Death and the Last Vampire
Life as a newly made vampire? Complicated. Being the target of Death himself? Outright bonkers.
I woke up with fangs, a thirst for blood, and no memories of my past. To add to my confusion, the Grim Reaper is inexplicably hell-bent on ending me. Who would’ve thought that the God of the Dead would wear designer suits and ooze power and danger like a mob boss straight from the underworld?
Vampires have been extinct for five thousand years. But it seems the memo didn’t quite reach my maker.
Now, Mr. Tall, Dark, and Lethal plans to use me as bait to catch the reckless bloodsucker who turned me. But I’ve got other plans—I’m desperately trying to uncover the fragments of my identity.
If we want to hunt down the immortal responsible for upsetting the balance, the God of the Dead and I are going to have to work together.
As we navigate the underbelly of Las Vegas, a city pulsating with secrets, it becomes evident that it’s not just poker chips and slot machines that keep it running. It’s Immortals who traded desert sands for casino sands and hieroglyphs for neon lights. Amidst all this, a powerful tension kindles between Death and me, threatening to fracture his millennia-old walls of solitude.
If I’m not careful, I may just die…again.
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I woke up with a gasp.
Am I dying?
Cold wrapped around me and cut into my bones like a thousand daggers.
Despite being in total darkness, I could easily discern my surroundings. I was in a metal box, the size of a coffin. There was a strange red tint to my vision. I tried to scream but nothing came out. When I closed my mouth, I bit my own lip with a precise slice. Reaching up to touch my canines, I found sharp elongated incisors. Fangs?
What the unholy hell?
The taste of metallic blood slid against my tongue and something savage tore through me. Before I knew it, I had beaten the steel door off the coffin-sized enclosure with only my feet.
The need to cover up my naked breasts and pubic region was a fleeting wink of a thought as I gaped at the steel prison I’d just been in. The sharp sting of antiseptic overwhelmed my senses along with the reek of cold, decaying flesh. I wasn’t dying. I was already dead, a cold slab of meat in a morgue drawer up until a few minutes ago. The freezing cold penetrated to the marrow of my bones.
Emotion and panic swelled inside me only to be drowned out by hunger…for blood.
Oh god, I needed to drink, feed, gorge myself, or I was going to die.
Never mind that; I had clearly already died.
I streaked through the swinging doors, passing by a half-full mug of coffee. I could smell it, instantly discerning the coffee was cheap and that it had gone cold hours ago. I followed my sharpened senses, homing in on the target of my blinding thirst.
My heart didn’t beat, but something deep and primal drummed inside me, controlling me, driving me to a room where I ripped off the door to a refrigerator with little effort. I threw the rectangular slab of steel behind me, not caring about the tremendous crashing sound it made as it smashed into the cabinets along the wall. I had found my prize—clear bags full of red, life-giving liquid.
The need doubled down, gripping me so hard it almost brought me to my knees. Instead, I grabbed a bag and bit into it, sucking it dry like a dehydrated child with a juice pouch.
The blood was cold. I wanted it hot, fresh, full of flavor and slick texture, but I couldn’t wait. I drained the bag in seconds, then reached for another. I tore into a fifth and then a sixth bag of blood, then by the time I’d sucked two thirds of the hospital fridge dry, the drumming inside me abated. Despite the cool liquid, warmth spread out to my limbs. The crisis vibrating in my cells subsided. I didn’t feel like I was going to die anymore.
Looking down at my naked, blood-smeared body, the reality of the situation crystalized around me. My legs turned boneless and I slid to the floor. The drawers of the open fridge bit into my back, but I didn’t care.
What the hell was I?
Vampire, my subconscious whispered.
Who was I?
My mind drew a blank.
I was a woman, scratch that…a vampire who’d just gorged herself on blood, naked, in a hospital in the middle of the night. Despite there being no window, I instinctively knew it had been dark out for five hours. How did I know that?
My thoughts raced as I reached for more information—a name, a life, the faces of people I knew, anything. I came up empty.
A snout pushed the door open, interrupting my existential crisis. I was startled to meet the unerring gaze of a dog. It was sleek and black, but its narrow face and bushy tail reminded me of a fox. Its fur was an inky black and its eyes were golden, near luminescent. Across the room, it stretched its neck out toward me, sniffing the air. There was no collar or leash attached to the pooch.
Sure, a dog roaming free in a hospital. Why not?
