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Evil Vampires Come to Call . . .

By the time we left the hospital, the mountain skyline shimmered in the midst of a breathtaking color and light show. Brilliant shades of red, orange, blue, and purple swirled around and through each other, muting into pinks, peaches, and lavenders as shafts of sunlight streamed through openings in the kaleidoscope of colors. Off to the east, faint points of light floating in an indigo void sparkled as the sun retreated behind the towering peaks in the west. Nothing’s as magical as a Rocky Mountain sunset.

We were all exhausted and worried about Emerald, and the ride back to my office was a silent one. It appeared my companions had buried the hatchet because Ronald offered to take Midnight home, and she accepted. Before they left I rescheduled Ronald’s appointment and thanked him for being such a big help. He seemed ill at ease with my expression of appreciation, but gave me a tentative smile. I looked forward to finding out if I could help alleviate the sadness I saw behind his warm tawny eyes.

I wrestled with myself about whether I should go up to my office and work for a while or head home to a glass of wine and a hot bath. Guilt won the match and I rode the elevator upstairs, daydreaming about sinking into an aromatic bubble-filled tub.

I was gratified to find several voicemail messages from prospective clients, and I sat at my desk for the next hour returning calls and answering emails.

I had just decided to pack it in for the evening when my office door opened and two of the whitest men I’d ever seen walked in. I don’t mean just pale, like the British actors on the BBC, but chalk-white. Unlike the makeup Midnight used, the tone of their complexions hadn’t come from a tube. Suffice it to say they weren’t sun worshippers.

One of the men was tall, dark-haired, and handsome and the other short, odd-looking, and muscle-bound.

Startled, I asked, “May I help you?”

How did they get in? I’m positive I locked those doors.

No response.

They ambled in and circled around, prowling through the couches and chairs in the middle of the room, their eyes fixed on me.

The shorter of the two came and sat on the corner of my desk and leered at me. He smiled a closed-mouth smile and reached out a tattooed hand to touch my hair. I jerked away.

He wore a sleeveless T-shirt that showed exaggerated biceps and triceps rippling across his upper arms. His hair was that artificial color of burgundy so popular with the goths, and it flowed down his upper body like stringy octopus arms. His eyes were so light-blue they were almost white. He reminded me of a demented miniature muscle man – a nightmare come to life.

These guys made my stomach hurt. It wasn’t only that they’d invaded my privacy, or that they appeared dangerous, or even that they could assault me at any moment. It was something else, some basic, preverbal fear that caused the hairs on my arms to stand up and the warning system in my head to fire a red alert. I kept having the odd, less-than-comforting intuition that death was in the room, and my usually manageable radar was picking up so much fearful information that it plunged into overload and threatened to shut down.

I glanced over at the phone on the far corner of my desk and began sliding my hand in that direction.

The tall man stepped around behind me, put his hands underneath my jaw, and pulled my head back, somehow rendering me powerless. He bent down, brought his mouth next to my ear, and whispered, in a very sensuous voice, “I’ve heard so much about you, I thought it was time we were formally introduced.” He grabbed the hand moving toward the phone.

“Who are you? What do you want?” I tried not to sound as worried as I felt.

His hand trailed across the hair at the back of my head, and he moved to sit directly in front of me on my desk, jamming his legs into the space under the desk with mine.

“No!” I stifled a scream and reacted instinctively, making an unsuccessful attempt to push away. He bent in close, his hands gripping both sides of my chair, and effectively blocked any move on my part. I was glad I’d worn a pantsuit instead of a skirt, because I wanted as many layers between us as possible.

Think, Kismet. Don’t let the lunatic know how afraid you are. Don’t give him that power.

He lowered his mouth to within an inch of mine and I twisted my head to the side, shifting away from his hot, unpleasantly sweet breath. He grabbed my chin between his thumb and first finger, holding tightly enough that I knew there’d be bruises, and forced my face back level with his. “I’m Bryce. I believe you’ve heard of me.”

“Stop it! Let go of me—”

He swallowed my words with his mouth, clamping his lips on mine with enough pressure to cause my teeth to break the skin on the inside of my lip. Then he sucked my lower lip into his mouth and held it between his teeth until I gave an involuntary yelp of pain. Only then did he pull back with an evil grin and gazed at me with his dark-green eyes, which were suddenly magnetic. I tried to look away, but I couldn’t. I literally couldn’t. It was as if his eyes were pulling me. I managed to briefly squeeze my eyelids shut, but he dug his fingers into my chin again, jerking my head roughly. “Open your eyes,” he roared.

My breath caught and my eyelids flew up. His eyes were directly in front of mine, the green darker than before, almost black. I fell into them and the edges of my vision blurred. A strange haze settled over everything as part of my mind drifted off on a cloud.

I felt as if my arms and legs were encased in armor, that even thinking about moving would require way too much effort, and that it really wouldn’t matter because they were too heavy to lift anyway. Nothing really mattered.

Bryce watched me with a smirk. “See? You’re feeling much more relaxed now. Aren’t you sorry you made such a fuss?”

“What do you want?” I mumbled.

I made what I thought was another valiant effort to raise myself out of the chair. Since nothing happened, I could only assume the message hadn’t traveled from my brain to my body. My muscles were pudding and my mouth was dry as the Sahara. Maybe I’d had a stroke and was spending my last moments on Earth in the company of a psychopath.

