So–what do you think so far? Please leave a comment. And if you’re interested in the first two books, here’s the link for them: https://www.amazon.com/K.-R.-Morrison/e/B009RBRJ0C/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1
Steve sat on the end of the bed in his hotel room, staring numbly at the TV screen. He could hardly believe what he was seeing.
The video showed flashing lights in the dark, emergency personnel rushing around, and a body bag, occupied, being lifted into a coroner’s wagon. Those images were not what had caught his attention; unfortunately, they were daily fare in this modern world. The reason for his dumbfounded stare was that this news story was located at the very lot where he had been just a few hours before.
The announcer droned on: “The body was found by a security guard who had just come on shift at midnight. The man who was on duty before him has been reported missing, and a search is underway.
“The tarp over the buried house had been disturbed, and that is the focal point of the search. Police have—“
He was interrupted by a shout. The cameras panned immediately from the announcer to a close-up of a man’s head popping up out of the hole. Everyone on the site clustered around him, so that any audio was drowned out. The news reporter and the camera operator ran toward the crowd and tried to wedge their way in to get some information.
The station suddenly cut to a commercial. Steve waited impatiently for the news to return. As he waited, his cellphone rang.
“Steve Bronson. Oh—Mike? What’s the story out there? Yeah, I have the news on here in Seattle.” He listened, then almost dropped the phone in surprise and shock.
“They found WHAT? How do you know? Oh—you’re there? Okay, okay, keep track of what’s—What? They found the missing guard in the COFFIN? Gang signs where?”
Steve’s face screwed up in disgust. “Well, that might go a long ways to explain things. Rotten neighborhood—I felt unsafe even during the day. Okay, keep me informed. Thanks—bye.”
Steve turned off the TV. No need to keep watching, since Mike was right there. To hear it again on the TV news would just make it worse.
His head whirled with questions. How did the security guard get himself murdered? And where were his clothes? How did anyone know about the casket in the buried house?
So many questions. He wished he was home and completely ignorant of this whole dilemma. But he had to spend an extra night away due to the fact that he had to meet the high-and-mighties at corporate downtown tomorrow. Hopefully, sometime during the night, he would be able to come up with some answers that corporate could use against the inevitable newshounds.
And what would the client think when she learned of this mess? Steve rubbed his eyes and passed his hand over the top of his head. She’ll go nuts, is what. Well, he’d just have to handle her the best he could, whenever he saw her again. He was sure he’d hear from her soon, considering what had happened on her lot in New Orleans.
The phone rang again.
“Steve.” he answered.
“Mr. Bronson, this is Professor Brown in New Orleans.”
“Oh, yes. How are things progressing?” He was surprised at the very late hours the professor seemed to keep.
“We have been very busy today, but we have made some progress. I thought I should call to let you know what our preliminary findings were on that piece of wood.”
“Ah, yes. And…?”
There was a long pause. Steve was beginning to think the connection had been lost, then Professor Brown cleared his throat. “First of all, let me reiterate that no conclusive information has been presented yet. It may take up to two weeks to be absolutely sure. But—“ another long pause—“ it is not from around here. And it’s ancient.”
“Just how ‘ancient’?” Steve was getting impatient; he wasn’t especially interested, except for the circumstances under which it had been found. He could understand the professor’s interest, but Steve had had a long day.
“At least a thousand years old. We believe it’s from a tree species that grows, or grew, in the Middle East, or perhaps in the North of Africa.”
“Wow!” That was a surprise. “Let me know what else you find. Thanks for the update.”
“Certainly. Good night.”
Steve clicked off and, since he was too tired to go anywhere for dinner, flipped the TV back on and passed through the channels. Too early to go to sleep, and nothing else to do.
The action of the rapidly-changing TV stations was mesmerizing. He found himself going into a trance of sorts, as he continued to push the button on the remote.
Beside him, next to the bed, a barely-discernible change in the air occurred as Lilith materialized as no more than a frisson of energy. She gloated to herself as she let her gaze travel down his long, lean body. As she leaned over him, she pricked the skin on his neck with a sharp demonic talon. When he absentmindedly swiped at the irritation, Lilith had to smother a giggle. Oh, she was going to enjoy this…
She licked her lips as her fangs grew. Her breath came harder and she saw the bloodlust mist as it covered her vision. Reaching out, she lunged at his shoulders—and missed completely.
