A Trip to Transylvania, Without the Bite

Romanian friends told us this area of medieval villages and fortified churches had little to do with the fiction of “Dracula,” yet the night was turning into a vampirish cliché. In his 1897 novel, the Irish writer Bram Stoker described the Carpathian pass as “an imaginative whirlpool” where every known superstition gathered. I saw how he might get that idea.

Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.

This Goth-Filled Seaside Town Inspired ‘Dracula’

Every October, the English seaside town of Whitby transforms into a page taken right out of a Bram Stoker novel.

All types of subcultures—from goths clad in 19th-century corsets and bustles to steampunks sporting vintage flying goggles—descend on this quiet port for Whitby Goth Weekend, the United Kingdom’s largest goth event.

You can see Whitby Abbey in the background of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book III: Elizabeth.

Courtesy of National Geographic Australia.

The Complete Daughters of Shadow and Blood Trilogy is $9.99 for the Month of October

Daughters of Shadow and Blood – The Complete Trilogy is on sale at Amazon for $9.99 for the month of October. Follow the link to get the e-book box set today!

Buda, Ottoman Hungary, 1599: Yasamin, the naïve daughter of an Ottoman bureaucrat, finds herself trapped in an arranged marriage to the son of the powerful governor of Buda. She is unprepared for the gossip and scheming rampant in the palace but realized she faces more than petty jealousies when someone tries to drown her in the baths the day before her wedding.

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. Even seeking refuge at the nearby monastery, though, is not enough to keep the creatures that stalk the night at bay.

Berlin, Germany, 1878: Lady Elizabeth James, the neglected wife of a British diplomat, receives a disturbing reminder of her past—a calling card bearing her father’s name. But he disappeared ten years earlier, and Elizabeth believes him dead. A murder at the British embassy raises even more questions about her father, and she is soon caught up in a hunt across the city for a brazen killer.

They became known as the Brides of Dracula. You know his story. Now read theirs.

‘Sherlock’ Team Reuniting for New ‘Dracula’ Series

“Dracula” is getting the “Sherlock” treatment, with the writers and producers of the hit BBC detective series reuniting for a new take on the Bram Stoker vampire classic. Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat will write the series, and Sue Vertue’s Hartswood Films will produce.

Fingers crossed. Please let it be good. Please let it be good. Please let it be good.

Courtesy of Variety.

Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book III: Elizabeth is Available Now!

Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple iBooks

The last volume in the saga of the Brides of Dracula is finally here. Get your copy of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book III: Elizabeth today!

Berlin, Germany, 1878: Lady Elizabeth James, the neglected wife of a British diplomat, receives a disturbing reminder of her past—a calling card bearing her father’s name. But he disappeared ten years earlier, and Elizabeth believes him dead. When a murder at the British embassy raises even more questions about her father, Elizabeth finds a number of unlikely allies, including an American named Thomas Parson, a self-styled vampire hunter. She becomes embroiled in an intrigue involving fortunetellers, assassins, and foreign spies, but dark forces threaten her at every turn, and as she discovers, even friends harbor deadly secrets.

Bucharest, Romania, 1999: Adam Mire reels at the abduction of his one-time love, Clara MacIntosh. Left with the admonition to “work faster,” Adam knows he’ll only see Clara again if he can find Dracula’s infamous medallion. Using the clues he’s pieced together, he follows a bloody trail across Romania, but Clara’s time is running out.

Meanwhile, Clara finds herself in a secluded manor house, the captive of a man both seductive and terrifying. Plagued by dreams of Elizabeth’s life in Berlin, Clara works to uncover her mysterious host’s agenda. However, she soon realizes both she and Adam are pawns in the schemes of all three of Dracula’s Brides, and to stop them, someone will have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

 

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

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book III: Elizabeth I am releasing a free excerpt once a week until release day on June 1, 2017. This is Part 4. 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

2 December 1999

Adam paced the study of the safe house like a caged tiger. Arkady Danilovich Markov, special agent for the Russian Orthodox Church, sat in one of the chairs, staring sullenly out the window. Inspector Nikola Gavrilović of the Sarajevo Police sat in the other chair, his fingertips pressed together.

