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Personal Demon

Susan Sizemore - Author

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ISBN 9781101589632 | 288 pages | 25 Sep 2012 | Ace | 18 - AND UP
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In a community kept hidden, the Enforcers are an elite group of vampires sworn to serve and protect their kind—and follow the Laws of the Blood…

As one of Chicago’s vampire hunters, Ivy Bailey is responsible for keeping the city’s human residents safe—a job that becomes infinitely harder when someone starts committing gruesome acts of magical murder. But what Ivy doesn’t realize is that she is a hunter being hunted…

Vampire Enforcer Christopher Bell is in Chicago to investigate rumors of a revolution, but when he comes across Ivy being followed through dark streets, what he finds is a ghost from his past. Over a century ago, Christopher fought the vicious London serial killer Jack the Ripper—and won. But now, the Ripper’s tainted soul is back—on the hunt once more.

Ivy insists she doesn’t need protection—especially from a vampire Enforcer. But soon, Christopher finds himself in the middle of a fight between demons and mortals, watching over the frustrating woman who has managed to stir his undead heart….


Prologue

London, 1888

The closer Christopher Bell got to London, the more the place smelled, worse by the moment. Even the acrid coal smoke spewed by the train engine wasn’t enough to cover the stench. Probably because it wasn’t just his long nose that was being assailed by the concentration of human filth. He wasn’t from London, wouldn’t be heading there if he wasn’t supposed to report to the Admiralty.

Captain Christopher Bell was from Sheffield, with not a single nobleman in his background to ease his way in his naval career. His accent was good enough when he remembered what he’d learned from private tutors and his Oxford education, but after a year at sea, he needed practice at acting the gentleman. At least his industrialist family was wealthy, if not of proper breeding. His other three brothers were engaged in running railways, in banking, and shipbuilding. Christopher had been chosen as the one to serve Queen and Country, to be a shining example of the family’s patriotic fervor. He didn’t mind. He liked the life. He liked being at sea.

It kept the noise down, and the sights and sounds he perceived in apparently freakishly different ways than the rest of the world. It kept the—the aromas was the best way he could describe them—inside his head at a controllable minimum. Bell supposed he was crazy, but since he managed to hide it most of the time with Mr. Morse’s help, no one locked him up. In fact, much of the time he was able to use his, peculiar abilities to his advantage. That was why he’d been promoted to the captaincy of his own ship at a relatively young age.

His ship had docked in Portsmouth two days ago. He’d been looking forward to a bit of discreet, upper–class carousing with a lady of light virtue he’d left with a hefty sum and the promise of return patronage the last time he’d been in England. After a few nights of unwinding from the rigors of the sea and celibacy, he’d planned for a relaxing shore leave at the family estate, maybe even a bit of courtship. His mother’s letters had increasingly pointed out the advantages of an advantageous marriage, and she had some rich prospects in mind. Besides, she wanted grandchildren from all her offspring. Christopher didn’t mind the thought of a wife. The more he thought about it, the more he relished the idea, actually. A man had to do it sometime, might as well get on with it. Tick this duty off as he had every other thing a man of his position in life should do.

He was a bit concerned that perhaps no pretty girl would be attracted to his not at all handsome features, all long nose and long face and skin rough from the wind. It was more likely some smart, strong–willed chit would think she could make something of him—just the sort of woman a man should run screaming from might be his lot in life. He’d smiled at the notion, glad that he spent most of his time at sea. He fancied he could remain cloaked in a bachelor’s existence even with a formidable wife at home.

Then he’d received the summons to London, cutting short all his speculations and plans. He began to get nervous as soon as the train left the station. Mr. Morse had been taken ill the day they’d docked and was in hospital, leaving his employer on his own. Christopher almost wished he hadn’t taken a private coach for the trip. A few other passengers in the car to converse with would at least have diverted his thoughts. Not that it was really his thoughts that were the problem. He thought about many things as the train drew closer and closer to the heart of the city. He recited verse and sang to himself. He tried to read. He wanted to run screaming. To jump off the train and run and run and run. He had no idea what the matter was, but he felt . . .

He felt darkness.

Fear.

Not just fear. He’d been in enough battles and storms and disasters to recognize all sort of different kinds of fear. The fear he—smelled was a type of hysteria. It stank of sweat and leering excitement, of titillation and greed. It smelled of anger, hate, absolute panic. It was in London. All over London. It covered the city heavier than one of the smoky industrial fogs the residents of London were almost proud of.

