Dead-tective Box Set: Vampire Mystery Romance - Mac Flynn - ebook
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The entire Dead-tective series in one complete package! Over 500 pages of paranormal vampire romance and mystery!There are those who hunt the night, and then there’s Liz Stokes. She’s a normal woman with an abnormal roommate until he up and gets himself murdered. Now she’s inherited his unique ring and even more unique business partner, and the world of the paranormal is sprung on her like a surprise birthday party nobody wants. Together the pair find out that they don’t like each other. A lot. The catch? They can’t kill each other or the survivor will die, too.Now Liz has to navigate this new and frightening world while dealing with her equally new and frightening companion. It’s a mad chase with mad scientists, men in black, and cop werewolves who want to take more than a bite out of crime.

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Dead-tective BoxSet

Vampire Mystery Romance

Mac Flynn

Copyright © 2017 by Mac Flynn

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

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Contents

Vampire Dead-tective

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Cult Following

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Ways of Witches

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Ghost of A Chance

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Alchemist Enigma

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Continue the adventure

Other series by Mac Flynn

1

We weren’t really a thing. Well, at least not usually. We were just really good friends with the occasional benefits. That’s why we shared an apartment, but not a life. That is, until he was killed. Actually, that’s not true. He wasn’t killed, he was murdered.

But let me start from the top. My name is Liz Stokes, and I was a normal office girl working at a normal day job that normally paid the bills. The only weird part about my life was my roommate for my normal apartment. His name was Timothy Hamilton, and he was, well, eccentric. We stumbled into each other one autumn’s evening five years ago. I was taking a walk, he was laying in some bushes with so many bruises over his body he looked like Barney the Dinosaur. I don’t like watching stupid animals suffer, so I helped him back to my apartment and like most strays he stayed there.

That’s how I learned how weird were his habits. Timothy was a night owl who dragged himself in at early hours of the morning and often collapsed on the couch. That was where I usually found him, if I found him at all. Sometimes he would leave for a few days and come back to crash for a few more days. Other times he would be awake at all hours of the day thanks to a gallon of coffee and superhuman perseverance. I’m sure you’re asking why he had such strange hours, and that was because of his job. He told me he was a kind of consultant, and when I found him he’d just had some bad luck in a mediation. That was how he was able to pay for his half of the apartment rent. I suggested a change of occupation, but he argued that he’d been doing it for so long he didn’t have any other skills.

Which now brings us to the man himself. Timothy was old-fashioned in his mannerisms. He’d open doors for me and sweep off invisible hats when we met. I have to admit it made me feel special, and that’s why we were sometimes more than just roommates.

With all his gallant manners and cute eccentricities there was one thing about him I couldn’t stand, and that was his partner, Vincent. Vincent was tall, pale, and unfriendly. He wore a black overcoat with a duster, and had a faded black fedora. It made him dashingly handsome, but I couldn’t get past his cold manner and eyes. I hoped he wasn’t the face of their Public Relations department.

The first time I met Vincent Timothy had us shake hands, or tried to have us shake hands. I held out mine, but Vincent just sneered and turned away. Timothy brought him over to the apartment only a few more times before he noticed Vincent and I didn’t hit it off, and then the visits stopped.

There was one final weird thing about Timothy that happened shortly after we agreed to share the apartment. He took me aside and handed me a small metal box. “If you ever find out something’s happened to me then you take this box and follow the instructions, okay?”

“Like what?” I’d askedhim.

He shook his head. “You’ll know when it happens, but don’t hesitate to follow the instructions inside. Got it?” He was so strange that I took the whole thing as a joke and stuffed the box under my bed. How wrong I was, and how I wished I would have better enjoyed the time we had together.

Those halcyon days of strange hours with my strange roommate came to an abrupt end three years after we met. It was a Friday afternoon and I was just finishing up my work at the office. It was one of those cubicle-filled places where the hum of the hive was really the water cooler in need of repair. I clicked and clacked through the last few sentences of a document I was typing for a boss who had an aversion to anything related to keyboards.

I clacked the last word, leaned back and groaned as I stretched. “And that completes another riveting day of office work,” I mused.

A head peeked over one wall of my prison. It was a fellow prisoner by the name of Jeremy who I suspected had a crush on me. Maybe it was the occasional flower on my desk or the longing smile on his face. I would have encouraged it if I felt the same way, but I couldn’t get past how ever-present he was around me. If we would have started dating I imagined he would have been one of those ever-texting boyfriends asking me where I was and who I was with. Not a healthy relationship.

“Have any plans for the weekend?” he askedme.

“None that I know of, and I’m just fine with that,” I replied, seeking to discourage any plans he might have had forme.

His smile slipped a little. Apparently I’d warded off trouble in the nick of time. “I see. I was sort of hoping that we could go out to see a movie.”

I sighed and straightened in my chair. “Not this weekend. Nothing’s playing that I want to see and I might have to nuke my apartment to clean it.” I was a little behind on my dusting, dish cleaning, vacuuming, mopping, and anything else that involved cleaning and the ending of ‘ing.’ “It may take me until next year to get everythingdone.”

Jeremy snorted. “Well, good luck,” he replied, and slipped out of sight.

Thus ended that Friday afternoon. I returned to the apartment and found that Timothy wasn’t home. As I said before that wasn’t so unusual except that he’d been gone for nearly a week. I wondered at what point I needed to call the police and submit a missing person report when there was a knock on thedoor.

I looked through the peephole and saw it was a uniformed officer. That was service for you. I opened the door. “Can I help you?” I askedhim.

He held up a wallet with a badge, but flipped it back inside his coat before I caught a good look at it. “Officer Sutton with the Third Precinct. Is this the residence of Timothy Hamilton?”

