The Case of The Cupid Curse by Amber Kell and RJ Scott
Sam Enderson stood outside his building and smiled with pride. The fresh sign painted on the door in crisp black letters read ‘End Street Detective Agency’. Examining the overall effect, he nodded in satisfaction. This move to becoming a private investigator was as far from being a timid bookseller as he could get. No one would walk all over someone who investigated crimes for a living.
Three months of correspondence school and a shiny new multi-weapon license had given his confidence a much-needed boost. After the hellish past year in which he’d found his boyfriend in bed with his now ex-best friend, followed by the death of his favorite uncle, Sam was ready for a new start in life.
Uncle Hanson. Just thinking about him made Sam feel sad. He had fond memories of visiting his uncle at work. The man had always liked Sam. He evidently had carried that affection into Sam’s adult life. After all, he had left Sam an entire building in his will, the building Sam now stood in front of. An office with accommodations over the top, worth quite a bit of money despite its proximity to an undesirable area.
“You should sell,” his friend Oscar had said. Oscar had no love for Uncle Hanson. In a sniffy tone, he often consigned Hanson to the idiot pile and called him ‘odd’.
“I don’t want to sell,” Sam had protested.
“What are you going to do with it?” Oscar had asked.
“Open up my own agency.”
Oscar still wasn’t speaking to him, even now, three months later.
Sam sighed at the memory and mentally pushed it all to one side to admire his property. The lower half consisted of a business office and reception area, with the upper two floors divided into four apartments. Three were empty, but his uncle had filled the fourth one with notes from his own investigative practice. That room was high on Sam’s list of things to sort out, but he first needed to concentrate on renting out one of the empty apartments.
Sam might have inherited the house, but it hadn’t exactly come with a burgeoning bank account to match. Forty years of being a detective and all Uncle Hanson had to show for it was this building, a small bank account, and a room full of papers. Sam was determined he was going to be different. He had a five-year plan in place. Sam didn’t doubt for one minute that he knew exactly why his uncle had little money to speak of. Uncle Hanson had done too much pro bono work for them.
Filing cabinets and boxes overflowed with notes from years of being a private detective. A lot of those papers included cases involving aspects of the paranormal, things Sam thought better left alone. Sam didn’t have a drop of supernatural blood in his entire body, and he didn’t plan on associating with those who did. It hadn’t exactly worked out well for his uncle.
Paranormals had their place. Hell, they owned half the city. Vampires and werewolves, witches, fae, and pixies—they all had their own parishes. Neighborhoods where they lived amongst their own kind. Like enjoyed living with like, and although they often mixed and matched, no one in Sam’s family had ever crossed the romantic boundary between the magical and the not.
Sam didn’t count his second cousin Christa, who had taken up with a blood demon. There was a bad seed in every batch.
Worried he’d use up the rest of his small inheritance, Sam had put an ad in the local paper to rent out two of the four apartments. They were empty but spacious rooms that had no one currently occupying them. After a quick mop and dust, they were ready for renters. Why his uncle had a space with no one living there didn’t make much sense. Of course, if his cousin Erik hadn’t been estranged from his father, Sam wouldn’t have inherited anything. A twinge of guilt went through Sam, but he hadn’t heard from his cousin in years and had no way of getting hold of him.
A soft voice had Sam spinning around to see an old lady looking up at him. Her wrinkled skin and the way she leaned against her cane betrayed her great age.
“Can I help you?”
She squinted at him as if trying to make him out through her foggy white eyes. “You owe me a favor.”
“What?” Sam examined the lady carefully, but he hadn’t ever met her before in his life. What possible kind of favor could he owe her?
“The man here before. He promised he’d help me out,” she explained.
The old lady didn’t give Sam a chance to explain. She jabbed her finger into the air at Sam, pursed her lips, then began shouting. “He owes me. He owes me!” she repeated twice, her voice rising to a screeching pitch.
Ahh, now it becomes clear. “You must be talking about my uncle. Why don’t you come inside and we can discuss what I can do for you.” Although he didn’t feel the need to keep a dead man’s promise, if he could help the woman out, he would.
