The Accidental Vampire
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"Sorry," DJ said when Victor opened the door. "We were starting to get worried. First Elvi went to unlock the door and didn't return, and then you went with the same result. We thought maybe something was wrong."
Alessandro nodded from his position on the step below DJ.
"No. Nothing wrong," Victor assured them. "Elvi just forgot and went to take a bath."
"Ah," DJ murmured, and then raised an eyebrow, obviously expecting an explanation for his own failure to unlock it.
Victor ignored the look. He stood there, solid as stone, waiting.
"Alessandro has to use the facilities and I need a bag of blood. I haven't eaten all day," DJ announced when Victor remained silent.
"Oh." Victor hesitated, his gaze moving to the closed bathroom door and then he reluctantly stepped back and gestured them in.
"Thank you," Alessandro said as he slipped out through the bedroom door Victor opened a moment later. "I'll unlock door to kitchen on my way back out."
"Good." Victor nodded, and then glanced to DJ expectantly.
Rather than leave, the man turned a serious look his way and said, "Have you fed today?"
Victor scowled. He wasn't a child to be chased after. Besides, the answer was no. He should have slipped out before cooking when he got up, but he'd wanted to be sure that breakfast was ready when Elvi awoke, so hadn't. He hadn't even thought of feeding since then, though now that DJ mentioned it, his stomach was beginning to cramp.
"You haven't, have you?" DJ's voice was full of the "Ah-ha!" factor. "I thought you looked pale."
"I'll see to it." Victor assured him, though there were other things he wanted to see to first.
DJ nodded. "I'll come with you. I can help keep an eye out and we need to talk anyway."
Victor scowled. He didn't want to feed now. He didn't want to talk now. He wanted Elvi. However, it didn't look like he was going to get what he wanted. DJ was waiting expectantly.
Sighing, he cast one regret-filled glance toward the closed bathroom door, and then stepped out in the hall, pulling the door quietly closed behind him.
"Edward mentioned something about an arrow being shot at you this evening," DJ announced abruptly as they started up the street moments later. He eyed Victor with concern. "What was that all about?"
Victor grimaced and quickly explained what had happened. He also mentioned Elvi's thoughts that it had been an accident, but that if it hadn't been, he had been the most likely target.
"You?" DJ asked with surprise. "Why would she think you were the target?"
Victor turned to the right as they reached Main Street. It was just after two A.M. on a Saturday night, closing time for the bars. The sidewalk was full of people making their way home. Victor's gaze slid predatorily over them as he explained, "She says she's lived in this area her whole life and no one has ever tried to harm her. As the outsider, she thinks I am the more likely victim."
He rolled his eyes at the ridiculous reasoning, but DJ was looking thoughtful.
"Hmm," he said finally.
"Hmm?" Victor echoed with disbelief. "DJ, no one would have any reason to try to kill me."
"Hmm-." DJ didn't look convinced, which actually made Victor take pause.
"What are you thinking?" he asked warily, his steps slowing.
DJ shrugged and released a little breath. "Well, I was thinking that if she's never had any trouble with the people of Port Henry or the surrounding area in the five years since she was turned, then it isn't likely they would try to kill her now."
"True, but there's no reason for them to kill me either," Victor said sharply.
"Well..." DJ had a sort of wince on his face.
"There is that stake bit," he said reluctantly.
"What stake bit?"
"You know. When you thought Elvi was going to bite that Owen kid and you charged through the restaurant to stake her." He shrugged. "Someone may not have believed that baloney about returning the stake as an excuse to see her. They might be trying to protect Elvi from you."
Victor frowned over the possibility. He'd forgotten that little incident. Now, he wondered...
"Where were the other men?" DJ asked suddenly.
Victor glanced at him with surprise. "Around in front of the store. Why?"
"They were all there?"
"Yes," Victor said. "Well, no. Edward wasn't there when I first rejoined them."
"Where was he?"
"He'd gone to 'find a handy bush'," Victor quoted the man. "He came around the opposite side of the building a moment later, though. Why? What are you thinking?"
DJ shrugged. "It might have been one of them."
Victor's head whipped around. "Why would one of them shoot at me?"
"To eliminate the competition?" he suggested.
Victor stopped walking and stared at him with confusion. "What competition?"
"For Elvi," DJ said patiently.
"Don't be ridiculous," Victor waved it away as ridiculous and started walking again. "They've probably all read her by now and found they can and she isn't their lifemate."
"Then why are they still here?" DJ asked reasonably.