My heart picked up speed. “Yeah, why?”

“I’m afraid something’s happened to him. Are you related tohim?”

Horrible images and possibilities passed through my mind. “No, I’m just his roommate. What’s happened tohim?”

“Mr. Hamilton’s been murdered. His body was found a few hours ago along the river.” My mouth dropped open and I stumbled back. The officer stepped inside and caught me. He helped me over to the couch where I sat down in numb disbelief. “I’m sorry about this, but if you could come down to the station we’re going to need a statement fromyou.”

“What? Oh, yes, of course.” I mechanically stood and stumbled toward my room. “Just let me change and get a coat.” I was still in my uncomfortable work clothes.

“Certainly,” the officer kindly agreed.

I went into my room and closed the door behind me. That’s when the full force of the officer’s words hit me, and I burst into uncontrollable sobs. I slid onto the floor in a blubbering mass of tears and denial. Timothy, my Timothy, was dead. I didn’t want to believe that he was gone, that something horrible had happened to him and I wouldn’t see him again.

My eyes widened. “Something happened to him. . .” I softly repeated aloud. Those were the words he’d used when he handed me that box all those years ago. Sitting as I was I could see under my bed and the box stared back at me. Hope surged inside me that maybe this was some cruel joke of his, and that maybe the box held the punchline. I quickly crawled over to it and noticed there were fresh fingerprints on the dusty top. I fumbled with the clasp and the top popped open. Inside was a slip of paper and a ring I’d seen Timothy wear constantly. He must have put the ring in the box just before he went off to get himself-well, get himself in trouble.

My hands shook as I opened the paper which turned out to be anote.

DearLiz,

If you’re reading this then either you’re sneaking a peek when you shouldn’t or something’s happened to me. If the former, then put this note back and don’t look at it until the latter happens. If something really has happened to me then you’re in danger.

My heart stopped beating for a moment, but I continued reading.

I’m sorry I couldn’t explain all of this while I was alive, but I didn’t want you to get involved. With my probable death you’re knee-deep in my troubles, and I’m sorry for what you need to do, but know that it’s the only thing you can do. Take this ring to the address at the bottom of this letter and wait inside the warehouse until after dark. No matter what, even if someone you trust comes to get you, you have to get to that warehouse. If you’re reading this at night then put on the ring and pray. Pray for me, too, okay?

Love,Timothy

I covered my mouth to stifle my sobs. He really was dead, and through this letter he’d warned me about some unknown danger. I jumped when there was a loud knock on the door. “Miss, are you all right?” the officer called tome.

“I-I’m fine, just-” I paused and glanced down at the letter. Timothy instructed me to hurry to the warehouse and the sun was even now setting. I glanced around my room and noticed the window and the fire escape. I could get down that and drive to the warehouse-

Wait a minute, why the hell was I running from an officer? All he wanted to do was take me down to the station to give a statement. Still, Timothy’s note made me suspicious, and I snuck over to the door. I opened it a crack and glanced at the officer. He was working the apartment over like a pro burglar as he stuck his hands and head into every hole and corner. Nothing too unusual about that. He was probably getting a head start on the investigation.

I slipped on my coat, stuffed the letter and ring into a pocket, and stepped out of my room. “I’m ready,” I announced tohim.

The officer jumped, grabbed his gun, and swung around with the barrel pointed at me. I jumped backwards and my back hit the wall beside my bedroom door. He smiled and re-holstered his weapon. “Sorry about that. It’s a habit ofmine.”

“T-that’s a bad habit,” I commented. Even without Timothy’s instructions ringing in my mind I didn’t want to go with a guy that had such an itchy trigger finger.

“No harm done,” he insisted. He turned to the front door, paused, and turned back to me. “Oh, did you happen to know where Timothy kept a ring?” he askedme.

My heart picked up speed. “N-no, why?”

“We suspect he stole some jewelery, and that’s part of the missing stash,” he toldme.

I unconsciously reached into my pocket and clutched the ring. I faked astonishment. “A jewel thief? When’d he stealit?”

“Um, about two years ago, but that’s not important. Let’s get you down to the station for the questioning, and then we’ll get you back here.” That was actually very important to me because I’d seen Timothy with the ring far longer than two years. The officer was lying, and I didn’t want to find outwhy.

2

I obediently followed him out into the hall and downstairs to the lobby where I glanced around looking for some chance to get away. My eyes fell on the public restrooms, and I stopped and pointed at them. “I need to go to the bathroom.”

He turned to me with a deep frown. “Can’t you holdit?”

I shook my head. “No, but this won’t take more than a minute.”

Before he could argue I rushed into the girl’s bathroom, leaned against one of the stalls and clutched at my heart. Something was seriously wrong here, and Timothy’s letter proved he knew I’d be in danger. The big problem I had was what was dangerous and what was safe. Timothy wanted me to go to the warehouse, and the cop wanted me to go to the precinct. As a law-abiding citizen I wanted to go to the station, but the officer lied to me about Timothy’s ring. I pulled out the paper and ring from my pocket. Who was I going to believe me, my dead friend or a cop I’d never met who’d already lied tome?

Yeah, not much of a contest there. If the cop really did just want to question me he could pick me up later. Right now I had a warehouse to get to, so I looked around the bathroom and saw a ventilation window at the end of the stalls. It was only four feet above the floor and I wasn’t that fat, so I stuffed the letter back into my pocket and, for safety’s sake, put the ring on my finger and went over to the window.

I hefted myself up over the sill and pulled myself through the open, angled window. I was nearly out when I heard a knock on the door. “You almost done?” the officer shouted.

