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Authors: Nancy Haddock

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La Vida Vampire

BOOK: La Vida Vampire
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LA VIDA VAMPIRE
NANCY HADDOCK

Copyright © 2008 by Nancy K. Haddock.

This book is dedicated to my parents,

Gene and Virginia Hendrix,

who encouraged my passion for reading

And to my husband and children,

Jerry, Rob, Rick, Adam, and Leighanne Haddock,

who supported my passion for writing

CONTENTS

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

TWELVE

THIRTEEN

FOURTEEN

FIFTEEN

SIXTEEN

SEVENTEEN

EIGHTEEN

NINETEEN

TWENTY

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thanks are due to so many, I may not get them all in this go-round. They start with my editor, Leis Pederson, and the entire Berkley Publishing Group for making my first sale a blast, and to Roberta Brown, agent extraordinaire, for being her fabulous self.

The outstanding men and women of the St. Johns County Sheriff ’s Department answered my questions with their usual professionalism and humor. Any errors and/or embellishments are mine. Justice must be served, but so must fiction.

I deeply appreciate my friends at Starbucks (Store 8484) for the triple shots of caffeine and limitless caring, and my chapter-mates and online group friends for their encouragement and support.

Last, big dancin’-on-the-beach thanks to my critique coaches—Lynne, Jan, Cathy, Julie, Valerie, and Kathie. You made my work better, and you make my life brighter. I appreciate the Light in you all!

ONE

I hurried up St. George Street, wrapping a finely woven shawl and the soft Florida night around me. Fog would shroud the city in a few hours. I felt it creeping in the early March air as surely as the bay waters lapped gently against the seawall. Nostalgia hit me in waves. More than two hundred years ago, I’d happily skipped through these carriage-narrow streets as a rebellious child, then sedately strolled them as a young woman. Faces and voices, laughter and tears of long ago danced through my memory.

Then a man on a silver Vespa zipped by on a cross street, and I snapped out of it. Sheesh, why was I brooding over my lost past when the present was such a kick? Note to self: Knock it off. Being a vampire had
some
advantages, I admitted as I wove my way past window-shoppers on the pedestrian-only main drag. Near-immortality counted, right? And enhanced senses. Then there was vampire strength and speed —if I bothered to use either one. Since I’d never really taken to being vampy, I’d refused to practice the tricks of the fang brigade. Plus, life was pretty laid back in my hometown of St. Augustine. Why rush?

As for drawbacks to the vampire life, extended daylight savings time could be a bummer if I was in the sun too long. Still, sunlight was a minor issue for me and always had been. Why? Who knows?

I for sure had it better than I did back in the 1800s. Captured because I had The Gift of psychic visions and telepathy, then turned so the big jerk vampire king Normand could control my so-called power, I’d had no choice but to live with vampires and drink from whoever was served. Yuck.

But, hey, I’m a free woman now. I have artificial blood in a bottle, super sunblock, and all-night shopping at Wal-Mart. I’m part day-walker and all night-stalker, especially when my prey is a bargain in a near-empty discount store. If that sounds silly,
you
try being trapped underground for over two hundred years. Once the stark terror had passed, boredom reigned. Now that I’m out, I want to learn things, do things, see things—in short, make my new lease on afterlife perfectly normal.

I’ll fight to keep it normal, too. I even have a job. Yep, meet the newest certified guide working for Old Coast Ghost Tours. Me, Cesca Marinelli. A vampire telling ghost stories. Is that a kick or what?

My first shift was due to start in fifteen minutes, so I had time for a spot of eavesdropping on my favorite couple. Enhanced senses
can
be useful, especially since they don’t overwhelm and overload me anymore. I’d honed the skill to filter sounds, smells, heartbeats—all kinds of sensations—and focus in on what I wanted to. Besides, I couldn’t help myself. Watching the Maggie and Neil show was better than watching TV Land on cable.

