PARIS AFTER DARK CHAPTERS 1-3
Rachel Chang pinched the cigarette between her lips and reached into her pocket for her lighter. Five years of being nicotine free was about to go up in smoke, if she could just get this damn thing to light. She flicked the Zippo, brought the flame to the tip and inhaled, then proceeded to choke. Eyes watering, Rachel flicked the cigarette onto the sidewalk and stubbed it out with her toe as a high-pitched scream pierced the night.
One hand moved to where her weapon should be, while the other automatically reached for the St. Michael medal dangling from a chain around her neck. For a moment Rachel saw her partner lying in a puddle of blood. He looked up at her.
“Why didn’t you help me?” he gasped, then dragged himself toward her. His body scraped across the pavement, leaving a crimson trail behind. “You should’ve been the one to die that day. Not me.” He glared at her through eyes as black as tar pits.
Rachel’s heart thundered in her chest and her vision swam. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “It’s not real. You’re not real.” The panic attack eased and she opened her eyes once more. This wasn’t New York. And this wasn’t her problem. Let someone else clean up the mess for a change.
A second scream followed the first, then ended abruptly. There could be a lot of reasons for that—none of them good. Rachel remained immobile while her conscience called her every foul name in the book. Unfortunately, the voice in her head wasn’t loud enough to drown out the struggle she could hear taking place on the dimly lit road off Boulevard Raspail. She swore, then headed in the direction of the sound.
“You have no authority here. You don’t even speak French. Let the Parisian police handle it,” Rachel muttered under her breath as she came upon a dark-haired man grappling with a woman. Rachel couldn’t see her face, but the black scarf around her head loosened and fell to the ground, exposing long blonde hair. The woman’s thin pale arms flailed as she beat at the man’s broad shoulders with her clenched fists.
The man wasn’t striking her back, but he held the woman tight to deflect her blows. If she was hurting him, he didn’t show it. He seemed too focused on what he was doing to notice.
At first glance, it looked like a typical domestic dispute. Only a fool got in the middle of those. They were more dangerous than a gang shootout. Victims often turned on their rescuers. Rachel had been foolish once and it had cost her dearly. Never again. She shoved her hands in her pockets and kept walking. Her booted feet thudded on the sidewalk as she continued on.
She passed the street and saw a sign for the Cimetiere du Montparnasse affixed to a high gray brick wall. No matter where she wandered death followed. Rachel glanced at the sky. With all the lights in Paris, it was hard to see the stars. “Trying to tell me something, partner?”
The blood roared in her ears as she waited for some kind of sign—anything that would let her know that he was still around. Of course Paul didn’t answer. No one did. Like the residents of the fancy French cemetery, he was dead, his body rotting in a grave back in New York. All that was left were her memories of the man who’d saved her ass more times than she could remember, and the St. Michael medal around her neck.
The patron saint must have been on a coffee break the day her partner caught a bullet in the chest—a bullet that was meant for her. Rachel felt like that bullet had been chasing her ever since. She rubbed the spot over her heart, but the ache refused to fade.
Rachel glanced at the cemetery wall once more, then asked herself what Paul would do. The answer was obvious. She cursed long and hard, then tromped back to the mouth of the street. This was a bad idea. Her gun and NYPD badge currently resided an ocean away inside her Captain’s desk. She’d have to count on the man fleeing when she confronted him. As plans went, it sucked. Rachel ran the odds of that occurring in her head mumbled a fresh string of expletives.
The woman no longer struggled and now hung loosely in the man’s arms. Had he struck her after she left? Rachel hated bullies. Hated people who thought their size gave them free reign to do as they pleased.
“Hey buddy,” she shouted, making sure she used her cop voice.
The dark-haired man didn’t acknowledge her, but Rachel saw his broad shoulders tense.
“Yeah, I’m talking to you. Parlez-vous...Anglais?” Did it matter if he spoke English? Not really. Some things were universal. “Let the woman go,” Rachel ordered, wishing she’d paid attention to the French CD’s she’d checked out of the library.
The man slowly turned to look at her.
Rachel caught a glimpse of shimmering green eyes. The color was so unnatural it couldn’t possibly be found outside the animal kingdom. Had to be contact lenses. It was the only thing that made sense. But it wasn’t his eyes that held her in place. It was his teeth—his long, very sharp, very bloody teeth.
She reeled back. What kind of freak was she dealing with here?
Rachel watched the blood drip down his chin onto his dark suit before he stepped back into the shadows, dragging the woman with him. What in the hell had he been doing to her? When she’d walked by earlier it had looked like the woman was the aggressor. She’d been wrong...again.
How many people had to die for her to get it right?
She automatically catalogued the scene, so she could give her statement to the police later. Rachel could see the man moving around in the shadows, but couldn’t tell what he was doing. “Come out with your hands up!” she shouted.
He stepped into the pale yellow pool of light coming from the lamppost. The woman was still in his arms. Her blonde hair shrouded her face as he slowly released her. She slumped to the ground like discarded rags. Rachel couldn’t tell if she was breathing. She couldn’t afford to take her eyes off the perp. The man grinned, flashing those macabre, blood-covered teeth. His attention was now riveted on her.
She tried to get a good look at his face, but the shadows kept shifting. Rachel knew the fact she was a petite Chinese-American woman made her look like an easy target, but her size was deceptive.
“The police are on their way.” She pointed to the sidewalk. “Get down on the ground.”
If the dark-haired man understood her, he didn’t let on. He kept approaching at a steady pace. He was almost at the mouth of the side street. She should be able to see his face by now, but the shadows seemed to follow him, obscuring his pale features. It struck her as odd, but ultimately it didn’t matter. Rachel was sure she could identify him from his eyes alone, although they didn’t seem as bright as they’d been moments ago. Must’ve been a trick of the light.