“Almost!” I shouted back. Unfortunately, because my head stuck out of the building my voice sounded off, and that alerted the cop. He rushed into the room just as I slipped my legs through.

“Hey, stop!” He dashed over to the window, but I climbed to my feet and sprinted down the alley toward the street.

I dashed around the corner and saw my car parked on the curb. Unfortunately, I skidded to a stop when I noticed the police car and the cop’s partner sitting inside. I did an about-face in the other direction and was halfway down the alley when I heard shouts from the front of the building and glanced over my shoulder. Two cops raced after me, one of them being Officer Sutton. Fortunately I was in better shape than them, and I had fear and adrenaline to get me going.

I lost them a few blocks down, and stopped for a breather in an alley. “I. . .am. . .so. . .dead,” I gasped. I’d just ditched a couple of cops, and they were going to tell all their uniformed friends about me. I pulled out the letter from Timothy and sighed. “I hope you’re right about this, Tim,” I whispered.

I kept in the shadows of the alleys and my heart skipped a few beats whenever I heard the sirens of a police car. The address at the bottom of the letter led me to the river and a row of old, rectangular, abandoned warehouses that had been built on a small island a hundred yards out on the water. The sunlight was nearly gone and a cold wind from the water swept over me. I shuddered and hurried across a narrow paved road that crossed the water and led up to a chain-link gate and fence. The entire island was surrounded by the fence, and the top had coils of barbed wire. Besides the warehouses there were rotten crates and pallets, and an old guardhouse stood behind thegate.

A narrow patch of gravel ran along either side of the fence, and it took me a few minutes to find a hole beneath the fence that had been made by wild dogs and stupid kids. I wiggled my way through the loose gravel to the other side and I followed the peeled numbers on the buildings until I found the right warehouse. They ran lengthwise with the bank, and the one I was looking for was the one closest to the far-off shore. I looked over the broken window panes and the metal, and a sense of dread flooded over me. This place looked haunted, and the dim light didn’t comfortme.

I sighed and tried the knob. It was unlocked, so I stepped inside and looked around. There was just enough light for me to see that the place was full of broken crates stacked well over my head. They created a maze of wood that wound its way to the rear of the building. I moved through them and twenty yards from the door I found a space where the maze walls parted. The crates were arranged like a bench around a single long rectangular box. On the box was a deck of cards, a propane lantern, and a box of matches.

I eagerly lit the lamp and sat down on the makeshift bench in front of the long box. The air inside the warehouse was dank and cool, and I rubbed my arms to comfort and warm me. Outside the sun finished setting and the world was enveloped in darkness. To pass the time I pulled out the letter and reread the contents. I really wished Tim would have put in a few more specifics about what I was supposed to be waitingfor.

I didn’t have long to wait. As I sat reading the letter the light from the lamp shuddered. I lowered the letter and glared at the lantern. The flame was strong and unwavering, but then it jiggled again. That’s when I realized it wasn’t the light flickering but the entire lantern. My eyes widened when the lid of the long box moved. I grabbed the lantern and jumped back just as the lid flew off. A dark figure arose from the box, and I held out the lantern towardit.

My eyes widened when they fell on Vincent, and he didn’t look happy to see me. “What are you doing here?” he demanded toknow.

What the hell had he been doing in there? What the hell had he been doing in the box? “I-I-” I stuttered.

Vincent swooped toward me with such speed that before I knew it the lantern and letter were slapped from my hands. The paper fluttered to the ground and the lantern clattered to the hard floor, but remained lit. I shrieked when he shoved his pale face into mine, and in the lantern light his teeth looked unnaturallylong.

“What are you doing here?” he growled.

I stumbled backward and my back hit a tower of crates. “T-Tim told me to come here. Something happened to him,” I replied.

Vincent straightened and raised an eyebrow. “What happened?”

“H-he was murdered,” I toldhim.

Vincent’s eyes widened and he hurriedly placed his hand over his chest. Whatever he felt it made his thin mouth turn up in a twisted grin. “So he’s dead at last? How wonderful.”

“Wonderful?” I gasped. After fleeing from cops and sneaking around half the city to find this place this psycho from the box was the one I’d been waiting to meet? I cursed Tim for his stupidity in leading me here, but I wouldn’t let anybody celebrate his death. My hands balled into fists and I marched up to Vincent. “Tim’s dead, you idiot! Don’t you know what that means?”

“Yes, but you don’t.” Vincent lunged for me and his hands grasped my shoulders. He slammed me back against the crates with such force that their heavy frames rattled and the air was knocked from my lungs.

I saw stars, but through those stars I noticed Vincent’s eyes burned with an unnatural light. “What the hell are you doing?” I exclaimed.

Vincent grinned and leaned forward to brush his nose against my cheek. I shuddered at the contact of his cold skin against mine. His nostrils flared. “The human beauty is so fragile. A single bullet and your light is extinguished.” I flinched when one of his hands slid up my thigh and came to rest on my waist. He pressed his body against mine, pinning me to the crates. “You have such beauty, but I won’t save it for eternity.”

“W-what are you talking about?” I breathed. “Tim just told me to come hereand-”

I jumped when Vincent tightened his grasp on my shoulders. My bones creaked under the strain. “Tim was an idiot, and I will thank him for these many years of slavery by draining you of every last drop of blood,” he whispered. My heart skipped a beat and I wiggled in his grasp, but he was strong, unbelievably strong. His eyes traveled down to my neck, and then back up to my wide, scared eyes. “Wouldn’t that be fitting revenge?” he mused. He was toying with me like a cat with a mouse. His amusement vanished when he glanced at my left hand. His eyes widened in fury and fear, and he pulled his face away from mine. “What are you doing with that?” he growled. I didn’t know what he was talking about until I remembered the ring on my finger. “Take it off!” he demanded as one of his hands swept down to grab thering.