“I’m beginning to share Clara’s opinion of your ‘safe’ houses,” Adam snapped at the Russian.

“So am I, for what it’s worth,” Arkady replied.

“How exactly does something like this happen?” Adam asked. “It was almost dawn. And this place, it has a threshold. A vampire shouldn’t have been able to cross.”

“Humans can, though. If a vampire had helpers like Stjepan did …” Inspector Gavrilović offered.

Stjepan, going by the name of Dragomir, was the three-hundred-year-old vampire leader of the Chetniks, a Serbian ultranationalist organization that had been after Dracula’s medallion. To complicate matters, he was also Elena’s former lover. Yasamin. Elena. A hard lump formed in the pit of Adam’s stomach. In Dracula, there were three brides.

“Also remember, a strong enough vampire can tolerate sunlight for a short amount of time,” Inspector Gavrilović continued, “especially at sunrise, when the light is not too strong. That’s one thing Bram Stoker got right.”
“In any event,” Arkady added, “Greta’s wounds could also have been made by something other than a vampire.”

Adam shook his head. “We didn’t find any blood.”

Arkady shrugged. “She could have been killed some-where else and brought here.”

Adam narrowed his eyes. “So what are you saying? You don’t think there are any vampires involved in this? Need I remind you what is pained on the wall downstairs?”

Arkady sighed. “What I’m saying is that we don’t know. Jumping to conclusions could get us killed. Or Clara.”

“So what do you suggest we do?”

“Inspector Gavrilović and I will work our contacts for now, and you should do what the note said, work faster.”

“That’s it? Clara is in danger. She could be anywhere now.” Adam plumbed the depths of his rage. “You could at least act like you care.”

Arkady shot up from the chair, his face suddenly red, his teeth clenched. “Do not ever question me again about that.” His face fell, and he sat back down. “I care. I’m just responsible for keeping you from doing something stupid.”

Adam grabbed his coat and headed for the door.

“What are you doing?” Arkady asked.

“Something stupid,” Adam replied. “I’m going for a walk. I need some air.”

“You really shouldn’t,” the inspector said, “until we know what we’re facing—”

Adam jabbed a finger in the inspector’s direction. “Don’t you start, too. I’ll be back before dark, and then I’ll ‘work faster.’”

He slammed the door behind him a little harder than he intended. Outside the air was crisp, but there was no breeze, so he found the cold bearable. He put one foot in front of the other without giving much thought to where he was going. Arkady’s new safe house, where they had moved after the first one was compromised, was in Sarajevo’s Stari Grad, or Old City. The streets were narrow, and buildings crowded the sidewalk. A few hardy tourists strolled about, admiring the store windows decorated for Christmas.

Adam was busy thinking about the books, running through possibilities in his mind. He didn’t understand how he was supposed to “work faster.” He was no closer to solving the clues to the whereabouts of the medallion than when he has started. And yet he had to wonder if he had missed something. A simple golden trinket couldn’t have caused so much death.

Lost in thought, Adam wandered from the shopping district and onto a residential street lined with trees. The sun went behind the clouds, and the temperature dropped. On the other side of the street, a couple walked. Something seemed odd about them, but Adam couldn’t place his finger on it.

As they drew closer, Adam slowed, trying to get a better look. They were huddled against the cold. The man covered his chin and mouth with a scarf. Only his eyes remained visible. The woman’s blond hair peeked from underneath her fur hat. She wore a scarf as well, but left her mouth and nose exposed. As they passed, she turned her head to look at him.

Adam held his breath. He flashed back to the beautiful Russian agent who had saved his life months earlier. Her name had been Anya, and she was dead, a fact that still gnawed at him.

After the couple passed, Adam craned his neck to watch them retreat. When they were some distance away, the sun came out again from behind the clouds, and the air warmed, at least a little. The woman didn’t show any signs of recognizing him. Still something unsettled Adam. He decided to return to the safe house.