Instinctively I lifted a hand, wanting to touch the soft fur and enjoy the vivid dream I was obviously caught up in. “Hello,” I said softly, finding my voice though my words came out hoarse.
When it tilted its head, regarding me, its face shifted for the briefest of moments. Instead of a furred face, I saw its canine skull. The dog’s lip peeled back, baring its teeth at me with a low growl.
I snatched my hand back, pressing it against my chest. Doggie-poo did not like me.
The growl deepened. The dog was going to attack.
Despite the danger, I couldn’t force myself to my feet. Maybe I should let it tear me apart, I mused, oddly disconnected from my body and the situation.
Then the dog was gone, turning the corner from which it came.
I woke up in a hospital morgue, a vampire with no memories, I destroy a fridge full of blood like a girl’s rampant ice cream binge after a bad breakup, and then a weird dog shows up, threatens me, then disappears.
Something bubbled up inside of me. It pushed its way up past my throat until it spilled out of my mouth.
At first it started out as a giggle, then turned into a full-out howl of laughter and soon I had tears streaming down my face.
The second thing I learned about myself, after realizing I was a vampire, was I had a dark, jacked-up sense of humor.
That or I was crazy as a loon.
“Pl—please,” he stuttered. “Mercy.”
“Mercy?” I stood, towering over the shaking man who pleaded on his knees. My words came out crisp and concise. “Do you really think you can ask death itself for mercy and expect to get it?”
Clenching his hands together in prayer, he shook his head. Our voices echoed in the shadowy, stone antechamber. The orange firelight from the torches flickered over his face and mostly bald pate.
“You wish me to think you humble, good, and special.” My shoulders tensed and flexed under my suit. “You believe death itself should spare you because I care.” I nearly spat the last words. Then grabbing the man by the lapels, I lifted him up onto his feet and leaned in, practically nose-to-nose with him.
“You are not special. No one is spared. Everyone must meet their end as such, and you’ve already placed your bets. Now it’s time for you to cash out.”
Then I showed him the true face of death.
His piercing scream reverberated all around me as his pure terror permeated the air.
After I finished with him, I straightened my jacket and returned up the few stairs to the lone, red velvet chair in the room. Picking up the demitasse of espresso, I sipped the dark, bitter elixir. It had been a long day. The exhaustion I felt had nothing to do with a lack of rest. It was the same thing day after day, and while I valued my duty, the work was punishing, never-ending, and it was my burden alone. There was no use thinking of how things could be different, nothing would ever change.
The rhythmic and efficient click of expensive polished shoes alerted me to the presence of my aide. When I turned to Timothy, his normally carefully tousled hair seemed in more of a disarray and worry pinched his eyes.
“Sire, we have a problem.”
Setting the cup down with a clink, I gave him my full attention. “What is it?”
It wasn’t like Timothy to hesitate. One of his best qualities was being forthcoming with news, no matter good or bad.
“There has been a sighting of a…”
“Spit it out, man.”
“A vampire, sire.”
“You must have made a mistake,” I said, slowly.
Shaking his head, his lips pursed with displeasure.
I was wrong, something had changed. And not for the better.
My life had sucked the last two weeks. Living in the sewers, feeding off rats, I tried to piece my former life together. I only scored one lead to my past.
And wouldn’t you know, the potential keeper to my life’s secrets just had to be named Chad.
“What do you want, bitch?” Chad spat at me, a loogie landing squarely on my face. Chad was a six-foot dirty blond in his mid-thirties, with heavy acne scars and bad breath. No, never mind that I was hardly the picture of good hygiene. With all I’d been through the past two weeks, this was the closest thing I’d had to a shower.
Wiping away the spittle that was rapidly cooling against my cheek, I didn’t bother to hide my expression of disgust. My other hand tightened around his throat. A dainty squeak popped out of Chad. His bulging eyeballs flicked south to confirm he was indeed a foot off the ground, his feet dangling like a rag doll’s.
Okay, so my newfound undead existence came with a few cool perks.
We stood out back of the bar he frequented, The Hairy Harbinger. Chad had stepped out for a smoke, and that’s when I cornered him. No one was likely to hear his yells over the pounding classic rock and raucous slot machines coming from inside.
“Come on, Chad,” I purred. “Don’t be like that. You were there the night that girl was murdered.”
“What are you talking about?” he rasped, still trying to pry my fingers off his throat with no success.
The guy seemed more defensive than confused by my presence. There had been no spark of recognition in his eye when I showed up, which made him an even less likely suspect for my murder.