A bright, white light erupted from the ring. The heat was so intense I could feel the width of the narrow band etch into my finger. Vincent screamed in agony and I was released from his iron grasp. I dropped to the ground and raised myself up on my side in time to watch Vincent stumble backward. He clutched at his left hand where another intense light emanated. I realized he wore the same ring as mine. A few yards from me he collapsed to his knees and the light swallowed him. My only thought was to get the ring off before the same happened to me, so I grasped the ring in my hand and pulled. The ring slowly slid across my finger, and in the background of my struggle Vincent cried out in horrible pain. The moment the ring slipped off my finger the light vanished, but I was left with a searing pain in my finger. The ring dropped onto the ground and rolled away. I glanced down at my quivering hand and saw a few engraved letters on my skin fade into mybody.

I slumped against the crate wall and my breaths came out in haggard gasps. I heard Vincent groan, and I glanced over to where he lay. He was huddled in a tight, quivering ball, but he soon pulled himself from his cocoon and turned to face me. His eyes were full of a confusing mix of hate, anger, and fear. He struggled to his feet, but I was as weak as a lamb. I could do nothing but sit there as he towered overme.

I expected him to attack me again, but instead his arms dropped to his sides and a sick smirk slid onto his lips. “So that’s what he planned,” he hoarsely whispered. “Smartboy.”

3

“Tim?” I croaked.

Vincent’s reply was to shuffle toward me, and I pressed myself against the crate. When he reached me he knelt down on one knee and looked me over. I cringed and prepared for death, but he did nothing. He only stared at me with those unblinking, intenseeyes.

His inaction made me mad. I was tired of being the mouse. “If you’re going to kill me then do it,” I demanded.

“I wish I could,” he quipped.

I blinked in bewilderment. “Butyou-”

“The circumstances have changed, and so have both of us,” he interrupted. “What did Timothy tell you about our relationship?”

The change in subject was so sudden that I habitually shrugged. My whole body ached with the motion. “He said you were partners.”

Vincent chuckled. “Is that what he told you? That we were some sort of a team? All for one and one for all?” I cringed, but nodded. He scoffed and his face twisted into disgust. “We were nothing of the sort.” That was all I needed to hear from this psychopath. I slowly scooted along the floor, but Vincent slammed a hand against the crate next to my head that arrested my escape. “You’re to go nowhere,” he toldme.

I frowned. “If you’re not going to kill me then what are you going to do to me?” I askedhim.

“I’m going to protect you.” I raised a doubtful eyebrow, and he impatiently sighed. “You’re a slow one, aren’t you? Have you even figured out what Iam?”

“A psychopath?” I guessed.

He smirked. “True, but that doesn’t describe my species.”

“I just want to-ah!” A spasm of pain shot through my sore hand. I doubled over and clutched at my shivering fingers. Vincent grabbed my shoulders and held me still. I grit my teeth and raised my head to look at him. “What’s going on?” I askedhim.

“The union isn’t finished yet. Where is the ring?” he asked me. My eyes traveled to the fallen lantern. The ring had rolled up beside the glass casing around the flame. Vincent followed my gaze, and he left me to snatch the ring and return. “Put this back on,” he instructed me as he held out the ring. I squished against the crate and shook my head. I wasn’t going through that pain again. He sneered at me and shoved the ring into my palm. “Putit-”

His insistence was interrupted by the sound of guns outside the warehouse. Bullets penetrated the thin walls of the old building and shot over our heads. I swung my arms over my head and ducked down. Vincent threw himself over me and pressed me to the floor. He stuck his head close to mine and his long teeth looked impossibly sharp. “Put on the ring or we’re both dead!” he snapped.

I was too panicked to argue, and hurriedly slipped the ring onto my finger. I clutched my hand as pain shot out from the band of metal and into my body. Vincent clenched his teeth and I heard his stifled cries as his pain mirrored mine. The gunfire outside was replaced by a more hideous sound of a large wolf howling. I heard the front door being ripped off its hinges and tossed aside. Clawed feet clinked quickly along the hard floor, and through the pain of the ring I imagined a far worse death than the one promised by Vincent. I feared I would be torn apart by some bloodthirsty hound. How wrong Iwas.

The clinking claws came closer and rounded the corner of a nearby crate stack. I turned my head and my eyes widened when, by the light of the dim lantern, I beheld not a large dog, but a wolf creature larger than a man. It spotted us and raised itself onto its hind legs. The wolf thing tipped its head back and howled. The awful noise echoed through the metallic building and sent a shiver through my body. It dropped back down on all four legs and raced towardus.

Vincent flew off me and jumped between the monster and me. When the beast was a foot from him Vincent kicked out a leg in a circular motion and knocked the monster’s front legs out from under it. The wolf crashed head-first into the hard floor and slid into the crate of boxes behind me. The wooden boxes toppled over him. I crawled away, but the pain wracked my body so badly that I couldn’t find the strength to stand.

Vincent grabbed one of the crates and tore a long, jagged steak from the wood. The wolf beast burst from the crates and howled in rage. Its golden eyes fell on me, and I screamed when it lunged at me. Vincent tackled the beast from the side and the pair of them rolled away from me. I backed up and my hand knocked into something hard but light. It was the lantern. I grabbed the lantern and swung it in front of me to watch the tussle.

