The Krewe of Hunters is going to Europe! Whispers at Dusk by Heather Graham is the first novel in the Blackbird Trilogy. FBI recruits Agents Della Hamilton and Mason Carter are the first members of the Blackbird unit and are tasked with hunting down a vampire. Their first stop, Norway.
by Heather Graham
Series: Blackbird Trilogy #1
Genres: Paranormal, Romantic Suspense
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
When darkness falls, there’s nowhere to hide.
Four bodies have been discovered along Europe’s riverbanks, placed with care—and completely drained of blood. Pinpricks on their throats indicate a slender murder weapon, but DNA found in the wounds suggests something far more sinister. Tasked with investigating, the FBI recruits Agents Della Hamilton and Mason Carter to Blackbird, an international offshoot of the Krewe of Hunters. If you want to catch a vampire killer, you need agents who can speak with the dead.
I was excited to dive into the first Blackbird Trilogy novel. I loved the idea of an international team of Krewe of Hunters. We get to know Agent Della Hamilton a little before she is paired up with Special Agent Mason Carter. The two are sent to Norway to investigate a serial vampire who leaves his victims drained of blood and perfectly displayed.
We’ll travel to several areas of Europe. Along the way, we learn about the different places from their laws to their history. With their international team, we’ll hunt down the killer and his associates. You’ll shiver as we learn about this modern day Dracula. Due to the team’s need to move quickly in capturing the killer, the author did a good job developing the profile.
Graham took some time to build the team and I liked them. They work well together and before it’s all said and done, they’ll travel back to the states. Intense moments, perspectives from the killer, and interviews with his followers kept me engaged.
Their romance felt genuine, but not a lot of time was spent developing it. The romance was served on the side as Graham set up the Blackbirds and we navigated the investigation. Both Della and Mason are likeable, competent and can speak to the dead.
This was a solid start to the trilogy and I look forward to traveling with them to catch a new Jack the Ripper in Secrets in the Dark.
Mason Carter knew he had backup. The man now holding seventeen-year-old Melissa Wells hostage had been busy for months, and law enforcement across the country had been on his tail. Spread about in various positions outside, an FBI SWAT crew was situated along with local police who knew the area well.
Still, they were in bayou country surrounded by snake-and alligator-infested waters and a range of high grasses, trees, and brush that might hinder any assistance.
Though he’d left a trail of carnage across the country by taking nine victims along the way, the killer’s identity was unknown. He’d left behind fingerprints, but they couldn’t be found in any database, and nothing else discovered by any agency across the country had given them a single clue toward discovering his identity. The truth existed somewhere; it just hadn’t been found as yet.
He’d been labeled the Midnight Slasher since most of his abductions and kills had been after midnight. His note—handwritten and mailed from Las Vegas to the NYC FBI offices—had assured them he was fond of his moniker, and he’d try to make sure his murders did, indeed, occur after midnight in the future. He’d really have preferred being the Vampire, but that name had already gone to a coworker who was busy in Europe.
Mason knew about murders that were being called “the vampire killings” in Europe. He doubted this man and the European madman knew each other, though it appeared they were trying to outdo one another.
But then again, he didn’t really know.
Maybe this killer needed the moniker because he was such an ordinary-looking man. Not exactly handsome—cute might be a term applied to him. He didn’t appear at all insane or creepy as some seemed to think he must appear, not at all as people might think a maniacal killer should look.
He was about twenty-seven—the profilers had been right on his age—six feet even, perhaps a hundred and seventy pounds, with shaggy dirty blond hair, a clean-shaven face and friendly brown eyes. He smiled a lot. Mason could see how he’d managed easily enough to charm or coerce his victims out with him to a place where they might be alone.
And here they were. Mason had trailed the killer from Virginia and had suspected from the few clues he’d been told by the locals that the man would steal a boat and bring his victim far into the bayou. He’d been at the forefront of the investigation, and he called in as he made his way, seeking help from any and all law enforcement agency so they might really end the reign of the Midnight Slasher with a true force against him.
But Mason was the one who now stood alone, facing the man who held the teenaged girl, his blood-stained knife held so tightly to her throat that a trickle of blood ran down to her collarbone. Her terror-filled eyes were on Mason. She didn’t want to die.
Mason didn’t want her to die, either.
He was a good shot—but he’d still have to be at his fastest to hit the man before the knife could slide into the soft flesh of her throat and on to arteries and veins and…
“Okay, Midnight Slasher,” he said, his Glock trained hard on the man, “do you really want to die today?”
“I’ve been here before, and I’m still alive!” the killer said. The girl let out a terrified whimper; the killer had jerked with his words. Another trail of blood slid down to her collarbone.
“I don’t know. You’re in bayou country now. With people who know it well,” Mason said, shrugging.
