Copyright © 2017 Sotia Lazu. All Rights Reserved.
You’d think a supposedly extinct werepanther would be good at word-of-mouth promo.
Just me, then.
After we found Hunt’s vampire mate, I expected clients to be swarming my Paranormal Private Investigations agency, asking me to cast out evil spirits, confine weres, and bring vampires to justice.
I was clearly wrong, because the only paranormal action my office had seen in the three months since we wrapped up that case was me and Constantine going at it on my desk, a couple times a week.
I took a sip of my cappuccino and sighed in contentment.
Perfect, both the cappuccino and the quiet.
Well, the café wasn’t technically quiet—it buzzed with people chatting—but nobody was chatting to me. After a day of Sally at her most upbeat, this was bliss. I mean, there’s no law against vampires having a sunny disposition, but some days the girl was more excitable than a poodle.
Speaking of… A white furball ran up to me, rose to its hind legs, and started pawing my shin and yipping.
“Hey, you.” I let it sniff my hand, and it wagged its tail and gave me doggie kisses, but started barking again when I tried to pet it.
“Mom, he’s here.” A little girl appeared behind the mini poodle. She stopped inches from my table. “He likes you,” she said to me.
I am likeable.
“He’s adorable.” I gave the dog a gentle nudge, so he’d stop scratching at me, and returned to my coffee.
A woman about my age—which is now thirty and will stay that way for all eternity, thank you very much—knelt and picked up the dog. She held out her free hand, and the girl took it. “You should leave the lady alone,” the woman said.
“Oh they’re not bothering me.” I gave her a genial smile.
The woman pulled out a chair. “I’m so happy to hear you say that. Can we sit with you?” She helped the girl climb on the seat and planted the dog in the girl’s lap.
I looked around. All other tables were taken. “Sure,” I mumbled.
“You won’t even know we’re here. I’ll grab a coffee and be right back. Mind keeping an eye on these two for a few?” For the second time, she didn’t give me the chance to answer. She was off, and I was left with a grinning little girl.
I took out my phone and sent Alex, Where are you? I’m being accosted by a kid and her dog.
Be there in twenty, he sent back.
It was already eight thirty. He was supposed to be here now. Hurry. I’m getting hungry, I wrote.
My phone buzzed almost immediately. Don’t bite either of them.
I was typing, No promises, when the girl said, “You’re pretty.”
Maybe I wouldn’t bite her.
“Thank you. You’re pretty too,” I said. She was. She had her mom’s dark eyes and olive skin, and long wavy hair pulled up in twin ponytails.
“I’m four, and I can count to ten-two.”
What was I supposed to say to that? “Okay.” I opened my phone’s browser. I’d saved a few You’d-Never-Believe-This articles, and maybe the kid would leave me alone if I looked busy.
“I’m Michaela. This is Nibblet. He’s a Maltese.”
So that was a no.
“What’s your name?” Michaela asked.
“Like the fruit?”
No, like the porn star I wanted to become once upon a time, but it might not be legal to share that with a minor. “Exactly,” I said.
Her mom returned with two cups. One smelled like coffee, and the divine scent of hot chocolate wafted off the other. If I extended my vampiric sense of smell, I could tell how much sugar was in each cup and whether the chocolate had whole or skimmed milk in it, but then all other scents in the establishment would assault me, and I wasn’t in the mood for unwashed-armpit odor.
I nodded and returned to my screen. From the corner of my eye, I saw the woman pull out a magazine.
“My mom is Karla,” Michaela said. “Mom, this is Cherry.”
Karla and I exchanged awkward smiles. “Don’t bother the nice lady,” Karla said, without looking at her daughter.
“My mom is a lawyer,” Michaela said. “What is your job?”
I obviously couldn’t avoid her. I looked at my coffee. It was the perfect temperature. I could gulp it down and go wait for Alex outside.
The eagerness in the girl’s eyes kept me in place. She wanted to talk, and her mom was too busy or too tired to indulge her.
“I’m a private investigator,” I said. Which was true even if I had no clients.
