For centuries the witches in the city of Fairlight, and the vampire covens have struggled for power, even though for over two hundred years they supposedly have come to a workable truce. At the age of twenty Velvet Washington, a witch of superior skills, decides the vampires are breaking the spirit of the truce by turning victims in order to increase their numbers. Any witch, she believes, knows the power in numbers. Unfortunately, the Council doesn’t care and insists she mind her own business and stop the night stalking in graveyards. However, Velvet thinks it is her duty to halt the monthly risings of the undead.
Wilder, a master vampire and his sired partner Jerome, trail her for a few months trying to figure her out. She is a witch that seems as driven as a slayer. Slayers, who just happen not to reside in Fairlight anymore. Intrigued by her skills and commitment Wilder approaches her. . Wilder has not lost any of his to her sword, so he can be generous enough to warn her to cease at once because the Coven as a whole, though reluctant to risk incident with the council, will get around to stopping her, and to Velvet the only way a vampire can make her stop anything is to kill her. Wilder finds her attitude ridiculous and tells her the folly of her single minded prejudice and extreme arrogance. He tries to convey she is short sighted in what she can accomplish with her talents, and what she could do for Fairlight as a whole community, rather than just for witches.
Velvet ignores her grandmother’s advice and warnings not to trust a vampire, especially one she finds so attractive in the moonlight.
Hazel was in the front yard, looking off down the street where a lot of their neighbors were hauling down to the next block. A few moments later, Velvet came zipping up to their driveway in her bra.
“Please, don’t tell me…” Hazel began.
“Yeah, it was me.” Velvet put down the kickstand before she got off the Ninja. “It was a demon. Jerome sent him.”
“Lord, lord, lord!” Hazel took her by an arm and led her into the house. Inside, she snapped her fingers at Velvet, putting a T-shirt on her that featured Betty Boop on a motorcycle. “Now, why didn’t you do that?”
“I guess I had seeing about you on my mind more than who might be looking at my tits.”
“Watch it.” Hazel went to the kitchen for a glass of lemonade.
“Grandma, you keep that ring on all the time. Don’t take it off for nothing, not digging in the garden or washing dishes. You hear me?”
“I hear you,” she said and sipped from her glass. “Is this how it’s going to be, Velvet? Everything coming at you all the time until one gets you or you kill that vampire?”
“I don’t know, but I can handle it.”
“If you can isn’t the point. Maybe I can’t handle it, Velvet!”
“A demon coming into the neighborhood is too much! You go talk to that vampire. Apologize for what you’ve done and promise you won’t offend him again.”
“Are you serious? Beg a vampire?”
“I told you I can protect you. No vampire will get in, and any demon will be repelled before he gets near the door.”
“What about werewolves and normals with guns, Vee? Or witches? Can you cast a spell that big?”
“Yes, Grandma, I can.” She wasn’t bragging. She was strong like that. “You can live the way you always have without fear. Between your ring and—”
“Okay, Velvet. Enchant our home! The whole neighborhood while you’re at it!”
“Grandma, you won’t even notice it’s there. Or I can stay home with you. Work from the parlor.”
“What parlor? And what work?”
“That room we used to call the bonus room is perfect. I’ve decided to use my skills for public service. I can do readings and tell fortunes, sell a powder or potion here and there.”
“Velvet,” Hazel gasped. “A witch selling her craft out like a gypsy! That’s obscene.”
“I knew you’d squawk at my idea, but I’ve made money and I could make a lot more if I had space and time and a bit of support.”
“No. You won’t turn our house into a freak show!”
“Okay, I’ll keep doing it on the streets.”
“You can’t control what I do out there, Grandma.”
“I know that, Velvet. That’s why I cringe every time you walk out that door.” Hazel gave Velvet her back. “You say this vampire’s name is Jerome? He’s the one who lives with that redheaded one you think you know?”
“Can he make Jerome stop?”
“Maybe, only I don’t think I should be asking him for favors.”
Hazel turned around. “You don’t have to ask a man to do anything.” She spoke slowly and deliberately. “If you don’t ask, you don’t owe.”
Velvet stared at her dumfounded. She understood what Hazel was saying, but couldn’t believe it was coming from her mouth. First, she practically ordered her to stay away from vampires, which she had every intention of doing for the time being. Now, she was telling her to work Wilder.