It was truly doubtful the man would survive the day if he didn’t surrender, but Mason was telling the truth. And it was true, too, that before Mason had been called in on the case, the killer had escaped a similar situation in the Shenandoah mountains.
He had killed his hostage and tossed her to his would-be captors before escaping.
Backup wasn’t going to help.
Not here. Not now. While agents and officers might be all around, Mason was alone in the cabin with the man. His backup crew was holding. They all knew if the killer heard anyone trying to enter from the rear or break down any of the old wooden walls, the girl would die.
“You can do it, and there is no choice,” a voice whispered to Mason.
He was alone in the cabin with the killer—and with the ghost of one Gideon Grimsby, an Englishman who had come to the new world to meet, befriend, and then serve under the legendary Jean Laffite. He had fought at the Battle of New Orleans. Gideon had survived the battle, fallen in love and changed his ways—only to be shot down in the street by a vengeful man who had once coveted the beauty who had become Gideon’s wife.
Now, Gideon enjoyed the music of New Orleans, watched over his descendants and tended to haunt Frenchman Street. But having realized Mason was aware of him at a lounge one night, he’d discovered his afterlife of being a ghostly—and very helpful—investigator as well.
“Do it. Do it, Mason lad, you must!” Gideon said. “He’s going to kill her. The officers and agents outside will lose patience. They’ll seek entry as you know they must. And this rotten beast will die, but so will she. Dammit, man, take your shot!”
“I have to be sure!” Mason said the words aloud and cursed himself. He was accustomed to seeing the dead. And he’d learned before he was ten not to be seen talking to them.
But maybe this time it was good.
“Who the hell are you talking to?” the killer demanded.
Mason made a split-second decision and shrugged, saying, “I guess you can’t see him. Gideon is here. You’d have liked him. He was a pirate. Well, he was, but then cleaned up his act. And sadly wound up being murdered, but he’s enjoying his afterlife.”
“Man, they think I’m crazy. You’re crazy!” the killer said.
There was suddenly a gentle tap at the door to the cabin, surprising both Mason and the killer. Mason knew he frowned as the killer frowned. No one was bursting in; it was a gentle and polite tap.
The killer’s young hostage let out a terrified squeak as the knife drew closer against her flesh.
“What the hell?” the killer murmured. “You—you go and see what those idiots outside want. Because I’m telling you, you can kill me today, but she will die with me.” He laughed. “Maybe the two of us can haunt you, too.”
“God help me,” Mason murmured. “Fine. You want me to check the door?”
“Yeah. I want to see who is trying what.”
His gun still trained on the killer, Mason backed to the door.
“We don’t need any disruptions here,” he said loudly.
“I’m not a disruption,” a female voice said. “I’m unarmed. I just wanted to offer to trade myself for Melissa Wells.”
“What?” Mason demanded.
“Open the door, check her out. See if she’s really unarmed,” the killer said. “And don’t forget—if I’m going, she’s going with me!”
Mason cracked the door open. There was a woman standing there, mid-to late-twenties, about five foot eight with long light brown hair and a striking thin face. She was wearing black knit leggings and a tunic and lifted her arms to show that she carried nothing.
“I’m really a better choice,” she said, looking around Mason to see and talk to the killer. “Think of it! If you don’t manage to escape and get out of this or if you do, you’ll have killed a special agent or used her for your escape. I’m Della Hamilton, FBI. And I know you like your victims to have long hair. My hair is long and I’m the right age… Come on. This kid is a teenager. So far, you’ve at least chosen victims who were out of high school!” She paused, shaking her head. “You have a reputation. You’re a famous killer—don’t sully all that by having people think you were a pedophile.”
Apparently, she’d said just the right thing.
“I am not a pedophile!” the Midnight Slasher protested. “That’s disgusting. I haven’t gotten it down right yet, but I’m working on it, and I will be a master! I will learn to… Well, never mind! I will achieve what is necessary!”
“Whatever,” Mason said dryly. “And she has one hell of a point, I mean, you want to be a master killer, get it all right…perfect it all. But you don’t want to be remembered as a pedophile. That would…well, ruin your whole legacy.”
“Yeah, yeah… I never touched any of them. Except to kill them. And I was going to get it all right this time, but you found a stupid boat and followed me and… Ah, screw it! But you’re right. The pretty girl at the door can get me out of here, or… Well, I will be known for having killed a special agent! Yeah! Get in here, Special Agent Whoever. You come straight to me. When I can switch the knife over, this kid can go. But you need to know—if I die today, you die, too.”
“I’m willing to accept that,” Special Agent Della Hamilton said.
The killer laughed. “Suicidal, eh?”
“No, I just think I can talk you down,” she said. “And frankly, you fascinate me! Your mind is so amazing! And I’m older, okay, and maybe this is only in my own mind, but I think I’m…well, sexier, grown-up, and just a better choice for a victim all the way around. If you want to be famous—kill an agent!”
