"I wish I could give this more than 5 stars, it's that good. I couldn't put it down!" - Paranormal Romance & Authors That Rock
Release Date: January 18th, 2016
"Author Victoria Danann has a surefire hit!" - Night Owl Reviews TOP PICK
"...it’s so good that I could read over and over again. - Bitten by Love
"I wish I could give this more than 5 stars, it's that good. I couldn't put it down!" - Paranormal Romance & Authors That Rock
Ram’s book is My Familiar Stranger retold from his unique point of view, expanded with chapter insights from other significant characters. The story begins the first time he runs away to the New Forest at age ten, follows his recruitment by Black Swan along with his training to be a vampire hunter, and tells the story of the death and mourning of his first partner.
I had finished my education and chosen to sign on with Black Swan. The ink wasn’t dry on the paper before I was out the door. First assignment was Grunewald, the unit that serviced Berlin. It was close enough by whister to patrol, but far enough away to be secluded. The building was a renovation, or adaptation really, of an eighteenth century grand house, set in the middle of a forest preserve that was off limits to anyone not Black Swan.
I had seen a lot of the world by then, but had never been to Berlin. I knew why we had a unit there. Because wherever you find prevalent nightlife, you find active nests of vampire. I didn’t have any personal experience with leeches at that time. But you don’t have to experience a thing personally to believe people when they tell you it’s nasty.
I had never heard anything about vampire until six months ago. They trained our minds and bodies to be precision instruments and occasionally said something vague about protecting the innocent. But crap on a croissant. We had no idea we were preparing to be the only barrier between humanity and monsters that turned out to be real. Our story when we met civilian juvies was that we were in military school. Hel. Close enough. Right?
Anyway, six months ago they clued me in. There are vampire out there. I had two choices when I turned eighteen. I could sign on as a vampire hunter or go home and keep my mouth shut about everything I’d learned. I was told that, if I chose the first option, I’d find that my training hadn’t even begun. I didn’t believe that. I mean how much harder could it be? Really.
They said they took the mouth shut part of option two very seriously. No threat was spelled out, but it was certainly implied. I had six months to decide. So. Sure. I thought about it. A lot.
The day before I turned eighteen I still hadn’t decided. I returned to quarters around ten o’clock, closed the door, switched on the light and nearly jumped out of my skin.
My uncle was sitting there in the dark waiting like some creeper from a film noir movie. He laughed when I jumped.
“Right. Real funny. What are you doing in this part of the world?”
His smile slowly faded away. “Sit. I want to say something.”
Uncle Al wasn’t the sort of guy you said no to. I sat in the chair closest to the sofa where he’d parked his overbearing ass. He didn’t speak at first, just stared at me, and I have to tell you it took every bit of the self-discipline I’d learned to keep from squirming under that kind of scrutiny. But I knew it was some kind of test. I was supposed to be patient and wait it out. So I did.
“You’re going to be eighteen tomorrow.”
I smirked. “So I hear.”
He nodded. “Are you decided?”
I looked away. “Honestly? No. I’ve been hoping for a sign.”
“A sign, huh?”
My uncle didn’t seem to think that was a reliable approach to decision making.
“Well, I don’t know what kind of sign you’re expecting. I thought I’d stop by. Won’t be here tomorrow. So happy birthday.”
I stood when he got up to leave. He turned toward the door, but turned back like he’d forgotten something. I could almost see him mentally patting his pockets.
“Anything you want to ask me?”
I wouldn’t have thought so, but since he put it that way. There was something.
“I guess it’s clear what choice you made. Any regrets?”
He grinned. It was a thing so rare I couldn’t think if I’d ever seen him look pleased before.
“A good question for a seventeen-year-old.”
“Indeed.” He nodded. “The answer is no. Not one. Hope that helps.”
I thought about it for a second. “Would you feel the same way if you died tomorrow?”
His grin got even bigger. “Definitely.”
With that he left without looking back and, in fact, it did help. Immensely.
Teachers are known to go on every year about how you’d better get ready because the next year is going to be so much harder. But it never is. It’s always the same thing. So when I signed on to Black Swan for life and they told me it was about to get real, I just smirked on the inside and thought, “Yeah. Yeah. I’ve heard it before.”
