This is the first book in a trilogy, and it will be released in print and ebook format worldwide on June 18.
PROLOGUE ~ A Warning ~
Sebastian Vioget placed his palms on the bar and leaned forward. The large ruby signet on his left hand glinted in the golden light. On his right five fingers were the ever-present copper rings that had once belonged to Lilith the Dark. Sebastian allowed his eyes to glow just enough to give the man on the other side of the counter a clear warning. “If Iscariot or Alvisi get to her before she’s ready, I’ll kill you.”
The other man was swarthy as a Gypsy, with too-long black hair and jet eyes. He shifted lazily, appearing unmoved by his host’s threat. “You’d have to catch me first.”
“You know very well I could.” Sebastian eased back from his threatening stance. The bastard across from him was nearly as cocksure as his old friend and nemesis Max Pesaro. Damn good thing they were on the same side.
At least, as far as he knew.
He didn’t trust the other man any more than he trusted anyone—aside from Wayren. Who, incidentally, had been annoyingly absent for the last decade or so.
His visitor, the last of the night’s patrons—and one who could actually leave once it was dawn—chuckled. “Some day, I’m certain we’ll find out if that’s true. I’ll even let you chase me after sunset to make it fair, Vioget. I wouldn’t want you to cry foul.” He lifted the fullest bottle of whiskey from the counter and gestured with it before slipping it into the inner pocket of his overcoat. “This is a far sight better than the hooch Capone peddles. My deepest gratitude.”
“The Silver Chalice serves only the best, legal or no,” Sebastian replied. “Always has, regardless of what continent it’s in.” The Volstead Act’s prohibition of the manufacture or sale of alcohol was a ludicrous proposition. As if the United States government could control what he chose to ingest.
Hell, Sebastian had a hard enough time controlling it himself.
He refrained from glancing toward the bottles of the other type of libation he stocked—for himself only. Even the thought of the rich, heavy lifeblood filling those vessels was enough to make his gums throb and his fangs begin to unsheathe. The familiar need swelled, rushing inside him, pulsing through his body, turning his vision rosy.
He reached automatically for the silver vis bulla that hung beneath his shirt, sliding his fingers through the opening to touch the tiny cross. The holy metal burned, but he welcomed the subtle pain. It reminded him he could still feel.
It reminded him why he was still here.
He’d given everything for Giulia.
And for Victoria.
His guest didn’t seem to notice Sebastian’s discomfort; he was intent on adjusting his enveloping overcoat and hat. He always wore his fedora unfashionably low over the forehead, to the eyebrows. “I’ll be on my way then. See if there’s any news on Capone, if Alvisi’s made any move on him.”
That likely meant the man was headed to The Blood Club. Where else would a vampire hunter go to find undead, or to extract information from the undead? Not that Sebastian approved of the way Chas Woodmore went about doing so, but he wasn’t a judgmental sort. Not like Pesaro had been. And particularly in this case, when it was so bloody important, he didn’t care how depraved Woodmore was.
“The sooner the better. We have to stay more than a step ahead of him and Iscariot. Once either of them find her—”
“I see her every day, on her way to and from her job, Vioget. They haven’t found her yet. And they don’t have any idea about me. She’s safe for now.”
“She has the book. It’s only a matter of time until the dreams begin.”
“And once that happens, you must convince her to accept.”
The other man looked at him with those cold, dark eyes and Sebastian turned away. He didn’t need Woodmore to see the desperation in his own gaze. The long promise and the sacrifices he’d made would be for naught if a single woman denied her legacy.
After a hundred and two years, one would have thought it would have become easier to wait. And accept.
But it hadn’t.
~ Coincidences and Mistakes ~
Macey Denton woke abruptly, bolting upright in bed.
Her heart was slamming so loudly the sound filled her ears, and cold sweat made the nightgown cling to her skin. She was breathing fast and hard, and felt as if she’d been running for hours.
She had been running—scrambling through a dark forest, along the shadowy streets, across grassy backyards…in her dream.
“It was just a dream,” she told herself, as if saying it aloud would dispel the last vestiges of the terror.
Moonlight cast wrinkled silver beams across her mussed bed, and Macey glanced nervously toward the window. A gentle spring breeze wafted through the small opening. The sounds of automobiles trundling by, distant shouts and even something far off that sounded like gunshots…just the normal night sounds of Chicago.
Nothing was out there. Nothing with glowing red eyes or gleaming fangs.
It was just a dream.
Moonlight reflected off the face of her alarm clock. It was hard to clearly read its numbers, but she could make out the vague shape of the hands. Three o’clock.
Drat it. She had to get up for work in three hours and she’d already stayed up too late reading that old book. It sat on her bedside table, beckoning temptingly—just as it had when it appeared at the library office yesterday.
The Venators by George Starcasset.