“Talk me down? I don’t think so. But I fascinate you? And you really are pretty damned gorgeous, so…hmm. Okay, lady, come on.”
“I am coming—when this guy lets me!” she said, smiling and shrugging to Mason.
“Let her by!”
“She wants you to take the shot during the exchange!” the ghost of Gideon Grimsby said. The ghost’s presence was near him. He all but whispered in Mason’s ear, almost startling him.
But Mason was staring at Della Hamilton, and she nodded at the words. As if she had heard them.
He’d heard there were others like him. He’d even heard there was a special “ghostbusters” unit in the Bureau with some nothing title like Special Circumstances Unit.
He inclined his head; she blinked, letting him know she had the message.
“I’m coming over…slowly, slowly, and I’ll back up so you can free Melissa and get the knife right on me…”
She walked to him just as she had said she would do.
The killer moved the knife to push Melissa forward and reach out for Della Hamilton. And as he did, Della Hamilton dropped down, shouting, “Now!”
And Mason fired.
Melissa leaned to the side; Della was hunkered close to the floor.
The bullet hit the killer dead center in the forehead. While Melissa shrieked and cried with relief, the Midnight Slasher fell without a whimper.
The killer was dead. The reign of the Midnight Slasher had come to an end.
The wrap-up and the paperwork had just begun.
Naturally, there was chaos at first as other agents and police rushed in. The medical examiner and forensics arrived, and officers held the press at bay. Melissa’s parents were called, but before she raced down to meet them, she fell hysterically into the arms of Della Hamilton and then Mason, telling them, “Oh, my God, thank you, thank you! Thank you, both. You saved my life!”
Mason assured her he was grateful she was alive, as did Della Hamilton.
Gideon Grimsby stood by the whole time, arms crossed over his chest, a proud look on his face. Well, the ghost did like helping.
Mason saw Della Hamilton manage a wave and a nod and mouthed the words, “Thank you,” to Gideon at one point. Gideon smiled and nodded in return.
Mason turned in his firearm as necessary and was surprised to hear that a counselor was waiting to see him in the city. His Glock would be returned in the morning.
Things never happened that fast. He knew something was going on.
Mason was hailed by the waiting officers and agents, and he knew everyone was relieved a serial killer’s spree had come to an end. He wished he could feel celebratory, and he knew he had carried out the only feasible action. But he didn’t feel celebratory, just weary.
Of course, it had been just minutes before midnight when they’d taken down the slasher. With all the aftermath, it was the next day before anyone left the bayou country. And because of where they were, the press had finally arrived, but thankfully, by then the action was over and officers arranged to maintain the crime scene. People had a right to know what was going on but keeping details of such an event within ranks might prove to be extremely important.
He was ordered back to the city and the office before Della Hamilton finished a discussion with a member of the forensic team.
He didn’t see her again until they were finishing the last of the paperwork on the case and by then everyone involved was about to keel over.
Sleep was in order. When he was finally able to return to his hotel, he had no trouble crashing down into a sound sleep—despite the fact that dawn had arrived long ago and the sun was shining brightly beyond the heavy drapes that covered his windows.
He woke in the middle of the afternoon. An evening left in NOLA, time to finish up any necessary business, and then a flight back to the DC area in the morning.
Luckily, they’d been so far back in the bayou country the media hadn’t seen any of the takedown. And when asked, he assured the local powers that be he didn’t want his name seen anywhere, which was the right policy as known field agents could be at risk.
A press release saying the Bureau had rescued the Slasher’s latest victim and the man had been killed in the operation was just fine with Mason. He wondered if Della Hamilton was going to want more recognition.
Mason was out on Royal Street, trying to decide on a restaurant for dinner, when he looked into a shop front and saw a TV screen showing the news.
The takedown had been perceived just as he’d hoped—a joint effort by the FBI and local authorities.
A lot of his friends at the local FBI offices and police precincts he’d come to know in NOLA had wanted to get together that night. And while he truly enjoyed a lot of the camaraderie and understood the feelings of many that a celebration was in order, he just wanted to be on his own that night.
He felt as if he needed to shake something off.
He decided then to go over to Magazine Street for dinner and hopefully some soothing music at one of its many restaurants. He was surprised when Gideon slid into a seat beside him there; he’d been nursing a scotch and listening to some great jazz, something that helped still his mind.
“You are a strange bird,” Gideon told him.
“That fellow stole the greatest gift from so many—the gift of life. Mason, you stopped him.”
“With your help, for which I’m grateful—”
“And the help of Della Hamilton. I hung around her awhile earlier. She’s something, huh? As they say in your time, that girl has balls! Wait, she can’t, can she. Guts? Would that be right? She has guts!”
“She saw you in a flash,” Mason said. “And by the way, I am glad I brought a killer down. I’m just tired of… I took his life. I guess I hate killing.”
