The alarm went off like an air-raid siren at midnight, and the hand that shot out of the bed slammed the snooze button so hard the side table shook. Half an hour later, Araminta Scott jumped out from underneath the blankets, kicking off the covers and cursing loudly. She’d dreamed she was late for work again and she was right—that wasn’t the snooze button she’d hit. She scrambled into her clothes, putting on a worn black sweater over her thin black tank top, grabbing a pair of black jeans from the pile on the floor and pulling them up over her skinny hips. She ran to the sink, splashed water on her face, finger-combed her platinum bangs and smoothed the soft, shorn hair at the back of her neck as she met her dark, baleful eyes in the mirror.
Ara wiped her hands and face on her lone, grungy and gray towel and took a rueful glance at the squalor that was her home—the nest of sheets, half-empty Chinese food containers on the kitchen counter, dust balls that seemed to be growing out of the walls like a cozy gray fungus. She should really clean this place once in a while. Or take a shower. She smelled pretty ripe but there was nothing she could do about it right now. If she was lucky and the L Train was running without delay she might just make it in time without catching heat from the chief. Besides, she liked the way she smelled: like sweat and hard work from the seventy-two hours she’d spent sitting on her suspect. Policy mandated that anyone who didn’t read as mortal and wasn’t registered with the coven had to be checked out. These days, that was all it took to rouse suspicion from the brass.
Ara had followed her guy for three days straight as he wandered around the city. So far he hadn’t done anything more malicious than fail to tip the barista at a trendy coffee shop, but she’d noted his visits to a few interesting places: the burnt-out building that used to house the Repository, the old Van Alen place on Riverside Drive, the church of St. John the Divine. Visiting these particular places couldn’t be just a coincidence. It was clear he knew a lot about coven history. Finally, she’d had to call it a day and slept for fourteen hours straight afterwards. Not that it was any excuse for being late tonight. Chief was a hard-ass about stuff like that. He was old-school and liked to remind the new recruits that he’d been battling dark angels in Hell when they were just getting their fangs.
She burst out of her apartment, boots clomping down the stairs, then abruptly turned around and ran right back up again. She must be really out of it to have forgotten these, she thought, as she stuffed her weapons—two crescent blades, as beautiful as they were deadly, into her back pockets and checked to make sure her gun—outfitted with silver bullets they called demon-killers for that very reason— was secure in its holster.
It was a moonless night in September, chilly, and the sidewalks were teeming with young people congregating in front of restaurants and bars, girls with glasses that were too big for their faces wearing awkward-length skirts and ugly shoes, texting furiously on their smart phones as they headed to the next watering hole; boys in suspenders wheeling old-fashioned six-speeds home, twee bowties around their necks, who looked like they spent their days editing copy with red pencils instead of in front of screens until their faces were as pale and bluish as the light from their computers.
This had been quite the ghetto neighborhood once but the tornado of gentrification that swept through broad swaths of the city during the last decade shook up Williamsburg until it was almost unrecognizable. The dirty urban landscape of bleak tenements that had once been home to junkies and starving artists was now filthy with money, hipster central, counting bankable artists, boutique owners, artisanal chefs and earnest young bearded men who made small-batch chocolate among its residents. She entered one of the last remnants of the former neighborhood, her favorite bodega, a shabby storefront where candy bars were kept behind bulletproof glass, and nodded to Bahir, who had her cup of coffee at the ready.
Ara walked towards the Bedford Ave station sipping her coffee and occasionally blowing on it through the lid to cool it down. The subway platform was filled with Manhattanites heading home, the new bridge-and-tunnel crowd, she mused, remembering that old insult, when Upper East Siders like her used to sneer at the outer-borough weekend crowd. In her old moneyed life, she never even took the subway—maybe once in awhile, just for kicks, to slum it with her fellow Merryvale girls. But that was as far as she went underground. She never even touched the subway turnstile with her hands if she could help it, she would push it with her hip.
For the first eighteen years of her life Ara had lived on 83rd and Park Avenue and had worn the same thing every day: a white button-down shirt, a green plaid skirt and a blue blazer with the gold school crest. She was one of the Blue Bloods in every sense of the word; her family used to summer in the Hamptons and Bermuda and winter in Palm Beach. She had long glossy hair that fell past her shoulders and friends were the rich and popular. Now, at 23, the silly spoiled girl she had been back then, back when she was still called “Minty,” is a distant memory. But some things remained the same—she still wore a uniform, she thought, looking down at her all-black outfit. Preferred it, even, since it was one less thing she had to worry about.
