My Grumpy Vampire Boss
1 - Simon
I enjoyed the quiet of my bookstore. I knew its every creak and crack. I will admit, if only to myself, that I was fond of the little bell above the door and its joyful tinkle that alerted me to the arrival of customers.
I wasn’t a regular book seller.
No one came to me for the latest commercial hit.
My shop specialized in rare and antique volumes for a very specific clientele.
If you weren’t supernatural, you didn’t know about my bookstore.
As a long-lived vampire, I’d been collecting literary and historical works since I’d Turned in 1298, right before all the famine and plagues plunged the mortal world into suspicion and darkness and death.
Supernatural creatures suffered a great deal during the Dark Ages. We were hunted and killed. I knew from experience that humans could be quite inventive when it came to torture. Of all the creatures on Earth that I’d ever met, none are more malicious and violent than a human being.
Well, except for demons.
Tinkle. Tinkle. Tinkle. I frowned. Someone had entered the shop. Irritation flared. I had no appointments. A magic spell prevented humans from seeing the sign and entrance to Aubert’s Fine Books. So who would—oh. Oh, no.
High heels clicked across the tiled floor. “Yoo-hoo!” called a female voice. “Anybody here?”
I peeked around the corner of the bookshelf where I was currently shelving the Witch’s Cauldron, volumes five through sixteen. It seemed that Queen Patsy had followed through on her threat to send me help. And the queen had sent me a...a yoo-hooer.
I still didn’t understand why the queen had insisted on hiring an employee for my bookstore. I told her, repeatedly, no. She’d taken it upon herself to do the hiring for me. Her concern that I might become droch fhola—a soulless vampire—was complete rubbish.
Yes, some vampires lost their humanity if left alone too long, but I dealt with bibliophile customers on a regular basis. Granted, the interactions were mostly transactional, but I hadn’t killed anyone in years. As far as I was concerned, that should have satisfied the vampire queen. But, alas, she’d ignored my wishes and did exactly what she wanted.
“Toodle-oo!” the woman called out. “To-oo-oodles!”
I cringed at her deplorable language. It was frustrating being a vampire in modern times. I didn’t always understand the ever-changing terminology and slang in America. New generations insisted on creating their own slang. Daddy-O. Outta sight. I gotta skitty. Grody to the max. Talk to the hand. Off the hook. She’s such a Karen. I much preferred the slang of my own time. By my troth. Beshrew thee. God spede you. Gramercy! It was such a better way to convey intent and emotion.
“If you wish to be of help, then shelve the cart of early modern books to the left of the cash register,” I directed. “Make sure you put on the cotton gloves hanging on the cart rail before you start. I won’t abide you damaging the ancient texts with your grubby fingers.”
“Better grubby than grumpy,” she muttered. Then in a louder voice, “No grubby fingers here, mysterious voice from the gloom.”
Despite her attempt at humor, the adrenaline and fear pumping out of this human indicated she was experiencing a very stressful moment. I easily heard the frantic pounding of the woman’s heart as she worked to catch her breath.
As a vampire, I can hear the flutter of a butterfly’s wing from a mile away. More to the point I was part of the Family Durga, vampires who could call and control demons. I not only heard every aspect of her arrival down to the bristling of her hair, I could also smell the trail of sulfur she had brought with her.
To quote Dorothy Parker—what fresh hell is this?
There were plenty of reasons the woman had a brimstone trail. Maybe she’d been to Hell recently. Or had hugged a demonic entity at some point in the last hour. To each their own, I suppose.
“Yoo-hoo,” she called out. “Where should I shove these books?”
I had the distinct impression she wanted to answer her own question. Something along the lines of, “Up your arse.”
“Please refrain from using yoo-hoos and toodle-oos,” I yelled. “Now, Miss….um...?”
The queen probably told me the assistant’s name, but I’d stopped listening halfway through her lecture on the dangers of anti-social undead behavior. It wasn’t as if I planned to go blood hungry and crazy on an entire town and turn all the single parents into vampires. When I’d made that remark, the queen had pinned me with her awe-inspiring, horror-inducing mom-stare.
I’d heard stories, but you can’t imagine how powerful she is until she holds you in her disapproving gaze. Either you get an employee, she’d said in a stone-cold voice, or you will babysit all the paranormal children in Broken Heart until. You. Die.
“I’m Honey Cauldwell,” said Miss Unwanted Employee. She sneezed. “Wow. It’s really dusty in here.”
“It is not!” I protested. “I do not abide dust.”
She sneezed again.
“Don’t spray the tomes with your mucus!” I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose. “Prithee, dear Lord, save me from suffering fools,” I muttered. I was more than ready to escort Queen Patsy’s patsy out of my store. I had no love for humankind.
My good friend Lorcan had told me that I hadn’t met the right person yet. I say, poppycock. Not everyone was meant to find a life partner, and we can’t all have been as homicidally lucky as my friend.
