Traveling Through Transylvania With ‘Dracula’ as a Guide

Nighttime in Transylvania is as atmospherically spooky as you would hope it would be. During the winter, a thick, low-lying mist covers thick forests of pine trees and firs. Above the fog, you can see the silhouetted turrets and spires of ancient castles and fortified churches. Many of the old homes there still burn wood fires, adding to the smoky air, while the towns are filled with gothic and baroque buildings that were once beautiful, but are now marked by peeling paint and crumbling facades.

Courtesy of Atlas Obscura.

Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book II: Elena is out!

Daughters of Shadow and Blood - Book II: ElenaBUY: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple iBooks

Gračanica. Kosovo, 1689: Elena, an Albanian peasant girl, has sacrificed her own future to keep her family from starving, but one horrific night they are taken from her, murdered by monsters out of her nightmares. She seeks refuge at the nearby monastery, where she meets Stjepan, a Serbian monk familiar with creatures that stalk the night. Elena longs to return to her farm, but piecing her life back together may be impossible. Stjepan draws her into a dark conspiracy involving an ancient brotherhood, and as war looms, a stranger named Lek appears, threatening to overturn everything she thought she knew about her family and herself.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1999: Since surviving the showdown between the vampire Yasamin and the terrorist group Süleyman’s Blade, Adam Mire has lived in hiding, posing as an unassuming Czech librarian. His life is upended again, however, when a new threat arises—one intent on using Dracula’s legacy to unleash another wave of violence across the already war-ravaged nation.

Meanwhile, Clara MacIntosh, the love Adam left behind, has come to Eastern Europe to find him. While tracking him down, she becomes entangled in a string of grisly murders—deaths Adam is investigating as well. As they both follow clues literally written in blood, time runs short to unmask the killer before history comes full-circle and chaos engulfs the region again.

Read a Free Excerpt from Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book II: Elena (Part 4)

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book II: Elena, I am releasing a free excerpt once a week until release day on April 23, 2016. This is Part 2. (Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 here.) I hope you enjoy! Please share and order your copy today!

FOUR

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

7 October 1999

A crack began at the floor and ran all the way up the white plaster wall to the ceiling, the first thing Adam saw when he opened his eyes. Like a swimmer coming up for air, he fought through the grogginess and the pounding in his head. The smell of musty fabric hung in the air and mingled with the odor of stale cigarette smoke. He struggled to sit up, but froze when he locked eyes with the man from the Special Collections room. Seated in a threadbare chair, he glared at Adam from beneath a mop of dirty blond hair with intense but tired-looking blue eyes. He was slighter than he had seemed in the library, and young, probably in his early twenties.

“Where am I?” Adam asked, his voice like sandpaper.

The man didn’t answer, and Adam didn’t waste his breath asking again.

Glancing around, Adam found himself in the living area of a tiny apartment. The man’s chair was crammed into one corner. His own equally threadbare sofa was crammed into another. A decrepit radiator stood against the wall between them. Above the sputtering radiator threadbare curtains—bedsheets actually—covered the only window. Nearby, a black-and-white television sat on a small table. A newscaster was talking about the ethnic fighting in Kosovo. He spoke Serbian, or possibly Croatian, or maybe even Bosnian. All three languages were essentially the same, except that the speakers of each hated the speakers of the other two.

In the same wall as the giant crack there was a door—the entry, based on the adjacent coat rack. To the right of the door, an opening led into a cramped kitchen. An old gas stove stood in the middle of the room leaving barely enough space for a small dinette set.

Another door in the wall to his left promptly swung open, and a woman emerged from the darkened room on the other side. She wore a pair of faded blue jeans and a T-shirt. Her black hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She could have been a female student in any one of Adam’s freshman Western civilization lectures, except that she seemed to draw all the shadows in the room toward her. Her movements created a slight sense of vertigo. Adam’s heart pounded as he realized what she was.

“Dr. Mire,” she said, “so glad to see you’re finally awake. I trust your trip was a pleasant one?”

“I’d answer, but I’m afraid I don’t remember much of it.” Adam’s hand went to the crucifix around his neck, only to discover it missing. He shoved his other hand into his pocket. His knife was gone as well. He glared at the man seated in the chair, who simply grinned.

“Now, don’t look like that, Dr. Mire,” the woman said. “You’ll get your toys back when you leave.”

“Whether and how I leave is exactly what I’m worried about.”

She smiled. “You needn’t worry.”