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

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book III: Elizabeth I am releasing a free excerpt once a week until release day on June 1, 2017. This is Part 3. Read Part 1 and Part 2 here. I hope you enjoy! Please share and order your copy today!

THREE

Near Berlin, Germany

6 June 1878

The bump in the road jolted Elizabeth awake. The slow rocking of the carriage and the rhythm of the horses’ hooves had lulled her to sleep. She looked out the window and immediately knew something was wrong. Even the light of the full moon wasn’t enough to penetrate the murky woods crowding the road on either side. Friedrich, the driver, had said they would make Berlin by sundown.

She leaned out as far as she dared and called to him. “Friedrich, where are we?”
He didn’t answer.

“Friedrich, is something wrong? Shouldn’t we be in Berlin by now?”

Again no answer.

Elizabeth tried one last time. “Friedrich, are we lost?”

At that moment, she caught a glimpse of something in the woods out of the corner of her eye, something that worried her more than Friedrich’s failure to answer. A few seconds later, it appeared again, a shadow, darker than the darkness itself, keeping pace with the carriage. It was following them, and it wasn’t the only one. All around her, yips and hoots pierced the night, and then a full-throated howl. The horses whinnied. The carriage lurched. Friedrich struggled to keep it under control.

The wolf howled again, joined by others this time. The carriage pitched to one side and then the other as the horses panicked. Friedrich fought as hard as he could to keep them from bolting, but ultimately lost. The carriage careened to the left and crashed onto its side.

Elizabeth lay there momentarily, listening to the horses’ hooves as they galloped away. Something warm and wet ran down her cheek. She winced when she reached up to touch it.

Elizabeth twisted herself around until she could stand. With some effort, she managed to push open the door on the side of the carriage facing up, and with even more effort, more than Elizabeth thought she was capable of, she lifted herself out of the overturned vehicle.

The horses were gone, and there was no sign of Friedrich. Elizabeth gingerly placed a foot on the carriage’s running board in order to climb down, but the barks and the yips returned. All around her in the woods, pairs of yellow eyes glowed. Emerging from the dimly lit tree line, a dozen smoke-grey wolves surrounded the ruined carriage. Teeth bared and growling, they inched toward her, making the circle smaller and smaller.

The largest lunged at her, catching the hem of her dress in its teeth. It tried to pull her off the carriage, but her dress tore, and the animal fell back. Elizabeth fell, too, and almost met her end at the jaws of another wolf taking the opportunity to spring at her. Sooner or later, one of them would succeed in pulling her down.

A gunshot shattered the night. The wolves broke rank, turning their attention from her. A moment later, another gunshot sent the pack scattering back into the woods. Elizabeth looked in the direction of the shots to see three men on coal-black horses emerge from the darkness. Gypsies.

The one in front barked something in a language she didn’t understand, and the three of them stopped. The leader dismounted and walked toward her. His piercing green eyes and long nose gave his face a hawk-like appearance, even over an ample brown mustache. At the base of the carriage, he made a dramatic bow and offered his hand to her. Elizabeth slipped her hand in his, and he helped her down off the carriage.

“Are you all right, my lady?” he asked in strangely accented German.

“Yes,” Elizabeth replied in her own tentative German. “Thank you for scaring off the wolves.”

The man smiled. “I simply could not let you be devoured. It would have been ungentlemanly.” His smile melted away, replaced by a look of concern. He reached up to touch her cheek. “My lady, we must get you some help. You have been hurt.”

“It’s just a scratch,” Elizabeth said.

The man shook his head. “No, our camp is not far from here. I insist that you come with us. We’ll have someone look at it there.”

He helped her onto the back of his horse. They followed the road for a while, then without warning turned off into the undergrowth. The Gypsy’s companions did the same. Startled, Elizabeth clutched the man’s midsection. She could feel his compact and powerful muscles as he guided the horse over a trail she never would have seen on her own. They wound their way deeper into the woods, into a world completely foreign to Elizabeth. The moon shown down in patches through the trees, spotlighting odd vignettes—a half-fallen tree with its branches turned to grow upward toward the sky, a thicket of shrubs with bright red berries, a massive oak tree with branches so heavy, they almost touched the ground. Unfamiliar sounds filled the air around her, too—not the night noises of the city, but crickets, owls, and bats.

