Rafe and I stare at the remains of the table in front of us. I liked the piece and am kind of pissed I broke it. I turn to my lover, “What do you really think of Drew?”
“It could be a genuine offer. With all we have going on right now though… who knows?”
Yes, who knows? I take a deep breath to calm down. I have to project a lot tonight to many different people at once and it will help if I can gather myself. This murder has me all over the place—I need to focus my mind. Letting off some power to Rafe earlier was obviously not enough. I bet doing yoga would help. Think I’ll do that when Rafe sleeps tonight.
Rafe and I proceed down the wide landing together toward the lounge. We walk through a set of French doors into an inviting setting resembling a gentleman’s club. The room has game tables and settees, comfortable clusters of furniture and a fireplace on the far wall opposite us.
The fireplace, set between two solid mahogany doors, radiates a soft, warm glow. The heat of the room wraps around me, dispelling the cold from the hallway. We walk quickly through the lounge, heading for the door on the left of the hearth. I spot a few of Salvador’s group and nod a brief hello to them in passing. They trigger images of the tearful Sheba but I don’t see her face among the ones clustered together over an antique whist table.
Remind me, I need to talk to them. Right now isn’t good, but definitely tomorrow morning.
Sure, shall I pencil it in your planner for you, too? Rafe says.
He knows I don’t own one of those. I always misplace the one notebook and that’s why I have several. I love my lists and checking off the little line items to show I’ve completed something. Gives me a sense of accomplishment and control.
I choose to ignore his shot. It’ll only give him greater satisfaction to know he’s riled me. Rafe opens the heavily carved door; laughing voices rush out to greet us. We enter into an Irish pub-inspired room and keep moving right through the clusters of tables and booths in our beeline for the u-shaped bar on the far wall.
The space is filled with lots of employees who are known to be willing donors.
Some of them are attired in the goth come-and-suck-me style and others dress normally. I recognize a few more risqué-dressed ones as well. I’m betting the last group will be heading over to the attached nightclub next. So far, it looks like a great mix and our guests will certainly find something here to whet their appetites.
Upon spotting us, the bartender, Charlie, sends up his usual hearty Cheers-style welcome. “Rafe! Vivian! What can I do you for?”
Charlie always makes us feel like he’s surprised we came in. His warm, open nature makes him a natural at the job and I’m glad we’ve got him. Rafe answers before I have a chance to.
“Hey Charlie, pour me a Guinness then head off for your break. I’m sure you’re way past due.”
Rafe and I like to take turns behind the bar. It’s a great way to talk to everyone and we get to have fun at the same time.
“Sure thing, man, and thanks.” Charlie slowly draws him the beer in a frost-covered pint glass. He motions to the people in the bar with a tilt of his head. “We’ve got a good crowd so far.” Rafe and I circle behind the bar, glancing around the room at Charlie’s observation.
Off to the left, Drew’s nestled in a corner booth by himself, nursing a red-tinged drink in a flute glass. Antonio’s perched on a stool at the bar alone, with an empty cocktail glass. Joanna sits with Liam and Francesca at a table, their bodies angled toward each other, heads inclined in conversation. Salvador and Theresa are at another booth in the back and I spot four employees sitting together at a table to the right as well.
I wonder if the Natsuhara clan is in the club or if they haven’t ventured out yet this evening. I bet they’re still busy. My mind drifts to the earlier visions in leather and I give a little shake to bring the present back into focus.
Charlie finishes drawing the draft, places the drink by Rafe and takes his leave. “I’ll be back in thirty, ok?”
“Yeah, see you then,” Rafe assures him and picks up his beer. “Thanks.”
Charlie drifts over to the table with employees to sit down. Good time for me to go chat up Salvador about the murder and Sheba, so I head over to his booth.
I reach their table and clear my throat. They are so engrossed with each other I’m not sure he knows I’m standing here.
“Good evening Salvador, Theresa. May I have a moment?”
Salvador glances up from his long stare at his mate’s bare neck and returns my pleasant smile. “Sure thing. Anything for you, Vivian.”