“But you love saving.”
Mason shrugged. “I will always act in the best interests of the victim. Let’s listen to the music, huh?”
“Sure. There’s a meeting tomorrow morning. Some bigwig with the Bureau is coming down tonight. He’s coming specifically to see you—”
“Why? Wait a minute. Last I heard, I run by the NOLA office, pick up another agent to drop me and bring the car back for the next guy who needs it. How did you hear that? I’ll be heading back to DC tomorrow.”
“Maybe not,” Gideon told him. “I heard Della talking to someone on the phone when she left the offices. She was going out, but that call changed things and she didn’t. She decided she’d better get some sleep. You were busy tonight,” Gideon told him, grinning. “You don’t interrupt a counseling session, and then it was a long day! You were supposed to have some dinner, some downtime… You’ll be informed. Apparently, this is…big. A couple of people are heading down from Washington just to discuss this with you.”
“And they informed another agent before me—about my assignment?” Mason asked.
“I’m guessing it involves her,” Gideon said with a shrug.
“And that would be a darned good thing. You couldn’t do better, from what I saw.”
“She was good, yes. But—”
Mason groaned. Strange. He’d wanted this job; he’d worked hard for this job. But after his years in the military, now he was wondering why. He was good at what he did. He was a good investigator—largely because of a lot of help from the dead. But he was also good at killing.
And it just seemed to be weighing down on him lately.
“Damn you, man!” Gideon said. His accent—which he had largely lost during the many years since his death—came back strong when he was angry. “There is a seventeen-year-old girl alive and in the arms of her family because of you.”
“And Special Agent Hamilton, of course—or mainly,” Mason said dryly.
Gideon nodded. “I was glad to see her. I hadn’t met her, but friends saw her when she worked a case here not too long ago. The bank robbery out of Baton Rouge. They say she tricked the three—it was a woman and two men. That she got them into position by pretending to be a lost tourist, crying and desperate to find her way back to the airboat they’d been on. Anyway, she has a way that makes her excellent in this kind of case. But you! Stop it. When there is no choice, there is no choice. That teenager from today is going to need therapy for the rest of her life most probably, but she’ll have a life. Do you know what that man—so called Midnight Slasher—did to some of his victims?”
“Yes, yes, I do.”
“No, he wasn’t a pedophile. He sliced them, Mason. Slashed and sliced them! Cut off their fingers and ears while they were still alive.”
“I do know,” he said calmly.
Mason was glad he’d paid his tab. He stood. As he’d learned to do, he pretended he was on a phone call as he told Gideon, “I am so grateful she is alive—and our local intelligence knew where to find him before he could hurt her. Truly, I am. I just… I guess I wish I’d been a negotiator. I’d like to talk someone down for a change.”
“You talk them down when you can—you save the victim when you can’t,” Gideon said.
Mason nodded. “Yes, I know. Guess I’m tired.”
“You should be. Get some sleep.”
“I’m going to.”
“Finish listening to the jazz. See you in the morning,” Gideon said, and then he was gone.
That was the problem sometimes befriending ghosts. Since they were excellent at slipping away through crowds and even walls, it was extremely difficult to have the last word with them.
The following morning, just as Gideon had said, Mason found himself in an office with the “bigwigs” down from Washington.
The one was an elderly man. Mason had heard of him. His name was Adam Harrison, and he was known for both his philanthropy and the fact he’d been instrumental in forming special units of the Bureau.
He was with another man, this one in his forties, a striking fellow with Native American blood and a stature that indicated hours in the gym—and probably out in the field as well.
This man was Jackson Crow.
Mason knew who they were. Everyone in the Bureau knew about the special, separate unit that was called in for bizarre cases that included cult activity, so-called witchcraft and cases which involved “haunted” buildings, “werewolves,” or any other strange manifestation. They had an amazing record for resolving cases, and while they were teasingly called “the ghostbusters,” the Krewe of Hunters were also highly respected.
He had thought at times about seeking an interview with Adam Harrison or Jackson Crow. But he’d discovered he was good at working alone. He wasn’t married and he didn’t have children. That meant he could keep going at any time he wanted on his own—all day and into the night—when he was hot on a trail.
But now, he was intrigued.
He had been called in by them. He was sure that meant they’d been observing him from afar.
And they knew.
Just as he had known the truth about the Krewe.
That morning, the three of them were alone in the office. When the introductions were done, Jackson Crow began his speech.
“Due to recent developments, we’re forming a new team, attached to our current unit. Loosely, we’ve been referring to our new operation as Blackbird—but officially, it will be the Euro Special Assistance Team. You’ll be working with me as your immediate supervisor, and you’ll still be stationed out of our Northern Virginia offices. But you’ll be on the move a great deal—should you accept this, of course,” Jackson Crow told him.
