A paranormal mystery spin-off of the Krewe of Hunters series by bestselling author Heather Graham.
When serial killers run rampant across Europe it’s up to Blackbird, the Krewe of Hunters’ international operatives, to stop them.
Over a century after Jack, a new Ripper is on the loose.
Following in the footsteps of notorious serial murderer Jack the Ripper, a killer is stalking the streets of London. The self-dubbed Ripper King strikes at night, leaving a trail of eviscerated bodies in his wake. Fresh off a case with potential ties to the recent rash of killings, FBI agents Della Hamilton and Mason Carter are all too familiar with a slayer set to rule with a lethal fist. And they’ll stop at nothing to end his reign.
The killer’s MO may be nothing new, but his desire to be infamous makes him dangerous. Della and Mason know it’s only a matter of time before their investigation emboldens this new Ripper, forcing the agents to work quickly before another woman winds up dead. But now that the heat is on, their game of cat and mouse takes an unexpected turn, leading Della and Mason into a deadly trap they never saw coming…
The Blackbird Trilogy
- Book 1: Whispers at Dusk
- Book 2: Secrets in the Dark
- Book 3: Cursed at Dawn
Release date: July 25, 2023
Publisher: MIRA Books
Print pages: 400
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Secrets in the Dark
The king was dead.
Or, rather, at this time in history, incarcerated.
Of course, the “king” believed that he would “rise” again—after all, a vampire was immortal.
But the Vampire King had taught Ripper well. Just as the world was filled with different countries, presidents, kings, queens and prime ministers—and, of course, great dictators—the world should equally be filled with kings of the underworld.
And with learning, a man could rise to greatness, become king of his own domain.
Ripper smiled to himself, watching the world go by around him. He wasn’t lurking in the shadows. He was sitting amongst the neon lights of the busy bars in Brixton, watching.
He’d learned from his master to watch, and to listen. And there was a lot to watch. Of course, the area was popular amongst all age groups, but it attracted the young and the beautiful.
He’d learned as well to mimic a variety of accents. If someone was fascinated by Scots, he could roll his R’s like no one else. Irish was an easy one to slip into. Welsh a bit harder, and then, of course, there was proper British and such twists as those made famous by rock bands, like a Liverpool bit.
He was anything anyone wanted him to be. He could even imitate Americans—from a hard-toned New Yorker to a fellow with a Southern drawl or even a man with a Western twang.
All in a day’s work.
Well, of course, there was work, too. Which meant he could only watch so late on certain nights. But tonight...
Ah, but tonight was his. And he learned from experience—from watching the master at work as well.
He’d learned how to play the game, how to maneuver, what to do and what not to do.
In short, his reign was just beginning.
And that all-important lesson he’d learned?
Not to get caught! After all, he would be king in his own right. And the man history knew as “Jack the Ripper” had never been caught—though every few years, there was a new theory, a new belief that forensic measures might not have given the world the truth.
But that would never happen. And like that Jack, this Ripper would never let himself be caught.
No, he would never let an obsession rule him. Emotion would never come into the picture. He had learned all the tricks of the trade, including the one he’d learned all on his own. Never let anything but cold, cool calculation rule his actions, never...
Never, never! But then, he’d known deep in his heart from the beginning that he was his own man, with his own plan and agenda. He’d made a start before he’d met the vampire. But back then...
Well, he had feared the slightest rustle of sound. He hadn’t had the confidence he had now, hadn’t mastered his craft, so to say. Now...
He had been a good student. The best student. And he was smart enough to utilize all that he had learned, including the fact that he must not make mistakes, that mistakes and obsession could lead to behavior that wasn’t the most calculated and smart.
And now...he had such a dream, such an agenda!
Maybe he’d always coveted the idea of being king.
King of the Rippers!
Three stunning young women were walking by his table. Laughing, chatting about coming to Europe to find a prince.
He pretended to look at his watch, as if he were waiting for someone. And as they came nearer, he started to rise, almost knocking into one of them.
“Oh, I’m ever so bloody sorry!” he said.
“No, no, it’s all right!” the closest girl in the trio said, smiling. She was an attractive blonde, perfectly configured with wickedly long legs, generous breasts and, best of all, a trusting smile.
“Sorry, me mate just had to stand me up and I’d figured...” He paused, shrugging and indicating the table where he’d been seated. “Well, unless you’d like to join me!”
Three might be a challenge, but...
“Sorry! I’m Brad Terry. And this...” He paused again, indicating the environs of Brixton. “This is my home ground if I can give you any pointers.