“I’m talking about the girl who was found with her throat ripped out. You were spotted on the scene.” I jerked my head in the direction of the alley, two blocks over.
“I told the cops what happened. They let me go,” he protested. Resentment simmered in Chad’s eyes. Chad wasn’t the brightest bulb in the vanity.
I lowered Chad so his feet touched the ground, but I kept my grip tight. At the prospect he might get loose and run, a thrill went through me, tightening my nipples as the predator inside me awoke. I blamed the fast thrum of his veins under my palm. His blood was distracting, tantalizing, and despite his ugly mug, arousal curled in my belly.
I recoiled at the thought. Not for him, eww.
Still, the prospect of a hot, human meal…his blood sang to me. It would be so sweet to sink my teeth into his neck and drain him dry. I suppressed a shiver. It was risky to be this close to a human when I barely got enough vermin blood to stay sane. But I had to track down the truth. Find out what happened to me.
I pushed away thoughts of ripping his throat out and said, “Yeah, well, I ain’t the cops, so tell me what happened.” I gave him a shake, hard enough to leave his teeth rattling.
Before leaving the morgue, I’d managed to locate and read my file before I stole a lab coat and hightailed it out of there. In the manila envelope were pictures of my body. My limbs were splayed out at awkward angles, my lips bluish gray, eyes wide and empty. Head tilted to the side, the mangled meat of my ripped-up neck was on perfect display for the camera. I was wearing a little black dress and heeled boots, but there was no trace of a purse, phone, or any form of ID. There was a note attached that it was a possible mugging, but the wounds looked like they were inflicted by an animal. I was tempted to grab a pen and write in “vampire attack,” next to the original note.
The coroner had also tried to run my fingerprints, but the scanner errored out. I’d examined the pads of my fingers, finding they were unusually smooth. Too smooth. As far as the coroner was concerned, I was still a Jane Doe.
Ugh. What a lame name. I was tempted to grab the pen a second time to write in a better one.
But the most important thing I’d gleaned was the location where my body had been found. I resorted to hanging around that very alleyway, looking for clues, when I picked up bits of conversation from a couple guys smoking outside a bar around the corner, The Hairy Harbinger. The place was a dark hole in the wall that stank of weak beer and vomit. Can I serve you a knife wound along with that cheap whiskey?
The two men casually chatted about how Chad stumbled on “that dead chick with the nice set of legs.” They mused on whether he’d done it, since it wouldn’t be the first time he’d gotten rough with the ladies.
After two weeks of hanging around to see if Chad would show up, I finally approached one of the smokers. For the low price of 250 dollars, he would coax Chad back out. I’d managed to get the dough, and now that I had the sole lead to my past in my hands, it was worth it.
“Like I told the cops”—Chad over-enunciated each word with palpable hate—“I was smoking outside, waiting on a friend when I heard someone scream. Coupla tourists straight off the Strip stumbled onto the body. I didn’t see shit.”
His heart pounded erratically, and his eyes darted here and there, confirming what I suspected of Chad the Charming.
“You’re a liar,” I said, giving him my best psychotic smile. His eyes widened, and he went still as his gaze fixed onto my mouth. Right. Vampire fangs. Forgot those would come in handy for scare tactics.
Suddenly words were spilling out of him in a waterfall. “I was smoking, like I said, but while I was waiting, I saw someone in the alleyway. It took me a minute to realize they were dumping a body.”
Anticipation gripped me. Finally, a freaking clue what happened that night. I’d been killed somewhere else. I’d need to figure out where I’d been and why the vampire moved my body. Weren’t bloodsucking fiends uncaring of the bodies left in their wake? “What did they look like?”
When Chad emitted another squeak, I realized I needed to loosen my grip a bit. “Sorry, you got me a bit excited. Now tell me what they looked like.” A part of me still insisted no one would miss this lowlife scumbag. I could drink him dry and leave the world a little brighter.
No. I clamped down on my instincts and fought the thirst with everything in me. My thirst would not control me, and I would not become a murderer.
Chad’s gaze moved passed me and something changed. His face drained of color and if I weren’t holding him up, his legs would have failed him. The tiny hairs along the nape of my neck stuck up at attention. As if I knew with certainty lightning was about to strike me right on the two inches of exposed flesh between my coat and hairline.
Releasing my grip on the man in front of me, I twisted around, already wishing I hadn’t.
