A ghost has invaded his home, beginning a dangerous nightly game in which Henry is allowed to ask a single question. If the answer is no, an innocent and unsuspecting person is killed. Henry soon comes to the horrifying realization that this wraith—and the others who join it—is using him to wreak vengeance on the people it holds responsible for its death.
Henry can’t find the source of these murders on his own, so he calls on the one person he trusts to help—private investigator Vicki Nelson, with the small hope that they can stop these otherworldly forces, without losing their lives.
Also includes a brand-new short story featuring Vicki and Henry!
About the author
Tanya Huff may have left Nova Scotia at three, and has lived most of her life since in Ontario, but she still considers herself a Maritimer. On the way to the idyllic rural existence she shares with her partner Fiona Patton, six cats, and a chihuahua, she acquired a degree in Radio and Television Arts from Ryerson Polytechnic—an education she was happy to finally use while writing her recent Smoke novels. Of her previous twenty-three books, the five—Blood Price, Blood Trail, Blood Lines, Blood Pact, Blood Debt—featuring Henry Fitzroy, bastard son of Henry VIII, romance writer, and vampire are among the most popular.
Excerpt: Blood Debt (by (author) Tanya Huff)
“HOW ARE YOU FEELING?”
The young man attempted a shrug but didn’t have the energy to actually lift his shoulders. “ ’M okay,” he muttered, watching the doctor warily. The incision throbbed, and he was too tired to take a piss without the huge orderly holding his pecker, but he wasn’t going to tell the doctor that. Some people said he had authority problems. So what.
He had his money; all he wanted now was a chance to spend it. “When can I go?”
“Leave,” he growled.
“That’s what I came in to tell you.” Her face expressionless, she stepped away from the bed. “You’ll be leaving this afternoon.”
When she was gone, he swung his legs out from under the covers and carefully lowered them to the floor. Straightening slowly, he released the rail and stepped forward. The room whirled. He would have fallen except that a beefy hand wrapped around his arm and effortlessly kept him upright.
“You walk too fuckin’ quietly, man,” he said, turning to face the orderly. “Damn near scared me to d . . .”
The last word got lost in sudden pain as the fingers tightened.
“Hey, man! You’re hurting me!”
“I know.” Something glittered in the depths of soft brown eyes, something usually buried beneath an expression of unquestionable docility.
The setting sun brushed molten gold over the waves of English Bay, gilded a pair of joggers on Sunset Beach Park, traced currents of gleaming amber between the shores of False Creek, shone through the tinted glass on the fourteenth floor of the Pacific Place condominium tower and into the eyes of a young man who sighed as he watched it set. Nestled between the mountains and the Strait of Georgia, Vancouver, British Columbia, enjoyed some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world— but that had nothing to do with the young man’s sigh.
Lifting a hand to shade his face, Tony Foster stared out the window and counted down the minutes. At 7:22 P.M., his watch alarm began to buzz. Pale blue eyes still locked on the horizon, he shut it off and cocked his head back toward the interior of the condominium, listening for the sounds that would tell him the night had truly begun.
Lying in a darkness so complete it could only be deliberate, Henry Fitzroy shook off the bindings of the sun. The soft sound of the cotton sheet moving against the rise and fall of his chest told him he had safely survived another day. As he listened, the rhythmic whisper became lost in the heartbeat waiting in the room beyond his bolted door and then in the myriad noises of the city beyond the walls of his sanctuary.
He hated the way he woke, hated the extended vulnerability of his slow return to full consciousness. Every evening he tried to shorten the time he spent lying helpless and semiaware. It didn’t seem to do any good, but the effort made him feel less impotent.
He could feel the sheet lying against his skin, the utter stillness of the air. . . .
And a sudden chill.
Which was impossible.
He’d had the air conditioner disconnected in this, the smallest of the three bedrooms. The window had been blocked with plywood, caulked, and curtained. The door had flexible rubber seals around all four sides—not air-tight by any means, but the cracks were far too small to allow such a rapid change in temperature.
Then he realized that he wasn’t alone.
