Caveat Emptor, Book 7.5 (spinoff)
Ebook ISBN: 06554-02108
[ Vampire Romance, MFM ]
Love, like peace, is never easy where two men are concerned.
The war is over, and now it’s time to rebuild. Rhea has been chosen at random to sit on a joint council to help decide future relations between mages, vampires, and humans. Jeremy and Colm are appointed her guards. What should have been a simple escort assignment becomes so much more when a spell meant to kill ignites a passionate encounter with Rhea caught in the middle.
Haunted by her desires and craving another threesome, Rhea knows it can’t happen. Jeremy is a mage. Colm is a vampire. The men tolerate each other because they’re under orders to cooperate. Without another spell to force them, they would never agree to sharing Rhea again. She has to choose — the mage with a satisfying kiss or the vampire with a passionate bite… or maybe the third option she hasn’t yet considered.
Rhea shoved her car door open, grumbling and cursing under her breath. Mondays belonged in the eighth circle of Hell along with the rest of the frauds. It wasn’t a real day. It was Hell visited upon Earth in the guise of a real day. That had to be the case because no one should have to endure the amount of shit she had without divine punishment being involved.
A computer crash that ate all her work, missed deadlines that had popped up at the last minute, the wrong presentation for an important client, and to top it all off, being rear-ended while trying to merge in a construction zone. Thankfully the collision had been at a slow speed and hadn’t caused any damage. Rhea rubbed at the pinch in her neck that she hoped was stress and not symptomatic of a bigger problem. She’d been too pissed off to get the insurance information of the woman who’d hit her.
All Rhea wanted was a hot bath and alone time. Lots and lots of alone time where she pretended the world outside her bathroom didn’t exist. She didn’t even have the mental energy to lie to herself about everything being better tomorrow.
Monday — fraud — eighth circle of Hell. That was all there was to it. She would be raised up from Hell as soon as she baptized herself with lavender-scented bubbles and a bottle of peach rum. She was still debating whether she would drink the entire bottle or two-thirds of it.
She kicked her car door shut and headed for her apartment. Two steps from the porch she stopped. “Fucking hell!”
A little yellow notice was taped below the peephole. The words “Delinquent Payment Notice” mocked her in giant bold lettering. Delinquent payment her ass. She paid her rent the first day of the month, every month.
She snatched the letter off the door and read it quickly. “What do they mean ‘check not received?’ I have a fucking receipt.” She yanked her phone off her hip and pushed the power button. It was past closing time for the front office. Of course. With the day she’d been having, why would the office still be open?
She would have to call in late tomorrow so she could meet the apartment manager nice and early with receipt in hand so she could clear up this matter. Something told her waiting until after work might mean she would come home to all her stuff on the front lawn.
“What?” She barked the question before turning to see who had asked. She didn’t care who it was. She’d had enough. No more bad news. If one more person did one more thing to her, she would lose her mind and kill everyone in a one-mile radius, so help her God.
Two men stood behind her. Both were the same height, which was several inches taller than her, and both had an imposing vibe. The man on the left wore mage robes that cloaked his body from his wide shoulders to the ground. His light brown hair was pulled into a ponytail, leaving his chiseled, clean-shaven features free to be gazed upon… and Rhea was gazing. If he was her reward for putting up with her crappy day, she gladly accepted.
The man next to the mage, who wore tight blue jeans and a half-open button-up shirt that showed his sculpted chest, was just as yummy-looking. His blond hair was cropped short and styled into a mussed-up do that looked too purposefully mussed to be anything but intentional. Light-colored stubble graced his cheeks and chin, giving him a rugged look that appealed to her. His shoulders weren’t as broad as his friend’s, but that didn’t make him any less attractive. And then he smiled. His fangs ruined it for her.
A vampire. Not good.
Vampires didn’t frequent human-populated areas, not since the docility charms had failed, and the freed vampires had fled back to their own territory after massacring their former masters. A vampire in the company of a mage had to mean bad news — extremely bad news of which Rhea wanted no part.
