Vincent – D. B. Reynolds

LANA ARNOLD SPUN the dial on her home safe and reached inside. She was heading out on a new job and needed a backup weapon and cash. Her next job would take her to Mexico, and cash was king down there. And the gun was simple common sense. She had her usual Sig, and, of course, she was never without a few knives hidden about her person, but more firepower was always better. That same principle meant she should be taking one of her bounty hunter dad’s guys along for the ride, but this was her job, no one else’s. She was a bounty hunter, too, and the contract hadn’t come to her dad’s agency, but to her personally. Besides, this was the kind of job she hoped to do more of. It was a job for a private investigator, not a bounty hunter. Not that she didn’t enjoy working for her dad; she just didn’t see herself chasing criminals for the rest of her life. So when the request had come in from the attorneys representing Cynthia Leighton and Raphael, she’d jumped on it. At first glance, it seemed to be a simple missing person’s case. But she suspected there was nothing simple about it. First of all, Raphael happened to be a vampire—a very powerful vampire if rumors were true—and he wanted a message delivered to some old guy named Xuan Ignacio, who’d been hiding in Mexico forever. Second was the money.

The fee they were offering was significant and would put a nice bump in the fund she’d set up toward opening her own investigation firm someday. Apart from a desire not to be chasing skips at forty, she wanted to forge her own path, to be someone other than Sean Arnold’s daughter. She also figured the job must be important to Raphael, and if she did well, maybe they’d send more business her way. Of course, it was entirely possible that the high fee was only intended to compensate for the danger she might be walking into. But Lana trusted that Leighton would have warned her about any specific threats up-front, so that probably wasn’t an issue. Apart from the money, though, there was a twist to the case that pretty much eliminated the idea that this was a simple job. And that was the letter from Raphael to a vampire named Vincent Kuxim, asking him to assist Lana in locating this Xuan Ignacio. Lana had Googled Kuxim, hoping to find out why Raphael would want him involved, but she’d come up with nothing. All she knew was what Leighton’s attorneys had told her on the phone prior to sending the documents. They assured her that, while Raphael’s note to Kuxim might appear to be a request, it was phrased in a way that all but guaranteed Kuxim would agree to help her.

Lana wrote this off to vampire politics, since the request seemed perfectly ordinary to her, and no one seemed inclined to educate her any further on the subject. The lawyer had made it very clear, however, that Raphael wanted Vincent Kuxim with her when she found her quarry. Lana wasn’t sure how she felt about that. She supposed that, ultimately, it would all depend on who Vincent Kuxim was. The only details the attorneys offered were that he was a vampire—no surprise there—and that he controlled the city of Hermosillo in Mexico. What no one had come out and said—but what she’d happily bet money on—was that Xuan Ignacio was a vampire, too. Supposedly, he’d been hiding out in Mexico a long time, and Lana was guessing “a long time” meant centuries rather than decades. She tucked her backup weapon—a 9mm Glock—into her backpack and put the cash in an outside zippered pocket. On a whim, she grabbed a couple of flashbang grenades from the box in her safe, slammed the safe door, and spun the dial to secure it. She stood and got ready to leave, activating the alarm on her security system, then made sure the door was locked behind her.

Within minutes, she was on her way to Hermosillo, Mexico. She only hoped Vincent Kuxim was in town when she arrived. And that he was inclined to do Raphael a favor. Chapter One Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico VINCENT WALKED out onto the balcony and stretched to his full height, heedless of the fact that he was completely naked. His house was on the very edge of a private compound, and his balcony looked out on nothing but silent desert. Although the balcony could have been in the middle of a busy city, and he still wouldn’t have cared about showing a little skin. Or even a lot. He was in Hermosillo, in a private compound that was one of Enrique’s many properties in Mexico. Although the vampire lord hadn’t been here in years and probably didn’t even remember that he owned it. The Mexican lord’s personal preference was to stay in his villa in Mexico City, while Vincent’s preference was to hang out in whichever residence kept him as far away from Enrique as possible.