Someone was in the room with him. Someone with no scent. No heartbeat. Fleshless. Bloodless.
Demonic? Possibly. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d faced one of the Lords of Hell.
Forcing a sluggish arm to move, Henry reached over and switched on a lamp.
Sensitive eyes half closed—even forty-watt bulbs threw enough light to temporarily blind—he caught one quick glimpse of a young man standing at the foot of his bed before the faint, translucent image disappeared.
“A ghost?” Tony propped one leg on the wide arm of the green leather couch and shook his head. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Cool. I wonder what he wants. They always want something,” he added in answer to the question implicit in Henry’s lifted red-gold brow. “Everyone knows that.”
“Come on, Henry. Don’t tell me in four-hundred-and-fifty-five odd years you’ve never seen a ghost?”
One hand flat against the cool glass of the window, the other hooked in the pocket of his jeans, Henry Fitzroy, bastard son of Henry VIII, once Duke of Richmond and Somerset, remembered a night in the late 1800s when he’d watched the specter of a terrified young queen run screaming down the hall to beg her king once more for a mercy she’d never receive. Over two hundred years before, Katherine Howard had attended his wedding to her cousin Mary. He hadn’t gone to hers—her marriage to his father had occurred four years after his supposed death. Made a queen in July, 1540, she’d been beheaded in February, 1542, nineteen months later.
She’d been young and foolish and very likely guilty of the adultery she’d been charged with, but she hadn’t deserved to have her spirit trapped, replaying over and over the soul- destroying moment when she’d realized she was going to die.
“Whatever he wants,” Henry said without turning, “I doubt that I’ll be able to give it to him. I can’t change the past.”
Tony shivered. The centuries had gathered about the other man in a nearly visible cloud, wrapping him in a shroud of time and memory. “Henry, you’re freaking me out.”
“Am I? Sorry.” Shaking off his melancholy, the ex-prince turned and managed a wry smile. “You seem somewhat nonchalant about being haunted.”
Glad to have him back, Tony shrugged, a trace of the street kid he’d been lingering in the jerky movement. “He’s haunting you, not me. And besides, between living with you for the last two years and dealing with the weirdos at the store, I’ve learned to take the unexpected in stride.”
“Have you?” Not at all pleased with being compared to the weirdos at the video store where Tony worked, Henry’s smile broadened, showing teeth. When he heard the younger man’s heartbeat quicken, he crossed the room and wrapped an ivory hand around a slender shoulder. “So I’ve lost the ability to surprise you?”
“I didn’t say that.” Tony’s breathing grew ragged as a cool thumb traced the line of his jaw.
“Perhaps not exactly that.”
“Uh, Henry . . .”
He shook his head. It was enough to know Henry would stop if he wanted him to. More than enough, considering he didn’t want him to. “Never mind. Not important.”
A short while later, teeth met through a fold of skin, the sharp points pierced a vein and, for a time, the dead were washed away with the blood of the living.
The warm evening air lapping against her face, Corporal Phyllis Roberts cruised along Commissioner Street humming the latest Celine Dion hit and tapping her fingers against the top of the steering wheel. Although the new Ports Canada Police cars had air- conditioning, she never used it as she disliked the enclosed, spaceship feeling of driving with the windows rolled up.
Three hours into her shift, she was in a good mood. So far, nothing had gone wrong.
Three hours and fifteen minutes into her shift, Corporal Roberts stopped humming.
Turning into Vanterm, as of this moment her least favorite of the harbor’s twenty-seven cargo and cruise ship terminals, Corporal Roberts squinted to make out the tiny figures of three men dwarfed by the bulk of a Singapore-registered container ship. The pole lights that turned the long wooden pier into a patchwork of stacked containers and hard-edged shadows washed away features so thoroughly she was almost on top of them before she recognized one of the men.
Leaving her cap in the car, she picked up her long, rubber-handled flashlight, touched her nightstick, more out of habit than any thought she might have to use it, and walked toward them. “You night-loading, Ted?”
