Blood Hunters, Book 4
From a shameful past, rises a vital destiny…
“The junkie whore shall save the trinity in the first hour.” So spoke the insane Luk, last of the Ancient undead prophets. The enigmatic vampire Dmitriu believes he knows the junkie whore in question, destined to save the daughter of his creator Saloman.
But the Edinburgh prostitute Janine, who once showed Dmitriu kindness, has not only got clean; she’s become a vampire hunter, determined never to be helpless in anyone’s power again; and Dmitriu’s pretty high on her kill list. Instead of renewing his beguiling sexual relationship with her, he has to kidnap her to force her cooperation. Bombarded with sensual memory and the lust Dmitriu still inspires in her, Janine also has to fight her way through renegade hunters, Dmitriu’s rebellious creation, Antonia, the bizarre Militant Church for the Defence of the Holy Trinity and the first anti-vampire protests. It’s too much; the prophecy could be broken.
Unless Janine’s destiny is Dmitriu.
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Janine woke feeling different. She was used to clawing her way back to consciousness through the fug of hangovers and drug cravings, so the struggle to wake up should have felt quite familiar. Perhaps it was the constant banging at the door—that wasn’t usual at this time.
Bloody Jimmy, come to take all the money I just made on my back. Well, he’d better leave more dope for me this time, or I’ll have to hide some money to buy my own tonight…
Fuck! With the surge of hazy, erratic memory, her heart gave a jolt that was both fearful and excited. I didn’t make any money last night! He was here. He came back…The strange man whose name she didn’t even know, but whom she’d let stay for a few days last week because he was different. He’d kept out of her way at night. He’d gone a day or so ago without saying good-bye, leaving her unaccountably sad, but then last night he’d been in the flat waiting for her and kicked out the customer she’d brought home with her. She’d been so pleased to see him, she’d let him do it too.
That was why she felt so different. He’d had sex with her for the first time since their original encounter close to Leith docks. God, had they had sex. She’d had a lot of clients in the last few years, and before that, even one or two boyfriends, although she could barely remember them now. None of them had ever made her come. That was one reason she’d liked him. He made her orgasm just by biting her neck. It was weird, not even sore after the first piercing of the skin, but gloriously erotic, and when he did it while he was inside her, her whole being had seemed to sing with joy.
The banging on the door continued with increasing urgency. She should let Jimmy in. He’d hit her if she kept him waiting. Hell, he’d hit her anyway since she didn’t have any money for him. God, though, it was worth a few blows for a night like that. She wished she hadn’t been so strung out. She wished she could remember every detail. Prostitution would be a much easier profession if every customer was like him. Hours and hours of sensual delight, of slow, tender screwing and hard, raw fucking that should have made her so sore… But she wasn’t. Her whole body purred with satisfaction and pleasurable new awareness.
She turned her head on the pillow to tell him to hide. But of course he’d gone again. Maybe he’d come back…
She smiled, tried to stretch, but her limbs felt unaccountably heavy. Voices accompanied the banging at the door. She couldn’t make out most of the words, just one called out in perfect clarity: “Police!”
Shite, the police were at her door. As well Jimmy hadn’t come yet. Right now, there was nothing here they could touch her for, surely? She tried to sit, to push herself out of bed, but her heart hammered scarily fast. She felt as weak as a kitten.
What’s the matter with me? I can’t move! Frightened now, she tried to call out that she was ill, but even that seemed to be too much effort.
The door crashed open, probably under a police shoulder, for suddenly her bedroom was full of people, some of them uniformed cops. A policewoman had her by the wrist.
“We need an ambulance,” she said grimly.
“Overdose?” asked one of her colleagues in a bored voice.
“No idea, but I’ve seen more color in a milk bottle. Janine, can you hear me?”
Janine managed to nod, holding the policewoman’s gaze. She had a no-nonsense, not unkind face.
“Do you know James McGrail?”
Janine frowned, trying to concentrate. She was white as a milk bottle. As if she had no blood. That was important somehow. Because when he bit her neck and made her orgasm, it had felt…it had felt like he was drinking her.