The beast righted itself and dove at Vincent, but he was too fast and dodged the thing’s claws. Vincent slipped behind the wolf and raised the stake to plunge the weapon into the creature’s back. The beast turned the tables by using Vincent’s trick of round-kicking a leg to knock him off his feet. Vincent fell hard on his back, and the beast turned around to tear Vincent to pieces. I thought fast and threw the lantern at the beast’s back. The flame hit the thing’s fur and caught the hair onfire.

The creature screamed and waved its arms in a futile attempt to to reach back and extinguish the flames. Vincent grabbed the stake and jabbed it into the creature’s chest. The wolf released a long, terrible howl before it fell over dead. The fur continued to burn, and by its light I watched the thing transform from a furry demon to a barely-clothed man. Once the transformation was complete the fire was extinguished from the no-longer existing hair on his back. I was completely enveloped in darkness, still wracked with pain, and alone with Vincent.

I shrieked when I felt myself lifted into a pair of strong arms. “Quiet,” Vincent ordered me. He held me against his chest and dashed away from the front door and through the maze of crates. We quickly reached the rear, and he turned and slammed his back into a heavy metal door that led outside. I was grateful to be able to see where we were going.

That is, until Vincent raced along the rear of the other warehouses. His speed was impossibly fast for a human. The ground sped by in a flurry of rocks, broken pieces of glass, and trash, and in a few seconds we covered a distance that would have taken me at least a minute to cross. I tried to free myself and get off this horrible ride, but he only pressed me harder to his chest. “Don’t move,” he growled.

I stiffened and obeyed his command, especially when I saw how many cars and people stood in front of the warehouses. There were at least half a dozen cars and twice that number of men dressed in black suits. They had dark sunglasses over their eyes, and all of them were armed. Half of them stood at the entrance to the end warehouse, but the other half was spread out between the gate and where we stood behind the center warehouse. Vincent crept up to the front of the warehouse where stood a few crates, but any further and we’d beseen.

We heard shouts from our former warehouse. The body of the wolf man had been discovered. The men who stood in front of the gate glanced in that direction, and Vincent took advantage of their distraction. He shot out of our hiding spot behind a few crates and raced to the gate. The chain-link gate was shut, but that didn’t slow him down. The men in sunglasses noticed our escape and turned their guns on us. Shots rang out and bullets whizzed by our heads. Their aim must have been as bad as a Storm Trooper’s because they didn’t hit Vincent. At least, he didn’t slow down, but my body felt pricked by dozens of pins. Then something hot dug into my shoulder as one of the men hit their mark, me. The bullet flew through my shoulder and my blood soaked my shirt.

We were ten yards from the gate when Vincent leapt up into the air. The momentum of his prodigious speed flew us over the top of the barbed wire and onto the other side. He landed with a crunch on the pavement. The closed gate slowed down our pursuers and gave us a head-start down the river road. We entered the asphalt jungle before their cars left the warehouse island, and Vincent didn’t have any trouble losing them in the maze of dark alleys and narrow, dingy streets.

Regardless of the danger I was glad when he stopped us in an alley that showed off a splendid mix of dankness and squalor. My wound still bled and the pain was nearly as bad as what the ring had caused. I cried out when he set me down a little too hard against a brick wall. “Quiet,” he commanded.

I glared at him. “Quiet? There’s a god damn bullet hole in my shoulder!” I snapped back athim.

Vincent ignored my whining and ripped open my bloodied shirt sleeve. The blood had dribbled down my arm and chest, and covered half my body. I expected him to wrap it with the torn sleeve, but Vincent only stared unblinkingly at the wound. “Vincent?” I asked him. He didn’t reply and I nervously shifted beneath his unwavering gaze. His hand shot out and grabbed my shoulder to hold me still. My eyes caught sight of his clothes and for the first time I noticed it was riddled with bullet hole. Those guys in suits hadn’t missed, they’d shot him full of lead. He shouldn’t have been alive, much less holding me down. My heart raced as I remembered how he’d earlier threatened to kill me. Vincent’s sharp teeth gleaned in the weak light of the night, but his pallor stood out in the dark shadows of the alley. He looked like a creature of the night, like a- “Vampire!” I gasped.

Vincent lunged forward and buried his teeth into my shoulder. I yelped and tried to jerk away, but he held me tight. The initial pain of his penetration melted away and was replaced with a sensual pleasure that spread out from my shoulder. My eyes widened as my body heated, and liquid pooled between my legs. I gasped for air and my face flushed with the creeping need that flooded over mybody.

My hot need was slowly replaced with lethargy as I felt Vincent pull my blood from my body. My head lulled to one side and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I thought I would lose consciousness, but a bright light shot through my closed eyelids. The brilliance burned with the intensity of the sun, and reawakened my mind and body. I heard Vincent cry out and opened my eyes in time to see him stumble to the opposite side of the alley. He hissed and snarled at my hand, and I saw that the ring on my finger was the source of the light.

However, it wasn’t the only source. His own finger was lit with the same light. He clutched onto his hand and ground his long, sharp fangs together to stifle his cries of pain. His light pulsed and stretched out into a long, thin beam of light that wound its way up toward the sky. It stretched over the distance of the alley and connected with my ring. My eyes shot open and I gasped when I felt an enormous amount of strength enter my body through the beam of light. The lethargy vanished, replaced by an energy that made me feel like I was on a thousand energy drinks, and they were all working.

Vincent screamed and fell to his knees. His face turned a ghastly white and the flesh seemed to shrink and shrivel from his bones. For all his psychotic antics I felt sorry for him. The moment the emotion rose up inside me the light connecting us vanished. The world slipped back into the darkness of night. The energy in my body lessened, but the pain from my wound was gone. When I glanced at my shoulder I realized that the wound had disappeared. All that remained was the mess of blood.

