Camilla was still speaking through Daisy; oddly, they both looked together from Daisy's eyes at Harry, and Camilla said, using Daisy's voice, "It's none of your concern, Harry. The Militi family is strong enough to handle the relics. The vampire council has entrusted the line with ancient treasures and more. You know that better than anyone."
The vampire was dancing Daisy from far away, but still her presence couldn't be denied. Now that I knew who she was, I noticed that her true vampiric scent tickled at the back of my throat and not in the good way. The magic she'd used to mask her blood odor on Daisy had dissipated with my knowledge. Harry had mentioned that nightmares came with the use of the relic magic and I hoped the vampire was in pain. I couldn't believe she was part of the Militi vampires' clan, and would ask Simon more later once I got home. My Master had some explaining to do but it could wait. Camilla was a total bitch and her remote mind handling of Daisy wasn't smooth. Hugh's vampire puppet master was smoother and Harry recognized him, so I'd be able to tap Harry and get the back story after we dumped Solomon's Fang on the council reps. The longer we were around the relic the more I could feel the pull and darkly sexy temptation to pull it out and find out what it actually did.
"Back to you, Natasha." She turned to me with an evil look; I could see that most of the human side of Daisy was gone. Tapping her nails on the rim of the now empty shake glass she continued, "I heard from a little bat that you are soon to be walking down the aisle." Camilla slid that odd smile back over her minion's face. A wave of strength pushed out and a chill raced down my spine and I kept from dropping my eyes. The power was cloying. Just like that, Daisy wasn't even checked into the building, but rolled far away inside her skull while Camilla pushed harder through her minion's spirit and spoke with us. I never knew she'd been part of the Militi family of vampires. Simon hadn't told me and I'd never even though to ask. From the way Harry kept watching us both I knew he picked up on our tension but wasn't sure where it was coming from.
"Oh, Camilla, you know damn well I'm just acting as Renee's maid of honor nothing more. Besides I doubt I'll be getting married to a werewolf any time soon. Simon doesn't share well, as you should recall." I went for the light comedy with a light dig at her past since I caught Renee, Carlos and Marcus out of the corner of my eye coming towards the diner. It was about to get very interesting inside the sleepy little diner.
Both of the vampire marionettes went limp for a second and I saw the complete humanity slip completely back behind their eyes as they straightened upright. Hugh and Daisy were back and both looked lost for a second. A small frown between Daisy's eyes let me know she felt the freeze burn from Camilla slurping down an entire ice-cold shake in a single breath. I sometimes wondered at how the humans felt when we vampires were manipulating them. My blood donors were filled with pleasure from my end as a rule, but Camilla didn't seem like she was careful in the handling. Daisy rubbed at a spot between her eyes with trembling fingers.
"Looks like the council members have temporarily left the building," Harry said softly grinning at me. I wasn't so sure that they'd left but I wasn't going to say anything. From the tension radiating from Hugh's thin frame I figured his vampire Master wasn't pushed that deep. Camilla was old enough to be unnoticed by the masses. Harry didn't seem to recognize her. Then Harry caught the new arrivals out of the corner of his eye and said, "And here come the fire starters."
I shook my head and made sure we hadn't been overheard. He wasn't kidding about them being fire starters. They had actually torched Archer's place and what seemed liked to be most of the surrounding county, from what we'd seen last on the news reports. The fires were running down the canyons and dry brush areas uncontained in the East County and it was all because Archer tried to kill us.
Marcus followed Renee and Carlos through the diner doors looking pretty pissed off about something. It was then that I saw Desiree trailing, looking pathetic and needy. She'd returned to human form but I could see her werewolf leaping from inside her eyes. Desiree had made some major mistakes in both pack and vampire clan politics. But weres weren't exactly known to play nice. Vampire payback was a bitch but the werewolves took it to a whole other level.
Desiree was pulled into herself like a meth addict totally strung out. I wasn't thrilled she'd survived the slayings at Archer's compound, but at the same time she hadn't done anything, other than be in the wrong place with the wrong werewolf pack. She was weak and had sided with the werewolves trying to pull apart Carlos' territory and leadership. Desiree slid inside nearly on top of Marcus' heels she was keeping so close to him. I gathered he had told her to stay with him. Her mousy brown hair was even stringier than last time I'd seen her. She wasn't happy in her human form. Her eyes met mine and I felt a pang of compassion for the were trapped inside. The wild side of her magic wanted far away from humanity. I couldn't say that I blamed her.
To my surprise, Renee looked happy and settled. I found it a bit unusual since the announcement of the vampire werewolf marriage had caused a few heads to roll. Add in the obvious and heavy-handed attempts on their lives recently the pressure was definitely on the couple. So I gathered she and Carlos must have had some fun torching the landscape. That would definitely make any vampire happy, knowing that those werewolves were extremely dead.
The waitress came from the back of the kitchen with the burgers and chili cheese fries on large plates for the council minion. She was also juggling Harry's meal and mine on her arms. I was impressed by the plate skills as she flipped them in front of us calling over her shoulder to Renee and the werewolves, "Sit wherever you want. Menus are on the table. I'll be right with you."
