The Accidental Vampire
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Victor had nearly reached the back booth when Teddy Brunswick suddenly stepped in his way.
"What are you doing, son?" The officer asked grimly.
Victor started to slip into his mind to make him step aside, and then hesitated as he realized another man had moved up behind Brunswick, backing him up... And another.
Stiffening, Victor peered slowly around to see that the male patrons seated nearest them were stiff and narrow-eyed, ready to step in should the need arise. It wasn't until DJ spoke that he realized the younger immortal had followed and now had his own back.
"What do we do?" DJ breathed, his voice so low that only Victor could have heard him.
"Son," Brunswick growled before he could answer DJ. "I asked you a question. What are you doing? You weren't thinking to hurt our Elvi, were you?"
Aware of the sudden shifting around them, Victor glanced about to see that the mortal men were starting to look mean, very much resembling a lynch mob as they closed in. He also noted that Alessandro, Harper, and Edward had moved up to stand behind DJ, offering their support if necessary, but Victor didn't want this to turn into a brawl.
Between their increased strength and their ability to control minds, it would be no problem for the five of them to deal with this crowd, but he didn't want to clean up the mess afterward. The idea of wiping every mind of every patron in the restaurant was wearying, besides it was a risky business. If even one person proved difficult to wipe and managed to retain their memories, they could draw out the memories of the others and it would have been a complete waste of time. He may yet have to wipe the memories of all these people, but would rather avoid it if possible. Victor had no idea what was going on, what these people did or did not know, and didn't want to force such an action until he did.
Taking a deep breath, he lied, "No, of course not. You misunderstood. I had no intention of hurting Elvi. I was just eager to meet her."
"Uh-huh." Brunswick didn't look as if he believed him and Victor understood why when the man asked, "Then why are you clutching Lerner's stake in your hand?"
Victor peered down with surprise at the small wooden stake that he'd apparently pulled from his back pocket as he'd rushed forward. He hadn't been aware he'd done so. Now, he held it out to Brunswick.
"I was bringing it to you... as an excuse to come to the table and meet Elvi."
The officer eyed him narrowly for a moment and then allowed his gaze to move over the other three immortals behind them. Apparently none of the "suitors" gave away the game by expression. Brunswick relaxed the tiniest fraction.
"Trying to get the jump on the other men," he suggested.
"Something like that," Victor muttered.
Brunswick nodded slowly, but apparently wasn't totally convinced. He took the stake, but then peered more closely at him. "Show me your teeth again, son. I didn't get a real good look when you were showing them to Vlad."
Victor stiffened. Obviously, the man wished to assure himself he didn't have another vampire hunter on his hands. Victor resented having to prove his status, but suspected he wouldn't get near Elvi if he didn't so opened his mouth and then allowed his incisors to slip down and protrude.
Teddy Brunswick examined them thoroughly, even reaching out to poke at them to ensure they weren't some sort of insert. Seemingly satisfied, he then nodded and relaxed completely.
"Okay, but this is Owen's moment. You can talk to Elvi afterward." Teddy Brunswick gestured to the table where he'd seated the five men earlier. "Go sit down. Mabel and I will join you in a moment."
Victor glanced past Brunswick and saw Elvi glancing curiously their way as she listened distractedly to a smiling, chattering and unbitten Owen. Nodding reluctantly, he turned and led the other immortals back to their assigned table.
"So you are here on council business," Edward commented as the men reclaimed their seats.
"I was afraid of that," Harper murmured. "I suppose the council wasn't pleased by her advertising in the single's columns."
"Not very, no," Victor admitted.
"I was sure she was going to bite him right there in front of everyone," DJ said apologetically, his gaze shifting back to the birthday booth. His eyes then moved around the crowded restaurant, taking in each patron. "Do you think they all know?"
"How could they not?" Victor asked, following his gaze with a frown. He and DJ might have more on their hands than they'd expected with this case.
"So, what does the council intend to do about Elvi?" Edward asked.
The man's expression was calculating. Victor had no doubt he was considering what this might mean should she turn out to be his lifemate. He glanced at the faces of the other two prospective suitors. All of them were concerned, and with good reason.
"It isn't just the ads," he said finally. "There are rumors running rampant all over the Toronto club scene that there's a female vampire living in one of the small, lakeside towns in southern Ontario."
The three men were silent, only their expressions revealing that they understood the gravity of the matter. There were few laws among their people, but they were important laws and not drawing attention to themselves or the existence of their people was right up there in importance. Another was they weren't allowed to bite a mortal... except in cases of an emergency.
His gaze slid to the corner booth again. The woman was laughing at something the teen had said. The boy seemed totally at ease now and he was as lit up as a Christmas tree, apparently his fears had abated. It didn't matter. They weren't allowed to bite because it increased the risk of detection for their people and she apparently intended to bite the boy and, from what Brunswick had said, he wouldn't be the first.
