RISKING ETERNITY, Chapter 1

Valentin watched Hayden Farrell from the safety of his suite in the five-star hotel across the street from the crime scene. The room was untouched except for his dark coat laid out across the bed. He hadn’t even bothered to turn on a light. Why should he? He’d checked in shortly after the murder occurred and would leave within the hour, long before the Boston P.D. detective finished what she had come to do. From the other side of the window came the sounds of the street, the distant wail of an ambulance.

A ragged group of onlookers gathered around the perimeter of the yellow police tape. It was bitterly cold outside, even for December, but it was Saturday night in downtown Boston so there were plenty of people curious enough to put their plans on hold to get a glimpse of the body. Boston Common, with its lit trees and crowded skating rink, was just a few blocks away. But on this darkened street death had struck a less festive note.

The dead prostitute lay at the center of the roped-off sidewalk, her rail-thin body curled into a fetal position. Her black, low-cut outfit and unnaturally red hair—intended, no doubt, to add years and sophistication—made her seem even more like a child. Which, he thought cynically, was exactly what she was. Or had been, until the man she’d taken for an easy mark had carved up her face then sunk his fangs into her neck and extricated every last drop of blood.

His spot behind the curtain gave him a near-perfect view of the scene and though he couldn’t clearly make out individual faces, he had seen enough of tragedy to know their expressions would be an unsettling mix of sadness and barely suppressed excitement.

They were watching her too. He was certain they couldn’t help but be impressed by her cool-headedness, the way she seemed to have been through this sort of thing before. Only he sensed that she hadn’t—that everything including the city itself was unfamiliar to her. Hayden Farrell was an outsider and that made her vulnerable, which pleased him.

He was counting on that vulnerability.

As she bent toward the man photographing the dead girl and whispered something in his ear, Valentin wondered what it was she’d tried to escape from and if she had succeeded. But his curiosity couldn’t be sated, at least not yet. She was too far beyond his ability to sense actual thoughts. All he could pick up on were her emotions and even that was surprising. Usually he couldn’t do it, not from this distance, not with someone he’d never spoken to before.

He studied Hayden closely in an effort to find something familiar about her – some overlooked detail that would reveal he had in fact known her at some point. She was slim, on the tall side, with pale blonde hair worn pulled back into a severe bun. Her clothes were simple to the point of being downright plain and she wore no jewelry. There was something tomboyish about her, the way she walked. Something cold as well.

She wasn’t his type.

Still, if he hadn’t known better he would have guessed that she was one of the undead—or even a Watcher—but that wasn’t possible. He would have picked up on any trace of that immediately. He reached into his pocket and brought out a pair of small binoculars, focusing them on her face. Delicate features, high cheekbones, porcelain skin.

She would be perfect. Or damned close to it. He wondered what color her eyes were.

It was odd nonetheless, the intensity with which he wasn’t attracted to her. Though on second thought, he supposed it did make sense. He’d lived as a vampire for more than a century but it was the years before his transformation—not the present—that seemed most real to him.

Odd, too, that at the core of Hayden’s heart was a kind of blankness. He could feel even from this distance the cool fire that fueled her intellect. Even the sight of a teen-age prostitute lying dead on the street, her face mutilated beyond recognition, hadn’t fazed the detective all that much. The fishnet stockings, black stilettos and leather mini-skirt weren’t sad for her, they were merely details to be recorded and analyzed. Upon her arrival he had sensed a flare of anger, followed by a mostly successful attempt to quell her sense of inadequacy, but that was all. Now she was all business as she oversaw the crime scene, in control, like a maestro conducting a symphony.

She was a natural.

The crowd parted to allow the ambulance to inch its way slowly forward. Its lights still flashed though the siren had been turned off. He watched as the EMTs went around toward the back and lowered the gurney onto the pavement. There was no urgency in their movements, no race against time. They were simply doing what needed to be done. Carefully, they lifted the body onto the gurney and draped a sheet over it. As they maneuvered their way back toward the ambulance the crowd fell silent. He felt it too and shuddered at the ugliness of death, its finality.

