Michelle Rowen

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Bled & Breakfast

(An Immortality Bites Mystery #2)

June 4, 2013

Signet Obsidian
ISBN-10: 0451239962
ISBN-13: 978-0451239969

Fledgling vampire Sarah Dearly knew what she was getting into when she married master vampire Thierry de Bennicoeur. As an agent of the Ring, Thierry is sent all over the world to solve vampire crimes and keep them secret from humans. And now Sarah’s on the job with him—for better or worse.

Right after their wedding in Las Vegas, Sarah and Thierry get their next assignment: Three vampires have gone missing in Salem, Massachusetts, and they need to find out why. Their contact in Salem turns out to be a local lothario with a penchant for witches, but before he can help them, he suddenly goes up in smoke—leaving behind nothing but a stain on the ground and a seemingly impossible mystery.

Did a witchy ex-mistress cast a deadly spell, or is there something even more sinister happening to the vampires of Salem? Getting to the truth may require raising the undead, with a little help from the owners of a vampire-friendly bed and breakfast. But uncovering Salem’s darkest secrets may drag some of Thierry’s own past into the light.

 

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Chapter 1

Crystal balls have a lot in common with eyeballs. They both have the power to reveal hidden truths — that is, if you’re brave enough to look deeply.

This occurred to me as I sat in a quaint fortune-telling café in Salem, Massachusetts, across the table from two sets of eyes and one crystal ball.

The first pair of eyes were clear blue and smiling, set into the pleasant face of a woman in her late fifties. She wore the expected outfit of a fortune-teller — colorful blue and green robes embroidered with gold stars and moons, as well as a jade green turban that mostly encased her dark hair. With a glance into her eyes, I could tell that she was both friendly and earnest.

She believed she could tell my future while I waited for my coffee order.

“You’re new in town,” the fortune-teller said as she gazed into the crystal ball in the middle of the small round table covered by a red tablecloth. The conversations of others in the busy café buzzed all around, and coffee, tea, and freshly baked cinnamon pastries scented the air.

“Just arrived,” I confirmed.

“And you’re here . . . not purely for a vacation, but for business.”

“That’s right.”

A small frown creased between her penciled-in brows as she gazed into the crystal ball. “However, you do hope this trip will serve two purposes — business and pleasure. This is also your honeymoon. Am I right?”

I sent a sidelong glance toward the other pair of eyes watching this reading with interest. These eyes were the gray of a winter sky. At first glance, they were cold. At second glance, colder.

At third glance . . . I didn’t think they were cold at all.

To say I was fond of these particular wintery eyes would be an understatement.

“A resort in Hawaii would have been our first choice,” Thierry said, giving me a wry look. “But a hotel room in Salem will suffice.”

“Palm trees and hula dancers,” I said with a shrug. “Who needs ’em?”

Only a day and a half after we’d gotten married in Las Vegas in a whirlwind ceremony that included an Elvis impersonator and some really cheesy but fabulous vows, Thierry had been notified of his next assignment. That call put us on a flight from Vegas to Boston. From there, we rented a car, which brought us the rest of the way to Salem — and bam. Here we were.

No rest for the wicked. And really, with so many airplanes in my future now that I’d happily committed myself body and soul to being both Thierry’s wife and his assistant in his job as a consultant for the Ring — the official vampire council — I’d have to figure out a way to get over my fear of flying.

Since we were currently in Salem, maybe I’d learn how to ride a broomstick.

I wondered how this woman knew about the honeymoon thing. Was she a witch?

It was easy enough to figure out her supernatural insight on us. I’d noticed Thierry fiddling with his plain wedding band — which he’d insisted on wearing even though he never wore any other jewelry. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Master vampires . . . well, they were very much the same thing. That he was willing to try to adjust to anything outside his comfort zone made his fledgling vampire wife extremely happy.

“Giddy” might be a better word for it, actually.

But the fiddling was a definite tell that the fortune-teller had picked up on. Newlyweds, table for two.

She looked deeply into the crystal ball. “I see wonderful things for your future. Every day you spend together will be filled with adventure and romance.”

I tried not to smile too widely at that. “That’s good to know.”

Thierry gave me another glance as I slid my hand over his. “Enjoying your complimentary fortune so far, Sarah?”

I nodded. “Any fortune that isn’t one of doom and gloom is much appreciated.”

The woman raised her eyebrows. “I don’t give bad fortunes. Who wants unhappy news — especially at such an exciting time with your young and handsome husband?”