“Stay back,” she said. “This is your last warning.” Rachel held her hands up like her Krav Maga instructor taught her to do. It looked like a defensive posture. It wasn’t.
The man smiled, giving her an up close and personal look at his nasty mouth. He had abnormally long incisors that ended in jagged points. A chill snaked down her spine. He used his blood-covered tongue to caress his teeth as he closed the distance between them.
Give an asshole prosthetic fangs and a dose of bath salts, and he thinks he’s a fucking vampire.
Rachel took a step back. She didn’t dare look over her shoulder. He’d be on her before she could make it twenty yards. She needed to draw someone’s attention. Someone who’d call the police. The man must’ve read her mind because in a blink he went from ten feet away to in her face.
She didn’t have time to scream. He slammed into her, lifting her off the ground. Rachel flew through the air and hit the high wall surrounding the cemetery. The air rushed out of her lungs with a loud whoosh as pain radiated through her body. She slid down the wall and landed with a sickening thud.
Rachel blinked to clear her vision. The perp growled low in his throat as he approached. When he was within arms length, his coppery breath fanned out over her face, gagging her. The shadows still obscured his features. She brushed at them, but they refused to move. Logic told her it wasn’t possible. What in the hell was he?
You probably just hit your head too hard. Yeah, that made sense. He’d rung her bell pretty good.
The guttural sounds grew louder.
Instinct made Rachel throw her hand up a second before he attacked. The man’s teeth clamped onto her forearm like a pit-bull. Her leather jacket ripped. He tore through the thick material as if it were made of butterfly wings. His sharp incisors punctured her skin. The excruciating pain snapped her out of her initial shock.
Rachel drove her palm into her attacker’s nose and heard something crunch, then saw blood splatter across his face. He reeled back in shock. She wasn’t sure who was more surprised. Her hand came away covered in crimson. Rachel swung at him again, but her blood-slick palm only grazed his cheek.
Fury filled his glowing green eyes and he attacked again. The grip he had on her arm tightened and he shook his head, shredding muscle. The human pit-bull was going to break her arm, if she didn’t get him to release her.
Rachel slammed his nose as hard as she could, spilling more blood. He grabbed her arm, while his other hand latched onto her throat and began to squeeze. She gasped, then choked. Blood roared in her ears and black spots appeared before her eyes. He was going to kill her. She fought harder.
It was one thing to contemplate taking her own life. It was quite another to have him take it from her. He didn’t have the right. No one did. Rachel thrust her hips forward and kneed his groin. He grunted and released her arm, but the hand around her throat remained.
She tried to break the grip on her neck, using every technique she’d been taught, but nothing worked. Rachel hit him until her palm hurt, then hit him some more. His nose was now bent at an odd angle and made a strange whistling snort every time he inhaled. She reached for his fingers and began prying them off one at a time. A small sliver of air passed through to her burning lungs. He tightened his hold. The chain on her neck sliced her skin, then Rachel felt the links snap.
“Fuck you,” she grit out.
He didn’t respond to her curse. Instead, his head whipped around. He stared into the darkness, his gaze searching the shadows. Beyond the dark side street, the lights of Paris twinkled. One second he was strangling her and trying to rip her arm off, the next, he ran...taking her broken St. Michael medal with him.
“No!” She cried out in anguish, grasping for what was no longer there. “Give it back.” Pain knifed through her heart and Rachel dropped to her knees. She coughed and cried as she gulped air into her lungs. Her neck felt naked without the comforting weight of the medallion. When he’d ripped it off her, it felt as if he’d ripped away her last connection to Paul, too.
Her forearm burned like he’d doused it with acid. She clutched her injured limb, then glanced at the woman lying on the ground. She didn’t appear to be breathing. Rachel crawled to her and felt for a pulse. There wasn’t one.
She forced herself to her feet and stumbled to the corner. The perp ran down Boulevard Raspail and ducked into a darkened area. He hadn’t gone far. If he got away he’d be back on the streets in a few days to do the same thing to another woman.
Rachel scrambled down the sidewalk. She gave a quick glance at the oncoming traffic and rushed across the road. Horns blared as the Parisian drivers narrowly missed her. No one braked or gave her a second glance.
She pushed on until she reached what looked like a small park. Rachel kept to the shadows. She couldn’t afford to let him catch her off guard. He’d done it once and it had nearly killed her. As her eyes adjusted to the dark, she saw a tall wrought iron fence running alongside a small green gothic-looking building that resembled an ornate garden shed.
The wrought iron ended at a small gate, which squeaked in the cool evening breeze. A short nose of an entrance poked out the front of the building. Metal mesh covered the front door. Or at least it had. The mesh had been ripped away. Rachel glanced down and saw a lock lying on the ground. It had been smashed. She hadn’t seen a weapon on him—with those teeth he didn’t need one. Yet he’d obviously been carrying something, unless he’d suddenly become a character out of a James Bond film.
Rachel knew she should call the police. It was the sensible thing to do. But by the time she found the number and someone who could understand her broken French, the killer would be long gone and so would Paul’s necklace. She couldn’t allow that to happen, even if all she managed to do was find his hiding place. Despite what the department shrinks thought, she didn’t have a death wish...most days.
She pushed the gate open. The metal screeched, announcing her arrival. He’d have to be deaf not to have heard her. Rachel cringed, but kept going until she could squeeze through. The light over the sign above the building had been smashed. Broken bits of bulb crunched under her boots.