All Christopher knew was that the closer the train drew to his destination, the less he wanted to be there. He wanted to run away but stayed still, his big, long–fingered hands clasped tightly in his lap. He didn’t show his fear. It wasn’t his fear in any case, though it penetrated him like damp cold in the North Sea.

He reminded himself that the chill was natural. It was November. He pretended the chill in his mind was only imagination.

Christopher discovered what was wrong the moment he stepped off the train at the busy station. Newsboys rushed up and down the platform, brandishing papers at the crowd of new arrivals. He smelled ink that wasn’t yet dry.

The boys shouted, “New letter from the Ripper!”

“Read what the coppers aren’t telling us!”

“Women afraid to leave their homes!”

Christopher read a headline of the paper a boy pushed under his nose, the words “Where will the Ripper strike next?” was scrawled across the top of the page in huge, bold black letters.

Oh, yes, he remembered hearing about this now from his secretary, Mr. Morse, who loved gossip. How could the lurid scandal have slipped his mind? There was someone killing prostitutes in Whitechapel. He’d wondered at hearing this talked about in a Portsmouth pub. Prostitutes were killed, a sad fact of the sort of life folk were forced to live in the slums. It seemed this commonplace had taken the fancy of the whole country. And London proper was boiling over with fear about it. Not outrage, not exactly. He would have welcomed the boil of indignation seething through the good citizens, it would have been a clean emotional smell in his mind. But the stink was one of unnecessary terror and sick titillation. The fear was for the good women of the city, which made no logical sense. Good women didn’t roam the narrow, filthy streets of Whitechapel. Good women didn’t go with strangers, knowing that each customer might be a killer but needing the coin anyway. People should be outraged; instead, they were merely afraid. But afraid enough to give him a nervous reaction growing into one of his horrible headaches.

Outrage might have speared good people along to make an effort to clean up the slums, find employment for unfortunates like this Ripper’s victims. But righteous outrage wasn’t what these newsboys were hawking. Outrage would only sell papers to the reformers, and that wouldn’t bring in enough coins to make a decent profit for the publishers.

Christopher Bell wished he were still at sea.

Instead, he found himself a hansom cab and rode off to take a room at his father’s London club. It was on a quiet street in a respectable neighborhood. He drank a whiskey, and another, and tried to go to bed. But the pain screamed at him, in him. It called to him, from inside and outside his brain. He needed to do something. That’s what the pain insisted. He needed to move, to walk. To hunt.

It was a foolish, frightening notion, but he found himself out on the dark street on a cold November night without quite knowing how he’d gotten there.

When an overwhelming scent of blood dripped through his brain, Christopher had to follow it. He had to stop it. Stop the flow? Stop the source? That was it, stop the source—stop the one responsible.

“Responsible for what?” he demanded, looking up at the sky. There was no sky overhead, just sooty darkness.

The cobblestones beneath his feet were slick, slippery. Dirt covered his palm when he leaned against the brick wall of a tenement to catch his breath, and his breath came out in plumes of steam and mixed with a light fog. He had no idea where he was. But there were people on the streets, pale faces of women looked out of alley entrances, lurked in shadows. Working girls, drink–addled and hungry. The wasted creatures eyed him with hope and fear.

Fear. Fear, fear, fear. He couldn’t stand it. Fear and hate. The combination was like oil and water dripping inside him, smothering from the outside, drowning from the inside, leaving dark smears on his soul. He needed to make it stop.

Blood. Follow the blood.

Christopher grabbed a gin bottle from the hand of a man he passed. He smashed it against a wall and hurried on, the neck gripped in his hand. The drunk’s shouts followed him for a while. He lost the swearing around two corners and up an alley.

He didn’t hesitate when he saw a door open up ahead. The man that came out wore a heavy coat, with a hat pulled down shadowing his face. The reek of blood oozed from him. The stench was all too real.

None of the blood was the man’s. A girl had died. He’d killed her. He’d muttered words as he ripped her apart. Now it was over. It was done. Time to wait. Time to plan. Time to pray.

“No!” Christopher screamed. “No, no, no!” He wasn’t aware that he kept shouting.

The man whirled to face him, quick. Full of venom and bloodlust.

But not strong, not fit. Not the way Captain Christopher Bell was. Not furious the way Christopher was. Not righteous.

Vicious, yes, driven, greedy, but not yet full of demonic fire. No matter how hard he’d prayed, no matter how many sacrifices. Not enough. Certainly not enough.

