Be Still My Vampire Heart (Love at Stake #3) by Kerrelyn Sparks
After four hundred and ninety-three years of teleporting from one place to another, Angus MacKay still felt an urge to peek under his kilt to ensure everything had arrived in fine working condition. There were some areas where a man, vampire or not, would hate to find himself shortchanged. He resisted, though, since he wasn't alone. He'd just materialized in Roman Draganesti's office at Romatech Industries, and the former monk was sitting behind his desk, watching him calmly.
Angus swung his claymore off his back. "All right, old friend, who can I kill for ye tonight?"
Roman chuckled. "Always ready for action. Thank God you never change."
Angus winced inwardly. He'd only been kidding. "Ye... do want me to kill someone?"
"Hopefully not. I think a good scare will be enough."
"Ah." From the corner of his eye, Angus saw the door open. "You couldna have Connor do the scaring? He's a verra frightful-looking man."
"I heard that." Connor entered the room, carrying a folder.
Grinning, Angus took a seat and lay the sheath containing his favorite claymore across his lap. "So what's the problem?"
"The slayer is at it again. A vampire was murdered last night in Central Park," Roman explained. "A Russian Malcontent."
"Och, that's good." Angus nodded. One less Malcontent to worry about. Those bloody vampires refused to modernize and drink the synthetic blood manufactured at Romatech.
"No, it's bad," Roman countered. "Katya Miniskaya just called and accused us of the murder."
At the sound of her name, Angus's grip tightened around the leather sheath. He kept his face blank. "I'm surprised she's still coven master."
Connor sat in the chair next to Angus. "She's vicious enough for it. I heard some of the Russian men complained about having a female master, and they dinna live through the night."
"Aye, she can be verra vicious." Angus felt Roman's sympathetic gaze on him and looked away. The monk knew too much. Fortunately, any transgressions he'd confessed to his old friend were held in strictest confidence.
"Katya's threatening us," Connor continued. "If anyone else in her coven is slain, she'll declare war on us."
"Bugger," Angus muttered. "So who is the slayer? He may be causing trouble, but he deserves a medal." He looked at his employee.
Connor snorted. "I dinna do it, and neither did my men. Ye pay us to protect Roman, his wife, his home, and his business, and there's only three of us for the job. We doona have time to wander about Central Park."
Angus nodded. As owner of MacKay Security and Investigation, he provided protection for a number of important coven masters like Roman. He'd recently reassigned five of Connor's men. "I'm sorry to leave ye shorthanded, but I need every available man in the field. 'Tis imperative we locate Casimir before he... "
Angus didn't want to say the words. Hell, he didn't even want to think them. For three hundred years, they'd believed the world's most evil vampire was dead, only to discover he was still lurking about and still intent on murder and destruction.
"Any luck finding him?" Roman asked.
"Nay. Nothing but false leads." Angus drummed his fingers on the leather sheath in his lap. "So do ye have any idea who the slayer is? Could he be the same one who killed a few Malcontents last summer?"
"We believe so." Roman sat forward, leaning on his elbows. "Connor thinks he's working for the CIA."
Angus blinked. "A mortal killing vampires? 'Tis highly unlikely."
"We think it's one of the Stake-Out team." Connor tapped the folder he was carrying. Written in bold letters across the front was Stake-Out Team.
There was an awkward pause, since they all knew the leader of the Stake-Out team was Roman's mortal father-in-law.
Angus cleared his throat. "Ye think Shanna's father is the slayer? No offense to yer wife, Roman, but I wouldna mind scaring the shit out of Sean Whelan."
Roman sighed. "He is a... nuisance."
Angus agreed, though he would have used more colorful language. "How many did the slayer kill last summer?"
"Three," Connor answered.
Angus narrowed his eyes. "Why did he stop for a while, then start killing again?"
"Since the beginning of March, two mortals have been killed in Central Park, their throats slashed," Roman explained.
"To cover up bite marks," Angus concluded. It was an old vampire trick. "So the Malcontents started this, and the slayer is exacting revenge."
"Yes," Roman agreed. "After those mortals were murdered, I threatened to run Katya and her coven out of the country. So it's logical for her to assume we're the ones retaliating."
"Aye. No one would ever believe a mortal capable of killing a vampire." Angus frowned. This was lousy timing. He didn't have time to go hunting for some mortal slayer, not when Casimir was growing his army by transforming criminals and murderers into vampires. The evil vampires needed to be stopped before they outnumbered the good Vamps and another war erupted. No doubt that was exactly why the Malcontents were stirring up trouble at this time. They wanted to distract Angus and his employees from their true purpose.
