"No, Bethany, I just forgot how lovely you were. And if I haven't mentioned it yet, I am truly sorry about your Master." My head jerked slightly as my hand dropped from my lips to the tabletop. I spit out, "How could you have mentioned it to me? We haven't spoken to each other in decades -- hell, centuries." The 's' was sharply sibilant as in that word 'centuries' as anger lapped at my toes. I felt naked by his remark. Nothing on the face of it was cruel but nevertheless I found myself reacting defensively. Stupid asshats from the bar and their madly tainted blood were not helping me regain any sense of normalcy. I hadn't seen him in a century or more and he was speaking as if we'd been out of touch for mere weeks -- a month or two at the most. We'd parted ways somewhere in what was now the state of Florida. Back when it was an uncivilized, mosquito filled, dangerous place. I shook my memories away refusing to be sucked back into my yesteryears. I knew that'd serve no purpose.
"What do you want, Harry? How'd you find me?" I didn't bother asking how he knew my names but the stories of his various careers in law enforcement agencies, both recently and historically, danced into my wildly erratic thoughts.
"First, Bethany, I came to offer you any assistance you may need from the fallout that could result from the recent events that seem to have made the news here and country wide. Second, I've always kept tabs on you. I made a promise to your Master all those years ago when we were on the ocean. I thought you knew." Harry's voice was hot caramel on smooth rich vanilla ice cream. You know -- the seemingly deceptive dessert that looks innocent until the flavor bursts into your mouth lush and decadent. Like I mentioned before, we vampires didn't have to eat human food, but we could. Again, I shook my head slightly trying to knock some sense back into my brain.
The background noises were still muffled from whatever witchy spell Valerie was casting. Her eyes were still glowing vibrantly from her pale face -- Caleb was nearly slack jawed he was so transfixed by the creature -- despite my mental request that Harry have her dial it back a bit. Her idea of dialed back was definitely different than mine, but then admittedly, I had baggage concerning witches. I hadn't been kidding about my mom being a witch. She hadn't been in some grand coven from what I remember but she'd had some talents that seemingly skipped me. I had thought I wasn't in the least witchy, but my Master told me I just hadn't tried hard enough to learn my skills. Eventually I did tap into some of that hereditary talents, but I didn't actively pursue the mix of vampire and witch. The Council made intermixing the two an instant death sentence from all I had seen. Shaking my head clear of the cluttered stray memories I thought Caleb wouldn't be much use for anything so befuddled by the woman's stunning beauty.
With a direct glance into Harry's gaze I softly bit out, "Call your witch off. I would hate to cause a scene -- but damned if I'll sit here and watch him be ruined."
I did not phrase it in the least as a request and put my own brand of heat into my darkly churning thoughts. The chaos from my feeding off the sociopaths did flavor my mood and I was skilled enough to pack quite a punch -- witch or not. Even though so much time had passed, Harry knew me well enough to heed my warning. Sighing slightly, as if put off by my needs, he simply said, "Enough, Valerie, Bethany is one of my oldest," here he smirked slightly and flashed a brief smile before adding, "and dearest friends. Caleb is not a problem. Enjoy your drinks and discuss surfing." The tension rolling through my body dropped as Valerie noticeably pulled back her power. She took Harry's advice as a command because they immediately began chatting about wet suits and the various kinds of surfboard wax preferred. Caleb lost that utterly stunned look and shifted gears effortlessly arguing for some boutique mix of wax he had made locally, and he loved. I tuned them both out.
I did not thank Harry aloud, nevertheless he smiled saying, "You are quite welcome."
Ignoring his slight jab, I sipped from the mug of coffee. It really was spectacular -- I did enjoy a good coffee and was seriously putting the Pannikin on my shopping list -- sooner than later -- I hoped.
"When did you decide to start consorting with witches?" Boldly I asked, not really expecting an honest answer, Valerie's cone of silence spell seemed to be in full effect as nobody jerked around hearing my question about witches. But it was Southern California, so it didn't necessarily mean anything.
"Right after we arrived over here. The Caribbean people had different rules than their European counterparts and I wanted to know what to expect as we got to the Americas." Harry easily referenced the native tribe of allegedly cannibalistic people on various West Indie islands and other Caribbean lands.
I was taken back -- from my growing recollections of Harry I hadn't noticed him talking with anyone when we first arrived from Europe on one of the ships that carried my Master and our entourage from the disease-ridden and rapidly overcrowded Old World. Our captain was actually from the Scandinavian portion of Europe but flying under the radar as just vaguely European. His skills as a smuggler and thief were known to my Master and part of the attraction. I had been much younger, and the New World was extremely different than what I'd grown up around and where I'd been raised. I admit to a naive nature I've long lost -- at least to myself.
