“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” ~ Charles Darwin
I open the door to find a body at my feet. The rich smell of blood causes my canines to lengthen. Reaching out in the darkness, I flip on the wall switches. Light spills across the room, illuminating the dead guy lying face down in front of me. The whole scene makes me wish I’d stayed in bed today, curled up next to my warm husband.
“Crap, look at the rug.”
Okay, out loud that sounds rather cold and dispassionate. Whoever this poor stiff is, he’s dead. I’m the one left with a huge mess on my hands and guests arriving within the hour. Good thing I caught this before one of the maids did. Their screams from the last time were a devil to quiet down.
Expanding my awareness, I connect with my husband in a soft electrical tingle of sensation. Rafe? There’s a dead guy in suite six. We’ve got to move fast before the next group arrives.
Rafe’s rugged face appears in my head. My extended consciousness lets me see the room around him as well as hear his thoughts. He’s leaning against the sink in our private kitchen, wearing a robe, a steaming mug of coffee in his hand.
Does it look like an accidental overfeeding? His mental voice sounds incredulous. We haven’t had one of those in years.
No, there’s way too much blood. Can you come up here and help me?
Sure, Dria. I’m fresh out of the shower—give me a couple minutes.
I step over the body and into the room, closing the door behind me with a soft snick of the catch. I’d rather not have the guests get a whiff of this mess. Some of them would probably think we did it on purpose for “ambience.” But others might not.
Walking to the bench at the end of the bed, I sit and look around the suite. Nothing looks amiss with the king-size bed, gleaming dark furniture, and lush brocade fabrics. I turn my attention again to the body. The stark white face turned toward me doesn’t look familiar. I’m positive he isn’t a mate of one of the vampire masters staying at the inn; I make it a point to meet all of them on arrival.
Examining his brown hair and twenty-something face, I don’t recognize him as a vampire servant either. Not many have come to stay with the current crop of undead we’ve got right now. Who else?
The spilled blood staining the carpet arouses my basic vampire needs while confusing my train of thought. I think back to my peaceful morning yoga, trying to clear my head. Think, dammit, think!
Could he be a companion? A lot of masters bring “food” with them. Being a full-service, hotel we can provide for all the needs of our guests, but some still insist on BYOB.
His striped, button-down shirt and ragged jeans rule him out as an employee. Unless he’s an off-duty new hire I’m unaware of.
Rafe, have we hired anyone new?
Not in at least a month. You’ve met everyone. My husband hesitates for a moment. Send me his face and I’ll let you know if he looks familiar.
I concentrate to project the image from my mind to Rafe’s. My strong ability enables me to share the entire experience with him if I wish. I could send the metallic smell filling the air, the sticky congealing blood pooled about the victim’s head, or the dark essence of death that lingers after a vicious kill—but choose to limit it only to the image of the victim’s face.
No, I don’t recognize him either, Rafe confirms. Damn, Tommy’s flagging me down. I’ll be up as soon as I can.
Hurry, please. We’ve got guests coming, I glance down at my ever-present watch, in forty-five minutes!
Rafe ignores me. Typical. He’ll get here when he gets here. My muscles tense while I fight the urge to pace. Who could’ve killed this poor guy? And why? Why here for that matter? I’ve seen my share of corpses in my long undead life, but in the twenty years we’ve run this inn, there hasn’t been a single murder.
Okay, okay… let’s see. What should I do? I try to center my thoughts by taking a deep breath. Rich, aromatic blood rushes into my nostrils. That was a mistake. It smells so damn good. Fidgeting in my seat, I feel desperate to do something to distract myself from my desires.
We can’t call the police in this isolated area of Alaska. Not only would they take hours to arrive, but they wouldn’t be able to help. I don’t even want to think of the memory altering I’d have to do if they did show up. Instead, I can be the one to take notes and catalog evidence. That seems to work well on the detective shows.
I pat down my hips, realizing too late the black clingy dress I’m wearing doesn’t have pockets. Where the hell is my notebook? I need it to write this stuff down.