Christopher ran, ugly alien thoughts jarring through his head. The jagged glass already aimed at the other man’s throat before he knew he was running.

When blood gushed this time, it belonged to the killer. It was Jack the Ripper who bled, fell onto the dirty Whitechapel street, died.

Christopher came to his senses with a broken bottle in his hand. With a dead man’s blood running over his highly polished boots.

“Very nicely done.”

There was nothing of Whitechapel in the rich voice of the woman who’d spoken. There were—layers—though, a hint of pride, a touch of sarcasm, curiosity. Threat.

“Let’s have a look at you.”

There were claws on the hand that turned him to face her. He knew instinctively that he was weak as a kitten against her strength—mental was well as physical. She was—

A beautiful little thing. Dressed in black satin and jet beads. A mourning dress. Pale as a ghost. Maybe she was a ghost. One of the Ripper’s victims?

Christopher shook his head, trying to clear out the foolishness. And bloodlust. And the sick, mental vomit taste of the man he’d killed.

The woman touched his cheek, stroked the tips of her claws ever so gently down his long jaw.

“I’ve never met anyone like you before,” she said.

“Funny, I was thinking the same thing.”

A faint smiled lifted her full, rich lips. “You have the gift of seeing, feeling, acting. But you see thoughts and emotions, color them, smell them. Most of us only hear with our minds. Hear and speak.”

“Us?”

“You’re quick to the point, too.” She traced his face with both hands, this time running her fingertips along his cheeks and down his throat. His pulse raced against her light touch. “Strong mind, stronger will. Born to be my child, I think.”

“I have a mother.”

She laughed, setting off crystal bells in his head. “Well, you’re about to have a second one, my lovely. I do believe I can make something of you.”

“It seems I’ve been found by just the sort of managing woman I don’t want.”

“I shall make you a knight of my realm,” she told him.

Somehow, he couldn’t argue, didn’t want to protest.

She gestured toward the body. “Bring that along, will you? Our kind doesn’t leave our messes in the street.”

Chapter One

Chicago, Present

Chicago really wasn’t any windier than any other city, but tonight it sure felt like it was. Cold, too, and raining, with just a hint of ice in the mix. Ivy Bailey was not a happy vampire hunter at the moment, but you hunted when you had to and remembered to wear a raincoat.

Most vampires sensibly stayed indoors on nights like this, but this one was a stalker. He couldn’t help himself. With the object of his hunger out on the street, that’s where he had to be. Which meant that was where Ivy had to be.

She hated him.

In theory, one should hate all vampires, just as a matter of course, of course. And she did, more or less. But she had particularly vicious thoughts for the stalker she was stalking. He hadn’t yet done anything bad enough to warrant having his heart ripped out, other than force her out on this miserable night, but it was only a matter of time. She hoped. Not that heart ripping would be her job. She was his watcher. His soaking. Wet. Dripping. Cold. Disgusted. Ivy checked her watch. It was near midnight, and she had to be at work at seven thirty. She was his going to sleep on her massage table tomorrow and get in trouble watcher.

“Strigoi,” she grumbled disgustedly under her breath.

Why couldn’t they all live somewhere exotic, like Rio de Janeiro, or winter up at the North Pole? Not that Chicago didn’t have long winter nights for the vampires to strut around in, trying to pick up healthy, fresh–faced, and strong–blooded Midwesterners.

The vampire walking ahead of her must really have it bad for the girl he was following since he hadn’t noticed Ivy yet, and she was only half a block behind him. The street wasn’t exactly bustling with pedestrians. She knew she wasn’t that good at sneaking and lurking. She probably had the rain to thank, along with a sexual obsession that blinded the young vamp’s senses.

Up ahead, a door opened, spilled light, then closed. The same thing happened a few seconds later. Ivy crossed a street and reached the spot where the victim and the vampire had entered. It was a coffee shop. Somewhere warm and dry and with WiFi to spend some time out of the rain. Ivy didn’t go inside immediately. She wasn’t afraid anything untoward would happen in that public place. Well, if the vampire happened to casually introduce himself to the woman of his nocturnal emissions, something untoward might come of it, but there were protocols in place to handle that. If the vampire behaved himself, Ivy could hand the case off to others.

No, Ivy waited in the dark, wet and cold, because someone was following her. A vampire? Why? If not, even more why?

