Miranda’s still on shift at the front desk when I enter the lobby. She’s busy working on the computer, but looks up on my approach.
“Hey Miranda, has it been slow this morning?”
“Yes. Only one blood request and nothing else. Tommy went out to Jet Natsuhara’s cabin around five.”
“Good. We’ve got a temporary employee named Asa coming up from Cy’s place in Manhattan. Could you put him in one of the cabins for now? I’m not sure how long he’ll be here or where I’ll want him long term.”
Miranda types rapidly on the keyboard in front of her, “Sure thing, I’ll put him in unit one. What time do you expect him?”
I smile at the thought of our ex-military guy tucked away next door to the Natsuhara cabin. “According to Cali, he could be here as early as nine.”
As I walk away from the front desk, another thought occurs to me. Turning back to Miranda, I say, “Call me when the airstrip reports his plane coming in.”
“You got it, Vivian. No problem.”
I smile my thanks and head to the pool in the east wing. It’s still too early to head back to our suite; maybe I’ll relax in the steam room. Rafe could use a bit more rest. Werewolf-infused vampire blood or not, he needs a few hours a night to keep healthy.
The pool wing’s double doors open at a push and the humidity from the vestibule wraps around me, transporting my senses to a tropical island paradise. The second set of doors open as the first set close behind me. Pausing a moment, I once again admire the gorgeous sight in front of me.
Large, healthy green palm trees and other tropical plants flourish in big containers with their personal UV bulbs. Cushioned chaise lounge chairs are scattered around the pool’s edge with small tables placed in between. A flapping noise breaks the relaxing spell and the flutter of green wings causes my head to whip up as I twist my body to the side.
“Braaacck! Mikey wants a biiiite.”
“Stop it, you Goddamn bird!”
I swear that flying menace is out to get me! Who would have thought a parrot could cause me so much anxiety. I’m a damn powerful vampire and this is embarrassing.
Mikey never fails to swoop down on me whenever I enter the pool area. His only saving grace is that he’s well behaved with the guests. If Rafe hadn’t insisted we have the three birds in here for atmosphere, I’d throw all of them out into the snow and be done with it.
I fell quickly out of love with the whole atmosphere idea when Rafe taught Mikey that cute little phrase. Months later, Rafe topped it by somehow training the flying bastard to pester me the second I walk in. There are times that man should count himself lucky I don’t smother him in his sleep. The fact it wouldn’t work and he’d just laugh at me must be what has kept me from trying.
The calypso music and voices bouncing off the water have thankfully made my very un-cool freak-out go unnoticed by the patrons in the pool. I think some day I’m going to set those birds free. Today they have a stay of execution as I spot the very person I need to talk to above all others.
Strolling past empty chairs, I casually stop at the one next to the lovely, full-bodied woman. Lowering myself into the chair next to hers, I clear my throat to get her attention and she looks over at me. Her expression looks strained as she struggles to focus on me.
“Hello. Sheba, isn’t it?”
Her inviting smile warms up her whole face, helping dispel some of the strain. Her beautiful café-au-lait skin and hazel, almond-shaped eyes speak of an exotic mix in her heritage. I can see why she was sought after to enter this seethe. Her coloring is breathtaking to behold, and I’m shocked no vampire has laid claim to her yet.
“Yes, you have a good memory, Vivian. How are you?”
“I’m good. Surprised to see you here, actually. I ran into Sal at the bar last night. He said you weren’t feeling well. Is there anything we can get for you?”
“No, but thank you. I’m not myself. Bouts of being upset and crying without quite knowing why. It’s the oddest thing really.”
“Hmm…” I think I know why she’s feeling so off. I’d bet a million bucks someone’s been messing with her head. I wonder if she’ll let me check?
“Sheba, how long have you been with Sal’s seethe?”
“Oh, about a year. I’m hoping Sal or one of the others in the family will make me a servant soon.”
She has that starry-eyed look of hope around her, and for her sake, I hope she gets her wish. If she had been a servant already, she would have been protected from whatever someone did to her. I’ve never understood the callousness of not protecting those you feed from. Then again, with more than a hundred and forty humans as my wards, all of whom I won’t touch, I’m clearly not the norm.
“I think someone may have been inside your head and tampered with your thoughts recently,” I say, deciding to cut right to the chase. A deer-in-headlights look quickly replaces her happily contented one. “Would you mind if I take a look?”
“What you are describing,” I repeat, “sounds like someone could have been tampering with your memories. Can you tell me everything you did yesterday?”
She squints as she tries to remember. “I went bowling with the group for Sunday’s tournament, which, by the way, was a blast. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I’d had so much fun.”
I smile at her praise and nod. I don’t want to stem her flow of thoughts.
“Let’s see… then next we saw a classic horror movie in the media room and afterwards, I went back to my room to nap for the festivities later…” She looks off in the distance and scrunches up her brow.
“What time do you think you went upstairs?”
“Around three, I think, but I don’t remember much after that except being upset in my room later. I was crying and I couldn’t remember why. Maybe I had a bad dream or something?”
“Do you remember any part of this dream?”
Sheba’s hazel eyes go wide for a second and her face becomes blank. The color leaches out of her skin and it looks as though she’s seeing through me rather than focusing on the here and now. Now there’s no doubt in my mind that she had her head messed with. Poor thing, someone got in there and wiped a few hours from her.
“Sheba, I’d like to help you. Do you feel comfortable letting me into your mind?”
Her vision snaps back to me while she processes my question. Whoever this bastard was, he wasn’t kind. I hope I can fix what he did.
