Authors: Suzanne McLeod
Tags: #Mystery, #Horror
Table of Contents
The Sweet Scent of Blood
Copyright © Suzanne McLeod 2008
All rights reserved
The right of Suzanne McLeod to be identified as the author
of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in Great Britain in 2008 by Gollancz
An imprint of the Orion Publishing Group
Orion House, 5 Upper St Martin’s Lane
London WC2H 9EA
An Hachette UK Company
This edition published in Great Britain in 2009 by Gollancz
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library
eISBN : 978 0 5750 8741 5
Typeset by Deltatype Ltd, Birkenhead, Merseyside
Printed and bound in the UK by
CPI Mackays, Chatham, Kent
The Orion Publishing Group’s policy is to use papers that
are natural, renewable and recyclable products and made
from wood grown in sustainable forests. The logging and
manufacturing processes are expected to conform to the
environmental regulations of the country of origin.
For Norman with love now and always
he vampire looked a beautiful, dangerous cliché. Jet-black hair tied back in a French plait emphasised the pale angles of his face. Shadowed grey eyes stared out with moody promise. Black silk clung to hard abdominals while soft leather stretched down long, lean legs. An ankle-length coat pooled across the stone steps on which he sat so it seemed he existed in his own well of seductive darkness. Behind him, the ferris-wheel silhouette of the London Eye, backlit by exploding fireworks, added a less than subtle suggestion to the scene.
The picture was splashed across the front page of every national newspaper: a celebrity story made more sensational than the norm thanks to the mix of murder and vampires. Other than providing a few moments of idle interest, the news had nothing to do with me.
Or so I thought.
London was in the middle of a late September heat-wave and the bright sunshine blistered hot into the city as I sat at my usual corner table in the Rosy Lea café, staring at the vampire’s picture. Outside the tourists that normally thronged Covent Garden huddled in the shade under the stone canopy of St Paul’s Church. Even the street entertainers had succumbed to the heat, leaving the expanse of cobbled paving deserted. Inside the empty café was no better. There was no air-conditioning and even with the doors wide open, the hot, heavy air pressed against me as if it were something solid. If nothing else it was peaceful.
I work for
Making magic safe!
- and I’d spent a long, frustrating morning chasing pixies through a crowded Trafalgar Square. A pack of them had been attempting to animate the huge bronze lions. The magic was way out of their league of course, but this was their fifth attempt in a month and I had to give them points for persistence if nothing else. Thanks to the pixies, I’d missed lunch, and I’d been hoping for a quick bite before my next job. But Katie, the waitress, had other ideas.
She pulled more papers in front of me. ‘Check these out, Genny!’
I cast a long-suffering look over the headlines.
CELEBRITY VAMPIRE ARRESTED IN GIRLFRIEND’S MURDER
TIME RUNS OUT FOR MR OCTOBER’S DATE
was another. And the very snappy, ONE BITE WAS ENOUGH! None of them likely to win any prizes for headline of the year, but they were definitely eye-catching, if only for the font size.
Katie pointed to the picture of the vampire and sighed. ‘It’s so tragic.’ Her fingers stroked her blue heart pendant, the one she always wore. ‘Mr October ... isn’t he gorgeous? That’s the pic they used in the calendar, y’know.’
‘Uh-huh,’ I muttered. Katie’s teenage obsession with vamps was one I didn’t participate in.
‘The calendar showing all the touristy places?’ She nudged me for emphasis. ‘Y’know, the vamps dressed up all historical? There was this fab shot of this handsome Cavalier standing in front of Buck House - ooh, and Mr April, the Roman centurion, now he’s hot, but not as hot as—’
‘Talking of hot,’ I interrupted, ‘you couldn’t get me my orange juice, could you, Katie? I’m dying of thirst here.’
‘Ha, Ha. Very funny, Genny.’ She swung away to the counter, looking cool in her floaty skirt and strappy top.
