Chapter One



HE SNARLED at me, blood glistening off his fangs, his eyes so bloodshot they might as well be red.

God, I hate vampires.

Especially what I call Twilight Wannabes, as this one undoubtedly was. Kids who, because of the books and movies that make being a vamp seem cool and the “in” thing to be, seek out real vampires to turn them so they can be sparkly and beautiful forever. Except it doesn’t work that way. Vampires aren’t sparkly. They smell like gym socks that have been left in a locker for months. And if they weren’t beautiful before they turned into one of the legion of the undead, they aren’t going to have some magical transformation and suddenly look like Robert Pattinson. If they had bad hair and freckles when they were living, they have bad hair and freckles as vamps.

This kid had pimples. Lots and lots of pimples.

He turned and ran to the door. Chickenshit vampire.

“Damn it!” I cursed aloud as I bolted around a table to pursue the bloodsucker. I hated having to chase vamps. They never ran out of breath, mainly because they didn’t breathe. I was in pretty good shape, but I had to carry my big old bag containing my vamp-killing equipment. It wasn’t that heavy, but it was bulky, so it slowed me down. I didn’t want the vamp to get too far, especially as we were downtown and near populated areas. I didn’t want him attacking and maybe killing some poor soul just because I didn’t find the vamp’s lair while it was still daylight and he was slumbering in his coffin.

I got to the door and out to the alley just in time to see the pimple-spotted vamp disappearing around the corner. I could hear noises from a large crowd a few blocks away. I cursed again and ran like hell down the alley. I had to get the bastard before he tried to lose himself in the crowd.

The crowd, I knew, were congregated around the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial at Monument Circle, smack dab in the center of downtown Indianapolis. The memorial was a huge spire dedicated to those who’d lost their lives in America’s wars. For some unknown reason, every year the city strung lights on the spire and had a ceremony to turn on said lights. Once lit, the limestone structure resembled a really tall Christmas tree, which is what the city fathers called it. The world’s largest Christmas tree. Well, the largest tree made of limestone.

Tonight was the lighting ceremony, and there would be hundreds of people ooh-ing and ahh-ing around the spire as the lights were turned on. And the vamp was heading straight for it.

The vamp’s name had been Edgar Nelson, and a few weeks ago he’d been alive and kicking. I don’t know who turned him, but after his death, Ed rose from his grave and promptly began nightly feedings on his girlfriend, Allison Larson. Allison’s mother couldn’t figure out what was happening to her daughter and, after exhausting every other option, hired me to find out.

Figuring out Allison’s predicament had been easy. She was pale, insisted on sleeping with her windows open even though it was late November, and was beginning to have an aversion to sunlight. That, and she had fang marks on her throat. Dead giveaway. In her restless sleep Allison would call out for her dead boyfriend, so I knew for whom I was looking.

To find him, I used my best friend, Gina. Gina’s a witch, and while she’s normally a healing witch, she’s lived long enough that she’s picked up a thing or two along the way. Gina put a drop of Allison’s blood on a crystal. There would be traces of Ed’s blood mixed with Allison’s, and the idea was the crystal would act as a homing beacon and lead me to the vamp, growing warmer the closer I got to him. It was a city-wide game of “you’re getting warmer… colder… warmer…” until I finally tracked Ed down to a disused warehouse downtown. Unfortunately I got there just as the sun was setting and Ed was climbing out of his coffin.

Now I had to chase after the bastard and make sure he didn’t do any damage.

I got to the end of the alley and was expecting to see Ed bolting down Delaware Street but was surprised to see him standing just outside the doorway of an apartment building. Just standing there. He turned and smirked at me. “Take one step towards me and I kill this guy,” he said, his tone full of gloating.

I hadn’t noticed the guy hovering in the doorway. He was about twenty years old, with unkempt dark hair and pale skin. Ed’s hostage was visibly shaking, even though he was obviously the athletic sort. The tight T-shirt he wore showed off his muscular frame extremely well. Really, can’t muscular guys go one size up? Do they have to be such show-offs?

“Don’t hurt me,” the fit guy whimpered.

I set my bag on the pavement and slowly crouched down. I unzipped the bag.

“I mean it! I’ll kill him if you make one more move!” Ed sounded convincing. He’d obviously seen all the vampire movies. Christopher Lee had nothing on him. Under other circumstances I’d have been worried.

I ignored Ed and rummaged in the bag.

“His blood will be on your hands!” Ed, with a hiss, reached out to grab the guy by the throat. The triumph on his face melted into confusion when his hand went right through the guy’s neck. “What the—”

A grin spread across Robbie’s face. “Sorry, dude,” he said, seemingly oblivious to the vamp’s hand sticking in his throat. “I’m already dead.”

The vamp’s eyes blazed with fury as he spun toward me. “What the hell is going on?” he demanded. When he saw me, his face, if possible, became even paler. 

I smiled. “Decoy,” I said as I raised the crossbow I’d gotten out of the bag and pulled the trigger. The bolt struck Ed right in the chest.