He wasn’t sure if her words were meant to comfort him or not.

“Bogdan,” she said to the man in the chair, “would you mind giving us some privacy, just for a few hours?”

Bogdan’s grin melted. He hesitated, as if to ask her if she was certain, before he wordlessly stood and trudged out of the apartment. He slammed the door behind him.

She walked over to the television and turned it off before taking a seat in the dilapidated chair Bogdan had just vacated. Every move she made was deliberate, performed with a fluid grace that contradicted everything about her surroundings. “You’ve been busy, haven’t you, Dr. Mire? Confronting a vampire as formidable as Yasamin. Challenging Süleyman’s Blade. And coming out of the whole affair alive. Quite impressive.”

“Who are you?” Adam asked.

Her mouth twisted into an amused quirk. “My name is Elena.”

“Where am I?”

“Sarajevo.”

Adam’s mind went to a day in Prague a few weeks earlier. He was seated in a sidewalk café, drinking his coffee and smoking a cigarette, when his waiter slipped him an envelope. Inside was a clipping from Liberation, Sarajevo’s daily newspaper. It was dated 16 March 1994, during the height of the siege of the city. The article recounted several deaths that could not be explained by the daily bombardment of shells from the Yugoslav army. Among other things, the victims were found completely drained of blood.

The waiter couldn’t remember who handed him the envelope, but Adam knew, even though he caught only a glimpse of her as she walked away, it was Yasamin. And now he found himself speaking with another beguiling, raven-haired vampire. He remembered Stoker’s words from Dracula.

Two were dark, and one was fair …

“Why did you bring me here?” he asked.

“You could thank me for saving your life.”

“Saving my life? How so?”

“Did you honestly think you could keep up the charade of Edvard Novak forever? If I could find you, then others could as well. It was only a matter of time.”

“So I’m supposed to be grateful?”

“I thought you might be.”

“Why?”

“Because I need your help, Dr. Mire.”

Adam barely suppressed a laugh. “My help? Really?”

“You speak nine languages. You’ve published four books. You’re not even forty, and you’re one of the world’s leading experts on Eastern Europe during the Middle Ages … and on artifacts from the time period. Again, quite impressive.”

“What’s your point?”

“During your pas-de-deux with Süleyman’s Blade, you made a show of searching for a medallion depicting a dragon, formed into a circle, with a cross on its back—”

Adam shook his head. “I don’t know where it is. I can’t help you find it.”

Dracula’s medallion, the one he wore as a member of the Order of the Dragon, missing for centuries. In a mad plan to avenge the death of the woman he loved, Adam had used rumors of the medallion’s reappearance to lure the leader of Süleyman’s Blade into the deadly clutches of a vampire, Yasamin, one of Dracula’s legendary Brides.

But the medallion really was out there somewhere. He had almost all the clues to its whereabouts. He had spent much of his time in Prague trying to decipher them, but he always met with dead ends.

Elena cocked an eyebrow. “I’m not asking you to help me find it.”

“Then what—”

“There are others who want it, who mustn’t have it.”

“You’re not the first to feed me that line.”

She glanced at the television set. “They say the war in Kosovo is over now. They’ve been saying the same thing for six hundred years. Tell me, Dr. Mire, who do you think won the original Battle of Kosovo all those years ago?”

Adam replied without even thinking. “The Turks. Their victory on Kosovo Field paved the way for Ottoman domination of the Balkans for the next five hundred years.”

“You know the Serbs say they won.”

“I know that nineteenth-century nationalists mythologized the battle to make a claim for the righteousness of the Serbian nation, but that doesn’t change the facts.”

“Doesn’t it, Dr. Mire? Can’t events happening now affect the past, just as the past affects the present? I was there in 1989 at the rally to commemorate the six-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, along with a million others. There were icons placed around the stage—of Jesus Christ, St. Sava, King Milutin … and Slobodan Milošević. It was as if those intervening years had never occurred. All the speeches I had heard before, in one form or another. I knew that day what was to come, because it had already happened.”

“Given the history of the Balkans, a lot of us felt what happened was inevitable.”

She shook her head. “No, Dr. Mire. You misunderstand. I don’t mean similar events have happened in the past. I mean the same events. Your problem is that despite all the time you’ve spent here among the Byzantines, you still think of time as the path of an arrow—straight and moving in only one direction. You’ve yet to learn that time is a circle. What is happening now has happened before and will happen again. 1389 is 1689 is 1989 is today. The past, the present, and the future are just different names for fate. To understand my story, you have to understand that.”