After opening the front door, he motioned for her to go ahead of him.
She settled into his visitor chair while Sam scooted past her to sit on the leather chair opposite, patting his uncle’s gargoyle statue as he walked past. Uncle Hanson had the strangest collection of art he’d ever seen. Eventually, he’d get rid of it all, but right then the weird pieces reminded him of his beloved relative and better times.
“My name is Sam Enderson. How can I help you?”
Scowling over at him, she shook her head. “The guy here before never told you not to share your name, did he?”
“The man here before was my uncle. No, he didn’t tell me not to share my name.”
She shook her head as if not understanding Sam’s stupidity. “You never share your name with a witch unless you want her to do a spell.”
Sam jerked in his seat, appalled at what he’d let through his front door. “You’re a witch?”
The woman slammed her cane onto the wooden floor. “Of course I’m a witch. I’ve got the wrinkled skin, the hunch, the cane, and the rheumy eyes. What did you think I was?”
He shrugged. “I-I thought you were just an old woman.” An old scary woman who gave him the creeps, but an old woman nonetheless.
“Old!” the witch shrieked. “How dare you call me old? I’m only a hundred and sixty!”
“Forgive me.” Sam raised his hands in alarm. “I didn’t mean any offense.” Secretly he wondered how old a witch had to be before she fell into the ‘old’ category.
“Well, I am offended,” she snapped.
“Sorry. I don’t know much about your world.” Witch or not, he couldn’t help the little slip of derision into his tone.
The witch regarded him carefully. “What are you?”
“What do you mean?”
“What blood flows in your body?” she asked, as if expecting him to come up with some sort of interesting paranormal cocktail.
“Human. Just human,” Sam answered.
“You don’t like paranormals, do you?”
“No.” Sam saw no reason to deny the fact.
“So what are you doing here?” she asked suspiciously.
“I’ve inherited this building.”
“And you intend to do what?”
“Carry on business as usual. Private investigations. It’s what I’m qualified for.” And he had the multi-weapon license to back him up.
“Then you’ll have to do paranormal cases.” She gave him a taunting smile.
Sam’s stomach churned. “Why?” He didn’t plan to ever take a paranormal case.
“Because the law states no business can discriminate against a paranormal due to his or her status,” she explained. “It’ll get you shut down, it will.” There was definite glee in the old woman’s expression.
All Sam wanted to do at that moment was place his head in his hands and curse. He didn’t. He was much too professional for that. Instead, he shrugged. His mom always said if you had nothing good to say, then don’t say anything.
The witch cackled in true witch fashion, and Sam shuddered inwardly. The scent of something dead and decaying pervaded the room. Add in the crooked teeth and the rags for clothes and he couldn’t understand why he hadn’t immediately pegged her as something different.
“Now about that favor…” she continued.
“What?” He couldn’t look her in the eyes. Maybe if he didn’t look, whatever she said wouldn’t be real. He was comfortable with his denial. In fact, he might just lock the door, pull down the shades, and wallow in it for a few days.
“I need help tracking down a werewolf.”
Sam looked at her. “Why?” Paranormal hunting paranormal? That couldn’t end well.
The witch scowled at him while tapping her cane on the floor. “What do you mean, why?”
Had he stuttered? “I mean, why do you need a werewolf?”
“It’s none of your business why I need a werewolf, boy. I just do,” the witch snapped.
“It is, if you want me to do your dirty work.” Sam knew all kinds of uses witches had for werewolves and none of them was nice. “Not to mention hunting werewolves is illegal.”
“Pfft.” She waved away the law as if it were nothing. Probably was since she didn’t plan on breaking it but had asked Sam to do it instead. “I’ve got a rare potion to make, and I need some werewolf bones.”
“No.” Sam might not like paranormals very much, but he wasn’t going to hunt one down, either.
“Your uncle owes me!” she screeched.
