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Meet the Last True Vampire …

August Book of the Month

Chapter One

The vampire knew of no one on the face of the earth that he despised as fervently as the Sortiari. As the self-proclaimed influencers of Fate, Mikhail wondered if his torture somehow assuaged their guilt? Perhaps it justified the murders they’d tasked their lapdogs to commit? Because as far as Mikhail was concerned, the only thing the slayer had accomplished was to further enrage an already rabid beast. Careful in his technique, the false priest took great care as he made a show of purifying Mikhail’s flesh. A torch burned bright in the dark dungeon, the fire casting inhuman shadows as though revealing the slayer’s true face. He touched the flame to Mikhail’s skin again and again as he absolved the vampire of sin in preparation of the killing blow.

Mikhail’s fangs punched down from his gums and a feral growl erupted in his chest. Pain fueled his rage and gave him strength as he fought to free himself from the bonds that restrained him. The silver chains were woven, it was said, with strands of hair from an archangel’s head. Those lies might have worked on the simple folk who lived in the villages, but Mikhail knew that the Sortiari were nothing more than butchers hiding behind the cloister of the Holy See and the church’s myths. The slayer wore an elaborate gold crucifix around his neck, which complemented his black and red robes, giving him the appearance of a man of god. But this creature was no priest and neither were the Sortiari holy. No, the members of this secret society were nothing more than zealots with the resources they required to further their cause thanks to the wealth of the church.

Weakened from a fortnight of torture and starved of blood, Mikhail swayed on his feet, the silver chains the only thing holding him upright. Once a proud warrior, he’d been reduced to a bloodied mass of flesh and raw nerves. How he wanted to sink his fangs into his enemy’s throat and rejoice in the warmth of the slayer’s blood as it flowed over his tongue. He ached for vengeance, for the opportunity to deliver justice to the bastards who’d all but annihilated an entire race. Mikhail thrashed against his bonds, strained at the heavy length of silver that weighed him down and stole his strength. Endless black swallowed the whites of the slayer’s eyes until no color remained and he laughed. A sound that grated in Mikhail’s ears like the scratch of metal on metal.

The slayer paused in his ministrations, a silver dagger dripping with Mikhail’s own blood clenched tight in his fist. “By the will of Fate, we have rid the world of your kind.” The words were spoken as nothing more than a whisper, yet they resonated with the force of an angry shout. “The Sortiari have killed your females, ripped the wombs from their wretched bodies, and burned the abominations growing inside of them in sacred flames. Your warriors are gone, torn limb from limb, their black hearts speared, and the pieces buried in consecrated ground.”

The slayer spoke close to Mikhail’s face, his breath hot and reeking of rancid flesh. A monster stood in this cold, dank dungeon, but it wasn’t the vampire. As the creature in the guise of a human sliced his blade across Mikhail’s torso, cutting away great sheets of his flesh, he saw a glimpse of the beast that simmered beneath the slayer’s skin. Berserker. He could almost laugh at the folly of the church for allying themselves with the Sortiari. Employing the very creatures they sought to vanquish. As pain clouded his mind and stole any sense of reason, Mikhail refused to cry out. He would not show weakness.

“I killed your sire with my own hands, you soulless wretch,” the slayer said with pride. “Your whore as well. And as the last of your kind, you are nothing more than the heir to death. The entirety of your race will end with you.” He dropped the dagger somewhere at his side and from his robes produced a long wooden spike, tipped with silver. “The future waits to do the Sortiari’s bidding. We are Fate.” Holding it in both fists, the slayer held the weapon high above his head, raised to the sky as though in prayer. “May God have mercy on your evil soul,” he snarled as he drove the spike into the vampire’s chest.

Michael Aristov came awake with the setting sun, clutching at his chest. His fingers found the familiar star-shaped scar, burned there by the wooden spike infused with Sortiari magic. Another inch to the left and he would have joined the entirety of his race in whatever afterlife awaited the immortal. Would there be a day of his existence that he didn’t relive that wretched night of torture in his dreams? He collapsed back on his pillow as he attempted to rub the ghost of pain from his sternum. Tonight wasn’t the first night he’d wished the assassin had been better at his job. Death would have been a welcome respite from the pain of isolation and the promise of an eternity of soulless existence.

