Monday, July 1, 2013
Meanwhile, Back at Java Joe's ...
Aramilla stood rooted to the spot, unable to move as the vampire glided up to her. He smiled at her, his fangs gleaming in the moonlight. His eyes were the color of the ocean at midnight, deep and threatening to drag her under. He sketched a mockery of a bow to her and said—
Chloe’s hand jerked, knocking the pen from her fingers. It rolled across the table and came up against the hand of one of the two cowboys she’d been studying earlier. His hand now rested on her table, perilously close to her choco-mint latte. The rest of him lounged with easy familiarity against the rim of her table. His eyes were the color of honey on a muffin, and his smile didn’t have any fangs in it that she was aware of.
“I couldn’t help noticing you noticing my pard and me,” he said in a breezy drawl. Traces of a second accent lurked beneath the Western affectation. She thought it might be New Jersey. “Why don’t you come join us? Give your eyes a rest.”
“Uh.” Chloe slammed her notebook shut and fumbled after her pen. Just when she’d been getting into the groove. The words had begun to flow and she thought she might finally have a plot. Why couldn’t she get hit on during one of her frequent blocks?
But the guy was so cute, and so was his buddy. Even if Buddy was making a point of not looking at her right now. And they were in a public place, so it wasn’t like anything bad could happen.
Chloe decided the next Great American Vampire Novel could wait. “Sure, why not?” She scooped up her notebook and pen and talismanic Tempest Arouz paperback. The cowboy took her coffee mug. Maybe she could get some ideas for her latest opus out of this. Or, with any luck, a whole plot. Or even better, a date.
The blond cowboy held out a chair for her and helped her arrange her belongings. His pal with the brownish-reddish hair just sat and stared, and it wasn’t a happy stare, either. He looked at her like he thought she was an IRS agent or something. His eyes were a dark, earthy brown with flecks of gold in them, like buried treasure. Now this one would have fangs.
According to his friend, his name was Dale Hancock. The friendly friend was Ewan Carter. Dale only grunted when Chloe introduced herself. Not a reader, she decided.
Ewan ordered a fresh round of coffee and set about charming the socks off her. Chloe let him take his best shot and ignored the rude one with the dark eyes and darker scowl. What was up with him? Maybe he didn’t like her. Maybe he didn’t like girls. Maybe he’d lost too many lovers over his long existence as a vampire and was wary now around women he was attracted to. Tendrils of plot ideas curled around her inspiration gland and began to squeeze.
Somewhere along the way she lost track of Ewan and his stream of enticements. With a stab of alarm she suddenly realized he’d flipped open the cover of her notebook. “So what’s this?”
Chloe snatched it away from him. “Nothing. Just scribbles. I like to keep track of my thoughts.”
“A diary, huh?” Ewan’s grin got suggestive. “I could give you an entry that would scorch the pages. All you have to say is yes.”
“No.” Chloe clutched the notebook tight against her sweater. Nobody saw her works in progress. She abandoned her unfinished coffee and what had sounded like one hell of a fun night with Blondie and shoved back from the table. “Y’know, I should go. It was nice talking to you.”
She got halfway off the chair before a hard hand on her forearm stopped her. Dale had finally made a move. There were his fangs—in his grip and the suspicion in his eyes. “I’d like to have a look at that,” he said. “If you wouldn’t mind.”
Chloe reacted instinctively. She smacked the notebook across Dale’s face, then brought the stiffened side of her hand down full force on the crook of his elbow. The hard grip on her arm went soft and vanished. Chloe followed up with a kick to the leg of his chair. Dale went over backwards. He hit the floor with a crash and a yelp that sounded more canine than human.
“Oh geez. Not again.” Chloe leaped to her feet. When you were a service brat raised on a succession of military bases by an overprotective Marine drill sergeant dad, disasters like this happened on a daily basis. Usually to unsuspecting guys who couldn’t keep their hands to themselves.
Ewan sprang up and back, out of reach, with superhuman speed. “On second thought, we don’t need to look at your book at all. Do we, Dale?”