Rafe! Are you coming?
No. Not yet, my dear. A masculine chuckle reaches my mind. I’m heading up the stairs now.
The hotel resembles a large T-shape, with the lobby being dead center where all the wings converge. Not wanting to send him back downstairs, I think about what lies between there and here.
I need a notebook and a pen to write down all the facts. Can you get them for me?
I think we need to cut back on the TV, Dria.
I hear the smile in his words. He read my mind and knows what I plan to do. Jerk. That man loves to pull my chain.
Relax, liebling, we’ll handle this.
Easy for you to say. You’re not a vampire sitting next to, I glance over at the large red stain around the victim’s head, what looks like three or four quarts of blood. Rafe is my human husband. The mate bond ritual we shared sixty-five years ago, combined with our frequent mutual blood exchange, keeps him from aging.
I hear Rafe hesitate on the wide, curving staircase leading up to the second floor.
You’ll find pen and paper in the top drawer of the hall table, outside suite seven.
You want to show me too, while you’re at it?
I don’t need to see his smile to confirm he’s laughing at me.
I focus my will and gather an image in my mind, picturing the last time I fed from my spouse. The delicious smell of his sweaty skin fills my thoughts. The clean and musky memory triggers heat low in my middle. It spreads at the mere reminder of the salty taste of piercing his flesh to drink. I feel the rush of his life-giving elixir fill my mouth and tease my taste buds with its power. I push the feelings, sensations, and pictures out to his mind as he enters the suite.
Rafe stops the motion of the door before it hits the body. He staggers forward a bit as my mental projection slams into his mind. He’s holding the notebook and pen in one hand while gripping the doorknob with the other.
“Whew! All right already, I get the picture!”
I smile and pull the illusion away. Rafe closes the door and joins me on the other side of the corpse. I think I made my point. I may not need much blood anymore, but he certainly enjoys the little bit I ingest when we make love.
He tosses the notebook, aiming straight for my head. Apparently, I struck a nerve with my teasing.
I jot down the basics I’ve got for the dead guy–his age, race, brown hair, and what he’s wearing. Rafe squats near him. His gray dress slacks pull across his apple-cheeked ass and I once again lose my focus.
“Unlucky stiff,” Rafe comments. “What do you know so far?”
He looks back over his shoulder and smiles at me. My eyes are drawn up to his sparkling blue ones.
Crap. What did he say? I scramble around for an answer.
“Umm…” Good God, I’ve got to get the hell away from all this blood, and soon. “I came in to do a last-minute check of the rooms before the MacKellan group arrives. Found him dead by the door, just like you see him now.”
“As far as wounds go, all I see is this big dent in the back of his head.” He holds his fist out to the wound. “Looks like it could have been something this size. Think he has another injury under him?” Putting words to action, Rafe places a hand under the corpse’s hip and shoulder, lifting him to look. “Nothing on his chest.” He lowers the body to the carpet.
“You’re sure you don’t recognize him, right?” I ask.
“Nah. I’d have recognized that scar.” Rafe points out the small crescent-shaped mark on his left cheek, and I jot the observation in my notebook. “Did you see his shoes?” Rafe nods in the direction of his feet. “He wouldn’t be walking around outside in those loafers for long. The winter temps here would freeze his toes off in minutes.” He looks up at me, a frown creasing his forehead. “He’s fully human, right?”
“There’s only one way to find out.” I lean down to draw in a deep sniff of air from near the body. Subtle undertones of the victim’s personal scent seep into my brain. The pure, clean essence of his human blood overpowers everything else when I look for it. “He carries no blood marker from another vampire. Which means he’s not a servant or a mate. He could be a companion who arrived late, someone we’re unaware of.”
“Good point.” Rafe stands. “Who do we still have here after yesterday’s departures?”