He laughed. “I enjoy it when you struggle. It excites me. I’m not sure you really want to know what I want. Let’s just keep it a surprise, shall we?”

Bryce lifted a piece of his long hair and brushed it against my cheek. “You really are quite lovely. All that long, dark hair and sexy eyes – I can see why Devereux is attracted to you. I’m here because I overheard him talking about you to my little servant, Midnight. I think he’s quite smitten with you, and nothing would make me happier than to keep Devereux from having something he wants or, even better, to take it away from him once he has it.”

“No one has me,” I said, despite the fact that I had no idea what he was talking about, and the part of my mind that had floated away was still missing in action. False bravado was one of my favorite defenses. Never let the violently delusional know you’re afraid.

All this time the smaller man had been laughing and slapping his leg with one hand. I slanted a glance at him and he showed me his top row of teeth, exposing a very real-looking set of fangs. He definitely had the best pair of fakes I’d seen so far. I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction he thought I’d have to his cosmetic dentistry, but I obviously didn’t give him whatever facial expression he wanted because he lurched at me. I recoiled from his touch.

“I could rip your throat out with these,” he growled.

Abnormally fast, Bryce reached over, grabbed the small man by the throat, and threw him onto the floor. “Leave her alone, Raleigh. I told you – she’s mine.”

Raleigh glared at Bryce, making noises that sounded more animal than human. Then he got up off the floor, stumbled to the nearest couch, and stretched out, lacing his fingers behind his head.

She’s mine? What does that mean? Am I his to harm, or—? This is bad. I wish I could find the “on” switch for my brain.

I hadn’t worked with any physically dangerous or psychotic clients since my residency at the psychiatric ward during graduate school. Now I tried to remember the skills I’d learned for dealing with them. Since I’d seen Bryce throw the small man around like a cardboard cutout, I knew I had no chance of doing anything that required physical strength. I thought my only hope would be to use my tools as a therapist. Maybe I could reason with him. Or maybe I should just keep my mouth shut. I definitely needed to keep a clear head and that had become a problem.

Bryce turned his attention back to me and searched for something in my expression. He leaned in, ran his tongue over my lips, and then kissed me again.

I twisted my face away. “Stop it! Get away from me!”

He angrily shoved my chair back from the desk, stood up, and lifted me, holding me like a child in his arms.

I pushed ineffectually against his chest and kicked my legs, trying to get him to put me down, and for one sick moment I was reminded of a scene from that old science fiction movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, where the robot picks up the woman and she can’t get away. Bryce felt that cold and alien to me.

I still had little control of my limbs, and I was forced to acknowledge that this situation wasn’t likely to have a happy ending. “Let me go! What are you doing?”

He walked me over to a couch back against the far wall. The motions I made with my arms and legs were pitifully useless. I hated feeling helpless. I thought about all the opportunities I’d had to take self-defense classes and how I’d always come up with some excuse to avoid them. I didn’t know if learning to take down a man wearing a big foam helmet would have helped me fight off these two vampire wannabes, but it would have been better than nothing.

“Let’s have a therapy session.” He sat on the couch and held me tight in his lap. I kept pushing against him, getting more and more pissed about whatever he’d done to cause this bizarre almost-paralysis, but his arms were steel bands. The sweet, coppery smell that rode his breath was stronger now.

“What do you want? Why did you come here?” I demanded, trying to sound more confident than I felt.

“Maybe I need someone to talk to,” he replied in a fake whining voice. He opened the top button of my blouse and ran his finger across the exposed skin. “Maybe I’m just a lonely vampire searching for my soulmate. What do you think?” He laughed, enjoying some private joke, and then he recovered himself. “Actually, I’ve already found my soulmate, but Devereux isn’t cooperating. In fact, he was obsessed with you, even before you physically showed up. How pathetic is that?”

Devereux? His soulmate?

“But never fear,” he said. “I will deal with you and show him the error of his ways. He might be angry with me for a while, but he’ll come around. Now, let’s talk about you. I hear you don’t believe in vampires. I thought I’d change your mind. Watch.”

He lifted his top lip so I could see the upper row of teeth and, as I watched, his canines grew longer and longer until they protruded a good quarter- to a half-inch below his other teeth. Then they contracted back up into their normal place and extended again, as if he could will them to move in and out of his gums. He grinned at me. “How do you explain that?”

Shit. Another psycho magician.

“I can’t explain it.” I stared at his mouth, trying to figure out how the trick fangs worked.

Keep him talking . . .

“Go ahead,” he leered, his eyes sparkling. “Touch them.”

Touch them? I wasn’t going to stick my fingers in some psychopath’s mouth. He’d probably bite me. I didn’t want to think about where those teeth had been.

“No. That isn’t necessary – I believe you.” Placate the lunatic.

“Oh, but I insist.” He grabbed my hand and forced it up toward his mouth, laying the tip of my index finger on one of his fangs. It contracted while I touched it, and I was able to snatch my hand away. Maybe my instincts could override whatever he’d done to me after all.

He sneered. “I’m old enough to have total control of my fangs, but if you get me aroused or angry enough they seem to have a mind of their own. And right now I’m feeling very aroused.”

Breathe, Kismet. Stay calm.

“You don’t have to hurt me. Why don’t we talk about your feelings—?”

“I don’t think so.” He grabbed my hand again and shoved it down into his lap, which was filled with a large erection. “Let me show something else with a mind of its own.”

Oh no. This can’t be happening.