Saturday Excerpt: Dark Rites by Heather Graham

Get a supernatural start to your weekend with the brand new read from Heather Graham’s Krewe of Hunters series!

About Dark Rites:

dark ritesThe witches, they are real… 

A series of bizarre assaults is mystifying Boston police: an unknown attacker is viciously beating random strangers and leaving a note quoting an old warning about witchcraft. History professor Alex Maple was one of the victims, and now he’s gone missing. Vickie Preston is certain that someone has taken her friend for malicious purposes. She’s having blood-drenched visions that seem to be staining her waking life, and the escalating attacks suggest that a dangerous cult is at work behind the scenes—a cult so powerful that its members would rather die than be apprehended.

Vickie is grateful to have Special Agent Griffin Pryce and the FBI’s elite Krewe of Hunters on her side. She and Griffin are finding their way in an increasingly passionate relationship, and Griffin is desperately trying to keep her safe and the two of them sane amid the disturbing investigation. The search for Alex will take them deep into the wilderness of Massachusetts on the trail of a serial killer, and it will take everything they have to survive the ancient evil that awakens and threatens not just the man they’re striving to save but their very souls.

***

Griffin Pryce leaped over the fence that connected the houses and yards along the Hyde Park neighborhood. He’d been run- ning hard, chasing a man in a red cape. A woman had just been attacked—the fourth victim of the thugs terrorizing the area. This time, the attacker hadn’t gone unseen; a neighbor had called it in right when it had happened.

Miraculously, Griffin had been about to have dinner with friends and was being dropped off by another friend—Detective Barnes—at a restaurant on Hyde Park Avenue when they had both heard the call for help come over the police radio.

He’d reached the scene just as the attacker—down on his knees to leave the rhyme about Satan in red marker on his victim’s chest—had seen him.

And run.

Griffin had taken thirty seconds to assure himself that the woman was alive; the neighbor’s call to 9-1-1 meant that an ambulance and police cars were on the way. He could already hear the sirens.

And so he ran after the attacker, who was wearing a red cape.

Stupid, Griffin thought. You want to wear a cape and attack people? Makes it harder to run and leap fences—and stands out like a…a red light!

But the young man was fast and agile.

Griffin leaped fences, tore down alleys, ducked beneath dry- ing sheets and leaped another fence.

At one point, he could nearly touch the young man. When he turned to glance at Griffin, his face was clearly visible. He couldn’t be more than twenty, twenty-five tops. He was clean- shaven with green eyes and a clear complexion, long nose, good mouth.

Then he was gone. This time he ran into an alley that led to a seven-foot fence—no Dumpster to use to leap over it…nothing at all.

The man threw himself against the dead end.

“Stop!” Griffin demanded, pulling out his Glock and aim- ing at the young man. “Stop. Put your hands behind your head. Get over here, and get down on your knees.”

The young man stared back at him. “Throw down your weapon.”

The man did; he tossed the club he’d used—it resembled one of the billy clubs used by British police—and shouted, “I’m not armed.”

He started to open his cape. “Stop—I’ll fire,” Griffin warned.

“Hey, just showing you… I’m not armed! So shoot me. Come on, shoot me.”

“I’m not going to shoot you. I am going to arrest you. Do as I say, get down on your knees, hands behind your head.”

The man ignored Griffin. He reached for something in his cape; Griffin rushed the twenty or so feet that stood between them.

The man stuck something in his mouth. Griffin shoved him to the ground, reaching into his mouth, trying to find what he’d taken.

Too late.

Even as Griffin sought whatever it was, the man began to tremble—and to foam at the mouth.

Griffin swore, trying to support him as he began to thrash and foam. As he did so, Detective David Barnes—who had been close behind him all the way—came running down the alley.

“Ambulance, med techs! He took something,” Griffin shouted. The man stared up at Griffin with wild eyes—terrified eyes. Maybe he’d never really imagined what dying might be like. But he was defiant.

“Long live Satan!” he choked out.

Then he twitched again, and again—and went still.

Barnes hunkered down by Griffin and the young man. “He’s gone. What a fool. He must have taken a suicide capsule!”

“He wanted me to shoot him,” Griffin said, shaking his head.

What a waste of life.

“Anyway, it’s over. People in Boston will be safer,” Barnes said. “You caught the guy, Griffin. Bastard killed himself. Sad as anything, but it’s over at least.”

“Ah, hell, Barnes, come on!” Griffin said. He liked Barnes, didn’t mind working with the detective, and they had a pretty good rapport. But Barnes was way off base with this one.

