Blood on the Ice
Blood on the Ice, Book 1
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-61922-136-9
[ Vampire Sports Romance, MM ]
All Travis Payne wants is to see his name on the Stanley Cup. He certainly doesn’t expect to be attacked by a vampire on the eve of the Finals. But when he wakes up in the Cook County Morgue, he knows his life will never be the same.
“Travis. Come on. Have another beer.”
Travis Payne waved off the Molson bottle his friend and linemate Ben Mitchell was pushing toward him. “No more beer.”
“Come on, we’ve got a couple days’ break while the Eastern Conference sorts itself out. It won’t hurt anything.”
“No beer.” Travis said it firmly this time, pushing at Ben’s chest. He wasn’t angry— he just didn’t want Ben shoving Molson in his face right now.
“It’s gonna be a shit party if you don’t have any beer.” But Ben screwed the top off the beer himself and started to drink.
Travis grinned. “This could never be a shit party, man. Dude, we made the finals!”
“Woohoo!” Ben was more than a little drunk. Which was fine with Travis. Ben could get plastered for both of them.
Travis wouldn’t drink, not so much because he didn’t want to party, but more for the same reason he hadn’t shaved in twelve weeks. The Chicago Blackhawks had just made the Stanley Cup finals, and there was no way he was jinxing his next game, even if it was a few days away and they didn’t know who they’d be playing yet. When he’d started growing his playoff beard, he’d also sworn off alcohol. He wouldn’t touch it again until he was drinking champagne from the Stanley Cup.
Gretchen, his date of the evening—and a few evenings before this one—understood. She appeared at his elbow, holding a plastic cup filled with iced tea. It even had a lemon wedge floating among the ice cubes.
“Here, Trav,” she said. “Iced tea, straight up. It might even be decaf.” She gave him a quick, light kiss as she passed the drink over. Her gaze slid to Ben, though. Had Travis and Gretchen been a serious couple, Travis would have taken exception to that look.
“Thanks, baby.” He took the tea and sipped at it, watching the others enjoy the party.
In spite of the motivation for the party, Travis felt somehow separated from it. Most of his thoughts were still focused on what had to happen between now and the beginning of the first game of the playoffs. He had a nagging pain in his hip joint he needed to have the trainers evaluate. He needed to talk to Coach Marsden about that and to his agent about a couple of outstanding phone calls from companies wanting endorsements. Most importantly, he needed to spend some time working on his stickhandling. He hadn’t been happy with his performance in the last game. They’d won, and his stats had been good— three points, no penalties and a plus four for the game—but he didn’t feel like he’d contributed enough to the overall effort. He needed to fine-tune some things.
Most of his teammates hadn’t joined him in the no-alcohol pledge, and were having far too much fun tossing back shots. Travis just watched, laughing at the antics of the younger players. Rookies. They were good guys, and good athletes, but they could use a bit of refining.
Gretchen slipped into his lap, interrupting his musings. Her lips pressed against his temple. “Have I told you how proud I am of you?” she murmured.
He turned his face toward hers, catching her mouth in a kiss. “I can’t remember.” She had, several times, but he still liked hearing it. He also liked kissing her. He indulged for a few long minutes, letting the taste of her mouth soak in. The taste of rum on her tongue, he decided, wasn’t enough to count as a violation of his abstinence. “You want to get out of here?” he asked her.
She slid a look sideways at the other partygoers. “You don’t want to enjoy the rest of the party?”
He slid a hand under her shirt, fingers curling against her warm skin. “I’d rather enjoy you. I mean, would you rather I eat chip dip or you?” A tingle ran through him at the thought. The stress and physical strain of the playoffs had put a bit of a damper on their sex life. Yet another good reason to lay off the alcohol—so he could enjoy the short break in a more carnal fashion.
She kissed him again, pushing his mouth open with hers while her tongue plunged deep. She drew back, pressed her lips to the tip of his nose.
“I like the sound of that.”
“Me, too.” His hand crept forward, fingers cupping the underside of her breast. “Let’s go.”
They slipped out of the chair, then out of the restaurant, moving along the periphery of the party. Travis didn’t feel obligated to say goodbye to anyone—most of them were too drunk to understand what he was saying, anyway.
Outside, the parking lot was nearly as busy as the bar was inside. Holding tightly to Gretchen’s hand, Travis wove through the crowd, heading for his car.