“I need to talk to your people tomorrow. We had an incident up on the second floor and I’m hoping they might have some info for me.”
“Incident?” He raises his eyebrows. “Nothing serious, I hope?”
How much to reveal? Trust has never been my strong point. Ironically, I value honesty above all else. Everyone in this room who’s undead can hear our conversation, if they so desire. Best to err on the side of caution.
“Yes, it is. But now is not the time to bring it up. We can discuss things tomorrow. I noticed Sheba isn’t here. Is she well?”
“Not feeling her best, I think. We’ve had such fun-filled weeks here that some of them are exhausted.” His smile gets wider on some remembered memory.
Knowing his penchant for being a recalcitrant student who must be punished with a cane, I hope he won’t go into details.
“Glad to hear you’re all having fun. I’ll be by your rooms in the morning and chat with whomever is up and about. Thank you.” I nod a good evening to them and return to the bar.
A quick glance around the room reassures me all the customers in the bar are fine, drink-wise. I look down the wood expanse at my next project: Antonio.
Antonio senses my gaze and looks up to meet my eye. “Hey, Vivian, I was just wondering if the blood special on the menu is worth the price.” He’s lost some of the cocky edge he had in the lobby. Good. Maybe my earlier tampering in his room shook him up a bit.
“The guests think so. How about this—if you buy it and don’t agree, I’ll refund you the cost.”
Considering it’s my blood, my real answer would be “yes, of course it’s worth the cost, you fool.” But it isn’t wise to be obnoxious to the guests. The blood delicacy sells for a thousand dollars a shot. The suites here run several thousand a night, so if he wants to know, he can pay and find out. The high price tag discourages the wanna-bes, which is really the point.
I don’t need the young dumb ones, which are often a part of a large master vamp’s entourage, getting high on my blood and acting like fools. That has happened in the past and it’s not pretty.
“Is it really blood from an old vampire?” Antonio asks. “It must be a hard commodity to come by.”
“It wouldn’t cost so much if we could get it easily. You decide.”
Inside, I’m thrilled he may try it. It will make it much easier to send him the illusions later. I glance at my watch; only fifteen minutes till Olivia arrives. If she follows my directions. I’d like it if everyone did what I said. But I can’t control all of them all the time—even if in the depth of my heart it’s what I desire to do.
“Give it a try, mate,” Rafe encourages. “You won’t be sorry,” He, too, knows what the effects will be. This should prove interesting if Antonio decides to take the plunge.
“Alright. But if I think I was robbed, you’ll refund the money to my account?’’
I smile back. “Absolutely.”
Like that will happen. We’ve never had an unsatisfied guest yet. The initial shock of consuming old blood is enough to make them want to buy out the whole stash. Which, of course, we decline without restraint.
“Limit is one per guest, per stay. No exceptions so don’t bother to ask.” I look straight into his chocolate brown eyes to make sure he gets it; he nods.
He’ll still ask. They always do.
“I’ll be right back with it. We keep the shots chilled in another room.”
His eyebrows go up. Without a word, he watches me as I leave the bar.
I walk out to the main landing and look around before going further. No one’s following me out from the lounge and no one’s walking to me from the other wings. I move in the blink of an eye to the hidden observation room on this floor. The concealed door closes without sound behind me. I listen for footfalls before proceeding to the mini-fridge under the desk.
Entering the keypad combination, I open the door to retrieve the oldest container. It’s one of five flat-bottomed vials sitting in a holder on the top shelf. Retracing my previous steps with the same paranoid caution, I head back to the bar. Once behind the smooth polished wood, I take off the top and pop it in the microwave under the counter for twenty-five seconds on medium power to take the chill off.
After the ding, I open the door, raise the vial and grab the glass. All of the blood is mixed in alcohol to disguise my scent. Can’t have them guessing it’s mine.
“Straight alcohol with it or in a cocktail mixer?”
“I’ll take it straight with vodka.”
