Was it her turbo sense of hearing or did the ticking of the clock ring out across the apartment? Hayden picked the offending object up off the desk and hefted it her left hand. Set it down again. Stared at it. The ticking settled onto her bones, rattled her teeth.
Five minutes to five.
Before she could stop herself she flung the clock off the desk, watching with some interest as it sailed across the apartment and embedded itself into the far wall.
At least she knew the blood was working.
Not that she’d had much doubt about that before she destroyed the the clock. It had been a week since Leilan gave her a shopping bag’s worth of packets and with every passing day she learned something new about her powers. She was stronger, faster, more alert than she’d ever been. Her vision had always been good—better than average—but now it was superhero good. When she’d thrown the clock she hadn’t seen a blur of color flying through the air, she’d watched the second hand clicking forward—moment by moment—until the impact of the wall stopped it.
Much as she still despised Valentin for changing her, she had to admit she was getting used to her new capabilities. More than once she caught herself wondering what it would be like to serve on the force as a vampire. She’d be able to dodge bullets, fight off an entire gang at once, track drug dealers by smell alone.
It was a tempting idea. But no matter how many times she tried to rationalize going back she couldn’t bring herself to visit NOPD headquarters and apply for a job. Something about wearing a badge when she lived off human blood just didn’t sit right with her.
Working as a P.I., on the other hand, didn’t rankle her conscience in the same way returning the force did. The private investigators she’d worked with over the years had never been lily white—or even on the light end of the spectrum—so adding another compromised being to their ranks didn’t seem all that bad.
Plus she was broke. Or she would be in the very near future if she didn’t find a way to support herself. Which was how she happened to be sitting at a used desk next to a cell phone that didn’t ring and a clock that marked each passing minute like the tolling of the bells for the dead.
That had marked each passing minute.
She glanced at the damaged wall and smiled. No point in crying over spilt milk. Or broken clocks. And at least she wouldn’t have to sit there listening to it marking the hours that nobody called to inquire about her services.
Even one call would have been nice. Even a wrong number. Anything to break the monotony of hour after hour passing in solitude.
Complete and utter solitude.
She had never been the prom queen type. Hell, she’d never even been the friendly type. The lone wolf—make that lone vampire—persona suited her just fine. In Boston she’d preferred to work alone and most of her time as a trainee at the police academy in New Orleans had been spent apart from her colleagues. She knew part of that sprang from her childhood but she didn’t particularly care about remedying it via therapy or pills.
She was what she was. At 28 years old, it was probably too late to change.
Even so, she’d never been so totally, unequivocally alone—so alone she almost considered ordering pizza, not because she had any desire to eat, but simply to see another human being’s face. She hadn’t gone out during the day—every time she attempted to peek through the heavy, velvet curtains that hung across the French windows, she staggered back from the light. She wasn’t sure if she’d burn to a cinder but she didn’t know if she could find her way around either, even with sunglasses.
And she didn’t want to take any chances when it came to the cinder theory either.
So here she sat, at a desk in an empty apartment, waiting for calls that didn’t come. The ads she’d placed on the internet and in the local paper didn’t seem to be having any effect whatsoever. Granted, she wasn’t sure what potential clients would think when she ushered them into her cave of an apartment and conducted business in the dark.
As it was, she was a long way from an interview, never mind an actual job.
From the angle of the sliver of light that fell through a slight gap where the curtains didn’t fully meet, she guessed it would be another hour or so until it was dark enough for her to venture outside. So it was possible to leave, if she chose.
But she hadn’t left. Not since the night of the murder. It wasn’t that she was afraid. Part of her even fantasized about meeting the woman’s killer again—how different things would go this time around. “Enjoy the show,” she’d whisper just as she snapped his neck and sank her fangs into his flesh.
Which was a problem. Yes, she was physically far superior to the woman she’d been back in Boston. But morally—she felt weaker. Much weaker. Once she’d begun drinking blood, the craving for its taste had grown nearly insatiable. She didn’t dream—that part of her consciousness seemed to have disappeared—but during the day she played out a thousand scenarios that involved her feeding on another human being.