Handsome, most definitely — Thierry was tall and broad shouldered, with dark hair and those piercing gray eyes. But, young? It was a good sign that this fortune-teller wasn’t quite as universally insightful as she wanted us to believe. Thierry might physically look to be in his midthirties, but tack on another six centuries and you’d be in the right ballpark. This particular ballpark had been around since medieval times — and I’m not talking about the theme restaurant with jousting actors and wenches delivering ale and turkey drumsticks.

Compared to Thierry, at twenty-eight I was practically an amoeba when it came to life and experience. But, as they say, opposites attract. And there weren’t too many couples — fanged or otherwise — more opposite than the two of us.

I was about to reply to the fortune-teller when I felt something strange — a sensation of cold fingers trailing down my spine. I tightened my grip on Thierry’s hand and turned slowly in my chair to glance over my shoulder.

Someone was watching me from the archway leading into the gift shop area. A man with black hair and black eyes. His attention was focused on me like a laser beam. His gaze was cold, hard, and endlessly unpleasant.

“Who’s that guy?” I whispered, turning back around.

“Who do you mean?” the woman asked.

“The tall, pale man standing over there with cheekbones sharp enough to cut glass. He’s giving me the creeps.”

She frowned, glancing over in the direction I nodded. “There’s no one there.”

I turned again to see that she was right. “Where did he go?”

“There was no one there to begin with.” Thierry’s brow furrowed. He didn’t say it like he doubted I saw anything. More like he was confused by why he hadn’t.

“Hmm. Could be you caught a glimpse of our infamous local ghost,” the fortune-teller said lightly. “Lucky you. He doesn’t make an appearance for just anyone.”

My gaze shot to hers. “There are ghosts here?”

“No . . . ghost. Singular. While there are many ghosts spotted in Salem, this is the only one that’s ever really been of any lasting importance.” She smiled. “Exciting, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I agreed halfheartedly. “Hooray.”

We really should have gone to Hawaii.

“Spirits lose their ties to the world of the living three days after death,” Thierry said. “How long has this one been here?”

“There have been sightings of Malik for over three hundred years. Not just in this café, either. All over Salem.”

“Malik?” I repeated the name. It didn’t sound nearly as friendly as Casper.

“Jonathan Malik, to be precise. He was a witch hunter.” The woman’s expression turned grave, but by the sparkle in her eyes, it was clear that she loved sharing this subject matter. “Murdered by a witch following the trials. She trapped his spirit here forevermore as punishment.”

“Forevermore?” I repeated. Not exactly a word you heard every day. But it did add some drama.

“And then some.” She sighed. “I’ve never been lucky enough to see him, although I’m told he’s very handsome. Then again, we don’t know for sure that’s who you saw, do we? It could simply have been a customer who slipped into the next room.”

She did have a point there.

After wishing us a pleasant visit to town, she picked up her crystal ball and excused herself so she could go give another table a free and pleasant — but quick and generic — fortune while they waited for their order.

The waitress brought over our mugs of coffee a moment later.

I glanced at Thierry as I stirred two teaspoons of sugar into my hazelnut blend. “The ghost of a witch hunter named Malik may have been giving me the hairy eyeball from across the room a minute ago. Should I freak out now or save it for later?”

He raised a dark eyebrow. “Better than a vampire hunter.”

“I appreciate you taking this seriously.”

A smile played at his lips as he gave me a slight shrug. “If that is indeed who you saw, you must remember that a ghost’s effect on the living is negligible at best. Even if the rumor’s true and you did see this particular witch hunter, it’s nothing to concern yourself with. He can’t do you — or any living being — any harm.”

I took a sip of my coffee, successfully calmed by his calmness. “I’m surprised you didn’t see him, too. If it’s really a ghost, that is.”

“Me too.”

Thierry and I might be opposites in many ways, but we did share a special skill that only a small percentage of vampires possessed. We could see ghosts and also sense the departing spirit of someone after death. But ghosts weren’t exactly commonplace, especially those who’d died so long ago. Either something would have to trap them here on earth or they’d have to be summoned by a psychic with very strong skills — and finding a psychic like that was as rare as finding a nun in a string bikini.

Bottom line, ghosts weren’t lurking on every street corner. Thankfully.

“Here he is,” Thierry said, rising from the table. Any amusement on his face from earlier faded. “Let me do the talking, Sarah. Owen is not someone I want you to have much contact with.”

Well, that was rather ominous. “Noted. I’ll play the part of the mute brunette.”

