Author(s): Melissa Treglia, Nicole Harvelle
Release Date: August 6, 2019
Genre: Horror, Urban Fantasy
"They're watching you. You're in far deeper shit than you realize, detective. If you're not careful... you'll see too much of the wrong thing. You need to bury this case before it buries you."
Griffin Blasko is a young, strong-willed detective for the Toronto police department, with his star on a meteoric rise. He gets pulled into solving what seems to be an unsolvable case, as he's the city's last hope for justice against a killer who still stalks the streets at night. The bodies of the victims have been left completely drained of blood, and there are whispers that it must be a vampire on the loose in the bustling metropolis.
But vampires don't exist. Or do they?
Griffin soon finds himself embroiled in a fight for his life against the monsters the rest of the world considers to be only legend. His sole ally is the intelligent, resourceful Laila... who is also a survivor who has kept her wits—and pulse—in this mysterious underworld of the undead. She's the only one he can turn to when the knowledge he gains costs him dearly.
After nearly having his throat ripped out, Griffin begins displaying the traits of a transitioning vampire. He finds himself hungry, scared and desperate as he begins to slip further and further away from his humanity.
The enigmatic Elder vampire Sekhmet has been called in to retrieve him and take him to see the Council of Elders, a group of ancient vampires whose goals don't have mankind's best interests at heart. And Laila finds herself caught in the crossfire of the Council's murderous intent.
Can Griffin save humanity, the girl... and his soul?
Interested? Here's a sneak peek at what's inside:
22 Years Ago
There was a deep silence in the dank dungeon as Lugh sat on the floor and awaited his fate; the kind of silence one notices before a storm. It sank into his very soul, making him feel like the ground itself were swallowing him up.
Then it was abruptly cut through by the sharp scream of a dying woman, her voice wrenched in agonizing torture, heralding an unfair and horrific death. His eyes closed tightly, incredible pain scarring the features of what would otherwise be a handsome face. The noise reverberated through his skull and tore his heart apart into disparate pieces. His shoulders slumped as a tear rolled hotly down his cheek, his stomach roiling at the severity and finality of it all. Samantha...
A dull scrape shot through the air as the bolt of a lock was drawn open. He was immediately alert to the sound, his form coiling, getting ready to fight if needed. His eyes were hot with bone-deep pain and rage. The heavy metal door creaked open and a pair of high heels clicked against the stone floor as someone entered.
She stood before him now, darkly beautiful, her exotic and regal face grim. He took note of her in her ceremonial Council robes, a simple yet elegant golden ankh pendant dangling from an otherwise unadorned necklace. She held a set of keys in one hand and a sharp wooden stake in the other.
“Come to kill me, Sekhmet?” Lugh snapped at her, his voice gruff and the thick Scottish brogue of his words more oddly pronounced than usual. He stood slowly, glaring through the cell bars at her with a look that would frighten the Devil. He hardly even looked human.
She shook her head and then brandished the keys. She slid one home into the lock of his cell and the satisfying snickt of an opening catch was heard. Drawing the door back, she stepped aside to allow him to exit his prison.
“There is no time to explain,” she whispered softly, her face and tone deadly serious. “You must go, quickly. Before another Elder arrives.”
“But the children – ”
“I will see to them, my old friend. I will make them 'disappear'.” Her voice was calm and resolute as she continued, knowing this was not at all an easy task for the warrior and father before her. “You will see them again one day, I promise you. You just have to trust me.”
Lugh nodded once, his eyes filled with honest regret that was like a raw and gaping wound. “Thank you. Forgive me for this, lass... but you can't be seen to have helped me.”
Sekhmet nodded, her jaw set as she met his gaze. “I know.”
There was brief silence between them before she gave a little gasp, her eyes going wide. The stake had been driven deeply into her lower torso with a single powerful shove, the implement clenched in Lugh's tight fist. As her legs gave out from underneath her, Lugh immediately caught her in his safe and strong embrace. “Go,” she croaked, her breath stolen from her, her face contorting in intense pain. “Now!”
Lugh pressed a kiss of gratitude and benediction against the forehead of his oldest and truest friend, and quickly fled into the night.
The timing could not have been better. A Council aide found Sekhmet moments later, immobile and in a pool of blood on the hard stone floor of the dungeon, with a stake piercing her abdomen.
“Elder!” the aide cried, and immediately ran to her side to remove the weapon.
* * *
It had taken most of the day for Sekhmet to recover from the wound, and the accompanying minor surgery to ensure there were no splinters left behind. When she had healed fully and had fed well, she returned to assist Lugh's two children.
“Why are you sending us away, Auntie?” Kernaghan, the younger of the twin boys, asked her. His brow was furrowed, an expression of consternation that was a faint echo of his father's, though curiosity was in the dark eyes bequeathed to them by their mother. “Don't you like us anymore?”
“It is for your own safety, Kernaghan,” she replied softly. Her glance briefly dropped to the griffin now branded in black ink on the child's left forearm, a cold rage filling her for its genesis, before she marshaled her dignity and calmly returned his astute gaze. His awareness was both exceptional and startling for one so very young.
