Caveat Emptor, Book 1
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-60521-615-7
[ Vampire Romance, MF ]
Ryver is one of the many humans who owns a vampire. She purchased Theron for home security. When the magic charms keeping the vampires docile and subservient suddenly start failing, Theron goes from protector to threat. A nationwide, mandatory recall of all vampires is in effect. Ryver is ready to comply, but a night of passion spent in Theron’s arms changes her mind.
It’s only a matter of time before someone figures out Ryver and Theron’s secret. With the threat of mages bearing down on them, Ryver has to decide if she’s willing to give up her lover — or her freedom.
Ryver leaned back against the couch cushions and let her eyes drift shut as Theron massaged her scalp. His fingers felt wonderful. Discovering he knew how to give a massage had been the best day of her life. It had been an accidental discovery a month after she bought him. Ryver had gotten a cramp in her leg from exercising.
She had been in too much pain to massage the muscle herself, so she’d directed Theron to do it. A simple command had turned into a realization that Theron knew what he was doing. From that day on, Theron had been giving her massages when she returned home from work and after her exercise routine.
Owning Theron was like that, finding out his talents by accident. He hadn’t come with a resume listing his abilities and skills. Most vampires didn’t feel like imparting a laundry list of their desirable attributes for potential customers while fighting off human hunters.
Until a decade ago, the hunters had been losing the fight. It was all the humans could do to keep the vampires at bay. Humans and vampires had warred for centuries until one coven of mages had found the edge needed to triumph. A thumb-sized, marquis-shaped jewel imbued with the ability to trap a vampire’s mind and turn him into a puppet. The jewel forced the vampire to follow the commands of the human who purchased him. The docility charm sat right in the indentation of the vampire’s clavicle. Easily visible so humans could identify a vampire on sight. As well, the jewel changed color if it started to weaken and the vampire was getting free.
Ryver opened her eyes and looked up at Theron. His goatee caught her eye. That was always what she saw first about him. It was a well-manicured black box around his mouth and chin. The corners were perfect ninety-degree angles. She had thought the company who sold Theron had given him that style to enhance his dark charms, but later found out that was Theron’s natural look.
What’s more, it never changed. If cut, the goatee would grow back exactly the same in a matter of seconds. The same thing happened with Theron’s long black hair that flowed free and straight to his broad shoulders.
It was a good thing Ryver liked Theron’s looks, because she could never give him a makeover. The vampire’s metabolism kept him looking the same way in undeath as he had in life. Even his muscled arms and six-pack abs were a holdover from his living days. Theron didn’t exercise because he didn’t need to. Vampirism came with inhuman strength. He could crush a bowling ball made of marble one-handed the way some people could crush a glass Christmas tree ornament.
Knowing that about him didn’t deter her from enjoying the feel of his fingers in her hair. He cupped the back of her head, supporting the weight with one hand while he massaged her neck with the other.
Theron had been an impulse buy Ryver never regretted making. She really had no use for a vampire beyond guarding the house. He helped her with carrying, lifting, and the odd fix-it jobs, but he served no real purpose other than being another body in her big house. She didn’t feel guilty about that since many people bought vampires as companions.
Unlike most owners, she hadn’t given Theron his name. He had told her when she asked, something that had surprised the salesman since no one had ever thought to simply ask the vampire. Theron wasn’t that great of a conversationalist with his personality bound under the docility charm. That kept him from voicing an opinion of any kind, but Ryver still had fun talking to him.
She gave a contented sigh and closed her eyes once more. Her tranquility shattered when her cell phone rang.
Ryver groaned as she reached for it and tapped the speakerphone button. “Yes?”
“Good. You have your phone on.”
“Yeah, hi. Turn on the news.”
Ryver didn’t move. “Which channel?”
“Any channel. It doesn’t matter. Just hurry up.”
It was the urgency in Sissy’s voice that made Ryver pull herself out of her relaxed place enough so she could find the remote and turn on the TV. The second she moved away from Theron he stopped his motions and released her. She pushed out an annoyed breath and hoped Sissy’s emergency was worth the interruption.
Ryver didn’t have to flip to any channel in particular. All of the channels, even the cable channels, showed the same breaking news broadcast. Ryver pressed the volume up button so she could hear the newscaster confirm what she had read in the scrolling marquee since she didn’t quite believe it.
The news anchor said, “If you are just tuning in, this is a breaking news bulletin about the series of vampire attacks from vampires supposedly tamed by docility charms. Authorities have reported only five charm failures in the entire country. However the devastation from those five escapees has rocked the nation.”
Sissy yelled, “Are you hearing this?”
Ryver snapped, “Shut up, Sissy.” She turned up the volume more in case Sissy didn’t heed her command.
The news anchor said, “The families that owned the vampires who broke free of the docility charms were the first victims to fall to the vampires’ brutality. Death tolls in each city rose to the hundreds in a matter of hours. Hunters have not been able to subdue the vampires and have suffered many casualties as well. For those who speculated a vampire would rather run than seek revenge if ever freed from the docility charm, that question is now answered. All vampire owners are urged to take their vampires to the nearest store for a nationwide recall. What will happen in this recall has not been made clear. When owners should expect their vampires back is also unclear.”
The rest of the broadcast became white noise to Ryver.
