I love my cat. She's a pain in the ass, but she's dependable and has never once told me to change my shirt because I look like a crack whore in periwinkle blue. Heck, the whole reason I was in this fix was, in part, because of Giselle, but I hadn't gotten rid of her, or even snacked on her. I was definitely a cat person.

Which was why it was unbelievably annoying to discover dogs find me irresistible. Before I woke up in the funeral home, I had ignored dogs, and they had ignored me, and we'd gone about our separate business. No longer.

Advertisement

By the time I'd gotten out of my car and walked a block, nearly a dozen dogs were following me. They were relentless in their adoration. When I turned to kick them away, they darted closer and licked my ankles and grinned big goofy doggy grins. I don't know why it hadn't happened the other night when I was prowling around Lake Street trying to kill myself in a variety of ways. Maybe my vampire pheromones took time to kick in.

As if the slobbering pack wasn't bad enough, my ears were still ringing from the scolding Jessica had given me. To sum up, she thought going out alone to meet a stranger who knew I was a vampire was a) crazy, and b) stupid, and if I was going to do such a thing, I was c) crazy and stupid. I pointed out that it'd be even nuttier to bring my fragile, mortal pal along for the ride. When I left she was willfully messing up my cupboards. She knows it makes me nuts when I can't find things.

I had parked my car in a prohibitively expensive ramp and was getting close to Barnes and Noble, when a filthy, mud-spattered black limousine screeched up beside me. The dogs (there were eight: three black labs, a corgi, a golden retriever, two enormously fat poodles, and a mutt of indistinct parentage; they all had collars and were trailing leashes) were startled by the noise, and I took advantage of that to hiss, "Get lost!" All of the limo's doors popped open...

"Huh?"

-- Advertisement --

...and several pairs of hard hands grabbed me...

"Hey!"

...and stuffed me inside. The door slammed shut, and off we went.

"I knew this would happen," I informed my captors. "Just so you know." My captors-there were four, and they made The Rock look anemic and puny-were all holding large wooden crosses at arm's length to ward me off. One of them was agitating a small, stoppered bottle, which I took to be holy water. They were a little tense, but hardly stinking of fear. They'd done this before. "Which one of you fellas called me?"

Dead silence.

"Well, okay, be that way, but I'm not scared. Actually, this is sort of bringing me back to prom night. The rough handling, the over-the-top limo, the sullen date...ah, it all comes back."

The one directly across from me snorted, but the other three remained Sphinx-like in their immobility. They all looked like vague clones of one another: broad through the chest, well over six feet tall, with big hands and big smelly feet. They all needed a shave, and they all had dirty blonde hair and brown eyes, and smelled like Old Spice mixed with cherry cough syrup.

"Are you guys brothers?" I asked. Nothing. "Well, then, do you all have cocker spaniels? Because you know that saying, about how people start to look like their pets after a while? Because you guys look like cocker spaniels, if spaniels could walk erect and shave most of the hair off of their bodies. And talk. Assuming you guys talk. Which I shouldn't assume, because none of you have said a word. It's just me doing all the chatting. Which is fine, I don't mind carrying the burden of conversation, though it's just this sort of thing that drives my stepsmother up a tree. It-"

"Shut up," the one on the end said.

I folded my arms across my chest. "Make me," I said, fearlessly if immaturely.

The spaniel on the end leaned and shoved his cross closer to me. I toyed with the idea of grabbing it, breaking it into a thousand toothpicks, and using one of the toothpicks to clean my teeth, but a) there wasn't anything in my teeth, b) it seemed vaguely disrespectful to the cross, and c) I didn't want to tip my hand. They were holding crosses and holy water and they felt safe. I was in no hurry to disabuse them of their quaint notions about vampires.

As I decided this, I realized the spaniel was still brandishing his cross about four inches from the end of my nose. "No, ah, no, please, it burns," I said politely. And stopped talking, which is what they seemed to prefer. Well, it was nothing to me. I decided to enjoy the scenery.

I groaned when we pulled up outside...a cemetery! (Mwah-hah-hah! Who knows...what evil...lurks... in the hearts...of men. Oh, puke.)

"Come on, you guys," I complained as they prodded me from the limo. "Must we live out every stereotype? If you're taking me to see a guy in a cape, I'll be very upset."

We tromped through the sufficiently spooky cemetery, complete with de rigueur moonlit tombstones, eerie owl hoots (in the middle of Minneapolis?), and large, spooky, utterly silent mausoleums. We paused outside the largest and spookiest. According to the six-inch high letters, this was the CARLSON family mausoleum, a pretty typical name for a region settled by Norwegians.

