Hell's Belle Series
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Date of Publication: Oct. 20, 2014
Number of pages: 582
Word Count: 95,704
Cover Artist: Robin Ludwig Design Inc.
After surviving a vampire assassin (not to mention an awkward affair with a hot FBI agent that ended worse than she could have imagined), witch/vampire hybrid Nina Martinez is reunited with the full Blood Ops team in Providence, Rhode Island. Her Aunt Babe is tutoring her in all things witchcraft, and her vampire partner Frankie is enjoying the benefits of daywalking, courtesy of a demon spell.
When a segment of the Rhode Island vampire population is marked for death by a tainted blood supply, Nina and her team race to find Patient Zero before the local vampire population is wiped out. But when a demon infestation threatens to take control of the city, Nina must join forces with newly elected mayor—and closet demon— Ami Bertrand before the city falls into ruin.
Filled with fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat action, Nina and her group of supernatural misfits battle a surprising new enemy that threatens their very existence.
No wonder she still can’t get a date.
From Amazon.com best-selling author Karen Greco, Tainted Blood is the second book in the critically acclaimed Hell’s Belle urban fantasy series.
Excerpt: CHAPTER ONE
"Jesus Christ, Frankie," I muttered as the crowbar hit the worn marble floor with an earsplitting clatter. So much for stealth. We should have just ripped through the doors with explosives.
We were breaking into the Superman Building. At 26 floors, it was the first skyscraper ever built in downtown Providence. It lost its last tenant three years ago, and the gorgeous art deco structure was now a towering reminder of better days, when manufacturing was booming and people had money to burn. Years of attempts to "revitalize" the area had fallen flat. This left plenty of room for the underground supernatural factions to sweep in and take over.
Frankie flashed a fangy grin at me. "What's the fun in surprising them? It's never a good time unless it all goes off the rails."
I shook my head and sighed. Ever since Frankie was charmed by a demon to walk in the sunlight, he thought he was invincible. And, sure, being a vampire helped, but he could be staked just as easy as any other vamp. His arrogance could get us both killed.
We walked swiftly through the lobby of the abandoned high rise, keeping tight to the walls. In our all-black commando outfits, we blended easily into the dark hallway.
I stole a wistful look at the bank of elevators. The electricity was cut to the building. We'd be taking the stairs. "Want to guess what floor they're on?"
"I say top floor," Frankie said with his hand already on the door to the stairwell.
It was going to be a long-ass climb. Up the 26 stories and possibly a few extra flights to get to the tippy top of the building's airship docking station. Seriously. The very top floor of the building was built for docking blimp-like airships, so there was a pretty cool waiting area/corporate suite turned Depression-era speakeasy at the apex. Too bad we were seeing it under these circumstances.
About a week ago, a suspicious news report piqued our interest. A group of crazed individuals were caught rampaging through downtown, tossing cars with superhuman strength, punching through brick walls and causing general weird mayhem. A few witnesses described them with blood around their mouths.
Max, our newest Blood Ops member serving as double agent in the FBI, was on record as calling this a "bath salt related incident." It was simple to blame this behavior on meth-heads on a DIY bender. But we knew better. They were vampires, and they were out of control. Frankie and I were dispatched to take care of them.
We climbed the stairs quickly, Frankie almost a floor ahead of me as we ascended. My calves ached by the 17th floor, and I was dripping with sweat. The vamps would be able to smell me by floor 22 if they were paying attention. Since I am half vampire, I can handle a fair amount of physical exertion. But a swift walk up the stairs of a high-rise carrying an extra 35 pounds of vampire-fighting gear was punishing. Pushing through the cramps in my legs, I silently vowed to increase my workouts. It was hard enough to match Frankie's speed and strength, but now that he thought he was the Man of Steel, it was damn near impossible just to catch up to him.
We hit the top, and I finally had a chance to catch my breath. Frankie smirked at my all-too-human physical stamina.
When my heart stopped racing, I double-fisted a pair of stakes and nodded at Frankie. He kicked the door open and we launched into the penthouse. Moonlight poured through the grime-coated glass ceiling.
