/ Language: English / Genre:detective

A Hidden Fire

Elizabeth Hunter

"No secret stays hidden forever." A phone call from an old friend sets Dr. Giovanni Vecchio back on the path of a mystery he'd abandoned years before. He never expected a young librarian could hold the key to the search, nor could he have expected the danger she would attract. Now he and Beatrice De Novo will follow a twisted maze that leads from the archives of a university library, through the fires of Renaissance Florence, and toward a confrontation they never could have predicted. A Hidden Fire is a paranormal mystery/romance for adult readers. It is the first book in the Elemental Mysteries Series.

Elizabeth Hunter

A Hidden Fire

An Elemental Mystery, 2011

For Lacey

for teaching me not to wait


To the many friends and family who have helped me to write this book, I would like to express my sincerest thanks.

This book has been a labor of love for so many. Please forgive me if I forget someone. Thanks to my beta readers: Kristy, Kelli, Sarah, Lindsay, Molly, and Sandra. To my editing team: Caroline and Amy, and to the authors and friends that read and gave generous feedback. Thank you all so much.

To all my readers online, who offered so much encouragement and enthusiasm. Thank you for the gift of your time and attention.

To my family, for their encouragement and faith. To my husband and son, in particular, thank you for enduring all the long nights and sleepy mornings. Thanks for the hugs and encouragement when I needed it most.

Any success I have is the result of God’s gracious gifts to me, including the gifts of your love and support.

Thank you all most sincerely.

But the queen cherished the wound in her veins…

and was consumed by the hidden fire.

– Virgil, Aeneid, Book IV


The man stole down the hallway, his footsteps echoing in the dimly lit basement of the library. He made his way quietly, brushing aside the dark hair that fell into his eyes as he looked down. The security guard turned the corner and approached, his eyes drawn to the tall figure that glided toward him.


The guard cocked his head, trying to see past the hair covering the man’s eyes as he neared him in the flickering service lights.

“Sir, are you looking for the lobby? You’re really not supposed to be down here.”

He did not speak but continued walking directly toward the portly security guard. As he passed the guard, he held out his hand, silently brushing his finger tips along the guard’s forearm before he continued down the hall, around the corner, and up the nearest staircase, never halting in his steady pace.

The guard stilled for a moment before shaking his head. He looked around the passage and wondered why he was in the hallway leading toward the old storage rooms. Checking his watch to see if his break was over, he noticed the second hand seemed to have stopped. He shook his wrist slightly before taking it off and putting it in his pocket.

“Stupid, cheap thing…” he muttered as he turned and headed back toward the break room. In the distance, he thought he heard a door in the stairwell click close.

Waiting in the deserted stacks near the bank of computer terminals on Friday evening, the man read a periodical while he observed the student-study area. His eyes scanned to the left, suddenly alert to the plain, blond girl who took a seat on the edge of the bank of computers. He observed her pull out an economics textbook and sneak a quick sip of her diet soda before she put it back in her bag. The corner of his mouth lifted, pleased by how little attention the girl had drawn from the librarian at the desk and the surrounding students.

He approached, shifting his leather messenger bag so he could sit down at the computer next to her. Taking out his own drink, he smiled politely when the girl glanced at him. He saw her cheeks fill with color as she took in his pale skin, startling green eyes, and dark curls.

“Hello,” he whispered, angling his shoulders toward the student.

“Hi,” she whispered back.

“Are the librarians here strict about having a drink out? I’m new at the university.” He leaned toward her and noticed the scent of her fruity shampoo. He twitched his nose but remained angled toward the young woman as she responded.

“Um…not really near the stacks, but they’re kind of strict by the computers,” she said, her hands twisting in her lap.

When he smiled, she blushed and looked back to her economics textbook which still lay closed on the desk in front of her. She fumbled it open and glanced at his bag, which lay near his feet.

“Thanks,” he said.

“Are you a student here?”

He smiled and whispered back, “I just started some research work at the university.”

“Oh, that’s cool. I’m Hannah. I’m a sophomore…economics.”

“That’s a fascinating subject, Hannah.” He tried to meet her eyes, but she was still looking down at her textbook as she leafed through it.

“Oh,” she laughed. “You don’t have to be nice. I know most people aren’t really that interested in economics.”

“I’m interested in everything,” he said, willing her to look up. When she did, he set his elbow next to her economics textbook and reached over with his right hand, lightly touching her forearm as he spoke. “Are you a good student, Hannah?”

She gazed into his eyes, rapt with attention and unaware of the small hairs all over her body as they lifted, drawn toward the man sitting next to her.

“Yes, I get excellent grades.”

“Why are you here on a Friday night?”

“I don’t have a lot of friends, and boys never ask me out,” she said. “I like to come here so I’m not alone in my dorm room.”

“Do you have time to help me?”

“Yes. I don’t really have any school work I need to finish.”

“Excellent.” The man leaned toward her and murmured in the young woman’s ear. She turned on the computer as he spoke, opening a search engine and typing in the phrases he murmured. He hooked his ankle with hers under the table, letting his pale skin maintain contact as he took notes in a small brown book he drew from his messenger bag. Every now and then he would lean over and whisper further instructions in the girl’s ear.

