a top up soon,” Liesel said. “Especially if you’re under a lot of stress.”
“You offering?” Jax quirked a brow.
“You wish I wish.”
“What?” Liesel shook her head. “You aren’t even making sense.”
“Do you want a cup of tea?”
“Ok,” Liesel said, more to get back on familiar ground than because she really wanted a cup of tea. The idea of Jax feeding from her had made her feel all tingly. Maybe she needed to start taking vitamins again. Jax wasn’t the only one under a lot of stress.
She watched in fascination as Jax went through the motions of boiling the kettle and setting out a teapot and china cups. It reminded her that he was a lot older than he looked.
“Where do you come from?” she asked as he set the tea tray on the breakfast bar.
“I am very boringly English.” Jax set a cup in front of Liesel. “How do you take your tea?”
“Two sugar.” Liesel reached for a cube. “But you don’t sound British.”
“I’ve been here a while,” he pointed out. “The accent tends to fade.”
Liesel sipped her tea and looked around the apartment again. The furniture was all cool and super modern with glass tables and black leather seating. “Do you ever go back to England?”
“You mean since I left?”
Jax shrugged. “Everyone I knew there is dead now.”
Liesel’s tea suddenly felt hot in her throat. She knew vampires were incredibly long lived and resilient. Barring an accident, starvation or murder, they could pretty much go along forever. At least, that was the assumption. Looking at Jax and thinking of everyone he had lost over the years, she felt incredibly sad. Immortality wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be.
“But don’t you miss your home?” Liesel asked.
“What is this? Twenty questions?”
“You ask me questions all the time.”
“Well, this is home now.”
Liesel finished her tea. “I should be getting to the hospital. I need to talk to Dr. Jeraldo.”
“You really think he’s just going to bring in a werewolf and let us question him?”
“Why wouldn’t he?”
Relationship is a strong word
Getting Dr. Jeraldo on board proved to be more difficult than Liesel had anticipated.
She’d arrived at the hospital to find her mentor in the staff room holding is favorite mug – the one covered in pajama-clad penguins – and listening to his favorite jazz music. All signs pointed to a good mood. However, things had gone downhill quickly once he realized what Liesel wanted to do.
“If a werewolf needs to be questioned, that should happen amongst our kind,” he said. “Besides, no werewolf I’ve ever encountered could replicate a virus of this complexity.”
“I am not assuming he’s guilty,” Liesel said. “But I think he might have some answers, and the best way to figure that out is to bring him to the hospital and ask some questions.”
But the doctor was adamant. It was a stubbornness Liesel had never seen in him before.
“His pack will deal with him.”
Liesel looked at the ceiling, hoping to be struck by inspiration. She remembered her conversation with Jax.
“I haven’t told you who the werewolf is,” she said.
“No.” Dr. Jeraldo narrowed his eyes. “You haven’t.”
“The vampires will let me question him,” Liesel went on, though it was a bit of a bluff. She couldn’t say for certain what the vampires would let her do.
“You can’t seriously be siding with them?” Dr. Jeraldo said, his face turning the same shade of red as his beard. “I’m your mentor. You can trust me.”
“I’m not siding with anyone,” Liesel said. “I want to question this guy in a neutral place.”
Dr. Jeraldo spent several minutes spluttering incoherently. Then he tried to guilt her. When it didn’t work he finally gave in.
“Fine.” He put down his mug with more force than necessary, particularly considering it was one of his favorites. “I’ll bring him back here, but I want him treated fairly. No interference from the vampires.”
“Agreed,” Liesel said. “Just Jax.”
Dr. Jeraldo snorted. “You want Jax Halloran here while you question a werewolf?”
“And you as well,” Liesel said. “It’ll be nice and neutral.”
“I don’t like this,” Dr. Jeraldo said, but Liesel could tell by his tone he was almost ready to cave.
“None of us do.”
“I’ll agree to bring the werewolf here, but if I feel he’s being unfairly accused I won’t hesitate to bring in the pack.”
“All right, who is he?”