“Hmm, let’s see…” I step back from the body. “The Natsuhara group, out in cabin two—Jet has his mate and one companion with him. There’s the loner in cabin five, Drew Lipshultz. Here in the main building, we’ve still got Salvador’s group, a party of eight. They’re in the west wing. I don’t know why any of them would have a reason to be here in the north wing though.”
“This door was locked, right?”
I wave my handy master key card. “Yup.”
Rafe pats the dead guy’s pockets. “He’s warm. Can’t have been dead too long.”
“No, you’re right. The maids were here this morning. I’m sure we would have heard their screaming if he was here then.”
“Hey, got a wallet.” Rafe holds up a tattered bi-fold. “Looks like there’s no ID. But I do see a credit card.” He takes it out, angling to read it. “John Pierre Vaughn. Ring a bell with you?”
“No. Don’t know it.” I glance around at the red mess. “This rug looks shot.”
Rafe ignores me. “What could he have been doing here? How did he get in?”
“Well, his stuff has got to be somewhere.” Scanning the room, I add, “I don’t see a coat or his bag.” I check the closet and the bath, shaking my head as I return. “Nope, nothing in there either.”
“Are you thinking the killer could be human?” Rafe stands, facing me.
“My first guess would be a human. Most vamps wouldn’t waste this much blood. Even though a newly turned fledgling only needs a pint a day, a vampire can drain a body if they want to.”
He smiles and leans forward, kissing me lightly on the mouth. “Remind me never to piss you off.”
“Ha! Like that would stop you.”
Rafe steps close, lifting a hand to run through my long copper hair. “You okay? You don’t seem yourself.”
“I’ll be good once we get rid of this body. I cannot freakin’ believe we’ve got this to contend with right now.” I sound a bit whiny, even to my own ears.
“It’ll come together. We’ll work it all out.” His calm sureness in life is always a wondrous thing to experience. “After all, we’re on 10,000 acres in the middle of nowhere. It’s pitch dark twenty hours a day and we control the only airstrip for miles around. Where is the killer going to go?”
He’s right. But the practical side of me keeps seeing one thing: we have a dead guy, cooling fast, in our hotel room.
“You know something, hon?”
“What?” He sounds distracted.
“Trying to figure this out isn’t fun anymore and we’ve got people arriving,” I cut my eyes down again to my watch, “thirty minutes. I can switch the MacKellans down one room, but we’ve got to move pronto. This guy’s going to stink and we need to make a good impression on the new arrivals.”
Pressure builds in my chest.
Rafe takes out a utility knife from the back of his slacks. I swear he would have made a great Boy Scout. He’s always so damn prepared.
He slides up the blade and motions to the corpse. “Are we agreed? I cut the carpet and roll him inside?” He notices my gimlet stare. “Hey, I’m only asking because I don’t want you getting pissy with me if I cut the carpet without checking.”
Pissy is a nice way to say bitchy, but I’m okay with it.
“No, you’re right. It’s ruined. Put him in one of the sheds outside, lock it up and we’ll talk again later about what to do.” The body will freeze solid out there in a few hours, and no one will smell him.
About two feet from the stain, he cuts a big rectangle into the carpet and padding. Quick and sure, his movements accentuate a natural grace, one that flips all my switches.
A familiar wetness gathers in my panties while watching the muscles in his back work under his tight blue polo. The blood in the room arouses the predator in me, and due to my advanced age, it’s not blood I crave but sex. I remind myself, again, to stop breathing.
If I’m not careful to keep my thoughts tightly bound, Rafe will see the erotic image running through my mind of his bare shoulders between my thighs. I experience an all-over body shiver, trying to pull myself together.
He looks up with a small smile on his face. Damn it, he saw.
“You’re a bad girl, you know that?”
“And you love it,” I reply.
He rolls the body in the carpet and hefts it over his shoulder in one smooth move. My gaze drops to his chest. Yum… his shirt shows off his definition nicely. My tongue snakes out to wet my lips. Good God, is it hot in here or is it me?