Briefly, I closed my eyes. Then, concentrating on that part of me that sees the magic, I
on Katie as she disappeared into the kitchen. A deep cobalt blue shimmered around her in the place I imagined her aura would be if I could actually see it. Relief settled in me. The protective warding spell I’d bought and attached to Katie’s heart pendant was as strong as ever. Covent Garden Market is London’s Witch Central; you can buy anything, from a bad-hair-day remedy to a noisy neighbour muffler to an anti-Congestion Charge charm - even if the last is illegal. And working there has its advantages, but it still pays to be careful. Upset a witch and they don’t just shout at you ... angry red boils is never a good look.
‘Isn’t this weather just too much?’ Katie’s voice drifted out into the empty café as she chatted to Freddie, the cook. ‘They were saying on the telly it hasn’t been this hot for at least ten years, y’know.’
I fanned myself with the menu, the slight breeze disturbing my hair where the short ends stuck to the back of my neck. The cream linen waistcoat I wore was cool enough, but the black trousers had been a mistake. Trouble is, I’ve never been much for skirts, and shorts just don’t have the right professional image. I scanned the café interior, checking for any other stray spells that might be lurking. It took a whole chapter of coven witches - all thirteen of them - to produce a warding complex enough for business premises, and that was way too rich for Freddie’s pockets, so, in return for the occasional bacon sandwich, I tidied up on a regular basis instead.
The café was clear of magic, but I glanced down and caught a faint glow coming from my phone. Crap. I snatched up the phone and with a sense of resigned inevitability peered at the thumbnail-sized crystal on the back. A fracture like a black splinter lodged in the crystal’s centre. Damn pixies. Even being careful, I’d still managed to
the phone’s protection spell when I’d cleared up all their dust. Now I’d risk frying the phone next time I defused a spell if I didn’t buy another crystal, and they weren’t cheap.
Could my day get any worse?
I dumped the phone on the table and gave the newspapers an irritated look. It wasn’t the crystal, although that was bad enough - London is expensive, even with the rent subsidy I got with my job. And it wasn’t the weather, my clothes or even the pixies that had me on edge. It was the vampires. They’d deviated from their self-imposed ‘politically correct’ script. And I hadn’t a clue why.
Over the last few years, the vampires had crawled out of their coffins (not that I’d ever known one to actually sleep in a coffin) and brushed the dirt from their public image. They’d poured new blood into British Tourism and transformed the more presentable among themselves into A-list celebs.
It’s amazing what a collection of glossy pictures and a no-expense-spared marketing campaign can do. With a steady diet of tourists and infatuated youngsters like Katie satisfying both their physical and financial needs, the vampires pretty much had it all dished up on a plate. Even the current feeding frenzy about the murder had less to do with the accused being a vamp and everything to do with him being a hot property among London’s nightlife. I sighed. At least the newest round of government legislation meant sixteen-year-old Katie had another two years before reality could legally sink its fangs into her media-induced crush.
I’d been fourteen when it had happened to me.
I rubbed the phantom throb at the curve of my neck, then dug my fingers into the smooth skin, trying to ease the annoying sensation that the memory had raised. Fourteen was ten years and a different lifetime ago, and the law and the vamps had never been overly concerned when it came to the likes of me.
‘Here you go, Genny.’ Katie plonked my juice down and lifted another paper.
The juice slipped down my throat and spread a chill through my body instead of the warmth I craved. I’d have to wait until later for that. I flicked a finger at the paper Katie was reading. ‘Don’t suppose there’s any news of my bacon sandwich, is there?’
‘Uh-huh,’ she muttered, half ignoring me, ‘in a sec.’
‘Hope you’re not expecting a tip,’ I added.
‘Freddie’s doing it.’ She gave me a superior look from around the edge of the paper. ‘And anyway, Freddie says I’m a much better waitress than you ever were, so there.’
‘Means nothing,’ I grinned. ‘He says that to all the girls.’
Katie sniffed and snapped the paper back up between us.
A quiver of awareness crept across my shoulders. A tall gangly youth not much older than Katie stood in the kitchen doorway, watching. I stared back. He jerked as if I’d burnt him before ducking out of sight.
I shrugged. It’s my eyes that do it: amber-coloured, with oval pupils, rather like a cat’s. And my hair doesn’t help - it’s the same odd shade. London has its fair share of fae - and others - living in the city, but even so, my eyes still freak people out. They’re the only part of me that doesn’t look human.