Authors: Amber Riley
When I opened my bedroom door, I heard voices. As I made my way down the hallway, I realized it was just the television. Reece must have left it on when he went home. Or that was what I thought until I saw the blond head of someone sitting in one of my chairs.
Flo was wrapped up in a white fluffy robe. Her hair was pulled back into a braid that reached her hips, and her makeup was flawlessly painted on. She was sunk down into the chair cushion and idly flipping through the channels.
She, like me, used to work for Phoenix, but she came to live here shortly after I did. There were actually four former family members living in New York. Phoenix’s “family” was another way to say “vampire royalty,” and I was their rogue prince. The four of us who had left didn’t see much of each other. I suppose it brought up bad memories for all of us.
Flo had a habit of showing up unannounced once in a while though, then disappearing. Only now wasn’t a good time for her to be around. If Francesca saw her, then she could be added to the hit list, assuming there was one. But it was a little pointless to worry about Flo. She had always known how to take care of herself, and she never appreciated anyone getting in the way.
I walked slowly up behind her and crossed my arms. “Make yourself at home, why don’t you?”
She bent her head backward to look up at me, batting her big blue eyes innocently. “I did.”
“I noticed,” I said under my breath.
She looked me up and down before turning back to the TV. “Where are you going tonight?”
“Central Park.” I went to the closet beside the front door and pulled out a pair of white sneakers. “I think someone was killed by a vampire there.”
“I heard,” she said offhandedly. “I checked it out last night, but there wasn’t anything left but the stench of death.”
I raised an eyebrow at her and shut the closet door. I carried my sneakers over to one of the chairs and sat down to untie the laces. “You checked it out?” I asked in disbelief.
She scowled at me. “I do useful things sometimes, Kaden.”
“Not often.” I slipped the first sneaker on and started to tie it. “That’s not why you’re here.”
“Of course not,” she scoffed. “I wouldn’t bother coming all the way out here for something like that. Dealing with those baby vamps is your department.”
It wasn’t like I chose to be in charge of the city. It had just happened. I was the first vampire to settle here, and when other, younger ones started to move in, I had to step up. It was either that or the Enforcement Team would show up to control the chaos. No one wanted to open that can of worms.
“So what are you doing here then?” I asked.
She clicked the power button on the remote. “They’re remodeling my apartment. I need a place to crash until it’s done. I figured I haven’t seen you in fifty, sixty years, so I thought I’d come here instead of a hotel.” She smiled, her pink, glossy lips pulled back to show her fangs. “So, what about this murderer?”
I tied my second sneaker and stood up, fixing my jeans. “I’m going to find out who it was and kill her.”
“Her?” She cocked a well-manicured eyebrow at me. “How do you know it’s a female?”
I hadn’t meant to say that. I didn’t want to tell her whom I suspected until I was sure. Flo had a hot temper. I could only imagine what kind of rampage she would go on. It was better not to wake that sleeping dragon unless it was necessary.
“Him,” I added. “It. What’s the difference?”
There was a knock on the front door before Reece came inside. He was talking on his phone as he shrugged off his coat and tossed it onto the back of the couch. He waved at me and looked curiously at Flo before sitting down. He was saying a lot of uh-huhs but not much of anything else.
Flo made a little disgruntled noise and turned her attention back to the television. Apparently it was too much for her to pay attention to. I, on the other hand, wanted him to hang up and tell me everything.
It seemed like ages before he ended the call. But even then, he didn’t say anything. He held his finger up to tell me to wait a minute and clicked around on his BlackBerry. I huffed, and after clicking a few more buttons, he handed it over. “Pictures,” he sighed.
I looked at the screen and scrolled down the e-mail. There were two pictures of the dead man’s neck from different angles. I felt a wave of relief at the spacing. The fang marks were too close together. But there was still a problem. There was a vampire out there breaking the rules and making a public spectacle of us. I’d have to take care of him or her before someone else showed up to do it.
“So is it Francesca or not?” Reece asked.
Flo shot up in her chair and looked at me. I groaned and handed the phone back. “Thanks, Reece,” I hissed under my breath. He looked at me like I was crazy and scratched his head.
“Kaden,” Flo demanded, “what’s he talking about?”
“Nothing,” I lied. “I was just being a little paranoid. I thought I saw Francesca the other night and figured she was the one that killed that guy, but it wasn’t her.”
Now that I said that out loud, it seemed to click. She might have had someone else kill him, but it wouldn’t have made sense. There was no point in leaving a calling card to let me know she was in town if she wasn’t going to do it herself. It must have been a girl that looked like her on the street. As for Sid’s bar, I didn’t have an answer for that, but it seemed unimportant now.
“It wasn’t her?” Flo started. “How can you be sure? What made you think it was? Kaden, don’t you walk away from me.”
I kept going all the way out the door. I wasn’t in the mood to play twenty questions with her. It usually ended with her screaming, and things might get broken. I chose to revel in the fact that my life wasn’t about to be turned upside down.
I was planning to do that by skipping the crime scene and keeping my appointment with my antique dealer. He would call every few months with an interesting item. Usually it was something from the time I was alive. He knew what I was. His finding out was a complete accident, and he scarcely handled the news well, but he didn’t know anyone else that appreciated history as much as I did.
I arrived at his apartment building within minutes and pressed the button on the intercom. He lived in a decent area, but the building itself was run-down. The fire escapes were rusted, and the cement around the door was cracking. There was a Blimpie right across the street with a torn sign above it and a stray cat sitting in front of it.
“Hello?” Tom’s hoarse voice crackled through the box.