Read a Free Excerpt from Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book II: Elena (Part 3)

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book II: Elena, I am releasing a free excerpt once a week until release day on April 23, 2016. This is Part 2. (Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.) I hope you enjoy! Please share and order your copy today!

THREE

Thessaloniki, Greece

6 October 1999

Clara leapt out of the chair and backed away from the desk where Arion’s bleeding form lay. She frantically scanned the office for the deadly red dot but failed to find it. She gathered up as many of the loose papers as she could and stuffed them into her bag. The professor continued to stare sightlessly at her, his mouth open, his last words still hanging on his lips, while the red stain spread across his shirt.

She yanked the door open and ran out into the hallway, directly into a man’s arms. She pushed herself away, but the man, dressed in riot gear with words in Greek written across the front of his jacket as well as POLICE in large white letters, seized her wrist. Clara looked up into cold, blue eyes set in a bulldog face.

He pulled her back toward him. “Please, miss, don’t fight,” he said in thickly accented English. “I am trying to get you away from here.”
People emerged from the other offices. The man yelled something in Greek, and they all ran toward the stairwell, panic on their faces. The bulldog dashed down the hall after them, dragging Clara behind.

Outside the building, police pushed back the gathering crowd underneath Arion’s window. The bulldog, however, took Clara in the opposite direction, around the corner to the other side of the building. He stopped in the shade of a sycamore tree.

“Thank you,” Clara said, struggling to catch her breath.

But the bulldog didn’t let go of her wrist.

Clara tried to fight until he squeezed. She winced and started to cry out, but he jerked her arm, bringing her close enough to feel his hot breath. He held up a pistol and touched the muzzle to his lips.

Clara glared. “You wouldn’t shoot me, not here, not in broad daylight.”

The bulldog’s mouth twisted into a smile. He eyed the rooftop of a nearby building. “Who said anything about me shooting you? Now if you don’t want someone else to get hurt, you’ll keep your mouth shut. Don’t worry. We’re not going far.”

He led her a short distance to a circular building lined with Ionic columns, obviously much older than the one where Arion had his office. Instead of the main entrance, he pushed her toward a small door on the opposite side. It opened onto a set of stairs that led down into the dark. At the bottom a short hallway ended in another door. The bulldog pushed it open and forced Clara into a dim room. The only light came from a small lantern resting on a low table. Another man already waited there.

The bulldog slung Clara toward the man. “Here, Filip. Why don’t you do something useful and tie her hands. I can tell she’s not going to be an easy one to deal with.” His smile told Clara he was speaking English for her benefit.

The man he called Filip didn’t reply.

The bulldog began stripping out of his police clothes. “Sometime today, Filip. We need to get moving soon.”

Still Filip didn’t reply.

The bulldog paused and snapped his fingers. “Filip, did you hear me?”

Filip stepped toward him, into the lantern’s pool of light. When Clara saw his face, she gasped. It was the man who had recovered her wallet in the market.

“I heard you the first time,” her Good Samaritan said.

The bulldog’s eyes grew wide. He went for his gun, but before he could get to it, the man from the market fired a shot from his own. With a lurch, Clara’s captor collapsed to the floor.

The man turned toward Clara. “Are you all right?”

“No,” she replied. “No I’m not.”

“What happened? How did they grab you?”

“Hell if I know. I don’t even know who they are. One minute I’m talking to a professor in his office. The next he’s dead on his desk from a sniper’s bullet.”

The man swore in a language Clara didn’t know. If she had to guess, she would have said it was Russian. He reached for her. “We need to get you someplace safe.”

Clara jerked away. “That’s what he told me. Why should I trust you?”

“Because I very probably just saved your life. And I also did catch the pickpocket who stole your wallet, which is fortunate because you’re going to need your ID.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean we have to leave now. You can’t stay in Thessaloniki.”

Clara shook her head. “Oh, no. No. I’m not going anywhere with you. I’m going back, and I’m going to talk to the police—the real police—and I’m going to tell them what happened, and then I’m going to book the first ticket back to the U.S.”

“I’d advise against that.”

“Why?”

“Because like it or not, you’re in danger. And because then you’ll never know what happened to Adam.”

Clara’s heart skipped a beat. “How do you know about Adam?”

“I have an interest in finding him too.”

Clara tried to study his face in the low light. “Your name’s not Filip, is it? Who are you?”