Sam wanted to cover his ears at the high-pitched noise. “My uncle is dead,” he began to explain as patiently as he could. “I was willing to hear you out, but I’m not going to go kill an innocent werewolf so you can make a potion.” Were werewolves actually innocent? Hadn’t there been that whole rampaging werewolf-pack mess last year? Sam seemed to remember people—human, non-magical, regular people—getting killed in that little incident. Still, whatever issues he had with werewolves, he didn’t do that kind of work. He had enough problems without getting jailed for killing werewolves, innocent or not.
“This potion can save a loved one!” the witch announced dramatically. “I need those bones.”
“Find a different potion. I’m sure any given werewolf is someone’s beloved too.”
The witch scowled at him, then abruptly leaned back in her seat and smiled. The smile exposed a mouthful of yellowed teeth, and Sam winced inwardly at her lack of dental care. “Do you have anyone you love, Mr. Enderson?”
Sam’s mind shifted back to the image of his boyfriend of ten years screwing his best friend. “Not anymore.” Despite his ex pleading for forgiveness, some things Sam wouldn’t forgive. He’d moved out and away from his lover within days and blocked both work and mobile numbers from his phone. His uncle had been his last close relative that had stayed in his life. So really, with his uncle dead, at this point in time, he had no one he could call a loved one. But he’d give her his own bones before he admitted the extent of his loneliness.
The witch stood with a purposeful air. “When you’re on the verge of losing someone you love, come find me and maybe I’ll free you. Until then, enjoy my present.”
With a poof of smoke, the witch vanished.
Gasping, Sam tried to wave away the stench that accompanied the smoke, acrid and with a hint of burnt almonds. Finally, when that didn’t work, he rushed over and opened a window to let the ashy smell out. Great start to his first day as a PI.
“You’re an idiot.”
“Ahh!” Sam jumped back from the window to face the empty room. What the hell? Was she still there? Was the witch invisible?
“An idiot,” the voice repeated. This time Sam confirmed the source, emphasized when the statue on his desk turned its head and regarded him with eerie yellow eyes.
“What the hell are you?” he managed to ask coherently.
The statue’s stone wings moved, creating a sound like gravel underfoot. “I’m a gargoyle. What are you?”
“I-I’m a human.” Sam swallowed rapidly, trying to get some moisture into his dry throat. “What are you doing here?”
The statue stretched out of its crouch until it stood about a foot tall on the corner of the desk. Its baleful glare pinned Sam to the spot. “You’re an idiot. That witch has something planned for you, and it isn’t good.”
“H-how do you know?” Sam’s heart beat faster than a rabbit chased by a werewolf.
The gargoyle rolled his eyes. “You’re not too bright, are you? Your uncle trafficked with that witch.”
Sam frowned. His uncle had been a kindly old PI, who hadn’t seemed to actually do much from day to day. There was no way he had trafficked anything. He had been the type of man who always had a ready supply of candy for eager young visitors like Sam.
“The sweet old man who brought you candy didn’t exist,” the gargoyle answered his thoughts. Wait? How the hell…?
“How did you know what I was thinking?”
The gargoyle ignored the question, “He would’ve had that werewolf for the witch by the end of the day and walked away with enough cash to eat for months.” He didn’t sound like he approved, and there was sadness in his tone.
“N-no, that can’t be true.” Sam shook his head in denial. Surely the gargoyle had his facts wrong?
“Have you actually looked at the paperwork upstairs yet? I heard you banging about. I assume you actually read some of them?”
“I was moving furniture for my future tenants.” Sam shook his head. “And no, not yet. I thought they were just old case files that needed organizing.”
Defending himself to a freaking gargoyle made Sam feel like an idiot. The damn thing had been sitting there every time Sam had visited, and never once had it appeared to be anything more than an ornament. The creature must be wrong. Sam would have seen it if Uncle Hanson had been a bad guy. He wasn’t stupid. How could he not have understood his uncle’s true nature? Nope, this ‘gargoyle thing’ had to be wrong.
The gargoyle clomped across the desk. “Look at the files and check out the back closet in the file room. Your uncle had more going on than anyone knew about. That includes exposing himself to a lot more than just a witch with teeth problems and a ready hand with curses.”
