VAMPIRES, FIGHTING FOR GOOD...


NOTICE: This title is based on a novella originally titled DANCE OF DARKNESS. It has been significantly expanded and revised

Once upon a time, more than a millennium ago, Alain, the first d’Argent vampire, was born, not made. The d’Argents have stood for good, protecting mortals in war and famine, from evil, whether mortal or immortal…

ON THE TRAIL OF DARKNESS pits young Claude d’Argent against a different sort of evil he encounters while on the lookout for the evil vampire, Louis Reynard, whose murderous rampage around the globe threatens mortals and the d’Argent vampires alike. The evil he finds here is of the mortal kind, as soulless as Reynard, though somewhat of a lesser challenge to Claude, who renders his version of vampire justice…

Marisa Delgado has always struggled to make a life for herself and her younger brother in the Cuban barrio of Miami, but she is driven to despair when Raul runs afoul of a drug lord’s enforces. She has a choice—pay up the teen’s debt or watch him die. Desperate, with hope running out, she meets the darkly handsome Claude, a prince of the night. Turning to him may be the only way to save her family and her life, but it will also mean the ultimate sacrifice.

A short excerpt…

The night had always been his friend, but it closed in on him now, choking him in a sultry, damp embrace. A starless sky met the black expanse of the Atlantic, the horizon seemingly without beginning or end. Only the slapping sounds of waves kissing the shore punctuated an uneasy silence.

A silence Claude d’Argent had not experienced since that day two weeks ago when he’d come close to dying at the hands of the killer vampire for whom he now lay in wait. This strip of beachfront wouldn’t stay silent for long, because the clubs would be opening soon. Claude sighed. Miami Beach hardly held a candle to his favorite haunts in the Marais district of Paris, even when it was buzzing with teeming bodies bent on finding pleasure . . . and courting danger.

But a vampire could mingle unnoticed here, stalking his prey. A killer like Louis Reynard might mingle with crowds of tourists once night fell, stalking his next victim. Having recently encountered the Fox face-to-face, Claude would know him, recognize him. Hopefully he would be able to confront him and destroy him before he could kill again. Claude still woke in cold sweats remembering the hot blonde in Buenos Aires whom he and Alex hadn’t been able to save, the night Reynard had practically destroyed them both. I’d sense his presence if he were here. Wouldn’t I? The killer had an uncanny ability to fuck up Claude’s vampire radar. That radar was kicking in now, warning him of trouble even as neon signs began to flash across the way, their garish messages luring patrons to sample barkeepers’ wares, indulge in mortal vices under a moonless sky.

Fronds of tall royal palms swayed like so many dancers in the night as the wind rose, brought dissonant sounds of music to Claude’s ears from the clubs across Highway A1A. He adjusted his aviator-style sunglasses and visually followed the sounds of a mellow alto saxophone and muffled conga drums.

His gaze drifted toward the sign that featured a hot-pink neon stripper doing her thing in lights above another sign advertising a place called, unimaginatively, the Strip. His hotel loomed large and opulent at his back, its pink stucco façade commanding the scene directly south of the section of beachfront sidewalk where he stood.

Palms swayed in the breeze, the air still warm even though the sun was slipping beyond the western horizon.

Claude rubbed at the still tender scar on his chest—a reminder of the wound from Louis Reynard that had come close to destroying him. Damn the bastard anyhow. If not for him, Claude would be enjoying the Paris nightlife instead of acting as lookout here on the off chance that Reynard had picked Miami Beach as the site of his next gruesome murder. Or, even better, chasing the Fox in a more active way instead of staking out a place where none of his elders seriously thought Reynard would seek out his next victim.

Knowing this assignment had been handed out more to keep him out of unnecessary danger and facilitate his recuperation than because of any real need for him to stake out the beach here didn’t sit well—but then, he was used to his elders in the clan cosseting him as though he were no more than an infant vampire.

• • •

“Someday Raul will grow up. Until then you must promise me you’ll look out for him.” Their mother’s last words rang in Marisa’s ears. She knew she should walk away, let her brother reap the full consequences of running cocaine for the patron, but she could not ignore Mama’s wishes.

What was this, the fifth time she’d bailed him out, or perhaps the sixth? Marisa Delgado made the usual stop at a Liberty City neighborhood pawnshop, then drove to Hugo’s Bail Bonds, across from the jail where they were holding Raul. This time her brother had done it, gotten himself arrested with enough cocaine to land in prison for years, she thought as she watched Hugo count out her ten hundred-dollar bills—ten percent of the bail a judge had ordered to secure Raul’s release pending trial.

