Chapter 1

My name is Mercy Trudeau. I'm an FBI field agent from New Orleans, although I tend to travel all over the U.S. I hunt down killers, but not just any killers. I hunt down the worst killers of all. I hunt vampires and I'm damn good at my job. What makes me so good? I am one, too.

Now, I know what y'all are thinking. What was a nice, southern vampire like me doin' in a town like Vegas? I was there hunting a bad-ass blood-sucker by the name of Jimmy Vero, liked to call himself 'Requiem'... God, I hate the Fledglings. They've all listened to too much Goth rock and watched way too many Hollywood horror movies. They think being a vampire is all about wearing black leather and lots of dark make-up. And never mind the Laws.

That's right, Children, vampires have laws, quite a few actually. Most of these laws deal with etiquette, you know, rules to govern how we vampires interact with each and our... prey, if you'll pardon the expression. For the most part, the punishments for violating these rules are fairly minor. There are only three major Laws: 1. No vampire shall kill another vampire. 2. No vampire shall interfere with another's hunt/prey/donor. 3. No vampire shall do anything which would bring unwanted attention onto his fellow Hunters. The penalty for breaking one of these three rules is death. And the executioner is me.

How did I get this glamorous job? I am one of the few First Born remaining. And what does that mean? Well, for one thing, it means that, unlike most of the vampires running around today, I was never human. I was born what I am. I made others into vampires, no one made me or my fellow First Born. Where did we come from, you rightly ask? No one truly remembers. It was, after all, a very, very long time ago, but like all cultures and races, we have our own creation stories. Whether there's any truth to them or not, who knows?

According to legend, long ago, back in the days of the Garden of Eden, Adam had a wife before Eve came along. This first wife was called Lilith. Now Lilith was not the shy, obedient type that Eve was. No, Lilith had attitude and she refused to submit to Adam. She also refused to accept the passive role in sexual matters. Lilith wanted to be on top. Frustrated by this assertive and uppity woman, Adam rejected her and drove her out of Eden. Lilith fled to a nearby cave, where she encountered many demons. Mating with them, she gave birth to demonic children whom she sent out to act as a plague upon the children of Adam and Eve. These children were us, the First Born, the Lilin. And we have been carrying out her orders ever since.

Now I, of course, don't remember any of this, it being so long ago and all, but I do believe it to be true. We all need something to believe in. If we have nothing to believe in, eventually we fade. That's why there are so few us First Born left, so many of us lost our way. But I have held true to the path. I remember who I am.

The name I call myself, Mercy, actually came from one of my fellow First Born. He used to refer to me as Clementis Fata, the Merciful Fate. I'm actually one of the gentle ones, at least with my prey. I rather like you humans and I generally don't believe in playing with my food the way some vamps do. I like a quick, clean kill.

Now, my boy, Vero, he was a messy eater, very sloppy. He wasn't satisfied with just biting his prey, no, he had to rip their throats out. I don't know, I guess you can get the blood out that much faster that way... tacky. Now, this sort of thing also tends to draw unwanted attention from the authorities. Hence my involvement, as covered by Law #3.

Again, I know what you're thinking. Don't teeth marks draw attention, too? Answer: apparently not as much. You'd be amazed at how much people really don't want to believe in vampires. The cops find a body or two with bite marks on the neck and they simply assume that the killer is someone pretending to be a vampire. But they start finding bodies with their throats ripped out and now you've got their full attention. They think 'psycho killer', who must be hunted down. They start pulling out all the stops.

Of course, my boy Vero hadn't just killed one or two people. No, he'd been leaving quite a trail of bodies throughout the southwest. So, in that instance, the FBI and the Vampire Council of Elders were in complete agreement. Vero needed to be hunted down. He'd been drawing entirely too much attention for our comfort. So, I found myself in Las Vegas, at some flea-bag motel, looking at Vero's latest crime scene.

Now, I suppose ya'll are wondering, does the FBI know what I am? No, they do not... Well, alright, most of them don't, and I'm sure that if push came to shove, they would officially deny all knowledge of us, but you'd be surprised at how many of us there are in... unexpected places. Remember, we've been around for a very long time. We've learned how to work your systems.

Oh, and one more thing, ya'll need to know. Contrary to popular belief, vampires can walk in sunlight. We don't like to, we avoid it whenever possible, but we can do it. Unfortunately during the daytime, we have no powers. We are essentially just like you... weak and helpless.

So, there I was on that "fine" Nevada morning in a tacky, little motel with a short, burly detective, looking at yet another young man whose throat had been recently gouged out. Did I mention that Vero had an affinity for very attractive men? If I didn't, he did. It was a shame really; the man had pretty good taste. Some of his victims had been rather hot... Well, if they hadn't been dead, of course.

