Below is the final chapter sneak peek for my upcoming release, The Pharaoh's Mistress, the third book in my vampire mystery trilogy. You can read chapter one here, and you can get the first book free when you sign up to my monthly-ish newsletter.
Remember to add The Pharaoh's Mistress to your to-read list at Goodreads.
The Pharaoh's Mistress
Excerpt from Dark Ones, by Faustus Gavius
… One such hypothesis holds that these blood rituals were a common custom practiced by nomadic tribes in the ancient world. The primordial clans who traversed the once thick cedar forests of northern Mesopotamia were inclined to collect a sample of blood from each child on turning seven summers old. The blood, taken by spiritual leaders, was stored in clay phials to be administered in the event of illness borne of nefariousness, specifically of the spiritual kind. It was believed the blood of the pure held the power to cure any spiritual malady that may accost the individual, or the tribe, at any time.
* * *
Michael closed the old book and studied its cover once more. The cloth binding remained remarkably intact given its age. The title had worn, but held at a certain angle the words ‘Dark Ones’ were readily discernible. He opened the book and returned to the passage, allowing his gaze to linger over certain terms. “Blood ritual,” he whispered, translating the Latin in his mind before looking up at the lofty ceiling of the reading room.
This text was significant and all too reminiscent of Emma’s dream. The parts she could remember at least. The tall cedars. An ancient people. Something about collecting blood from a child.
“Surely no coincidence,” he whispered again, and his fingers tingled ever so slightly.
No coincidence either that he’d received a call from Henri, the rare book trader in Paris, to tell him of this particular text by Gavius. A copy of which resided in the modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina. “It was penned by one of them,” Henri had told him with gravity. It didn’t take Michael long to surmise what Henri had meant by that clandestine comment. Gavius was a vampire.
The library’s loud buzzer broke Michael’s train of thought and he glanced at his phone. Closing time. Pressing his lips together he patted his coat pocket where the silver tipped stake rested. He briefly considered concealing the old book there too, but he placed it on the desk. Alexandria, like the rest of Egypt, had suffered enough thievery from foreigners. Instead he took quick pictures of several pages with his phone. He’d read them later. Gavius had more to tell him. Perhaps they could stay one more day in Alexandria and he could return to the library to read more tomorrow. Emma wouldn’t agree though, she’d already said they’d lingered here too long. He flicked through the pages and snapped more pictures.
Michael’s shoes echoed on the polished concrete floor as he exited the library’s reading room with the few others, mostly university students by the look of them. Outside, the night-time cool of the ancient city hit him like a wave. At this time of year the desert turned to ice once the sun descended, and its cool seeped into the cities. He glanced back at the concrete walls and glass panels of the modern library’s entrance and made the mental comparison with the famed ancient Library of Alexandria with its lofty height and marble colonnades. It had housed more books than any other in the known world. It had burned to the ground, but some scrolls would have survived. If only their whereabouts were known. Books were the key to knowledge, Michael’s father had always told him, and so far on this strange journey, books had told him more than people.
Michael had been tasked with finding Emma by her father, the earl, and her sister, Susan. Emma had been missing for over a year, and he’d found her sure enough, but she was now irrevocably changed. Reuniting Emma with her family would be dangerous in the extreme, and he struggled to think of what to tell them. Whenever he pressed her about it she shrugged the problem off as though it were of no consequence. Said her father never really cared about her anyway. And her sister was too self-absorbed to mind what happened to her. The few times he’d brought them up had revealed Emma’s growing acrimony toward her father and sister. A part of Michael considered that a good thing. He’d read enough about vampires to know they stalked people they’d been close to in the past, and ultimately destroyed them in the quest to gain back old familiarity.
Another part of Michael was glad. If he were to be truthful, he had Emma all to himself. She filled that place, deep within, once occupied by his ex-wife, Judith. It was a part he’d had a lot of practice in ignoring. Love and lust had only resulted in misery for Michael. Now he knew it would also lead to danger if he allowed it to dominate. Acknowledging that desire was one thing, acting on it, something else entirely. He took a sharp breath and raked his fingers through his hair before quickening his step along the Alexandrian streets.
It wasn’t long before he reached the port. The streets bustled with tourists seeking the thrill of Alexandria’s nightlife. Restaurants were still busy, and bars and clubs were just opening, pumping out thumping music that mingled in a discordant clamour in the chilly air. A breeze blew in from the harbour, cold and damp, and brought some welcome freshness to Michael’s mind, despite the stench of rotting fish and boat fuel.
