Dead Man Stalking by TA Moore Blog Tour

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Dead Man Stalking by TA Moore

Agent Luke Bennett proved that humans could rise just as high in the ranks as their vampire colleagues—until a kidnapper held him captive for a year and turned him without his consent.

Now he’s Took: a reluctant monster afraid to bite anyone, broke, and about to be discharged from his elite BITERs unit.

When an old colleague suggests he consult on a BITERs case, Took has little to lose. The case is open and shut… but nothing is ever that easy. As he digs deeper, he discovers a lot more than one cold case is at stake, and if he wants to solve this one, he’ll need the help of the BITERs team. Even if that brings his old commander, Madoc, back into his life.


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Chapter Nine

“Well, I wouldn’t say I’m surprised,” Mrs Boyd sniffed as she led the way around to the back of the house. Her house slippers scuffed over the dead, sere grass as she kicked a sun-faded, abandoned kid’s plastic toy out of the way. From inside the house a small dog barked with shrill, furious repetition as it tracked them on the other side of the wall. “I told my husband, ‘Harold,’ I said, ‘We’re going to have the cops at our door about him one of these days.”

She sounded smug to have been right.

“And yet you never called them?” Madoc asked dryly as he hunched into his coat. Dark glasses covered his eyes and he glanced around the yard.

Mrs Boyd gave him an uncomfortable glance and edged away from him, even though there was a good distance already between them. Her hip nudged against Luke.

“Well, he never did anything,” she said defensively. “He was just, you know, odd. Creepy.”

“How?” Luke asked. He gave her a warm smile when she squinted at him. “It could help us with the case.”

Mrs Boyd pursed her lips as she pulled a set of keys from her pocket.

“Just odd,” she repeated. “Always kept to himself. Never talked to us, even when we crossed paths coming in and out. Muttered.”

Kip grunted his opinion of that.

“Did he show any interest in anything in particular?” Luke asked. He glanced up as the dog’s piercing yap-yap-yap went up an octave. A poodle stared at him through the window, one eye blind and blue and the other beady with judgement in grey fur. “Like you dog?”

Mrs Boyd sniffed at the question. Her fingers sorted the keys on autopilot as she headed for the moss-damp stairs that led down to the basement flat door.

“He said it was a sin to keep him,” she said. “That dog eats better than my husband, you know. He’s got more toys than my kids needed. Sin my ass. That was something he did. Mr Clade. I caught him trying to feed Jangles raw meat. Told me it ‘natural diet’ or something. Jangles had hives for a month. I had to get him some Queen Bee pollen until it finally calmed down. Natural my ass.”

She jammed the key in the look and rattled it about for a moment.

“Mr Clade,” she said loudly, with a smug glance at Madoc that she’d remembered. “It’s Mrs Boyd. There’s a leak and I need to come in and let the plumber if there’s a problem down here. It’s an emergency.”

Luke nodded and gave her a thumbs up in approval. It made her beam smugly and Madoc gave Luke an amused look from behind his smoked lenses.

“Go wait over the road,” Luke mouthed to Mrs Boyd. “We’ll tell you when it’s safe.”

She wouldn’t. The promise of gossip was too tempting, but that was her choice. He waited for her to slap-slap back up the stairs and then pulled his gun. The weight of it had a comfortable familiarity as it settled against his palm, his fingers sure as they wrapped around the butt. 

“Hang back,” Madoc said softly as he pulled his own weapon. He held it low against his leg as he reached up to his ear to murmur a soft order to Kip who was at the other side of the house, beneath the small, propped open window with the cheap AC unit mounted in it.

Luke snorted and opened the door. The smell of shit washed out over him. It was thick and meaty, ripe as the lion house at the zoo. 

“Ugh,” Madoc exclaimed as he lifted his arm to cover his mouth and nose. Luke doubted that it did much to protect his vampire sharp senses from the reek. His sternly handsome face creased in an unexpectedly human expression of disgust. “Did he break open a sewer?”

Luke breathed through his mouth, short and shallow. It didn’t particularly help. The smell coated his tongue and crawled up his throat into his nose. He’d smelled worse.

“I think this is just how he lives,” Luke said. He ignored Madoc’s hiss and slid around the door into the room. “Like an animal.”

Madoc snorted. “Any predator that stank like this is a dead predator.”

From the back of the apartment there was a heavy thud and then Kip’s voice echoed through to them, half muffled. “Fuck me, what died?”