“It’s not over,” Griffin said quietly. “Why do you think he killed himself? They’ve got some kind of a pact. There’s a cult working here.”

“Well, yeah, obviously, this kid is some kind of Satanist. But, Griffin, you were right on top of this one. And we’re look- ing at one man. One man who smashed the skull of a young woman—and ran. This has been too hard for us because the attacks have been so random. But it’s got to have been the act of one crazy man. All he had to do was find someone alone on a dark street, strike fast, leave his message and run. It just took one person, Griffin.”

“Yeah, well, we don’t know if it’s been the same one person. I’m telling you, Barnes, we’ve got a real problem here. The violence isn’t going to stop.”

“Griffin, you’re concerned because you thought you’d be heading back to Virginia by now. You chose to stay because of the attack on Alex Maple—Vickie’s friend,” Barnes told him.

It was true; after the Undertaker case, he’d planned on going back to Krewe headquarters in northern Virginia.

But it wasn’t just that Alex had been involved.

The writing on the victims had been disturbing. His instincts told him there was more to it.

“I wish I felt like celebrating, Barnes. I’m sorry. I’m worried. I’m afraid that we have a Charles Manson, David Koresh or Jim Jones–type active here. I believe you’ve got someone out there who has been preaching witchcraft or paganism or—from what we’ve seen—the rise of Satan. If that’s true, you’ve got a group of people running around assaulting random but easy targets— and this won’t be the last attack.”

“He’s never stood me up—I’m worried,” Vickie Preston said to her longtime friend, Roxanne Greeley, looking at her phone again as she did so.

She’d been looking forward to the evening; she had become good friends with Alex Maple. She really liked him. He was boyish and enthusiastic, smart as a whip—and it was wonderful to know someone who loved history as much as she did. Alex was a professor; Vickie wrote guidebooks, and she was known for making the history within those books readable and relatable. She’d called on Alex for help in the recent Undertaker case and they’d quickly become good friends. And Alex had a great time talking to Griffin, as well. Ever since she and Griffin had come together during the horror and solving of the recent murders in the city, Vickie couldn’t imagine having friends who didn’t get along with Griffin. She was very much in love with him. As far as he and Alex went, they had similar taste in music and sports—Alex might be quite the intellectual, but he loved the Patriots. While others might scoff at the home team’s arrogance, in Alex’s mind they deserved to be a bit arrogant.

Griffin had gone to dinner with old friends, members of his unit who were passing through Boston on their way to their home a bit north, in Salem; Vickie hadn’t gone with him only because she’d already made plans with Alex this evening, and she’d invited Roxanne—she had it all set up. She already regret- ted the fact that she’d made previous plans. She really wanted to get to know Griffin’s friends—Devin Lyle and Craig Rockwell. Craig was known as Rocky, she had learned, and he’d grown up in Peabody, Massachusetts, while Devin had grown up in Salem. Now they were a married couple, and though Devin was still a children’s book author, she had also gone through the academy and become part of the Krewe of Hunters unit down in Virginia. But Vickie had never ditched one friend for another, or ignored a promise of a dinner date with one person to go out with someone else. She had thought of switching dates with Alex.

That hadn’t worked, however, because she hadn’t been able to reach him.

And she couldn’t just not show up—Alex had been so ex- cited. He’d made what he thought was a pretty amazing discovery about something that had to do with Massachusetts. He was enjoying lording it over her—though he said he couldn’t wait to tell her about it.

Even though their friendship was pretty new, Vickie felt she knew Alex. He was often crazy busy, and still, like her, if he’d made a date, he’d be there. He didn’t seem to be the kind of man who would simply forget a friend, under any circumstance. Not that unexpected things didn’t happen, but he did have a cell phone, and he should have called.

Naturally, Roxanne was aware that Vickie had been entertaining ulterior motives in insisting that she come with them to dinner at the café.

They were both great people, and Vickie wanted them to get together. She wasn’t matchmaking; if they happened to like each other, that would be great. If not, it was just a dinner with friends.

Vickie’s pretense to have Roxanne join them at dinner was that she was worried; Alex had taken quite a beating when he’d gone down. Vickie had said that she was afraid that she’d be ri- diculously emotional, embarrassing everyone, if they were alone.

Dumb excuse, yes. And Roxanne had finally accused her point-blank of trying to set her up.

“You are playing matchmaker,” Roxanne said. “Never a good thing.”

“No, not usually a good thing,” Vickie had corrected.