She didn’t want to feed on another human.
The idea repulsed her.
But the craving was ever present now, pressing in upon her. She felt like an addict jonesing for a fix. Which raised another issue.
She was almost out of blood. There were only a few packets left out of the entire stash. Another couple of days and she’d have gone through all of it. Every last drop of blood.
Hayden could almost hear Leilan’s murmurs of disapproval. Yes, she’d promised to ration the stuff. But she hadn’t understood the intensity of the thirst—the way it would sneak up on her when she least expected it and force her into a state of restless anxiety that sent waves of anguish coursing through her entire being.
She’d tried to resist. Tried to hold out an extra hour each day, gradually increasing the time between feedings. It hadn’t worked. Not only had she failed to extend the time, she’d been feeding more and more regularly, with greater fervor each time.
Would this go on forever? Or was it an adjustment phase, as Leilan had called it?
It had damn well better be a phase. No way could she go the rest of her life—the rest of eternity—fighting off incessant bouts of withdrawal.
Whatever the case in the long term, she needed more blood. She’d have to learn to hunt. On her own, since she hadn’t run into any vampires who wanted to mentor her.
Of course, she could go back to Leilan’s town house. She wasn’t sure of the address and her memories were a bit woozy but she could get there if she tried hard enough. And if she were honest with herself, she’d admit she wasn’t one hundred percent against seeing Leilan again.
Not so much because she missed him—or even liked him—but simply to talk to another human being. Okay, make that being, she amended. Despite her cravings and supernatural strength, she still forgot she wasn’t the old Hayden. Even living as a recluse in the heart of one of the most exciting cities in the world.
She pushed herself back from the desk and crossed to the kitchen. Blinking at the fluorescent glare of the refrigerator light, she pulled out a packet and poured a small amount into a shot glass. She downed it quickly, forcing herself not to savor the taste, then poured another.
The rush was intense but at least she hadn’t allowed herself to enjoy it too much. Maybe that was the key. Maybe gradually she’d lose her craving for it and be able to drink blood like the average vampire. Whatever that was.
She rinsed the glass and put it in the dishwasher then headed back to the desk, ignoring the clock embedded into the wall as she passed it.
There was a knock at the door.
A surge of panic traveled through her. Ignore it. Probably a mistake.
Another knock, louder this time.
She glanced at the door, unsure if she should answer. Maybe it was Leilan, come to check up on her. Or Valentin.
The knock morphed into a not-so-subtle pounding.
Forcing thoughts of Valentin out of her head, she got up and hurried to the door. The sound was excruciating. Whoever it was, they were damn inconsiderate.
She opened the door a few inches and peered through the crack.
A waifish looking girl stood with her hand poised in mid-air. Dark eyeliner ringed both eyes and her black leather pants clung tightly to her rail-thin body. To complete the ensemble she wore a belly shirt, an earful of studs and crimson lipstick. The girl’s nose was pierced as well and her blue-black hair was cut in a short bob with bangs across the front. Her skin was deathly pale.
Hayden hoped the girl had the wrong apartment and wasn’t seeking her out for goth girl bonding time. “Can I help you?” she asked in her iciest voice.
“Yeah, actually you can.,” the girl remarked, revealing a stud embedded in her tongue. “I’m not sure if you realize this but I work nights.”
“Okay, well, thanks for sharing,” said Hayden, preparing to close the door.
“As in all night long.” The girl gave her an intense emo stare. “As in I’d appreciate it if you kept the noise to a minimum. I don’t know what the hell’s going on over here, but about fifteen minutes ago I was sleeping when something that sounded like a bomb, or maybe more like a meteor, knocked into my living room wall and knocked three pictures onto the floor.”
In spite of herself, Hayden couldn’t help being a bit impressed by her own prowess. Damn, what a cop she would’ve made. Remembering herself, she wiped the grin off her face and made an attempt to look contrite. After all, the kid was trying to sleep. “Look, I’m sorry about that. It won’t happen again.”