With those parting words, the gargoyle sank back into his original position. A loud, crackling noise filled the room, and the creature became a statue once more. Sam poked at it with his index finger, but it didn’t move again.
Maybe he was in the middle of a dream, one where he was going to wake up in his sun-lit apartment in Johnstown with his boyfriend in bed with him.
The gargoyle’s words sank in. Maybe he did need to check out the apartment with all the files a little more carefully. It wouldn’t hurt to see what other pies his uncle had his fingers in. As he stepped out of the office, a knock on the front door had him turning away from the stairs and back towards the front door. Why would someone be knocking? The door was unlocked. At least, he didn’t think he’d locked the door. But then, it was an old place. Maybe the latch had closed behind him when he’d escorted the witch inside.
His mind still on the files upstairs, he opened the door and stopped, frozen.
The man could be nothing else. Tall, elegant, and having an unearthly beauty, the vampire gave him a smile that exposed his fangs. “I hear you have an apartment to rent.” The vampire’s voice was like scotch over ice and dripped with sensuality.
A vampire here? In the daylight? Sam glanced past the vamp. Yep, the sun shone brightly in the sky.
“Ah, you’re not used to us.” The vampire flashed another smile. “We don’t actually burn up in the sun.”
That’s a shame. That would be one less paranormal to cause trouble.
“Um, you need an apartment?” Sam had never heard of a vampire living in an apartment. “I thought you people had mansions and crypts and stuff.”
The vampire threw back his head and laughed. “That’s only in the movies. Now, can I see your place?”
“…Umm” Sam searched his mind for a good excuse. Anything to keep the skeevy, blood-sucking supernatural out of his house.
The tall vampire smiled. “You know that part about vampires reading your mind?”
With a sinking stomach, Sam nodded.
“That part’s true.”
Sam sighed. “You’d better come in. It’s right this way.”
The day had started out so well, too. Now, Sam just wanted to go back to bed and hide under the covers.
“I’d be happy to keep you company,” the vampire said in a low, sultry tone. For a second, Sam didn’t understand what the hell the vampire was talking about, and then he recalled what he had just thought about beds and covers. Sam looked over his shoulder to see the vampire checking out his ass. Rolling his eyes, he headed up the stairs, leading the vampire to the top floor. He pulled an old-fashioned key from his pocket, unlocked then opened the door.
“No spell locks?” the vampire asked with concern in his voice.
Sam shook his head. Like he’d had any time to do things like that. The vampire was lucky the room had been tidied and cleaned. “You’re welcome to add your own, of course.” Fuck, he was going to rent to a vampire. He could hope the creature didn’t want the place. “It’s nothing fancy.”
Please want something fancy.
Before Sam could take more than two steps into the apartment, the vampire pinned him to the wall. “I’m not a creature. I’m a man, and I’d be happy to show you exactly how manly I am.”
To Sam’s shock, he could feel the vampire rubbing his erection against him. “U-um, s-sorry.” Was this what vampires did just before they drank every drop of blood from your body?
“I don’t want you sorry. I just want you to want me.”
Sudden, inexplicable desire burned through Sam and his body hardened in reaction to the proximity of another man. The vampire smiled, exposing a flash of fang. A shiver of fear trembled down Sam’s spine.
“No!” He shoved at the vampire, who, surprisingly, broke his hold and released Sam.
The vampire watched Sam with a wary look. “What are you?”
Why does everyone keep asking me that?
“I’m human, okay? Just human.” Sam scowled at the vampire.
“No human has ever shattered my glamor.” The vampire sounded thoughtful, and his appraising look unnerved Sam.
“Well, good for me.” Sam folded his arms. He might not like paranormals, but he knew enough about vampires and their way of controlling people to know he didn’t want that within six feet of him. “I’m not going to rent a room to someone who tried to glamor me. You might as well go.”
The vampire smiled. “My name is Bob.”
A snort of laughter burst out of Sam. “Your name isn’t Bob.”