Looking back now I could slap my little bratty self for acting like a punk. Even if I kept it on the inside. For once the future of dread hadn’t been overstated. It had been understated.
The next four years were rigorous enough to make the first five look like a glide on a paddle board over a smooth-as-glass lake. Naturally, once we understood that we were going to be vampire hunters, and what that meant, we began to pay attention in earnest. But here’s the bare truth of that. Nothing they can do or say can truly prepare you for what it feels like the first time you are face to face with a pale-eyed leech who wants to rip you apart with virus-dripping fangs.
My internship was mostly served as backup to the Grunewald Unit knights. I went to Brazil for a few months and did an awful rotation in Central America looking for Chupacabra. Ew. Things give me willies when I think about them. Yeah. They’re even worse than vampire.
I was always sent back to Berlin though. Like it was home base. That was okay with me. There was a lot of action and the Grunewald knights were good solid teachers. They taught me about slaying vampire and they taught me about camaraderie.
Then, of course, there were German girls. I mean, you’ve gotta love girls who have beer with breakfast. Right?
It was a good place to pay my dues and hone my skills.
Three years later, I was told that I was being sent back to the States. To Jefferson Unit. Rumor had it that I was going to be a vampire slayer in New York, New York.
I wasn’t very impressed when the jeep stopped in front of J.U. It was the farthest thing from Grunewald Castle. A plain brick building with not a single window showing. Looked more like a prison than a Black Swan facility.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t require frills to complete me. It was just an observation. I stopped at the intercom.
“Just a minute.”
I heard the buzzer and pushed on the door. My first thought was that there was an awful lot of activity for a place that looked so quiet on the outside. I hoisted my duffel up higher on my shoulder and stopped a kid going by.
“Down one level and turn right.”
I nodded my thanks and headed toward the elevators. The central area was impressive with its three-story ceiling, modern gleam and polish. The place looked like a prison from the front, but once inside it was open and light with a view to what appeared to be a park on the other side of tall windows.
When the elevator opened, I checked to make sure the down arrow was lit, stepped inside and pushed S1. A couple of girls, well, young women I guess you’d say, got in after me in workout clothes. One of them looked me over, taking in the duffel, “Transferring in?”
She smiled. “I’m Ellsbeth. I work in medical.” The elevator opened. When I realized they weren’t getting off, I finally got the hint and exited. “See you around.”
The sovereign’s office wasn’t hard to find. The reception area was glass to the hallway, but I checked the plaque just to be sure. Sol Nemamiah, Sovereign.
There was a kid at the desk, young enough to be a student. He looked up when I walked in and dropped my duffel.
“Transfer from Berlin,” I said.
“Go on in.” He pointed to a closed door.
I opened the door, hoping the instruction wasn’t a new-guy-hazing prank.
The first thing I saw was a mess of blond hair. I knew he was an elf because he had some of that hair tucked behind the ears. I guess he could have been fae, but I didn’t know of any fae knights.
When he turned around, I had three thoughts. That he was just about my age. That his eyes sparkled with elf mischief. And that the only word to describe him was beautiful.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have a strong preference for the opposite sex and don’t usually think about whether other guys are attractive or not. But this elf had it going and I would have had to be blind to not notice.
I looked past him to the man behind the desk. You could tell it was the Sovereign by the way his jaw seemed permanently clenched. He pointed at the elf. “Rammel Aelshelm Hawking, meet Basil Rathbone Landsdowne.”
The elf stuck out his hand. I took it and shook. That’s when it registered. I laughed and blurted out, “You’re P.P.”
“Excuse me?” he said, with his brow knitting.
I looked at the Sovereign and thought better of saying more. “I’ll explain. Later.”
“You two are getting a try out as partners, attached to B Team, starting,” he looked at his monitor, “Thursday. Mr. Hawking, Mr. Landsdowne’s quarters are next to yours. Show him the way.”
“Aye,” said the elf as he moved toward the outer office. He held the door open to the hall and gestured toward the elevator. “Welcome to worm patrol.”
“Should I complain about the assignment?”