His twin, Aodhagán, was glaring about as if everything in the world deeply offended him. The boy’s hands were angrily shoved in his pockets. He had been listening but said nothing.
Sekhmet bade the boys to stand before her and then hunkered down to their level to look them both directly in the eye. As she spoke she glanced from one boy to the other. “You must forget me. You must forget what you saw. When you arrive in Toronto you will remember nothing of these past few days, or of me.” Her voice was strangely augmented, echoing inside their heads, like the teasing whispers of a fantasm. “You will not remember the Council, and your memories of your family will be as a dream...”
Mutely, both children nodded, their young and nebulous minds easily twisted into submission by the hypnotic suggestion of the ancient vampiress. I am merely doing this to guarantee their survival, she rationalized to herself, her heart feeling like it was tearing apart. She then set her jaw, pushing away her emotions to do what needed to be done. I am not abandoning them.
“Go now, children. Get on the plane, and get yourselves to Canada. A new life awaits you both there.”
Fucking damnit! I'm never listening to that bastard again! I’m so done with him! For good, this time!
Laila's thoughts were a snarl of furious invective as she stepped out of her car, her breath releasing light, puffy exhalations of vapor in the cold night air. She took in a deep steadying breath and quickly pushed away her anger with the slamming of the vehicle door. The finality of it was reassuring. Tonight was going to be about starting fresh and having fun. It was something she deserved. She was not going to let him ruin anything anymore.
She purposefully strode across the full parking lot, stomping up to her place at the end of the long line and then moving her body slightly to keep her blood circulating against the chill. Corvus, said to be the most popular nightclub in town, was already near capacity even at the current hour — three in the morning, on a school night, scant days after the first snows of the Torontonian winter. The heavy thump of a pounding beat could be heard even from where she was standing. As she waited, she idly tried to guess what tune was playing.
When the line moved far enough ahead so that she was on the stairs, the Hulk-like no-nonsense bouncer at the door held the palm of his meaty hand only a few inches away from her face. Laila stopped, began to tap the toe of her boot against the concrete step, and then gave him a frosty glare as she showed her identification. He glanced at it and nodded once without meeting her gaze, his own expression emotionless from the repetition of his duty. She was allowed in. Finally.
I need a serious drink, she then thought as she successfully crossed the threshold. The club was dimly lit, shadowed and smoky, the atmosphere enigmatic and sultry. Trace smells of beer, sweat, and cigarettes mingled in the air as she passed through the tall winding hallway that led from the entrance to the rest of the establishment. She glanced at the numerous oversized band posters detailing upcoming shows that hung on the dark grey walls. There were promo signs from Within Temptation, Lacuna Coil, Nightwish, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Metallica, and many others. This was definitely her kind of place, as each of those groups were quite high on her personal favorites list.
She wove through the patrons who were conversing or dancing at uneven intervals along the hall, finally making it into the main section of the establishment. Her gaze was naturally brought up, as the shadowed ceiling here was vaulted and the effect made the place seem as if it had suddenly doubled in size. An upper level could now clearly be seen, with a balcony allowing for a view of the entire lower floor from above.
The decor included durable plastic leathers, cold marbles, smooth concrete and dark woods. Rough iron scroll work forming large intricate wall hangings filled some corners, and lifesize gargoyles of chiseled stone were in others. Blue, red, and purple neon lights accented various sections of the establishment, and long curtains of iron chain hung from the ceiling to divide the bar from the dance floor, swinging gently as people moved past them.
The music was a loud and thumping paean to the sub-cultural aesthetics, pumped through a massive system of state-of-the-art speakers some nights, played by live bands on others. Various accents of glow sticks spotted the place, either on patrons, in their drinks or set along shelves, and anything white glowed under the black lights that also illuminated different areas.
A mosh pit was started in a corner of the floor before the large stage as a new song began. The participants were a handful of rivetheads and goth-punks so heavily pierced they resembled human pincushions, and were clad almost exclusively in black. Other revelers also danced without noticing the moshers, some coolly sidestepping if the punks got too close. Those who were neither inclined to dance nor mosh engaged in some headbanging; their way of enjoying the music provided to them.
The din of conversation and the clinks of glasses, just barely audible, were present under the near constant rhythmic pounding that resembled Lady Gaga fed through a woodchipper.
Laila grinned to herself, feeling her worries melt away almost instantly. This truly was the place to be and be seen and, if she was lucky, she might find a hot guy to flirt with... maybe a few. She had even dolled herself up as a self-congratulatory measure for tossing her newly ex-boyfriend, Matthew, out of her house. She stood there in a blood-red corset to show off her curves, tight gray bondage pants to accentuate her perfect ass, and the right kind of makeup to draw attention to her bright green eyes.
Laila was not egotistical, but she was not falsely modest, either. She knew that there were men out there who certainly found her attractive, but after dealing with the confidence-destroyer that was Matthew, she did not mind fishing for a little reassurance on that fact. She was going to get tipsy and, if it felt right and above-board, she could even take a guy home for the night. She had had enough of togetherness during the past couple of years to be thoroughly sick of it. She planned on taking complete advantage of the single life, starting now.
