The limo was long and sleek, an extended number in gleaming
white, polished to a shine
that was almost blinding under the bright lights outside the
restaurant. It seemed a little
excessive for just two people, but it was the first in line,
and none of the other models were any
less ostentatious. Iâm not normally impressed by that sort
of thing, so itâs saying something that
they got to me. I ride in limos fairly often. Iâm a
bodyguard. When Iâm on âcloseâ duty, Iâm
with the protectee in the car. Most of the time, however,
Iâm in one of the caravan vehicles,
either in front or behind the main car. Suits me fine. Iâm a
working class type of person.
Tonight I was one of the VIPs. Weird, very weird. Weâd been
having a wake for my best
friend in life or death, Vicki Cooper, whoâd been wealthy
even by Hollywood standards. Sheâd
been murdered by magic while supposedly âsafeâ in her own
room in a guarded facility. The
most unique part of the whole affair was that the deceased
had attended the party. Vicki had been
a powerful clairvoyant in life, a level 9âand to my
knowledge, there arenât any level 10s. In
death, she was proving herself to be an equally powerful,
sentient spirit . . . bound to earth by
unfinished business. The trouble was, nobody knew yet what
was going to cause her to âmove
onâ to the next reality and, although she could communicate
with people, especially me, she
Another handful of glitter and confetti dropped on me, but
there was none of the
exuberance to it that there had been an hour before. Vicki
was tired. No matter how you cut it,
sheâs a ghost now, and didnât have unlimited power. I looked
up after dusting the glitter from my
face. âItâs okay, Vick. Go rest. The partyâs over.â Sheâd
been a real trooper, staying in this realm
for a four hour event. Sheâd spun piĂ±atas for breaking,
chilled margaritas all over the room, and
had touched each and every person at the event with a cool
âhugâ of air. Tears had mingled with
laughter as we said our good-byes to one of the most amazing
people weâd ever had the privilege
Her breeze swirled around me like a miniature dust devil for
a moment before dissolving
and leaving a strange stillness to cover me like a shroud. A
woman whose name I couldnât
remember stumbled against the side of the limo behind, her
movements sloppy from too many
drinks. Weâd known ahead of time that everyone would be
drinking to ease the pain, so
arrangements had been made to keep people from having to drive.
There was a light brush of smooth fingers on my arm and I
turned my head to the tanned,
silver-haired man next to me. That touch sucked back into
the real world, which was a worse
place for the loss of my friend. I wrapped my arms around my
body, even though the California
night was warm, almost sultry. âWe should get back. Itâs late.â
I nodded and let Dr. Scott climb in first. Heâd been Vickiâs
psychiatrist at Birchwoods,
the expensive, in-patient, supposedly magic-proof facility
that had still somehow failed to protect
her from death. He was soon to be my court-appointed guide
to normalcyâor so everyone
claimed. I wouldnât have trusted him except that Vicki did.
Sheâd personally invited him to the
wakeâafter her death. It was hard to argue with that sort of
He immediately set to opening the skylight. I didnât blame
him. It was a beautiful night.
The wake had, for the most part, gone well. Notwithstanding
a little interruption by the princess
of the sirens, who challenged me to a death duel, a good
time had been had by all, and more than
a few good memories shared.
I wasnât exactly unsteady on my feet, but I wasnât
completely sober either. The owner of
the restaurant-slash-cantina had been a friend of Vickiâs
too, and she fixed a mean margarita
when distraught. There was probably as much salt from tears
in each drink as there was around
the rim, and easily double the alcohol. That meant I was
feeling the effects. Pity it wouldnât last
long. My metabolism had been altered significantly by a
vampire bite that, while it hadnât
succeeded in making me undead, had done some truly
remarkable things to my body. But, for
the moment at least, I was just a teeny bit tipsy.
It made remembering both easier, and harder.