The vampire tilted his head, and his eyes glowed with amusement. “How do you know?”
“Because I just had a witch tell me not to share my name with a paranormal so I doubt you would be telling me your real name.”
Bob grabbed Sam’s wrist. His grip was firm, and instinctively Sam yanked his arm to try to break the vampire’s hold. “There was a witch here?” Bob snapped urgently. “What did she look like?”
“A witch.” What did it matter what she looked like? “She was old, crony, and witchy. You know—” He gestured expansively with his free hand— “A witch.”
“What did she want?” Bob still hadn’t let go of his wrist. The vampire didn’t know his own strength. One last tug and Bob finally let him loose. Idly, Sam rubbed at the sore skin burn.
“From what she said, werewolf bones.”
Bob scanned the room as if he expected the witch to jump out of the wall or something. “Never trust a witch and never, ever, tell a witch your real name.”
“Okay, um… Bob.” Sam could barely hold back the laughter building inside him.
“My real name is Roberto, but I go by Bob,” Bob finally said. “Vampires don’t have last names outside a coven. Your last name reveals the group you belong to. I am an independent.”
Sam couldn’t hold back the laugh inside him. Dire warnings about witches aside, he couldn’t wrap his head around a badass vampire calling himself Bob. Hell, a vampire named Bob. That was wrong on so many levels.
“Vampires are supposed to be sexy. There’s nothing sexy about a Bob,” Sam finally managed to say without laughing. Why he cared what the vampire called himself, he didn’t know, but there was no way he was going to call a vampire Bob.
Bob seemed to forget his need to warn Sam about witches and names and instead pulled Sam into his arms. Evidently he had returned to his first agenda. “I’m sure I can convince you I’m sexy,” he drawled. What was it about this man—vampire, whatever—feeling like he could manhandle him at every turn?
Sam narrowed his eyes at the vampire. The man might be the sexiest thing Sam had ever seen, but he wasn’t going to admit it…
Damn. He had just thought that. And damn—Bob had heard him. Shit. Bob was definitely smirking.
“Do you have a multiple personality disorder or something? You bounce around more than anyone I’ve ever met. From scary vampire to smirking idiot in a second.”
Bob smiled and didn’t appear to take offense at Sam’s comment. “You’ll have plenty of time to examine my personality when I move in. How much is the rent?” The quick change of subject threw Sam, but it didn’t keep him from trying one last time to stop Bob from moving in. He mentioned an exorbitant amount for the monthly rent to attempt to deter the vampire.
Bob released Sam, and then walked through the living room and down the hall. There were two bedrooms and a small kitchen, though Sam doubted Bob would need a kitchen. Vampires didn’t eat real food. Right? But wouldn’t he need a fridge or something for all the blood? Or would he be one of those vampires with a live donor?
What did Sam know? He had thought vampires could only come out at night.
Sam pushed aside thoughts of blood.
Bob returned to Sam’s side in long, confident strides. “I’ll take it.”
Not for the first time, as Sam inhaled the dust in his uncle’s storeroom, he wondered if he should have worn a mask. Dust was everywhere. The damned stuff covered years of undisturbed chaos piled in the corner of his uncle’s filing system. Spider webs, dark and thick, coiled in and around files that were faded with age. The top one, labeled Aster vs. Aster, was dated fifteen years ago, so God knows what the rest was like.
Throwing back the full black drapes brought light into the otherwise dismal space. He finally got a good look at the room his uncle had always called ‘the bookroom.’ Objects, boxes, letters, and photos covered every conceivable surface. A pile of notes here, a file of case observations there. With no discernible organization at all, the sight of it almost sent Sam running back out and shutting the book room door behind him.
He opened Aster vs. Aster and traced a finger down the spidery writing.
“Edgar Aster, Elf, aged…” He peered closer. “Aged one hundred eighty-three. Against Agnes Aster, daughter of… pursuant to… what the hell?” Even with his reading glasses perched on the end of his nose, it was difficult to work his way through both the handwriting and the legalese. The notes were sketchy, and then all of a sudden there was a switch in language. He couldn’t understand the English parts, let alone the symbols that lined the page.
