Out of the Frying Pan

My one good eye cranked open inside a dimly lit room much different from Bathory's dungeon. The other was still swollen shut. Nestled in a plush, white bed, with a fluffy down comforter, I ran my hand across the smooth fabric of the sheets and glanced around the room. Clean lines. Dark wood nightstand with stainless steel pull. A rice paper screen. A silver-blue straight back chair. Where was I? Desperately, I tried to sit up to get a better look, but a sharp pain thwarted my efforts.


"I think you have a broken rib," Julius said from behind me.

With some effort, I rolled over to face him. He sat at a larger-than-life desk made of the same almost-black wood of the nightstand. Hunched over a stack of papers, he read by the light of a silver candelabra. That's why the room was so dim. No electric lights. Only candles.

Carefully, I positioned myself to get a better idea of my chances of escape. Comfortable accommodations but not a window in sight. A heavy wooden door was closed up tight, probably locked. Was this a different type of prison? Or maybe Anna and Julius were working together, a good-cop, bad-cop scenario.

"I'd offer you pain medication, but we have none. Doesn't work on vampires. We have no need for it here. I do, however, have some 1939 Macallan scotch, if you'd like." His blue eyes didn't lift from the document he was reading.

"No, thanks. I've already been poisoned once tonight. I don't need to make the same mistake twice."

He lifted his head and straightened in his chair. "If I wanted you dead, I would have drained you of every last drop of blood while you were asleep. It's not as if you were putting up much of a fight and your blood is..." He shook his head and grinned as if even the thought of drinking my blood gave him pleasure. "Besides, if I was going to taint a beverage with poison it most certainly wouldn't be a ten thousand dollar bottle of scotch."

He had a point. "Okay. I'll take a glass."

Julius rose and crossed the room to a credenza bar where he poured two fingers of bronze colored liquid from a crystal decanter.

"Am I a prisoner?"

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He lowered his shoulders in mock frustration. "Does this look like a dungeon?"

"There are no windows, the door is closed, and I'm still in my slip."

Scotch flowed into a second glass. "It's daylight. I didn't have time to find your dress. You are in my bedroom, underground. There are no windows because I would go up in smoke if there were."

"One can only hope."

He handed me one of the glasses and sipped from the other. "Is that any way to treat the vampire who rescued you?"

I looked toward the ceiling. "Are we under Tiltworld?" The last time I'd seen Julius, his coven had taken up residence in a carnival fun house called the Barn Blast.

"Actually, we've moved to more permanent accommodations. You won't blame me for not divulging the address."

With a wave of my still-bloody hand, I dismissed his comment. "Why did you rescue me? It's not like we're besties. How in the world did you even know where I was?" I took a swig of the scotch. The intense liquor burned its way down my throat and warmed me to my toes. I coughed a few times.

He ran a hand through his hair, loosing a straight lock that fell over his forehead. "I've had you followed for months. Gary volunteered."

A memory from a few months back slipped to the front of my brain. I'd smelled Gary's cologne while climbing into my Jeep after work. At the time, I hadn't known he was a vamp. "Gary? Why?" Julius was evil, but having Gary follow me 24/7 seemed excessive even for him.

"My coven can not allow Anna Bathory to gain access to the book."

"What book?"

He laughed until he showed fang.

"Listen, like I told Anna, I don't know where the Book of Flesh and Bone is. I'm not sure why she thinks I have it, but I don't."

"Oh please. Do we have to do this every fucking time?" He slammed the glass down on his desk. "Stop playing coy with me, Hecate. You must know, if the book wasn't somewhere on your property, the Nekomata wouldn't be nosing around your house."

I stared at him for a beat. "You know about the Nekomata?"

"Every supernatural being this side of the Appalachians knows about the Nekomata," he hissed.

I shook my head. "Explain."

He sighed heavily as if trying to decide if he should indulge me. "For many years, rumor among our kind suggested they took the book after your death."

"The Nekomata?"

"Yes." Julius shot me an annoyed look. "They are drifters, like your human stereotype of gypsies. They collect things. It is well known that the Pryth Clan frequented New England at the time of your death, scavenging goods from the dead. Thanks to drought, war, and hysteria, there was an abundance of dead."