4

I heard a groan and turned my head to Vincent’s dark shape on the opposite side of the alley. He still sat on his legs and his body shook with a violent tremor. A hoarse chuckle slipped from of his pale lips. “Quick learner, girl, but you nearly killed us both,” he whispered.

His weakened state and my healthy state emboldened me, and I scowled at him. “Me kill us? You were the one sucking me dry,” I shotback.

“Merely a survival instinct,” he argued.

“That nearly killed us both?” I pointedout.

Vincent stumbled to his feet and I scuttled to mine. If he wanted to try his luck with me again then he was going to have to catch me first. “It was necessary to finish the connection betweenus.”

I blinked. “Come again?”

He straightened and winced when his back erupted like a string of firecrackers. “I mean what I mean. We are connected.”

“I got that part.” I paused, furrowed my brow, and shook my head. “Actually, I didn’t get that part. What are you talking about?”

He held up his left hand and showed off the ring that was identical to mine. “These pieces of jewelery were forged with more than metal. They were infused with the blood of an ancient vampire and a spiritually strong human. When a vampire and a human wear them they become bonded to one another. If one feels pain, the other will feel an echo of that pain. If one dies, the otherdies.”

I held up my hands in front of me. “Wait a minute. If what you’re saying is true, and it sounds Cracker Box crazy, then you really are a vampire?”

“Yes.”

“And if you tried to kill me you’d get hurt?” I guessed.

“Yes.”

“And you’re anass?”

“No.”

I shrugged. “I thought I’dtry.”

“Very amusing.” His face was as funny as the grave. “But we don’t-”

“Wait a minute.” I held up my own ring. “If Tim had this ring and he’s dead, how come you aren’t dead?” I wondered.

“He wasn’t wearing the ring at the time of his death. Instead we find it on you,” Vincent pointedout.

“Why would he take it off? Better yet, how did he take itoff?”

“I do not know, but we have more immediate problems,” he remindedme.

I frowned. “Yeah, you’re right. Those guys might find us again. I gotta get to the copsand-”

“-and tell them what?” Vincent asked me. “You escaped from men in black suits who had a werewolf in their employ and were saved by a vampire?”

I scowled at him. “I have to tell somebody about this. It’s too big forme.”

Vincent frowned and tilted his nose up in disdain. “There is one person in this world who would be interested in what you have tosay.”

“And who might that be, Count Chocula?”

“Frederick Batholomew.”

“That’s a mouthful.”

“His mouth is certainly a problem.”

“Why do we need to go to this person rather than somebody who might at least give me protection?” I askedhim.

“I am your protection, and Batholomew has otheruses.”

I looked over the psychotic vampire and cringed against the brick wall behind me. “Hell no are you my protection. You’ve tried to kill me twice in twenty minutes, and for me that’s a record for assassination attempts on mylife.”

“I am satiated, and our bond is complete. You have nothing left to fear from me,” he replied.

I wasn’t comforted. “Uh-huh, so you’re supposed to protect me like you protected Tim?” I countered.

Vincent’s eyes narrowed. “A mere oversight on his part. If he had refrained from trouble during the day then I would have been of use tohim.”

“Great, so you’re only useful for what? Twelve hours in a twenty-four hour day?” I remarked. “Or do vampires not have to sleep and you were just napping in that wooden box I found youin?”

“My body may need to rest during the day, but my powers are yours.” He nodded at the ring. “That will offer you all the powers you need. Tim forsook the powers by giving you thatring.”

I paused and furrowed my brow. “Wait, so during the day I’m kind of like a vampire?”

“Yes.”

“But without that whole sun-burning thing?”

“Perhaps your incessant questions are better directed at Batholomew,” Vincent suggested.

“I haven’t agreed to go with you to him,” I countered. Vincent stalked over to me. I tried to slide away, but he grabbed my arm and swung me into his arms like before. “Hey! Let me down! I canwalk!”

“Not as fast asme.”

I yelped when he took off down the road, carrying me at warp speed to another adventure.

I grasped onto his arms as we sped through city blocks like they were standing still. Actually, they were standing still, but we were still going really fast. I did notice we weren’t going as fast as we had on our escape from Warehouse Island. Still, by the time Vincent put on the brakes we were several miles from the river, and for me we were several blocks from any familiar area. All around us were old factory buildings, hulking skeletons of industrialization with broken windows for eyes and gaping doors for mouths. The only living things besides me and-well, just me, were a few stray cats. There weren’t even any streetlights to help me see into the streets that wound their way around the large structures. The only open spot to see the stars lay behind us, and that was just a large loading and unloading area for all the goods they used to manufacture.

Vincent opened his arms and dropped me onto the road. I yelped when I hit the pavement, and rubbed my sore posterity as I scowled up at him. “Do you mind being more careful next time?” I snapped athim.

“I would,” he coolly replied.

“Thanks, I appreciateit.”

Vincent ignored my snark and walked over to one of the buildings that actually had a pair of steel doors that were closed. He pushed them open and revealed what I expected, a mad scientist’s laboratory filled with crazy-looking machines and bright, flashing lights. Wait, what?

I scrambled to my feet and gaped at the scene. “What the hell-?” I breathedout.

“Follow me,” Vincent ordered. He stepped inside and the doors began to close behindhim.

I hurried in after him and just barely missed a free, and painful, hip tucking procedure. My mouth was still agape as Vincent led me into the bowels of the science that bubbled, boiled, fizzed, and popped around me. There were vials of questionable goop against the left wall and the right wall was covered with diagrams, papers, graphs, sketches, doodles, and equations. The center floor was filled to overflowing with machines I could only guess at what they did, and others I didn’t want to get that far with their purpose.

