Lifestyles of the Rich and Undead, Page 2Katie MacAlister
“Fine and dandy,” she snarled, storming toward the open door, intent on taking out her embarrassment on the first hapless crew member who was stupid enough to cross her path. “We’re going to have to get a new eligible bachelor, that’s all. Someone who’s not blind and a woman hater!”
“I don’t think he’s—,” James started to say, but ended his sentence with a cough when Trudy shot a look at him that, by rights, should have dropped him dead.
She took a deep breath, about to go into a tirade about men who didn’t know a good thing when it was all but plastered against their fronts, when a faint shimmering of light just beyond the door caught her eye. She pushed past the cameraman, who was filming, and Ernst, who wore a smug expression that she wanted to slap right off his face.
“Beauteous lady!” a masculine voice said in French as the light resolved itself into a figure of a man. “Allow me to be of some service to you. Any service, whatever your heart desires. Should you wish for the moon and stars, why, then I, Michel de Nostredame, will fetch them down from the sky and lay them at your tiny little feet with those ten delicious toes. Is that nail polish? How delectable!”
It took Trudy all of three seconds to appraise the man before her. He was a ghost, obviously, since not many denizens of the Otherworld could suddenly manifest like that. He was also clearly a ghost of some longevity, since he had an air of gallantry that just wasn’t seen in modern-day spirits. He was good-looking enough, and she considered featuring him as the subject of her show instead of the annoying vampire, but the memory of just how poorly spirits photographed made her dismiss the idea. “I am Trudy Bennes, and yes, that’s Roses’ First Blush, a nail polish created just for me. I’m glad you like it,” she answered in English, signaling the cameraman to film Michel. If she couldn’t get the annoying Grayson to talk before the camera, then this ghost would have to do. Who knew, it might even add to Gray’s mystique. One never really knew what might stir viewers.
Michel turned to watch as the film crew shuffled to the side, his sudden frown of confusion clearing when the producer and assistant gestured for Trudy and him to move into the shade.
Obligingly, the ghost did so. “I am your so-charming servant,” he said with a bow, then paused, and with an expressive gesture of apology, corrected himself. “That is, I am the servant of your so-charming self.”
He spoke English with a faintly French accent and had a wide, engaging smile, but Trudy was a professional, and she wasn’t going to let something as minor as a charming personality interfere with her job. “Indeed. May I assume that you are bound to this house?”
“This place?” Michel leaned negligently against the wall, but evidently he wasn’t in fully corporeal form because he sank through the wall and disappeared, only to pop out a second later with a chagrined expression. “Er . . . why, yes, I am, as a matter of fact.”
Trudy kept her expression serene, not showing her annoyance in the least little bit. Not only was she saddled with an emo, woman-hating vampire, now she had a clownish ghost on her hands. “So you must know the owner of the house? You are familiar with him?”
“With Gray? Of course. He’s not often here, but when he is, we are the very closest of friends.” Michel leaned against the wall of the house, much more carefully this time, making sure he was solid before adopting a nonchalant posture.
“Excellent. We are doing an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Undead featuring Grayson, and he’s being a bit difficult about giving us the details about his life.”
“What sort of details?” Michel asked, absently scratching his groin. He was clad in some sort of jerkin and leggings, the likes of which Trudy hadn’t seen since the last time she’d watched the Lord of the Rings DVDs.
“What he’s like, what sorts of things he does for pleasure, ways he passes his time, what’s important to him—that sort of thing.”
“Bah. He is complicated. Me, I am much simpler. I will tell you anything you wish to know about me.” He leered at her, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
Trudy pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes in a manner that told the randy ghost that she didn’t give a damn if he had three heads and a dancing moose. “Back to the subject at hand—Grayson Soucek.”
Michel gave a Gallic shrug. “What is there to say about him? He’s a moody bugger. Always going on about how damned he is, and how no good can come of his existence, and that sort of thing. The ladies like it, but me? It can be wearing after a while, you know?”
