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Moonlight, Mystery, and Magick
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When he was a child, Cesca’s sweetie Saber was forced to ingest both vampire and werewolf blood, leaving him in a nether world between human and not. Now an illness connected to the mysterious Void is sweeping through the supernaturals of Florida and Cesca will do what she must to save her man. And darned if that doesn’t mean she must confront and seek help from Triton, a shapeshifter who was part brother, part girlhood first love.
I stopped cold. Oh, no. Oh, God, no. Saber had symptoms of the sickness. Irritability in spades, plus he’d been falling asleep by midnight instead of his usual two in the morning. Come to think of it, our lovemaking had slacked off.
Conclusion? Saber was infected or feared he was, and he couldn’t bring himself to tell me.
Every muscle trembled as I pulled myself to my feet, skirted the coffee table, and walked into his arms.
“Deke,” I whispered, using the name I reserved for our most intimate moments. “Don’t worry. If you’re infected, we’ll fix it. We’ll find the Void, kill it, and cure you. I swear. I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Maybe he knew I was talking a good game. Maybe he knew I wasn’t as confident as I made myself sound. Maybe that’s why he hesitated before he hugged me tighter.
“You’ll do whatever it takes?”
“Absolutely,” I said, leaning away to cup his cheek in my palm.
He gave me a slow smile.
“Good. Then let’s go see Triton.”
Triton? Oh, pelican poop.
Ocean Enchanments, Triton’s new store.
I’d seen the two-story, 1950s structure every time I’d come to the island to surf. Built slightly catty-corner to Anastasia Boulevard in the shadow of the lighthouse, the cinder-block building housing Triton’s store had been stark white with blue trim around the front door and the many oversized windows. Now it sported palm-frond green paint with deep gray green trim that should have been soothing. And the mermaid-shaped sign in bright, iridescent colors that swung from the store’s covered entrance? That should’ve been cheery. Instead it creaked as if the salt air had already corroded the metal rings.
Since I didn’t feel all that enchanted, soothed, or cheery at the moment, I took the creepy creaking as an omen. A very bad omen, I decided when a gust of wind made the sign screech again.
But, hey, I’d faced down killers. In comparison to that, this meeting would be a snap.
The bell over the ornately carved door tinkled when Saber shoved it open, but the sound faded as I was embraced by the soothing shades of beach sand, ocean blue, and polished wood. On my right, L-shaped antique glass display cases offered coins and jewelry, fans and snuffboxes, and much more. To the right and straight ahead, rough-hewn tables displayed vignettes of everything from weaponry to housewares. Art gallery lighting picked up the rich hues and textures where the natural light from the large picture windows didn’t reach.
A faint chime drew my attention to the back wall where part of a small-ship’s bow jutted into the room. The two tones of satiny wood shone like milk and dark chocolate, and the furniture nearby was staged to resemble the interior of a captain’s quarters—much like my father’s quarters had been on his favorite ship.
Then I saw Triton, rising from a barrel chair.
“Cesca, Saber,” he said as he strode toward us. “Good to see you.”
The men shook hands, all cordial and normal.
I stood very still, braced for an emotional riptide.
One that didn’t come. No churning of angst or anger. No wave of lost-love regret. Only a ripple of nostalgic tenderness fluttered in my chest. As I stared, the image of Triton the youth in his homespun work clothes overlaid that of Triton the man in his charcoal suit and white shirt.
He’d always been model handsome in face and physique, but he’d grown a man’s body. Taller than I remembered, Triton’s swimmer’s shoulders were wider, his chest deeper. His rugged features, so like his adoptive Greek father’s, had lost their sharpest angles. I knew him to be a year older than I, but only a few fine lines around his cocoa brown eyes and perhaps a hint of silver in his tobacco brown hair aged him. Of course, the suit matured him, too, but as boy and man, the guy was a timeless hunk and a half.
