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Vicki Nelson has received the call that no daughter ever wants to receive—that her mother has died. Marjory Nelson’s coworkers at the Queen’s University Life Science Department told her that she suffered a heart attack, and that they’d be waiting for Vicki to arrive in Kingston to make the funeral arrangements. But what begins as a personal tragedy turns into the most terrifying case of Vicki’s career, when her mother’s body disappears mysteriously from the funeral home. Someone at the University is determined to learn the secret of life after death…and they’ve decided to make Vicki’s mother part of their horrifying experiments.
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 Pact (by (author) Tanya Huff)
“MRS. SIMMONS? IT’S VICKI Nelson calling; the private investigator from Toronto?” She paused and considered how best to present the information. Oh, what the hell . . . “We’ve found your husband.”
“Is he . . . alive?”
“Yes, ma’am, very much so. He’s working as an insurance adjuster under the name Tom O’Conner.”
“Don always works in insurance.”
“Yes, ma’am, that’s how we found him. I’ve just sent you a package, by courier, containing a copy of everything we’ve discovered including a number of recent photographs—you should receive it before noon tomorrow. The moment you call me with a positive ID, I’ll take the information to the police and they can pick him up.”
“The police thought they found him once before—in Vancouver—but when they went to pick him up he was gone.”
“Well, he’ll be there this time.” Vicki leaned back in her chair, shoved her free hand up under the bottom edge of her glasses and scrubbed at her eyes. In eight years with the Metropolitan Toronto Police and nearly two years out on her own, she’d seen some real SOBs; Simmons/O’Conner ranked right up there with the best of them. Anyone who faked his own death in order to ditch a wife and five kids deserved exactly what he got. “My partner’s going to talk to him tonight. I think your husband will decide to stay right where he is.”
The bar was noisy and smoky, with tables too small to be useful and chairs too stylized to be comfortable. The beer was overpriced, the liquor over-iced, and the menu a tarted-up mix of at least three kinds of quasi-ethnic cooking plus the usual grease and carbohydrates. The staff were all young, attractive, and interchangeable. The clientele were a little older, not quite so attractive although they tried desperately hard to camouflage it, and just as faceless. It was, for the moment, the premier poser bar in the city and all the wannabes in Toronto shoehorned themselves through its doors on Friday night.
Henry Fitzroy paused just past the threshold and scanned the crowd through narrowed eyes. The smell of so many bodies crammed together, the sound of so many heartbeats pounding in time to the music blasting out of half a dozen suspended speakers, the feel of so many lives in so little space pulled the Hunger up and threatened to turn it loose. Fastidiousness more than willpower held it in check. In over four and a half centuries, Henry had never seen so many people working so hard and so futilely at having a good time.
It was the kind of place he wouldn’t be caught dead in under normal circumstances, but tonight he was hunting and this was where his quarry had gone to ground. The crowd parted as he moved away from the door, and eddies of whispered speculation followed in his wake.
“Who does he think he is . . .”
“. . . I’m telling you, he’s somebody . . .”
Henry Fitzroy, bastard son of Henry VIII, one time Duke of Richmond and Somerset, Lord President of the Council of the North, noted, with an inward sigh, that some things never changed. He sat down at the bar—the young man who had been on the stool having vacated it as Henry approached—and waved the bartender away.
To his right, an attractive young woman raised one ebony brow in obvious invitation. Although his gaze dropped to the pulse that beat in the ivory column of her throat and almost involuntarily traced the vein until it disappeared beneath the soft drape of magenta silk clinging to shoulders and breasts, he regretfully, silently, declined. She acknowledged both his glance and his refusal, then turned to more receptive game. Henry hid a smile. He wasn’t the only hunter abroad tonight.
To his left, a wide back in a charcoal gray suit made up most of the view. The hair above the suit had been artfully styled to hide the thinning patches just as the suit itself had been cut to cover the areas that a fortieth birthday had thickened. Henry reached out and tapped lightly on one wool-clad shoulder.
The wearer of the suit turned, saw no one he knew, and began to scowl. Then he fell into the depths of a pair of hazel eyes, much darker than hazel eyes should have been, much deeper than mortal eyes could be.
“We need to have a talk, Mr. O’Conner.”
It would have taken a much stronger man to look away.
“In fact, I think you’d better come with me.” A thin sheen of sweat greased the other man’s forehead. “This is just a little too public for what I plan to . . .” Slightly elongated canines became visible for an instant between parted lips. “. . . discuss.”
Henry stood at the window, one hand flat against the cool glass. Although he seemed to be looking down at the lights of the city, he was actually watching the reflection of the woman seated on the couch behind him. “And what?”
“Henry, stop being an undead pain in the ass. Did you convince Mr. O’Conner/Simmons to stay put until the police arrive?”
He loved to watch her; loved to watch emotions play across her face, loved to watch her move, loved to watch her in repose. Loved her. But as that was a topic not to be discussed, all he said was, “Yes.”
“Good. I hope you scared the living shit out of him while you were at it.”
“Vicki.” He turned, arms crossed on his chest, and frowned in what was only partially mock disapproval. “I am not your personal bogeyman, to be pulled out of the closet every time you think someone needs to have the fear of God . . .”
Vicki snorted. “Think highly of yourself, don’t you?”
“. . . put into them,” he continued, ignoring the interruption.
“Have I ever treated you like my ‘personal bogeyman’?” She raised a hand to cut off his immediate reply. “Be honest. You have certain skills, just like I have certain skills, and when I think it’s necessary, I use them. Besides,” she pushed her glasses back into place on the bridge of her nose, “you said you wanted to be more involved in my business. Help out with more cases now that you’ve handed in Purple Passion’s Pinnacle and aren’t due to start another romantic masterpiece until next month.”
