Vampire King of New York, страница 1
Table of Contents
VAMPIRE KING OF NEW YORK
VAMPIRE KING OF NEW YORK
SUSAN HANNIFORD CROWLEY
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
VAMPIRE KING OF NEW YORK
SUSAN HANNIFORD CROWLEY
Cover Design by Fiona Jayde
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the priority written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials.
Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
Published in the United States of America by
Soul Mate Publishing
P.O. Box 24
Macedon, New York, 14502
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
Dedicated to Penelope
in Memory of
jan howard finder aka The Wombat
I would like to thank the following people who made this book possible. My dear friends Gerri Brousseau, a.c. Mason, and Debi Chowdhury who read the manuscript several times and made it so much better by showing me where it worked and where it didn’t. My friend Anne Barriere who listened when I talked through points and gave me feedback. Thank you to Harold, who believed in me when I was losing confidence.
I’ve like to give a special thank you to my editor Cheryl Yeko and the editor-in-chief Deborah Gilbert at Soul Mate Publishing for their persistence in making the book shine.
Thank you to my husband, family and friends and to my author friends in CTRWA, RWA, and SFWA.
Thank you, God.
Maximillion Vander Meer stood in the jagged mouth of the ice cave with a wolf skin girding his loins and fur boots on his feet. A frigid breeze breathed its welcome over his bare chest, arms and legs.
He smiled and closed his eyes to step back into the Viking past he loved, where he was free. He threw back his head and howled in exuberant abandonment. Then he ripped off the wolf skin and kicked off his boots. Max ran to the shadowed alcove he knew so well. A flicker of the past sparked in his brain and Vikings filled the cave, their voices rich in the chant of a ritual forgotten in the modern age, invoking the protection and wisdom of Odin, Thor, and Freya. Then he blinked and they were gone. Their voices silenced by time.
Every time he entered this sacred place hollowed out by his ancestors, their presence worked magic and distracted his weary heart from the curse inhabiting his body. This power brought him back to the Viking warrior deep within him, as only here could he reconnect with his lost humanity. Every passing moment the curse pulled him further from whom and what he’d once been. That was the danger in being a vampire. It wasn’t the chill of his body, but the distance that crept into his heart. He was on the edge of forgetting how the laughter of his son warmed him to his toes. The memory of Svenna’s delicious heat as her soft skin lay against his flesh igniting the fire between them, slipped through his fingers like water. Inhaling the fragrance of flowers in her hair had made him feel powerful. Even the excitement of the next adventure filled with salt spray and swords clashing faded away. His heart no longer raced.
The dire flaw in immortality was the sameness. Centuries of monotony blurred into others. Few ancient ones survived the deadly soul-numbing tedium of every day being the same. Closing on a thousand years, too many chose to lie in the sun and burn in agony over the course of two days until they crisped away in the wind. When the true burning began, night, the blessed night, offered no reprieve. The recent “chosen” death of his friend Coelhus was etched in his memory, making Max’s need more urgent than it had ever been. Coelhus had given up. After centuries of dreaming of a woman named Celeste, he ceased to believe she could be real. Coelhus could no longer bear the loneliness and the endless searching. Consumed by his dashed dreams, he gave his body to the sun. Max stayed with him in his last moments, and while he couldn’t deter his friend, he resolved not to end in ashes himself.
Time had robbed him of love, but today, in this moment, Max meant to get it back. Right now! Only this sanctuary of ice and stone seemed real to him; the human world faded into insignificance. Even the responsibility he owed his own kind lost its meaning. He had come to make a last sacrifice. If it didn’t work, he didn’t know what he would do next. His belief, however antiquated when viewed by others, never failed him.
He had nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Since the death of his wife many centuries before, nothing more could happen to his empty heart. The feeling of being human haunted him from time to time like an elusive fragrance or taste. Memories were a different matter. The curse, as he called it, made every memory eternal, the pain as raw and consuming as the day he’d lost her.
Squeezing the ancient dagger in his fist, Max stepped up to the frozen altar. The three carved stone figures stared blankly at him. Time, and a growing sophistication, taught him that they were nothing but stone, still the part of him that was Viking would always believe. Holding fast to that reverence of a bygone age, he stood before them.
