Lani met Josef at Mick and Beth’s loft early Monday morning. When she got there she found a very industrious cleaning crew, strangely dressed all in black who were thoroughly cleaning the penthouse with Josef standing ever-watchful guard to make sure that it was done correctly, his way. Lani saw several of the crew cast baleful looks at him behind his back and she also say him smiling with amusement when they weren’t looking. Some sort of twisted game she realized.
“Lani!” he said, welcoming her into the controlled chaos. “Come and see what I just had delivered as a welcome home gift.”
Lani laughed and said, “We’re getting them gifts? I would have brought some wine.” She laughed and followed Josef up the stairs into a room behind a gray door. She knew that the room had been Mick’s room although she’d never been inside.
Inside was something that looked very strange to Lani; a large rectangular box that was very high tech looking. She had no real idea what it could be except that since vampires slept in freezers she knew that was what it must be, even if it didn’t resemble any freezer she had ever seen before. “A freezer?”
“Not just a freezer Lani, a Millennium X3000, the Cadillac of freezers, or maybe I should say the Ferrari,” he told her with a grin. He pushed a button and the lid lifted with a ‘whoosh’ sound that reminded her of the lift doors on Star Trek.
“Wow, I’m impressed, I think. Does it fly or travel back to the future?” she teased since the door had lifted like a DeLorean.
“Funny,” he quipped and then proceeded to show her all the accoutrements that the freezer had; padded sleeping surface that didn’t freeze, dual temp controls, on and on the list of features amazed her.
“Hm, maybe I need one of these puppies; certainly has more features than my plain old bed,” she laughed.
“If you were a vampire, you most certainly should!” he told her and caught her eye. For a breathless moment they stared at one another, each scared to speak again. Such simple little words, teasing words, which left them both wordless, neither knowing how to respond.
They heard a knock on the door below and Lani smiled and said, “Oh, my gift has arrived!”
Josef followed her down the stairs, enjoying the way she lightly almost skipped down the stairs in her excitement to get to the door. One of the cleaners stood with a delivery person who had a cart that held several dozen roses. The cleaner signed for them and turned to look at Josef with a questioning look.
“Hey, I had nothing to do with it,” he told her.
“I had them delivered. Beth loves these deep pink roses,” she told them, inhaling the sweet scent. To the cleaners the scent was almost over-powering and they wondered how a newly turned vamp would be able to handle the aroma.
Another knock sounded and the cleaner who answered the delivery opened the door once more, muttering “What is this, Grand Central Station?”
“Not quite my dear, but a trip there could be arranged for you,” Tango said as he walked in, not at all pleased by the tone the cleaner had used.
Chrissie looked contrite and quickly headed back to dusting the living room. Tango watched and then took a quick glance around the room to find all of his crew diligently bent to their tasks. He smiled and walked to the kitchen where Lani and Josef watched and Lani fussed over the roses. “Lani and Josef, how good to see you both! You’ve both recovered well I see,” he told them and was rewarded by a beautiful pink blush that spread over Lani’s neck and face along with a heartbeat that fluttered rapidly for a moment.
Humans couldn’t appreciate how lovely and enticing a blush was to a vampire or how jealous they felt over the human’s ability to produce the look. Tango had zero interest in being human again, but that didn’t mean he didn’t enjoy being around humans and their beguiling attributes.
“Tango, what brought you here so early this morning?” Josef asked, not sure he liked how Lani had responded to his friend.
“Just making sure all was going as planned. Did the freezer get here okay?
Didn’t you tell me that it was the same one you had delivered when she was turned?” At Josef’s nod of assent he continued, “Lani, what did you think of it? Quite comfortable looking isn’t it?”
“I – uh, y-e-s,” she finally got out as she cast a quick look at Josef from under lowered lashes and managed a delightful blush again.
Tango couldn’t help but wonder what that one was about and for a moment he mulled over following the devil side of his soul but then decided that Josef was involved enough that he likely wouldn’t take kindly to too much teasing of ‘his lady’ as Tango thought of Lani. Question was, did Josef think of her that way? As he watched their demeanor a bit he realized that Josef did.
