Much Ado About Vampires do-10Katie MacAlister
Much Ado About Vampires
( Dark Ones - 10 )
Corazon Ferreira is a jaded woman. Turns out she was a vampire's mate in a past life. And no matter how distractingly gorgeous he is, she just can't get the image of him killing someone out of her head. But when her life depends on him, Corazon's going to have to stop overthinking things-and start trusting her heart...
Much Ado About Vampires
(The ninth book in the Dark Ones series)
A novel by Katie MacAlister
For eight years, the editorial hand guiding my books belonged to Laura Cifelli, a charming woman with a wickedly funny sense of humor that frequently had me snorting beverages out of my nose (I quickly learned never to drink when on the phone with her). Although Laura decided to leave publishing, I am truly grateful for all her help, support, and shared admiration of dishy guys. I am blessed to have known her, and happily dedicate Alec to her. Er . . . Alec’s book. She already got grabby with Baltic. She doesn’t really need Alec, too....
Thanks for everything, Laura!
Hello, and welcome to Alec and Cora’s book!
“Who’s Alec?” I hear some of you asking. Others of you might be familiar with Alec, but have no clue who Cora is. Since this book features characters from previous books, a novella, and a short story, I thought I’d make sure everyone was on the same page—ha! author humor!—before you get started.
Alec Darwin was introduced in Zen and the Art of Vampires, along with his buddy Kristoff and Kristoff’s Beloved, Pia. That story was larger than could be reasonably put into one book, so the story spilled over into a sequel, Crouching Vampire, Hidden Fang.
I always intended to write Alec’s story, since he was a man who suffered greatly during his long life, but didn’t see a way to do that until I sat down to write a short story to explain the loss of his Beloved so many centuries ago. That story, “My Heart Will Go On and On”, tells the tale of Corazon Ferreira’s evening to remember, and led to Cora being a secondary character in the novella Unleashed (found in the Cupid Cats anthology).
Still with me? If not, you can find the “My Heart Will Go On and On” short story at the back of this book. You don’t have to read it in order to understand what happens in Much Ado About Vampires, but the good folks at New American Library and I thought it might be nice to include it, since until now it’s only been available online.
I hope you enjoy seeing Alec and Cora finally get together after all that groundwork!
Alec Darwin was dying, or as close to it as one could be without having that last little spark of life flitter away into nothingness.
He closed his eyes and lay back, shifting slightly when a rock dug into the small of his back. Should he go to the trouble of trying to remove it, he wondered absently, so he could lie for eternity in comfort? Or was such a trivial thing worth the effort? Did he even have the strength to do it? It had been all he could do to stagger to the area he had the previous day cleared of small, pointed rocks, his final resting place.
His shoulder shifted in mild irritation. The rock ground into his kidney, the pain of it distracting him from his plan. Dammit, he hadn’t seen a rock when he fell to the ground, his strength draining from him as his body squeezed the last morsel of energy from the remaining teaspoon or two of blood that was slowly absorbed into his dying flesh.
He was supposed to be cherishing his martyrdom as he lay dying in the Akasha, not thinking about a damned rock the size of a watermelon digging into his back. He was supposed to be thinking of the pathetic tragedy of a life that he had been forced to live, unenlivened with any sort of joy or happiness, or even hope. He shouldn’t be wondering whether if he rolled over onto his side, the damned rock would let him die in peace.
If only his Beloved hadn’t died. If only he’d come to her a few minutes earlier, he could have been there when that idiot reaper lost control. If only he’d bedded her and Joined the minute he knew she was his Beloved, rather than allowing her to give in to her mortal sensibilities, demanding he court her.
A last breath passed his lips as he tried to hold on to the image of her face, his one true love, the woman who had been put on the earth to save him, and who had died the victim of a senseless accident that was directly responsible for his death at that moment.
Awareness slid away from him, the rock ceasing to be an annoyance, the last few sparks between his brain cells providing not the image of his Beloved, as he so desperately wanted, but that of a woman who had lain in a faint at his feet a few months previously.
The dream started the way it always started.
“What do you see, Corazon?”