"Ooooh, the CARLSON mausoleum," I mocked, as the Cocker Boys struggled with the heavy door. "How sinister! What's next, a plate of lutefisk and square dancing? Need a hand with that?" They did not; the door was finally swinging open. "What, no scary creaking sound from rusty hinges? Better get that looked into-don't shove, I'm going."

I plodded down the seven steps, past the big stone coffins, through a stone archway, and down another twelve steps. Obviously underground, this room was well lit by-of course-torches. There were several people milling about the room, but my gaze went to one right away.

He was unbelievable. Easily the most amazing-looking man I'd ever seen outside of Playgirl. Tall, very tall-at least four inches taller than me, and I'm not petite. He had thick, inky black hair that swept back from his face in lush waves. Not many men could have pulled off the Elvis hair swirl thing, but this guy had it. His features were classically handsome: strong nose, good chin, nice broad forehead. His eyes were beautiful and frightening: deepest black, with a hard glitter to them, like stars shining in the dark winter sky. And his mouth was saved from being tender by a cruel twist of the upper lip.

And his body! He was so broad through the shoulders I wondered how he'd fit through the door, and his arms looked thick and powerful. The charcoal suit superbly set off his long frame, and speaking of long, his fingers were slim and straight; they looked deft and capable. Pianist's hands. Surgeon's hands. His shoes were-whoa! Were those Ferragamos? And why was he standing in a puddle? I started to edge toward him to get another look, when I glanced at his face again. Almost as interesting as his incredible good looks was the fact that he looked as disgusted to be there as I was.

There were other people in the room, too. I guess. Who the hell cared?

"Ah, gentlemen, you bring our newest acolyte!"

The overly-booming voice-not, sad to say, from the fella I was admiring--brought me back to myself in a hurry. Yes, there were other people in the room. Other pale people, in fact. Pale, with glittery eyes and white, sharp teeth. Except they looked ill. Too pale, even for vampires, and thin, and cold, and ragged. They huddled together and stared at the speaker. They would have been scary if they hadn't looked so pathetic.

"Now, Miss Taylor, as our newest supplicant, you will be allowed to feed in just a moment. All of you will, in fact." At this, the horde looked absurdly grateful.

The speaker was approaching me from the far side of the chilly stone room. He wasn't nearly as impressive as the other guy: medium height, slightly chubby around the middle, a cleft chin (what Jessica would call, with unfailing tact, "an ass face"), watery blue eyes. And-(groan!)-dressed in a black tuxedo. Not a cape, but almost as bad. "First-and I require this of all new Undead Children-" That's just how he said it, too. You could hear the capital letters. "-you must get down on those dimpled knees of yours and swear fealty to me. Then we will Feast, and you will Rest at my side, our newest Undead Child, and my current Favorite."

I didn't mean to. I didn't want to. But I started to laugh and just couldn't stop. Everyone else in the room stopped rustling and murmuring, and turned shocked gazes in my direction. Except Mr. Gorgeous in the corner. His eyebrows arched and his lips twisted, but he didn't smile. He just studied me with that perfect, icy gaze.

"Stop it!"

"I can't," I giggled.

"I command you to stop laughing! You will not be allowed to Drink at the Sacred Throats of our-"

"Stop, stop, you're killing me!" I giggled and snorted and leaned against a stone bust of a Carlson so I wouldn't fall down. "Next you'll tell me there will be dire consequences for daring to mock your august self."

He pointed a finger at me. Nothing happened. This surprised him, and it also pissed him off. "Gentlemen! Punish her!"

This set me off into gales of laughter again. The Cocker Boys approached me, brandishing crosses, and one of them hurled water into my face. I must have sucked some in from laughing, because I started to sneeze. And laugh. And sneeze. And laugh. When I finally had control of myself the Cocker Boys were backed in the far corner, behind Tux Boy, and all the other vampires-except one-were wedged as far from me as I could get.

"Oh, dear," I said. I wiped my eyes. I hadn't actually cried, of course, but my face was wet with holy water. "Oh, that was really great. Well worth the price of parking downtown. And hardly anything is, you know. Except maybe a show at The Guthrie."

"You're a vampire," Tux Boy said, except he didn't thunder it majestically this time. It sort of squeaked out.

"Thanks for the news flash, but I figured that out when I woke up dead a couple of days ago."

"But...but you..."

