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For centuries, the werewolves of Toronto have managed to live in peace and tranquility, hidden quietly away on their London, Ontario farm. But now, someone has learned their secret—and is systematically massacring this ancient race.
The only one they can turn to is Henry Fitzroy, Toronto-based vampire and writer of bodice rippers. Forced to hide from the light of day, Henry can’t hunt the killer alone, so he turns to Vicki Nelson for help. As they race against time to stop the murderer, they begin to fear that their combined talents may not be enough to prevent him from completing his deadly plan.
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 Trail (by (author) Tanya Huff)
THE THREE-QUARTER MOON, HANGING low in the night sky, turned even tamed and placid farmland into a mysterious landscape of silver light and shadows. Each blade of grass, toasted golden brown by two months of summer heat, had a thin black replica stretching out behind it. The bushes along the fence bottom, highways for those too timid to brave the open fields, rustled once and then were silent as some nocturnal creature went about its business.
Their summer-shorn fleece turned milky white by the moonlight, a large flock of sheep had settled for the night in one corner of the meadow. Except for the rhythmic motion of a number of jaws and the occasional flick of an ear or twitch of a lamb unable to be still for long, even in sleep, they appeared to be an outcropping of pale stone. An outcropping come suddenly to life as several heads rose at once, aristocratic noses pointed into the breeze.
They were obviously familiar with the creature that bounded over the fence and into the meadow, for although the ewes remained alert they watched it approach with mild curiosity rather than alarm.
The huge black beast paused to mark a fence post, then trotted a few steps into the field and sat down, gazing back at the sheep with a proprietary air. Something in its general outline, in the shape of its head, said wolf just as its coloring, its size, its breadth of chest, and the reaction of the flock said dog.
Convinced that all was as it should be, it began to lope along the edge of the fence bottom, plumed tail streaming behind it like a banner, moon-silvered highlights rippling through its thick fur with every movement. Picking up speed, it leapt a thistle—more for the sheer joy of leaping than because the thistle was in its way—and cut diagonally across the lower end of the pasture.
With no more warning than a distant cough, the gleaming black head exploded in a shower of blood and bone. The body, lifted off its feet by the impact, spasmed for a frenzied moment and then lay still.
Bleating in terror at the sudden blood scent, the sheep panicked, racing to the far end of the field and pressing in a huddled noisy mass against the fence. Fortunately, the direction they’d taken had moved them upwind, not down. When nothing further happened, they began to calm and a few of the older ewes moved themselves and their lambs out of the crowding and began to settle once again.
It was doubtful that the three animals who leapt the fence a short time later even noticed the sheep. Huge paws seeming to barely touch ground, they raced to the body. One of them, russet hackles high, started back along the slain animal’s trail but a growl from the bigger of the two remaining called it back.
Three pointed muzzles lifted and the howl that lifted with them panicked the sheep yet again. As the sound rose and fell, its primal cadences wiped out any remaining resemblance the three howling might have had to dogs.
Vicki hated August. It was the month in which Toronto proved what a world class city it had become; when the heat and humidity hung on to the car exhaust and the air in the concrete and glass canyon at Yonge and Bloor took on a yellowish-brown hue that left a bitter taste in the back of the throat; when every loose screw in the city decided to take a walk on the wild side and tempers were baked short. The police, in their navy blue pants and hats and heavy boots, hated August for both personal and professional reasons. Vicki had moved quickly out of uniform, and out of the force entirely a year ago, but she still hated August. In fact, as August was now forever linked with her leaving a job she’d loved, this least congenial of months had been blackened beyond redemption.
As she unlocked the door to her apartment, she tried not to smell herself. She’d spent the day, the last three days, working as an order picker in a small coffee processing factory up on Railside Drive. In the last month the company had been plagued with a number of equipment failures that the owners had finally come to realize were sabotage. Desperate—a small specialty company couldn’t afford the downtime if they hoped to complete with the multinationals—the owners had hired Vicki to find out what was going on.
“And Vicki Nelson, private investigator, comes through again.” She closed the door behind her and thankfully peeled off her damp T-shirt. She’d been able to pinpoint who was jamming the processing machines on her first day but even knowing that, it took her two further days to discover how and to gather enough evidence to bring charges. Tomorrow she’d go in, lay the report on Mr. Glassman’s desk and never go near the place again.
Tonight, she wanted a shower, something to eat that didn’t smell like coffee, and a long vapid evening spent sucking at the boob tube.
