Swear is the final book in the My Blood Approves series, and it will be out November 9, 2016. Since it is the final book, I would not recommend reading the excerpt if you have not read the previous books, and since this is first three chapters of Swear, it will basically be just one giant SPOILER for the first four books in the series. So read on at your own risk.
A cold mist settled over the city as I walked. The lights on the buildings made them glow red along either side of the canal, which was perfect for my vampire vision. Not that any of the tourists that strolled along seemed to have any problem getting around or minded the chill in the air.
Bobby trailed a few feet behind me, with the bag of my gear slung over his shoulder, should I need it. Not that I thought I would tonight. It was just a house call to one of our regulars, so to speak. But with vampire hunting, you could never be too sure.
His black bangs fell haphazardly across his forehead, hiding a scar above his eyebrow from one of our more recent scuffles with a rogue vampire. When I had first met him, he’d been a scrawny twenty-year-old struggling art student dating my kid brother. Since then, he had added a few scars, several new tattoos, and about twenty pounds of muscle – and in the process, he had become one of my closest friends.
I’d told him if he wanted to help me out on my missions, he needed to be able to handle himself better, and he had emphatically complied. Eventually, he’d dropped out of school to train and work with me full time.
While both my brother Milo and I had both been initially skeptical that a human like Bobby would be helpful, he’d actually saved my life a few times. Whether it be watching my back, tossing me a titanium stake, or bringing the getaway vehicle just in time, Bobby had become indispensable to my work as a hunter.
It was hard to believe it had been just over five years since we’d left Minnesota behind for good. The first couple years we spent bouncing around Europe, trying to find some place that worked for all four of us. But when we stopped at Amsterdam, it was the first place that really felt like home for us, so we hadn’t left.
Since then, many of my nights had been spent patrolling the Singelgebied district with its garish red lights and scantily clad women dancing in storefronts. It was an area renowned for selling sex, but that wasn’t the kind of prostitution that kept Bobby and I occupied late at night.
“This shouldn’t take too long, right?” Bobby asked, not for the first time since we’d left the apartment.
“I told you that you could’ve stayed back tonight,” I reminded him. “It’s just a noise complaint. It should just be a quick in and out job.”
“No, no,” he insisted. “If something were to happen to you before this weekend, your brother would never forgive me.”
I shot him a look. “Yeah, and if something happens to you before this weekend, Milo would never forgive either of us.”
“Right. So let’s neither of us get hurt tonight.”
“It’s a deal,” I agreed as we reached our destination.
At the end of the canal was a building that looked much like the neighboring buildings surrounding it. A historic but squat brick rectangle smashed between two others. Though it would be indistinguishable to the human eye, I could tell the red light out front was several shades darker than the rest on the street.
A wrought iron sign above the door declared the name – Darah Merah. I knocked on the heavy front door, and a hulking mass of a human bodyguard opened it.
Since this was about the hundredth time I’d been called to Darah Merah, I had met this particular bodyguard many times before, but he always stared at me from under his protruding forehead like he’d just woken up from a caveman slumber and couldn’t remember what other people looked like.
“Ottaline sent for me,” I began, but the words had barely escaped my mouth when Ottaline appeared, pushing her guard out of the way.
“What took you so long?” she demanded in her distinctive voice. It was raspy with a thick Russian accent, so she ended up sound like the Moscow version of Kathleen Turner.
Ottaline Rebane was a vampire Madame, a job she’d held for over half of the 285 years she’d been alive. Standing several inches taller than me, she had a regal elegance to her. Her blonde hair was short and loose, and she always wore flowy garments, like a satin robe draped over a long negligee.
“We came as soon as we got the call,” I said as she ushered Bobby and me into the lush parlor room.
“What seems to be the problem tonight?” Bobby asked.
Ottaline’s frantic blue eyes darted toward the stairwell. The place was filled with vampires feeding on humans, so it was hard to distinguish heartbeats from another, and there was the faint scent of blood permeating the building.