The main door was open a crack just enough for her to see the darkness beyond. Rachel turned back and grabbed the mangled lock. It wasn’t a perfect weapon, but at least it would aid her punches. Maybe she could knock out his expensive dental work this time. He wouldn’t be so tough without the fangs.
Rachel walked back to the door and inched it open. She tilted her head and listened. She could hear the soft fall of footsteps growing fainter by the second. He was getting away. She took a breath and stepped through the opening. The door slid shut behind her, extinguishing what little light had been cast.
She pulled out her lighter and flicked it on. A closed door stood to the left. A tiny archway that opened into a crude office, which lay empty except for a lone chair, flanked the door. Rachel raised the lighter and spotted a ramp, leading off to her right. There didn’t appear to be anywhere else he could’ve gone.
She shored up her courage and followed. Rachel stepped lightly, praying the sound wouldn’t carry. She could barely hear his footsteps now. Soon she’d lose him completely. The ramp ended abruptly at a set of winding stairs. Rachel couldn’t see the bottom.
What in the hell was this place?
She moved her head. Her neck stung, reminding her once more why she was here. Rachel flipped the lighter closed and began a slow, steady descent. Every twenty or so stairs she’d stop and listen. She couldn’t hear his footsteps any longer, only the steady drip of water pinging off rock. The air had gone from fresh to stale. It reminded Rachel of the time her friends had dragged her to Howe Caverns in Upstate New York. But this wasn’t a cave. They were in the heart of Paris. So where was he leading her? The sewers?
Rachel was about to call it quits and turn around, when the stairs ended abruptly. She couldn’t hear anything over her pounding heart, but the steady drip, drip, drip of the water. Did she dare use her lighter again? What if he was waiting in the shadows? Did she really have a choice? You’ve come this far. No going back now.Rachel flicked on the lighter.
The mouth of a pitch-black tunnel greeted her. She slowly turned in a circle, but the room was empty. The fact that she was alone should’ve been a relief, but it wasn’t. The tunnel appeared to be the only way to go unless she wanted to climb the hundred or so stairs she’d just come down. Then what? She’d still be in the same situation she was in a moment ago. The killer had something of hers. Something Rachel wasn’t willing or able to let go of just yet.
She stared into the dark tunnel unable to see more than a few feet. The blackness seemed to swallow the light. If she hadn’t been claustrophobic before, she would be now. Rachel couldn’t stretch her arms out without hitting rock walls. The narrow corridor had a low ceiling and loose gravel floor. The man would’ve had to hunch over to walk through it.
The place seemed to press in around her as Rachel walked down the tunnel. The slight slope told her she was going even deeper underground. It was impossible to be quiet with gravel beneath her feet, so she kept the lighter on. This was the weirdest sewer system she’d ever seen.
Rachel stopped every few yards to listen. It was hard to hear anything with her mind playing tricks on her. The sound of dripping water grew louder and the tunnel eventually opened into a larger chamber. A dark doorway stood on the far side of the room. She checked the area, then walked over to the door. The sign above it was written in French.
‘Arrete! C’est ici l‘empire de la mort.’
It was easy enough to translate: Stop! This is the empire of the dead.
“Wonderful,” she murmured, half expecting someone to cue horror music.
Rachel hesitated for a second. Was this worth risking her life over? Her partner’s face flashed in her mind. She stepped through the archway and came face to face with…a wall of skeletal remains.
The bones rose from the floor and stood over ten feet. Twelve inches was all that separated them from the ceiling. Faces of people who’d lived long ago stared at her from empty eye sockets, their bones neatly arranged in macabre designs. There were thousands of them. Thousands of bodies that had been culled from the cemeteries around Paris and piled like kindling. Realization dawned. She knew where she was. The freak had lured her into the catacombs.
Suddenly the room was too warm. Rachel pulled at the front of her jacket, as her heart slammed into her ribs. There were miles and miles of bone-filled tunnels down here. According to the brochures she’d picked up in the airport, the place was such a maze that people routinely got lost and died.
No one would hear her scream this far below the surface. And even if they did, they’d never be able to find her. So much for discovering his hiding place and reporting it to the police. She had to get out of here.
Rachel took a step back—and slammed into a hard male body. It was impossible. He couldn’t have gotten behind her. There was nowhere he could’ve hidden. She couldn’t breathe. For a moment, fear kept her paralyzed, then panic set in. She opened her mouth to scream. A large pale hand covered her lips before Rachel could draw breath. Her lighter burnt her fingers and she dropped it, plunging them into darkness.
She elbowed the man and tried to smash his nose with her head, but only succeeded in hitting his chest. Rachel braced, expecting a fist to the face. The man made no attempt to strike her. Why should he? He had her right where he wanted her.
A warm breath brushed her neck. His jagged teeth flashed in her mind. He was going to bite her just like he’d bitten the woman and there wasn’t a damn thing she could do to stop him.
“No.” The plea came out garbled behind his hand, but Rachel knew he understood. “Don’t.” She jerked her head and only succeeded in hurting herself.
“Stop fighting,” he hissed, tightening his grip.
Her breath rushed past his long fingers and Rachel did the only thing she could. She bit him.
“Ow, stop that!” He pressed his face closer.
Rachel tensed and began to tremble as she waited to feel the slice of those fake fangs on her flesh. The pain never came. Heat from the body holding her began to sink into her bones. A moment later firm lips brushed her earlobe and she quivered.
What was he playing at?
Nuzzling her hair, he inhaled. “American. Figures,” he said with distaste in a low French accent. “If you are here to explore the catacombs at night, then you must have a death wish, mademoiselle.”
“You’re trespassing.” Gabriel Dumont ignored the smell of wild flowers coming from the woman’s hair. Sheer will alone kept him from burying his nose in her dark tresses once more. Instead, Gabriel released her.