You are American.”
“We are, straight out of Kansas,” the blonde said. “I’m Shelly McNamara and these are my friends Ginger Cannon and Tess Garcia.”
“Nice to meet you. And thank you,” one of her friends, the brunette introduced as Ginger, said. She glanced at the blonde, Shelly, and said, “we’ll leave you to get pointers for us. Tess and I will try the place right across the street if you want to join us.”
Ripper smiled. He’d listened and watched enough to know that Shelly McNamara’s friends were giving her leeway to flirt with him and decide if she wanted a bit of a British fling or not. They were leaving her alone but offering her a safety net.
Pity for her and them that it wouldn’t be enough.
The two friends waved and started off. Ripper looked at the young woman, Shelly, and gave her his most innocent, charming smile.
“What will you have?” he asked her.
Whatever it was, she’d have more.
So much more...
As she sat down, smiling, eager and adventurous, he thought that his night was going to go beautifully.
Yes, the king was dead—incarcerated.
But then again...
Long live the king!
Della Hamilton looked out the window as they drove from Heathrow Airport to the center of London, Detective Edmund Taylor driving and her partner, Mason Carter, seated behind her.
She took a moment to close her eyes and imagine that they were there for a fun vacation, to enjoy the sights.
She loved the city of London. A history buff, she’d been fascinated as a teenager to visit with her parents, to roam the halls of the Tower of London and ride over London Bridge, visit the remaining Roman sites, stare at the legendary Big Ben and marvel at the beauty and the stories to be discovered within the hallowed ground of Westminster Cathedral.
She hadn’t been back since she’d been a college student, and on that trip, she’d revisited a few of her favorite historic sites, but she’d also spent time in Chelsea, Covent Gardens and other areas for the nightlife and fun with friends.
Now, she was Special Agent Della Hamilton and part of a unique unit within the FBI. She and Mason had been assigned to a new “assistance” force, and thus they headed to Europe when the need arose. They had started out on a case in which a killer had skipped from country to country, his method of killing unique. They’d been able to trick him into being captured when he’d returned to the United States and, through his taunting, they had learned that he had more followers—doing some of the killings attributed to him—than they had previously expected.
And so now...
London. A city of over eight million people, busy with their day-to-day lives, most good citizens, hard-working human beings. And yet, like anywhere in the world, there were those among humanity who were not quite so decent. In fact, they might be described as purely evil.
“We’ve had some bloody whack jobs in this city,” Edmund Taylor said, his eyes on the road, his head shaking as he stared hard ahead. “Just in the last decade we had a man who killed his victims, chopped them up—and ate their brains. And other body parts, I believe. He was incarcerated, released and killed again, once again chopping up his victim and eating their brains until he was rearrested. We have no death penalty and he was sentenced to a secure mental facility, but...” He paused, shaking his head, and Della had to wonder if he wasn’t wishing that, in certain cases when a killer escaped to kill and kill again, there might be a death penalty in Great Britain.
But Edmund just shook his head and continued with, “All throughout its history, there have been incidents that defy anything resembling normality. Going all the way back to Jack the Ripper. Latest case in point, our so-called Vampire King—a man I am entirely grateful to see incarcerated and behind bars, thanks, of course, to Blackbird and the two of you.”
From the back seat, Mason leaned forward to speak. “Blackbird! We’re a team. And working as a team, we got Dante. But the man is claiming that he didn’t do the killing in London—and when he made those claims, he didn’t know that Della was in contact with all of us and that his words were recorded. But those victims he was referring to were killed by his method—the victims were drugged, carefully exsanguinated, and left as sleeping beauties.”
Edmund nodded. “We don’t know just how many killers there may be—but we’ve gone through every bit of evidence we have, which is sadly not much. Dante was good about teaching his people that forensics are at a point these days where a single hair can identify a killer. And he also made a point of leaving bodies where they’d be discovered but not before the elements around them had compromised whatever might be found. He isn’t saying more, right?”
“One of our agents who is also a criminal psychiatrist has been working with him,” Mason said. “And, so far, he knows what we surmised. You were with us in the bayou. He said he killed in France, but not all the victims in Norway—or in London. Dante was great at finding those people who were seeking something in life that they didn’t have. Some looking for any excuse to kill and some believing in whatever ridiculous story he told them. Hopefully, any of the true idiots he had among his followers never got to the point of murder—and are scared to death now that he has been taken and,
, in the United States, may well face lethal injection. Of course, every country where he killed wants a crack at him, but...”