You see, Lorcan is married to a woman he killed and who was then made into a vampire, so I don’t exactly trust his perspective or judgement. However, I do like his mate very much. Eva knows more archaic words than I do, and I’ve been around centuries longer.
“If you’ll point me in the right direction,” the woman said. “This will go a whole lot faster.”
I already disliked having an employee. But I dared not send her packing just yet. “Faster is not better, Ms. Cauldwell. Put them in section eight, alphabetized by author name. Do not mix them with Renaissance books.”
I heard her mumble, “Yes, my liege.”
“No need for sarcasm,” I said. “Feel free to tell Queen Patsy you don’t want the job.”
She huffed. “I bet no one wants this job. You’re a grumpy boss.”
“You do not know me, madam. Until today, I’ve had one employee. Me. And I’ve never been a disappointment to myself.”
“But you probably have to others,” she whispered. I heard the squeak of the cart wheels and the click-click-click of her heels as she headed out of the checkout area and toward what I hoped was section eight.
“Oh, crap. Crapcrapcrapsticks.” After this exclamation, I heard her screech, the distinct thud of books falling off shelves, and then silence. Had Miss Yoo-hoo knocked herself out?
Obnoxious male laughter filled my shop, followed by an even stronger stench of sulfur. “Ah, my darling slave,” boomed the metallic echo of a demon’s voice. “Come out, come out, wherever you are.” He tsked. “Hide and seek is for children. No more games, sweet sweet Honey.”
“I’m not playing games, Brank.” The woman’s voice had gone up an octave, and I could hear a slight tremble as she added, “I’m not yours.”
This did not sound good. Had Patsy known her choice of employee was packing demon baggage? I placed the stack of books I was holding on top of the bookshelf. Then I wound my way through the bookshelves until I entered the area in front of the check-out counter. I barely got a look at the buff red-scaled nine-foot-tall demon scratching my floors with his black hooves before Honey Cauldwell threw herself at me.
I was besieged by red polka-dotted material and creamy female flesh. Ms. Cauldwell’s foot kicked up behind her and I noticed her clickety-clacking high heels were in the shape of cake wedges. Red Velvet.
“Mr. Aubert!” the woman cried desperately as she hugged me tightly, her fulsome breasts pressing against my chest.
The wonderful aroma of freshly bloomed gardenias embedded into my skin and clothes. Her blonde hair had been pulled into a thick, bouncy ponytail with a big white flower tucked into the top.
She fit perfectly into my embrace, the top of her head resting just underneath my clavicle. Only now could I sense she was...Other. Human, yes. But something else, too. Something...delicious. Decadent.
Mine. My fangs erupted and I wanted nothing more than to taste the morsel tucked so securely in my arms. Taste her. Mark her. Conquer her.
I stiffened as I wrestled with my self-control. What was wrong with me? These sudden strange inclinations made me feel weak and vulnerable, something I could ill afford considering our hellish guest.
Ms. Cauldwell’s personal problems had followed her into my place of business and had now become my problems. This woman had been hired by Queen Patsy, and therefore, she was my responsibility...even if I didn’t want her to be.
The demon snarled at me, exposing his slimy black teeth. A forked tongue flickered out from between his lips as he demanded, “Give her to me!”
“I will not,” I responded.
The woman quivered in my arms like a caught rabbit. Obviously, she was terrified of the demon. I wrapped my arms tightly around her while attempting to remind myself that I owed nothing to her.
This beautiful, sweet-smelling, feisty beauty...Gad! I glanced down at her and saw her staring at me. Her heart-shaped face framed big, brown eyes, an upturned nose, and full lips that sparkled with glittery pink gloss. “Thank you,” she said softly. Her warm breath brushed across my skin.
For a moment I felt as if I was falling, losing myself inside a fantasy-scape with this intriguing female...I was being mesmerized. The realization brought me back to my senses. She wasn’t a vampire. Frankly, whatever she was, she shouldn’t have been able to capture my gaze. I forced myself to look away and focus on the danger to her.
Most demons disguise themselves when on the earthly plane, but this one was in his natural demonic form. Fie! Demons like this Brank gave rise to human lore. The Beast of Bray Road and the Jersey Devil were nothing more than accidental demon sightings. Was it his arrogance? Or a lack of power to retake a human form? As a Family Durga vampire, I sensed he wasn’t a full demon--and therefore weaker.
Still it behooved me to proceed with caution. “What claim do you have on my employee?”
“You’re her boss? Odd.” The beast’s brows rose to the top of his shiny black horns. “No matter. I won her in a poker game fair and square.”
“Fair and square, my sweet patootie,” muttered Honey. The movement of her lips at the base of my throat sent a delicious shiver through me. “He cheated.”