Victor paused to think on that, but finally shook his head, unwilling to even consider that one of the other men was a lifemate to the woman he was lusting after. A feeling he hadn't had in a very, very long time and wasn't willing to ignore for anyone's sake.
"I don't know why they're still here," Victor admitted. "But they can't all be her lifemate."
"No?" DJ asked. "What about that story Harper told us the first night? About his friend and the friend's cousin who both met a woman they couldn't read?"
The reminder of the story made his stomach turn, which in turn reminded him of why they were out there on Port Henry's streets. To feed. As Victor had told Elvi, it was against their laws to feed on a mortal unless it was an emergency. For Victor, it was always an emergency. He'd been born with a genetic anomaly that wouldn't allow him to survive on bagged blood. He could consume all the bagged blood he wanted, but it was useless. He had to feed off the hoof to survive.
They were passing a park between two buildings and Victor glanced into it, noting a couple staggering through the walkway toward the parking lot on the other side. The man was obviously drunk and held no interest for him. Victor didn't wish to be intoxicated himself. The woman on the other hand had consumed a couple drinks but was only at the relaxed stage. She was stumbling under the weight of her much bigger boyfriend as she tried to steer him toward the parking lot ahead.
Victor turned into the park to offer his assistance; he would take only a small bit of blood in return for his aid. It was a fair trade to his mind. DJ followed.
Fifteen minutes and three couples later, Victor led DJ out of the park, headed for Casey Cottage.
"I suppose there is one other possibility," the young immortal said, returning to the topic they'd been discussing earlier as if it had never been interrupted.
"What's that?" Victor asked.
Victor glanced at him with surprise. "Her sire? What sire? According to Elvi, she doesn't have one."
"Yes, but we know that's not possible," DJ pointed out. "One of our kind had to have given her blood... and whoever it is may be trying to kill Elvi. Perhaps he's found out that the council is snooping around. Maybe he'd already turned someone else, she was a second turn, and this would put him in deep trouble with the council. Maybe he's trying to kill Elvi before we can discover who he is."
Victor was silent, not wanting to believe this theory, yet unable to pooh-pooh it as he had the others. Someone had turned Elvi. And they hadn't laid claim to her and trained her as a proper sire should. Even if she wasn't a second turn for this unknown immortal, he would be in trouble for that. Deep trouble. Silencing her could save his neck.
"So we still can't be sure who the arrow was meant for," Victor muttered.
DJ nodded, and then asked, "Can you read her?"
Mouth tightening with irritation, Victor admitted, "I don't know. I haven't tried."
"Why?" DJ asked with surprise.
"I just didn't think of it." Victor admitted, feeling foolish. He should have tried to read her if for no other reason than it would have sped up their work on this case. Why the hell hadn't he thought of reading her? He wondered.
Because she was distracting him with her intoxicating scent every time he was near her, and that damned wide, open, guileless smile and those big beautiful eyes, his mind answered.
"I bet you can't read her," DJ said suddenly. "I bet she's just unreadable."
Victor frowned. "Can't you read her?"
"I haven't tried," DJ admitted. "I didn't bother after I found I couldn't read Mabel." His eyes suddenly widened incredulously. "Maybe it's just the whole town. Maybe no one here can be read."
"What?" Victor asked with surprise.
"Yeah," DJ said, suddenly cheering. "Maybe it's something in the water here."
"Don't be ridiculous," Victor muttered.
"No, listen," DJ insisted. "I can't read Mabel, and none of the men can read Elvi."
"They can't?" he glanced at him with alarm. "They've admitted as much to you?"
"Well..." DJ shrugged. "Edward claims he can and is only staying because there is so much interesting architecture in Port Henry, and Alessandro says he can, but the women here are so "bella" he decided to stay the whole week, but..." He arched his eyebrows dubiously. "Come on, do you believe either story?"
Victor frowned. He hadn't considered that the others might not be able to read her. In his mind, he was slowly claiming Elvi himself. He didn't like the idea that he might have some competition.
"I think if they could read her they'd be gone already," DJ said with certainty. "Neither of them were thrilled about coming here, and the first night they were saying they were out of here the first chance they got if they couldn't read her... But they're still here." He shook his head. "They're lying. Neither of them can read her either."
"Why lie?" Victor asked with a frown.
DJ shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe they're waiting to see what happens with the council."
Victor grimaced. At the rate he'd been working, or not working as the case may be, they'd have a long wait to see what happened with the council. Raising his eyebrows in question, he asked, "What about Harper?"
