Not any slayer, but a vigilante witch with death in her eyes. As if acid, her blood ate into his flesh. Felled in an instant, Nikolaus had gasped for breath, and could not find it. His heart had stopped beating.
A vampire isn't supposed to survive the death cocktailthat's what vampires call witch's bloodbut, after being hit, drunk from his friend, racing to take the blood before death's release of the mortal soul made it useless.
The blood had served to restart Nikolaus's heart. He wasn't sure how he'd made it home, or how he'd been able to stop the caustic effects of the death cocktail.
And it didn't matter anymore. Nikolaus had survived. He was now a vampire phoenix, risen from ash and blood. But his injuries had forced him into seclusion, for a witch wound proved a stubborn heal. He still bore scars and could yet feel his left lung wheeze when he exerted himself.
Before being transformed into a vampire, Nikolaus had been a surgeon, a man who had witnessed many people survive incredible odds to recuperate and heal. But yes, sometimes they also died.
Experiencing recovery for himself had changed him. It had fixed a lust for vengeance into the scarred sinews of Nikolaus Drake's soul. He, a man who had always strived for peace, now desired a bloody revenge.
Foremost, Nikolaus could not stand back and do nothing when he knew the witch yet stalked the shadows in search of one more vampire to make ash.
Summer solstice arrived in two weeks. That night, Nikolaus planned to return to tribe Kila.
Yet he could not do that until the anger that had brewed within him for two months was settled. Before the attack, Nikolaus had led tribe Kila and served them well for twenty years. The tribe was wary, but none were safe from the death cocktailsave Nikolaus. He possessed immunity nowthe witch could not again harm himso he would fight for his tribe and destroy the enemy.
One thing could tip the scales and return his mind to the peaceful resolve needed to lead properly.
Tonight, he would kill the witch.
The witch's name was Ravin Crosse, and she rode a big black street chopper with the word venom curved across the gas tank, and wore more black leather than Nikolaus did. Small, but imposing in her costume, which also included visible weaponry that could annihilate a vampire in less than a minute, the witch walked as if she owned the earth.
She was the only slayer in the Twin Cities area that Nikolaus was aware of.
Not for long.
Nikolaus had located the witch's hideout. She lived at the edge of Minneapolis, but three miles west of him, at the top of a warehouse recently rehabbed for luxury flats. Nice, but not half so spendy as his digs in the Mill district.
He did not give a fig for a witch, her life, or her nasty soul. Let her burn.And he would proudly present her ashes to his men.
He had been observing, at a distance, her comings and goings for the past ten days, the first days since his pseudodeath that he'd felt able to leave his home.
The vampire killer went out three nights a week on the huntTuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Nikolaus had not witnessed her execute a kill.
His own tribe numbered eleven, and had claimed Minneapolis's inner city as territory against two rival tribes.
There were a few independent vampires, not aligned to any tribe, but they were stealthy and kept to the shadows, and very often, the suburbs and smaller towns in the state.
Minnesota was not a vampire hot spot. This surprised Nikolaus. The state offered a healthy six months of winter, which meant little sunlight and plenty of dark basements in temperature so the below-freezing weather affected him little. A bloodsucker's haven, if you asked him.
Tribe Kila was small, but not stupid. Nikolaus had purposefully kept their location away from New York, Miami or New Orleans, major vampire breeding grounds. The average metropolitan area hosted perhaps a hundred vampires, or less. By no means were they in the majority, let alone a countable minority.
He had prided himself on leading the most civilized tribe in the States. While others, such as Nava, Zmaj and Veles stalked the night, wreaking havoc and creating blood children indiscriminately, Kila strove to keep their bloodlines pure and peaceful. No accidental transformations, no witnesses, no mistakes. That had become Nikolaus's personal mantra.
There were a few incidents to be overlooked, though. Hell, they were vampires, not tamed lions. The blood hunger was a powerful thing, and not to be ignored or put aside as if it were a habit one could easily break.
They, all vampires, were called the dark. But none in Kila murdered for the sake of taking blood to sustain life.
Over the weeks since the witch's attack, Nikolaus had slowly healed. Initially, Gabriel Rossum, his closest ally, had brought him donors daily. The infusion of warm, mortal blood to his system had been supplemented with a weekly draw from Gabriel.
Vampire blood proved more powerful in the healing process as opposed to mere mortal blood. Flesh had grown over Nikolaus's exposed ribs within three weeks, and slowly the charred skin on his arms and torso began to heal.