Funny. I’d known Triton since we were toddlers. We’d shared a telepathic connection and more adventures than I could count, and he’d been my first crush. Even when he made his “let’s be friends” feelings clear, I’d still loved him. All that time, and I’d never pictured Triton in a suit and tie.
“I had a meeting today, Cesca.”
My gaze shot up from his tie to his cocoa brown eyes. “What?”
“That’s why I’m wearing a suit today.”
“You read my thoughts?”
He gave me the cocky grin I remembered from our youth. “We’ve still got the mojo.”
“What you have is the ego,” I zinged back, a hand on one hip.
“Same old Cesca,” he said with a wide grin. “The girl who’d take on any bully or BSer in town. My dear tyranoulitsa.”
I froze, my throat suddenly clamped around a sob. One word, echoing across the centuries, triggered emotions merely seeing him hadn’t.
A kaleidoscope of images flashed in my mind’s eye. Triton and me together, inseparable friends, occasional pranksters, clandestine adventurers.
Heart thudding, it took me three tries to gulp away the choking lump and draw a slow breath to speak.
“I-I’d forgotten that.”
Triton quirked a smile. “What?”
“That you used to call me little tyrant.”
The smile widened. “You used to box my ears for it, too, when you could catch me.”
His teasing eased the tightness in my chest.
“I caught you often then and I’m faster now, so don’t mess with me.”
“You two always got along this well, huh?”
I pivoted to Saber to find him grinning. An honest, full-out grin. An expression I hadn’t seen in weeks.
“Yeah,” Triton drawled. “I’d say this is typical.”
Saber laughed then, and the irritations I’d harbored with Triton fell away. It was worth any price if Saber stayed alive and healthy to laugh with me for a very long time to come.
Last Vampire Standing
Cesca Marinelli is on an afterlife high until a budding stand-up comic, Jo-Jo the Jester, escapes from his Atlanta nest looking for sanctuary. Jo-Jo may put a new bite in comedy, but things hidden in the shadows aren't so funny, and one of them is hiding an energy-sapping plague that's knocking off the country f's head vamps. Will Cesca get the last laugh, or will a killer be the last vampire standing?
Excerpt from Last Vampire StandingThere are times when I want to roll my eyes so far back in my head, I'm sure I'll see my brains. That's one way to have them examined.
And this was one of those times.
High above the wind-whipped whitecaps, I stood quaking in my sneakers on the temporary bridge spanning Matanzas Bay, the one in use while the old Bridge of Lions was being rebuilt. Sure I was safe on the pedestrian walkway for now, squarely behind concrete barricades topped with strong metal railings. But I wouldn't be high and dry for long, not if I went through with this lunacy.
"Guys, for the last time, I am not taking a flying leap off this bridge. Somebody's watching. I can feel it, and they're going to report me as a jumper."
Saber put an arm around my shoulders and huddled the three of us closer so he didn't have to shout over the wind.
"Cesca, it's nearly two in the morning. There is no traffic right now, so we won't alarm drivers. Plus I called the city police and the sheriff's office to tell them we're conducting an experiment."
"In what? Doing belly busters off the bridge?"
"You're not going to fall, honey. You're going to fly."
"Besides, Highness, you're the one who insisted we practice over water."
"I didn't mean from a million feet in the air." Another strong gust blew, and I death-gripped the railing. "Why can't I jump off something shorter?"
"Like what?" Saber asked.
"Like a curb," I snapped.
"My lady, you have to be high enough to catch the updrafts," Jo-Jo said.
I could tell his patience was waning, but me jump off the bridge? Not in this afterlife.
Saber rubbed his forehead. "I have an idea."
"Oh, goody, another one?"
"Jo-Jo, how much weight can you carry when you fly?"
"Saber," I said, partly objecting to another scheme, and partly to insist that someone watched us.
"Are you thinking I should take the Princess up for a test spin? Like a tandem parachute jump?"
