Exclusive Excerpt – Born in Blood
To celebrate the upcoming release of Rising in Blood, second and final (so far anyway) in the Vampire Queens series, I’ve popped an excerpt from Book No1, Born in Blood, below.
The inspiration for this scene was a very cold day spent wandering the streets of Den Haag (The Hague), Holland. The Hague is home to the International Court of Justice and the fabulous Mauritshuis Art Museum, where you can see amazing art-work, up close and personal.
The tulips as described in this scene were exactly as I saw them, as was the café where the story opens. BUT I never saw any vampires … (that I know of, anyway 🙂 ).
P.S. You can find Born in Blood on Amazon.
Chapter One – In The Hague
Outside the café, three young men leaned against a concrete wall. From their baggy, poorly made clothes, they looked like day laborers, waiting for their morning hire. Then one of them said something and shifted slightly, and the light caught his darkly delicate features, and I saw them for what they really were. My breath caught just as I was sipping my coffee. By the time I stopped coughing, they had disappeared.
“Those three men?” I asked the server. “The ones that were outside? Do you know them?”
She glanced out the window. “Did they look about twenty? And wearing old clothes?” She had a Spanish accent. When I nodded, she added, “Those men, si. They follow the tourists about, especially the girls. I tell police: ‘those men, they are bad’. But they say I am racist. Me, I am not a racist. I am Spanish. You like more coffee, Señora?”
I shook my head. “I’m fine, thanks.”
The white-walled café had wide glass windows, comfortable soft seats, and the coffee was fresh and hot. I might visit again. Except for those men. I glanced out the window. There was no-one outside, and the spring sunlight was bright. Perhaps I’d imagined it, and those men were completely normal. I shouldn’t be so suspicious all the time.
But at the counter, I paused. “Those men? The ones outside? Don’t go near them, okay?” Especially, I thought, at night.
“They are dangerous?” asked the Spanish server, wide-eyed.
But before I could answer, my phone rang. It was Shara, from the Court. “The Judge is ready for you. Can you be here in ten minutes?”
“On my way,” I said, and pushed the door open. The girl nodded a farewell. “Just don’t go near them,” I said again.
Outside, the wind was icy. It was early spring, just before Easter, and around the base of bare-branched trees, pink and yellow tulips were in flower. I huddled into my coat collar, trying to keep warm. If I took a shortcut through the castle, the palace courtyard would shelter me from the wind.
I should explain: the center of the city of The Hague (the Dutch call it Den Haag), is occupied by an ancient castle, surrounded by a moat. (A moat! In the middle of a city! How crazy is that?) The castle, built of dark stone with pennant-topped towers and deep-set windows, looks like something from a fairytale, but it’s grimmer than Disney: this was a castle for a beast, not a beauty. Walking through its gates always gave me a thrill.
I wasn’t here for sightseeing, though. Today, I was bound for the International Court of Justice and in honor of the occasion, I’d worn a pair of dress pants instead of my usual jeans. Boots don’t look great with suit pants, so reluctantly, I’d left my Doc Martins at home and wore black flats of patent leather. No way was Lottie (Lottie is my grandmother aka my boss), getting me into heels. I didn’t want to look any taller than my six feet – it’s hard enough getting a date as it is.
As I crossed the cobblestoned city square, I probably looked like just another professional; a solicitor, perhaps, carrying an over-large tote bag over one shoulder. Although I doubted that a solicitor would have a Glock or carbon-fiber knives in their bag. Most lawyers prefer to pay someone else to do their killing.
There were more tulips near the castle gate, like a false promise of sunny spring, and behind them stood the butter-yellow Mauritshuis art gallery. Once a rich man’s palace, the building now houses a small-but-perfect art collection. I’d always wanted to visit. If my meeting with the Judge finished early, perhaps I could squeeze it in later today.
The water of the moat splashed against the Mauritshuis walls. Swans glided past, like they didn’t feel the cold. Lucky swans. My hands were freezing. I should have brought gloves.
And that’s when I saw the three men from the café, leaning against the castle walls. They had their hoods pulled up, as though hiding their skin from the watery Dutch sunlight. One of them glanced my way. Not unusual – a six-foot woman stands out – but the set of his shoulders, and his look of casual expectation, made me pause. They were waiting for something, or someone. But who?