The woman scurried away, but didn’t go too far, which meant she had some commonsense.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a flashlight. Not that he needed it to see, but he had no doubt she did. “The catacombs are closed. You want to tell me what you’re doing down here?”
“Are you the police?”
“No,” he said.
Her soft Asian eyes narrowed as she carefully took in his appearance. The woman wasn’t as young as he’d initially thought. Mid thirties if he had to guess. The press of her warm lithe body had thrown him off, but he was glad to be wrong. Time seasoned a woman. Made her more interesting and far more beautiful in his opinion. Though time had little meaning to creatures such as himself. Gabriel kept still. He attempted to look harmless, when he was anything but.
She opened her mouth to reply, but stopped. He could tell by her expression that she was trying to come up with a plausible story for her presence. Smart and beautiful. Was she simply a tourist trying to sneak in to the catacombs after dark? There were plenty who tried and succeeded. Not all got out to tell of their adventures.
“Do you work here?” she asked, attempting to commandeer the conversation.
This was a woman used to being in charge. Gabriel’s lips quirked. “Why else would I be here?”
Her mouth thinned.
She didn’t like his answer. Well too bad. He couldn’t tell her the truth. He couldn’t tell her that this was the entrance to the Otherworld. Her human brain wouldn’t accept it.
“I was attacked by a man. He came down here.” She ran a trembling hand through her hair.
“And you followed him?” Gabriel corrected his earlier assessment of her. The woman was clearly insane. Only an insane person would pursue their attacker into the catacombs.
“He took something of mine,” she said softly. “I want it back.” She glanced around, her gaze hopping from skull to skull. “Did you happen to see anyone else down here? Did anyone pass you?”
“No.” He shook his head. “Only you.” It was the truth. He’d seen no one but her.
Had someone come down here without his knowledge? He’d have known if a human entered the catacombs. He would’ve smelled them like he’d smelled her. The only thing he’d detected in the last hour was his own kind. Surely she hadn’t chased a Sang. Their kind rarely stooped to thievery. Either she was lying or there was more going on here. He’d find out the truth soon enough.
Gabriel watched her closely. She didn’t miss much. He rarely met humans who paid attention to their surroundings. “What did he take, Miss? Miss?”
“Rachel Chang. And you are?” she asked, sidestepping part of his question.
She was good at changing conversational direction. He’d give her that. “My name is Gabriel Dumont.”
“Can I see your eyes, Mr. Dumont?” she asked, taking another step back.
Gabriel blinked at her question. Why did she want to see his eyes? He slowly raised the flashlight beam to his face.
“They’re blue,” Rachel said, then visibly relaxed.
He frowned. “I know. Is that a problem?”
She waved the question away. “I need to notify the police. There’s been a murder.”
This time his eyes narrowed. “I thought you said you were attacked and robbed.”
“I was,” she said. “The man who attacked me killed a woman.”
Gabriel ran a hand over his face. So much for spending a quiet evening at home. “Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?”
She groaned in frustration. “We don’t have time. All this talk has allowed him to get away. We have to get back to the scene of the crime.”
Gabriel’s jaw clenched. “At least tell me what he took.”
“My St. Michael medal.”
That hadn’t been the answer Gabriel expected. He’d thought for sure she was going to say a diamond ring or a Rolex watch. Why was a worthless trinket so important to her? What wasn’t she telling him? “St. Michael medals are easy to obtain. Allow me to get you another.”
“Thanks, but I’m only interested in getting mine back.” Rachel forced herself to concentrate on finding the quickest way out of the catacombs. The place was a maze. It twisted and turned, snaking back on itself like a coiled serpent. In the dark, everything looked menacing, including her savior.
She was sure Gabriel hadn’t been the man who’d attacked her, but she couldn’t shake her unease. She rolled her shoulders, but the sensation of being watched didn’t go away. The killer was nearby. Maybe he was waiting for an opportunity to attack Gabriel. She wasn’t going to be responsible for another death tonight.
“Can we go?” she asked.
“Right this way, madam.” He motioned for her to go ahead of him.
She lifted her chin. “After you.”
His lips quirked and he gave her a slight nod. “Very well.” He handed her the flashlight.
“What’s this for?”
“You need it more than I do,” he said.
He led her through the catacombs straight to the stairs.
“I don’t suppose there’s an elevator?” she asked.
“Americans have the most interesting sense of humor,” he said, then started up the stairs.
Rachel shined the light in front of her. She couldn’t help but notice the play of muscles in Gabriel’s thighs as he climbed. His broad shoulders filled the entire space between the wall and the railing. And she got an eyeful of cute butt, when he stopped to make sure she was still behind him.
“Keep moving,” she snapped to hide what she’d been doing.
The look he shot her told her that he wasn’t fooled.
Rachel was huffing by the time they reached street level. She hadn’t smoked in years, but her lungs still hadn’t forgiven her. She looked at Gabriel. He wasn’t sweating. He wasn’t even out of breath. Maybe he was used to the climb, since he worked down there. She stared at him, trying to get a better look at him now that they were under a streetlight.
Gabriel’s raven-colored hair framed a boxer’s face. His features were several fights past handsome, but strangely intriguing. Lines bracketed his blue eyes, but she couldn’t gauge his age. Rachel craned her neck. He was taller than her assailant, well over six feet. She couldn’t help but notice how nicely his broad shoulders filled out his jacket. Under different circumstances, she might be interested in pursuing him, but now wasn’t the time or the place. She tore her gaze away, when he caught her looking.
“It’s this way.” Rachel led him to the side street where she’d last seen the body. “She’s right over…” The woman had vanished. All trace of her was gone.