The train clacked into the station and screeched to a halt. She pushed in with the rest of the revelers calling it a night, finding a place to stand without having to touch anyone else too closely. It was amazing how polite New Yorkers were, how they allowed each other a certain degree of personal space even when shoved up next to someone’s armpit. No one made eye contact. It was the perverts and the weirdos who stared directly at you, everyone else kept their eyes trained above at the Dr. Zit posters or below at the grimy floor.
Ara leaned against the doors and savored her coffee, zoning out with the rest of the passengers. She got off at 14th Street and caught the N/R downtown. It was almost one in the morning and the subway car was empty now, rattling passengers like bones in a cage. Not a lot of people headed to the financial district in the wee hours. Ara wasn’t worried. She was probably the most dangerous thing in there.
Her destination was the newly christened Orpheus Tower, the headquarters of the new coven. Once upon a time the building had housed one of the most powerful investment banks in the world, but the bank had crumbled in one day, disappearing with most of the world’s wealth. The coven had snatched the building up for a song. As Ara walked through the glass and chrome lobby, she never failed to marvel at just how much things had changed. Vampires no longer hid in their core-scrapers, buildings that tunneled deep into the ground, once the new regent decided they had as much right to the sky as the rest of the world. She pressed the button for the top floor—Security—and pricked her finger on the blood key. The elevator whisked her up and opened to a bank of surveillance screens surrounding a massive desk in front of a massive steel door.
“Chief wants you,” the night clerk told her. “You’re late.”
Ara sighed as the clerk buzzed her through.
Since she was already in trouble, she decided to pick up her files first. That suspect she was trailing had an unrecognizable aura; he was definitely immortal but he wasn’t one of them. Chief might be interested to know the list of vampire hotspots he’d visited. Her office was one of the corner ones with a floor-to-ceiling window and a panoramic view of the Brooklyn Bridge and the bright lights of the city. But as far as Ara was concerned the most impressive thing about it was the plaque on her door. The one that read–
It never failed to give her chills. Most nights she can’t believe she actually made it through training and was now part of this elite squad, the most prestigious and protected police force in the world. She was a badass. A member of the vampire secret police. A killer. A hunter. A truth-seeker. Veritas Venator. Venators had the ability to read and destroy minds, enter and manipulate dreams. They brought death and destruction in the name of truth and justice.
“Chief wants you,” Ben Denham said as he walked by her office. Denham was a new recruit, a noov, still in his first year of training and overly excited about everything. Baby venators were the worst.
“Tell me something I don’t know,” she said crossly, as she looked through the stack of case files on her desk. Her office was as disorderly as her apartment, and every folder and piece of paper was stained with coffee rings.
“Hear what the day shift found?” Ben asked eagerly.
“You gonna tell me or do I have to guess?” she snapped, annoyed she couldn’t find her file. She swore she just left it on top of her desk before she left yesterday.
“Another pentagram,” said Ben.
“Sewers below Canal, and bloody this time.”
“Bloody?” she asked, looking up at him.
“Ripe,” he nodded.
“Like, mortal blood you mean?”
“Yeah.” He grinned, flashing his fangs. “Tasty.”
Pentagrams were popping up all over the city lately. Chalk-drawn ones against brick walls in Soho, spray-painted on billboards in Chelsea, tiny little ones scratched on the glass windows of taxicabs. A bloody pentagram? Mortal blood? In the sewers below Canal? What was that all about? Was the noov serious or was he just pulling her leg?
“Really?” she asked, looking directly at him.
“Yep. Might’ve caught a body too. They don’t know yet. Chief wants you.”
She nodded, her heart starting to pound in her chest. The past five years since the Final Battle had been relatively peaceful, quiet, There had been incidents here and there, renegade vampires, a lone Nephilin or two—those half-demon, half-human abominations were still around—but the coven had met each threat with vigorous force and finality. No trial, no courtrooms, justice was meted out by the venator’s blades, by bullets from their fancy new guns. The regent of the coven didn’t mess around, insisted that the Fallen look toward the future instead of the past.
Ara gave up looking for the file and walked down the hall and straight into the chief’s office without knocking. Sam Lennox had the world-weary air of a longtime security enforcer. He was stocky, and his hair had streaks of grey. He had trained her well, and she considered him something of a mentor.
“What’s up?” she asked.
Sam Lennox looked pointedly toward his watch.
“What about the fifteen minute grace period?” she protested.
“What happened, you hit the wrong button?” Chief knew her too well.
“So—is this about the pentagram?” she asked.
“What penta—damn noovs talk too much. Yeah, but you can deal with that later. Called you in because we got you a new partner. Starts today.”