The voice that spoke so calmly belonged to Barbara, the hypnotherapist whom Patsy had hired for our “Girls’ Night In” semiannual party.
“Mud. I see mud. Well, mud and grass and stuff like that. But mostly just mud.”
“Are you sure she’s under?” Patsy asked, her voice filled with suspicion. Pats was always a doubter. “She doesn’t look hypnotized to me. CORA! Can you hear me?”
“I’d have to be five miles away not to hear you. I’m hypnotized, you idiot, not deaf.” I glared at her. She glared at me glaring at her.
“Wait just one second. . . .” Patsy stopped glaring and pointed dramatically at where I lay prone on the couch. “You’re not supposed to hear me!”
“Is she supposed to know she’s hypnotized?”
That was Terri, the third member of our little trio of terror, as my ex-husband used to call us.
“Her knowing doesn’t negate the regression, does it?” Terri asked Barbara.
“Hypnotism isn’t a magical state of unknowing,” Barbara said calmly. “She is simply relaxed, in touch with her true inner spirit, and has opened up her mind to the many memories of lifetimes past. I assure you that she is properly hypnotized.”
“Let me get a pin and poke her with it,” Patsy said, bustling over to a bookcase crammed full of books and various other items. “If she reacts, we’ll know she’s faking it.”
“No one is poking me with anything!” I sat up, prepared to sprint to safety if she so much as came near me with anything sharp and pointy.
“Please, ladies.” I didn’t see Barbara show any signs of rushing, but I knew she wanted to hurry us along so she could leave. “We have limited time. Corazon is in a light trance, also referred to as an alpha state. Through that, she has tapped into her higher self, her true Infinite Being, a state in which she is free to bypass the boundaries of time.”
“Yeah. Bypassing all that stuff,” I said, lying back down on the couch. Even though it was a dream, and I knew it was a dream, my stomach started to tighten at what was to come. “So sit back and watch the show. What do I do now, Barbara?”
“Look around you. Examine your surroundings. Tell us what you see, what you feel.”
“I see mud. I feel mud. I am the mud.”
“There has to be more to her past life than mud, surely,” Terri said, munching on popcorn.
My stomach turned over. It was coming. He was coming. I felt it, felt the horror just on the edges of my consciousness.
“Are there any buildings or other structures around to give you an idea of what year you are reliving?” Barbara asked.
“Um . . . nothing on the left side other than forest. I seem to be standing on a dirt path of some sort. Let me walk to the top of this little hill—oh! Wow! There’s a town down below. And it looks like there’s a castle way up on a tall cliff in the distance. Lots of tiny little people are runni
ng around in some fields outside of the town. Cool! It’s like a medieval village or something. Think I’ll go down to say hi.”
“Excellent,” Barbara said. “Now tell me, how do you feel? ”
Sick. Scared. Terrified.
“Well,” my voice said, not reflecting any of the dream emotions, “kind of hungry. No, really hungry. Kind of an intense hunger, throbbing inside me. Oh great, I’m a peasant, aren’t I? I’m a poor starving peasant who stands around in mud. Lovely.”
“We are not here to make judgments on our past selves,” Barbara said primly.
“Geesh, Cora,” Patsy said, sitting on my feet. “Terri turned out to be Cleopatra’s personal maid, and I was one of Caesar’s concubines. You’re letting down the team, babe. The least you could do is be a medieval princess in a big pointy hat or something.”
I couldn’t . . . because of him.
Loathing rippled through me as my voice continued. “I have shoes on. Peasants didn’t wear shoes, did they?”
“Some did, I’m sure,” Terri said, stuffing a handful of popcorn into her mouth.
“Can you walk to the town?” Barbara asked. “Perhaps we can find out who you are if we know where you are.”
“Yeah. I’m going down the hill now.”
A low rumble from behind me had me clutching the cushions of the couch. “Hey, watch where you’re—oh my god. Oh my god! OMIGOD!”
“What? What’s happened?” Barbara asked, sounding suddenly worried.
“A woman with an oxcart just ran me over.”
“What?” Patsy shrieked.