Rachel pointed the flashlight at the sidewalk. The pavement glistened with moisture, but there wasn’t any sign of blood. She crouched down, ran her hand over the sidewalk, and looked at her fingers. They were wet. Had someone cleaned it?
She searched the bushes and behind the trees, then along the cemetery wall. The woman had been lying in the middle of the sidewalk where the man dropped her. Maybe she’d been further along the street than she had realized. Rachel continued down the road, then stopped.
“Where is she?” Gabriel crossed his arms over his chest.
“She should be right here. I don’t understand.” Rachel scanned the shadows. Nothing moved and nothing stood out.
Gabriel glanced up and down the street. “Are you sure she was dead?”
Rachel glowered at him. “Positive. I checked her pulse. No one can lose that much blood and just get up and walk away.”
“Maybe someone reported the incident and they’ve already picked her up,” he suggested.
“I’m not sure how the Parisian police work, but back in New York we don’t clean up a crime scene this fast,” she said. “Where’s the tape? Where are the homicide detectives? Someone should still be here canvassing the neighborhood for witnesses.”
Gabriel stiffened. “Are you with the police?”
“I’m a homicide detective,” she said absently.
He inhaled again. “Have you been drinking, detective?”
Rachel tensed. She didn’t like his tone. “I had a few flutes of champagne with dinner, but I know what I saw.”
“Is this perhaps an elaborate ruse to get out of a trespassing charge?” Gabriel asked.
Her almond-shaped eyes narrowed to glittering slits. What was it with the Parisians? Were they deaf or did they just ignore everything a tourist said? “Listen, if you don’t believe me that’s fine. Just point me in the direction of the nearest police station so I can report the incident.”
“Okay.” Gabriel reached for her arm to turn her toward the station.
She winced when he touched her.
He instantly released her. “Are you injured?”
“I’ll live,” Rachel said, sounding irritated. “This isn’t the first psycho who’s bit me. Doubt it’ll be the last. Though this is the first one who thought he was a friggin’ vampire.” She snorted. “He had to be drugged out of his mind to be able to rip through my leather jacket.” She shook out her arm, but it did little to ease the pain.
Gabriel maintained a placid expression, but his gut churned with tension. She’d actually used the term vampyre to describe her assailant. Could this be the same man the Trackers had been hunting for months? He’d never let anyone live before. Was Rachel the first? It seemed unlikely, but what other explanation was there?
There was only one way to know for sure if Rachel had been bitten by a vampyre. “May I see the wound?” he asked.
She shrugged and unbuttoned her coat. The second she slipped the leather off, the scent of blood filled the air. Gabriel swallowed hard. His nostrils flared to draw in the delicious fragrance. Merde!He carefully examined the wound and hoped she didn’t feel his hands tremble.
“That looks bad. You’re going to need stitches.” He fought the urge to lick her arm from wrist to elbow.
Rachel glanced down. “It’ll wait.”
“You really should get that seen to.” He looked away as his mouth began to water. The damage certainly looked like something a vampyre could do, although it was in an odd location. Most vampyres preferred to feed from softer tissue. Neck, breast, and inner thighs were the preferred locations, but in a push inside the upper arm would do. But this wasn’t on her upper arm. It was on her forearm. There was no reason to bite someone there. Maybe a dog had attacked her? That made more sense than a vampyre. “We really should get you to a doctor.”
“Police station first. Hospital second.”
He found her stubbornness oddly alluring. At least he did until they climbed into the taxi. Being confined in a taxi, surrounded by the smell of blood, had driven Gabriel nearly mad with the desire to feed. By the time they reached the police station, he’d nearly leapt out of the vehicle while it was still moving.
Without a body to back her claims, Rachel was just another tipsy tourist who’d been mugged. The police would take a report, check out the scene, then it would be filed away never to be seen again.
Rachel came out of the station two hours later, cursing under her breath and scowling. When Gabriel stepped out of the shadows, she startled and clutched her chest.
“Stop sneaking up on me.” She glared at him.
“I wasn’t sneaking,” he said. “How did it go?”
“Just peachy. Can’t you tell? They’re going to contact my captain in New York. That should be an interesting conversation.” She muttered something unintelligible about stupid men under her breath, then looked around in confusion. “What are you still doing here?”
He held up his hands in defense. “Nothing nefarious I assure you. I believe I said you needed to go to the hospital to get that wound cleaned and stitched. I’m here to take you.” He gave her a gallant bow.
Despite his easy charm, there was something off about Gabriel. It wasn’t how he talked and behaved. He’d been nothing, but courteous. Or even how he moved. For a big man, he was incredibly light on his feet.
He’d seemed genuinely interested in the attack, not to mention showed concern for her. Rachel couldn’t pin down what was bothering her. Maybe she was shaken up more than she realized. She eyed him cautiously, debating whether to accept his offer.
Did he know something about her attacker that he wasn’t telling her? Her years on the police force told her that he knew more. More what, was the question? That’s why in the end, she acquiesced. Rachel had no idea where the nearest hospital was in Paris. She could be standing next to it and wouldn’t know it given the architecture in this town. “Lead the way.”
He grinned. The act transformed his face from weary boxer into something altogether unexpected. The change took her breath away. As he continued to stare at her, her heart jumped and her knees turned to jelly. At least Rachel knew she wasn’t dead.
Gabriel waited for the doctor to finish patching Rachel up. It didn’t take long once he found the physician he was looking for. It helped to have one of the Sanguis—the blood—on the inside. Vamp bites weren’t fatal unless a blood exchange had occurred, but the bad ones were painful and did take a long time to heal.