Vincent was unfazed by the weirdness around us and took me to the rear of the factory floor. In the center against the back wall sat a desk, and at the desk sat a strange little man. He had long white hair that was tied in a tail and ran down his back. The man wore a white lab coat that was stained with all the colors of the rainbow and others that didn’t suggest anything that pretty. He had a long white mustache with pointed ends, and heavy eyebrows that covered the upper halves of his eyes. I placed his age somewhere between geriatric and Jurassic. He was hunched over a paper furiously writing away by the light of a simple desklamp.

Vincent walked up to the desk, but I lingered a few yards back beside a tall spire that was either a gumball machine or a torture device. The old man didn’t lift his head when he spoke up. “What are you doing here, and with a girl, no less? Did you take a bite out of your partner and pick up a new bride?” the old man quipped.

“Tim is dead,” Vincent calmly replied.

The man’s head snapped up and those bushy eyebrows crashed down. “Dead? Then why aren’t I dancing over yourdust?”

“Because he passed the ring on before he died.” Vincent half turned and gestured to me. “This girl now has thering.”

The old man, who I realized must be the legendary Frederick Batholomew, turned his eyes on me. I nervously smiled and gave a small wave. “Um, hi,” I replied.

Batholomew stood so quickly that his wooden chair toppled over. He scurried around the desk up to me and snatched my left hand from my side. His eyes looked over the ring on my finger, and his face fell. “By God, it is,” he muttered. He turned to Vincent. “What happened?”

Vincent shrugged. “He was killed because he didn’t wear the ring. Perhaps he wanted to accessorize.”

The old man scoffed. “Tim wasn’t that foolish. He must have had a reason for giving this girl thering.”

“He didn’t give it to me,” I spoke up. The men turned to me with interested expressions, and I shrank from their intense gazes. “That is, he just kind of left it in a box under my bed. He said if something happened to him I needed to take it and go to some warehouse.”

“Our headquarters, or they were before this foolish woman led a werewolf to it,” Vincent explained.

I glared at him. “I didn’t lead anybody to it! I just followed what I was supposed to do on Tim’s letter.”

Batholomew raised an eyebrow. “Letter? May I see this letter?”

I patted myself down and my face paled. “I think I lostit.”

“I have it,” Vincent spoke up. He pulled the letter from inside his jacket, but he stuffed it back in the inner pocket when Batholomew grabbed for it. “This is between the two of us,” he insisted, nodding atme.

“I think as Tim’s closest friend and ally I have as much right to see his last words as anyone else,” Batholomew argued. I got the feeling these two didn’t get along.

“Um, boys?” I spoke up. They glanced back at me, but this time I wasn’t cowed by their eyes. “Could I have my letter back? And could somebody please explain to me what the hell is going onhere?”

Batholomew frowned and his eyes dodged over to Vincent. “How much does sheknow?”

“Enough to survive,” Vincent replied.

“And hold a job!” I protested.

“As I said, enough to survive,” he repeated.

“What do you know about this oaf here?” Batholomew asked me as he nodded to Vincent.

I glanced at Vincent and stuck out my tongue. “More than I want toknow.”

Batholomew smirked and set his hands on my shoulders. He guided me over to a dirty chair in front of the desk, set me in the seat, and seated himself on the nearest corner of his desk. A small avalanche of papers fell to the floor, but he ignored them. “We seem to be off on the wrong foot,” he commented.

“The wrong body,” I muttered.

“Allow me to introduce myself.” He slid off the desk, stepped back and bowed at me. “My name is Frederick George Arthur Phillip Bartholomew, but those whom I respect call meBat.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Bat?” I repeated.

“Yes, perhaps because I seem to have a wonderful flight of imagination,” he guessed.

“Or perhaps your disposition is more batty than any fictional vampire,” Vincent quipped.

Bat shot him a glare, but turned back to me. “And what’s yourname?”

“Liz Stokes.”

“Short for Elizabeth?”

“Yeah.”

“A very pretty name.” Bat walked around the desk, righted his chair and seated himself. He clapped his hands together and frowned. “Well, now that we have that polite gesture out of the way let’s get down to business. Judging by your answer to my earlier question can I safely assume you know nothing of what’s happened regarding our mutual friend, Tim?”

“All I know is Tim was my roommate, and now he’s dead and I’m somehow stuck with this walking corpse.” I jerked my thumb toward Vincent, who rolled hiseyes.

Bat coughed to hide a snort. “I see. That isn’t much to go off of to understand your current predicament.”

“And what’s my current predicament?”

“That you’ve fallen into the thick of the world of the supernatural and are now bound to a very foolish and dangerous fellow.”

5

My face fell and my hands shook. I balled them together in my lap, but I couldn’t ball my emotions together. They were all over the place. There was fear, sadness, fear, confusion, fear, curiosity, and did I mentionfear?

“Come again?” I askedhim.

“You have fallen into the world of vampires, ghosts, goblins, and the like,” he rephrased.

“Uh-huh, and how do I get out of this world?” I wondered.

Bat leaned over the desk and the lamp cast shadows on the creases of his ancient face. “I’m afraid there’s no escaping this world. Once you’ve dived into the rabbit hole the only way to go is forward and hope nothing snatches you from the shadows.”

I leaned back and cringed. “Have you taken your medication lately?”

His eyebrows shot up and he sat back. “Now that you mention it, no.” He opened a top drawer, pulled out a plastic container of pills, and popped a few into his mouth. “There. All better.”

“So there’s a way I can get out of thismess?”

“Oh no, there’s no way in hell you can escape this mess. Or rather, you are in hell and there’s no wayout.”