“Yeah, I do. I’ll deal with you later.” He winks. “Save your sexiness for the customers. They feed off you when you do. You exude sex.”
Our inn is renowned for bringing hidden fantasies to the surface. It’s one of the big reasons clients come back again and again. That and the fantastic sex they have when they’re here as a result.
I stick my lip out in a pout. “Fine, but dead body or no dead body, I want you later. Better not tire yourself out… I have plans.”
He chuckles as he walks out the door. I’m sure you do, Dria, I’m sure you do.
Once he leaves, and takes the main source of blood with him, I take a deep cleansing lungful of air.
Smoothing the fabric of the dress over my stomach and hips, I decide I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. I leave, re-locking the door behind me. Glancing at my wrist, I note it’s twenty-two minutes until the new group arrives. Then it’s show time!
My black spiked heels sink into the carpet runner as I head down the hall. I stop in front of room seven and open the door, leaning in to inspect and assure myself there are no more surprise dead bodies. Smelling nothing more than clean linens, furniture polish, and the lingering human scent of the maids, I move on.
Dria, it’s done. The body is locked up in a small shed in the hot tub grotto. No one else has a key except Jonathan.
Jonathan, our head groundskeeper, is quite a unique man with very tasty blood. We have formed a connection because of it, though nothing like my mate bond with Rafe. My relationship with Jonathan is one of servant and vampire master. I trust him because of this bond and plan to inform him of our little problem in the shed when we speak next.
Good job. Thanks, my love. I’m checking the other rooms on this floor before I greet the new group.
Any clues so far, my little super sleuth? He’s laughing at me again.
Nothing yet, smart ass, but give me a chance to look. I end our connection and continue down the hall.
I’m in the north wing of the inn, on the second floor, which houses rooms six through ten. These suites don’t have themes like the ten rooms on the third floor—the level I think as the “fun” floor. Those larger rooms don’t hold guests for their entire stay; they are reserved for daily use by guests willing to pay an extra fee.
I inspect room eight then move on to the next door, which I unlock and open in a single motion. Nothing appears out of place. I turn to continue when a small noise from behind pulls me around. One of the maids, a young local woman of Inuit Indian heritage, walks toward me.
“Hello, Iona, how are you?” I’ve never been an uninvolved boss; I know every one of our employees by name.
“Hi, Vivian, I’m good.” She greets me with a warm smile, familiar with my routine. “Are you doing a last-minute check before the next bunch?”
My real name is Alexandria, but Iona, like everyone else since the day the sign for The V V Inn went up, calls me Vivian. Iona’s worked here about a year and has proven herself to be an incredibly organized woman. She’s one of the few employees not imported from another state or country. Her family resides in the nearby town, Dead Foot, with a population of only a few hundred.
“Yes,” I answer, “but I’m also up here because of an issue in room six. How long have you been on this floor today?”
Iona looks at me with a question in her eyes, probably wondering about what issue I’m referring to, but she answers quickly enough.
“I was up here with a team of three and we all left before noon.”
“Did you see any guests in this wing?”
“No,” she answers.
“What brought you back up here?”
“I’m doing a walk-through to check on the items the MacKellans requested.”
“Ah yes, the six-pack of Perrier and the Moét et Chandon White Star. That would be in the mini-fridge in room seven?” She nods in agreement. “I’ll check for it on my return through the floor.”
She hesitates before leaving, like she has something to say.
“Thanks, Iona,” I improvise, hoping to ease her into telling me what’s on her mind. “We would’ve appeared unprofessional if we’d missed those.”
She blushes from the acknowledgement. Iona’s attractive and the extra flush of color draws my attention to her robust good health. She looks me straight in the eye—a blatant invite in the supernatural community toward a vampire. I draw in breath, surprised.
Iona knows a little about what goes on here. Most all of my employees do. But they’re not normally involved in the fantasies of the guests so their knowledge is sketchy. The workers do talk though, and many of them have donated blood for our virile customers.