Trudy almost snorted in irritation. The ghost wasn’t telling her anything she didn’t already know. “Yes, yes, but what does he do with his time? You said you were his good friend, so tell me what you two do when you’re together.”
“Oh, just the usual sorts of things,” Michel said with an airy gesture. “Drinking, dicing, wenching—”
“What sort of women does he like? Other than redheads, that is?” Trudy couldn’t help but touch her own gloriously auburn hair.
The ghost hesitated. “Well, he likes them plump . . . no, that’s me. He likes young, innocent . . . no, that’s also me. Erm . . . he likes . . . ladies.”
“I know that, you stupid ghost. What sort of ladies?”
“The kind with breasts,” Michel answered, looking startled. “You know, females. Human females.”
Trudy took a deep breath. Really, it was a miracle she hadn’t lost control, faced with two such annoying men. “I understand that,” she said through gritted teeth. “What my viewers are interested in is what type of attributes Gray looks for in a woman. What attracts him. What turns him on. What raises the bloodlust in him that we’ve all heard is common in Dark Ones.”
Michel looked uncomfortable now, darting glances between Trudy and the film team, his gaze finally falling on Manuela. “Oh, that. He likes . . . uh . . . brunettes. Spanish-looking brunettes with lots of curves and really big breasts. And asses. He’s an ass-man through and through. One of the most notorious ass-men in the region, as a matter of fact. He’s known far and wide for his predilection for great big round—”
The word was roared out across the grounds. Trudy jumped at the noise, spinning around to catch sight of the blurred figure of a furious Grayson as he leaped toward the ghost, disregarding the fact that the sun was warming the front of the house.
“Gray!” Michel squawked and bolted to the left, his words trailing behind him. “I didn’t know you were back.”
“I only just returned. Dammit, Nosty, I told you before that I’d gut you if I caught you gossiping with anyone about me, and by God, so I will!”
Trudy turned and smiled at the camera as the two men disappeared into the shrubbery. “And there you have it, my dears—the dashing and oh-so-manly Grayson Soucek—”
“Gray, I swear to all the saints in heaven that I didn’t say a single word about you,” Michel yelled as he ran back between Trudy and the camera, the vampire hot on his heels.
“Like hell you didn’t! Ass-man, Nosty? Ass-man?”
Ernst watched with interest as the two men went out of sight around the far corner of the house.
“—tormented Dark One,” Trudy continued, just as if nothing untoward had happened. “Alone in despair, needing only the touch of the one woman who can relieve him of his hellish nightmare of an existence—”
“Don’t do anything you’re going to regret later, Gray!” Michel called as he dashed around the house and back toward Trudy, stopping before the camera to pant for a second. “I’m available as well, in case any of your female audience might wish to visit me. I’m happy to—oh, hell!”
The ghost took off again at a dead run when Gray appeared around the corner of the house, a large scythe in his hand, his face and hands red from the exposure to the sun. But it was the murderous look in his eyes that obviously warned the ghost that he’d pushed the master of the house too far. “You’re going to die, Nosty! This time I mean it!”
“I’m already dead,” came the fai
nt voice from the shrubs.
“Again! You’ll die again! And I’ll make it very, very painful!”
“What lucky woman will have all this to share with a sinfully sexy vampire?” Trudy asked, holding on to her temper as she gestured toward the house, ignoring Gray as he stalked past without a glance at either the camera or her. “Who among you has that spark, that special something that will attract and keep the handsome lord of the manor worshipping at her feet? And how will she cope with the many demands of being not only mistress to such a large mansion, but also the sole source of nourishment to a demanding and—yes, let’s just say it—virile vampire? Do you have what it takes to be everything to such a sensitive, caring man?”