Mason shook his head. “Accept… I’m not sure what. I mean… Well, truthfully, I know you run a special unit, and you must know that I—”
“Speak to the dead. Yes, of course. Gideon didn’t fill you in?” Adam Harrison asked him.
Mason’s brows shot up. Then he grimaced.
He’d assumed the people who were selected for this unit were found from across the country. Some were possibly found through the academy, and some because they stumbled into a case while working with other law enforcement or because they’d simply become involved.
Mason smiled, nodded, and leaned back. “I guess you’ve met Gideon.”
“We started up in New Orleans,” Jackson said. “We have many…friends here.”
“Of course,” Mason acknowledged dryly. “No, Gideon didn’t tell me much. But Euro—”
“Yes, we’re the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but the world has grown very small in the last several years. You are aware the Bureau has sixty legal attaché or legate offices around the world, as well as at least fifteen offices in our embassies in foreign countries?” Adam Harrison asked him.
He nodded. “Of course. I’ve been with the Bureau six years, ever since I got out of the service. Yes, I was aware. I admit—”
“We’re federal, yes, and our focus is this country. But as Adam said, it’s a small world these days, and when we have an American causing havoc abroad, conspiracies that involve Americans, felons we wish to apprehend abroad, hostage situations, and so on, we need a presence. Do we have great relationships with all countries? No. But with most of Europe and beyond, law enforcement likes to be reciprocal,” Jackson said.
“I was asked by someone as high up in the chain as you can get to begin this project, to open support on strange cases that stretch outside of the country,” Jackson told him. “Someone who doesn’t want to admit we have help from strange places—yet still wants to make use of our rate in solving crimes and catching killers—wants us to get a team to Norway as quickly as possible. They’ve now found four bodies, stretching from France to England to Norway, completely drained of blood along with strange writing on the river embankments where the bodies have been displayed,” Jackson said. “There might have been earlier victims here in the States. They are afraid the Vampire isn’t working alone, or perhaps something even more sinister is going on. You’d work with Interpol and local police over there—”
“I don’t speak Norwegian.”
“Neither do I. The amazing thing is most Europeans speak English or a minimum of two languages, something I wish we were better at here,” Adam said.
“You said ‘a team’. So—”
“We’ll be starting this with two agents and detectives from England, France, and Norway, as well as an Interpol liaison, a Frenchman named Bisset who seems able to get anything needed at the drop of a hat. And, you’ll be working with support back here in anything tech or forensic. You’ll be the first of a team with Special Agent Della Hamilton,” Jackson told him, then nodded his head toward the door to the office.
It opened on cue.
And Della Hamilton walked into the room, wearing a pantsuit today, her long sweep of hair tied in a knot at the nape of her neck.
Very pro. When taking down the Midnight Slasher, she had made herself appear to be all casual and cute—and naive.
Today, the woman was all professional.
“Della, thanks. And Mason, you, too,” Jackson Crow said. “First, we’d like you both to accept this venture. As I’ve explained, I hope you’ll still be working with me. We have Angela—my wife and one of our first Krewe members along with a few others—and an amazing team of techs and experts in our offices to help with anything at any time. We really have a great team to deal with any evidence no matter how small. They’re brilliant with video and so much more. So, here we are. We want you willing to begin this new venture, ready to accept it, and move forward. If you’re hesitant, that’s all right. We want you, for many reasons—”
Mason was surprised to discover he was slightly amused.
“You’ve been stalking me?” he asked.
“Not stalking!” Adam Harrison protested. “Heaven forbid!” Grinning, he glanced at Jackson.
“Of course,” Jackson continued, amused as well, “we’ve done our homework. If you don’t choose to accept this assignment, we’d still appreciate you accepting a transfer to the Krewe.”
“I’d thought about requesting an interview with you,” Mason admitted.
“Why didn’t you?” Jackson asked.
“I guess I got used to working alone.”
“And yet, you can’t imagine the amazing abilities and teamwork that exists among our people,” Jackson said. “Okay, to be blunt—no recorders in here—we know you have the ability to speak with the dead. We are a small percentage of a small percentage of the world population,” he added quietly. “You’ve never worked with anyone who was just like you.”
“No, I haven’t,” Mason admitted.
He was silent for a minute. He turned to look at the woman who would be his partner for the enterprise, curious as to her reaction.
She was looking at Jackson, nodding. “I’ve been reading about the killer they’re calling the Vampire. He needs to be stopped—especially if he’s gaining followers.”
“We don’t know that,” Jackson told her. “Nor can we be certain he started this in the United States—”
“Our killer last night wasn’t the Vampire killer on the move across the pond,” Mason said. “He was slashing throats—not drinking blood.”
“Right,” Jackson said. “And he may not have known the Vampire, or wanted to emulate him.”
“But…he did talk about getting it right,” Della said.