She did not think God would judge her for that.
Laila looked around the establishment for a moment to get her bearings before moving to the black painted bar and sliding onto an empty stool. She then waited for the heavily tattooed bartender to take notice of her. He finally came over to her as he was cleaning out a shot glass with a rag, once she had successfully waved him down.
"What would you like?" He leaned in close enough so she could hear his deep voice over the continually throbbing bass. The metallic gages in his ears and the studs above his brow winked at her in the dim light.
"Rum and coke," she answered, all but yelling into his ear to be heard, and grinning again when he nodded and acceded to her request. The drink was delivered speedily and, once it was set down before her, she took a light sip. It was good stuff. This club certainly was not a slouch in the liquor department. She then set the drink back down on the bar in front of her and idly pushed an errant strand of her dark brown hair behind an ear. Her eyes scanned her surroundings as her head bobbed to the music, and she sang the lyrics in her head, debating whether she liked the current, darkwave cover of the song or the original. ‘One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small... and the ones that mother gives you don’t do anything at all...’
She was happy to find she did not have to look very far at all before something interesting caught her gaze. Right on the stool next to her, back against the bar, was quite a handsome man in his mid-twenties — about Laila's age — clad entirely in black and naturally pale. He did not seem to be the goth type himself, being muscular and tall, rather than possessing the same wiry or soft stature most of the other clubgoers seemed to have. He was also dressed a bit more simply and did not have any obvious modifications to his flesh that she could see.
He had left his beer untouched, sweating on its napkin. His attention appeared to be only partly on the clubgoers moving on the dance floor before him, and partly somewhere in an altogether different space within his mind. He did not really seem particularly happy to be there, although he did not look like he was in a rush to go elsewhere, either.
Laila felt a faint blush color her cheeks as the stranger's very dark eyes suddenly flicked over to meet hers. Curiosity had made her examine him, but she had not meant to ogle. Flashing him a reassuring no,-I'm-not-a-wackjob smile, her sea-green eyes were ebullient as he seemed to admire his admirer. She then finally broke the ice, talking loud enough to be heard over the music, which was now thankfully a slightly softer tune of some sort. "Hi. Come here often?" Then she mentally kicked herself for using such a tired pick-up line. Obviously it had been awhile and she bit back a wince. Smooth move, Lee! Now he's gonna think you're a loser.
Luckily, her badly-worded entreaty earned her a crooked yet earnest smile in response. The man’s features were actually quite attractive when so animated, and his gaze was friendly under the wild and unruly shock of long dark hair that very nearly matched her own as far as shade. It appeared to naturally stick up every which way without any help from some brand of hair-care product. "Actually, this is my first time,” he replied, leaning ever so close, as if to ensure he would be heard. “I'm new here, just moved in from Cleveland.”
“Welcome to Toronto,” Laila replied with a smile. An American. That was interesting. Certainly not something out of the ordinary in this town, as Cleveland was only a short hop over the lake but, still, it was something different. “My name is Laila,” she added, pronouncing it in its original Hebrew, as Lie-luh.
The man’s lips quirked into a grin and he gave a single nod of acknowledgement. “It’s nice to meet you, Laila. You know that kinda reminds me of that Eric Clapton song. Only, ya know... not,” he added awkwardly, easily laughing at his own lame joke.
“I actually get that a lot, believe it or not,” she replied, giving a knowing nod and chuckling. “When people see it written down, they think I was named after the song. Even though the spelling’s a little different, too.”
The man grinned, apparently happy to continue the line of conversation. “And how do you spell it?”
“L-A-I-L-A.” Then she rolled her eyes, scoffing at herself. “I’m babbling, aren’t I? I’m kind of ridiculous that way. Once I get talking, I’m hard to shut up.” She paused for a brief moment and then shrugged, changing subjects so that she could find out more about him. “Anyway, now that you know my name, you have me at a disadvantage.” She added in a mock Elizabethan English accent, “Pray tell, what are you called, good sir?”
He laughed, seemingly amused by the quicksilver girl, and kept up the accent as he responded. “My name is Griffin, fine lady.”
“Very cool. After the mythological creature, right? They were said to be protectors of royalty and were symbols of power.” She then blushed slightly, her eyes going wide at her brief embarrassment. “Hopefully, now that I’ve let my geek flag fly, you’re not gonna run off on me. It’s been awhile since I’ve had any decent conversation.”
Her new acquaintance shook his head and gave a genuine smile. “Nah. I like a girl with beauty and brains. It’s a pretty rare combination.”
Now Laila knew she was really red, as she could feel the heat flushing her cheeks for the third time that night. “Ah...” and she did not know what else to say. Has Matt screwed me up that bad, that I can’t even take a compliment? “Uh, thanks.”
“SON OF A BITCH!” an unfamiliar voice suddenly boomed over the music.
Laila was jolted by the abrupt exclamation, her gaze whipping around to find the source of the furious voice. Then she saw what had happened.