"Well! This has been fun, but I think I'll be going now."

"But...but you..."

"But...but I was curious so I came along for the ride. However, if hanging with other vamps means I have to go the whole movie cliche route, then forget it. Cemeteries? Acolytes? Partying in chilly mausoleums? Yuck-o. Also, nobody wears a tux this time of year unless they're going to a wedding. You look like an escapee from the set of Dracula Does Doris."

I walked out of the room, climbed the steps, and was back outside in a jiffy. The evening had been educational, but ultimately disappointing. I couldn't believe vampires were so boring and uncool. I had set trends when I was alive...apparently it was up to me to carry the coolness torch when I was dead, too. There was no rest for the fashionable.

"Wait." It wasn't a shout; it wasn't a cool command. And, weirdly, my feet stopped moving like they'd been spiked to the ground. I looked down at them in annoyance. Traitors!

I turned. Tall, Dark, and Sinister was rapidly approaching. He'd been the only one not to cringe away from me in the mausoleum. At the time, I'd kind of liked it. Now I wasn't so sure. "What is it? I have to go; I've wasted enough time in this pit."

He ignored me and grabbed my face with both hands, pulling me toward him until our mouths were millimeters apart. I squeaked angrily and tried to pull away, but it was like trying to pull free of cement. I had thought my undead strength was spectacular, but this guy was easily twice my strength.

He was touching my face, examining me like I was a really fascinating specimen, peeling my lip back and looking at my teeth. I snapped at his fingers, which made the corner of his mouth twitch. "Let go! Jeez! I knew I shouldn't have gotten up this morning. This evening, I mean." I kicked him in the shin, which hurt like hell. It was like kicking a cliff. And his reaction was about as animated. "You don't get a lot of second dates, do you, pal?"

"You are a vampire," he said. It wasn't a question. He released his grip, and I backed up so fast I nearly tripped over a headstone.

"What do you want, a prize for figuring it out? Trust me, being dead-"

"Undead."

"-is the only way I would have been hanging around a bunch of too-pale, poorly dressed weirdoes. But that is not my scene and I'm outta here."

His hand shot out and grabbed me above the elbow. "Indeed, but you'll accompany me, I think." The stone face cracked and he almost smiled. "I insist on the pleasure of your company. We have much to talk about."

"My ass!"

"If you wish, although I'd have to see it first to truly comment. If it's anything like the rest of you, I'm sure it's quite nice. Also..." He yanked me up against his chest with about as much trouble as I'd have tossing a Kleenex. That icy black gaze bored into me. I felt everything inside me turn cold. "...you haven't fed tonight, and yet you're energetic. You don't look at all hungry. In fact, you look...quite nice. However did you manage that?"

I cleared my throat to work up some spit (tough work, when you don't make much in the way of bodily fluids anymore) and said, "First of all, mind your own business, and second, it's none of your damned business! Now." My voice went hard and cold. I'd never heard it sound like that before, not even when I told the Ant she couldn't send me to military school. "Remove the hand, while you can still count to five with it."

He stared at me for another second, then laughed. It was like being laughed at by Satan. I'd never heard chuckles sound so humorless. "Yes," he said, almost purred, and my arm was numb from the strength of his grip, "you'll come to my home. And we'll talk. About all kinds of things. And really, girl, it's for your own safety."

"Sorry, but I already promised the Wolfman I'd be his girl. Now let go!" I tugged, furious that my strength, one of the few good things about being a vampire, was useless here.

His other hand was on my face again; his fingers forced my teeth apart and he stroked one of my canines with a thumb. Then he pushed, hard, and I felt a drop of blood hit my tongue. This was shocking, for several reasons: it was delicious, it was cool to the taste, and I didn't think vampires bled. "I wonder," he said in a low voice, more breath than words, and his thumb was pushing, forcing its way into my mouth, an odd kind of rape and as infuriating as it was exciting. "I wonder what you'll taste like?"

"That'th it. For the latht time, get off me!" I shoved as hard as I ever had in my life. And I could hardly believe what happened next. Although the whole thing took little more than a second, I saw it in slow motion. Tall, Dark, and Psychotic flew away from me like he'd been fired out of a cannon. He crashed back into a monument-a large cross-and through it. Stone flew everywhere, because as soon as he hit the cross it blew up and the back of his suit began to smolder. But he kept going, until he smashed into the side of the mausoleum and collapsed to the ground like a sack of dirt.

I didn't wait around to find out if he was dead (again) or what. I ran.

-- Advertisement --