He swung his legs over the edge of the king-sized bed and let his head hang between his shoulders. How many nights had it been since he’d fed? Twenty? Thirty? Too damned many at any rate. His body ached with hunger, his throat raw and his gut pulsing with a hollow, yet acidic burn that damned near brought him to his knees. With effort, Michael reached for his cell on the bedside table. He scrolled through his contacts and hit send.

“What’s on tap for tonight?” a man answered on the other end.

“I’m going out. Bring the car.” His own voice was gravel spinning in a cement mixer and speaking did little to soothe the fire in his throat.

“Ten minutes?”

Michael’s head spun. His thoughts clouded. If he didn’t feed soon, instinct would overtake him and he’d be unable to control his compulsion to feed. “Make it five.”

“Five minutes, then,” came the reply before the call disconnected.

Arms braced at his sides, Michael pushed himself off the bed. He wobbled on his feet for a moment, lightheaded. The collective hunger of an entire race exhausted his strength and he wondered, if he allowed them all to perish, would he too finally see his end? The slayers hadn’t managed to do the deed four centuries ago; surely he was doomed to the torture of this empty existence for all eternity.

A few stumbling steps took Michael to a control panel on the wall. He pushed a button and the blackout blinds detracted from the floor-to-ceiling windows, revealing the gray twilight that draped the sky as though with the haze of a mourning cloak. Michael gazed out at the gardens beyond his window and the tension constricting his muscles eased by slow degrees. He didn’t miss the sun. The sun was hot, and bright, and punishing. He had no desire to feel the warmth of it on his skin or see the ocean in the daytime, bright and blue in its reflection like the vampires did in the movies. Michael didn’t secretly yearn for a time where he would meet the accursed yellow orb in a glorious display of morning light. The thing he feared—truly resented—was that he had to shut himself up in a tomb to block out those deadly rays. Even in his spacious house, miles from the congestion of the city, he felt suffocated once the blinds went down. And he had that Sortiari bastard to thank for that.

True to his word, Alex pulled up to the front door just a few minutes later. The human was worth every cent of his considerable paycheck: prompt, discreet, and efficient. He never asked questions and he did whatever was required of him. And in a city where gossip paid very, very well, he was a valuable commodity indeed.

“Where to?” Alex asked as he opened the door of the sleek, black town car.

A nice open field in Siberia might be nice. “Take me into the city. Club district.”

Alex inclined his head. “Anywhere in particular?”

He should have found a dhampir to supply a willing vein—that blood would surely sustain him longer—but he didn’t have the patience or energy to deal with his own kin. Keeping company with dhampirs would dredge up too many painful memories for him to stomach. “Wherever’s hot right now. I don’t care about the specifics.”

“Can do.” Alex closed the door and took the driver’s seat. “You do realize things won’t heat up at the clubs for a few hours yet. Tongues will wag whether you’re fashionably late or way too early.”

True, but at this point it hardly mattered. “Like you said, they’ll talk either way. Let’s just get this over with.”

“You’re the boss,” Alex replied as he put the car into gear and began the long trek down Mulholland toward the city.

Michael leaned his head back on the rest as he relaxed against the supple leather interior and closed his eyes. His control was slipping as the thirst mounted, his sanity on the precipice of collapse. The memories of the Ancient Ones assaulted his mind, remnants of lives extinguished by Sortiari slayers. Once he fed, he’d be strong enough to keep the memories at bay, but right now, his mind roared with myriad voices, thoughts, and events of lives in a time long since passed.

“Not much farther,” Alex remarked from the front of the car. “Just hang on.”

Awareness spiked for the briefest moment and a desperate snarl tore from Michael’s throat. The scent of the driver’s blood invaded his nostrils, tempting him beyond reason. His fangs slid down from his gums and it took every ounce of willpower in his control to keep from attacking the man speeding through the city in an effort to see him properly fed. Michael pierced his tongue with one sharp tip. It had been so long since he’d last fed, he didn’t even have a drop of blood in his own body left to spare. His heart was silent in his ribcage, his lungs still. Chest unmoving with breath. He had nothing with which to keep the frenzy in check.

Michael Aristov was the last of the Ancient Ones, untethered and soulless, the lone remaining carrier of the collective memory, and the sole guardian of an orphaned race.

And if he didn’t feed soon, he would be the death of them all.

 

 Don’t miss the first in Kate Baxter’s unmissable Last True Vampire series,

THE LAST TRUE VAMPIRE,

out now in ebook and available 13th August in paperback!