He motioned with his head in the direction of a heap behind him. “Filip is indisposed at the moment. My name is Arkady Danilovich Markov.”

“Why are you looking for Adam? Does that mean he’s still alive? Is he in danger, too?”

Arkady held up a hand. “Questions later. Now we need to be going.”

Clara hesitated. “How do I know this isn’t another trick?”

Arkady sighed. “You don’t. I’m not forcing you to stay. You can go back, go talk to the police if you want, but just know that I’m your best chance to find Adam.” He paused. “As well as to live to see another sunrise.”

Clara struggled to calm her thoughts. A large part of her wanted to leave, to go back to her hotel, book a flight back to the States, and continue with her life. But something else tugged at her. She loved Adam, and he didn’t have anyone else.

She stepped back and motioned to the door. “Okay. Lead the way.”

Arkady shook his head. “No. We’re going the way your friend here was planning to take you.”

“And what way is that?” Clara asked.

Arkady picked up the lantern and opened a door behind him that Clara hadn’t noticed. “We’re taking the tunnels.”

 

They could have been walking for twenty minutes or two hours. Not long after Arkady led her through the door in the cellar room, the cramped tunnel opened enough that the weak lantern light left the walls in shadow. Occasionally Arkady gave her a curt warning to watch her step as they navigated around fallen stonework and other debris. Somewhere in the distance, water trickled.

“Where is this tunnel taking us?” Clara asked.

“Away from the university,” Arkady answered.

“How do we know there aren’t more of them waiting for us at the other end?”

“Because these tunnels run underneath most of the city. There are countless ways in and out. There’s no way for them to know where we’re going to end up.”

A lump formed in the pit of Clara’s stomach as she envisioned getting lost in miles and miles of pitch-black, maze-like tunnels. “How do we know where we’re going?”

“I know the way,” Arkady said. “Don’t worry.”

“If it’s all the same to you, I’ll worry until we’re back on the surface.”

Arkady laughed, but there wasn’t any humor in his voice.

At the first juncture they came to, he took a tunnel that branched to the right of the main tunnel. Almost immediately, the ground began to slope upward, and it wasn’t long before the light seeped back in. The walls of the tunnel were different here, made of brick rather than stone. Soon they came upon another door. Pushing it open, Arkady led her into another cellar. This one was filled with crates, most of them emblazoned with some sort of crest.

“Wine?” Clara asked.

“Olive oil,” Arkady corrected. “This house used to belong to a wealthy merchant family. They traded olive oil all over the Eastern Mediterranean.”

“Who does it belong to now?”

“It’s abandoned.”

Clara followed Arkady across the cellar to a set of stairs. With each step she took, Clara’s sense of dread grew. Once they emerged on the floor above, Clara knew something was terribly wrong.

She forced down a wave of panic as she and Arkady made their way through rooms full of abandoned, crumbling furniture. Shadows moved, and voices whispered. Like a fog, tendrils of darkness writhed everywhere the light could not reach. Clara glanced at Arkady for any sign that he saw what she did. He didn’t look back at her, though his steps took on a new urgency. Once or twice, Clara caught glimpses of figures out of the corner of her eye—black, vaguely human shapes standing in otherwise vacant rooms. When they reached the front hallway of the house, Arkady practically sprinted for the door, dragging Clara with him. They emerged onto the street to find themselves at the market, just as the afternoon sun dipped behind the buildings.

Clara looked back at the house, only to discover the same looming façade she had passed earlier. Arkady glanced back as well, his face solemn. He muttered something under his breath Clara wasn’t able to catch before he offered his hand to her again.

“Come this way,” he said. “We have a long drive ahead of us.”

Part 4 >>

Read a Free Excerpt from Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book II: Elena (Part 2)

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book II: Elena, I am releasing a free excerpt once a week until release day on April 23, 2016. This is Part 2. (Read Part 1 here.) I hope you enjoy! Please share and order your copy today!

TWO

Prague, Czech Republic

6 October 1999

Adam’s ears perked at the sound of footfalls on the concrete floor. No one else should have been there. The special collections room of the library was restricted, access granted by appointment only, and he didn’t recall seeing any appointments for that day on the ledger. It occurred to him that one of the other staff could be looking for him. Or perhaps a student had gotten lost in the labyrinthine stacks. There were any number of innocent explanations.

Adam didn’t believe in innocent explanations anymore.

