Secret Life of a Vampire(4)

By: Kerrelyn Sparks
Chapter Four
  

Jack winced at the blood-curdling shriek. How could such a tiny bundle of humanity be so loud? And so terrifying? "I don't think she likes me." He quickly handed the newborn back to her father.
Roman Draganesti chuckled. "You were holding her like a sword being used to knight someone." He cradled his tiny daughter close to his chest and jiggled her up and down.
Jack stepped back, afraid that more than noise would emerge from the babe's mouth. "That jostling doesn't make her ill?"
"It soothes her." Shanna Draganesti gave them a weary smile from her hospital bed at Romatech Industries. "It reminds her of being inside of me."
"She's a bonny lass." Angus MacKay gave the newborn an appraising look. "She'll be needing a godfather, no doubt?"
Angus's wife, Emma, laughed. "Now that was subtle."
She perched on the hospital bed next to Shanna. "How are you, dear?"
"I'm fine," Shanna said. "But I hated missing the wedding."
"I was there!" Her two-year-old son, Constantine, sat at the foot of the bed. "I was the ring bearer."
"And you did a great job," Jack said, then turned to Roman. "What have you named your daughter?"
"Sofia." Roman swayed slightly as the baby fell asleep in his arms. "After my mother."
"A lovely name for a lovely little girl," Emma said.
Jack kept a tactful silence. The babe looked too fragile and frightening to him. But then, he hadn't had any experience with infants before this.
After the wedding ceremony, there'd been a short reception at the church to keep up appearances for the bride's mortal friends and family. Then the party had moved to the banquet hall at Romatech Industries where the Vamps could be themselves and toast the newlyweds with Bubbly Blood, a mixture of synthetic blood and champagne.
Jack had congratulated Ian and his bride, then wandered down the hall to the Romatech clinic where Shanna Draganesti had given birth to her second child.
He still marveled over the recent changes in the Vamp world. All his bachelor friends were suddenly succumbing to the lure of amove. Roman and Shanna seemed quite content. His boss, Angus MacKay, was deliriously happy with his wife, Emma. Jean-Luc had found Heather, and now Ian had married Toni.
You would think there was something in the water, but none of the Vamps drank water. They all survived off synthetic blood, first invented by Roman in 1987.
Only their enemy, the Malcontents, continued to feed off mortals, often killing them in the process.
Roman lowered his sleeping daughter into the bassinette next to the hospital bed.
"Isn't she beautiful?" Shanna whispered. "She has her daddy's dark hair."
Roman tucked a pink blanket around the baby. "I'm sorry I missed her arrival. I wanted to take the Stay-Awake drug."
"And I said no." Shanna smiled at her husband. "All you missed was me groaning and cursing men to hell for half the day. And when I was done screaming, Sofia took over."
"Look what I can do." Constantine tugged on Jack's suit jacket.
Jack glanced down just in time to see Roman's son vanish.
"Ta-da!" Tino reappeared across the room.
"Santo cielo, that's amazing!" Jack had already heard about Constantine's ability to teleport, but he figured the little boy was in need of some attention after the birth of his sister. And it truly was amazing. As far as Jack knew, Tino was the only mortal on earth who could teleport.
"Just remember not to do that tomorrow when your grandpa and grandma come to visit," Roman warned his son.
"I know." Tino hung his head. "Grandpa won't like me if he knows I'm different."
"He loves you," Shanna insisted. "We all love you. Grandpa just has trouble… understanding."
That was an understatement. Jack considered Shanna's father a loose cannon. As the head of the CIA Stake-Out team, Sean Whelan had started off wanting to kill all the Undead. Now that his daughter was married and having children with a powerful Vamp, Sean had reluctantly backed off the Vamps and was concentrating on the Malcontents.
Jack patted the little boy on the shoulder. "I think your grandpa would be jealous. You can do so many amazing things that he could never do."
Tino's blue eyes lit up. "Really?" He turned to his godfather. "Uncle Angus, when can I have a sword? You said you would give me one."
"Oh great," Shanna muttered and fell back against her pillows.
Emma chuckled. "We won't let him get hurt."
Angus swung the boy up into his arms. "Ye have to be able to lift a sword before ye can wield it."
Constantine wrapped his hands around Angus's neck. "I'm hungry."