I possess a secondary trait that helps with our unique clientele. It’s not as strong as my ability to project illusions, but it’s increasing with use. I read desires through a touch.
I reach out and make contact with the exposed skin of Iona’s wrist and I slip into her mind. Her desires tumble close to the surface, like rainbow-colored snakes. Touching on a sliding thought, I see she hopes to be chosen to donate blood. Iona’s mind holds no hint of fear, even though she’s aware most of our guests are bloodsuckers. And she feels a strong family tie to me. In her mind, I’m like a great-aunt, one who holds a position of respect and kindness in her heart.
“Are you sure donating is a step you want to take?” I ask.
“Yes, very much so,” she says with sincerity.
When she stared into my eyes, she had innocently offered herself to me, unaware that I do not normally feed from employees.
“Iona, it would be with the guests, not with me. Is that still acceptable?”
She again holds my gaze a little too long. “Yes.”
“Sometimes it leads to a more intimate encounter but only if you want it to. I make sure the guests know ahead of time how far you’re willing to take it.”
“I’m ready.” Her voice sounds firm, certain. “My grandmother was Junee.”
Ah, that’s why this strong Inuit woman seems so positive in her choice. Junee worked for us when we first opened our doors twenty years ago. She was an accepting and loving woman who enjoyed her position here for ten years.
I’ve placed a compulsion on all the workers during their employment—they can share details of sexual acts, but not of the blood donation. When they leave, I take care of the rest of the details during a specialized exit interview.
“Yes, my great-aunt spoke of her very well,” I say, keeping to the ruse “my aunt” ran the inn first. The employees tell a tale every fifteen years that’s kept us safe. They believe that after the original founder retired, a niece and her husband took over the operation. I’ve inserted this belief with care into the minds of all who have worked for me, while blurring our images a bit in the old employees’ memories so they think they see a family resemblance, rather than realizing we’re the same people.
“Very well,” I decide. “You’ll be put on the next list. Please review the guests and tell Tommy your choices this evening. Pick ones you like, and remember, it’s supposed to be fun.” I say the last part with a wicked smile on my face. “Don’t forget to tell him your limits,” I wink.
I have a hunch Iona will choose a female vampire. Those long stares were quite bold and while she caught me off guard, I’m guessing they had true intent behind them. Time will tell.
“Thank you, Vivian. I’ve been dreaming of this moment since the first week I started here.”
Gee, no pressure there. Iona throws me a beaming smile before rushing down the hall. Let’s hope the experience mirrors her dreams. To ensure it, I make a mental note to supervise part of her blood donation. I’d rather be safe than sorry.
Continuing my original journey to inspect the rest of the rooms in this wing, I take a detour on my return to check the items in the mini-fridge. All appears as it should with the rooms ready and waiting. Which does not help me figure out who could have killed that man and why. I leave the wing through the French doors and out to the bookcase-lined loft encircling the vaulted lobby.
I descend one side of the winding, dual staircase to the main floor and see Tommy working on the computer. Tommy’s our imported Aussie, who’s lived and worked on the property for five years. He glances up from his usual spot behind the front desk with a big smile. Residing on the resort comes with perks, and Tommy’s ever hopeful he’ll be put to the top of the donor list when he sees me.
“G’day, Vivian, aren’t you looking good today?”
“When do I not look good, Tommy?” Modesty has never been my forte.
“Too true,” he replies, then glances at his computer screen. “Isn’t the MacKellan party due in next?”
“Yes. Move them to rooms seven, eight and nine, please. We had an issue with the rug in room six, which won’t be available until new carpet can be installed.” I project honesty and sincerity, and Tommy doesn’t bat an eye.
“You got it, Viv, no worries.” He taps the changes into the keyboard and hands me a new file—which reminds me I’ve got some investigating of our current guests to do.
“Tommy, have the Salvador and Natsuhara files sent to my suite in an hour, please.”
He taps his fingers a few more times before glancing up.
“Yes, ma'am. Consider it done.”