The slender book was ragged and worn, its leather corners bumped and rounded. It was an odd publication, with no title page listing a publisher or even a copyright page. It appeared crude and inexpertly made. That was why she hadn’t put it on the pile to be catalogued at the library…yet. She was curious. The printing was awkward and imperfect, unlike the neat rows of letters that came from her typewriter. Clearly, it was more than a hundred years old. And though she had no idea who or what a Venator was, Macey had been compelled to pick it up. She turned through the first few pages, taking care not to crack or tear the delicate paper, and saw unfamiliar words like vis bulla and Tutela.
And then she shoved it into her satchel to bring the book home. For research.
It turned out to be about a family of vampire hunters. And despite the fact there was, of course, no such thing as vampires, she found herself swept up in the world of the men who risked their lives to hunt the demonic beings.
That was the reason for her nightmares.
As she hurried along the busy sidewalk, Macey tugged the felt hat down over her ears, making sure its little brim curled up saucily in the back.
Well, she would have been hurrying, glad to be on her way home from work, if her feet weren’t so darn sore. The new shoes she’d sprung for with her first paycheck—shiny black Mary Janes with sassy black and white organza bows—were still a little tight, and Dr. Morgan had had her running errands in them all day long.
Even though she loved books and absolutely adored her job at the Harper Memorial Library at the University of Chicago, Macey normally wouldn’t mind being sent out of the office as a break from the re-shelving and filing of catalogue cards—but it had been drizzling since noon today, making it chilly and messy outside.
And because she’d overslept again (thanks to those darn dreams), she’d forgotten her umbrella and dashed out of her boarding house in a rush. Thus her hat and stockings had gotten damp and stayed that way for the rest of the day. Even the rabbit fur around her coat collar had wilted. Thank goodness it was removable.
The top few floors of the Lexington Hotel, where Al Capone lived and reigned, were visible over the rooftops. She’d walked past the luxurious brick and terracotta building on Michigan Avenue many times—and had even delivered an old book there once. (She counted herself fortunate she hadn’t seen Capone himself.)
On each occasion of passing the hotel, Macey couldn’t help but look for the gangsters with the so-called Tommy guns that were rumored to patrol the place. It was common knowledge that Snorky, as Capone was called, owned the city—from the mayor on down to half the police force, as well as a variety of businesses. Nightclubs, restaurants, meat-packaging facilities, funeral homes, and illicit ones—like breweries—as well.
He was, some said, more powerful than the president of the United States. And despite the violence and countless illegal activities he controlled, Chicagoans were fascinated by him. Capone liked to present that he was a sort of modern-day Robin Hood, providing services to the masses from beneath a repressive, controlling government—and there were some who lauded this position.
Macey didn’t have much of an opinion. She’d moved to the city only eight months ago and was still enamored with the tall art deco buildings, countless shops, and variety of entertainment. As long as Capone, Torrio, Moran and the like didn’t bring their violence to her, she intended to ignore them.
An old, open-style Model T trundled past her on the street. She dodged when it drove through a shallow puddle, but she wasn’t fast enough and the automobile sent water spraying on her legs.
“Drat!” she muttered, pausing to twist around and look down at the back of her flesh-colored stockings. They were speckled with dark flecks of mud.
“Hey, doll, where ya goin’ in such a big hurry?” An admiring whistle followed.
Macey glanced down the alley at a man unloading crates. Her landlady, Mrs. Gutchinson, was always complaining about how the latest fashions, with skirts stopping just below the knee and sheer stockings, seemed to give men permission to be vocal and obnoxious. Instead of responding, she continued along, making her way on the sidewalk with scores of other people heading home at the end of the work day. Everyone seemed to be walking more quickly than usual because of the damp April chill.
She passed a second truck being unloaded in another alley and two skinny kids trying to woo a cat out from beneath a porch. There was a man sitting on one corner with a tin cup on the ground as he sang long and low and sad. Occasionally, someone dropped in a coin.
A man walked along ahead of her, holding the hand of a young blond girl in a darling pink coat. She danced and chattered, twirling around on the end of his hand, and pointed at things as they walked along. Her father smiled down at her and nodded, and once even paused to crouch and look at something she found on the sidewalk. They made a sweet picture—the image of a girl with her daddy.
Macey dragged her eyes away, ignoring the dull, familiar pang of anger and grief.
On the block ahead, she saw the shill who regularly enticed passersby to stop and play dice or shell games. His normal crowd was nonexistent, for today there were only two victims trying to outsmart the con as he shuffled the upside-down cups and kept up a patter designed to distract from the movement of his hands. On her first day going to work at University of Chicago’s library, Macey had been lured in by his invitation. Ten minutes later she’d walked away—a dollar poorer and late to work on top of it.