Hermosillo was nice, and so was the estate on the water in Los Cabos, mainly because both were places where Enrique rarely ventured. As little as forty years ago, Enrique had still been touring his territory on a regular basis, but these days, if any traveling was required, he usually sent Vincent. The one exception to that rule was anything involving the other North American vampire lords. Historically, that had meant Enrique had attended the once-a-year meeting of the North American Vampire Council. But lately, the continent had been roiling, with old lords dying, or being killed, left and right. In the last couple of years, four of the territories had seen new lords ascend, and two of those ascensions had required special meetings of the Council. The other two new lords had been kind enough to time their takeovers to coincide with the annual meeting dates. A new lord’s ascension didn’t require the Council’s approval—power was the only thing that mattered among vampires. If a vampire could take and hold a territory, it was his. But it was customary for the Council to welcome their new colleagues .

which was a polite way of saying the Council wanted to look the new guy over and decide if they could work with him. If not, his tenure would be very short. Because, while an individual vampire lord might be powerful, he wouldn’t stand a chance against the full Council. Unless that vampire was Raphael. No one really knew what Raphael was capable of, and thus far, no one had been foolish enough to try and figure it out. Vincent drew in a deep breath of the bone-dry air. It was fresh and clean tonight. Some nights, if the wind was blowing the wrong way, he’d pick up the oil and metal stench from all the new industries popping up in Hermosillo. He knew it brought a lot of jobs to the locals and couldn’t begrudge them that, but he’d liked it better when Enrique had first set up shop here a century ago. And just thinking that made him feel like a grumpy old man bemoaning the good old days of his youth.

It was bad enough that he was an old man, even if he’d never look it. But he didn’t need to think like one, either. His cell phone rang from inside—it was his lieutenant, Michael, checking in as the night began. Strictly speaking, Vincent wasn’t supposed to have a lieutenant since he was actually Lord Enrique’s lieutenant himself. Especially since he’d made Michael a vampire without gaining Enrique’s permission ahead of time. His lord and master hadn’t been pleased with him about that, but Vincent hadn’t particularly cared. If he’d waited for Enrique to give him the go-ahead, he’d never have a vampire child of his own making. The old man held onto his prerogatives like a spoiled toddler with his toys or a greedy miser with his money. When confronted with the done deal of Michael’s existence, however, Enrique hadn’t had the guts to order the new vampire’s execution, even though it would have been within his rights. He’d probably been reluctant to challenge Vincent, suspecting he wouldn’t obey the order.

And he’d have been right. Vincent would have told him to go fuck himself, and that could have gotten ugly. Vincent wasn’t Enrique’s lieutenant out of love or respect. He’d clawed his way to the top the old-fashioned way, by killing everyone who stood in his path. He was the strongest fucking vampire in the old man’s stable and had been for well over a hundred years. He fulfilled his duty to Enrique, who was both his Sire and his lord. He was loyal and, when it suited him, obedient. He pretty much ignored everything else by staying away and avoiding confrontation, while Enrique pretended he still ruled the territory with absolute power. Vincent picked up the cell phone on his way to the walk-in closet. “Yo, Michael.

What’s up?” “Good evening, Sire,” Michael said dutifully. When necessary, the two of them could be as formal as ancient Vampire protocol required. But they were friends more than anything else, each the one person the other could rely on without question in the dog-eat-dog world of Enrique’s rule. “Yeah, yeah,” Vincent replied. “Any blowback yet from that mess in Acuña?” Vincent didn’t know all the details, but a group of European vamps had made a play against Lord Raphael just two weeks ago. It had all gone down in Acuña, which was a small city just this side of the U.S. border, thus placing their little tête-à-tête neatly inside Mexico. Reports had it that Raphael had wiped the floor with the visiting vamps. That wasn’t exactly a surprise to Vincent, but what was surprising was the fact that the meeting had taken place inside Enrique’s territory.

Vincent had no proof that Enrique had played a role in that particular clusterfuck, but he had strong suspicions. There was no way in hell that a group of vamps powerful enough to think about going up against Raphael could have crossed into Enrique’s territory without him knowing about it. And Vincent also knew that Enrique suspected Raphael’s hand in all of the recent territorial changes in North America, and that Enrique didn’t like it. He thought Raphael was trying to take over the continent, and that Mexico would be the next domino to fall. Vincent predictably disagreed with his Sire on the subject. Not even Enrique could deny that the European vamps had their eyes on North America, which made it a smart move for the Council members to form alliances with each other. But Enrique saw no reason why he should risk himself and his vamps defending anyone else’s territory. Vincent sided with Raphael in believing they would all be stronger if they stood together. “You mean other than the strange piles of dust in some old church?” Michael asked in response to Vincent’s question about the confrontation in Acuña. “Yeah, other than that,” Vincent replied dryly.