DJ pursed his lips. "I don't know. I haven't had the chance to ask him yet, but I suspect he can't read her either... which just proves my point. Have you ever heard of three or four immortals not being able to read someone?" He didn't give Victor a chance to answer, but went on: "It has to be something in the water here. Or the ground or something. It makes the whole damned town unreadable."
Victor blinked in surprise at the suggestion and at the man's pleasure in thinking that Mabel might not be his lifemate, that he simply couldn't read her because the town was unreadable. But then he recalled the hard time the woman had been giving DJ and supposed it might almost be a relief to the man to think he didn't have to woo her around to his side. He was almost sorry to disabuse him of the possibility, but he did anyway, announcing, "I read Teddy Brunswick the first night we were here."
"Oh." DJ looked disappointed, and then brightened and said, "Maybe it just affects the women. Maybe the men are all still wide open, but the women are blocked."
Victor was horrified at this possibility. If so, it might mean Elvi wasn't his lifemate after all and that all these hopes that had reawakened the last few days might be just empty wishes.
He froze on the sidewalk, his mind in sudden turmoil. It might mean Elvi wasn't his lifemate after all? When had he decided she might be his lifemate? Sure, he was eating again, and okay, so he'd nearly had a heart attack when she'd fainted at the breakfast table that night, and, yes, he'd found it thoroughly enjoyable having her perched in his lap in the car, burrowing into him as if he were the only safe port in a storm. He'd also been secretly pleased when the sales manager had recognized that they were a couple. And he wouldn't deny that he was lusting after her, the first woman he'd lusted after for over three hundred years, but... a lifemate?
He could still feel her in his arms and taste her on his tongue and he wanted to feel and taste a lot more.
Crap, Victor thought with dismay. He wanted her for a lifemate. And while he hadn't tried, so had no idea if he could read her or not, DJ was suggesting that even if he couldn't, it might just be some town-wide anomaly. The women here might just be unreadable, period. That wouldn't do. It wouldn't do at all.
DJ's voice startled him from his thoughts and Victor glanced around at the dark street. They were at the corner of Elvi's road. The streets were now empty, not another female resident in sight and he suddenly needed another Port Henry female.
"Mabel," he muttered and started to walk again, moving quickly now.
"What about Mabel? Where are you going?" DJ asked anxiously, hurrying to keep up.
"To find Mabel," Victor said abruptly as he reached the gate to Casey Cottage and tugged it open.
"She's gone to bed," DJ said, following him to the front door of the house.
"Good," he snapped. "Then she'll be easy to find."
"Victor!" he cried with alarm.
When the man rushed after him and tried to catch his arm to stop him, Victor waved him away as if he were an irritating gnat. "I'm sorting this out right now."
"There are no buts," he argued. "If the women in this town are unreadable, I want to know it. It affects everything. Unreadables are almost impossible to wipe and this whole damned town needs wiping. And what the hell are we going to do if we can't wipe them? What will the council do?" While it wasn't really his main concern at the moment, it was a concern, and would do to explain his sudden determination.
"What will the council do?" DJ asked with dismay.
"I don't know," Victor admitted as he opened the front door of Casey Cottage and led the way inside. "But it won't be good. We can't have a whole town full of people knowing about us. The chance of one of them talking is astronomical. The council won't stand for it."
"Damn," DJ breathed, trailing him up the winding staircase to the second floor.
Stopping at Mabel's door, Victor raised a hand to knock, and then decided against it. If the woman was sleeping, he could slip into her mind and see if he could read it without ever disturbing her. If not, he'd claim he'd thought it was Elvi's room. Nodding to himself, he reached for the doorknob and opened the door.
Mabel wasn't asleep. She was sitting up in bed, glasses perched on her nose, and one of those torrid female romance books in her hands. She glanced up with surprise at the intrusion, and then scowled when she saw Victor standing there with DJ hovering behind.
"Have you ever heard of knocking?" she asked sharply. "What do you want?"
Victor didn't bother to answer; instead he concentrated on her forehead and sent his thoughts out to find hers. Much to his relief, he slipped into her mind like a warm knife through soft butter. His jaw immediately dropped at the thoughts and feelings whirling there.
Mabel wasn't as hard core as she'd have them believe. In fact, she was as soft as a roasted marshmallow. The hard outer casing was just a protective shell she put on to deal with the world. Her husband had been a weak man and she'd been forced to deal with everything the least bit difficult in life, from disciplining their children to handling recalcitrant servicemen and so on. Mabel hadn't been comfortable dealing with everything unsupported and had longed for her husband to be the strong male he'd seemed to be while courting her.