"Hi, guys!" The door swung open, and Gregori strode inside. "What's up?" His grin faded as he studied everyone's faces. "Sheesh, you look like you've been to a funeral. What happened, MacKay? Did you get a run in your fancy knee socks?"
"They're called hose," Angus grumbled.
Gregori snorted. "Oh, that's manly. Wait, I know what happened. You put your kilt on backwards and when you sat down, ouch! Your little sword-shaped kilt pin poked you in the ass."
Angus arched an eyebrow at Gregori, then glanced at Connor. "How can it be that ye havena killed this one?"
Gregori blinked. "Excuse me?"
Roman chuckled as he fumbled in a desk drawer. "Play nice while I'm gone."
"Ye're leaving?" Angus asked.
"I'm going to Shanna's doctor appointment with her." He set a bottle of reddish-amber liquid onto the desk. It boasted a shiny gold label that said Blissky. "This is for you, Angus. We start selling it next week."
"Och, good." Angus stood and picked up the bottle. He'd been waiting for Roman to finish his latest Fusion Cuisine drink. "I've sorely missed the taste of good Scotch whisky."
"Enjoy." Roman headed for the door. "I'll be back in an hour or so. Gregori will let me know what you decided."
Angus dragged his eyes away from the bottle of Blissky. Why was Roman's mortal wife going to the doctor at night? "Is there a problem with the bairn?"
"No. Everything's fine." Roman avoided looking at Angus.
Bugger. There was a problem. The monk had always been a lousy liar.
"Boy, you should see Shanna. I swear she's huge." Gregori spread his arms wide enough to indicate a hippopotamus.
Roman cleared his throat.
Gregori winced. "But she's still as lovely as ever."
Roman smiled faintly. "I'll talk to you later, Gregori. And thank you, Angus, for helping us find this slayer."
Angus smiled back. "Ye know me, I'm always ready for a good hunt." When Roman shut the door, he turned to Connor and Gregori. "All right, you two. What's wrong with the bairn?"
"Nothing." Connor slanted Gregori a warning look.
"Yeah, right." Gregori rolled his eyes, then circled the desk to sit in Roman's chair.
Angus frowned as he opened the bottle of Blissky. He'd get the truth out of Gregori later.
"Back to business." Connor dropped his folder on the desk. "These are the profiles and photos of the Stake-Out team, minus Austin Erickson, who's working for us now."
Angus yanked out the cork and was rewarded with the smell of fine Scotch whisky. "Maybe Austin knows who the slayer is."
Connor winced. "He does. He told me last summer he'd convinced the slayer to stop."
"Bloody hell, he dinna say who it was?"
"Nay." Connor sighed. "I should have pressed him harder. I tried calling him just now, but he and Darcy have gone undercover in Hungary, looking for Casimir."
"Bugger," Angus muttered, then gulped down some Blissky. The concoction of synthetic blood and fine whisky burned his throat, wove a warm trail to his belly, and left a smoky aftertaste on his tongue. He slammed the bottle down. "Och, that was good."
"It smells good." Gregori reached for the bottle.
Angus grabbed the bottle and sat on the desk.
Connor smiled as he opened the folder. "One of these four people is the slayer."
Gregori picked up the first profile. "Sean Whelan. Boo, hiss. I betcha he's the one."
"'Tis true that Whelan hates us, especially after his daughter married Roman." Connor retrieved the profile from Gregori. "But Austin acts protective of the slayer, and he wouldna feel that way about a former boss who blacklisted him."
Angus enjoyed another gulp of Blissky. "'Tis no' Whelan. The man hasna got the balls for it."
Connor handed him the next profile. "This is Garrett Manning."
"Whoa!" Gregori jumped to his feet, pointing at Garrett's photo. "That guy was on the reality show last summer." He gave Connor a stunned look. "You told me Austin was masquerading as a contestant, but you didn't say anything about this guy."
Connor shrugged. "There was no reason to tell you."
"Aye." Angus nodded. "Ye're not important enough to know everything."
Gregori made a face. "Piss off."
Connor chuckled. "I seriously doubt Garrett is the slayer. He has verra little psychic power, and he was busy doing the reality show last summer when the first slayings occurred."
"Well, who else is here?" Gregori turned over Garrett's photo. "Whoa, a babe."