"There's some food at the reception. Would ye like to go with me?" Angus asked.
"Oh yes!" Constantine squirmed in his godfather's arms. "I want to see Toni!"
"Verra well." Angus headed toward the door. "I'll bring him back in a little while."
"Thanks," Shanna said. "And please ask Ian and Toni to stop by before they leave. I was so sorry to miss the wedding."
"I'll tell you all about it," Emma said.
"Scusi." Jack bowed to the ladies and nodded at Roman, then followed Angus out the door.
"I've reconsidered your offer," he told his boss as they walked down the hall. "I'll be happy to fill in for Ian." Since Ian was leaving for a three-month-long honeymoon with Toni, the position of head of security at Romatech Industries was temporarily vacant.
"Excellent." Angus set a squirming Tino down and let the boy run ahead of them. "But I'm wondering why ye changed yer mind. Last night at the party, ye told me ye were eager to return to Europe to search for Casimir."
Jack shrugged. "Our leads are dead. Literally." All of the recent sightings of Casimir had been in Eastern Europe, although the Vamps had never been able to pinpoint his exact location. Whenever one of Casimir's men turned informant, they never survived more than a few nights. "We're no closer to finding Casimir now than we were two years ago."
"Aye, 'tis verra frustrating."
Damned frustrating. Jack had serious doubts they could ever capture the leader of the Malcontents, not when he could simply teleport away if they got anywhere in his vicinity. "I thought about what you said, and you're right. The Russian-American coven will seek revenge."
Jack had helped Ian and Toni defeat the local Russian Malcontents when they'd taken over the Digital Vampire Network. That had been five months ago, just before Christmas. "Since I was involved in the incident at DVN, I should be here for the repercussions."
Angus nodded. "Did ye know they're calling the battle at DVN a massacre?"
"I'm not surprised." Jack could hear music as they approached the banquet hall. The band was playing a waltz. What a shame he couldn't invite Lara Boucher here. How glorious it would feel to hold her in his arms and swirl around the floor till they were both breathless and dizzy. He'd tighten his embrace until her soft breasts—
"Zoltan told me ye killed six Malcontents that night," Angus continued.
Jack frowned as the lovely mental image of Lara wavered and disappeared. "Zoltan talks too much. I stopped counting the dead years ago. What's the point?"
Angus snorted. "The point is for every Malcontent ye kill, ye are saving countless mortals who would have been his victims."
"Oh right." Jack smiled wryly. "I'm one of the good guys." He doubted Lara Boucher would believe that. There had been two mortal women in his past, and they hadn't believed it.
Angus slapped him on the back. "Ye're a good lad, all right. I'm glad ye decided to stay in New York, but I'm wondering if yer decision has something to do with the pretty mortal who crashed Ian's wedding. I believe Robby said her name was Susie?"
"Robby talks too much."
"Robby was right to report a potential threat. She came to the wedding looking for you and carrying a weapon. Did she mean to do ye harm?"
Jack groaned inwardly. He should have known Robby would check that bag before handing it over. "Don't worry about it. I can handle her."
"How do ye know her?"
"She's a police officer."
"The devil take it," Angus muttered. "How much does she know?"
"Nothing. She and her partner were called to the hotel when our party got a little too rowdy." Jack gave his boss a wry look. "You all left me with a mess to clean up. Thank God Phineas came back with the Vampy Maids."
"Ye got the room back to normal?" When Jack nodded, Angus continued. "And ye followed standard protocol?"
"Yes. I erased all signs and memories that we were ever there. The hotel has no record of us. The paramedics who came for Laszlo have no memory of it. Even the dispatcher who called the police to the scene cannot remember it."
Angus paused outside the open doors to the banquet hall. "Why did paramedics come for Laszlo?"
Jack winced. Now he had talked too much. "She called them."
"Susie?"
"Her name is Lara." Jack didn't give out her last name. Somehow he felt possessive of that knowledge. He wanted to be the only one who would investigate her.
"Look!" Constantine pointed across the banquet hall. "There's Bethany and her mom. Can I go see them?"
Angus glanced at Jean-Luc's mortal wife and stepdaughter. "Sure, lad." As the boy scampered off, Angus turned to Jack. "Laszlo told me she couldna be controlled with our psychic power."