She did briefly consider that she was having an attack of overactive imagination. It was certainly the sort of night for it. But she was a cautious type. Better to make sure something wicked wasn’t coming after her before she entered the shop, no matter how enticing the coffee scents. There were civilians inside. She had a duty to protect more than one hapless vampire lust object from the monsters roaming the night.

Ivy continued past the welcoming coffee–shop door. She turned right at the end of the block. Stopped. Listened. Peered past the faint glow of a nearby streetlight and reached out with her mind as much as her vision and hearing. Was there a faintly racing heartbeat coming her way? Still might only be imagination. She certainly didn’t hear footsteps or breathing, but the wind was howling, and the rain’s steady beat on the sidewalk was loud enough to cover anyone’s approach. Imagination running away with—

A hand grasped hers. “Run!” a voice shouted in her head. In her head, not her ear.

She barely had time to register the difference before she was being pulled down the side street at a breakneck pace. The street was slick and slippery, making it difficult to keep her footing. Her—rescuer?—sure–footed as a cat, didn’t notice. Looking at the man ahead of her as he pulled her along, she got an image of wide shoulders, and that was about all until he pulled her into a deep doorway.

She would have bolted away from him, but he grabbed her tightly around the waist. She tried going limp to sag out of his arms, but he knew that trick, and just laughed.

“Very good,” he said. His accent was English, his voice amused. “What are you doing out here anyway?”

He was talking this time, not thinking at her. Good. She understood the principles of telepathy, wasn’t freaked by it, but that didn’t mean she’d ever encountered the difficult speaking from mind to mind part herself. She could defend against telepathy, too, normally, but guessed she had been too intent on detecting signs of the stalker vampire flimflamming his prey to guard her own mind from intrusion. It wasn’t the sort of thing people generally tried with her. Most people she knew weren’t stupid.

She had the distinct impression that the man holding her close to his body wasn’t stupid, either. He was large, hard, and warm.

He apparently thought she was. “Do you know what that man you were following is? Do you know how dangerous it is for a woman to be out alone at night?”

“Do you know who was following me?” she answered.

It wasn’t he. Her—rescuer?—had come up the side street where she’d been waiting and watching. Unless he’d circled around behind her very fast, he couldn’t be—

“Oh.”

He had been following her.

He was a strigoi, as vampires preferred to call themselves. It wasn’t only modern folk who used bland language to mask evil intent. Care for a little ethnic cleansing to pretty up your genocide, anyone? Vampires were experts at bending words, and laws and customs, to make themselves feel better about what they were.

She’d never met a strigoi with an English accent before. Well, the Enforcer of the City was rumored to be from Britain, but he didn’t have an accent. Ariel had been an American vampire for a long time.

“Were you following me?” she demanded.

“Yes.”

She’d been followed, and grabbed, and snatched by an English strigoi.

“Why?”

“Why were you following that man?”

“I was doing my job.”

She was answered with a loud snort of laughter.

“I know he isn’t a man,” she said. “I was being polite.”

“You know what I am?”

“Of course.”

Hard hands closed around her upper arms. “Are you too stupid to be terrified? ”

“That’s a very good question.” She made herself project calm, pretended that she wasn’t afraid.

Another laugh from the vampire. It occurred to her that perhaps this British vampire somehow had permission to hunt in Chicago. Perhaps he was going to try to eat her. But she knew the Laws of the Blood. Surely the Enforcer of the City would have warned of any authorized hunt.

But, if this was a strig, new in town, this could get ugly. For her right now. For this English strigoi after the Enforcer of the City got hold of him. But his eventual punishment wouldn’t give her corpse any satisfaction.

All the while she’d been talking to the strigoi, her body was clasped to his, his strong hands didn’t seem inclined to let her go. Ivy finally tried to take a good look at his face. It was very dark in that shallow refuge from the rain. She had excellent night vision, but she couldn’t make out much detail. He had high, hollow cheeks and a long, pointed nose. No beauty, which was odd for one of his kind. Vampires preferred great looks to go along with the psychic talent that attracted them to those they made into slaves and companions.

“You’re no beauty yourself,” he told her.

Ivy tossed her head and got wet hair in her face for her trouble. Strands of hair stuck against her cheek. “I am, too. This is my drowned–cat look.”

“Not fetching on you.”

“You’re wearing a leather coat. You smell of dead cow.”

“That’s not the worst dead thing I’ve smelled of.”

Ivy finally realized how strange this conversation was and fought to get back to the point. “Why are you holding me?”

A wide grin appeared out of the dark. “You’re enjoying it, aren’t you?”

