“So you weren’t at the club?” Abruptly, she sat up and twisted toward him. “Not that I’m checking up on you. Just to make that perfectly clear—”
“You can put a tracking chip in my head if you want. It doesn’t bother me. But nah, I just had some things to arrange outside of there.”
As they continued along, they passed by strip malls of shops. An office park. A supermarket, gas station, DMV facility, and a real estate developer’s complex. After that, the zoning turned residential, and the neighborhoods were modest but tidy, the houses cheerfully lit for the season with lots of light strings on eaves, and blow-up Santas in yards, and Christmas trees in bay windows.
“This is a beautiful car,” she commented.
“I bought it on a whim.” He rubbed his thumb on the inside of her wrist. “I had a different one that was much more practical. But I really like to drive, you know? It calms my mind. I realize I could dematerialize places a lot quicker, but sometimes, it’s good to take the roads.”
“I couldn’t agree more. Do you mind if play with the radio?”
As she went through his favorites, his brows popped when she just kept going, skipping the R&B and hip-hop stations he’d saved and going into ’70s on 7.
“Do you like Led Zeppelin?” she asked him.
“Is that who this is?”
“ ‘Ten Years Gone.’ It’s one of their best.” She increased the volume. “I love this song.”
The words rebounded around the interior, and as he listened to them, something rippled through the center of his chest. Meanwhile, she sang along, every lyric something she knew by heart, and her pitch was perfect.
The sense of being stretched in uncomfortable ways made him squirm in his seat, his muscles tightening up to the point where he had to consciously loosen things or he wasn’t going to be able to drive right.
As soon as the song was over, he toggled back on the volume. “I didn’t know you could sing.” He also thought she was into his kind of music. From when he’d taken her to Storytown. “Did you take lessons?”
She laughed. “Oh, I don’t have that kind of voice. Wait, like voice lessons, right?”
“Yes. When did you learn to sing?”
“I guess I’ve always known how to. It’s natural. But I’m a shower singer, not anyone who belongs onstage. Can you imagine?”
Trez forced a laugh as he found himself internally arguing with her statements. She had never sung, and certainly not to Robert Plant, and of course she had never taken lessons. Before Phury had become the Primale, she hadn’t been allowed outside of the Sanctuary, and afterward, all of the Chosen had been busy enough just getting used to life on this side. Voice lessons were waaaaay down on that list of things to do.
Although she had played the piano, he supposed.
Still, as for knowing all the words to that song? Maybe she had recently listened to it. Maybe she was just really quick about learning lyrics—as opposed to having heard it since the thing had first been released. In the seventies.
Trez moved around in his seat—and this time, it wasn’t because of any arousal issue.
Meanwhile, his female glanced through the car windows. “You know, I’ve never seen this part of town before.”
“It’s really nice. Really safe.”
“Then again, I haven’t been most places in Caldwell.”
Yes, he thought as he took a deep breath. That jibed with her past. See?
Abruptly, he had an image of a tennis court, versions of himself on opposite sides of the net, the proverbial ball the statements she made about her past.
Keeping his curses to himself, he made a turn. Then another. Then one more. As they went deeper into a neighborhood, he saw that not all the houses were done up for Christmas. There were Hanukkah displays, the menorahs showing two candles, and also homes that were displaying Kwanzaa symbols in preparation for the last seven days of the year.
Tracking the different expressions of the season, it made him feel a little better about the human race, that so many spiritual traditions could exist together and celebrate according to their own practices during the same season. Usually he saw only the bad sides of Homo sapiens, the intolerance and the injustice and the brutality—which was what happened when you were living with a secret in plain sight of all of them. It was good that vampires could be easily mistaken for their likes, but no one with a set of fangs in their upper jaw ever forgot that if humans learned the truth, things were more likely to go badly than well for the species.
So yeah, he tended to pay attention to their bad deeds, as a lot of vampires did.
But passing by these houses? He could see them in another light—and it also made him feel better about what he’d done.
“Here we are,” he said with a surge of triumph.