I add the requested liquor to a glass, pour the blood in, then place the drink on the bar in front of Antonio. He downs it in one smooth motion. His eyes immediately go black, the pupil expanding to cover his whole iris, typical for a feeding, enraged, and sometimes aroused vampire. A gasp escapes his astonished face while he grips the bar for support.
“Holy crap, you weren’t kidding. I don’t think I’ve ever had blood so old. Give me another.”
I know what he’s experiencing right now. It’s as close as a vamp can get to being drunk or high since they’d turned. The warmth will spread through his body and his increased awareness will wrap about his skin like a prickly feeling. He may be able to sense desires or perhaps project a bit of his thoughts with a touch. These effects can be permanent if he had a lot more of my blood on a regular basis, but with so little, it will be temporary, lasting only a few days.
I smile at him, having anticipated the request. “I know it’s tempting, but house rules. Can’t break ‘em.”
“Wow, you’ve really got something here, Viv. This stuff is incredible!”
“Yes, it is. Hey, now be careful with your increased strength. It can be hard to adjust to.”
“Yeah, I bet.” Antonio reaches for his empty drink and his black eyes flash up to mine.
By the looks of his original glass, he was drinking a blood-infused cocktail. Another house special of employee blood mixed with alcohol.
“I’ll be back to visit just for the blood. Unreal.”
I laugh. “Good to hear! I knew you wouldn’t be asking for a refund.”
He snorts. “I’d be surprised if anyone did.’’
He must be a little punch drunk. He doesn’t look like the type who snorts when they laugh.
Rafe takes the discarded vial and turns to rinse it in the sink.
“Wait!” Antonio calls out. “Can I rinse the container with some alcohol and pour it into my glass? It’s too good to waste a drop.”
He’s not the first who’s had a slight freak-out when the vial gets taken away, so Rafe turns back and takes the vodka out from under the counter.
“Is vodka again okay?” At Antonio’s nod, he pours a bit into the vial and puts the stopper back on to shake it up.
Rafe pours the blood mix into his glass on the bar and moves to put the vial in the sink. The expression of sheer delight on Antonio’s face as he looks at the drink is priceless.
“Antonio, I have to warn you…” His eyes whip up to meet mine. “You may feel other’s desires or thoughts for a few days. This vampire is a powerful empath.”
That should help him accept the visions I toss his way with even more ease.
“Good. Glad to see I’ll get my money’s worth.” His smile is slightly crooked.
God, I hope he isn’t so young he’s going to make an ass out of himself. It would ruin my plans.
Olivia picks that moment to arrive. Her timing couldn’t be better.
“Olivia, darling,” I call out, to ensure every head will swivel to her. “Don’t you look smashing tonight.”
My comment has the desired effect. The bar patrons turn to admire the beautiful blond as she glides into the room. I glance over at Drew, who meets my eye after checking her out. I give a slight nod then indicate Antonio with my eyes. Drew nods in understanding while a slow smile spreads across his handsome features.
Antonio remains quiet as he studies Olivia. This could be one of those moments when the blinders are off and he sees her for the first time as something other than food. I picked up from Olivia earlier tonight that she has been a part of their seethe for a few months now, after transferring from another in the hopes of finding a vampire to serve. She’s what some call in the vamp community a “sheep,” a regular donor not bound to any one vampire.
A lot of companions share the same dream of falling in love with a vampire and be deemed worthy enough to be made a human servant. Very few go beyond servants to become bonded mates.
Olivia preens from the attention she’s receiving. I’m proud when I see her straighten to stand a little taller. She’s beautiful but needed a little renewed shot of confidence when surrounded by a bunch of gorgeous predators. Her eyes scan the room, avoiding the stool where Antonio sits.
Antonio rises, turning his body towards her, silently offering her a place next to him at the bar with his action. Nice to see he can be gallant when it suits him. He looks like he’s trying to catch her eye, but God forbid, doesn’t want to call her name out and show too much interest. Silly boy. He should have tried; I might let him off easier.
Olivia takes my instructions to avoid Antonio. She walks with grace toward the corner booth where Drew sits. He’s the only other person seated alone in the bar, so joining him is a good choice. His warm, open expression leaves no doubt he’s impressed with her beauty and thrilled she’s heading his way.