There had been many unusual and strange things I'd witnessed once we'd left continental Europe during the lengthy trip. Many unknown creatures and nasty humans to distract me from watching Harry and what he and his minions were doing. Our ship hadn't travelled across the Atlantic alone but in a fleet of various sizes of hearty watercrafts. Privateers or pirates -- depending on who was your monarch -- were a well-established trade during those times. The Vikings we travelled with were masquerading in the fleet as vague European sorts I'd heard from my Master. I didn't question him as a rule but listened carefully to all those he spoke with and to during the long voyage.
Unlike the dashing handsome young men who rescued distraught damsels from peril and tormented evil monarchies these pirates were hard men with their own set of codes and rules of behavior. Anything on the ocean was declared fair game by their convoluted reasoning and sketchy parchments giving them permission to raid ships and take anything they could. They took this to mean that they could strip the ships they captured of all their supplies, gold, silver, gems and remove any fit men to join their cadre, given shares of the loot or be forced to become pirates. Women weren't left alive as a rule or even of sound mind once damaged by the invaders. I'd overheard and witnessed that boats were usually broken down for parts and could be burned up for cooking and heat.
As my mind skittered through our shared past, I found Harry carefully watching me for any visible reactions. Still fogged by the previous escapade's blood I refrained from adding a reply or asking another foolish question. Harry exuded more strength than I'd seen in a while and I still had yet to really discover why he'd called this meeting. Our dinner arrived and Jen hovered while several waiters put our plates in front of us. After she asked us if we needed anything else, we sent her off. Valerie and Caleb continued discussing more local surf spots while Harry and I sat quietly, hopefully unnoticed by nearby diners.
Picking up a fry I dipped into one of the small sauces on my plate and nibbled. I wasn't in the least hungry but wanted to appear to be a typical restaurant patron. Nothing to see here just move along. I saw that Harry was doing the same thing while still not offering me anything else about our meeting. The ocean scent was heavy on the air and the nearby sounds still muffled by Valerie's craft.
Finally, Harry ventured, "Things have grown noticeably problematic on the West Coast."
I kept my 'duh' comment to myself; my own behavior was nothing compared to what had been happening around the state. Too many Masters seeking territory not readily available or even possibly up for grabs, by any means necessary. The local bushfires had covered up a few missteps but not exactly what vampires needed right now. As the Masters' need for power was growing and the available territory already taken it was definitely an issue. Violence was the language being used to negotiate. Heads were literally rolling, and I'd heard of werewolves and witches heavily in the mix. Looking over at Valerie sitting at the table I understood that more was going on locally than even I'd imagined.
"The Council has decided to take a more hands-on approach to the current problem. Naturally, they'd hoped the local unsanctioned Masters and their ill-created minions would work out the issues without any assistance from them. But honestly, I feel, much of what has happened here and up the Coast was being ignored as unworthy of their time or any of their special sort of attention." His voice was even and unremarkable. Nothing he said could be overheard causing troubles with Valerie's active spell, but Harry could still be noticed if he grew agitated despite the silence. I picked at my plate still wondering why Harry 'had to' see me. I don't do politics -- ever -- and with his advanced level of snooping via his position he had to know that this hadn't changed in my world.
I arched an eyebrow as I forked off a bite of the fish. Harry continued, "The Council hoped that the power players would solve the local troubles and come to accords and agreements without any interference or decisions needed from the East Coast." He quite nicely articulated the problem with cool business phrases how the Council had obviously hoped that key West Coast vampires would slaughter each other, leaving a clear victor without having to sacrifice any Eastern blood. Typical of the Council and from the smile on Harry's face, he agreed.
I tapped a nail against the coffee mug in front of me and asked, "So why are you here? It's not like I can help." It was true as I had no Master or true minions to call, I was pretty much useless to the power playing sorts. I actively worked on staying under the radar for the most part. Okay, so like the previous night's mishap wasn't a great moment for me, but I could defend my feasting on those predators since I'd unintentionally discovered their slaughter of innocent women, and they definitely had needed to be removed from the playing board. Vampires really didn't care for competition of prey or predators with desires that mirrored ours because it caused unnecessary headlines.
Harry flickered a direct look to Valerie, and she did something underneath the table. My ears popped as a total vacuum descended on our table. Now nothing could be heard but Caleb's eating, no crashing waves or inane chattering of people near us. I knew that we were still insulated from being overheard but this seemed deeper to me -- as if Valerie removed us from being detected by other supernaturals. She was strong and I had to give her props for knowing her talents even if she still bugged the crap out of me. Harry's face grew serious as he spoke, "Actually, Bethany, you can help if you wish. There are far too many players on the West Coast running uncontrolled. These are unnecessarily younger vampires with too many minions and too few true Masters."
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