Now only the skin on his left arm, up along his neck and down his left side to his hip was puckered with pink scarred flesh. It looked abysmal, but Nikolaus wasn't concerned with appearance. He'd once wandered the streets bald, exposing a scalp full of tattoos, and a defiant growl to anyone who would cringe.
That was when he'd thought his life was over. It had been over. Dr. Nikolaus Drake no longer existed. Hell, to imagine performing brain surgery around all that blood now?
At the sound of the front door sealing shut, Nikolaus set down the fifty-pound hand weight and strode out to the living room where subdued evening light snuck through the one window Gabriel had commandeered for an assortment of huge, leafy plants.
After the witch's attack, Gabriel had returned to the tribe with word their leader was still alivea phoenixand that he required time to heal.
A month ago, Gabriel had moved in with Nikolaus after losing his apartment to a pissed-off girlfriend. It had been easier for the non-confrontational vampire to walk away than to divide up belongings and listen to her angry wails. He was on the lookout for new digs. Though now Nikolaus didn't require twenty-four care, he appreciated the company and was in no hurry to rush Gabriel out the door.
"Tonight the night?" Gabriel asked as he tossed the day's paper onto the coffee table and flicked the sunshades open. The electrochromic blackout glass seamlessly changed to clear, providing an evening view of the Mississippi River and the industrial barges moored on the opposite bank. "It's still too soon for you to be going out on the hunt.You sure about this?"
"Never been more sure of a thing in my life," Nikolaus growled. He punched a fist into his opposite palm.
Maintaining the anger was part of the plan. Not that it was difficult. But fair-haired and dimple-faced Gabriel always played angel-on-the-shoulder to Nikolaus's feral need to get things done, be it by force and fury or by talking through a vexing issue.
A man learned patience in the medical profession, and Nikolaus had spent a good number of years doing so. But along with his mortality, his patience and empathy had been sluiced away with the blood that fateful night of his transformation.
"It'll close a chapter in your life."
"It'll feel damn good." Rubbing a palm up his torso, Nikolaus strode across the room. The scar tissue on his side always drew his attention. It sent out the message "not whole, incapable" to any who might see it.
As he strolled into the kitchen, he punctuated his mood with a slam of his fist to the gray marble counter.
That was the only ointment that would completely heal his wounds, both physical and emotional.
In the fridge, he eyed the bottles of wine Gabriel kept for his evening sacrament. He sniffed. The corks gave up the rich aroma of eighteenth-century soil steeped with raspberries and limestone and the poignant cry of tiny black grapes plumped to bursting from the sun. "You pick up the fish oil?"
"In the bag on the counter."
Much as blood served his only means for regeneration, Nikolaus believed some natural remedies certainly couldn't hurt. Wouldn't theAMA get a chuckle over that?A former neurosurgeon using natural remedies. Of course, he'd always held the belief that the brain could not heal itself if a person insisted
Flexing his left arm, he eased his palm over the rippled flesh. "You know," Gabriel commented, "you've got an opportunity to steal some of the witch's magic if you don't do the deed too quickly."
Right. Nikolaus was immune to her poisonous blood now. Or should be. A risk he was straining at the leash to take.
And should a vampire manage to drink witch's blood without harm, the witch's magic would flow into him. "Bewitched" is what they called the ancient vampires who were once able to enslave a witch and consume her blood in order to increase their own strength.
Nikolaus had never met any of the ancients, though tales told of half a dozen that yet lived.
"Any blood magic I gain will be a bonus," he said as he slipped on his dark sunglasses.
He was a phoenix. And though he'd yet to test his strength, he wondered about the legend that a phoenix was indestructible. He didn't feel it, but he was still recovering.
He glanced to Gabriel. "The kill is what I'm after, and nothing but."
"Do you know how odd it is to hear such a declaration from you?"
Nikolaus shrugged. "Yes." For he preached avoidance of the deadliest drink.
"You know this is necessary, Gabriel. I do this for the entire tribe. One less witch in this world is one less nuisance for the vampire nation. I'm out of here."
"Have a nice evening!" Gabriel called.
Nikolaus smirked as he strode for the front door.
Nice? He hadn't known so sublime an emotion since before he was turned. Since before, when he'd been the newest neurosurgeon to grace the Mayo clinic, the smart young resident with dreams of changing the world in hand and a self-righteous God complex to put the most arrogant men to shame.
The world was not nice. The world demanded presence. And tonight Nikolaus Drake intended to return with a vengeance.
Excerpted from Kiss Me Deadly by Michele Hauf Copyright © 2007 by Michele Hauf. Excerpted by permission.
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