A fight had already broken out scant minutes after her arrival. A quickly clumped together crowd of people prevented her from seeing much at first, but as the brawl moved closer to the bar, people began to dart out of the way, and fast. She pivoted upon the bar stool, wondering if she would need to move as well when the action came uncomfortably close. One man — he looked tall, bald, dressed in a long sleeve black shirt and dark jeans judging from the quick glance she got of him — was slammed up onto the bar by another man. The impact made her wince even though she was not on the receiving end, as the wooden surface literally cracked from the force. Before the bald man could do anything more than offer a strained groan, his opponent yanked him off the bar and threw him to the floor with ease.
The bald man staggered to his feet, clearly operating on the combination of physical pain and several rounds of heavy drinking. His unsteady bulk stumbled backward as he attempted unsuccessfully to stay upright. He toppled right into an unfortunate and tiny blonde who yelped as her feet slipped out from under her. Her body in turn pitched against an occupied table, upending it and sending the liquor-filled glasses crashing to the floor with a mighty din. Laila shook her head slightly at the huge mess that had appeared almost out of nowhere. It was like an alcohol-powered perpetual motion machine.
The blonde had collapsed messily to the floor and was now covered in booze. When she did not get up immediately, Laila darted over to where the girl had fallen, out of concern and sympathy. The bouncers had thankfully caught wind of the fight and were already dragging the two offenders toward the door, eager to keep things under control within the establishment and clearly not putting up with such uncouth displays. Once Laila had crossed the short distance to reach the girl, she squatted down and shifted her gaze to her.
“Hey, are you hurt?”
The girl looked up at Laila with wide, doll-like blue eyes and solemnly shook her head, looking slightly out of place and embarrassed, as if she belatedly realized what had happened to have her end up on the floor.
“Good. Let’s get you away from this broken glass.” Touching the girl’s hand to help her up, Laila found her flesh to be cool and gave a nod of grim satisfaction. However, she gave that particular detail no additional attention at the moment as she then looked around and projected her voice to be heard over the still-blaring music. “Can somebody get us a towel?”
The bartender who had served Laila her drink quickly heeded the call and grabbed a few bar rags from under the counter. He then came around the bar itself to hand the towels to the unfortunate girl. With a nod of thanks, the blonde pressed the towels to her shirtfront, futilely attempting to sop up the alcohol mix that covered her. The bartender then went about helping a few members of the staff quickly clean up the mess. The crowd of people was dissipating and some had already returned to their dancing and merrymaking, though the topic of most conversation was now what had just happened. Within minutes, it was as if the scuffle had not even taken place.
“Man, guys suck,” the girl snarled in a light Irish brogue, the statement curling her lips. There was a surprising amount of malice behind the words that was impressive for someone so slight of stature. She knew she had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time — story of her life in a nutshell right there — but still, she could not help but feel a bit angry at the oafs who had started the fight. After all, her new shirt was now dyed puke green from whatever the hell the patrons had been drinking, and she had paid good money for it. Though the garment was an unfortunate loss, at least her necklace, an expensive piece that was studded intermittently with little gold and silver flower shapes, had not broken.
Laila situated an empty bar stool next to her own and motioned towards it, offering the girl a seat. The spot was gratefully taken by the other woman with a single nod of thanks. Happy to have been able to help, Laila then grasped the napkin that her drink was miraculously still resting on and slid it to herself, eager to take another sip. A masculine chuckle then sounded from in front of them, and both women looked up at the same time to see who had come near. It was Griffin, his tall frame illuminated from behind by a soft blue light as he walked back up to the bar. He had gotten up and moved as the brawlers had come close like everyone else, but now was back with the girls.
“I agree. Some guys really do suck,” he told the girl, seamlessly joining the conversation, even as his gaze arrowed towards the door where the goons had been led out. “But I promise you that not all of us are bad.” He offered her what seemed like his patent smile, lopsided and laid back, to show the younger woman that he was in fact on the level. “I’ll try not to start any fights if I sit here.” He then took his original stool on the other side of Laila.
Laila could only give an honest grin in return, more than a little glad to see the handsome man had indeed returned. She had forgotten about him for a brief moment, through the broken glass and thrown punches, but he did not seem to forget her quite as easily. She watched as he tugged on the sleeves of his shirt, pulling them up slightly and almost as if by long habit. Her keen eyes immediately spotted the intricate designs of a large tattoo that seemed to encase his entire left forearm, possibly extending further upwards. She wondered what the inking was, seeing what looked like a lot of finely drawn Celtic knotwork, but she figured introductions should be in order first. She shifted her gaze to the unlucky woman, giving a friendly smile and leaning back against the bar’s edge.
“My name’s Laila. What’s yours?”
“I’m Jenny,” the other woman replied, taking a moment to pause in her rhythmic dabbing of the towel against her ruined shirt. She then seemed to finally give up on the stain entirely, dropping the towel after much scrubbing and not a lot of removal going on. She offered a briefly hesitant and shy smile to the two before her, then nodded towards tall, dark, and handsome. Jenny’s smile grew a little more as she continued to take in and obviously admire his features. “And you are?”
“Griffin,” he replied with a single nod.
“First time here, huh?” Laila then remarked to Jenny, her tone sympathetic. “I’m new to this club in particular too, but it seems like fights aren’t really the norm here. Looks like you just got unlucky.”