“It’s a new client,” Ottaline explained, with her eyes still locked on the stairwell. “She took one of my best beethoers upstairs, and there was screaming, and now she won’t let me in.”
Beethoer was the Dutch expression for blood whore. Ottaline ran a solid operation, as far as brothels for vampires go. Her young ladies were well taken care of, and she tried to protect them from more violent clientele. Which is why she’d called upon the services of Bobby and me.
Ottaline wasn’t much of a fighter herself, and the bodyguard at the door was just to keep out human riffraff. So when things got out of hand, we came to put the vampires in their place, preferably before humans were injured. Most of the time, we were able to do it without killing anyone, but not always.
“Which room are they in?” I asked, heading toward the stairs.
“It’s just right – ” Ottaline began, but the sound of wood exploding interrupted her.
The vampire had broken through the bedroom door, sending wooden shrapnel flying everywhere, and with blood dripping down her face and a crazed look in her eyes, she charged right toward me.
When the vampire ran at me, I leapt toward her, and before she even realized what was happening, I had my hand around her throat and pinned her to the wall.
Months of training with Olivia back in Minnesota taught me to harness my power as a dhampyr-turned-vampire, and now I moved faster and fought harder than most other vampires. I had become the top of the food chain.
The vampire I was fighting appeared young in human years – maybe her early twenties – and the wild hunger in her dark brown eyes led me to believe she hadn’t been a vampire for that long, either.
I held her high on the wall, so her feet dangled uselessly above the stairs. Her eyes were wide with surprise, and blood trickled down from her full lips. Futilely, she clawed at my hands. Her hard nails dug into my flesh, tearing it way, but I would not budge or loosen my grip.
Bobby reached over and handed me a titanium stake, and with my free hand, I pressed it into her chest, just hard enough to pierce the skin. Her eyes flashed with rage, but she finally slacked against the wall.
Ottaline raced up the stairs passed me, going to check on the beethoers and help them if they needed it.
“Who are you?” the vampire asked, her voice thick with a Spanish accent.
“I’m here to keep order,” I replied in a firm growl. “And I’ll be your worst nightmare if you cross me.”
“She’s okay!” Ottaline called from upstairs, where she was tending to the vampire’s victim. “She lost some blood, but I can patch her up.”
At the top of the stairs, a few beethoers had gathered together, some of them holding hands. They were all beautiful young women, with fading bite marks on their necks and arms. I knew there were a few guys here as well, but women were far and away the most popular to work as living blood bags.
“You’re lucky she survived, or it would be worse for you,” I warned the vampire I had pinned to the wall.
“I knew I didn’t kill her,” the vampire insisted. “Will you let me down now?”
“As long as you promise to behave,” I said.
She grunted a reply, so I let go, and she fell to the stairs. The sound of her thumping against the wood caused the beethoers to scatter, running down the hall to the safety of their rooms.
“Who are you?” I asked.
As she stood up, she rubbed her throat, which would’ve turned into a dark bruise if she were human, but her vampire blood would have it healed before it even had the chance to leave a mark.
“Iris Emmanuel,” she said, glancing uneasily between Bobby and me. “Who are you people?”
“Alice.” I pointed the titanium stake at myself, then to Bobby. “Bobby. We come around when things get out of control to make sure humans don’t get hurt. What happened?”
“I was hungry,” Iris said defensively. “What does it matter to you if these humans are hurt? They’re only putas and a waste.”
I stepped closer to her, and she shrank back. “All lives have value, and since humans are fragile, they deserve our protection most of all.”
“So you work for the humans?” Iris sneered at me. “It figures.”
“I don’t work for the humans,” I corrected her. “But if I were you, I would steer clear of Darah Merah and its employees until you get a better handle of yourself and learn some respect.”
She rolled her eyes, so I grabbed her shoulder and slammed her back into the wall, forcing her to look up at me.
“Do you understand?” I demanded.
Iris nodded. “Can I go now?”
“Clean yourself up,” I commanded but let go of her.