“I swear it was all just a joke,” Michel yelled as he ran toward Trudy yet again. “I didn’t mean ass-man in a bad way. I just meant you liked them. Everyone does. I do. You do. Even Johannes—”
Somehow, he’d managed to lose his jerkin and tunic, leaving his upper torso bare. He paused again for the camera, flashing it a smile and flexing the muscles of one arm until Gray bellowed, “You dare mention Johannes? Decapitation is too good for you! It’s drawing and quartering time, Nosty! I’m going to heat up the lead right now! Prepare to suffer like you’ve never suffered before!”
“He’s such a joker. Doesn’t mean of a word of it, really. We’re actually the very best of friends,” Michel confided to the camera before he took off in a lope in the opposite direction from which he’d just come.
Trudy took a deep breath, and with an effort that was almost superhuman, clung to her smile. “Join us next month, when we feature a very attractive poltergeist named Adam. Until then, good-bye from me, and may all your dreams of the rich and undead come true!”
Click throughfor an exclusive sneak peekat the sizzling vampire romance anthology
THE UNDEAD IN MY BED
with stories by bestselling author Katie MacAlister, Molly Harper, and Jessica Sims
Available from Pocket Books October 2012
SHADES OF GRAY
BY KATIE MACALISTER
“That woman is hopelessly inept at trespassing.”
The female form clinging to the top of the stone wall attached on either side of the massive wrought-iron walls weaved perilously.
“If she’s not careful,” I told the cat standing next to me, watching as the female peered down at the shrubs beneath her, “she’s going to fall right into that patch of . . . there, you see?”
The trespasser, I was mildly interested to note, wasn’t the angular blonde who’d attacked me the day before. This woman was smaller and rounder, pleasantly plump, with a mass of dark red curls pulled back from her face. A few curls had escaped in her efforts to scale the wall, and I wondered if she knew that a clump of leaves was listing to the side, tangled in the depths of her hair.
She must have realized that she had landed in a patch of poison oak, because after a few seconds of muttering to herself, she leaped up shrieking and drew a few quick symbols in the air.
“Did she just ward herself?” I asked the cat.
“That’s what I thought.” I frowned at the woman as she gathered up the things that had fallen out of her handbag. As she turned, I got a better look at her face. A jolt of electricity tingled up my spine when I realized that she was the nun I’d seen the night before. “What sort of a holy woman knows about wards?”
Johannes did not answer, not that he could—a small blessing for which I’d been thankful over the course of the last three centuries.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said with grim determination as I strode after the woman when she hurried past me on the pitted gravel drive. “Whatever it is the little nun is doing here, it’s going to stop right now.”
She didn’t hear me until I was about to grab her, and then she barely had time to gasp as she whirled around. I slapped one hand over her mouth, the other on her neck.
Wide gray eyes considered me for three seconds before the lids fluttered closed as she toppled forward. I released my hold on her neck, catching her and swinging her up into my arms. “Now we’ll get some answers,” I told the unconscious woman as I carried her into the lodge.
She felt warm and soft in my arms, the faint scent of lilacs teasing my nose. I sternly told my libido to stop noticing just how nice a scent that was or that her face was lightly freckled, her skin as smooth as satin, all of which left me with the desire to stroke her soft curves. Her mouth looked as soft as the rest of her, a delicate rose in color, as if she’d been eating strawberries. A sudden rush of blood to my groin had me reminding myself that lusting after a nun was not appropriate, especially one who disregarded newly installed chains and locks and innumerable “No Trespassing” signs scattered around the estate. Still, it took some effort to force my gaze away from the temptation of her sweetly curved lips.
It took ten minutes to round up some twine from the remains of a broken packing box, but after a few minutes, I stepped back and admired my handiwork. The woman was slumped in a chair, her hands bound behind her, a gag around her neck waiting to be pulled forward and put into place in case she started screaming.
Johannes sniffed at her feet and turned away, apparently bored. I wasn’t fooled in the least. He always took profound interest in any female.
“Hrn?” The little nun snorted and blinked, squinting at me as I stood before her, my arms crossed. “Fleg?”
“Do you speak English?” I asked, switching to French. “French? German?”
