At the rear of the shop, I sat snug in my office, the former stationery cupboard, with a black cardigan wrapped around me, cradling a mug of coffee.
“Sun, sand and scenery. We both love that.” Regina Fox smiled dreamily.
Mr. Fox nodded, sandy curls bouncing. “But we also need, you know, privacy. Somewhere off of the beaten track for us to...unwind.”
“Near a forest, that’s very important.” Regina licked her lips.
I beamed. “Of course. Let me see what I can do.” Placing my mug on the table I tapped the mouse. My desktop monitor flashed to life and I typed in the best location for them, scrolling down the list of hotel options. A talent I’d honed since the sudden influx of my special clientele. The business was booming, though I doubted my boss would be happy if he knew my clients were Supernaturals.
“Here, this is perfect.” I swivelled the monitor to face them. The white glow illuminated the diamond slant of their irises as they studied the screen. “It’s the five-star Belstar Hotel on Hvar Island, Croatia. It has a spa, private beach, fine dining, and six detached condos nestled on the edge of the Brikas forest.”
Regina gasped and clapped her hands together. “It looks divine.”
“Beautiful,” said Mr. Fox.
“The villas are rarely used in the late spring, so I’ve no doubt you’ll have the area to yourself. And...” I leaned forward. “...I’ve heard the wildlife is plentiful.”
“Oh, Melinda, it looks wonderful. We’ll take it,” said Regina.
Her husband grinned, revealing razor-sharp teeth. “I’m ravenous thinking about it.”
I forced a nod, smile frozen as I twisted the monitor back. “Great. Let’s get it booked.”
Two more satisfied customers, albeit furry-by-night ones, with an appetite for chasing their meals. But I wouldn’t ponder too much on that point, and I’d dealt with worse, like the Cornish mermaid who wanted to go scuba diving in the Red sea, but could not be out of water for longer than twelve hours. It had become part of the service I offered and my customers always paid well.
The front bell tinkled and a leggy, gorgeous brunette with gold-tinted highlights strode in, her red lips set to seduce. She beamed at my boss, Harry, who straightened in his seat and wiped the biscuit crumbs from his beer belly.
I shook my head. My new flatmate and bodyguard, Serenity, could be conjured straight from many a person’s wet dream and made me feel like a trout on the fish counter at my local supermarket. She worked undercover as a trainee hairstylist in the salon next door. A role she’d really gotten her teeth into, easy to do when you had the eagle-eyes and fast reflexes of a witch turned vampire.
Serenity winked at me, pushed Harry back in the chair with one finger and perched on the edge of his desk. Her black shirt gaped, giving my boss a V.I.P seat for her ample bosom.
I scowled. What is she up to?
My printer whirred and spat out the Foxes paperwork. I handed it to them to read and sign, running through the essential information, but unable to stop my gaze from straying to Serenity and the pile of mush formally known as Harry.
Regina spotted my distracted glances and twisted to peer behind her chair. “Serenity! What a lovely surprise.”
Serenity strolled over to the threshold of my office. “Ah, you took my advice?”
“Yes. Melinda has been the soul of discretion and found us the perfect holiday.”
Serenity grinned. “Knew she would.”
I rolled my eyes. It had become Serenity’s mission to ensure I kept busy and had little time to dwell on my numerous dilemmas.
“Here.” Mr. Fox gave me the paperwork and a wad of cash. “There’s a little extra there for you.”
I flushed. “There’s no need.”
He pressed it into my hand. “You deserve it, my dear.”
I took the money and carefully counted the notes whilst Serenity chatted with Regina. Supernaturals preferred the old-school way of conducting business, and cash was king in their world. When your life expectancy runs beyond the average mortal’s, you can’t keep an active bank account for all eternity.
Five minutes later, I watched the Foxes leave the shop with emptier pockets but happy hearts.
“What was that?” I flopped into my seat and pointed at Harry’s empty chair.
“That is me getting you the afternoon off.” She sat opposite me, propping her boots up on my desk.