"Aye." Connor nodded. "The last two are female."
"A female mortal killing male vampires?" Angus plunked his bottle on the desk. "'Tis no' possible."
Gregori snickered. "So much for your theory about needing balls." He made a grab for the bottle of Blissky.
Angus stood, taking his bottle with him.
Connor passed him the next profile. "A female slayer would explain Austin's protectiveness."
"Whoa, baby. She's hot." Gregori grabbed the photo.
Angus studied the profile on Alyssa Barnett. Psychic power: five. She was brand-new to the CIA. No field experience prior to the Stake-Out team. "She's no' the slayer."
"Bummer." Gregori dropped the photo and reached for the next profile. "How about this one? Emma Wallace."
Angus stiffened. "The Wallace?"
"You mean like Braveheart?" Gregori's eyes widened. "Hey, did you guys know him?"
Connor snorted. "The puir man was executed long before we were born." He turned to Angus. "'Tis a common name these days."
"'Tis the name of a warrior." Angus snatched the profile from Gregori. Psychic power: seven. Black belt in several styles of martial arts. Trained by MI6 in antiterrorism. His heart began to pound. Could it be true? Could the slayer be a female?
"Sweet." Gregori was practically drooling over her photo.
Angus set down his bottle and yanked the photo from Gregori's grasping fingers. His heart stammered and lunged up his throat. No wonder Gregori was panting like a hound dog. She had creamy pale skin that contrasted dramatically with her rich brown hair. Her eyes were a golden-brown that glimmered like amber. There was a sharp intelligence in her eyes. A strong will. A fierce passion that marked her as a warrior.
"She's the one," he whispered.
Connor shook his head. "We canna be sure until we catch the slayer in the act."
Angus set her photo down. Her eyes seemed to be following him, calling to him. "We'll catch her. Tonight. Connor, you take the northern half of the park, and I'll take the southern half."
"I'll come." Gregori took a swig from Angus's bottle. "I can spot a good-looking babe a mile off."
"Hey." Angus grabbed his bottle back. He'd been so intent on Miss Wallace's photo, he hadn't seen Gregori nabbing his Blissky. "And what will ye do when a black-belt slayer knocks ye down and whips out her wooden stake?"
"Oh, come on, dude." Gregori straightened his tie. "No woman wants to kill a sharp-dressed man."
"Angus is right." Connor gathered up the profiles and photos and closed the folder. "Ye're no' prepared to fight a slayer. Stay here and tell Roman what we decided to do."
"Damn." Gregori tugged at his shirt cuff. "Not fair."
Angus removed a pewter flask from his sporran and filled it with Blissky. "'Twill be a long night. This will keep me warm."
"I'll fetch my claymore, and we can go." Connor headed for the door.
"Wait." Gregori's mouth twitched. "You two guys are going to Central Park in the middle of the night, wearing skirts?" He laughed. "No one's gonna believe you're looking for a woman."
Angus glanced down at his kilt. "I dinna bring any trousers."
Gregori snorted. "You mean you own some?"
"Doona worry." Connor rested a hand on the doorknob. "Today was St. Paddy's Day. The city is full of men in kilts. No one will think twice about it."
"What will you do if you find her?" Gregori asked.
"Have a wee chat," Connor replied as he left the room.
Angus recalled Emma Wallace's whisky-colored eyes and intoxicating mouth. He'd be sorely tempted to do more than talk. He smiled as he screwed the top on his flask. Let the hunt begin. He slung his claymore onto his back and strode toward the door.
"Okay, if you insist, I'll stay here." Gregori picked up the bottle Angus had left on the desk. "I'll just guard this for you till you get back."
Emma Wallace stomped her feet silently in the grass. The chilly air felt good as long as she was walking, but whenever she crouched behind a tree for very long, her legs grew stiff.
This part of Central Park was dead, even too dead for the Undead. Time to move on. She slung her canvas tote bag over her shoulder and enjoyed the comforting sound of wooden stakes clattering against one another. She slipped out of her hiding place and skidded down the sharp incline to the brick path below. Her movement startled some birds from a nearby tree. They cawed, beating the air with a fluttering of wings as they flew into the darkness.
Emma waited, blending easily into a tree's shadow with her black pants and jacket. All was quiet once more. Hard to believe that a short walk south would deliver her to noisy avenues where postparade celebrations still raged.
