Can she trust him with her undead heart?
Maxine Twilight runs the hottest fetish club in the Midwest, a place where the rich and famous come to play with vampires. When her employees begin turning to ash, Maxine calls in a ‘consultant’, slayer Zachary Fox.
Zachary Fox slays rogue vampires not other slayers. But when his dead ex-wife, Tessa, calls in a favor to stop a slayer, he agrees to help. However, he didn’t count on losing his heart to Maxine. So when it appears as if she is the intended target of the next wooden stake, he’s forced to put his life, and love, on the line.
Maxine heard a stifled scream and turned toward the sound. At the front desk, a couple stood staring at the spot where Victoria had been just moments ago. Then the man looked up, took a deep breath, and screamed like a girl.
What a nightmare.
In her mind, Maxine had prepared for this eventuality. She’d envisioned herself closing and locking the doors, calmly instructing the staff to conduct a swift and quiet search for the slayer, then she, personally, would dispose of the slayer, and the party would continue, so to speak.
Well, things didn’t exactly go as planned.
First off, Mitch’s caterwauling at the sight of the pile of ashes attracted everyone’s attention. Then, more people began screaming as they realized what had occurred. Vampires fled into the dark recesses of Temperance, and living patrons fled for the street. Thank the gods no one had been trampled in the pandemonium. Unfortunately, it looked like the slayer, whoever he or she was, had escaped.
Sorrow welled up inside her when she thought about Victoria, but she bit her bottom lip and carried on.
“I’ve called the police.” Jimmy, her brother, walked up behind her.
“And?” Maxine asked, although she knew full well what the answer would be.
“They pretty much said ‘good riddance’,” Jimmy replied.
“No, I guess not.” Jimmy shrugged and picked up a rag. “I had just hoped that since
Temperance was a Chicago landmark that someone would be concerned.”
“The undead have no rights, Jimmy. But believe me, if one of the living patrons had been murdered here tonight, the place would be crawling with cops.”
“Maxine?” A tall, thin brunette woman interrupted.
Maxine looked up. It was Tessa, one of her newly hired employees. “Everything is under control, Tessa. No need to be worried.”
Tessa shot her an impatient look. “Could I speak to you…alone?”
“Sure.” Maxine gave her brother an apologetic look, but he just smiled and sauntered away in the direction of his apartment in the back. She turned her attention to Tessa and silently prayed the pretty vampire wasn’t going to turn in her resignation.
“I’m so sorry, we’ve never had a slayer invade Temperance, and I can assure you—”
Tessa held up a hand to interrupt her. “I’m the one who needs to tell you I’m sorry. I made a call tonight after Vickie’s death.”
Maxine stayed silent, waiting for the other wooden stake to fall.
“I called my, well, ex-husband.”
Maxine was running out of patience while Tessa babbled on. Would the woman just come to the point?
“Zachary Fox. I phoned him this evening and called in a favor he owes me. He’ll be arriving sometime tomorrow.”
“Zachary Fox, the slayer?” Maxine shuddered. Was Tessa insane? Did she not think they had enough trouble with a rogue slayer in the club tonight? What was the woman thinking, inviting a professional killer into their midst? If the others found out, the club would be empty of vampires by nightfall, and Temperance would be closed for the first time in over 100 years.
“It’s not what you think. I know slayers, good ones and bad ones., Hell, you probably didn’t know it, but I was one once. There was something off about the hit tonight. I have a really bad feeling. I think someone was sending you a message.”
“Tessa, I get hate mail and threats on a daily basis. If it isn’t the public shouting for me to close down, it’s the mob trying to hone in on the business. I don’t think Victoria’s destruction was anything more than a rogue slayer trying to make a name for himself.”
“Maybe,” Tessa said, but her voice sounded anything but convinced. “But I think we need a professional to investigate. Especially since the police have pretty much washed their hands of all of us. Damn them anyway.”