“I do not call on you, Odin, Father to all, but I respect your wisdom.” He bowed. “I do not call on you, Thor, the strength of every warrior, but I respect your power.” He bowed again. “I call on Freya’s mercy to regain my house, to find the only woman who can heal my heart.” Kneeling with his gaze fixed to the ground, he then rose to stand over the frozen altar. Before the feminine carved figure, he sliced his forearm and let the blood drip onto the icy surface. “In the name of Freya, let me be worthy. Lead me to love. Help me find it or lock me in the ice forever. I can no longer bear the torment of life without true love.”
In that moment, Max felt more Viking than he had in centuries. Every night since their parting, he had dreamt of his wife, Svenna. He remembered their wedding night. She was frightened, and he could not stand the idea of her fearing him.
“I will kiss you, Svenna, and I will keep kissing you until you tell me that you are ready to receive me.”
Finally with eyes partly closed and a smile of complete ecstasy on her lips, she whispered, “Take me, my love, and make me yours.”
Max lingered in those thoughts, replaying his favorite bits in his mind. Then the dream grew dark.
With one bad decision, Max lost his love forever when he left to pillage. That’s what Vikings did, but he shouldn’t have, not that one time. He should have stayed and respected the omen she received in a dream.
The village they came to looked like any other but it wasn’t. They attacked at night to gain surprise and they were.
The vampires showed no mercy, ripping their heads off and drinking down the blood. A few made a valiant last stand and were rewarded with slavery or a slow demise. The vampire queen drank from each of them until they shivered into death.
Max shuddered, remembering her black eyes unblinking staring into him. The moment she touched him, he wished for death. Her squealing laugh made his ears bleed. “I hear you, Viking. Death is a repose. You will never know rest.”
The vampire queen enslaved him. He could never figure out whether it was her making him a vampire that diminished his strength or if her magic made his chains unbreakable. She tormented him and demeaned him. It didn’t stop him from wishing for Svenna, for waiting for the moment when he could escape.
After seven years, something was different with one of the chains. The magic had weakened. Max didn’t know why but he tested it, and he felt stronger. The vampire queen was in the hall outside the room about to come in. There were voices and she left. This was his chance.
The imaginings of a desperate man makes hearth and home look better the closer you get to it. All the time and hardship seemed to disappear the closer he got to his home. By light of the moon, he looked through his window. Svenna was older but still beautiful. Instead of just his son, a boy and girl played before the hearth. Gordas, his friend, sat in his chair. Svenna bent to hold a lighted twig to his pipe. Then Gordas pulled her into his lap, and they laughed.
Svenna had remarried and had another child. She looked happy, and he would not take that happiness from her. Being a vampire meant he could not be what he was before. He was a monster that terrified others. Even though he traveled far to feed and took no one from their village, those who knew him would fear him. His beloved would fear him.
Filled with sadness, Max retreated to the forest. By day, the curse forced him to hide, but by night, he could gaze at her from the wooded fringe. The years passed, and Max watched her from a distance, never revealing who he was. He couldn’t, although in his mind, he devised a thousand different plans to win her back as he slept each day. When night came, he realized each plan would fail and only put his family in danger. So he watched as his beloved Svenna grew old and died. The girl and boy had grown and now had families of their own. Svenna had lived her life without him and that hurt more than any thrust of a blade. He made the decision to leave that day. Staying would only inflict more pain on his shattered heart.
Being a vampire also meant he was free. The world, his to wander and take as he pleased. What did that really mean? Loneliness. The centuries passed and women found their way to him for a brief time, but the fire he needed for life was not among any of them. Morning would come, and he’d retreat into the dark to dream of the one woman that could fulfill him. Only a lifemate could ignite the fierce passion that would turn a vampire’s eternity into paradise. The concept of lifemates was a mythology that Max did not believe. Then his friend David Hilliard found his beloved Laura among the humans. Their love and happiness filled Max with hope, a hope that inspired him to petition the goddess for one last chance at love. He would find his love, or die.
Standing, bleeding on the altar, Max closed his eyes. He could picture his love’s face. During all the years without her, he dreamt of her, then a few years back the vision of her had changed. First she was a child, then a teen, and recently an adult. The Svenna he knew had a round face. This new Svenna had a more oval face. The nose was shorter. She wore her blonde hair in sweeping curls below her ears. The Svenna he had known wore her wavy hair long, very long by modern standards. He did not understand at first why the woman of his dreams had changed. Her eyes, however, never changed. They were still the summer sky blue he found so comforting, and for a warrior, whether in the modern day boardroom or on the battlefield of old, he wanted comfort to embrace him and ease his war-torn heart. He wanted it but could not believe it. Coelhus suffered the same illusionary dreams that promised love but delivered despair. The dreams foretold the rebirth of his Svenna. Perhaps it was part of Loki’s mischief to deceive him. Still there had to be a woman somewhere to heal him, and Freya was his only hope of finding her.