“You hear me, Velvet?”
She blinked at her grandmother in utter amazement. She really wanted her to do it. “I hear you, Grandma. And I think you’re forgetting something.”
“Wilder isn’t a regular man. He’s a vampire, and a master vampire at that. You think he won’t be ready for big ole me batting my eyes at him?”
“Just don’t give him your word on anything. Velvet, you’re a gifted witch. No vampire can—”
“No, Grandma. You were right the first time. I’m staying away from those guys. Jerome will get tired or bored when he sees I’m not thinking about him and the things he does.”
“Are you sure about that?” Hazel asked skeptically. “When you get involved with vampires, a certain course has to run. You can’t just tell them to get lost. Not if you’ve gone and let him know you like him.” Hazel put up a hand to stop her protest. “He bit you and you didn’t even attempt to kill him. You never should’ve opened your window, but you did, and we can’t go back. He’s after you and you know what he wants. The question is, are you going to give in? Do you want to?”
“I’m asking you now while I know your will is your own.” Hazel took out a small bottle of liquid and held it up to the sunlight shining through the kitchen window, then at Velvet. “I’ve been sneaking you some since that Wilder came calling.”
“Blessed water? You could’ve just asked me.”
“I trust the water more at this point.” She put it in the windowsill. Smiling at Velvet, she held her hands palm up. Most witches used spells or hexes to read people, but Hazel was truly clairvoyant, she could invade her mind, and Velvet might not know it, but she believed in privacy of one’s thoughts. Touching the palms overrode barriers the mind automatically put up against it. With a deep frown, Velvet laid her palms on top of Hazel’s. “Look at me,” Hazel said.
“Grandma?” Velvet asked after several seconds of silence.
Hazel blinked, focused her eyes again, then slid her palms away. She went back to sipping her lemonade.
“Well? What did you get from that?”
“Glistening teeth, fangs, and smiles, and a whole lot of moonlight.” Hazel scowled a moment, then continued. “Your Wilder is a smooth little operator. I’m glad to see you’re still a little wary. The next time he contacts you—and believe me he will—you make sure he gets that Jerome off your back!”
“I’d rather deal with Jerome on my own.”
“Why, when Wilder is the one who got you in this pickle? Use him to get yourself out of it!”
“No, I’m not about to get myself messed up playing games. I’ll stay away from Wilder and I’ll stop patrolling. That should satisfy Jerome.”
“But will it satisfy Wilder?”
“When he sees I’m not interested, what can he do about it?”
~ * ~
Dodd stumbled into the foyer and keeled over.
Getting to the mansion had been hard work in the shape he was in. Seemed nobody wanted to give an eight foot five inch demon a break. Finally, he managed to scare a woman and a load of soccer players out of her SUV. Even that was hard work getting her to let go of the wheel. He had to threaten one of the children to get her out of the vehicle, and even then, she screamed and cursed at him as he zoomed off down the street.
His stump bled again. He was sure to pass out if he wasn’t looked after soon.
“Tell Jerome, Dodd is here,” he said through a mouthful of loose teeth. “Dodd commands you, human!”
“You command?” The maid pushed him over on his back with her shoe and wrinkled her nose. “More like you offend. Damn, if you ain’t the stinkiest bastard I ever did see! Anyway, Jerome ain’t about to get up before sunset for no demon.”
“I need first-aid before I bleed to death.”
“First-aid? Child, you need the last rites. Maybe I should go fetch a priest?”
Dodd grabbed hold of her ankle with the remaining strength of his good arm. “You should get somebody who can stop this bleeding and bandage me properly. Or I will crush your entire foot into powder!”
“Let go!” The maid shouted, trying to kick herself free. “Ow! Ow! Ow! Damn you, you disgusting thing! You’re getting that yellow stuff all over my leg.”
“What is going on in here?” Wilder demanded in a loud voice as he came down the stairs.
Both Dodd and the feisty maid froze to look at him. “Let her loose,” he commanded. “Patty Ann, step away from him.”
“Yes, sir!” Patty Ann kicked him in the mouth, then ran next to Wilder. “He just bust in here, talking about bothering Jerome.” “I asked her for help,” Dodd crawled up to Wilder’s feet.