Sally was optimistic and insisted work would pick up any day now. Her exuberance was what made me keep Paranormal in my job title long after the trial period she and I agreed on. It was also what got me up and to the office most mornings. Well, that and my determination to not be absorbed by my relationship this time around. I was my own woman and had my own interests. And one day maybe a job that was more than a hobby.
“Like a detective?” Michaela asked.
“Just like one.” Only my target group was people with supernatural issues. And a couple of ghosts I’d helped tie up loose ends, though not by choice. It came with the territory of being the only one I knew who could see them.
Michaela clapped her hands. “Then you can help me find my teddy bear.”
I could brush her off or explain that I didn’t find misplaced teddy bears, or I could play along. I was in a charitable mood, because it was Friday and Alex was coming home with me.
“I can try.” I fished a pen and my leather-bound pad out of my Balenciaga bag. The pad was a gift from Constantine—flashy, cherry-red, with my name and Paranormal Private Investigator emblazoned in the spine in gold font. I loved the thing; it was his way of saying he was proud of me for taking charge of my unlife. The pen was one of those dime-a-dozen ones because I never met a pen I didn’t chew on. “Describe the bear to me.”
Michaela climbed to her knees on the chair and leaned on the table, dropping Nibblet on the floor.
The dog yipped furiously, until Karla gathered him to her, not looking up from her magazine. Either the article was super interesting, or this was her first break in days.
“Mr. Boggles is a very special bear. He sings to me at night, and he watches over me. Daddy said so.” Michaela’s eyes were big as saucers, her face serious.
I thought Karla rolled her eyes, but it was hard to tell for sure.
“Can you tell me how big he is? What color?”
“He’s this big.” The girl opened her arms wide. “And brown.”
That was a lot to go on. Not.
I tapped my pen on my open palm, and then chewed on the cap, looking at my notes.
“Do you remember where you last saw him?” I asked.
“Next to my bed.”
“And when was that?”
Karla mumbled something about Michaela leaving the lady in peace, as the kid counted fingers. “Six days ago.”
I narrowed my eyes. “You sure you didn’t take him somewhere with you?”
Michaela shook her head. “Mr. Boggles never left the house. He’s an indoors bear. That’s why I’m so worried about him.” Her chin wobbled.
Her mom had probably thrown out the toy. “Is there anything else you can remember?” I asked.
Michaela shook her head again.
“Did the bear have any characteristic marks?”
Karla huffed. “One of its eyes is missing. Nibblet must have gotten to it, because it was a gaping hole when I found it. I sewed the edges together.” She sipped on her coffee.
“So will you find him?” Michaela turned huge brown eyes on me.
I reached for her hand, and Nibblet growled at me. I ignored him. “I’ll do you one better,” I said. I held Michaela’s gaze and deepened my voice, using my vampire mojo to influence her will. “You will forget all about Mr. Boggles.”
Her mom looked at me startled, and I took the opportunity to thrall her too. “You will get her a new teddy. And make sure you spend actual quality time with her whenever you get the chance.” From the corner of my eye, I saw Alex’s Chrysler pulling up. I stood and left a fifty on the table. “Actually, get her the bear from me.” I was gonna have a very good afternoon and an even greater night or two. I was all for sharing the happiness.
I slipped into the passenger seat and laid a quick kiss on the corner of Alex’s lips. “Hey, you.”
“Hey.” He tilted his head toward the coffee shop and the window table I’d just vacated. “Making friends?” His smile said he remembered I didn’t do very well with kids. I don’t hate them, and I used to babysit for a friend at my old apartment building—until said friend was abducted and almost drained because of me—but I’m not a fan, as a rule.
“The coffee shop was crowded, and they had a cute dog,” I said. “Long day at work?”
He stepped on the gas. “We had a Jane Doe at a dumpster. Not pretty. Gonna need full facial reconstruction.”
I grimaced. Nothing like a messy murder to kill the mood. I still tried to salvage what I could. “Have you eaten?”
“A sandwich, a million years ago. Hope Blondiebear’s latest little helper has made actual people-dinner.”
I laughed. “I’ll pay you to call Constantine that to his face.”
Alex grinned. “I don’t have a death wish. Seriously, though, tell me he found someone who can cook.”
