Broken Soul

Page 1

CHAPTER 1

Half-Dressed Vamp Gave a Come-Hither, Toothy Smile

Visiting the Master of the City of New Orleans was always challenging, but it was worse when he was in a mood. Leo Pellissier’s Clan Home and personal residence had burned to the ground not so very long ago, and the rebuilding was taking longer than he thought he should have to wait. Combined with the accidental media release of the upcoming arrival of a delegation of the European Mithrans—fangheads of state to the rest of us—and making the arrangements to house and feed his unwanted guests according to their usual kingly standards, his patience was wearing thin. Any equanimity he might have feigned to was long gone.

His Regal Grumpiness had demanded my presence. Yeah. I had called him that—from a safe distance, on my official, military-grade, bullet-resistant cell phone. I’m brave and all, but I’m not stupid.

I parked the SUV I had been driving lately—one of the MOC’s, a heavily armored gas guzzler fitted with laminated polycarbonate glass, the stuff often called bulletproof glass—in front of the Mithran Council Chambers and ascended the stairs, checking over the changes in the building’s security arrangements. The razor wire on the brick fence around the property in the French Quarter had caused quite a stir, various injunctions, and political posturing, but New Orleans’ Vieux Carré Commission had caved when it was pointed out to them that Leo was currently, technically, something like a head of state or maybe a Mithran ambassador, and the property was, therefore, currently, technically, not quite U.S. territory. The political relationships between the Secret Service, the Treasury Department, the United States legal system, and the vamps were murky. Congress was still debating fanghead status and whether to declare them citizens or something else. I was betting on something else as the most likely outcome. It would be cheaper than rewriting the laws to include penalties for human blood-drinking; nearly immortal vampires, who were deathly allergic to sunlight, were strong enough to tear out iron bars, fast enough to be difficult to spot on standard security cameras, and had the ability to use their stalking compulsion and their blood to enslave humans and make them want to do stuff. Like let them walk free one night from any high-security prison. It was cheaper to consider them some form of noncitizen and therefore not subject to all U.S. laws.

I was in the middle of upgrading the security of the council house from an embassy-security precaution level to White House–security precaution level to provide super-duper protection during the EVs’ upcoming shindig. Hence the razor wire; the increased number of dynamic cameras all over, with low-light and infrared capability; the new, top-of-the-line automatic backup generators in case of power failure; the new automatic muted lighting that was being installed along all the hallways inside; the replacement of the decorative iron-barred gate in the brick fence with an ugly, layered-iron gate that weighed a ton and could resist a dump truck filled with explosives. Just for starters. The measures I had instituted were not Draconian but they were more stringent than the historical society liked on the outside and that the vamps themselves liked on the inside. All this for the visitation that no one wanted but no one could refuse. Not even the American vamps themselves.

A lot of ordinary humans in the U.S. were unhappy about the planned—but as yet unscheduled—visit by European vampires too, and there had been death threats made against the undead, mostly by extreme right-wing religious hate groups, neo-Nazis, fascist groups, one ultraliberal group, and several homegrown jihadist groups. No one was surprised at the reactions, but security preps had to include explosive, bacterial, and chemical attacks—as in weapons of mass destruction—and electronic attack. Even the State Department was getting in on it all.

But maybe odder than anything was the question that my team at Yellowrock Securities were all asking. Why did the European vamps want to come here anyway?

As the head of YS and one of Leo’s current part-time Enforcers, it was my job to see that the Mithran Council Chambers—aka vamp HQ, aka vamp central—was secure. Go, me. His Enforcer-in-training, Derek Lee, was helping and learning the ropes, even as he was trying to adjust to being an occasional dinner for Leo. Submitting didn’t come easy to any former active-duty marine, but several things had persuaded Derek: money; he’d get to kill vamps; he’d get to play with all the toys Uncle Sam and Sam’s R & D department came up with; his men would have constant employment. But there was something bigger too. Derek’s mother had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, and Leo had agreed to feed her his blood to help her heal. Family was more important than pride to Derek. More important than anything else.

It was an uneasy alliance just yet, made worse when Derek’s men had razzed him about the new job as Enforcer requiring him to provide blood-meals for Leo. But the men were settling in as semipermanent security, and most of them had found a vamp to feed. Vamps were hard to resist when they turned on the charm and the compulsion, and even marines had their limits when a gorgeous, half-dressed vamp gave a come-hither, toothy smile.

I went through the security precautions at the council house door, relinquished my weapons, and was led through the building by Wrassler to Leo, who was clearly not in his office, since we went down the elevator, not up the stairs. I’d known Wrassler long enough to expect an honest answer when I asked, “How’s Leo?”

Wrassler—nicknamed so because he would make a professional wrestler look puny—rubbed a hand over his pate. It needed a shave, and his palm made a rasping sound on the bristles. “He broke a lamp after you hung up on him.” I laughed and Wrassler added, his tone mild, “An original Tiffany worth over thirty thousand dollars.”

I stopped laughing. “Ouch.”

“Mmmm. His Mercy Blade was out of touch for an hour, and Leo needed to blow off some steam without killing anybody, so I invited Brian and Brandon to spar with him. Thanks to them, you’ll get to sit this one out and watch, rather than fight him when he’s annoyed.” Wrassler looked down at me from his several inches of additional height and said, “It ain’t pretty.”

And it wasn’t. The hot smell of sweat and blood hit me when I entered the small gymnasium with its fighting rings, and my Beast perked up at the scent, interested. Brian and Brandon were Onorios, two of three in the entire U.S. They were faster than humans, had better healing abilities than humans, and probably had other mad skills and abilities that I didn’t know about yet. The rarity meant that few people knew what they were truly capable of or what their full abilities were. But it sure wasn’t besting a ticked-off master vamp in full-on kill mode.

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