Melissa F. Olson’s thrilling FBI vampire procedural Nightshades series concludes with Outbreak, available June 5th from Tor.com Publishing.
The Chicago field office of the Bureau of Preternatural Investigation is facing its deadliest challenge, yet—internal investigation! Alex and Lindy are on the hook, and on the run.
But when all of the BPI’s captive vampires are broken free from their maximum security prison, and Hector finally steps out of the shadows, Alex must use every trick to stay ahead of both the BPI and the world’s most dangerous shade.
Confrontation is inevitable. Success is not.
Somewhere on Interstate 12
Overcast skies or not, Corbin Sloane was fading.
He had been following the massive van for more than two hours, and daylight was now seeping through the windshield and driver’s side window, hitting his exposed hands, face, and neck. At first, the cloud-filtered sunlight just made his skin tingle, but as time wore on it began to burn. His body began directing energy toward healing, which eventually drained him. This must be what humans felt like when they tried to drive after an all-nighter.
But Sloane wasn’t about to pull off the road. He had spent the last two years of his obscenely long life following a young woman named Reagan, a shade who somehow attracted the loyalty of other shades. Sloane, who had spent over a century hurting people for money, surprised himself by falling in line after her.
And, if he was being honest, falling in love with her too.
Unbeknownst to him, however, Reagan had gotten herself involved with shade royalty. Sloane had only learned about it the previous evening, after he saw Reagan shoot Hector’s twin sister, Sieglinde, with some kind of dart gun.
For the first time ever, Sloane had been angry with her. No, he was livid. They had argued as they drove away from the Switch Creek police station, going round and round. Reagan was tired of being isolated and making shit up as she went along. She wanted shades to have a true leader, and Hector had proven himself willing to lead. Sloane, for his part, tried to point out that Hector was a cold-blooded killer, of both shades and humans, and insisted that Reagan should trust his own experience with Hector over her gut feelings.
Reagan had countered that he, Sloane, had killed shades and humans during his mercenary days too, and that was pretty much when they went back to the starting point. It broke his heart to do it, but Sloane finally gave her an ultimatum: walk away from Hector or he would walk away from her.
And she chose Hector.
So Sloane walked away. Or rather, he drove away, in a gorgeous Bentley owned by a wealthy woman in her late forties who was charmed by his British accent—and the shade saliva he put into her bloodstream. Sloane had driven straight toward I-90 south, intending to cross into Indiana—he had no intention of staying in the same state as one of the royal twins—and then make his way south to Atlanta, or even southwest to New Orleans. He had never been to the Big Easy, and it was one of those cities that was so clichéed as a vampire hangout that he was curious to go.
His fantasies about the French Quarter lasted for exactly forty-two minutes before Sloane found himself pulling off the highway and slamming his fist down on the plush leather dashboard. “Goddammit, Reagan,” he said aloud.
Then there was nothing to do but turn the car around.
When he made his way back into Chicago, it was easy enough to pull the Bentley behind a state police car and mesmerize the trooper into telling him that Reagan had been captured, alive, and was going to be held at the state police station—Jail? Barracks? Sloane didn’t know the American terminology—overnight. Sloane wasn’t lovesick enough to walk into another police station full of humans, so he got the trooper to tell him which exit was used for prisoner transfers. He managed to find a parking spot down the alley, where he could just make out the discreet door. And he waited.
The Bureau of Preternatural Investigations in Washington had a few live shade prisoners, so they would be aware that shades were at their weakest shortly after dawn. Sloane was guessing the prison transport would leave shortly before the sun came up, so the shades could get inside the vehicle on their own power, and he was right: At 6:45, just before dawn, a very nondescript, very large van pulled up to the exit, and he saw them come out: first, five armed troopers, wearing those modified hazmat suits that were beginning to spread through law enforcement, the ones that protected cops from shade saliva. Then the three shackled shade prisoners, followed by another five troopers.
Reagan was at the front of the prisoner line—she would have insisted—followed by Cooper and Aidan, her most recent recruits. Cooper, a huge man who had been transmuted in his forties, kept his head bowed, defeated. Aidan was looking around with frank curiosity, neither afraid nor confident. In a way, this was just another day for him.