The doctor drew a vial of Rachel’s blood. Gabriel watched him walk into the other room and drink it. His palate was quicker than any lab test. Since Sanguis blood didn’t show up in a victim for twenty-four to forty-eight hours, he could only confirm the presence of Sanguis saliva and check for contaminants, along with diseases.
The doctor returned to the room minutes later. “You’re all set,” he said, then met Gabriel’s gaze and nodded, confirming his suspicions. She’d been bitten by a Sanguis, which lent credibility to her story.
So if that part was true, where was the other victim? He’d have to contact the other teams to see if anyone had been called out to clean up.
The doctor gave Rachel a shot to stave off infection and help with the pain, then he carefully stitched her up. With any luck, she’d be on the mend in a few weeks.
Gabriel’s phone vibrated as Rachel was being discharged.
The text contained two words: Corps trouvé.Body found.
He cursed under his breath and pocketed his phone as Rachel approached. “All set?”
She nodded and wobbled on her feet.
Gabriel grabbed her hand to steady her and awareness flared between them. The warmth of her skin scalded his fingertips and sent shockwaves through his body. He slowly released her and cleared his throat. “We’d better get you back to your hotel.”
Her soft brown eyes peered up at him and Gabriel felt his chest constrict. He could get trapped in that gaze if he wasn’t careful. The urge to touch her again made Gabriel’s hands itch, but Sanguis and human relationships were never a good idea. No matter how careful one was in the beginning, the human inevitably paid the price.
“You’ve done more than enough.” She sounded sincere. “I can find my own way home.”
“Nonsense. Let me at least call you a taxi. I don’t want your last impression of Parisian men to be that of a deranged, dentally-challenged biter.”
Rachel laughed, then tilted her chin, sending her long brown hair into her face. Gabriel reached out and brushed the downy soft strands over her shoulder. “Why are you so concerned about my impression of the men here?”
Gabriel hesitated. Anything he said would be far too revealing.
Rachel’s lips canted. “Don’t worry.” She patted him on the arm. “You’ve more than made up for the mad biter.”
He smiled, more pleased than he should be about her admission. He hiked a thumb over his shoulder. “I’d better call you that taxi. Where are you staying?”
“Hotel Luxembourg Parc.” Her voice faded with exhaustion.
“Take a seat. I’ll let you know when it arrives.” Gabriel ducked out the front of the hospital.
Rachel watched him go. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of Gabriel Dumont. On the one hand, he’d gone well out of his way to help her. It would’ve never happened had they been in New York. She could’ve been bleeding on the sidewalk and no one would’ve stopped. Maybe the French were different, but they hadn’t seemed like it at the police station.
If Gabriel had an ulterior motive for helping her, Rachel couldn’t see what it could be. She didn’t have money, the only thing stolen was her necklace, and they hadn’t been able to find the body. Despite all that, she couldn’t stop the gnawing at her gut that told her that she was missing something vital.
He popped his head in the door and smiled. The unease she’d felt seconds ago melted under that grin, morphing into something far more dangerous. Rachel didn’t have time for romantic liaisons. She needed to find the psycho who’d attacked her and get Paul’s necklace back. It was her last connection to her partner. She felt naked without its protection.
The taxi drove off with Rachel slumped in the backseat. Gabriel reached into his pocket for his phone and called his partner. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
“Hurry up or there won’t be anything left to do,” he said.
Gabriel found his partner, Claude Russo off Rue Balard leaning over the body of a young, blonde female. Her gray eyes were open and her throat had been ripped out like the other victims they’d found. A black scarf lay a few feet away from her outstretched hand.
Parc Andre was nowhere near Boulevard Raspail where Rachel had been attacked. Had she gotten confused about where she was or was this crime simply a coincidence?
“What took you so long?” Claude asked, laying out a tarp next to the body. A jug nearby contained a mixture of bleach and water.
“It’s been a hell of a night,” Gabriel said.
“Do tell.” Claude rolled the body onto the tarp. He reached for the jug and began to spray the area where the body had been lying.
“I ran into this crazy American woman down in the catacombs.”
Claude shook his head. “When will they learn it’s not smart to sneak in there after dark?”
“That’s just it, she wasn’t down there stealing bones or exploring. She claimed to have witnessed a murder over by Montparnasse Cemetery. She was chasing her attacker, when I found her.”
“Drinking makes you see things that aren’t there,” Claude said without looking at him.
“I’d have thought so, too if it wasn’t for the fact she’d been bitten by a vampyre.”
Claude’s shoulders stiffened. “Then I suppose it’s exceedingly lucky for her that she didn’t catch him.”
“Yes, it is.” Fear trickled down Gabriel’s spine at the thought of Rachel fighting a Sanguis. She was lucky she’d survived the initial attack. And even more fortunate he’d come upon her before round two.
“Help me roll her.” Claude indicated to the body.
Gabriel walked over and grabbed the edge of the tarp and slowly covered the woman, then rolled her up tight. “What do you think?” he asked.
Claude hesitated. “I think you had it pegged right. The woman is obviously crazy. Who’s to say she was even bitten by a vamp. Could’ve been a dog.” His laugh came out as a congested snort.
Gabriel looked at him. “No, it was definitely a vamp. I didn’t believe her at first, but the hospital confirmed it.”
Claude frowned. “So you found the body?” he asked.
“That’s the weird part. There wasn’t one. I mean I saw blood. Smelled it everywhere, but the bulk of it was coming from Rachel.”
Claude arched a brow. “Her name’s Rachel. Just how well did you get to know this woman?”
Gabriel tensed at the underlying implication in his tone. “Not well.”
“But you’d like to, eh amí?” he asked.