Luke hit the light switch with his elbow. Flies rose up from the piles of empty, bloody plastic parcels that littered the kitchen. Fat and sluggish they hung in the air for a moment and then settled again, a black crawling blanket of bodies on the counters and walls. Chunks of yellow gristle, halfway to tallow, lay on the small, plastic table. Chunks of splintered bone, marked by teeth marks, were piled on the side. 

“He found out he couldn’t take the Kiss when he was injured. Lost half his stomach, Darren said,” Luke said. The smell ripened the further you went into the basement. It had a heat to it. He gave in and lifted his free arm to cover his mouth. It didn’t help. “That must have impacted what he could eat, if he could eat at all.”

And if an Anakim had been on hand and willing to offer the Kiss to Clade in the field, then the man hadn’t been a grunt. His military records were sealed, even to Madoc, so he might not have been a Biter but he’d been part of something more than rank and file. Someone like that would probably have a lot of their self-image tied up in their physicality. How many hot dogs you could eat was usually fairly low on the list of things people took pride in. Until you lost that along with your job, your health, and your hope of immortality. Then it could be the last blow to an already fractured self-image.

Down the hallway Kip gagged, a dry retch that sounded like it started in his stomach. Luke wondered for a moment if Anakim could vomit. Or rather, since the essential mechanisms were still there, if they ever had to vomit.

“Great, case closed,” Kip said as he joined them. “Looks like he exploded into shit. We should leave. Go smell some roses. Or rotting corpses. How the fuck can even a crazy live like this?”

“He has to,” Luke said. He was caught between nausea and fascination. No-one had actually studied a compulsive killer mid-spree this century and the last eye-witness record had been the stilted, quietly distressed police notes of a London bobby out of his depth. “You know that, Kipling. Last time you went undercover, did you like the person you were?”

Kip spat on the floor. “That’s different,” he said. “If I slip up I get killed. I don’t choose to live like that.”

“Neither does he,” Luke said. He opened the fridge and glanced inside. A small, sensationalist part of him hoped for slices of human and jars of eyeballs. Instead it was just empty sleeves and a faintly musty smell. A block of moldy cheese and a big bottle of pepto were all that was in there. “To him this is what is going to keep him alive. If he slips up, if he falters, then he’ll die. It might be twenty years from now, not twenty minutes, but he’ll die. Immortality is a hell of a drug.”

Madoc toed a t-bone over and grimaced as maggots dropped from the green bits of sinew that stuck to the chipped surface.

“We’re not immortal,” he said quietly. It had the cadence of habit, something he said as much for himself as Luke and Kip. Regret, Luke wondered as he glanced at the dark Anakim, or vendetta? Self-immolation or homicide? Madoc turned as if he could hear the gears turning in Luke’s head and met his eyes. “And Clade isn’t here. Where is he going to go next, Bennett?”

That was a good question. Luke closed the door to the fridge to buy himself a moment to think it through. The result was that, “I don’t know,” he said. “We’ve disturbed his pattern. Interrupted whatever ritual he thought he was following. What he’ll do now is…unpredictable.”

Madoc scowled. That obviously wasn’t the answer he wanted, or the answer he kept Luke around to come up with. Before he could protest the door creaked and Mrs Boyd sucked in a shocked breath that turned into a coughing fit.

“What has he DONE to my basement?” she demanded as she hung onto the door frame and retched.

Cops carried the detritus of Clade’s life into the station in sealed bags, faces averted. Filthy clothes, bloody hooks and rope, and a desktop computer that dropped maggots out of the keyboard when it was moved.

“You took a swing,” Kip said as he pulled his jacket on. His piebald hair curled wet around his ears, fresh from the station shower. “And you missed. Better luck next time…once you’ve sorted through all this shit.”

He slid his glasses on and walked out of the station.

Luke scowled at the breadth of Kip’s departing shoulders. A cool hand slapped his shoulder a moment later.

“Ignore him,” Madoc said as he signed the last form and passed the folder off to a uniformed cop. “It was a good call.”

“We didn’t catch him.”

Madoc shrugged as he slouched back in the chair. He was all long legs and lean muscle, out of place elegance against the worn office chair under him. 

“You can’t win them all, Bennett,” he said. “That’s what people say.”

“Not in my family,” Luke said. “Not in the BITERs either.”

A dry smile tucked the corner of Madoc’s mouth. “He’s not dead yet,” he said. “Maybe you’ll get another chance. Go back to the hotel, Luke. Get some rest. We’re leaving for Philadelphia tomorrow.”

He swivelled the chair back around.

Luke wanted to argue. What was he going to say, though? He’d no idea what Clade would do now. Well, that was  a lie. Clade would kill again, he needed to and he’d taken his weapons with him when he ran. That, Luke was sure about. It was where. Or when.