He laughed. “I’ve been told that’s what they call rotation in the Big Apple.”
Once inside he pushed the third floor button and leaned back against the wall facing me. “So what was the peepee thing?”
I grinned. “Not peepee! P. P. Your reputation is widely known. Stands for parties and pussy.”
He cocked his head and gave a tiny smile. “’Tis what they say about me?”
“Yeah, man. It could be worse. They could be sayin’ you’re a limp dick wanker who’s scared of girls.”
He combined a grin with a sly look that I’d come to think of as Ram’s trademark smile. “Spent a lot of time alone as a kid. I suppose there was some pent-up party in me. Maybe I’ve over-compensated. I would no’ want P.P. on my tombstone.” The elevator car stopped and the doors opened. He held his hand on the door seam while I hoisted my duffel and stepped out. I walked next to him down the wide hallway. It was carpeted with a rich red pattern, like a five-star hotel. The plus column features of J.U. were definitely all on the inside.
“So,” he continued as we walked, “your name is Basil Rathbone…”
“Landsdowne. My mother named me after some famous swordsman.” I chuckled, looking down at the carpet. “Maybe she set me up for this gig. You think?”
“Could be. I met a guy named Rathbone when I was thirteen. He recruited me. Big fella. No’ quite a giant, but really big.”
“Yeah. That was my uncle. He’s not that big. Matter of fact he’s just about the same size as you and me.”
“No shit?” he asked. I nodded. “I guess things looked bigger when I’d just turned thirteen.” He stopped in front of a door with my name on the plaque. “This is you. That’s me one door down,” he said as he pointed down the hallway.
“Okay.” I waved my new ID in front of the sensor and heard the internal click.
“Dump your stuff and I’ll show you ‘round.”
“Sure. Give me five.” The place was a lot bigger and nicer than I expected. In fact, it was a step up. I could stand being called “worm patrol” if all the perks were like that.
I followed the elf’s suggestion, dumped my duffel, looked around and walked back out. He was leaning against the wall facing my door looking at his fingernails. He seemed to read my thoughts when he said, “’Twas exactly my reaction when I was moved up here a day ago. ‘Tis the big leagues. Compensation for risk I guess. If we pass probation, we’re goin’ to be knights.”
I let that sink in. “Knights,” I repeated.
I’ve been lookin’ at that plaque on your door. “What do you go by?”
“Noooooo.” He drew the word out, shaking his head. “That will never do. Try it on for size. ‘Hold the fucker at bay, Basil.’ ‘Basil, jump back. He’s goin’ for your dick!’” I had to laugh. It looked like I’d scored a partner who was entertaining. “See? It just will no’ do.”
“So you want to rename me? What do you suggest?”
“Shorten your limey last name to Lan. I like the sound of it. Girls will, too.”
“Oh, yeah? What do you go by?”
He smiled. “Ram.”
I nodded, somehow knowing that it suited him perfectly. “No promises but I’ll try it out for a couple of days.” Walking out of the elevator into the Hub, I said, “Have you met the guys we’re paired with?”
He didn’t elaborate. So I decided to save the interrogation for later.
Ram gave me a tour of the facility. He was thorough when he was on a mission, left no corner unexplored. He introduced me to more people than I could remember then took me back to the Hub.
Opening his arms as if he was embracing the space, he said, “The perfect end to the comprehensive tour. The lounge. Off limits to students. What’ll you have?” he asked, sitting down at a table near the double-sided fireplace and gesturing at the bar attendant at the same time.
“What do you suggest?”
Ram grinned. “Keep it simple. Irish whiskey.”
“Oh, no,” I said, shaking my head. “I haven’t eaten in a day. No alcohol on my empty stomach.”
“Great Paddy, man! What kind of a shit host am I?!?”
“Let’s get you some food. What do you…? Hold on. Let me guess.” He tapped his fingers and jiggled his right knee, his brows knitted like he was trying to divine my food preferences. “I’m guessin’ you’re a French dip man.”
It wasn’t something I would have thought of, but once he said it out loud, I couldn’t imagine wanting anything else.
“Yeah.” I grinned. “That actually sounds great.”
“With tomato soup.”