Since then, she’d avoided getting too close to that side of the block, even though he regularly called out to coax her back. But one day she was going to try it again, and she’d win.
By now, Macey was almost limping from a blister at the back of her right foot. That would teach her to wear new shoes without giving them a chance to stretch out first. And there seemed to be another sore spot developing over the big toe on her left foot.
Double drat. That was going to make it a little painful dancing at The Gyro tomorrow evening. She’d be hobbling instead of shimmying, which would make for a long night.
She rounded the corner onto Quincy Street in order to avoid the insistent shill and his cups, and plowed into a man standing there.
“Oh, pardon me,” she said as he reached out to catch her arm and steady her.
“I’m sorry, miss.” He stepped away from where he’d been looking at a sign posted in a bulletin board on the brick wall. “I should have been watching.” Beneath his fedora, he had strong, dark brows and blue-gray eyes that were sharp and intelligent. They seemed to take in every detail of her with one sweep.
“I wasn’t watching either.” Instead of continuing on, Macey took the opportunity to give her sore feet a rest.
And aside from that, he was an attractive man, probably in his late twenties. What little she could see of his hair appeared dark under the shadow of his hat, and he had a solid, square chin that looked as if it had been a day since it was shaved. Taller than she—but what man wasn’t?—he wore a dun-colored trench coat that had a button hanging loosely from its threads. Because he wasn’t wearing gloves, she could see his ink-stained hands were well formed and sturdy. No wedding ring.
Trying to give the impression she was waiting for a bus or for the traffic to clear so she could cross the street, Macey glanced at the board to see what had caught his interest.
There were some flyers announcing a sale at Thomson’s Furniture along with several posters promoting a jazz trio at The Leonine, a vaudeville act at Prego’s on Vashner, and some others that were faded and torn. “Planning to go see The Armbruster Trio?” she asked.
“Not at all. I was actually looking at this one.” He stabbed a finger at a hand-lettered sign off to the side.
Its ink had run, but Macey could still read it. Missing: Jennie Fallon. Last seen March 29, 5 o’clock, at Vashner and Michigan.
The description of the young woman of twenty was partly obliterated by weather and damp, but Macey had seen enough. March 29 was more than a week ago. Her stomach soured and she looked up.
“Do you know her?”
“No.” He snatched the paper from its mooring, crumpling it into a ball. “And no one ever will again. Her body was found this morning.”
“Oh no,” she breathed, her insides tight. The woman had been her age. “Oh, that’s terrible. What happened to her?”
His mouth drew up flat. “You’d best be taking care, miss,” he said, and for the first time she noticed a bit of the Irish in his voice. “It’s not safe for a young woman out alone, especially after dark. I don’t know you, but you look just like the sort of girl Jennie Fallon was: young, pretty, one that likes to go out dancing in the clubs and getting into trouble in the speakeasies—”
“I beg your pardon,” she said, suddenly a little nervous. Was he a policeman? “Why on earth would you think I know anything about speakeasies?”
He looked at her, his eyes a more intense blue now—steady and knowing. “You can be saving your innocent protestations for the cops, miss. I’m not here to condemn or judge.”
“Well, I nev—”
“Her body,” he continued, speaking over Macey’s breathless indignation, “was mutilated. Throat and chest torn to ribbons.”
“My God, that’s horrible.” Her annoyance evaporated. “The poor, poor woman. Do they know what caused something like that?”
“I can only assume that by ‘they,’ you mean the authorities.” All trace of his brogue was gone. “As if they have time to investigate the disappearance of a poor young woman when there are gangsters to be cared for. But no, no one is certain what caused such a terrible death.”
“Maybe it was a mad dog or some other wild animal. Or…or…a vampire.” This last came out as little more than a mumble, but he must have heard.
“A what?” He was staring at her with the same shock she felt coursing through her own body, along with mortification that such a ludicrous comment had come from her lips. “Did you say vampire?”
“I….” Macey fumbled for an explanation. She had no idea why those syllables had come out of her mouth. “I was just…joking,” she said lamely. “It was a silly thing to say.” She shook her head, miserable and mortified. As it tended to do, her mouth had taken on a life of its own, speaking before her brain caught up. She had vampires in her reading, vampires in her dreams, and now vampires reared their ugly fangs in everyday conversation.
He was looking at her differently now. In a way that made her feel prickly and nervous inside her skin. “Joking, were you? I wonder why you’d be joking about something like that.”
Just then—and Macey was to be forever grateful for the interruption—someone called, “Grady!”
They both turned to see a uniformed police officer approaching. It was obvious he’d been hailing the man next to her.
Macey was delighted to have the opportunity to edge away as the policeman, who was quite a bit older, walked up. He looked at her, then at Grady, and said, “Is everything all right here? Miss? Is this man bothering you?”