The room itself was long and narrow, the shelves arranged in rows perpendicular to its length, leaving only slender aisles around the edges. The one door was situated in a corner, but Adam had been reshelving books and couldn’t see it from where he stood. He peered through the metal stacks, trying to catch a glimpse of the unannounced visitor, but in the dim light he could see only shadows.

The footfalls stopped, still several rows away. In the silence Adam’s hand went to the crucifix around his neck. Moments later the footsteps resumed, slower and more deliberate, like a fox trying to flush out a hare. Adam glanced over his shoulder. If he could reach the end of the row, he could possibly sneak up the opposite aisle to the door, but his chances of making it all the way without being noticed were slim. He’d have a better chance confronting the intruder. He had other means at his disposal besides the crucifix, but experience had taught him even it would do in a pinch.

As the footsteps drew closer, Adam struggled to control his breathing and slow his heartbeat. His left hand still clutched his crucifix. His right hand hovered over the folding knife he kept in his pants pocket. The footsteps grew louder until eventually a young man stepped into the open space at the end of the row. He was dressed like a typical student—cargo pants, sweatshirt, oversized military-style jacket. His dirty-blond hair fell in front of his face. Their eyes met. He didn’t say anything.

“May I help you?” Adam asked in Czech.

“It’s possible,” the man replied in Serbian. “Are you Edvard Novak?”

“I’m sorry,” Adam said. “I don’t understand.”

He did understand, of course. “Edvard Novak” was the name on his university ID, a quiet, completely unremarkable assistant librarian no one ever had a reason to notice. Adam had played the role since coming to Prague a few months earlier, even going so far as to dye his hair blond and cover his brown eyes with blue contact lenses. He liked Prague. He wanted to stay.

But, he thought ruefully, we don’t always get what we want.

The man laughed. “You and I both know you’re lying, but then again it doesn’t really matter. I already know who you are.”

Adam slipped the knife out of his pocket, concealing it still folded in his fist. “Who? Tell me,” he said, switching to Serbian.

The man stepped forward. “Please, Dr. Mire, it will be easier if you don’t fight.”

Adam seized the book cart in front of him and charged down the row. The cart collided with the man’s midsection and slammed him back into the wall before toppling over. Adam vaulted over the upturned buggy and sprinted for the door, but the man shoved the cart away and lunged after him, tackling Adam within a few steps. Adam twisted himself around, open knife in hand, but the man gripped his arm with alarming strength—supernatural strength.

He should have been more careful.

Crux sacra sit mihi lux,” he began to chant.

The man laughed again. “Latin chants won’t work on me. I’m just as alive as you are.”

Their faces were inches apart as they struggled for the knife. Adam studied the man’s eyes for any clue, any hint of what he might want. All he saw was determination. Adam could understand that. He let go of the knife. The man’s weight shifted as he grabbed for it, and Adam bucked, throwing him off. He jabbed his elbow into the man’s stomach and scooped the knife back up off the floor.

“That just mean’s you’re easier to hurt.” Adam held the knife before him. “I take it you’re a Chetnik. I was wondering when you guys would give it another try.”

The man glared at Adam as he rose to his feet, and despite the silvery glint in Adam’s hand, he advanced. Adam took another swing, but the man blocked him with little effort, seizing his arm and wrenching him around. The sharp pain forced Adam to drop the knife, and it clattered on the concrete floor. The man shoved him face-first into the wall and held him there.

“For the record, I’m not a Chetnik,” he growled in Adam’s ear.

A cloth covered Adam’s mouth, and a sickly sweet smell entered his nostrils. His head swam. His knees buckled, and his vision faded. Then the darkness overtook him.

Part 3 >>

Read a Free Excerpt from Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book II: Elena (Part 1)

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book II: Elena, I am releasing a free excerpt once a week until release day on April 23, 2016. This is Part 1. I hope you enjoy! Please share and order your copy today!

PROLOGUE

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

15 March 1994

The bomb didn’t him. It had dismembered him certainly, but it did not kill him. The man’s torso and head—as well as his right arm—were found in a pile of debris on the side of Radićeva Street opposite the bombed-out cinema. His feet and legs had come to rest a few hundred feet away. The rest of him was never found.

As Police Inspector Nikola Gavrilović stood over the mostly reassembled body in the overcrowded city morgue, a question nagged at him.

Where was the blood?

