"Josie, you can stay. Your husband and his friend won't be around for a while and Babette has certainly been locked up by now." His tone was light, while his words struck deep. I stiffened and slowed my packing. His mouth frowned as he caught the second possible meanings of his words and he said, "That sounded bad. Okay, nobody's dead yet. But they won't be able to return here for at least a month." I caught the 'yet' word but left that alone as I turned over what he was telling me in my brain. Feeling off kilter, I decided to see what would happen if I pushed a bit.
"And Billy won't be going to work I gather? So who's going to pay the household bills and like mow the lawn and trim the hedges, you?" I savagely bit out while continuing my packing. I didn't mention what work Billy did or lack thereof and Joel the vampire seemed to take that at face value. He truly didn't have a clue what sort of setup Billy and I had. I saw no need to inform him, and waited to hear what he'd answer. Three of my bags were packed and set near the doorway.
"I will happily pay all the bills, but I'll have to send one of my gardeners over to handle the yard work. I'm not exactly a big fan of the sun," Joel grinned impishly and I could see something of the child he must have been in his face. I wondered how long ago he'd been a kid. Thirty or a hundred years ago, it didn't matter, because I couldn't think of any polite way of asking.
I puffed out a stream of air from my lower lip upward and my hair flew back from my face. Stupidly I wish I had bangs again like when I was really small, thinking that it would have looked more impressive. The childlike impulse did little and as it was the longer strands fell right back in my eyes. Reluctantly I stopped packing and raked the offending hair out of my eyes to look at Joel leaning against the door jam. He was just grinning and waiting for me to reply. Personally I liked to use silence to force words out of someone, but I instinctively knew that Joel was equally versed in that game. It didn't matter whatever age he claimed -- obviously he knew how to outwait a person. I could tell without testing the theory.
Putting my hands on my hips, I spun and said, "Okay, fine! Joel, then what you're saying is that I am just supposed to stay here, nice, safe and cozy and simply let you pay all my bills while heaven only knows what's happening to Billy?"
"Yes, actually that is what I am suggesting. No, suggesting isn't the right word." I could hear the laughter lacing his words. I wasn't sure who was getting the best of whom anymore, but he wasn't afraid to answer me.
"I am telling you to unpack the bags and sit down and listen to what I have to say. If you still want to leave after I finish, that's okay." He sounded so reasonable. Yet I knew he was lying. I didn't bother to argue. It wasn't that he was a bad liar -- more along the lines that I was used to hearing lies from Billy. Add in that Joel had a tone in his voice that told me he wasn't going to let me go. There was more happening than just Babette, Billy and Oliver's games. It wasn't like I expected anything, but still decided to give Joel the option of lying to me. Maybe I'd actually discover something useful between his lies, half-truths and omissions.
I didn't unpack my bags, but dropped the last one to the floor as I paced past him and went to my office just across the hallway from the now-tainted bedroom. I didn't want to be looking at the bed where Babette and Billy had been busy bouncing their damned bones just hours before when he told me whatever he thought would change my opinion. My brain processed what I'd just thought and I shuddered. My mind was definitely slipping.
He followed without any comments. Once we were inside the office I shook my head and continued my pacing; his eyes kept me company while he sat at the desk and began to fiddle with the desktop contents. The computer was turned off and his restless fingers were playing with my bric-a-brac. I felt odd watching his slender, white fingers stroke my silly bits and pieces scattered over the rich honey-stained oak desk. Joel lifted an eyebrow when he found the toys stashed in the corner. It wasn't like I collected them on purpose. Somehow over the years I'd begun to pick up various cartoon figurines from kids meals, along with some small hand held puzzles with wooden pieces to slide and solve, porcelain birds and frogs. Like I said, bric-a-brac. It wasn't deliberate but the collection had grown slowly and now it filled nearly the entire left corner of the large desk. I had pretty much forgotten about all of it until I saw Joel touching one of the frogs.
The sensual caresses were at odds with my thoughts on vampires. So many questions fought for space in my mind. I resisted blurting out what I was thinking and waited for him to tell me his tall tale. My legs were aching and I was way too tense. I dropped onto the small loveseat next to the door and faced Joel.
Once I sat, he began to talk.
"Not all vampires are like Babette. She's on the fringes of our community and often oversteps the boundaries. She likes drama and games and she's played out her social set," he paused while I was wondering what kind of 'social set' a sexy vampire had.