Too bad I didn’t remember that eavesdroppers never hear good of themselves—even from a block away. The shock and awe of finding me had worn off, but my petite blonde dynamo roommate, Maggie O’Halloran, and Neil Benson, her black-haired, green-eyed sweetie, still forgot I hear like, well, a vampire. Never mind seeing them plain as day at the spot where my tour group was already gathering.

Neil, in blue jeans, deck shoes, and a sweater-shirt the same gray color that salted the hair at his temples, also wore a sour expression.

“She’s Gidget with fangs and an accent,” I overheard him say as I continued strolling up the block. Maggie laughed, facing me but not yet seeing me. Neil may be a little younger than Maggie, but she looked gorgeous in teal cotton pants, a boatneck top, and navy blue tennis shoes. She exuded confidence and the scent of magnolias that I easily picked up amid the myriad scents on the night.

“The accent is barely noticeable, honey,” she said, “and Gidgets are, by definition, short. Cesca’s five eight.”

“Mags, she surfs. You have to admit that’s odd.”

“No odder than you surfing with her. Besides, you only have yourself to blame for getting her hooked. Renting those Gidget movies was your idea of a joke, not mine.”

“Well, she got me back in spades when she held that seven -foot board over her head and ran to the ocean yelling,

‘Cowabunga.’” He heaved an exasperated breath. “Cowabunga, for pity’s sake.”

Maggie snorted and covered it with a cough. Me, I chuckled out loud. Hey, from a half block away, he couldn’t hear me. Neil crossed his arms over his chest. “It’s not funny, Mags. Do you have any idea how weird it is to be on the beach at five in the screamin’ afternoon with a vampire? She should be toast in the sun. Instead, she’s got that long hair in a bushy ponytail, and she’s wearing a gouge-your-eyes pink bathing suit.”

“It’s coral, not pink, and look on the bright side. Her olive complexion makes her look tanned instead of dead white.”

Neil turned enough for me to see him glower.
Guess he’s not impressed with my perpetual tan.
A few shop doors away from them, I paused.

“Okay, honey, I won’t ask you to take Cesca surfing again. Her truck should be out of the shop tomorrow anyway. ”

Maggie spotted me, then gazed back at Neil. She sighed dramatically. “It’s too bad, though.”

“What’s too bad?” he asked, his back to me again.

“It’s just that Cesca was so excited when she got back from the beach. She said she learned more from you in two hours than she did in two months of surf school.”

“She did?”

“Mmm-hmm.” Maggie stepped closer to him. The aroma of pheromones spiked.

“She
is
a quick study.” His voice went just a little hoarse. “And a natural shark repellent.”

“Uh-huh. Plus she’s got a job now. A night job. She’ll be busy for at least two hours, and we could be, too.” Maggie let her fingers do the walking up Neil’s shirtfront. “Moondoggie.”

He gulped so hard, it practically echoed in my ears.

“Cowabunga,” he choked out.

Maggie smiled. “Exactly.”

She kissed Neil, long and slow. Then she winked at me over his shoulder.

I rolled my eyes hard enough to give myself a headache, but believe me, I was taking notes as I watched them walk toward the bay front, arm in arm. Not that men were falling at my feet or ever had —which made me doubt the whole vampires-are-sexmagnets thing. But, hey, if I ever find a guy who doesn ’t break Olympic speed records running away, I’ll be ready to wind him around my little finger.

Granted, that bushy ponytail crack
did
sting. I mean, I can’t control what genetics and humidity do to my hair, unless—

I patted my French twist plastered with hair spray and put chemical straighteners on my next Wal-Mart shopping list. All in all, Neil wasn’t so bad. He
had
stopped calling me Cesspool, and deep down, hidden in the depths of his soul, I bet he’d even miss me if I were gone. Besides, the guy could surf, and with Maggie busy seducing him, she wouldn’t be trailing after my tour.