Maybe that was why the park was so quiet. The vampires could be hunting in the streets. After a long day of green beer and whisky, the revelers would never remember what bit them.
Suddenly the brick path beside her was clearer. Brighter. She could make out individual trees and bushes. She moved quietly onto the pathway and looked at the nearly full moon. The clouds had moved away, leaving the orb bright and glowing.
A slight movement caught her attention, and her gaze lowered. To the south, a lone figure stood on top of a huge crag of granite. His back was to her. Wisps of clouds floated past him, stirring his kilt. Moonlight gleamed off his dark red hair.
Mist swirled around him, making him look ethereal. Like the ghost of a Highland warrior. Emma sighed. That's what the world needed more of today - brave warriors, willing to fight evil.
Sometimes she felt vastly outnumbered by the creatures of the night. As far as she knew, she was the only vampire slayer in existence. Not that she blamed anyone for that. Most people didn't know about vampires. But she did blame her weak and ineffectual boss. Sean Whelan was afraid to pit their small team of four against a group of vampires in battle, so he had assigned them to merely watch and investigate.
Watching wasn't enough for Emma. Not since that horrid night six years ago. She refused to dwell on it. She'd found a much better remedy than grieving. The trick to killing vampires was to find one alone in the act of feeding, then take him by surprise with one swift stake through the heart. With every vampire she turned to dust, she was one step closer to finding peace.
She patted her bag of stakes. With a permanent marker, she'd written Dad on half of them and Mum on the other half. The stakes were working great, and the death count was up to four. It could never be high enough.
She glanced again at the kilted man standing on the boulder of granite. Where had all the brave men gone? Fierce warriors who could stand alone in the face of danger.
The mist drifted away, leaving the man's form outlined in silvery moonlight. Her breath hitched. He was stunning. His broad shoulders filled the dark sweater he wore. His kilt fluttered slightly in the breeze, revealing strong, muscular thighs. Good heavens. He would make a great warrior. Strong and relentless in battle.
Suddenly he leaned over, grabbed the hem of his kilt, and peeked underneath. Then he dropped the kilt and fumbled at something below his waist. Emma winced. Was he playing with himself? He lifted something to his mouth and drank. Moonlight glinted off the metal. A flask. Super. He was a pervert and a drunk. With a sigh, she turned north and walked away.
What a silly waste of her time, fantasizing about a brave Highland warrior. She should have known he was just one of the thousands of kilted, liquor-guzzling men roaming the city after the parade. Besides, in her line of business, she couldn't afford to get sentimental. The enemy was ruthless.
Scrunch. Emma halted and listened. The path curved to the left and out of sight, but she could hear the sound of footsteps shuffling through dead leaves. She lunged to the left and hid behind a tree. The footsteps grew closer.
A lone man came into view. Emma caught her breath. He was wearing a long black trench coat. The vampire she'd killed last night had sported one just like it. Maybe they all shopped at the same store, Vampires "R" Us. She lowered her tote bag to the ground and retrieved one stake.
He came closer. He'd be easier to kill if he was feeding, but there were no victims nearby. Emma slipped the stake into her belt behind her back. She'd lure him in, using herself as bait.
She sauntered onto the path and gave the man an innocent look. "I think I'm lost. Do you know the way out of the park?"
The man halted and smiled. "I was hoping to find someone like you."
Right, someone to feed from. Damned bloodsucker. Emma widened her stance so she wouldn't lose her balance when he attacked. She reached behind her back and curled her hand around the stake. "I'm ready when you are."
"Okay!" The man untied the belt on his trench coat.
It was then that Emma noticed the hairy calves below the hem of his coat. Good heavens. He wasn't wearing any pants.
"Ta-da!" The man whipped open his coat.
Shit! He wasn't wearing any clothes at all. She grimaced. Just her luck to go vampire hunting and find a flasher.
"What do you think?" The man fondled himself. "Pretty impressive, huh?"
"Excuse me a moment." She let go of her stake and removed her cell phone from its holster on her belt. She'd call the local police to pick this guy up before he gave some poor lady a heart attack.
"Oh, is that one of those picture phones?" The flasher grinned. "Great idea! Could you put me on the Internet? Here, let me give you a profile shot." He turned to the side so his erection would stand out.
"Brilliant. Just hold that pose." Emma flipped open her phone. A dark shadow obliterated her view.
She immediately reached behind her back. False alarm. She released the stake. It wasn't a vampire. Even so, her heart raced, for there in front of her was the man in the kilt.