Authors: Lynne Connolly
Tags: #Vampire Paranormal
Department 57: Bloody Crystal
Copyright © October 2011 by Lynne Connolly
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Editor: G. G. Royale
Cover Artist: April Martinez
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This e-book is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Note on Pronunciation
There are a few Welsh names and phrases in this story, so here’s how to pronounce them:
with the emphasis on the first syllable
, with the emphasis on the first syllable. It means dear, sweet.
. It means beloved.
with a long-drawn-out
, more like
. It means little one.
Well, hell. He’d thought he’d found a retreat here in Llandudno—a pretty, though unremarkable, Welsh seaside town, a place he’d known all his life. The perfect place for some rest and recuperation. But even here Rhodri Tryfanwy could sense the presence of evil. Perhaps he’d been at this game too long, and he was imagining the pervasive odor of bad guy. But the day he doubted his instincts was the day he resigned from Department 57—and maybe the day he decided to go back to being unobserved and unobtrusive, a vampire living in a world of mortals, just trying to keep anyone from noticing him.
Fuck that. Although exhausted, he could still smell fresh trouble. It lingered in the air of this place—a restaurant by day, a bar by night, set up in what had once been the town’s main cinema. He could still remember those days, which was why he liked it here. They hadn’t changed much of the interior, apart from ripping out the rows of plush seats, replacing them with tables and chairs, and putting a bar down the long side of the room. He liked the way the designers had left the original structure, reminding him of its original purpose. The smell of cigarette smoke, pease pudding, and popcorn—enough to turn anyone’s stomach—wreathed around his senses, tempting him to close his eyes and just relax, because it was here that had that unique combination. He’d grown up with that smell, and nothing else reminded him of his childhood so vividly. That was what he’d come here for, after all.
But now the sharper tang of something wicked had spoiled his gentle, reminiscent dream. He glanced around. He’d chosen his seat with care, in a corner of the room below the raised dais that used to be the stage. A large poster of Llandudno replaced much of the space where the screen used to be, and he sat below that, watching the clientele and their patterns. He didn’t need to take blood yet, but he would soon, and already his sixth sense was selecting potential prey. Someone fit and healthy, someone suggestible.
He smiled, and toyed with the pint glass in front of him, turning it on the coaster. He couldn’t drink any of it now, but he’d downed half of it fifteen minutes ago, before the sun went down. Like other vampires, he could tell to the second when the sun dipped below the horizon, because he ceased to be a mortal at that moment and came into his true nature. He didn’t live totally by night; he was a powerful man, strong enough to cope with daylight and the threats it brought.
That scent, that sense prevailed. Evil, tingeing his thoughts, edging his mind in black. He growled low in his throat when he realized he couldn’t locate it. Too vague, too shimmery. He needed Esti now. The perfect everything. Woman, Sorcerer, ice queen… He couldn’t think of anything Esti wasn’t perfect at. Tall, blonde, impeccably dressed, and someone who could take a man’s mind apart faster and with more efficiency than anyone else he’d ever met. He’d spent the last year obsessed with her, and he probed the memory now, like prodding a sore tooth with his tongue. Esti, beautiful in a silk gown. Esti, eyes gleaming with power. Esti, forcing a smile.
Esti, with a soul as icy as her eyes.
It didn’t hurt as much. It really didn’t. He’d done the right thing, coming here, forcing a separation from Team Crystal. They were on hiatus anyway, having lost track of their quarry—the rare creature known as a metamorph that they knew as Geoffrey Wilkinson—and trying a long-shot plan. No doubt they’d call him when they needed him, but for now he was under orders to rest. Thank Christ.
He didn’t feel rested. First his totally unwanted obsession with Esti Hart. Then his pursuit of Wilkinson that had brought him to the point of exhaustion. Then the news from Llandudno, that he had family business to see to—he could really do with an island in the middle of nowhere without Internet or telepathic access. That was about the only way he’d get any peace for any length of time.
He sighed and stared at his beer. If he drank it, he’d get deathly sick. A shame, because he could do with a drink right now.
A breath skimmed his mind, dissipating the touch of evil he was trying to trace. That was the nearest he could come to describing it.
He looked up and saw a vision approaching him. Or, no, approaching the increasingly rowdy crowd of men at the next table. They’d been here for a while now, drinking solidly, getting louder as the hours went by. They’d never make midnight. It was barely eight now. He hadn’t seen this waitress before. Perhaps she’d just come on duty. He let his mind drift, touching hers without seeming to do it deliberately, much as a person would gaze with seeming aimlessness. Then he sharpened and did a mental double take.
