An Excerpt From
OneIt was the bottom of the seventh, the score three to five, the Jays behind two runs, two out and a man on second with Mookie Wilson at bat. Wilson was hitting over three hundred against right-handers and Vicki could see that the Brewers’ pitcher was sweating. At which point, the phone rang. “It figures.” She stretched a long arm down and dragged the phone up onto her lap. Sunset had been at eight forty-one. It was now nine oh five. It had to be Henry. Ball one. “Yeah, what?” “Vicki? It’s Henry. Are you all right?” Strike one. “Yeah, I’m fine. You just called at a bad time.” “I’m sorry, but I have some friends here who need your help.” “My help?” “Well, they need the help of a private investigator and you’re the only one I know.” Strike two. “They need help right now?” There were only two innings left in the game. How desperate could it be? “Vicki, it’s important.” And she could tell by his voice that it was. She sighed as Wilson popped out to left field, ending the inning, and thumbed the television off. “Well, if it’s that important...” “It is.” “...then I’ll be right over.” With the receiver halfway back to the cradle, a sudden thought occurred to her and she snapped it back up to her mouth. “Henry?” He was still there. “Yes?” “These friends, they aren’t vampires are they?” “No.” Through his concern, he sounded a little amused. “They aren’t vampires.”
Greg gave the young woman a neutral nod as he buzzed her through the security check and into the lobby. Vicki Nelson her name was and she’d dropped by a number of times over the summer while he was on the desk. Although she looked like the kind of person he’d have liked under other circumstances he simply couldn’t get over the impressions he’d formed during their initial meeting last spring. It didn’t help when observation confirmed that she was not the sort who would normally answer the door half dressed, proving, to his mind, his feeling that she’d been hiding something that night. But what? Over the last couple of months his belief that Henry Fitzroy was a vampire had begun to fade. He liked Mr. Fitzroy, respected him, realized that all his idiosyncrasies could stem from being a writer rather than a creature of the night but one last lingering doubt remained. What had the young woman been hiding that night? And why? Occasionally, just for his peace of mind, Greg considered asking her outright, but a certain set to her jaw had always stopped him. So he wondered. And he kept an eye on things. Just in case.
Vicki felt a distinct sense of relief as the elevator doors closed behind her. Scrutiny by that particular security guard always made her feel, well, dirty. Still, it’s my own fault. I’m the one who answered the door practically naked. It had been the only solution she could think of at the time and as it had worked, distracting the old man from his intention of pounding a croquet stake through Henry’s heart, she supposed she shouldn’t complain about the aftereffects. She pushed the button for the fourteenth floor and tucked her white golf shirt more securely into her red walking shorts. The little “adventure” last spring had melted off a few pounds and so far she’d managed to keep them from finding their way back. She carried too much muscle to ever be considered slim—a secret desire she’d admitted to no one—but it was nice to have a little more definition at the waist. Squinting in the glare of the fluorescent lights, she studied her reflection in the stainless steel walls of the elevator. Not bad for an old broad, she decided, shoving the hated glasses up her nose. She wondered briefly if maybe she should have dressed more formally then decided that any friends of Henry Fitzroy, bastard son of Henry the VIII, ex-Duke of Richmond, et cetera, et cetera, were not likely to care if the private investigator showed up in shorts. When the elevator reached Henry’s floor, Vicki settled her purse on her shoulder and put on her professional face. It lasted right up until the condo door swung open and the only creature in the entrance hall was a huge russet colored dog. It—no, he—has to be a dog. Vicki extended her hand for him to sniff. Wolves don’t come in that color. Or that size. Do they? She could have added that wolves don’t generally hang out in condominiums in downtown Toronto, but given that it was Henry’s condo all bets were off. The animal’s eyes were outlined in black, adding to a remarkably expressive face. He enthusiastically sniffed the offered hand, then pushed his head demandingly under Vicki’s fingers. Vicki grinned, pulled the door closed, then obediently began to scratch in the thick ruff behind the pointed ears. “Henry?” she called as a tail heavy enough to knock a grown man to the ground slammed rhythmically into the wall. “You home?” “In the living room.” Something in the tone of his voice drew her brows down but a saucerlike paw on her instep almost instantly distracted her. “Get off, you great brute.” The dog obediently shifted his weight. She grabbed his muzzle lightly in one hand and shook his massive head from side to side. “Come on, fella, they’re