“I’ve had reports . ” Michael hesitated, which made Vincent’s attention sharpen. “Michael?” “I need to double-check the details. I should have some answers for you by the time you get to the office.” Vincent frowned. He suspected Michael had all the information he needed, but didn’t want to discuss it on the phone. Enrique’s spies were always listening, and cell phone signals were way too easy to intercept. He glanced at the digital clock by his bedside. It was nearly eight. Spring was upon them, which meant the days were slowly getting longer.

It wasn’t the best time of year for vampires. “All right. I’ll see you in the office then,” he told Michael. “Yeah, about that. You have an appointment tonight.” Vincent trolled through the files in his brain, but came up with nothing. “No, I don’t.” “Yeah, you do, jefe. Some bounty hunter. He comes with a referral from Raphael himself.

” Vincent frowned. What the fuck was Raphael up to? First a battle on Enrique’s territory and now this? “A bounty hunter with a referral from Raphael? Why?” he asked. “Don’t know. The guy called from the road today, spoke to Lou in the front office. Lou made the appointment and left a message for me.” “What time’s the appointment?” “Ten.” “Well, fuck. There goes my evening. I gotta get dressed. See you in thirty,” he said and hung up.

But he couldn’t help wondering what it meant that Raphael was referring people directly to Vincent instead of going through Enrique. Especially since Vincent didn’t think he’d exchanged ten words with the powerful vampire lord in the entire time he’d known him. He started pulling clothes out of the closet for the evening. A pair of jeans—black since he had a business appointment—and a long-sleeved T-shirt, also black. Sitting on a bench inside the walk-in closet, he pulled on socks and his favorite cowboy boots, ditto on the black. It wasn’t that he was giving in to the stereotype of how people thought a vampire dressed—all in black—but clothes just didn’t matter to him. Going with one color made it easy. Besides, he wore blue jeans as often as he did black. That was enough variety for him. He glanced in the mirror before heading out, doing a quick fingercomb through his longish black hair and a more detailed check of his beard and mustache, which was his one true vanity.

He had his hair cut once a month, but his beard he trimmed every night. He knew he was considered handsome, and God knew he used his looks when it came to attracting women—because if there was one thing on this earth that he loved, it was a soft, willing woman—but other than the beard, he didn’t worry overmuch about his appearance. He showered, he shaved, and he kept in shape because it was a matter of survival. And that was it. There were more important uses for his time and energy, including, it seemed, doing a favor for Raphael. He didn’t know if he should be wary or exhilarated by that development. The compound where Vincent and the other Hermosillo vamps lived was a square that covered the equivalent of two city blocks. Vincent’s office was in a building on the opposite side of the property from where he lived. It sat outside the main perimeter wall and was the only structure, other than the adjacent night club, with a public entrance. Since nothing of value was kept there, apart from a few pieces of office equipment, its only real security was video surveillance of both the parking lot and the lobby entrance.

However, it was still locked down at sunrise, along with the rest of the compound. If a human wanted to pay a visit, they came after sunset, or not at all. Lou—whose name was actually Louisa—was Vincent’s human secretary. She arrived around noon and worked in a small office inside the main compound until Vincent rose for the night. Then she took up her position at the reception desk outside his office. As usual, there was a lot of activity in the area as Vincent made his way through the gardens to his office building. Hermosillo had a substantial vampire population attracted by the more than 700,000 humans who lived there. And, since vampires tended to live in groups, many of them lived right here in this sprawling compound. Vincent could hear voices from elsewhere in the compound as he walked, but he didn’t see anyone. This part of the estate was heavily landscaped, as if to deny the encroaching desert outside the walls.

It was thick with palms and other tropical plants, fragrant with the scent of their flowers. It took an army of gardeners to maintain the landscaping, and a water well that had been dug solely for that purpose. It wasn’t very ecologically sound, but Vincent enjoyed the results too much to protest. He nodded at the two vamps guarding the exit gate as he passed through the perimeter wall and into the public part of the compound. No palms graced the concrete walks here. The grounds were well maintained, but, in keeping with the desert environment, they were landscaped with low-lying cacti and stone. Twenty strides took Vincent to the building that was his office. It was an unassuming structure, with nothing to indicate that it was occupied by one of the most powerful vampires in the territory. He took the three stairs to the heavy, iron-banded back door, entered the appropriate code on a locking keypad, and pushed inside, immediately feeling the temperature drop several degrees. Even in summer, the building’s thick stone walls blocked the burning Sonoran desert temps.