Liesel gave Dr. Jeraldo Barty’s name and address and promised not to reveal the information to the vampires, assuming the doctor returned within an hour.
Liesel watched the clock in the staff room. Fifty-two minutes had passed. She tried to ignore Jax’s pacing. He’d arrived at the hospital shortly after Dr. Jeraldo had left to pick up Barty and though he didn’t say anything, Liesel knew he was keeping an eye on the time as well.
She was about to break the uncomfortable silence when the door to the staff room swung open. Dr. Jeraldo came in, accompanied by a young werewolf who clearly wasn’t Barty.
“Who’s that?” Liesel asked. Jax looked at her in confusion.
“This is Vaughn,” Dr. Jeraldo said. “I couldn’t locate Barty, but I found Vaughn hanging out at the address you gave me.”
Vaughn had stringy brown hair, thick glasses and was more than a little skittish. Liesel got a faint whiff of pot as he entered the room. Vaughn took one look at Jax and backed up but Dr. Jeraldo kept a firm hold of his arm.
“Listen, I don’t know what Barty was up to,” Vaughn said. “I was checking up because he missed our study meeting.”
Liesel seriously doubted that Vaughn and Barty were planning on doing any ‘studying.’ But she did believe they were supposed to meet up and that Vaughn was worried about his friend.
“Why don’t we sit down?” Liesel suggested, walking over to the couch. She made the strategic decision to seat herself next to Jax, allowing Vaughn to sit across from them with Dr. Jeraldo.
“Why don’t you tell Liesel what you told me,” Dr. Jeraldo said. “Tell her about your relationship with Barty.”
“Whoa!” Vaughn held a hand out in front of himself. “Relationship is a strong word. We’re just friends, you know?”
“When was the last time you saw Barty?”
“Yesterday, around lunch time,” Vaughn answered without hesitation. “He was on his way to class and we arranged to meet up today. Only, he never showed.”
It occurred to Liesel that if Vaughn was speaking the truth, she’d seen Barty later in the day. Which meant Vaughn probably wouldn’t be much use in figuring out where Barty had gone.
But he might be able to tell them about what Barty was up to.
“What do you know about Barty’s roommates?” Liesel asked.
“Oh, they’re a good time. Trina and Carlos are always down to hang out, you know?”
“What about Olivia, did you know her?”
“Yeah, she was hot.” Vaughn looked at Jax. “What did you guys do with her?”
“Us?” Jax scowled. “We didn’t do anything to her.”
Vaughn gave Liesel a once over.
“What are you anyway?”
“I’m human,” Liesel said.
Vaughn seemed unsurprised by her answer.
“You’re like Olivia then.”
“What’s that?” It was Dr. Jeraldo who got the question out first, though Liesel and Jax had been about to jump in.
“Olivia could see our kind,” Vaughn said. “That’s why she and Barty were roommates. They kind of kept an eye on each other.”
“You didn’t think that was strange?” Jax couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of his voice. “A human who could see werewolves?”
Vaughn turned his vivid green eyes onto Jax.
“I thought it was very strange,” he answered. “But I figured Barty could keep an eye on her. And he was doing a decent job. Until she disappeared.”
“Do you know where is Olivia now?” Liesel asked.
“Why are you asking me?” Vaughn pointed at Jax. “Ask him. Barty said she got weird after she started hanging around vamps.”
“Weird in what way?” Dr. Jeraldo asked. The younger werewolf seemed to relax slightly when the older man spoke. Liesel figured it had to do with the werewolf hierarchy.
“She started to lose interest in everything,” Vaughn said. “Her classes, her friends.”
“Jade said she didn’t have close friends,” Liesel said.
Vaughn appeared to mull that over for a second. “Barty was probably closer to her than anyone, but she started shutting him out over the last few weeks. Ever since she became a regular at Hole.”
Vaughn glared at Jax. Unperturbed, Jax stared back.
“He’s deflecting.” Jax said to Dr. Jeraldo. “He’s trying to throw us off.”
“Throw you off what?” Vaughn asked. “Why are you trying to track down Olivia?”