The timing is perfect to project to Antonio the first scene Rafe and I created. I push my memories out to the swarthy, sexy vampire. He sees Olivia bent at her waist with her delightful bottom brushing up against his front. I watch Antonio as he looks down and then back up, a trifle confused. Before he has a chance to piece together what he has seen, the illusion is gone and Olivia arrives at Drew’s table.
“Is this seat taken? I was hoping to relax and enjoy a drink with someone to talk to.”
Bravo! If I could clap out loud, I would. The unsure woman who first called me on the phone to find out if she should wear red tonight doesn’t appear to be the same vivacious, blond creature I see before me now. Incredible what some great clothes, fabulous hair, and sexy makeup can do for you. Not to mention the feel good vibes I sent her all evening. Like I said, a woman who feels sexy is sexy.
“I would be honored if you’d share my table.” Drew rises half-way from his seat while she slides into the corner booth. The young woman makes her way around the curved bench to sit in the middle, closer to Drew.
He motions to the bar with his hand, in the age-old request of come hither a customer directs toward the wait staff. I smile before sending Rafe over to get their drink orders; Drew adapts well in his role, to say the least. He’s staring at Olivia like he hasn’t had a meal in weeks, and I know from our records he fed two days ago.
Out of courtesy, most vampires don’t eavesdrop on each other. Conversations are pitched low and a sense of intimacy prevails. In actuality, any vampire here can listen to any conversation with a little bit of focus. Hearing Drew and Olivia’s entire interchange would prove an easy feat for any interested party in the room. I observe Antonio to see what he’ll do.
He looks a bit disappointed that she walked in the direction she did, but since they never made eye contact, I don’t think he could say it was deliberate. Shrugging it off, he sits back down to focus on his drink. We have a large mirror over the bar and patrons seated at the stools can see everything going on behind them in the room.
I notice Antonio peers toward the mirror in the direction of the couple’s table while picking up his drink. It seems he’s not as unaffected by the vision I sent as his outward appearance would lead one to believe. I decide to stir it up as best I can.
“Isn’t that woman from your seethe?” I ask with innocence in my voice.
“Yes, you knew her name. You must have met her earlier.” He replies a bit snappish.
Hmm…perhaps he is affected.
“She and I made an appointment for tea in the morning. It’s always nice to get a chance to spend time with our guests.”
Rafe heads back to the bar to fill Drew and Olivia’s drink requests while I push to Antonio the feel he had of Olivia’s bottom nuzzling the front of his zipper again. He fumbles his drink, places it down and reaches to adjust himself under the bar. This is going to be fun. I love teasing poor bastards like him all night.
You are evil, my little minx.
I laugh back in Rafe’s mind. I know, baby. And it’s so much fun!
“What would they like?” I ask Rafe as I reach for a glass.
“Drew wants another blood mimosa and Olivia would like a sex on the beach.”
Antonio’s eyes whip up to the bar mirror again and I can tell his mind is racing with her request.
“How about I send her a shot of Flaming Orgasm on the house as well? Just saying that one is always a fun way to break the ice.” Rafe smiles in agreement, on the same page as I am. He’s watching Antonio out of the corner of his eye.
“Sounds good. I’ll start on that while you do the mimosa.”
Rafe returns to their table in a few minutes with the drinks and wanders around to check on things with the rest of the bar guests. Olivia’s peal of happiness over the flaming shot glass sounds light and musical.
“Oh, how delightful! I never knew there was drink named a Flaming Orgasm!” Drew joins in with her enjoyment, forming a quick bond through the shared moment.
“You have such a lovely laugh, my dear. I can’t believe they let you wander around here unescorted. I could just eat you up.”
Olivia must think this is even funnier than the name of the drink. Her laughter increases in strength, and I begin to wonder if she might be laughing at something else entirely.