His phone had rung simultaneously. She swiped at empty air as he rolled quickly to grab the phone from the nightstand.
“Hi, Lydia! How’s my favorite wife?”
At the very moment when he uttered Lydia’s name, a sudden surge of energy crashed into Lilith—a power she had not felt in eons. It picked up her still-invisible essence and threw her backwards, through the closed door and into the hallway. She kept going, straight through the next wall and back into Howard’s room.
Howard was also watching TV. He looked up, surprised, as Lilith landed in a heap in the middle of the room. She was round-eyed with surprise at what had just happened to her. Anger swiftly replaced the more vulnerable emotion.
“Went well, did it?” he asked.
“Shut up,” Lilith growled, and disappeared back through the wall.
“When do I get dinner? It’s not getting any earlier!” Howard yelled after her.
She poked her head back through the wall. “I have to think. Go find someone. But—remember, we do not want to be a threesome, so kill or go lightly. I know what Judas is capable of.”
Howard shook his head as she disappeared again. He got up and went to the refrigerator, where he pulled out a bag of red fluid. He tore off a corner with his teeth and had the contents gone in a flash.
Nasty. Well, cold blood was better than none at all. Barely. That blood bank across the street was certainly in a handy spot. In and out, invisible, and problem solved. But of course there was no challenge to it. Nothing like the hunt. He preferred hot blood from a frightened victim, the heart racing, the stream spurting into the back of his throat…
He groaned. Maybe he should call room service and have them bring up, um, “dinner”…
Lilith paced up and down the hall, frustrated. She’d tried to get back into Steve’s room again to latch onto him, but that powerful force was still present. What could be causing that? Only angels, or…worse…had that kind of power. Why would he be protected so strongly?
A tingle in the back of her head told her that her Dark Master was near. She held still, waiting.
No entities appeared, no smells of sulfur or changes in atmosphere, merely a vision worming its way into her mind.
Two vampires bent over a woman’s body in a blood-spattered room.
Lilith smiled. Her type of scenario.
Her smirk vanished as she saw unbearably bright light pass through the ceiling above them. It broke into three columns, and then manifested further into three armored Beings, each bearing a mighty sword.
Lilith gasped, then growled as she recognized one of them. Michael! The most powerful of the Creator’s heavenly host! She watched helplessly as he gave a signal to the other two beings. They rapidly dispatched the vampires, who had been so intent on the destruction of the mortal before them that they had had no idea of what was going on above them.
She then heard her Master’s voice, mere thoughts in her head. “Lydia Bronson. The one who decided to come back. These two servants you just saw destroyed were Vlad and Lucius, lost to my use for now. Michael saw to that. You know what is needed.”
Yes. Revenge! Lilith’s eyes narrowed. Revenge for what Steve’s wife had done to Vlad, revenge for the power that emanated from Lydia Bronson so strongly that it enveloped her husband in a mere phone call.
Perhaps—and Lilith smiled evilly at the thought—perhaps that power could somehow be used against Lydia, and against the Creator and his happy sheep. It was worth the risk. And if Lydia could be utterly destroyed into the bargain, well, so much the better.
Steve was a different matter.
Lilith continued to pace. She needed him as her slave, so that she could pursue her plans without questions or obstacles. But how to get to him, if she couldn’t get close enough to change him into her thrall?
She was still deeply in thought as she wandered back into Howard’s room, just in time to see him finishing off a housekeeper. The woman lay on the couch, her face frozen in terror. Her fingers were still deep in Howard’s hair, clutching, even in death trying to push him off.
“Howard! Dammit!” Lilith stomped over and, disentangling the woman’s fingers, rolled him off of her. He had the good sense to look embarrassed.
“She just…came in,” he explained helplessly. “I guess she thought the room was empty. I couldn’t help myself.” He frowned at Lilith. “It’s your fault for taking so long.”
Lilith rolled her eyes and sighed. Then the hot, coppery smell of the victim’s blood hit her nose, and she groaned with hunger and desire. Without another thought, Lilith fell on the hapless victim and completed the job of emptying her of life.
Then she got up and looked at Howard. “What. pray tell, did you plan on doing about the body? I am fairly sure she’ll be missed. And the rest of the staff will know she came up here.”
Howard looked lost. He hadn’t given any thought to the consequences, only that he hadn’t hunted in far too long. A bag of pilfered, donated blood just wasn’t enough.