"Exactly. Can you do it?"
Jo-Jo looked uncomfortable. "I can if Highness will allow me the liberty of touching her person."
Both men looked at me.
"Face and conquer your fear, honey," Saber challenged.
I hate it when he's right, and short of making a dash for freedom, I was stuck on the damned bridge. For the moment.
I squared my shoulders. "Fine. How do you want to do this, Jo-Jo?"
"Let's give the piggyback position a go."
He crouched, and Saber gave me a boost onto Jo-Jo's bony back. It was like mounting a malnourished horse. I feared I'd slide right off, but Jo-Jo hooked his arms under my legs.
"Good, Princess. Now put your arms around my neck while I climb up and test my balance with you on my -- aargh," he croaked. "Arms. Too. Tight."
I loosened my hold on his neck, then slid off his skinny back when he arched to rub his throat.
Attempt aborted, which was fine by me. I still felt watched, and the watcher was creeping closer.
I peered into the shadows, even used my vamp vision, but saw nothing. I didn't smell anything either--like Gorman's foul breath--but I wouldn't if the lurker was downwind. Should I alert Saber?
"Cesca, pay attention," Saber hollered and tipped his head toward Jo-Jo, who gave his abused neck one last rub.
"By your leave, my lady, I'll hold you in front of me. You'll be able to feel the liftoff better from this position anyway. May I demonstrate?"
I shrugged, and he stepped behind me. His arms around my rib cage, he told me to start walking with my right foot.
"You won't take off without warning me, right?" I yelled over my shoulder.
He shook his head, so I stepped when he did. One. Two. Three.
"Good, Princess. Now we do it for real."
"We're not going to climb on the rails?"
"No. Hold on."
His leg nudged mine.
One step. Gulp.
Two steps. Eek.
Three steps. Panic.
My rubbery legs suddenly locked, and I dug the heels of my tennis shoes into the concrete.
Jo-Jo tripped over me, and we stumbled forward like a couple of stooges.
"Are you all right, Princess?" Jo-Jo asked when we'd righted ourselves, his arm still curled around my waist.
"Fine, and I'm sorry. Really. I'm just positive someone is watching."
At that moment, a flash of golden fur landed smack in front of us, and a brain-rattling "Rrryyow" rent the night.
Jo-Jo screamed, "Aaaiiieeee," tightened his hold around me, and vaulted away from Pandora.
Next thing I knew, I was dangling from Jo-Jo's crooked arm, ten feet away from the bridge and a hundred feet over dark, churning water.
La Vida Vampire
Gidget with Fangs? Cowabunga! Buried for more than 200 years, Cesca Marinelli is unearthed in a time when vampires are a protected species. She dives into her second chance at afterlife and is soon living la vida vampire … until the tide turns and brings a stalker, a shifter, and a killer into her path. Now Cesca must team up with sexy ex-vampire slayer Deke Saber. If she doesn't, she could be the next victim - and this time, the wipe out will be permanent.
Excerpt from La Vida Vampire
I arrived at the same substation on St. George Street where music pulsed from the Mill Top Tavern and Mick paced the small plaza dressed in street clothes and a windbreaker.
"God, Cesca, don't you ever check your damn cell phone?" was his cheery greeting when he spotted me. "Janie and I have tried to reach you a dozen times."
"I've been on the dead run all day."
"Dead run? Har, har." He punched me on the shoulder, the good one. "Seriously, answer you cell now and then. We were worried about you."
"Hell, yes. For some reason we like you."
I grinned. "Thanks. Hey, you're not on rotation tonight, are you?"
"No. I volunteered to give you this personally." He passed me a rolled piece of paper and a pen. "It's the medical waiver."
I unrolled the form, scanned it, signed it and handed it back.
"I'll take this to the office in the morning," he said, tucking the form and pen in his windbreaker. "You talk to the cops yet?"
"For more than two hours this afternoon."
