Authors: Jackie Ivie
Tags: #paranormal romance, #vampire assassin league, #short story, #vampire romance, #anthology
The door opened wider. He wasn’t just a head. He’d been craning his head around a door painted as black as the rest of the room. Lenna relaxed parts she hadn’t known she’d stiffened.
“You heard him. You need help?”
Lenna uncoiled slowly, sliding along the sheet. Let’s see…she’d been up hours and hours celebrating, worked out three times at the gym with clients, met the man of her dreams, had some great sex with him before getting blown into a wall by an explosion, slapped with a net that cut into her, and then sprayed with something like ether. She should need help. She shouldn’t feel amazingly healthy. Uninjured. Energetic. She flexed and then scooted to the mattress edge without a hint of bruising. She gave a quick glance at her arms before shoving her hair back. Not one sign of scratch.
Maybe she’d dreamed it.
“Come in, Miss Hendershott. Please.”
He said please.
As if she had a say in what was happening. That was interesting. And for the devil, he wasn’t very scary. He looked as old as his voice suggested, but he resembled a kindly grandfather with gnarly–looking arthritic hands that caressed his cane. Okay. She amended her own opinion. Make that a really old, great-great-great…grand-father type. And he wasn’t used to Minneapolis weather in January. He was in a bulky sweater and huddled on a chair.
“Please. Come. Join us.”
. That was another interesting development. The devil had minions. A quick look gave her the size, scope, and exact positions of every single one of them, proving if she had to be in hell with the devil and his henchmen, at least she seemed to have gained superlative senses. He had eight with him, all men, all standing in various poses, wearing the gray and black camouflage she’d noted earlier and carrying the same weird weaponry. They didn’t seem to have any trouble with the weather.
Well, that blew her underworld theory. Minions of the devil wouldn’t look like a bunch of guys going hunting. Nor, could this be hell. It was too cold, and way too luxurious. Everyone looked out of place in the absolute luxury of the room. The walls were also in black and red sections interspersed with dark wood paneling, while panels in the same colors stood in free-form segments, dividing the area into a dining area, living area, and over in one corner a grand piano stood, elevated on its own pedestal, the top lifted up as if awaiting a pianist. She’d taken years worth of lesson, but never on something so…amazing. She’d never even seen a piano that spectacular.
She drew a breath. “Where am I? Who are you? And what do you want?”
“Come. Sit. I’ll explain everything.”
“Maybe I don’t want to sit with you.”
“Hansen? Assist Miss Hendershott.”
The guy behind her grabbed her elbow. She yanked it away, but he grabbed for her other one and he wasn’t being nice the second time. That blew the rest of her theory. She certainly wasn’t dreaming any of this.
“I’ll tell you everything in good time. Trust me.”
“Why should I? You blew me up, stuck me to a wall with a net, and then gassed me with something that was probably harmful. Why would I trust you?”
“Because the alternative is worse. And I wouldn’t harm you. You’re way too valuable. You were only unconscious a couple of hours. Come along, my dear. Sit. Would you like a cup of tea? Coffee?”
Lenna didn’t answer. Either option would turn her stomach. She got walked to the black dining table. The guy holding her elbow determined how rapidly they approached. He also made certain she took a seat, with a heavy hand on her shoulder. She sat stiffly, legs close together, her fingers linked together in her lap while she waited. She was very good at sitting and waiting. That’s the best way to survive counseling sessions, interrogations, and unpleasant episodes. Listen. Don’t react. Wait. Escape.
“Very well. Forget the niceties. I’ll just answer your questions. You asked first where you are. This is known as The Inferno Suite. It’s one of the priciest bits of real estate in the city. It was booked for an entire week. Via wire transfer. From an account in the Bahamas. Untraceable. Anything strike you as odd?”
He waited for her to answer, but she just kept her eyes on his. He finally sighed.
“There are no windows. Here we are, at the top of the city, with the best view of the skyline…and no windows?”
He waited again. Somewhere a clock ticked away a few seconds. One of his minions changed position. Some of the lines in his face moved as he smiled slightly.
