The Lady Doctor is a Vamp
Kate Thorne: Debt-ridden doctor. Sharp-witted cynic. Vampire.
Peter Carver: Billionaire entrepreneur. Silver-tongued player. Vampire, too.
When Kate’s medical school loans come due, her only recourse is to become her mother’s corporate spy in Washington DC. Peter—unaware that he is Kate’s target—considers the prickly doctor a sexy challenge to seduce.
Kate sets the record straight with some choice words and a well-placed stiletto heel. But Peter’s attention opens the door to a debt-free future, if only strong-willed Kate will submit. Can this shrew be tamed and still respect herself in the morning?
My newest patient snarled, slashing at my protected fingers and shredding my gloves with his fangs. I swore and leaped back, landing hard on my right foot. A lance of pain jolted through my hip and up my spine. The vampire darted into a corner, pulling a crash cart in front of him like a castle wall.
“I thought you had him!” I shouted at Jerome, the superannuated gargoyle who passed as security for the night shift at Empire General Hospital.
Before the hapless mountain of a guard could reply, I stripped off my useless gloves. So I’d burn my fingers as I removed my patient’s silver bonds. It wouldn’t be the first time. Almost definitely not the last, either.
Maybe the searing pain would take my mind off the agony in my hip.
The red-hot poker dissecting my femur lent an edge to the words I tried to make reassuring as I approached my patient in his corner. “This is a hospital,” I said. “I’m Dr. Thorne. I’m a vampire just like you.” I held my hands up in a universal gesture of goodwill. “Let me get that collar off, and we can start to treat your burns.”
My patient allowed me to get within a yard before he shoved the cart into me, hitting me squarely in the solar plexus. If I’d been human, the blow would have knocked the wind out of my lungs and sent me sprawling, gasping for breath.
Because I was a vampire, he only made me angry.
I didn’t need to breathe. But the edge of the cart still hurt as it dug into my flesh. I swore and used a little of my vampire speed to close the distance to the patient I’d taken an oath to protect.
He keened as if I were flensing him. Before my fingers could slip beneath the stinking silver that was driving him mad, he bowled past me, knocking my bad leg into the corner of the crash cart. He was out the door of the emergency room before Jerome could roll forward a full pace.
“What sort of miserable excuse for a security guard are you?” I shouted, blinking hard to banish the crimson waves of agony cascading down my leg.
He rumbled a wordless reply, which probably amounted to an accusation that my alarum had awakened him from a decent nap, and how was a single gargoyle supposed to subdue a pain-crazed vampire, and why had I even thought I could gentle my patient by talking to him when everyone knew a silver-scorched vampire was beyond reason?
Or maybe he was just shifting his massive weight as he calculated how long he needed to stand there before he could retreat to his desk in the lobby and resume his interrupted nap. Gargoyles weren’t known for their quick wit under any circumstances, and Jerome—well-past the age of retirement and well-under the recommended nightly allowance of sleep—was a particularly slow example of his species.
I bit down hard on my lip, trying to remember the precepts of the sensitivity training class I’d been forced to complete last month. It should have been easy to recite the rules. I’d completed the class three times before.
Jerome asked, “Want me to go after him?”
The terrified vampire’s head start was increasing by the second. There was no way the gargoyle could catch him now.
I shook my head. “Forget it. He’ll find someone else to take off that damn collar.”
Or he wouldn’t.
I winced, trying not to picture the charred results if he didn’t remove the silver soon. My would-be patient would soon face an impossible choice: Succumb to irrevocable silver damage or expose his vampire existence to a human.
The corrosive metal would eat away at his flesh. But the Empire Bureau of Investigation would throw his ass in jail for decades if he let the mundane world get even a glimpse of our supernatural one.
A single dose of Lethe could have saved him from the latter disaster. Properly trained vamps deployed Lethe to Enfold nosy humans: Administer a healthy swallow of the cinnamon-scented drug, touch the unsuspecting mundane’s forehead, and issue a command to forget.
We vampires were the only supernatural creatures who could deploy Lethe. Our talent made us unique in the Eastern Empire. Valuable, too. Other imperials recruited vampires to tamper with human memory whenever magic got out of hand.
But I’d done a cursory exam before my patient had gone nuts. He wasn’t carrying a flask of Lethe. He couldn’t enlist human aid to escape from his silver bonds.
I tried to bleed off a little of my exasperation by slamming the crash cart into its proper place. Equipment rattled loudly in its drawers. Excellent. Just freaking excellent. Now I had to check on all the supplies, making sure nothing had been damaged by the cart’s improvised use as a missile.
“Anything else I can do here?” Jerome asked.
“Absolutely not,” I said. “You’ve done enough.”
He looked hurt, but I didn’t care. The newly-Turned vampire that Jerome had allowed to escape was a danger to himself, the Empire, and any human he came across.
“Everything okay here?” The question came from the doorway that led to the main hospital. I recognized Ashley McDonnell’s voice before I turned around. The witch was the Medical Director of Empire General. She was also my boss, and the closest thing I had to a friend.
“We’re fine,” I said, in a voice that was anything but.
“Jerome?” Ashley asked.
“Fine,” the gargoyle rumbled. At least he was good for something—lying to cover my own misrepresentations.
Ashley must have sent him a signal behind my back, because he rolled past her into the hospital lobby. She waited, silent, as I completed my survey of the cart. I double-checked it, just in case anything was out of place. Organization wasn’t my strong suit. Maybe a third time, just to be sure…
“Kate?” Ashley said.
I didn’t bother to gentle my tone when I said, “I just ruined another vampire’s life.”
“You did no such thing.” Her voice was soft. Kind. I didn’t want to hear it.