"Have they found Stony?"
I pulled my hood tighter as a gust of wind blew off the bay. "They have a sketch but I don't know how hard they're looking for him."
"Well, Janie and I put in the good word for you."
"Thanks." I smiled and looked around. "Is any one signed up for the late tour?"
"Yeah, nine hearty souls. You're stopping at the drugstore, right?"
He meant the building that housed the oldest drugstore, circa 1737. The building was once a house of revelry north of town, then moved and plopped atop an Indian burial ground that was part of the Tolomato Cemetery. The drugstore is one of the most haunted places in an entire downtown of haunted places, and one of the buildings I'd skipped on Tuesday's tour.
"Yep, that's on tap tonight."
"Mind if I tag along for a while? Ghosts flock to you, and I want to find the one that bit my arm last week."
"Fine by me, but I've had two weird tours this week. Sure you want to risk another?"
"I'll chance it. I brought my digital Kodak. And if the ghost biter doesn't show, maybe Stony will."
"Oh, yeah, I'd love to hand his mug shot to the cops."
"Great minds think ali- What the heck?"
I turned in time to be engulfed in a Shalimar embrace.
"Francesca, you poor dear!" Shalimar Millie was back and dressed in Jacksonville Jags sweats again-minus the visor-as were two other ladies from Monday's tour. Their purses were beach bag-sized and hitched on their shoulders.
"Millie, you're all right," I said, smiling.
She pulled away, looking part confused, part indignant. "Did you think I was ill?"
"Oh, uh, no," I stammered to cover my apparent gaffe. In my admittedly limited experience, people of a certain age either complained about infirmity or denied it. "You just looked tired, or um, worried or something on Tuesday night."
She flipped a hand. "I simply had some unfinished family business on my mind."
"Well, I'm glad you're back."
"Oh, we plan to keep coming back." She nodded firmly. "We've adopted you."
I stared for beat. "Excuse me?"
"We're sure that frightful man from the other night killed the Frenchwoman and is trying to pin it on you." She smiled broadly. "Until that troublemaker is caught, two or three of us will take every tour you lead. And," she added, patting her purse, "we'll be packing."
My mouth fell open. Packing? As in armed? I wanted to laugh until I realized she was perfectly serious. Then I felt my eyes widen and stuttered, "B-but ma'am you don't need-"
"Not ma'am, just Millie. That's Grace Warner and that's Kay Sims," she said, pointing to ladies who both had short silver hair and identical determination-stamped expressions.
"Millie, I appreciate your thoughtfulness, but-"
"No buts," she said, holding up her beringed hand. "Some people adopt highways. We're adopting you. We have disposable incomes, senior discounts, and we'd love to help nail that nasty man. Not that the Frenchwoman wasn't a pariah, but that wasn't your fault."
I had two seconds to digest Millie's announcement-and puzzle over her pariah comment-when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I nearly jumped out of my shoes as I spun around to find a twenty-something man in jeans and Flagler College sweatshirt standing almost on top of me. When did he sneak up? Vampire Senses Stunned by Shalimar Lady. Film at eleven.
"Ms. Marinelli? Paul Thoreaux. Has the sheriff's department made any progress on the French Bride murder?"
"Hunh?" Quick when I'm startled, aren't I?
"Are you a suspect in the case?"
Yikes, a reporter? I glanced at the press ID clipped to the sweatshirt and gathered my sadly scattered wits.
"I don't think I can comment other than to say I had no reason to harm the bride, and the groom has my sincerest condolences."
"He says you didn't do it."
I blinked. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer tonight. "Who and what are you talking about?" I asked.
"The husband. Etienne Fournier. He says you didn't kill his wife but thinks some guy who was following them around did it."
"Stony, the Covenant guy?" I asked.
"The guy following them was an honest-to-God Conenant?" Reporter Paul all but wagged his tail in excitement. "Shit, they play rough, but I didn't think they bothered regular people." He darted me a glance. "No offense."