Joel was running a nail along the lines of one of the larger of the porcelain frogs resting in the corners of my desk, abstractedly tracing the black bits. I was stunned to see his fingernails were nicely trimmed and professionally buffed. I never thought much about the kind of man who got a manicure, but hadn't even thought that a vampire had the inclination, given my impressions of the whole blood-sucking-freak angle and all of that. Pretty boys and models were the usual ones I associated with the heavy salon time and polished nails. He tapped his index finger on the frog's nose and slowly pushed it away from his hands, back to the other frogs waiting.
Lacing his fingers together on his lap he continued to explain while rocking his fingers back and forth to punctuate his words. Soon I was caught in his story and the gestures were lost. My world was being slowly torn from me and rebuilt to a frightening new landscape.
"We don't usually talk about ourselves to humans. All the vampire movies and horror books out there unveiling things about us aren't sanctioned by any reputable set of vampires, but are created by the rogue vampires and hanger-ons to the fledglings -- humans trying to impress vampires with their knowledge of our world. When a vampire is first made there tends to be a period of time where they cling too much to their human past. Fledglings are supposed to stay with their masters and away from their human friends and family. Because despite the strong will of a vampire, most new vampires tend to play at still being human and they inevitably make messy mistakes. So it never works out well when newly turned vampires stay too close to humans, and it is frowned on as far too many tragic mishaps have occurred during such times." His voice was rich in meaning; without much trouble I was pulled deeper.
"Babette is far older than she looks." He said that like it was going to be news to me and I resisted rolling my eyes.
"She should have long outgrown the impulsive nature of humans, but she seems to thrive on the rush of showing her fangs and having men follow her home. We're forced to keep a closer watch on her than we'd like. And we are obligated by vampiric laws to clean up after her when things go wrong." He shook his head.
I interrupted with, "You said 'we'."
Mentally I started readjusting the number of possible vampires hanging around my city and not downwards. A chill raced down my spine and I resisted the urge to get up and peek out the window. I doubted I would be able to pick out a vampire in the dark, much less not end up looking like a fool.
I was startled when Joel answered my comment since it wasn't a question, more of a statement, but he replied, "My crew and I are often forced to decisively deal with her choices in the dramas of her night games. Some evenings it seems all we do is chase after Babette until dawn. She knows she's protected by her vampire family connections in Europe, so we keep her on a tight leash, clean and wipe away the memories of the humans she's played with and try to keep the headlines down to a minimum. It was Ashley's turn to keep tabs on Babette this week, but near as we could figure she must have lost her somewhere around ten this morning. We can get around during the day, obviously, but aren't as sharp. From what I was told later, Ashley turned left when she should have gone right."
His fingers returned unconsciously to the small frog and he was back to stroking and tapping. I was trying to keep my mouth shut and my face blank as I absorbed the notion of vampires here and in Europe -- great. Not just homegrown in America but over in Europe. That was chased by the realization that vampires were more than likely worldwide. My head was aching.
"We got a call from Babette right after you left. She likes to taunt us when she's slipped her watchers and challenge us to see if we could find her before daybreak. She actually called Ashley's cell and confessed she'd been very naughty and naturally wanted Ashley to come share in the fun. Babette went on to tell Ashley that now she was 'it' and to come find her," I found myself nodding as he related this, as if it was a common tale in my world, he went on explaining, "Ashley was quick to let me know that Babette had called. I told her to go help find Babette and see what needed to be done with Billy."
Despite my attempts at neutrality, a pained look must have flitted across my face at my husband's name, "Sorry, we did know that Billy was her most recent playmate. Ashley should've at least checked here first but she was under the impression Babette was heading over to an underground club that plays with vampires and others all hours of the day and night. It wasn't a bad idea since we'd found her there before, feeding off the humans who are cutters. Babette had been forbidden following humans home and sullying their houses. She doesn't much like rules, as you probably figured out, but nevertheless my vampire wasted time checking each room while trying to keep a low profile pretending to be a voyeur with bloodlust. She got another call as she finally had worked her way into the last room and had realized that she'd been tricked.
"When Ashley arrived Babette had both of the men enthralled in the bedroom," his eyes flitted to the doorway across the hall as if to remind me where the bedroom was. I avoided commenting waiting to hear more.