He buttoned his coat and paused his step to study the inky water of the harbour and imagine the great city in ancient times when it was one of the most powerful strongholds in the world, second only to Rome. If he had time he would explore the Citadel that stood like a gateway to the Middle Ages, on the westernmost point of the harbour. Spotlights highlighted it in such a way it could be seen from all over the Eastern Harbour. It appeared so flawless, the towers and turrets so defined against the black sky, as though merely stepping through it would take one back through the centuries. He forced his gaze away. There was no time for such fancies. They had to move east, though where precisely remained an enigma. At least they had one destination in mind, for now – Cairo and Georgette.
Michael’s stomach clenched whenever he thought of Georgette. She had a dangerous curiosity for all things supernatural. He didn’t doubt she’d continued searching for information despite Michael’s pleas that she put a stop to it. And now danger had found her. Michael blamed himself, of course. He should have refused to allow Georgette to help him, but without her, he may not have found Emma.
Then again, perhaps it was best Georgette stay close. He could protect her, or Emma would. If it were true Schleck was somehow involved in this strange business, Paris would no longer be safe for those who knew anything of vampires. He’d seen the warning in the Foliss Abesse and other sources. Vampires do not want to be found and will seek out and destroy all those with knowledge of their existence. He had to protect Georgette from a bloody end.
“And so, we shall go east,” Michael uttered. He started thinking through a plan for leaving. They still had the motorbike they’d stolen from Amynta, hidden behind the pomegranate in the guesthouse’s small garden. It needed fuel though. Michael frowned; he should have paid more attention to leaving. What if they had to escape in a hurry? The bike was empty. Perhaps Hany could get them fuel. The lad had helped with a couple of other things and had promised them a new set of clothes by the morning. Something Michael would be thankful for, he could still smell the blood on his shirt, not to mention the stale odour of clothes well past their wash-by date.
Michael took a breath and forced his mind to calm. All would be well, he just had to be smart. But that link Amynta held with vampires was troublesome. He believed Emma’s claims that she could sense the slayer and he wondered at the reason why.
He was not lacking in certain talents of the supernatural kind. He’d always seen ghosts and demons. As a boy he’d been fortunate to have a grandmother who shared his ‘gift’ as she called it. She’d taught him everything he knew, and more. If it wasn’t for her, Michael could have ended up with a psychiatric diagnosis, or dead through suicide. It was the most common fate for people like him when left to their own devices.
But he’d learned to master his gift, and to use it. He’d trained his skills and honed them well, and now the demons were even a little afraid of him. When he performed exorcisms, he saw a glint of recognition in their beastly eyes as he forced them from their possessions. He enjoyed it too, and though he would only admit as much to himself, he was good at it.
He let go a sharp breath. “But what am I doing now? Going around in circles?”
Was Amynta like him? And if so, how far did her gift extend? If she was behind Emma’s visions, or dreams, that was a skill far beyond anything Michael was capable of. She called herself vampire slayer. A ridiculous term. Something straight from Hollywood, yet could it be true? Vampires were real, after all. Why not slayers?
Whatever Amynta was, she was powerful, and she had something planned. To kill the most formidable vampire the world had known, according to Amynta. The gypsy woman. The vampire who had turned Nathaniel Chartley. Asha was her name. Amynta had revealed that much, but aside from the fact that Asha had lived as one of the Romani in sixteenth century England, they had precious little information about her.
Michael cast his gaze again to the boats on the Eastern Harbour. Fishing boats mostly, but clusters of tourist cruisers huddled along jetties at various points. At the end of one wooden jetty a small boat was moored, Michael focused on it bobbing with the low waves of the bay. It sat in the shadows behind a row of stalls. Michael strode over and ducked under the chain to walk to the end of the short jetty. He looked out over the boat and the dark bay and narrowed his eyes as he whispered her name to the breeze. “Asha.”
Using the bay as a conduit for his visioning, he relaxed his gaze and steadied his breath as he conjured an image of what she might look like from the descriptions in Nathaniel’s diary. Michael’s hands and feet tingled as his gift came to life and pictures filled his mind. Black glossy hair that fell to the waist in waves. A buxom figure. Bronzed limbs, and a deadly lust. Images flickered through his sight, or his mind, he never really knew which. And one froze. A sharp tingling buzzed in his hands as he focused. Dark, gleaming hair fell over her shoulders. A sensuous smile played on her lips, and a red pendant seemed to glow as it rested upon her breast. Perspiration beaded on Michael’s brow. His heart raced, his hands burned with fire, and already the hunger and fatigue gnawed at him. But he pushed his mind further and focused on that vial. It was filled with a deep crimson liquid. Blood? What could it mean?
The loud hoot of an incoming ferry echoing over the water disturbed his concentration, and Michael didn’t have the energy to begin the visioning again. He took a slow breath, willed his burning hands to cool, and returned to the bustling street.