Since his human friend and butler passed, four months ago, Constantine had been going through one maid service after another. Nobody could fill Wesley’s shoes, after he’d been with Constantine for more than a century and a half. And yes, he was human. Apparently vampire blood can prolong human life.
Which is why Constantine and I sneaked some into Alex’s meals whenever he joined us at the mansion. Don’t judge. We care.
“We’ll order in,” I said.
Alex chuckled. He looked better than when we were a couple, and it wasn’t the vampire blood. His smile reached his eyes these days, like when we first met. It was good to see.
Constantine waited for us at the door. He must have heard the car coming up from the gates or heard my thoughts as we approached the mansion. Our mental link was only established recently but it was one of the things I sorely missed in the short months of my second turn as a human.
That was too convoluted, huh? Let me break it down for you. First time I was turned into a vampire was against my will. Constantine helped me adjust to my unlife, and in the process, I lost myself in him. We broke up—totally his fault—but he never gave up on us. He had my back when I fell for Alex. He dusted his maker to save me, and found a way to make me human again when I thought that was what I wanted.
In the end, I chose eternity, and I chose him.
He looped an arm around my waist and drew me in for a kiss that curled my toes. Then he pulled Alex in a bear hug.
I wasn’t completely used to this camaraderie, but I was more than thankful for it. The two of them weren’t always this chummy, but what started as intense mutual dislike had gradually morphed into grudging respect and then genuine fondness—and not because they occasionally shared a bed and me.
They broke apart, and Constantine waved us in. His eyes and their mood-ring irises used to be the most expressive thing about him, but since I returned to him, he was a new man.
A new man I adored, who didn’t mind sharing me with a human a couple weekends a month.
I kicked off my shoes and let my jacket slide down my arms, as I crossed the living room. “I’m tired,” I said, undoing my jeans. “I want to soak, have a bite, and go to bed.”
“Marta, you’re done for the evening. Don’t come downstairs,” Constantine called out. He waggled his eyebrows at me and ripped his T-shirt in two. Pale muscle rippled and coiled on his long, sculpted torso. Showoff.
Unlike Constantine, Alex took care to untuck and unbutton his shirt. “I forgot my overnight bag at the precinct.”
“You can have your pick from my closet. The lady is in a hurry.” Constantine helpfully grabbed Alex’s lapels and tore the rest of the shirt off.
“Wish you’d stop doing that,” Alex mumbled, but his smile was at full force again, as he popped his fly and took off his jeans, socks, and shoes in one fluid motion.
I wished Constantine would do more than help Alex out of his clothes, but I already got the two of them in my bed—and several other places. I shouldn’t be greedy.
“Last one down is a rotten egg,” I yelled and flew down the stairs to the basement. Not the epitome of maturity, but this was my off time, when I got to unwind from the workweek and the sense of failure that came with the lack of clients.
In his infinite wisdom—snort—Constantine had anticipated my needs for the evening. Or I’d projected my food, sex, sleep thoughts at him. The oversize tub was filled, bubbles releasing a faint honeysuckle scent, and candles glimmered on every horizontal surface around the white-marble bathroom, washing it in golden hues.
I took off the rest of my clothes and sank into the water with a sigh. It was warmer than ideal, since vampires run at room temperature, but my body would get used to it, and Alex would appreciate it.
Alex watched me from the doorway, eyes hooded. He was naked and hard.
Constantine arched an eyebrow over Alex’s shoulder. “Are we waiting her out?” he asked Alex.
Alex shook his head and crossed the tile floor to me. “I was thinking of how I’d have react last year, if someone told me I’d be taking a bath with two vampires. One of them male.” His cock bobbed above my face as he climbed in next to me.
Constantine entered the water slowly from the far end of the tub, letting me admire his body. His skin gleamed in the candlelight, and he looked almost alive with the borrowed blood humming in his veins.
“See something you like?” he sent me through our mental link.
“Can’t tell from all the way over here,” I sent back.
“You’re doing it again. The mind-talk thing.” Alex nudged me forward and wedged his body between me and the wall of the tub. “Didn’t your mother tell you it’s rude, when you have guests?”