Being an outsider looking in went beyond hunger. That was why so many of their kind would lie out in the sun until it was over. Only one thing made eternity bearable—love.
Opening his eyes, blinding light threw him to his knees. When the brilliance dimmed, the Goddess Freya stood before him. Her blonde hair tumbled in waves over her full breasts. A golden necklace rested on her collarbone with white linen draping her hips. The cloak of raven feathers rested on her shoulders. Never in his many years of worship had Max seen a god. Never until this moment.
Not daring to gaze too long into her wondrous face, Max cast his eyes downward. “My Goddess, I pledge my sword to you.”
“I do not want your sword, Reynard, or Max, or whichever name you call yourself, Vampire. You have pledged to be encased in ice if you return without her.”
Max shuddered. He was foolish to make such a declaration.
“You have requested my help, and I will grant it. You travel to a city with a growing evil. Amidst the chaos, a heart that’s closed awaits you to awaken it. Tread carefully. She will fear you. Make the wrong move, and you will both be lost.” Light flared, filling the cave. Then the goddess was gone.
The slice on his arm was already healed. Stepping slowly backward, he bowed again before turning swiftly and heading for the mouth of the cave.
A symphony of bells drew his attention to the black case on the ice floor. He opened the briefcase and took out his BlackBerry.
“Your jet is ready per your instructions, sir. We need to submit a flight plan. May I ask the destination?”
“New York City.”
“Very good, sir. We await you at your convenience.”
“Thank you.” Max closed the phone. Quickly he opened the suitcase. He crouched, as one would by a fire.
The cold didn’t bother him, but he put on the dark blue Armani suit anyway. He donned socks and leather boots. Then he put on the heavy, hooded overcoat.
Transformed into the modern man, Max took a final look around his ice sanctuary and at the three figures on the altar. He had never made an offering to Freya before. There are moments when even a Viking is afraid. And this was one of them.
As the jet with VMeer emblazoned on its silver side streaked into the sky after leaving the airport outside Reykjavík, it always swerved back over the city. This was home, and Max always felt a little tug when leaving. Where else could you drink your fill of salmon blood?
A flight attendant, smartly uniformed in black and white, brought a tray and placed it in front of Max. “Will there be anything else, Mr. Vander Meer?”
“No, thank you.”
She turned to go.
The flight attendant turned back.
Unless I’m mistaken, isn’t this your first time to New York?”
“Then I will hope you will take advantage of the Arnhem Society’s hospitality. Be sure to ask our concierge for the l
“But surely they know about the Arnhem Knights?”
“No, and it’s better that way.”
She nodded and retreated up the aisle.
Max gazed out at the clear star clad sky over Iceland and sighed. He took it as a promise from the goddess that he’d be returning home. Shaking his head, he remembered his words in the cave: “Help me find love, or lock me in the ice forever. I can no longer bear the torment of life without true love.”
It was too late to regret his desperate plea. From the sagas, Max knew that when such petitions were answered, the gods could be magnificent in their generosity or brutal. Still, Freya gave him hope, and he would hold on to it with all his strength.
It was a great night for traveling. They’d arrive a bit before dawn. He’d reach his townhouse bordering Battery Park and sleep in. His staff had been alerted to prepare for his arrival. Max took a sip of the dark red fluid in the wine glass. Mmm. Chilled just right. Then he nibbled on his halibut and potatoes.
On finishing his meal, he opened his briefcase and took out one of ten folders, one folder for each meeting he would attend during his first week in the city.
Hearing his Blackberry’s symphony of bells, he smiled. He knew who was on the other end. Max could feel his second-in-command in New York.
“Hello, Max. Everything is in place for your arrival. The Arnhem Knights will be having their meeting on Wednesday at eleven p.m.”
Max flipped open his electronic planner and scrolled over to the date. “I see you won’t be in attendance.”
“My sister-in-law is having a tough time. She’s leaving her job and decided to go back to Connecticut, and Laura’s worried.”