Viehl, Lynn-Darkyn (Juliana SS) 01-03 - Worthy, Willing, Wanted, page 5
I was glad it was over. “Did I mess up everything for you?”
“No, Juliana.” Something shimmered in his eyes. “You protected me, and you almost died for me. No tresora could have been more loyal than you were tonight.”
“Are you taking me to Neal?” When he nodded, I closed my eyes. “Tell him I’m sorry I’m not having puppies.”
I woke up a day later, but this time not in my own bed. Shamaras had left me in what looked like a beautiful hotel room. I checked the bandage on my arm before I rolled off the sinfully comfortable mattress and found my feet.
Someone had braided my hair and dressed me in a pale green silk nightgown. Someone who walked through the door a minute later carrying a stack of clothes and a glass of water. Neal almost dropped the water when he saw me standing there.
“Hey.” I touched my arm. “Do I thank you for this, or did you sub me out to an MD?”
“You get back into bed, is what you do.” He bullied me until I climbed in under the covers, and sat down while I drank the glass of water. “How are you feeling?”
“Like I got shot again.” I handed him the glass. “What’s with the pricey hotel? You could have dropped me off at the cottage, like the last time.”
“We need to talk about that.” He got up and took the glass into the adjoining room before bringing back a tray filled with fruit, pastries and muffins. “Are you hungry?”
“No, not really.” I sat up and scooted back until my back was propped up by the pillows. “I’m sorry I screwed up. I know Shamaras said it was okay, but I ruined everything. I hope that Lucan guy doesn’t blame him for it.”
“No, he doesn’t.” He put the tray on the side table and picked up my hand. “I need to tell you about something that happened while you were sleeping.” A phone rang in the next room, and he sighed. “After I take that call. Excuse me.”
I got out of bed, put on the clothes Neal had brought, and found a pair of slippers in the bathroom. Once I was dressed, I looked around the door into the next room. He had his back toward me and was talking to someone in French. Silently I walked across the suite and slipped out into the hallway.
I took the elevator to the lobby, where a nice doorman hailed me a taxi. I gave the driver my address and sat back, exhausted. I felt a little guilty for running out on Neal, but I was done with him, and with Shamaras. I did want a normal life, I discovered, one where I didn’t get shot on a regular basis.
I only remembered I didn’t have any money on me when the taxi pulled up to the curb. “If you’ll wait a minute, I’ll get my purse.”
“Your purse better not be in there, lady.”
I looked through the window and didn’t believe my eyes. I got out of the car and walked the ten feet to the edge of my property. I picked my way through the still-smoldering piles that had once been shingles and siding and fascia but were now charred rubble.
My cottage, my paintings, every single thing that I owned in the world. Someone had set fire to it. Someone had burned it all up.
I heard the taxi driver swear as he got out of the cab, and then lower his voice to an unhappy mutter as someone talked to him. I went to the place where my front door had been, and sat on the sagging remains of my steps.
Neal came and sat down beside me. “I paid the cab fare.”
“When Samantha arrested you,” he said, “the desk sergeant put your name on the police blotter, along with the charges against you. No one thought about it until it was too late. The local news picked up the information and ran with the story. That was how they found your house. When they didn’t find you inside, they decided to send a message.”
I heard what he said, but it didn’t seem to register. “The local news did this?”
“No, the Brethren.” He kicked a piece of scorched window shutter. “When they find Kyn, or humans who serve Kyn, they set fire to their homes and burn them out.”
I rested my chin on my knees and watched the long white limo park in the spot at the curb where the taxi had just been. “I don’t serve the Kyn.” I turned my head. “Can I have my life back now, Neal?”
He put his arm around me. “We’ll build another cottage for you. Not here, but somewhere safe. You’ll paint and be happy again, Juliana. I promise.”
“Until they track me down, and set fire to that cottage.” I stood and brushed the cinders off the seat of my jeans. The limo’s interior was all white leather, and I didn’t want to leave black butt prints all over it. “I’m sorry I didn’t believe you.”
“Becoming involved with you and Shamaras.” I looked back at the remains of my life one last time. “You were right. This is worse than what Eric did to me.”
Neal caught up to me before I got inside the limo. I didn’t struggle when he turned me around, or when he kissed me. I held onto him. I didn’t let go. My fears and hopes were gone.
Neal was all I had left.
. . .you don’t just get me. You get him, too.
Neal, and Shamaras.
Darkyn (Juliana Short Stories) 03
For Sasha White, who owns the three P’s of writers: Promising, passionate, and powerful.
“South Florida artist Juliana Jones, whose charred remains were recovered yesterday, was the prime suspect in the murder of billionaire philanthropist Eric Locke. The CEO of Locke Industries, whose decision to leave his entire estate to the Catholic church stunned the pharmaceutical industry, was shot to death last year at the age of thirty-three . . . “
With my good, uncharred arm I groped for the television remote, shut off the set and pulled a pillow over my head. I never watched the news, but I had gotten into the habit of listening to infomercials until dawn, hoping they’d put me to sleep. I must have drifted off during the gushing testimonials for Bare Essentials.
