You know how, when you’re young, you dream of how your life will go? Sometimes, the crap you watch on TV influences you. You always think they have it better—I mean, who wouldn’t want to be an invulnerable superhero who makes it at the last minute and saves the day? If you were a superhero, did it really matter if you were vulnerable to a bit of meteor rock? The last time I was afraid of a rock collection was, like, never. Too bad I hadn’t been born on another planet then jettisoned to Earth when my planet was destroyed. No matter how ridiculous, I had dreams. Big dreams. I always thought I would be a star. If not of the stage or screen, then at least at every backwater pub, club, and high school dance where someone let me hold a microphone. Hecate knows, I’m a damn karaoke expert.
But nope. No, I have a problem. A wicked temper, salted by way too much sarcasm. I got up on a stage and strutted my stuff. Okay, I was drunk, and it was a dare, but how was I supposed to know that half the audience in that club that night was there ashors d’oeuvres for the local vampire enclave? Did they have a sign out front? No. No, they did not. So there I was, doing my best Sandra Dee impression and rocking out to Summer Lovin’ with this really good looking guy when some jackass in the audience boos us.
Okay, he got up, turned around and farted in tune to the song. Not just offensive, but really profane. It really threw me off my game, so much so that when we got to the part about the true love vow, I said cow. My gift, it’s got some serious kick, and all the mortals in the place—including Mr. Farts-A-Long—were moo-ved along.
Yep, I said moo-ved, ‘cause I crack myself up.
Anyway, long story short, the vampires in the bar were pissed. Beyond pissed. Like metric-nuclear-to-the-max-you-wouldn’t-like-me-when-I’m-angry furious. Fortunately, or maybe not so fortunately, they saw me as asset to be co-opted rather than feasted upon. Of course, it could also have something to do with the fact that the potent herbal teas I drink to protect my very valuable throat also makes my blood taste like ass. Or so I’ve heard.
For the last few years, I’ve been the local enclave’s version of a jukebox. They want jazz? Well, I’m their girl. They want blues? Yep, there I am. Bubblegum rock? Just crank Bridget up and press play.
It’s so effing boring. I got hauled across town in the dead of night, while in my pajamas, my hair is standing straight up—not to mention I lost one of my favorite slippers when Goon One and Goon Two hustled me into the car. If only I didn’t have to wear the stupid choker. If my voice went even a fraction of a decibel above normal conversation, it zapped me.
I tested it once. My hair didn’t comb straight for a week. Not even with product and a flat iron. Again, I digress, the point being… if I could have shattered the vampires’ eardrums, I would have but nope. I ended up standing in the too-plush living room of one Alistair Hethrington Nasty-Face.
Yes, I know. It wasn’t his real name. “Good morning, Mr. Nasty-Face, what can I do for you today?” Keeping them on their toes required a lot more coffee than they’d provided. “Please tell me you want me to take off the collar so I can sing you a lullaby to permanent sleep?”
“Sit down. Shut up. Listen.” Awww, he was in a foul mood.
“Did Mr. Nasty-Face not get a good day’s sleep?” Flopping onto the sofa, I folded my arms and put my feet on his really nice table. Since I was missing a slipper, I’d likely leave a mark on the wood.
“Bridget…” He growled my name. It was pretty sexy, if one discounted his rather disgusting penchant for feeding on blood, his need for dominance, and the overwhelming arrogance in his silk black power suit. “We have an issue.”
“Didn’t do it.” Holding my hand up, palm forward in a show of surrender, I did my best to keep my expression empty of doubt or at least not sneering. “I’ve been home all night. Bridezillas marathon.” Awesome cat fights, too. The whole brides turning into monsters the closer their wedding day came served as a fervent reminder what a crapfest love could be.
Mr. Nasty-Face sighed then pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m shocked no one has ripped your throat out yet…or at least your tongue.”
“Pity I need both to do your dirty work, isn’t it?” Mom used to accuse me of being too confident. On the one hand, I suppose I see her point. I mean why else would I have let the word ‘cow’ slip into my lyrics? I knew what would happen. Then again, the vampires didn’t kill me and, while working for them sucked, it certainly beat the alternative.
Most of the time.
With a baleful look, he stared at me. He might as well have had “shut up” stamped on his forehead or maybe he wanted to stamp it on mine. Either way, I mimed zipping my lips closed then waited.
I wasn’t going to give him long, a fact he seemed to grasp. “I have a job for you, a difficult task to which I believe you are uniquely qualified.”
“Peachy.” I flashed him a view of my pearly whites. Then stopped. I hadn’t actually had a chance to brush my teeth before they dragged me to his house. “What’s the job?”