Rogue vampires. Malfunctioning charms. She looked at Theron. His vacant dark eyes stared at nothing just as they always did. His charm sparkled like a diamond in the living room lights. A clear indication he was still under the sway of the docility charm. The charm would turn red if he were free.
He hadn’t acted any differently. She didn’t want to take him back to the store and chance losing him after spending a year training him. She also didn’t want to be one of those people who figured the bad happening to everyone else would never happen to her. The recall was for her safety.
Theron was centuries old, possibly even former nobility. Most older vampires were. Or at least, they said they were. She’d been treating him like a servant. If he ever regained his consciousness, he’d make her pay. All of the vampires would massacre the humans en masse if they ever got loose. The news report had proven that. The humans were playing with matches while living in a gasoline-filled house.
Sissy’s frantic voice snapped Ryver out of her thoughts. She grabbed her cell phone and brought it close to her mouth. “I’m right here, Sissy.”
“Take that thing back to the store right now.”
“It’s almost eleven at night. There’s no way they’re open.”
“They have to be. This is a mandatory recall.”
Ryver tamped back a sigh. She shouldn’t be annoyed at Sissy for being right. She said, “Hold on. Let me call them.”
She clicked to a new line, putting Sissy on hold, and hit the speed dial for the store.
The phone rang once before an automated message said, “For those owners calling about the mandatory recall, please perform the following steps. Press and hold your thumb to the docility charm until it glows green. If the charm doesn’t glow green or turns a different color entirely, please bring in your vampire immediately. If the charm does glow green, you are still urged to bring in your vampire for evaluation but are asked to wait a few days, performing the color check daily, so that those with urgent need can make use of our services first.”
Ryver left the couch and walked over to Theron. He didn’t react to her any differently than he had any other time. But then, would he betray that he was free if the charm had failed?
She pressed her thumb to the charm. It only took one breath before the charm glowed green. Ryver hadn’t realized she was holding that breath until she let it out. She dropped her arm and sagged against Theron in relief, using him as a much needed support.
She pushed the button to switch her call back to Sissy. “I don’t need to take him in.”
“The hell you don’t.”
“I just called the store. They had a test to perform. Those who failed get first priority. Theron passed.”
“You still need to take him in, Ryver. Don’t be stupid about this.”
“I will take him, but the people who might be in danger should be first. Some of these people are my neighbors, Sissy. If their vampire is about to go nuts, I’d rather they be at the head of the line. Agreed?”
Sissy breathed into the phone a few times. “Fine. I agree. I don’t like it but I agree. Just keep Theron on high alert or whatever. If some rogue vampire comes busting in there, I want him to get in the way.”
“He will. One of his major duties is guarding the house. I’m fine, Sissy. Thanks for calling.”
“You’re taking him to the mage.”
Ryver nodded. “Yes. I am taking him to the mage. Just not tonight.”
“Thank you. Call me tomorrow.”
“So I know you’re okay. If you don’t call me, I’m calling the cops.”
Ryver laughed a little. “Okay. Okay. I’ll call you sometime in the afternoon. Bye, Sissy.”
“Bye, Ryver. Be safe.”
She waited for Sissy to hang up before pushing the end button and setting her phone aside. Her attention went back to Theron.
Just for her own peace of mind, she did the thumb test one more time. The charm glowed green as it had before. It was still active, still trapping him in servitude to a human he probably wouldn’t even look twice at if he were free.
“Theron, look at me.” She met his gaze.
There was no emotion in his dark eyes. He only looked at her because she’d commanded it.
Was some small part of him still aware, though? Even if that part couldn’t interact with the world around him? Did he have an opinion about her? Did he see her the same way she saw herself? A black woman whose looks were so average, with dark eyes and relaxed, straight, black hair that hung to her shoulders, that no one really looked twice. A woman who only managed to stay in a size eight because she did an hour’s worth of sweat-drenched cardio every day without fail. A woman who depended on her best friend Sissy to do her make-up, if the occasion ever called for it, because Ryver would come out looking like a clown if she attempted the feat herself.
Did Theron see all of that? Or was she simply his captor — a detestable human he would kill without a moment’s regret if given half a chance?
She asked in a small voice, “What would you do to me if you managed to get free?”
He didn’t answer. Her question involved his personality, which was firmly subdued under the docility charm. So long as that remained true, he was just an empty shell.
The impulse to touch him overruled her. She reached up and cupped his cheek. Doing that reinforced the height difference between her and Theron. The top of her head was even with the top of his shoulders. Not that a height difference mattered when the opponent had preternatural strength. It only made him more intimidating. An attribute that hadn’t made her uneasy until tonight.
She stepped back, lowering her hand.
Theron’s charm worked.
The news had reported five cases out of thousands of owners. She was letting her emotions get the best of her. Statistically speaking, she had better odds of winning the lottery or getting struck by lightning than the charm failing.
Once more, just to be totally sure, she pressed her thumb to the charm. It glowed green. She stepped back with a shake of her head, chastising herself internally for being so paranoid.
Theron continued staring at her.
She said, “Guard the house. I’m going to bed.”
“Understood.” Theron walked to the kitchen.
He would check all of the doors and windows before standing in the middle of the living room for the rest of the night. That’s what he had always done. That’s what he would always do. There was nothing wrong with the charm, and Ryver had nothing to worry about.
She still gave him a worried look before walking to her bedroom. She would definitely be taking him to get checked tomorrow morning.