Blood Gamble Page 1


Pasadena, CA

Four years ago

The girl in the cell paced and paced, trying to ignore the new signals from her body. Everything hurt, and the blasted emptiness in her belly cried out—for food, of all wretched things. She screamed with frustration, smacking her palms against the bars of the cage, but that hurt too. How did anyone do this? How did those fragile little humans survive in these soft shells of skin and blood? She hated it.

She sat down once more on the bed, huddling under the thin cotton sheet. The cold was another old-new experience she now had to endure. The basement cells weren’t damp, she had to give him credit for that, but they were eternally cold—as the grave, she thought manically, and laughed at her own joke. They had given her a plain shift to wear, little more than a glorified sheet, but it was better than the torn and shredded cocktail dress she’d arrived in, which lay discarded in one corner, still covered in blood. Blood that now meant nothing to her. It no longer knew how to call her name.

It was all his fault. He had come to her several times, her John—she refused to call him by the name he now used. Each time, he would silently draw her blood into syringes, check her pulse and her pupils, and depart without a word, leaving behind a tray of food, like a final slap in the face. At first she refused to cooperate, kicking and scratching with her frail human body, but he’d calmly pressed her mind to make her obedient. Imagine that—being pressed by a vampire! Was there no greater humiliation? She had decided she would rather be still than be used as a puppet.

But whether or not she submitted, her time was running out. When he completed his tests, she knew that her long, turbulent life would end. All those years . . . the days and nights spent with distinguished men, the child she’d borne, the efforts she’d made, first to be with greatness, and then to be great herself. She had had so many adventures, so much passion! She had saved vampires from themselves; she knew she had. But no one would give her any credit, and now they never would.

After that, after her one heroic attempt to alter the current of history had ended in a sort of meaningless success, there had been years and years of sulking in her rotting mansion, trying to devise a way to regain relevance. Then an opportunity to stage a coup had fallen into her lap, and there’d seemed to be a sort of poetry to it. After all, John had brought her into all of this. He had been her maker. Wasn’t it only fair that she unmake him in return?

She had come so close.

She lost track of time in her cell, of course—her body suddenly required sleep, like a common animal. But after perhaps three or four days, John came again, with no tools this time, no tray of food. She knew he would be able to smell the fear that this provoked in her, but she held her chin high. She would show him nothing.

“So you’ve had enough of playing mad scientist?” she said crisply. “Did you figure out what that . . . that creature did to me?”

He looked at her with eyes that hadn’t aged, but which had become ancient all the same. “You know what she did, Claire,” he said in his quiet way. “She’s cured you.”

She snorted. “Cured. Cured. I cannot believe you would say such a thing after all we have been through, as humans, and then as vampires. After all I have done for you.”

His eyes narrowed. “Be very careful, Claire. The last thing you did for me was try to kill my wife in my presence.”

She waved a hand. “I was upset. You were being unreasonable.”

He just looked at her, his face etched with sadness. To her disgust, she felt her lower lip begin to tremble. Would this body never cease to betray her? “If you’re waiting for an apology, it will not come,” she snapped, meeting his eyes. She knew it was dangerous, but what did it matter now? “Feeding Stoker the book united us. It pushed us past the infighting and forced us to find order—choosing cities, taking care with our prey. Kill me for that if you must, but I regret nothing. I saved us.”

He regarded her with an expression she could no longer read. She fought the human desire to squirm. She would not show him a prey response, not now. “Maybe you did,” he said at last. “And maybe not. Either way, that is not why you will die today.”

She tossed her hair out of her eyes.

“Why, then?”

He smiled then, the old wry smile she had known forever. “Because you lost.”

In the end, he pressed her mind, so that as her spine twisted sideways and snapped, she felt nothing but a pleasant daze. She didn’t particularly deserve such mercy, Dashiell knew, but he did it more out of respect for the past than respect for her. He had been Claire’s maker, and in many distasteful ways, she had been his.

He never told anyone that he pressed Claire before her death, not even his wife. Instead, as he returned to her he gave the appearance of a man who had just taken the garbage to the curb. His wife probably suspected, of course, because of all those who still walked the planet, she alone knew that he kept the fading ember of a Romantic still alive within him. But she had kept that secret for a very long time, and would keep this one for longer still.

Chapter 1

On a Thursday evening in the middle of March, I was sitting on the floor of a werewolf’s condo, delivering on what might be the world’s most awkward favor.

I couldn’t leave my spot on the carpet, but I’d at least come prepared, with big-ass headphones, magazines, and snacks. Shadow, the enormous bargest who had decided to adopt me, was draped across my feet, her head turned to watch the bedroom door. Her body language was sort of amused-but-puzzled. Even a regular dog could have figured out what was happening in the next bedroom, and Shadow was miles from a regular dog. Every now and then she would tilt her head backward to check my face, as if to say, “I know we do some weird shit, but . . . really?”

Each time, I just kind of had to shrug.

Two weeks earlier, my friend (and knife trainer) Marko had brought up a personal problem, for probably the first time since I’d met him. Marko was a werewolf, and werewolf magic causes its victims to become sterile. He and his (human) wife really wanted a baby. They couldn’t afford options like international adoption or IVF with sperm donors, and they were both in their early forties now, running out of time.

Which is how I ended up being the only one who could help. As a null, I don’t have any particular magic powers—just the opposite, really. I negate all the magic within a certain radius around me, creating a magic-free bubble that has me as its center. In theory, if Marko stayed within that area, I could keep him human for a short time, and he and his wife could make a baby the old-fashioned way. Assuming, of course, we could all get past the extreme awkwardness that would be involved.

It was weird, but it was far from the weirdest thing I’d done lately. The leaders of the Los Angeles vampires, werewolves, and witches all paid me a retainer to clean up supernatural problems that arose in the city. When things were quiet, as they’d been for the past couple of months, I was free to pick up freelance work.

Most of the time this involved shepherding vampires around during daylight activities, but two weeks earlier, I had been paid to attend a witch’s beach volleyball tournament so I could make sure her opponent wasn’t using magic to cheat. A few days before that, I’d accompanied a crowd-shy werewolf to a taping of his favorite sitcom, to help him stay calm in the midst of all that teeming humanity. I might have actually enjoyed that outing, except the sitcom was one of those “fat slovenly husband vs. shrill anorexic wife” crapfests. Freelance work could be kind of a gamble.

Compared to that, sitting around with loud music and magazines wasn’t exactly hard on me. “Besides, it’s not like I had anything better to do,” I muttered to myself, causing Shadow to briefly raise her head and look at me inquiringly. Whoops. I’d probably said that a lot louder than I meant to. It was true, though: since I had split up with Eli, my werewolf ex-boyfriend, I’d had an awful lot of free time. I exercised (reluctantly), ran security drills with Dashiell’s daytime (human) crew, let my friend Jesse drag me to the shooting range to practice with his stupid guns, and hung out with Molly, my vampire roommate. Occasionally someone would make a mess in the Old World, and I’d go clean it up. But I had what currently boiled down to a part-time job, exactly two friends, and zero romantic interests. And, insult to injury, most of my TV shows were going on hiatus.

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