The nearly invisible trail reminded Elizabeth of the stories her father used to tell her about fairy roads in England that appeared and disappeared without warning. If a hapless traveler took one of them, he would find himself in a different realm entirely, where the fairies ruled and where our world’s rules of logic held no sway. Only a very few ever came back from that world.

Soon, an orange glow emerged from the darkness ahead. They came upon a clearing where the Gypsies had set up camp. The man dismounted and helped Elizabeth off the horse. He walked over to a group of women and spoke to them in the same language he had used with the men earlier.

A few minutes later, he returned and spoke to her in his accented German, “Magda will show you where you can sleep tonight. Tomorrow, we will take you into the city.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said again.

He took her hand and kissed it. “I would not be a man if I did not give aid to a beautiful woman in distress.”

As he turned to walk away she called after him. “Wait. I have to know your name. Please.”

“Alexej,” he replied before disappearing among the others in the camp.

A plump older woman led her to a small tent with blankets and pillows, and almost immediately, someone thrust a cup of some hot liquid into her hands. It smelled like cloves and honey. Elizabeth sipped while the Gypsy woman carefully dabbed the blood from her cheek with a cloth soaked in warm water. She stayed up listening to the Gypsy music as they played their instruments and sang in their peculiar language. She drifted to sleep with the music’s rhythms running through her head.

 

“Lady James.”

Elizabeth woke with a start. She looked up to see Friedrich’s concerned face from where she still lay in the overturned carriage. The sky overhead was several shades lighter than she remembered.

“Lady James,” Friedrich repeated. “Don’t worry. Help has arrived.”

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

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book III: Elizabeth I am releasing a free excerpt once a week until release day on June 1, 2017. This is Part 2. Read Part 1 here. I hope you enjoy! Please share and order your copy today!

TWO

Near Cluj, Romania

2 December 1999

Clara opened her eyes to find herself in a room Dracula would have been proud of. She lay in a giant four-poster bed covered in satin and silk and velvet. The room was long, with tall windows on one side. Opposite was a fireplace, framed in stone, in front of it two overstuffed chairs. There was also a bookshelf and writing desk in the room. Deep reds and dark woods dominated.

Clara threw back the covers and stepped across the wood floor to one of the windows. She looked out over a narrow snow-covered lawn, and beyond it a forest of bare trees. She had seen the same scene in any of a thousand paintings of the Eastern European landscape.

Her mind ran over the events that had brought her there. She made Adam go to bed and get some rest. Sleep had been her intention as well when she heard a noise downstairs in the townhouse. She thought Arkady might have returned, or perhaps Greta had chosen to come in early. When she went downstairs, though she didn’t see anything. She was about to return to her room when she heard the noise again. This time it was distinct—a knock at the door. She knew better than to answer. A sense of dread crept over her as the knocking continued. She backed away. Her hand went to the crucifix around her neck, the one Arkady had given her.

The knocking continued as shadows moved in front of the windows. Clara was about to call for Adam when a gloved hand closed over her mouth, and a harsh voice whispered in her ear, “You should have been paying attention to the other door.”

After that she didn’t remember anything until she had awoken in the room. She tested all the windows. The sashes were nailed shut, and in any event, she was on an upper floor, too high to drop to the ground below.

Behind her the room’s only door opened. She turned to find a man standing in the doorway. He was dressed more for the nineteenth century than the twentieth, in a black waistcoat with a red cravat. A streak of white ran through his black hair, from the tip of his widow’s peak to behind his left ear. He moved like a wolf prowling, and Clara caught herself watching his muscles tensing and flexing underneath his clothes.

He gave a slight bow “Welcome, Dr. MacIntosh. I trust the accommodations are to your liking?”