"And she appears to be biting mortals," Alessandro murmured, apparently thinking along the same lines.
Victor didn't comment. He glanced around the restaurant, slipping quickly and easily into various minds. As he'd feared, every single person here knew that Elvi was a vampire... and that he and the other men there were too.
Elvi Black was in a great deal of trouble with the council. The kind that could see her staked and left out in the sun all day, then beheaded. He sincerely hoped she wasn't a lifemate to any of the men here.
Victor glanced up with a start to find Brunswick had returned, managing to do so without his hearing or noticing it.
"Okay," Brunswick repeated now that he had everyone's attention. "Mabel and I think it would be best to quickly introduce the bunch of you, and then Elvi will take Owen back to her office for his Birthday Bite. When Mabel goes back to collect the boy, she'll explain what you're doing here, then she can join your table and-"
"What do you mean she'll explain what we're doing here?" Harper interrupted. "She knows. She invited us."
Brunswick grimaced. "Actually, she didn't. Mabel put the ad in the single's column and responded to all your e-mails, then invited you down here for the week. Elvi has no idea about any of this."
"I told you our kind wouldn't be stupid enough to put an ad in a single's column," DJ said with satisfaction.
"No, but your kind are stupid enough to answer it," Brunswick snapped, his face flushed with either embarrassment at being involved in this match-making attempt, or just plain irritation. Possibly, it was both.
"So, she wasn't advertising?" Harper cast a hopeful look Victor's way that seemed to say, Here's one less sin on her list at least.
But it was only one, Victor thought, his mouth tightening. He turned his attention back to Brunswick and said, "There are rumors all over the club scene about a beautiful young female vampire residing in a small southern town. Like this one."
"Yes," DJ said, picking up his intent. "Does Elvi go to Toronto and visit the clubs?"
"Well..." Brunswick looked slightly embarrassed and glanced away. "She... er... we..."
"Does she?" Victor asked, impatient with his dithering.
"No," Brunswick admitted reluctantly. He ran one hand agitatedly through his hair before explaining, "You see, this is a small town."
No one commented on this obvious statement.
"There's one high school and we all went there together. We're pretty tight because of that, I guess, but over the last five years or so we've lost several of our group. Mabel's husband died six years ago of a heart attack. Elvi's husband and daughter in a car accident a year later, then Elvi turned..." He frowned. "It's all been downhill from there. We've lost one or two a year since then, but this year we lost three in a row in a six-month period. We're at that age," he acknowledged solemnly.
Victor remained silent, aware of the discomfort of the other immortals. There was a certain amount of guilt attached to the knowledge that this was not a problem they suffered. Heart attacks, cancer, and so on weren't an issue for them. Victor himself was over two thousand years old. Age wasn't a threat to his kind like it was to mortals.
"We all took the deaths hard," Brunswick went on, "but Elvi seemed to take it worse. She's watching her friends and loved ones die around her and realizes she'll soon be completely alone. Of course, the younger set will step up and befriend her, I'm sure, but it won't be the same. Besides, they'll die soon enough too, and so on." He frowned down at the table and ran his finger around one of the ceramic tiles before admitting, "We don't like the idea of leaving her behind to go through that alone."
Victor's eyes widened at the knowledge that-as they realized their own mortality-these two people, Mabel and Brunswick, were more concerned with their immortal friend being left behind alone, than with how death was creeping up on them. It impressed him and made him curious too.
Victor had always avoided attachments to mortals precisely because they weren't around long in the grand scheme of things. If an average life was sixty-five years, he'd lived more than thirty-four lifetimes. Spending that time watching friends die around you one after another just didn't bare thinking about.
"So..." Brunswick straightened. The pink flags in his cheeks announced that he was embarrassed by what he was about to say and his expression was pained. "Barney and I took a couple trips up to Toronto some months ago."
"Barney?" DJ queried lightly.
"Unbelievable," Victor muttered.
"What's that?" Brunswick asked.
"Nothing. Go on. You and Barney made a couple trips to Toronto."
"Yes." He looked uncomfortable again. "We were thinking if there were any vampires in Canada besides Elvi, they'd be in a big city like Toronto. We went looking for some."
This then was how the rumors had started going around the clubs, Victor realized. "You hit the club scene?"
Brunswick nodded. "It was Barney who thought we were more likely to find them at the clubs. He said if there were some, they probably didn't have a town like Port Henry to support and help them get what they needed and he figured they'd probably... er... hunt at the clubs."
He grimaced apologetically, then admitted, "We were too old for the clubs. The young women thought we were a couple of old perverts. No one would tell us anything. After the third trip with no results, Mabel decided to go the way of the singles ads. She felt sure there must be at least one lonely male vampire out there."
"I thought she was crazy, but..." He gestured around the table. "Her way was more successful than our attempts."
The men at the table were silent for a moment, and then DJ stood abruptly. "I need to go to the men's room. Victor?"