Sal’s smooth voice echoes up from the pool. “What’s going on, Vivian? I have a feeling you’re not telling her everything she needs to know.”
Damn. That’s what I get for talking to her in an open room. Anyone here could have heard our entire conversation, and it looks like that’s exactly what happened. I glance over at the water and see Salvador’s sleek, wet body walk up the steps from the corner of the pool nearest us. His bathing suit sits low and snug on his slender hips as he gracefully moves to the foot of Sheba’s chair.
Sal’s sharp eyes hone in on me. I know I’m not going to get out of here without some careful explaining. The best defense is often an unexpected offense; here’s to hoping I can reveal as little as possible.
I face him, allowing my displeasure to show in my features. “Sal,” my tone comes out harsh, “am I right in assuming Sheba is just your companion? That no one in your seethe has laid claim to her yet?”
“Yes, that’s true. So?” His face mirrors his surprise. I caught him off guard with my vehemence or he would have not shown that much expression, I bet.
“I want you to smell her. Come close and draw in deep. Tell me what you sense.”
He looks intrigued with my question and moves to the side of her chair to comply, watching me as he does so. Sheba’s used to obeying vampires without question. She rises from her chair to stand before him to make my request easier.
As her head tilts to the side, Sal leans in and puts his face close to her neck, unceremoniously sniffing her. His head whips up, his back becoming ram-rod straight. Tension fills his body and he directs a dark angry look my way.
His voices hisses out, irritation quite clear. “She smells like you. How is this possible?”
In his anger, he sends his aura to push against me like an angry buzz. His dark brown eyes bleed black. He transforms from calm, pool-swimming guest to annoyed master vamp in a heartbeat. Of course, I’m not some little fledgling to be cowed with a show of power. I resist the dark urge to lash out with my own aura to push him back. I top him by about a hundred and fifty years, but despite our long association, he doesn’t know it.
I’m going to ignore his question. Sal’s smart enough to figure out the how of my scent on Sheba. That is, if he can get his dick back in his pants and stop thinking we’re going to have a pissing contest right now. I have no intention of fighting with a guest, but I have no qualms about taking him down a notch or two in his arrogance either.
“Did your maker not teach you to respect the gift this human shares with you? Her very life fuels your own and yet you offer her no protection against others of our kind.”
“You…” his face flushes with his outrage and he sputters in his haste to spew his indignation out at me. “You have no…who do you think you are? I treat her fine. She is here in your resort with me, is she not? I protect her.”
“If that’s the case, how is it that someone’s been inside her mind playing marbles and wasn’t very neat about it?” I’m calm and cool in my response, but I need to diffuse his anger and get Sheba alone somehow.
Theresa, his buxom, brunette mate, wisely chooses that moment to step in. Also dripping wet from the pool, she places her hand on Sal’s arm to calm him before addressing me. “What are you saying, Vivian? Do you think that’s why Sheba feels off? I thought maybe she was getting a cold or something.”
Theresa’s concern for Sheba sounds sincere. Her brow creases with worry and she steps from Sal’s side to place a hand on the young woman’s shoulder.
“Look at me, dear. Is what Vivian saying true? Are you missing some points in time from yesterday?”
Sheba looks uncomfortable under our scrutiny. She pulls back into herself. Her arms come up to wrap around her body and a shudder passes through her. “I’m not sure… can either of you tell?” Sheba turns to Salvador, hoping he’ll come to her rescue.
Ah, and now the moment I’ve been waiting for. Damn, Sal is not going to be happy with me in the next few seconds. Hopefully, he’ll shake it off and we can talk it out later, like two civilized bloodsuckers.
I rise from my seat and draw up to my full height. I now allow my aura to come to the surface and I push gently against Salvador’s. His face shows his shock while I keep my own expression perfectly neutral. There’s no need to rub this in anymore than necessary.
The tension in the air fairly crackles from the power we’re exuding and the unknown of what the next moment holds. I adapt the formal speech associated with an act of importance, hoping it will dissolve the barrier between us and allow him to think clearly.
Extending my hand to Sheba, I bow slightly to Sal then turn to face the young woman. “I request your presence in a formal audience, and I implore you to honor my desire. You have ingested my blood and I lay claim to that which runs through your veins.”
Sheba’s jaw drops open as a gasp emits from both Sal and his mate. Sal and I lock gazes and I can see some of his anger drain away, replaced by a look of loss.
His quiet voice holds a note of hope. “You have not fed from her yet then?”
“No, and I will not. I do not feed from our guests. You should know that in the fifty-odd years you’ve been coming to my properties.”
He smiles weakly at me. “I’m finding there are lots of things I was unaware of in those fifty years. You hide very well.”
I pull my aura back in and present them with the picture they all know so well: the lush, redheaded vampire who feels only about a hundred or so years old.
“Hiding my power was never done to deceive you—only to help you relax.”
No more words need to be spoken. I take Sheba’s hand to lead her from the pool. As I’m leaving, I can’t help but deliver one last thought, hoping I can make this four-hundred-year-old vampire master look at his people in a different light.
“If you care about them, you should mark them as your own. They are not pets but human lives entrusted to you in the very dangerous world you brought them into. You risk losing that which you do not honor accordingly.”
His head flashes up and heat fills his black eyes.
Ah, there I go again, making friends everywhere I go. The way I feel right now, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass if we lose a steady customer. Hell, it’s not like we need the money. His arrogance caused this woman some considerable pain. Now it’s up to me to fix it.
Can I repair the damage or is she better off the way she is?