Ted Polich, the shortest of the three longshoremen, jerked a balding head upward at the gantry crane that loomed over the dock like a mechanical bird of prey. “Controls have stiffened up and the son of a bitch is jerking left. We’re trying to get it fixed tonight, so it doesn’t slow loading tomorrow.”
“God forbid,” the corporal muttered. A huge increase in Pacific Rim trade had the port scrambling to keep up. “Where is it?”
“Up by the bow. It’s caught in one of them eddies between the dock and the ship.” Falling into step beside her, Polich shoved his hands in the pockets of grimy overalls. “We figured they’d send the city police.”
“Sorry. You’re stuck with me until we know for sure you saw what you said you did.”
“You think we made it up?” asked one of the other men indignantly, leaning around his companion to glare at the cop.
Corporal Roberts shook her head and sighed. “I couldn’t possibly be that lucky.”
Bobbing up and down in the narrow triangle between the bow and the dock was the body of a naked man, his back a pale, flesh- colored island, the strands of his hair sweeping against it like dark seaweed.
Polich nodded. “That’s what I said. You figure he’s a jumper?”
“I doubt it.” While they did occasionally get jumpers off the Lions Gate Bridge, they hadn’t had one yet who’d stopped to take his clothes off. Pointing her flashlight beam at the water, she slowly swept the circle of illumination over the corpse. Bruises, large and small, made a mottled pattern of purple against the pale skin. Not very old—and not going to get any older, she told herself grimly—he hadn’t been in the water for long.
“Funny what makes some of ’em float and some of ’em sink,” Polich mused quietly beside her. “This guy’s skin and bones, should’a gone right to the . . . Goddamnit! Would you look at that!”
The other two longshoremen crowded in to see.
Flung forward, Corporal Roberts tottered on the edge of the pier, saved at the last minute from a potentially dangerous swim by a muscular arm thrust in front of her like a filthy, cloth- covered, safety rail. Breathing heavily, she thanked Polich and snarled a warning at the other two.
As they backed up, too intent on the body in the water to be properly penitent, one of them muttered, “What the hell could’ve happened to his hands?”
Sunset the next night occurred behind cloud cover so heavy only the
fading light gave evidence that the sun had set at all. At 7:23, Tony
turned off his watch alarm and muted the inane conversation filling in
a rain delay for a Seattle Mariners’ home game. Who wanted to hear
about a shortage of organ donors when they were waiting to watch
baseball? He never dreamed he’d miss Fergie Oliver. Leaning back in
his chair, he glanced down the hall, listening for the first sounds of
Henry’s return and straining to hear the rattle of ghostly chains.
As the sun released its hold and his senses slowly began to function, Henry sifted through and ignored a hundred familiar sensations. An impossible breeze stroked icy fingers across his cheek. He willed his arm to move and switched on the lamp.
The ghost stood where it had the day before—a nondescript young man, needing a haircut and shave, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. Its edges were indistinct and although Henry could see writing on the shirt, he couldn’t make it out—whether because the writing hadn’t fully materialized or because the items on the dresser behind the ghost’s semitranslucent torso distracted him, he wasn’t sure. As far as Henry could remember, he’d never seen the young man alive.
He half expected the specter to vanish when he sat up, but it remained at the foot of his bed. It’s waiting for something. If a noncorporeal being could be said to have posture, the ghost’s stance screamed anticipation.
“All right.” He sighed and leaned back against the headboard. “What do you want?”
Slowly, the ghost lifted its arms and vanished.
Henry stared a moment longer at the place where it had been and wondered what could have possibly happened to its hands.
“It had no hands at all?” When Henry nodded, Tony chewed his lower lip in thought. “Were they, like, cut off or ripped off or chewed off or what?” he asked after a moment.
“They just weren’t there.” Henry took a bottle of water out of the fridge, opened it, and drained it. The growing popularity of bottled water had been a godsend; while blood provided total nourishment, all living things required water, and the purifying chemicals added by most cities made him ill. Bacteria, his system ignored. Chlorine, it rebelled against. Tossing the empty plastic bottle in the recycling bin, he leaned on the counter and stared down at his own hands. “They just weren’t there,” he repeated.
