(From Pocket - July 2006)
Three Years Later
If there was one thing Phillipa didnít like about hotel bathrooms, it was that the shower was always directly across from the mirror. Even with the glass all steamed up she could see herself when she stepped out. It wasnít that she was all that body conscious. She knew that, at least on the outside, she had a perfectly good body. The scar on her arm didnít bother her. What she didnít like seeing was the splotchy line of fading and fresh bruises that marched across the flat expanse of her stomach. She made herself look, because one couldnít be a coward about these things. She made herself think about how pretty the small black and gold sun symbol sheíd recently had inked onto her stomach was. It was the one area where she never stuck the needle.
She decided she was being maudlin, and grabbed a towel. Her sister was waiting and it had been months since theyíd seen each other. She dried off quickly, and went into the bedroom dressed in shorts and a tank top.
Of course the first thing Jo did was ask, "Howís your arm? Does it hurt?"
Should have worn sleeves. Phillipa touched the scar. "I hardly notice it." She gave a faint laugh. "Getting shotís what saved my life, you know." It was true, even if she did resent it, even though she knew it was stupid. She took a seat on the bed, while Jo stayed in the roomís one chair. She glanced out the wide window that looked out on the Las Vegas strip. The Bellagioís huge fountain danced in the distance. "The viewís gorgeous from up here. Even in the daylight."
"You still could have stayed at our place," Jo answered.
"Uh uh." Phillipa counted off on her fingers. "You have a new baby, a mother-in-law, and a grandmother-in-law staying at your place. Iím not going near that mix."
"I see your point."
"And why is it that you didnít bring young Brandon Mathias Cage with you?" Is Matt short for Mathias? And why am I thinking about him? Because Iím in a hotel room in Vegas? She waved an admonitory finger at her younger sister. "Whereís my nephew?"
"Heís safe at home, surrounded by over-protective Cage women. And I am getting a little antsy about it."
"Says the equally over-protective new mother."
"Iím new at this mom thing. I like it," Jo added.
"Which means you want to get home soon so you can get back to it. You didnít have to meet me here."
"I was told I needed a break, and thereís no way Marc was going to let me help with the party. Besides, I wanted a chance to talk to you alone."
"Having a husband thatís a better cook than you must be daunting," Phillipa said.
"Actually, I love it. I fly the planes, he caters the parties; it works for us. Not that I plan to fly much until Brandonís older."
"Youíre giving up piloting? Does dad know about this?"
Jo laughed. "Heís a granddad now, which makes him all for my staying on the ground with his infant grandson. Which leaves an opening at Elliot Charter, at least a temporary one." Phillipa bridled at the hint. "Iím a cop."
"You can fly a plane."
"I donít have the kind of ratings to do it professionally. I might not be able to qualify. Besides, I like what I do."
"Vegas hotels are always looking for good security people. I thought Iíd look into it while Iím here." She was still officially on the force even if she wasnít on active duty. She didnít know if sheíd ever get back on the streets. "I have to think about my future, even if all I want is to get back what I had."
Damn! Sheíd vowed not to whine about anything!
Jo, of course, ran with it. "How are you feeling?"
The look of concern on her sisterís face bruised Phillipa. "Iím fine."
It was an easier answer than explaining about how there were good days and bad days, and how sometimes she was nauseated, and sometimes her vision was blurry, and she was always cold, and she wanted everything to go back to normal, but she was stuck with a life that was regulated, constricted, and she didnít know who she was anymore.
"Youíre not," Jo answered. "Iím an empath, remember?"
Jo did have this gift for reading peoplesí emotions. Phillipa had a variation of it herself, though not as strong. She trusted her instincts when it came to telling the good guys from the bad guys. The ability to read people had come in handy, even saving her ass on the street a few times.
"I donít feel fine," she admitted to her sister. "I feel Ė complicated. But healthier," she added, trying to project sincerity.
Phillipaís cell phone rang before Jo could press for more details. By the time she was finished with a short conversation, Jo was using her cell.
"Party crisis?" Phillipa asked when Jo was done.
"Yep. Marcís mom is frantic, but he says itís under control."
"Something about meringue swans breaking and flowers that were delivered to the restaurant instead of the house. As long as the baby is fine, I donít care."
"Is the baby fine?"
"Iím still here, arenít I? Who were you talking to?"
"Little sisters shouldnít be so nosy."
"It sounded like it had to do with your love life."
"You should definitely stop being nosy. But since I invited him to your party Iíll let you get away with it this time."
"A friend. A LVPD detective."
"A hunky friend?"
"I look forward to meeting him."
"He called to tell me he canít make it tonight. He says thereís been a rash of robberies that has everybody pulling extra shifts."
"Oh, yeah, I heard about it on the news. Banks and some of the smaller casinos have been hit." Jo stood up. "Listen, I know we said we were going to do lunch, butó"
"But the antsy new mom wants to go home to her kid."