But Roxanne had laughed. “Let’s do it. My last affair fell apart quickly enough. Hot and heavy—and over in the two seconds we realized I love a good art show and he loves watching sports in his boxers and guzzling beer. I mean, lots of guys do that, but not twenty-four hours a day or every single second out of work! I don’t seem to choose well—maybe you choosing for me will be the right thing. How could meeting this guy be anything worse than what happened before?”

Roxanne had been—for a brief time—growing heavily involved with an old boyfriend of Vickie’s, but in the rising intensity of the case just solved, she’d not only been seriously injured, but forced to rethink where she wanted to be in a relationship.

And yes, Vickie wanted to set her up with Alex. But now, of course, the guy wasn’t there.

Vickie dialed his number again. No answer.

“Maybe he knew I was coming,” Roxanne said. “That could scare a guy away.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Vickie said. “You’re beautiful.” Her friend was beautiful: blonde, trim, with a great smile. She just didn’t have luck with men. Vickie continued. “I know he wants to see me. I’ve been working on all kinds of things having to do with his assault. I was tracing that rhyme that was left writ- ten on his chest—and now, the same rhyme that was left on the other victims of this attacker, as well.”

“Of course you have,” Roxanne murmured. She was a visual artist, filled with all kinds of insight and art appreciation, but she was nowhere near as fond of history as either Vickie or Alex. “Bear with me,” Vickie said. “That saying that was written on him—it goes back—way back. I don’t believe there were re- ally any kind of Satanists running around when the whole thing started. I found reference to a man named Ezekiel Martin, who had studied to be a Puritan minister. He was never ordained, but he practiced his own brand of religion and managed to take a slew of people with him west into the woods to form a new colony and sect—one that he ruled through preaching a different higher power—that, apparently, being Satan.

“In truth, he seemingly followed a young woman named Missy Prior, who had left of her own accord, being against the repression of the society. Anyway, Ezekiel had a thing for Missy—but she didn’t have a thing for him. He managed to blame her for every ill that befell his community. He claimed to have found those words written in the ground near where Missy Prior lived, and that Missy was trying to conjure Satan, and that Satan came to him at night and claimed that Ezekiel would have Missy Prior. Naturally, he saw himself as Satan’s representative. Satan in the flesh until Satan should appear… His personal religion afforded him lots of benefits.”

“Wow—and yuck! Even way back, people were going on icky ‘I’m close to God so I get to have all the sex’ trips, huh?” “I’m still trying to find more on Ezekiel Martin,” Vickie said.

“Isn’t Alex a history professor?”

“Exactly. He’s in a guest position, or whatever they call it right now—and he loves Harvard, so he’s hoping to stay on.”

“And I’m sure he’s researching all this himself.”

“He is, but that’s also why he’s anxious to meet with me.

Compare notes.”

Their waitress came by, a pretty, gamine-faced young woman with dark brown hair.

“You still waiting for your friend?” she asked.

“We’re going to give him a few more minutes,” Vickie said. “Is it that fellow you’ve met here before?”

Vickie looked at her with surprise, and then realized that the young woman usually wore her hair down, and that—yes, of course—she’d had her several times as a server at the coffee shop.

“Yes, I’m waiting on Alex,” she said.

The girl smiled cheerfully. “He was here last night. I’m sure he’ll be along.”

“There—she’s sure Alex will be along,” Roxanne said. “He was here last night?” Vickie asked.

“Yes, he’s always in when the Dearborn duo are playing. He loves them,” the waitress said. “I’ll keep my eye out!” she prom- ised as she moved on.

“Thanks,” Vickie said. She’d been with Alex when he’d come to see the Dearborn brother-and-sister performers before. They were talented guitarists and played folk music, ballads and cov- ers of Simon and Garfunkel tunes, John Denver, Carole King and more.

She’d heard that the pair were twins; if so, they were frater- nal. He was blond with soft brown eyes; she had extremely dark hair and smoke-gray eyes. They were an attractive pair, and they definitely seemed to have a casual, easy way with a crowd.

“I just wish that he’d answer his phone,” Vickie said. “Vickie!”

For a moment, her heart jumped. But it wasn’t Alex calling her. She looked through the milling guests in the coffee shop and saw Professor Milton Hanson, one of Alex’s closest associ- ates. He knew Vickie’s father, though was more of an associate than a friend.

Actually, her dad didn’t like him very much.

“Who is that? Cool-looking guy, distinguished…dignified.” He was “smarmy,” according to her dad. A little too good-

looking. A little too close to some of his students.