“Don’t touch me,” he said. “Who are you and what do you want?”
“I am Dodd. She told me to give Jerome a message.”
“That damned witch,” Dodd ground out and managed with the aid of the banister to get to his feet. “Come on, please. I’m bleeding all over the place.”
“He is making a mess,” Patty Ann concurred. “Jerome ain’t gonna like it, either.”
“Take him upstairs to a bathroom and see to him then.”
“Me?” Patty Ann shrieked. “Wilder, that thing attacked me!”
“Knowing your mouth, I’d say you had it coming. Anyway, you’re already bloody.”
“My arm—” Dodd held it out, letting it speak for him.
“Ain’t no surgeon up in here.”
“Call one then,” Wilder suggested, going back up the stairs. “Meanwhile, put that arm on ice or something.”
~ * ~
Doctor Madison came down the stairs heavily on his large feet. He was a big, wide man of sixty. He hated coming to the mansion, even though it kept his clinic open to the poorer public who otherwise would have to do without decent medical treatment. It was a good deal he supposed, but some of the creatures he saw gave him nightmares.
“Doctor.” Wilder came seemingly out of the drapes, spooking him, and pretended he didn’t notice.
“Mister Wilder,” he said, as nervous as he always felt around vampires. “I don’t know how, but his arm, after a while, seemed to reattach itself. Thank goodness, because I sure can’t do that kind of surgery.”
“Is he awake?”
“Yes. I couldn’t put him under with regular medication.”
“Is he improved enough to speak?”
“He seems to be.”
“Thank you once again, Doctor Madison, for your prompt service.” Wilder offered him an envelope and the doctor raised a brow. He usually received one about two months from now. “You’ve earned it.”
“It isn’t for me, sir. It’s for the clinic,” he clarified and took the check.
“You don’t make money off that clinic. So why is it so important to you?”
“I became a doctor to help people, not to get rich.”
“Taking care of people like us isn’t what you imagined, was it?”
“No, sir,” he quietly admitted. “However patients are patients. And God help us all, the world has changed.”
“And vampires certainly weren’t writing you checks to keep your dream alive.”
“Vampires were just scary stories then.”
“You prefer the old ways?”
“I believe I do.”
“Thank you again, doctor.” Wilder headed up the stairs.
~ * ~
Dodd’s red body lay dark against the white pillows. Wilder regarded him from the foot of the bed. He couldn’t tell if his color was normal or not, or if he looked better than before. Nor did he really care, as long as he could talk.
Dodd opened his eyes and sat up quite easily.
“Feeling better, are you?”
“If you ever find yourself in another precarious state, don’t come here again. Am I clear?”
“I wouldn’t have if she—”
“What were you doing that she had to take your arm off?”
“Pardon me,” Dodd interrupted. “My business was with the other one. I’ll answer his questions and demand my payment.”
“You will answer me!” Wilder roared “I’m master here, Dodd!”
“What…what do you want to know?”
~ * ~
Jerome paced his bedroom, pounding his fist on top of the other repeatedly. He’d been awake in the second story library when Dodd burst into the foyer, screaming for help. Then he’d heard Wilder take charge of the situation.
What would he do? Surely, he’d see his hiring an assassin as betrayal. Wilder had been clear on that. But who would have thought that fool Dodd couldn’t take out one human woman and wouldn’t have enough professionalism not to come to his front door?
He stopped pacing in front of the mirror, his reflection was just a blur, but he didn’t have to see himself to know his look was harried. He had to feign ignorance to be ready to deny everything.
It was for his sake,” he spoke out loud to his reflection. “She will ruin him.” Hell, it was already happening. Saving a dear friend was not betrayal. He smiled because he found his face. Guilt would not give him away because he wasn’t guilty of anything but love for his friend.
By nine o’clock Jerome came down dressed to go out. Wilder studied him coolly as he stared over a newspaper upon his entrance into the sitting room.