“There are actually opaque sections, but they’ll only open at night if the occupant so desires. Or…maybe if the day is sunless, like the forecast for today. And the rest of the week. And probably through March. Minneapolis in the winter is not my kind of place. It’s dark. Bleak. Freezing cold. Inhospitable. No wonder we don’t have our own abode here.”
He stopped to cough, or clear his throat. It sounded like he was gagging. Seemed to take a long time, too. He should have done strength training throughout his elderly years. Maybe take steroids. Both would help with his COP issue.
“I believe you also asked for introductions? Very well. I am Lord General Beethan, Esquire. I know. Meaningless. But there you have it. My name.”
She didn’t answer. She didn’t move. She didn’t acknowledge anything.
“You know, it never fails to amaze me how gullible you women are.”
Lenna stiffened without conscious thought as several of his minions chuckled. No wonder he didn’t have any women in here with him.
“Can we do this without male chauvinist remarks?” she asked, finally.
“I’m speaking about your new man, Santiago.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Right. I’ll explain. You had a new client recently. Rafaele de Jesus y Santiago. Shadowy fellow. Very difficult to find. Like the wind. Untraceable. Quick. The only clue he’s been somewhere is usually a big hole left in the ground. Rather like your former haunt, River Gym. Nice building. Shame to have it destroyed like that.”
Lenna’s eyes widened. “It’s been destroyed?”
“The rooms you were using? Gone. Poof. Obliterated.”
“You blew the place up? There were people there. What happened to them?”
“Wasn’t us. We barely got out before their 4-D Team arrived. They’re very good. But don’t fret. There weren’t any casualties. The VAL usually only kills if there’s money involved. Or revenge. Or anger. Or retaliation. On second thought…Hansen? Check again. No casualties, right?”
“Only Miss Hendershott. They found her gym bag. Some forensic evidence on scene. DNA.”
“I’m a casualty now?”
“Actually…I’m going to guess you’re about to become tabloid fodder as a possible ‘alien abduction’. UFOs were seen in the area. Bright lights on aircraft tend to look colorful and indistinct in sub-zero night air. You’ll be able to read about it for years. Think of the legacy you’re leaving.”
Lenna swallowed and her ears popped. She squeezed her fingers together. It helped hold back the reaction. That meant nobody would be trying to find her - as if there was someone who cared enough to try. Maybe Missus Gibbons…
“Wait. Update on the scene. Miss Hendershott is listed as missing, along with the last man she was seen with. A client. Great description on him being given by witnesses, by-the-way. Beats his wanted poster.”
“They’ll never find him. Just like we can’t find him.”
“Very sharp, Miss Hendershott. As are all the women. Gullible…but sharp.”
Lenna worked at killing the dull throb through her chest. It didn’t work. Nothing much did. She’d fallen for a guy she’d just met, he was now missing, and these jokers expected her to believe…what? He had a harem of women? And damn! If only that was inconceivable!
“Did he mention something to you about…mates?”
Damn it! Damn it! Damn it!
If that was Rafaele’s pick-up line, he’d better stay missing. Because otherwise, she was killing him.
“Why?” She had such a tight grip on her voice the word actually came out steady.
“You don’t really need to answer. We knew the moment his name popped up on your online application. I do so love the web, don’t you? Makes everything so much easier.”
“What are you talking about now?”
“Your mate, Rafaele de Jesus y Santiago. Finding and then securing their mates is the only time they come out of hiding. It’s our best shot at getting them, too.”
Rafaele hadn’t lied? He did love her. He’d said she was his mate, and it must be true! Everything he’d said to her was true. Lenna had to look away. Anything else gave away how her soul grew wings and soared high above where her physical body was stuck in a plush red-velvet covered chair, across the table from a nightmarish-looking gentleman, telling her she was as good as dead.
“Surely you remember him? Big. Tall. Swarthy. Dirty. Undisciplined. Predatory. He’s a pirate, you know.”
“A pirate?” Lenna looked back to him, keeping as serious a look on her face as she could manage. When people spoke nonsense to her, that look usually worked. At least, it’s what got her a social worker that wasn’t trying to be her friend.