Reagan, for her part, shuffled along with her head held high, her eyes flashing rage at anyone who looked her way. She was fierce, but Sloane knew her well enough to recognize the slightest slump to her shoulders, a certain resigned sadness in her body language. The last residue of Sloane’s anger dissolved when he saw that. She had trusted the wrong person, and she knew it.
He wanted to go get her right then, of course, but there was a whole police station’s worth of cops right behind her. Sloane would never have survived for so many decades if he couldn’t be patient. He watched as the three shades were loaded into the enormous van and made to lie down in what looked like airtight body bags, made of some sort of coated canvas or leather. Sloane’s lip curled. He could see the practicality, of course, but it seemed inhuman.
Then again, that’s what the police thought of shades. That’s what everyone thought of shades.
Once Reagan and the others were secured, four uniformed state troopers climbed into the back of the van with massive guns. Sloane winced a little. Well, he supposed four was better than ten. Two more men came through the exit. Sloane didn’t know the younger guy, who headed for the passenger door, but he recognized the older man behind the wheel as part of the Chicago BPI team.
And now, two hours later, he was following the van south on I-90, through the narrowing clog of early-morning commuters and around the curve of the Great Lake. As soon as he was certain they were taking the shortest route to Washington, Sloane hung back a few cars, letting a sleek black Hummer H6 take the spot behind the van, where it would hide the Bentley from sight. He had filled the Bentley’s tank before he started the stakeout, but he hoped the van would have to stop to refill, somewhere out of the city. The fact that some shades could be outdoors during the day wasn’t well known; the cops wouldn’t be expecting him to attack in broad daylight.
He’d left too much space in between himself and the Hummer; now a red pickup truck with a trailer inserted itself in the lane between them. Sloane wasn’t worried—as long as he could see if the transport van got off an exit, he was fine. His thoughts returned to possible scenarios for an attack. Six cops was a lot for one shade during the day, and he didn’t really want to kill them. If he could catch them by surprise… and if Reagan could stay awake long enough to distract them…
Sloane found himself snapping to attention. His subconscious had noticed something… what was it? There: two lanes over, a second black Hummer had accelerated past the Bentley. Now it was moving right, crossing to get closer to the first Hummer… and to the transport van. Two identical black Hummers in Michigan? Unlikely.
Before he could even consider the problem properly, a third Hummer suddenly braked in the far left lane, where it had been hidden from Sloane by a semi.
“Bollocks,” Sloane said out loud. The enormous vehicles converged on the transport van, which looked small for the first time. They were just coming up on an exit, and the Hummer to the left of the van swung sideways, forcing the van off the steep embankment.
The professional part of Sloane’s brain was unimpressed—if he’d been running their operation, he would have gotten subtler vehicles in different colors—but then it struck him who the Hummers had to belong to. He only knew one shade who would make this bold of a move against the government, and he was far too arrogant to buy cars in different colors. He wanted the world to know he was involved.
Fear shivered through Sloane. He wasn’t afraid of much, but the sociopathic king of vampires truly scared him. And it was one thing to discourage Reagan from helping Hector, but another thing entirely to actively move against shade royalty.
But this was Reagan.
Sloane braked as the van tumbled down the embankment, flipping over three times before coming to a rest on its roof, well out of sight of the highway. The Hummers bumped their way down the steep hill, surrounding the downed van. Sloane stayed at the top, pulling the Bentley over and waiting. He opened the glove box and retrieved the weapons he’d stashed earlier: two Berettas and a hunting knife.
Three drivers climbed out of the Hummers, and Sloane could instantly tell from their movements that two of them were shades. They were pale and a little drawn-looking—the sun had been out for hours—but old enough to move with unnatural grace and speed. The third driver, the human, hung back, weapons in hand, while the other two approached the van.
The poor cops never had a chance.
It didn’t even occur to Sloane to go help them. Instead, he waited until the shooting started, and then he slipped out of the Bentley and belly-crawled down the embankment, using the scrubby fall brush for cover. No one paid the least bit of attention to him. One or two of the troopers must have rallied enough to return fire, because a stray bullet caught the arm of the Hummer’s human driver, who screamed out a curse and fired back. There were still plenty of gunshots in the air, so Sloane raised his own gun and shot the human clean through the head.
Then the gunshots stopped, and there was a long moment of stillness—the shades were probably feeding from the fallen cops. Sloane took a more secure position behind a clump of young pine trees and waited.