Maxine looked around her at the gleaming oak tables, colorful Tiffany lamps, and the huge bar her great-grandfather had carved by hand. Temperance was her life. If it were to fail, stand empty, it would be a reinforcement of the existence that had been forced on her. No, she had to make this a success.
Her mother had inherited it after her grandfather’s death ten years ago. It should have come to Maxine. However, she’d lost it all when she died. Thank goodness, Jimmy had no interest in running the bar. After a brief period of ‘remodeling’, she had reopened it as a fetish club and struck it rich. She couldn’t bear to lose it. If the living patrons didn’t come, the vampires would have no other way to support their blood habit but by…
No, she wasn’t going to let that happen.
“We’ll just have to be more careful tomorrow night when we reopen.”
“Careful? How? A metal detector isn’t going to do jack shit against a wooden stake,” Tessa argued. “Or are you going to have everyone frisked at the front door?” She looked around. “Whoever killed Vickie was no amateur slayer, and if we don’t stop them, he or she will kill again.”
“And a professional slayer will do what? Help him kill us all?” Maxine shook her head. “No, we’ll handle the situation ourselves.”
Before Tessa could argue further, Maxine strode off. Her entire body felt numb with dread. Was Tessa right? Could someone be targeting her and her club?
It had to be the mob. When she’d first opened, they’d sent a few muscle-bound ‘gentlemen’ around to talk to her. Threatened her that if she didn’t pay protection money, ‘bad’ things were bound to happen.
She had sent the goons back to their boss with a few broken bones for their trouble. The mob had left her alone to some extent. She still got the occasional visit and letter from Mr. Poulos himself. But nothing like this.
After checking to make sure all her employees were reassured, she headed downstairs. She picked up one last crumpled napkin off the floor and then paused in the foyer. For the first time in six years, she locked the doors to Temperance before dawn. The clatter of the deadbolt left her with the uneasy feeling that she would never open the doors again.
No, she’d been killed, had fought the city for a liquor license, and had been threatened by the toughest man in Chicago. One measly murder was not going to force her to turn tail and run.
Striding down the hall on her way to her office, she passed a small cluster of employees. They looked up at her, and she stopped to talk, hoping to allay their fears. Even as she reassured them, she could see their doubts clearly in their eyes and expressions. If she didn’t do something and do it fast, they would leave. When they did, they would be easy game for anyone with a wooden stake and a Buffy-the-vampire-slayer complex. Here at Temperance, they were safe, they could earn a living, and with luck and Congressional lobbying, perhaps they could finally earn status as citizens again.
“So, what are we going to do, Miss Maxine?” a petite blonde vampire asked, her lips trembling.
“Did you call the police?” Vincent Price, their headliner who’s name really was Vincent, put his hand on her shoulder.
Maxine could almost smell his fear, and she hoped her outwardly calm demeanor would give him some comfort. It was hard enough to have died once and been forced to give up friends and family, many of whom recoiled from vampires in terror and loathing. To die again, soulless, was a terrifying possibility. One that she had every intention of preventing.
Maxine chewed on her lip. She could lie, but they deserved to know the truth. “Yes, the police were called, but they refused to help us.”
“So what are we going to do? I don’t have anywhere else to go. Temperance is my home.” Vincent’s friend and sometimes lover, Marcus, known to his fans as Van Helsing, had tears in his eyes.
“We’re not going to panic, for one. And I’m not going to close the club. But we are going to take some precautions.” Maxine looked around at their worried faces and grasped at the only straw she had. “I’ve called in an, um, consultant. He’ll be here tomorrow to investigate.”
The relief in her employees’ faces was clear. Marcus even smiled.
Damn it all, a consultant? The man was nothing but a cold-blooded killer, a slayer. Instead of relief, Maxine felt a surge of fear. Hopefully she hadn’t invited the wolf right into the fold.
Hope you enjoyed a small taste of Twilight's Embrace. You can purchase your own copy at www.cobblestone-press.com
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