Even vampires have demons . . .
Dachau, Bavaria, September 29, 1944
Facing certain defeat, Hitler's Reich seeks to create a new breed of soldier -- strong, tough and terrifying. A hundred men volunteer. Four survive -- reborn as vampires.
Waukegan, Illinois, May 16, 2014
Ritter Breitmann, soldier-turned-vampire, has learned to survive in the modern world. His existence is rigidly controlled, safe and lonely until he rescues a beautiful scientist from an apparent mugging and discovers a plot to inflict his curse on other men. The demons from his past are back, and Ritter must stop them before they plunge the world into a final, immortal Reich.
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May 16, 2014
Blood. Hunger. Lust. An explosion of red. Red floor, red walls, red air. A girl: thin, naked, dead. Another girl. And another. Black wounds on milky thighs. Gaping throats. Blood- stained breasts.
Another girl. Pink and gold. Arms lift. Veins open. Blood, hot as flame, sweet as life, pouring, gushing, flooding.
Ritter jackknifed off the bed. The image shattered. A dream. Only a dream. He pulled in a shuddering breath and rolled to his feet. It was early, but he dreamed often enough to know his sleep had ended.
He quickly showered, dressed, and slipped into the settling dusk. As always, hunger followed.
“Thanks.” The girl leaned her head against Ritter’s upper arm. Unlike most modern girls, she was too short to reach his shoulder. She lisped slightly, and beer tainted her breath. “Shouldn’t have tried walking back to the dorm alone. It’s not safe.”
“Life is not safe.” Ritter brushed his lips across her baby soft curls. Baby. That’s what she was, a baby. Eighteen years old and out for a night of trouble. He had found her staggering down the bike path, drunk silly and easy prey.
Careful not to frighten her, he gripped her shoulders and turned her toward him. Light from the dormitory spilled across her face. Under black eyeliner and lipstick, her skin glowed with youth and innocence. Black scoop-neck top, black leather miniskirt, black stockings, black shoes. She wrapped herself in darkness, sought it, craved it. If only she knew.
He lowered his face to the curve of her neck, inhaled her fragrance. Under the beer and cheap perfume, the scent of life rose from her. Her pulse fluttered beneath his lips, and his heart matched its pace. He licked the pulse point. “Invite me in.” The words scraped his powder-dry throat.
She shuddered and sagged against his chest. “Sure.”
The alcohol was catching up with her. If he didn’t hurry, she would pass out on him. “Shall I carry you?”
“Can’t.” She looked up and giggled. “My room’s on the fourth floor, and the elevator’s broken.”
“No problem.” Ritter scooped her into his arms and carried her up the steps to the dormitory entrance. She was light, warm, and so alive.
“Wait, the key.” She twisted. Her hand seared a path across his chest to a pocket in the skirt. A moment later, she lay back and raised her hand to his gaze.
The key glinted silver, but it was her wrist that caught his attention, thin, blue-lined, enticing. He bent toward the lock. “Open the door.”
After two tries, she slid in the key and turned it. Ritter bumped the door open with his shoulder. Several students pored over books in the common room. A young woman in shorts and a T-shirt glanced up and frowned. “Ashleigh, are you all right?” She shoved away from the table and stood. “Why are you carrying her?”
The girl he carried giggled. “Met him at the party. Isn’t he hot?”
Other students looked up. Ritter sighed. “Forget the interruption,” he said. “Return to your studies.” They all obeyed, including the young woman, but Ritter needed a more secluded spot for his purpose. “Which room is yours?” he asked the girl.
Right to the stairs, up three flights and down to the end of the corridor. He could run the distance in a handful of heartbeats.
A rising wind chased them across the threshold. Harbinger of a storm, it was scented with rain and spiced with fear. Fear—sharp, intense, and growing.
“Ow.” The girl struggled in his arms. Without meaning to, he had tightened his grip. He relaxed his fingers and lowered her to her feet. She pushed away from him, staggered, but remained standing. An angry blotch marred her arm. She rubbed it and glared at him. “That hurt.”
“I must go.” Ritter craved the girl, but not enough to ignore the waves of desperation beating against him. He had tasted that kind of fear before, too often before someone died, and under it ran the faint sepulchral essence of his kind on the hunt. He caught the girl’s gaze and held it. “Go to your room. Sleep. I will come when I can.” Knowing she would do as he ordered, Ritter turned and ran toward the rising terror. Dinner could wait. He had a life to save.
Faith stared at the two men blocking her path: tall, broad, their faces hidden by the moonless night. Her cell phone was locked in her briefcase, out of power and useless. The nearest security call box was a block away, as was the nearest busy street. Her stomach clenched around a pulse of fear-induced adrenaline and her fingers tightened around the handle of her case. What the hell had she gotten herself into?