“She ran me over. Her oxen were running amok or something. They just came barreling down the hill behind me and ran right over the top of me. Holy Swiss on rye! Now the oxen are trampling me, and the lady in the cart is screaming and—Jehoshaphat! My head just came off! It just came right off! Ack!”
I knew in my dream state that Terri sat staring at me, her eyes huge, a handful of popcorn frozen just beyond her mouth as she gawked at the words that came unbidden from my mouth.
If only she knew.
“Oh, my. I don’t—I’ve never had anyone die during a regression,” Barbara said, sounding stressed. “I’m not quite sure how to proceed.”
“You’re . . . decapitated? ” Patsy asked. “Are you sure? ”
“I’m sure, Pats. My head’s separated from my body, which is covered in ox hoofprints. A wheel went over my neck, I think. It . . . urgh. That’s just really gross. Why the hell do I get the reincarnations where I’m killed by two bulls and a cart? Why can’t I be Cleopatra’s concubine?”
“Personal maid, not concubine,” Terri corrected, stuffing the popcorn into her mouth and chewing frantically. “Are you absolutely certain you’re dead? Maybe it looks worse than it is.”
Oh, it’s going to get much, much worse, the dream part of my mind said.
Goose bumps rose on my arms.
“My head is three feet away from my body. I think that’s a pretty good indicator of death—good god! Now what’s she doing?”
“The ox?” Patsy asked.
“No, the driver. She’s not doing what I think she’s doing, is she?”
“I don’t know,” Terri said, setting down the popcorn so she could scoot over closer to me.
“This is very unusual,” Barbara muttered to herself.
“What’s the lady doing? ” Patsy said, prodding my knee.
“She’s trying to stick my head back onto my body. Lady, that’s not going to do any good. No, you can’t tie it on, either. Ha. Told you so. Oh, don’t drop me in the mud! Sheesh! Like I wasn’t muddy enough? What a butterfingers. Now she’s chasing the oxen, who just bolted for a field. Oh, no, she’s coming back. Her arms are waving around like she’s yelling, only I can’t hear anything. It must be the shock of having my head severed by a cart wheel.”
“This is just too surreal,” Terri said. “Do you think she purposely ran you down?”
“I don’t think so. She seems kind of goofy. She just tripped over my leg and fell onto my head. Oh man! I think she broke my nose! God almighty, this is like some horrible Marx Brothers meets Leatherface sort of movie. Holy runaway oxen, Batman!”
“What?” Terri and Patsy asked at the same time.
“She’s doing something. Something weird.”
“Oh my god—is she making love to your lifeless corpse?” Terri asked. “I saw a show on HBO about that!”
“No, she’s not molesting me. She’s standing above me waving her hands around and chanting or something. What the—she’s like—hoo!”
He was coming. He was just out of my sight, just beyond the curve of the hill.
He was death.
“Don’t get upset,” Barbara said. “You are in no personal danger. Just describe what you’re seeing calmly, and in detail.”
“I don’t know about you, but I consider a decapitation and barbecue as some sort of personal danger.”
“Barbecue?” Patsy asked. “Someone’s roasting a pig or something?”
“No. The ox lady waved her hands around, and all of a sudden this silver light was there, all over my body, singeing it around the edges. Oh, great. Here comes someone.” No! my mind screamed. Not again! Please god, not again! “Hey, you, mister, would you stop the lady from doing the light thing? She’s burnt off half of my hair.”
“This is the most bizarre thing I’ve ever heard,” Terri told Patsy. “You have the best parties!
“It’s all in the planning,” Patsy said, prodding my knee again. “What’s going on now, Cora?”
“The guy just saw me. He did a little stagger to the side. I think it’s because the lady tried to hide my head behind her, and my ear flew off and landed at his feet. Now he’s picking it up. He’s yelling at her. She’s pointing to the oxen in the field, but he looks really pissed. Yeah, you tell her, mister. She has no right driving if she can’t handle her cows.”
My heart wept at what was coming.
“This would make a great film,” Patsy said thoughtfully. “I wonder if we could write a screenplay. We could make millions.”
