I drive my delivery van to Vance’s house, half-ass a parking job, and stalk up the sidewalk. I pound on the side door, even though it feels silly, since there’s a gaping hole in the house’s wall next to me.
The door opens, and a woman with all the same dignity as she elegantly held last night smiles in greeting, as though it’s just any other day.
“Ms. Carmine. Lovely to see you again. Mr. Valhinseng said to take you to him when you arrived,” she informs me.
“It’s hot that he was expecting you, considering you didn’t even know you were coming here,” Anna states, as she pretends to adjust her bra.
“Shall we?” the prim and proper woman asks me as she beams at me and offers to show me in.
“She’d be Ms. Pots in a fairytale,” Anna says before disappearing.
It’s guilty relief that she’s giving me a moment of privacy as I follow the woman upstairs. Once we reach the top of the stairs, I quickly realize I haven’t been given privacy after all, because Anna is poking her head through doors one by one in search of him.
She sees me, and her eyes widen as she speeds up her process, as the woman leads me down the hallway, unaware that Anna sees this as a race.
I know which door we’re heading to when Anna runs inside one.
“Oh, lawd. He’s working out,” she calls out loudly. “He’s sexy and sweaty and oh so lickable still.”
I hear something clank loudly, just as my escort throws the door open to the room. Vance is breathing heavily as he turns to face me, giving me a small, sideways grin when I sort of stumble.
It’s getting bad when I continue to agree with Anna about anything involving men, but his entire body is glistening with sweat. He should look gross, but I’m quickly learning that Shadow Hills is a place where nothing works as it should.
“Was Damien Morpheous in my bedroom this morning?” I ask him, snapping out of my distraction as he starts tugging off some sort of athletic gloves.
“Yes,” he tells me with a shrug as he tosses the gloves aside and grabs a bottle of water to drink.
I absently notice the huge room that is full of weights, exercise equipment, mats, and lots of weapons. Not to mention, the entire room is walled with mirrors, which makes it impossibly hard to tell exactly how much of it is room or illusion.
“You really like looking at yourself,” I say like a mild accusation, verbalizing my mental tangent as I think back to the many walls of mirrors I found while running around aimlessly in search of a way out of here just yesterday.
“This is actually Damien’s home. I seized it from him decades ago as punishment,” he says absently as he moves to another wall.
I notice the door is closed, though it’s hard to actually see the door that now blends in with the rest of the mirrors.
“And yes, he loves himself that much,” he adds on a dry note as he begins toweling off his chest. “Or at least he used to.”
The distraction is brief. Sort of.
“Can you tell me how that works? You policing monsters?” I ask, getting diverted from my purpose for being here.
“I don’t police them. I kill them or imprison them, depending on the laws they break. There’s a delicate system in place to ensure a strong society.”
“How does he say these things with a straight face?” Anna asks as though she’s impressed. “Does he sound crazier than I do?”
“It’s a draw,” I tell her, looking back as he arches a questioning eyebrow at me, a smile toying with one corner of his mouth.
“I should step up my game,” she drawls, garnering my attention again. “He can’t be pretty, rich, brave, and even with me on the crazy scale. It makes him the alpha in our relationship if he’s more perfect than me. You know I don’t want to ride shotgun. I’m a driver.” She puts her hands at the ten and two position before adding, “Vroom. Vroom.”
“Do you have any salt?” I ask him as he stares at me like he’s trying to patiently wait on me to remember he and I are the only two people in this room.
He leans over and pulls out a small basket that is nothing but salt.
“This town may not see and hear the things blessed gypsies do, but they do know to always have salt close by,” he tells me.
“Oh, don’t be stingy. I saw him firs—”
I toss the salt over my left shoulder, and the words cut out as she’s ejected from the room—temporarily. It’ll be long enough to get back on track and remember my prime objective.
“You said you wanted to help me?” I ask, watching his eyebrow lift.
“I can hurt Damien. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things to do, so you just barely have to ask,” he says with a dark grin, and I swear his damn eyes twinkle for a second.
So it really was Damien in my room this morning? Is that what he’s saying?
I hesitate, wondering about the curse part of being a Van Helsing. How much does he get off on killing things?
“I don’t need you to hurt him unless this conversation doesn’t go well, so stop doing that creepy excited thing over the prospect of violence,” I tell him as I slowly back up.
“You’re doing exceptionally well with adjusting to the ‘life-altering’ news that got you a pedicure.”