âTen-four. Area secure. Letâs start them moving.â The
uniformed officer wasnât talking
to me, but into a radio. Still, it made me turn my head,
even though the flashing lights were
giving my newly acquired vampire vision a headache. My
escort back to Birchwoods tonight
would be a pair of police vehicles. I should mention that I
am not insane . . . well, no more than
the next guy. Nor am I a criminal . . . exactly. But
sometimes you get caught in the middle of
something bigger than you, and you have to make a choice.
The choice I made risked everything,
but for a good cause. Innocent lives would have been
lostâhundreds, if not thousands of them.
Sadly, thereâs always a consequence to a decision that big.
Iâd deliberately used my burgeoning psychic talents to
manipulate a whole slew of people,
including quite a few police officers, into doing what
needed to be done. Psychic manipulation is
a big legal no-no. And while they havenât been able to prove
it yetâespecially since I failed
their telepathy tests spectacularly, I knew Iâd done it, so
I wasnât fighting too hard.
Iâd been given a choice of committing myself to a private
facility or risk being declared a
âthreat to the publicâ and getting sent to one of the state
run prison-slash-asylums until my case
came to trial. Normally that would be never. Speedy trials
do not exist for the furryâor for
most of the other preternatural types. (Yes, the ACLU is
working on it. But theyâve been
working on it for a couple of decades now without success.)
Iâd heard the rumors, seen the
undercover news specials about the abuses in those places.
As such, I figured Iâd rather die than
get stuck in one. And while I wasnât exactly thrilled about
the notion of incarceration,
Birchwoods was certainly preferable to dying. Thankfully,
because Iâd managed to wrangle a
stay in a private institution, with good doctors, and one
that might actually let me out eventually,
I was actually going to get a hearing in this lifetime. Of
course, the hearing might well put me in
there for the rest of my life, like Vicki, so I wasnât
precisely looking forward to the adventure.
But I was not going to think about that tonight. Tonight was
for happier thoughts. Right
on cue Bruno came up beside me, snaking his arm around my
waist. I turned into his embrace,
smiling. Back in college Bruno DeLuca and I had been a
couple. Weâd even gone so far as to
get engaged. It hadnât worked out. Maybe we were too young.
And then, of course, there was
the friction between me and his family. Whatever the cause,
weâd broken up. Iâd never
completely gotten over him.
âHow you holding up?â He smiled and I melted. Mind you, my
reaction wasnât just
because of his looks, although heâs certainly drool worthy.
Tall, dark and studly he comes from
solid Italian-American working stock in Jersey. His tousled
dark curls have just a touch of silver
now, and there are faint lines on the handsome face: laugh
lines mostly, but a few others. Life
has been good, you can tell. But it hasnât been easy for
him, any more than it has me.
âNot too bad. How about you?â He shrugged. It had been both
a good and bad day. The
wake was bad, but heâd gotten a job offer out of it too.
Thatâs the other part of my attraction to
him. I respect the talent that makes him headhunting-worthy
enormously. Bruno is a mage, and a
damned good one. He has a lot of power. More than that, he
keeps people safe through skill.
When youâre dealing with heavy duty black magical forces it
is all about the control. Heâs smart,
heâs savvy, and when push comes to shove he can be a cold,
hard bastard. If it hadnât been for
the fact that his talent makes upright, uptight corporate
America safe and profitable, and the fact
heâs so insanely honest, he might have given his cousin,
Little Joey, a run for it in taking charge
of the Family businesses. I only suspect the capital âFâ on
the word, by the way. I have no actual
proof, and have never had the nerve to ask.
As it is he works as one of the top mages at one of the big
four international companies. I
suspect he makes obscene amounts of money doing it. Iâve
never asked. Itâd be rude. I honestly
donât care about that other than to be happy for him. I make
a good living of my own guarding
the wealthy and paranoid.
He kissed my cheek and warmth tingled through my body. I
would have liked to have
done more, never mind the guards watching his every
movement. But thereâll be time. His voice
whispered into my consciousness as his lips nuzzled my ear.
âLove you. Weâll talk soon.â Wow.