“What the hell was it?” the girl persisted. “I mean, I’m up now and I’ve got to be at the club in two hours, so there’s no point to trying to go back to bed. So I’m, like, really curious as to what would cause that kind of noise?”
Hayden cast around for a plausible explanation. “I, uh, dropped something.”
The girl’s lip curled in disgust. “You dropped something.”
“That’s right.” When the girl made no move to leave, Hayden added in a rush, “It won’t happen again. Sorry.”
Before Hayden could stop her, the girl pushed past her into the darkened apartment. “Jesus, it’s dark in here,” she said, stalking over to the window in her combat boots and flinging open the curtains so that the rays of the setting sun fanned out across the hardwood floor. “Cool place though.”
Hayden raised her arms to shield her face. “Could you close those,” she asked, “please?”
The girl stared at her a minute, then did as she requested. “What’s up with the light sensitivity?”
Hayden collapsed onto the couch, utterly defeated by this strange person. “I, uh, have a condition. It’s an eye thing.”
“You should get some black lights,” the girl said, snapping on the lamp on the desk and positioning it so its light shone away from Hayden’s face. “I’ve got some extras over at my place I could give you, if you want.”
Black lights. Not a bad idea. “Thanks, that would be great.”
The girl smiled crookedly. “I’ll bring them over after I get back from work,” she said, scanning the apartment, her eyes stopping on the embedded clock. She walked over to it, reaching out and laying a hand on it.
“I wouldn’t touch that,” Hayden called out after her.
“What’s it radioactive or something?” the girl asked, covering the clock with both hands and attempting to free it from the wall.
Not too surprisingly, nothing happened. The clock was there to stay. Hayden opened her mouth to speak, closed it. What was there to say at this point?
After a minute or so, the girl stopped struggling and turned back toward Hayden. “So that’s what you dropped?
“You dropped a clock into the wall. Four feet up.”
“I already told you I dropped it. I don’t see why you’re getting so hung up on the details.”
The girl laughed. More like a snort, actually, but who could blame her? “I’m getting hung up on the details because I’m not totally getting how you managed to do that. For one thing, I’m not seeing any ladders around here. For another, you’re what, five eight? And nobody ‘drops’ a fucking clock so hard it knocks the pictures off the wall in the next apartment.”
“I’m stronger than I look.”
“No shit, Sherlock.”
Hayden sighed. This wasn’t going well. She didn’t want the girl blabbing about it to everybody, but that was probably what would happen. So much for contact with the outside world. “Look, I think you should go,” she said. “Now that you’ve, er, explained your sleeping schedule I’ll be careful not to drop anything into the wall during the day. Okay?”
The girl smiled.
She smiled back.
Hayden wasn’t sure who cracked first, only knew that a few seconds later both of them were laughing like hell. After a few minutes, she managed to get herself under control.
“I’m Hayden,” she said. “Hayden Farrell.”
“I’m Hayden,” she said. “Hayden Farrell.”
“Amber,” said the girl. “Amber Parker.”
“That seems like a pretty ordinary name.”
“You were expecting something more exotic?”
“Yeah. Kind of.”
“Well, right back at ya,” said Amber. “And I’m not totally convinced if I open your fridge I won’t find a stash of blood or something.”
“Be my guest,” Hayden said. “I’ll pour you a shot.”
Amber walked over to the chair across from Hayden and sat down. “Nice bluff,” she said. “But I won’t call you on it. One step at a time. We’ve all got our little secrets. I’ll let you keep yours, for now.”
“Right back at ya.” Hayden wasn’t sure if Amber was playing some elaborate game or if she actually believed what she was implying. Ever since she’d gotten to New Orleans, everything had struck her as bizarre. Goes with the territory, she supposed, remembering her own odd childhood. “But I do have some work to get done, so if you don’t mind—“
Amber leaned back in the chair and crossed one leather-clad leg over the other. “What work?”