Of course, he didn’t have to know. His Dad had always said, people don’t know what they want until you tell them.

“Give me twenty four hours,” he said.

Madoc glanced around at him. “Why?”

The truth wouldn’t go over well. Luke already knew that. “If Clade hasn’t left town, he is going to have strike again soon. Maybe—“

Madoc narrowed his eyes in suspicion. There was a hint of lines at the corners. Not quite wrinkles, but almost there. Most dhampirs were turned by their Anakim parents when they were still dewy. Madoc had wear on him.

It was distractingly attractive, and still a bad idea.

“Tomorrow evening,” he offered. “That will give Quick time to crack Clade’s computer for the local PD and turn up anything useful.”

Chapter Ten

The main reason Luke had picked Gwen Elliot, local DJ and aspiring shock jock, for the interview was that she was an Anakim groupie The main problem was that she was an Anakim groupie.

“You have to tell me,” she said as she leaned in to the microphone. “Is Pally as dreamy as he looks on the news broadcasts.”

Luke thought of the slim, blond undead with the dead shark eyes. He trusted Pally at his back—more or less—but he’d never considered how hot the man looked on TV. Or, if he had at some point, he didn’t want that opinion broadcast for the world—or at least the local affiliate audience—to hear.

“That’s the sort of thing that makes shared locker rooms uncomfortable,” he said. “He’s certainly a valued member of the team.”

“Of course, more than you,” Gwen said. She laughed when Luke raised an eyebrow at her. “I mean, you’re new, right? The only current human BITER. For now.”

There it was.

“Well, actually,” Luke said as he shifted in the chair. “The Kiss isn’t part of my employment package.”

“Oh, right,” Gwen said. She reached over and flicked a button to cue up the sound of waves. “You’re Cali born. No heartbeat, no service, right?”

“As a VINE agent, I can assure you that sort of prejudice isn’t acceptable there either,” Luke said smoothly. “The Anakim citizens of California are as valued members of society as any other.”

Valued, but watched.

“No,” he pressed on. “I’m actually immune to the Kiss. So this is the only life I get.”

Gwen gave him a stunned look, like he’d just admitted to a terminal illness on the air. He supposed, like Clade, he had. Life was a slow way to die, but inevitable

For some.

“Oh.” Gwen said as she realised there was dead air. “I’m sorry. That must be…wow…that’s amazing that you’re a BITER with that on your file.”

“I’m very good,” Luke said. The back of his neck itched with discomfort, and he decided that was enough honesty for one day. It made for a better lie, but there was no need to get carried away. He offered Gwen the chance to change the topic. “I might not be Anakim, but I’m as good as anyone else on the team. Agent Madoc expects nothing less.”

Gwen was uncomfortable enough she jumped on the opportunity to talk about something else.

“Now that is a terrifying man,” she purred. “The stories he could tell, so does he…?”

At the end of the hour Luke took his leave of Gwen, collected his coat from the reception, and checked his phone. Five calls from Madoc. He hesitated as he headed out into the heat-scented night. It wasn’t a conversation he could avoid, but…

Before he could decide whether he wanted to listen to his messages or not, the phone rang. Luke grimaced and swiped to answer.

“I know what I’m doing—“ he started.

“So do I,” Madoc interrupted him voice harsh. In the background Luke could hear Kip swearing at the other cars on the road. “You think you can tempt Clade into attacking you?”

“He needs a final sacrifice,” Luke said. “And I think it needs to be someone he identifies as another predator. That’s what the Anakim do, prey on other predators.”

“Why would he risk it?”

Luke shouldered the door to the radio station open. “Because he’s ill, and he doesn’t want to die. If I’m wrong—you can make Kip’s day and ship me back to Los Angeles”

The voice on the other end of the line, cold and precise, was what Luke imagined the Blood Cardinal had sounded like.

“Don’t expect to get off that easy,” Madoc purred. “Your ass is mine.”

Luke swallowed the tickle of inappropriate heat in his throat.The heavy glass doors clicked shut behind him and Luke fished in his pocket for the rental keys. He headed across the dark car park toward the pale blue Toyota.

“Hang back,” he said. “If Clade is going to met a move, I don’t want to scare him off.”

He thumbed the fob to open the car doors. The lights flashed twice and the bomb underneath went off with a ragged thump of noise. The explosion lifted the car off the ground as it punched up through it, the inside full of flames, and blew Luke off his feet.

His back hit another car. He felt the metal buckle under his shoulder-blades and then the world greyed out around him. When it came back Luke was on the ground, tarmac hot under him, and he ached dully. His back twinged as he moved and his face felt hot and tight, sunburned. A high pitched whine rattled dimly in his ears under the static of the explosion.