“She needed help, so I helped her.” Gabriel looked away. He wasn’t sure how he felt about Rachel. She brought out a protective side of him that he thought he’d lost long ago. And her strength and courage intrigued him. They were rare traits in a human female. Rare traits in a human, period. He didn’t know of another woman who would follow her attacker into the bowels of Paris.
“How does she taste? Good?” Claude asked, dragging his attention back to the present.
Gabriel shifted impatiently on his feet. “I wouldn’t know.”
“You didn’t bite her?” he asked, sounding surprised. “It’s always important to know how she tastes before you make her a regular donor.”
Gabriel glared. “She’s not going to be a donor. Rachel’s already been through enough between the bite and her necklace being stolen. Damn fool is determined to get it back. It obviously has sentimental meaning.”
“Is that so?” Claude murmured. “It doesn’t really matter what she wants. It’s not like she’ll be able to find the guy, when the Trackers haven’t succeeded. And they’ve been hunting him far longer.”
“Who says it’s the same guy?” Gabriel asked.
He shrugged. “It must be. No respectable Sanguis would leave a fresh one lying around without calling us for clean up.”
“True,” Gabriel said. “But he made a mistake biting this one.”
“Why is that?” Claude asked.
“She’s a New York City homicide detective,” he said. “It’s not in her nature to let things like this go.”
Claude’s head whipped around. “She’s police?”
“Oui! And I’ve seen her type. She’s determined to find her attacker.” Gabriel slipped a plastic tie around one end of the tarp. “I have to try to find the necklace for her. The sooner she leaves Paris, the better. We don’t need a credible witness running around screaming about vampyres.”
“She actually used the ‘V’ word?”
Gabriel lifted the woman’s feet as Claude tied the other end of the tarp. “Yes, but she thinks he’s a fake. She believes he’s had cosmetic dentistry. Thank God for Goths and horror movies.”
“Oui.” Claude snorted, then wheezed.
“Are you all right?” Gabriel asked.
“I accidentally inhaled some of the bleach fumes when I was mixing tonight’s batch of cleaners.” They lifted the body into Claude’s van. “Hopefully the Trackers will catch the killer soon, so your little homicide detective has nothing to do but enjoy the city lights.”
“It would certainly make our job easier,” Gabriel said. He was used to cleaning up the occasional feeding accident. It came with the job. Murder was something else. Once a Sanguis got a taste for killing, they rarely stopped until they were put down. “Let’s hurry. I want to drop by Luxembourg Parc to make sure Rachel’s okay before reporting the incident to the Sanguis High Council.”
“Sounds like you’re developing a bit of a soft spot for this mortal. Don’t you know that it’s not smart to play with your food before you devour it?”
Gabriel avoided his partner’s knowing gaze. “Vampyres don’t have soft spots, remember? They’re ripped out upon our rebirth.”
Claude’s green eyes sparkled. “Whatever you say, my friend.”
Rachel could see the woman clearly. She wore a blue sweat suit and a short black cap. The sun had faded, leaving the sky streaked with purple and gray. The trees on either side of her cast long shadows onto the path before her.
The woman’s pale skin looked nearly translucent despite the blood pumping beneath and gave off a faint musky aroma. The veins networking through her neck were a blue relief against the alabaster. She set off at a brisk pace. Her long red ponytail bobbed as she jogged.
Rachel’s stomach growled as she watched the woman run.
The woman’s skin took on a healthy pink glow.
Rachel’s stomach cramped. So hungry. She licked her cracked lips.
The woman’s scent changed.
The succulent aroma was too much to bear. She had to catch her, stop her, taste her. Nothing but the woman’s blood could quench her burning need.
Suddenly Rachel was moving. Slowly at first, then gaining speed. The distance between her and the woman closed rapidly. The bushes beside her blurred as she raced down the path. She looked at her feet. Were they even touching the ground?
The woman’s rough pants reached her ears. If she was winded, then she’d start to slow. Not that it mattered. She was faster. Rachel jogged behind her. The woman didn’t seem to notice.
A hand reached out for the woman’s red ponytail, while the other sealed her mouth to silence her. There was a flash of sharp teeth, then a muffled scream as fangs sank into the woman’s throat.
A wave of revulsion struck, but was quickly swept away by—desire. Thick, rich, and tantalizing, the taste of the blood flooded into Rachel’s mouth. She wanted more, needed more. Her body craved the completion that blood brought.
She drank deep. Savoring every drop. It was better than chocolate. Better than sex. Better than anything she’d ever experienced.
Gaze riveted on the woman’s fragile throat, Rachel watched a crimson drop makes its way over her skin. Her mouth began to water. Such a waste. The woman slumped in her arms.
The redhead’s heart thumped erratically in her chest. One thump, then three in quick succession. Two thumps. Then there was none. A loud menacing growl broke the silence. Rachel recognized the sound instantly. Her attacker was back.
Rachel jerked awake and looked around, expecting to see trees and a body. The light from the TV illuminated the carpeting and pale blue walls in her hotel room. Her suitcase was still poking out of the closet where she’d left it. A pile of clothes swallowed the only chair. There was no blood, no body. Nothing was out of place. She glanced at the time. It was nearly dawn. She hadn’t slept long, which was nothing new. She hadn’t been sleeping well since her partner died.
Her stomach rumbled and she fell back onto the bed. She was starving. Her hunger had obviously morphed her thoughts. Normally she only had bad dreams when she’d eaten spicy food, but since she’d had grilled chicken for dinner last night before her fateful stroll that option was out. Her subconscious was obviously working overtime on what she’d witnessed.
