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"I don't want any trouble," Zoe Adams said as she eyed the two vampires staring at her from across the table at the All Nighter Bar and Grill.
One of the vampires, Damon Thornheart, had an extremely threatening aura about him. Everything about him was dark, from his inky black hair to his deep blue eyes. He was glaring at her as if he wanted to consume her for lunch.
Zoe tugged her red cashmere shrug more tightly around her as if it could protect her. This was her first interaction with vampires, and at the moment it wasn't going very well.
"We don't want any trouble," Zoe amended her earlier statement with a tilt of her head toward her grandmother Irma Adams, sitting beside her in a knockoff vintage Chanel suit. With her white hair and twinkling blue eyes, Irma was the epitome of elegant and classy grannies everywhere.
"We don't want any trouble, either," the non-glaring vampire said. His name was Nick St. George, and he was the one who'd invited Zoe and her grandmother to this meeting today. Zoe had been nervous about the get-together, unsure of its purpose and uneasy about its possible outcome.
Looking at Damon now only increased Zoe's misgivings. He did not want her there, and he made no attempt to hide that fact. The sardonic gleam in his eyes conveyed the message that he planned on making her life very difficult—if he let her live at all.
"That problem back in Boston was not my fault," her grandmother piped up to say.
"We don't want any problems here," Damon growled. "No trouble. No problems. We like to stay under the radar."
"I understand," Zoe's grandmother said with a nod. "But all I did back in Boston was attend a motivational seminar given by Dr. Martin Powers."
"And what did you do?" Damon directed his question to Zoe.
"Nothing," she said.
"I find that hard to believe, witch," he growled.
Zoe held her head high. She'd been called worse. And the fact was that he was speaking the truth. She was indeed a witch. Actually, she came from a very long line of witches. The Adams women had more than a few blessings and more than one curse.
"Yes, I'm a witch," Zoe said, even though she wasn't very proud of that fact at the moment. There had been a time when she'd gloried in her powers and felt empowered by her magical abilities.
Her mother's death two years ago had changed all that. Now she just wanted to lead a quiet life.
But enjoying a peaceful existence was difficult to do with her grandmother around, because Irma was also a witch and not a very quiet one. Not that Zoe intended on sharing that bit of information at the moment. Oh, the two vampires knew Gram was a witch. They just weren't completely aware of all her escapades, and Zoe planned on keeping it that way.
"I'm a witch and you're a vampire," Zoe told Damon. "That's old news. Very old in your case."
Damon's glare intensified. He looked scary even to a witch.
Reminding herself that she'd said she didn't want trouble, Zoe dialed it back a notch. "As my grandmother said, what happened in Boston wasn't her fault." Gram had already told Zoe that she'd seen the motivational speaker in a TV interview on the local Boston TV station. He'd talked about his seminar, but what had caught her grandmother's attention was the fact that there was something strange and devious about his aura. Gram felt she had to attend to learn more. Once in the audience, she'd tried to keep an open mind, but when Dr. Powers started talking about how he had the secret to happiness and would only share it if paid a large sum of money, Gram hadn't been able to keep quiet. She hadn't cast any spells. Instead she'd spoken out, which was her constitutional right as an American, albeit an American witch.
"That's right. It wasn't my fault," Gram said in that über-cheerful voice of hers. "All I did was ask how anyone could be stupid enough to think that simply giving Dr. Powers money would give you absolute happiness. How was I to know my comment would cause a stampede?"
"As Vamptown's new head of security it's my job to make sure there aren't any stampedes here," Damon said.
"And I'm sure you're very good at your job." Gram patted his hand.
Looking like he wanted to rip her head off, Damon snatched his hand away.
Zoe downgraded this face-to-face meeting from bad to train wreck. Nothing in her experience had prepared her for this. She'd heard about vampires, of course. It was hard not to given all the movies and press they got. She could understand their need to keep things quiet. Most humans didn't believe vampires really existed, and that was the way they liked it.
The same was true for witches. That witch-burning disaster in Salem may have occurred over four hundred years ago, but the memory remained. Sure, there were plenty of websites and books about covens of Wiccans who practiced white magic instead of the darker magical elements, but no human was eager to have a witch move in next door.
Apparently few vampires were eager to have a witch move in nearby, either. Zoe had seen enough episodes of The Vampire Diaries to know that witches and vampires had issues. But then vampires didn't seem to get along with anyone other than vampires.
Damon appeared to be proof of that fact, although Nick had been extremely welcoming in Gram's time of need. And Gram's time of need was also Zoe's time of need. Her grandmother had always been there for her, so Zoe couldn't let Irma come to Chicago by herself.
Besides, Zoe had her own reasons for leaving the East Coast that had nothing to do with stampedes or motivational speakers. Her reasons were very personal and had to do with matters of the heart.
They'd had to leave their hometown of Boston in somewhat of a hurry. Zoe didn't know where they'd go, but Gram said she had a friend named Nick St. George whom she'd met at a local occult bookstore years ago and formed a bond with because of their similar interests. Nick had moved to Chicago, but he and Gram had kept in touch. He'd told her that if she ever needed help, he'd be there for her.