Tango had seen Josef go through life, so many lives in fact, alone and lonely. When he found Sarah, Tango had been so happy for him but that happiness had quickly turned to heartbreaking grief as it became apparent that Sarah wasn’t going to awaken from her turning.
Tango knew that he personally was appealing to the ladies, even without the vamp allure. He lived life on the edge and that was a big draw. There had been a time in the past when Josef had shared that lifestyle but Tango
always knew that Josef wanted more, however much of a player he pretended to be. Not that Tango exactly considered himself a player but he had no intention of ever settling down, if he hadn’t felt that desire in 200 odd years he doubted he ever would. If the ladies enjoyed his charm and wit, who was he to not enjoy himself too.
Was Lani the right woman for Josef? One thing that Tango had learned over the years was how to be a good judge of people, a skill that had come in handy in his long life, both within the military and in his other endeavors. Tango thought that Lani was perfect for his friend; intelligent, sassy and well able to hold her own with Josef. Tango admired the hell out of that little hellion and he knew just by looking at her that she had been a hellion. As the blush slowly faded away from Lani Tango said, “Well, I have other things to check on; I like to spot check on my crews to see how they are doing. Josef, did you realize that profits are up 23% since I took over? Life is good,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Saw that Tango, makes it better for everyone when they share the spoils I think. Miguel is extremely pleased as well.” They headed back down the stairs as the cleaning crew was packing up their tools and cleaning solutions.
Lani sniffed the air but couldn’t really detect any smell of whatever they had used. It made sense she supposed, vampire noses would be more sensitive so they probably used products without scents added to them. As she looked around the loft she smiled at how lovely it looked, clean and sparkling and she knew that Mick at least would approve since he was such a clean freak.
She listened as Tango told his crew what a thorough and flawless job they had did. She waved at him as he left with them and turned her attention to the two large vases of roses as she tried to decide where to put them. They didn’t exactly go with the décor but Beth had been adding a few of her own personal touches here and there and the room wasn’t quite as sterile looking as when she first saw it. Not that Lani didn’t appreciate it that way because her own world was much like that too, only with lighter colors.
She sat one vase on the table in front of the door so that Beth would see it as soon as she walked in and the other on the dining table. Two bright spots of color in the darker background of the room. She nodded with approval at her choices.
“Looks lovely Lani. Are you ready to head to the airport? My jet is waiting whenever we get there.” She nodded and they left the loft and headed to catch the jet. She was very excited to be on their way.
Luca looked at his ringing cell phone, another ‘unavailable’ number and Luca knew exactly who it was. He’d ignored the calls for the past week, but whoever the mystery caller was he evidently didn’t give up. He punched the call button and said, “Yes?”
“Well you finally decided to answer detective. What have you found out?”
“Nothing, I’ve found out nothing because I’m not looking. I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing but you need to know that you don’t play with cops. I’ve had enough and if you ever, ever, contact me again I’ll hunt you down and you’ll be sitting your ass in jail for a long time. Got that?”
“Trust me detective, you want in on this; don’t piss me off or you’ll be the one sitting in jail wondering how you go there because you neglected to pursue justice.”
“Look slimeball, there is nothing to investigate, only some sort of vendetta or hoax, take your choice but I mean what I said, don’t call me again.” Luca pushed the end button and sat back in his chair, his body rippling with tension.
“Hey, you ready to go out on the Murdock case?” Carl said as he sat down at his desk which faced Luca’s. Luca had been like a bloodhound, trying to prove himself when he first came to the force but he had relaxed a bit and Carl kind of liked him now. But right now he was curious because something was obviously wrong with his partner. “Hey man, what’s up?”
Luca gave Carl and level look as he debated whether or not to tell him about the list, the calls. Finally the decision made he said, “Let’s go out to the car and I’ll tell you.” He looked around the squad room with suspicion, not feeling like he could speak freely in front of everyone.