"Laszlo talks too much."
Angus narrowed his green eyes. "Then it is true? Ye couldna erase her memories?"
Jack shifted his weight. "No. She's immune somehow."
"She's a threat—"
"No. I can handle her. The situation is under control."
Angus stared at the waltzing couples as they twirled about the dance floor. "How was she able to track you?"
"She knew from the claymores Ian left in the hotel room that the groom was Scottish," Jack began.
"So she crashed weddings with a Scottish groom till she found you?" Angus turned his attention back to Jack.
"Yes." Jack kept his face blank, aware that his boss was studying him carefully.
"She sounds clever. Robby said she was passing fair."
Jack snorted, then resumed his bland expression.
Angus arched a brow. "No comment?"
Jack gave him an annoyed look. "I've known you almost two hundred years, Angus. You're fishing."
Angus's mouth twitched. "Verra well. Robby actually said she was verra lovely."
Jack felt a strange sense of pride on Lara's behalf. "That would be correct."
Angus leaned back against the door frame and folded his arms. "Does she realize all signs of the party were erased?"
"Yes."
"And being a clever lass, she has questions, no doubt." Angus frowned. "I would order you never to see her again, but I'm afraid ye would disobey. I doona want to fire you. Ye're too valuable to the company."
Jack remained silent.
"So I'll suggest ye doona see her again," Angus continued. "Whatever ye do, doona tell her about us. That is an order."
Jack nodded. "I understand." There was no way he could tell Lara about vampires. He'd made the mistake twice in the past, telling his mistress in 1855 and another one in 1932. They'd both reacted so badly that he'd been forced to erase their memories. They'd gone on with their lives, blithely unaware of him and the heartache he'd endured for losing them.
It would be even worse with Lara. He couldn't erase her memory. A confession to her would be a giant leap forward that could never be taken back. Not only would he lose her, but she would remain a threat.
Angus rested a hand on his shoulder. "Be careful, lad. Be verra careful." He sauntered into the banquet hall.
Jack sighed. Telling Lara the truth would put his life and the lives of all his Vamp friends in jeopardy.
The full extent of his dilemma became painfully clear. He couldn't trust Lara enough to tell her the truth. And she would never trust him as long as he refused to tell her the truth. A no-win situation. He should follow Angus's advice and never see her again.
A small voice deep inside him whispered no. It repeated the word a bit louder and louder till it was shouting in his head. Merda. If she called him, if she needed him, he would rush to her side in a second.

Over the next week, Jack adjusted to his new job as head of security at Romatech Industries. It wasn't difficult. In fact, it felt like a vacation after two years of hunting for Casimir in Eastern Europe.
He'd arrived in New York City at the beginning of May in order to attend the annual spring conference and Gala Ball. Then, with Ian's wedding only a week away, it had made sense to stay in New York. Now that he was filling in for Ian, he'd remain here another three months.
Romatech was a bustling place during the day, with two hundred mortal employees making synthetic blood that was shipped to hospitals and blood banks. At night, about fifty Vamp employees arrived. A few, like Laszlo, were brilliant scientists who assisted Roman. The others, not so brilliant, packaged and shipped synthetic blood and Vampire Fusion Cuisine to Vamps around the world. It was Jack's job to keep them safe from the Malcontents, who considered Romatech a prime terrorist target.
Phineas McKinney was there to help him. Dougal Kincaid, who had been stationed at Romatech for five years, was reassigned to Eastern Europe to help Angus search for Casimir. Connor Buchanan was on hand to advise Jack. As personal bodyguard to Roman and the Draganesti family, Connor was often at Romatech.
Whenever Phineas made the rounds, Jack found himself alone in the security office, and his thoughts always wandered back to Lara Boucher. She hadn't called, so hopefully, that meant she was safe. He was tempted to call her, but always managed to resist. Instead, he appeased his curiosity by researching her on the computer.
He knew where she lived. He knew she worked from the Midtown North Precinct. But the more he found out about her past, the more confused he became. She didn't make sense.
She was from a town in northern Louisiana, where her father had served as mayor and her mother resided on the board at the local country club. Lara could be living a charmed life there, so why did she move to New York City? At the age of seventeen, she'd won the title of Miss Teen Louisiana. Why would she give up a pampered life to become a police officer?