Gram hadn't told Zoe much about Nick—just that she trusted him. The bottom line was that their options had been limited so they'd had to accept Nick's invitation to stay rent-free in a house he was managing.
Zoe had only found out about the vampire element in the story this afternoon when they'd arrived in Chicago and were on their way to Vamptown. Not that the neighborhood's name was known outside of the vampire community. Zoe doubted it was known within the witch community, either.
Yet here she was, a witch in the middle of a vampire enclave. So much for living a quiet life.
They'd barely had time to drop their belongings at the brick house a few blocks away that was to be their new home when they'd been summoned to this meeting.
"If we can get back to the matter at hand," she said.
"I've informed Nick that I do not approve of witches moving into our community," Damon said. "It's too much of a security risk."
"What are you afraid we'll do?" Zoe said.
"Make trouble," Damon replied.
"I've already said—"
"I don't believe you," he said.
Nick spoke before Zoe could make a stinging response. "As I told you, Damon, I met Irma back in Boston when I resided there before coming to Chicago. We became friends. And as her friend, I invited her here when she needed assistance. End of story."
Zoe decided that Nick was nice … for a vampire, that is. Not that Zoe knew much about him. All Gram had said was that her friend Nick had invited them to come stay in a free rental in Chicago. No mention of the fact that the guy had fangs and drank blood. No mention of the fact that the rental sat in the middle of a place called Vamptown. The only thing that looked welcoming was the cupcake shop down the block from the bar.
Damon, on the other hand, didn't appear to have a welcoming bone in his entirely too sexy body. Instead everything about him radiated danger and power with a hefty dose of arrogance. This was not a man—er, a vampire—who followed the rules.
Thankfully, Nick appeared to be the one with the final say about whether Zoe and Irma stayed or left. And Zoe could tell that Damon hated that fact.
Even so, she detected no personal animosity between the two male vampires. But maybe she was wrong. While it was true that she'd always been good at reading people, reading vamps was entirely new territory for her.
Looking directly at her, Damon said, "If we could have a word alone?" He made it sound more like an order than a request.
No way did Zoe want to be alone with a clearly bad-tempered albeit attractive vampire. "I'm fine right here where I am," she said. She glanced over at Nick, looking for reassurance.
Instead he said, "Damon, why don't you show her the sports memorabilia by the bar?"
Nick's lack of support reminded her that she would do well not to count on a vampire, even one she incorrectly thought was nice. "That's okay. I can see the Blackhawks jersey from here," Zoe quickly said. "Not that we are fans back in Boston."
"But we're in Chicago now," Zoe's grandmother said, giving her a nudge. "And we don't want to seem rude to Nick. So let Damon show you the sporty stuff."
That better be all he showed her. She didn't want him flashing his fangs at her, trying to intimidate her. And what was with her grandmother throwing her to the lion's den … or in this case the vampire's bar? Zoe thought she could at least count on Gram to have her back.
"Afraid?" Damon's mocking look would have made a lesser witch leap to her feet just to prove she didn't fear him.
But Zoe was made of sterner stuff. She remained in her seat and calmly returned his mockery with some of her own. "Yeah, I'm just shaking in my boots. Can't you tell?"
"I can tell you twirl your hair around your index finger when you're nervous," he replied.
And she could tell he wasn't going to give up until she went with him across the room. Fine. It wasn't worth wasting her energy on arguing with him. She got up and strolled over to the bar, where he joined her.
Zoe started the interrogation with a question of her own. "Do any humans live here in Vamptown?"
"And you don't…"
"Don't what? Eat them for lunch? Only on Tuesdays and Thursdays when they are the special on the menu."
She suspected he was mocking her. She sure hoped so.
"What about you, witch?" he said.
"I don't eat humans ever."
"Glad to hear it. That leaves more for us vamps to consume."
"You think this is very funny, don't you."
"Not particularly. Annoying as hell, yes. Funny, no."
"What do you have against witches?"
"That's no answer," she said.
"It's the only answer you'll get from me."
"What's the matter? Are you afraid I'll cast a spell on you?"
He laughed. "I'd like to see you try."
"It won't happen. I've given up the practice of witchcraft. Instead I run a legitimate business."
"Yeah, I read that you run some kind of soap business."
"It's not just soaps, it's bath and body lotions."
"Magical potions," he said dismissively.
"That's not true." She could tell by his expression that he didn't believe her. "Look, I didn't even know there were vampires in this neighborhood until we got here."
"Then you should have turned right around the moment you found out."
"You don't know anything about me."
"Not true. I had you thoroughly researched. You and your grandmother."
Her heart dropped. No, he couldn't possibly know everything. Only the other witches in their coven back in Boston knew everything, and they were bound by their own laws not to reveal a thing.
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. Zoe had the T-shirt packed in her belongings back at the house. She should have worn it today—but how could she have known she'd be dealing with vampires? As if moving halfway across the country wasn't bad enough, now she had Damon Thornheart to contend with.
So he'd had them researched. So what? All she had to do was stay calm. Stay calm and carry on. Oh yeah … and also lie. Big time. Because the truth could get them into a cauldron-ful of trouble.
Copyright © 2013 by Cathie L. Baumgardner