Season Content Notes: abduction, blood, sexual content, violence
Whatever Karen had expected — and she tried not to expect things — it wasn’t for the drone’s departure to be followed by a beefed-up SUV. She signaled Victor, who moved quickly to the master bedroom. The room had a big picture window that was a security nightmare, but it gave the sharpshooter a line of sight on the driveway and the front yard. Benj was still in the kitchen, and Karen left him there to cover the back door.
The front door with its cut-glass windows opened onto the landing of the split-level staircase. Karen set herself up at the top of the stairs. If their intruders were going to pretend to be friendly to get in the house, it would be knife work. She caressed the hilt of the old kitchen knife, now sitting at the small of her back. It was a good knife. Well balanced. So many people underestimated the value of a solid paring knife. Karen hadn’t had time to check the edge, but that was okay. It would still stab just fine.
While she waited, Karen ticked over the setup. Experience let her lay out several possible timelines depending on what the intruders did. Marcus was still downstairs, and Leyla would be with him as close support and medic. They’d watch the garage door and be ready to throw Nastasia in the van and run if they had to. Emil, Nastasia’s ‘grandfather’ was out for the day, and Ozanna was downstairs where Marcus could worry about her. With Victor and Benj in place, they had the house, and it’s too-many-doors, as covered as possible.
They waited, and Karen allowed herself to reach back and “Two exiting the car,” Victor said in her ear. “No visible weapons. Might be others in the back.”
Karen frowned and tapped her comm. “They are weapons.”
“Fuck,” Benj muttered from the kitchen.
“Looks like they’re headed for the front door.”
Okay, Karen was up.
She waited until she saw them on the walk. Two, like Victor said. There was something about the way one of them moved… “Hey, boss-lady?” she asked as she started down the stairs, “Should I be able to recognize another vampire?”
Nastasia answered just as one of their visitors knocked on the door. “I think so?… Yes. Ozanna says yes.”
“We got one vamp then.” She waved through the cut-glass window in the door. “They’re being polite. What’s the play?”
“Think you can get Leyla some tea?”
“On it.” Karen pasted a smile on her face and opened the door. “Hi, can I help you?”
Two people, one with boobs, one without. Both dark and pale like Nastasia and her ‘grandparents.’ The taller one (boobs) smiled back. “We’re sorry to show up without warning like this. I’m Tamarra Sudworth.” She offered Karen a business card. Karen gave it a quick glance before stuffing it in a pocket.
“Private eye. Do private eyes do door-to-door sales now? Thanks, but we’re good.”
Even Karen knew no one did door-to-door sales anymore, but she’d long ago learned that sometimes her best weapon was just being herself.
‘Tamarra’ reached out to keep Karen from closing the door. “No. No, I’m not. That’s not…” Her friend, the one Karen thought was a vampire, smiled and offered his hand. (Karen was assuming his. More people needed to start wearing those pronoun necklaces.)
In Karen’s ear, Victor started cursing, “Two more SUVs coming up the street.”
Karen smiled back at the vampire but didn’t take his hand. They were out of time for tea. Thank God… or should she be thinking ‘thank Lună’ now?
“I don’t think you’re a PI, and I’m afraid I’m not good at the social thing. So I’m going to cut to the chase. How about you tell me what clan you’re with and why you’re here, so my team and I know just how dead we need to make you, okay?”
As she spoke, she darted left, out of reach of the pair. Behind her, Benj would be at the top of the stairs, gun drawn. Karen knew they’d seen him when they froze.
“Moving,” Karen murmured, barely loud enough for the com to pick up. Then she was. With the visitors distracted, Karen grabbed the woman’s wrist and yanked, making her stumble over the short step into the house. She heard Benj yelling “Don’t move!” at the vamp. Another yank turned the stumble into a fall, and then Karen was straddling the woman, knife at her throat. The woman was smart enough to go very, very still and keep her hands where Karen could see them.
The vamp snarled, fangs on show. Yup, she’d called it.