As they settled into the low-key sedan and Luca explained what was wrong and Carl listened in fascination. Someone really wanted that list to be investigated; unfortunately, Carl knew why they wanted it investigated, just not who wanted it done. Luca apparently didn’t know why or who, which could only work in favor of the vamps.
“So what do you think Carl? Should I be tracking down the names on that list?”
“Ben saw that list months ago and determined it is just a hoax, a nut case looking for attention Luca. Maybe we should be looking for who is doing it instead of why.” Carl didn’t know that the vamps had already figured out who it was, but he figured that if Luca was looking at any of it better the who then the why.
“Okay Carl, let’s see if we can find this crazy son of a bitch.”
Lani looked down at the Pacific 25,000 feet below them. It looked so blue from up here and very calm. The jet streaked along the coastline heading for a small airport north of Seattle where they would take a helicopter across Puget Sound to get to Mick and Beth’s. Josef had explained that they didn’t have to do that but that it was much quicker than landing at SeaTac and then making the car journey that involved the ferry. That actually took almost as long as the flight up to Seattle in the first place.
“So this is the place that Mick moved to when he left LA when Beth was 17?”
At Josef’s nod she continued, “Did you know that she knew when he left?”
“She knew? How?” he asked, puzzled.
“I don’t exactly know, she felt it sort of. She always knew that he was out there, watching her. We always, she, Robbi and I talked about Beth’s ‘shadow man’ because we all thought we caught glimpses of him from time to time. Then one night, she woke up in a cold sweat and knew that he was gone – she couldn’t feel him any longer. She cried for days Josef, it nearly broke her heart. We didn’t know what had happened; maybe he had died tragically or he had decided to watch some other little girl. We didn’t realize how strange that would have been,” she told him with a smile, child predators being what that was called.
Josef was astounded by what she told him; they knew? They knew that Mick had been there in Beth’s life. He didn’t know what to say.
“I sort of liked to think he was watching over me too, you know? Even though I knew that he was Beth’s shadow man. Still, it made me feel better, safer.”
Josef felt a cold stab of hatred spear his heart at the thoughts of what this little one must have gone through in her young life and made his doubly determined to avenge her. He swallowed to ease the ache in his throat and said, “You know that you are safe now Lani? He can’t hurt you anymore and neither can your mother.”
“Yes, I know.” She gave a careless shrug and pursed her lips while she considered those words for a moment. They were true, they hadn’t been able to hurt her for a long while and much of the credit for that went to her grandparents. “I miss Beth so much but I’m also nervous to see her.”
“Why?” Surely she couldn’t think that Beth would hurt her?
“I don’t know exactly. She’ll be different now in some ways. The basic layers of our friendship have changed.”
“No, they haven’t. Beth will still be the Beth you know and love Lani. You’ve talked to her on the phone, you know that. That being said, some of the activities you have shared in the past will be different, but nothing that you can’t handle. I personally think that Beth will make a wonderful vampire; I always told Mick that. Mick on the other hand, well in many ways he would have been better off never having been turned. I told Coraline that before she did it.”
“You knew her?” Lani had heard things from Beth about Coraline/Morgan and she knew how much pain the woman had caused in Beth’s life.
“Yes, unfortunately I did. Met her a long, long time ago, way before she met Mick. Coraline is a selfish, scheming and depraved individual and that’s a tough thing to acknowledge since many vampires can be described the same way, myself included in the past.”
“But you’ve changed?” Lani asked because that didn’t sound like the Josef she knew at all.
“Lani, the very nature of vampires means that survival is our number one priority and when you are surrounded by a humanity that is paranoid and set against beings that are not like them, well sometimes you find yourself doing things you wished that you hadn’t done. It’s inevitable. Make no mistake; we all have that dark side, humans and vampires alike; the important thing is how we control it. Those two that attacked you in Japan were despicable and a horrible introduction to our kind but make no mistake, there are others out there just like them.”
