Susan Sizemore

Excerpt


Heroes

Book Five of "Laws of the Blood"
by
Susan Sizemore

(From Ace - September 2003)


Chapter One

"Light's been around for a long time, of course."

"Well - yeah. You have heard of the Big Bang, haven't you?"

"I meant artificial light. Even when I was a youngster there were certain - shall we say, weak-minded - individuals who'd have a little too much to drink and sit around staring into firelight for hours."

"Seems like a harmless hobby."

"Let me finish. It was hardly unknown for fire addicts to walk into a raging bonfire. The results were a bit-"

"Crispy?"

"Geoffrey, I'm not often in the mood to be instructive. Why don't you take me seriously when I am?"

"Sorry, Val." The truth was this was his first time in Vegas and what he really wanted to do was look at the lights.

Oh.

Geoff Sterling was suddenly glad he wasn't the one driving the Cadillac convertible. He thought about closing his eyes, but the lights were so pretty… "Maybe you better continue being instructive."

"Uh huh. Wise child." Maybe it was her turn to keep him out of trouble as he'd been doing with her for the last couple of years.

"Being immortal doesn't make you invulnerable. There are certain - mental problems - that crop up from time to time in even the powerful, wise and ancient ones. For example, I never thought I'd end up agoraphobic." The fact that they were in Las Vegas at all, and in a convertible with the top down, and that she was driving showed that the fear of open spaces was a treatable one. The fact that she was so scared she was having trouble keeping her hunting claws and fangs from growing showed that the phobia wasn't going away. It was just something, like all things that went with being a vampire, that had to be controlled. "Pain in the ass, really."

"What?"

"Nothing."

"I have noticed the death grip you have on the steering wheel." His head craned from side to side. Glitter everywhere! "Go on."

"Then there's light addiction," Valentine went on. "It's an ancient problem, but I have heard those who suffer from it called neon junkies. I'm afraid Las Vegas seems to attract a certain element." She paused, and finally stated. "It's a town full of losers." Geoff felt her distaste, and he laughed, which pretty much brought him out of his fascination with all the brightness and color filling the desert night. "Valentine, you are such a snob."

She tossed her head, stirring the thick fall of black curls around her shoulders. "Young man, I've worked in Hollywood for over seventy years. I wouldn't have stayed in the business if I was a snob about sleazeballs and losers."

"Hollywood sleazeballs and losers are mortal. You expect better from your own kind. Madam, you are a vampire elitist."

"I'll admit that I do prefer associating with a better class of monster, but I hardly think I'm snobbish."

"Uh huh."

She ignored these sarcastic syllables. "All I'm saying is that light is a dangerous thing. While we're here, you need to be careful." He lifted an eyebrow. "Just me?"

"Light's not my downfall. Probably not yours, either, but be warned, be aware. This place is dangerous."

"It's Las Vegas," he answered. "It's artificial."

"So are bullets," she reminded him. "So's a dagger, come to think of it. We tool-using types are very good at creating non-natural recipes for disaster. Vampires have good reason to both bless and curse that Thomas Edison fellow."

Geoff turned his face into the hot wind that blew up the street out of the desert. "I like this town," he said. "It's a hungry place. Garish. Dark to the heart. I like that energy." "It doesn't have a basketball team," Valentine complained.

"How can you like a town without an NBA franchise?"

Geoff glanced at the fanciful architecture of the huge resorts on either side of Las Vegas Boulevard. He looked at the anonymous hordes of people on the sidewalks and the bridges crossing above the tangled traffic. He absorbed emotions and the essence of excited life. Adrenaline-soaked blood scented the night. Man could get a buzz from breathing around here. "It has other amenities."

"Doesn't feel that different than L.A. to me."

"You are old and jaded."

"No shit. Actually," she added, slowing the car, "something about this place is making my skin crawl."

She ignored the honking behind them and the cars swerving to pass them. Valentine slowed the Cadillac to practically to a stop, her gaze swinging from left to right. "Oh," she said finally, concentrating on the nearest hotel. A many-domed palace set in exotic gardens rose above the street. It looked like ancient Samarkand had been set down on the Strip. Valentine made a face. "So that's the Silk Road."

"Which is where we're staying, right?" Geoff began to suspect that leaving it up to Valentine to make their travel arrangements hadn't been such a good idea.

"Of course we're not staying there. Who wants to stay at a hotel run by vampires?" She stomped on the gas pedal.