On the third night of his investigation, he located a newspaper article that was six years old. Former Miss Teen Louisiana Nearly Dies in Car Accident. His heart tightened in his chest. Santo cielo. The photo showed a crumpled car turned upside down. Lara had been inside that? He scanned the article. Intensive care. Not expected to live.
Merda. What pain and horror had this poor girl endured? He reached for the phone to call her.
No. He'd begged her to leave him alone, and she had. He closed the browser window and paced across the office. He should avoid her like Angus said. No good could come from contacting her. Instead, he should be grateful that she'd recovered from the accident. She was alive and well.
And risking her life every night on the street. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket. She could have called during the day while he was in his death-sleep. No messages. He entered her home and work numbers into his phone's directory. Just in case.
Nine circles of hell. What a fool he was. Seven nights had passed, and he still wanted to see her. He almost wished she would get into trouble.

It was just after eleven Sunday night when Lara and her partner arrived at a fifth-floor condo overlooking Hudson River Park. Mrs. Kelsey Trent had called 911, asking for help before abruptly hanging up. Lara could hear the screaming voices from the hallway. A man and a woman.
Harvey knocked on the green-painted door. "NYPD!"
Lara waited about four feet away from Harvey, her weapon drawn and ready if her partner was attacked.
The door swung open. "What the hell do you want?" A middle-aged man stood there in plaid pajama bottoms and a navy T-shirt. His eyes narrowed at the sight of their uniforms. "You must be at the wrong place. There's nothing going on here."
"Are you Mr. Trent?" Harvey asked.
"Maybe. What do you want?"
The man reeked of alcohol, and Lara noted the bloody knuckles on his right hand.
"We received a call," Harvey said. "May we come in?"
"A call?" Mr. Trent gave them a confused look, then his expression cleared. He looked over his shoulder. "You stupid bitch, did you call the police?"
Lara heard a feminine groan from inside the condo.
She raised her voice. "Mrs. Trent, do you need medical attention?"
"There's nothing wrong with her," Mr. Trent insisted.
Lara lifted her chin. "We're not leaving, Mr. Trent, until we have properly assessed your wife's physical condition."
"Well, aren't you the feisty one," Mr. Trent sneered at her. "Then come in, sweetcakes, and properly assess. Assess your little ass off."
Harvey stepped into the foyer and neatly maneuvered the drunken man to the side so Lara could enter. "Can you tell me what happened, sir?"
Mr. Trent ran a hand through his thinning hair. "Kelsey slipped in the shower. That's all."
Lara quickly surveyed the foyer. An oriental rug ran the length of the polished wooden floor. Against one wall rested a wooden console table, topped with a brass lamp that illuminated the narrow hall. Arched openings led into a living room on one side and a dining room on the other. There were closed doors at the back of the foyer and a cushioned bench.
A woman sat there. Kelsey Trent, Lara assumed. Her peach-colored silk bathrobe matched her slippers. She'd folded her arms on her knees and was leaning over to rest her forehead on her arms.
"We heard your voice raised in anger," Harvey told the drunken husband.
"I was yelling at Kelsey for being so clumsy," Mr. Trent grumbled. "Because I care so much, you know."
Lara holstered her sidearm and sat on the bench next to the wife. "Mrs. Trent, are you all right?"
She lifted her head. Her left eye was puffy and bruised, and her lip was cut. She cast a wary glance at her husband. "I… fell in the shower."
"See?" Mr. Trent said. "That's what I told you."
"Let's go to the kitchen and fix you an ice pack." Lara helped the woman stand and gave Harvey a pointed look.
Harvey would understand. He would commiserate with the husband, trying to lure him into a confession of assault and battery. They could go ahead and arrest Mr. Trent on suspicion, but a confession would make it easier to convict him in court.
"Kitchen's in here." Kelsey Trent opened a door and led Lara into a brightly lit room.
Lara grabbed a dish towel off the gray granite countertop and opened the freezer door. "Do you have any other injuries?"
"No, I'm fine." Kelsey sat at the kitchen table. "I just slipped and fell."
Lara deposited a handful of ice cubes in the center of the towel. "Let's be honest about this, okay? If you had fallen in the shower, it wouldn't be just your face that was hurt."