Before she could respond, Grady gave her an assessing look and said with an ironic smile, “Oh, and I’m quite certain I am.” Then he turned to the policeman, effectively dismissing any complaint she might have been moved to make. “Any news, Linwood?”
Macey was only too happy to make her escape, sore feet notwithstanding. She didn’t look back as she started off down the sidewalk, cheeks still burning over her rash suggestion that a vampire might have attacked the young woman.
And the fact that Grady heard it.
Not that it mattered. Surely she’d ever see the man again, and thank goodness for that.
As she rushed along, she continued to berate herself. That strange book had captivated her, and the story didn’t want to leave her alone. For the last two nights, she’d been having those same nightmares of being stalked and hunted by red-eyed vampires.
And the oddest thing had happened at the library earlier today. Macey was secretary to the director of accessions (with aspirations of being head librarian herself one day), and Dr. Morgan had received a visitor early this morning.
Although, as it turned out, the visitor hadn’t been looking for Dr. Morgan. He was a nice-looking young man, and he came into the office, folding up a very large, dripping umbrella but carrying nothing else. That in itself was unusual, because just about everyone who came into the library was either in possession of one or more books, or was carrying something in which to put one or more books. Or was at least looking for a book.
The young man looked intently at Macey, who’d enthusiastically taken a break from typing up the twenty-third card catalogue file she’d done since eight o’clock. Typing up card catalogue files was much more tedious than one would think, as she’d quickly learned. She preferred to be walking among the labyrinthine stacks, discovering or re-shelving books and old manuscripts—or, better yet, poring through a newly acquired tome herself, practicing the classification of the title and where it would go on the shelf. And you never knew what sort of fascinating information you could find paging through a book.
But when she looked up at the visitor, Macey’s first impression was that he might be a gangster. She wasn’t certain why she had that thought. Maybe it was the commanding way he looked around the room. Or the sense of something being off, or even dangerous about him.
A sharp spike of nerves made Macey fumble with the pencil she’d picked up. The newcomer carried himself with confidence and boldness, and he was dressed expensively in spats and a tailored suit. A bloodred handkerchief, silky and patterned with black dots, stuck up from his breast pocket, folded in perfect, fan-like creases. She found herself looking at his silhouette beneath the fitted jacket to see if she could spot the bulge of a gun, and wondered what she would do if he pulled one out.
And the way he looked at her was odd. It sent a gentle prickle over the back of her bare neck and across her shoulders, almost as if a chill draft brushed her skin. In fact, she felt a distinct chill lifting the hair at the back of her neck, and she wondered if he’d left the outside door open when he came in.
“Miss Gardella?” He stepped closer to her desk. No one else was around; the rest of the department was at lunch.
Macey looked up at him. “Pardon me?” she asked, rising while trying to hide the fact that her knees were shaking. What on earth was wrong with her? At least her voice came out calmly and steadily. “May I help you?”
He looked at her more intently, and for a moment, Macey felt as if her insides wavered…as if her vision swung and shivered. For just an instant, she felt dizzy. “I’m looking for Miss Gardella,” he said, still focused on her.
She shook her head, and it took great effort to pull her gaze away from his. Her heart was pounding and she felt…soupy. “I’m sorry, sir, I’m not aware of anyone by that name. If you’d like to speak to the director, Dr. Morgan, he might be able to help you. Do you know in what department she works? The university is a large place, and I’m new here.”
The man’s brows drew together and annoyance colored his expression. His eyes flashed red for an instant, then she dismissed the thought as being due to her fanciful imagination and cloudy head. Am I coming down with something?
“No, that won’t be necessary. I must be mistaken.” The man turned and strode out of the office before she could ask his name.
It was only after he left that it sunk into her thoughts that he’d asked for Miss Gardella. In fact, it seemed as if he’d initially called her Miss Gardella.
Gardella was the name of the family of vampire hunters in Mr. Starcasset’s book.
The dance club called The Gyro was loud and crowded, just the way the flappers liked. Good music, a big dance floor, tables packed in together on the sides, and, if you were daring and knew the right word or phrase, entrance through a secret door behind the musicians. Not that Macey ever went through that door…at least, not so far.
The wall behind the dais where the piano stood appeared to be an innocent panel of mirrors, but the third one was the secret door. Macey knew this because she’d seen it slide open once, and because Flora had told her.
“Do you know the password?” Macey’d asked her friend, jiggling her foot in time to the music. The ice in their glasses of tea clinked gently on the table.
Flora shook her head, and her tight reddish-blond curls hardly moved at all. “No, but I think Jimmy does.”
Jimmy was Flora’s older brother, and he often accompanied the two of them when they went dancing—although he hadn’t tonight. Macey liked it when he came along because he was a deterrent to anyone who might bother them. And every day in the papers, there were stories about gangster shoot-outs, police raids, and other violence related to the so-called beer wars. Since she and Flora weren’t about to stay in like two old maids with their cats (not that either of them had any cats), it made for a more relaxing night when the massive, smashed-nosed Jimmy came with them.