Clara couldn’t place his accent. She knew only it wasn’t Eastern European. “Where am I? Who are you?”

“We’re in the middle of a forest,” the man answered with a lopsided smile, “in a manor house that dates back to the eighteenth century, once owned by Hungarian nobles.”

“That’s … that’s not what I meant,” she stammered, “and you didn’t answer my second question.”

He grinned again, baring his teeth. “Not now. All you need to know is that I’m your host.” He glanced at the ta-ble next to the bed. “I’ll see you’re brought something to eat. Please, try to enjoy your stay. You may as well. You’ll probably be here for a while.”

He left her, locking the door behind him.

The sun had just set when the door opened again. Clara sat in the bed with the blankets pulled around her. With the loss of the light, the temperature in the room plummeted. An older man entered and set a tray of food on the table next to the bed. Then he began to stack wood in the fireplace. He barely looked at her.

While the man set about preparing a fire, she forced herself to ignore the rich aroma wafting from the food despite her protesting stomach.

“Excuse me,” she said. “What’s your name? What is this place?”

The man didn’t answer. Clara tried again in German. Still she received no response. When the man left a fire roared in the fireplace, and the room gradually warmed. She turned her attention to the tray of food to discover some sort of meaty red stew and a hunk of crusty bread. Clara almost gagged on the first spoonful at the amount of paprika, but she forced herself to eat, and the second spoonful she found more tolerable. About halfway through she began to enjoy the stew.

After she finished eating, Clara walked to the window again. Outside the crescent moon hung low in the sky, just above the trees, and the stars shone brightly. Frost spider-webbed its way across the glass. Shadowy figures moved among the naked trees in the woods.

When she turned around, the man in the black waist-coat sat in one of the chairs next to the fireplace.

“Please, have a seat,” he said, motioning to the other chair.

“I don’t think I want to do that.” She did want to, though.

He was dressed much as before, except the cravat was gone, and the collar of his shirt was open. Her eyes traced the line of his collarbone to his broad chest. The light from the fire never quite reached his face. The shadows flickered and darted around him.

“Please,” he repeated. “We have much to discuss.”

“Like what?”

He stood and walked towards her, his predator’s gait even more pronounced. “Really, now, you needn’t fear me. If we took some time to get to know one another, I’m sure you’d find we share quite a few of the same goals.”

He stood over her looking down, his face just inches from her. He smelled like cinnamon and sage, and even though something in the back of her head told her it ought not be, she could feel the heat coming off his body. She tried to back away, but there was nowhere to go. “I’m not going to hurt you. I want you to trust me.”

“That’s a little hard to do when I’m being held prisoner.”

He reached out and took her hand in his. “Only out of necessity. Maybe, soon we can alter that arrangement.”

Clara shivered as a wave of electricity passed through her body. Her heart fluttered, and her cheeks grew hot. “What do you mean? Where are Adam and Arkady? Did you do something to them?”

“I assure you they are alive and healthy, but you needn’t worry about them. They may have other worries at the moment.” He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “You could come to like it here.”

Her gaze shifted to the moonlit scene outside. “I doubt that.”

With his other hand he caressed her cheek. “Perhaps I’m rushing things. I should give you some time. I know you don’t understand everything now, but you will soon.”

And with that he backed out of the room and closed the door, leaving her alone again. Only she didn’t feel like she was alone.

Clara climbed back into the bed and pulled the covers over her head. As she drifted off to sleep, a wolf howled, and when she dreamt, she dreamt she was someone else, somewhere else, in a time long past. Wolves howled there, too, and shadows moved in the darkness more dangerous than the wolves by far.

Part 3>>

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

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book III: Elizabeth I am releasing a free excerpt once a week until release day on June 1, 2017. This is Part 1. I hope you enjoy! Please share and order your copy today!