Patty Ann ran the manual carpet sweeper over the rugs. As usual, she greeted Jerome brightly. He barely acknowledged her, having no time to waste on a human who was on the last legs of her youth and getting fat to boot. He went to pour himself a full glass of warm blood from a carafe. He smiled at Wilder since it was human rather than bovine. Human was reserved for special days, and it was fitting for today. He had taken his first attempt to rid their lives of a fake slayer. He nearly frowned, noticing Wilder’s glass. Once again he drank milk, as if he were soft and weak when he was neither. He was merely trying to prove a point. In the early years, he sustained them both on cows’ milk and sometimes goat. The point was to be ready to improvise in a pinch. Jerome couldn’t ever see himself in a pinch. Wilder even taught him to continue eating solid food to curb the craving. It was disgusting, putting a perfect body through the indignity of human bodily functions that resulted. Secretly, he threw up after eating. Wilder was never the wiser.
He poured another glass to savor. The only thing better was to sink his teeth into the trembling neck of some warm, frightened victim. The ultimate thrill was in the hunt. Seemed Wilder had all but forgotten that.
Jerome examined his clothing, seeing he was dressed for going out. Clubbing was his scene. He’d bite and suck, but with permission. It boggled Jerome’s mind how Wilder became the master vampire he was today. Fortunately, he was taught the true ways of vampirism before he decided to become an old man. But that was unfair, he quickly amended. Wilder was still a formidable foe and master when the fancy struck.
“Up a little late tonight,” Wilder observed, folding the newspaper and setting it aside on the cushion beside him.
“Actually, I took my time tonight, doing some reading and what not.”
“Yes. Right.” Jerome took his drink to the armchair to the right of Wilder. “Did I hear a commotion earlier?”
“Commotion?” Wilder brushed imaginary dust off his immaculate slacks.
“He must mean that smelly ole demon,” Patty Ann reminded him. “Came in here with his arm chopped off, dripping and slopping that yellow stuff all over my clean floor.”
“Demon?” Jerome asked alarmed. “On our doorstep?”
“He was all up in here,” Patty Ann continued. “Had to call Doc Madison. And he wasn’t too pleased about it, either.”
“Thank you, Patty Ann,” Wilder remarked. “Now get out. There isn’t anything left to dust or pick up.”
“Yes, sir,” she said, disappointment showing on her face. Noisily, she dragged the sweeper along as she exited the library.
“Seems there was excitement,” Jerome commented.
“And you missed it all.” Wilder idly handled the medallion dangling from his neck. Tonight he wore it over a pullover that hugged his chest. “Well, anyway, this demon had a name. You know anyone named Dodd?”
“He knows you. Claims you owe him money.”
“That is ridiculous. Demons, I find vulgar.”
“Demons are also strong and skilled fighters, a suitable choice for battling witches.”
“Witches? What are you talking about?”
“Velvet,” Wilder stated coldly. “You went against my wishes. You hired Dodd to kill her. Told him to bring you her head and tits.”
“A demon told you that and you believed him?” Jerome pushed up out of his chair to stand before Wilder.
“Why would he come here with such a lie?”
“The mansion was near, perhaps. He needed a story to get in and receive aid. Or could be Velvet or some other witch put him up to it.”
“That I don’t believe.”
“You asked me, Wilder. I can only speculate.”
“Why didn’t you come down?”
“I was meditating.” Jerome went back to his chair. “Where is this demon now? I think we should confront him together, get this nonsense settled.”
“After I paid him, he decided he was able to travel.”
“Wilder, he fleeced you. If I had come down instead, he’d have told me you paid him to kill the witch.”
“I’m to believe he chopped his own arm off for validation?”
“I’ve heard of stranger things. Wilder, do you really believe I’d betray you like this?”
Wilder slowly got to his feet, taking his time to adjust his clothes before he spoke. “Velvet Washington is my personal business. She survived this attack, so I will forgive this once. If you attack her again, I will deal with you as an enemy.”
“Wilder, I can’t believe you’re choosing a witch you’ve just met over my loyalty and affection”
“You are a gifted liar, Jerome. Don’t insult my intelligence further. Obey me or declare yourself no longer my friend.” Wilder headed out of the room.
“You’re going to her tonight,” Jerome accused. “A vampire killer.”
Wilder paused at the door but did not turn around. In a low voice, he said, “I mean to have her, Jerome. Don’t get in my way.”
Jerome flinched. It was worse than he thought. Velvet had done what Jerome feared the most. She’d bewitched Wilder!