We’d been asked to meet with a vampire named Owen Harper, whom Thierry knew from years ago, immediately upon our arrival. Owen was to give us an overview of the problem Thierry (and I) had been sent to check out.

That was the job of a consultant. Quite simple, really. If there was a vampire-related issue that drew the Ring’s attention, they sent someone like Thierry to consult on it and assess the situation. From what I’d deduced, it seemed as if the Ring was mostly interested in keeping the existence of vampires a big secret from humans — worldwide. Anything that risked that secret needed attention and a swift resolution.

The Ring also had their own police force, called enforcers. Or, perhaps assassins would be a better descriptor. They were vampires who were also vampire hunters. They took care of problems if and when they escalated.

Just because vampires didn’t automatically become evil fiends after sprouting fangs and developing a thirst for blood, it didn’t mean we were all good, either. I’d met a bad one recently — a serial killer who’d nearly added Thierry and me to his list of victims. But he’d been stopped. Permanently.

Sarah Dearly lives to bite another day.

That was just a joke, of course. I rarely do more than nibble.

I’d met a few people from Thierry’s very long and — at times — notorious past. So far, they were mostly horrible people who disliked him due to some lingering grudge. My hope that Owen would be different was modest at best.

“Thierry de Bennicoeur . . . ,” Owen began as I tensely watched him approach the table from the corner of my eye. “It’s been a hell of a long time, dude.”

I blinked. Dude?

I turned fully to get a look at him as he clasped Thierry’s hand and shook it vigorously.

“Good to see you again, Owen,” Thierry said.

Owen Harper looked a whole lot like a male model crossed with an A-list actor. Blond hair, flashing green eyes, at least six-three, and he had the muscled physique of a personal trainer. Standing next to my already extremely GQ-esque husband . . . well, it was quite a sight.

Holy hotness, Batman. Times two.

I didn’t know why this surprised me. I’d met my share of good-looking vampires since I was sired into a life of fangs, blood, and nonreflection by the ultimate blind date from hell last year. This was par for the course, really.

“And this” — Owen flashed me a killer smile that revealed the small but pointy tips to his fangs — “must be Sarah Dearly.”

“However did you guess?” said the previously mute brunette.

“Thierry told me over the phone that you were drop-dead gorgeous. Call it a hunch.”

I glanced at Thierry with surprise. “You actually used the words ‘drop-dead gorgeous’ to describe me?”

He was the only one of us who wasn’t smiling. “I certainly could have. However, Owen has always tended to make things up to be amusing. This is one of those times.”

It wasn’t said with fondness.

Call me crazy, but I had a pretty good idea why Thierry didn’t want me to have much to do with Owen. The guy was a serious lady-killer. However, that leering edge to his gaze didn’t make me want to start swooning over his good looks.

I think I was the only woman in a thirty-foot radius who wasn’t drooling right now. Still, I’d reserve my judgment for when I’d known this guy for more than two minutes. First impressions could sometimes be deceiving.

Thierry gestured for Owen to take a seat. “Why don’t we get to the point?”

Owen slid into a chair. “No small talk for an old pal? Thierry, you haven’t changed at all over the years, have you?”

“I’ve changed,” he replied. “More than I ever would have thought possible, actually.”

Owen’s gaze flicked to me again. “Maybe you’re right. And what a wonderful change it is. Tell me, Sarah, how on earth do you put up with Monsieur de Bennicoeur’s dour ways? You must feel as if you’ve married a high school principal.”

I shrugged. “Guess that’s my type. The dourer the better, I say.”

“I’m not dour,” Thierry said dourly.

Owen grinned. “Congratulations on your nuptials, by the way. I think it’s fantastic.”

“Do you?” Thierry gave him a skeptical look before it finally eased. “Well, thank you. I appreciate that.”

“Can’t believe you also committed yourself to the Ring, though. They must have had some serious duress involved to get you back into the fold. When I finished my term with them I was happy to finally be free. But good luck to you.”

Thierry didn’t reply to this and I wasn’t going to touch the subject with a ten-foot wooden stake. In a nutshell, the Ring — while a necessary entity — was a shadowy and mysterious organization that did shadowy and mysterious things. Thierry had been an original founder but left a century ago to pursue other interests. Very recently — like, less than a week ago — he’d taken the job as consultant, a job that required him to sign on the dotted line. In blood. It was part of a blood magic spell that bound him to the Ring for the next fifty years.

I believed he’d done it because they’d threatened to kill me if he didn’t. So, yeah, “duress” was a good word. He had yet to admit this to me in so many words, but I knew it was the truth. He’d sacrificed his own future to save my life and he’d never wanted me to know.