Lifting his amazing bulk from his desk chair and shoving the money in his safe, Hugo shot her an oily grin. It was all Marisa could do to keep from retching. That wouldn’t do, because Raul would still be in jail until Hugo called them and posted the ten-thousand-dollar bond.

She forced herself to return the bondsman’s grin as he handed her the paperwork. “He will be released around four o’clock. You better tell your brother to get out of the drug business while he still can. Next time the bail will be even higher. I won’t be able to post his bail if you’ve got nothing of value to put up as collateral.”

“I know. Gracias for your help this time.” Marisa folded the papers Hugo handed her and tucked them in her purse. “I’d expected to hand over the title to my car this time.”

“Chica, that bucket of bolts you drive is not worth me taking title to as insurance that your brother makes it to court for his trial. “You could always . . .” The way Hugo leered at her, as though she were a prime steak he longed to devour, sent shivers down her spine.

“That will not happen, Señor Hugo. I am no puta.” This time she’d sold Mama’s wedding ring to get bail for Raul—the time before, it had been the gold chain Papa had given her for her fifteenth birthday the year before he and Mama had died in a drive-by shooting. Pretty soon she’d run out of things to sell if her brother didn’t stop getting himself arrested, but she couldn’t worry about that now. Getting up from the battered straight chair across from the bondsman’s desk, she made her way to the door.

“Maybe this time he’ll have learned his lesson,” she said to herself as she headed across the street to get Raul out of the Metro-Dade Correctional and Rehabilitation Center.

If only she believed that. But no. The lure of drugs and money had changed her seventeenyear-old brother from a sweet, lovable boy into a surly thug. Mama wouldn’t recognize him as the little one who’d given her so much pride and love.

In the jail’s reception area, Marisa took a seat. The place had a stale smell, a pungent mixture of unwashed bodies and untended toilets. She saw a well-dressed blonde huddled in a plastic chair next to the metal door where prisoners would come out, looking out of place here and uneasy in the company of tired-looking Latinos, blacks and a few Anglos who looked to be down on their luck. Some sat quietly, their eyes showing pain . . . resignation. Others spoke loudly, angrily, gesturing with their hands as they spoke in a multicultural patois of Spanish, French, and other languages, with a smattering of English splashed in now and then. It was clear that no one was glad to be here.

Of course, the only reason for anyone to be here this time of day was to collect a loved one who’d fallen afoul of the law in a section of Miami where violence was a way of life. Marisa shifted her gaze toward the door as it opened with a brassy-sounding clank.

The blonde got up, only to take her place again as a burly black man was first to come through the door. He glanced around, apparently disappointed that there was no one waiting to meet him, before shrugging and heading out into the waning sunlight. A ragged-looking kid grinned when he spotted a harried-looking woman with a fussy toddler on her lap, and the blonde finally managed a smile when a redheaded teenager came through the door, a relieved expression on his bruised, dirt-streaked face.

Raul followed, looking like the drug-dealing thug he’d become. His overly long, stringy black hair made his face look even thinner than usual, but a few hours in the lockup apparently hadn’t cleared the I don’t give a shit look from his deep-set eyes or softened the tough-guy set of his thin lips. A healed scar, the souvenir of a street fight a few weeks earlier, stood out pale and forbidding against his deeply tanned cheek, calling attention to an ebony wood plug that stretched his left earlobe grotesquely.

Adding to his disreputable look were high-top sneakers, baggy jeans pulled low to show his patterned boxers, and a black T-shirt advertising a local Latino salsa group in shocking limegreen neon lettering. The tight shirt emphasized his unhealthy pallor and the fact he was hardly more than skin and bones. Sometimes, like now, Marisa was glad Mama and Papa weren’t alive to see what their baby boy had become in four short years.

“What took ya so long, hermana?”

Marisa clenched her fists as Raul sauntered up to her, as though he had not a worry in the world. Sometimes it was all she could do to keep herself from slapping that smirk off her brother’s face, but then she remembered the promise she’d made to their dying mama.

That promise had been made as her mama’s lifeblood drained from her body, the last words that sweet woman had ever spoken. Marisa would take care of Raul if it killed her, which it damn near might. “I don’t keep the kind of money around that I had to give Hugo to secure your bond. Next time you just may have to stay in jail.”

Gracias.” Raul’s expression sobered. “Cops got the patron’s package,” he whispered after looking around, as though he was expecting somebody to come grab him the minute they stepped outside the building. “I gotta score some more or I’m gonna be in real trouble.”