One of the attacking shades got out and came over to his human colleague, cursing as he saw the body. After a moment of staring over it, he shrugged to himself and went to the Hummer, opening the massive hatchback before backing the vehicle up to the back of the mangled transport van. He began pulling out tarps—and Sloane shot him in the head too.
The shade dropped. He could heal from that, but Sloane’s attention was already drawn to the second shade, who leapt out of the van like something out of a horror novel, his eyes vamped out and blood running down his chin into his shirt. The shade had put everything into the jump, probably assuming from a distance that Sloane was a human, and as he flew toward him Sloane casually lifted the muzzle of his Beretta and shot him in the stomach. The shade let out a very undignified gurgle and tumbled to the ground, blood erupting from his wound.
Everything was suddenly still. Both of the shades could heal from the gunshots, given the amount of blood they’d probably absorbed from the police, but the second one had seen Sloane’s face. “In for a penny,” he muttered to himself. He raised both Berettas, aimed at major arteries, and fired into the two downed shades until the guns clicked empty.
When the bodies finished jerking, Sloane was fairly certain they were both dead, but he wasn’t about to take any risks. He retrieved the hunting knife and went to work sawing off their heads.
Only then, when both heads were fully detached from the bodies, did Sloane open the back doors of the van.
Reagan was waiting for him.
Someone must have undone her chains—either the state police had removed them after sunrise, or the shades trying to capture her for Hector got the keys. Either way, Reagan was free to leap into his arms, wrapping her legs around his waist and causing Sloane to let out a surprised “oof.” He staggered a few steps to be under the Hummer’s hatchback door, out of the sun.
“You came for me!” she said, her voice shaky and a little surprised.
“Of course I did, love.”
Reagan buried her face into his neck. “I fucked up.”
“I know.” He could have stood there all day holding her, but she needed to get out of the daylight. Gently, he bent forward a little so she would lower herself to the ground. Her face was pale but feverish, her long dark hair matted in clumps. Her eyes were filled with red, as were his own, and blood was sprayed over the front of both of them. Sloane pushed the hair out of her face, and color and humanity slowly bled back into Reagan’s eyes. “We have a lot to talk about,” he told her. She nodded, regret on her face. He tilted his head toward the two airtight body bags, which had to contain Aidan and Cooper. “But for right now, we need to find you lot a place to hide.”
Late Friday night
Special Agent Alex McKenna was about three hours past complete exhaustion, but he lay awake, staring at the ceiling of a vampire’s bedroom.
“You okay over there?” Lindy asked. He rolled over to look at her. She was lying on her side, wearing nothing but a sheet pulled up to her waist. Her head was pillowed on her hands, arms covering her breasts. A small smile played on her face, but there was a trace of nervousness, too.
“Yeah. I’m okay. Just… wow.”
“Dear Penthouse,” Lindy intoned. “I never imagined I’d sleep with a vampire, but tonight all my dreams came true…”
Alex threw back his head and laughed. “I wouldn’t say I’ve been dreaming of sleeping with a vampire. I was more just wanting to sleep with you.”
“Was it what you expected?” Lindy asked.
Alex reached over, playing with a loose strand of her blond hair. Lindy was one of the oldest and strongest shades on earth, but at the moment she looked lovely and vulnerable and… human. So human. No wonder shades had gone so long without being discovered.
He had almost lost her earlier in the night. The shade they’d been pursuing, Reagan, had shot Lindy with a dart of methamphetamine, which had short-circuited her system. When Alex found her, for a few terrifying minutes he’d been certain she was dead.
“Yes and no,” he said. “I was a little… mmm… apprehensive. About keeping up with you.”
Now it was Lindy’s turn to laugh. “You watch too many movies.”
“Well, yeah, probably. But it was…” He was too embarrassed to continue, so he amended, “It was really nice.”
She rolled her eyes. “Talk about damning with faint praise.”
Alex leaned over and kissed her. “Thank you,” he told her when they finally broke apart.
“For sleeping with you?”
“For trusting me.”
Lindy pulled away then, sitting up with her back to him. “Alex…” she said after a long moment. “I haven’t told you everything.”
“About my brother.”
Now he sat up too. “Okay…”
She looked at him over her shoulder. “There’s something you should see.”