“What makes you an expert on vampires?”
The witch could have snapped a quick order. She could have told me I was insubordinate. She could have reminded me that her fiancé was a vampire.
Instead, she said, “Come over here a minute. Talk to me, Kate.”
Glaring, I limped to join her on the hideous orange vinyl chairs we set aside for waiting patients.
“You’re hurt!” she exclaimed.
“I’m fine,” I said automatically.
I had a vampire’s aversion to silver. An oak stake in my heart could kill me. I couldn’t see my reflection in silver-backed mirrors, and I was doomed to a diet of human blood.
But a vampire’s supernatural powers of healing could never ease the pain in my hip. A childhood accident and a badly set tibia had seen to that. No amount of healing blood would lengthen one leg that was three inches shorter than the other.
Ashley fussed over me as I sank into the chair. I shoved away her hands and repeated, “I’m fine.”
I saw concern flicker across her face. I just didn’t care.
“This is exactly what I’ve been talking about for months,” I said, before she could dwell on my injured leg. “We need to get Lethe for all vampires.”
“Lethe wouldn’t have helped you treat him.”
“But now he’s out there,” I snapped, waving toward the Emergency Room door. “If he approaches a human to help, he has no way to erase their memories.”
Ashley ignored my outraged tone as she nodded agreement. “Maybe in next year’s budget—”
“Next year will be too late!”
That vampire would be dead long before next year. Staked or fried to a crisp in broad daylight. If he was lucky, the Empire Bureau of Investigation would get to him first. Then, he’d only be imprisoned for decades.
Ashley shrugged. “I don’t know what you want me to do, Kate.”
I didn’t know either.
No one had anticipated that Lethe’s price would increase ten-fold in a single year. No one could have predicted the fire that cost Five Rivers Pharma an entire manufacturing plant for the drug last June. Or the supply chain from Romania that had dried up for one of Lethe’s key ingredients, back around Samhain.
I knew the litany. I’d recited it myself for three fiscal quarters, begging the hospital’s Board of Directors to make emergency doses of Lethe available to vamps who couldn’t afford it themselves. Our most vulnerable population—poor vampires who were seventeen times more likely to be forced into close proximity with humans—was left unprotected.
But the hospital’s budget was even rockier than my personal finances.
Speaking of which…
I glanced at the large clock on the wall. Wrestling with my patient had taken longer than I’d expected. I’d have to hurry if I was going to make my appointment on time.
“I have to go,” I said to Ash. Climbing to my feet, I automatically tugged my doctor’s coat into place over my electric-blue dress. The rasp of the textured polyester was oddly comforting.
She looked surprised. “I thought you were on the schedule for the entire night?”
“I am. I was.” I sucked on my fangs. “I have a dentist appointment.”
“Again? Didn’t you have a dentist appointment last week?”
“Dr. Maugham is worried about receding gums.” Well, that wasn’t totally a lie. I’d referred enough patients to the good dentist to know he was always worried about gum disease. Just not my gum disease, at the moment. I hadn’t visited Dr. Maugham—or any other dentist—since I’d Turned, eight years earlier.
I felt guilty when Ash’s face paled. “Don’t mess around with gingivitis,” she said. “You don’t want to lose your fangs.”
I let Ash hurry me out the door, all the time chattering about the benefits of fluoride rinses and deep-gum scaling. I felt truly rotten when she told me not to bother coming back after my appointment, because she knew how sore my mouth would be.
Lying to my best friend. My only friend. I couldn’t sink much lower.
Well, I’d try to make it up to her later. For now, I had to get halfway across town before my contact finished her regularly scheduled cigarette break.
Before she chickened out.
I wiped my slick palms against my ill-cut dress. The polyester did nothing to absorb my nervous sweat. I resorted to reciting numbers in the Fibonacci sequence: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8… The orderly, predictable mental arithmetic flushed adrenaline from my system.
Despite my urgent need, I had my Uber drop me a block from my actual destination. I knew my target would spook if she realized I wasn’t really her co-worker in the massive office building that fronted the night-empty downtown street. The car service would have been a dead giveaway.
Emphasis on dead.
As I hurried past the brightly lit front door with its bronze sign boasting the interlocked F and R of the Five Rivers Pharma logo, I smoothed my hands down my white doctor’s coat. In the darkness up ahead, I heard the tinkle of bells.
Automatically, I averted my eyes, recognizing the warning signal of those chimes. At the same time, I plunged my right hand into my deep coat pocket and let my fingers twine around the roll of Moonglow-impregnated gauze I’d…borrowed from the hospital’s vampire ward earlier that night.
The drug-laden cotton was experimental, newly imported from a German manufacturer. It wasn’t legally available in the States, for any amount of money. Empire General was testing its use for healing severely sunburned vampires.
But European doctors had been buzzing for months about an off-label use—an unapproved application—for Moonglow. It was risky. Untested in any lab. There were zero studies about the drug’s safety for the new patient population. Zero studies about efficacy.
My Hippocratic oath bound me to do no harm. But desperate patients—including the bell-bound imperial in the shadows before me—were willing to try anything to tackle a congenital affliction with no known form of treatment.
And after I completed my carefully negotiated exchange in this midnight alley, I could pay off the medical school loans that threatened to shut down my career a hell of a lot faster than playing fast and loose with a single roll of drugged cotton webbing.
I would finally be free from my crushing debt—and all the unfortunate corollaries that went with my financial woes—if I just survived the next five minutes.
Turning the corner, I came face to face with the gorgon who could turn me over to Five Rivers corporate security, who could summon the Empire Bureau of Investigation, who could have my medical license revoked.
Or, you know. Turn me to stone with a single direct look from her snake-bound head.