My heart swelled every time I thought about it. I would love him forevermore for that. For-ever-more.

And I didn’t trust the Ring as far as I could throw them. I had a very good memory, and this matter, as far as I was concerned, was nowhere near resolved.

“So . . . ,” I said after silence fell at the table. “What’s happening in Salem? You’re the guy with all the answers, apparently.”

Owen gestured for an eager waitress to bring him a cup of coffee. “Not all the answers, I’m afraid.”

“All I was told was that there have been some disappearances,” Thierry said. “Tell us more.”

Owen nodded. “Three vampires have gone missing while visiting town. Nobody would have thought anything strange about it, but they’ve disappeared in less than a month. One of these vampires is the mistress of a Ring elder, thus the quick response.”

“Do you suspect vampire hunters?” Thierry asked.

“No. At least, I don’t think so. Hunters steer clear of Salem. That’s why I like it here so much.”

I frowned. “Why do they stay away from here? They seem to gather everywhere else to make our lives difficult.”

“Likely, the threat of witches.” Thierry caught my surprised reaction. “Hunters are a superstitious lot. Witches are bad luck for them. Also, crossing paths with a witch hunter would be dangerous for everyone involved.”

I thought it through, still disturbed by the idea of witches or witch hunters, let alone regular hunters. “So it would be like turf wars — West Side Story without the singing.”

“Something like that. Or, at least, that’s what they try to avoid. Other towns that are rumored to be the home to covens are treated much the same way. The world of witches and the world of vampires rarely cross paths.”

“So there are witches in Salem,” I said. For this I looked at Owen for the answer. After all, he lived here.

“Some,” he agreed. “But no alphas.”

At my confused look, Thierry took over. “An alpha is the term used for a very powerful witch who can do magic without a grimoire, a book of spells. These witches are rare.”

“And luckily, none are currently living in Salem,” Owen added. “Just the harmless ones who like to do simple spells and cook up magical recipes. There are many peaceful Wiccans here, too. And, of course, there are the ones who only think they’re witches. They usually wear the pointy hats.”

When I thought of Salem, of course I thought of witches. My knowledge of witches as a kid involved watching reruns of Bewitched — and I had the nose twitch down pat. This town was ready, willing, and able to appeal to that particular tourist expectation. There was even a bronze statue of Elizabeth Montgomery herself seated on her broom in Lappin Park, close to this café.

But alpha witch? Like an alpha werewolf, I figured — the leader, the most powerful one. Only . . . minus the hairballs.

“You said one of the missing vampires is the mistress of a Ring elder,” Thierry said, helping to get us back on topic.

Owen nodded. “That’s right.”

“If there aren’t any hunters in town, maybe nothing bad happened to her,” I reasoned. “Maybe she was tired of being his mistress and took off with someone else.”

“Maybe.” Owen cleared his throat. He wasn’t looking directly at us anymore; instead he was staring over at the coffee bar with its glass display of baked goods.

Thierry watched him carefully, his arms crossed over his chest. “Let me guess. You were romantically involved with her.”

“I’m not really sure I’d say that one night constitutes involved. There’s a popular karaoke bar that I go to all the time, and let’s just say that Monique knew how to sing Beyoncé like nobody’s business.” He shrugged. “I had to have her.”

“You slept with the mistress of a Ring elder.” I put it into words so there was no misunderstanding here.

He didn’t look the least bit guilty about it. “What can I say? For a three-hundred-year-old woman she was unbelievably hot. Like porn star hot, you know?”

He seemed to consider this to be an asset.

“But she’s gone, just disappeared,” he finished.

“And the other two?” Thierry asked.

“A regular vamp couple passing through town with no specific Ring affiliation. I had dinner with them. Nice.” He cleared his throat again. “Really nice.”

Something about the way he said it . . .

“How well did you know them?” I asked.

“Uh . . . let’s just say that some couples like to experiment when they’re on vacation. And if they happen to suggest that I join them, what am I supposed to say? No?”

I could safely say I’d now known him long enough to have a non-first-impression impression. Owen Harper — a vampire of amazing looks and indeterminate age — was the town slut.

“So three vampires have gone missing while traveling through Salem,” Thierry said evenly, “and all three had spent a night with you.”

Owen took the mug of coffee from the passing waitress’s tray, throwing a couple bucks in its place, and gave her a flirtatious grin before she moved on. “Basically. And just for the record, I had nothing to do with their disappearances.”