You aren’t in real trouble now? Marisa thought as she crossed the street. “You have to go sign your bond paperwork,” she reminded him. “Then you’re going straight home, where you’re going to stay until . . .” How, by all the saints, was she going to get Raul out of this latest mess he’d found himself in? Was it even possible? He’d have to make do with the public defender, because she had no way of coming up with a decent lawyer’s fee. “Until you can manage to talk yourself into a youthful offender program.”

“Yeah, yeah. I ain’t goin’ to no boot camp out in the ’Glades. Carlos from across the street said the mosquitoes and water moccasins will likely get you if the carceleros don’t snuff you out first. Nobody’s gonna lock me up with a bunch of stinkin’ Haitians from Liberty City.”

“Mind your mouth.” Wishing she hadn’t promised to see after Raul, Marisa followed him inside Hugo’s office and watched him sign the bondsman’s paperwork.

“You got ’til midnight Friday to get the boss his money. All five thousand,” Marisa overheard Hugo tell her brother as they were walking out. “He sent word he ain’t playin’ with the likes of a punk-kid street dealer who can’t manage to keep his eyes out for the man.”

Five thousand dollars? Trying not to panic, Marisa got in the car, which wasn’t worth even half that on its best day, and listened to the engine sputter before it turned over and started. She wished she dared to swat the smart-ass out of her brother, who slumped against the passenger door, a picture of studied tough-guy attitude and false bravado.

Available at Amazon.com and other online booksellers, only $.99. Keep an eye out for SHADOWING THE BEAST, book two of this five-book series.