One good thing about the Christmas tree lighting ceremony—nearly everyone was down at the Circle or snuggled up in front of their televisions watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Those who weren’t were treated to Ed’s ghastly wail as the shaft of wood pierced his chest. I couldn’t see anyone on the street, but I’m sure his scream could be heard several blocks away. Blood spurted from his mouth as well as his chest as he toppled sideways, clutching the arrow. He was dead—again—before he hit the pavement.

My dead boyfriend looked down at the corpse. “Not the smartest vampire in the world. He should have been able to tell the guy he was threatening was a ghost.”

I picked up my bag and shoved the crossbow back inside. Around us, I could see lights coming on in apartments. There was a couple who had just come out of a bar at the end of the block, but they were too far away to be able to provide a clear description of the guy who had just shot someone with a crossbow. “I’m just glad you’re back to the point where you can appear fairly solid.” I glanced over to where Ed lay. People were starting to open windows and doors. I was in the shadows, but I knew I had to get the hell out of Dodge quickly or I’d be arrested.

I could picture the scene at the police station. A burly but kind of hot detective trying to piece together the events while grilling me. “Let me get this straight. You dug up a corpse, hauled it downtown somehow without attracting attention, and then shot it with a crossbow.”

“No, he was a vampire. I killed it.”

Burly but hot detective: “You expect me to believe that?”

Me: “I’m an honest private eye. You can believe me. Say, why don’t you take off your shirt and I’ll explain things further.” Cue wonka-ja wonka-ja porn music.

Jesus, even my daydreams are getting erotic. I’ve really got to invest in more cold showers.

Across the road, some guy was standing in his doorway shouting, “Hey, what’s going on out here?” A little dog appeared at his heels, yapping furiously.

“Time to go,” Robbie said. He nodded toward the corpse. “I guess his parents will have to bury him all over again.”

I grabbed the bag and started off at a trot. “Serves them right for raising a Twilight Wannabe. Let’s get to the Circle and lose ourselves in the crowd.”

Robbie was keeping pace with me, and I could even hear his footsteps sounding faintly against the pavement. He’d come a long way in the last few weeks, considering that for quite a while the best he could manage was having his head materialize and float in the middle of the living room of our apartment. Lucky I don’t have a cleaning lady who can see spirits. Seeing a head floating around might make a cleaning lady wonder if she was in the right profession.

I don’t have a cleaning lady. A zombie bulldog is hard to explain to potential domestic employees, let alone trying to tell them about my dead boyfriend who still is around after over a decade.

Sirens sounded down the street behind us, so we ducked into an alley and broke into a run. By the time we got to New York Street, we were winded—well, I was; ghosts don’t get winded—but safe. I paused and dropped the bag on the sidewalk as I sucked in air. I leaned down, putting my hands on my knees, and willed my heart to stop thumping quite so loudly. To me it sounded like a siren, alerting any passing cop that hey, here’s the guy that just nailed a vamp in the heart with an arrow several blocks over.

Robbie got down on his haunches so he could look into my face. “You doing okay, Dunc? You’re looking a little flushed.”

I grimaced at him. Having a dead boyfriend who haunts you has its advantages and disadvantages. Advantages: He can be a decoy for vamps and other creatures and not get hurt while I prepare to kill their asses. He also doesn’t add to the grocery bill since ghosts don’t eat. Disadvantages: He doesn't have to pause for breath, and he still looks like he's twenty, the age he was when he died in a car accident. Recently I thought I'd lost him when he used up so much energy saving my life that he nearly vanished for good. This made me realize just how much I still loved him, so I'll treasure the advantages and try not to let the disadvantages get to me. At least I could still look into those big brown eyes. 

“Fuck you,” I said, my breathing still a little ragged.

“Don’t we wish” was Robbie’s reply.

That was the biggest disadvantage. He couldn’t remain solid enough for us to have sex. Well, what the fuck. No relationship is perfect.

Finally I stood up straight and looked around, getting my bearings. We were close to Monument Circle, and the streets were clogged with people. Traffic was heavy as pedestrians tried to maneuver around each other, most of whom were meandering, enjoying the Christmas decorations. There were sirens in the distance—and undoubtedly some of Indianapolis’s finest wondering why there was a corpse littering a sidewalk with an arrow sticking out of his chest—but no one seemed to be taking any interest in me.

I smiled. Being a private detective with a lot of connections to the paranormal also has its advantages and disadvantages. I had to track down nearly every vamp, ghoul, demon, and whatever decided to wander into the city, true, but it did make for an interesting life. If I met someone at a bar and they asked me about my life, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be able to top “Well, I’m a private eye, my best friend is a witch, my boyfriend is a ghost, and my bulldog is a zombie. What do you do?”

No wonder I don’t go to bars often.

A collective shout came from the vicinity of Monument Circle. They must have switched on the Christmas lights.

Robbie grinned. “Let’s go and check out the limestone Christmas tree.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Come on, Duncan. It’ll be fun.”

It’s hard to deny those brown eyes, so minutes later we were standing in the crowd around the circle, gazing up at the frankly beautiful lights. I dislike having people crowded against me, but I have to admit it was worth it. The night wasn’t too cold, and everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Robbie, standing next to me, was smiling like an idiot. His hand sought out mine. I almost squeezed, but I stopped myself in time, knowing my hand would go right through his. I’d have to settle for feeling the faint touch of cold against my skin.

It was enough.