There was none to be found. Not one drop. Impossible, unless the man was dead before the shell hit the cinema, killed in such a way that he bled out completely. It was the third such body found that year—not that anyone paid attention. Not with death raining from above every day. The Yugoslav army had laid siege to the city for almost two years, and from their positions in the hills outside Sarajevo, they pelted the city with shells almost daily. Nikola had already lost friends and family. Everyone had. As perverted an idea as it seemed, it was difficult to find the motivation to investigate murder on such a small scale when the mere act of venturing out of one’s house to buy bread could mean death.

It didn’t help matters that of the other two apparent victims, the first was a homeless man and the second an abusive drunk whose own wife refused to claim his body. Nikola’s superiors would close this case, insisting the man had died in the blast, and he wasn’t in a position to challenge them. He was only half-Serbian, through his mother, but because the Serbs were the ones trying to strangle the city, no one would completely trust anything he said. It didn’t matter that he wanted what almost everyone else in Sarajevo wanted—a free Bosnia.

Besides, he couldn’t exactly tell the truth. All the signs were there, if one knew how to see them. An old threat had returned to the city, and just as certainly as the Yugoslav army brought death from above, this threat brought death from below. Placing the sheet back over the man’s body and then turning to leave the morgue, Nikola resolved to do whatever he had to do to stop it, even if he had to stand alone.

After all, the Serbs invented the word vampire.

ONE

Thessaloniki, Greece

6 October 1999

Clara barely dodged the bicycle as she turned the corner. She didn’t understand the stream of Greek the rider yelled as he pedaled past her, but based on his expressive hand gestures, she guessed his general meaning. She gritted her teeth and kept going, pushing her way through the crowded market.

Sounds, colors, aromas swirled around her, everything as incomprehensible as … well, Greek. Laughter and shouting reverberated off the buildings over the noise of the traffic on the nearby streets. A musician had attracted a small crowd with the frantic strains of his violin. Grey business suits mingled with traditional costumes of bright blue, red, and green amid stalls set up by vendors selling everything Clara could imagine—and a few things she couldn’t.

Car exhaust mixed with the smell of concentrated humanity tickled her nose, but as she walked, one scent called to her like a Pied Piper. The sweet and spicy aroma led her to a stall where a young boy was roasting lamb. Her stomach rumbled, and it occurred to her she hadn’t eaten anything since the thin cup of coffee and the small pastry at her hotel that morning.

The boy looked up at her and smiled. She reached into her bag, and a wave of nausea pushed the thought of lunch out of her mind—her wallet wasn’t there. Panic rose as she probed every corner of the bag. Her gaze darted around the market, thinking maybe she’d see someone acting suspiciously or she’d spot a policeman, and when that failed, maybe she’d see someone—anyone—who looked like they might speak English. All her money, her credit cards, her ID—all of it was gone, but what brought her to the verge of tears was the thought of losing the creased and tattered photo that had been lodged in her wallet for the better part of five years.

She needed that picture.

A hand on her shoulder made her jump. She turned around to find a man smiling at her. Maybe a few years older than she was, he had short black hair and a goatee and blue eyes so pale they were almost grey.

He held up her wallet. “Madame, I believe this is yours.”

He spoke English with an accent Clara couldn’t quite place, though she didn’t think it was Greek.

Stunned, she took back the wallet. “How did …? Was it …? I guess it must have fallen out of my purse.”

The man chuckled. “Not exactly.” He motioned over his shoulder, back toward where the bicyclist had nearly hit her. The rider sat on the ground with his back to the wall of a building, a package of ice held to his forehead. His bicycle lay next to him, and a surly-looking policeman, nowhere to be found moments before, stood over him.

“I watched him slip your wallet out of your purse as he passed by you,” the man continued. “I chased him down.”

Clara raised an eyebrow. “You chased down a bicycle? On foot?”

The man shrugged. “The market is crowded. He could only go so fast.”

She smiled. “Thank you, Mr. …”

He shook his head. “No need for thanks. I’m just a Good Samaritan. Please, have a pleasant stay in Thessaloniki.”

With a nod, he walked away and melted into the crowd.

She turned back to the boy roasting the lamb. He smiled and held up a piece of freshly shaved meat, rich and hearty smelling. She glanced down at her watch and realized, regrettably, that she didn’t have time for lunch. She shook her head and continued on her way through the market.

When Clara came to the end of the stalls, an old stucco building loomed in front of her, its arched windows dark, even with the afternoon sun shining. The road forked to either side, confronting her with a choice. She knew the address where she was going and had traced the route on a map that morning, but now she wasn’t so confident she could remember the way. She wished she had thought to bring a guidebook. Having one certainly would have helped in the market. She was lucky the man who had retrieved her wallet spoke English, though it didn’t occur to her until that moment to question how he knew she did. Maybe he had opened her wallet and seen her driver’s license.