She recalled the dream. It had been so real, so graphic. She could almost taste the coppery blood in her mouth. Another wave of desire scorched her. It was just as uncomfortable as the first. Her stomach cramped and her mouth filled with bile. Rachel swallowed hard and tossed the covers off, then sprinted to the bathroom. She barely made it to the toilet before she threw up.
When nothing else would come up, Rachel gripped the sink and pulled herself to her feet. She stared at her pale complexion in the mirror. Dark circles shadowed her eyes. Rachel ran her tongue across her gritty teeth, then opened her mouth. No fangs. No blood. Nothing but blunt teeth and pink gums. The thought of blood made her stomach growl.
How could she feel anything but revulsion at the thought of drinking someone’s blood? It had to be from the bizarre facts surrounding the assault. It wasn’t everyday that one went up against someone who thought they were a vampire. She was simply reliving the trauma of last night. Seemed like the most plausible answer. There was only one thing wrong with her hypothesis. The woman in her dream wasn’t wearing a long black skirt and a purple shirt like the first victim.
“That’s what happens in dreams. The facts get turned around and mixed up,” she murmured.
Rachel turned on the tap and splashed cool water on her face. It did little to remove the haze her mind seemed shrouded in. She needed a shower, then maybe she’d be able to face the day. Rachel carefully unwound the dressing on her arm. The stench of rotting flesh greeted her and she gagged. Holy shit! She forced herself to look at the bite. Thick green pus oozed out from between the stitches. The doctor had warned her that might happen, but he hadn’t mentioned that it would reek.
Rachel dropped the dirty bandages into the trash and turned on the shower. She quickly stripped out of her clothes and stepped under the spray. The water pelted her body. She could feel every drop pierce her flesh. Instead of relief, bathing turned into an exercise of pain. She looked down half expecting to see blood. There wasn’t any, but her skin was abnormally red where the water had touched and it wasn’t due to the lukewarm temperature.
“You’re just bruised from the fight,” Rachel told herself as she made her way back under the spray, but it didn’t get any better. If anything, the sensation grew worse.
She stayed in the shower just long enough to wash her hair and rinse off. She’d never been hypersensitive before. Hell, maybe it was the water pressure in Paris, Rachel thought as she turned off the tap. She wrapped a towel around her hair and placed one around her body, then ran a hand over the fogged mirror.
At first glance, she didn’t see herself. Rachel swiped her hand again, then caught a glimpse of her face. It was faint, but she could at least make out her features. Parisian steam was obviously tougher than New York bathroom steam. She looked up at the ceiling. They really should put vents in these places.
Rachel put on her makeup the best she could, then bound her wound and got dressed. She wanted to revisit the side street where she’d been attacked. Maybe the killer had dropped something she could use to locate him. She had a far better chance of finding proof in the daylight than she did at night. He wouldn’t be the first perp stupid enough to leave a cell phone or a business card behind.
The thought that she might be stepping on Parisian law enforcement toes crossed her mind, but she quickly dismissed the concern. She was more invested in finding the culprit than they’d ever be.
She glanced at the clock to see if there was enough time to grab breakfast before she started her investigation. How could it be only six? She’d gone to bed at four in the morning, which meant she’d only managed to get in an hour of sleep. Other than the brain fog, which had now lifted—thanks to the painful shower, Rachel had never felt this rested after so little sleep.
She turned the volume up on the television and flipped it to the English language channel. The BBC anchorman announced the beginning of the evening news. That can’t be right.Rachel looked at the clock again. It was still claiming to be a.m. She walked over to the phone, picked it up, and called the front desk.
“Hello, could you please tell me what time it is?” she asked.
“But of course, madam. It is six o’ clock,” the woman said politely.
“In the evening?”
“Thank you.” Rachel’s legs trembled as she slowly hung up the phone. She ran a hand through her wet hair. “Pull yourself together,” she muttered.
She walked over to the window and threw back the curtain. So much for finding proof in the daylight. The sun was fading fast over the horizon. She stared at the Jardin du Luxembourg across the street. The park’s gates would soon be closing for the night. She was about to shut the drapes, when she noticed movement near the sidewalk.
The shadows surrounding the park shifted and a man appeared. At first, she didn’t recognize him, then Rachel watched in horror as he grinned. Even from this distance, she could see his glaring white fangs.
He held up his hand and let something drop. Light from the streetlight caught the silver chain dangling from his fingertips. It swayed gently back and forth like a pendulum. Rachel’s heart clenched. It was her St. Michael medal—Paul’s St. Michael medal. Anger quickly replaced her pain. The bastard was taunting her with the necklace, daring her to come and get it. How had he found her? The thought chilled her blood, but no answer came.
It didn’t matter. Rachel grabbed her coat and headed out the door. A mixture of excitement and trepidation raced through her. She got the same feeling every time a black and white flipped on its siren and roared through the streets of New York.
This time Gabriel wouldn’t be waiting in the dark to help her. She quickly pushed aside the pang of disappointment that thought brought and continued on. Rachel reached the front of the hotel within a minute and glanced up and down the street. No one was around. Where had he gone?
She picked a direction and ran up the road. He had to be here somewhere. He wouldn’t go to all this trouble, only to hide. He wanted her to follow. Disturbing yes, but it wouldn’t stop her. She’d be ready for him this time.
Rachel scanned the cafes and bus stops, but didn’t spot him. He couldn’t have gone far. At the most, he’d be a block ahead of her. She was glancing down a side street, trying to decide whether to head in another direction, when she collided with something hard and unyielding.
Strong arms enveloped her.
Rachel took a deep breath to scream and caught a familiar scent. She didn’t know how, but she recognized that aroma. She looked up and all thoughts of fleeing disappeared as she tumbled into Gabriel Dumont’s blue eyes.
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