“Love Labors On.” Henry saw no reason to be ashamed of writing historical romances; it paid well and he was good at it. He doubted, however, that Vicki had ever read one. She wasn’t the type to enjoy, or even desire, escape through fiction. “Tonight—it wasn’t what I had in mind when I said I wanted to be more involved.”
“Henry, it’s been over a year.” She sounded amused. “You should know by now that most private investigating consists of days and days of boring, tedious research. Thrilling and exciting life- threatening situations are few and far between.”
Henry raised one red-gold brow.
Vicki looked a little sheepish. “Look, it’s not my fault people keep trying to kill me. And you. And anyway, you know those were the exceptions that prove the rule.” She straightened, tucking one sneakered foot up under her butt. “Tonight, I needed to convince a sleazebag—who deserved to be terrified after what he put his wife and kids through—to stay put until the police arrive. Tonight, I needed you. Henry Fitzroy, vampire. No one else could’ve done it.”
Upon reflection, he was willing to grant her that no one else could have done the job as well although a couple of burly mortals and fifty feet of rope would have had the same general effect. “You really didn’t like him, did you?”
“No. I didn’t.” Her lip curled. “It’s one thing to walk out on your responsibilities, but it takes a special kind of asshole to do it in such a way that everyone thinks he’s dead. They mourned him, Henry. Cried for him. And the son of a bitch was off building a new life, fancy- free, while they were bringing flowers, every Saturday, to an empty grave. If he hadn’t gotten into the background of that national news report, they’d still be crying for him. He owes them. In my book, he owes them big.”
“Well, then, you’ll be happy to know that I did, as you so inelegantly put it, scare the living shit out of him.”
“Good.” She loosened her grip on the throw pillow. “Did you . . . uh . . . feed?”
“Would it matter if I had?” Would she admit it if it mattered. “Blood’s blood, Vicki. And his fear was enough to raise the Hunger.”
“I know. And I know you feed from others. It’s just . . .” She dragged one hand through her hair, standing it up in dark blonde spikes. “It’s just that . . .”
“No. I didn’t feed from him.” Her involuntary smile was all he could have asked, so he crossed the room to see it better.
“You’re probably hungry, then.”
“Yes.” He took her hand and gently caressed the inner skin of her wrist with his thumb. Her pulse leapt under his touch.
She tried to stand, but he pushed her back, bent his head, and ran his tongue down the faint blue line of a vein.
“Henry, if we don’t go soon, I won’t be able to . . .” Her voice faded out as her brain became preoccupied with other things. With a mighty effort, she forced her throat to open and her mouth to work. “We’ll end up staying on the . . . couch.”
He lifted his mouth long enough to murmur, “So?” and that was the last coherent word either of them spoke for some time.
“Four o’clock in the morning,” Vicki muttered, digging for the keys to her apartment. “Another two hours and I’ll have seen the clock around. Again. Why do I keep doing this to myself?” Her wrist throbbed, as if in answer, and she sighed. “Never mind. Stupid question.”
Muscles tensed across her back as the door unexpectedly swung fully open. The security chain hung loose, unlocked, arcing back and forth, scraping softly, metal against wood. Holding her breath, she filtered out the ambient noises of the apartment—the sound of the refrigerator motor, a dripping tap, the distant hum of the hydro substation across the street—and noted a faint mechanical whir. It sounded like . . .
She almost had it when a sudden noise drove off all hope of identification. The horrible crunching, grinding, smashing, continued for about ten seconds, then muted.
“I’ll grind his bones to make my bread . . .” It was the closest she could come to figuring out what could possibly be happening. And all things considered, I’m not denying the possibility of a literal translation. After demons, werewolves, mummies, not to mention the omnipresent vampire in her life, a Jack-eating giant in her living room was less than impossible no matter how unlikely.
She shrugged the huge, black leather purse off her shoulder and caught it just before it hit the floor. With the strap wrapped twice around her wrist it made a weapon even a giant would flinch at. Good thing I hung onto that brick . . .
The sensible thing to do would involve closing the door, trotting to the phone booth on the corner, and calling the cops.
I am way too tired for this shit. Vicki stepped silently into the apartment. Four in the morning courage. Gotta love it.
Sliding each foot a centimeter above the floor and placing it back down with exaggerated care, she made her way along the short length of hall and around the corner into the living room, senses straining. Over the last few months she’d started to believe that, while the retinitis pigmentosa had robbed her of any semblance of night sight, sound and smell were beginning to compensate. The proof would be in the pudding; although she knew the streetlight outside the bay window provided a certain amount of illumination in spite of the blinds and the apartment never actually got completely dark, as far as her vision was concerned, she might as well be wearing a padded blindfold.
Well, not quite a blindfold. Even she couldn’t miss the blob of light that had to be the television flickering silently against the far wall. She stopped, weapon ready, cocked her head, and got a whiff of a well known after-shave mixed with . . . cheese?
Praise for the series:
“An interesting departure from the many vampire books now available. It provides an entertaining and engrossing story for leisure reading.”—Kliatt
“A suspenseful story that deals with the emotional content of the situation rather than the obvious potential for overt horror.”—Science Fiction Chronicle
“Huff has retained her humor along with her horror, her characters have continued to develop, and her plots are quirky and original.”—VOYA
“Explores the borders of death and beyond with an intensity that is only partially lightened by touches of ironic humor. Written with the author’s usual flair for realistic fantasy.” —Library Journal