“Well, now the guy has my head, and he’s shaking it at the lady, still yelling at her. Whoops. Chunk of hair came loose. My head is bouncing down the hill. Guy and lady are chasing it. Hee hee hee. OK, that’s really funny in a horrible sort of way. Ah. Good for you, sir. He caught me again, and now he’s taking me back to my body, hauling the ox lady with him. Whoa! Whoa, whoa, whoa!”
I struggled to get out of the dream, just as I struggled every time. It never did any good. The scene was determined to play out as it first had.
“Did he drop your head again? ” Terri asked, her eyes wide.
Panic flooded me. “No, he just . . . holy shit! I want out of here! Take me out of this dream or whatever it is! Wake me up!”
“Remain calm,” Barbara said in a soothing voice. “The images you see are in the past, and cannot harm you now.”
“What’s going on? What did the guy do? ” Terri asked.
“I want to wake up! Right now!” I said, clawing the couch to sit up.
“Very well. I’m going to count backwards to one, and when I reach that number, you will awaken feeling refreshed and quite serene. Five, four, three, two, one. Welcome back, Corazon.”
“You OK? ” Patsy asked as I sat up, gasping, my blood all but curdling at the memory of what I’d witnessed.
“Yeah. I think so.”
“What happened at the end? ” Terri asked. “You looked scared to death.”
“You’d be scared, too, if you saw a vampire kill someone!”
I sat up in bed, torn from the dream at last, gasping and blinking as the dream memory faded and I realized I was safe, in my own little apartment, alone, without the green-eyed, dark-haired monster who had killed a woman before my eyes.
I slumped back against the pillow, wondering why I kept dreaming about Patsy’s party and experiencing the awful past-life scene again and
again. Why were the dreams increasing in frequency? Why was I doomed to relive the experience over and over again, the sense of dread and horror so great I could taste it on my tongue?
Sleep, I knew from sad experience, would be useless. I got to my feet, headed for the bathroom. I’d brush my teeth to get rid of the taste of my own fear, and go sit with a book until I was too numb with exhaustion to stay awake any longer.
And I’d pray that the green-eyed vampire stayed out of my dreams.
“And then Dee said, ‘Darlin’, if you’re going to rise to the top, you have to work for it. That goes for sex as well as anything else.’ Well, you know how he is, Cora—he’s such a joker, and of course, I was on top at that moment, but I’m sure you don’t want to hear about that.”
“Why on earth would you think I didn’t want to hear about you and my ex-husband having sex?” I gritted my teeth at both the conversation and the ruts that riddled the long dirt drive up to the Astley house.
The car bounced on a particularly bad one, causing me to cling to the dashboard, as Diamond, with one hand waving airily, didn’t seem to notice the appalling state of the drive. “It’s not like it’s something you haven’t done before, unless Dee never asked you to play Cowgirl and the One-legged Itinerant Rodeo Clown, and given how much he loves that, I’m positive he did. But that’s neither here nor there, really, is it?”
“No, it isn’t,” I said, my lips twitching despite myself. She was silent for a minute before sliding me a questioning look. “You’re not angry with me about something, are you, Corazon? Is it Dee? Is it because we didn’t ask you to the wedding? Dee thought it was best we didn’t have a big ceremony, since your divorce had just become final that very day, so we went to Vegas.”
“No,” I said on a sigh. “It’s not the wedding, and it’s not anything you’ve done, including marrying my ex. Not really. Our marriage was over before you came along. It’s just . . .” I stopped, not wanting to bare my soul to her. I wanted so much to hate Diamond, to despise her husband-stealing self, her perfect blond hair, her svelte figure, her miraculous rise through the real estate ranks from receptionist to top agent while I still slaved away as a lowly assistant-cum-secretary . . . but unfortunately, I couldn’t hate her, couldn’t despise her, couldn’t even work up so much as a mild dislike. She kept the notoriously roving eye of Dermott, my ex-husband of three years, fixed firmly on herself, charmed everyone she came in contact with, and had a sunny disposition that simply would not be quelled, no matter how much I tried snubbing her.