"Thanks. So what is it you need?" His voice purred and I tingled. Damn vampires. Nothing I had experienced since meeting Babette earlier in the day was endearing the creatures to me in the least. I didn't think time was going to enhance that either. Some things went without saying, and I knew vampires weren't good for my health.
"A half dozen stakes, a nice sharp sword and a ten minute head start?" I snarled.
For all the soft fuzzy feelings he was trying to smother me with, I didn't like this one at all. I didn't remember him from the group gathered around the car when I got to the house. I could have asked why he came into the bathroom but that would have just acknowledged he didn't belong here and pointed out the obvious that I was just wearing a towel.
"I don't think so, Josie." My name was on his lips, and I was feeling pulled again by that familiar smile. He was exuding sexuality wrapped with sensuality like it was the latest aftershave. He cocked his head slightly and nodded at the shower stall as if reminding me why I was in the room.
The water was still hammering down in the shower and I decided to push back in my own way.
"Excuse me. I need to wash the stench off. Why don't you make yourself useful and go fetch me some coffee?" Grabbing the washcloth from the top of the stack of towels I'd found under the sink I smiled, and decided to screw with the vampire.
Decisively I dropped the black towel I had wrapped around my body to the tile then nearly took him out with the glass door as I slipped inside without a backward glance. I shut the door quickly and took a quick breath. I was trembling but held my head high.
His laughter was following me, but thankfully he stayed on the other side of the opaque frosted glass. I wasn't sure it would work, but mentally figured the shower was a threshold and he'd probably never been invited in to shower with anyone. I didn't see vampires showering much and from the slamming of the bathroom door I figured that I'd guessed right or he'd given up on tormenting me for now.
I put my face to the spray and sobbed softly underneath the flowing water. My husband was dead. Not by my hand but someone's. I'd been with Billy longer than I had been on my own. He was the knight in shinning honor from my childhood and my first lover and best friend long before he became my husband. For all his faults, he'd truly loved me. I knew it. Sobbing, I leaned against the wall of the shower and let the water run. A house full of vampires and me was not a thought I'd ever put together even in my wildest dreams. But without Billy, I was feeling somehow diminished.
Denial raced through my thoughts as I wondered if it was all a lie and in fact Billy was still alive. My brain began bargaining and I decided that maybe he'd just been severely injured by whoever shot him on while on the air. My mind raced with conspiracy theories and vampiric politics. I wanted to scream out at the injustice. Then another sob caught in my throat. My heart knew better. The hole was there just as surely as if I had been staked. My wishes weren't going to become reality just because I didn't want to face the vampires. Billy was dead. Joel hadn't lied, and I had heard him get shot while on the talk show.
Lethargically, I washed my hair and body. The washcloth was black and it suited my mood. I knew that I couldn't show any weakness in front of the vampires once I left the confines of the stall. I let my tears run while I finished cleaning the day off my skin. I probably scrubbed harder than I should have and soon I felt raw inside and out. My mourning would have to wait.
Once the tears ran out and the hot water gave way to icy cold I got out of the shower and was relieved to see the bathroom was full of steam but no stray vampires. I slowly blotted the water off my skin. Once dry I pulled the large burgundy satin robe on and tightly belted it. Then with the damp towel I slowly wiped a clear spot on the mirror. Leaning in over the sink I regarded my face. There was no way to deny it I looked like hell. The rings under my eyes were now dark and puffy from my bout of crying. I went back and got the washcloth from the stall. I soaked it with cold water from the sink and leaned back placing the wet cloth on my eyes. It was stupid but I didn't want to look weak.
A few minutes passed and I gave up trying to reduce the swelling without a block of ice and a half hour; it was as good as it was going to get. I began rubbing my hair with the other towel. My hair was as listless as my soul. I just wanted to curl into a ball and hide. My purse had limited grooming opportunities but nevertheless I raked a brush through my somewhat damp hair and applied some sparkly lip-gloss. I took a deep breath and gave up any attempts to look better.
A glance into the bedroom -- I was happy to see my luggage had arrived by the unseen Theo. I dropped the robe and tore into my bags finding necessary fresh clothing. Tossing my dirty clothes into one of the empty plastic laundry bags I had stored in my bags just for that purpose I dove into my stuff with a bit more interest. I went for the basics after I had my underwear dug out. The robe was dropped onto the bed and I began to dress. The worn blue jeans, a long sleeved t-shirt and tennis shoes seemed the best choice. The familiar clothes helped me gain back a bit of my confidence. I hadn't packed any stakes or axes so I'd have to make do with my sarcasm and wits.