Annika’s face flashed across memory. He closed his eyes and saw her death for the thousandth time: her body sprawled lifeless across the cobblestone street, her fiery hair illuminated by the flickering of a streetlamp. He remembered how snow had swirled out of the blackness and settled lightly onto her corpse. A few drops of blood had trickled from the puncture marks on her neck, crimson against the white, and he had raised his eyes to find himself staring at Whitechapel Church. At the time it had meant nothing to him but later he realized Annika must have been running from her killer, running toward the only place she would be safe from him.

She had almost made it.

Almost, but not quite. He never understood why the obvious hadn’t occurred to the police. After all, the pieces had been right there in front of them. Even the reputable London Times had reported on the curious lack of blood at “Jack’s” crime scenes, the way the victims’ throats had been slashed, their bodies mutilated. Instead of seeing the obvious investigators had grasped at any theory that would not require them to veer too close toward the supernatural. The lack of blood, they had told reporters, was due to the fact that the victims had been strangled before death. Because the dead don’t bleed. 

Everybody knows that.

But even he hadn’t guessed. Not right away.

He pulled a chair up to the window and sat down. Down below, the ambulance was pulling away. The crowd had already begun to scatter and a few of the police officers were returning to their cars. Aside from a stray reporter who trailed an officer in hopes of getting more information, most of the press was gone. For now, the excitement was over.

Only she didn’t seem ready to leave. She stood alone at the center of the crime scene, studying the plastic markers that outlined the body as if they could tell her something. Valentin watched her a few moments longer then lowered the binoculars. He was tempted to leave the suite in order to get a closer look at the crime scene but thought better of it. He’d seen it earlier, in graphic detail, and he doubted there was anything new to be learned. The real temptation, of course, was her. To get a better look at her, to read her thoughts at close range. But he didn’t want to get too close, not yet.

Hayden Farrell definitely wasn’t his type. But he needed her. Or, to be precise, he needed to use her. And he didn’t have much time.

***

Hayden finished toweling herself dry and slipped into the red silk robe hanging on the back of her bathroom door. She gave her naked body a cursory glance in the steamy mirror as she tied the robe and ran a comb through her long, wet hair. She looked tired, pale, utterly worn out by what she had had to do earlier that night. Twenty-nine isn’t so bad, she told her reflection with significantly less enthusiasm than usual.

She would feel better after a drink and some food, she thought, trying to remember when she had last eaten. Padding down the hallway of her Beacon Hill apartment toward the walk-in kitchen, she poured herself a glass of cheap wine and switched on the small TV on the counter. It was a little before 11 o’clock, so she was just in time to hear the local news. She grabbed a package of turkey out of the fridge and began making herself a sandwich as a local newscaster informed the world about the brutal murder of a high-priced call girl whose identity had not yet been released.

She stopped what she was doing and turned toward the set, a little surprised that the station had run the death as its lead story. Probably because the girl hadn’t been the typical garden-variety type of prostitute, she concluded, wondering how many wealthy married men were watching the broadcast with more than casual interest. She waited to see whether the newscaster would say anything more. Aside from the name of the agency on the girl’s business card, which Hayden had deliberately leaked in hopes of gaining information about her identity, there was no other information.

So they hadn’t seen anything. She felt a twinge of relief.

As the newscaster moved on to the next story, she downed the rest of her wine and contemplated pouring herself a second glass but decided against it. It had been a long, tedious night and she’d gotten nowhere. The dead girl was young and, not surprisingly, had no identification on her other than an escort agency calling card with the name “Autumn Skye” embossed on it. Not her real name, she guessed, but she had expected that. Teen-age girls who engaged in illegal activity usually had enough foresight not to carry anything that would give away their true identities. Still, she had hoped for something more—a cell phone with texts from friends, or at least from a couple of the Johns who were her regular customers. Ideally, there would have been something indicating where and who she planned to meet, but a thorough search of Autumn’s body hadn’t turned up even a receipt for cigarettes. And of course the agency listed on the card claimed the girl had never worked there.