“Then I bet that’s what he wants—vengeance. They always want vengeance.”
Raising an eyebrow at Tony’s certainty, Henry asked just where he’d acquired his knowledge of what ghosts always wanted.
“You know, movies and stuff. He wants you to help him take revenge against the guy who took his hands.”
“And how am I supposed to do that?”
“Jeez, Henry, I don’t know. You worked with Vicki; didn’t she teach you nothing?”
Tony rolled his eyes. “Okay, anything.”
Vicki Nelson, private investigator, ex-police detective, ex-lover, vampire—Henry had worked with her for one short year before fate had brought them as close together as was possible with his kind and then had driven them apart. He’d been forced to change her to save her life and forced, by the change, to give her up. Highly territorial, vampires hunted alone. She’d returned to Toronto and her mortal lover. He’d made a new life for himself on the West Coast.
Had she taught him anything?
Did any of it have anything to do with handless ghosts?
When he repeated his thoughts aloud for Tony’s benefit, he added, “One thing she did teach me is that I’m not a detective. I’m a writer, and, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go write.” Not entirely certain why memories of Vicki Nelson always made him so defensive, he headed for his computer, waving at the television on his way through the living room. “Your rain delay seems to be over.”
Half an hour later, having realized that the expected staccato clicking of keys hadn’t yet begun, Tony pushed open the door to Henry’s office. Standing on the threshold, he noted that nothing showed on the monitor but a chapter heading and a lot of blank screen.
“This spook really has you spooked, doesn’t it?”
“Why do you say that?” Henry asked without turning.
“You’re just sitting there, staring at your hands.”
“Maybe I was deep in thought.”
“Henry, you write bodice rippers. There’s a limit to how much
deep thought is allowed.”
Seventeen years a royal duke, over four hundred and fifty years a vampire, it had taken Henry a while to recognize when he was being teased. Once or twice, Tony had come close to not surviving the adjustment. Lifting his gaze from his hands, he sighed. “All I can think of is, why me.” He laughed, but the sound held no humor. “Which seems a little self- centered since I’m merely being haunted and was not the one killed and mutilated.” Pushing his ergonomic chair away from the desk, he spun it around and stood. “I need to get out. Be distracted.”
“Great.” Tony grinned. “Bram Stoker’s Dracula is playing at midnight at the Caprice.”
“Why not.” Enjoying Tony’s poleaxed expression, Henry turned the young man about and pushed him gently out of the doorway. “I hear Gary Oldman is terrific.”
“You hear?” Tony sputtered as Henry’s inarguable touch moved him down the hall. “You heard it from me! And when I told you, you told me that you never go to vampire movies—that’s why not.”
“I changed my mind.” Unable to resist, he added, “Maybe we can get a bite while we’re downtown.”
The elevators in the Pacific Place towers were as fast and as quiet as money could make them. With his fingertips resting lightly on the brushed steel doors, Henry cocked his head and smiled. “It sounds like Lisa’s shredding the character of another cabbie.”
Tony winced. “Man, I’m glad she likes us.”
As the chime announced the arrival of the elevator, the two men stepped away from the doors.
“Hello, boys.” One gloved hand clutching the arm of her paid companion, Lisa Evans grinned a very expensive and perfect grin as she shuffled into the corridor. The gleaming white teeth between glistening red lips added a ghastly emphasis to the skull-like effect created when age finally triumphed over years of cosmetic surgery. “Heading out for a late night on the town?”
“Just a midnight movie,” Henry told her as Tony stopped the doors from closing. He scooped up her free hand and raised it to his lips. “And you, I expect, have been out breaking hearts?”
“At my age? Don’t be ridiculous.” She pulled her hand free and smacked him lightly on the cheek, then turned on her companion. “And what are you smiling about, Munro?”
Not the least bit chastised, Mrs. Munro continued to smile down at her elderly employer. “I was just thinking about Mr. Swanson.”