“Yes,” Olivia responds in a flat tone. “Well, there’s no accounting for taste is there? Different strokes for different folks and all that…”
Hmm, that sounds a little maudlin. I hope Drew can turn her around a bit.
“Whoever he is, he’s a fool. Don’t waste another thought on him. Let’s focus on the now. Red is stunning on you.”
Olivia’s face lights up at the compliment.
“Why, thank you. I don’t normally wear this color. In fact, Vivian suggested it.” With that last observation, she raises her drink, turning her focus to where I am at the bar. “Kudos to her for making me try something new.”
I nod, to show I’m accepting her praise, but busy myself under the counter so a conversation across the bar does not begin.
“Our Viv is a gem, isn’t she? I bet that sweater is as soft as it looks. May I?” Drew reaches a hand out toward Olivia as he waits for her response.
Olivia’s attention is brought back to the brown-eyed man in the booth as she starts to sense the beginning of his desire. She nods her head in mute acceptance of his request. His hand does not go to her shoulder but deftly settles under the table on her thigh and the short knit skirt covering it.
“Oh yes, it is a nice feel. Cashmere if I’m not mistaken, right?”
A perfect moment to push another image to Antonio. This one of me straddling my husband’s lap with his hands running up and over my hips. Then those hands run around to my backside and start to massage my firm bottom. Antonio fumbles with his now empty glass and it clatters loudly across the surface of the bar.
Rafe reaches out and snatches it before it can fall to the floor and shatter. Antonio rises half out of his seat. His erection can clearly be seen behind the fly of his custom-fitted black slacks. Olivia appears entranced by the feel of Drew’s hand on her thigh and has no attention for anything else.
I, on the other hand, am starting to think Olivia is really freakin’ hot. I’d like to go peel her clothes off of her and lick her from head to toe.
I shake my head, wondering where the hell that came from. Drew’s advances take on a whole new dimension and Olivia leans back in her seat at what must only be his obvious exploration under the booth table. I wish I could feel her wet, dripping pussy in my hand right now. I’m betting it feels hot and tight and just aching to have my long…
Whoa! Holy crap! Antonio is projecting his desires to the entire room!
I slam close my mental door as tight as I can. Unfortunately, that also means I’m blocking Rafe and I can’t speak to him without opening myself back up to Antonio’s desires. This is a first in our books. I’ve never had a reaction from someone taking my blood before who could project so strongly. Either he has latent glamour abilities or some will emerge soon.
I check the room to assess the effects on the others and realize things are about to get to dangerous levels of arousal in here. Everyone’s eyes are trained on Olivia. Heads crane around booth corners, patrons rise in their seats, and conversation has stopped. All to get a glimpse of the woman every person now desires.
Nostrils flare and vampire eyes go black with longing. Drew leans in to sample a kiss at her neck. Antonio’s face starts to crumple in jealousy, and a black vibe coils in the air waiting to pounce on the rest of the crowd.
Oh, shit. This is not going well.
I leap over the bar, accompanied by a loud ripping noise, to tackle Antonio, bringing him down in one smooth, fast movement. His body presses face down into the floor and I’ve got my knee planted firmly in his back.
It’s enough to break the emotions and the patrons in the room come back to themselves in a rush. Cocks are adjusted in pants and damp underwear squirmed in on hard wooden chairs and plush booth seats alike.
“Antonio, old chap, I think the old blood is getting to you, and not in a good way. Let’s get you back to your room.”
In the time it takes for me to finish my sentence, Rafe appears at my side, motioning for me to get up. He raises Antonio to his feet with care and moves him to the door without further preamble. The whole exchange is over in less than a minute, but damn, that was a close call.
It could have been a lot worse. Hell, when I think back to past struggles to control my powers, I know exactly how bad it could have been. Judging by the breeze tickling my ass, I bet the ripping sound I heard was the kick pleat of my tight pencil skirt giving way.
People are almost back to normal and all eyes are on front and center of the bar, where Antonio was a moment ago and where now I stand, alone. Here’s the rub—do I apologize or pretend nothing happened? I’m going with playing dumb. It’s worked in the past; why mess with a good thing?