Ara frowned. She didn’t need or want a new partner. In the past, venators worked alone. They were solitary creatures, unable to trust anyone else, sometimes even each other. But with the new coven came new rules. Safety rules. Her old partner had moved up in the food chain. Ara was offered opportunities to move up as well over the years, but preferred to remain right where she was. She didn’t want to shuffle papers and fall asleep at conclave meetings. She wanted to be right where the action was.
“Yeah, who?” Ara couldn’t get the edge out of her voice, not that she was trying that hard.
Sam motioned toward the doorway in his office that was cracked open to the adjoining room.
Ara jerked her head and blanched. “No way.”
The guy slouched against the wall was her suspect. The one she’d been trailing for three days. The one who stiffed the barista, the one who had taken a private tour of every important place in the coven’s past, secret places that were only known to their kind, from the church where Lucifer had first made his return known, to the childhood home of the girl who had saved all of their skins.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said, and noticed the file she was looking for was right on the chief’s desk.
“What can I say? He’s no longer a suspect.” Lennox said, waving his hand.
“What do you mean? He’s unregistered. He’s immortal. He has a demon’s aura.”
“You’re right he does, but that can’t be helped considering where he’s from,” Sam Lennox agreed. “Come on, it’s time you met him.”
Ara frowned as she followed the chief into the conference room.
“Ara Scott, meet Edon Marrok.”
Had she heard that right?
How could she not have known?
She supposed it was because the scruffy, dirty guy in the faded flannel shirt and beaten army jacket who was standing in front of her wasn’t quite what she pictured when she thought of Edon Marrok, the legendary golden wolf, one of the heroes from the final battle. The wolves were skinchangers, keepers of the Passages of Time, creatures of the underworld and bred in Hell, which accounted for the demon aura. They were also beautiful and powerful, and without their help the vampires would have lost the war to Lucifer and his legions. Edon sure wouldn’t win any beauty contests right now though. His hair was dry and brittle and his eyes were red and bloodshot. His beauty was all but destroyed, a ghostly memory in the lines of his haggard face. No longer the golden wolf of legend but a dirty yellow mongrel. He looked like he crawled out of the alleys of Nevada, not Las Vegas, but its outskirts—Henderson, those little desert towns. Nowhere towns. Although she couldn’t help but admit there was something magnetic and compelling about him, from the sexy stubble on his jaw to his hungry, hooded topaz-colored eyes.
The wolves had taken up their historical positions as guardians of Time, so what was Edon doing in New York? Plus, the wolves had an uneasy alliance with the Fallen, they were no fans of the vampires. He shot her a yellow grin, his incisors sharp as points.
She inhaled sharply.
“Hey angel,” he drawled, rolling his vowels like he had all the time in the world. “Looks like you’ve drawn the short straw.”
“Chief? A word?” she asked.
Sam nodded. “Help yourself,” he told Edon, motioning to the pink box of donuts on the table.
Ara followed the chief back into his office and shut the door. “What the hell?”
Sam shrugged his shoulders. “Look, he’s vetted by the regent himself. He said he came into town ’cause he was following his own suspect, and it might be linked to what’s going on with those pentagrams. Can’t hurt. Thought you’d be best for him since you’ve been following him around anyway.”
“So why’d he spend three days sniffing around taking the vampire history tour then?” she asked.
“Ask him. Nostalgia? Curiosity? I fought next to him in the war. He’s a good guy. I trust him. You’ll learn to.”
“Fine,” she said, the petulance in her voice that of the spoiled schoolgirl once more.
Ara stomped back into the room where Edon was finishing his breakfast. “Let’s go wolf, but if you call me angel again I’ll strap a collar around your neck so fast you won’t have time to beg for a dog biscuit,” she said.
“What’d I ever do to you?” he asked, feigning hurt. He stood up, wiping crumbs from his mouth with a napkin. “All right Scott, let’s start over,” he said, and offered his hand to shake.
She took it warily. Starting over was what the new coven was all about. New beginnings. New recruits. New rules. New regent. New society.
It made her wonder. If the vampires had won Salvation, were they even Fallen anymore? Was she still an angel? It didn’t matter. She was a venator and there was work to be done. As the chief liked to say, new coven, same old shit.
There was a bloody pentagram in the sewers below Canal Street. Ara felt invigorated, her heart pumping, her fingers itching, ready for whatever tragedy or monster they would find down here. She would hunt them. And, if necessary, she would kill them. She would uncover the secrets of the darkness and bring the truth to light.
Copyright © 2014 .Melissa de la Cruz. Excerpted from the book Vampires of Manhattan: The New Blue Bloods Coven by Melissa de la Cruz, published by Hachette Books, a division of Hachette Book Group. All Rights Reserved. Used With Permission.