We rushed in like hellfire, expecting to find ourselves in the middle of a melee. But the room appeared empty.
"Top floor, Frankie? Really?" I grumbled, re-sheathing my stakes. "How much you want to bet they're on two?"
Frankie raised his arm and shushed me. I shot him a dirty look, but quickly softened it when I heard the hushed groans too.
I motioned to Frankie to move towards the sounds, and we cautiously walked to the back of the room. A shape was huddled in a dark corner with two bodies laid out on the floor in front of it. I pulled a mag light out from one of my cargo pants pockets and trained it on the shadowy forms.
A female vampire inched away from the light. Blood was smeared down her face and neck, and it covered her chest. Two male vampires were on the floor, their fronts washed in red as well. The walls were covered in sticky, black-red blood. The entire room was just dripping. It looked like a blood bank exploded.
The vampires on the floor were truly dead, their pale faces cracked like antique porcelain dolls. Their appendages were just starting to decompose, but their midsections were blown out, like they swallowed a bomb and it exploded. The one still living, for lack of a better word, looked close to meeting true death herself. The emaciated vampire half-sobbed, half-moaned as she rocked back and forth.
Although they matched the descriptions of the vamps-gone-wild group, these couldn't be our marauders. They were simply too sick. They looked like junkies who overdosed. A few times.
"What do we do?" I had never seen anything like this before. I sure as hell hoped Frankie would know how to handle this mess.
Frankie walked a wide semicircle around the vampires, his shoes making sucking noises as he lifted them off the sticky, blood-soaked floor. He was worried, clearly on guard.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Kate," she croaked out.
"Right, Kate," Frankie's voice was soothing. "How long have your friends been like this?"
"Since yesterday." Her hoarse voice was barely above a whisper. "We slept in the stairwell but they came in here last night and just...." She motioned at the carnage around her and let out a muffled sob.
"So you were able to walk back and forth to the stairwell? Can you do it now?" I asked.
She tried pulling herself up, but wasn't strong enough to handle the weight of her tiny body. So she crawled towards us, plowing over the disintegrating corpses.
"Stop, Kate! Stay right there!" Frankie visibly jumped back, his shoes making a sharp thwack as they lifted off the gummy floor. "Nina, you need to call Max and Dr. O. Max needs to get the electricity back on to this building. She's going to need to go out the elevator, and Dr. O needs to bring her down."
"Why are we taking her out of the building?" I asked. Our mission was to kill them. Two were dead, and the last one was nearly there. Mission almost complete.
"Because they are Beta-Vamps." Frankie glanced at the vamp on the floor. "Right?"
She nodded, tears streaming down her face.
"No way," I protested. "Betas don't rampage like that."
"They do if they are sick," Frankie explained calmly, his eyes still on Kate.
Beta-Vamps were like the hippies of the vampire world. They were vampires that were missing the predator genome sequence. They weren't human killers. They survived on who knows what. Maybe animal blood. Maybe blood stolen from hospitals. In some extreme cases, they ate rust for the iron content. Betas were rare, and, because of their peace-loving nature, extremely vulnerable to attack from all sorts of supernatural factions.
"So why don't we just carry her down?" I said with a shrug, stepping towards Kate, breaking my boots' suction to the floor.
Frankie was in front of me before I could take another step. My stomach rolled as Frankie dropped his guard and a wave of his panic washed over me.
A few months ago, Frankie had to bind me to him to save my life. For the most part, we're dealing with it just fine. But if he's in emo overdrive and forgets to close off our connection, I get hit with whatever he's feeling. It also works the same in the other direction.
"Don't go near her. She's been infected."
"Infected? With what? Beta-Vamps aren't vulnerable to infections."
"With..." Frankie stopped. He looked shattered. "My God, I haven't seen this since 1877."
"What is it?" I pushed.
"Did you just say opium?"
"Blood-born opium poison. If it gets into our bodies, we die." Frankie was visibly nervous, moving in a jittery semicircle around the woman. "We can't go near her."
"Oh. Shit. Does Dr. O know what to do?" I shrunk back. Opium. Who knew? Apparently Frankie. That explained why vampires were always told not to get their fix from heavy drug users.