“Unlucky is my lucky,” Jenny snorted ruefully in return, giving a slight shrug. “That little raincloud likes to follow me, I can tell you that much.” The young woman then flashed a smile at the other two, not really wanting to come off as a drag. “You know what they say: ‘If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.’”
“ ‘Gloom, despair, and agony on me?’ ” Griffin’s voice twisted into a soft Texas twang for the briefest of moments as he finished the lyric. He then chuckled and he looked to the other two with a casual interest. “I can certainly relate there. On a night like tonight, we shouldn’t have to worry though. I think we’ve all had enough of that, yeah?” he encouraged gently, his deep brown eyes bright as he shot a glance out over the bar. He then took a sip of his warming beer, lifting the glass slightly as if in salute.
Laila sipped her drink as well, and as curiosity very soon got the better of her, she motioned to the ink image that shifted with every move of his corded forearm and finally let out her question. “I hope you don’t mind my asking, but what is your tattoo of? I don’t have one myself but I always appreciate the workmanship and story behind them.” She had been continually trying to figure out what covered the better part of his skin there discreetly, but it was much too complicated to discern without having him stop moving.
Griffin gave a smile and set his bottle down on the bar. He then pushed his left sleeve up a bit more and further exposed his arm for the women to see. He did not seem surprised by the question, nor did he seem to mind at all that he had been asked, and appeared happy to fill them in. “It’s my namesake: a griffin.”
As Laila leaned forward for a better look, she saw the lines of the marking were precise and deep, the ink the darkest black possible, looking somehow very freshly done. They swirled and wove together, becoming thick in some spots and hairline thin in others, but always with an exacting purpose and startling symmetry. Various Celtic knots surrounded the depicted muscled beast whose clawed lion feet pawed at his wrist, and whose eagle wings stretched up past his elbow. It was, in a word, amazing.
“In case I ever forgot my name.” He grinned after a moment, to show that he was joking.
Laila gave an appreciative nod of agreement, knowing his session must have been hours long to complete that quality of an inking. She inwardly enjoyed the contours of the man’s corded muscle for a second longer before slowly sitting back.
Jenny glanced at the tattoo as well, but she had no idea what a griffin was. It sounded like something from a Harry Potter novel. No, wait. That was a... hydro-griff? A griffin-door? Who knew. Still, she could appreciate the artwork as much as the next person. She leaned forward on her elbows against the bar, shifting slightly on the stool. “So is that really why you got it then, because that’s your name?” she wondered casually.
The question seemed to catch the man off guard because he inhaled as if he were going to answer, and his brow drew down into a deep ‘v’ as his gaze fell to the bar surface. After a brief moment he then suddenly looked up, looking from Jenny to Laila. He then gave a nervous chuckle and shook his head.
“I actually, um, don’t remember where I got it,” he answered, his demeanor attempting to be light but not quite making it.
Jenny gave a slightly drunk, snorting laugh, her eyebrows lifting in surprise. “That must have been one hell of a night then, huh? Gotta love that!”
“Yeah, something like that...” he replied softly. His grin grew a bit more confident and he took another sip of his drink. “Something like that.”
Laila laughed along with Jenny but, because she picked up on the man’s discomfort, she did not press the issue further. Instead she picked another topic to talk about at random, trying to keep the friendly conversation going. “What do you guys do for a living?”
Jenny enthusiastically waved down the bartender for another drink and then answered, “I do web design. Before moving here I had my own freelance company, but that didn’t do too well. I had to sell what I had in that and go back to working for corporate. After about a year and a half, which, by the way, was bollocks. Currently, I’m working on breaking my own personal record of having six Purple Nurples before finally getting to the dance floor.” The words might have sounded slightly humorous in context but her tone was serious, letting them know she was not really joking. “And you, Hurricane Hair?”
Griffin smirked as he answered, choosing not to respond to the comment about his agreeably unruly locks, and instead filled them in on his vocation. “Construction. Little bit of everything as far as that field is concerned.”
“That explains it,” Jenny replied with a satisfied nod, her lips twisting into a pleased smile as she eyed him.
Griffin stared blankly at the other woman. He was not sure he wanted to hear the answer or not. “That explains what?”
Jenny gave another chuckle, waving a carefree hand before him as if to encompass his form as a whole. “You don’t look the type to sit on your arse all day typing away at a keyboard. You look like the kind of guy who uses his hands and the strength that the good Lord gave him to do something meaningful. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you don’t fit in with a lot of the rest of the crowd because of that.”
Griffin licked his lips and looked like he did not know what to say. That must have surely been the case as he gave a simple nod of acceptance, offering a crooked smile to Jenny before looking to Laila. “So, what about you? Detective? Doctor? Movie star?”
Laila shifted on her feet and laughed. “You’re kinda close with ‘doctor’, and when I say close, I mean ‘...but no cigar’. I’m a student technician in the hematopathology lab at Mt. Sinai.”
“So, you study blood samples?” Jenny asked almost immediately, her level of drunk suddenly nowhere to be found. She was very interested, her elbows propped against the edge of the bar surface. Griffin looked surprised that the girl knew what the title meant. He had been trying to unravel the term in his head, guessing it had something to do with blood, but that was as far as he had gotten.