A buzzer sounded, the door unhinged, and I slipped inside. The paint was peeling off the walls, and the stairwell smelled like someone had just thrown up, but I wasn’t getting into the rickety elevator. Besides, the smell wasn’t so bad the higher you climbed, and his apartment always smelled like a candle store.
The hall on his floor was covered in an ugly, worn green carpet, and one of his neighbors was screaming at someone every time I was there. A person must get used to it after a while, but I couldn’t imagine it. Especially when the little ankle-biter dog started barking its head off.
Before I could knock, Tom was ushering me inside. His hair was sticking up in odd places, and he had something that looked suspiciously like spittle on his shirt. A perk of having a new baby. Luckily, his offspring was nowhere to be seen. People always want you to hold them and say how adorable they are.
“I’ll go get it. Wait here.” He disappeared into his office, leaving me alone in his kitchen. Roosters covered almost every inch of it, from the hand towels to the decorative tile behind the sink. Even the dishes that were drying on the counter had a picture of a chicken with her chicks painted in the middle.
Tom’s wife, Diana, looked up from her laptop with a big smile. Unlike her husband, she didn’t look any worse for the wear. Her hair was teased and sprayed into place, and she looked bright and full of energy. I wondered how she managed that when Tom looked like he hadn’t slept in days, not to mention his obvious lack of shower time.
“How have you been?” she asked.
“Good, thank you. And yourself?”
“I’m great,” she replied, an ear-to-ear grin stretching across her face.
Drugs. That must have been her secret. No one was naturally that energetic with a newborn in the house.
Tom came back into the room with a boyish grin as he handed me a little black box. “A guy brought it in yesterday afternoon. I wouldn’t have called you about this except that the guy knew a little history on it and mentioned your name. Well, I’m sure there’s more than one Kaden in the world, but …” He shrugged, trailing off.
“My name?” I repeated. That sinking feeling settled back into my stomach, and I started to think I had talked myself into having false securities. I flipped back the velvet box to see a sapphire ring glittering happily up at me. I swallowed hard and plucked it from the fabric. “Where…”
He laughed. “You recognize it? I dated it to the fifteenth century, but what are the chances?”
“It was a gift from my wife on our wedding night.” I slipped it on my finger where it had been centuries ago. “I lost it in Europe awhile back.” It had actually been stolen from me, and for that reason I knew
“Huh,” he replied, uninterested.
“Thank you,” I said distractedly. I pushed more money than the ring was worth into his hand, and his eyes popped.
I stepped back from him as he tried to shove half of the bills back at me. No amount of money would be enough for this. I might not have married for love, but she was a good woman and this was an important reminder of my humanity.
“Tom.” Diana was still watching us. “Ask him.”
He gave up trying to force the money on me and glared at his wife instead. “I told you, no.”
She gave him a dismissive wave of the hand and turned to me. “My niece just moved to the city with a couple of friends, and she doesn’t really know anyone. Her friends are losers, and I was hoping you could show her around.”
Tom was slowly turning a deep shade of red. “Diana, stop it. This is a client, here to do business. Stop pestering him.”
“I just thought that since they’re about the same age and since they were both single …” She paused and had the decency to blush a little. “It’s better than having her walk around the streets alone when her friends go home with random men. I told her mother I’d try to keep an eye on her, but what kind of college kid wants to spend her weekends playing Scrabble?”
“Diana!” Tom tried to guide me to the door. “I’m sorry, Kaden. I’ll walk you out.”
“Look, this is her a few years ago.” Diana rushed in front of me with a framed photo.
It would have been rude to just push past her. The polite thing to do would be to look at the picture and say she was attractive, but that I was awfully busy. If worse came to worst, I would have to lie about having a crazy, jealous girlfriend.
She held the photo up in front of my face so I could get a good look. Diana and Tom were standing on either side of a young girl in royal blue graduation robes. She was about five-three and slender. Her eyes were a light shade of brown that matched her hair, which was cut up to her chin. She looked like any other high school girl—ordinary—and yet there was something about her. At the very least, I wouldn’t have to lie about her being cute.
“There was a murder in her neighborhood last night.” Diana lowered the picture and ran her finger over her niece’s face. “She’s from a small town in Vermont. She doesn’t know about city life, and I’m worried about her. I’m sure you two would get along great.”
If she cried, I was out of there. There was nothing worse than a crying female. I would rather stab my own eyes out with a hot poker than deal with that.
Tom took her around the waist and tried to pull her away. “Please don’t keep bothering him, sweetie. He pays for most of the bills, and we don’t really know him well enough to trust him with Lyn,” he whispered quietly.
I was honestly shocked. He trusted me around his wife and baby. He had invited me into his home, which I never could have entered otherwise. I had never made him feel uncomfortable about the vampire issue. I had never threatened him. Okay, maybe that once, but I had to make sure he knew how important it was to keep his mouth shut about my world. That was years ago, though; it was all water under the bridge.
“I’m not asking him to marry her, Tom. I’m asking him to show her around,” she whispered back.
“Please, Di. I—”
“I’ll do it,” I stated, surprising them both and myself.
Diana did a little leap of joy and rushed to the phone. Tom’s jaw hung open as he tried to decide what to say. “Diana, don’t call her.” She started dialing. “Diana!” he yelled.
What am I doing?
I thought. I was having a late midlife crisis. There was no other explanation. I was losing my mind. The word
popped into my head. Resisting my natural desire for blood had gotten easier, but there was no reason to tempt the fates.
“She’ll be safer with me than on her own. Just think of me as her personal vampire bodyguard,” I said, sounding more sure than I was.
He turned to me with uncertain eyes. “I don’t mean to be rude, but—”