The bar attendant arrived. “I’ll have my usual. My friend, Lan here, will have a cup of tomato soup, Caesar salad, and a French dip. Do no’ dawdle and do no’ be stingy with the beef. The lad is hungry and very likely still growin’.”
I had my doubts that I was still growing, but I had no doubt that I’d been partnered with a force of nature. But that was okay because he gave every indication of being a force of good nature. It was too soon to judge, but I was already feeling like, when it came to partners, I could have done a lot worse. Only time would tell, but I might have won the lottery. And I might just survive Black Swan, with a guy like him at my side.
“So take your mind off your empty belly by tellin’ me about yourself. For starters you sound American. You from here?”
“Born in Santa Clara. You know where that is?”
“Everybody in Black Swan knows where that is. Crawlin’ with vampire. Where did you do secondary school?”
“San Francisco. You?”
“I did my internship there! Must have just missed each other. Es ist eine seltsame Welt.”
“Aye. ‘Tis a strange world.”
“How do you like it here so far?”
“Think we might have landed on our feet.”
“Yeah. Seems alright. So far.” The attendant set a whiskey down in front of Ram and put a water down for me. “So. About the other two assigned to B Team?”
Ram shook his head. “Met ‘em briefly. My first impression is that they come with sticks up their asses. Sittin’ up just a little too straight if you ask me. One of them is a berserker.”
“No way! I thought they were all gone. Stuff of legends and all that.”
Ram was shaking his head. “He’s real and big as life. And I mean big! I guess you’ll meet them soon enough if they’re sendin’ us out startin’ day after tomorrow.”
“Kinda hard to believe. Goin’ out unsupervised, I mean.”
“I hear you. But we have a day to fatten you up for the leeches and maybe get laid a few times.”
I spluttered into my water. “A few times?”
At that point, I thought he was mostly bluff and bluster, but it turned out that he could have had a new sexual experience every hour if he’d wanted. Girls did things trying to get his attention that made me feel embarrassed for them. The notice he got for being beautiful made it hard to be inconspicuous, which is what works best for vampire hunters. He took to wearing a black knit hat that covered the ears and most of that blondeness. Seemed like those two things combined were like catnip to women. But you know what? After a couple of days I couldn’t even imagine another partner. When Black Swan put us together, they must have used some kind of magic. They knew what they were doing. We complemented each other’s strengths and weaknesses. And it’s no small thing that he made things that should have been drudgery or tedium seem like fun.
We needed that counterbalance because there was plenty about our lives that was not fun.
It turned out that Ram was kind of right about the other partnership that made up B Team. Storm and Kay were straight arrow types, but I didn’t object to that. Straight arrows are predictable. Well, I mean, so long as they don’t let their berserker out.
Certainly everybody can’t be Mr. Party like Ram. Sometimes a situation calls for a serious attitude. Vampire hunting is one of those situations. The most serious one of us, Storm, was the one we started listening to, like our lives depended on it. And I guess they did.
Ram was technically the most senior member of B Team because he’d arrived a couple of hours ahead of them, but it wasn’t a distinction he cared about. He seemed more interested in getting the job done and staying alive than being in charge. So I had no problem with his priorities.
Kay got stuck with the nickname Ram gave him, just like I did. Not that I’m complaining. I wore the name “Lan” like I’d never been called anything else and the fucker might have even been right about guessing that girls would like it better than Basil.
Yeah. Storm and Kay were good guys that I learned to love and they did their share of snatching my hiney from the jaws of death.
Until they didn’t.
About the author:
Her paranormal romances come with uniquely fresh perspectives on "imaginary" creatures, characters, and themes. She adds a dash of scifi, a flourish of fantasy, enough humor to make you laugh out loud, and enough steam to make you squirm in your chair. Her heroines are independent femmes with flaws and minds of their own whether they are aliens, witches, demonologists, psychics, past life therapists. Her heroes are hot and hunky, but they also have brains, character, and good manners. **Usually.
Victoria lives in The Woodlands, Texas with her husband and a very smart, mostly black German Shepherd dog. She answers her own email and is happy to hear from readers. firstname.lastname@example.org
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