Up. Move.

He ignored the sharp pain in his back as he rolled onto his and shoved himself awkwardly to his feet. One arm wasn’t working. It dangled uncooperatively from his shoulder, full of ground-glass pain that scraped at the affronted joint. 

Ignore it.

Luke shook his head to try and clear his ears. He’d not expected Clade to act so soon, but this was what he’d wanted. More or less. He gritted his teeth and pulled his gun. 

His rental car sat in its own small crater in the middle of the car park, still smouldering inside. The cars nearby had broken windows and blistered paint. The stuttered flash of lights suggested the alarms were going off, even if he couldn’t hear through his muffled ears.

There was no sign of anyone nearby. Luke, gun held low in front of him, turned around to scan the outskirts of the area. Inside the radio station he saw a man peer through the shattered doors, a phone pressed to his ear. 

Despite everything Luke grinned to himself, a quick, hard grimace of an expression. He’d been right about Clade.

A flicker of something in the corner of his eye–deliberate movement in the chaotic flash of broken lights and fire–made him turn. A man froze, halfway out from behind a car, as Luke raised his gun to point it at him, eyes frightened and his face filthy.

For a second Luke thought it was someone who’d been caught in the explosion, but then his brain caught up that it wasn’t filth it was paint. The face under it had familiar lines, too.

“Darren,” Luke said. His voice felt too loud in his throat, but he could barely hear it. “What the–”

“You killed her,” Darren spat. His mouth contorted like he’d yelled it. Tears cut through the camo smeared over his face and he pulled his lips back from broken teeth filed into ghoul-points. “Now we’re going to kill you.”

We. So Luke hadn’t been wrong about Clade, just about him working alone. 

Darren lunged at him, mouth open and his own blood smeared over home-made fangs. He looked like a monster, but he was still human. Luke over-ruled the muscle-memory of years of training and dropped his aim to the centre of mass. He fired twice. The first bullet hit Darren in the shoulder and obliterated it in a spray of blood and bone. The second blew through his stomach.

Surprise flickered over Darren’s face and he staggered into Luke. Blood dripped out down Luke’s front, soaked through his shirt, and Darren chewed at the air.

“Not…not fair,” he gargled out. “I don’t want to die.”

Luke lowered him to the ground and stripped off his jacket. He wadded it up and shoved into the hole in Darren’s stomach.

“Hold onto that, and maybe you won’t,” he said. It hadn’t occurred to him that a compulsive killer could have their own Goat. The assumption was that killers like Clade were too disorganised to work in groups, but Luke should have considered that was wrong as well. “Where’s Clade?”

Darren smiled.

Fuck.

Luke threw himself to the side. His shoulder screamed with pain as it hit the tarmac, but the bullet that would have taken his throat out skimmed a hot line over his cheek and punched into the heavy rubber of a car tyre.

“We’ll…burn…out the weakness in our blood,” Darren rasped out unevenly. “Then we can be, like them.”

Luke scrambled into the shelter of a nearby car. He blotted his face on his sleeve.

“Mr Clade,” he yelled. “Anakim don’t kill with guns. It’s hand to hand, tooth to throat, death magic against the living world. It’s only us unrisen monkeys that need tools.”

He worked his jaw to pop his ears. The rattled hid died down enough that he could hear the hoarse snort of laughter nearby.

“I’ll kill you by hand,” Clade said. “But I’ll run you down first, bleed you out.”

Luke shifted his gaze towards the direction of Clade’s voice. “You know this isn’t going to work,” he said conversationally. “It’s just your madness.”

Another shot rang out. It splintered the window over Luke’s head. Glass splinters rained down on him. He shook them out of his hair. 

“You’re wrong,” Clade yelled. His voice cracked as reality fought with what he needed to believe. “I’m different now. Stronger. Faster. When I take the Kiss, I’ll be found worthy.”

“Who’s going to bite you?” Luke asked. He exhaled, gritted his teeth against the pain, and dashed across the car park toward the shelter of an over-sized SUV. Bullets pocked the tarmac at his heels. He stumbled once, a sharp cry of pain rough in his throat, just before he lurched behind the heavy bumper of the truck. “I blew Nina’s brains out.”

Clade laughed. 

“He’ll bite me,” he said. There was something like worship in his voice. “When he sees how I’ve elevated myself. The Cardinal himself will open my throat and make me…his.”