There was no accusation in Thierry’s gaze toward Owen at these revelations. Nor was there any surprise. None at all.

“Does the Ring know this?” I asked. “That you were, um, intimately involved with them?”

“Are you kidding?” He gave me a stunned look, then turned to Thierry. “If Franklin found out about me and Monique . . . he’d probably have me staked. And it was nothing. The briefest of flings.”

Thierry let out a humorless snort. “You’re right. He wouldn’t be pleased. If I’m not mistaken, you also had a ‘brief fling’ with his second wife during the Civil War.”

Owen took another sip of his coffee. “Whatever. It’s not like it’s relevant. Three vamps are missing without a trace. That’s all I know. Now it’s your job to find out what happened to them.”

“And you?” I asked. “What are you going to do?”

“Whatever I like. As usual.” He gave me another friendly grin. “I can show you around town if Thierry’s too busy. It would be my pleasure to get to know you better.”

“I don’t think so. You’re not nearly dour enough for me to spend more than a few minutes with. No offense.”

I heard another snort from Thierry’s direction. This one held much more humor than the last.

If he’d even been the least bit concerned that I’d be taken in by this shiny but vapid vampire, then he needed to think again. I mean, please.

“We need a suggestion for a hotel,” Thierry said. “Can you help?”

Owen had brushed off my dismissal without an ounce of ill will, which I had to respect. His smile hadn’t even wavered. “Of course. But you don’t want a hotel. I know a great bed-and-breakfast that would be perfect for you.”

A bed-and-breakfast sounded wonderful, actually. I’d never stayed in one before. And Salem — witches or not — seemed like the perfect spot for a casual but fun honeymoon, even if we had to take care of some business as well.

“Lead the way,” I said.

Just before I followed Owen and Thierry through the swinging glass door, I had that strange shivery feeling again. I stopped and turned to look.

The pale, dark-haired man was back, and he stood a dozen feet away, staring at me. I met his black eyes directly and felt frozen in place by the coldness in his gaze.

“Soon,” he said, his voice deep and scary and as icy as his eyes. Then the corner of his mouth turned up into a sinister smile.

The next moment he disappeared into thin air.

I shuddered.

Yeah. That was definitely a ghost. And one that nobody else seemed able to see.

Lucky me.

 

Chapter 2

The Booberry Inn was a Georgian colonial painted shades of gray, with a purple front door and a well-tended flower garden — very colorful under the hot, bright sun of this mid-June day.

Many might expect that vampires never ventured out in the sunlight. Well, they’d be wrong. We were fine during daylight hours and slept at night — just like regular humans. However, the sun did feel way brighter than it had before I was sired, and it worked to quickly zap my energy. My remedy for this was a nice pair of dark sunglasses and giving up my need to maintain a tan. Problem solved.

“Booberry?” I said as we walked up the front path, glancing at the hand-painted sign.

“Ghost joke,” Owen replied with a smirk.

“Is the rumor of an infamous witch hunter’s ghost haunting Salem true or just a story the locals like to tell?” Thierry asked.

Owen shrugged. “Who cares? Ghosts are so meaningless in the grand scheme of things.”

“True enough.”

That ghost in the café hadn’t seemed so meaningless to me. Especially with that cryptically whispered “soon,” which still sent a chill racing through me. In other words, I’d been successfully spooked by a spook.

Still, Thierry and Owen were right. Ghosts didn’t have much effect on the living other than being mostly weird and sometimes scary entities trapped at the periphery of certain places. Just because I could see this Malik guy didn’t mean he had any influence over me. If I saw him again I’d just ignore him, since giving him the “You’re freaking me out!” look was only feeding the troll.

Owen knocked on the front door, and it opened a minute later to a young redheaded woman whose eyes widened at the sight of him. “Owen, wow. Hi. I didn’t expect to see you today.”

“Yet here I am.” He gave her a devastating grin. “With friends who need a spot to stay. Of course, the first place I thought of was yours.”

She beamed. “Thank you. We actually don’t have anyone else registered right now, so this is great!”

“Heather McKinley, this is Thierry and Sarah de Bennicoeur. They’re newlyweds.”

Thierry and I exchanged a look, his amused, mine surprised. Mr. and Mrs. de Bennicoeur. It was the first time anyone had referred to us in that way.

I hadn’t even considered going by his name full-time. As the last Dearly in my family line, I’d assumed I’d hang on to the name indefinitely.