She kicked the filthy T-shirt into a corner as she peeled off her jeans. The only up side about the entire experience was that smelling as she did, she’d gotten a seat on the subway coming home and no one had tried to crowd her.
The hot water had just begun to pound the stink and stiffness away when the phone rang. And rang. She tried to ignore it, to let the shower drown it out, but had little success. She’d always been a compulsive phone answerer. Muttering under her breath, she turned the water off, quickly wrapped herself in towels, and raced for the receiver.
“Oh there you are, dear. What took you so long?”
“It’s a very small apartment, Mom.” Vicki sighed. She should’ve known. “Didn’t it occur to you at about the seventh ring that maybe I wasn’t going to answer the phone?”
“Of course not. I knew you were home or you’d have had your machine plugged in.”
She never left her machine on when she was home. She considered it the ultimate in rudeness. Maybe it was time to reconsider. The towel began to unwind and she made a grab for it—a second floor apartment was not high enough up for walking around in skin. “I was in the shower, Mom.”
“Good, then I didn’t get you away from anything important. I wanted to call you before I left work . . .”
“So that the Life Sciences Department would pay for the call,” Vicki added silently. Her mother had been working as a secretary at Queen’s University in Kingston for longer than most of the tenured professors and she stretched job perks as far and as often as she could.
“. . . and find out when you had vacation this year so maybe we could spend some time together.”
Right. Vicki loved her mother but more than three days in her company usually had her ready to commit matricide. “I don’t get vacations anymore, Mom. I’m self-employed now and I have to take what jobs come my way. And besides, you were here in April.”
“You were in the hospital, Vicki, it wasn’t exactly a social visit.”
The two vertical scars on her left wrist had faded to fine red lines against the pale skin. It looked like a suicide attempt and it had taken some extremely fancy footwork to avoid telling her mother how she’d actually gotten them. Being set up as a sacrifice for a demon by a sociopathic hacker was not something her mother would deal with well. “As soon as I get a free weekend, I’ll come by. I promise. I have to go now, I’m dripping on the carpet.”
“Bring that Henry Fitzroy with you. I’d like to meet him.”
Vicki grinned. Henry Fitzroy and her mother. That might be worth a weekend in Kingston. “I don’t think so, Mom.”
“Why not? What’s wrong with him? Why was he avoiding me at the hospital?”
“He wasn’t avoiding you and there’s nothing wrong with him.” Okay, so he died in 1536. It hadn’t slowed him down. “He’s a writer. He’s a little . . . unusual.”
“More unusual than Michael Celluci?”
She could almost hear her mother’s brows rise. “Honey, you may not remember this, but you’ve dated a number of unusual boys in your time.”
“I’m not dating boys anymore, Mom. I’m almost thirty-two years old.”
“You know what I mean. Remember that young man in high school? I don’t recall his name but he kept a harem. . . .”
“I’ll call you, Mom.”
“Soon,” Vicki agreed, rescued the towel again and hung up. “Dated unusual boys in my time. . . .” She snorted and headed back toward the bathroom. All right, a couple of them may have been a bit strange but she was over one hundred percent certain that none of them were vampires.
She turned the water back on and grinned, imagining the scene. Mom, I’d like you to meet Henry Fitzroy. He drinks blood. The grin widened as she stepped under the water. Her mother, infinitely practical, would probably ask what type. It took a lot to disrupt her mother’s view of the world.
She’d just dumped a pan of scrambled eggs onto a plate when the phone rang again.
“It figures,” she muttered, grabbing a fork and crossing into the living room. “Damn thing never rings when I’m not doing anything.” Sunset wouldn’t be for a couple of hours yet—it wasn’t Henry.
“Vicki? Celluci.” With so many Michaels on the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force, most of them had gotten into the habit of perpetually referring to themselves by their last names, on duty and off. “You remember the name of Quest’s alleged accomplice? The guy who never got charged.”
“Good evening, Mike. Nice to hear from you. I’m fine thanks.” She shoveled a forkful of egg into her mouth and waited for the explosion.
“Cut the crap, Vicki. He had some woman’s name . . . Marion, Marilyn. . . .”
“Margot. Alan Margot. Why?”
Even over the sounds of traffic, she could hear the self-satisfied smile in his voice. “It’s classified.”
“Listen you son of a bitch, when you pick my brains ’cause you’re too lazy to look it up, you don’t come back with ‘it’s classified.’ Not if you want to live to collect your pension.”
He sighed. “Use the brain you’re accusing me of picking.”
“You pulled another body out of the lake?”