The night had always been his friend, but it closed in on him now, choking him in a sultry, damp embrace. A starless sky met the black expanse of the Atlantic, the horizon seemingly without beginning or end. Only the slapping sounds of waves kissing the shore punctuated an uneasy silence. A silence Claude d’Argent had not experienced since that day two weeks ago when he’d come close to dying at the hands of the killer vampire for whom he now lay in wait. This strip of beachfront wouldn’t stay silent for long, because the clubs would be opening soon. Claude sighed. Miami Beach hardly held a candle to his favorite haunts in the Marais district of Paris, even when it was buzzing with teeming bodies bent on finding pleasure . . . and courting danger. But a vampire could mingle unnoticed here, stalking his prey. A killer like Louis Reynard might mingle with crowds of tourists once night fell, stalking his next victim. Having recently encountered the Fox face-to-face, Claude would know him, recognize him. Hopefully he would be able to confront him and destroy him before he could kill again. Claude still woke in cold sweats remembering the hot blonde in Buenos Aires whom he and Alex hadn’t been able to save, the night Reynard had practically destroyed them both. I’d sense his presence if he were here. Wouldn’t I? The killer had an uncanny ability to fuck up Claude’s vampire radar. That radar was kicking in now, warning him of trouble even as neon signs began to flash across the way, their garish messages luring patrons to sample barkeepers’ wares, indulge in mortal vices under a moonless sky. Fronds of tall royal palms swayed like so many dancers in the night as the wind rose, brought dissonant sounds of music to Claude’s ears from the clubs across Highway A1A. He adjusted his aviator-style sunglasses and visually followed the sounds of a mellow alto saxophone and muffled conga drums. His gaze drifted toward the sign that featured a hot-pink neon stripper doing her thing in lights above another sign advertising a place called, unimaginatively, the Strip. His hotel loomed large and opulent at his back, its pink stucco façade commanding the scene directly south of the section of beachfront sidewalk where he stood. Palms swayed in the breeze, the air still warm even though the sun was slipping beyond the western horizon. Claude rubbed at the still tender scar on his chest—a reminder of the wound from Louis Reynard that had come close to destroying him. Damn the bastard anyhow. If not for him, Claude would be enjoying the Paris nightlife instead of acting as lookout here on the off chance that Reynard had picked Miami Beach as the site of his next gruesome murder. Or, even better, chasing the Fox in a more active way instead of staking out a place where none of his elders seriously thought Reynard would seek out his next victim. Knowing this assignment had been handed out more to keep him out of unnecessary danger and facilitate his recuperation than because of any real need for him to stake out the beach here didn’t sit well—but then, he was used to his elders in the clan cosseting him as though he were no more than an infant vampire. • • • “Someday Raul will grow up. Until then you must promise me you’ll look out for him.” Their mother’s last words rang in Marisa’s ears. She knew she should walk away, let her brother reap the full consequences of running cocaine for the patron, but she could not ignore Mama’s wishes. What was this, the fifth time she’d bailed him out, or perhaps the sixth? Marisa Delgado made the usual stop at a Liberty City neighborhood pawnshop, then drove to Hugo’s Bail Bonds, across from the jail where they were holding Raul. This time her brother had done it, gotten himself arrested with enough cocaine to land in prison for years, she thought as she watched Hugo count out her ten hundred-dollar bills—ten percent of the bail a judge had ordered to secure Raul’s release pending trial. Lifting his amazing bulk from his desk chair and shoving the money in his safe, Hugo shot her an oily grin. It was all Marisa could do to keep from retching. That wouldn’t do, because Raul would still be in jail until Hugo called them and posted the ten-thousand-dollar bond. She forced herself to return the bondsman’s grin as he handed her the paperwork. “He will be released around four o’clock. You better tell your brother to get out of the drug business while he still can. Next time the bail will be even higher. I won’t be able to post his bail if you’ve got nothing of value to put up as collateral.” “I know. Gracias for your help this time.” Marisa folded the papers Hugo handed her and tucked them in her purse. “I’d expected to hand over the title to my car this time.” “Chica, that bucket of bolts you drive is not worth me taking title to as insurance that your brother makes it to court for his trial. “You could always . . .” The way Hugo leered at her, as though she were a prime steak he longed to devour, sent shivers down her spine. “That will not happen, Señor Hugo. I am no puta.” This time she’d sold Mama’s wedding ring to get bail for Raul—the time before, it had been the gold chain Papa had given her for her fifteenth birthday the year before he and Mama had died in a drive-by shooting. Pretty soon she’d run out of things to sell if her brother didn’t stop getting himself arrested, but she couldn’t worry about that now. Getting up from the battered straight chair across from the bondsman’s desk, she made her way to the door. “Maybe this time he’ll have learned his lesson,” she said to herself as she headed across the street to get Raul out of the Metro-Dade Correctional and Rehabilitation Center. If only she believed that. But no. The lure of drugs and money had changed her seventeenyear-old brother from a sweet, lovable boy into a surly thug. Mama wouldn’t recognize him as the little one who’d given her so much pride and love. In the jail’s reception area, Marisa took a seat. The place had a stale smell, a pungent mixture of unwashed bodies and untended toilets. She saw a well-dressed blonde huddled in a plastic chair next to the metal door where prisoners would come out, looking out of place here and uneasy in the company of tired-looking Latinos, blacks and a few Anglos who looked to be down on their luck. Some sat quietly, their eyes showing pain . . . resignation. Others spoke loudly, angrily, gesturing with their hands as they spoke in a multicultural patois of Spanish, French, and other languages, with a smattering of English splashed in now and then. It was clear that no one was glad to be here. Of course, the only reason for anyone to be here this time of day was to collect a loved one who’d fallen afoul of the law in a section of Miami where violence was a way of life. Marisa shifted her gaze toward the door as it opened with a brassy-sounding clank. The blonde got up, only to take her place again as a burly black man was first to come through the door. He glanced around, apparently disappointed that there was no one waiting to meet him, before shrugging and heading out into the waning sunlight. A ragged-looking kid grinned when he spotted a harried-looking woman with a fussy toddler on her lap, and the blonde finally managed a smile when a redheaded teenager came through the door, a relieved expression on his bruised, dirt-streaked face. Raul followed, looking like the drug-dealing thug he’d become. His overly long, stringy black hair made his face look even thinner than usual, but a few hours in the lockup apparently hadn’t cleared the I don’t give a shit look from his deep-set eyes or softened the tough-guy set of his thin lips. A healed scar, the souvenir of a street fight a few weeks earlier, stood out pale and forbidding against his deeply tanned cheek, calling attention to an ebony wood plug that stretched his left earlobe grotesquely. Adding to his disreputable look were high-top sneakers, baggy jeans pulled low to show his patterned boxers, and a black T-shirt advertising a local Latino salsa group in shocking limegreen neon lettering. The tight shirt emphasized his unhealthy pallor and the fact he was hardly more than skin and bones. Sometimes, like now, Marisa was glad Mama and Papa weren’t alive to see what their baby boy had become in four short years. “What took ya so long, hermana?” Marisa clenched her fists as Raul sauntered up to her, as though he had not a worry in the world. Sometimes it was all she could do to keep herself from slapping that smirk off her brother’s face, but then she remembered the promise she’d made to their dying mama. That promise had been made as her mama’s lifeblood drained from her body, the last words that sweet woman had ever spoken. Marisa would take care of Raul if it killed her, which it damn near might. “I don’t keep the kind of money around that I had to give Hugo to secure your bond. Next time you just may have to stay in jail.” “Gracias.” Raul’s expression sobered. “Cops got the patron’s package,” he whispered after looking around, as though he was expecting somebody to come grab him the minute they stepped outside the building. “I gotta score some more or I’m gonna be in real trouble.” You aren’t in real trouble now? Marisa thought as she crossed the street. “You have to go sign your bond paperwork,” she reminded him. “Then you’re going straight home, where you’re going to stay until . . .” How, by all the saints, was she going to get Raul out of this latest mess he’d found himself in? Was it even possible? He’d have to make do with the public defender, because she had no way of coming up with a decent lawyer’s fee. “Until you can manage to talk yourself into a youthful offender program.” “Yeah, yeah. I ain’t goin’ to no boot camp out in the ’Glades. Carlos from across the street said the mosquitoes and water moccasins will likely get you if the carceleros don’t snuff you out first. Nobody’s gonna lock me up with a bunch of stinkin’ Haitians from Liberty City.” “Mind your mouth.” Wishing she hadn’t promised to see after Raul, Marisa followed him inside Hugo’s office and watched him sign the bondsman’s paperwork. “You got ’til midnight Friday to get the boss his money. All five thousand,” Marisa overheard Hugo tell her brother as they were walking out. “He sent word he ain’t playin’ with the likes of a punk-kid street dealer who can’t manage to keep his eyes out for the man.” Five thousand dollars? Trying not to panic, Marisa got in the car, which wasn’t worth even half that on its best day, and listened to the engine sputter before it turned over and started. She wished she dared to swat the smart-ass out of her brother, who slumped against the passenger door, a picture of studied tough-guy attitude and false bravado. The night had always been his friend, but it closed in on him now, choking him in a sultry, damp embrace. A starless sky met the black expanse of the Atlantic, the horizon seemingly without beginning or end. Only the slapping sounds of waves kissing the shore punctuated an uneasy silence.