A gelato stall came into view and Michael’s stomach rumbled. His gift always made him feel spent. He ordered a mango gelato and ate it quickly as he walked. His mind wandered back to the past when he and Judith had holidayed in the south of Italy, and an after-dinner gelato had become part of their evening routine. He shook his head with the last bite. There was no use thinking about Judith anymore. About his failure to keep her entertained so that she didn’t seek the company of another man. Emma had solved that little problem, and Judith no longer remembered him. She wouldn’t know him if she fell over him. But she was safe, and by now his ex-wife had either resolved her differences with her new husband, or she’d left him, like she’d said she would and was living once more in England.
Michael tried not to care either way, but he hoped it was the latter. He frowned as he became conscious of his thoughts. Strange, he rarely thought of Judith anymore. It was Emma who filled his mind most now, and his heart. A shiver gripped him, and he clenched his hands into fists. It was dangerous to let his mind drift that way. He had to be strong. Guard your heart, his Nan’s warning echoed in his thoughts, and Michael shut the lid on them, and all memory of Judith.
Near their guesthouse stood a liquor shop. Michael entered. Every night took them further from Emma’s last feed. Alcohol was a necessity. Its dulling effects on her urges were mysterious to say the least, but Michael was thankful for them.
He exited the shop with a bag containing two vodka bottles. Over the harbour, the horn blasts from incoming ferries swirled in the breeze. More tourists were arriving at Alexandria and a medley of languages filled the night air. Only a few nights ago, Michael and Emma had been among them. Michael scanned the harbour. It was always busy, no matter the time – day or night. One vessel caught Michael’s attention as it motored with seemingly too much speed to one of the jetties. Something about it seemed familiar. He’d seen that boat before… the tingling in his hands confirmed it. Then the hulking figure on the deck stole his gaze and Michael gasped, dropping the bag. One of the vodka bottles smashed on the pavement, and Michael swore under his breath as passers-by turned to frown his way.
He bent to the bag, glancing up constantly to watch that boat. That vessel had been moored in the bay in Greece, right near Amynta’s boat shed. He and Emma had ridden past it when they stole the slayer’s motorbike. And that man on the deck looked exactly like the vampire who’d pursued Michael and Emma as they made their escape from Amynta’s dungeon. Or his twin.
“Impossible,” Michael whispered as he clutched the bag now holding one bottle and the broken remains of the other.
Michael had staked Vincent. The huge vampire disintegrated to nothing but congealed blood and dust. And before that, Emma had sucked the very life out of his human twin brother.
But there was no mistaking the bulky form of the man who now stalked the deck of the incoming cruiser, preparing to moor. It was either Vincent or his brother. Somehow, one of them, or even both, had survived.
Another figure walked the deck, appearing suddenly from the cabin. Michael recognised her instantly. The red hair and confident strut told him all he needed to know.
“Jesus!” he hissed as he thumped the pavement, nearly running to get back to Emma.
The guesthouse came up quick enough, though it seemed Michael’s ragged breath alerted all of Alexandria to his whereabouts. Questions of the connection Amynta held with vampires returned. It was likely she knew their precise location. They had to flee, now. Hopefully Amynta would be distracted for a time with her arrival to the city. He cursed himself again for not thinking to fuel the bike.
He opened the gate to access the steps that took him up to their apartment. The accommodation proved an excellent location for a vampire, with an inbuilt robe in the bedroom, large enough to enclose Emma safely during the day, but it was accessible to all and sundry. If Amynta came here, there was nowhere to hide.
Michael unlocked the door with a trembling hand, then opened it with force, almost dropping the other bottle. He stalked through the short passageway and called Emma’s name twice before coming to a dramatic halt in the living room.
Emma, crouched on the floor, looked up at him with black monster eyes. Eyes he’d seen thrice before. Once in Amynta’s dungeon when she’d sucked Vincent’s brother dry of his blood. Once in the crypt of an old ruined church in Italy, when he’d stupidly woken her – a sleeping vampire. And once when she’d attacked Judith. The eyes were filled with dark crimson and red veins dominated their edges. Emma’s skin had turned a strange shade of blue, and the veins a darker tone of the same colour, they bulged from her skin. Her fangs were long. Her mouth dripped red.
“Emma!” Michael said, and the fear in his own voice was too easy to detect. He cleared his throat and forced his breath and heart to calm. “What have you done?”
Slowly she stood, and Michael took a short step closer. On the floor lay Hany, the guesthouse porter, blood pumping slowly from a wound on his neck, skin pale. A pile of new clothes by his side.