Macey suspected he probably knew more about what went on behind the secret door than he let on, and more than once she was certain she’d seen the bulge of a firearm under his arm, beneath his coat. But he was Flora’s brother, and she’d known him for more than a decade because she and Flora had been friends since they were ten. The two girls had grown up on the same street in Skittlesville, walked to the same school, and had the same ferocious piano teacher.
In fact, that was how they’d come to be such good friends—bonding over their mistreatment by Mrs. Pevensey. Macey’s mother died when she was very young, and her father—who worked for the British government—had promptly sent her as far away from him as possible. She was shunted off on several family members from the countryside of England to New York, and finally to farm country in the Midwest when she was ten. From then on, Macey was raised by a distant cousin and her husband, who owned a timepiece shop in the tiny Wisconsin town. Then Macey’s father had proceeded to get himself killed in the Great War. She was left with only vague memories of him—a tall, dark, and austere man.
Her memories might be vague, but her feelings toward him were not. Loathing, disgust, and pain rose inside her whenever she thought of being shipped off and abandoned by someone who was supposed to love her—at least a little.
“Any luck finding a job?” Macey asked, leaning close to her friend so Flora could hear her over the music and loud conversation. They’d moved here from the tiny town of Skittlesville together, initially getting jobs at the same secretarial pool. They’d always helped and encouraged each other all along the way. But in the last few months, since Macey got her dream job at the university library and Flora lost hers at the pool, she’d seen less of her friend.
“I had an interview yesterday for a position with another typing pool, but I’m not sure if they’ll call me back. I—uh—knocked over a mug of coffee, and it spilled everywhere on the lady’s table.” Flora rolled her eyes and smiled gamely, but Macey could see the frustration in her gaze. “I’m such a klutz.”
“I’m sure they knew it was an accident. How was your typing test? From what I hear, those office typing pools want someone who can type fast and accurately, and who cares about spilled coffee? And last I heard, you were at seventy w-p-m!”
“Well, considering the fact that I knocked the cup over before I even got to the typing test, and it spilled onto Miss Henworth’s light pink skirt and stained it…I never even got to the test.”
Macey bit her lip. “Oh. That’s not good at all. Do you have any other prospects? I keep looking at the job postings at the university to see if there’s anything for you. I’m sure I could get Dr. Morgan to recommend you if we find a suitable one.”
“Thanks. But I think I’m going to try looking for something non-secretarial. Maybe I’ll work in one of the garment factories. I’m going to head over to Ingram’s first thing in the morning. And if they don’t have anything, I’ll go to Chestwick.”
Macey tried to keep her expression neutral. Working in the garment factories was tedious, low-paying work. Flora was much too smart and fun and lively to be hunching over a sewing machine at a long table with twenty other women, straining her eyes over tiny stitches day after day after day. “Oh, don’t give up yet, Flo. I’ll ask around. Maybe there are some jobs that haven’t been posted.”
“I have to pay rent, Macey. Because I sure as shootin’ don’t want to move back home. As mean and crabby as my landlady is, she’s better than living with my mother.” The musicians started a new song, and Flora stood abruptly. “It’s the ‘Tiger Rag.’ Come on, let’s shimmy.”
Macey rose and adjusted her stockings, which were rolled down to just above her knee. Her shift-like dress was made of robin’s egg blue satin, with beaded, flounced layers from the dropped waist to just above the knee. The dress hung loose and straight on her body, which made it easier to dance, and its skinny straps held it in place but left her shoulders and arms bare. She’d pinned a large red rose to the front of one strap, and she’d slipped another on a comb into her dark, curly hair.
She’d chosen to wear an older pair of shoes instead of the blister-inducing Mary Janes from yesterday and was glad she’d opted for comfort over fashion. Surprisingly enough, the blisters had healed overnight and were nearly gone, but she decided not to tempt fate if she was going to be dancing all night.
The dance floor was crowded with other flappers in their shift dresses, high heels, and bare legs and arms, mingling with men in spats and sleek suits. Macey recognized a good many of the regulars in the establishment, including some of their other friends. She waved across the space to Chelle and Dottie, who had found some young fellows with whom to dance. A few weeks ago, Macey met a nice one with a sweet smile and round glasses that steamed up endearingly when they did the Charleston. They’d danced twice and chatted for a while, but she hadn’t seen David (she didn’t get his last name) since. She was hoping he might appear, and so kept looking around the club to spot him.