“Yes. I study blood samples to help determine if they’re infected with a disease and, if they are, I aide the doctors in determining what treatments might be most effective," Laila replied, breaking down the complicated title easily. "Kinda like on-the-job training, as Sinai’s a teaching hospital. I am currently studying for a doctorate in microbiology, though.” She grinned at Griffin. “So you were half-right.”
Griffin’s eyebrows went up, impressed. “Wow. Sounds like a really good career. You could make a huge difference in people’s lives. Maybe even find a cure for AIDS one day.”
Laila nodded, offering a slight smile. “That is my hope — to make a difference. But I guess, deep down, we all want to make the world a little better in our own way.” She then shrugged. “I was hoping, maybe, I could get into stem cell or viral research once I graduate. That’s the big thing right now, and an extra pair of hands and eyes could always be useful.”
Griffin looked like he was about to say something further when the soft chime of a cell phone sounded, light and overly cheery over the heavy rock music. He first looked startled, and then annoyed, and then he reached into his back pocket to withdraw his phone once he realized it was indeed his that was ringing. He looked briefly at the little screen and gave a heavy sigh. His facial expression said ‘shit’. He gave a tight smile and then looked to the women, his tone earnest as he spoke. The ringing continued insistently even as he spoke. “I am so sorry, ladies, but I really have to take this call.”
His eyes lingered on Laila for a long moment but he did not wait for an answer from either of them before silently sweeping off into the crowd, peeling away from their shared bar surface and disappearing into the dimness of the club within seconds.
Jenny flicked her gaze to Laila, her face one of confusion and a slight bit of hurt. "I do hope he comes back.”
Laila gave a shrug, looking at the crowd that had swallowed the handsome man up. Figures. The cute ones never stay. Hell, he’s probably taken already.
A sudden thought came back to Laila's mind and she turned to Jenny while simultaneously digging into the slim wallet she had slipped into her back pocket. It contained her ID and some cash, a AAA card, and a few professional-looking business cards. She grabbed one of the latter and slid it across the bar to the other woman. An intricate image of an eagle in flight was at the top. The words ‘The Strata Hotel’ were typed below that, along with an address that was in the heart of the city, less than twenty minutes away from the club itself.
"I know someone who can help you out, since you’re new in town. Frederic is a good friend of mine. He owns the Strata and he’ll give you a place to stay while you get your feet wet in the local community. Just tell him Laila sent you.”
“Um… I’m not sure…” Jenny began, shaking her head. Her face was both surprised and a little embarrassed. "I don't—"
“Don’t worry,” Laila replied breezily, waving a hand before her in dismissal of the other woman’s protest. “He’s a lot like you and he’s good for helping folks out when they’re in a jam. You’ll like him. He’ll make sure you’re comfortable and safe, and he can introduce you to some people. He might even have a shirt that you can have."
Jenny was stunned and did not know what to say. Having someplace definitive to go and a room waiting for her would take a lot off her plate for tonight, but she did not understand why the lady before her was being so nice. Was Laila one of the rare kind and decent people that she had nearly forgotten had existed?
Her mind made up after only a moment’s deliberation, Jenny took the card. She smiled and gave a nod to Laila, her finger running over the faintly raised outlines of the eagle logo. She then slipped the card into the safety of her handbag. "Thank you. I really do appreciate your kindness."
"Not a problem," Laila reiterated gently. "My only request is that you tell Freddie I said hello."
Jenny grinned. "Will do."
Laila responded with a grin of her own, then flagged down the bartender for refills of their drinks.
The night progressed, with Laila taking in only a few more drinks as she enjoyed the music and the environment. She had been a little surprised when Jenny left almost immediately after being given the business card, but Laila figured the poor woman might have had all the excitement that she’d wanted for one evening and was probably eager to take advantage of the hotel recommendation. She had bid Jenny good night and then let her eyes roam the crowd around her.
Griffin did not come back. Laila had really hoped he would but, as the night continued, it became less and less likely. Although it was not quite rational, she felt like she had been ditched. Grumbling in annoyance to herself, she knocked back the last of her drink, dropped the price of her tab on the bar for the tender, and headed for the ladies’ room.
Once she made her way across the club and down the narrow back hall, she found that the bathrooms were surprisingly vacant. Laila would have thought, with the size of the club and the amount of people inside, that there would have been another line to stand in. Her bladder was glad to note otherwise.
She opened the second door, passed a small space filled with mirrors, and stepped into the bathroom proper — and then she stopped. Kneeling on the dark tile before a line of black porcelain sinks was Jenny. Her legs were folded messily under her and her face was streaked with tears. Her mascara had run down her cheeks to make it look like she was wearing some macabre clown mask. Laila's eyes then caught sight of the huge, wet blot of red that saturated the other woman's shirt and hands.
Laila took a quick step forward, kneeling beside Jenny. "Jenny, are you alright?,” she demanded softly, her words chosen carefully. “Are you hurt?"
Jenny looked up at the approaching voice, her eyes swollen with unshed tears and her gaze far away.
