Someone's importing illegal metals into Las Vegas. Iron, to be specific: the only substance that can instantly kill one of the deadly sidhe. But there are no sidhe in Las Vegas. Not anymore. Dana McIntyre killed the last of them two weeks earlier.
Importing the iron seems to be a matter of life and death, though. Mostly death. People are being slaughtered over these imports, and Dana can't figure out why. It's a puzzle that must be solved quickly and quietly. If the Office of Preternatural Affairs realizes how destabilized Las Vegas has become, they'll shut down vampire hunters like Dana.
She has no choice but to partner with Nissa Royal, the right hand of the city's master vampire, to hunt down the iron's buyer. Nissa's interested in a lot more than a functional partnership from Dana, though. She won't settle for anything less than Dana's soul...
Paradise, Nevada—July 2034
The hookah lounge in front of the Mirage probably wasn’t the ideal place for a contraband purchase, especially on a night when the wind carried the scent of rain, but Aggy couldn’t think of anywhere better.
The Paradisos used to pull these kinds of deals out in the desert. It had seemed like a good idea at first. After all, there were no witnesses aside from the Joshua trees and moonlight. But Aggy’d been with the Paradisos long enough to remember when they’d feuded with other murders, like the Southside Killers and Mama’s Dogs, and going out to the empty desert for deals had been like putting a target on their backs. It was easy to track the only cars heading north on the highway, and easier still to ambush them.READ MORE
Aggy didn’t know how many vampires had gotten ashed in those days. It was hard to count bodies mixed together with the dust in the salt flats. She’d have bet the numbers hit triple digits, though.
The Paradisos hadn’t lost folks in such numbers since they’d started using public drop points. Basically nowhere was more public than the Mirage’s Strip-facing hookah lounge.
There were tourists everywhere. The obnoxious kind of tourist who wore sunglasses at night and hoped their concealer made them pallid enough to pass for bloodless. And then also the tourists sucking down smoke, blowing it in each other’s faces, and tossing back whole growlers of whiskey. There were slimy guys hitting on women in little black dresses. Bartenders who watered down drinks to save money on liquor. A deejay who thought that everyone seriously wanted to listen to 00s pop.
None of them paid any attention to the actual vampires in the back. It was a setting so public it might as well have been private.
Aggy and Momoe, the healer, repped the Paradisos for this trade. Mohinder trusted Aggy above the other vamps, which was smart of him; she’d rather cut off her tongue and bitch-slap cops with it than narc on her master.
Opposite Aggy and Momoe sat Lucifer’s guys, a pair of new-blood vamps staring so hungrily at the tourists that their eyeballs seemed likely to pop out their sockets. Lucifer was a vampire based in the Nether Worlds whose flunkies sold contraband topside. He was famous for a vampire. He didn’t have to beg for blood, and he couldn’t be arrested for drinking from anyone he wanted. His lackeys were not so untouchable.
“You can’t eat here,” Momoe said. She had to shout over the music to be heard. The deejay was currently assaulting their ears with an offensively brassy remix of Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life,” even though most of the baby-faced mortals at the hookah lounge hadn’t been alive when the song came out.
“No eating? At all?” Roy looked melancholy, and the amount of black eyeshadow he wore and his droopy jowls meant he probably always looked melancholy. Gods only knew what basement Lucifer had dragged that vamp out of.
“Synth blood only in Paradise,” Aggy agreed. “We can have the bartender bring us some.” She waved him down.
Paradise was a city within a city. Few people realized it even existed inside of Las Vegas even though it encompassed most of the local tourist thruways, including the Strip, the university, and even McCarran International Airport. The eponymously named Paradisos owned almost every single square inch within Paradise. They were only missing parts of UNLV. There wasn’t enormous value to a university when you were dead, aside from owning the Rebels to theoretically profit off of their wins, if they ever won. Which they didn’t.
Basically everything else belonged to the vamps.
So yeah, there was no drinking of human blood anywhere in Paradise. Humans weren’t just food. They were money. The little rats would only come wandering through the city if they felt safe doing it. Start picking them off, and who’d pay the bills?
The other of Lucifer’s vampires leaned forward so he could talk more quietly. “You seriously only drink synth on the Strip? You can’t tell me that’s how Achlys rolls in private.”
Sergio was both right and wrong. Aggy’s former master, Achlys, had kept a few feeders who’d pissed her off in captivity. But Achlys didn’t do anything in private anymore. She’d been slaughtered.
Now that Mohinder had taken over the Paradisos, and all of Achlys’s properties, it was more important than ever to keep their noses clean. Lucifer was a drug dealer by trade. He wasn’t exactly going to report Mohinder to the Office of Preternatural Affairs if it came out that the new master liked to drink from the jugular. But even Lucifer had a way of letting rumors get around, and his flunkies would be even bigger chatter-boxes.