Vincent’s boots clomped loudly on the tiled floor and he could hear voices coming from his office. But none belonged to his visitor, though. Not yet. He entered his private office from the rear, walking past his desk and out a second door to the small lobby where Michael and Lou were waiting for him. “Good evening, Louisa,” he crooned, smiling when his greeting elicited a blush and a duck of her head, even though she’d been working for him for more than ten years, and was old enough to be his mother, if one judged solely by appearances, that was. “Good evening, Vincent,” she responded briskly. It had taken him years to get her to call him by his first name. “You have an appointment,” she informed him. “So I understand. Ten o’clock?” “Yes, sir.

Your other messages are on your desk.” “Got it. Michael, join me. Louisa, mi amor, hold my calls, would you?” She blushed again at the endearment, but nodded sharply and said, “Yes, sir.” Vincent grinned, then threw a come along gesture at Michael to follow as he ducked back into his office. He strolled over and sat behind his desk, a beautiful monstrosity of black walnut, waiting until the door was closed before giving his lieutenant a questioning look. Michael didn’t waste any time. “I’m getting a lot of reports, both human and vampire, that just over a week ago, a pair of vamps were spotted driving hellbent from the North, stopping only long enough to sleep and drain a few unwilling donors on their way to Mexico City.” Vincent had made Michael a vampire for a variety of reasons, but he’d proven to be an inspired choice. As a vampire, his power was second only to Vincent’s, and as a lieutenant, he was a positive genius at cultivating sources and gathering data.

He’d embraced the information age with a vengeance and knew everything there was to know about computer networks and, frankly, how to pry into places that tried to keep him out. “Driving,” Vincent repeated, thinking about this latest development. “Any positive IDs?” “Two females, that’s all we know for sure. For the record, however, I’ve got another source who claims that one of the vampires at the showdown in Acuña was Raphael’s sister.” Vincent’s eyes widened in surprise. “The sister no one’s seen in months? What’s her name . Alexandra? Everyone thought she was dead.” “That was my understanding, too. But what if she’s not? And if she was in Acuña, simple odds say that she was probably one of the females who made a beeline for Mexico City and Enrique right after.” Vincent swore softly.

“What is that bastard up to?” he muttered. Michael nodded. “I’m trying to verify the sister’s ID, or at least find someone who knows if she’s alive or dead. But you know Raphael’s people. They’re loyal to a fault, and damn if his network security isn’t impossible to break through. I can’t get word one from anyone who’d know about the sister’s status. The guy who claims she was in Acuña is a cop whose wife overheard a conversation outside the hotel where the European vamps were staying. She also claims the vamp calling herself Alexandra was with the Europeans.” “Alexandra arrived with the Europeans? How’d that come about?” “Don’t know, but I do know that she didn’t cross into Mexico with Raphael. And she didn’t return to the U.

S. with him either. I have video from the border crossing in both directions. There were only five people traveling with Raphael, and the only woman was his mate.” Vincent thought about what that might mean and realized he didn’t have a fucking clue. “Are the two females who raced to Mexico City still there?” Michael shook his head. “Doubtful. A private plane departed Benito Juarez airport with a flight plan for Paris. There was one passenger, a female who arrived via limo from Enrique’s HQ. My guess is that passenger was one of our travelers.

” “What about the other one?” “Unknown.” “Shit. I don’t want to go to Mexico City.” “Have you ever seen the sister? Does anyone know what she looks like?” “I saw her across the room at a party once after a council meeting in Malibu.” “Is the sister like a female version of Raphael?” “That would make her one very big woman, Mikey.” Vincent snorted. “No, Alexandra’s a tiny thing, especially by today’s standards. No more than five feet tall without shoes. She’s got black hair, like he does, but that’s all I could make out. I don’t think I’d recognize her on the street, but I might be able to pick her out from a photo.

I’m guessing you have a shot of the female vamp who caught that flight?” Michael thumbed through his cell phone and held it out. “It’s grainy because of the distance.” Vincent took the phone and frowned down at the image. It had obviously taxed someone’s zoom lens to the max, but . “That’s not the sister,” he said. “Hair color can be changed, but the body isn’t right. This woman’s too big. And the look’s all wrong. It’s not Alexandra.” “So Raphael’s sister is either dead or in Mexico City.

What the fuck, jefe?”


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