Lani digested his words carefully and knew them to be the truth; Heroku has told her the same thing. The truth was that she couldn’t go backwards, not ‘know’ any longer about vampires. She had to find a way to go forward and not let the fear of them rule her life. There are good and bad, of human and vampires both and all she could do was to try to accept that and stay out of their way.
“So you don’t think that Coraline should have turned Mick? Beth says he hates being a vampire.”
“Well, the truth is that I don’t believe that he hates being a vampire so much. He saw when Beth was kidnapped as a child and by Pearce Anders that being a vampire saved Beth and he’s saved others as well like Audrey. The power, the abilities are incredible. What Mick actually hates, in my opinion, is what he perceives that he lost by being turned. I’ve often thought that if Coraline would have told him before hand as I suggested that he might well have accepted it.”
Life would certainly have been different for Beth had that happened. Lani herself would probably stayed on the same path but how would it have felt to be the one that carried that secret, unable to tell Beth or Robbi? Not good, not good at all.
“What does he think he lost?”
Josef smiled and said, “I don’t know exactly; mom, apple pie and the white picket fence? Not for me to say but in reality I wonder if he would have had that anyway. Mick apparently came home from the war a changed man, which I can understand. War does things to a man, human or vampire. He drifted a bit then, not as in moving around but from what a ‘good’ man was expected to be, at that time. His unhappy love affair with his best friend’s wife probably caused some of that too.”
Lani caught the war reference and wondered about that because the comment seemed to come from personal experience for Josef but she didn’t ask. Maybe someday. Lani knew about Mick’s affair after the war with his childhood friend and how he had disappeared when Ray came home. Beth thought that it had devastated Mick and what was even worse was the thought that for a very brief time he thought he might have had a family. And family she reminded herself was something a vampire couldn’t have, not in the traditional sense.
Josef stared sightlessly out the window, still thinking about Mick. “He was playing in a band when Coraline found him although I often wondered if she hadn’t spotted him in Europe during the war and followed him here eventually. She was certainly obsessed with him. Anyway, living a rather deviant lifestyle at that time, when society was focused on rebuilding, the country and relationships, playing in a band in bars most nights and getting a little wild and crazy to boot, well, he was rebelling and his parents were pretty unhappy with him he said. He met a wonderful woman at that time and planned to marry her, but Coraline came along and I believe used allure on him, although she denies it and within a month he married her. So, that picket fence, family, all that was ripped from him and it’s so easy to mourn what we never had; you build it up to proportions that couldn’t possibly be lived up to.”
Lani nodded, realizing how true Josef’s words were. She’d done that her whole life, wanting, expecting to find a family to love her, someone to share her life with. After she was an adult she realized she was the one that was lacking, the one that couldn’t make it work. Would this time be any different?
Beth and Mick were all packed and ready to go. Josef had called from the airport and they were getting ready to board the helicopter that would bring them over the sound. Beth was very nervous, fidgeting all morning. She drank her blood but said that it just didn’t ‘taste’ right and Mick knew that she was thinking about feeding fresh.
Josef had been delighted to hear that Beth had liked feeding fresh and of course agreed with her that it would be good for them but he hadn’t pressed the point, which had surprised Mick.
The reasons he had stopped feeding fresh were all still valid; he did not consider himself a predator any longer but now there were other reasons to consider as to why he didn’t want to do it.
Rich had handled it very well, but Mick was realistic, most humans couldn’t and Mick knew that he couldn’t sit by and watch some guy getting off because his wife was feeding from him. And he seriously doubted if Beth would like it if she watched him with a female. It might not be intimate to the vampire but it sure as hell was to the human – the exception to that was when the vampire was your mate. How could either one of them control themselves in that situation?
Fresh was better for you? He couldn’t deny that; he might be a stubborn guy but he wasn’t stupid and he knew that bagged blood was a poor substitute. For a fledgling, well it might be very important for them to feed fresh he told himself. He had, but the circumstances were different then. Coraline had carried it to the extreme, killing off their victims and he gradually got to where it didn’t matter any longer. Those lives, so many lives he’d taken in the past and he couldn’t trust himself not to fall into that again.