Lindy stood up, sliding into a robe, and Alex pulled on his boxers and followed her across the bedroom to a closed door that he had figured for a closet. There was a bureau next to it, and Lindy opened the top drawer, dug around, and produced a little key. She unlocked the door, flipping a light switch just inside. Then she stepped back so Alex could get through. “I’ll give you a minute,” she said, not meeting his eyes. “I need to feed the cat anyway.”
Curious, Alex stepped past her into a large closet or small dressing room. It was empty… but three of the walls were covered in thick brown paper, the old-fashioned kind that was still sometimes used to wrap parcels. And every single bit of paper was covered in information, like an enormous flow chart.
At the center of it all, facing straight to the closet door, was a letter-sized photograph of Hector. It was grainy, obviously a blowup of a very old photo… but the BPI didn’t have a single picture of Hector.
Lindy had been holding out on him.
“Jesus,” Alex muttered. He stepped closer. There was a thick black marker line leading from Hector’s photo to a small sketch of a woman he recognized: Giselle, the shade who had attacked one of his agents and killed many others. Lindy had written “DEAD” underneath the sketch.
But there were many others: lines upon branching lines leading to sketches and photos and scraps of newspaper. “It’s a whole goddamned network,” he muttered.
Lindy padded back into the bedroom, closing the door behind her to keep the cat out. She’d heard him, of course, and came to look over his shoulder. “These are all the shades I know who have ever worked for him,” she said, pointing to the web of faces. Then she gestured toward the top of the brown paper, where a line of dates and descriptions went most of the way around the room. “This is a timeline of his activity, as much as I know.”
Alex spun around to look at her. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I was going to. But I was waiting until you were out of the hospital—I didn’t want you trying to go after him until you were better. And then you went to DC, and there was never enough time…”
“Bullshit,” he spat. “You could have told me before any of that. Or Chase, or Bartell, or any of the others. Hell, you could have put this together at the office, where everyone else could be working on it too. Why did you want to keep us out of this?”
Her eyes narrowed and she stepped closer to him. The metal tracking bracelet on her wrist jangled faintly as she reached up and poked at the thick scar tissue on his shoulder where Hector had sliced diagonally across his body with a knife. She wasn’t very gentle about it. “That’s why. You almost died the last time you went up against Hector. I didn’t want to risk you. I didn’t want to risk any of you.” She looked angry, but her voice trembled, and Alex realized she was afraid. For him.
“So why show me now?” he demanded, not ready to let it go. “Because I slept with you and you feel guilty?”
Lindy flinched. “Okay, I probably deserve that,” she allowed. “But no. Bartell said something to me last night, about how trust and loyalty need to go hand in hand.” Hesitantly, she reached up and laid her hand on his cheek. “You’ve got my back, and I’ve got yours. But we’re not going to get any further if I don’t trust you.”
Alex felt the anger dissolve. Lindy was a shade; she’d been hiding from law enforcement for hundreds of years. Of course her perspective on working as a team would be different. “I could have told you that,” he grumbled, but he reached over and squeezed her hand. His eyes traveled over all the new possibilities, the new data. It was an investigator’s dream, and Alex felt real hope rising inside him.
“First thing in the morning,” he said at last, “we’re taking this to the office.” The next day was Saturday, but Alex would be working anyway, filing endless reports from the day’s many events and checking in with the team transporting captured shades to Camp Vamp. “No more secrets.”
He turned to face her. “I didn’t know you could draw.”
A tiny, infectious smile bloomed on her face, and she tugged on his hand, leading him back toward the bed. “I have many hidden talents.”
Alex started awake, smelling Lindy’s lavender and vanilla shampoo on the pillow next to him. Lindy herself was hurrying out of the bedroom, and it was only as he squinted at her departing figure that his brain processed what had woken them up: a banging on the front door. He checked his watch: 8:15 a.m. Shit. He had wanted to be at the office by now.
Out in the other room, he heard a familiar voice talking to Lindy: Chase Eddy, his best friend and second in command, was asking for Alex in a panicked tone.
Alex located his pants where they’d been discarded next to the bed and tried to hop into them while stumbling out of the bedroom—definitely not a great plan, especially before coffee. As he lurched into the entryway, Chase and Lindy both looked at him.