Jo gave a sheepish grin. "Yeah."
Phillipa waved toward the door. "Then you should go."
"You could come with."
Phillipa shook her head. "I love Brandon dearly, but Iíll coo and fuss over him tonight. You go home, and Iíll finish unpacking and making phone calls and stuff."
"Iím sure. Go."
"Youíll be all right by yourself?"
"Mother Brandon, not me. Go," Phillipa repeated.
Jo gave her a concerned look, but she went after a quick hug and kiss. Phillipa sighed with relief at getting out of several hours of catching up once her sister was gone. It wasnít that she couldnít have made it through an afternoon and evening of socializing, but now she didnít have to. Now she could take a nap.
"Youíre lucky I came at all," Michele answered the vampire. "And I donít appreciate being searched. I donít carry weapons to public places."
"Weapons that harm humans, you mean," the vampire said. "But my man outside did relieve you of a pair of silver bracelets. Those could be used as weapons against my kind. I think I have a right to a certain amount of paranoia when negotiating with a Purist."
When the vampire gestured toward a chair, Michele hesitated a moment before taking a seat. "Itís more contempt, than paranoia on my part," she explained.
"But neither of us wants to appear conspicuous out here Ė " The vampire cast a significant look around the room packed with crowded tables. " Ė among all these innocent civilians."
Michele Darabont did not want to be in the same room with a vampire, let alone sitting across a restaurant table from one, but one did what one had to for the Cause. She took a seat."Was that a threat?" she asked.
"Oh, please. Letís both cut the melodrama crap, shall we?"
"You started it." God, she sounded like a fool!
"And you are thinking that this petulance is no way for an experienced hunter to behave. It was a long drive from San Diego to Las Vegas, youíre tired, and you think Iím supercilious. No, Iím not reading your mind when I can read your expression well enough. Letís start over, shall we? Can I call you Michele?"
"Fair enough. No introductions, then. Letís think of each other as the Purist and the monster."
"Iím not a Purist. No Purist would have a face to face with one of your kind. I have worked with your sort before."
Which was why several of her friends who were members of the Purist cult had persuaded her to represent them at this meeting when the vampireís message mysteriously arrived. The Purist agenda was to kill the ancient enemy before asking questions, but they were intrigued enough by this proposal to want to explore the possibilities, even if they wouldnít do it themselves.
"I donít blame you for not liking to work with my sort." A waiter approached, and the vampire waited until heíd left with her order for iced tea before going on. "I, on the other hand, am neutral about your sort. Iíve never killed a human, and my blood sources are all volunteers. This is the twenty-first century. Itís better to share the world than to make war on each other."
Michele did not agree with this live and let live philosophy, but most vampire hunters did. All but the Purists. While she hadnít quite stepped over the line that divided the hunter camps, sheíd always been close to it. Sheíd recently discovered that her niece Eden had betrayed the hunterís beliefs, and this was causing Michele to edge closer to the extremistsí views.
"Why do you want to help the Purists?" she asked.
The vampire laughed. "I am a Purist."
The waiter arrived with her tea, so all Michele could do was stare incredulously at the beautiful creature across the table until he was gone. Then she said, "I donít understand."
"I believe in the purity of my own kind, just as you believe in the purity of yours. I want to help my own species. While I do believe in most of the covenants of the hunter and vampire truce, there is one function you humans once performed that helped keep the vampire race from becoming tainted and weak. There are those among us who wish a return to at least that ancient practice. We are as much a minority among vampires as the Purists are among the human hunters. In this one thing we are in agreement. In this one thing we can join forces."
"Youíre talking about the Abominations."
The vampire looked disgusted. "There are those who prefer terms like niece, nephew, grandson and so on, but I am not one who believes that the offspring of our mating with humans should be considered family. Thanks to centuries of being hunted by your kind our pure population is low enough that our people are forced to mate with yours."
"Itís our fault that your damn Primes seduce girls away to--?"
The vampire held up a hand to cut her off. "Oh, please. I know all about how your niece ran off with one of our boys. You have my sympathy, and every reason to be indignant, but Eden went with Laurent of her own free will. It happens. Live with it. I have to live with similar situations in my own family. Mating happens. What should not happen is reproduction between your kind and mine. Hunters used to be very good at culling the mules born into the vampire Clans and Families, and the Tribes were wise enough to take care of the problem on their own. These days we are all too civilized, too humane, too domesticated to take the necessary measures. The breeding has to stop." The vampire turned a dark, compelling stare on her. "Donít you agree?"
Michele could not look away. The world slowed down, and reality shifted. Sheíd been trained to resist vampire tricks, but all she could do was say, "What do you want me to do?"
Copyright © 2006 by Susan Sizemore