Authors: Jackie Ivie
Tags: #paranormal romance, #vampire assassin league, #short story, #vampire romance, #anthology
“Calm down, Santiago. Please. I was speaking for myself and how many of my associates seem to be finding their soul mates lately. I feel a bit like a matchmaker, and it’s not exactly fair. Hmm. I’m going to get maudlin if I don’t watch it. And don’t worry. Your Miss Hendershott is fine. Just fine. A trifle confused and jubilant, but fine.”
“You know her name?”
“Oh please. I created you centuries ago and you have to ask? Remind me about this come year-end bonus season.”
“You don’t give bonuses.”
“What are we talking about?”
There was an audible click through the speakers and then the screen split in half, giving Rafaele a view of the Crusader’s electric field on the right side, Akron’s empty chair on the left.
“Invaris. Good. You have the information?”
“Yes Sir. The police report is coming through right now. We got it the moment they uploaded it into their system. Looks like…here it is. She managed to pry open an elevator last night and then break down her door. No charges filed. You want hard copy?”
“No need. You have the rest?”
“Lenna Hendershott owns her own business. Body Beware. She’s a physical trainer with a full schedule, mainly due to a recent placement in a Miss Bikini of the Twin-Cities contest. Listed as five foot, five. One hundred eighteen pounds. Works with clients by appointment only. She cancelled most of them today. It was hell getting one, especially an evening one. Had to pay triple.”
Rafaele was too excited to stand still. He started pacing while keeping his eyes on the screen.
“You scheduled it for midnight?” Akron asked.
“Ten after. River Gym in Golden Valley. He’s going to need gear. You want me to handle the particulars?”
“Yes,” Santiago spoke up.
“Okay. Getting you a three month gym membership, an assigned locker…there will be a bag with gear inside. I’m going to guess your size. Just check in at the front desk. Oh. Looks like I’m going to need height and weight after all.”
“For her online application. You’re going to a consultation. You’re bigger than I am, so…six foot, five maybe? And…how about 255? Close enough. What are your goals?”
“He’s a pirate from Port Royal. They don’t have goals,” Akron answered.
“I can speak for myself,” Rafaele inserted.
“All right then. Name a goal. You own your own property yet? No. You’re still living night-by-night working on Morgan’s yacht. Any ideas where you might want to take your woman afterwards? Or are you going to use the boat you borrowed and have docked over at Minneapolis Port? And don’t do that again. It’s creating all kinds of interest over there. You don’t see too many really nice cigar boats on the Mississippi River.”
“Better book him the Inferno Suite, too. For the week. Good thing Sasha had a hand in designing your new abode. Santiago. Five star place. Blackened windows. No sunlight allowed. No mirrors. It’s in her usual blood-red and black-lacquer color scheme, but what do you care? It’s a room. You’re going to need a room. Or have you planned that far?”
“I can handle my own courtship, thank you.”
“Right. You’re going to need a car and driver, too. Strangely enough, I just happen to have both in the city at the moment. Daniel’s already in my newest limo. I think you’ll like it. Dress appropriately.”
“I’m not wearing a monkey suit.”
“Keep the gym wear for the gym. You’re already noticeable. Invaris? How’s it looking?”
“Done. And done. I’m listing the goal as “leaning-out”. This means doing more reps with smaller weights. Should be easier to blend in.”
“Rafaele de Jesus y Santiago blending in? That’ll be the night. Next thing you’ll try is stand-up comedy.”
“I never tried to blend in,” Rafaele told them.
“Now is an excellent time to start. Listen up. You’re going training. In a gymnasium. It’s well-lit and covered with surveillance. Better block the cameras, Invaris. No filming. Oh. And send him a couple of videos on technique. Weight lifting. Treadmill use. Saunas.”
“Searching now, Sir.”
“All right, Santiago, you’re about set. There shouldn’t be many around at that time of night, but try to remember even little weights have heft to them. You remember weights? Anchors? Ropes? Booty?”
“No prying open elevators. No busting through doors. No tossing refrigerators onto the floor. Is this a typo, Invaris? He really barred her door with her refrigerator? Not a chair?”
“Just send the videos,” Rafaele interjected.
“This is going to be classic. I probably shouldn’t black out the cameras. Imagine the blackmail possibilities.”