She'd been so unhappy, she might have divorced him, but had been pregnant with their first child by the time she'd learned the weak nature his macho approach had hidden. That hadn't seemed like a good enough reason to break up a family. After all, he wasn't a wife beater or alcoholic, she'd told herself and struggled on, taking on all the hard tasks in life in his stead.
That wasn't what had Victor's jaw dropping, however. That didn't surprise him at all. Her love and concern for Elvi had already told him she wasn't the hard case she liked to project. What made his jaw drop was the small tornado of turmoil she was suffering at their appearance.
There was no confusion in the woman's mind over Victor, his presence just annoyed her, but DJ was another matter. Mabel liked the younger immortal, which didn't bother her as much as the fact that she found him unbearably attractive. His appearance raised all sorts of longings in her and a lust like nothing she'd experienced since she was a teenager. This in turn caused guilt and horror because she thought he was so much younger than her and she thought it was disgusting to have erotic fantasies and dreams about a boy no older than her own son. The woman was finding the whole situation unbearable and heart wrenching.
"Well?" Mabel snapped the word, but he knew that her self-disgust made her tone sharper than she'd intended.
"Victor?" DJ hissed and he didn't need to read the immortals mind to know what he was asking. Could he read Mabel?
"Yes," Victor said to answer DJ's question and the realization that washed over the man's face as he accepted that she was, indeed, his lifemate was enough to make up his mind on how to answer Mabel. His own situation may be a mess, but DJ's didn't have to be.
"Hellooo!" Mabel said with irritation. "Is there a reason you've barged into my room in the middle of the night? Did you want something?"
"I don't, but DJ does. He wants you," Victor answered, collaring the younger immortal and shoving him into the room. Ignoring DJ's embarrassed protestations and Mabel's horrified squawking, Victor started to close the door, then paused. "Despite his looks, he's one hundred and eleven years old, Mabel. An older man, not a young stud. There's no reason you shouldn't enjoy each other. You can stop feeling guilty for lusting after him."
Victor pulled the door closed, but didn't leave; instead he waited and listened, then even stooped to peer through the keyhole when the silence in the room drew out. He would just stay long enough to be sure DJ didn't screw it up and they didn't need further refereeing. By his guess, DJ was either about to land his lifemate, or mess up everything.
"Did he say one hundred and eleven?" Mabel asked in a whisper after several moments of silence.
DJ cleared his throat, then finally looked at Mabel and nodded solemnly. "One hundred and twelve actually. I just had a birthday last week."
Mabel sank back against the headboard, her hands dropping weakly to her lap and taking the book with them. "One hundred and twelve," she murmured faintly, obviously having difficulty wrapping her mind around that and unsure what it meant for her.
DJ was still for so long that Victor nearly opened the door and shouted at him to get to it, but then the man suddenly straightened his shoulders and moved toward the bed. "He was also telling the truth when he said that I want you, Mabel."
"You mean to feed on?" she asked uncertainly.
"No." DJ's voice was strong now and assured as he moved around the bed and approached her. "I want you. I find you endlessly fascinating, amusing and exciting. I want you. Your body, your mind, your heart. All of you."
"No, you don't," she said with certainty. "I'm old."
"I'm older, and always will be," DJ countered easily.
"But I look old," Mabel shot back, eyes widening as he drew nearer. She began to pull the blankets up to her chin.
"I love the way you look," DJ said simply.
"Then you need glasses," Mabel said grimly. "My face is as wrinkled as a prune."
"Your face is marked with the lines of life, put there by love and laughter, suffering and tears. It's beautiful." DJ paused beside the bed and eased slowly to sit next to her.
DJ didn't wait for her to voice more fears, leaning forward, he kissed first her forehead, then her eyes, forcing her to close them, and then he kissed her on the mouth. It was a hot kiss and Victor had to bite his lip to keep from shouting out '"Atta boy!"
He almost left then, but waited to see whether she'd toss him out, or give in to the inevitable. Women could be difficult in these situations. Immortals knew that once they found a member of the opposite sex they couldn't read, they'd found their lifemate and accepted it as bond. Mortals generally took a little time to come around, fearing rushing into things and making mistakes.
DJ ended the kiss and sat back, giving her a chance to respond; both he, and Victor in the hall, waited with bated breath.
She simply sat there staring at him, her face an expressway with conflicting and confused thoughts flashing past like cars. Finally, she tossed aside the book she'd been reading, and reached for DJ.
"That a girl, Mabel," Victor breathed and started to straighten, then jerked upright at the slam of a door up the hall. Turning with alarm, he found Elvi in front of her door.