"Uh, Val…?" Geoff jerked a thumb as the building receded in the distance. When she stopped at the next red light he said, "We both invested in building the Silk Road."

"Yeah. So? I invested in White Star Lines once upon a time, but I didn't take the Titanic, did I?"

"Think it's a fine investment. I'm sure it's a lovely hotel, if you want to pay $500.00 a night for a room and you have absolutely no psychic ability whatsoever. I know what lives in that place, and personally, I've always hated being around vampires."

She sounded like she was talking about an infestation of cockroaches.

"You said you weren't a snob."

"I lied. Of course I don't like being around anybody - but you - for very long."

"Sometimes you give the term reclusive a bad name."

"I'm not reclusive. I'm a snob. You said so. At least about strigoi. Besides, our business is to work the room to get financing and distribution for our next project at the convention center at the other end of town. Why traipse back and forth from one end of town to the other if we don't have to?"

"To see the lights and - shit." Geoff closed his eyes, then put his hands over them when he could still feel the light pulsing seductively just out of reach. "Shit," he muttered again.

"There's a Law," Valentine said. Her voice sounded very far away.

"One of the few Laws that still makes sense."

He was of the Nighthawk line. Nighthawks were supposed to be Enforcers, to know the Laws of the Blood. He'd opted not to be involved in the ancient system that constrained the lives of Nighthawks as much as it did normal strigoi. It wasn' t as if he'd known he was going to turn into a Nighthawk. He'd only signed on to be a vampire, which was weird enough. The second change had come as a complete surprise.

He'd used his new powers only once, to avenge the death of someone he cared for, and that one time had been enough. He was a fledgling movie maker, not a cop.

The car moved forward again and the hot wind continued to blow across his face while he waited for Val to explain. Instead, she let the silence drag on. Sometimes he worried about her attention span, or lack thereof, but sometimes, like tonight, she liked to play enigmatic font of ancient wisdom.

"What Law is that?" Valentine made him ask.

"Beware of the light," she told him.

Geoff thought about it. "Maybe I should invest in some sunglasses."

"Maybe we should get you indoors and - oh, shit!" The car swerved violently to the right. Brakes squealed. Horns blared. Geoff' s eyes popped open as he was thrown sideways. Valentine was swearing, in a language that sounded kind of like English, but not much. Geoff saw her shaking her fist, and realized she was pissed as hell at somebody. He looked around, and saw a vampire dressed like a derelict standing in front of the car, staring into the headlights like a deer frozen on the highway. Only a deer's eyes didn' t glow red with inner fire, and a deer's lips didn't draw back to show ugly yellow fangs. That was a couple of the ways you could tell a vampire from Bambi.

"Damn it, Eddie!" Valentine shouted in recognizable English this time. "Are you trying to get killed!" "Eddie?"

A woman appeared out of the night before Valentine could answer, weaving between traffic with supernatural speed. The woman took Eddie by the arm in an unbreakable grip and led him away. Valentine let it happen, even though Eddie looked back at her with pleading eyes. "Who was that?"

Valentine answered Geoff' s question with a shake of her head, though her heart that had beat for several thousand years ached at the wrecked being that had lurched across her view. Was indeed. Eddie was so past tense. She wondered at seeing him, looming up like an accusing ghost out of one of Shakespeare's history plays. Wondered who the vampire female was. Wondered at what was going on. Valentine worried about him, but Eddie was long past any help.

"Neon junkie," she answered her young protégé. And drove on.

##

"You just want to gamble, right? After the wedding?"

"No."

"Jebel, you don't always have to be honest with me."

"Sweetheart, I am never completely honest with you."

"Good." Char McCairn considered this conversation, and decided she and Jebel Haven were being even odder than usual. She sat back against the leather passenger seat of the Jeep Cherokee and watched the long, flat desert highway roll by on the way from Arizona to Nevada as she said, "You aren't planning on robbing any casinos, are you?"

"Nope."

"Killing vampires?"

"Like shooting fish in a barrel in that town." Jebel did like a challenge. She had her own plans for after they stood up for Santini and Della in the Las Vegas wedding chapel where they'd been told to meet the happy couple. "I just don't want you to get bored," she told her lover.

"Stuff happens when I get bored," he agreed.

"Fatalities happen."

Haven chuckled. "That's stuff."