“Edgar Aster cheated on his wife.” The voice came out of one of the other dark corners, and Sam spun around, brandishing the file in front of him.
“What the hell?”
“He cheated on his wife. It says so on page fifty-seven. That is the conclusion reached.” The voice was so damn formal. Sam squinted at the shadowy corners but didn’t see anyone. Not even a little gargoyle statue sitting around waiting to come to life.
Just as he decided he’d lost his frigging mind, the disembodied voice was joined by a body. Well, half of a body so far, actually. The full form was manifesting from wisps of smoke, and a man’s figure formed in front of Sam’s eyes.
He’d seen ghosts before. On television. Not real ghosts; make-believe ghosts. He knew they existed for real, but they generally kept to themselves.
“Then you’ll never guess what he did.” The ghost floated nearer as a nose joined his face and ears aligned on each side of his head. The ghost’s voice dripped with the tone of someone sharing salacious gossip. Glee danced in his pale misty eyes. Definite glee. “He got his wife and girlfriend pregnant at the same time.”
“At one hundred-eighty-seven years old?” Sam blurted, painfully aware he was having a conversation with a ghost, who appeared trapped in a time from centuries past. The britches and a flowing white shirt put the ghost a few hundred years earlier than current, and the long ringlets cascading to his shoulders gave him a more feminine look than the man’s voice suggested.
“That’s nothing,” the ghost said conspiratorially. Sam found himself unconsciously leaning closer to hear. With a snort of disgust, he pulled himself back. The ghost didn’t appear to notice, now fully formed and standing—floating—in front of him. “Turns out he had seven mistresses and…” His voice trailed off as he raised his eyebrows. “He had so many children, he ran out of elvish names to call them.”
“Oh,” Sam offered helplessly. The ghost held out his hand as if to shake it, and Sam, on instinct, made to grasp the offered fingers only to watch his own hand pass straight through the misty one. The ghost giggled. Seriously chuckled with mirth. Then, to Sam’s shock, he floated straight through Sam.
Sam shivered at the icy sensation that passed through him and jerked forward as soon as it was done. Swiveling on his feet, he turned to face the ghost, who was staring at him with an odd expression.
“I didn’t like that,” the ghost said quietly.
“You didn’t like it?” Sam spluttered. He felt violated and mildly nauseous. “I feel—”
“What are you?” the ghost asked.
“What? I’m the owner here. My uncle—”
“No. What are you?” the ghost repeated his question in a slow, patient manner as if he were talking to a child.
“What? Why does everyone ask me that? I’m the normal one here. I’m human.”
“Oh.” The ghost looked puzzled. Then he wrinkled his nose and shrugged. Apparently he didn’t understand that Sam was the human here. “Sorry about the…about before—you know the whole, umm…”
“Ghosting through me and violating me?” Sam snapped the question. The ghost appeared offended and perched on the side of one of the desks. Sam could see the files through the pale form, like some kind of weird special effect.
“I was just teasing you,” the ghost said idly. “I’m Theodore McCurray Constantine III. For some reason, your uncle Hanson liked to call me Teddy. I’m the file keeper.” His voice spilled over with pride as he straightened his ethereal shoulders. “It’s a big responsibility.”
“The file keeper,” Sam repeated carefully.
“Can I join in?” The voice was a welcome respite from making sense of why there was a ghost sitting on his desk. A ghost whose name appeared to be a mishmash from different continents. Teddy looked across to the door, and with a girly shriek, he vanished from sight, leaving only a few random wisps of smoke that trailed around where he had been sitting.
Sam ran his fingers through his hair and sighed loudly.
“You may be renting from me, Bob, but this is my room and vamp…tenants are not allowed in this part of the building.”
Bob looked around the space, with its tangle of files, boxes, and books, then, disregarding Sam’s statement, he strode the few steps to Sam and took the file from his hand.
“Aster? I remember him.” Bob looked up at the ceiling with a smile on his face and reminisced. “What a guy.”