PROLOGUE

Târgoviște, Romania

29 December 1989

No one flees to Dracula’s Castle. Not without a very good reason.
When the Romanian people finally rose up against Nicolae Ceaușescu and drove him from Bucharest, the Communist dictator and his wife headed for Târgoviște in a helicopter. When the military forced the helicopter to land, the Ceaușescus commandeered not one but two different vehicles trying to get to the old castle that was once the stronghold of Vlad the Impaler.

Something was there. Maybe something they believed could keep them in power.

But they were gone now, executed after a hasty show trial, one held in the castle.

Why were they so desperate to get here?

Gabriel Popescu planned to find out.

Clouds obscured the night sky, but still the pale light of the full moon filtered through, casting shadows across the stone ruins as Gabriel made his way silently across what once had been a courtyard. Ahead the Chindia Tower loomed, built by Vlad himself. Gabriel covered his mouth with his gloved hand to keep his breath from coming out in white clouds.

Some would consider it ill advised to visit the place at night. Even if one didn’t believe in vampires, which Gabriel didn’t, most believed the place was best avoided after sunset. Horrible things had happened there and had left a taint in the air. Most people could sense it, even if they didn’t have a name for it. Even though Gabriel didn’t feel anything unnatural, the stories made him wary.

In his line of work it was good to be wary.

He probed the base of the tower first, trudging around the outside, looking for loose mortar or any obviously newer stones. He didn’t really expect such a search to bear fruit. After all, Ceaușescu was wily. He had held onto power for over forty years and had the resources of an entire nation at his disposal. He would not be so careless, but at the same time Gabriel would never forgive himself for missing something obvious.

After circling the tower and finding nothing, he came to a small wooden door. The lock took him only a few sec-onds to pick. On the other side, a circular set of stairs led upward into the darkness. Gabriel climbed, sweeping his pen light in front of him. About a third of the way up, he found an irregular stone in the wall, but a brief examina-tion proved it to be nothing special. He was about to pro-ceed when he saw a shadow move out of the corner of his eye. Ahead of him a window broke the monotony of the curved stone wall. Charcoal grey clouds moved against the inky sky. Just a cloud drifting in front of the moon, or so he reasoned. He shook his head and continued up.

Running his hands over the stones he had to wonder. Of any place, the tower made the most sense. It would be like Ceaușescu to place something of importance in Dracula’s stronghold. Gabriel had spent the last several days speculating, running through the possibilities. Gold was his best guess. If so, he’d have to return another night to retrieve it. Currency was another conjecture, though he doubted Romanian leus would be worth the effort. Better to be Russian rubles or German marks. State secrets offered another possibility. Intelligence the Russians or the Americans might pay for. Imminently more dangerous, but enough to allow him to buy a Greek Island and retire from the burglary business for good.

He had almost reached the top when the shadows moved again in his peripheral vision. He told himself it was merely another trick of the light. No one else was there besides him. Still he continued a little more cautiously. When he came to the end of the stairs, he pushed open the heavy door that led to the roof. The wind bit into him as he emerged. The clouds rushed across the sky. Around him the entire valley spread out.
Gabriel had another view in mind, though.

He scanned the floor for almost an hour until he discovered what he was looking for. One of the stones in the floor appeared worn, as if it had been there for five hundred years—a clever bit of camouflage—but the filtered moonlight revealed the obvious difference. The composition was not the same. The color of the tiny shimmering crystals in the rock was just slightly off. Gabriel smiled. It was nice to know he wasn’t out of practice.

He knelt over the stone and ran his fingers around the edges. There didn’t appear to be any gaps in the mortar, but looks could be deceiving. He probed the stones around the rock, seeking some hidden mechanism, until he felt one small stone give. He pushed down, and then a hand clamped over his mouth.

ONE

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

2 December 1999

Adam didn’t look up when the door opened, or when the cup of coffee appeared on his desk in one of the few places not covered by papers and books. He muttered a thank-you as he reached for the cup, only to have it jerked away. He looked up to find Clara glaring at him.

“What?” he asked.

“Do you even know what time it is?”

Adam glanced out the window of the study into the darkness. “Nighttime.”

Clara rolled her eyes. “It’s four o’clock in the morning. When was the last time you slept?”