She gasped, held on to the policewoman’s gaze, the policewoman’s question. This wasn’t about him. This was about her bastard pimp who called himself her protector. She laughed in his face whenever he did.
“Jimmy,” she managed. “I know Jimmy.”
“When did you last see him?” asked a male voice.
“Yesterday.” Her voice sounded slurred, as if she was pissed, and yet she hadn’t touched a drop since she’d come home and found him here last night. She had a sudden vision of him as she’d first seen him in the shadows of a warehouse building. Tall and lean, dark, handsome, Christopher Lee cheekbones. Dracula… He’d made her come by drinking her blood. Had she been hallucinating? Why did she remember it happening so often? Sometimes, when she’d come home after “work,” he just held her and kissed her neck. And it had been so sexy, held to his hard, fit body, so sweet that she’d come…
“Janine, stay with me,” the policewoman commanded. “The ambulance is on its way.”
Ambulance. Would that save her from Jimmy’s ire? At least for a day. She gasped out, “Where is he? Where is Jimmy?”
“I’m afraid he’s dead,” the policewoman said. “Someone stabbed him in the throat.”
Janine managed to jerk her head at that. She felt she should hide the instinctive, unholy joy, even when it was sliced through with fear of the future and wild disorientation. She could find no grief or even much pity for the vicious, greedy bastard.
The policewoman slid her hand under the pillow, as if she glimpsed something there. Janine turned her head back and watched her draw free a handful of banknotes.
“That where you usually keep your cash?” the policewoman asked.
No. Janine stared at the money. She hadn’t charged him for sex that first time. She’d let him stay. She’d imagined he was a friend. Friends didn’t pay for company. She remembered that much. And then, only a few hours ago, he’d made her different by giving her a night of joy and feeling. The nearest thing to love she’d known.
But he’d paid her.
A single tear spilled from her weak, aching eyes and trickled down her cheek into her hair. She didn’t have the strength to wipe it away.
He’d paid her. Like everyone else, he’d just fucked her.
The vampire jerked away from her, shockingly quick, spinning, attacking with the sort of speed that stirred Janine’s memory as well as that part of her which had learned to rise to a challenge and relish it.
She wasn’t alone. Jack and Patrick, two fully trained and experienced vampire hunters, watched every move, close enough to intervene—only they wouldn’t unless she was about to die. Already, her arm and her knee ached from the vampire’s vicious blows, but she found she could thrust the pain away to concentrate on avoiding the vampire’s hold, on breaking through his guard and stabbing the wooden stake through his heart.
The vampire wasn’t particularly old or strong, but he was troublesome, hiding out in these woods and biting hikers and campers. In fact, he’d killed one, and the inevitable rumors were circulating throughout Essex and beyond. He was considered a good training exercise for Janine.
He feinted left, and as she went in under his guard, he grabbed her close, trapping her thrusting arm between their bodies where the stake could do little harm.
The vampire said, “Why don’t you give up? You don’t smell of hunter.”
“Why don’t you? I’ve only killed fledglings before.”
“You’re a baby vampire hunter?” The vampire seemed more disgusted than anything else by this, perhaps because she’d given him such trouble. And she was quite prepared to give him more. As he swooped his head downward for the kill, she brought her knee upward. The vampire grunted with the unexpected pain, loosening his grip enough for her to whip her arm free with a forceful punch on his chin.
He staggered back, stared at her for an instant with narrowed eyes. She flew at him, stake raised.
The vampire fled, laughing.
Which was a red rag to a bull. He despised her too much to be bothered killing her. Janine ran after him into the trees, straining her ears to catch the tiny sounds of his movements. It was darker in here, where the moon and stars were partially blocked. The flashlight dangling around her neck seemed to cast more shadows than light.
Stupidly, it was only when something landed on her from above that she realized the vampire hadn’t been fleeing. He’d been drawing her away from Jack and Patrick so he’d have more chance of killing her. He must have smelled them, despite their comfortable belief that if they stayed downwind, this vampire wouldn’t be strong enough to detect them.