The scream made him stop in his tracks. In spite of the noise spilling into the parking lot from the bar, he heard the shrill sound so clearly it almost felt like someone had stuck an ice pick in his ear.
“Did you hear that?” he asked Gretchen. Gretchen gave him a puzzled look. “Maybe? It didn’t sound good.” “No, it didn’t.” Travis let go of Gretchen’s hand. “You head on to the car. I’ll check it out.” “I don’t think you should go by yourself.” Gretchen looked worried, her finely sculpted brows drawn together. “Call 911,” he told her. “I’ll just see what’s up. I’ll be okay. I promise.” She nodded dubiously and pulled out her cell phone. Travis headed in the direction the screams had come from. He honestly wasn’t worried. At six foot four and 230 pounds, with constant conditioning on his side, he could take on nearly anything or anyone. So if there was something even remotely serious going on, he knew there was a good chance he could handle it.
He followed the screams to a space behind the bar where the stench of garbage overwhelmed the clear crispness of the late Chicago night. The Dumpster in the small space, past due for emptying, spewed Styrofoam containers, broken dishes, and uneaten hamburgers onto the ground. And behind it, in the darker shadows, a woman was screaming.
The figure of a man—no, two men, Travis realized—held her stationary against the wall. One of them held her head back against the brick while the other had his face pressed into the curve of her neck.
“Hey!” Travis shouted, plunging forward. The woman was helpless, and he wasn’t going to let this pass.
The men turned to look at him. A faint smear of moonlight fell on their faces, and Travis realized his mistake.
They smiled at him, showing sharp, razor-like fangs. The man who’d had his face against the woman’s neck had a smile filled with blood.
Vampires. Shit. He knew this kind of thing happened. Not often, according to the official crime statistics of the city of Chicago, but this was the kind of atmosphere where vampires could find easy prey, probably without retribution. He took another step forward, suddenly unsure of his advantage. He was big, strong, and agile, but these were vampires.
He’d met vampires, but he’d certainly never engaged physically with one. And while he knew they had enhanced senses and enhanced strength, he didn’t know the extent of that strength.
The woman was sobbing now, scraping one hand frantically at the blood pouring down her neck, soaking the front of her white Chicago Blackhawks jersey.
“Let her go,” Travis said firmly, and he took yet another step forward, into the darkness.
The vampire laughed through bloody teeth. He was middle-aged and a bit pudgy— not exactly the sleek, glamorous, eighteenth-century rake that still made up the popular vampire image. “We’re not going to kill her.”
“Just a quick snack,” added the other. He was younger, but still ordinary. “Did you get consent?”
The vampires just laughed. The woman pushed her attacker feebly. “No! No, they didn’t get consent.”
“Cops are on the way,” Travis stated, hoping it was true. He had no doubt Gretchen had called 911. The question lay with whether the cops would respond based on the information she had. “Let her go, and they’ll probably go easy.”
Seemingly encouraged by Travis’s intervention, the woman writhed, her body arching sideways away from her attacker. “Just let me go. I won’t press charges. I promise.”
The vampire holding her against the wall seemed to ease his grip. The woman tore herself free and ran toward Travis. He moved her behind him, only then noticing she was wearing his number on her blood-soaked jersey. As he shifted her, she gasped.
“Travis Payne?” Her hands clenched at him as she hid behind his bulk. “Holy shit.” “Just run,” he told her. “My date is calling the cops.” “Oh, thank God.” The vampires eyed him narrowly. “Travis Payne?” one of them repeated.
Travis said nothing. He had no idea if vampires in general were likely to know who he was, or what it would mean to them if they did. Were they more or less likely to attack if they recognized his name?
Behind him, he heard voices. There’d been a screel of sirens earlier, but he wasn’t sure how close it had been. In this part of town, at this time of night, cops could have been heading almost anywhere.
One of the voices, though, was Gretchen’s. “He went this way… I think…”
“Over here. Hurry!” That was the woman Travis had rescued. He held completely still, staring straight at the vampires.
They stared straight back. Then, in a blur of motion and color, indistinct in the darkness, the older one flew at him.
He landed hard, the weight against Travis’s chest a dull force that took his breath. He fell backward, landing hard on the asphalt. A lancing pain struck his tailbone, tore up into his spine.
No, he thought. No. I can’t get hurt. Can’t get hurt this way. Have to play in the finals. Have to play…
Then the pain didn’t matter at all anymore as the vampire’s red-rimmed eyes loomed in his vision. The vampire grinned a grin filled with fangs, and then ripped Travis’s throat out.