I keep files on all our guests. The MacKellans are new so their file is thin. Checking it over, I confirm details in my mind, placing names at the ready to match with faces when they arrive. MacKellan is the family, or seethe, named after the head vamp in the group. Individuals go only by first name unless conducting business outside the seethe, and they all use the same surname. This convention makes it appear like the group is a big extended family, even though no one is related.
The MacKellan group is a party of five—three vamps, one mate, and a companion. Which is a fairly big vampire party for us. The max we usually see is two. Not many in a seethe choose to vacation with another vamp tagging along. I’m glad to note they will need additional sustenance while staying with us. One extra companion for food won’t be enough with two younger vamps in attendance.
Staying awake around the clock during the inn’s open season requires additional feedings for our kind. Even I need a full feeding of a single pint each month with the added strain on my system. Normally, the sips I take from my husband a few times a week would be enough to keep me satisfied, but here in the dark winter wilderness, I need more.
“Let me know if you feel like being a donor this week with our new guests,” I direct Tommy. “You can be at the top of the list if you’d like, I know it’s been a while for you.” He nods while his dimples show in a big smile. “Check them out when they arrive, choose who you’d be comfortable with and let me know.” I hesitate and then add, “Put Iona down second on the list. I spoke to her and she’s ready. Pass the word to others who like to donate, but be discreet.” Tommy nods again, his sandy blond hair falling over his forehead. “You know my rules. I’d like the list with preferences by eight tomorrow morning.”
You’d think I’d just given him an early Christmas bonus the way his face lights up. “You’re the best, Viv. Have I told you that lately?”
“No need, dearie, Rafe tells me every night.”
My accompanying grin is wicked as I turn toward the front doors. Pausing a moment, I consider the week ahead with this visiting unknown group and the additional problem of the dead John Pierre. I would be wise to make sure I’m at my peak. Turning back to the desk, I address a specific requirement.
“One more thing. Call Jonathan and tell him I have to speak with him in my office at nine tonight.”
“Got it,” Tommy replies, reaching for the phone.
I redirect my mind to the work at hand. Needing to get in the right mood to project well when the new visitors arrive, I let my thoughts drift to the previous night with my German husband. His smooth, pale skin glowed in the candlelight set around our room. Rafe wore the tight boxer briefs he knows I love. They curve and cup his body and never hide when he’s interested.
The warmth in my middle moves throughout my limbs. A burning desire to pull my dress up around my waist, right here in the lobby, overcomes me. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time, but I’d rather not forget myself in such a way more than once a season. My body shudders at the mere thought of doing just that in front of complete strangers.
My treacherous mind thinks back to my husband’s rampant desire last night. I picture the stretchy fabric straining against his arousal while reining in the pull to get on my knees to reach and peel away the material, springing him free. It’s all in my mind and I’d certainly appear odd on my knees to any onlooker in the lobby.
Dria, I enjoyed last night, you minx. You warming up for the guests? I nod my assent. That’s my good girl. Remember the part with me on my knees? I loved how you couldn’t wait and had to press yourself into my tongue so early on… liebling, what you do to me…
This time when I see Rafe in my mind, he’s straining against the front of his slacks instead of his briefs. His hand reaches to readjust…
I slam our mental door when my hand reaches to pull up my hem. Whew, close call. After the guests get settled, I am going to have to track him down. I hope he hides. It’s so much fun to hunt him when we’re hot.
I hear a van door slide closed and turn to face the front entrance. The first guest opens the door on a burst of frigid air that pushes the hair from around my face. A man walks through with a confident stride.
Well, well, well, look what we have here. Isn’t he just gorgeous?
“Welcome to The V V Inn. I’m Vivian, one of the owners. I’m here to help make your stay an enjoyable one.” Turning my inner thoughts out, I project sensuality through every pore.