The jolt of her fall knocked the stake from her hand, and with terrifying speed, the vampire lunged, snarling, for her throat. He needed to be quick, before the real hunters found them.
Janine could do nothing in the instant available to her to dislodge the vampire. So she went limp, let her free left arm flap and shake while the vampire’s open mouth snatched at her throat. Memory, dream, whatever it was, surged back to her, tempting her to give in.
But she just wasn’t that stupid anymore. The flapping of her arm shook the hidden stake down into her palm, and at the first piercing pain of the vampire’s teeth, she struck, thrusting around behind his back and down into his body.
It wasn’t a clean hit, but enough to make the vampire rear up in pain and sudden fear. Desperately, she twisted the stake, pushing it upward inside his body and twisting.
And abruptly, the oppressive weight was gone. There was nothing but a puff of dust rising in the darkness. And something, a rush of triumph maybe, or perhaps the flood of strength from the kill that the hunters had promised her and that she hadn’t believed in, blasted through her. It felt euphoric.
Until, through the vampire’s dust, she saw the still figure of a man watching her, and a whole barrage of sensory alarms went off within her. She felt presence, undead presence. She smelled some unique, elusive scent she associated with him, the vampire she refused to think about. And yet, if he were here, now, if the man approaching her was not a man at all, but him…
She leapt to her feet, gripping her stake tighter, fighting the rising panic as she stared at the newcomer. He didn’t look like Patrick or Jack. But neither, she noted with relief, did he move like a vampire.
Nevertheless, she slipped her free hand into her jeans pocket and switched her standard detector back on. She wished now she hadn’t turned it off when she’d found the vampire she’d been looking for.
At least it remained silent. The newcomer was not a vampire. She must have been imagining undead presence.
“Well done,” the man said unexpectedly. He spoke English with a foreign, vaguely east European accent. “Are you all right? Did it bite you?”
“I’m fine.” Janine stood her ground, watching him warily. “Who are you?”
He came to a halt in the dim, wavery torchlight, and she was sure she’d never seen him before. At least not in the part of her life that was clear. Tall, fair, perhaps in his early thirties, he looked hard and tough and not comforting at all. He made her think, for some reason, of a soldier who’d been living rough for too long. Although she picked up no immediate threat from him, despite the detector’s silence, her internal alarm was still screaming. As if someone else was close—a vampire. Him…
Well, she could kill vampires now. She’d just proved that.
Janine caught her breath, controlling the excitement and the triumph of her recent win, because she recognized that either this man or whatever lurked beyond him could still take that from her. She glanced over his shoulder, pivoted to take in more of the dark woods.
“What is it?” he asked.
“There’s something still here. I’m sure of it.”
“It’s the residual presence of your kill. You absorbed his strength, and you’re sensing that in ways you’re not used to.”
She dragged her gaze back to him. Although her unease didn’t feel like the vampire she’d just killed, the newcomer sounded as if he knew what he was talking about. Who the hell was he?
He said, “My name is Konrad. I’m a hunter too, though not based here in the UK.”
“Janine.” Since she’d no reason to believe him, she gave the bare minimum of information while preparing for attack.
“You’re in training,” he observed. “A good kill. You have quick instincts and tenacity. I admire that.”
Despite the flattery, Janine didn’t let down her guard. There were more threats than vampires in the world. “Thank you,” she said neutrally.
“It’s a difficult time for hunters,” the stranger went on. “The world is changing, and many hunters are losing their way, making alliances with vampires instead of killing them.” She knew what he meant. The organization was going through a difficult adjustment, and Janine knew it was harder for the old hunters to change than for her to learn the new ways without their baggage. She’d picked up hints of those difficulties from her trainers and the other staff. It wasn’t, however, a discussion she wanted to have right now. Her skin still prickled with undead awareness, and while the stranger talked, she kept more than half her attention on her surroundings, scanning, feeling for the presence she knew was there.