What I saw was scary enough to kill me…again.
The figure stalking toward us was no regular being. Despite having the visage of a man, power flowed out from him in a majestic dark mantle. Though I didn’t need to breathe, panic sliced through my chest as the air was sucked out of the space around me. My stomach plunged and my already cold body dropped to arctic temperatures.
It was like setting eyes on a solar eclipse; not impossible, but it burned. His square jaw clenched with visible tension. Vengeful eyes burned with golden fire, and his muscular build filled out the suit he wore. His movements were liquid, unnatural. The only sign he was human was the dark scruff perfectly framing his full lips.
“It’s the devil.” Chad’s whisper came out hoarse. I hadn’t realized I’d let him go, but he remained frozen in place, staring at the approaching creature with abject horror and dread. “He’s finally come for my soul.”
The man oozed power. In his presence, I was a mere ant. He would smush me without any regard.
He’s just a man, I told myself, swallowing hard.
As if hearing my thoughts, the man’s face flickered. I got glimpses of what I guessed to be his true form—a skull with eye holes of black, sucking darkness that threatened to drag me in and swallow me whole. Looking at him was like meeting with the end of everything.
Based on Chad’s reaction, you didn’t have to be supernatural to see this guy had major mojo. More importantly, the dude looked seriously pissed.
Chad stumbled away from me, and I didn’t try to stop him.
Maybe because I knew I was in the last two seconds of my undead life.
The powerful being paid no attention to my hard-won mark, making a beeline for me.
Shit shit shit. What do I do
A hand reached for me. My instincts kicked in as I dodged his grasp, then grabbed his arm and did the only thing I could do.
I bit his hand.
He stopped cold.
“What the hell are you doing?” he growled, and a shiver rippled down my body before sweeping back up through my stomach. Fear and…lust?
Great, whoever I really was, I was also dumb.
My lips still wrapped around the side of his palm, I said with a full mouth, “Biting you?”
His look of incredulous disgust would have reduced any other human being into a puddle of regret at having ever been born.
It was then that I realized my fangs had retracted, and I was gnawing on him like a toddler. Releasing him, backing up a few steps, I put my hands up in the air. “I was just trying to defend myself. It was clear you were coming at me with a lot of heat.”
Examining the dull teeth imprints on his hand, then me, the god said, “And you thought you could…”
“Bite you?” I winced at my lack of conviction. I didn’t know what tall, dark, and scary’s deal was, but I was pretty sure being a vampire who couldn’t bite was a pretty epic failing. Was I this big of a loser in my last life? Vampires only did the one thing, right? Bite people and drink blood?
Who was I supposed to see about revoking my V-card?
Oh right, V did not stand for vampire in that instance.
The god wiped the back of his hand against his very expensive-looking pants. He gave me a strange look.
The squeal of tires filled the air. Chad had made off like a bat out of hell. I dropped my hands, slapping one knee in frustration. “Seriously? Now I have to track his ass all over again. I barely had the money to bribe his buddy to lure him out the first time.” I held out a hand expectantly to the god. “You owe me two hundred and fifty bucks.”
After all, I’d stolen that money in a crumbling, smoke-filled casino fair and square. I’d been trying to pick a mark to steal from when I heard a man, rooted to a poker table, make a lewd suggestion as he slapped a cocktail waitress on her ass. She bit her lip instead of responding, probably not wanting to ruin her chances of a tip. He’d had a lucky day, judging by his chips. As he leered at her retreating form, I’d activated my super speed mode to nab his neat, colorful stack. I made sure to drop half of them on the waitress’s tray when she was looking the other way. I was like the Robin Hood of vampires. But I wasn’t so good that I’d let this beastly hot man get away without paying me back what I’d rightfully stolen.
Clearly taken aback, the god looked at my outstretched hand as if it were the hand of a leper’s.
This time when he reached for me, he succeeded in wrapping his fingers around my throat. My feet lifted off the ground several feet, like I’d done to Chad only minutes ago.
Seriously, what kind of karma had I racked up in my previous life?
Despite not needing to breathe, I felt the instinctual danger that he wanted to rip my head off. In the list of methods I had tried on myself to see if the vampire myths held true or not, I was fairly certain that he would take me out.
I clawed at his hand, but he didn’t release his grip.
“What are you doing here, sekhor?” he snarled.
I’m definitely going to die.
Despite the pressure around my throat, I could squeak out. “Fuck you.”
What? Do you want to die faster? my logical brain cried.