“Mrs. de Bennicoeur” sounded like the name of a much, much older woman. For example, Thierry’s ex-wife, Veronique, who was even older than he was (and, happily, far out of the picture and — fingers crossed — not likely to cause us any problems anytime soon). But I suppose there was no reason why I couldn’t go by both when the occasion called for it.

Sarah de Bennicoeur.

It sounded so . . . worldly.

“Oh, how wonderful!” Heather grinned at us. “Congratulations.”

I smiled back at her. “Thanks. Great bed-and-breakfast, by the way. And the Booberry Inn is such a cute name.”

“Heather does cute really well,” Owen said.

She flinched at this. I didn’t think he’d meant it as an insult, but she didn’t seem pleased with the thought of being “cute” to the town gigolo.

Uh-oh. I suddenly recognized that look she’d been giving him from the moment she opened the door. Heather had a crush on Owen. A big one.

“Please come in.” Heather opened the door wider.

“Well, look who it is,” an unfriendly voice called from the sidewalk. “Thought I’d get home without having to see you.”

Heather cringed again but then fixed a stiff but pleasant smile on her face. She looked over my shoulder in the direction of the voice. “Hi, Miranda.”

“Friends of yours visiting?” Miranda said thinly, then let out a dry chuckle. “How adorable. At least you have some friends in town, even if you can’t get any regular customers.”

I turned to look at the blonde on the sidewalk, who was giving Heather a hostile glare.

“Actually,” I said, bristling at the thought of anyone being mocked or intimidated who seemed too timid to immediately throw it back, “Heather and I are best friends. So back off, or I’d be happy to wipe that miserable look off your face.”

Miranda sent a pinched look at me, appraising me from head to foot. “Whatever.”

“Nice comeback.”

Her narrowed gaze moved to Owen. “And you. What are you doing here? You told me you’d be out of town this week.”

“I’m sorry,” Owen said, fighting a grin. “Do I know you?”

She let out a sharp bark of a laugh that held no humor. “You are such a jerk, you know that? Everybody knows it, too. Everybody. You think you can sleep around and I wouldn’t find out about it?”

He lifted a shoulder. “Wasn’t a secret. If you thought what we had was more than it was, you were fooling yourself.” He said it blandly, as if he couldn’t care less what she thought of him.

I wasn’t sure who to root for in this particular standoff, although I did lean toward Owen. He had the fangs.

Miranda glared at him. “You should leave town before something bad happens to you.”

“Is that a warning or a threat, Miranda?”

“Take it however you like, Owen.” She said the name like it tasted bad.

“Will you conjure up a voodoo doll and stick it with pins?” He laughed mockingly. “I could use a little acupuncture.”

With a reddening face, Miranda finally glanced at Thierry. Her eyebrow arched with fresh interest. “Now, you can stay. You should come find me at Mulligan’s later. I’d be happy to get to know you better, handsome.”

Thierry crossed his arms over his chest and regarded her silently. He wasn’t exactly the type to throw out a snarky retort. His displeased glower, however, spoke volumes.

Her expression soured. “Whatever.”

Then she gave him — and the rest of us — the finger before moving on down the sidewalk.

I turned to Heather, who looked pale and unhappy. “So . . . she seems nice.”

She gave me a weak grin. “Ignore her. She’s been like that since high school. Thought ten years would change her. Guess what?”

“It didn’t?”

“Nope.”

We followed Heather into the warm and well-furnished interior of the Booberry Inn. She still seemed shaken, but I had to give her credit for trying to pull herself together and appear professional. She moved to a small antique wooden desk in an adjoining room and sat down behind it.

Uneasily, I followed, moving out of the way of the mirror on the wall near the entrance. One myth about vampires that was true — no reflections. Don’t even get me started on how inconvenient it was. Just don’t.

Heather pulled out a leather-bound ledger. “How long do you think you’ll be staying with us?”

“Good question.” I looked at Thierry.

“Let’s say three days for now,” he said. “It might be more depending on how things go.”

She nodded and scribbled the information down.

“Is there somebody here?” A old woman appeared at the room entrance. She was small but round, with white hair in that neat style that looked as if she’d had the same hairdo since the 1950s. She wore a purple jogging suit, white socks, and black sandals. “Oh my, there is somebody here. How lovely.”

Heather’s smile was back. “Grandma, we have guests. Sarah, Thierry, this is my grandmother Rose McKinley.”

She shuffled forward, giving us a big grin. “Wonderful. As I always say, vampires are more than welcome at the Booberry Inn.”

My hand froze in midextension toward her. “Excuse me?”