“Hey, Chase,” Alex said, wincing. He glanced down at his own bare chest and just-buttoned pants. “This… well, this is exactly what it looks like.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Chase began pacing, his hair sticking out at all angles and his unbuttoned dress shirt flapping over his jeans and a T-shirt. “Why aren’t you answering your phone?”
“I didn’t hear it. And I thought we had things under control for the night.”
Chase seemed to deflate, and he sank down into one end of Lindy’s sofa. “Yeah. About that.”
Then, as Alex and Lindy listened, Chase laid out the story: he’d realized the week before that he was missing time, and felt compelled to keep it from everyone.
For a second, Alex didn’t understand what his friend was trying to tell him, but then he got it: Chase had been mesmerized.
Before the implications could even sink in, Chase added, “I got this idea that by keeping my missing time a secret, I would help protect you from her.”
Alex stared blankly for a moment, until Lindy touched his arm. “The easiest way to mesmerize a human is to play on an emotion that’s already there.”
Alex nodded, feeling suddenly weary. “Protecting me is pretty much part of your genetic code at this point, dude.”
Chase let out a broken laugh. “Except I didn’t. Or I thought I was, but it was all fuzzy, and someone kept sort of erasing their tracks, and I couldn’t keep anything in my head…”
Oh, God. “That sounds pretty sophisticated,” Alex said, looking at Lindy. She stared back at him in horror, and he could read the thought on her face even before it echoed in his mind.
Chase knew everything about the BPI, about Alex, about their work with Lindy. He was a perfect target. Why hadn’t Alex seen that? Why hadn’t he anticipated this, goddammit?
But he knew his best friend well enough to know that there was more. “Chase, what happened?” Alex asked, trying to stay calm.
“Gil called me this morning, when he couldn’t reach you,” Chase whispered. “The van left at six a.m. Forty-five minutes ago, they were attacked. Harvey Bartell is dead, and so is the kid that Gil sent with him. The shades are gone.”
Alex sagged. Bartell. One of his team was dead. Because of Alex’s orders.
“Oh, God.” Lindy looked as stunned as Alex felt. “Alex, you need to call—”
But his cell phone was already beginning to buzz in his pocket. He looked at the screen: the deputy director of the Bureau, Marcia Harding. Alex’s heart sank. “Hang on, I’ve got to take this.” He touched a button. “Hello, Deputy Director. I just heard about the van.”
There was an exhalation, then the deputy director’s voice said, “I’m sorry to say it, but we have bigger problems than that right now, Alex. Camp Vamp was just attacked. All the inmates have escaped.”
Alex was momentarily stunned into silence. Lindy, who was close enough to overhear, clapped a hand over her mouth, her eyes widening. Then she leaned over and whispered an explanation in Chase’s ear. Alex forced himself to sound calm. “Casualties?”
“Six, including Lucien Tymer. We need you here.”
Tymer had been part of the old guard, one of the few current agents who had served under Alex’s mother, the first female director of the FBI. “Me?” He couldn’t keep the surprise out of his voice. Chase, who looked like he might throw up, stepped closer to Alex, putting his ear near the cell phone. Alex increased the volume so he could hear too.
“What about Ellen Dawson?” Alex asked Harding. The senior agent in charge of the New York BPI pod was hours closer than he was.
“Alex…” Harding’s voice was heavy. Alex had known her since he was a little kid. He hadn’t heard her sound so disconcerted since his mother’s funeral. “We think there was a leak out of your office.”
Alex’s eyes flicked over to Chase, who had gone even paler. “Oh?”
“I’m sorry. I’m suspending the Chicago pod until we can sort out this mess,” she said. “I want you to come to DC and help with this thing.”
“Why?” Alex began, but then he understood. Alex was the most famous agent in the BPI. He wasn’t just an FBI legacy; his team had also solved the two biggest shade cases to date. “Never mind, I get it. Optics.” It had come out more sour than he intended.
“Like it or not, you’ve become the face of the BPI,” Harding said sternly. “We’ll talk about it more when you get here. Call your people, inform them that the pod is suspended, and then call my assistant. I’ll have her book you a flight. And, of course,” she added, like it was an afterthought, “I’m sending Gil and his SWAT team to pick up Rosalind Frederick.”