Kelsey's shoulders drooped.
Lara folded the towel, encasing the ice inside. On the way to the table, she noticed the empty vodka bottle in the sink. "You called us for help, Kelsey. We can't help you if you won't tell us the truth."
"I—I shouldn't have fussed at him for drinking so much."
Lara handed her the ice pack. "This is not your fault. How many times has he hit you?"
Kelsey dabbed the ice pack against her lip. "This is only the second—no, third time."
"One time is too many." Lara sat beside her. "You need to put a stop to it. Press charges."
"No! That would make Charlie so mad. It would get even worse then."
"No, it would be better. He'd be in jail."
Kelsey's bruised face contorted with horror. "But what would I do without him?"
I don't know, live? Lara tamped down on her growing frustration. "Listen, he's going to keep using you as a punching bag. In fact, you can count on him getting more and more violent."
Kelsey glanced at the open door. "What's that officer doing to him? He won't arrest Charlie, will he?"
"They're just talking for now—"
"He'd better not make Charlie mad," Kelsey continued, growing more agitated. "Charlie has a gun in the living—"
"What?" Lara rose to her feet. "Stay here."
She unsnapped her holster as she peered into the foyer. No sign of Harvey or Charlie Trent. They must have moved into the living room. She raised her voice. "Harvey? Can I speak to you for a minute?"
"What are you doing?" Kelsey shouted. "Don't shoot my Charlie!"
"Quiet," Lara hissed. She heard male voices shouting. "Harvey!"
BAM! A gun fired.
Kelsey screamed.
Lara's heart lurched in her chest, and she drew her weapon. "Harvey, answer me!"
"Goddammit!" Charlie roared from the living room. "You stupid bitch! This wouldn't have happened if you hadn't called the police!"
Lara could hardly think with Charlie bellowing and Kelsey shrieking. Panic seized her as she mentally pictured Harvey dying on the living-room floor. Get a grip. Harvey needed her to stay calm. She'd gone through a jillion simulations like this at the academy, but still, she wasn't prepared for the sheer terror of real people dying.
She punched the transmitter on her shoulder. "Shots fired. Officer down. Requesting an ambulance and immediate backup."
"Ten-four. They're on their way," the dispatcher said.
Even so, it could take five minutes or more for the cavalry to arrive. Lara's heart thundered in her ears as she positioned herself next to the door frame and readied her pistol. "Charlie Trent! Put down your gun and step into the foyer with your hands up!"
"I'm not going to jail for this!" Charlie shouted. "Goddammit! This is Kelsey's fault. I'll make her pay."
A chill crept down Lara's back. Charlie was planning to take everyone down with him. She shut the kitchen door. It would take Charlie a few seconds to open it, and in those few seconds, she would have to shoot. She glanced around and spotted two more doors. One looked like it led into the dining room. What if Charlie attacked from that direction? And then, there was a third door. She rushed over to Kelsey. "Where does that door lead?"
"It's a back entrance."
"Then I want you to leave. Now."
Kelsey shook her head, whimpering.
"I'll kill you, you stupid bitch," Charlie yelled. "And the children, too."
Children? Lara's heart plummeted. "You have children?"
Kelsey burst into tears. "My babies."
This was a nightmare. Lara fought to remain calm. Was Harvey dead? Would Charlie attack his wife first or the children? Oh God, she couldn't think. She needed to act now. She had to stop Charlie before he killed anyone. Dammit! If only there was another option…
If you're ever in trouble ...
He couldn't come here immediately. Or could he? Jack was so… different.
"I'm coming for you, Kelsey!" Charlie yelled.
Lara heaved at the thick kitchen table and it fell onto its side with a loud crash. She squatted behind it with Kelsey. With shaking fingers, she retrieved her cell phone from her shirt pocket. Three days ago, she'd told her roommate about Jack. LaToya had urged her to call him, but Lara had refused. Then LaToya had swiped Lara's phone and entered Jack's number on speed dial at number one.
What did she have to lose? Lara pressed 1, then set the phone down and readied her weapon.
Charlie's heavy footsteps pounded across the foyer.
"Pronto?" Jack's voice emanated from the phone.
"Jack—"
The kitchen door burst open and shots exploded across the room.