"Babette laughed about the whole thing, but Ashley saw the bloody wooden spoon and she quickly figured out more had happened than just tagging out two men for some fun. I'd given Ashley permission to knock out Babette and call me if the situation looked bad. She did." I was curious how one 'knocked out' the vampires but wasn't very sure it would be smart to ask that question. And I was pretty sure old blue eyes wouldn't answer me. Joel had an agenda and I just had to wait it out and find out why he was so intent on my agreeing with him and hearing him.
"Once I got here I called for a van and we did the basic clean up. I took the boys with us once I had questioned Babette. She isn't as good at mind wipes as she likes to think she is. Reluctantly she told me that you would be back after work and that you were really pissed off. To cap it off, she then said that you knew what she was. Babette laughed at the idea of a human running around with that knowledge. She figured she finally forced my hand to doing something her way. At my level, I'm not allowed to let humans know about us. She is protected and somewhat rogue, while still allowed her stray fancies. I am responsible to clean up her messes without harming her. She counts on it." He paused and looked directly into my eyes. I felt something alien crawling inside my head and I pushed back. He winced and rubbed his forehead.
"No wonder Babette wasn't able to push you, mentally you're pretty strong, and she couldn't have liked that much." I felt proud of him saying that for no good reason. But then it dawned on me that he was able to subdue Babette and was in charge of keeping her out of trouble and I might not necessarily be able to continue to keep him out of my head. Again I thought about work-related nonsense and tried to resist the impulse to either gloat or cower -- both seemed bad ideas no matter how I twisted them. This vampire seemed like a good guy, but I wasn't sure what precisely that meant. Like would he just kill me nicely versus slash my throat and bleed me out slowly. Predatory vibes washed over me and I knew he was still trying to push into my head despite his dramatic wincing and rubbing. God, even male vampires could be as shallow as the human ones.
I worried how long I could keep him distracted from reading my mind when it dawned on me to ask a simple question.
"Why exactly are you telling me all of this?" I bit my lower lip to stop myself from asking anything else. My impulsive need for knowledge couldn't be suppressed, but I settled on just the one simple question even though a dozen more questions were in my brain demanding my attention. Strong vampires no doubt didn't reward curiosity kindly.
Something lashed in his eyes -- strong and angry -- both scary, "Because Babette has gone too far. If she hadn't survived that wooden spoon in her chest, I don't know how many more humans could've been involved before I was able to find her. She's pretty much out of control." He was serious and I was still nibbling my lips and thankfully no blood pooled on my mouth. I stopped chewing while mentally asking, How stupid was this vampire? I mean, I well knew that Billy was a pervert but at least I knew what he was up to mostly. While predatory vampire Joel seemed to be playing catch up with his own little lusty vampire. Maybe time slowed them down or worse.
"What are you thinking, Josie?" His voice was tense but I knew he was still cautiously trying to figure me out. So I began to precisely reorganize my office budget in my head and watched him pale. Numbers weren't a strong point for vampires any more than for most humans, I was pleased to discover. Then I recalculated that assumption; at least this vampire wasn't into numbers. There was no need for me to be as arrogant as Joel and think that all vampires were alike just because he thought all humans were alike.
"I'm thinking you have a real problem on your hands. And I don't mean Billy and Oliver. It sounds like Babette is untouchable in your vampire world and constantly causing problems, right?" He unhappily nodded while I continued, "So you came here to see how I pushed her out of my head, and if I cared about the boys right?"
"Yes," he reluctantly confirmed. I noticed he avoided my comment about pushing the other vampire out of my head. That must have been something rare in human and vampire interactions. I shook my head at the odd musings. It had been an odd day overall, and adding the vampires into the mix wasn't exactly helping me adjust.
"What do you want me to do? I don't care about any of them. You can kill them all and I'll make millions." I snapped out.
He paled, "What?"
I laughed. It was a deep heartfelt joyful laugh as I figured out that I knew more than this mind reading vampire had realized. Age wasn't all it was knocked up to be, but this was way too much fun. I liked getting the best of this creature. Swallowing my ego I spelt it out for Joel.
"Billy is extremely wealthy. I am his wife. Need I continue? Oh, let me add that there is no pre-nup and his family likes me more than him. As for Oliver -- he's pond scum. And let's not forget that Babette ruined one of my favorite spoons." I was careful to keep my features still and I didn't add another word.