“Hello, young lady. How are you?” he asked, stopping by the table. He had an attractive woman on his arm; she offered Vickie a big smile.

“Professor Hanson,” she said, introducing him to Roxanne.

He, in turn, introduced his lady friend.

“I wanted to come by to check out this café,” Hanson said. “Our mutual friend, Alex Maple, loves this place. But there’s no music.”

“Yes, Alex loves it,” Vickie agreed. “But the music is on Saturday nights.”

Roxanne opened her mouth; she was clearly about to say that they were waiting for Alex.

Vickie kicked her under the table. A little tiny squeak es- caped her.

“Saturday night. I’ll have to come then. Well, nice to see you!” Hanson said, and he moved on.

“Hey! That hurt,” Roxanne said. “Sorry.”

“Why didn’t you tell him we were waiting for Alex now?” Roxanne asked.

“I don’t know.”

“He’s still here somewhere,” Roxanne said. “We could find him.”

“No, I just don’t feel comfortable asking him about Alex.” “Okay. But Alex isn’t here. So, seriously, maybe something

just came up,” Roxanne said. “Let’s face it. Not that I blame you—I mean, you were kidnapped and nearly killed recently— but you’re overly suspicious of the world. I’m overly suspicious, too, since that wasn’t such a great time for me, either. And I’m your basic coward, so that adds to me doubting everything. But honestly—aren’t you getting a little carried away, being so wor- ried just because Alex didn’t show up for dinner? Maybe his sis- ter was sick, or maybe he had to rush his dog to the emergency vet or something. Things do happen.”

“But someone like Alex, Roxanne, he would let me know. You know, maybe I am being ridiculous. I just can’t believe he’d be so rude.”

“I’m sorry, Vickie. I love you—you really are the best friend and most courteous human being—but maybe his emergency was just more important than you.”

“I hope that’s true,” Vickie murmured.

Just as Roxanne spoke, Vickie’s phone rang. It was Griffin. “Hey! How’s it going? I wish I could have joined you,” Vickie

said.

“Dinner didn’t happen. Barnes was dropping me off at the restaurant when someone called in an attack down the street from where we were—we heard it on the scanner. Anyway, to make a long story short, I gave chase, caught the guy—and he took some kind of a suicide pill,” Griffin told her.

“So, he’s dead?”

“Who’s dead?” Roxanne demanded, looking at Vickie with alarm.

“An attacker,” Vickie murmured quickly.

“That’s great!” Roxanne said. “No, I mean, not the dead part. He’s been caught, right? But… Griffin killed him? I mean, we shouldn’t want anyone dead. Except this guy really hurt a lot of people, so—”

“He killed himself,” Vickie said quickly. “How, what, why?” Roxanne asked.

“I don’t know! Let me listen,” Vickie pleaded. “Griffin? The attacker is dead?”

Griffin didn’t seem to have noted her absence from the con- versation to whisper to Roxanne; whatever had happened that evening, it was still consuming his mind.

“Yes. Strange, he was trying for suicide by cop. I told him I wouldn’t shoot him. He took a pill before I could stop him.”

“But it was the man who attacked Alex, right? I mean, was it? You just said that it was an attack. It was the same kind of attack—with the same words written?”

Griffin hesitated on the other end of the phone line.

“A guy is dead. A guy who was seen leaving the same note that was found on Alex and the other two victims. I’m sure Alex will be glad to hear that. Tell him for me, and that I’ll give him details in the morning. Except…”

“Except what?”

Griffin seemed to hesitate a long time. “What is it?” Vickie persisted.

“I don’t think the man who killed himself tonight is the only one in on this,” Griffin said. “But hey, that’s for later. Anyway, I’m at the station. Devin and Rocky are going to stay at my place tonight. I told them I seldom use it and they kind of figured that. Salem is only forty minutes away—well, forty minutes or two hours, depending on traffic! They were actually taking a little personal time to check on their homes up there, see some fam- ily and friends. I’m glad they’re here, though. I can toss around what’s going on with them. You can give Alex the news that we’ve stopped one of them, anyway.”

“I can’t tell Alex anything. He didn’t show,” Vickie said. “We’re still here—we’re having the café’s Sunday night special and hoping that he will make it eventually.”

“He didn’t show? You know him better than I do, but that’s not like Alex, is it?”

“No, it’s not like Alex at all.” “Did you call him?”

“At least a dozen times. And I’ve left just as many messages,” Vickie said.

Griffin was silent for a minute. “How long have you been trying to reach him?” he asked her.