As she shimmied, arms and legs flying, long necklaces bouncing, feet skimming and tapping across the floor, she noticed a young Negro woman sitting in a corner near the band. She was about Macey’s age, or maybe closer to twenty-five, and had very short black hair that cupped her head like an elegant cap. Her skin was the color of rich caramel. The woman sat alone, observing the dancers, watching the musicians, and seemed to constantly scan the room from the long bar to the entrances and the mirrored walls.
By the time the fourth song ended, Macey was damp with perspiration and joyously out of breath. Her feet hurt, but she didn’t care. She was glad she’d recently had her hair cut short in the new bob style that went just past her jaw, because it kept her cooler. It occurred to her the bespectacled David might not even recognize her if he did show up, since she’d had all of her hair cut off.
Ready for something cold and wet, Macey left the dance floor, giving Flora a little wave. As she made her way through the rows of tables crowded together, she felt someone watching her. It was like a cool breeze over the back of her neck, raising the fine hairs there in an insistent prickle.
With a little bump of her heart and a flutter in her belly, she changed direction, walking over to the long bar. Leaning against the counter, she looked casually around the room as she ordered a strawberry lemonade.
She didn’t see David’s reddish-blond hair and was ready to return to the table when someone jostled her from behind.
“Looking for a vampire?” came a voice in her ear.
Macey’s stomach flipped in surprise as her cheeks flamed with chagrin. She whirled to find Grady sitting on a bar stool behind her. “No,” was her unimaginative retort as her brain scrambled to catch up to reality. Where had he come from? She’d been watching the entire place.
“Good.” His expression was sober, and now that he wasn’t wearing a hat, she saw his hair was a rich sable brown. Cut short around the ears and neck, it was deliciously wavy and thick at the crown. He’d shaved since yesterday, but his fingers—which drummed impatiently on the bar—were still ink-stained.
Her cheeks had cooled by now, and Macey made a swift decision to sit on the stool next to Grady instead of going back to her table. She didn’t want him to think he’d scared her away, especially since she’d fairly run off yesterday.
“Are you with the fuzz?” She leaned her elbows on the counter and looked at him. He had a solid, square jaw and elegant nose. His was a very good-looking face.
Grady’s eyes, which had taken to scanning the room, settled back on her. There was a trace of impatience in them. “No, chickie, I told you—you’ve got nothing to worry about from me. If you’re wanting to go through that mirrored door back there—the one that’s not as much of a secret as Hownley-Joe thinks it is—and sample some of Capone’s hooch, I won’t be telling anyone.”
“That’s not why I asked,” she replied, refusing to allow him to annoy her. The man seemed to have a chip the size of the tragic Titanic on his shoulder, and something compelled her to find out why. “You seemed well-informed about Jennie Fallon, and you greeted that officer by name yesterday. I thought you might be a plainclothes detective or something like that.” She shrugged and noticed the way his attention followed her movement. She could feel his gaze sliding over her bare shoulders, and a warm tingle shivered through her belly.
“You do know what they say about the cat and curiosity, don’t you, chickie?”
“Is that a threat?” she asked, keeping her voice light even as her heart started to pound a little harder. For the first time, she wondered if he knew so much about Jennie Fallon because he was involved. He could be a gangster. Or a rapist. Maybe she should go back to her table and forget she’d ever met Grady.
If you could call their interactions “meeting.”
He shook his head. “I’m not with the fuzz, lass. That was my uncle yesterday, if you must know. It seems as if you might be as inquisitive as I am, so I suppose I can’t be faulting you for that.” His eyes met hers, and Macey felt her concerns ease. Possibly in part because of the lovely rhythm of his brogue and the crinkles at the corners of his eyes. “I’m a newshawk for the Tribune, so naturally I have an interest in news in the city. Good news or tragic news,” he added ruefully. “Like Jennie Fallon.”
“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her,” Macey confessed. That, along with three nights of dreams about vampires chasing her, had made her feel even more jumpy and nervous than when she heard machine guns in the distance.
“Can I get you something?” asked the bartender, approaching them for the first time.
Grady grimaced. “Sure and I wish you could. You don’t have what I want.”
“Welcome to the club.” The bartender set a short, heavy glass on the counter.
“That’s flat.” Grady met the bartender’s eyes. He gave a brief nod, then returned to looking around the room.
Macey slid off her stool. Obviously, their conversation was over.
But she hadn’t taken one step when those ink-stained fingers reached out and landed on her bare arm. “So why did you say that yesterday?” Grady leaned toward her.
He came close enough that his shoulder bumped her bare one, and an intriguing, masculine scent came with him. She almost replied Said what? but caught herself in time. Edging away so she could look at him, she answered as honestly as she could. “I was reading a book about vampires, and they were on my mind. That’s all. It just slipped out.” She sat back on her stool, the fringe from her dress shifting and sliding into place.
“Do you believe they exist?” He watched her steadily.