"But they can't carry everything they steal. Like pirates, they bury their booty to retrieve at a later date. They seal it in vault under the earth. So, you see, when one comes around after so much time, word gets out."

I lowered my eyebrows, which hurt because of my busted face. "Why now? It's been hundreds of years. Why wouldn't the Nekomata come before this?"

Julius downed his drink and returned to the credenza to pour another. Did vampires get drunk? I wasn't sure. "The Nekomata seal their treasure inside a vault they create in the Earth. Always near a gravesite, since their magic uses the dead. Only during specific celestial events may the vault be opened. As it so happens, the winter solstice is but days away."

"The winter solstice happens every year. Why now? Why this year?"

"Because this is the first year that the hiding place will be accessible to the Nekomata, dear witch. This is the first year that your house is not your own." He pointed at me with conviction as if I'd done something wrong.

"So, you're suggesting that the Nekomata are buying my house because the Book of Flesh and Bone is buried somewhere on my property in a Pryth clan vault, but they can't get to it without buying my house because of the spell of protection my predecessor put on the place."

He nodded slowly. Julius' mouth spread into a wide, toothy grin. "Your dear old friend died before her time, before she could transfer the title of the house to you."


"When she left the house to your father, she meant it for you." He snorted. "Didn't work out. Perfect time for the Nekomata to strike."

"So, the Nekomata got word the house was for sale. It's been for sale for two years. Why not come earlier?"

He lowered himself back into the leather desk chair and stared at me like I was dense.

"Any protective spell you had on the house would be fully in force until you returned. But a transitioning witch is vulnerable. You should have reinforced the spell when you had the chance. Now, it is already beginning to weaken."

"I thought you were behind the sale, Mr. Helleborine."

"Who is Mr. Helleborine? I know the name... Helleborine is an herb you should be quite familiar with, Hecate, but I have never gone by that name."

I looked at him skeptically. "Someone going by that name tried to buy my house earlier this year."

"It was not me, although I wouldn't put it past Anna. She can't be happy about the nekomata getting the book."

"Why? I'm sure she could compel it out of their hands in a heartbeat. She's probably behind the purchase."

"Poor. Dear. Ignorant. Witch." He sighed. "Nekomata and vampires are natural enemies. A nekomata bite is deadly to us and, no, they can't be compelled. They're immune. No nekomata in their right mind would help Anna."

"So, she's trying to get to it before they do."

He shook his head. "Maybe, but I'm not sure why. A Pryth clan vault can only be opened by nekomata magic. It can not be forced open by muscle or any other natural means." He sipped his scotch and stared at a spot on the wall.

"What about magic? She had a leprechaun in her employ. Aren't they, like, super-sorcerers?"

"I'm not sure even a leprechaun could bypass nekomata magic, but I'd rather not find out. You must have wondered why I sent Gary with the money. You are not so naive to believe it was out of the goodness of my heart." He chuckled.

My lips parted. No, I hadn't trusted Julius' gift, and I still didn't. I turned his words over in my mind, wondering what parts I should believe. I decided, in this case, the shock of honesty might be just what I needed to shake him up. "Nekomata bought my house. It isn't mine anymore. We haven't closed on the sale yet, but unless a miracle happens, it's his."

Julius stood up, knocking his chair back with a clatter. "How? I sent you the money. Why didn't you buy the house?"

"I tried! He bought it first before I could get a loan."

Julius began to pace in front of the door. "This is undesirable."

"You don't say." I pressed a finger into my lips. "There's something I don't understand. You think the Book of Flesh and Bone is hidden on my property. If Anna and everybody else knows about the nekomata, why is she coming after me? The city is swarming with supernaturals looking for this thing. If there was any rumor it was in or around my house, why are they in the city and not Red Grove?"

"Anna Bathory has compelled every supernatural creature within a one hundred mile radius to help her find the book. But make no mistake; she doesn't actually want any of them to find it. Her purpose is to raise an army, so that should the nekomata obtain the grimoire first, they will never be able to leave with it. Believe me, if the book were hidden anywhere but on your property, Anna would already have it. The fact that she doesn't proves it is still protected by your magic. I suspect that's why she might've killed you tonight, to see if your death would break the enchantment."