I amused myself by rearranging the testimonials: Whisk beige-colored mica and dirt powder on your face, and you’ll glow!
The door to the bedroom opened and closed, and footsteps crossed the floor. “I bring you some dinner, Mees Juli.” Dishes clinked as something heavy landed on the surface of my bedside table. “You gonna smother youself like that, you know.”
“Didn’t you hear the news?” I lifted one side of the pillow to look at Esmeralda Maria Garcia y Caldaran, the housekeeper and my unofficial warden. “I’m already dead.”
“You not dead, you just depressed.” Esme removed the silver cover from my dinner. “This my chicken and rice soup. Take all day to make it.” She put her hands on her slim hips and turned to eye me. “You flush this down the toilet, I kill you for real.”
She knew what I’d been doing with the food I never felt like eating. “Promise?”
“Don’t tempt me or God. You been in this bed too long.” Esme tugged back my covers. “You get up today. Eat, take hot bath. I brush out your hair.”
A mass of snarls covered my head, I smelled like old socks, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d bathed. Or ate, for that matter. But what was the point in living? I was dead, or as good as.
“You want them see you like this?” Esme asked.
Them were Neal Gregory, a veterinarian who was gorgeous and human, and Marco Shamaras, an immortal illegal immigrant who was gorgeous and lived on human blood. When these two weren’t saving my life — or ruining it — they were my friends. Sort of. I had emotional and physical issues with both of them. Unfortunately, they slept together in a big room at the end of the hall.
That was the other reason I didn’t get much sleep: because I was deeply, intensely, insanely attracted to both of them. That’s right. I had the hots for not one but two gay men.
Which is why I mostly wished I really was dead.
“They,” I said, reaching for the pillow again, “aren’t going to see me.” Even if I danced naked up and down the hallway.
“They are when
“Take me with you.” When she chuckled, I grabbed her arm. “I’m serious. I love New York. Or I will, I know I will. You can’t leave me alone here with them.”
“The master, he not hurt you, you know that.” She patted my cheek. “Dr. Neal, he miss you. He ask me about you every day you don’t come out of the room.”
That had been every day since Neal Gregory had told me that Shamaras had arranged to fake my death. I sat up, ready to beg Esme about the New York trip, but the room decided to tilt and whirl. “He’s only being polite.”
She hmphed. “Dr. Neal say to me when I take him the mail, ‘She don’t come out today, I drag her out of there.’”
The vertigo stopped almost as soon as it started. “All right. I’ll get up.” I really didn’t want to see either of my housemates, together or apart, but if I had to it would not be like this. I’d get cleaned up, dressed and go and demand what I’d been promised: a new identity, a new house, and a new life.
If I didn’t get that, I’d settle for a bus ticket to Seattle.
Every time I went into the bathroom I felt like I’d walked into a very expensive, exclusive bordello for people with a water fetish. Everything had been made from white and gold marble with bronze accents and fixtures. Most of the floor was a sunken roman-style tub, with whirlpool jets, benched recesses and console of buttons that I discovered controlled the lighting, played soft music and dispensed scented oils, bubbles and aromatic salts directly into the water. Two walls were mirrored, as was the interior of the shower stall, which could comfortably fit six or seven naked people in prone positions. A long slab of polished sienna, crystal and poppy agate had been made into a counter with three sinks. Between the sinks sat huge wicker baskets packed with cosmetics, skin and body products. Ferns and flowering orchids spilled out of gold and white marble cornices and floor vases.
It didn’t scream money. It whispered it, like the Debussy that came through the speakers I had yet to find.
I stripped down, stepped into the shower and turned on the water. It came out of the taps at the exact temperature I liked, and never cooled no matter how long I took. Shamaras must have installed a hot water tower somewhere on the property.
As I scrubbed and buffed and rinsed, I rehearsed different speeches. “I appreciate you wrecking my life, faking my death and keeping me here like a mutt you don’t have the heart to put down, but I think it’s time to release me back into the wild.” Neal wouldn’t like the animal analogy. Maybe a sweeter, more formal approach. “I appreciate all you’ve done but I can’t impose on you any longer.” And if that didn’t work, I’d go for broke. “Let me out of here or I’ll call the National Inquisitor and tell them I’m having a threesome with a vampire and a vet.”
“You’d have to send pictures before they’d print it, and you don’t have a camera,” Neal said from outside the shower stall.
I yelped, turned and saw the back of a dark blond head, a ponytail hanging down the back of a white shirt with the sleeves rolled halfway up, and the perfectly-fitted seat of Neal Gregory’s faded jeans. And yes, God, he had a gorgeous ass. “What are you doing in here?”
“Esme said you felt dizzy.” He didn’t turn around. “You’ve been in here thirty minutes with the water running, so I thought I’d see if you were bathing or drowning.”
I had no reason to shriek with outrage; Neal had already seen all my goodies the first time we’d met. I’d been staggering around in a drugged, bruised, and bleeding state of semi-consciousness and wearing only a leather jacket. He had found me and fixed me up.
He was a good doctor, too, even if most of his patients had fur and four legs.
“I’m fine.” Prior knowledge of what my bare ass looked like didn’t give him the right to come barging in my bathroom now, though. “Go wait in the bedroom.”