Oh, Goddess, no! He thought he was being charming. At least he wasn’t smiling with any sort of fang showing. She’d never actually seen a strigoi in hunting mask, but she’d had mating fangs flashed at her. Which was not happening now.

Being around a vampire didn’t normally make her think of mating, but then she’d never been quite so close to one, hip to hip, thigh to thigh.

“Why were you following that vampire?”

Ivy barely heard the question as a sense of dread made her burst out, “Are you a strig?”

His eyes glowed a sudden, furious red.

His voice drilled into her head, very sharp and precise. If by strig you mean an unaffiliated vampire—no, I am not a strig.

Well, excuse me for living, she thought, and hoped he didn’t overhear that very stupid bit of sarcasm.

You are excused. For now.

Her heart hammered hard against her chest. She realized she’d been holding her breath when she had to gasp for air. He’d scared her. He was relishing making her show that he’d scared her. The knowledge squirmed through her. A tiny part of her that lodged in the primitive reptile part of her brain rubbed its scaly paws together, hoping that the bloodsucker would make her angry—really angry.

“Why were you following the vampire?” He was back to that again.

She found her bravado again. “Why did you drag me down the street?”

“You said you were doing your job. What does your job have to do with my kind, human?”

Instead of grasping her tightly around her arms, his hands had shifted—one had drifted higher up her side. His other hand was pressed flat against the base of her spine. How’d he managed to get past her raincoat and under her sweatshirt?

She didn’t think he’d even noticed doing it, but—

“I’ve noticed. Glad you finally have.”

Ivy refused to be impressed by the press of his skin against hers. Tried not to be. He was a vampire, for crying out loud!

But he wasn’t trying to psychically seduce her. She’d know if he was, wouldn’t she? The only thing he was doing to her was being a big, strong male. These pheromones are not the ones you’re looking for, Ivy told herself.

“You like nice men, I take it?”

“Hush!” Ivy ordered. “Just hush. You’re not from around here, so I’ll tell you how it is, then you’re going to let me go.”

He didn’t argue any more, or demand, or continue the odd combination of tease and threat. He stood still as death, big, and strong enough to crush the spine and ribs where his hands rested. Ivy worked very hard not to be afraid of him. Or stimulated by him in any other way.

“The strigoi I was following is looking for a companion. His attentions have glommed onto a woman who doesn’t know he exists. He’s been following her, stalking her. Fantasizing about her. And trying to worm his way into her dreams.”

“How could you possibly know about dream walking?”

“We Yanks call it dream riding, and it’s against the rules.” She made out that his wide mouth was pressed in a thin, angry line, but still added, “It’s a form of rape.”

“Rules?”

She noticed he didn’t dispute the rape charge.

“Don’t interrupt. We have rules in Chicago. Rules about how vampires and mortals interact with each other. This is Selena’s town. Those of us who work with her enforce rules to protect humans from your kind. It’s about time somebody did.”

His hands tightened on her.

She gasped in pain.

He sneered. “You’re a stinking little vampire hunter.”

“Yes.” She feared he would crush her right then, but he waited for her to go on. “Not the traditional kind of hunter.”

She knew how to kill a vampire, in theory if not practice. And would kill if she had to, but that would start a war. She didn’t want to be responsible for that. She didn’t want innocents to get hurt, even innocent vampires if such creatures existed.

Ivy went on carefully. “Some mortals are working with the Chicago area nests to keep things ethical.” The rules were known as the Covenant—vampires liked fancy wording. “We don’t deny that vampires crave companions, but those companions have to be willing lovers.”

“That isn’t how it works.”

“We have the tacit cooperation of the Enforcer of the City.”

At least Ariel had left them alone so far. Ariel was Selena’s problem. This big English vampire holding her tightly, out of sight of any witnesses, was her problem. Maybe she would be feeling safer if she’d lied to him, but she was naturally honest. This was one of the traits that broke the hearts of some members of her family, on both sides.

“I was following that vampire because he was following the woman he wants. He won’t be allowed to force her into an unwanted relationship.”

“You were only doing surveillance, is that it?”

Ivy didn’t appreciate the word only, but didn’t dispute it. “Surveillance,” she agreed.

“I see. The vampire followed the girl, you followed the vampire.” His hands were suddenly clasping her face. He leaned close, until their eyelashes were almost touching. Their lips were very close.

“And you were following me.” When she spoke, she felt like they were sharing breath.

“Wrong,” he whispered. His lips brushed hers. “I was following the one who was following you.”


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