The man striding in from the main entrance has no mate on his arm. He’s olive-skinned with dark hair and brown eyes. Dressed in a custom-made black Italian suit, he saunters toward me. The power radiating off the handsome newcomer labels him a vampire, like a calling card for the undead. I can tell by the tingling push against my skin he’s been dead about fifty years. It’s safe to assume he is not the head of this seethe. He must be the Antonio listed in my file.
His eyes lock on mine while my desire coils about him like a snake. Approaching the front desk, his tan nostrils flare as he takes a deep sniff. “I’d heard this place was like candy for your soul,” he observes, “but I had no idea.” Like most predators, he zeroes in on what he considers to be prey—me—not sparing a glance at the surrounding lobby.
“You look good enough to eat.” His smile appears cold and calculated.
This is the drawback to pushing sexual feelings at guests when they walk through the door. Some foolish recipients direct their reactions back at me instead of the people they came with. I sense this young vamp hopes to stir my interest and entice me closer. Since I’ve never answered to corny one-liners in my past, I don’t see why I should now.
I smile, but don’t respond. My mother always told me if you don’t have something nice to say, not to say anything at all. I sometimes succeed in following her advice, but not often.
It’s obvious I’m undead, but he’s unable to guess my true age. Like all smart women, I hide my years well. Controlling what others of my species sense of my power is intentional. Old blood is desired by all of our kind, especially the young ones. It helps them grow strong enough to survive being prey to a more powerful vampire. The younger members of a seethe are bound in this need to the head of their family through exchanged blood.
Antonio’s gaze on my neck clearly indicates he hopes to taste my power and see what surprises my curvy body may hold. No matter how handsome I may find the young vamp, he will be disappointed. Although I enjoy a good fantasy now and then, it doesn’t change the fact Rafe and I are married—neither of us will break our vows.
Even though I have no seethe here, just Rafe and me, I do share my power through my blood. Contrary to the romanticizing by today’s youth, blood can be enjoyed in other ways than the mouth-on-neck route. I’m more generous than most vampires my age. We serve shots of my blood mixed with alcohol at the bar. Of course, it sells for a steep price.
I push a little to ensure Antonio will see me differently. With a delicate touch, I weave through his mind, inserting the idea of me as his latest conquest would not be worth the trouble. The exchange is quick, unnoticed by the new guest. Antonio turns to the desk to register, appearing less concerned with me.
I repeat my greeting when the rest of the party enters through the double doors then take a step back to allow them time to register. Again, I push sexual desire into the lobby, feeling my cravings wrap around their senses while invading their minds. They’ll experience warmth touching their skin as my emotions and thoughts seep in to become their own.
The rest of the MacKellan group advances about twenty feet before they stop and stare up to where the ceiling vaults away. All four are pulled into my web of desire but the three women react like a bunch of high school kids out drinking. Sounding giddy, almost carefree, they’re excited with their adventure and loving every moment. I hear jubilant sighs of “oh” and “ah” as they walk about while peering at the opulent surroundings. The sexual electricity of the crafted moment gives them a high. A few bodies spin around to take in the grandeur of the lobby all at once.
Light sparkles off the twisted glass of the hand-blown chandelier. Highly-polished wood banisters gleam in its soft light. Sounds bounce off the wood floors, rising, only to be muffled by the three-story, book-lined landings encircling the lobby.
A svelte blond vampire whispers, “Do you feel that?”
“I feel something,” Antonio states, turning from the desk.
I note individual reactions to the space while watching expressions run across their features. The female vamp who spoke looks like she’s close to going over the edge from the vibe I’m sending. She breathes heavily, her lips parted, while her glassy eyes stare at nothing in particular.
The energy signature pulsing from her feels young, close to Antonio’s age. This could be Joanna. Her black Goth attire looks cute on her athletic Barbie figure, but I bet cute wasn’t what she was hoping for when she picked the clothes out.