“Always straight to the point with you.” The vampire sighed then cut his hand through the air. “Fine. I don’t care. Here’s the task. Montague turned a succubus.”
“The fuck you say.” Thank Hecate I didn’t have coffee in hand. I might have choked on it. “You can’t turn other species.”
“Not typically, no.” Mr. Nasty-Face strode across the room, retrieved a file then carried it to me and dropped it on the coffee table. The folder opened to a photograph of a very messy bedroom. Blood stained the sheets, the walls, and something dark and sticky seemed splashed liberally over the carpet. At no point in my existence did I possess a desire to be a crime scene tech or in any way attached to a crime scene.
“Gross.” I flipped the folder closed. Clearing my throat, I gave myself a minute so I didn’t hurl. “How does a nasty photograph tell you a vampire turned a succubus?”
Hands curling into fists, Nasty-Face stalked away to the bar and poured himself a drink. The agitation within him made for short, jerky motions. He slammed the crystal decanter down with enough force, I thought it might shatter. The amber liquid sloshed out of the glass onto the cherry wood counter, but he ignored it.
“Oh…dude.” Real shock rippled through me. “You did it.”
He held up a finger. “Not another word, never repeat that sentence outside of this room. Understood?”
Laughter bubbled up, and I pressed two fingers to my lips to keep it from escaping. As funny as the whole situation might be, Master Nasty-Ass was in a mood. Clearing my throat again, I fought for some semblance of control. “How can I help?”
“And delivered so nicely, too.” Nope, my attitude didn’t fool him a bit. Hey, at least I tried. “I need a solution to the problem. You will reach out to other witches and to Baba Yaga and find out how to reverse the transformation.”
Oh. Was that all? “Really? You just want me to track down the biggest, baddest witch and ask her how to undo something impossible?”
“If anyone knows what to do, it would be the witches. You will find the answer to my problem, and you will fix it.”
“Sounds like you have it all thought out, so forgive me if I’m stepping on your toes, but I see a couple of small problems with that plan.” At his baleful glance, I spread my hands wide. “I’m bound to your enclave, can’t travel out of the state. And, the last I checked, Baba Yaga isn’t a big fan of Texas.”
“That’s an inconvenience, not a problem. The collar will come off for the trip.”
“Dude. Seriously?” He had my attention now. How to play this? How to spin it so it worked for me?
“Yes. I am aware you will need access to your magic.” As if the fact he said the words were all that was needed, the locks on the collar began to turn. I could feel the click clack of it all. “I also know how that brain of yours works. Once the collar is off, all bargains and bets are in the air. I know you, Bridget. You’ll do what’s best for you which means running as far from here as you can.”
No lie. The vampire did know me well. “I bet you’re going to make it worth my while.”
“I will cover all your remaining debts to the enclave.” That was a hefty price tag. “I will certify your freedom from obligation and give you the collar back once the task is complete.”
Give me the collar? The last lock spun slowly, but halted before it was complete. One more lock off and my voice was my own again. As would be my magic and the ability to go anywhere I wanted. “What’s the catch?” I’d been around vampires too long not to look for the secret out they worked into their deals.
“If you fail to complete your task or if you decide to ditch and run, I still have the collar and an entire host of bounty hunters to come after you. Trust me, they will come in force. You might spend the rest of your life running, no matter how short that time might be. Then, when you are caught, the collar will go on with a permanent spell. One that can only be broken when you’re dead and your soul crossed over.”
“I knew there was a reason I called you Nasty-Face.” He ignored the off-hand comment even as I tried to examine the deal from all sides. “To clarify, you take off the collar, I’m free to leave. You want me to go to the Baba Yaga and ask her how to undo an impossible turning of a succubus to a vampire? That’s it?”
“I want you to get the solution so we can perform it and undo the unnatural act from having happened.”
There was the rub. “And if there is no solution?”
“I don’t believe there isn’t one. History dictates turning her shouldn’t have been possible in the first place. Thus, if it is possible to turn her, it must be possible to unturn her.”
Gods and Goddesses, I’m going to hate myself for asking the next question. “Point of order. Don’t you die to become a vampire?”
Nasty-Face hesitated. Yeah, I didn’t think he’d considered that angle. “That’s less important than undoing it.”
“Dude, if you don’t care if the succubitch lives or dies, just pound a stake through her heart and call it good.” Really? Could I just shut up for five minutes? If he took me up on that suggestion, I was right back where I started. Of course, in my defense, I hadn’t had any coffee yet. The man didn’t have any coffee handy that I could see, either. Just liquor.
Maybe I should do shots.