Suddenly the body stirred. The housekeeper sat up, eyes red and mad, new fangs glistening.
Lilith blew out her breath in frustration. “Oh, you’ve done it again, Judas. I’m pretty certain it wasn’t Howard. Another mouth to feed. Well,” she sighed, “you can keep her, but you’re responsible for her.”
Howard looked over at his newly-awakened offspring. A thought came to mind almost immediately, one that would actually make her useful. He asked her, “How would you like to be my personal assistant in a new business venture?”
The new vampire nodded dumbly. She had her mind on blood, not a career.
Howard looked over at Lilith and shrugged. “Well, we have to start somewhere.”
He got another bag from the refrigerator and handed it to the new staff member. “Finish this off. We’ll hunt later.”
* * *
Steve sat at the bar, toying with his nachos, and waited.
He had been very surprised when he found out that Delilah had also arrived in Seattle; surprised even further when she told him, over the phone, where she was staying—right here in the same hotel.
So even though it was late by his standards, Steve had gotten himself presentable and had come down to wait for her. He wasn’t looking forward to what he had to tell her about her New Orleans lot.
How he wished he could have just gotten into his car at the airport and driven home tonight. But he had a lot of fires to put out at corporate, and home was a couple of hours away. What should have been a routine update on a build in New Orleans had become a media nightmare, and it would take all of his energy and intellect to get through this.
He noted his reflection in the mirror behind the bar, and was startled to see how tired he looked. Home and Lydia would help him immensely, but unfortunately that was not in his immediate future.
He glanced to the bar entrance again, and saw Delilah framed in the doorway. Fresh-looking as a flower; not for the first time, he marveled at the resilience of youth. She was accompanied by a man whose face Steve knew, but couldn’t quite place. He looked like he was in his late thirties perhaps, with longish hair, and somewhat uncomfortable in what seemed to be brand-new clothes.
Delilah met Steve’s gaze and smiled. But instead of coming over to meet him where he sat at the nearly empty bar, she and her companion took seats at a table near the door. She motioned for him to join them.
Puzzled, Steve gathered up his plate of nachos and his drink and walked over to their table. Delilah smiled brightly at him as he sat down.
“Steve, it’s so good to see you again. What a surprise to find you here, in the same hotel. Isn’t it, Howard?” She had to nudge her companion, who was looking at the drinks menu.
Delilah frowned as Howard returned to perusing the menu.
Steve tried to return her smile, but those facial muscles were already in bed, asleep. The best he could muster was a sincere effort at a twitch at one side of his mouth.
Delilah looked concerned. “Is something wrong?”
Steve rubbed his eyes; their lids were strongly hinting that they’d like to join his smile muscles.
“No, not with me,” he replied wearily. “Just exhausted. I was up at four this morning and it’s almost midnight now. That is a really long day, when you add in the time difference.” He drew a sigh and squared his shoulders for what he had to say.
“Delilah,” he began, “I don’t know if you heard, but your lot in New Orleans is off-limits indefinitely.”
“What??” She obviously hadn’t heard. “Whatever for? I mean, once the archaeologists and history officials are done with it, what’s to keep me from building over it? If they want to pull the house up, I’m willing to wait, but…”
“Um—there’s been trouble. Big trouble. Two murders on the scene. One inside the house itself.”
Delilah was speechless.
Steve continued, “I’m really sorry about this. Looks like the murders were gang-related—at least one, anyway. There’s already so much tension between the rival gangs in the area that there’s bound to be an outbreak of revenge and counter-revenge. The police have sealed the place up tight. That entire neighborhood has had extra patrols put on it, and if anyone on the streets even sneezes funny, well…let’s just say it’s a good idea to steer clear for a while.”
Delilah sat in silence, thinking. After a moment, her smile returned. “Oh well, not much we can do, then. Just—leave it. I’ll pay everyone what I owe for all the hard work they did, plus a week’s wages for time lost.”
She leaned over and gazed into Steve’s eyes. “Besides, I have some other irons in the fire.”
Steve stared back. Those eyes! So…beautiful. So mystifying…so…NOT LYDIA!
He tore his gaze away, deciding that now would be a good time to make his acquaintance with Delilah’s companion. The poor guy was obviously bored; Steve wondered why he was even there if Delilah was paying so little attention to him, and way too much to himself.