Sam immediately reacted negatively. This Aster, if he could believe the ghost, had been a serial adulterer. There was nothing remotely fabulous or amazing about that. “He sounded like a bastard. Cheating on his wife.”
“Wives,” Bob corrected quickly.
“Wives? It gets worse.”
“So you don’t like the idea of a cheat?” Bob asked thoughtfully. Sam’s mind wandered to thoughts of his ex. He narrowed his eyes as Bob stared, suddenly remembering the vampire could read his thoughts.
“Did you know that vampires mate for life?” Bob began conversationally. “We don’t cheat. Ever. A cheating vampire is a dead vampire.”
“Yay for vampires,” Sam replied sarcastically. Bob took one step closer, and Sam took a measured step backward. His ass hit one of the filing cabinets, preventing him from backing up any further. “You scared Teddy.” Changing the subject was probably a good thing at this point.
Bob waggled a hand from side to side. “Vampires don’t get on with ghosts and vice versa.”
“They don’t?” Why? Why did I give him the chance to explain? He’s freaking me out, and he’s between me and the door.
“I think the veil is thinnest between a vampire and a ghost,” Bob offered in explanation.
That was possibly one of the most insightful things Sam had heard since he had been a child sitting through interminable hours of remedial paranormal studies with Mr. Esterhoon.
“Because you’re both dead people,” Sam offered.
Bob took that final step forward until there was nothing more than a single breath between them. Damn it. There was a flash inside Sam, a curl of lust that climbed higher while sweat trickled down his back. His dick was so hard he could swear it was going to break the zipper on his pants. Bob had the most incredible eyes. Amber and gold, they shone with an unearthly light, and Sam could see every striation of color in the irises. And the scent of him? Of Roberto? A mix of earth and sky and oh so damn intoxicating.
Placing his hands on either side of Sam, Bob pressed into him, clearly just as hard. Bob bent his head, and instinctively Sam tilted his head in response. Bob brushed a gentle kiss against Sam’s exposed neck. He couldn’t stop himself. He was going to let Bob feed on him, kiss him, fuck him and…
Bob pulled back with a smirk on his face.
“I can promise you I am not dead.”
Sam pushed at Bob. “Stop that,” he snapped. “You’re up in my space, and I don’t like it.” Sam made his words firm and unyielding. Bob would have to understand exactly where he was coming from. No touching. Bob narrowed his eyes then shrugged. Evidently, Sam’s firm stance had hit a chord. Bob took a few steps back, and, crossing his arms over his chest, he only stared. They locked gazes. Bob’s focused look made Sam more and more nervous. In the end, Sam snapped.
“You can go now,” he said.
“I’m happy here.” Bob resolutely stood his ground, and Sam could feel the tension knotting inside him at the brooding vampire and his inability to just go.
“This is my office and—”
“You have a visitor,” Bob interrupted. He tilted his head to one side and closed his eyes. “Two actually. Of the same mind.”
Sam hadn’t heard the door, but moved past Bob to peer over the banister and down the stairs anyway. Bob was right. Two figures stood huddled together in the wide entrance hall. Jeez. If Bob hadn’t said anything, Sam wouldn’t have known they’d arrived. There and then, he resolved not to spend time trawling through the file room at the expense of possibly losing a paying customer. He needed a bell, an alarm, or something.
“You have visitors,” a voice whispered in his ear. Sam cursed in surprise as he turned to find Teddy, half there and half not, with a look of concern on his pale face.
“I know, thank you,” Sam said sharply.
“Are you going to ask them what they want?” And now Bob was there as well, right up next to him and tracing one of his long fingers down Sam’s arm. “I’m not sure you should leave clients standing in the hallway.”
“Your uncle would have been down there already,” Teddy warned.
That was the final straw. “Enough. I’m perfectly capable of dealing with clients.”