“I’m a private investigator,” she said quickly. “I’m starting my own business.”
“Looks like it’s booming.”
“You gotta start somewhere.”
Amber jiggled her combat boot a few seconds then met Hayden’s glance. In the dim light, she looked like more of a vampire than Hayden. “So why are you really here?”
“Why am I—“ she repeated, unsure how to answer. Who was this strange creature who’d barged into her apartment and was now sitting in her living room as if she belonged there? “How old are you, anyway?”
Hayden didn't respond.
“Okay, eighteen. I’ll be nineteen in two months. I don’t usually tell people my age because I don’t want people snooping around asking questions.”
“Okay, seventeen,” Amber said dismissively. “Whatever."
“Seventeen seems a bit young to be on your own,” Hayden said, feeling a little too much like a mom for her taste. Still, it was young.
Amber shrugged. “It’s old enough. Fake ID’s go a long way. I was in a foster home—I’ve been bounced around since I was six years old—and I decided I’d be better off on my own. I was working nights there too, if you catch my meaning.”
“I catch your meaning,” she said carefully. For the first time in their conversation, Hayden sensed vulnerability. She wondered what had happened to her parents but forced herself not to ask the question. She was too involved already as it was. Even worse, she was feeling altogether too caught up in Amber’s story—if she didn’t know better she’d say she was hormonal. Did vampires even have hormones?
“You still haven’t answered my question.”
“I told you,” Hayden said. “I’m starting a business.”
“But that’s not why you’re here.”
Amber raised an eyebrow. “So?”
She hesitated. In for a penny, in a for a pound. “I came to find my mother.”
Amber jiggled her boot a few times—Hayden guessed she was going to be seeing a lot of that—and seemed to consider this new information. “Have you?”
“Found her? No.”
“There’s no trace of her. I’ve googled her, of course, and tried a few other ways to track her down, but nothing panned out. She seems to have vanished without a trace.” For some reason, it felt good to say it out loud.
Amber’s dark eyes sparked. Apparently such mysteries interested her. “When’s the last time you talked to her?”
“Three years ago,” said Hayden. If she hadn’t been a vampire, her face would have reddened. She hadn’t meant for so much time to pass without any contact, but somehow it had. “Maybe four.”
“That’s a long time.”
“Have you gone to her last address?”
“Of course,” Hayden said testily. “There was a couple living there. Nobody in the neighborhood knew anything about her. Nobody even remembered her.”
“Total dead end.”
Hayden nodded. “Total dead end.”
“What about the first place?”
“The first place?”
“The first place you lived. You said you grew up here. Maybe somebody there knows something—maybe she kept in touch, or left something behind that could help you find her. It always happens like that in movies.”
She sighed. “This isn’t a movie, Amber.”
“You got any better ideas?”
She didn’t. Which made it all the more frustrating. She was a cop, not some Nancy Drew wannabe with an addiction to blood. “It seems like a long shot. It’s been almost ten years since we lived there. If nobody remembered her at the last place she lived, it seems pretty unlikely somebody there will know anything.”
“There could be something in the apartment. Like a clue or something. See if you can get whoever it is to let you look around inside.
Yeah, that was going to go really well. Hi, I’m Hayden Farrell, vampire. Can I snoop around your apartment for a couple of hours?
“Okay,” she heard herself saying. “I’ll give it a try.”
“Okay,” she heard herself saying. “I’ll give it a try.”
Amber nodded her approval. “I’ll be back after work with the lights.” She rose out of the chair and headed for the door. “You can give me the update then.”
“Sure,” said Hayden. “See you later.”
“Don’t forget to check with whoever lives in the apartment downstairs,” Amber stopped in the doorway and leveled her with a knowing look. “The downstairs neighbor always knows shit.”
“I won’t forget.”
Amber closed the door with a resounding slam that echoed through the apartment.
Hayden listened to the clomp of boots fading down the hallway. Her new partner was a teen-age runaway with a penchant for leather and a tongue-piercing. What could possibly go wrong?