Image was everything. They couldn’t risk Mohinder’s run against Mayor Hekekia.
“Synth only,” Aggy said firmly. “It’s the law.”
“Toeing the line of the law is funny coming from someone doing deals with Lucifer.” Roy’s fingertips drummed on the suitcase at his side. It was the size of an airplane carry-on and made him look like he’d just gotten off JetBlue without checking into his hotel.
Momoe Esquerer had a matching carry-on. The witch was an outwardly nice older lady, somewhere in her fifties, and she looked convincingly like a traveler despite sitting with a clutch of vampires.
Except her carry-on didn’t have her medication and curling iron.
It had cash—lots of it.
“I don’t like the looks of this place,” Roy said after another long, baleful look around the patio. “It’s too open. I can’t immediately pinpoint all the cameras. There’s people everywhere. And if there are any avian shifters…”
Aggy would have bet that Lucifer instructed his guys to pull the deal on more favorable territory. Lucifer liked information as much as money, and if his guys could get Paradisos alone, then it’d be easier to pry. Or capture and torture them. Torture had been rival murders’ favorite pastime for years.
“Here is fine,” Aggy said. “Nobody’s paying any attention to us.”
“There are gulls and crows,” Sergio said. He nodded toward the cabana. The indistinct shapes of birds watching for food formed a skyline against the Mirage’s illuminated flank.
“You’re not afraid of a couple birdies, are you?” Momoe’s tone was acid. Same patronizing tone she used when she was healing. Bedside manner was not one of Momoe’s strong suits.
“I don’t want to get killed by shifters because you insist that we do this in such a public venue,” Sergio said.
Aggy took a long inhale of the hookah. “But we do.”
“Insist,” she said with a smile. Smoke curled out of the corners of her mouth.
The bartender brought three bottles of synthetic blood over. He knew Momoe wasn’t a vampire just by looking at her. It was easy to smell the mortals even underneath thick clouds of shisha smoke.
Roy gave a gloomy, “Thanks,” and took the bottle.
Bon Jovi switched over to Counting Crows.
“You’re nervous, poor babies, so let’s get this done. Let’s see what you’ve got,” Momoe said.
Roy pulled the carry-on into his lap. He unzipped the top, pulling it open like a mouth so that she could peer inside. Aggy’s night vision was as good as that of any vampire who lived off synth blood. Through the slit, she could see that they had at least some of the promised product.
“What do you think?” Aggy asked Momoe.
Momoe stood and extended a hand. “May I?”
“Enjoy,” Sergio said. “If you try to run off with it, I will rip your head off.” He smiled lazily as he said it, like he was joking.
Momoe lifted the suitcase. It was almost too heavy for a mortal of her strength; she strained to pick it up a few inches. Aggy was surprised that the strap didn’t break. When Momoe set it down again, she was panting audibly despite the loud music.
“All right,” Aggy said. “Looks good.” She stirred the coals on their hookah with her pinky nail, then took another inhale from the pipe.
“This was a weird request, coming from you guys,” Sergio said. “But you must have paid pretty for it if Lucifer sent us all the way across the ley lines to deliver. Makes me think that you’ve got a big change in Vegas if you’re making such weird orders.”
“I heard Achlys is gone,” Roy said.
Aggy remained relaxed, her elbows on the back of the couch. “Where’d you hear that?”
“When a master vampire dies to mutiny, word gets around.”
“Mutiny?” Aggy laughed. “Mutiny!” She probably laughed a little too loud, a little too long.
In truth, it had been mutiny. Achlys had let an unseelie sidhe into her murder, and it had turned out that Shawn Wyn was exactly as much a vampire-hating psychopath as everyone had worried. He’d only played along with vampire politics to get close to leadership.
Shawn Wyn was dead now. He no longer posed a threat to the vampires of Las Vegas.
But when Shawn had gone down, he’d dragged Achlys into death with him.
Mohinder was a much better master than Achlys. Everybody preferred him. He wasn’t as scary as Achlys, who’d slunk around in those Elvira-like dresses with her Corpse Bride figure. That ability to fill people with fear was the reason Achlys had earned her monopoly over Vegas. It had been useful for conquering. In the long term, constant terror was exhausting. Aggy was glad Achlys was gone.
But there was no way she’d corroborate rumors of a coup with vampires from other murders; it made the Paradisos look too weak. “It was Dana McIntyre,” Aggy said. “She killed Achlys. Staked seventeen of her personal security members and then took down the master herself.”
“McIntyre?” Roy exchanged looks with Sergio. “We’ve heard about her.”
“Bet you have. She’s going to kill all of us if we let her run wild.” That was the Paradisos’s official statement on Dana McIntyre, and their attitude toward the Hunting Club at large. Had to make sure to color them as villains, not heroes. Rumors had a way of making history.
“Are you saying Achlys let her run wild?” Sergio asked.