His nostrils flared and the golden light gleamed from his eyes. Okay, he was some supernatural being. Maybe he was a vampire? Maybe the one who turned me?
Still, he had barged in, scared off my mark, called me what sounded like a dirty word, and assaulted me. I wasn’t cowing down to this son of a bitch, no matter how bone-melting gorgeous he was. Or how pee-my-pants terrifying.
“What was that?” he said, cupping a hand around his ear. “You want me to rip your head off right now, bloodsucker?” A faint, cultured accent curled around his words seductively despite his threat. The low timbre of his voice reverberated through my skin, striking my bones with a devastating blow.
Bloodsucker? Okay, maybe he wasn’t a vampire, but I wasn’t entirely ruling it out. Despite being a nearly starved vampire, I didn’t hear his blood the way I could most people’s. I was salivating for different reasons. The things I wanted to do to his jawline had nothing to do with drinking blood.
I settled for a glare this time, imagining every bone-breaking maneuver I could use on him.
Understanding dawned in his eyes, as if he heard my thoughts loud and clear. My gut clenched at the possibility this supernatural dude could read my mind. But no, I was just doing a stellar job of broadcasting my “Fuck you” this time.
He released me. I half-expected to crumple to the ground. Instead, I miraculously landed on my feet. Score one for vampire abilities. One side of his mouth curled up in a smile as his eyes flattened like a shark’s. He was now ten times scarier.
“Tell me how you came to be, and I’ll make it quick,” he promised. Where there had been raw fury a moment ago, he slid into a smooth professional demeanor. His voice was silken. There was a soothing, well-practiced quality to his tone. I instantly believed he could convince terrorists to hand over their guns simply because he asked.
“Make what quick?” I rubbed my neck, wondering if I could bruise.
The smooth mask slipped as he bared his teeth at me. “Your death.”
“Yeah, well, the last time didn’t exactly take, so what makes you think you’d be successful?”
Taking two steps toward me, he seemed to suck all the air out from the space between us again. “Trust me.”
If I still had a beating heart, it would have been hammering out of my chest. As it was, my nipples hardened at the rough tone of his voice. To both our credits, our eyes remained locked despite the stiff peaks now pushing through my tank top.
“That’s what I’m working to find out,” I said, waving an arm in the direction Chad had taken off. “You chased off my only lead to finding out who bit me.”
Something hardened in the god’s face. “Someone bit you?” I was tempted to ask what type of accent that curled seductively around his word. It was cultured yet comprehensive, as if he were from everywhere and nowhere.
Maybe I’m a linguist; how else would I know about accents?
“Isn’t that generally how vampires are made?” I pulled the collar of my leather jacket and tank top aside to show the scar tissue where my neck met my shoulder, where someone had taken a chunk out of me. Nothing like those beautiful, pristine twin bite marks you saw in the movies. The sucker had gnawed on me as if I were a chew toy.
The gold drained from his irises, leaving warm mahogany as they regarded my scar. “You don’t remember?”
A few strands of my hair tickled my nose, but I was afraid to make any movement to push it back. “Nope, sure don’t. Don’t remember my name, my family, my home, my life. Pretty sure I would like all of those back.”
“So, what?” His tone was derisive and incredulous. “You think you can go back to living a normal life though you must live off the blood of others to survive?”
I jutted my chin out, glaring at him. Okay yeah, it was a pretty stupid plan when he said it out loud, but damned if I was going to tell him that. Judging by the amused glint in his eye, he knew anyway.
This time he grabbed me by the arm, dragging me along. “What the hell, dude?”
“Dude?” He raised a perfect dark eyebrow at me. There it was again, that spark of amusement. When it drained a second time, he said, “You will answer my every question to help me find the one who made you.”
Sounded like a brilliant plan when I was on my own. Coming from him, it sounded like a suicide plan. “And once I do?”
He stopped, jerking me to an abrupt stop, bringing me face-to-face with him.
Damn, he smelled insanely good. Whatever cologne mixed with the scent of his skin was enough to make my brain go fuzzy. Warmth spread through my stomach, then pooled between my legs. I wanted him. Maybe even more than blood.
His gaze lingered on my lips. Holy hell. He was going to kiss me. Every fiber of my undead being begged for it, wanting to be set on fire by those perfect, full lips. I was dying to feel the dark scruff rake across my face as I discovered what he tasted like.
Instead, his words washed me in cold fear. “I will end you.”
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