In truth, that she had managed to make it to Greece with anything more than her toothbrush was a small miracle. Only a week earlier she had come home from work to discover the blinking red light on her answering machine. The message was terse. A man’s voice stated that Adam was seen in Thessaloniki in August. He left no name and no contact information, but after two frustrating months of fruitless phone calls, unanswered letters, and pleas to State Department employees in a half-dozen countries, the message was the first news of Adam since he disappeared.

A hastily booked plane ticket later, Clara was walking amid the ancient city’s sun-bleached buildings set against the electric-blue Aegean Sea.

Yet for three days door after door shut in Clara’s face. Smiles vanished and mouths closed every time she mentioned Adam’s name, so she was shocked when Arion Tsakalidis, a Romanian language professor from Aristotle University, had contacted her and asked to meet.

Clara chose the road to the left. As she passed by the old building, she glanced up at the once-white façade, grey now from years of dirt and city grime. The building seemed abandoned, but something about it sent a chill up her spine. She wondered what it had been used for.

A flicker caught her eye from one of the shadow-draped windows on the second floor, and a whispered voice drifted down, saying words too low to understand. Her heart all but stopped. Clara gazed at the window, expecting to find some dark figure standing there, only to watch a pigeon emerge to strut along the sill. She looked around, embarrassed for letting her imagination get the best of her. Still, she doubled her pace.

When Clara finally reached the campus of the university, a wave of relief washed over her. Gone were the narrow, clogged streets and noise of the city; she stared now at the open, manicured lawns and broad walkways of a modern university.

Thanks to Adam she knew a lot about universities. Memories came to her of bringing him dinner in his office when he stayed late grading exams, of walking through the fall leaves holding hands, of picnics on the lawn. The corners of her mouth turned up in a faint smile. She thought she had found someone she could spend the rest of her life with.

Professor Tsakalidis’ office was on the second floor of a nondescript building that housed the Department of Romance Languages. She almost missed it. Adam always made a big deal about how his office was in the only building that predated the university. That would be difficult to do in a country like Greece.

A lanky man with round glasses perched on the end of his nose answered the door when she knocked.

“Professor Tsakalidis?” she asked.

He smiled. “You must be Clara MacIntosh.”

“It’s good to meet you face-to-face.” She held out her hand, which he took.

“And you as well. Please, come in. Pardon the mess.”

Stacks of books took up most of the space on the floor of his office. A computer screen provided the only light in the room apart from the narrow slits of sunlight seeping through the blinds. A coffee cup occupied the only spot on the desk clear of papers.

It could have been Adam’s office.

Clara sat in the chair Professor Tsakalidis gestured toward. “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me.”

He walked behind his desk and opened the blinds to allow the sun into the room. “It is the least I could do, given the circumstances.”

Clara brushed a lock of hair behind her ear and cleared her throat. “That’s what I’m hoping you can help me with, Professor Tsakalidis.”
“Please, call me Arion.”

“Arion then. The problem is that I don’t know what circumstances you mean, and I haven’t been able to find anyone who will talk to me. Adam was supposed to be on sabbatical in Budapest. He was scheduled to come back to the States in July, but he never did. I only just learned he was in Thessaloniki in August, but I can’t imagine what he was doing here. I haven’t had any contact with him in months. No one has.”

“His family must be worried sick.”

“He doesn’t have any family. Just me.”

“You’ve been together a while?”

She blushed. “We’re not together, not anymore, but we’ve stayed friends. It just didn’t … We weren’t …”

It was Arion’s turn to blush. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to overstep.”

“No. It’s okay. I just want to find him.”

Arion sighed. “I’m afraid that may be difficult.”

“Why?” Clara asked.

He drew his mouth into a grim line. “Because Dr. Mire may have been involved in a murder.”

If there had been anything in Clara’s stomach, she would have had to reach for the nearest trash can. “Murder?”

“A colleague in the history department, Marina Dimitriou, was stabbed to death in her office. Dr. Mire was the last person seen with her. He ran from the police when they tried to question him.”

Clara frowned. “He would never do something like that.”

Arion shrugged. “I wasn’t there, but multiple eyewitnesses have all told the same story.”

“I still don’t understand. Where is he? Was he arrested? Is he rotting in some jail somewhere waiting for trial?”

“Not exactly.”