She’d worked late in the lab and had missed her ride. Damning her beloved MG Midget and its unreliable internal-combustion engine, Faith hadn’t even considered waiting for a taxi. The last time she’d called a cab, it had taken over an hour to show up. It was faster to walk home—forty-five minutes if she kept to well-lit streets, fifteen if she cut through the construction site. The shortcut had seemed safe enough when she stepped from the hospital into the cool breeze and distant lightning of a promised storm. Her only worry had been getting home before the storm hit. Now it looked as if her impatience might cost her life.
“What do you want?” Faith kept her voice steady. “Money?”
The only answer was an ominous chuckle.
“Here.” She slipped her purse off her right shoulder and hurled it one-handed as far as she could. It sailed by the men and landed with a clatter on some discarded tiles. They hadn’t even tried to catch it.
A stone skittered. Faith turned. Two shadows closed behind her, tall, broad shadows whose shoulders brushed the walls of the new dormitory complex. She was trapped.
A rough hand grabbed her arm. She screamed, the long, loud cry she’d practiced in self-defense class, and stomped down hard. The point of her heel hit the top of her assailant’s shoe. He yelped. His grip loosened. She wrenched free. His partner’s fingers brushed her sleeve, but he was too slow. Clutching her briefcase to her chest, Faith sprinted past them. She’d been a track star in college and could still run when she had to. Her pumps pinched her toes and slowed her, but she didn’t have time to kick them off. She had to reach that security call box. Hit the button, and campus police officers would swarm to her rescue.
Whispered curses and heavy footsteps chased her. She glanced over her shoulder. Even though one was limping, they were catching up. Faith put on a burst of speed, but something grabbed her foot. She stumbled. Her briefcase shot from her grasp, and she crashed to the ground.
Cruel fingers yanked her up and spun her around. A hand clapped over her mouth and pulled her against a massive body. A smell as rank as spoiled lab samples filled her nostrils.
Lightning cracked overhead, and Faith caught a flash picture of the three other men. Built like linebackers, they all wore black jeans and sweatshirts. Merciless faces stared at her from under identical hoods. She was in deep trouble.
The light died. The skies opened in a crashing torrent that glued her blouse to her shoulders and breasts.
“Inside,” one of them growled.
Faith struggled and kicked, but they didn’t underestimate her again. Keeping their legs away from her flailing feet, they half carried her past stacks of building materials toward the half-finished dorm.
“Let her go.” The words came from behind them, softly spoken with foreign precision.
The arm around Faith tightened. The man holding her turned. “Get lost.”
Another flash of lightning. A man stood on the path. He didn’t seem to realize he was only one against four or that he wasn’t as tall or broad as the men who’d attacked her. He stepped closer as the light died. “This is my town. Let her go.”
Heat brushed Faith’s arms. Like a blast from a furnace, it warmed her despite the pounding rain.
The grip on her slackened. “Let her go,” her captor echoed.
“Leave. Now. Do not return.”
Faith didn’t pause to wonder what the hell was going on. She twisted free and bolted toward her would-be rescuer. “Run! There are four of them and they’re—” She slammed into a wet, resilient wall. Instead of running, he’d stepped toward her.
Strong hands gripped her shoulders, steadied her. Even with the rain, she caught a breath of citrus and mint. “Gone. Are you all right?”
He had a nice voice, rich but not too deep. It cooled her panic. “I’m fine. Thank you.”
The rain stopped as quickly as it had started, leaving only scattered drips behind. Faith looked behind her. The dark path was empty. Her attackers had vanished into the shadows.
The hands slipped down her arms and away. “You need warmth and safety. Tell me where you live, and I will see you home.”
Warm shivers danced across her skin and left her longing for his touch. She wanted to lean into him, to rest her head against his chest. What the hell was wrong with her? She didn’t need a hug; she needed to find her briefcase and get out of there. She stepped back. “Thanks anyway, but I can get myself home.”
“Not alone. Despite my warning, your assailants may return.”
Faith scanned the ground behind her. She couldn’t worry about the thugs. She had to find her briefcase.
“It was foolish to walk a deserted path at night. Next time, take the campus shuttle.”
“I can’t. I live at the Hamstead Arms.”
“The apartment complex near the freeway? Most students live on the other side of campus.”
The jolt of disappointment surprised her. Even people who could see her assumed she was younger than her thirty-three years, but for some reason, she’d wanted her mysterious savior to be different. “I’m not a student.”
The retreating lightning flared, and Faith spotted her briefcase. Her purse lay a few feet beyond it, near where she’d stumbled. She must have caught her toe on the shoulder strap. Glancing around for her attackers, she ran and scooped up her case.
“Do you work at the university?” The words seemed to brush her ear. Faith spun around. Her rescuer still stood on the path where she’d left him.