“I swear to you Akron, if anyone tries—”
Akron was laughing. Heartily. Which was a rarity. “Oh, go on, Rafaele. Pursue your mate. Enjoy yourself. Try not to make too large a mess. Recalibrate your next phone to Code R, and give her back hers. And don’t worry. I’ll have a 4-D team standing by…just in case.”
Midnight. Almost time to re-test her sugar level. She’d been checking it hourly all afternoon, eating the most dangerous foods, and doing little happy dances as her sugar level didn’t waiver much. If anything, it dropped. Gagging down a glass of orange juice at most people’s bedtime hadn’t altered it. Last hour, she’d tried downing a half bag of vend-size potato chips. Still 98.
She just wished real food tasted right. She wasn’t complaining, but that was another oddity to her miracle cure. The diabetes may have vanished, but her taste buds went with it. Nothing sounded appetizing except for bloody-rare, red meat. Everything else tasted awful, starting with a slice of turkey that turned her stomach, moving on to the donut she’d nibbled at, before satisfying her hunger with such a rare burger, the counter help shuddered when giving it to her. She didn’t need to look at anyone’s face. She knew what they were thinking. It
enough to gag a maggot.
Lenna looked at the clock on the wall before rising from the yoga
known as the lotus, slung her towel over her shoulders, and then stretched throughout her entire torso. The gym was almost deserted. One guy was over at a treadmill zone. He’d given her sly glances when he’d first come in, but it looked like he’d given up. One more client tonight and she’d be free to really celebrate.
. Maybe she’d order a huge slice of something decadent. She wondered where to get that at this time of night…no. It was after midnight. She’d have to find an early opening bake-shop…or an all night diner. She might try chocolate cake this time.
. Her tongue rebelled at the thought. Chocolate even sounded distasteful? Wasn’t that the epitome of unfair?
Lenna bent to retrieve her folder, opened it, and scanned the entries. If these stats were correct, she had a hefty male coming in. She sighed. With the money he’d paid, she should’ve seen this coming from one of Saint Paul’s skyscrapers. Lenna frowned slightly, envisioning a fat-ass, corporate desk jockey with a New Year’s resolution and a lot of cash.
Her work was cut out with this job. Long, foreign-sounding name. Possible middle-Eastern origin. Maybe Mediterranean. Probably had all sorts of ideas on a woman’s place. Big. Six foot five and two hundred fifty-five pounds. Claimed to be fit. How was that possible? At that weight? The guy was almost obese. She wondered if he was a bodybuilder. That might explain his weight. But if he was looking for an IFBB title in the heavy weight division, it would be a tough battle. Lots of competition at his size. He’d have to drop some fat and pack on heavy-duty muscle weight. She hoped he liked protein shakes and raw eggs.
Lenna turned the sheet over. Her guy wanted to lean out. She pulled in her bottom lip in thought. He wanted to be 220? Good. That was easier to achieve, and she liked bringing out a solid core in a man’s torso. And sometimes it was a perverse pleasure in forcing them to eat what she ordered them to.
At the greeting, Lenna looked across and then way up, her jaw opened, and then the folder followed as it hit the floor. Every nerve ending in her body came to full alert, lifting hairs as it whispered through her. He looked familiar…and yet…no way was it possible. This couldn’t be her rescuer from last night…could it?
She wouldn’t have forgotten this man. True; she’d been disoriented and panic-stricken. It had been dark. She hadn’t gotten a good look at him, but she’d known he was hotter than hot. Yet, this guy exceeded even that. He wasn’t real. He couldn’t be. Nothing this good-looking existed. He had tall, dark, and handsome nailed. Great skin, chiseled jaw, black hair worn pulled back in a queue, the slightest hint of whisker, and killer, bedroom eyes. Her new client was jaw-dropping. Literally. She didn’t have to describe how it felt. Her mouth was still open. She had to focus to shut her lips, before narrowing her eyes, working to absorb the impact. Thank goodness it was night and the gym almost deserted.
He’d been dead-on with the height but not his fitness level. He wasn’t just fit. Mister Foreigner here was perfectly chiseled and cut. Nothing about his loose shorts and muscle-shirt hid any of it from view.
“You are…Miss Hendershott?”