“They all kill,” the stranger, Konrad, was saying grimly. “Or worse.”
“There are those who keep the law and those who break it,” Janine said. “Just like humans.” She’d hung on hard to that philosophy since the hunters had first explained it to her. Somehow it made the memories and the dreams more bearable.
Konrad smiled, as if he knew she was repeating what she’d learned by rote. She glanced behind her again, partially zoning out from him to search—until some of his grim words caught her full attention and she spun back to him in surprise.
He said, “You’re about to become an important player in an organization that’s vital to the survival of humanity. Demand evidence, look for evidence, of everything you’re taught. And when you find it doesn’t make perfect sense, or if you’re even uncomfortable with something, call me.”
He held out his hand, casually, without threat. His fingers held a small business card.
Janine didn’t take it, merely raised her eyes to his serious face. “Why should I do that?”
Through the trees, someone called her name urgently. Patrick. From the other side, she could hear quick footsteps pounding—presumably Jack’s.
Konrad’s hand didn’t waver. Nor did his eyes. “Because I know more than your instructors ever will. I led the Hungarian hunters’ first team for several years.”
“Janine?” Patrick’s voice again, yet the foreign hunter’s eyes remained steady and without fear. Perhaps he really was who he said he was. On impulse, Janine snatched the card from his fingers. Then Patrick stepped through the trees on her left and blinked. “Konrad?”
The Hungarian hunter nodded, repeated his kind words about her kill, and simply strode off into the trees.
Janine swung on her instructor, questions about Konrad already forming on her lips, but Patrick called out to Jack, “Over here! She’s safe and victorious.”
And Jack burst through the trees, looking even wilder than normal. “You got him?” he said in delight, running across to them. Konrad had disappeared into darkness.
Janine dragged her gaze back to Jack. “Yes, I got him. He dropped on me from above, and I lost the stake. Managed to shake the one in my sleeve down and stabbed him in the back before he could bite me.”
She frowned, rubbing her neck. It stung. “At least I don’t think he bit me very hard…”
Patrick took her chin in his hand and shone his flashlight on her throat. “One fang pierced your skin. We’ll plaster it in the car.” His finger tightened. “You broke the first rule, Janine. Don’t go after a vampire without backup.”
She jerked free. “I thought you were my backup!”
“By the time we got to the trees, you’d vanished. It was impossible to see what direction you’d gone in.”
“You didn’t shout to guide us,” Jack added, slapping her lightly on the back. “Next time, shout.”
She sighed because, of course, they were right. “Sorry, yes, I will. It just all happened so quickly. And I knew somehow that I could take him without help.”
“That’s the sort of confidence that gets a hunter killed,” Jack reproved. “Come on, I think you’re pleased enough with yourself for one night. Time to go home. Congratulations on your first kill. How does it feel?”
It still tingled in her fingertips, swirled in her body. Between that and the approval of her companions—which she couldn’t doubt was there beneath their anxiety for her, and even that was warming in its way—it had been a wonderful night.
“It feels good,” she admitted. Take that, you bastard. She sent the thought out into the ether, hoping for the first time that it would reach its target. It couldn’t, of course, but it still made her feel better, as if next time it could be him she killed. If she felt like it.
Jack swung one arm around her shoulder, almost like a proud parent, and they began to walk toward the parked car. Maybe it was her Take that thought, but as she glanced back over her shoulder into the clearing, she almost imagined she could still feel him there, watching her…
Take that, you bastard.
The vampire Dmitriu picked up her message with unusual delight as he leapt from tree to tree. Although she’d flung it so wildly it could have been heard by just about any telepath in the vicinity, there was enough of him in her thought to tell him where she was aiming. As if she was aware of his presence in the wood, watching her.
The idea pleased him. A latency he’d been vaguely aware of when neither of them had been at their best was clearly coming to the fore. It made the prophecy more likely.
