I suddenly knew then that I would be seeing wily Duke Roman again. Probably sooner, rather than later.
Chuckling, I continued on to my apartment, halting after just a few more steps.
"Not again," I muttered in exasperation.
Familiar sensations swirled behind my apartment door. Like a glittering tempest. Like the humming of bees in the air.
There was a group of immortals inside my home.
What the f**k? Did I need to start charging admission to my apartment? Why did everyone suddenly think they could just go right inside when I wasn't there?
It occurred to me then, ever so briefly, that I had not sensed Jerome and Carter's presence earlier. They had caught me completely unaware. That was weird, but I had been too distracted by their news to pay much attention to anything else.
Similarly, my current anger did not allow me to further ponder that odd piece of trivia now. I was too annoyed. Slinging my purse over one shoulder, I stormed into my home.
"For someone who just orchestrated a murder, you're kind of overreacting."
Overreacting? In the last twenty-four hours, I'd had to endure virgins, scary vampires, murder, accusation, and humiliation in front of my favorite author. I really didn't think coming home to a quiet apartment was too much to ask for. Instead, I found three interlopers. Three interlopers who were also my friends, mind you, but that didn't change the principle of the matter.
Naturally, none of them understood why I was so upset.
"You're invading my privacy! And I didn't murder anybody. Why does everyone keep thinking that?"
"Because you said yourself you were going to," explained Hugh. The imp sprawled on my love seat, his relaxed posture indicating I might actually be the one in his home. "I heard it from Jerome."
Across from him, our friend Cody offered me a friendly smile. He was exceptionally young for a vampire and reminded me of the kid brother I'd never had. "Don't worry. He had it coming. We stand by you all the way."
"But I didn't - "
"Is that our illustrious hostess I hear?" called Peter from the bathroom. A moment later, he appeared in the hallway. "You look pretty snazzy for a criminal mastermind."
"I'm not - " My words died on my lips as I caught sight of him. For a moment, all thoughts of murder and apartment intrusion blanked out of my mind. "For God's sake, Peter. What happened to your hair?"
He self-consciously ran a hand over the sharp, half-inch spikes covering his head. I couldn't even imagine how much styling product it must have taken to defy the laws of physics like that. Worse, the tips of the spikes were white-blond, standing out boldly against his normally dark hair color. "Someone I work with helped me with it."
"Someone who hates you?"
Peter scowled. "You are the most uncharming succubus I've ever met."
"I think the spikes really, um, emphasize the shape of your eyebrows," offered Cody diplomatically. "They just take... some getting used to."
I shook my head. I liked Peter and Cody. They were the only vampires I'd ever been friends with, but that didn't make them any less trying. Between Peter's assorted neuroses and Cody's dogged optimism, I sometimes felt like the straight man - er, woman - on a sitcom.
"A lot of getting used to," I muttered, pulling up a bar-stool from my kitchen.
"You're one to talk," returned Peter. "You and your wings and whip getup."
My mouth dropped, and I turned an incredulous look on Hugh. He hastily shut the Victoria's Secret catalog he'd been leafing through.
"Georgina - "
"You said you weren't going to tell! You sealed your lips and everything!"
"I, uh... it just sort of slipped out."
"Did you really have horns?" asked Peter.
"All right, that's it. I want you all out of here now." I pointed at the door. "I've been through enough today without you three adding to it."
"You haven't even told us about taking the contract out on Duane." Cody's puppy-dog eyes looked at me pleadingly. "We're dying to know."
"Well, Duane's the one who technically did the dying," pointed out Peter in an undertone.
"Watch the snide comments," warned Hugh. "You might be next."
I half expected steam to pour from my ears. "For the last time, I did not kill Duane! Jerome believes me, okay?"
Cody looked thoughtful. "But you did threaten him..."
"Yes. And from what I recall, so have all of you at some time or another. This is just a coincidence. I didn't have anything to do with it, and..." Something suddenly occurred to me. "Why does everyone keep saying things like 'arranged his death' or 'got someone to murder him'? Why aren't you saying that I did it myself?"
"Wait... you just said you didn't."
Peter rolled his eyes at Cody before facing me, the older vampire's expression turning serious. Of course, "serious" means all sorts of things when paired with a hairstyle like his. "No one's saying you did it because you couldn't have."
"Especially in those shoes." Hugh nodded toward my heels.
"I appreciate your complete lack of faith in my abilities, but isn't it possible I could have, I don't know, taken him by surprise? Hypothetically, I mean."
Peter smiled. "It wouldn't have mattered. Lesser immortals can't kill one another." Seeing my astonished look, he added, "How can you not know that? After living as long as you have?"
Teasing laced his words. There had always been an unspoken mystery between Peter and me concerning which of us was the oldest of the mortals-turned-immortals in our little circle. Neither of us would openly admit our age, so we'd never really determined who had the most centuries. One night, after a bottle of tequila, we'd started playing a "Do you remember when..." sort of game. We'd only gotten back as far as the Industrial Revolution before passing out.
"Because no one's ever tried to kill me. So what, are you saying all those turf wars vampires have are for nothing?"
"Well, not for nothing," he said. "We inflict some pretty terrific damage, believe me. But no, no one ever dies. With all the territory disputes, there'd be very few of us left if we could kill each other."
I stayed silent, turning this revelation over in my head. "Then how do - " I suddenly remembered what Jerome had told me. "They get killed by vampire hunters."
"What's the deal with them?" I asked. "Jerome wouldn't elaborate."
Hugh was equally interested. "You mean like that one girl on TV? The hot blonde?"
"This is going to be a long night." Peter gave us both scathing looks. "You all need some serious Vampires 101. I don't suppose you're going to offer us anything to drink, Georgina?"
I waved an impatient hand toward the kitchen. "Get whatever you want. I want to know about vampire hunters."
Peter sauntered out of my living room, yelping when he nearly tripped over one of the many stacks of books I had sitting around. I made a mental note to buy a new bookshelf. Scowling, he surveyed my nearly empty refrigerator with disapproval.
"You really need to work on your hosting skills."
"Peter - "
"Now, I keep hearing stories about that other succubus... the one in Missoula. What's her name again?"
"Donna," offered Hugh.
"Yeah, Donna. She throws great parties, I hear. Gets them catered. Invites everyone."
"If you guys want to party with all ten people in Montana, then you're welcome to move there. Now stop wasting time."
Ignoring me, Peter eyed the red carnations I'd bought the other night. I'd put them in a vase near the kitchen sink. "Who sent you flowers?"
"You sent yourself flowers?" asked Cody, his voice quaking with sympathy.
"No, I just bought them. It's not the same. I didn't - look. Why are we talking about this when there's an alleged vampire killer on the loose? Are you two in danger?"
Peter finally opted for water but tossed beers to Hugh and Cody. "Nope."
"We aren't?" Cody seemed surprised to learn this. His scant years as a vampire practically made him a baby compared to the rest of us. Peter was teaching him "the trade," so to speak.
"Vampire hunters are simply special mortals born with the ability to inflict real damage to vampires. Mortals in general can't touch us, of course. Don't ask me how or why this all works; there's no system as far as I can tell. Most so-called vampire hunters go through life without even realizing they have this talent. The ones who do sometimes decide to make a career out of it. They pop up like this from time to time, picking off the occasional vampire, making a general nuisance of themselves until some enterprising vampire or demon takes them out."