“And you got me high. That’s an entirely other issue we’ll work out after I’ve dealt with the much larger issue of Damien in my bedroom. I have no idea what he is, so it’d be stupid for me to charge in without the facts. You have swords, but please don’t use them until he gives me a valid excuse for that extreme invasion of privacy.”
He snorts derisively as he lifts one sword off the wall, twisting it over in his grip as though he’s inspecting the weight.
“What are you doing?” I ask when he slides his hand down the blade.
“Making sure this is as dull as I hope it is.”
“It’s annoying answers like that which lead to resounding whys,” I decide to point out.
His lips quirk in a grin as just his eyes lift to meet mine. “Because you’re going to let me hurt him. And a dull blade hurts a hell of a lot worse.”
A slight tremor runs up my spine. “I’m not adjusting quite that fast,” I decide to tell him, and he struggles to restrain his smile.
“Duly noted,” he states as though he’s patronizing me.
“He’s twice as obsessed with you now,” comes a voice that causes me to clear my throat in an effort to mask the slight squeal I can’t choke back in time. “You’re his new favorite person just because you asked him to wail on Damien.”
The ghost from last night is in the room, perched at a lean on the wall in his turn-of-the-century, peculiar wardrobe.
I almost hate that I sent Anna away now, because I really want her to meet this ghost and find some sort of ghostly orgasm. He’s exactly her type—gorgeous. She’s easy to please. It’s terribly pathetic that her sex life is more distracting than my situation.
Vance looks around, following my line of view. How long have I been staring? Why do I keep doing this?
The man in the corner grins broadly at me, showing off his perfect smile on his stupidly perfect face. Damn it. I hate that I miss Anna right now.
This is why I don’t carry salt.
“Are you okay?” Vance asks, sounding slightly concerned as he steps into my line of view.
Blinking out of the trance, I clear my throat and stare up at him, just as a voice comes at my ear.
“I really thought they were overestimating your true value, but I’m certainly seeing just how appealing you can be, gypsy girl,” the unnamed ghost says from too close behind me. “If you don’t go in first, make sure to wait a minute, unless you want blood on your shoes,” he weirdly adds before disappearing.
“Let’s just go.” Before Anna comes back and I have to spend the rest of the day apologizing, I silently add as I turn and...struggle to find the door in the roomful of mirrors.
Vance smirks when he opens it for me…on the other side of the room.
“My sense of direction works better without mirrors,” I defend when I see his mocking grin spreading. “And put on a shirt, please. My life is distracting enough at this point.”
He turns me around, and I start back in the direction we just came in.
“If I have to wear a shirt, I need the closet on this end,” he says by way of explanation for the change in course.
“Why?” I ask, per the usual as of now.
“Because this end has all the shirts I don’t mind getting bloody. It’s inconvenient to fight in a shirt I happen to like,” he answers evenly.
I stop abruptly, arching an eyebrow at him as he continues to walk on, acting as though that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to just say. Rich monster slaying problems are beguiling…and incredibly unsettling at the same time.
“I’m not adjusting that fast,” I remind him.
He slows but doesn’t stop. “Duly noted,” he says again.
Shaking my head, I start following him again. “And there’s no need for it to be bloody.”
“Of course there’s not,” he says like he’s still patronizing me.
“Will he attack me?”
He scoffs and looks at me like I’m ridiculous.
“Yes, it’s completely absurd to ask if an unknown monster may attack me after slinking around in my room and getting stabbed by you,” I state, the words dripping with sarcasm.
“I offered to protect you just last night, and you think I wouldn’t tell you if Damien is a threat?”
“You haven’t volunteered any information on the details that led to me waking up to you wielding a bloody sword, and you seem to find this all amusing. I can’t read between the lines, and I don’t know you well enough to try. So yes, I get to ask questions, even if they seem silly to you, so stop being so condescending when I have no idea what the hell is going on around me. This is hard enough.”
He just stares at me for a second as I take a few calming breaths.
“He won’t harm you. I can assure you of that,” he says with a quiet, serious tone.
“Then there’s absolutely no reason to worry about blood.”
He smirks and continues walking toward the blood-approved closet.
He’s seriously overestimating the adjustment period I truly need.
I jump back too late, because blood sprays across my shoes the second the door opens. My eyes widen as Damien stumbles back and hits the wall, cupping his bloody nose.
“You fucking cunt!” Damien shouts as Vance smiles and shakes out his hand.
“Is the violence really necessary?” I ask, feeling slightly queasy at all the blood.
There’s been an awful lot of blood over the past twenty-four hours, and it’s starting to get to me. My stomach is only so strong.