“Most probably not associated, but…the man you brought down was William Temple of Slidell. We’ve investigated his background and the profilers had it just right on him. He was bullied through school. He asked a girlfriend to marry him and she turned him down and took off—he drank heavily at several of the bars along Bourbon Street. He worked for one of the bayou tour companies until he was fired for unwanted attention toward female tourists—and calling them filthy names when they spurned his advances. He was evicted from his apartment off Esplanade.”
“A killer, but hardly a brilliant one.” Della nodded. “And again, nothing compared to the man leaving bodies in pristine condition and beauty, just devoid of blood.”
“The display of the victims has become important now. One of our Krewe members, also a medical examiner, believes the victims discovered in the Florida Everglades and the Blue Ridge in Virginia might have been this killer’s beginnings for murder—practice victims, one might say. They were also exsanguinated. While the throats on the victims were slit, because of other markings, Kat believes he was perfecting his ability to pierce blood vessels perfectly—and draw blood from the neck, leaving marks that could appear to be those left by vampire fangs. Right now we just know he’s on a cross-country killing spree in Europe, either on his own or with an accomplice. Interpol is on it—officers from three countries are now on it. But I’ve been asked from on high to help, so…”
“I’m in,” Della said. “Of course, you knew I would be.”
“Thank you, Della,” Jackson said. He stared at Mason. “Special Agent Carter?”
“I… Wow. I—I admit to being intrigued. Why us?” he asked, curious.
“Well, the obvious, of course. Della had been assigned to my office already when this came up. And, yes, we have watched your work.”
“Someone else knows your record for finding resolutions to cases. Remember, I told you voices on high in the government wanted this, and they were adamant you were the man for the job, Mason,” Adam Harrison told him. “But you’re hesitating.”
Mason shrugged and grimaced. “No, not really. Maybe I’m afraid of failure. This is important to many people, naturally, and I am hoping I am capable to stop—”
“You may be afraid. We’re not,” Jackson told him. He leaned forward. “Should you choose to accept this assignment—not mission, assignment,” he added dryly, “you’ll be leaving this evening.”
Mason lifted his hands. “I’ve been chasing the Midnight Slasher for months now. I guess I thought I’d be getting a few weeks of vacation.”
“You get this Vampire,” Jackson said, “and I’ll see to it you get a month’s vacation after, if you wish.”
“I…” Mason lifted his hands again. “Honestly, it’s not that I need or expect so much time off, I just…”
“You may refuse,” Jackson assured him. “This isn’t for everyone.”
“But should you?”
He turned to see Della Hamilton had spoken quietly and was staring at him, again, as if she read something in him, as if she knew more than he did about himself.
He didn’t know what it was about the way she was looking at him. Challenging him? Or seeing something in him he really wasn’t sure of himself.
He looked from her to Adam Harrison and then to Jackson Crow.
“So,” he said with resolve, “we’re leaving tonight. I take it we’ll be briefed—”
“Every file from every country will be sent to your inboxes immediately. Along with connections here in the home office for any help you need, and bios on the members of European law enforcement you’ll be involved with. We will be planning a larger team, of course, but this came up suddenly. And they need our help. Also, one of the officials in Norway has a suspicion the Vampire might well be an American.”
“American?” Mason said, surprised. “I understand there were similar killings here that might have been this killer’s start-up. But now, the display of the killings has apparently stretched from country to county. Maybe he’s gotten it all right where he wants it to be, but these killings have been in Europe—”
“I think, in the killer’s mind, the killings have been perfected in Europe,” Jackson said. “I believe the killer’s practices were here in America. I have been involved in this for a long time, and I consider it an educated theory. You’ll find everything you need will be sent to you, every piece of information or even supposition that we have. I’ve done all the reading on this and, trust me, there’s plenty of reading material for a long flight.”
“All right. So, tonight. When and how do we leave?”
“Private jet, Krewe jet,” Adam told him. The older man shrugged. “I’ve been lucky in life. The plane is my gift to special agents who are…special.”
“I’m packed and ready,” Della said. She looked at Mason.
“I’ve been living out of a suitcase here in New Orleans. I’ll get my things from the hotel.”
“We’ll meet up at Louis Armstrong International,” Della said, rising. She nodded to Jackson and Adam. “I know we’ll have cooperation, and I truly hope we’ll do the Bureau proud.”
“I know you will,” Jackson said.
It took Mason less than fifteen minutes to collect his belongings from the hotel. The drive to the airport where he returned his rental car took another forty-five. He met up with Della Hamilton at the coffee bar in the terminal.
“You’re here,” she said.
“Of course, I’m here. I said I would be.”
“But you don’t seem pleased with the assignment.”
“Oh, you’re wrong,” he said. “I’m just enthralled.”
“You’re just enthralled,” Della murmured. “Strange choice of words.”