“Of course not.” But even as she said so, that little prickling at the back of her neck grew stronger. Discomfited, Macey twisted in her seat, looking over her shoulder at the jumble of people in the club.
Her breath caught when she spied the glimpse of someone in the shadows…the flash of a face that seemed familiar, that reminded her of someone…but then he was gone, slipping behind a decorative pillar and then into the crowd.
“What’s wrong?” Grady craned his neck to look as well.
Macey turned back and tucked her curly, bobbed hair behind her ear. “I thought I saw someone I knew.” Why was her heart thumping so hard? “I’ve got to stop reading that book.”
“The book about vampires?”
She noticed he was holding that heavy, short glass in his hand. It was filled with an amber liquid, and as Macey watched in shock, Grady tilted his wrist and tipped the contents into his mouth with a practiced flick, then swallowed.
“But that’s—that’s—” Whiskey. He was drinking whiskey! She could even smell it. Macey exhaled in a big huff, for she dared not say the word for fear she’d be overheard.
“Apple juice?” He was looking at her with a bemused expression. “What’s wrong, chickie? Cat got your tongue?” He placed the glass on the counter, and it disappeared just as quickly as it had been filled.
“What would your uncle say?” she managed to sputter.
His eyes lit with real humor for the first time, and he laughed. “You surely don’t know much about how this city’s run, do you, lass?” Then his good humor dissipated, and that sober expression returned. “You must be reading Dracula.”
Macey lifted her nose. “Of course not. Excellent book, but much too obvious.”
His lips twitched briefly. “The Vampyre by Polidori.”
“No,” Macey replied, even as he added, “But that’s not precisely a book. Just a story. You distinctly said ‘book.’”
“And so is Varney the Vampire,” she said, surprised he was so familiar with vampire literature. “Which I am also not reading. Currently.”
“Thank Jesus,” he replied. “What a piece of drivel that was.”
Privately, Macey didn’t disagree—but as a librarian at heart, she felt it was inappropriate for her to publicly criticize any literature.
Instead, she looked over at the musicians and saw the Negro woman she’d noticed earlier was now standing at the microphone, singing to the accompaniment of the piano. The low croon of the saxophone mingled with her dusky voice, and everything seemed to slow and quiet. Even the lights dimmed.
“I suppose you’re wanting to dance,” Grady said. “That’s not a bad idea, chickie. At least then I can see what’s going on from down there.” He stood and turned to her expectantly.
She looked up but made no move to join him. He might be attractive as sin, and he might have the smoothest, most velvety voice and the thickest head of wavy cocoa hair, but the man was bordering on being a complete jerk.
“My name is not chickie or lass, and I don’t have any desire to dance. With you. Thank you anyway, Grady.” She stressed his name just enough to point out that she did, indeed, know it.
“And you clearly have the advantage of me, then, don’t you? Knowing my name and all, my profession too. Clever girl,” he said, nodding. A little smile played about his mouth and there was a hint of crinkles at the corners of his eyes. “And I don’t know a thing about you except that you read about vampires and believe they exist. Oh, and you wear shoes that are too tight and cause blisters. You’re very literate but not so great at math, live in or near Hyde Park, and don’t have a boyfriend.”
She blinked. How did he know all that? “I don’t believe in vampires.” Macey slid off the stool. Despite her heels, that only put her eyes at about the level of his nose.
“Is that so?” His gaze scored over her again. “Then you’d best be taking my advice to stay out of dark alleys at night. It’s hard to protect yourself from something you don’t believe exists.”
She started to slide past him, but he stepped to the side, half blocking her path. “Aren’t you going to tell me your name?”
“Can’t you find that out on your own? You figured out plenty of other things.”
His smile returned. “I could, but it’s easier to ask. And I’d like to think of you as someone other than ‘chickie’ later tonight…when I’m remembering those velvety brown eyes of yours.” His voice had gone silky again, thick with the Irish.
“It’s Macey.” With a quick shift to the side, she went around him and walked away, trying not to imagine Grady lying in his bed thinking of her eyes. Trying not to imagine Grady in his bed at all, in fact.
But it wasn’t an altogether awful thought, she admitted privately, wending her way toward the table she and Flora shared. He did have broad shoulders and probably a very fine chest attached to them. And his mouth, the way it tipped up at one side when he was debating vampire literature with her, and slightly fuller in the bottom lip, was a very tempting shape.
Macey was about halfway to her destination when the music stopped abruptly, and most of the lights went out. Someone gave a surprised little shriek, and a hush fell over the club as everyone stopped.
Then all at once, shadowy figures burst into the room and everything turned to chaos. “Raid!” someone shouted.
People were running, pushing, and screaming, and Macey felt someone brush past her. Another person shoved her, and someone else stepped on her foot as she started to make her way toward one of the exits.