"None taken, but Mr. Fournier is right. I didn't kill his wife."
"That remains to be seen," a deep, mellow voice said from my right.
I turned. In slow motion. Hoping what I heard would prove to be a trick of the wind.
It wasn't. Deke Saber sauntered toward our little group in the same clothes he'd worn this afternoon minus the sunglasses. The jacket was buttoned to hide his gun, but I saw the slight bulge at his hip. Could this day get any worse?
I didn't even try for tactful. "What are you doing here?"
"Taking in the sights," he said mildly.
"You're taking my tour?"
"Who's this guy?" Reporter Paul asked, all eagerness.
"I'm a new ... acquaintance of Ms. Marinelli's," Saber said.
"She doesn't look happy to see you," Millie shot back.
"I'm hoping to grow on her." He flashed the kind of smile meant to charm the support hose off the older ladies.
Shalimar Millie didn't fall for it, bless her. "Humph. Handsome is as handsome does."
"Hell," Reporter Paul groused. "I thought you were that Stony guy. The one stalking the French couple."
"Oh, no," Millie supplied. "That man had a long scar on his face. If he tries to pull anything tonight, we'll shoot him."
Paul blinked long eyelashes.
"That's right," I jumped in. "These ladies are armed with their digital cameras tonight. So is Mick." I pointed to my colleague's goofily grinning face. "He's also a guide. Maybe you should talk to him."
The reporter brightened and headed toward Mick, whose goofy grin morphed into a dirty look at me.
I spun toward Millie and her merry band and shooed them back a few paces. "Ixnay on the gun-ay talk-ay, ladies," I whispered hoping Saber couldn't hear.
"Why? I have a permit," Millie said.
"To carry concealed weapons?" I hissed in frustration.
"We're seniors. The fuzz won't bust us," Silver Kay said.
"Not unless we actually shoot someone," Grace added.
Millie shook her head at me. "My dear, you're looking awfully frazzled. Did you get a chance to, uh, eat tonight?"
"Maybe you should've had a double," Saber drawled.
I jerked around to find him closer than he should've been. Super Hearing Fails Vampire Again.
Millie sniffed. "Maybe you're the problem, Mr.-"
"Are you the vampire?" a new voice on my left demanded.
I glanced over my shoulder to see four women dressed in more leather than an entire herd of cows. Black leather bustiers, second-skin pants, ankle boots with three-inch heels and long coats. Their acrylic nails-and exposed midriffs-were stark white in contrast. So were the fake fangs flashing behind bright red lips. None of them more than twenty-five or six, they made the goth gang look mature and well-dressed by comparison. Worse, faint bite marks dotted their necks and exposed arms.
I was thinking, Yikes, but must've nodded.
The tallest of the foursome, long-legged and black-haired, looked me up and down. "We're going on your tour."
"To check you out for the Daytona vampirth," a blonde added, lisping the s. Pointing to the tallest girl first, she introduced them as Claire, Barb and Tetha. "And I'm Thithi."
I almost said, "I'm Thethca," but caught myself when Barb and Tessa, both redheads, waggled their fingers and flashed big fangy smiles at Saber.
"We've missed seeing you at the club," Tessa pouted.
Yeesh. Wasn't his just peachy. Gun toting seniors, a reporter, Saber, and now blood bunnies. That's what they had to be. Human women who wore fake fangs and got their jollies hanging out with vampires. I'd read an article about blood bunnies, but seeing them was another plane of weird. If Stony did show, it'd be the highlight of the evening.
Saber had mentioned Ike this afternoon. Now the blood bunnies show up. Coincidence? I thought not.
I wanted to bang my head on the nearest coquina wall.
I plastered on a smile instead. "Welcome to the Old Coast Ghost Walk. We're a bit late getting started, so hand me your tickets, and let's get right along, shall we?"
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