Sure, he’d fed fresh with Josef lots of times, but it was different with Josef, more sport than anything. Could he stay in control and not let what was the nature of the vampire exalt in the fresh blood?
He glanced up at his wife as she paced nervously around the room. She was a pale, paler than normal that is and it worried him a bit. Watching her was like watching a jungle cat pace a cage; she was graceful and lithe as she walked but he could see that she was about ready to pounce on something.
“Beth, baby are you sure you don’t need to feed a bit more?”
“No Mick, I’m fine. I’m just anxious; what if she hates me now?”
“She won’t hate you Beth. You’ve talked to her most days since you’ve been here, she doesn’t hate you.”
“She killed someone because of me Mick – how could she not hate me for having to live with that?”
“Beth, if it had been her that was attacked, what would you have done?”
Beth sighed and said, “The same. Oh Mick, I wish they’d get here!”
Suddenly they both heard the rotors in the distance and he said, “Come on, let’s go down to the beach.”
It only took a few seconds for them to make it to the beach at vamp speed and they were there waiting as it set down about 50 feet from them, kicking up dry sand and causing frothy ripples on the water that lapped at the shore. Beth stood still, waiting for the door to open, her hands clasped nervously in front of her.
Finally the door opened and Josef stepped out and then lifted Lani down. They both ducked to avoid as much rotor wash as possible and then ran to where Mick and Beth waited. The copter took off, heading back to Seattle.
Beth and Lani stood a few feet apart, staring at one another and then they fell together, hugging tightly while tears streaked both of their faces. Neither could speak as they were both caught up in the moment of seeing one another again.
Mick and Josef shook hands and then did a guy hug, one hand patting the other on the back and Josef looked over at the girls with an approving smile.
“They both needed this it seems. Lani has been a mess today, waiting to see Beth.”
“So has Beth; she’s a bundle of nerves.”
Finally the girls pulled apart and Beth ran to Josef and pulled him into a warm hug while Mick hugged Lani. That was when he caught the scent and cast a
look at Josef, who looked away guiltily.
What the hell??
“Josef, why don’t we let the girls walk ahead of us and we can catch up,” Mick said. The girls were already striding to the house, hands linked and chattering away. When they were out of even vamp earshot Mick squared off in front of Josef and said, “What the fuck have you done Josef?”
“Hey, it’s not like you think, okay? I didn’t take advantage of her Mick.”
“The hell you didn’t. Your fangs in her equal taking advantage.”
“No! It’s all Beth’s fault actually. She evidently told Lani about the desert and Lani got it into her head that she needed to get drunk and make me feed from her when I got shot.”
“She was drunk? You fed from her when she was drunk?” A vicious growl emanated from deep within his throat Mick stepped back, out of arms reach because right now he wanted to beat the crap out of his best friend. “Wait, you got shot?” The rest of Josef’s statement finally sunk in.
“Yes, at the beach, protecting her I might add. Well, and the Ferrari, from some punks intent on stealing it. I got shot twice and Tango came to pull the bullets out and he mentioned to her that the only way a vamp could feel the
effects of alcohol was if the blood they drank was full of it.”
“And so she saw you, probably carrying on like a whining baby and decided to shut you up with her blood?”
“Sort of. Look, I’m not proud of it Mick. And as it turns out, it meant something – to both of us.”
Mick saw the truth starkly written on Josef’s face; he loved Lani. I’ll be damned, he really loves her.
Mick didn’t know what to say; Josef was in pain and still caught up in guilt and Mick could relate to that. “Come on into the house Josef. We can talk about this later. But I wouldn’t want to be you when Beth finds out.”
“Yes, well let’s just make sure to keep any sharp, pointy objects away from her until after that, okay?”
“You got it buddy. Man, I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes for anything!”
To be continued…