Goose bumps raised on her arms. She rubbed at them absently. The guy had a great accent accompanying the words, as well as a really deep voice. She nodded. And then he grinned, stopping time and thought and sensation. Her eyes went wide. Her breath caught. Her heart decided to send a sledge hammer through her chest. She told herself it was better than fainting. But just barely.
“Ah. Good. Allow me to introduce myself. Rafaele de Jesus y Santiago. At your service.”
He did a very strange bow before standing upright again. It was a long way up, too. Six foot five had never looked so good. Lenna stopped her own thoughts. Sometimes her chosen field gave her a pleasant view and a bit of fantasy during her downtime. But nothing like what was happening now. If she didn’t know better, it felt as if every bit of her actually leaned toward him.
“Please. Call me Rafaele. I insist.”
“Very well. Rafaele.” Lenna forced her eyes back to his chart on the floor, bent to gather the scattered papers before standing again, trying to focus around the blur of numbers. This was ridiculous. She’d been around good looking, well-built men before. Nothing to the extent of Rafaele here, but still, he was just a client. A paycheck. Rent and groceries. Lenna cleared her throat. “It says here you wish to drop about thirty-five pounds.”
“That many? Hmm. Is that difficult?”
“For some. But I have to ask why. Why would you want to lose so much?” She slanted a glance to where his cotton shirt clung to rock-hard abs, before returning it to her chart. Wow. The guy was just…wow.
“It is too much?”
“You’re a certain weight and definition already. It took some work to get in the shape you’re in. Major work. And probably some sacrifice.”
“Foregoing cheeseburgers and alcohol is always a sacrifice to you guys. And that makes me wonder why you’d want to undo all of it.”
That eliminated any last thought that this might be her rescuer from last night. If that man existed, he’d been confident. Definite. In control. This Rafaele fellow didn’t look sure of much. He looked rather like a fish out of water, which was patently ridiculous. Anybody with a body like his spent a lot of time in gyms. Lenna scanned a finger down the paper for something to do. To her dismay, it trembled. “What kind of routine are you used to?”
“What weights do you lift, and in what combination, and how many reps?” She lifted her head to ask it.
He looked confused now, and that just made him look adorable, and that just added unnecessary ballast to the impact he already had on her. And she really needed to look elsewhere. Lenna moved her gaze to his collarbone.
Even his traps were well-defined. His kind of trapezoid muscularity took years to develop - lots of repetition at pulling, with ever increasing weights. Which was a lot of work and sacrifice.
“You have to have a routine. Every body builder does.”
“You’re not a body builder?”
“You’ve never competed?” What a dumb question. If he competed, she’d have seen him. He’d have some trophies, or at the very least, he’d have a ton of fans - mostly female.
“I’m unsure of the question.”
Lenna folded her arms, securing his folder beneath one. “You’re very fit, Rafaele. It’s almost a sacrilege to take any weight off you. Someone in your shape – and with your looks – is a shoo-in for major fame. And yet here you are. Out of the blue. With me.”
“Is that wrong?”
“My expertise is getting you in shape, not setting up posing routines for IFBB competition. I think you’re wasting your money.”
“Posing?” His brows drew together. “For a portrait?”
Lenna huffed, the sigh hard enough to lift her bangs. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
“So…where you from? East coast?”
“Iberian Peninsula. Grenada. Originally. Now? I am from everywhere and anywhere. I, uh…travel. Extensively.”
Iberian Peninsula. Hmm. Spain
. She was looking at a Spaniard. A really hot one. The thought created way too much intrigue and interest. She had to swallow to get her voice to work. “So…what gyms have you used?”
“Gyms? Oh. You mean gymnasiums. I do not patronize such installations.”
“You’re in one now.”
“It looks like you’ve been in them a lot. And I do mean a lot.”
He was pulling her leg, and it wasn’t pleasant. He looked like he spent at least four hours a day working out, and packed in major calories, too.
“Let’s just cut to the chase, okay?” she asked.
He moved a step closer to her, alerting every bit of her to a sensation akin to excitement. That was weird. Due to Chet, this sort of proximity usually caused her heart to hammer with something akin to fright. That’s why she took self-defense classes. But this Rafaele was making everything tingle with something close to anticipation and interest. Lenna forced herself to stay right where she was, pretending it didn’t matter how close he’d moved.