Luke shuddered. He leaned his head back against the SUV and took a deep breath of the air, smoke and burnt gas smell thick on his tongue. As attractive as he found Madoc, the thought of the man’s teeth in his throat still made Luke’s skin crawl in a mixture of instinctive fear and learned distaste.

“I don’t think you’re his type,” he said. “The only reason Nina wanted you is because she restricted her prey pool. A man who’s got a choice from all the gourmet restaurants in the world, isn’t going to decide to pick a dried out cheese sandwich.”

The comparison made him laugh. It was as much adrenaline that snorted out of his nose as humour, but it served to inflame Clade’s temper.

“I was beautiful,” Clade screamed. Closer now. “He loved me, Benedict loved me. It’s only because I was like this that he left. When I’m beautiful again–”

Luke stepped out from behind the car. He’d been close in his estimation of how close Clade was, maybe a few inches off. Clade flinched as he stared down the barrel of Luke’s gun–if he’d been the rank that Luke thought, he knew that the bullets would kill whatever Clade imagined himself to be–and licked his lips. His hands tightened around the gun he carried. It was a simple hunter’s rifle, that was the point after all.

“Put the gun down, and your hands behind your head,” Luke said. “Or I’ll send you to join Nina.”

Clade smiled and his chapped lips split. “Death is for humans,” he said. “The dark god of the forest has promised me more. He came through the doctors and whispered in me ears. He offered me freedom from the insult of my blood.”

“No,” Luke said. “He didn’t. Put the gun down.”

“You’re just prey,” Clade said. “Just a firefly, born to die.”

He raised the rifle. Luke pulled a sour face at the loss to the asylum and fired. This time he didn’t fight his instincts and the bullet sheared through Clade’s eye and blew out the back of his head. Clade grinned lopsidedly at him with what was left of his face, as his eye dripped down his cheek.

“The dead don’t die,” he slurred out and tightened his finger on the rifle.

Luke inhaled, but before he could do anything the shadows cast by the flickering fire tore open and Madoc stepped out. He grabbed Clade’s head in elegant hands and ripped it off his shoulders with a sharp twist and jerk. This time Clade dropped like Luke had expected.

“That,” Madoc said precisely as he put Clade’s head down into the dead man’s lap. “Is why Anakim don’t kill with guns, Agent Bennett.”

Kip grabbed Luke under the arms to prop him as the adrenaline gave up the ghost.

It was two days later before they got onto the plane to Philadelphia. Luke sat in the plush leather chair, his arm–which had been a cracked collarbone as well as a dislocated shoulder–strapped over his chest and a pad of gauze taped to the side of his face. He had wrenched his knee too, which he hadn’t noticed in the confusion of the night, and had minor burns and blisters that had just been left to heal.

“If you do anything like that again, I’ll make sure you never go into the field again,” Madoc said as he finished his blistering dressing down. “I don’t train my BITERs to lose them. Understood?”

Luke nodded. He reached for his glass of soda. “It did work though.”

On the other side of the plane, supposedly engrossed in his next mission’s briefing, Kip snorted out a laugh. Madoc gave him an exasperated look and then let the corner of his mouth tilt in a half-smile.

“One way to describe it,” he said. His drink was whiskey, threaded with blood, and he sipped it as he studied Luke. “Was what you said the truth? You’re immune to the Kiss?”

It had always been something to be proud of, a family trait and an immunity that the other Western VINE agents envied. For the first time in his life Luke felt a twinge of regret as he confirmed it.

“I am,” he said. He drowned the weird, conflicted feeling with a gulp of icy cola and crooked a smile at Madoc. “Just one life. It’s enough.”

Madoc studied him a second longer and then nodded. He reached over and gripped Luke’s good forearm in a cool hand.

“Then we’ll just have to make the most of you, while we have you,” he said.

Buy Dead Man Stalking by TA Moore from Amazon: http://amzn.to/2ZkYwmw or Dreamspinner: http://bit.ly/2ZceYua

TA Moore – 

TA Moore is a Northern Irish writer of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance novels. A childhood in a rural, seaside town fostered in her a suspicious nature, a love of mystery, and a streak of black humour a mile wide. As her grandmother always said, ‘she’d laugh at a bad thing that one’, mind you, that was the pot calling the kettle black. TA Moore studied History, Irish mythology, English at University, mostly because she has always loved a good story. She has worked as a journalist, a finance manager, and in the arts sectors before she finally gave in to a lifelong desire to write.

Coffee, Doc Marten boots, and good friends are the essential things in life. Spiders, mayo, and heels are to be avoided.

Website: www.tamoorewrites.com 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TAMoorewrites/Twitter: @tamoorewrites

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