“Scourge of every sea, pirates. They attack. Kill. Rape, pillage, plunder. Steal. Santiago was one of the best. And luckiest. Spent half his life at it.”
“Half his life?”
“Boys went to sea at very young ages. He was thirteen. Had a fairly long, nasty career…considering.”
“Piracy is not a career. It’s a…Halloween costume.”
He snorted, and then he coughed some more. And then he had to put a handkerchief to his mouth. She waited until he finished.
“Very witty. Very. You have to trust me, though, Miss Hendershott. Santiago was a pirate. I’ve got files on him.”
“We’ve been hunting him for years, my dear. Years. And now…thanks to you, we’re this close!”
He put his thumb and forefinger up and smashed them together. Lenna regarded him without expression until he lowered his hand.
“You’re a pirate hunter, then?” she asked.
“No. I’m a vampire hunter. Eighth generation.”
It took a moment, and then Lenna burst out laughing. She couldn’t help it. It was the last thing she’d expected. As she sobered, she started thinking. And musing.
Describing Rafaele as a pirate had turned him into the hottest thing imaginable in her mind, but now this Lord Beethan had to go and add vampirism? Double wow. Vampires didn’t exist, but if they did, they’d definitely look like Rafaele. She had to dab at her eyes before she looked back at him.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“It’s all right. Laugh. Your good humor won’t last. You already have his mark.”
“Your neck. It’s a bite mark. Hansen? You have a mirror handy?”
Lenna rubbed at one of the spots where Rafaele had bitten her. She didn’t need a mirror. Something in her face must have reflected it.
“We actually gassed you to make certain you hadn’t been fully turned yet.”
Turned? Into a vampire? Her? As if such a thing was possible. Lenna considered it, keeping her face carefully blank while he watched her. Could any of this be real? Was it possible? And if just tasting Rafaele’s blood had banished her diabetes, given her super senses, and created such a feeling of health, was that bad? Could Rafaele really be vampiric? Really and truly? And following that vein, if he was a vampire, could he make her one? And if he did…was that really such a bad thing? It sounded pretty good, actually. No diabetes. No illness. No age infirmities. No struggling to maintain weight. No being victimized – ever again. No more worry over finances. No more social workers, cops, hospitals. No more loneliness. Rafaele would be there. Forever.
An eternity of lovemaking like that?
. Lenna licked her lips.
“You understand now?”
“Good. And you’ll work with us?”
“Work with you?”
“Why do you think you’re here? Scintillating conversation?”
“Bait,” she replied.
“Sharp. Witty. And beautiful. These vampires always seem to find the perfect combination. Why is that, I wonder?”
“Their eternal youth helps,” Lenna remarked.
He choked again. “I know. I’m old. I’m still capable of running an organization as complex and powerful as this one. Until my grandson is ready to assume command, anyway.”
“What? No son? Or…maybe he got a bit too old to train, like a monarchy?”
“My son is not a subject we’ll be discussing.”
Oh. Raw nerve.
Lenna stored that for use later, and then the lights all went out.
The suite wasn’t named correctly. It wasn’t an inferno. It was pitch black, interspersed with eight pinpricks of red light, and those moved in scattered beams as the hunters got propelled through the room. Something shattered, something else groaned and then broke, and the table at her elbow scooted away from her, scudding along the floor surface. Then a dull non-melodic thud of sounding board entered the fray, followed by what was probably the entire grand piano as it fell off its pedestal.
“Rafaele! Please? Wait! Don’t kill anyone! Rafaele! Please?”
Tinkling sounds accompanied her pleas, and Lenna crouched beside her chair, putting her hands over her head to avoid broken glass shards. And then there was a low roar of sound that turned into one word, spoken in a deep bass tone, loud enough to stop time.
Silence followed the command. It was followed by a human groan, and then a slight spot of light as a match got lit, touched to a candle wick, and then another one. Rafaele’s face came into view, and then the rest of him, and then she was in his arms, clinging and holding as his arms enveloped her, lifting her from the floor and holding her in a hug of heart-rending beauty. She was exactly where she belonged.
. How did you know it was me?”
His arms shook as he held her.
“How could I not? You’re my mate.”