"I'm not sure. That's why you need to call him. And he'll need Max since we really shouldn't stay here. Now please. She doesn't have much time."
Right. I pulled out my phone. I'd start with Max. He'd need time to power up the building anyway.
He answered on the sixth ring.
He sounded groggy. "What's up?"
"Sorry to wake you but we're at the Superman Building with two seriously dead vamps and one who is really sick. We need to turn on the power to get her out of here with the elevator. Can you get this building back on the grid?"
"Christ, can't one of you just carry her down the stairs?" His voice was muffled, like he was pressing his face into his pillow.
"Frankie and I can't touch her. She has some sort of infection, something that only vampires can contract. And it kills them."
"Really?" He jolted awake. I heard the bed sheets rustle as he got up.
"I don't know, really. I've never heard of this before. But I know Frankie is freaking out, and said we need to get her out of here. And he only freaks out if there's a damn good reason."
"You know I worked for the FBI all day, right?" he groused. I heard a closet door slam.
"Seriously? Are you going to do this right now?"
"You both were going up there to stake them anyway. So they die of something else. It's the same outcome. Why save her?"
"Because, she's not a predator vampire."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Look, I'll explain later, but we are running out of time. I need to get Dr. O here, and you need to get the electricity on at this place."
"Jesus, you people are complicated. I'll be there in 20." He hung up before I could respond.
Like Frankie, Max had made a deal with resident demon and Providence mayor Ami Bertrand. As a result, Bertrand had turned Max into a Berserker, a supernatural warrior that went extinct with the Vikings. Well, extinct up until Bertrand's curse.
Since Max had been turned into a supernatural entity, but one that was supposed to be extinct, he joined our team as a double agent with the FBI. Our team is Blood Ops, an elite government agency that deals with rogue supernatural factions. Technically, we also don't exist. To humans, anyway. Our existence — hell, the very existence of anything supernatural — was on a "need to know" basis, and even the president of the United States didn't need to know. Only a very select few Department of Defense members knew about Blood Ops. That's plausible deniability for you.
But damn, the Berserker in Max sure made him grumpy.
I hit the speed dial button for Dr. O. Dr. Lachlan O'Malley led our unit of Blood Ops. Though he mostly resembled your favorite 60-something college professor, Dr. O was a Druid priest, which made him pretty damn old. And, like the Druid priests before him, he knew absolutely everything.
"Nina, what's wrong?" Dr. O asked in his thick brogue. I could tell I woke him up.
"Sorry Doc, but we have a problem here. We have Beta-Vamps that ingested opium. Two are dead — like for real, seriously dead. One is barely hanging on."
"Opium? Are you sure?" Dr. O sounded a lot more awake suddenly.
"Frankie says he's sure. Said he hasn't seen this since 18-something or other."
"Frankie would know. Do you have her quarantined?"
"Quarantined? Frankie said not to touch her. He didn't say anything about a quarantine." This was weird.
"You are in the same room with her?"
"Where else would we be?" I asked, impatience getting the best of me.
"If any of their blood gets into your blood stream, or Frankie's, that would be very bad."
"Yeah, Frankie already explained that to me. We aren't touching her.
"Nina, I am afraid it's much more serious than that. Opium poisoning tends to make infected vampires projectile vomit out blood before they die. Then their torso explodes."
That sounded bad. And gross.
"When? When would that happen?" I gripped the phone tightly, eyeballing Kate. She whimpered in the corner near the vampire bodies with her back against the wall.
"It could happen at any time. Lock her in wherever you are, and wait until I get there. Do not wait in the room with her, neither you nor Frankie. Do you understand?" Dr. O's tone was stern.
"Yes, I got it. Okay, we are on the top floor. Max is on his way to power up the building to get her out of here. Just get here fast."
"I am on my way."
The phone went dead. I hightailed it over to Frankie, who was staring helplessly at Kate.
"Frankie, we gotta get out of here." I pulled gently on his arm.
"Please don't leave me." Kate's voice was so weak, I could barely hear her whisper.
