I love combining genres, blurring the lines between series and collaborating with other authors. Which is why I had so much fun writing Going Back To Find You. Besides being a stand alone story set in the Children of Night world. It’s also part of Erin Nicholas’s Sapphire Falls Kindle World and it was written in conjunction with Kinsey Holley’s Going for Brook (also a Sapphire Falls Kindle World novella) with characters and events from each of our stories showing up and being referenced in the other.
In the following excerpt we get to see a little of grown-up Marc and witness his sometimes tumultuous relationship with his sire.
San Francisco, California
Three weeks before Halloween…
If there was one thing Jason Cook knew to be true, it was that he was no one’s idea of a hero. He was moderately big, moderately strong; he knew a thing or two about following directions and keeping his mouth shut—all good traits to possess if there was heavy lifting to be done or bodies to be disposed of. Not that there’d been all that many of the latter, but he was a vampire, so there’d definitely been a few.
But other than those odd occasions when someone with his particular skillset was required, Jason was used to being…well, overlooked was not too strong a word for it. If he were honest, it was a state of affairs that suited him fine.
It didn’t hurt his feelings one bit to be able to fly under everyone’s radar. In fact, he considered it a valuable survival technique. Experience had taught him to steer clear of stronger, meaner, or more short-tempered vampires. No good ever came from attracting their attention. As for purposely seeking one out or, worse yet, actively confronting one of them? That was a tactic he preferred to keep in reserve for instances in which his life, or someone else’s, might depend upon it. Which is why he was currently at risk of hyperventilating as he stood in the dimly lit upstairs hallway of the Quintano Mansion, trying to force himself to knock on the door to his sire’s private office.
It had been a surprise to receive word that Conrad wished to speak with him. And by no means a happy one. It was the first such invitation Jason had received in the one hundred and sixty years he’d been part of the Quintano vampire family. He had no idea what it meant, but it was hard to believe it was anything good.
“He’s not Floyd,” Jason whispered encouragement to himself. “He’s nothing like him.” Floyd, Jason’s original sire, had been a bully with a mean streak a mile wide. Conrad, for all that he was stronger and far more dangerous than Floyd, had never struck Jason as being a bully. Then again, how well did you ever really know anyone?
“Enter!” A voice growled from within the room, pulling a defeated sigh from Jason’s lips. Not a bully, but as short tempered and prone to violence as the next vampire. Of course, Conrad would have heard him muttering to himself in the hallway just outside his office. Heard him, or scented him… Hell, for all Jason knew, Conrad might have looked through the wall and seen him. Jason had no idea what was possible when it came to the enhanced abilities most other vampires seemed to possess.
Most other vampires. But not Jason.
Resigning himself to whatever fate awaited him, Jason pushed open the door and poked his head inside. “Good evening, sir. You wanted to see me?”
“Yes, Jason, thank you. I appreciate your being so prompt.”
“Oh…uh, certainly,” Jason replied, reluctant to leave the relative safety of the doorway. “You-you’re welcome.”
Conrad looked as out of place in the elegant, paneled room as Jason felt. He was dressed casually enough. His shirt was open at the throat, the sleeves rolled up to reveal heavily muscled forearms, but they were the kind of muscles, or so Jason had long suspected, that one only developed over decades, possibly centuries, of repeatedly wielding heavy swords. There was nothing civilized about Conrad Quintano, a fact that struck Jason anew practically every time he saw him.
If Jason was not mistaken, that desk Conrad was seated behind was the same desk Jason had been enlisted to help move into the room sometime in the mid-1800s. Perhaps that’s why he was here now? Perhaps Conrad had merely decided the office was overdue for an upgrade. It wasn’t impossible that was the case, and there was nothing lost in hoping for it.
“Come in. Come in.” Conrad motioned Jason forward impatiently. “Close the door behind you and have a seat.”
“Yes, sir.” Jason hurriedly complied, though he would have much preferred to stand. He would have much preferred to leave the door open as well. He knew he could never hope to outrace Conrad, but being on his feet, with a clear exit in sight, would have allowed him to ignore that fact for a little while longer. “I hope everything’s all right?”
“Well, as to that…” Conrad cast a dark glance at the room’s third occupant. “It remains to be seen. You’re acquainted with Marc, I assume?”
“Uh…yes. Of course.”