Iâm still having a hard time believing my good luck. He
loves me. Weâre going to have another
chance as a couple. Really, I mean . . . wow. There have
been other men in my life, plenty of
them. But Bruno is . . . well . . . Bruno. He has joi de
vivre, big brass cojones, and style. He
understands me better than anyoneâeven gets my sense of
humor. Sarcasm, dry wit, or absolute
slapstick, he can make me laugh, even when things are at
their absolute bleakest. Once I can
laugh at something, we face it. Together. I never have to
worry about my back when Brunoâs
Looking up into Brunoâs sparkling brown eyes I couldnât
resist stealing another kiss.
Blame the tequila.
Iâd meant for it to be a quick peck. Apparently he had other
When the world realigned on its axis, and I got my breath
back, Dr. Scott was leaning out
the door giving a pointed âcough.â
Bruno just laughed, giving me a firm pat on the backside
that sent me a half-step toward
the curb. âGo on. Iâve got to get back to Jersey, finish
work out the details and break the news
to the family.â
âAh. Good luck with that.â He made a face that matched mine.
Suddenly a stay at
Birchwoods didnât sound so bad. Mama DeLuca hates me. She
was so not going to be happy
about her baby and I getting back together. As to him moving
to the west coastâlet me be in a
nice locked facility when she found that one out. Please.
He laughed, probably reading my mind. The really good mages
can do that. Itâs how he
got the job offer across a crowded and noisy bar. âItâll be
fine.â He assured me. âIâll handle it.â I
shook my head at his antics, blew him a kiss goodbye, and
climbed in the car.
The first thing I did was slide across the luxurious gray
leather. I deliberately positioned
myself to make the most of the skylight then allowed myself
to sink into a seat that was made for
comfort. Fresh air would be good for me, and I love looking
up at the stars. My own car is a
convertible, and I ride with the top down as often as I can.
Only at night now, sadly, thanks to
the new vampire blood. Imagine, living in California and Iâm
now allergic to the sun! It pisses
me off, but thereâs not much I can do about it. So Iâm doing
my best to think of other things. Of
course thatâll come to a screeching halt once I start
therapy. Doctors tend to insist on you
dredging up every possible negative memory and
feelingâespecially things youâd buried for
Oh joy. Just thinking about it took the shiny off of my mood.
âI hope youâre not in a hurry.â Dr. Scott said. Itâs a nice
night, so I told the driver to take
I snorted and crossed my arms over my chest like a suddenly
petulant child. The reality
was beginning to sink home and with it, the fear about my
future. âWhy would I be in a hurry?
Iâm only leaving behind my job, my house, all of my clothes,
plus my best friend, my boyfriend
and, gee . . . solid food.â I tried to keep the bitterness
out of my voice, without success.
âCelia, everythingâs going to be fine. Youâll see.â
I gave another snort and raised my brows at him. My first
meeting with the good doctor
resulted in my stalking his secretary like a deer and
chasing him out of the room in panic. I
hadnât been safe to talk until after he locked me inside his
office with a pitcher of cow blood,
which I happily sucked down like a strawberry milk shake.
Since I knew the telepathic doctor
was likely reading my mind, I commented on the memory.
âGosh, that was a fun episode. Canât
wait for the reruns. How about you?â
He had the decency to look chagrined.
I heard the driverâs door slam shut and it moved my
attention from him, giving him the
opportunity to fiddle with the buttons on the side panel.
Probably looking for another stiff drink
to bolster him for the start of this adventure. My brow
furrowed suddenly, because I felt . . .
something. It was an odd, pins-and-needles tingling
sensation that I was beginning to associate
with magical barriers. Iâd never been able to get even a
hint of the magical before the vampire
bite. Now Iâm aware of nearly each and every one of them.
The more power they use, the more
painful. This one hurt.
I sat bolt upright in my seat, actually flinching when I
heard the automatic locks click
with what felt like an ominous finality.
âWhatâs wrong?â As a trained observer of human behavior Dr.