Constantine stared at the water. He cupped his hands in the bubbles, and then wiggled his fingers. “I don’t remember my mother.” He sounded morose.
I froze. Alex stiffened behind me.
“I’m messing with you.” Constantine looked up, mischief dancing in his eyes.
“You’re such a jerk.” I splashed him, and Alex joined me.
“Asshole,” Alex said. “I was about to apologize.”
“It’s been several centuries since I remembered my mother’s face.” Constantine shrugged. “She died in battle. The way she wanted. My people didn’t mourn fallen warriors.”
I’d mourn my mom when she died, though she and dad drank Ruby’s blood once in a while, to keep that from happening any time soon.
My parents’ imbibing my grandma’s blood to delay their inevitable passing was not what I should be thinking about.
I squeezed my eyes shut, and when I opened them again, I was ready to focus on the naked men framing me. I ran my toes along Constantine’s inner thigh and arched my back against Alex. Did I have to spell things out for them?
Alex poured shampoo into his palm and brought his arms around me, to work it into a lather before massaging it into my hair. The first time he washed my hair, we ended up having sex pressed against the shower-stall glass. Bath sex was more confining, but if we drained the tub first…
Constantine pulled my left foot in his lap, and I moaned as he pressed his thumbs into my arch. He glided his fingers between my toes and rubbed my heel and my Achilles tendon, before moving to the other foot.
When he proceeded to my calves, Alex slid down my neck, hitting every pressure point on the way, and took on the tension knots in my shoulders. Or where the tension knots would be if vampires got stiff muscles. It felt amazing either way.
I thoroughly enjoyed the pampering, but I looked forward to what came next.
Constantine leaned forward on his knees and skated his palms up my thighs.
“Now we’re talking,” I thought at him.
His chuckle could be in my head, but it echoed against the marble as he snaked an arm around my waist and grabbed the showerhead with the other. “Now,” he said.
Alex turned on the jet full force, and Constantine hosed me down. The water pelted my breasts, sprayed my face, and filled my open mouth as I tried to protest. The bubbles receded and burbled down the drain while I sputtered.
“I’m so gonna get you for this,” I said, twisting water out of my hair.
Constantine leaped out of the bathtub and helped Alex up, while I glared daggers at them both.
I pursed my lips. “See if I put out tonight.”
Alex shrugged. “I need to eat something STAT. Maybe you’ll change your mind by then.”
“Otherwise, we’ll have to manage without you.” Constantine’s tone was light, but the words sounded like a gunshot.
I arched both brows at Alex, who looked flustered. “I don’t…” He cleared his throat. “I’m not sure how I’d feel about that.”
Constantine assumed that air of superiority that often got him out of trouble. “You’d feel like I rocked your world, but you don’t have to take my word for it. You can find out for yourself.”
I looked from one to the other. How would I feel about that? It’d be hot beyond belief, for sure, but could I handle sharing Constantine with someone else? A man?
I’m aware of my hypocrisy, thankyouverymuch.
Constantine smacked Alex’s ass with a towel. “Chill down.”
“Out,” Alex said.
“I am out.” Constantine pointed at Alex’s feet, where he stood inside the tub. “You are still inside.”
“I meant… Never mind.” Alex snatched the towel and wrapped it around his hips.
Constantine was fine with walking around bareass on the ground floor, but I pulled on my silk robe and tied the sash around my waist. Since I started seeing ghosts, I became intensely aware of their ability to see me, and I saved my nude parades for the basement. It was the main reason I asked Constantine not to move us to one of the upstairs bedrooms, despite being sun-resistant now.
The divine aroma of mixed spices greeted us in the kitchen. Alex put out three plates, while I got a bag of blood from the fridge.
“Marta made enchiladas.” Constantine sprawled in his usual chair and scrunched his nose. “I’ll pass.”
“I’ll try a little from yours,” I told Alex.
Alex glared at me and piled three tortillas dripping with sauce on his plate. He left it on the table, went to the fridge, and returned with a bowl of salsa and a tub of sour cream. “Marta sounds like my kind of lady,” he said.
Constantine seemed to think of that, then shrugged. “I’ll introduce you. She’s little long on the tooth, but cute.”