She frowned. “You are a vampire, aren’t you?”

Owen laughed, breaking through my knee-jerk reaction of horror at someone discovering our little secret. “It’s okay. Heather and Rose know about me. Rose assumes anyone I introduce to them lately is also a vampire, which is sometimes true, sometimes not. Rose, this is Sarah and Thierry.”

“Oh, I’m very sorry.” Rose pressed her hands to her cheeks. “Am I wrong? Is it rude to assume these things?”

“Not at all,” Thierry said. “You’re very insightful, Rose. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

She glowed. “You too. Don’t worry, I like vampires. I remember Bela Lugosi as Dracula. You are much better looking than he was.”

“I . . . appreciate that, Rose.”

Call me crazy, but I think the old lady was flirting with my husband. It was kind of sweet.

Kind of.

Heather’s eyes had widened a little as she processed this new info. “Okay, then.” She jotted something down in her ledger. “In that case, I’ll put you in the Batberry Suite. It has some special features, including extra-thick blinds.”

Batberry? “You have a special suite for vampires?”

“I like to cater to my guests. Whoever they may be.”

“So you’re not freaked out at the possibility that . . . you know. We are?”

Her initial surprise had faded and her friendly look returned. “I’ve known Owen long enough to realize that vampires aren’t the stuff of nightmares.”

Right. And by the look on her face, I was guessing that she thought Owen was the Edward to her Bella — and I didn’t mean Lugosi. The drama outside with Miranda calling Owen out as a cheater hadn’t seemed to diminish her crush in the slightest.

“There’s a toad on your desk,” Thierry said to Heather.

I glanced over, surprised to see he was right. A small brown toad sat next to the register. Since it had been so still, I’d previously thought it was a paperweight.

“This” — Heather patted its head absently — “is Hoppy. My pet toad.”

“Her familiar,” Rose corrected, nodding. “Witches need familiars.”

My eyebrows shot up. “You’re a witch?”

Heather had the grace to look embarrassed. She ran her fingers over the antique-looking gold locket she wore on a chain around her neck. “Hardly. I mean, I try to do a little magic every now and then. But doesn’t everyone?”

“No,” I said firmly. “Not everyone.”

“The other girls won’t let her in their coven,” Rose said. “They’re mean to my Heather, especially that nasty Miranda Collins.”

“Grandma,” Heather growled under her breath, her cheeks reddening.

“Miranda’s part of a coven?” Thierry asked. “So you were baiting a real witch, Owen? Doesn’t seem very wise to me.”

“She’s harmless.” Owen shrugged, absently studying his fingernails. “She wouldn’t try to hurt me. She’s crazy about me.”

“You’re sure about that?”

Owen regarded him with a bored but patient expression. “Women adore me. Miranda included, despite her momentary hissy fit. To hurt me would be to hurt any chance she ever has of being with me again.”

“What a tragedy,” I said under my breath.

“Nobody understands Owen,” Heather said, standing up. “He’s wonderful, really.”

Hoppy let out a low croak.

Heather glanced at the toad. “Owen helped me find Hoppy. Two months ago I broke up with my boyfriend at the time — then he took off without a word. Owen tried to cheer me up with an afternoon at the beach . . . and there Hoppy was, in the middle of a spring rainstorm on the shore. I brought him home, gave him a box to sleep in. He’s been with me ever since.”

Rose nodded. “Familiars choose their witches.”

Heather sighed. “Hoppy is not my familiar, Grandma.”

“Not with a silly name like that he isn’t! When I practiced, I had a lovely black cat named Sheba.”

“You’re a witch, too?” I asked, surprised. It was witches galore around here.

Rose stroked her white hair to neaten it. “This is Salem, dear. Everybody’s either a witch or they want to be a witch.”

“Not me.”

“Of course not. You’re a vampire.”

A vampire who sincerely hoped for a mini-fridge in her room.

Since Salem wasn’t a hotbed of vampiric activity, except for Owen and the occasional missing person, and didn’t have any blood banks — businesses that sold the red stuff by the ounce to paying fanged customers — we’d gone the BYOB route.

The last B didn’t stand for booze.

Or actually, I should say that I’d gone that route. At his age, Thierry didn’t need to drink blood regularly to survive.

Heather showed us the room on the second floor. It was small but quaint, with a double bed, a vanity, and an en suite bathroom. Every fabric, quilt, and afghan in the room appeared to be homemade.

“You weren’t kidding about the special features.” I stared at my reflection, which included both vampires standing behind me as well as Heather. Rose had temporarily excused herself to put away her gardening supplies while we checked out the room.