Frankie didn't move. He just looked sadly at the sick Beta, his eyes filled with tears.
"Come on, Frankie." I nudged him again. "We can't be in here right now. Dr. O's on his way."
He hesitated. "We can't leave her like this."
"We aren't going to do her any good if we get sick, too," I reasoned.
He ignored me. I changed tactics.
"Stop being a stubborn ass," I raised my voice. He still ignored me.
Kate moaned and fell into a fetal position. She began to convulse. Frankie made a move towards her, but I grabbed him. Standing in front of him, I took him by both shoulders and stared into his eyes.
"We need to get out of here before she barfs blood all over us. Don't make me go witchy on you."
It was an idle threat. Only a few weeks before, I first learned that I am half-witch as well. My witch abilities were dormant for years — hidden by my vampire genetics — until an unfortunate encounter with a spelled knife turned on the hocus-pocus. I was working with my witch mentor, who's also my aunt, on controlling my newfound abilities. Much to Auntie Babe's frustration, I was not taking to it like a fish to water. If I tried to unleash my mojo in here, poor Kate could very well blow up, taking Frankie and me along with her.
Kate's moaning was now punctuated by high-pitched cries of pain. Clearly in agony, she writhed on the floor. Her hands formed into claws, and she scratched at the body of the seriously dead vampire closest to her. His skin tore like dried papier-mâché as she drove her nails into his corpse. As she tore at his flesh, blood bubbled out of her mouth.
"She not going to make it!" I shouted at Frankie, pushing on his lanky six-foot frame. "And neither are we if we don't get out of here!"
I shoved Frankie harder towards the door. He finally snapped out of his stupor and we fled to across the room to the stairwell door. I pushed on it, but it didn't budge. Shaking the handle, I pressed all my weight against it. Nothing. I moved aside and Frankie levered a kick at the door. He succeeded in denting the door, jamming it even harder into the frame.
"Crap, Frankie! There's no time!" I yelled over Kate's ear-piercing shrieks.
Frankie looked wildly around. "Can we break the windows?"
Everything was soaked in blood. Blood we couldn't touch. Crap. I had no choice.
"Hold on!" I closed my eyes tightly and I tried to clear my thoughts, but between Kate's shrieks and Frankie's desperation creeping into my head, not to mention my own stress, my mind was too unfocused to do this right. Oh well. Close enough was going to have to do.
I felt the air shift around me, and I latched onto this small breeze, willing it to grow to hurricane strength. My hair loosed from its ponytail and slapped across my face. The swelling wind pushed me forward. Grabbing Frankie's hand for stability, I cried out the few words of Latin I could come up with that approximated "break the damn glass." The five plate glass windows on the south side of the room shook. I repeated the words louder, putting more force behind them. The wind turned hurricane strength, pushing us across the room, dangerously closer to Kate. Finally, the windows shattered one by one, shards of glass falling 26 stories to the sidewalk.
I opened my eyes. Kate was about to explode. Blood frothed around her lips, her shrieks now muffled as the blood worked its way up her throat.
Hands still clutched, Frankie and I nodded at each other, knowing exactly what we had to do. Together, we ran straight for the windows, and leapt feet first into the star-filled sky.
Frankie's hand slipped out of mine as we both twisted our bodies and made a grasp for the ledge. I caught it, just barely, almost wrenching my shoulder out of its socket on the impact. Frankie similarly stopped short next me. We dangled 26 stories over downtown Providence.
About the Author:
Karen Greco has spent close to twenty years in New York City, working in publicity and marketing for the entertainment industry. Originally from Rhode Island (she loves hot wieners from New York System, but can't stand coffee milk), she studied playwriting in college (and won an award or two).
After not writing plays for a long time, a life-long obsession with exorcists and Dracula drew her to urban fantasy, where she can decapitate characters with impunity.
Her first novel, Hell's Belle, was released in 2013. Tainted Blood is the second book in the best-selling Hell's Belle urban fantasy series.
10 copies of ebook (mobi or epub format) and custom-made vampire stakes, etched with ruins, like the stake Nina uses in Tainted Blood. Open to US Shipping.