Marcus nodded and they took the booth next to the one were we were seated and pretended that they didn't know us. The waitress bantered with the construction workers again while making sure they had everything and then came back to take Renee and the werewolves' drink orders. We slowly picked at our meals while wondering if the nasty council vampire, Camilla, was coming back to complete the deal or if Daisy and Hugh were in charge now.
Harry asked, "So either of you been to Southern California before?" He was making small talk. They looked up while chewing their burgers like they were deer caught in headlights on the road. I found it funny seeing how their mouths were stuffed and they had no way of replying short of spitting out the food. Harry caught my eye and winked. He had done it on purpose.
Just then a large man came rushing from the kitchen (from his white apron I gathered he was the cook) and yelled, "Brittany, turn the damn TV on! Some breaking news came out about the fires on the radio. I wanna see what they're talking about!" His booming voice silenced the crowd.
The waitress, who we now knew to be a Brittany, hustled to the corner of the counter top where the coffee pots were on an elaborate array of burners and stainless steel. She turned on a small television that had been hidden by a stack of bleached white dishtowels. She moved the television so the cook could see it. He leaned up against the counter top and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He was agitated and I felt it wash over me. Whatever he had heard on the radio had unnerved him. The picture was crisp and filled with huge orange red flames licking up the landscape. Everyone watched and listened to the breaking news. The tension of the diner kicked up another notch and all the conversations completely dropped off as the news desk came into view with the logo of the station floating in the corner of the screen while a strip of information rolled along the bottom portion of the screen. The banner news feature wasn't giving much information but evacuation locations and acres burned.
A gray-haired grim-faced man held up a plain piece of paper and looked directly into the camera while the burning footage rolled dramatically behind him. Trees burst into flames like they'd been covered in gasoline and power lines melted, dripping behind the newscaster ominously. The banner flashed special news report and we all waited.
"Breaking news. The local fire chief has just reported that they have discovered the origins of the brush fire ravaging our county." A shot of horrendous flames and burning brush filled the screen behind the anchor looking seriously into the camera. "A large ranch owned by Archer Brewster has been identified as the starting point for the firestorm raging in the East County. Investigators have discovered that the propane tanks exploded due to an unpredicted pressure build up. The chief has explained that the dry conditions and poor placement of fuel for lawnmowers accelerated the flames resulting in the deaths of Mr. Brewster's family and friends. We will keep you posted as more is reported."
The news station cut to a shot of more melting wires and burning structures. The firefighters were valiantly holding hoses while flames ten feet higher than their bodies licked and raced over the brush. An inset graphic showed the various fires raging throughout the area and the percentage of containment which wasn't much more than three or four percent at best. The fires were definitely winning. I waited for the final kill shot. Then it came. The cameraman showed a house in flames and an empty baby stroller out front giving the illusion the child had been trapped inside the home. Then they cut back to the news anchor and he shook his head solemnly as the station faded to commercial.
The diner was completely silent. Then the cook said, "Well, hell. That's not good. The radio said that the fires had started running down the canyons and heading for the coast. My mom lives in Escondido and someone said that was on fire." He was agitated and we all looked up to see a commercial come on with a serious man wearing a white smock explaining the ups and downs of a dysfunction and how after four hours to see a doctor. I always thought that the average male would call all of his friends first and then maybe go to see a male doctor.
Ken called out, "You want me to run up to check on your mom, Angus?"
Angus shook his head and said, "Nah, my brother is on his way."
Everyone nodded and Angus went back to his grill; Brittany collected money from the young couple and the construction workers who started to shuffle slowly towards the door. Ken lingered and handed the waitress a few extra bucks. She blushed and touched his hand a bit longer than necessary. I shook my head and turned back to our table. Both Daisy and Hugh had finished their burgers in record time. Harry and I were still moving our food around our plates.
The biker and his artisan friend got their check and paid. Harry caught my eye and grinned. He was definitely going to find the music box for me and I suppressed a grin. Looking around I saw that vampires, werewolves and the council members minion were the only ones left in the diner. I found it amusing. The cook was back with his well-greased grill and Brittany was flitting about, fussing wiping up the tables and putting the dirty dishes and silverware into a tub. Setting the tub aside, she went to see what Renee and the werewolves wanted while we continued to move the barely touched food. Finally Harry and I shoved our plates to the ravenous minion. Hugh and Daisy dug in like they were starving. I guess being meat puppets for vampire Masters was strenuous at best. Looking at the black rings around Daisy's eyes I figured it was a bit more than just exhausting.
Once the diner had cleared of human patrons, the waitress, Brittany, finished clearing up the tables and went to the back with her gray tub. Times were tough and they didn't seem to have a busboy to fetch and carry the used dishes. Silence stretched out as Daisy and Hugh scraped Harry and my plates clean. Once they were done, they stiffened, and the Militi vampire Masters slid back in place.
"So where were we?" Camilla was back in charge of Daisy's body.
To be continued...