“I was obviously being sarcastic,” Mason told her dryly.
“I didn’t miss your tone,” she assured him. “It’s just that we’re headed for Norway. The word enthralled comes from thrall—which is what the Norse called the human beings they enslaved. People tend to think the Vikings were after gold and jewels—and they were, but they were also slave traders. They needed slaves to build their ships and sew their sails and work the land when it was workable, but they also found great wealth in the slave trade.” She paused, shaking her head. “Humanity hasn’t changed. Of course, it wasn’t just the Vikings. The Romans were big on enslaving conquered people, and so on throughout history. And still, though we try to stop it, there are still some places today that enslave others. Anyway, the conquerors could be cruel. Some of the sagas that were written in Iceland in the fourteenth century portray the invaders as great heroes—and the thralls as dull and stupid creatures who needed owners since they were fit for little more than slavery. They’ve found iron collars and chains in archaeological digs, proof of man’s treatment of man, or in slavery, more of woman. But anyway, being enthralled means you’re basically enslaved by someone or something.”
“Woah!” Mason said. “Woah, so, I’m traveling with a walking encyclopedia! But, hmm, you are hard on those people. Are you sure you should be going to Norway?”
She shook her head impatiently. “I hardly blame anyone today for the Viking age. It ended a long, long time ago. We call the Dark Ages the Dark Ages because that’s what they were—dark. Torture chambers abounded! Oh, and I love Norway and the Norwegian people. My maternal grandparents were born there.”
“Ah, that’s why they’re sending you,” he said. “You know the terrain?”
“Hopefully, they’re sending me because I’m a competent agent, capable of rolling with whatever comes up. And yes, I know some of the terrain, of course. We traveled fairly frequently when I was a kid.”
She shook her head. “My parents just knew how to make travel with the family into both a fun and profitable event. My mother was an artist and my father was a great marketer—he found buyers for her work all over in ad campaigns and the like. So yes, I know and love Norway.”
“And the Bureau?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I was majoring in criminology when an old friend suggested I use everything I have to get bad guys. I went into the academy straight from college.”
“A dead friend?” he asked quietly.
“Yes, a dead friend. You?”
“College, the military, more college, the academy. Oh, and on the enthralled—maybe I said it just right. I get the feeling you’re something like me.”
“Oh, I doubt that! And why—”
“Because work became your life at some point. Basically, we’re slaves to it.”
Della shook her head. “Not true. Or I don’t see it that way. I’m still dedicated. I believe in what we’re doing, and the fact we can get help sometimes from those who are gone—that not everyone can—is amazing. Don’t you believe in what we’re doing?”
Mason hesitated. “Yes, of course. Okay, honestly? I just… I don’t want to kill anymore. Maybe what I thought I needed was a breather. Not that I would have preferred to have been killed myself, I mean…” He paused. He barely knew Della Hamilton, and he wasn’t really ready to pour his heart out to her. But…
“Seeing so much death,” he continued, “I’ve gained a marked appreciation for life. I have never killed in any circumstance in which I wasn’t being shot at myself or in a situation in which it was necessary to protect another—an innocent, someone stunned and terrified to suddenly find themselves the target of a killer, or in the middle of a crime, war, or violence. But I wish I was better at…negotiating! Getting people to surrender. I… No matter what, it still takes something out of you when you take a human life.”
“Yes, I agree,” she said, “and everyone hopes to bring a suspect in alive because our job is to uphold the law while judges and juries do the rest. I understand how you feel. I was told you were a good guy. You are. No one wants to kill, Mason. But sometimes, negotiation doesn’t work, and we must care about the victim first. Negotiation is great, but when there is no choice… Well. And honestly, I guess you haven’t had much chance to read about this Vampire yet, but… Mason, he’s a truly terrifying figure. And if he has others joining his ranks… Mason, you do know there are groups of people across the world, I believe—I know of a few in the States—who call themselves vampires, right? Some just meet and drink one another’s blood. Some say they are spiritual vampires, and claim it’s in a good way—they can gain kindness from others and all that. But…if this guy really thinks he’s a vampire, we may be looking at worse things to come. At one time, people believed in blood-sucking vampires—diseases that destroyed the blood caused that kind of theory. In the 1800s, even in the United States, people dug up their loved ones to stake them through the heart or burn their hearts, afraid they were coming back to drink their blood when in truth, the disease was just spreading. But—”
“I don’t think this killer believes he’s a vampire, though if he is seeking followers, he’ll want to convince them he is a supernatural creature. I believe he’ll be like the guy we just got—probably handsome or charming enough to lure victims. Somewhere in his twenties or thirties. Thirties, I think, old enough to have gotten clever enough to clean up a crime scene and have the finances to pull off what he’s doing. He’ll be making sure he gets a lot of press all over Europe. He wants the fame or the infamy.”
“You spent time with profilers?”