“I’m English,” she answered, blinking rapidly as she obviously tried to bring me into focus. “Who are you? Did you . . . ugh, my head . . . knock me out?”
“I applied pressure to your neck, causing you to black out,” I said sternly, trying hard not to notice how her breasts swelled when she struggled to bring her arms forward.
“You Vulcan neck-pinched me? Why am I tied up? And did you know you’re a Dark One?”
I frowned. “What does a nun know of either Vulcan neck pinches or Dark Ones?”
She stopped trying to free her hands. “I’m not a nun, I’m a Guardian. And a Beloved, so I know a Dark One when I see him. Or her. But mostly you’re hims, not hers, aren’t you? Do you have any pain tablets? I had a repulsively annoying headache before you Vulcanized me, and now it’s just that much worse.”
“No,” I answered, increasing the intensity of my frown. The little nun didn’t seem to be the least bit intimidated to find herself bound and held prisoner.
“No you don’t know you’re a Dark One, no you’re not mostly males, or no you don’t have any pain meds?” Her eyes shimmered with gentle curiosity.
“Of course I know I’m a Dark One,” I snapped, annoyed and at the same time strangely pleased that she wasn’t afraid of me. “I’ve been one almost my entire life. You are not a Beloved, however.”
“I am,” she said, looking down at her feet. “Hullo. Is that your cat?”
“No. Don’t talk to him.” I scented the air. The lodge, like the Abbey itself, was a damp, mildewed, crumbling relic of grander times. The air was redolent with the smell of molds, wetness, and the leavings of various small animals that had claimed the lodge for their own. Tattered bits of wallpaper moved gently in a draft from a broken window, the walls streaked with equal amounts of grime and quiet despair.
And yet, despite the odors of the decaying building, the scent of sun-warmed lilacs lingered, stirring something deep in my belly.
“If you were a Beloved, I would know,” I told her.
“Is something wrong with his mouth?” she asked, making little chirruping noises at Johannes until—as I knew he would—the massive cat leaped onto her knees and purred at her, his eyes half-closed.
“Yes. You are not a Beloved.”
“I thought so, because most cats don’t have one lip pulled up so a fang shows all the time. Was he hurt or something?”
“No, it is simply how he is,” I answered, wanting to simultaneously shake her a
nd kiss her.
Her gaze assessed me. “He’s not your cat, but you know he wasn’t hurt?”
“No, he is not my cat. He simply lives with me and accompanies me wherever I go. That is all. Why is a Guardian pretending to be a Beloved and a nun?”
“Why is a Dark One abducting innocent people?” she countered.
I leaned over her in an attempt to intimidate. “Why did you climb over the fence when the signs clearly state that your presence is not welcome?”
She blinked those lovely soft gray eyes at me. “You’re the one who put up the signs? Did you also chain the gate closed? We thought it might be the local authorities, although Teresa did show the police the documents the estate agent sent her, but you know how it is with Czech officials—they do love their paperwork—and Teresa figured she must have missed dotting an i or crossing a t.”
“I am Czech,” I said with much dignity.
“Really?” She tipped her head to consider me, not in the least bit intimidated by me, dammit. “You don’t sound Czech. You sound British, like me. Who are you, exactly?”
“My name is Gray. Grayson Soucek, if you were going to ask, and I suspect you were since you seem to ask everything else that occurs to you.”
She giggled, and the sound went straight to my groin. I ignored the tightening sensation, grimly reminding myself that not only was she trouble, but even assuming she wasn’t really a nun, she was a housebreaker or, at best, a squatter, neither of which I intended on tolerating.
“Hi, Gray, I’m Noelle. I’ve always been naturally curious, and I found out a long time ago that if you don’t ask questions, you won’t learn the answers. I like your name, and it does sound Czech, but what are you doing here? And why have you abducted me? Why do you have a cat who isn’t your cat? And why don’t you think I’m a Beloved?”
You don’t smell like one.
BY MOLLY HARPER
There it was again!