The only other man in the group, Liam MacKellan, sends out his energy in a wave. His rude electric broadcast prickles my skin. It’s strong. Unless he blocks it like I do, it could get uncomfortable for me to be in a room with him for any length of time. I would judge him to be a little over three hundred, much younger than my own five hundred eighty years. He’s unquestionably the head of this seethe. His regal bearing and dominant strength remind me of a clansman of ages past. Liam may be dressed all in black, but I bet he’d look more at home painted blue, wearing a kilt, and wielding an axe.
Liam’s hard countenance reveals nothing while he observes his surroundings. He feels my sexual energy projections but he’s much more controlled. He’ll be a fun one to shake up this week.
The lush brunette with a hand resting in the nook of his arm could be the Francesca listed in my file, as her coloring reminds me of Italian blood. The woman holds herself with confidence and grace; she would have to be strong to hold her own with him.
The last member of their party is a petite blond. By her pure scent, no vampire has laid claim to her yet. Interesting. They have fed from her, but there has been no mutual exchange of blood. I wonder why she was invited if she is not a servant. One companion is not enough to feed three vamps, so why bother to bring her at all? She is pretty in a sweet kind of way. I would almost call her innocent—except for the company she keeps. If I got Joanna’s name right, then this pretty young thing must be Olivia.
I can hardly contain my compulsive impulse to touch them all and read their desires, but that will have to wait a bit longer.
Tommy explains house rules with our guests while distributing room key cards. “Hungry for blood, please call the front desk. We have willing donors on the premises twenty-four hours. No sharing blood with your donors. It’s a one-way transaction. Please do not use any vampire mind control to alter memories unless asked by Vivian or Rafe directly—and she will be checking.” Handing out the last key card, he wraps up his spiel. “Tours and instruction of the third floor rooms will be given at noon tomorrow. Please call if you’d like a private viewing with one of the owners. All other information on the resort can be found in the binder in your room, including directions for items in your welcome basket.”
Francesca coos with delight, “Oh, I love welcome baskets. I can hardly wait to see what’s inside!”
Tommy’s answering grin is a knowing one. He has first-hand experience with what’s in those baskets. We give out samples of all the new toys to the staff when a shipment comes in. It’s a great way to ensure their proficient use of the intimate items.
I tune out the rest of the playful banter between the guests by lowering myself into a comfortable chair. I love this part of my job. The first feel our visitors get when they arrive can set the tone for their whole vacation.
Not many vampires have the power to project real-life illusions, and of those who can, none are able to fool their fellow undead—except for the rare ones like me. I’m the only powerful manipulator left. The rest have been hunted down and killed by the Tribunal of Ancients to ensure no vampire can mind control another.
Who would guess they were vacationing with one of the best enforcers our vampire tribunal has ever seen? My high kill rate was attributed to fighting skills, never my use of subtlety. Here, residing at a resort above the Arctic Circle, I hide to avoid the debilitating silver hood used to control my kind, while freely using my gift on the guests. The no-daylight setting, combined with my rare skill, guarantees everyone will have a good time, and my added proficiency in manipulating ensures I’m never suspected.
I cross my legs, debating how far to go tonight. This group has a lot of dynamics I’m unaware of but I’d like to take a risk and push the envelope. Opening my mate bond to Rafe’s thoughts might help me decide.
Reading my mind makes him smile. Go for it, Dria. But leave the employees be.
I uncross my legs, allowing my thighs to squeeze together before I ease them flat onto the chair.
I send out arousal, thick and cloying, into the lobby air. It slowly permeates each guest, seeping into their minds to become their own. Women cling to the person closest to them, while the men reach a hand to steady themselves on the front desk or a nearby piece of furniture. Thankfully, no one loses balance or falls. That’s always much harder to explain away.
Standing, I walk to the front desk, waiting for our guests to assimilate what they’re feeling.
All have intense expressions on their faces. The human companion, Olivia, has a dazed cast to her features. She touches her neck, associating the arousal with what she feels from a feeding. Before my eyes, the vamps ease closer to the humans in the lobby. I’m betting some major magic will happen upstairs in a few minutes.
Damn, I’m good.