Scott didnât like the vibe
I was giving off. He was suddenly very alert and looked
âMaybe nothing.â I answered. My voice stayed steady, but
sounded uneasy. It didnât
feel like nothing. I could feel the pressure building,
making me want to wiggle my jaw like you
do in an airplane to get your ears to pop. There are
protective spells that can be used to keep
objects, including vehicles, from damage. But theyâre
hideously expensive, difficult to do, and
create enough friction when a car is in motion to make any
model a gas hog. A limo like this one
was built like a tank. It shouldnât need that kind of a
spell, and I hadnât sensed enough magical
ability in any of the uniforms to pull it off. While it
wouldnât take someone of Brunoâs level, it
would take at least a level 4, and I should have felt one.
But if it wasnât a protection spell, then what was it?
Maybe it was the liquor making me slow, but I couldnât think
of a damned thing. Which
made me suspicious. Well, more suspicious. Iâve been a
bodyguard so long that Iâm always a
little bit paranoid. âCan you sense the driver?â
The car moved smoothly away from the curb, fitting nicely in
between the pair of police
cruisers. I could see it through the window . . . barely.
Mostly I just saw my reflection on the
inside of the glass. The woman I saw was attractive, but
cold, hard. It was my âbusiness face.â I
use it a lot. So often, that sometimes even I forget the
softer me exists.
âThat would be illegal.â Dr. Scott didnât bother to hide the
disapproval in his voice. It
was combined with the stern look of an instructor.
I shook my head. âNo doctor. Reading his mind is illegal.
Just sensing to see if heâs
âthereâ isnât.â It was a fine distinction, but I was
learning a lot about those as we prepared for my
upcoming trial. I had one of the best defense attorneys in
the business. If he was successful I
would be a free, if considerably less wealthy, woman. I
could live with that. If I stayed out of
jail I could always earn more money.
I pretended not to notice him staring at me, concentrating
instead on the scene outside the
glass. Weâd turned left. It wouldnât have been a big deal
except for one little detail. The nearest
exit to Ocean View was three blocks down and on the right.
Dr. Scottâs eyes locked with mine in the glass. If he was
checking my thoughts, I
couldnât tell. At the moment I wouldnât even mind. Best for
him to find out for himself that I
wasnât joking. I was beginning to suspect we were in very
real trouble. I watched in the glass as
he pursed his lips thoughtfully. Seeming to reach a
decision, his face went distant and blank for
a few seconds.
âThatâs odd. I canât sense him at all.â He sounded puzzled,
and not altogether happy.
I turned to face him, âNull?â I made it a question. Psychic
nulls were rare, but not
unheard of. Iâd very briefly been assigned to a shrink that
was a null. She was completely
immune to magic, and to psychic manipulation. Which wouldâve
made her the perfect doctor for
someone like me, if she hadnât also been one of the bad
guys. As it was, her drugging me and
setting me up for murder had started the chain of events
leading up to my legal woesâand
undoubtedly set my therapy back years.
âNo. It feels more as if Iâm being blocked.â
I wouldnât have thought I could tense any further, but I did
as the adrenaline pumped
through my system. Weâd just taken another left turn. Which
meant we werenât headed toward
the main highway exits heading toward Birchwoods either. We
were going the exact opposite
directionâand while I couldnât be sure, yet, it appeared we
were en route to the desert, where
there was miles and miles of nothing. . . right up until you
got to the state run facility for ârogueâ
monsters and psychics.
âDoctor, are you lying to me?â There was a growling, hissing
tone to my voice, and my
skin had started to glow, giving off a pale, gray-green
light that filled the passenger compartment
like water in a pool. It was decidedly spooky. In just a few
days Iâve grown to hate that, but right
now it might prove useful in scaring the doctor. If he was
scared maybe, just maybe, heâd be
honest with me. Of course, getting angry was liable to push
the limits of my control over the
monster in me. But I needed the truth, and I didnât have a
lot of options as to how I was going to
He shrugged, but was more interested in concentrating on
whatever was pushing him
away. âWhy would I lie?â
I waved my hand in front of his face to grab his attention
and then pointed. âLook out the
He tried, even going so far as to press his nose to the
glass. âI can barely see through the
tinting. What am I looking for?â