One should never, of course, put one’s faith in prophecies, or in one’s own interpretation of a prophecy. And in this particular case, Luk, although probably the greatest of the Ancient prophets, had been insane and babbling, waiting dreamily for Saloman, his cousin, his enemy and one-time friend, to come home and “kill” him—or at least send him back to the eternal sleep, which was as dead as Ancients got.
Luk had rambled a mixture of nonsense and prophecy that night, mostly about Saloman and Elizabeth and the child they shouldn’t have been able to make, who was to be the hope of the world. Among the ramblings had come the bizarre statement that “The junkie whore shall save the trinity in the first hour.”
A prime example of why one couldn’t and shouldn’t rely on prophecy. Even allowing the trinity to be Saloman, Elizabeth, and their miracle child, it begged the question, first hour of what? And how many junkie whores were there in the entire world?
And yet Dmitriu had immediately thought of Janine, the girl who’d given him shelter in Leith a year before, along with the use of her body and blood. Even though she’d been totally out of her head at the time, there had been a kindness there that had appealed to Dmitriu’s love of humanity. And an unexpectedly wild passion, of course. But with Luk’s words, he’d remembered not so much the intense sex or the intoxicating blood or even the kindness, but the occasional stray thought of her muddled mind that had spoken directly to his. The girl was telepathic and probably carried the Ancient gene. So she’d been on his list to seek out again, even before Luk’s enigmatic ramblings.
Dmitriu straightened among the high boughs and jumped to the next branch and onto the nearby tree, reflecting that he couldn’t have been prouder of her if she’d been his own creation. In fact, his one creation, Antonia, was a source not of pride but of so much sadness, guilt, and disappointment that his mind hastily veered away from her. But this girl, Janine, had killed the vampire in her first fight, and, despite Konrad’s pronouncement, she clearly knew in her heart the difference between sensing the echo of her kill’s life force and an actual vampire presence. Which, interestingly, put her one up on the vastly more experienced Konrad.
Konrad, the rogue, dangerous hunter who accepted no alliance, no détente with vampires. Dmitriu could sense him close by; his very strength made him easy to locate. On impulse, Dmitriu changed direction and swerved through the branches to the right, unmasked just a little to give the hunter a quick hint. And, being who he was, Konrad acted upon it, immediately veering toward Dmitriu.
Dmitriu was happy to play hide-and-seek for a little, sweeping through the trees like a weirdly focused wind. But the Hungarian hunter’s presence here was too interesting to ignore. He was recruiting rogue hunters, of course, to oppose the main network’s alliance with the undead under Saloman’s rule; but like Dmitriu himself, Konrad had been focusing on Janine.
Dmitriu had been contemplating renewing his acquaintance with her tonight—her blood would be fresh and doubly delicious now, and even in her ravaged state on their earlier encounter, her lovely little body had been so wonderfully giving. Dmitriu felt himself harden at the memory. Tainted blood that had made him high; long, sweet fucking as she’d come and come in his arms.
Dmitriu jumped to the ground, speeding away from Konrad. He needed to know the cause of the hunter’s interest in Janine.
Nearly two years ago, just as much as Saloman’s forgiveness had done, Janine had revived Dmitriu’s joy in being. It had been so tempting to take her life force at the end of their night, a perfect end to his bliss—but for some reason, he’d wanted her to live. And now he was glad. They’d meet again, but not tonight. He was too hungry.
He slowed as he approached the village and strolled along the main street toward the pub. A motorbike roared past him, only to draw into the pub car park and halt among the crowd of bikes already there. The rider got off and removed his helmet. Under the car park lights, he revealed himself: a big, tattooed young man.
Dmitriu sauntered up to him, smiling. The bugger would taste better before entering the pub anyway. As a bonus, one of the cars gave off a whiff of hunter. Perfect. Dmitriu, having caught the biker’s eye, chose to lounge against the bonnet of what was surely Konrad’s car.
“Hey,” Dmitriu said, and the big biker glared at him, aggression spitting out of his mean, violent eyes. “Come here.”