"I'm glad Baker decided to drive his own car," she added as she noticed a pair of headlights when she glanced in the side mirror. She liked Baker well enough, but the big ex-cop had this tendency to try to kill her every now and then. No matter how often it was explained and demonstrated to him that not all vampires were bloodsucking fiends, he couldn' t quite wrap his sense of self-preservation around it. He did try, but sharing close quarters with him didn't make for the most relaxing traveling arrangements for anyone involved. Besides, she enjoyed having time alone with Haven.

"How was Chicago?" she asked.

"Busy."

She could have ripped any information she wanted out of his mind, of course, but the struggle would be fierce, and terrible for their relationship. Besides, it wasn't the sort of thing she did. "I hate it when you get monosyllabic."

He turned his head long enough to give her a grin. "I know." She bared fangs at him, and he laughed. "I love you, Hunter," he said.

Char basked in the words. Haven wasn't exactly vocal about his emotions, and his emotions were very rarely tender. He was a hard man. So hard that he' d been known to refer to her, a proud, fierce daughter of the Nighthawk line, as Little Mary Sunshine.

"How are you planning to spend your time?" she asked him. He reached over to cover her hand with his. She liked how he always felt so warm. "Why don't we get a suite somewhere? The Palms? Bellagio? Wherever suits your fancy. Make it a private holiday." She liked the sound of that. She also noticed he hadn't mentioned the Silk Road. Surely he knew about the place. Char gave Haven a very skeptical look. "What are you really up to?"

He had a deep, rough voice, and his laughter was the same. "Damn it, woman, when did you get to be so suspicious?"

"Since I met you."

"I've created a monster."

"No. Jimmy Bluecorn did that."

He gave a low, jealous growl that made her smile. That Haven could be so possessive without sharing a companion bloodbond with her flattered her. And it strengthened her opinion that a master-slave relationship between mortals and strigoi was unnecessary as well as demeaning. She also noticed that Haven didn't try to tell her that she wasn't a monster. She loved him for that.

"Did I really love Jimmy?" she murmured. "Or did he make me?" She was immediately assailed by guilt at such a disloyal thought toward her vampire sire.

Haven closed his fingers tightly over Char's hand when he felt her beginning to pull away. "Doesn't matter," he told her. "He's over and done with."

"That's true. There's nothing more ephemeral in the world than a vampire's relationship with a companion. Nothing more forbidden than continuing to be lovers after the rebirth." Char made a disgusted face. "Can' t imagine wanting to - everything is so different - after." Haven knew Char wanted to believe that a proper vampire like herself would never harbor any heretical thoughts. When it came to this Bluecorn dude Haven was happy to encourage her orthodoxy. Didn't mean he didn' t have questions about vampire beliefs. Not so long ago his attitude toward all supernatural creatures was that the only good monster was a dead one. He still held that belief a good seventy-five percent of the time, but lately he' d developed quite an interest in strigoi history and culture. Part of it was because it was smart to know your enemy. Some of it was simple curiosity.

"Who made up the laws?" he asked. "The Council?" Good questions. When he was a vampire he'd have an obligation to know the Laws. And respect those who enforced them - nest leaders and Nighthawks. For a mortal to know that the Council existed was against the Laws. It wasn' t something even regular vampires were encouraged to think about, and never to question. Haven already knew more than he should. But not from her.

"Can't talk about it," she told him. "You know that." "Won't."

"Can't." He continued to hold her hand, though she felt his frustration through this connection. "You're a monster hunter, Jebel, not a historian. I'll help you find the bad things out there - the things that need killing - I'll bend the Laws, but I won't break them. It would be fatal for both of us if I did," she added.

The problem with Char was that she actually believed in the boogey man when she was the boogey man - woman. He liked her the way she was, prim and proper and civilized, but he was an agent of chaos. "The Laws of the Blood are not for me."

"Not until you become a vampire," she agreed. He didn't know if she just didn't get it, or was being deliberately obtuse, but Haven didn't push it. No one's laws were for him. Never had been. He didn't recall how many states had warrants out for him and he didn't care. He was an outlaw. Did Char really believe he'd become law abiding once he was a vampire? If he became a vampire.

When. It was only a matter of time before one of them gave into the urge to share blood. Haven figured he'd be the one to crack. He'd considered killing her, especially when the urge to beg for a taste of her blood nearly drove him out of his mind. She'd told him that it would be heaven, and he believed her. He wasn't meant for heaven. Wasn' t sure he wanted immortality. He didn't think he could kill her.

But he needed to know how.

That was one of the things he hoped to learn on this trip to Las Vegas.

Copyright © 2003 by Susan Sizemore