A troop of Japanese schoolgirls, laughing and talking, came toward me. The girls looked like something from an anime: identically dressed in short navy pleated skirts and carrying Hello Kitty backpacks. I arched, stretching my back – it had been aching all day – as the girls turned through the iron gates of the gallery. Their high-pitched voices faded as they vanished down the ramp that led to the gallery’s underground entrance.
As one, the men peeled themselves from the wall and followed, passing through the gates with fluid grace. I knew that intensity of stance. They were hunting! In daylight! No, that can’t be. I slid behind the side of the building and watched. The men didn’t talk, made no sound, as they disappeared down the ramp. Yes, they were hunting.
I should follow. But I hesitated, because it seemed so unlikely. I mean, who ever heard of a vamp attack in daylight? Besides, I was due at court, and it was never wise to keep a judge waiting. But I couldn’t just let an attack happen. How could I call myself a Hunter if I refused to hunt? So I followed the men down the ramp, into the gallery lobby.
Through windows, high in the wood-paneled wall, I could see the gently lapping waves of the moat. The men were nowhere to be seen, but the girls were clustered around a ticket dispenser and giggling.
I dialed Shara. “I might be late.”
“No. This is important, Shara.”
“But the Judge …”
“He’ll have to wait,” I said. “Shara, this is to do with my work.”
Shara knew about my work: about Ravensfell. She knew something about Lottie and our secret, hidden world. After a pause, she asked, “How long will you be?”
“Not long.” For surely, I was mistaken. Vamps would never normally hunt in public places during daylight hours. Unless they were hungry, perhaps. Then, who knew what they might do?
I turned, trying to locate the men. My back was still aching. It was my tattoo’s fault. Ever since I’d bought tickets to The Hague, it had been waking me at odd hours and keeping me restless in the airplane. I should have taken painkillers, but now it was too late. Hopefully, it wouldn’t slow me down.
The gallery’s entrance hall was almost empty. To the left was a bookstore, just opening for the morning, and to the right, beneath signs to the bathrooms, lay a bank of lockers. The entrance to the art gallery was behind me, up a set of stairs, past ticket turnstiles and a security station. The lobby was quiet, and the guards at the turnstiles looked bored.
“Madison, where are you?” Shara asked.
“An art gallery. You know, the yellow one, the Mauritshuis? Beside the moat.”
Above the turnstiles hung a banner with an image of a blue foaming wave and the iconic shape of Mount Fuji. The banner said: Monsters and Mountains: the Art of Katsushika Hokusai. Perhaps that was why the Japanese schoolgirls were visiting.
Beside the bookstore was a café, with attendants setting out chairs and tables. Surely, those men must be here, somewhere?
“Do you need help?” Shara asked.
“No. I don’t think so.”
The girls retrieved their tickets, stuffed their backpacks into lockers. I walked past them, as if making for the bathroom. And there, half-hidden by a wooden screen, stood the three men. They watched the girls intently, as if inspecting their next meal.
“Madison, I’m sending someone,” said Shara. “Brett O’Hagan. American.”
“Shara!” I hissed. “No!”
The girls shoved the locker doors closed, then, still chattering, headed toward the turnstile. I opened the bathroom door casually, and glanced behind me. The men had left their hiding place, and I hadn’t heard them move. Now they stood at the turnstile, feeding tickets into the slots. They must have bought them earlier. They had planned for this.
“Den Haag is my city. My city,” said Shara fiercely. “He’ll be there in ten minutes. I will alert security.”
But she had hung up.
I glared at the phone. What did she mean, ‘sending help’? What use would security be against vamps?
I couldn’t wait, either – I had to follow. If they were hunting, they’d be fast and vicious.
But I’d never make it through the metal detector with a sidearm, and I couldn’t afford delay-causing arguments. I hustled back into the bathroom, hid in a stall, and tucked my gun and its holster into my tote. My knives were carbon – we’d long since changed from steel because carbon was easier to pass through scanners – so I left them in their holsters: two at my wrists, one at my waist and one on each ankle. Quickly, I tied my hair back in a ponytail, getting ready for action. Leaving the restroom, I glimpsed my reflection. I could pass for a lawyer, I thought, and wasn’t sure how I felt about that.
I pushed the bag into a locker, bought a ticket from the dispenser, and headed up the stairs into the gallery. As I fed my ticket into the turnstile, I wished I was wearing my boots.
Want to read more? Check out Born in Blood on Amazon.
P.S. At time of writing this blog post, Born in Blood is also available for FREE via Kindle Unlimited.