Monday, November 10, 2014

Zombie Goddess (Bloodlines #6) - Chapter 2

This is the unedited, rough draft of my current wip. Enjoy!

* * *
I sighed and ran a hand through my hair. Mai had a faintly amused look on her face. Staci sniffed the pulsing heart.

Quinn raced around the desk, grabbed Staci’s trashcan and proceeded to vomit.

“It smells like some breed of deer,” Staci offered. “But it’s not one I’m familiar with.”

“At least, it’s not a human heart,” I said.

“Or brains.” Mai now wore a full-blown smirk.

I groaned. “I’m afraid that may be next. Was there a card?”

Staci handed me an ivory envelope. “I smelled the ozone when I took this off the box.”

I sniffed the envelope as well. No ozone indicating magick, but another scent lay under the paper. One that was all-too-familiar.

Best to get this over with. I slid a nail under the flap. The matching card had the expected cinnamon writing of dried blood. I couldn’t make heads or tails of the neat script. The first two suitors had the grace to write their notes in English.

I held up the card for Mai to see. “Got a clue?”

“It’s Hindi.” She reached for the radio hooked in her waistband. “I’ll get Kunal up here to translate.”

“You okay back there, Quinn?” I called. The sound of him puking had subsided, so my attention returned to the beating heart.

“Yeah,” he muttered. “Wanna tell me what’s going on?”

Unfortunately, my secretary opened her giant canine yap. “There are…entities that believe Ms. Ridgeway is marrying below her station.” She reached into one of her drawers and produced a canister. “Here.”

The witch stood and yanked a couple of anti-bacterial wipes from the dispenser. “Thanks.” He eyes met mine. “You’re the zombie, right?”

Not a zombie. The zombie. I wasn’t exactly the fresh-from-the-grave type. More like Frankenstein’s monster.

If Frankenstein had been the Borg Queen.

“What? The black aura wasn’t a dead giveaway?” I said sourly.

Of course, my stomach took that opportunity to growl, which meant all three of them stared at me.

Mai’s brow furrowed. “When was the last time you ate, Sam?”

Before she finished speaking, Staci was on the phone, calling the kitchen. “I need three T-bones, a pound of garlic mashed potatoes, a pint of peas and two loaves of oatmeal sourdough bread.”

I made my best pleading face. “Chocolate souffl├ęs?”

She relayed my request.

I could hear the chef say he was out, but he still had caramel fudge brownies. “Yes! Feed me!” I yelled. My mouth watered at the thought.

Staci placed her hand over the receiver. “You two want anything?”

Mai shook her head. Quinn’s wide-eyed gaze shifted between me and Staci as she placed her own order.

Someone knocked on the door.

“Come in,” Staci and I yelled at the same time.

As much as I wanted those brownies, I knew it couldn’t be the waitstaff yet. Kunal stepped into the room. The vampire bowed to me, then Mai. “You requested my assistance, Ms. Osaka?”

She handed him the card. “Can you translate this for me?”

His dark eyes flicked over the scrawl. Instantly, his eyes glowed neon yellow, and his fans extended. The ashy scent of fear radiated from him, and his face paled, which is no mean trick for a vampire originally from India. He threw the card away from him. “What is the meaning of this?” he hissed. “If this is a joke—”

“I’m not so insensitive that I’d open up the Karnak to a discrimination lawsuit.” I stooped to pick up the paper from the carpet and rose. “Someone else sent it to me. I need to know what it says.”

“It—” The vampire cleared his throat. His eyes had dimmed, but his wicked-looking canines still poked between his lips. “It asks for your hand in marriage.”

Shit, someone was upping the ante in this perverse game. “Who sent it?” I snapped.

“Y-y-yama,” Kunal managed to spit out.

“He’s the Hindu god of death, right?” I’d been studying up on religions since this whole madness started during the summer.

Kunal stiffened. “He is subordinate to Siva, but yes.” He hissed his “S”s like a pissed off cobra, but he didn’t coat my face in saliva like a certain human bitch had earlier. Which brought me back to my original foul mood.

I handed Staci the manila envelope I’d been holding the entire time. “I need you to call Colin for me. Scan and e-mail this to him.”

“What is that?” Of course, the hyper-alert Mai would butt in, but I wasn’t about to discuss this in front of vampires and witches I didn’t know very well, so I did my usual.

I ignored her.

I smiled at Quinn. “You sure we can’t offer you dinner for your assistance?”

“That’s all right.” He glanced at the styrofoam. Deep avocado tinted his dark coffee skin.

“Kunal, would you please escort Quinn to accounting?” Mai said. Leave it to her to clear the room. “They should have his check ready.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Another set of bows before the men departed. The whole deference thing really creeped me out. There was a certain amount of protocol since Duncan was the head vampire of Las Vegas now, but still…

I could see Mai mentally ticking off the time for Kunal to get out of hearing range before she turned and said, “What’s in that envelope?”

The barely audible squish and suck sounds of the deer heart trying to pump nonexistent blood was getting to me. I flipped the foam lid back into place. “Lily and I got sued tonight by her daughter.”

“Why? Parade of Stars is a tribute act.”

“No shit. They have Elvis impersonators, and you don’t see Lisa Marie flying off the handle.” I slumped into one of the visitor’s chairs.

“Didn’t you have an attorney check any potential problems?”

I folded my arms over my chest. The card with the blood ink still clutched in my hand crackled. “Yes.” I couldn’t just kill Duncan’s head of security. Well, actually, I could, but then he’d give me that perturbed look he gets when he thinks I’ve really fucked up. Besides, Mai was one of the few people, Normal or supernatural, who didn’t run screaming into the night over my…peculiarities.