“I thought it would be nice for us to have some girly time. We can go shopping, catch a movie, maybe grab a cocktail or two?”
I glared at her. “Bullshit.”
She sighed and clicked her fingers. A breeze crossed me, raising goose-bumps as the privacy spell she’d cast engulfed us. No one beyond our bubble could hear what we said.
“Michael called,” she said.
My heart triple-somersaulted. Michael. My holiday fling, hero, vampire, and the man I’d fallen in love with. I’d saved his life a month ago and not seen him since. “How...er, is he?”
“The usual. All business and no small talk.”
“Any chance he might pop by? I’d still like to...er...thank him for all he did for me.” I scratched a nail on the corner of my desk.
Serenity crossed her arms. “Why don’t you call him?”
“Cos’ he’s busy, and I don’t want to bother him.”
“Really? That’s the reason you’re running with?”
She shrugged and straightened, legs dropping to the floor. “Whatever.”
“So, what did he want?”
“To give us bad news, I’m afraid.” Serenity’s lips slid into a thin line.
“There’s a possibility Taylor has discovered your identity.”
“What?!” I straightened, my heart skipping several beats.
Taylor Gordon. A skinny, slimy vampire with a hoard of henchmen, and the reason I needed a bodyguard, had found me. His desperate hunt for a dangerous artefact, buried by my late father, meant I had made it to the number one slot on his hit list. Even my ignorance couldn’t save me, and his stupidity had him clutching at paper straws.
“Don’t panic. It’s all in hand. We’ve got a meet with the Apostles tomorrow and until then, we’re to stay at home. It’s the safest place we can be and I’ve already ramped the protection spell.”
“Can’t wait.” I slumped in my seat. “Meeting them is always such a hoot.”
“Governing our supernatural world isn’t supposed to be a hoot.”
I glared at her. “Since when did you join their fan club?”
“I’m just saying.”
“And how are they going to protect me? Lock me up?”
“Don’t be silly. “She barked a laugh and slapped her thigh. “Come on. Let’s go home.”
I narrowed my eyes. What is she hiding?
“Action or Horror?” Serenity fanned two DVD’s in her hand, hip cocked as she stood in my living room.
“Whichever,” I muttered from the adjacent kitchen, stabbing the plastic film on my lasagna with a fork and placing the meal into the microwave. My stomach growled. Nothing like fearing for your life to ramp the appetite.
She sank onto the sofa facing me, tongue between her teeth as she studied both movies. “I don’t know,” she moaned. “Hunky hero or blood and zombies? How does a girl choose?”
I sighed, chucking the fork into the bowl of soapy water beside me. I wished my problems were as simple as debating over a DVD.
“Hero it is.” Serenity switched on the television and replaced the rejected disk in the stack next to it. “Ooo, I’ve got something for you.” She vanished into the hall to my far right.
I gritted my teeth. The two-bedroom flat wasn’t big enough for us both. Not when one of us had the stamina of a hyena on an energy drink and looked sexy in the baggy grey tracksuit she wore. It did little for my confidence.
Serenity’s all legs and boobs whilst I’m short and frumpy, with frizzy blonde hair, but with the boobs. Dressed in pink P.J’s, black cardigan and bunny slippers, I’d not be gaining a jaw drop from any prospective admirers. No wonder Michael had run for the hills.
My microwave pinged and I opened the door, pulling out my dinner. The rich aroma of cheese and tomato sauce made me salivate. I slid it on a plate and yanked off the plastic, steam oozing from the tray.
“Ta-da!” Serenity jumped into view at the threshold of my kitchen. A grin split her face as she held her arms behind her back.
“Please show me, the excitement’s killing me.” I raised a brow as I scooped up a scalding slice of my meal.
“You’re welcome.” She brandished a familiar tatty black leather-bound book.
“Wow, you shouldn’t have. Oh right, you didn’t.” I shovelled the pasta in my mouth and picked up the plate.
“I’ve deciphered the Latin for you.”