“I did,” he said. “And we all know a profile can be wrong—but most of the time, it turns out to be right on. Let’s hope we have good help once we get there.”
“We will. And we have tons and tons of time to study all the files on the plane. Mason, we can make this work. And I know you’re a loner. This is the first time you’ve worked with a partner and a team in a long time. But I swear, I’ve got your back.”
He nodded. “I’ve uh… I’m sorry if I’m…difficult. You’re right. I’ve been on my own for a few years now. And—I swear—I’ve got your back, too.”
She smiled. “Hey, I’ve gotten to see you do that already. And I’m so sorry. I heard. I heard your last partner was killed in the line of duty,” she said.
He nodded, looking away, and not sure why he didn’t want to look at her.
Yes, Stan Kier had been killed. Mason had been nearby when it happened, and seeing Stan, he had felt a burning fury. Perhaps there had been no choice, but the searing sensation of anger and hatred he’d felt when he brought down the killer had been horrible.
There were things an agent had to do. Times when he had to kill.
But the amount of hatred he’d felt then…
It had scared the hell out of him.
It was just something he didn’t want to ever feel again. Though he had to admit, it didn’t come close to the pain of seeing Stan die. Stan had been a great guy, a family man, a friend.
He started, feeling her hand on his knee. He looked her way. In truth, he knew nothing about her.
“Like I said. Not to worry. I’ve seen you in action,” she said.
“Yeah, thanks. And I’m sorry. I’m not sure if I ever said anything to you after the events in the bayou. You were amazing. For what you did in that cabin. That was…”
“Unorthodox?” she asked, wincing.
“I was going to say it was very brave. Coming in unarmed.”
“I had a little Beretta hidden in my waistband,” she said. “I also read up on you and I knew you were a crack shot. The SWAT director there was getting edgy. And while you are such a good shot and you’d have been fine without me, I figured a little help couldn’t hurt. It can be hard to get a guaranteed clean shot. I had talked to Melissa’s parents and… We just couldn’t let him take out another victim.”
“Well, then, thanks. You threw me. I had heard things about the Krewe of Hunters, but I didn’t know you were with them—”
“Newbie,” she reminded him. “Not quite a year. The Krewe was formed over a decade ago. In New Orleans, as a matter of fact. There were originally just six, and now we have dozens of agents, and it’s good—we’re all always out, all over the country.”
“So you were down in this area with the Krewe before?”
“Right before I joined the Krewe I was on assignment as a field agent down here. In fact, it was almost right after the case I was on here that I had my interview—and found out they were real. I promise you, it’s like…sanity in the insane world we’ve chosen to work in.”
“And I think I still doubted in my way—since we’re taught by our parents and families not to let other people think we’re crazy—that what I’d heard could be real, that the Bureau really had a unit in truth that was composed of…”
“Weird people like us?” she asked, grinning.
“As I told you, I’m still fairly new to the Krewe. Well, not that new, almost a year. I went to the academy, started in the field, and then my supervisor told me I had an interview with a special unit,” she told him. “I believe sometimes the head players at the Krewe know from our records or cases… Well, they have it themselves so they recognize it in others. They seek people from other law enforcement agencies as well. I believe Adam Harrison and Jackson Crow are pretty amazing at studying situations.” She paused, smiling. “It’s a wonderful place to be, with others like us, and they just have that talent for determining who the weird people are. And instead of hiding and feeling weird, we get to see that it is amazing, this ability we have, because it’s like so many things with DNA, just a fraction of a fraction of the population has it, so…”
“Hmm?” she asked.
He smiled. “I wonder if Norwegian ghosts will speak any English.”
She smiled in return for a minute, and then she was dead serious. Her eyes were a true green he realized—like emerald lasers the way she was staring at him. “We’re going to make this work,” she told him.
“All right. We’re going to make this work. Partner.”
Her phone was ringing and she answered it quickly and told him, “Our plane is ready and the pilot is aboard. I understand the plane is great. So…”
“On to hours of reading in the air,” he said.
“We are going to work well together,” she vowed.
He forced himself to nod. He had been so uncertain; and then again, as Gideon had said, she had balls. And she was unorthodox.
He might even like her. He imagined she was an excellent agent, able to use her natural beauty and abilities in her investigations and takedowns.
Yeah, he liked her. But he was going to be careful.
He vowed he wasn’t going to like her too much.
Because nothing changed the fact there were kill-or-be-killed situations.
It wasn’t a good thing to become too involved with a partner—not in their line of business. He’d learned that the hard way. And he’d worked on his own—with plenty of backup, of course—for several years now. Working as a loner had its advantages.
He would have her back. And he’d try to be a team player.
He just couldn’t lose another partner.
Excerpted from Whispers at Dusk by Heather Graham. Copyright © 2023 by Heather Graham Pozzessere. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
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