She took a deep breath and tried to calm her racing heart. Spooked; she was definitely spooked. It took another breath before she trusted her voice. “In a way. I’m here on a grant from the Viral Studies Foundation, researching the link between viruses and birth defects.” She grabbed her purse, slung it over her shoulder, and started walking toward him. “My name’s Faith: Dr. Faith Allister.”
His body stiffened; his head tilted sharply down. Faith wondered if she imagined the faint click of heels. “Good evening, Fräulein Doktor. You may call me Ritter.”
“Ritter?” The name jogged a memory from college German. “That means ‘knight,’ doesn’t it? Do you make a habit of rescuing damsels in distress?”
“No.” He swung into step beside her. Faith wanted to protest, but he was right, damn it. She couldn’t afford to walk alone, not tonight. They emerged from the construction zone into the glare of streetlights. Ritter’s voice had led her to believe he was her age or older, but beneath a bronze cap of water-darkened hair, his skin was flawless. Not a single line fanned the corners of his eyes. Sharp cheekbones, square jaw, his face was all angles, except for his surprisingly full lips. Sensuous lips, meant for kissing.
Faith looked away. What was wrong with her, fantasizing about a boy who had to be fifteen years younger than she was?
For the two remaining blocks to her apartment, he matched his stride to hers. She led him across the parking lot, into the building, and up the stairs to her fourth-floor apartment.
“Let me see you in.” They were the first words he’d uttered since they’d left the construction zone.
“That’s not necessary.”
“Not for you, perhaps. But I would like to dry off before walking home.”
“Yes, of course.” Faith fumbled with her key and finally got the door open. There was no reason to be nervous, she told herself. The boy only wanted to get dry. “Go on in. There are towels in the bathroom, first door on the right.” She clicked on the lights and forgot to breathe.
Young as he was and pale with cold, Ritter was absolutely gorgeous. His hair had begun to dry, and the lighter wisps curled on his head. His damp T-shirt clung to his broad shoulders and did nothing to hide the well-defined muscle of his chest and arms. Though he wasn’t bulky enough for football or tall enough for basketball, she’d bet a week’s salary he was some kind of athlete. A soccer player, maybe. He walked to the bathroom, offering her a glimpse of skin-tight jeans. The bathroom door closed, and Faith shook her head. The attempted assault must have shaken her more than she’d realized. She didn’t usually ogle college kids.
She stashed her purse and briefcase in her bedroom and caught a glimpse of herself in the closet mirror. Her hair was drying, too, in a dark tangle around her head. Her face was deathly pale. Shock. That’s what it was. Shock. A perfectly normal reaction. Faith took a deep breath and walked back to the hall. When Ritter stepped out of the bathroom a moment later, she forced a platonic smile. “My car’s in Florida getting a new engine, but can I call you a taxi? It’s awfully late to walk back to campus.”
He stepped toward her. “I don’t need a taxi.”
“I’ll pay the fare, of course. It’s the least I can do after you were kind enough to walk me home.”
“Faith.” Her name flowed like velvet over her arms and stopped her babbling. He reached out and touched her cheek. “A beautiful name for a beautiful woman.”
His eyes were blue, she realized. A bright, clear blue, like glaciers or icebergs. They didn’t look eighteen. They looked ancient.
She backed away from his touch. Kept backing until her shoulders hit the wall behind her. “Who are you?”
Faith didn’t see him move, but suddenly he was there, only a breath away. “Relax. I won’t hurt you.” He ran his finger along the skin just above her collar.
A wave of warmth surged down her neck and across her shoulders. Her arms grew heavy, but she raised them, braced her hands against his chest and shoved. “Don’t touch me!”
He stumbled back, the surprise on his face almost comical. The warmth vanished.
“I’m very grateful for your help, but I want you to go.”
His brow wrinkled, as if he didn’t quite understood her. “Go?”
“I’m tired. I want to go to bed.”
A slow smile crept up his lips. “I will join you.”
Okay, she’d tried nice. Maybe brutal would work better. “I’m thirty-three years old. I do not sleep with children.”
“Thirty-three. So old.” He stepped toward her again. “You want me. I can taste it.”
God save her from inflated male egos. Though she had to admit that in this case some of the ego was justified. A young man as beautiful as Ritter couldn’t be used to girls saying no. “What I want is for you to leave.”
His expression shifted from seductive to amused. “Amazing.”
Faith scooted past him to the door and threw it open. “I’ll call a taxi if you want, but you have to wait outside.”
“I don’t need a taxi.” Ritter sauntered toward the door. He paused in the doorway. “You are an intriguing woman, Fräulein Doktor. Auf Wiedersehen.” Without seeming to hurry, he strode past the neighboring apartments and disappeared down the stairs.
Faith closed the door and sagged against it, panting as if she’d run a mile. Auf Wiedersehen. Though she hadn’t studied German in years, she remembered what the words meant: not “good-bye,” but “until I see you again.” Faith hugged herself. From Ritter’s lips, they sounded like a promise.