"Felipe has brought some of his vampires with him. They swept through a bar or two to pick up some humans to drink with-and from. Their behavior is … well, you remember how much Diane, Liam, and Malcolm disgusted you?"
The three vampires, now finally dead, had not had any qualms about having sex with humans in front of me, and it hadn’t ended there.
"Yes, I remember."
"Felipe’s ordinarily more discreet than that, but he’s in a party mood tonight."
I swallowed. "I told Eric I’d come," I said. "Felipe might take it bad if I’m not here, since I’m Eric’s human wife." Eric had coerced me into the title because it gave me a certain amount of protection.
"Eric will survive your absence," Bill said. If he’d extended that sentence, I was pretty sure the ending would have been, "But you may not survive your presence." He continued, "I’m stuck out here on guard duty. I’m not allowed inside. I can’t protect you."
Leaving the cluviel dor at home had been a mistake.
"Bill, I do pretty good taking care of myself," I said. "You wish me well, you hear?"
"I have to go in."
"Then I do wish you well." His voice was wooden, but his eyes were not.
I had a choice. I could be formal and go to the front door; a path of stepping stones branched off from the driveway and meandered up the yard to the massive front door. This path was prettily bordered by crepe myrtles, now in full bloom. My other option was to continue up the driveway, swing right into the garage, and enter through the kitchen. That was the one I chose. After all, I was more at home here than any of the Nevada visitors. I strode briskly up the driveway, my heels making a tittup sound in the quiet night.
The kitchen door was unlocked, which was also unusual. I looked around the large and useless kitchen. Someone should be guarding this door, surely, with guests in the house.
I finally realized Mustapha Khan was standing at the French windows at the back of the kitchen, past the breakfast table where no one ever ate breakfast. He was looking out into the night.
"Mustapha?" I said.
The daytime man swung around. His very posture was tense. He jerked his chin at me by way of greeting. Despite the hour, Mustapha was wearing his dark glasses.
I looked around for his shadow, but there was no Warren in sight.
For the first time, I wished I knew what Mustapha was thinking-but his thoughts were as opaque as those of any Were I’d ever encountered.
My skin crawled, but I didn’t know why.
"How’s it going out there?" I asked, keeping my voice quiet.
After a pause he answered me, his own voice just as hushed. "Maybe I shoulda gotten a job with some freakin’ goblins. Or joined the pack and let Alcide boss me around. That would have been better than this. If I was you, I’d get my ass back in the car and go home. If Eric wasn’t paying me so good, that’s what I’d do."
This was beginning to sound more and more like the beginning of a fairy tale:
FIRST MAN: Don’t cross the bridge; it’s perilous.
HEROINE: But I must cross the bridge.
SECOND MAN: Upon your life, don’t cross the bridge!
HEROINE: But I have to cross the bridge.
In a fairy tale, there’d be a third encounter; there are always three. And maybe I would have another one, yet. But I’d gotten the idea.
Anxiety trickled down my spine like sweat. I sure didn’t want to cross that bridge. Maybe I should just ease on down the road?
But Pam entered the kitchen, and my opportunity was gone. "Thank God you’re here," she said, her faint British accent more apparent than usual. "I was afraid you weren’t going to come. Felipe has noticed you haven’t put in an appearance."
"But you changed the time," I replied, puzzled. "Mustapha told me to be here …" I glanced at the clock on the microwave. "Just now."
Pam shook her head, then gave Mustapha a look that seemed more puzzled than irritated. "We’ll talk later," she told him. She made an impatient beckoning gesture to me.
I took a second to stow my purse in one of the kitchen cabinets, simply because a kitchen is the safest storage place in a vampire house. Before I followed Pam into the large open living room/dining room area, I fixed a smile on my face. I couldn’t help casting a glance over my shoulder at Mustapha, but all I saw was the blankness of the lenses of his dark glasses.
I looked ahead of me, after that. When you’re around vampires, it’s always better to have your eye on what’s coming.
Though Eric’s bold decorating had been featured in Louisiana Interiors, the photographer would hardly have recognized the room tonight. The striped drapes across the front windows were firmly drawn. There were no fresh flowers. A mixed group of humans and vampires were strewn around the large space.
A hugely muscular man with dyed blond hair was dancing with a young woman to my far left, close to the dining table, which Eric used for business conferences. As I approached, they stopped dancing and started kissing, noisily and with much tongue. A square-jawed male vampire was taking blood from a well-endowed human female on the loveseat, and he was making a messy job of it. There were blood drips on the upholstery.
Right then, I was pissed off. It added fuel to the flame when I absorbed the fact that a red-haired vamp I didn’t know was standing on Eric’s coffee table (in high heels!) dancing to an old Rolling Stones CD. Another vampire with thick black hair was watching her with casual appreciation, as if he’d seen her do the same thing many times but still enjoyed the sight. Her stiletto heels were digging, digging into the wood of the table, one of Eric’s favorite acquisitions.
I could feel my lips draw in like purse strings. A sideways glance at Pam showed me she was keeping her face as smooth and empty as a pretty bowl. With a huge effort, I wiped my own expression clean. Dammit, we’d just replaced all the carpeting and had the walls repainted after the Alexei Romanov debacle! Now the upholstery would need to be cleaned again, and I’d have to find someone to refinish the table.
I reminded myself I had bigger problems than a few stains and gouges.
Bill had been right. Mustapha had been right. This was not a place I should be. Despite what Pam had said, I couldn’t believe any of the vampires would have missed me. They were all too busy.
But then the man watching the dancer turned his head to look at me. I realized that he was a fully clothed (thank you, God) Felipe de Castro. He smiled at me, his sharp white fangs glistening in the overhead light. Yes, he’d been enjoying the dancing.
"Miss Stackhouse!" he said lazily. "I’d been afraid you wouldn’t come tonight. It’s been too long since I’ve had the pleasure of seeing you." Since Felipe had a thick accent, my name sounded more like "Meees Stekhuss!" The first time I’d met him, the king had been wearing an honest-to-God cape. Tonight he’d dressed conservatively in a gray shirt, silver vest, and black pants.