Shit. So, Bathory wanted me dead. Great. "One more question. Why don't you want the book, Julius?"

He stood, leaving his glass at the desk and folding his hands behind his back. With a stony expression, he paced toward me, approaching the bed like a predator. I noticed for the first time that his low-slung jeans and silver waffle weave shirt concealed an impressive physique. Smarmy, yes, but at one time Julius had been an attractive specimen of a man. I briefly wondered how he'd become a vampire.

He stopped at my side. "I do want the book, Hecate, as much as I want the blood that courses through your veins. You have no reason to trust me. You shouldn't trust me. I was a bad man, and I've become an even worse vampire. Even now I am tempted to drink your blood until I can feel the suction of your veins collapsing and hear the fading rhythm of your heart. Watching you pale would give me great pleasure."

I stiffened in his bed. He was too close. His face lowered toward my broken body.

"But you see, my dear witch, I find myself in the unenviable position of needing to keep you alive. For as much as I want the book, Anna is the older, more powerful vampire. If she gets her hands on it, we will all become her immortal slaves. I'm not willing to bow to her or lose my coven."

The cold curl of his breath forced me back on the mattress. He was in my face now and his fangs had dropped. His blue eyes fixated on my neck.

"Then you'd better keep me alive."

"If the house has already sold, maybe it doesn't matter." A trace of evil permeated his voice, his previously congenial tone swept away by a hungry, lascivious glare.

"Better safe than sorry."

"I best not kill you," he said, more to himself than to me. His icy cold hand swept down my arm to my bloody and bruising wrist. He lifted it above my head, pressing it into the pillow.

I whimpered. The injuries caused by Bathory's ropes throbbed under his touch.

At the sound of my pain, he inhaled deeply. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed him adjust himself in his jeans. He was hard, and I was in trouble. Flattening my back to his bed, I was too weak to do much else. He collected my other wrist and pinned it above my head.

"They say a witch's blood tastes like silk and gives the energy of ten humans." He parted my knees with his own and stretched out on top of me, propping his weight on his elbows as he restrained my arms. He settled his hips between my legs.

"Please don't." My heart was pounding. My rib ached as his body pressed into mine. With no energy to fight back, a tear rolled down my cheek.

His tongue lapped over my jugular.

"You need me, remember? Don't do it, Julius."

Cool breath chilled the wet spot he'd left on my skin. "Just a taste. I can stop."

I braced myself for the strike but nothing could prepare me for the pain. Unlike with Rick, my flesh didn't part for his teeth; it fought the invasion. I screamed in agony as he ripped into me. I cried in earnest, the sounds of his swallowing bringing back memories of my last death, when Marcus had killed me.

My chest felt heavy, heart struggling against the loss of blood. I was tired. All I had to do was close my eyes and I might never wake up again. "Julius, stop," I rasped.

"Mmm." Julius groaned into my neck. He wasn't going to stop. He was going to kill me.

Rick, help me, I thought one last time. I fought to remain conscious.

Suddenly, a section of the ceiling exploded, wood beams and brick blowing into the room. Light poured through the hole, sending Julius fleeing to the safety of the shadow behind his desk. Sweet sunshine washed over me, around an impressive silhouette. I didn't have to see his face. Deep inside, the most instinctual part of me knew it was Rick. He'd come for me. Even though he hated me, he'd come for me.

To the sound of Poe's caw in the background, Rick hastily swept me up into his arms. What happened next wasn't his fault. He didn't know he shouldn't have moved me. As he folded my body in half, all of the blood rushed from my head and my rib slipped. I couldn't draw a breath. And then I was gone again. I'd lost myself.

Deep, buried under the darkness at the bottom of an ocean, I was drowning. I gulped the salt water, filling my mouth. Too late. It was too late. I'd never reach the surface. Arms flailing, I struggled. It had been forever since my last real breath of air. Was I already dead?

"Mi cielo, breathe, breathe darling."

Rick. I swallowed what was in my mouth. Not salt water, but blood. His blood. A reflexive gasp broke my lips, and I cranked my good eye open. The sun poured in. I absorbed its energy into my very soul. Pain screamed through my body, Rick's blood working from the inside out. As unpleasant as the hurt was, the ache told me I wasn't dead; I was healing. I was alive. I was alive!

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