* * *
Therese sat forward. The house Trez was pulling into was a gray-and-white Cape Cod, with glossy black shutters, a bright red front door, and cheery dormer windows in the roofline that looked like friendly eyes. Brass coach lanterns glowed on either side of the entrance, and there was a light on a stand halfway down a shoveled walkway. There was also an attached garage, a short-stack driveway that had been plowed, and bushes that had been set with strings of white lights, clearly so that the property fit in with the rest of the neighborhood.
“Is this where you live?” she asked.
“You sound so surprised.” He turned the car off. “I’m not so bad, am I?”
“Oh, God, no. I mean… I pictured you living in an apartment in a high-rise downtown.”
Trez smiled with what seemed like a curious satisfaction. “That’s because I did. Come on, let’s go in.”
Therese got out of the car and couldn’t look away from the pretty picture of the sweet house set back in its snow-covered yard, with the lights glowing and even—
“Is there a fire going?” She pointed up to the brick chimney. “There’s smoke.”
“I set one for us.” He took her hand and led her up the walk. “Let me show you inside.”
From out of his pocket, he took a copper key and put it into the front lock. As he turned the deadbolt, she frowned.
“Do you ever wear a coat?” she asked.
He glanced down at himself as if he were surprised he didn’t have one on. “You know… I should, shouldn’t I.”
“It’s okay. You look handsome with or without outerwear.”
Instantly, he got dead serious and focused on her mouth. “How about with nothing on.”
They were both smiling again as he opened the door, and as he let her go in first, her only thought was that they needed to finish what they had both started in their minds hours ago. Except as he willed the lights on, she gasped.
The interior of the house was done in soft dove gray and white, with pine floors that were the color of honey. Throw rugs were scattered with care in between cushioned furniture and thoughtfully arranged details, and through an archway, she saw a kitchen with stainless steel appliances and counters made of gray granite.
Her feet started walking before she was conscious of wanting to explore. Before she knew it, however, she was looking through the kitchen, going down a hall to find a study and a little bathroom, and standing at the base of the stairs and wondering what was up above.
“There are also two bedrooms and a common room underground,” he said. “You can go up, if you’d like.”
Therese nodded and put her hand on the varnished banister. There was no creaking underfoot as she ascended, and when she got to the top, she made a turn and learned where the fire was.
The master suite took up the entire top floor, and the bed alone would have made her never want to leave. It had a canopy of gossamer-thin white gauze that draped down onto the pale gray rug. The duvet on top of the mattress was big as a cloud and looked twice as soft, and there were so many pillows, the queen-sized expanse had little room left on it.
“What do you think?” Trez asked behind her.
She focused on the fire that was quietly crackling. “Is that a fur rug?”
“Faux fur, but yes.”
“How long have you been here?”
Therese glanced over her shoulder. “Is it okay for me to put my bag down?”
“You can do anything you want here.” He smiled. “Think of it as your own place.”
She bent to the side and set her purse on the floor next to the footboard. Then she looked at her feet. “Oh, God, did I track in? I’ve got snow and salt—”
“Fritz loves every opportunity to clean up. Trust me.”
“He’s the Brotherhood’s butler. He takes care of this house.”
“You’re connected to the Brotherhood?” She tried to keep her expression as un-fangirl as she could. But the Brotherhood? “The Black Dagger Brotherhood?”
Although come on, like there was another?
Trez crossed his arms over his huge chest and eased his shoulder onto the wall. Crossing his ankles, he gave her a remote look.
“Sorry.” She smiled. “I don’t mean to intrude.”
“Oh, no. It’s okay. I’m just… I’m not sure what to say.”
“Well, people like me don’t usually cross paths with the likes of them.” Therese indicated the heavens above. “And I am so grateful that the Scribe Virgin provided them unto the race. They have saved so many lives.”
“This is very true.”
Therese turned back to the fire. “That’s beautiful. The flames, I mean. They’re also very warm.”
She shed her puffy, thigh-length parka, peeling the light weight from her torso and letting it fall to the carpet. Then she kicked off her boots. She was relieved not to find any track marks or salt stains on the treads, no matter what he said about some butler taking care of his house.