What little Jason knew about Marc Fischer was not reassuring. A relative newcomer to Conrad’s San Francisco nest, Marc had not been “adopted” as Jason had been. As a vampire of Conrad’s own making, he ranked higher in the family hierarchy than Jason ever would. Higher than most of the family were likely to ever rank. So rarified was his status that it had earned Marc any number of sobriquets, from the mildly envious—Golden Child—to the more disparaging—Flavor of the Week. Or Jason’s personal favorite—The Young Prince.
According to the rumors that traveled constantly along the vampire grapevine—like a thick trail of stinging ants voraciously consuming everything in its path—Marc had recently moved out of the mansion and into a derelict building in the city’s warehouse district. There, or so it was whispered, he was busily amassing an army of feral vampires, as those who had been orphaned and were without House or sire—and had been driven half-mad because of it—were sometimes called.
Jason had originally discounted the stories as so much nonsense. Why would anyone choose to live in a warehouse when he could live here, in Italianate Victorian splendor? Even more to the point, why would someone so clearly doted upon by his sire, pampered, privileged, possessing every advantage, choose to concern himself with a bunch of misfits?
Unaffiliated vampires were dangerously unpredictable. They attracted trouble like white sheets attracted bloodstains. Most vampires wanted to see them dead after spending only a few minutes in their company. Jason only rarely found them bothersome, but that wasn’t saying much. He lacked sensitivity on so many levels he’d lost track.
But that was his issue. Surely that was not the case with Marc?
Jason studied the young prince surreptitiously as he lounged against Conrad’s desk, arms folded, legs casually crossed at the ankles. The patch that covered one eye—or that covered the place where one of his eyes had been ripped violently from his head, if the stories regarding that little mystery were to be believed—gave him a dangerous air. Jason quickly decided that only a fool would place Marc in the category of “most vampires.” Despite his relaxed appearance, there was an unnerving aura of power radiating from the younger man. It almost rivaled Conrad’s in its intensity. Clearly there was more than a little truth to the theory that “family” characteristics were often passed along the vampire blood lines.
If anyone could hold his own with a pack of wildlings, Jason reckoned Marc was a likely candidate for the job. Although, what Marc intended to do with the creatures was still anyone’s guess.
Pulling his gaze away with some difficulty, Jason turned back to Conrad. “I’m sorry. ‘Re-remains to be seen?’ I’m not sure I follow.”
“I’ve received word from Nebraska, from one of your former nest-mates, informing me that a neighboring House recently lost its sire.”
“I see.” An unshakeable suspicion formed instantly in Jason’s mind. Fear and hope clutched at his heart—a pair of ice-cold hands seemingly intent on crushing that organ between them. Suddenly breathless, he stammered out the question he was almost afraid to ask. “Wh-whose House?”
“Ah.” Suspicion confirmed. But all the same…Felicia dead? It didn’t seem possible. Jason struggled to process the information, to consider what it might mean for him.
Given all the years that had passed since he’d left Nebraska? Maybe nothing at all.
“Ideally, I would have liked to have known sooner,” Conrad continued. “It would have given us more time to…prepare.”
The note of regret in Conrad’s voice caught Jason’s attention. That didn’t sound good. That sounded a little too much like a disaster that might have been averted but was now inevitable. Jason had to clear his throat a couple of times before asking, “I-I’m sorry, I was wondering… What else can you tell me? What happened?”
Conrad’s expression turned rueful. “I’ve startled you. I apologize for that. I should not have been so blunt. I take it you knew her well?”
Jason shook his head. “I wouldn’t say that.”
“All the same, if you wish to take a moment to collect yourself…”
“No. Thank you. That’s not necessary.”
Relations between Floyd and Felicia had always been strained, or so it had seemed to the unlucky vampires, like Jason, who’d found themselves caught in the middle of their private war. Some said the two were siblings—rivals for the affections of their long-dead parents, still striving to show each other up. Some said they were lovers, spurned and bitter, driven mad by jealousy or unrequited lust. Others alleged they were both.
Jason could not care less. They were equally cruel in their treatment of those they should have cherished. That was all he knew to be true, and it was enough to make him hate them both.
“I knew her well enough that I don’t mourn her passing,” Jason assured Conrad. “But, if you could tell me…how did she die?”
“She was killed by a tornado. Or killed in a tornado? I’m not sure which is correct.”
“I don’t think it matters.”
“No. Undoubtedly not.”
“And the others? Are they all right? Was anyone else killed?”