Presumably stunned by being ordered around by a man of such unassuming appearance as Dmitriu—at least by his own standards—the biker stopped in his tracks. He took his right hand from his pocket, flicked his fingers, and a blade glinted in the moonlight. His lip curled; he advanced upon Dmitriu with blatant threat.
Dmitriu, who realized he was meant to run away, smiled tolerantly and embraced his enemy. Literally. His blood smelled good.
Astonished, the biker tried to bring up his knife, to stab, but Dmitriu seized his wrist before he could do more than twitch. The young brute’s mouth opened wide in pain and shock as the blade dropped from his helpless fingers.
Not that a knife could have damaged Dmitriu in any real sense, but he preferred not to leave blood lying in his wake. The biker’s eyes widened with terror as he took in his captor’s inhuman strength and his own, irretrievable mistake. He jerked futilely in Dmitriu’s hold, tried to yell, but Dmitriu yanked the biker’s head down, thus smothering his victim’s face in his shoulder and baring his throat at the same time.
Dmitriu bit into the young man’s vein and welcomed the rush of blood into his eager mouth. Despite détente, there was, he acknowledged, an extra thrill in drinking from a human with so many hunters in the vicinity. With Konrad just about to discover him feeding. An excellent position from which to deliver his warning and discover what he could.
Sometimes he loved being evil.
Janine strolled into the Grand Master’s large white office the next morning, as if she was perfectly used to being there.
Some Grand Masters of the international hunter network were mere figureheads, as in Hungary, or political appointees, as in America. Britain’s Grand Master was an old field hunter, grey, gnarled, and unflappable, and he managed the day-to-day operations of the organization. Rumour was, he didn’t sleep. He didn’t even seem to have a name, since everyone called him “Sir.”
Janine, who hadn’t cared much for anyone’s approval since she’d dropped out of school, was very aware that she needed the Grand Master’s to succeed in her new career. She’d made her first kill last night, without help, but she’d broken several rules on the way, and if they discounted the kill on the grounds that it hadn’t been witnessed, she’d have to do this section of the training all over again. Janine had wasted too much of her life. The idea of wasting more in sheer repetition appalled her. She was desperate to push forward.
At least Sir looked amiable. His craggy lips tugged upward as she approached his desk, and the way he waved one hand at the opposite chair seemed cordial. In his other hand, he held a piece of paper, a flyer of some kind.
“Janine. A first-time kill last night. Well done.”
“Thank you, Sir.” She was proud that she’d killed the vampire all on her own. She sat on the edge of the seat and waited for the criticisms Jack and Patrick had already leveled, praying it wouldn’t be enough to outweigh the kill.
“You understand how vital this section of your training is? You need the ability to defend yourself before all else. And I’m very glad to say you score highly.”
“Really?” She sounded like an eager child being promised a particularly coveted Christmas present, but she didn’t care.
Sir permitted himself another small smile. “Really. Not many hunters kill unaided the first time.”
“Well, it wasn’t really my first. There was the fledgling nest.”
“Yes, but that’s a bit like putting out the rubbish. It’s not very nice, but it’s hardly difficult. Target practice. Placing the stake for maximum effect. There’s barely any danger from a fledgling nest in daytime, since most of them can’t even wake up. Last night was a whole new stage, and you passed with distinction.”
More even than the rush of the kill, the euphoria of Sir’s praise made her blood sing. If she ever smiled, she’d have been grinning like the Cheshire cat. As it was, she blurted, “Then I can stay?”
“With the organization? We consider you’ll become a valuable asset. So yes, providing your psychological evaluation is good, you’ll move on with your training.”
Janine pounced. “What will that be? When?”
“At once. Providing the doctor passes you fit. As to what—research.”
Her face must have fallen because a wry smile flickered across Sir’s face. “It’s not a punishment, Janine. It’s a vital part of a hunter’s work, and success in a mission very often depends on it.”
“I thought we had backup people for that.”
“In an emergency.” Sir placed the flyer he’d been waving around on the desk. “Research can stop the emergency rearing its ugly head in the first place. Plus now more than ever, we need to know a vampire’s allegiances and check up on his known actions and associates.”
