A Pirate's Life [a vampire romance--book three]
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by Stephanie Bedwell-Grime
Description: Vampire Adrian seeks redemption for his past sins by helping the police hunt a mysterious band of modern day pirates operating on the Great Lakes. Teamed with the beautiful and feisty detective, Kiana Douglas, he finds himself unexpectedly falling in love, while battling a figure from his past bent on vengeance and murder.
eBook Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing/Double Dragon eBooks, 2009 Double Dragon Publishing
eBookwise Release Date: July 2009
7 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [122 KB]
Reading time: 74-103 min.
He slept the deep, featureless sleep of the undead, unbothered by mortal concerns. Outside the summer sun seared the pavement. Inside his lair, blackout curtains cast his loft in impenetrable darkness. From out of the shadows, he heard the shrill ringing of his phone. Adrian rolled over, scattering black satin sheets. Let the machine get it, he thought and pulled the quilted comforter up over his ears. With a beep, his answering machine kicked in.
"Adrian Strachan," his voice mail proclaimed, "is not available...."
Frazier MacAdam's explosive sigh sputtered through the answering machine's tiny speaker. "Look Adrian, I hate to bother you in the middle of the day, but we've got something you ought to have a look at. So, if you're there, will you pick up the phone?"
If Frazier called in the middle of the afternoon, it had to be an emergency. Frazier was the best detective the police force had. With a resigned groan, Adrian groped for the receiver, scattering the mess on his bedside table. Something glass crashed to the floor. He ignored it and wrestled the phone from its cradle.
"What's up?" He got out the two syllables without slurring. His voice sounded thick even to his own ears. His body's sluggishness told him the sun was still well above the horizon. The long days of summer complicated his life in ways mere mortals would never understand.
"Wake you up?"
He tossed the black satin eye mask onto the covers beside him and ran a hand through his blond hair. "It's the middle of the afternoon, what do you think?"
He forced his brain to work, though every cell in his body screamed for the quiet blankness of sleep. At least until the sun went down. He glanced at the red LED numerals on his bedside clock. Four forty-five p.m. The summer sun wouldn't be setting for almost five hours.
"We've found another cruiser dead in the water."
Okay ... that was unusual, but not supernatural. Certainly nothing that required his particular expertise. "Where?"
"Washed up on the shore of Ontario Place."
Couldn't find a more conspicuous spot than a waterfront tourist attraction in summer, Adrian thought darkly.
"You still there?"
"Yeah, Frazier. Still half asleep."
"Well, wake up. This one's got a body floating in it. A couple of pleasure boaters saw it floating out by the Islands. Current dragged it up on the beach by Cinesphere."
Still, there had to be more to it. Frazier wouldn't have bothered him for a routine murder. "And?"
"The body's been completely drained of blood."
Now he was awake. Adrian sat up. He threw off the rumpled covers and kicked aside the pile of clothes he'd left on the floor when he went to bed that morning. His mind raced ahead. Only one kind of creature drained a body of blood. "Neck wounds?" he asked Frazier.
"Yeah," the detective answered. "Two. Right over the jugular."
Now that was unusual. His kind went to great lengths to conceal their existence. No one he knew would be so bold.
"...and with Kiana off on holiday," Frazier was saying, "and Yorgason taking a bullet, we're a little short staffed. I could really use your expert advice."
Adrian rubbed a hand across his eyes, willing his sparsely decorated loft into focus. "Okay, I'll be right there."
"Knew I could count on you," Frazier said with relief. "But since it's the middle of the afternoon, how exactly are you going to do this?"
"Give me half an hour, I'll have something figured out by then."
Somehow, in the middle of a sunny afternoon, he had to get to Ontario Place. He didn't relish the thought of explaining to a cab driver that he wanted to ride downtown in the trunk of the car. But it was either that, or trust that the thin coating of that new zinc paste he'd been experimenting with would stop him from turning into a man-sized torch at the first ray of sun.
Nowadays, sometimes weeks passed when he could almost believe he was human. Until he hit upon a complication as simple as sunshine.
"Days like this, I really hate being a vampire," he muttered to himself. Moira had never warned him there'd be days like this. But then, Moira had never been known to concern herself with the affairs of mortals.
Truth be told, neither had he. Once he had reveled in his vampiric nature, lurking in the darkness, living off humans like so much cattle. During his long life he'd committed atrocities too numerous to count. He would have been happy to continue his reign of terror, but an unlikely rescuer had put him on the path to redemption.
Her intervention had changed his life. Since then he'd made his peace with humanity, determined to do good instead of evil.
Five years ago he'd saved Detective Frazier MacAdam from a brutal attack by thugs. Since then the two had become good friends. Frazier was the only human being who knew his true nature. And in return for his silence, Adrian had helped the detective with his more unusual cases. Despite their friendship, he had the feeling the detective didn't entirely trust him. Frazier went to great lengths to keep Adrian away from his new female partner, Kiana.
Apparently the partner was off on holiday. And it sounded like Frazier could use his particular expertise. With a groan he levered his sleep-heavy body from the bed and trudged off toward the shower.
Ice-cold water shocked him back to consciousness. Adrian stood before the mirror and contemplated the jar of flesh-colored zinc. Now seemed like as good a time as any to try it out.
Two weeks ago, he'd coated a quarter-sized patch of his hand with the zinc and exposed it to the weak morning sun. The paste had protected him for over five minutes. But now he was facing a drive downtown in a convertible.
Should have bought a hearse, he thought in darkest humor. At least they were dark inside and he'd have the benefit of those little gray curtains.