The mage said, “Rhea Valern, we have come to –”
“Not interested. I’ve never bought a vampire before or even stepped into a store where they were sold. I’m not a mage potential. You’ve got the wrong girl. Go away.” She turned back to her door with her key in hand to unlock her door and make a quick escape into her apartment. If the men persisted, she would call the cops. Human cops wouldn’t be of much help, but there were a few mages who volunteered to handle situations like this.
“You don’t understand.”
“And I don’t want to. Bye now.” She pushed her door open, took one step and then screamed as the floor disappeared beneath her feet. Not just the floor — the entire inside of her apartment was a void of black nothingness.
Strong arms grabbed her from behind and pulled her back, except the void started pulling her too. She screamed again. The darkness had hold of her purse and was climbing up it like a snake winding around a branch. She couldn’t open her hand to drop the strap. The darkness touched her fingers and freezing pain ripped another scream from her lips.
The man holding her yelled, “Stop standing there like a dumbass and do something, mage. This is your people’s shit.”
“Shut up, vampire. I know my job.” The mage mumbled words Rhea didn’t catch. It sounded like an incantation. That was good, right? A spell would end this, right?
The void yanked her into the apartment by her arm, causing her vampire savior — she hoped he was saving her — to hug her waist tight as he leaned back.
“Strong fuckers. Any time, mage.” He huffed against her neck and made grunting noises that said he was straining. A vampire straining? They could juggle small cars with no effort. If he was exerting that much force, Rhea’s arm should have been ripped off in the tug-of-war.
Except for where the darkness touched her, she wasn’t in pain. Her arm was stretched to the maximum, but it didn’t hurt. A slow glow crept over her shoulder and dripped down her arm like water. It touched the darkness and the darkness… screamed? Could darkness scream?
Whatever. It didn’t matter. The darkness was letting her go. Rhea jerked on her arm to hurry along the process. The glow surrounded her arm, pushing the darkness back until it released her completely.
She fell back with a yelp, landing on the vampire as they toppled to the ground.
The mage rushed by them and pulled the door shut. He chanted a few more words as he stepped back slowly. The door glowed, and white script in a language Rhea didn’t recognize appeared below the peephole.
“There. I’ve sealed it until someone else can be summoned to close that portal properly.” The mage turned to her. “Now may I tell you why we’re here?”
Rhea nodded with a hard sigh. The motion pushed her breasts into the hands of the vampire. In all the confusion, she hadn’t realized where he was holding her.
He flexed his fingers, kneading her breasts. “Very nice.”
“Get off me!” Rhea elbowed him in the gut as she struggled to get free. Her elbow hit the hard planes of the vampire’s stomach, hurting her and probably doing nothing to him.
The mage caught her hand and pulled her to her feet. “Excuse the vampire. They aren’t known for their manners.”
“Fuck you too, mage.” The vampire got to his feet and then wiggled his eyebrows at Rhea.
She backed away from both men so she could see them better. “What the hell is going on? What happened to my apartment? Who are you? And why me?” The last question concerned her more than any other. She wanted this day over.
The mage bowed his head. “I am Mage High Lord Jeremy.” He jerked his thumb to the vampire. “That is Colm.”
Colm said in a wry tone, “Thanks for that heartfelt introduction, asshole.”
Jeremy said, “Mage King Darius and Vampire Lord Theron have charged us to keep you safe.”
Mage King Darius she knew about. Not many people on the planet didn’t know about him since he had publicly announced his existence to the world via every device with a video monitor a few days ago. The man who had been a rumor for centuries was now a reality.
She asked, “Who is Vampire Lord Theron? I thought the vampires had a council.”
Colm said, “Theron killed them all and took their place.”
“That’s the way we do it.”
She looked at both men in turn. “And they want you to keep me safe? Why? I don’t know them. I never even heard of Theron before now. I don’t know any mages or any vampires. I don’t even know people who know people who know mages or vampires.”