“But?” Edmund asked.
“I think even the most peace-loving countries in the world want a man like him removed with no possibility of parole or escape,” Della provided flatly.
Edmund didn’t respond, but watching him, she knew that he might agree.
“I’m always conflicted,” she told him. “There is no undoing an execution if it’s later proven that someone was innocent. But sometimes, when evidence is overwhelming, and a killer does get out and kill and kill again... I guess we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t wish it could be stopped.”
“Of course,” Edmund murmured.
She turned and glanced at Mason. He was serious, a thoughtful frown creasing his forehead. She was glad that he was her partner for so many reasons. She had been hesitant about him at first—before they’d met on a case, he’d been working solo for a year because his partner had been killed in the line of duty. That did something to any law enforcement officer. But while he hated to kill, he was a crack shot and an excellent judge of when deadly force was necessary and when a suspect could be talked down. He had an extreme sense of justice. It also helped that he stood an intimidating six foot five, was incredibly fit and blessed with ink-dark hair and eyes so dark a blue they could appear almost black in shadows.
And it helped, of course, that in the Krewe, it was all right to fall for one’s partner. Krewe members were simply different—some said special, others said cursed—and for their work, it was important that they shared that difference.
They were simply a minute portion of the population.
Like many others—in law enforcement in general—she and Mason had also made the most of all their off-time. There was always a fine line that had to be observed. They cared. They cared deeply for the victims, for ending violence that was humanly possible to end. They also knew that they had to stop and smell the proverbial flowers when they could—they needed that space to stay sane and as prepared as humanly possible as well.
It was natural that she couldn’t help but wish it was a vacation.
But it wasn’t. And since it wasn’t, she was grateful that she was with Mason—and Detective Edmund Taylor. They were becoming their own “special” unit, unofficially termed Blackbird, while they were officially the Euro Special Assistance Team.
Edmund Taylor was,
Della’s mind, a top-notch detective. They’d met in Norway, on their hunt for the “vampire” who had struck in England and France before turning to the Scandinavian nation. While the FBI had long had liaison offices across the world, they were unique in their ability to join in on an investigation—when asked, of course. Interpol had provided them with François Bisset, their go-between for all countries, and they worked with the detectives involved in each case. While this was a new case, it was also an old one.
Because no one knew what magic or hypnotism the confessed killer Stephan Dante had used on others or just how many other killers he had created and/or trained.
Edmund knew the case. He was somewhere in his early forties, but he had worked long and hard with Scotland Yard to earn his position with homicide and in this case, what they were calling “special services.” He was solid and serious most of the time, just an inch or so shorter than Mason and a man who evidently worked his frustrations out at the gym and could still smile and find humor upon occasion, letting his guard down when he was among friends. He was a handsome man with a headful of light brown hair and eyes so soft a brown they might have been almost amber.
“Yeah, us!” he said lightly then. “We caught the killer—who let us know that we didn’t catch all the killers we need to catch. But...we’re on it. We’ve been on it. Night is coming, so...did you two want to get to the hotel and get some sleep, or—”
Laughing, Della interrupted him. “No, we’re ready to hit the ground running. That’s the plan with us having our own pilot and private plane. Of course, poor Gene, our pilot, needs to be ready to fly at the drop of a hat, but he gets lots of downtime, too. And he wants to see the sights, so...anyway, no! We had plenty of sleep on the plane. Do you have any ideas? I’d assumed we’d go over files—”
“Which we will, tomorrow. Two of our victims—supposedly taken by the vampire killer—were last seen in the Brixton nightlife area. I thought you might need a pint or two as well after your long journey.”
Della glanced back at Mason. “We just flew in from Bucharest, so hardly a long journey. Since Dante had insinuated that we might find clues at Castle Bran, we went to the castle, and, called you—as you know—so...”
“Yes, indeed. We need to find possible suspects—and then, as you suggested, discover if any of them lost a wife or loved one to a suicide—as suggested by our quickie trip to Transylvania and discoveries regarding Vlad Dracul. A suicide they just might blame on themselves. But we’re struggling to find suspects, going back over all the paperwork... Anyway, I’m not going to feel sorry for you for a long journey since...” He paused to grin. “Since you did get something of a holiday in there, and the castle is beautiful and the Romanian countryside even more so. But we can have a relaxing drink and dinner—and perhaps spot something or at the very least, chat with a bartender or two.”
“I think we can function well with a pint,” Mason said. “Has anything happened since we made our way here?”