"No... it's not mine," she answered at length, her head tilting slightly to the side.
Laila’s eyes widened and then she took a breath. With a calm she didn’t feel, she then asked quietly, “What happened?”
"I got hungry, and I couldn't control it," Jenny whispered, giving a shrug as if this sort of thing happened all the time. Her face betrayed her true fear, however. "I had to feed."
Laila nodded, having figured as much when the other woman had affirmed that the copious amount of blood was not hers. She tensed slightly, knowing that if Jenny was truly not in control of her hunger, and if she felt the need to consume more, that a nearby human would look much too appetizing. Then she shifted her gaze to look Jenny in the eye. "We need to get you out of here. Now."
Jenny nodded slowly, her head lolling. "I left the body there. Ripped open... I was sloppy and stupid and—"
"Forget about that for now,” Laila snapped, cutting the other woman off. “Yes, it was terribly stupid, but you're gonna have to deal with the consequences of your actions later. If you don't get lost now, the cops will be sniffing around where it happened and it's too busy here to not be seen." She paused, her tone carefully even. "Where was it? Close?"
There was only a brief hesitation. "An alley—a block or two away, I think."
Laila shook her head slightly in anger-tinged awe. Goddamn! Nothing like putting up a neon sign so the police are just one freakin' step away from finding out the truth! Leave it to a fledgling!
Out loud, Laila said in a tone that brooked no argument, "Go to the hotel. Tell Frederic what happened. He's probably going to give you the third degree, and you sure as hell deserve it, but he will make sure you are safe until your kind has a handle on the situation." After a brief pause, she added, “And don’t stop anywhere else. Go straight to Frederic. Understood?”
The outside bathroom door opened at that moment, cutting off anything Jenny might have said with the creak of wood and the brief clear blast of thumping bass. Laila turned to look towards the door, her eyes widening. She then quickly shifted her gaze back to Jenny... but the woman was gone. Like a breath of air, she had silently slipped out through the high-set ventilation windows. Laila had no idea how the other woman had done it, because the opening was at least five feet off the ground, and the window itself was quite small, but she had learned long ago not to question some things.
Laila licked her lips and then stood, just as a black clad, purple haired young woman slipped into a stall, seeming oblivious that she had just missed a killer. Laila, in a ritualistic effort to calm herself, approached the sink and quickly gave her hair a comb-through with her fingers. She ran the water and splashed a little on her face, feeling the hot prickle of her skin cool down. After she completed what she had been in the restroom for in the first place, she washed her hands, then pulled a few paper towels from the dispenser to blot away the water.
She left the ladies’ room quickly after that, fishing in her pockets for her smartphone. Finding it, she then scanned through her list of contacts, selecting Frederic’s name among the list as she headed back to her seat, and hitting the dial button on her phone as she went.
“Hello, darlin’,” came a smooth Virginian drawl after two rings. “What can I do ya for?”
“Hey, Freddie,” she replied, keeping her tone even. “I’ve got a fledgling coming your way that needs a nest to lay low for a bit. It turns out she’s been a little… indiscreet.”
The familiar voice uttered an annoyed growl with frustration that was clear even over the digital soundwaves. “Damnit, Lee. You’re saddling me with a newb? I may not be the Waldorf Astoria here, but I do have a reputation to protect.”
“Please, Fred? For me?” she wheedled. “The poor thing’s got nobody here. She doesn’t know anything. Give her a chance, and show her the ropes. She’s a good girl, just a little mixed up and scared. I promise, all she needs is to know the lay of the land and she won’t be any more trouble. We also need her away if the cops come sniffing around, which you know they will. I’ll even pay for her lodging, if you want me to,” she added after a moment, as if to entice him.
Frederic grumbled. “Only for you would I do this, Laila. If anybody else asked me, I’d skewer them like a giant shishkabob. And if certain authorities come around and ask questions, I know nothing. You got that?”
Laila sighed in relief, nodding though he couldn’t see the gesture. “Thanks. I owe you big.”
Frederic softened at her quiet tone. He replied lightly, his tone filled with lecherous promise, “And I assure you, I will collect.”
Laila smiled briefly to herself despite the situation, and then disconnected the call before slipping the phone into her pocket. She took a deep breath and thanked God that Purple Hair had not felt the need to pee a minute sooner, or risk becoming the second victim of the night.
Laila reentered the club proper, and squinted briefly as a blue light swung over her. The illumination emanated from somewhere above as she stood at the edge of the packed dance floor. She thought for one moment about going back to the bar for one last drink when she saw him step from behind a steel plated column. Griffin. His face was set in a determined sort of look and his form was tense as he slipped through the crowd with the grace of a jungle cat on the hunt. She kept her eyes on him as he steadily made his way down from the second level and towards the main door. She could not explain the reasoning behind her own next move. Maybe she was just curious, maybe she felt a bit drawn towards the man. Whatever it was, she began to follow him.