waiting for us.” He smiled—there really was no other word for it—whirled around and bounded into the living room, Vicki following at a slightly more sedate pace. Henry stood in his usual place by the huge wall of windows that looked down on the city. The lights he used on the infrequent occasions he had company picked up the red highlights in his fair hair and turned his hazel eyes almost gold. Actually, Vicki was guessing about the effect on his eyes as she couldn’t see details over that great a distance. She never tired of looking at him though, he had a presence that lifted his appearance from merely pleasing to extraordinary and she could certainly understand how poor Lucy and Mina hadn’t stood a chance against his well-known fictional counterpart. He wasn’t alone. The young woman fiddling with the CD player turned as Vicki came into the living room and Vicki hid a smile as she found herself being thoroughly and obviously looked over. She took a good long look in return. A dancer? Vicki wondered. Although small, the girl was sleekly muscled and held herself in a way that could almost be interpreted as challenging. Don’t try it, kid. If I’m not quite twice your age—the girl could be no older than seventeen or eighteen—I’m definitely meaner. The short mane of silver blond hair, Vicki realized with a start, was natural; the brows could have been lightened but not the lashes. While not exactly pretty, the pale hair made for an exotic contrast with the deep tan. And that sundress certainly leaves little tan to the imagination. Their eyes met and Vicki’s brows rose. Just for an instant she almost had a grasp of what was really going on, then the instant passed and the girl was looking up through her lashes and smiling shyly. The large red dog had gone to sit by Henry’s side, his head level with Henry’s waist, and now the two of them walked forward. Henry wore a carefully neutral expression. The dog looked amused. “Vicki, I’d like you to meet Rose Heerkens. Her family is having some trouble I think you can help them with.” “Pleased to meet you.” Vicki held out her hand and after a quick glance at Henry—What did he tell her about me? —the younger woman put hers in it. Very few women are any good at shaking hands, not having been raised to do it, but Vicki was surprised by both a grip that matched her own and a callus-ridged palm. As Rose released her hold, she extended the motion to indicate the dog now leaning against her legs. “This is Storm.” Storm held up a paw. Bending over to take it, Vicki grinned. “Pleased to meet you too, Storm.” The big dog gave a short bark and leaned forward, dragging his tongue across Vicki’s face with enough force to almost dislodge her glasses. “Storm, stop it!” With both hands buried in the russet ruff, Rose yanked the dog back. “Maybe she doesn’t want to be covered in slobber.” “Oh, I don’t mind.” She wiped her face off with her palm and resettled her glasses on her nose. “What kind of a dog is he? He’s beautiful.” Then she laughed, for Storm obviously recognized the compliment and was looking smug. “Please don’t encourage him, Ms. Nelson, he’s vain enough already.” Rose dug her knee in behind the big dog’s shoulder and shoved, knocking him over. “And as for what kind he is—he’s a nuisance.” Storm didn’t look at all put out by being so unceremoniously dumped. Tongue lolling, he rolled over on his back, all four feet in the air, and looked expectantly up at Vicki. “Do you want your stomach rubbed, then?” “Storm.” Henry’s command brought the animal off the floor, to stand looking remarkably chastened. Vicki glanced at Henry in astonishment. What was with him? “Perhaps,” he met Vicki’s eyes then swept his gaze over the girl and the dog, “we should get on with things.” Vicki found herself moving toward the couch without having made a conscious decision to move. She hated it when he did that. She hated the way she responded to it. And she really hated not being sure if it was the vampire or the prince she was responding to—somehow knuckling under to a supernatural ability seemed less reprehensible than giving in to a medieval petty dictator. His undead highness and I are going to have to have a little talk about this.... Tossing her bag down, she settled back against the red velvet upholstery, watching Rose curl up in the armchair and Storm throw himself to the floor at her feet. He looked splendid against the cream colored carpet but the russet fur clashed a little desperately with the crimson of the chair. Henry dropped one denim-clad leg on the arm of the couch and perched beside her, so close that, for a moment, Vicki was aware of him alone. “It’s too soon, Vicki, you lost a lot of blood.” She felt her face flush. It had never occurred to her that he wouldn’t want to.... It was what they were leading up to, wasn’t it? “They put most of it back at the hospital, Henry. I’m fine. Really.” “I believe you.” He smiled and she suddenly found the air available in the hallway inadequate.He’s had over four hundred and fifty years to practice that smile, she reminded herself. Breathe. “We have to be very careful,” he