“Boooly er oo,” I mumbled through a gob full of meat as I leaned on the counter.
“I thought you wanted to enhance your skills? Your Father’s spellbook could help. Surely you don’t want to be a one-trick pony all your life.”
“Oo-trick.” I held up two fingers, swallowing my food.
She tilted her head, hugging the journal. “All fear the great Mel-dini, with her magical powers of boiling water and opening doors.”
I shrugged. “It’s a start.”
“But you said you wanted to learn more and now you can.” She thrust the book at me.
“I have learnt more. I can open locked doors and cupboards.”
She smirked. “Yeah, a real enhancement to your ability.”
“Sure, kick me when I’m down.” I snatched the journal and chucked it on the side.
“There’s some interesting spells in there. I didn’t read it all, but I think you should, Mel. Your father’s memoirs are intriguing, and there’s something else.” She frowned. “There’s residual magic I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s like the book is hiding a secret.”
I nodded, her words a distant mumble as I stared at the wall. I had promised myself to master more spells, to embrace my heritage. But several months later and I’d fallen into my reluctant ways. “When I get some spare time, I promise I’ll get to it.”
“You’ll have plenty of time soon.” She strolled into the living room and sank onto my sofa.
I slid the plate onto the side. “What?”
“Oooo!” Serenity bounced on the seat, gaze glued to the television.“We’re so going there!”
I walked over and peered at the screen. Roller-coasters careened into rain forests, lion’s roared and families gawked with shining eyes and large smiles. The advert screamed colour and adrenaline-filled fun and ended with a rocket blasted title: Adventure land, coming soon to Orlando, Florida.
“I cannot wait.” She grinned. “Maybe you can get us a discount.”
I folded my arms. “What did you mean?”
“Er...you’re a travel rep. It’s part of your job to try new destinations, and, naturally, you’d want a wingman”
“You said I’d have plenty of time soon. What did you mean?”
She blinked at me. “Nothing.”
“Come on. I’m not an idiot. What aren’t you-”
“Shit!” She leapt up, eyes growing wide.
I stepped away. “What?” An icy tentacle of concern slivered down my spine.
“Someone’s trying to break my defences.” She turned and stared at the front door.
She looked at me. “Go to your room.”
Boom!! The walls and floors shook. A sizzling crack splintered my front door, the timber charring as flames devoured the centre. Fierce heat stung my skin. On the threshold stood a shadowy figure, his outline billowing in the smoke.
“Down!” Serenity yanked me to the ground, pressing me to the base of the sofa.
My heart pounded and the food churned in my stomach. How could this be happening? How had they found me?
“Shit!” Serenity ducked as a blazing yellow fireball blasted overhead and smashed into the wall.
Our enemy loomed over us from behind the sofa. His eyes glowed red, skin pale but pulsing with blue and green veins. He lifted his hand and a flame blazed on his palm.
I squealed, shoulders tensed, cowering beside Serenity as I awaited my fate.
“Aa-qua! Con-tee-goh!” Serenity flicked her wrist, waving at the kitchen.
The soapy water from my sink flew into the air and expanded into a wall of shimmering liquid, hovering between us and the man.
He shot a fireball at the barrier.
I winced as the flames sizzled and died on its surface.
“Go.” Serenity shoved me. “Keep low and get to your room. The shield will stay with you.” She placed a palm on the sofa and thrust it at the man. It caught him in the gut and he staggered back.
On all fours, I scrambled towards the hallway. The shield hovered above me, a rippling mass of water. I glanced to my left, sensing motion in my periphery.
Serenity’s arms were a blur as she attacked the man, mouth open in a snarl. He blocked each punch she threw, ducking and diving to avoid her advance. Smoke and flames crept up the walls of my flat. The fire alarm shrieked a cry like a hungry baby. Dark eyes shone in the inferno and another man stepped into my flat. He flashed his fangs at me. Vampire.