Ignoring the sigh from Teddy, Sam pushed past Bob and went down the stairs as calmly as he could. Excitement built inside him as he observed the two tall, slim gentlemen, currently with their backs to him, talking quietly. With short blond spiky hair and dressed in jeans and sweaters, they looked normal. He could handle normal. Normal was easy. They apparently hadn’t noticed him arrive behind them, and it gave him a chance to brush the dust off his clothes.
“Can I help you?” he asked. They stopped talking and, in perfect unison, turned to face him.
Twins with narrow, delicate features and wide, silver-blue eyes.
Twins with runes and other markings tattooed in exact replica on each perfectly sculpted right cheek. Not to mention the pronounced widow's peak and the silver threaded into their short hair. He racked his brain, trying to remember a classification for this particular type of non-human but failed. Tall. Slim. Silvery. Tattooed faces. Sighing inwardly, he realized now was the test of his promise to himself to only work for humans. The twins didn’t seem so bad. No fangs or huge sharp teeth, no fur, and they appeared fairly harmless.
“We have lost our third,” one of the twins said directly. He held out a hand, which Sam instinctively grasped to shake.
“Our third is lost,” they said together to emphasize the reason for the visit. Sam shook his hand also. Sparks chased up his arm, and he felt curiously dizzy for an instant. The twins looked at each other, and the first took a step forward to release the other's handshake.
“Not now,” he said.
“Not now,” the second repeated.
Shaking off the dizzy feeling and not at all understanding this strange conversation, he gestured with a hand toward the office. The two visitors walked into the room first. They stopped just inside the door, and Sam shuffled around them as best he could before sliding into his chair.
“Please. Sit.” He wondered if he should have offered coffee, but after casting a quick look at his uncle’s old coffee machine, he wasn’t entirely sure he could work the damn thing. Nothing led him to imagine for one minute that he could fix a proper cup under the watchful gaze of the strange silver-eyed twins. They sat in perfect unison, and both wore the same expectant expressions on their faces. Pulling his brand-new notepad from the side of his desk, he sat poised with the pen hovering over the paper.
“You said you’re missing your third. Can you elaborate at all? Your third what?” It was a safe question. They had mentioned losing a third.
“Us,” Twin on the left said.
“Us,” Twin on the right repeated.
“Us. You. Um…” Sam scribbled in the notebook. One word. ‘Us’. A good start.
“Can I maybe get some more details?” More lucid details that actually made sense, maybe?
“We created a list.”
“A list,” he repeated. This was going nowhere fast.
Left twin passed the paper over along with a photo of a man who looked just like the two men sitting across from Sam. He set aside the picture, grabbed his reading glasses, and peered down at the writing. He didn’t know what he’d been expecting, but it wasn’t this simple list written in English No runes or hieroglyphics, but actual writing. Of course, the normality ended there. He didn’t understand one thing on the list.
“Places he was seen.”
“Places he went.”
Sam did recognize one name as that of a local nightclub, but it could be a coincidence. He looked back up at the twins. Both of whom appeared to be close to tears. Hell. He hated it when people cried. He never knew what to say or do.
Okay. The third is a person. Someone who means a lot to two men who look like twins.
He sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers. He had seen his uncle do that on more than one occasion, and he had always thought it made his uncle look brilliant and considering. Finally, he put his thoughts into words.
“So,” he started carefully. “Your third, your brother or triplet, is missing, and these are the places he has been spotted. You are hiring me to track down your missing brother.”
“With haste,” left twin intoned gravely.
“Utmost haste,” right twin enforced.
Sam looked back down at the paper. “Can I get some contact details for you?” He looked up, but the twins had stood and were already at the office door. “Wait.” Clambering to stand, and cursing his leg that somehow had become trapped between chair and desk, he finally stumble-tripped out to the hallway.
Gone. Both ethereal twins were gone. Throwing open the front door, he stepped out into the sunlight and blinked at the sudden change in brightness. Scanning the street for a car, or at least two walking men, he stared up and down the road. Nothing. Totally gone.
Damn it. He had nothing much in the way of information, no names…and no money. Maybe that piece of paper would reveal more than he thought, but he hadn’t even agreed to a damn fee. Shit.