"So, is this the same signature as the other murders?" the detective asked me.

"Yep, this is definitely Jimmy's work," I said, popping a stick of gum in my mouth. Yes, I know it's a childish habit, but what can I say? It was either chew gum or smoke. I had to assuage that oral fixation somehow. The smell of all that blood was making my mouth water. The sharp taste of the peppermint helped tone that down.

The young man was naked and sprawled out on the bed. His dark hair was tousled and his dark eyes were still open wide with surprise. Apparently he was not expecting to die that night. As my eyes continued to travel downward, I realized what a damn shame this man's death truly was. Underneath all that blood, he looked to have had a lovely body. As I said, Jimmy had good taste.

As Capt. Brass and I continued to stand over the body, the motel room door opened and someone entered. I didn't look up, transfixed as I was by the senseless waste before me. I heard the detective greet the new arrival.

"Hey, Warrick," he said. "What are you doing here?"

"Day Shift's completely short-handed this week," I heard a low, masculine voice respond. "Uh, who's this?"

"Oh, Warrick Brown, this is Mercy Trudeau from the New Orleans FBI Field Office. Mercy, this is Warrick Brown from the Crime Lab."

I looked up and found myself staring into a lovely pair of unexpectedly green eyes... Well, hello Tall, Dark and Handsome.

"Nice to meet you," I said, extending my hand to him.

The hand that grasped mine was large and warm and firm, but not too firm. I hate it when men feel they need to crush your hand as a means of proving their virility, or something. The man acknowledged me with a slight nod. As we stood, checking each other out, the door opened again and another excellent specimen of your species entered the room. So, what is Las Vegas, Land of the Beautiful Men? Where even the science geeks are gorgeous? And if that's the case, how did Capt. Short and Dumpy get his gig?

I had to admit that this newcomer was even better looking than the one still holding my hand. This one had short, dark hair and dark eyes framed by the most obscenely long, thick, black eyelashes that I had ever seen on a grown man. He had a ridiculously square jaw and from what I could see, a lean, muscular body. If he had been a little taller and broader, he could have just stepped off the cover of one of those silly, historical romance novels... Hey, Cowboy, is that a pistol in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?

...Um, what was I talking about? Oh, yes, the crime scene... Anyway, I was introduced to this lovely newcomer and I was informed that he was Nick Stokes, also from the Crime Lab (as if his little black vest, which matched his partner's, wasn't a dead give away). Well, hello, Nick, please feel free to join the fun.

"So, the FBI is interested in this case?" he asked, his tone barely hiding his hostility.

"Apparently, Special Agent Trudeau, here, has been tracking our suspected killer across several states," Brass informed his colleague. "The FBI has jurisdiction."

"Look, Gentlemen, as you can see, I work alone," I told them. "I have no dark-suited entourage. Therefore, I welcome whatever assistance you wish to provide. I have no problem making nice with the locals. My only goal is to get Jimmy Vero off the streets. I don't care how that goal is accomplished and I don't particularly care who takes the credit for it."

The three men exchanged glances and I could tell that I had impressed them with my speech. They appeared to be ready to assist me with my case.

"So, we already have this suspect in mind then," Warrick said.

"Well, it's the same signature, same victim type. I think we can be fairly certain that it's my boy, Vero."

"Well, if this guy's mobile, how do we know that he hasn't already skipped town?" Nick asked.

"Oh, he's still in town," I said confidently.

"How do you know that?" Brass asked.

"Gut feeling," I said, smiling. "Besides, his pattern is to commit at least three murders before leaving town."

And while this was true, what I didn't say was that, like all predators, we vampires have extremely keen senses. I knew Jimmy was still in town, because I could still smell him. Unfortunately I couldn't track him by smell alone because, by now, he would have taken steps to mask his smell from me. He knew I was on his trail. After all, his senses were just as sharp as mine. I had to admit, for a Fledgling (someone who has only recently become a vampire), he was pretty slick. We'd been playing this little game of 'follow me' for far too long.

"I noticed the coroner's van out front. Has an M.E. checked the body yet?" Warrick asked.

"Yeah, M.E.'s been and gone, busy day already," Brass answered. "He pegged time of death at about 1 am, but he thought you might want to see the body. His boys will take it when you're done photographing it. The scene's all yours."


The detective and I watched as the two men went into action. With a minimum of words, they snapped latex gloves on their hands and quickly worked out their search areas. Warrick went into the bathroom, while Nick searched the room. After a moment, Brass and I left them to their work and went to the night manager's office to speak to her.