“Then why—”

“Because she can. Because she misses her mommy. Because even though we’ll probably win this case, she can drag it out for years to make us miserable.” I rolled my head, trying to stretch out the kinks. For all the super-strength, super-speed and super-appetite, tension still sent shooting pains up my neck when I was upset.

My arms dropped to my lap, and I leaned forward. “I’m more worried about what this will do to Lily. I think tonight is the first time I really understood why there are the rules about not mixing with your Normal family.” My parents and older brother were rare exceptions to the rule, but unlike Lilianne who actually buried her mother, my family hadn’t known I had died until after I’d been resurrected.

“Do you think she might try to tell her daughter the truth?” Mai was back in enforcer mode. Considering she was one of the very few Normal enforcers in the Augustine coven, she was totally capable of putting down Lily permanently if she believed my zombie spawn was a threat to the vampires. Nor would she hesitate to do so.

Despite my concern about Lily, I said, “I don’t know. I honestly do not know.”

* * *
After all of the night’s bullshit, I had the kitchen send my dinner up to the penthouse. I pulled on an ancient Spice Girls t-shirt and some sweats before I settled into the evening’s meal. I was licking the last of the dozen caramel fudge brownies off my fingers when our private elevator dinged.

The doors slid open, and the familiar scent of sandalwood enveloped me. As usual since his master assigned us to Vegas, Duncan dressed impeccably. Today was a charcoal suit and an emerald tie that matched his eyes. The green silk was loose instead of its proper Windsor knot.

That should have been my first clue that something wasn’t right.

But it had been such a bad day that all I wanted was to cuddle. I scooted over on the couch to make room for him.

He actually looked tired as he sat down next to me. Faint lines fanned from his gorgeous eyes. Additional lines dragged his mouth into a frown. I paused the episode of Buddies I had been watching while I ate and snuggled against his chest. His arms wrapped around me.

I listened to his ultra-slow heartbeat for a while before I said, “I think this job is getting to you.”

“It is not my current position that troubles me.”

The weariness in his voice sank through my ugly mood. “Mai blabbed.”

“She did not blab. She did her duty as head of security.”

“It was nothing.” I dared a peek at his face.

That scowled down at me. “Nothing?” The neon green glow of his eyes brightened the dim room. “Someone sent you an animated animal heart.”

“The latest stupid-ass rumor is getting out of hand.” And it was royally pissing me off. “As if I didn’t have enough problems.”

“It is not a rumor, and you know it,” he said softly. Ash and rotten oranges overrode his sandalwood. This thing was bothering him a lot more than he wanted to admit.

“Bebe’s wrong,” I said.

“What if she is not? Are you saying Phillippa’s father is lying? That the Incan god of death also lied to her and Alex?”

I sat up and glared at him. “I admit I’m a fucked up science project, but humans can’t just create a god. It’s not possible.”

He matched my glare. “And you know this how? What makes you an expert in what is possible?”

It would have helped my cause if my eyes glowed too. But that was one little thing missing from my growing arsenal of powers. The wonky ones I still fought to control.

And I could feel that tenuous control slipping.

I jumped up from the couch. I couldn’t be this close him. With my sketchy telepathic control, I’d accidentally transmit some thought I’d regret. And I hadn’t told him about the visit I received the day his niece Tiffany had married my brother Max. So I did what I usually do when I was scared.

I went on the attack.

“You’re supposed to be on my side!”

“I am on your side, darling.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “That does not mean I will ignore obvious truths because I am uncomfortable with them.”

I threw up my hands. “Who shoved this stupid idea into everyone’s head? A couple of gods who are known to get their jollies from fucking with humans.”

“You’re not human, Samantha. Not anymore.”

He couldn’t have hurt me any worse if he’s punched me in the gut. I swiped the tears I couldn’t stop. “You’re a dick, St. James.”

“I’m not trying—” He closed his eyes, a pained expression on his face. Whatever else he was going to say he swallowed and rose. “Maybe it’s best if I return to my duties.” He didn’t bother to use the elevator.

Once the stairwell door slammed shut, I walked over to the balcony. A push on the sliding glass doors let in the desert night. Cool, dry air brushed my skin, and I stepped outside.

The neon lights or the black shadows didn’t draw my attention. Instead the ugly stain on the pristine tile consumed me. It matched another stain on the street in front of Caesar’s Brentwood mansion. Stains on the very fabric of the universe that I discovered only Phil’s dad, the Greek god of war, and I could see.

Bebe said that crimson teeth had come through both places. That those teeth had shredded and consumed the souls of the men who had died on those spots. But she didn’t see the residual scars.

I was too damn scared to fly to Peru to see if there were similar stains on the Nazca plain where Phil and Alex had fought some weird extra-dimensional demon. Because it meant Ares and my other suitor, Supay aka the Incan god of death, were right about what the nanites were turning me into. Yama’s proposal didn’t help my state of denial whatsoever.

While the desert breeze felt good on my bare arms, the stain only agitated my thoughts more. I walked back inside and closed both the glass doors and the heavy drapes. Curling up on the couch, I hugged myself and ran through my options.

I needed help. Neither Supay or Yama had a reason to be straight with me.

But maybe, just maybe, Ares would respect my friendship with his daughter enough that I could get some real answers. I reached for my smartphone and pulled up Phil’s home number.

I prayed I wasn’t making a big mistake.

Then a worse thought occurred. Was I even allowed to pray to a god if I was becoming one?

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