“Not sure. What are you doing up?”

“I couldn’t sleep,” she replied.

“So, neither can I.”

“Really?” She crossed her arms. “In forty-eight hours?”

Adam surveyed the pile of papers on the desk. “I’m almost there.”

Clara reached over and shut the book in his hand. “You’ve said that for over a month. Now you need to get to sleep.” She wrinkled her nose. “Right after you take a shower.”

Adam smirked. “You’re not my mother.”

She sighed. “Come on Adam. You’ve been killing your-self trying to find Dracula’s medallion.” She picked up a piece of paper with Adam’s handwriting, a grid of letters. “What’s this?”

“It’s a table for a Vigenère cipher.”

“You think there’s some sort of code in these books?”

Several months earlier, Adam had received a worn copy of Dracula from his deceased friend Mihai Iliescu. The book was the first in a string of clues that led him on a scavenger hunt across the Balkans—a scavenger hunt with a high body count. Adam collected several books Mihai had left for him, in addition to confronting Yasamin, one of the women Bram Stoker immortalized as a Bride of Dracula.

“A code makes sense,” he replied. “There are random letters and words circled in all the books, including The Giaour, the one everyone said was the key, but the problem is that we don’t know what exactly the key is.”

The Giaour, an epic poem by Lord Byron and one of the first vampire stories in the West, was the last book Mihai wanted Adam to find, but it had been misplaced, and acquiring it meant working with another of Dracula’s Brides, the beguiling Elena. That encounter nearly cost Adam his life as well.

“Chances are you’re not going to figure it out in the next hour,” Clara said. “It can wait until you get some sleep.”

“Have you heard from Arkady?” Adam asked.

Clara shook her head. “Not yet, but he said he’d be out-of-pocket for a few days. He’ll send word soon I’m sure. Inspector Gavrilović did stop by earlier.”

“What did he say?”

“He said you need to go to bed.”

Adam sighed and stood up. “Fine. You’re probably right. A few more hours won’t make a difference at this point.”

He trudged out of the room, with Clara close behind. “Thank you,” he said.

She cocked her head to the side. “For what?”

“For looking out for me.”

The corners of her mouth turned up in a weak smile. “It’s what I do, it seems.”

Adam shut the door to his room and collapsed onto the bed, realizing only then how tired he was. Clara was right, of course. He had been pushing himself hard, maybe too hard, and he needed a break to get his thinking back on track.

He smiled wistfully as he gazed up at the ceiling. She had ended their relationship, and she’d had good reasons for doing so, but if it weren’t for Clara, he’d likely be dead. She came to find him when no one else would, and she stayed even after learning why he had left his entire life in the States behind. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep thinking, as always, of what might have been.

 

When Adam opened his eyes again, the sunlight punched through the gaps in his curtains. He pushed him-self up and staggered to the bathroom, dutifully following Clara’s orders to take a shower and wondering why he didn’t hear anyone else in the house.

Usually in the morning the housekeeper came, a dour woman named Greta. The only joy she ever seemed to take was in making as much noise as possible, banging pots in the kitchen and moving furniture emphatically, just to wake him up. Even after Adam stepped out of the shower, there was only silence in the townhouse.

“Clara,” Adam called as he came down the stairs. “Clara, are you there?”

Silence still.

When Adam reached the bottom of the stairs, he knew something was wrong. All of the clean, white furniture he had come to accept as part of the Russian government’s string of safe houses was overturned, and something even more chilling greeted Adam—smeared in red on the wall, a dragon curved in a circle, with its tail wrapped around its neck, the symbol of the Order of the Dragon, the symbol that gave Dracula his name.

Then he spotted an arm protruding from underneath an overturned chair, and his heart leaped into his throat. He ran over and pulled the chair off to find Greta. Some-thing had ripped her throat out. Something with big teeth. Adam covered his mouth and nose to keep from retching. A piece of paper was stuffed in her hand. Two words writ-ten in an exquisitely detailed hand seared into his mind.

Work faster.

Part 2 >>