Nodding, he stood to follow, knowing the younger immortal wanted to discuss this latest information.
"I thought only girls traveled to the bathroom in packs, but you male vamps do it too, huh? Is it in case someone tries to stake you while you're taking a leak?" Brunswick asked as they moved away from the table, and then added, "You won't have to worry about that here. We're vampire friendly in Port Henry."
Victor ignored him, his mind chewing over what he'd learned as he followed DJ to the washroom and waited as he slipped into the minds of the few men there and made them leave, done with their business or not.
"Well?" DJ said as the door closed behind the last man. "Can we go home now? She didn't put the ad in the paper or spread the rumors around Toronto."
"No," Victor acknowledged. "But she has shared the knowledge of her existence with mortals."
DJ waved that away impatiently. "There's no law against that. Marguerite's servants know, and most immortals have one or two mortals in the know. Hell, half of Argeneau Enterprises is made up of mortals who are aware of the secret and sworn to silence on the matter."
"But Brunswick and the other mortals here aren't staying silent on the matter," Victor pointed out.
DJ ran a hand through his hair in agitation. It was obvious that the more they learned about the woman, the more the younger man was feeling sympathy for her.
Victor suspected he was thinking none of this was her fault, but Victor knew the council wouldn't see it that way. Immortals were extremely careful of whom they shared the information with for precisely this reason, and if nothing else, Elvi Black had failed to ensure the people she entrusted the information to were trustworthy. Having a whole town know you were an immortal was hardly being cautious and discreet.
"What if we warn them to silence before we go?" DJ suggested hopefully.
Victor just shook his head and reminded him, "She's biting mortals." Which meant she was on a collision course with the council and it wouldn't be pretty, but it was their job to take care of such matters.
DJ let his breath out on a sigh. "I was hoping you'd forgotten that bit." Scowling, he shook his head. "Who the hell was her sire? He should have told her it was wrong."
"How do you know she doesn't know it's wrong?" Victor asked dryly.
"She'd hardly be doing it so openly if she knew the consequences," DJ pointed out. "Using it as a ritual of manhood for all the young men in town is hardly sneaking around and biting boys in the dark. She can't know it's against our laws."
"Hmm." Victor supposed that was true. Unless the woman had a death wish and actually wanted her head cut off, she probably didn't know what she was doing was wrong. "Well, it appears that will be our next objective. We need to find out if she is aware of our laws, and who her sire is."
"What does it matter who her sire is?" DJ asked with surprise. "He can't be held responsible for her actions."
"He can if he didn't tell her our laws."
"The only sire likely to turn a mortal and not bother telling them our laws is one who's gone rogue."
"Exactly," Victor agreed.
"Ah." The younger immortal nodded with understanding. "We may have a rogue we don't know about. He might have turned her and left her to her own devices." He nodded again, then asked, "Would the council punish her if she didn't know she was breaking our laws?"
"Ignorance is no excuse, even in mortal court."
DJ sighed and shook his head. "It seems a shame. If she doesn't know any better, there was no intent."
"You sound like a lawyer marshalling his defense," Victor said with a smile.
DJ shrugged. "Maybe I will defend her in front of the council. I like her."
"You haven't even met her yet," Victor pointed out with a laugh.
"Well, I like her restaurant, and I read Brunswick's mind," DJ announced. "He thinks she's a 'damned fine woman' always there to help others, and a pillar of the community all her life. She apparently volunteered at everything before she was turned and still does. She's a good woman, Victor. The very fact that her friends would go to all this trouble for her says as much."
"Hmm." He frowned. "Then we'd best find out all we can so that the council can make a fair judgment. Otherwise, I fear she could lose her head."
Mouth tight, DJ nodded and led the way out of the bathroom.
"Are you ready now?" Brunswick asked when they reached the table.
When both men nodded, he heaved out a little breath, and stood. When the other men stood as well, he said, "Now, just remember to keep your traps shut about this ad business and restrict yourself to only saying hello until Mabel has a chance to explain."
"Why not wait to introduce us until after Mabel's explained?" Edward asked dryly. "Surely that makes more sense."
"Not if you know Elvi," Brunswick assured him. "Once she knows what we've done she'll be mad as hell, but she'll also be terribly embarrassed and if she hasn't met you already, she'll no doubt refuse to do so." He shook his head. "No, this is the best way. Now, come on."
As had been the case throughout, the man didn't wait for protests or agreement, but simply gestured for them to follow and turned to head back the way he'd come.
"Well?" Harper asked, glancing to Victor for guidance.
Shrugging, he turned to trail Brunswick, aware that the rest of the men followed suit.
They nearly reached the booth this time. Victor was just walking past the shelf with the statue of the iguana family on it when he noted movement out of the corner of his eye. Then part of the statue separated from the rest and launched itself at him.
And all hell broke loose.