“Because she might be ill,” Liesel said, and it wasn’t a lie. If the virus had taken out Christophe, who could say what it would do to a human.
Vaughn looked to Dr. Jeraldo for confirmation.
“It’s true,” the doctor agreed. “We have reason to believe Olivia may need medical attention.”
“For Christ sakes!” Jax threw his hands up. “He already knows. I bet it was him and his friend who sent her after us.”
Liesel turned to Jax. “I told you to let me handle this.”
Jax leaned toward her so that their faces were inches apart.
“We need to start finding answers,” he said in a low voice. “And he’s got answers.”
“We don’t know that he does,” Liesel said. “Does he seem like he knows what’s going on?”
“He’s probably a good actor. He’d have to be if he lives around humans. We can’t take our time and hold his hand through this. I’ve got a sick colleague and-”
“Vampires are sick?” Vaughn asked. “I didn’t think vampires could get sick.”
Jax sat up straight. “You seem awful interested.”
“And you think Olivia was a carrier?” Vaughn continued, surprising Liesel with how fast he could make the connections when he wanted to. “No way. She wasn’t sick.”
“But you said yourself she was acting strange,” Liesel said.
“Yeah, but weird isn’t sick.”
He had a point. If Olivia was exhibiting the same symptoms as Christophe she’d have passed out. Maybe it was just a vampire disease.
“What’s your major?” Jax asked Vaughn. “Sciences? Biochemistry?”
“Folklore,” Vaughn said, giving Jax a puzzled look.
“Excuse us.” Liesel stood and pulled Jax by the arm. He could have easily resisted but must have decided to follow along. Liesel led him out of the staff room and into the hallway.
“I don’t think he knows anything.”
“Doesn’t mean he’s not working for someone who does,” Jax said.
“Do you honestly think the werewolves would risk five decades of truce to attack vampires now? For what purpose?”
“They hate us. What other purpose do they need?”
Liesel was about to point out the lack of logic in that statement when she was interrupted by the sound of a motorcycle convoy outside the windows. It was soon followed by raised voices in the waiting area.
“Is that-” Liesel started, but Jax was already out the door.
We all need to work together
Liesel arrived in the waiting room right on Jax’s heels to find a full-blown standoff taking place. On one side were Peter, Tara and Belinda. On the other was a small group of werewolves. One of the wolves, a gangly youth who stood in the back of the group, looked familiar to Liesel and she realized he was the wolf who’d bitten a vampire and needed to have a tooth pulled during the last full moon. He looked at the floor, avoiding eye contact.
The two groups were only a few feet apart, glaring at each other. One wrong word and they were going to be dealing with a brawl.
Liesel glared at Jax.
“You called your lieutenants?”
“So did Dr. Jeraldo.” He pointed at the group of wolves.
Jax went to stand with his lieutenants, leaving Liesel standing in the middle. Since she already knew the vampires, she focused her attention on the wolves.
“Want to talk about why you’re here?” she asked.
“You’re keeping one of ours,” a werewolf with dark hair and a neat goatee said. “We were sent to discover why.”
“I think you already know why.” Peter’s sneering voice came from behind Liesel. “You’re murderers.”
“Murderers?” Goatee man looked to Jax. “So the rumors are true? The great Christophe has met his demise?”
Liesel turned around just in time to catch Jax shoot Peter a warning look.
“Christophe is still with us,” Jax said.
“But for how long?” another werewolf mocked.
“We know you’re behind this.” Tara’s nostrils flared and Liesel knew it wouldn’t take much to push her over the edge.
The goateed man smiled wide.
“I’d love nothing more than to take out a few vamps, but unfortunately we cannot take credit for your sick leader. Much as we might wish to.”
The two groups edged closer together.
“All right!” Liesel held out her arms and spoke to the werewolves. “Everyone back up!”
“Who’s she?” the wolf standing next to the goateed werewolf asked. “What’s she got to do with this?”
“I’m Dr. Liesel Andrews and if you give me a minute, I can explain what’s going on.”
“Micah,” the man with the goatee nodded at her. “I’ve heard about you.”