Next to him, Lindy recoiled. “Wait, what?” Alex sputtered. He was about to ask why, but then it was all too obvious: until a few hours ago, Lindy was the only known free vampire in America. She had access to BPI agents, and she could control humans with her saliva. Of course they would assume she was involved in the jailbreak.
Beside him, Lindy must have reached the same conclusion, because the look of surprise on her face quickly settled into irritation.
“Her involvement in this is a disaster waiting to happen,” Harding was saying. “But if we can keep it quiet and feed her to the press as a suspect, it will help temper public reaction to the prison break.”
“With respect, Deputy Director, I’m not sure that’s the right call,” Alex tried. “I trust Lindy. And she’s still our best hope of catching Hector.”
“According to her,” Harding countered. “Remember, Ambrose fed you Frederick’s name. By her own admission, Hector is her brother. What’s to say she wasn’t playing you this whole time?”
Lindy shrank back from him, looking like she’d been slapped. When she turned her gaze to Alex he could tell she was worried that he was going to believe Harding’s new theory.
It hadn’t even occurred to him.
He pointed to her bedroom and mouthed the words, “Get the paper.” She gave him a questioning look, but then she nodded and rushed toward the bedroom. To Harding, Alex said, “I understand what you’re saying, Deputy Director. When is Gil picking her up?” He looked around for his shoes and keys.
“Any minute now.” Chase, who had heard most of the conversation, ran to the front door and began peering through the window blinds. In Alex’s ear, Harding added, “Our research from Ambrose suggests shades are at their weakest shortly after sunrise, but Agent Palmer isn’t taking any chances. He’s bringing a full team.” There was a pause, and when she spoke again her voice was severe. “I’m sure I don’t need to tell you not to call and warn her.”
“No, no, I won’t do that,” Alex said, truthfully. He definitely didn’t need to call Lindy.
“Good. Come find me the moment you arrive in DC.”
“Yes, Deputy Director.”
Alex hung up the phone and looked at Chase, who was peering sideways through the glass. “Three SUVs just parked on the next block,” he reported before Alex could ask. “Two minutes, tops.”
Lindy appeared at his side, dressed in a simple sundress and flats, with a leather purse crisscrossing her body, a denim jacket strung through the straps. There was an expensive-looking sunhat on her head, making her look like a rich college kid about to hit the farmers’ market. Her arms were filled with bundled-up brown paper.
“They’ll have both exits covered,” Alex stated. “Is there another way out of here?”
She gave him a duh look. “There are four more. The roof is our best bet.”
He nodded. “Give me your arm.” Understanding, she shifted the bundle of papers to one arm and held out the wrist with her bracelet: the unbreakable metal bracelet that served as her own personal federal monitor.
“You sure about this?” Chase murmured. Lindy and Alex both looked at him, and the other agent reddened. “I mean, no offense. But you’re throwing away your career here.”
Alex met Lindy’s eyes. She was weaker with the daylight: less physically alluring, slower, more vulnerable. But her eyes blazed with fierce intelligence, and he could see her running the calculations, her expression softening. “Alex, maybe—”
“No,” he interrupted her. “You’ve got my back and I’ve got yours.” He turned her wrist over and pulled it close to his face so he could make out the tiny, sophisticated lock. The bracelet may have looked like expensive jewelry, but the actual locking mechanism wasn’t that different from the kind of combination lock used for bicycles. His brow furrowed, Alex slid in the code: 0918. The bracelet fell to the wood floor with a heavy thunk. Lindy immediately rubbed her wrist, the papers in her arm making little crumpling noises.
“Alex! Out of time!” Chase yelled from the window.
“Let’s go.” He started to move her toward the stairwell, but paused when he realized Chase wasn’t following. “Chase?”
“You guys go,” he said. “Turning myself in will buy you time.”
“Chase—” Alex started, but his friend cut him off.
“I did this. Just go.”
Alex hesitated, but Lindy grabbed his hand, yanking him toward the staircase. He reluctantly stumbled after her. Over his shoulder, Lindy said to Chase, “Look after my cat. And don’t turn yourself in. We might still be able to use you.”
Chase waved them away. “No promises, but if I get loose I’ll meet you at the White House at four.”
Alex nodded. “Good luck, brother,” he said quietly, and then he raced up the stairs after Lindy.
Excerpted from Outbreak, copyright © 2018 by Melissa F. Olson.