Marta was in her late fifties and wore a perma-scowl.
“A match made in heaven,” I said. Smiling, I poured myself a mug of blood. I added a bit of Ruby’s homemade brew that kept us up and running during the day, and set it to heat up.
Alex grabbed cutlery and went to town on his enchiladas, while I perched on the corner of the kitchen table between him and Constantine, sipping on my O-neg and stealing the occasional bite from Alex.
A lovely tableau of a Friday night.
Unless you were the new human maid and strolled in the kitchen holding bags of groceries, to find your naked employer with his hand under his girlfriend’s robe, while said girlfriend drank blood and another mostly naked man made appreciative sounds over your Mexican delicacies.
“Madre Dios.” Marta crossed herself, but seemed unable to move other than that.
“I thought she was upstairs all afternoon,” Constantine muttered.
Alex jumped up. “No, no. Don’t worry.” The towel slid to the floor, and he grabbed his cock with one hand, reaching for her with the other. “It’s okay. I’m a cop.”
I cracked up, but between the laughing and the blood, I forgot to check my canines, which popped out.
Marta shrieked, and the blood drained from her face. She crossed herself and pointed at me. “Satan.”
I shook my head, but I couldn’t stop cackling.
Constantine shook his head and closed the distance to the door with vamp speed. “Marta.” His voice was deep; he was thralling her. “Look into my eyes.”
“No.” But she met his gaze, and her expression relaxed.
“You didn’t come here tonight. You won the lottery and went straight home. You’ll go pack and go on a short vacation. The money will be in your account by Monday,” he said.
“How much did I win?” Marta asked.
Constantine shrugged. “A hundred thousand dollars.”
She squealed and clapped her hands, and a decade lifted from her. “I can bring my daughter and her family to the States.”
Alex held the towel in front of him. “Cee… That’s not nice, man. Don’t get her hopes high.”
Constantine glanced at him over his shoulder. “I’m not.”
“And when the money isn’t there on Monday?”
“It will be.”
Alex pursed his lips. “What did I get when I found out vampires exist?”
“You got laid,” I said. And killed and turned and returned to his human self. But mostly laid.
“Fair enough.” He grinned and returned to the table. “Cee, can you get the recipe for her salsa before she leaves?”
“I’d rather dust than smell cilantro in my kitchen one more time,” Constantine thought at me. Aloud, he said, “Sure. Let me walk you to the door, Marta. I’ll have your belongings packed and sent to you in the morning.”
He said something else as he led her out of the kitchen, but a flicker by the pantry door drew my attention. A ghost?
Turning to look straight at it wouldn’t help if it wanted to hide, but if I averted my gaze and lowered my lids—bingo. There was a shape. Vaguely female. About my height.
“I can see you,” I said in a conversational tone. “I’m here if you want to talk.”
The first spirit I ever saw was Wesley, the night Constantine sired me. As Wesley explained it, my deaths brought me closer to ghosts. I’d come across a handful more since him, but not all of them spoke to me. I tried to help the ones who did, as long as their demands weren’t too crazy—the Australian girl who wanted me to find the engagement ring she threw in the ocean had no luck.
The air at the corner of the kitchen simmered brighter, until the outline of the apparition was clear and definitely feminine. Then I blinked, and it was gone.
“Well? Do they need help, or can we go to bed?” Alex asked. He’d come a long way from the cop who thought I was a nut-job with photophobia.
Constantine gazed at us from the door. “How our boy’s grown,” he sent me.
“Major eww at thinking of him as our boy,” I sent back. “It’s a woman, but she left,” I told Alex. “Done, or are you gonna lick the plate?”
“Don’t tempt me.” He gave the pan with the rest of the enchiladas a forlorn look and patted his stomach. “If I’m to be active tonight, I should stop.”
“Stop,” Constantine and I said together.
By the time we were naked in bed, the ghost was the last thing on my mind.
Until— “Wow. You’re a busy lady.” The voice came from behind me.
I let Alex slip out of my mouth with a wet plop, and looked around me frantically. A transparent female figure shone at the far corner of the room, glaring at me.