The club was lit with a dull brown illumination by the few lights that burned near the entrance. Everyone was shadowy and muted, and Macey, with her imagination running wild, even fancied she saw the faint glow of red in twin pairs. Like eyes.
It was the first police raid she’d ever experienced, and even though she’d done nothing wrong, her heart was slamming in her chest. That prickling chill washed over the back of her neck again, colder and stronger now, as if someone had left a door open to a winter’s night. She felt almost nauseated by it, unsettled and upset.
There was an awful scream, suddenly choked off in a sort of gurgle that had the hair rising all over her body. Then a soft, ugly sound that seemed to fill her ears—kuh-kuh-kuh—like someone drinking.
She didn’t want to know what was happening.
Her hands clammy and her insides upset and churning, she waited for the sounds of gunshots or the stt-stt-stt of machine gun fire. Why hadn’t they brought Jimmy tonight?
“Flora!” she called, knowing it was in vain—there was too much going on, too many people shouting and shrieking. The last time she’d seen her friend, she’d been on the other side of the dance floor. “Flora!”
More screaming. More shouting. More awful, ugly gurgling, suctioning sounds. People pounding on the walls, or doors, on the floor…
She became aware of an odd smell, earthy and pungent—like…blood? Macey went cold and weak. Then someone else screamed long and shrilly, the cry ringing in her ears. She again saw twin flashes of red and watched as one of the shadowy figures seemed to fly across the room.
This was not a police raid. Or gangsters.
Icy fingers seemed to curl around her heart and lungs. She froze behind a pillar, her heart pounding. Red eyes. Superhuman speed. Blood.
No, no, impossible. Imposs—
Someone grabbed her arm, and Macey shrieked, jolting in surprise. She whirled, hopeful and yet terrified. But it wasn’t Flora, and it wasn’t Grady. In the dim light, she saw it was the elegant Negro woman who’d been watching the place.
“This way.” The woman tugged at her arm. “Hurry. Hurry!”
Macey had no argument with that, and she stopped pulling and allowed the woman to direct her toward the back wall.
Her companion was tall and quick, and very agile, and Macey found herself stumbling as she rushed along with her. She crouched as low as she could, as if that might keep the…whatever they were from seeing her. Nor did she ask where they were going. She just followed.
The next thing she knew, her guide had led her into a dark corner, and all at once the wall moved. Macey followed her into a dark room, suddenly nervous.
“Move it,” said her guide, as if sensing her hesitation. “They can smell you.”
Macey swallowed back the question that rose to her lips as the wall moved back into place behind them. The other woman knew where to go, despite the darkness. They rushed along until suddenly there was cool, clean, crisp night air as they erupted into a back alley lit by stars and a waning moon.
When Macey would have paused to drag in her breath, the tall, caramel-skinned woman refused to let her. “Come, it’s not safe yet,” she said in her throaty voice, propelling her through the alley.
“But what about the people still inside?” Macey turned to go back. She couldn’t leave without Flora, and what about Grady? And Chelle and Dottie—
“They’re either safe, or it’s too late by now. They’ll be out after you as soon as they realize you’ve escaped.”
Macey shook her head, trying to understand the woman’s confusing speech. Obviously, the two “theys” referred to two different sets of people, but what did the rest of it mean? “What do you mean, they’ll be out after…me?” Her throat went dry and her stomach heaved. “What are you talking about?”
This gave the woman pause, and for the first time, she stopped and looked at Macey. “You don’t know?”
“Know what?” she demanded.
“Lordy Moses,” breathed her companion, shaking her head. “This is going to be worse than I thought. Come on, sister.” She started tugging her again.
“I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what’s happening.”
“For Christ’s sake, Temple, just pick her up and carry her. She’s only a bitty thing. Vioget’s going to be bloody damned fit to be tied if he has to wait any longer.” A voice from the shadows caused Macey’s stomach to plummet, and she whirled.
“Chas. What are you doing here?” demanded the Negro woman, whose name was obviously Temple. She didn’t sound very pleased.
A figure emerged from the darkness like a wraith. He was tall, wrapped in some enveloping dark coat with a hat and high collar that obstructed most of his face. All Macey saw was a flash in the moonlight of straight white teeth.
For a moment, she imagined they were fangs, and Macey smothered a shriek as she stepped back. Then, annoyed, she collected herself and shook away the absurd thought.
He chuckled, his laugh soft and low in the night. “Ah, I’m everywhere. You know that, Temple. Now get Macey out of here before they find her.”
As if his warning had conjured them, suddenly the door through which she and Temple had emerged reopened.
“Run!” he hissed, and Macey didn’t have the chance to argue as Temple grabbed her arm and towed her off down the alley.
A quick glance over her shoulder showed the man standing in the alley facing their pursuers, his coat flapping gently in the breeze.
He was holding something that looked like a wooden stake.
And somehow, he knew her name.