“What do you mean?”

“The details are little hazy. I can tell you that Dr. Mire was arrested by the local authorities, but then the Hellenic Police took him into their custody.”

“The Hellenic Police?”

“Like your FBI.”

“So do they have him?”

Arion shook his head. “The car he was in was ambushed. The two Hellenic Police with him were shot and killed.”

“But Adam?”

“Nowhere to be found. He simply vanished.”

Clara was silent for a moment, struggling to retain her composure. “Do you know why he was here?”

The professor pursed his lips. “The reason others have been reluctant to talk to you is that they are afraid of the consequences. I myself am
taking a risk by meeting with you.”

“So why are you meeting with me?”

“After having come all this way, you deserve to know the truth, or at least as much as we can piece together.”

“What is the truth?”

He leaned closer. “I think Dr. Mire stumbled upon something dangerous.”

“Something people were willing to kill over?”

Arion nodded.

“You don’t believe he murdered your colleague.”

“Never.”

“But whoever killed her is trying to kill Adam, too.”

“If they have not already succeeded.”

Clara bit her lip.

He placed a hand on top of hers. “I’m sorry. I know it’s hard to hear, but I don’t want to give you false hope.”

“Do you have any idea what this ‘something dangerous’ might be?” she asked.

Arion opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a stack of loose papers. He handed them to Clara. “A few weeks before Dr. Mire’s visit, Marina showed me something, a handwritten journal. She said a friend had sent it to her, but it was all in Romanian. She asked me to translate part of it.”

Clara glanced through the pages of neat, precise handwriting. Arion had translated it into English. “What does it have to do with Adam?”

“Marina told me the day before she was killed that she wanted a colleague who was visiting from the States to look at it as well. I can only assume she meant Dr. Mire.”

“That still doesn’t explain why he was here to begin with.”

“Maybe Marina contacted him about the journal, wanting him to see it.”

“Who did the journal belong to?”

“A Romanian army officer during World War II.”

“Wasn’t Romania—”

“Allied with the Nazis? Yes, it was, but the entries that filled this journal, they weren’t about the war. They were about monsters.”

“Monsters? Like from the movies?”

“From what I could understand.”

Clara placed a hand on her temple. “Couldn’t he have been talking about the war, though? After all, there were a lot of people who acted like monsters.”

Arion shook his head. “That’s the curious part. I didn’t get the sense it was meant to be metaphorical. ‘Monster’ is my translation, but the Romanian word he chose to use was bală.” He pointed to a line on one of the pages spread out in front of Clara. “The word has several other meanings, though, ones steeped in the folklore of this part of the world.”

“And these other meanings? What are they?”

He didn’t answer. His gaze went to a small red dot dancing across the papers strewn over his desk. It reminded Clara of the inane laser pointer that Adam had used at one time in his lectures until she laughed at him and told him his students weren’t cats. But then an alarm went off inside her brain.

The little red dot wasn’t a pointer.

It was a target.

“Don’t—”

Arion turned toward the window as Clara shouted for him to stop. The glass exploded, and he lurched backward onto the desk, sending a flurry of papers into the air. A bright red flower of blood bloomed across his chest. His head lolled to one side, his unseeing gaze falling on her, his eyes already beginning to glaze over.

Part 2 >>

Pre-order Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book II: Elena today!

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Gračanica. Kosovo, 1689: Elena, an Albanian peasant girl, has sacrificed her own future to keep her family from starving, but one horrific night they are taken from her, murdered by monsters out of her nightmares. She seeks refuge at the nearby monastery, where she meets Stjepan, a Serbian monk familiar with creatures that stalk the night. Elena longs to return to her farm, but piecing her life back together may be impossible. Stjepan draws her into a dark conspiracy involving an ancient brotherhood, and as war looms, a stranger named Lek appears, threatening to overturn everything she thought she knew about her family and herself.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1999: Since surviving the showdown between the vampire Yasamin and the terrorist group Süleyman’s Blade, Adam Mire has lived in hiding, posing as an unassuming Czech librarian. His life is upended again, however, when a new threat arises—one intent on using Dracula’s legacy to unleash another wave of violence across the already war-ravaged nation.

Meanwhile, Clara MacIntosh, the love Adam left behind, has come to Eastern Europe to find him. While tracking him down, she becomes entangled in a string of grisly murders—deaths Adam is investigating as well. As they both follow clues literally written in blood, time runs short to unmask the killer before history comes full-circle and chaos engulfs the region again.