She wiped the blood off her mouth with the back of her arm, then cast one last angry glare at me before departing out the front door.
I went upstairs to check on her victim. The door to the bedroom had been totally destroyed, with splinters of wood everywhere, and Ottaline had moved the girl down to the recovery room at the end of the hall.
It was styled like the other bedrooms in the brothel, all Victorian and elegant, except this room was outfitted with a hospital bed, a fridge, and a cabinet filled with supplies. The girl was lying on the bed, looking pale with a terrible gnawing bite mark on her neck, and an IV running blood into her arm.
“She’ll be okay,” Ottaline repeated, running a damp washcloth over the girl’s face. “I take care of my girls here.”
“I know,” I said, but looking at the girl in the bed like that, it still made me queasy.
My mind couldn’t help but flash back to my best friend Jane, and how she’d become addicted to vampire bites before eventually being murdered by one. She had died over five and a half years ago, and her death still haunted me.
Much like the regular old legalized prostitution that surrounded us, Darah Merah was a mixed bag of empowerment, degradation, and more than a few casualties. At least the young ladies here knew what they were doing, and Ottaline did her best to set perimeters and keep them healthy and safe.
Still, it was something that I could never completely stomach.
Ottaline stopped fretting over the girl to look back at me. “Thank you again, Alice. You know we’d be lost here without your aide.”
“It’s no problem.” I tried to brush it off. “Just let me know if you have any more trouble.”
“Of course.” Ottaline smiled and turned her attention back to the girl.
Bobby was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs, attempting to make small talk with the guard, but it wasn’t going well.
“So you never watch any football?” Bobby was asking him. He leaned back on the banister and arched an eyebrow at the guard, who stood stoic with his hands folded in front of him. He’d barely even reacted when I’d been fighting with Iris.
“Nein,” the guard grunted in response.
“But everybody watches football!” Bobby insisted. “That’s insanity.”
“I don’t think he wants to chat,” I told Bobby as I reached them, and I fixed my guys on the German Neanderthal. “We’re done here. Can you make sure that Iris Emmanuel doesn’t come back in?”
“My job is simple – don’t let humans in, and take orders from Ottaline,” he replied in his thick accent without looking at me. “I will wait to hear what Ottaline says on this matter, and then I will do as she says.”
“Alright.” I patted him on the shoulder as I walked past, because I knew it would annoy the crap out of him. “Good talk.”
We stepped out into the cool June night, and Bobby zipped up his Member’s Only jacket to keep the chill out.
“See?” I told him as we walked quickly down the road, back toward the office near the center of the city. “I told you it wouldn’t be that long.”
“I knew you were right,” he agreed. “But Milo is still going to be freaking out.”
“Considering what you guys have going on this weekend, Milo’s going to be nonstop freaking out the entire time no matter what,” I replied.
On the third floor of a glass and concrete building that blended in with every other one in downtown Amsterdam, the Agency took up a small suite of offices. The plaque outside the front door read “The Stoker & Hawthorn Agency,” and it acted under the guise of being an ad agency (one that was always too busy to ever take on new clients, of course).
But most of us just referred to it as the Agency. It was easier that way.
The lobby was cool and modern, looking like something out of a high-end Ikea floorshow. It could’ve easily passed for any other company in the city, except for the odd hours it kept. Someone was always working, fielding calls or directing orders or keeping records here at the Agency. Vampire hunting was a twenty-four-hour operation.
Usually when I came in, the place was empty, except for the assistant behind the front desk, and today was no different. Sabine dutifully typed away at the computer when we arrived, and she smiled at me and Bobby. She was a human girl in her early twenties who always wore a pair of oversized square prescription glasses, which she tended to readjust more when she was nervous.
“Good evening, Ms. Bonham,” she said. “Mr. Swanson. Did everything go alright on your errand tonight?”
I smiled at her. “As well as it could go.”
“Ms. Lefèvre is out for the evening, but Mr. Driscoll is back in his office, if you’d like to see him,” Sabine explained.