Jeremy said, “That’s exactly why you were chosen. You’re a human without any ties to mages or vampires. Our leaders have formed a joint council. They wish input from an unbiased human. That human is you.”
Rhea stared at him for several breaths. “No.”
“Yes,” Jeremy and Colm said in unison.
“No. In fact, hell no. I can’t — I absolutely cannot be the only human on this whole fucking planet who has no association with mages or vampires. That’s not even statistically possible.”
Colm waved a calming hand. “Take a breath before you pass out. You’re not the only one but you are the first one chosen.”
“Yes,” Jeremy said. “Non-negotiable. If you have complaints, you must air them to Mage King Darius and Vampire Lord Theron in person.”
Oh, she could see that argument going over well. Not. Rhea didn’t have a choice in the matter. These two high officials in the preternatural community had chosen her for some council, and she was just supposed to accept it. Yeah, right.
“Hey, wait a minute!” She pointed at her front door. “Did that happen because I was chosen?”
Jeremy nodded. “Yes. No one is supposed to know about you. We were sent as your guards but the assignment was supposed to be ceremonial, at best.”
“He means we’re glorified escorts — the non-sexual kind” Colm grinned “Unless you want to change that.”
Rhea blew out a breath and rolled her eyes. “Dream on.”
“You can believe I will.” He slid his gaze over her body at a leisurely pace. “And in my dreams you’ll be naked and panting my name.” He frowned. “You’re bleeding.”
Rhea lifted her hand to see what he meant. She was bleeding. It was a tiny cut that barely hurt, but it was bleeding. She started to put the finger in her mouth but Colm got to it first, moving too fast for her to follow. He sucked her finger between his lips and licked the wound with an appreciative sound.
She snatched her hand away and stumbled back a few steps at the same time Jeremy shoved Colm away and stepped in front of her.
Colm chuckled. “Just a tiny taste. Nothing to get upset over.”
“Keep your fangs in your mouth, vampire, or I’ll do it for you.” Jeremy held up a glowing hand pointed at Colm.
“Bring it, mage.” Colm growled as he clawed his hands. “I was killing high lords while you were still a tadpole in your dad’s ball sac.”
Some wild hair made Rhea step between them. If they were supposed to keep her safe, she doubted their respective bosses would appreciate them hurting her during a pissing match. Jeremy’s hand stopped glowing the second she was in his line of fire. Colm relaxed his stance and crossed his arms over his chest.
She asked, “When do I meet them?”
“Tomorrow,” Jeremy said. “Colm and I are to secure you today and escort you to the first meeting tomorrow.”
“How long is this supposed to take? I have a job I need to show up for if I want to keep it.”
“Arrangements are underway to clear your leave of absence for this event. I don’t know how long your presence is needed, but you’ll be excused with pay for the duration.”
A silver lining at last. Maybe this council-thing wouldn’t be so bad after all. Anything had to be better than going to work. She glanced at her front door. Almost anything. “So who was that? Or do you know?”
“I don’t. As I said before, no one is supposed to know about you. Mage King Darius surmised this joint council might be met with malice. Whoever attacked you probably had hoped to delay the council or end it all together.”
“I’m just a human. Why not attack the mage king or the vampire lord instead?”
Colm said with derisive snort, “Because the ones who attacked you are nutless wonders who don’t want to die a painful death. I hear the mage king is hot shit, but I know Theron. He’s not the fucker you want to mess with on a good day.”
And she was supposed to sit down with these men and talk politics? Rhea already got the impression she would be there for appearances only. She would placate the human governments that a human had been consulted when the preternaturals handed down their decrees from on high. It wouldn’t be the first time the mages had dictated laws to the humans. A joint mage and vampire powerbase would mean the humans were in a worse situation than before when only the vampires were the enemy.
That settled it. Mondays were the eighth circle of Hell, and Rhea was sliding toward the ninth.