“Swanson’s interested in my money, not these old bones.” But she preened a little and patted the head of the mink stole she wore over a raw silk suit. Once the mistress of a Vancouver lumber baron, she’d made a number of shrewd investments and parlayed a comfortable nest egg into a tidy fortune. “And besides, I’m not interested in him. All the good men are dead.” Sweeping a twinkling gaze over Henry and Tony, she added, “Or gay.”
“Chill out, Munro. I’m not telling them anything they don’t know.” Companion chastised, she turned her attention back to the two men. ‘We’ve just come from one of those tedious fund- raising things they expect you to attend when you have money. Organs, I think it was tonight.”
“Organs?” Henry repeated with a smile, fully aware that Lisa Evans enjoyed those tedious fund- raising things where her checkbook ensured she’d be stroked and flattered. He also knew that if she was vague,
it was deliberate—no one made the kind of money she had without knowing exactly where every dollar ended up. “Musical or medical?”
“Medical.” Heavily shadowed eyes narrowed into a look that had been known to send a variety of CEOs running for cover. “Have you signed an organ donor card?”
“I’m afraid they wouldn’t want my organs.”
The look softened slightly as she leaped to the conclusion he’d intended. “Oh. I’m sorry. Still, while there’s life, there’s hope, and medical science is doing wonders these days.” She grinned. “I mean, it’s a wonder I’m still alive.” Pulling her companion down the hall, rather in the manner of a pilot boat guiding a tanker into harbor, she threw a cheery, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” back over her shoulder.
“Well, that leaves us a lot of leeway,” Henry murmured as the elevator door closed on Mrs. Munro’s continuing shocked protests.
Tony sagged against the back wall, hands shoved in his pockets. “Until I met Miss Evans, I always thought old ladies were kind of vague and smelly. Maybe you should send your ghost over to her.”
“If all the good men are dead . . .”
“Or gay,” Henry reminded him. “Suppose he turned out to be both? I’d hate to get on Lisa’s bad side.”
The thought of Lisa Evans’ bad side brought an exaggerated shudder. “Actually, I’ve been meaning to ask you; how come you’re so friendly with everybody in the building? You’re always talking to people. I’d have thought it would be safer to be a little more . . .”
“Big word. I was going to say private, but I guess that’ll do.”
“People are afraid of what they don’t know.” Exiting into the underground garage, they walked in step to Henry’s BMW. “If people think they know me, they aren’t afraid of me. If a rumor begins that I am not what I seem, they’ll match it against what they think they know and discount it. If they have nothing to match it against, then they’re more likely to believe it.”
“So you make friends with people as a kind of camouflage?”
Frowning slightly, Henry watched Tony circle around to the passenger door. “Not always.”
With the car between them, Tony lifted his head and locked his
eyes on Henry’s face. “And what about me?”
“What am I? Am I camouflage?”
“Tony . . .” Then he saw the expression in Tony’s eyes and realized that it hadn’t been a facetious question. “Tony, I trust you with everything I am. There’re only two other people in the world I can say that about, and one of them doesn’t exactly count.”
“Because Vicki’s become a vampire?”
“Because Michael Celluci would never admit to knowing a . . . romance writer.”
Tony laughed, as he was meant to, but Henry heard the artificial resonance. For the rest of the night, he worked hard at erasing it.
"Huff's writing is a joy to read. You can sample her work in other genres, but if you're a vampire fan, this series is not to be missed." — Kliatt
"Ms. Huff's continuing series provides smashing entertainment for a wide audience." — Romantic Times Magazine
"The vampire story wraps around a pretty good mystery made even better by a cast of fascinating characters. This is one series that deserves to continue." — Science Fiction Chronicle
"Blood Debt is part romance, part mystery, and totally entertaining as it expands the boundaries and raises the standard of the supernatural romance. The entire series is a must read for fans of otherworldly romance." — Under the Covers Book Reviews
"Lovers of dark fantasy will not want to miss reading the fifth and final novel of Tanya Huff's magnificent vampire series." — The Midwest Book Review