“Marco won’t go for the sarcasm or the sweetness,” Neal advised me. “But the threesome expose threat might work.”
Out he went.
Shamaras had provided an entire wardrobe of new clothes for me, as my own had burned up alone with all my other worldly possessions and my house. My post-arson trousseau consisted of dozens of gowns, dresses, skirts, and blouses, all hand-tailored with exquisite fabrics in all the colors that suited me perfectly.
They were beautiful, tasteful and expensive, and I flatly refused to wear any of them.
Since being brought to the villa, I slept in my bra and panties and wore the one set of clothes that Neal bought for me after my house was torched. At first Esme had tried to get rid of the jeans and T-shirt Neal gave me, but when I refused to dress in anything else she washed and returned them.
They hung on me now, almost too loose to stay put, but I wasn’t going in my underwear to see the boys. I had an atom of pride left, somewhere.
After I dried my hair and brushed my teeth, I went out into the bedroom. Neal was sitting on the bed and watching the entertainment portion of the evening news.
“Britney’s pregnant again,” he said as he stood. “I swear, that girl is part rabbit.” He gave me the once over. “Is that all you’re going to wear?”
“My patent-leather cat suit burned up with the cottage.” I used the remote to shut off the TV and walked out into the hall. There I waited until Neal caught up with me. “Why does the Count want to see me?”
“He’s worried about you.” A hand rested on my shoulder. “So am I.”
I moved to break the contact between us. “He in the drawing room or the library?”
“The library. Jules–“
I didn’t want to talk to him, so I turned and headed for the library.
My prison, a sixteenth-century Italian villa that Esme told me had been brought over from Tuscany brick by brick, did not whisper money. Money couldn’t buy this kind of place.
Esme told me the house was called Volare, and had been built four hundred years ago. She claimed it had thirty-five rooms, but I’d not yet opted for a tour. Italian antiques and art furnished the first floor and the third, with the service, storage and staff rooms occupying the second. Shamaras did not keep live-in servants, according to the housekeeper, but if he ever changed his mind the villa could house twenty of them with no problem.
I could admit it was a beautiful place without compromising my morals. The villa had been designed around a central, open courtyard that allowed the breeze from the bay to flow freely through the corridors. On cool evenings like this one, Esme left the house open to the chirps of crickets and birds settling down for the night. In Italy it must have been fabulous, but in south Florida summer turned it into a sweat box. Or would have, without the glass panels that silently slid out on hot days, enclosing the open spaces to keep the air conditioning in while not spoiling the view.
The library lay around the corner from my bedroom, and took up more space than my entire cottage had. I had gone into it once by myself, looking for a novel to read, but all the books were printed in Italian or Greek. I’d never seen bookcases with beveled glass doors, and I tried not to gape at the four paintings of angels signed by Raphael. The latter appeared real, and yet I’d never seen one of them in an art history book.
I stood in the doorway until the man sitting by the fireplace looked up. Always polite, Shamaras rose to his feet. “Good evening, Juliana. Please, come in.”
There were no flowers in the room, but it still smelled of blue hyacinth, thanks to the vampire. Shamaras gave off the scent naturally, I’d been told, and could use it to control Neal and most other humans.
Except me, as I had some sort of immunity to it.
I felt Neal behind me and went to the only chair I liked, a tapestry-covered little number on the other side of the fireplace. Why the vampire insisted on reading by the fire every night — even on the sweltering ones — made no sense to me, but I never complained. With Shamaras, you had to let a lot
Firelight loved the man, though. It caressed his bare scalp with tinctures of hot apricot and horded gold, and brought out the rainbow flashes in his dark opal eyes. It measured his broad shoulders with uneven shadow markers, as if to say this is where you put your hands, your cheek, your mouth.
Shamaras didn’t want my hands, cheek or mouth touching him. He had Neal for that.
I sat on the edge of the seat and waited for them to arrange themselves around me. Shamaras stowed his book behind glass doors first while Neal made a drink at the bar.
“I don’t want anything, thanks,” I said before anyone asked. “Marco, I need to go now.”
Shamaras took off his jacket and draped it over the back of his chair before sitting down. “Neal will of course take you wherever you wish.”
“I mean, I have to move out of here.” I forced a smile. “Start a new life. Someplace else. Away from all this.”
He sat back. “You wish to leave tonight?”
“No reason to wait. I’m dead, so the cops and the Brethren won’t come after me. My arm’s healed.” When he didn’t say anything, I added, “Look, I appreciate the hospitality, but it’s time I moved on.” This next part that was going to kill me, but I plowed ahead. “If I could borrow some money from you until I find a place and a job. . . “ Neal came and sat on the floor in front of Shamaras’s chair, distracting me for a moment. “I don’t need much. A couple of thousand should do it. I’ll pay you back as soon as I can.”
I blinked. “You don’t believe I’ll pay you back?”
“I think a couple of thousand will not do it.” Shamaras took the glass of wine Neal handed him and sipped from it. “You need a home, Juliana, and a family. People who care about you and for you. You also need employment and protection. You can have all of that here, with us.”
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