“Mohinder won’t,” Aggy said. “He’s working with the LVMPD to shut her crew down. It won’t be long before Vegas is safe for all of us.” All of us meaning, of course, vampires.
“And that’s why you needed a massive shipment of contraband,” Roy said dully. Sarcastically. “Because Mohinder’s got everything under control.”
“Trade time.” Aggy’s words were muffled through the smoke billowing from her dry lungs.
Roy glanced around the patio. “You’re sure about here?”
“One hundred percent,” Aggy said. There was so much smoke that she couldn’t make out even the people at the nearest couches. Throw in the deejay’s flashing lights, and even vampires wouldn’t see anything. And the gulls wouldn’t care either.
Momoe set her suitcase next to the first one. Roy took hers. Aggy took the heavy one.
And that was that. Sale finished.
Roy stood watch as Sergio gave the cash a cursory counting. He didn’t have the time or the privacy to pull everything out for a more accurate inventory.
“It’s all there,” Aggy said.
“You better hope it is. Lucifer knows how to find you guys if you’re trying to scam him.”
“All this paranoia.” Momoe sneered openly. “Imaginary cash shortfalls, or imaginary seagull-shifters listening to us talk. Nobody’s even looking!”
“Almost nobody,” said a woman who came to stand up at the edge of the table.
Aggy hadn’t seen her coming.
She caught only a glimpse of the woman out the corner of her eye: the short messy hair bleached white, tipped with temporary blue dye; the thick waist and thighs that indicated a woman who wasn’t shy about putting on muscle; the single metal gauntlet she wore with jeans and her tattered Metallica tee.
“Run!” Momoe spat at Aggy. The witch’s hands plunged into her purse—an oversized bag made of the same fabric as the carry-on.
When she pulled her hands out, she was holding a handgun and a wooden stake.
Dana McIntyre bared her teeth. Her canines were slender and elongated, just as Achlys’s had once been. “Don’t even think about it, asshole.” She touched her ear and said, “Now.”
All the lights at the hookah lounge went off. Street lights, casino lights, everything on the block—totally black.
Aggy’s eyes were as good as any vampire’s, but her pupils still needed time to adjust. Going from light to black left her blinded. Her fingers fumbled on the strap for the suitcase, and she tripped over a half-dozen couches trying to run for the exit.
Momoe screamed. “Fuck! Stop!”
Her cries were punctuated by snarls and shrieks, some of which came from Lucifer’s guys. Roy and Sergio weren’t Aggy’s problem anymore. They’d received the cash, and she had the package from Lucifer. If McIntyre was killing them…whatever.
The only thing that mattered now was getting the suitcase to Mohinder.
So Aggy ran.
She was a good runner. Fast. There was a reason she’d been handling trades like these for as long as the Paradisos had existed.
Problem was that the suitcase was really fucking heavy.
Even Aggy’s undead muscles could only handle hauling that thing for a couple seconds. Then she had to drop it to its wheels, and it was smashing into tables, sending hookahs and coals to the ground, making mortals scatter.
It took full-body effort to haul it over the fence ringing the edge of the patio. Still less time than it would have taken to find the exit in the darkness, though.
People were still screaming.
But it was getting quieter. Like a certain vampire hunter had already killed Lucifer’s guys and was now moving in Aggy’s direction.
“Fuck,” Aggy panted, racing down the uneven sidewalk toward the nearest lights she could see. Caesar’s Palace wasn’t far. She could disappear into its depths, jump behind the shopping mall into the employee hallways, go underground.
Her mind ran the calculations as her feet did everything else. A vampire on synth blood was usually three times as fast as a human at top speed. Blood virgins were still mostly human. Even if Dana McIntyre was running ten miles an hour, and the suitcase slowed Aggy to twenty, she had one heck of a head start.
And Caesar’s Palace really was so close.
Aggy almost got there.
But she hesitated at the crosswalk, trying to decide if the pedestrian bridge would be faster or what. An instant of hesitation shouldn’t have made a huge difference. Not with vamp speed against a blood virgin.
Yet when she hesitated, she heard pounding footsteps.
Then a force collided with Aggy’s back. She hit the sidewalk. Rough hands—one bare, one gauntleted—flipped her onto her back, and knees pinned down her arms. “It’s impossible!” Aggy gasped, squirming underneath Dana McIntyre’s pressure.
“Shut up, bloodless.” McIntyre yanked a wooden stake out of her belt.
The power on the block flared to life, bathing the hunter in light from the nearest casinos. She was still white-haired. Still wearing the gauntlet. She was also wearing ash now—heavy gray ash clinging to her shirt and jeans. And McIntyre’s eyes were as colorless as her cheeks.
“You still haven’t been drinking,” Aggy said. “You’re turning into a vampire but you—”
She never got to finish that thought.
Dana McIntyre buried the stake in her heart.COLLAPSE