He woke. He hadn’t expected to. In those last moments, when the fangs had lodged in his throat, he’d seen images flash through his head—not his life, exactly, but moments. His first goal, all the way back in Squirts. Draft day, when he’d pulled on an Indianhead sweater for the first time. His first NHL goal. The night he’d lost his virginity.
All the visions had faded into darkness and intense, flaring pain that seemed to pulse through every vein.
Then nothing. He opened his eyes. He lay on his back in a bed. The ceiling above him was gray and nondescript. He heard soft noises—rustling, hissing that sounded like medical equipment. A steady, soft pulsing sound he couldn’t identify.
He was in a hospital. He was familiar enough with the look, feel, and smell of a hospital room to be certain. Antiseptic, linens, the vague odor of unwashed flesh. But there was something else here too. A queasy, chemical smell and a sweet, cloying odor he associated with decay.
The soft, pulsing sound quickened slightly. He blinked up at the ceiling. He didn’t move. It hadn’t occurred to him yet to do so.
“Mr. Payne?” A woman’s voice, to his right, from the same direction as the soft, steady pulse. “Mr. Payne.” A hand touched the inside of his elbow.
He turned. A woman sat in a chair next to the bed where he lay, her hands gentle on his arm. She was pretty, with blue eyes and a fall of black hair partly drawn back from her face, probably with a clip to pull the heavy waves behind her head. Her hand on him felt hot. There was a thin furrow between her brows. She wore green scrubs. A nurse?
Behind her was a stark metal wall, a door with a glass pane reinforced with wire between its layers. There was medical equipment, but none of it seemed to be attached to him. He wondered again where the soft pulsing sound came from, if not from a monitor of some kind.
“Where am I?” His voice sounded strange, grating in his throat.
His throat. He remembered it last as a blossom of pain and blood—blood pumping out of him. He remembered gasping for breath, fighting for oxygen his body could no longer supply. Blood pouring out of him, all over the asphalt.
His hand jerked, moving toward his neck. The woman sat back from him as he tried to move, not quite a flinch. She had nothing to worry about—he couldn’t raise his hand. His arm was strapped to the bed.
“Where am I?” he demanded again. “What happened?” Did he want to know? Could he just close his eyes and go back to the darkness? Or wake up?
The soft fingers touched his arm. “Mr. Payne.” Her voice was still careful, but it had an edge to it now. “You’re in a facility designed to take care of you. If necessary, I’ll sedate you. There’s an IV in your left arm, and you’re partially strapped to the bed. If I press a button, it will release ketamine-V into your system. I’d like you to stay calm, though, so we can talk.”
Travis let his head fall back to the bed. He glanced to his left. As she’d said, an IV tube ran up from the bend of his arm to a stand next to the bed. And his arms were bound with thick leather straps. He looked down his body. His legs were secured as well, a strap across his thighs, another over his knees. There was a sheet over him, but his feet were uncovered, each ankle secured to the bed.
Something lurched in his chest. It wasn’t his heart, and it didn’t have the familiar feel of adrenaline. He couldn’t feel the thud of his heart in his throat like he usually did when he was anxious. Something was very, very wrong.
“Ketamine-V?” Animal tranquilizer. Enhanced for vampires.
He glanced at the IV line again. It wasn’t empty. Pale gold liquid moved through it.
“We have you on a very low dose right now,” the woman said. “It’s for your own protection. So you won’t hurt yourself.” She spoke the words almost flatly, as if she were reading from a script, or as if she didn’t quite believe what she was saying.
It’s not for my protection. It’s for yours.
“Where am I?” Third time’s a charm, he thought.
“You’re in the Warm Room of the Cook County Morgue. It’s where we bring people who’ve suffered injuries such as yours. We’ll keep you here until we’re sure you’re stable.”
“What…what kind of injuries?” “You were attacked by a vampire, Mr. Payne.” “I thought I was dead.” There was a moment of silence, except for the soft, steady pulse. Then her voice, careful. “You were, Mr. Payne.” Travis stared at her. He could see the pulse beating in her throat, just at the hollow below her ear. He wanted to touch it. It matched the rhythm of the soft pulsing sound. And suddenly he knew. And something roared out of him—rage and fear and desperate, useless denial. Everything went dark again. She must have pushed the button.