While we couldn’t see ourselves in regular mirrors, luckily there were special mirrors manufactured for the vampire population. Problem was, they were very expensive, so not everybody could afford one.

“I’ve never understood why we don’t have reflections,” I said. “It’s just so bizarre, isn’t it?”

“It’s a witch thing,” Owen offered.

I glanced at him. “A witch thing?”

“I’ve heard this rumor over the years,” Thierry said. “Legend has it that there was once a witch who loved a vampire, one who was very vain about his appearance. One who was loved by many, be they witch, vampire, or human.”

“Was his name Owen?” Heather joked.

“Very funny,” Owen said, then frowned. “Wait, was it?”

“No, not Owen. The legend goes that the vampire betrayed this powerful witch, but since it was a matter of the heart, she couldn’t bring herself to kill him. Still, she wanted him to suffer. She cast a spell on him so powerful that it, in turn, cursed all vampires from that day forward to never again see themselves in a mirror, a spell that survived even after the witch’s death.”

I stared at my rare reflection, at my shoulder-length brown hair and my hazel eyes with hastily applied mascara. “Witches,” I said under my breath. “Total troublemakers.” Then I sent a glance at Heather. “Present company excepted, of course.”

“Heather,” Thierry said, “do you know anything about the vampires who’ve gone missing in town lately?”

“Only what Owen’s told me about it.”

“Any idea what might be behind their disappearances?”

“None. Sorry.”

Thierry frowned. “Owen, you said that Monique was over three hundred. How about the other two?”

“I think they were up there as well.” Owen nodded.

“Hmm. All master vampires.”

A little Vampire 101: vampires were considered fledglings for their first fifty years, regular vampires till they were three hundred. After that, they’d earned the title of “master.”

“If these vampires didn’t just go missing, but were murdered, none of them would have left any body behind,” I said. Only vampires under a century in age left a body when they were killed. Older ones disintegrated into a gooey mess. Trust me, it wasn’t pretty. “Therefore, there’d be no clues to find out who did it.”

“Correct,” Thierry replied.

“So basically, the Ring’s handed you a case that’s pretty much impossible to figure out.”

He held my gaze. “Essentially.”

“A test,” Owen said after a moment. “The Ring loves handing out tests to determine a consultant’s worth in his first few assignments.”

“I don’t like the sound of that,” I said. “What if we fail?”

Thierry’s lips thinned. “Let me worry about that, Sarah.”

“Just you saying ‘let me worry about that’ makes me worry. About that.”

“Don’t. It’ll be fine. I know how to handle them.”

“Yeah,” Owen breathed. “Good luck with that. Sarah, have you ever met any of the current Ring elders?

I grimaced. “Haven’t had the pleasure.”

“Keep it that way.”

Yeah. That was really comforting.

We unloaded our small amount of luggage in the room, then went back downstairs with Heather and Owen. It was well after eight o’clock by now, and the sun was starting to set. Rose had come back inside and was dusting the table near the front door.

“Where are you off to now?” she asked Owen as he made for the door.

He gave her a wink. “Places to go, Rose, my love. People to see. Life is good.”

Heather picked up Hoppy from the desktop and cradled the toad in her arms like a tiny dog. Hoppy seemed perfectly content there.

“Anyway, Thierry, if you need any help” — Owen raked his hand through his blond hair — “you have my number.”

Thierry nodded. “We’ll take a look around town tomorrow when everything’s open.”

Owen paused at the doorway. He pressed his hand against his forehead, his brows drawing together.

“Something wrong?” Heather asked with concern.

“No, it’s just . . . a headache. I’m sure it’ll pass.”

“Maybe Miranda got one of those voodoo dolls after all,” I said. “And she’s stabbing its forehead with an ice pick as we speak.”

He laughed. “Yeah, maybe. Anyway, it’s nothing. Talk to you later.”

He pushed open the front door and took two steps onto the porch.

A weird chill shivered down my arms, which was odd since it wasn’t the least bit cold outside.

“Owen,” Thierry began, “what’s wrong?”

Owen pressed his hands to either side of his head.

“It’s weird. I just get the strange feeling that –” He gasped. “What’s happening to me?”

Without another word, he stopped talking, turned away, and started to run. He got halfway down the driveway before he dropped to his knees.

And then, as if somebody had just shoved a wooden stake through his heart, he disintegrated like the Wicked Witch of the West right before our eyes.

One moment he was there.

The next . . . he was dead.

***