“Sounds good, but who’s your friend here?” Steve held out his hand as Delilah nudged Howard. “I’m Steve Bronson. I was on the site to help with Delilah’s plans for her lot. As you heard, it’s at a standstill.”
The man glanced a bit sourly at Delilah, then shook Steve’s hand, smiling affably enough.
Ah-ha! Steve thought to himself. So that’s why he looked familiar.
“I thought I recognized you.” Steve was diplomatic enough to avoid mentioning why he had heard of Howard Messer. Practically everyone in the media had nicknamed him “Howard Mess-up”. Everything he touched turned to chaos and disappointment.
Howard’s smile faded a little, then returned just as quickly. The silence that followed became a bit awkward. Neither man knew what to say that wouldn’t be stupid or insulting.
Delilah finally intervened. “I met Howard in New Orleans, and I’ve agreed to underwrite his new business. And it’s going to be based right here, near Seattle!” Delilah looked as happy as if she’d just won the lottery.
Steve could only stare, dumbfounded. Was she the only person left on earth who hadn’t heard of Mr. Messer’s famous business nosedives?
“You’re sure about this? I mean,” Steve added hastily, seeing Howard’s frown, “do you have the funds to see such a plan off the ground, and the means to keep it going until it is a success?
“Oh, yes, I’m sure I do. Daddy has lots of money, and Howard’s idea is just the perfect thing for what he wants to invest in.” She smiled indulgently at her friend.
Steve was interested in spite of himself. “And what is it, may I ask?”
“Medical research. Specifically, blood-borne pathogens. Finding what’s wrong and making it right. We still have a lot of planning to do,” here she took Howard’s arm and smiled joyfully at him, “but we can take our time, hire the right people, all of that.”
You’d think she was talking about planning a wedding, Steve thought to himself. He had to force himself not to roll his eyes.
He smiled at the two of them. “Well, I hope it all goes well with you. Best of luck.” He raised his glass, realizing only now that neither Delilah nor Howard had ordered a drink.
Delilah looked surprised. “Oh, you’ll be right along with us—you and your company. We plan on hiring you to renovate the building complex I’m buying.”
Steve set down his glass a trifle hard. He was not ready for this little surprise.
“Really? And do you have a place picked out?” He toyed with his drink, trying to cover his astonishment. As he raised the glass to his lips, he waited for her reply.
“Oh yes. A big place a couple of hours’ drive from here. Used to be owned by Magma Enterprises.”
The glass fell from Steve’s hand. He stared at Delilah, the shock evident on his face.
Magma? That’s where Lydia worked. Where…”
“Steve? What’s wrong?” Delilah was mopping up his drink while he stared, unseeing, remembering the horrors that had taken place there not so many years ago.
“Steve?” Delilah patted his hand, making him jump. He snapped back to the present.
“Huh? Oh, sorry, did you say ‘Magma’? That burnt-out shell that’s been rotting on the hill overlooking Morningview?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s it. Why? Is something wrong with it?”
“It’s just…no one’s been able to do anything with it since Magma folded. Vagrants break in for shelter occasionally, but never stay the night there. Investigators, both police and paranormal, have tried to explore the place, but run out, unable to stay more than an hour.”
“Haunted?” Howard leaned over, showing more interest now than in the entire time he’d been occupying space at the table. “That’s perfect. I love the challenge!” He smiled, delighted.
“Yes—or worse,” Steve answered him. “I wouldn’t spend a minute there, myself.” He shuddered at the thought.
“I hope you change your mind.” Delilah touched Steve’s chin, turned his face to look into her eyes.
He fell into their blackness, floated along in their silky softness, rolled in their embrace. He heard himself muttering, “…’k…”
Wait–what have I just agreed to?
That thought broke the hold she had over him, and he shook his head, hard. Then he rubbed his eyes yet again.
“I’m sorry, Delilah, Howard. I have got to get to sleep. My mind’s playing tricks on me.”
Delilah arched an eyebrow. “Really.” She sounded amused.
Something’s wrong here…Steve got up quickly, almost knocking over his chair. “I’ll, um…see you around maybe.”
“Yes. Tomorrow, in fact. Bright and early. We’ll fill out the paperwork at the office.” Delilah looked like the cat that had eaten the canary. She smiled and looked out at him from under hooded eyes as she toyed with a strand of her hair.
Steve looked surprised. “Paperwork?”
Delilah grinned happily. “Yes, of course. You just agreed to be my foreman on the project, remember?”