“I know only what I was told, which is that no successor has emerged to take her place. That might suggest she died alone, I suppose; but it’s by no means certain. What is certain, however, and the reason I wished to speak with you tonight, is that, as I’m sure you realize, without a clear succession, her House cannot stand. Most of those she left behind will eventually become feral. In fact, given how much time has passed, they’ve probably already started doing so.”
“Most? Not all?”
Conrad’s mouth tightened. He rose from his seat and began to pace. “Again, I know nothing of the vampires who make up her household. You seem familiar with the family. Perhaps you could enlighten me? Are there are any among them who are old enough or strong enough to survive on their own, to establish their own families, to build their own nests? If so, it’s possible they might survive with their minds intact. Otherwise…”
Hope gave up its grasp on Jason’s heart then, leaving pain to bloom in all the tender places where it had dug in its nails. “No. It’s been a while since I’ve had any contact with them, but I don’t imagine there are.”
Memories blazed a trail through Jason’s mind, taking him back to a place he didn’t want to go. Memories of long, dark hair tumbling loose over a woman’s bare back, over skin so pale it gleamed like alabaster in the moonlight. Memories of lush red lips curving into the sweetest smile he’d ever seen. Of eyes warm with love, dark with lust, bright with pain, flashing in anger.
Lizbeth. The one woman he never could, never would forget.
It had broken his heart to leave her behind, but he’d done it. Because that’s what star-crossed lovers did. They broke themselves to give their lovers a second chance. Now, she was dead. Or soon to be dead. Those were the choices facing her and the other Allen vampires, as going feral was pretty much a death sentence.
A long, drawn-out, unpleasant death for the most part. Jason forced his personal feelings to the back of his mind, a task he’d thought he’d perfected but clearly had not. Despite his best efforts to sound detached and unconcerned, his voice felt shaky and weak as he said, “I’m very sorry to hear it.”
“So are we.” Marc leaned forward. His single eye blazed with purpose as he gazed searchingly at Jason. “Which is why we’d like your help to stop it.”
Jason’s mouth dropped open. “Stop them going feral? How?”
“If I were you, Jason,” Conrad cautioned, “I would not concern myself overmuch with the details at this point.” The dangerous edge to his sire’s voice put all Jason’s senses on alert.
“No, I…I was just surprised. I always thought such a thing was impossible?”
Conrad shrugged. “A reasonable assumption; that’s what we all believed until recently. And I must caution you, it may yet turn out to be the case. Which is why I would ask you to keep this confidential for now. We don’t want to raise anyone’s hopes too high until we know more.”
“I understand.” But did he? Why bring him here, why tell him anything unless there was some reason to hope?
“This is not a subject that’s been studied in detail,” Conrad continued, prowling restlessly around the room. “In the past, most of us paid little heed to the wildlings in our midst. Sires would die, nests would be broken, and there was nothing anyone could do. Those who were left behind would try to regroup, usually by the most reprehensible means possible. Turning humans against their will, for example. Or killing as many of their nest-mates as they could manage—all in an effort to consolidate their own power. Those who were too weak, too newly fledged, or otherwise unable to compete would attempt to flee, slowly turning feral in the process. Eventually, nature would take its course.”
Jason nodded, numb. He knew the type of course “nature” typically took in such cases. A feral who wandered uninvited into some other vampire’s territory could expect to be met with hostility, to be driven away, left to starve, or simply killed outright.
Which, now that he thought of it, was not so different than the chain of events that had landed Jason in San Francisco.
In 1856, Conrad had been passing through Nebraska territory on their way from New York to California when his presence in Floyd’s demesne had attracted that vampire’s attention. Perhaps Floyd had mistaken Conrad for a feral vampire. Or perhaps he’d known exactly who Conrad was but had underestimated his strength. If Floyd imagined he could kill Conrad, appropriate his wealth, and take possession of all his property, he’d been mistaken. And it was the last mistake he was ever allowed to make.
After Floyd’s death, all of his holdings, his land, houses, livestock, his people—and all of the blind, unthinking fealty they owed him—were automatically transferred to Conrad through some mysterious form of vampire alchemy that had disoriented Jason and his nest-mates, leaving them stunned, confused, and more than a little frightened. They’d always known their minds and emotions were not entirely their own. They just hadn’t realized the full, terrifying extent of the blood bond that linked them to their sire.
It had been a difficult time, made marginally easier by Conrad’s casual acceptance of his new role. The lack of surprise expressed by Conrad’s traveling companions also helped to erase their fears. It was obvious this was not the first time such a thing had happened, and still the world had kept revolving. No doubt it would continue to do so now.