Edmund shook his head. “But I was there when Dante was taken down in the Louisiana bayou—I heard what he said. The victims killed already have families, and—”
“Don’t worry. We understand. The victims deserve justice, and truth in that justice. And we need to make sure there aren’t more victims,” Mason said quietly.
“Exactly,” Edmund murmured. “And if there is someone out there—something we all
believe—we have to stop him before he starts on his own reign of whatever kind of terror he’s planning.”
“Yes,” Della said quietly. “So, a pint it is!”
They’d headed out from Bucharest in the midafternoon. But even though the flight was short, time at the airports and driving was turning day into night. A fog was sweeping in, as one so commonly did in England, and the sun was dying in the western sky.
It was beautiful and eerie.
But not so eerie in the Brixton section. Restaurants and pubs blazed with lights. Visitors and locals were hurrying about. The night was temperate and pleasant and many were dining at outside cafés or sipping drinks at sidewalk tables.
Edmund luckily managed to park right on the street. They all exited the car and for a minute, stood looking around at the many lights.
Couples and groups walked about, laughing, teasing, chatting, some arm in arm, all out for a good time, for camaraderie with old friends and new.
“Hopefully, the news about Stephan Dante has kept women from casually hooking up in bars.”
“Men and women have been casually hooking up in pubs since forever,” Edmund said. “I’ve wanted to do a press conference, but the powers that be... Well, no one wants a panic. And at this time, all we have is what Dante is saying and we have no proof and... Well, no press conference. But thankfully, they still think I should be part of this special force and that we should continue to investigate.”
“The sad thing is that something is going to happen before the powers that be decide a warning is in order—and that’s probably the way in every western country, not just England,” Mason told him. “Hey, we get on it, and we move fast.”
“All right, well. Welcome to England! So...would you have a dark ale or light?” he asked. “Oh, let’s head there, to Bixby’s—great bar food and wonderful taps.”
“It’s a plan. It’s also where one victim was last seen, right?” Della asked.
Edmund nodded. “Aye, but... Hey! I’m not lying. Great bar food and clean, clear taps!”
Bixby’s was a large establishment with plenty of inside seating and even more on a large courtyard just outside. Those tables offered views of both the interior and exterior of the restaurant with a bar central in the courtyard, with still more tables spilling out onto the sidewalk and the street.
“Great table!” Mason assured Edmund as they were seated.
It was a great table just inside where they could see what was going on where they were—and out the door to the street. They could watch the flow of humanity around them, couples, groups and the occasional loner.
Della found herself studying the couples as Edmund and Mason ordered after she had waved a hand, indicating she’d be happy with anything they
There was a young couple near them, both smiling, holding hands now and then, sharing their food, either new lovers or old who were very much in love! They were speaking French, she thought, overhearing a bit of the conversation.
She didn’t believe that the killer they were seeking was French.
He was American or British.
Another couple intrigued her at first; they were joined by an older couple, and it appeared that they were young newlyweds out with the wife’s parents.
“Fish and chips. Better here than at home,” Mason said. “Or, maybe I just think that they’re better because we are in jolly old England.”
“No. Fish and chips are better here,” Edmund said lightly. “Hey, no insult. Creole cooking is it in Louisiana, and when not in Cuba, Cuban coffee is best in Miami.”
“Ah, we all lay claim to our culinary delights,” Della murmured. They were having dinner. There was no guarantee that anything was going to happen here tonight.
“The biggest problem we have is that, of course, everyone assumed that there was just one killer—that’s why they had me and our Interpol liaison Bisset and Jeanne Lapierre from France joining you two and Detective Wilhelm in Norway. We don’t have a list of possible suspects, though tomorrow, we’ll go back through the files. Within them now, we may just find those we cleared at the time because Dante was here and working and they could twist the truth...all the witnesses had alibis that seemed truthful, and then when the murders started in Norway, well...”
Della was half listening and half watching people as they came and went. A group moved and she noticed one of the courtyard tables closest to the sidewalk. A pretty blonde sat there, laughing as she chatted with a young man who appeared to be in his early thirties. He had slightly shaggy light brown hair and an easy smile. She wasn’t sure why, but she didn’t think that they’d known one another forever—they had the look of two young people flirting and enjoying the get-to-know-you part of a relationship.
And they most likely were just a young couple getting to know one another.
“Excuse me!” she murmured.
She stood and pretended to head out and look down the sidewalk as if she were trying to see if a friend might be arriving. ...
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