She always spoke very proper, reminding me of a secretary from the 1960s, and I wondered if she had been deliberately trained that way. I had no idea who her immediate supervisor was, since I didn’t deal much with the day-to-day stuff, but I knew most of the employees were vampires, so it would make sense if her boss had a particular fondness for a bygone era.
“Mr. Driscoll will be great,” I replied, matching her formality. “Can I just go right back?”
“Of course. I believe he’s expecting you.”
Ettie Lefèvre was the head of this region’s Agency, and I met with her most of the time. But when she was out, Abner Driscoll usually stood in her place. He was the highest ranking field agent, and he’d actually been the one to poach me for the Agency.
Initially, when I first began my path of vampire hunting, I hadn’t wanted to work for any official group or corporation. I had a terrible run-in with three “vampire hunters” who only cared about money, not helping anyone but themselves. They’d nearly killed my brother and my boyfriend and assaulted my whole family, before Peter and I had gotten the best of them and killed them.
I had started training with Olivia because I wanted to be able to protect myself and my family, but after the vampire hunters attacked us, I realized there were so many other vampires and humans that needed protection. So I wanted to do my part to help.
I’d started out as a free agent, but eventually Abner had approached me about joining their operation. I’d been cautious at first, but he was kind and had this goodness about him. He promised me that I’d never have to take any jobs I wasn’t comfortable with, and that they could provide backup and safety for my loved ones.
So I couldn’t turn it down. I had started working for the Agency a little over three years ago, and I hadn’t regretted it once.
Abner’s office was at the end of the hall. It was the smallest office in the suite, and he kept it sparsely furnished in an odd blend of antique and ramshackle. The shades were half-closed, and only his small desk lamp lit up the room, giving his office a very noir feel to it.
But really, that fit Abner perfectly. He’d turned into a vampire at the beginning of the twentieth century, and he had this air about him that always reminded me of Humphrey Bogart. Though, he had a more youthful appearance and more handsome face than Bogart, with large gray eyes, a strong roman nose, and perfectly coiffed ashy blond hair.
He smiled when I knocked on his open door, and he rose to his feet as Bobby and I came into his office.
“That was a quick one,” he said, gesturing to the chairs in front of his desk. “Ottaline already called with the report.”
I hesitated before taking a seat. “Was it a good report?”
“Naturally. Ottaline’s always happy with the work you do.”
“I told Alice when the call came in tonight that Ottaline just wanted to see me again.” Bobby was joking, but he wasn’t entirely off base. Ottaline had expressed a particular fondness for him in the past, saying he reminded her of her long deceased son.
“Did you find out anything about the culprit?” Abner had come around his desk and leaned back against it, half-sitting on it. “Ottaline said it wasn’t anyone she was familiar with.”
“Her name was Iris Emmanuel. She didn’t look very old, so I suspect that she just didn’t know how to control her bloodlust yet,” I said.
“She did seem to have a particular disdain for humans,” Bobby added. “She seemed really disgusted when she thought you were working for us.”
Abner frowned. “There has been a recent uptick in anti-humanism. I don’t know why exactly, but I definitely think it’s something we should keep an eye on.”
“I’ll be sure to a make a note of it I hear anything,” I promised.
“It’s always better to be safe than sorry,” he said, then turned his attention to Bobby. “At least you had a relatively easy job right before your break.”
“If it had been anything more serious than a house call to Ottaline’s place, I would’ve stayed home,” Bobby said, but I wasn’t sure that was true.
He never wanted to stay behind, and although he usually ended up being helpful, there were some places I refused to take him because he was mortal. I refused to have his blood on my hands.
“I’m glad you made it out in one piece,” Abner said with a small smile. “I should probably let you get out of here so you can get ready for the big weekend.”
“Thanks,” Bobby said as he got to his feet.
“I’ll make a note about Iris Emmanuel and her comments, then I’ll wire your payment to you tonight,” Abner said, shaking our hands, like he was some kind of insurance salesman and not a seriously skilled hunter of immortals.