Whoever Autumn Skye was, she hadn’t had a chance. She still wasn’t sure how she had died—only the autopsy report would tell her that—but she kept going back to the two puncture wounds on the girl’s neck. The girl’s slashed face had been deathly pale, the body already cold. Cold bodies were stiff, but Autumn’s corpse had been limp as a rag doll.

Almost as if

She forced thought out of her mind. Clearly the wine had gone to her head. Because the word vampire had burned itself into her brain from the moment she had bent down over the corpse and seen the marks. She’d purposely interrupted the police photographer before he had been able to take close-ups of the girl’s scarred face and neck. Then, when he had his back turned, she arranged the girl’s hair in such a way that no one but her had seen the twin punctures on the right side of the neck.

She shouldn’t have done it and she wasn’t even sure what had driven her to do so. In fact, it was the first time in her fledgling career as a detective with the Boston P.D. that she’d done anything that wasn’t strictly by the book. If it came out that she deliberately concealed evidence she would very likely be dismissed without so much as a handshake. All she knew was that she had felt she must not allow anyone else to learn about the puncture marks.

What the hell was I thinking, she wondered as she switched off the TV. Despite the fact that she’d grown up in New Orleans—or maybe because of it—she was a Skeptic with a capital S when it came to the paranormal. Ghosts, werewolves, vampires, shape shifters and anything else “supernatural” were nothing more than scams to make money as far as she was concerned. She still felt the same rush of shame when she remembered the years of her childhood spent assisting her mother, a self-proclaimed psychic who raised “spirits” for grieving relatives in a darkened room at the back of their tiny apartment. Before she could even spell her own name she knew how to float objects using a fishing rod, how to pull on an invisible thread and fill a room with the eerie whine of a violin.

Destiny Farrell made sure of that.

She pushed the memories of her mother out of her mind. Wherever Destiny was, Hayden didn’t doubt she was still ripping off anybody gullible enough to pay her a few bucks. As for Autumn Skye, whatever pierced her neck but she did know it damn well wasn’t vampire fangs. It occurred to her that maybe the wounds weren’t even related to the death—that the only “evidence” she had tampered with was evidence relating some weird sexual game the girl had been a part of when she was doing business earlier that night. For some reason, that possibility was very appealing.

Because there was one thing that had been bothering her all evening. When she prevented the photographer from seeing the girl’s neck she’d felt almost as if she weren’t acting of her own free will. The hand that reached down to cover the wounds with the girl’s long badly dyed hair had seemed to do so on its own, as if some greater force had momentarily overpowered her. At one point the feeling had grown so strong that she raised her gaze to the hotel across the street and scanned the windows. There had been a glint of light. Binoculars?

The memory sent a stab of fear through her that was sharp enough to kick her logical side into high gear. Certainly there would have been someone watching. There had been lots of people watching. Wouldn’t it be only natural for some overly zealous tourist to be standing at his window training a pair of binoculars on the dead girl?

Only they hadn’t been focused on the dead girl. They had been focused on her. She couldn’t say why she felt—knew—that. But she did. The word why formed in her mind.

Why her?

She almost laughed out loud. God, she really was tired, if she was getting this paranoid her first night on the case. Definitely time for bed. She cleaned up her few dishes and turned off the lights. She was about to return to her bedroom when something made her hesitate.

Hayden walked over to the large bay window that offered a glimpse of the Boston skyline. It wasn’t her skyline, not yet—the pull of New Orleans was still stronger than the allure of the wintry city—but it was beautiful. Lowering her gaze to the street below, she assured herself that nothing was amiss. The neighborhood was quiet, empty.

So why did she have the impression she was being watched?

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