“Oh, sure, blame me. We both know your former master is an idiot.” Brank looked at me, his black eyes glittering with foul intent. “Hand her over now. Or I will kill you and take her.” To prove his point, he pounded a fist against the top of the nearest bookshelf, collapsing the entire thing.
“There are original Shakespeare plays in there, you plague-sore vermin,” I snarled. It was bad enough that he wanted to take away my...er...new assistant, but his destruction of my property sent me over the edge. I called upon my demon-control powers, and put all my magic behind my words. “Get out of my bookstore.”
Brank barely had enough time to register surprise before he disappeared in a puff of stinky black smoke.
Ms. Cauldwell squeezed me until I felt like my eyes were going to pop out of my head. If my lungs worked, any breath within them would’ve been expelled.
“Thank you so much, Mr. Aubert,” she said. “I’m sorry I called you grumpy.”
“It is not an untrue statement,” I said. “Prithee, call me Simon, fair maiden.” If my hands hadn’t been locked around the woman’s waist I would have slapped them over my traitorous tongue.
This damsel brought her distress into my simple, unencumbered life. I didn’t need the disruption in my routine. What was next? Asking her to bestow a favor upon my lance? I hadn’t even been a knight in my human lifetime and I was suddenly the epitome of chivalry.
“All right, Simon,” she said. “And you call me Honey.” She paused, then added, “That’s my actual name, not an endearment.”
To my stinging disappointment, Honey pulled away. Stepping back, she took my hands into hers and met my gaze again. Looking at her was like looking at Titian Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus or Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Her beauty was the Roman love goddess made real.
“Honey,” I mumbled like an insane git.
My love goddess’ laughter tinkled like the bell above my door. “I’m sorry about dragging you into that mess. If I would have known the demon would follow me into your shop I wouldn’t have....um...I...I wouldn’t have taken the job,” she said in a rush, her cheeks turning a lovely pink as she blushed.
I heard the lie in her words, but I was certain she had her reasons for painting the truth with a broad stroke. She must have known the demon would show up. Maybe she had hoped a vampire would be able to protect her. Maybe her predicament was the reason Queen Patsy had sent her my way. After all, who better to help a distressed damsel with a demon problem than a vampire who could control demons?
“I understand,” I told her with as much gentleness as I could muster. “But I won’t reward any more deception, Honey. I need you to be honest with me from now on.”
“From now on.” She crossed her finger over her heart. “I swear it.”
I glanced away, but it was too late. I was beguiled by her. “I’m not sure the store is safe, though I detected this demon isn’t too powerful. However, if he returns with a horde, I can’t promise your safety. If you are amenable, I would like to take you to Broken Heart. You’ll be secure there.” Every part of me, even the logical part, wanted nothing more than to protect this woman from all harm, be it supernatural or mundane. I wanted to be her champion. “I assume you live in Broken Heart?”
“Oh...uh, no. I don’t.”
“Hmm. No matter. If Queen Patsy picked you personally, she’ll want to make certain you’re protected. It’s about a two hour drive from Tulsa to Broken Heart.”
Honey fidgeted nervously, then endearingly sucked her lower lip between her teeth before letting out a sigh. “I’m not sure we’ll make it.” She pointed to my cuckoo clock that hung on the wall behind the counter. “Brank, even though he cheated in the poker game, will own me officially at midnight. That’s two hours and ten minutes from now.”
Her proclamation about the demon Brank caused a desperation in me that ate away at my usual apathy. “I won’t allow him to take you.” Gramercy! I...I needed to be near her.
I had to fight against the impulse to take her into my arms again. Honey Cauldwell was like sunshine--warm and bright and lovely. “We will figure it out. Getting you to Broken Heart is the first step, though.”
There were many powerful beings in the small paranormal town. Surely one of them could help me break a demon bargain.
“Simon?” Her pillowy lips rounded into an O as she stared up at me. “Can I ask you a question?”
“If Broken Heart is so safe, then why did you set up shop in Tulsa?”
“I’m not good with people—living or dead.” It was the truth. I didn’t do well in crowds. I hated small talk. And I bored easily. Boredom made me cranky. And rude. I liked my friends, but I knew my company was better in small doses.
Honey’s smile widened, those chocolate-brown eyes full of...well, I don’t know. Joy or something. “Well, then it’s a good thing you don’t own a retail shop where you have to deal with customers all day long.”
I blinked down at her. “You are...joking?” I wasn’t particularly good at sussing out humor. Or social cues. Or emotions.
“Yes,” she said. “I was teasing you. Just a little.” She slipped further away from me. “I’m glad I met you, Simon. I wish it were under different circumstances.”
“Well, like if I wasn’t running away from a demon.” She nibbled her bottom lip then sighed. “Not that it matters. At midnight, I will officially belong to that demon asshat.” She looked at me, those big brown eyes filled with misery. “Then no one can save me.”
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