Liesel dropped her arms, addressing Micah.
“I’m the one who requested a meeting with the wolf. I wanted some information about one of his friends.”
“Then why is he here?” Micah pointed at Jax.
“He’s stubborn.” That got a smile from the wereman. “And Dr. Jeraldo was here as well. Vaughn was never out of his sight.”
Micah seemed to accept this and backed up a bit. Dr. Jeraldo commanded a certain amount of respect amongst his kind.
“Can we see Vaughn?”
“No,” Jax snapped.
“Of course,” Liesel answered at the same time. “But can I ask you a question? How did you hear about the virus?”
“None of the young vamps have seen their leader in a while. They talk. Especially when a hot young doctor is brought in to headquarters to check things out.”
Liesel heard a hissing sound behind her and was pretty sure it was Jax.
“The wolves are responsible,” Tara said, bringing the conversation back to familiar ground. “They have to be.”
Micah smirked. “Like I said, we’d love to take responsibility, but sometimes nature has a way of taking care of its own aberrations.”
The wheels began turning in Liesel’s head, she needed to find a way to keep the peace, at least temporarily.
“We all need to work together.”
“Not going to happen,” Micah said.
Liesel took a calming breath.
“Maybe everyone can take a seat and I’ll bring Micah to see Vaughn-”
But before Liesel could get the sentence out, one of the werewolves fell to the floor in a heap. It was the young one, the one she’d recognized. Liesel ran to him, pushing other werewolves out of the way.
“What’s his name?” she asked as she dropped to the floor at his side. She felt the skin at his neck. He was burning up.
“Gareth,” Micah said, his voice going hoarse.
“Gareth,” Liesel repeated. “Can you hear me?”
There was no reaction.
“What’s going on?” Dr. Jeraldo’s voice carried through the crowd.
“Let him through,” Liesel said, and the crowd around Gareth opened up. Dr. Jeraldo took one look at the young werewolf lying on the floor and his expression turned serious.
“This isn’t good.”
“We’re going to need to run some tests,” Liesel said.
“What kind of tests?” Micah looked from Liesel to Dr. Jeraldo.
“I’ll get a gurney.” Dr. Jeraldo pushed past Micah, not giving him an answer.
“He looks like Christophe,” Peter said, eying the werewolf. There was no hint of satisfaction in the vampire’s voice.
“You don’t think he caught the virus?” Micah’s tone took on an edge of panic. “It only affects vampires.”
“Apparently not.” Liesel stayed on the floor with Gareth while they waited for Dr. Jeraldo. She looked at Micah and Jax.
“It looks like you guys are going to have to find a way work together, whether you like it or not.”
Micah sank to the floor at Gareth’s side, but Jax kept his eyes on Liesel. Dr. Jeraldo returned and the other wolves helped hoist Gareth onto the gurney. With Dr. Jeraldo in the lead, they led him down the hallway toward an empty room.
“Give them a moment,” Jax said to Liesel when she would have followed. “This is a shock for all of them.”
He was right, of course.
The other vampires cleared out, heading back to headquarters, leaving Liesel alone with a grim-faced Jax. She tried to think of something comforting to say. Nothing came to mind.
It was Jax who broke the silence.
“You’re right,” he said. “About us needing to find common ground.”
“Really?” It was the last thing Liesel had expected Jax to say.
“But I think you’re going to have to be the one to lead us there.”
“You think I can do that?”
He reached out, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, his fingers lingering for a moment.
“I think you’re the only one who can.”
College freshmen Liesl Andrews spends her days studying pre-med and her nights stitching up werewolf bites. As a human who has the rare capacity to see the vampires, werewolves and witches who live in the shadows, Liesl pays her tuition by moonlighting as a medical intern at St. Benedict’s Hospital for the Underworld. She figures she’s doing a decent job of balancing her two lives until Jax Halloran walks into the ER. Not only is he tall, dark and obnoxious, he’s also a high-ranking vampire who needs her help. A virus is threatening the vampire community and Liesl may be their only hope at finding a cure.