continued, placing his hands lightly on her shoulders. “I don’t want to hurt you.” It sounded so much like dialogue out of a bad soap opera that Vicki grinned. “Just so long as you remember I haven’t got a couple of hundred years to spare,” she told him, digging for her apartment keys, “I’ll try not to rush you.” That had been almost four months ago, the first time they’d gone out after she’d been released from the hospital. And they still hadn’t. Vicki had tried to be patient but there were times, and with him sitting so close this was one of them, when she wanted to kick his feet out from under him and beat him to the floor. With an effort, she brought her attention back to the business at hand. As everyone appeared to be waiting for her to speak, she arranged her face into her best “the police officer is your friend” expression and turned to Rose. “What is it you need me to help you with?” Again, Rose glanced at Henry. Although Vicki couldn’t see the vampire’s response it seemed to reassure the younger woman for she took a deep breath, brushed her hair back off her face with trembling fingers, and said, “In the last month two members of our family have been shot.” She had to stop and swallow grief before she could continue. “We need your help, Ms. Nelson, to find the killer.” Murder. Well, that was definitely a little more serious than Vicki had been expecting. And a double murder at that. She pushed her glasses up her nose and let sympathy soften her voice as she asked, “Have the local police not turned up any leads?” “They don’t exactly know.” “What do you mean by ‘don’t exactly know’?” Vicki could think of several things it might mean and none of them appealed to her. “Why don’t you show her, Rose,” Henry said quietly. Vicki swiveled around to look up at him, her peripheral vision too poor to allow her the luxury of glancing from the corner of her eye. His expression matched his tone. Whatever Rose had to show her was very important. More than slightly apprehensive, she turned around again. Rose, who had been waiting for her attention, slipped out of her sandals and rose to her feet. Storm, after giving the sandals a quick sniff, padded over to her side. In one quick movement she stripped off the sundress she was wearing, stood naked for a heartbeat, and then, where there had been a pale-haired young woman and a large russet dog there was a red-haired young man and a large white dog. The young man bore a strong resemblance to the young woman; they shared the same high cheekbones, the same large eyes, the same pointed chins. And the same lithe dancer’s body, Vicki noted after one quick glance at the obvious difference. “Werewolves,” she heard herself say aloud, amazed at her composure. Odds are good it’s Henry’s influence. This is what comes of hanging around with vampires.... I’ll get the bastard for this. The young man, completely undismayed by both her scrutiny and his nakedness, winked. Vicki, considerably nonplussed, especially when she remembered how she’d been treating the dog—No, wolf. No, wer. Oh hell.—earlier, felt herself flushing and glanced away for an instant. When she looked back, she found she’d missed the actual moment of transformation and Rose was tugging her dress back over her head. The young man—Storm?—was resignedly pulling on a pair of bright blue shorts that offered minimal coverage. Feeling her gaze on him, he looked up, smiled, and advanced with his hand held out. “Hi. I guess further introduction are in order. My name’s Peter.” “Uh, hi.” Apparently the names changed with the form. A little stunned, Vicki took the offered hand. It had the same pattern of heavy callus that Rose’s had. Made sense actually if they ran on four feet part of the time. “You’re, uh, Rose’s brother?” “We’re twins.” He grinned and it reminded Vicki so much of the expression the russet dog had worn that she found herself grinning in return. “She’s older; I’m better looking.” “You’re noisier,” Rose corrected, curling back up in the armchair. “Come and sit down.” With a martyred air, Peter did as he was told, throwing himself gracefully down into the same spot he’d occupied as Storm, his back pressed against his sister’s knees. “We’re sorry about the theatricality of all this, Ms. Nelson,” she continued, “but Henry suggested it was the best way to present it, that you...” She hesitated and Henry smoothly finished the sentence. “...that you weren’t a person who denied the evidence of your own eyes.” Vicki supposed he meant it as a compliment so she contented herself with a quiet snort and an only moderately sarcastic, “Well, you should know.” “You will help us, won’t you?” Peter leaned forward, and placed one hand lightly on Vicki’s knee. There was nothing sexual in the touch, and the expression accompanying it held only a combination of worry and hope. Werewolves. Vicki sighed. First vampires and demons, now werewolves. What next? She crossed her legs, dislodging Peter’s hand, and settled back into a more comfortable position; odds were good that this was going to be a long story. “Perhaps you’d better start at the beginning.”