They all kill. Or worse… According to the unknown hunter she’d encountered last night.
“So, we have a special and practical task for you,” Sir went on, pushing the flyer across the desk to her. “What do you make of this?”
Janine glanced at it. To her surprise, it seemed to be a religious leaflet. There was a logo of three intertwining crosses, and a picture of a good-looking, businesslike woman speaking to a crowd of ordinary people in an anonymous city street. At the bottom of the page was printed: Militant Church of the Defence of the Holy Trinity.
“Looks like bollocks to me,” Janine said dismissively. “Who’s the Militant Church of the Defence of the Holy Trinity?”
“Well, that’s the specific thing we want you to look into. It’s run by a woman calling herself the Reverend Bathsheba Jones. They seem to hate all things supernatural or ‘un-Christian’—from the Harry Potter books to new pagans and witches. In the last few months, she’s been collecting more of a following, and we’d like to know why—basically, if it’s anything to do with the growing if subtle awareness of vampires in our midst.”
Janine nodded. At least the project sounded interesting and shouldn’t take her long. “Is she here in London?”
“For now. She’s preaching in Edinburgh the day after tomorrow.”
Shite. Janine lifted her gaze reluctantly from the leaflet to her boss’s serious face.
He said, “We also have a bigger project for you. After your psychological evaluation, spend the rest of the day researching what we know of vampires currently in Scotland and northern England. Get as much of their background as you can. Then, you’ll go there.”
Hell, they are sending me back. She couldn’t prevent the dismay. She didn’t want to go home to Scotland. It was too associated with her past. She wanted to move forward here, where there was no baggage to carry, where no one knew who or what she’d been, only what she was becoming.
“You still have a base there, don’t you?” Sir went on, ignoring her no doubt obvious lack of enthusiasm.
“You’ve kept paying the rent on my scabby flat,” she said grimly. “You can call that a base if you like.”
“Set it up as one,” Sir continued. “With equipment we’ll give you. We need current, accurate vampire numbers and a reliable overview of vampire crime in the north of the country.”
“Why?” Janine demanded.
Sir smiled, as though pleased rather than annoyed by the question. “Because we’re considering decentralizing. The new hunting requires a far greater knowledge of individuals, and it’s perfectly possible the worst of our undead have headed up there to be more distant from us. They’ve never been untouchable, but we concentrate here in the southeast among the highest density of population, as do the vampires themselves. We need to know if there are significant numbers in the north to consider having a whole or partial hunter team based up there. You will carry out this research, thus performing a useful role while completing a training exercise. Jack will be on hand to advise as before, and he’ll be checking up on your progress. You’ll have access to our records, and any help you require. But Jack will give you the final briefing. You’re booked on the night train to Edinburgh. No sleeper, though. Sorry.”
Janine stared at him. “Tonight?”
“Tonight.” Sir opened his laptop, a clear gesture of dismissal. “Better get busy.”
Janine picked up the leaflet and left.
Her next appointment was one she dreaded far more than the chat with Sir—the psychological evaluation. Janine really didn’t want a doctor anywhere near her mind. However, since it was the only route to passing her training, she went with good grace to the doctor’s office and, refusing to bite her nails, spent her waiting time sprawled back in her seat, head against the wall, remembering the excitement and the oddity of last night’s adventure.
They’d got back to London before it had struck her that even though Patrick had addressed the strange hunter by name, he’d never mentioned him to Jack.
That was one of several oddities of the evening that still disturbed her. There was Konrad himself, and the unexplained, undead presence, which, despite all reassurance to the contrary, she was still certain had been there. And the first hint she’d ever noticed of a real rift in the ranks of vampire hunters.
The office door opened. A young man in a white coat, who looked like a lab assistant, stuck his head out.
“Janine? The doctor’s ready for you.”
Her heart twisted. She’d rather have faced the vampire again. But she sighed to show they were wasting her time and theirs, and sauntered into the office as if she didn’t care. She wished it didn’t feel quite so much like doom.