Surely not her. There was a Talent nearby, a well-disguised one. Someone with their mind firmly closed to contact. He couldn’t tell if he was in the presence of a shape-shifter, a vampire, or whatever fucking Talent sat out there. Waiting for him.
He huffed a mirthless laugh. This job was making him paranoid. Maybe the Talent preferred not to be known, simple as that. Some people tried to ignore what they were, others refused to accept it, and yet more preferred a quiet life. It could be one of those or a number of any reasons. His training had made him hyperaware of people around him, but that didn’t mean they were after him. And he kept his inner thoughts well hidden, his outer layer open to anyone who asked, but otherwise silent. He had a “let me alone” aura set around him. He should just leave well alone.
Too late. He could no more do that than he could fly. He watched her from under half-closed eyelids. Like a fairy in this place, tiny, barely five feet, her form as ethereal as he’d ever seen, and when she glanced nervously at him, he got a flash of her blue eyes. Heavenly blue. Jesus, what was she doing here, around those bastards? They’d eat her alive.
But she skipped around them, brandishing the small circular tray that seemed to be her only weapon. Except for him. He tried to tell himself he’d watch out for any woman around a bunch of men in this state. Well, sure he would, but maybe not with as much attention. Or as much interest.
One of the men lifted his hand and swung it at her as if to swat her backside, but skimmed past, raising a breeze and making her knee-length skirt flutter. She wore a summer skirt in some pale color, but since the lights here were biased toward the warmer end of the spectrum, he couldn’t tell the precise hue. She’d teamed it with a pale shirt. Nothing too overt, but on her it looked sexy as fuck.
All the men laughed, and she smiled, but it was tight-lipped and wary. She grabbed a pencil and pad from her skirt pocket and waited. “You want anything to eat? It’s snacks only now, guys.”
“Yeah, we know. Another round will do.” While the men outlined what they wanted, Rhodri watched her. More than pretty, she stood poised with an unconscious grace that called to him. She’d tied her hair back in a messy ponytail. Strands of it haloed her face. She wore a little makeup. He discerned the sheen of lip gloss and a dark gleam of eye shadow, but her skin glowed with health. Midtwenties, maybe. He felt so old.
But he watched her. Her spine tensed as one of the men pushed his chair back and gave her a visual once-over. “Very nice,” he drawled. “Would you call me a chauvinist if I asked you if I could buy you a drink after work?”
“No, but you’d have to wait awhile.”
“For you I’ll wait.” He grinned.
Rhodri grated his teeth, but he couldn’t say anything. So far it was all harmless flirting. But this guy was only after what he could get. So who was he, Rhodri Tryfanwy, to say that? Who was the last woman he’d stuck with?
It was like watching himself a hundred years ago. Oh, the language was a bit different, and the approach too, but he’d had his share of women in his time. Had them and moved on. Maybe that was what annoyed him. He knew better now and only went with women not looking for anything other than a transitory good time. But he’d tired of that too, and he had to make an effort to remember the last time he’d had sex. Must have been—five years.
A chill went through him. How had it gone that long? Everyone knew vampires were hot-blooded, passionate creatures. Yes, that was true. He was, but he’d channeled all his passion into his job recently.
He’d lost the urge. He didn’t have a private life these days. He lived in hotels, dressed in clothes he didn’t care about, dumped them without a second thought, rented cars. Nothing permanent, not anymore. Maybe that was why he found his visit to his old stomping ground so dispiriting. He should move on once he’d taken care of business.
His attention wandered back to the woman. She left, walked to the bar. He breathed a sigh of relief and stared morosely at his beer. He should leave. And then what? Maybe he could choose one of the jerks at the next table. He could give whoever he chose a high when he fed, leave his victim with a vague memory of kissing a man. That would unnerve the bastard. Yeah, he should really feed. He’d wait until they left, follow, and pick one off.
But that edge of evil still remained. He couldn’t tell if it was another Talent or something else. It was annoyingly there but vague, pricking at the edge of his mind.
He shifted, stretching his feet out before picking up his beer and making a show of taking a drink. Not that he allowed a drop to pass his lips, but over the years he’d grown good at faking it.
One of the jerks at the next table kicked his foot. “What are you looking at?”