In the mirror, his reflection stared back at him. Pale as a ghost. More accurately, a vampire. His shoulder-length, blond hair was only one shade darker than his skin. Emerald green eyes stared back at him with a preternatural glow. With a grimace, Adrian stuck his finger into the pot of sunscreen and smeared a line of zinc across his cheek.
It had taken him weeks to get the mixture smooth and light enough to mimic real skin. The concoction gave him a healthy glow. He looked almost....
Looking human wouldn't save him from the sun's inferno. Adrian hesitated at the door to his loft. Better safe than burned to a cinder. Rooting in a trunk on the floor of his closet, he came up with a black ski mask. He'd used the scratchy wool face protection only once before and didn't relish the opportunity to do it again. But he pulled it on anyway and added a black fedora to the outfit. Sunglasses, guaranteed to block ultraviolet rays, went on over the mask. Already uncomfortably hot, he sighed then pulled his black trench coat from the closet. Straightening his shoulders, Adrian flung open the door to his apartment and prepared to face the light.
He made it to the garage door before courage deserted him. Fear rooted him to the thick shadows. Outside, he could feel the caustic heat of the sun still dangerously high in the sky. It didn't help that once in his life, he'd barely escaped being burned to a crisp. It made the sun and anything else that could burn doubly scary.
This potion had to work, he thought. He forced himself to reach out, grasp the handle of the garage door. Wrapping his will around his fear, Adrian hauled it open.
Blinding light spilled into the garage. He tensed, ready to dash back into the shadows of his apartment.
Underneath the heavy wool of his ski mask his skin prickled in outrage. Adrian dragged in a shuddering breath and ordered tense muscles to relax. Above him the sun beat down mercilessly on him. He felt its heat through the mask. Vampiric instincts screamed at him to take cover. He sucked in another breath, trying to conjure up comforting memories from his long forgotten past.
Visions of a grassy meadow, an azure sky and soft spring breeze flitted through his mind. After nearly five hundred years, it was hard to grasp the insubstantial memory. But the sensation of warm sun on his face lingered. He tried to reconstruct the sensation of comforting warmth, but so many years of instinct were not so easily ignored.
Swallowing his fear, Adrian inched further into the light. With dread a leaden weight in his stomach, he waited for the searing pain, the gray smoke, the terrible smell of his own flesh bursting into flame.
Sun glared relentlessly down on him. An itch started in the tips of his fingers, then spread out over his arms and down his spine. He felt it reach deeper still, penetrating to the bone. But when the tingle hadn't turned to agony and his skin hadn't burst into flame, he stretched his arm further into the light.
For a moment he could only stand there, marveling that he hadn't turned into a torch. The urgency of the situation got through to him, and he leapt into his gunmetal green Miata.
Driving proved to be more of a challenge than he anticipated. Brightness made his eyes tear, even with the sunglasses. How could human drivers bear all that brightness and glare? No wonder they had so many accidents. Adrian blinked tears from his eyes and pulled into traffic.
A car full of blonde teenaged girls pulled up beside him as he turned onto Lakeshore Boulevard. Adrian endured their giggles stoically, wishing he could tear off the ski mask and give them a glance at his true face. Tall, blond-haired and green eyed, he knew women found him pleasing to look at. Their interest would turn quickly to horror if he allowed them a glimpse of his true self. But instead he sat shrouded in felt and wool and endured the ridicule of women barely past childhood.
"It's come to this," he muttered, burning rubber as he pulled away.
By the time he reached the waterfront, the sun had dipped below the tree line, shrouding the landscape in the kind of light photographers called the magic hour. Red and blue flashing lights of the metro cruisers drew him to the crime scene.
Holding his breath, he pulled off the mask. Weak light, cast by the absent sun illuminated the waterfront with a soft lavender glow. Carefully, he turned his face toward the light. It prickled like his skin was crawling with scorpions, but so far no blistering. He decided to leave on the hat, sunglasses and coat just in case. Shrouded head to foot in black, he looked conspicuously out of the place in the warm June afternoon. But it was better than being turned to a man-sized lump of ash. Gingerly, he stepped from the Miata and strode across the grass doing his best to project more self-assurance than he felt.
"The coroner estimates the time of death to be about twelve hours ago," he heard Frazier say as he walked up. "As for the cause--" he stopped, mid sentence. "Give me a second, will you."
Frazier's tan jacket and brown pants practically screamed cop, Adrian thought. Stocky with red hair, amber eyes and a million freckles, he gave the impression of being eternally twenty-one. But the bright sun betrayed lines in the corners of his friend's eyes. And anyone who crossed Frazier MacAdam would find it hard to forget his Scottish wrath.
"Just get me past the police tape and inside," Adrian hissed as soon as Frazier reached him.
One of the uniformed cops jerked a shoulder in Adrian's direction. "Who's the guy in black?"
"No one you need to worry about," Frazier shot back.
"He's not ... wearing make-up, is he?"
Frazier glanced at Adrian, taking in the odd color of the vampire's skin for the first time. He choked down a laugh, then shot the officer a stern look. "Don't you have some paperwork to do?" The officer wandered off muttering.
Mercifully Frazier snatched Adrian away from prying eyes. "Shall we--"
He marched off down the grassy slope to the shore of Lake Ontario where a cabin cruiser lay crookedly on the beach. The insignia 'Gone Sailing' was scrawled across the back of the boat, barely readable beneath the scratches and dirt. A line of yellow and black police tape staked out the sand around it. With one last glance at the fading sunlight, Adrian hurried to catch up to him. * * * *