The noise of the club seemed to dim as she set her focus on Griffin, the bass the only thing she still noticed because it was very nearly in time with her heart. She kept her distance discreet, moving slowly. She made sure to look as natural as she could while doing so because she still did not have a valid excuse to give if he turned and saw her, and asked what she was doing. For an instant she thought she had lost him as a small bunch of moshers moved to block her path, but then her sweeping gaze caught his tall shape down the long hall that led to the main door, to her left. Though he was currently swathed in shadow as he moved past the coat room, he was taller than most that stood around him. Plus his unruly shock of hair created a unique profile.
Griffin did not look at the bouncer as he purposefully stepped past the threshold, and Laila saw his breath puff into the frigid night air. He turned to the right outside of the club, away from the long line of people still waiting to get in. His long duster flapped in the slight, frozen breeze as he moved with confidence. Laila's brow quirked as she stepped softly onto the sidewalk a moment later, wondering just where Griffin was going. The northern part of the surrounding blocks was nothing but empty, dilapidated warehouses, as far as she knew. Wherever it was, she hoped it was back inside quickly, because it was damn cold out.
Griffin turned right again at the next block and Laila hurried through the light dusting of snow that covered the concrete to keep up with him. She slowed at the corner and waited a few long seconds, wanting to give him enough space before peeking. She clenched her jaw and fought a shiver as she silently leaned against the wall of the empty building beside her, the bricks like ice to her fingertips.
Without warning a police car flew by, its lights blinking brightly into the darkness but its siren mute. The engine roared instead, startling Laila more than she liked. She inhaled and instinctively hugged the wall tighter, but the car was going much too quick for the driver to see her in her current position, which was deeply shadowed from the street light. Wondering just what lay around the corner that might need that sort of presence, she pressed her face against the wall and dared to take a look.
The police car skidded to a halt about a block away, sliding slightly in the snow beside an ambulance that was already parked on the sidewalk. Their combined lights were a disco of red and blue on the surrounding buildings. Two uniformed officers exited from the newly arrived unit and immediately headed to the mouth of an alley across the street, where yellow tape barricaded the way. The back of the ambulance was open and an EMT stood near. Though alert, he did not look too concerned or hurried, as the police did. So whatever had gone down, it spooked the officers and made them haul ass here, but no one needed medical attention. At least, not anymore.
Her naturally curious and analytical mind began to run with the possibilities when she saw the original reason for her being out here freezing her buns off: Hurricane Hair himself. He was very close to the mouth of the alley, and Laila thought for a second that he was rubbernecking, or was a witness that the police were questioning, but his demeanor did not match that scenario. He was tense and concerned, but at the same time relaxed as the officers approached him... as if he knew them.
Warily, Laila hung back and waited. Her eyes widened as Griffin ducked under the police tape. Screwing her courage to the sticking place, she quickly approached the police line. A male voice rang out as she did so, a single title echoing down the alley: “Detective!”
Laila looked down towards the end of the passageway where the voice had emanated, squinting slightly in the dim light. She saw a young uniformed officer wave and, for a brief moment, she thought the gesture was directed to her. However, it was not, and when she saw who responded with a wave of acknowledgement of his own, she immediately put two and two together. Griffin — Detective Griffin — replied loud enough for the officer to hear, "Just a second."
Laila's eyes widened. "Construction, my ass," she mumbled under her breath, thinking back to when the man had mentioned what he had done for a living. At that point, Griffin had either heard her voice or maybe he just thought she was a rubbernecker — which she sort of was — because he then closed the short distance between himself and the tape line by taking only a few steps and hitched a thumb towards the road, waving it by Laila.
"Hey, no press!" he snapped, his expression no-nonsense. His gaze immediately turned to one of surprised recognition when he saw just who it was who was lollygagging at the alley's mouth. "Laila? What the hell are you doing here?"
His eyes might have softened a tad but his tone was gruff. Like any detective, he did not appreciate anyone impeding on his crime scenes, no matter how attractive they were. And, like any other cop, he suspected anyone he found conveniently near a scene that was only minutes old.
Laila’s eyes narrowed. Griffin had some explaining to do too.
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The reviews are in! Here's what readers had to say:
5 star aggregate rating on Amazon
3.5 star aggregate rating on GoodReads
Action Packed Vampire Detective: the Best of Both Genres!
Wow!! A jet fueled rocket ride into a world of cops, murderers, science fiction(?) and history that takes the reader from the dark and mundane Toronto beat of a young detective to a darker world that exists side by side with ours. The vampire genre was never my thing, but once I bit into it, this book sucked me in and drained me of my disbeliefs!! It reads like an action thriller movie and I can see Shia LaBeouf as the title character and Angelina Jolie as the Elder Sekhmet! Without throwing out any spoilers, it looks like we’ve been set up for a sequel as well. Hungrily awaiting further tomes…..
Very well worth read.
Authors bend an interesting tale well worth perusing. Very good for a first out offering!
Finaly a vampire book where the story is about vampires and the focus was not all about romance. Hopefully this continues in the next books. Too many stories get ruined where the authors forget this. Some of us do not want to read romance novels. Look forward to the next book.
Response from Melissa Treglia
Thank you so much for your kind words! And you won’t have to worry; we (Nicole and I) plan on keeping any romance elements as a tasty side-dish, not the main course. We’re here for the vampire action and scares too. 🙂