She was a small, skinny woman in her late fifties, with thinning, platinum blonde hair and tired, heavily lined eyes. Her skin had that yellowish, leathery look of old parchment and she chain-smoked non-stop while the detective and I interviewed her.

When asked to describe the man who had rented the room, she gave an accurate description of Jimmy Vero. "Big guy," she said, in a voice that was low enough to have come from the mouth of a linebacker and raspy enough to scrape paint. "Tall, broad, had greasy, black hair that fell almost to his ass. Had a mean look in his eyes. But the guy he was with... woo. I figured the hottie must've been a pro. Why else would he've been with that loser... I tell ya, all the really hot guys are gay. It's the story of my life."

Somehow I strongly suspected that the reason she couldn't get a man had nothing to do with them being gay. Reaching into an inner pocket of my suit jacket, I produced an artists' rendition of Vero. I showed it to the manager.

"Yep, that's him," she confirmed. "God, what an ugly cuss."

I wasn't sure how she felt she was in a position to pass that judgment, but I let it go, Brass was continuing with the interview. He asked the woman what time the two men had checked in.

"Oh, it was around 11, I'd say... yeah, 11. The news was on," she said, gesturing to the TV that hung, suspended from the ceiling in a corner of the lobby.

"Who found the body? And at what time?" I asked.

"Jessie, the cleaning girl, found 'im. It was around 10 am. Guests are supposed to be out by 9."

Nine? That's pretty damn early. Apparently there's no rest for the wicked here at the Rest Easy Inn. I asked if we could speak to Jessie.

"Yeah, hang on, I'll get her."

Jessie, the cleaning girl, was a sad-faced, young woman of about 20 years. She had wide, watery blue eyes and she reminded me of those pathetic drawings of the sad Bassett Hound puppies that were so popular in the '70's. Her lank, brown hair was pulled back in a limp ponytail and she also smoked non-stop while we talked.

"So, you're the one who found the body, eh Jessie?" Brass asked.

"Yeah, it was pretty gross," the girl said in a deadpan voice.

"Did you touch anything in the room?"

"Hell, no! I would've hurled if I'd gone in there... seriously."

"Thank you for that. Did you happen to see anyone leave the room before you entered or notice anyone hanging around?"

"Nah, I didn't see anyone."

"Alright, well, thank you."

Brass and I left the office and headed back to the room to check in with the pretty little boys. We found them both working in the main room. Tall, Dark and Handsome was going through the victim's clothes, while Cowboy photographed the body.

"Find anything interesting?" I asked.

"Not really," Warrick answered. "The killer obviously didn't stick around for long. We found plenty of fingerprints, but whether any of them will prove to be probative remains to be seen."

Going through the pockets of the jeans, he found a black leather wallet. Opening it, he pulled out the driver's license.

"Vic's name is Daniel Rosen," he said, reading the card then handing it to Brass. "No money or credit cards."

"Hey, Warrick, check this out," Nick said.

We all turned to see him kneeling on the right side of the body, closely examining the victim's hand. Warrick moved to join his partner.

Seeing Nick sitting beside the body, I was suddenly struck by how similar he looked to the victim. It also occurred to me that, in fact, Nick Stokes was a walking wet dream for Jimmy Vero. Hmmm, this could come in handy, I mused. After all, if Vero continued to elude me, I might need to use Stokes as bait. Now, I know, I know, I'm being a cold-hearted bitch, but well... vampire...

"What'd you find?" I asked, moving closer to look as well.

On the back of the victim's right hand was an image of a bat, stamped in black ink. It was obviously from a nightclub or bar of some sort.

"You know, I think this came from that blood bar that Catherine and I went to a couple of years ago," Warrick said, recognizing the bat symbol.

"Blood bar?" I asked.

"Uh, yeah, it's a nightclub where everybody dresses in black, chews on each other's shoulders and drinks illegal absinthe."

"Oh, you're kidding, right?" I asked, although I had heard rumors of such clubs. But I had simply dismissed those rumors as entirely too silly to be true. Apparently I was wrong.

"No, I'm not," Warrick said, with a smile. "Maybe your boy, Vero's, been trolling for victims at this club. I think we should check it out."

"Oh, definitely," I said. "If nothing else, it should be an enlightening experience."

Although, now that I'd thought about for a few minutes, it actually made sense that Vero would hang out in a 'blood bar'. I mean, if all the humans there were pretending to be vampires, who would necessarily notice a real one added to the mix? It was sort of like hiding in plain sight. Again, I had to hand it to Vero, he was clever one and a lot more creative than many of the other vampires I'd hunted over the years, even vamps who were much older than him. This little hunt was actually starting to get interesting.

To be continued...