Don’t get me wrong. It was sweet of Maggie to see me off on my first job. She’d discovered me seven months ago under the once-grand Victorian house she bought to restore. I appreciated her mentorship and unwavering support in getting me up to speed with the twenty-first century. Sure, I’d been able to astral travel, to “see” and “hear” from the coffin in that long-forgotten basement. But walking in the world after two hundred years plus of entombment was a whole new trip. Maggie taught me to power shop and hired a tutor for academics. We rented almost every movie Blockbuster stocked instore, and I’d joined the online service as soon as I qualified for my own credit card. We also checked out scads of library books to round out my crash course in modern culture. In short, Maggie was my fairy godmother, and without her, I’d be dead. Or rather, still buried.

But I climbed out of that coffin last August thirteenth (a lucky day for me!) ready and raring to embrace every modern marvel. Now I’m living
la vida
vampire—my version on my terms. Except for the rules of the Vampire Protection Agency, of course. My VPA handler in Jacksonville, Dave Corey, is a pretty cool guy though, and I only have to report to him every quarter. Maggie didn’t
need
to hover anymore, especially when Neil was so grumpy about sharing her. I’d get Neil for the bushy hair crack sooner or later. Meanwhile, it was almost time to take my next step toward a normal, independent afterlife. Work. I was on in five minutes.

I reached the tour substation near the two-story waterwheel where a real mill operated in the late 1880s. Now the Mill Top Tavern was a hot spot for live music.

I twitched the skirt of the deep gold Empire gown I ’d designed and sewn with Maggie’s help and her Singer sewing machine, and eyed the mortals ambling in the cobblestone courtyard. Their blood pumped so loudly it seemed as though a thousand hearts beat in my ears instead of those of the thirty who’d signed up for my tour. In small and large groups they approached, handing their tickets to Janie and Mick, fellow guides assigned to help me corral the crowd tonight. Janie Freeman is thirty-two and as upbeat as her short, breezy hairdo and sweet Oklahoma drawl. Mick Burney is forty-four, says he’s from Daytona Beach, and has hard edges that soften a bit around Janie. I’m pretty sure these two are dating, but they’re very secretive, and I don’t pry.

I gave up trying to catch a lingering glance between them. Instead, I blocked the ambient sights, sounds, and smells around me to size up the tour-takers as they drew closer.

On my left, a couple smooched and whispered endearments in French, stuck tongues down each other ’s throats, and whispered more. They positively reeked of pheromones and wore shiny wedding bands, so they had to be newlyweds. Question was why they bothered to leave their room.

On my right, a handful of broad-shouldered men who spoke like
The Sopranos
characters bragged about haggling over the prices of antiques. One with a camera was especially loud and animated. Did real wiseguys haggle over prices?

A lanky guy dressed in a flannel shirt, polyester slacks, and an unzipped windbreaker—the sleeves, pant legs, and shirttails all a smidge too short—trailed the wiseguys. Next to them, he looked so shabby, I had a pang that he couldn’t afford better-fitting clothes. With a cowlick in his muddy brown hair and a happy puppy expression as he looked around, he reminded me of Gomer Pyle. Except when his glance landed on the French couple. Then something brooding moved behind his gray eyes. I shrugged and peered behind me where twelve middle -aged ladies each wore teal Jacksonville Jaguars outfits and matching visors embroidered with the words JAG QUEEN. I could deal with women who liked the Jacksonville football team.
I
liked football, and the Jag Queen visors were darling. But, whew! The mix of perfume was an olfactory assault, especially the Shalimar. Too bad sticking cotton up my nostrils would look tacky.

Ahead, a smattering of parents towed children past the sickeningly sweet lure of the fudge and candy store. Five teenagers brought up the rear. The two boys and three girls were decked out in goth-look black right down to their fingernails. The tallest of the Jag Queens, the one my nose pegged as being drenched in Shalimar, gave the goth gang a disapproving sniff, then glared at the French bride. For the public display of affection going on? I didn’t think so. Not from her stiff posture or the way her narrowed eyes shot venom. But only for a split second. When another Jag Queen spoke to Shalimar, she was all grandmotherly smiles again.

An odd byplay, but I didn’t have time to dwell on it as the members of the tour group stopped a full seven feet away. They eyed me with mixed eagerness and fascinated dread, half expecting me to pounce.
As if.

BOOK: La Vida Vampire
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