“Sorry, man,” Benj said, “We were willing to keep things nice and shoo you on your way if it was just the two of you. But your friends just upped the ante.”
Karen heard car doors slamming, and the vamp looked to the driveway, then paled.
“Those are not our friends.”
“Fuck,” the woman whispered. “Where is Lady Sandra?”
“My mother is dead,” Nastasia said from the bottom of the stairs. “I am the Lady of Lună clan now.”
I looked up the half flight of stairs at the first strange vampire I could remember seeing. This close, I could taste Lună’s power on them. These, whoever they were, where ever they had come from, were my clanmates.
I had so many questions, so many feelings, but there was no time.
“Come in, child of Lună,” I said. The stranger stepped inside and shut the door, keeping an eye on the top of the stairs the whole time.
“Your mother had good taste,” she said. “These are friends?”
Friends? I didn’t know how to answer that. I didn’t know them. They had come looking for my mother, thought she was still alive.
“Let her up,” I said instead of answering.
I felt Marcus and Leyla at my back, Ozanna standing to the side. She said nothing: either she didn’t recognize these people or didn’t trust them.
One step at a time, I climbed the stairs. Karen moved as I did, shifting to the other side of the foyer where she could cover me. Our bond sang between us. Marcus stayed at my shoulder, but Leyla waited below with Ozanna. She spoke quietly into the comm, keeping Victor filled in. I heard him reply, but my focus was here. Now.
The one on the ground — human, my senses told me, sotii — had rolled out of the way but stayed down. I took the last step onto the marble of the foyer and stopped. “I am Nastasia, Sandra’s daughter. These are my sotii and my advisor.
The vampire said nothing, just looked at me.
We didn’t have time for this!
Victor over the comm, “I don’t know what they’re waiting for, but we’ve got 10 bunched up around two cars, armed.”
“You are?” I repeated.
“Vasile,” he said finally. “I don’t know who is outside.”
Victor, “Looks like they’re going around back.”
Marcus, “Stay on them as best you can. Benj, get on the backdoor.”
I struggled to focus, to remember the clan etiquette Mama and Emil had taught me. He should have acknowledged me as clan leader. Why hadn’t he? Was I doing something wrong?
Marcus’ hand was on my shoulder, steadying me. He had no idea what was going on. None of them did. Maybe not even Ozanna. But I was Lună’s lady, and I had promised Marcus I wouldn’t fail them again.
“Vasile.” I stepped forward, catching his eye. I reached for Lună, letting her power fill me, even though she was far from the sky. “I suppose I should welcome you to my home.”
I didn’t do anything with the power, just held it in me and let him taste it.
His eyes widened. “Lady.”
He didn’t bow or anything. That, Mama had told me, drew too much attention around humans. But he didn’t need to.
Not with that look in his eyes.
“I’ve got a lot of questions, and I’m sure you do too. But we have some other business to deal with first. Would you both like to help me greet my other guests?”
They looked at each other, Vasile and the woman whose name I still hadn’t heard. Then they smiled. “Lady, we would be honored.”
Once they reached the top floor, Karen switched places with Marcus. Leyla stepped in close, letting Marcus step back and focus on the overall situation rather than Nastasia’s immediate safety.
They moved smoothly, and Nastasia moved with them, even without the training they should have given her. Leyla didn’t understand all the magic vampire stuff, but she knew people. Whatever awkwardness or problems there had been between Marcus and Nastasia, Karen and Nastasia, they were gone now. Those three had started building something solid together.
Leyla knew that she wasn’t part of that yet. Like Benj and Victor, she was connected to Nastasia only by magic (and some mutual lust).
But that was okay. Marcus was the head of the team and (though she’d never realized it) Karen was the heart of it. The one who tied them all together. They had needed to connect with Nastasia first — to build the foundation Leyla and the others could rely on.
Leyla was looking forward to doing just that. After kicking some vampire ass.
That’s it for Nastasia and co — for now anyway. They’ll be back next year. And Karen will finally get to see the knives. (As you might guess, she’s rather impatient about that.)