A silence Claude d’Argent had not experienced since that day two weeks ago when he’d come close to dying at the hands of the killer vampire for whom he now lay in wait. This strip of beachfront wouldn’t stay silent for long, because the clubs would be opening soon. Claude sighed. Miami Beach hardly held a candle to his favorite haunts in the Marais district of Paris, even when it was buzzing with teeming bodies bent on finding pleasure . . . and courting danger.

But a vampire could mingle unnoticed here, stalking his prey. A killer like Louis Reynard might mingle with crowds of tourists once night fell, stalking his next victim. Having recently encountered the Fox face-to-face, Claude would know him, recognize him. Hopefully he would be able to confront him and destroy him before he could kill again. Claude still woke in cold sweats remembering the hot blonde in Buenos Aires whom he and Alex hadn’t been able to save, the night Reynard had practically destroyed them both. I’d sense his presence if he were here. Wouldn’t I? The killer had an uncanny ability to fuck up Claude’s vampire radar. That radar was kicking in now, warning him of trouble even as neon signs began to flash across the way, their garish messages luring patrons to sample barkeepers’ wares, indulge in mortal vices under a moonless sky.

Fronds of tall royal palms swayed like so many dancers in the night as the wind rose, brought dissonant sounds of music to Claude’s ears from the clubs across Highway A1A. He adjusted his aviator-style sunglasses and visually followed the sounds of a mellow alto saxophone and muffled conga drums.

His gaze drifted toward the sign that featured a hot-pink neon stripper doing her thing in lights above another sign advertising a place called, unimaginatively, the Strip. His hotel loomed large and opulent at his back, its pink stucco façade commanding the scene directly south of the section of beachfront sidewalk where he stood.

Palms swayed in the breeze, the air still warm even though the sun was slipping beyond the western horizon.

Claude rubbed at the still tender scar on his chest—a reminder of the wound from Louis Reynard that had come close to destroying him. Damn the bastard anyhow. If not for him, Claude would be enjoying the Paris nightlife instead of acting as lookout here on the off chance that Reynard had picked Miami Beach as the site of his next gruesome murder. Or, even better, chasing the Fox in a more active way instead of staking out a place where none of his elders seriously thought Reynard would seek out his next victim. Knowing this assignment had been handed out more to keep him out of unnecessary danger and facilitate his recuperation than because of any real need for him to stake out the beach here didn’t sit well—but then, he was used to his elders in the clan cosseting him as though he were no more than an infant vampire.

On the Trail of DARKNESS, a contemporary urban fantasy,from BEYOND THE PAGE PUBLISHING, for your reading pleasure, book one of five,

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