“Crap.” I tumbled into the hall and rolled onto my back. The shield broke, water soaking my clothes. “I-err! Mo-too-se!” The door behind me whipped forward, halting as a hand caught it.
The vampire smiled. “You’re coming with me”.
“Like hell I am.” I shuffled back, pushing with my feet and cast again.
The door sped at him, but the vampire launched a fist, smashing through the wood. He dragged it out and snarled at me.
“Whoops.” I pushed up from the floor, twisted and dashed for my bedroom.
Fingers grabbed the collar of my cardigan and yanked me back. I yelped and jerked my arms, freeing myself from the sleeves and my attacker.
Two steps on and his arms snaked around my waist. He pulled me into his embrace. I kicked my legs, throwing off my slippers, wriggling in his grasp. His cold breath caressed my skin, sending goosebumps along my skin.
“This is better.” He snuffled my hair, growling with pleasure. “Just a taste.”
“No!” I booted my heel into his shins, nails scratching at his arms. I had to get free. How?
He licked my neck.
I shuddered, bile rising up my throat, I gulped it down. “Serenity!”
He chuckled. “No one will help you.”
“Think again,” said Serenity from behind us.
Snap. The vampire’s grip loosened and he collapsed with a thud to the ground, his head lolling.
Serenity grinned, her hair ruffled, bruises fading on her cheek.
“Having fun?” I said.
“Absolutely, but you need to learn how to defend yourself.”
The shout of angry voices from the living room rose above the roar of the fire.
“I agree, but this isn’t a good time for a lecture.”
“Come on.” Serenity grasped my wrist and led me along the hall. “I’ll summon a...” We skidded to a halt.
A tall man with cold blue eyes stepped out from my bedroom. His short grey hair and white moustache were professionally groomed. He wore a grey suit, waistcoat and tie and had his hands clasped behind him. Power oozed from him in waves, almost rippling in his aura.
“Lancer.” Serenity sneered. “I should have known.”
“Hello, Serenity.” He tilted his head in welcome. “Let’s make this quick shall we?”
Serenity pushed me sideways and I stumbled into my bathroom, tripped on the rug and fell into the bath. My head thudded on the cream tiles.
Serenity slipped in and slammed the door. Flicking the lock, she leaned upon it.
“Was that necessary?” I wiggled like a beached sea lion, legs dangling as I heaved myself out.
“Shhh!” She closed her eyes and muttered words I didn’t understand. A frown puckered her brow as she concentrated.
I chewed on my lip, glancing from her to the door as a ripple of magic spilt across it.
“We haven’t got long. I won’t be able to hold him off,” she said.
“Who is he?”
“Lancer.” She took a deep breath and raised her hands to the tub.
“Er...okay. So, what do we do now?” I looked at my small bathroom window, there was no way either of us could climb through it.
The air pulsed above the tub, rattling the enamel.
I leapt back, banging my spine on the sink. “What’re you doing?”
Beyond the doors, laughter echoed. Joy, a new crazy bad guy to add to the list.
Serenity ran a nail over her right wrist and a sliver of blood bubbled forth. She dipped her finger in it and placed a spot at the front two corners of the tub.
The doorknob rattled and smoke filtered in through the frame. “You can’t outrun me, Serenity. Why try?” said Lancer.
The walls trembled, shaking my collection of toiletries free from their shelf.
“Give me the woman and I’ll let you live,” said Lancer.
Serenity muttered an incantation, hands splayed as if praying to the God of porcelain. The air rippled and began to spiral.
I gasped. “Portal. You’re a genius.”
Her shoulders sagged, pink-tinged sweat beading on her forehead. “I know. Now, let’s go.” Her gaze drifted to the door. “Damn it!”
“I’ve forgotten something.” She squeezed my shoulder. “Go! I’ll see you there.”
“You can’t go out there!”
“I have to.” She smiled as she sidestepped me, and shoved me at the portal. “Safe trip!”
“Serenity! No!” My arms wind-milled, calves catching the rim of the bathtub as the portal sucked me into its vacuum.