Straightening my spine, I headed out of the bedroom to find out where the vampires were hiding. I didn't think they'd just leave me after all the efforts it took to get me there. As it was I didn't have far to go since the big blond was standing outside the door actually holding a mug of steaming coffee.
"I presumed you took it black." He quirked a smile and turned it to me handle side out. I took a cautious sip and found the liquid scalding hot. It was quite tasty and hopefully not drugged. I wanted the coffee more than caring if they were drugging me. Given the sheer number of vampires it wasn't like they couldn't overpower me easily.
Blond boy was right. I actually preferred a good cup of coffee untainted. I never understood the sugary latte concoctions offered at all the coffee houses. And the owner of the house had excellent taste in coffee.
"Arabica? You made French pressed arabica coffee from Java?" I knew my coffee and the mug was heaven. My mouth ran without thinking. It just went to show me how brain-dead I was getting and idiotically tired.
"Just because I am a vampire doesn't mean I am uncivilized," his voice was mocking and he was still smiling. No teeth but attitude galore.
"Fine, whatever. So where are the rest of the boys?" I walked by him still sipping the brew.
The coffee was wickedly delicious. A bite of food and I may feel human soon. Just thinking about eating sent a pang through me. I'd never eat with Billy again. Stupidly sorrow laced through me and I mentally gave myself a slap. I had to drop that back to somewhere far away. I didn't need to keep dwelling on Billy. He wasn't going to suddenly be alive and I had to find out what Joel was doing to find his killer. After all, Joel had been in charge of keeping him safe. At least that's what he'd told me.
The large blond quickly outpaced me beating me to the head of the stairs. Given his long legs it wasn't a shock, but the speed with which he moved was a bit offsetting. The mythology of vampires moving rapidly wasn't a joke, it seemed.
"Joel is in the main dining room."
So many wrong thoughts ran through my head. Like what would a vampire need with a dining room much less two? Was I going to be on the menu? The simple things.
From his chuckle, I knew he was reading me. I went for the math thoughts again and watched him wince. Unlike Joel he didn't ignore the ploy, but met it head on with a growl of, "Nice use of fractals."
Damn. Math wasn't an evil thought for him, but something he actually liked. I switched to fluffy insipid thoughts of several of my girlfriends prattling on about their boyfriends and latest clothing purchases while discussing reality television. From the soft groan that worked and he dropped out of my mind. I no longer felt anything from him. No feelings of intense desire or familiarity like earlier in the bathroom. That was a huge relief. I didn't need any more stresses.
I continued trailing after him while taking quick gulps from the sturdy mug. The shower and the coffee were both working to bring me back to earth. Not that it was going to be a nice landing; I already felt the trembles and cracks along the edges. All I needed was a huge earthquake and it would all be business as usual for Southern California. Even if I wasn't exactly sure where in the Sunshine State we were exactly. I could find the general area on the map, but without the GPS in my car I'd never have known there was even a house back in the hills. The creepy factor was still slasher movie worthy.
Joel was sitting naturally at the head of the large hardwood dining room table. Not all the vampires were seated but the room was full. In fact, overly full as far as I was concern. Again it struck me that I was the only female and apparently the only living, breathing human in the house. Not pretty given the dozen or so sets of eyes looking at me. Joel met my eyes and said, "I see Theo got your clothes out of the car. Was that before or after he got you the coffee?"
He looked to the blond vampire still standing by my side. I kept my mouth shut through strength of will and not wanting to look any dumber than I already did. So the familiar-feeling vampire was named Theo. He didn't look much like a Theo. But then I was pretty sure they all had other names from before they became vampires best left buried with whatever sorts of remains they had for the casket. That naturally launched yet another weird thought and from the smirks around the table I didn't have it buried very deeply. My dancing thoughts of caskets at least amused them.
"Yes, thanks, Theo." I smiled insincerely, wondering if I should mention his very personal service and the offer to help me with whatever I needed in the shower. From the soft grunt next to me, Theo didn't want me to bring that topic up. I shelved it for future use. Joel stared intensely at us both and made a scoffing noise. I guess he wasn't buying the innocent look Theo was trying on for size. The aura of sexuality rolled off him again and I wasn't the only one shifting with the waves. He was a powerful vampire.
Moving to the chair closest to the door and furthest from Joel, I put the mug down and sat.
"So how did Billy get free and who killed him?" I went for the jugular.
A small gasp from one of the boys I didn't bother chasing with my eyes. The gasp was for my benefit since I hadn't seen vampires need to breathe. It was something done to make a point or draw out a human. I didn't bite.