I numbly stood and my shaky legs tried to collapse, but I grasped the back of my chair. “I-I think I need to get back to my apartment. I have some-um, some pants tofold.”

Bat smiled and shook his head. “I’m afraid that wouldn’t be a wise idea. You may as well accept that your old life has vanished.”

I glared at him. “Um, no? I’m not going to throw aside twenty-well, a lot of years of living because of a one-night stand with Count Creepy here.” I gestured to Vincent, who was amused by my title forhim.

“You mistake my meaning, Miss Stokes. You are very much mistaken in my intentions toward you. I only want the best for you and that ring you wear.” He nodded at the metal band around my finger. “After all, both of you are the only possessions we have of Tim, and I’m sure he’d want his friends and-” he frowned and glanced at Vincent. “-acquaintances to care forthem.”

“First off, I’m nobody’s possession. Second, I think this is all some horrible dream and if I ran into a wall I’d probably wake up,” I countered.

Bat smiled and waved his hand at the far wall to my right. “Go right ahead, Miss Stokes, but be careful not to hit too hard. We wouldn’t want you to receive a concussion for nothing.”

I looked at the wall and decided maybe this wasn’t a dream. “Or maybe I just need a really long nap and I can decide what to do after that,” I suggested.

“I have a comfortable couch somewhere in this mess,” Bat offered.

“My bed would work better, and I wouldn’t want to trouble you guys.” I backed up toward the entrance. “I mean, I’ve been enough trouble and-” My back hit something hard, and I didn’t need to look around to know it was Vincent’s body. My face fell and I tilted my head back to find myself staring into his dark eyes. “You’re not going to let me leave, areyou?”

“We can’t, Miss Stokes,” Bat insisted as he walked around the desk. “It’s in all of our best interests that you stay here, at least for tonight.”

I glared at the old man. “You think I’m so important with this ring then why don’t you have this stupid thing?” I raised my ring hand, grasped the ring and gave it a hard pull. It didn’t budge, and the only reward for my effort was a sore finger. I pulled again, but with the same painful result. “Anybody have a can of grease or oil?” I askedthem.

Bat chuckled and walked up to me. He pointed at the ring. “That’s stuck to you until you can learn to get itoff.”

“Learn to get it off? I’m pretty sure rings are supposed to just slip off,” I shotback.

“Not this one. This one is a very uniquering.”

I rolled my eyes and dropped my arms to my side. “I know, I know, forged with blood and some voodoo magic to bindus.”

Bat raised an eyebrow and glanced at Vincent. “So this bag of hydrated dust has told you some things?” he guessed.

“Only that I’m stuck with him, but not for how long and how I’m supposed to get out of this mess,” I replied.

Bat chuckled. “I can possibly give you answers to both those questions, but I’m afraid you’re not going to like them,” he toldme.

I shrugged. “You just told me I’m stuck in this weird place with two weirdos after being chased by some crazy guys with a werewolf. How can this night possibly get worse?”

“It can get worse because you are going to have quite a few more nights with such, shall we call it, fun?” he answered.

My jaw jutted out and I glared at him. “Come again?”

Bat smiled and walked over to my chair. He turned it toward me and gestured to the seat. “If you would care to sit down again I will tell you what I can about that ring, our mutual friend Tim, and that ring that is stuck on your finger.”

I frowned, but walked over and sat down in the chair. I folded my arms across my chest, crossed my legs, and tapped a finger on my arm. “I’m listening.”

Bat walked in the space between my chair and the desk. “First off, your partner here is someone whom you shouldn’t trust,” he told me. Vincent frowned, but remained silent. “Secondly, that ring is the only item keeping him from killing usboth.”

“Then this thing’s not doing a very good job because he’s already tried that twice,” I quipped.

Bat raised an eyebrow. “Really? Was the bond awakened?”

“As soon as you tell me what exactly this bond is I can answer that.” I jerked my thumb at the silent undead. For the first time I wished he’d speak up. “He told me I was stuck with him and he’d protect me. He also said this ring would give me some sort of vampire powers.”

“For once he’s told the truth,” Bat mused. “The ring does give you abilities beyond those of a normal human being, but only so long as you wearit.”

“Right now that’s not a problem.”

Bat frowned and seated himself on the end of his desk. “Perhaps I am going about this the wrong way. Let me start at the beginning with Tim. He inherited the ring a few centuries ago from the original owner, the human who’s blood is encased in thatring.”

I blinked. “Centuries? You mean years, don’t you?” I askedhim.

Bat smiled and shook his head. “No, I mean centuries. The ring granted Tim a sort of immortality. So long as he wore the ring and this fool protected him, he wouldn’tdie.”

My mouth slowly fell open and images of our lovemaking flashed through my mind. I shuddered. “Okay, that’s just creepy. He didn’t look a day over thirty.”

“The ring froze his appearance, though I wish his mind had aged a little further,” Bat mused with a playful grin on his face. He shook himself from his thoughts and pointed at the ring on my finger. “It has done the same to your appearance, though you don’t know it yet, and so long as there isn’t another lapse in protection then you will live a very long and eventfullife.”

“What if I don’t want to live forever?” I countered.

“I’m afraid that is not an option. Once the bond is created only death can breakit.”

I stood so quickly I knocked my chair over. “So what the hell am I supposed to do for eternity? Pick up Social Security until I drain it dry?” I angrily askedthem.

Bat slid off the desk and walked around the desk to his chair. “I recommend a hobby or an occupation.” He paused in front of his chair and tapped a long nail against his chin. His eyes lit up with mischief. “Yes, that maywork.”

“What now?” I asked him, perfectly expecting more wonderfulnews.