“Mere moments ago.”
So he was still at the site. That explained the background noise. “Same pattern of bruises?”
“Near as I can tell. Coroner just took the body away.”
“Nail the bastard.”
“That,” he told her, “is the plan.”
She hung up and slid into her leather recliner, eggs balanced precariously on the arm. Two years ago, the case had been hers. Hers the responsibility of finding the scum who’d beaten a fifteen-year-old girl
senseless and then dropped the unconscious body in Lake Ontario. Six weeks of work and they’d picked up a man named Quest, picked him up, charged him, and made it stick. There’d been a another man involved, Vicki had been sure of it, but Quest wouldn’t talk and they hadn’t been able to lay charges.
This time. . . .
She yanked her glasses off her nose. This time, Celluci would get him, and Vicki Nelson, ex-fair-haired
girl of the metro police would be sitting on her duff. The room in front of her blurred into an indistinguishable mass of fuzz-edged colors and she shoved the glasses back on.
Breathing deeply, she forced herself to calm. After all, what mattered was catching Margot—not who made the collar. She scooped up the remote and flicked on the television. The Jays were in Milwaukee.
“The boys of summer,” she sighed, and dug into her cooled eggs, giving herself over to the hypnotic accents of the announcers doing the pregame show. Like most Canadians over a certain age, Vicki was a hockey fan first but it was almost impossible to live in Toronto and not have baseball make inroads into your affections.
It was the bottom of the seventh, the score three to five, the Jays behind two runs, two out and a man on second with Mookie Wilson at bat. Wilson was hitting over three hundred against right-handers and Vicki could see that the Brewers’ pitcher was sweating. At which point, the phone rang.
“It figures.” She stretched a long arm down and dragged the phone up onto her lap. Sunset had been at eight forty-one. It was now nine oh five. It had to be Henry.
“Vicki? It’s Henry. Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. You just called at a bad time.”
“I’m sorry, but I have some friends here who need your help.”
“Well, they need the help of a private investigator and you’re the only one I know.”
“They need help right now?” There were only two innings left in the game. How desperate could it be?
“Vicki, it’s important.” And she could tell by his voice that it was.
She sighed as Wilson popped out to left field, ending the inning, and thumbed the television off. “Well, if it’s that important . . .”
“. . . then I’ll be right over.” With the receiver halfway back to the cradle, a sudden thought occurred to her and she snapped it back up to her mouth. “Henry?”
He was still there. “Yes?”
“These friends, they aren’t vampires are they?”
“No.” Through his concern, he sounded a little amused. “They aren’t vampires.”
Greg gave the young woman a neutral nod as he buzzed her through the security check and into the lobby. Vicki Nelson her name was and she’d dropped by a number of times over the summer while he was on the desk. Although she looked like the kind of person he’d have liked under other circumstances he simply couldn’t get over the impressions he’d formed during their initial meeting last spring. It didn’t help when observation confirmed that she was not the sort who would normally answer the door half dressed, proving, to his mind, his feeling that she’d been hiding something that night.
Over the last couple of months his belief that Henry Fitzroy was a vampire had begun to fade. He liked Mr. Fitzroy, respected him, realized that all his idiosyncrasies could stem from being a writer rather than a creature of the night but one last lingering doubt remained.
What had the young woman been hiding that night? And why?
Occasionally, just for his peace of mind, Greg considered asking her outright, but a certain set to her jaw had always stopped him. So he wondered. And he kept an eye on things. Just in case.
"Entertaining characters, wry humor, crazy plots, glimpses of horror, the occult, romance, and just a dollop of sex."—VOYA
"The novel [has] an unexpected serious theme that helps raise it above the crowd. It may be funny, often lighthearted and highly entertaining, but it's more than just another 'light' fantasy."—Locus
"A yummy concoction of equal parts fantasy and mystery, throwing in a splash of humor and a dash of romance to beguile the palate quite delightfully.... Ms. Huff manages to develop all her different plot threads to marvelous effect. How could anyone resist this vastly entertaining pastiche?"—RT Book Reviews
"A fine mix of the detective story with the supernatural, and easily Huff's best novel to date.... A rousing adventure tale with likable characters and an interesting setting."—Science Fiction Chronicle
"The author of the Blood novels has once again proven herself a master of urban fantasy."—Library Journal
"Huff tells a great story, but never takes herself or it too seriously. She consciously borrows elements from other books as well as movies, comics, and mythology and combines them with her own great imagination to make a thoroughly satisfying story."—SF Site