Dale’s response was a grab at her ankle. Chloe hit the hardwood floor beside him. The notebook tumbled out of her arms and landed under the table.
Then Dale disappeared.
Wait, there he was, dangling from the hand of the big scary guy. His hair and skin reminded her of the Rocky Mountains and their caps of snow. So did his size.
“Careless, to fall like that,” he pronounced. From heights to depths: that Russian-accented voice seemed to rumble up from the center of the earth. “You watch how you sit from now on, yes?”
“He will. We both will,” Ewan assured him fervently. His own hands were raised and in full view. The ice giant sniffed and swung Dale away from Chloe before setting him back on his feet. Dale made no moves, not even a shiver. Anything could be misconstrued.
That huge hand, still warm from Dale’s neck, gently drew Chloe to her feet. “You are all right?”
Chloe nodded. A thin whine leaked out of her throat. She gulped it back down.
The giant bent a second time to retrieve her notebook, which he handed to her. “Guard this,” he ordered her. “Privacy is precious.” He shot icy glares at Dale and Ewan. Their expressions told Chloe they'd gotten the point.
With a sigh the giant picked up his hat and went to the counter. He handed the barista several bills. “For mess. These things follow me, it seems.”
“Relax. We’re used to it.”
Hands landed on Chloe’s shoulders. She nearly shrieked. “Chill. I’m sorry. We didn’t mean it,” Ewan murmured in her ear. He continued to hold her until the giant had safely exited the coffee shop. Or maybe he was using Chloe as a shield. It was hard to tell.
Both let their breaths loose after the monster was gone. “That’s Sergei,” Ewan said, as if that explained everything. “I know he looks scary as hell, but he’s a good guy, for a stripey.”
“For a what?”
“Nothing. Let me make it up to you,” Ewan rushed on. “Howzabout dinner tonight? Rattigan’s Pub. You can teach me those moves. Dale needs to be knocked on his ass every now and again.”
“I have to go.” Her writer’s block had totally disappeared. So had any illusions of personal safety. Chloe flung a five on the table and bolted out of the coffee shop.
“Call me!” Ewan yelled after her.
# # #
“Well, that was slick,” Ewan said in the contrails left by Chloe’s hasty exit. “Between you and the Abominable Snowman, my future mate will never show her face in here again. Thanks for nothing. Now I’ll have to hunt her down. Good thing I got her scent.”
“So did I.” Dale brushed himself off. “We have to find her. She’s definitely hiding something. We need to find out what’s in that notebook.”
“I was thinking more what’s under her sweater, but that works too. Well, lookie here.” With a wicked grin Ewan handed over two crumpled pages covered in sprawling longhand. “Ripped ‘em out while you were waltzing with Sergei. Doesn’t look too spy-laden to me.”
“Let me see.” Dale skimmed the pages. The word vampire appeared several times. So did chiseled chin, sculpted abs, bulging groin and nipples. “What the hump is this?”
“It looks,” Ewan said, still grinning, “like secret agent Lady X is writing a dirty book. Like this one.” He held up Chloe’s forgotten paperback. “She seems to think we’re vampires, and she wants to have sex with us. Me I can understand, but you’re a surprise. Think we should report her to Dante? About her wanting to hump you, I mean. I know that’s got my hackles up.”
Dale’s mouth twisted. Shes didn’t really think like this, did they? “A dirty book?”
“They call ‘em romances, but they’re smut. My sister ate these up.” Ewan flipped through the paperback. Something must have hit his eye, because the flipping stopped. “Whoa. You should see this. Two hes doing—whoo-ee, are they serious? Even a coyote’s not that flexible.” He held the passage out for Dale’s inspection. “Check this out.”
Dale recoiled. “No thanks. We’d better report her to Dante anyway. Writers are born snoops, and this one’s human. That’s a combo I’m not comfortable with.”
“Suit yourself. But if your cousin wants us to question her, I get first shot. Preferably by candlelight.” Ewan glanced at the shirtless cowboys on the paperback’s cover, shrugged, and stuffed the book into his back pocket. For later.