What was most helpful, however, was the fact that Conrad gave no signs of wanting to punish anyone for Floyd’s actions—as would likely have been the case, had the situation been reversed. Instead, he gave Jason and his nest-mates a choice. They could either stay in Nebraska and continue to live as they had, in the ranch they’d called home—albeit under Conrad’s aegis now, rather than Floyd’s—or they could travel on to the West Coast, to the burgeoning city of San Francisco, where Conrad intended to establish his new base. At the time, moving to California had seemed to be Jason’s best option. Nebraska would be safer for Lizbeth with him gone. They’d no longer be risking Felicia’s wrath by attempting to see each other. It would be a chance for them both to start over, to cut their ties with the past.
It was almost funny, all the ways in which that plan had not worked out.
“Nowadays,” Conrad said, “the world is a much more populous place. We can no longer ignore the problems posed by feral vampires. We’re forced to take a more proactive approach to eliminate the danger before any lasting damage may occur.”
“Eliminate,” Jason repeated. His voice sounded wooden. His soul shriveled a little more at the thought. “Yes. I see.” He couldn’t fault Conrad’s logic. Everything he’d said was sensible and reasonable—and no different than what Jason himself might have said, under other circumstances. Ferals were mentally unstable, prone to violence; their irresponsible behavior threatened the secrecy upon which the entire vampire nation depended for its safety. And, as always, the good of the many must outweigh the good of the one.
But it was far easier to think that way when the vampires in question were merely hypothetical. These particular vampires were anything but that. They were very real to Jason. People he once had known. People who, at least in one instance, he had cared for very deeply. Still cared for, in fact. “So everyone who’s survived up until now…”
“Would be killed,” Marc explained unhelpfully. “That’s what eliminated means.”
Jason nodded, could not stop nodding, could barely suppress the anguished moan that shook in his chest demanding release. “I understand.”
“They’d be put down like rabid dogs.”
Jason continued to nod, staring at the carpet between his feet until his vision blurred.
“Because that’s what we do with people who are different, who are unwanted, who we can’t easily control.”
“Marc,” Conrad snapped. “That’s enough.”
“Is it?” Marc abandoned his casual pose. He straightened away from Conrad’s desk, confronting his sire in a manner Jason would have found shocking if he were not already so distressed.
“Why are you so sure he’s the right person to assist us?” Marc demanded. “If he can’t understand what’s at stake, if he doesn’t even care about any of it…”
Not care? Jason glanced at Marc in surprise. Is that what he thinks?
“Then we will find someone else,” Conrad replied smoothly, and with a good deal more forbearance than Jason would have expected. “But, in either case, the decision remains mine to make. This situation needs to be handled delicately. We can’t do anything until we know how things stand. And we won’t know that until we have…eyes on the ground, as I believe it’s termed. And those eyes need to be in the head of someone who is not likely to draw too much attention to himself. Have I made myself clear?” He glared pointedly at his offspring until Marc gave a sullen nod and finally subsided.
Conrad focused his attention on Jason again. “Let me assure you, Jason, that should it become necessary to eliminate anyone, it will, of course, be done humanely. I will insist upon nothing less. But, as I’ve already indicated, up until very recently, such a course would have been inevitable. There were simply no better options available to us.”
“And now there are?” Jason asked, clinging to the faint hope Conrad’s words offered.
Conrad hesitated. “Now there is the possibility of an option. It is by no means certain but, as it happens, Marc has had extraordinary success rehabilitating feral vampires here in the city. He’s convinced me to give him a chance to try and do the same in this case.”
“That’s where you come in,” Marc said, interrupting once again. “If you’re interested.”
“Yes.” Jason turned to him, swallowing hard, forcing the words through a throat that was suddenly too tight. “Absolutely. Just tell me what I have to do.”
When Jason Cook boarded the train to San Francisco, he didn’t plan on coming back. He never really thought he’d see Nebraska or Lizbeth Petersen ever again. But when an unexpected turn of events threatens the woman he’d been forced to leave behind, he has no choice but to go back and try to make things right.
Warning.This is not a drill. Vampires are invading your favorite, small Nebraska town this Halloween. Does this mean Type-O flavored Booze will soon be the new rage in Sapphire Falls? Hopefully, it won’t come to that. But you never can tell…
Available at Amazon