“Um, let’s see… I started calling him this morning, when you got the call from Devin telling you that she and Rocky were going to be heading up to Salem, and did you want to meet for dinner. So, I’ve called and texted all day.”

“I can come and join you. Well, in a while. A woman was at- tacked—she’s on her way to the hospital. And a man died. I’ve still got things to do and, you know, paperwork.”

Paperwork.

She’d learned all about police paperwork during the Undertaker case.

“Roxie and I will go ahead and have dinner and then head to my place,” Vickie said. “We’ll wait for you there. In the mean- time, I’ll hope that Alex calls me with some kind of an apology!”

“Is his family near?”

“He grew up in Massachusetts, but his folks are living on an island off Georgia now—his dad started getting asthma,” Vickie said. “He has a little sister, but she’s studying in Europe somewhere.”

“Okay.” Griffin was quiet for a minute. “I just have to re- port to the local office, get my statement in. And Barnes has to do the same, but he can kick this over to one of the task force members. Finish eating. I’ll get to you as soon as possible.”

“I’ll head home,” she said. “I’ll see you soon.”

She hung up and looked around the room again with frus- tration, hoping—perhaps ridiculously—that Alex might have appeared. No Alex.

She frowned, though. A young blonde woman was standing at the end of the counter bar, as if waiting for a coffee creation. But she was staring at Vickie intently, with unusual intensity. “Why is that woman looking at me like that?” Vickie mur-

mured aloud.

Roxanne turned to look toward the counter, but at that moment, several young men walked by—all of them a fine size to serve as tackles for the Boston Patriots, should they choose. “There—she was right there. Really pretty blonde. Young, long hair—white summer halter dress with a flowy white

wrap…”

“I don’t see her.”

“She’s gone. She was staring at me, weirdly.”

“Maybe she got a bad shot of coffee, Vickie. Hey, not trying to be insulting or anything here, but it’s not always about you, Vick!” Roxanne said lightly.

Vickie laughed. “Yeah, yeah, honestly, I know!”

“So! Back to earth here. Griffin is on his way?” Roxanne asked.

“In a roundabout way,” Vickie said. “We’ll just have dinner and go to my place.”

Youll go to your place,” Roxanne said. She shivered. “I want to stay a mile away from whatever it is you have going on!”

Vickie didn’t blame her friend; Roxanne had gotten a con- cussion when she’d been dragged into the investigation during the Undertaker case. She might have been killed.

“Oh! What I said—it sounded absolutely horrible!” Roxanne said, wide-eyed. “I mean, I’d like to think that I’m a good friend, that I’d be with you through thick and thin, but—”

“It’s okay!” Vickie assured her.

“You two will want to talk. Do you think that Griffin caught the person who attacked Alex? Do you think that Alex is safe now?”

“I don’t know. Griffin seems to think that there’s more than one person involved.”

“Oh! Then…maybe Alex isn’t just rude, or forgetful, or hav- ing an emergency with his dog,” Roxanne said.

“He doesn’t have a dog, Roxanne, and I am getting more and more worried.”

Vickie managed a smile for her friend. “It’s okay. Go home. I do understand. And Griffin will be tired and we will need to talk. So, we’ll finish dinner…and hope that Alex is okay. That he’s just being rude—and the danger facing him is going to be from me!” Vickie said. She tried to speak lightly.

She just didn’t believe that Alex was rude. He was too good a guy.

And that meant…

She tried to keep her worry at bay as they ordered and made small talk as they waited. She didn’t do so very well. She picked at her food. And finally, Roxanne said, “Hey, let’s go. I have to wrap up my latest painting to bring to a gallery at Copley Square tomorrow. And you’re not enjoying your time with me. And I’m enjoyable. So let’s just cut it short. I know you’re worried.” They left the restaurant, walking together as far as they could  to their apartments, and then warning each other to keep their eyes out for trouble.

Both women carried whistles and mace—something Griffin had insisted on after all the trouble during the Undertaker situation.

But Vickie reached her apartment with no one doing any- thing other than giving her a nod in acknowledgment as they passed—that was Boston’s method of a smile, she thought. A nod!

Entering her apartment, she called Griffin’s name, but she didn’t believe that he’d returned yet, and he hadn’t.

Her apartment, however, wasn’t exactly empty.

It appeared that a young couple was seated on her sofa.

They were both just teenagers, and attractive. He had been a high school football hero, well-built, charming, quick to smile. She had been a light-haired, light-eyed beauty, incredibly sweet, tragically naive. They were really adorable—completely absorbed with one another…

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