A little over two hours later, he leaned back in his chair, frowning as he surveyed his notes. He looked at the large clock on the wall opposite him and at his unwitting assistant before he closed his notebook, put it back in his leather bag, and scooted away from Hannah. Keeping one hand on her shoulder and letting his fingers stroke her neck, he whispered in her ear one more time before he straightened and walked swiftly away from the computer terminals.

He kept his head down, striding toward the darkened glass of the lobby and the pressing heat of the September evening. Once he reached the doors, he looked up, and his gaze briefly met a black-haired girl’s before he pushed out into the humid night and left behind the harsh fluorescent lights of Houston University’s main campus library.

He walked down the concrete steps and through the alley of darkened oak trees, taking out his keys as he neared a charcoal grey, vintage Mustang. He unlocked the car, got in, and started the engine, listening with pleasure to the rhythm of the perfectly tuned engine.

Backing out, he flicked the radio knob to the local campus station and rolled the window down as he enjoyed the lick of warm, humid air along his skin.

He sped toward the lights of downtown, bypassing the tall buildings and speeding along Buffalo Bayou as he drove toward the gates of his secluded home. He turned into the short drive before the gate and tapped in the entry code with the end of a stainless steel pen he drew from the chain around his neck.

The Mustang drove forward, winding its way through the dimly lit property. He pulled his car into the brick garage behind his home and walked through the small courtyard between the outbuilding and the main house. He stopped, listening to the burbling fountain and admiring the honeysuckle vine that trailed up the garage wall and suffused the small courtyard with fragrance.

All the lights were on in the kitchen when he entered the house, and he immediately grabbed a pencil on the counter to dim them. He walked up the back stairs to his dark bedroom, disrobing and hanging his clothes in the large closet before he walked down the main stairwell, wrapped only in a large, finely spun towel. As he passed the second floor landing, he was stopped by an accented voice coming from the library.

“Back so soon?”

He turned to look at the older gentleman who was reading in front of the lit fireplace.

“A fire, Caspar?”

The older man shrugged. “I turned the air-conditioning down so it at least felt like fall.”

He chuckled. “Whatever you prefer. And the library was a bit disappointing.”

“Trouble finding an assistant?”

“No, I found a rather good one, in fact. I might meet her again. No, the Lincoln documents were not what I’d hoped.”


The man shrugged his shoulders. “The client isn’t going anywhere.”

“Off for your swim then?”

He nodded and started to move down the stairs again.

“Will you be needing anything tonight?”

He walked up the stairs and back toward the library. “Nothing, thank you.”

“Enjoy the pool. It’s a beautiful night.”

“Enjoy your air-conditioning… and your fire,” he said with a minute smile ghosting his lips.

He heard Caspar chuckle as he continued down the stairs. The man walked through the sitting room and past the breakfast area where Caspar ate in the morning to the French doors leading onto the brick patio.

He folded his towel on the back of a pool chaise and quickly dove into the water, cutting through the green-lit pool with effortless efficiency.

He swam up and down the mirrored rectangle for hours, enjoying the stretch of his lean muscles and the calming buoyancy of the salt water that filled the pool.

When the lights of the secluded yard switched off automatically at two in the morning, he floated on the surface. He hung there for a few minutes, enjoying the feeling of the warm, humid air on his face as his body was supported by the water at his back. Then he dove down, sitting on the bottom of the pool for another hour, looking up as he watched the moon track across the night sky.

Chapter One

Houston, Texas

September 2003

Giovanni Vecchio woke, the infrequent dream seeming to echo off the narrow walls of the small room where he rested. He sat up and stared at the photograph of Florence which hung on the opposite wall, and the sun-seared shops of the old bridge mocked him.

“Where is your home?”

“Ubi bene ibi patria. Where I prosper is my home.”

“Do not forget: nothing endures, save us and the elements.”

Rising, he unlocked his reinforced door and stepped into the large walk-in closet where he dressed in a white oxford shirt and a pair of slim, black slacks. He spied the grey cat from the corner of his eye.

“Good evening, Doyle.”

The cat turned his copper-eyed stare toward the tall man who spoke to him.

“What did Caspar bribe you with tonight, hmm? Salmon? Fresh anchovies? Caviar?”

The cat gave a small chirp and walked out to the luxurious bedroom beyond the closet to settle on the king-sized bed there. Giovanni’s thoughts still brushed at the dark dream and a faint memory teased the back of his mind.

“Tell me about death.”

“The philosopher said death, which men fear as the greatest evil, may instead be the greatest good.”

“But we do not fear death, do we?”

Despite the hours he had rested, he felt weary. He reached for his favorite grey jacket and walked out of the room.

“Caspar,” he called as he entered the kitchen, still straightening his collar. “I want you to drive me to the library tonight.”

The older man raised a curious eyebrow but put down the newspaper he had been reading.

“Of course, I’ll get the car.”

Giovanni gathered his messenger bag and followed Caspar out the kitchen door. They walked through the small courtyard where the dim light of the early evening still illuminated the burbling fountain, and the air was rich with the fragrance of the honeysuckle vine.

“Balance! Temperance! Find it, my son, or you will die.”

He paused for a moment and watched the flow of water as it trickled over and around the rocks in the base of the fountain. Just then, a sharp breeze lifted the spray and it arched toward him, dusting his face with the cold drops. He let the heat rise to his skin and the vapor met the humid night air.

“Oh wow, Char wasn’t lying.”

Giovanni brushed the hair out of his eyes and glanced up from his notebook looking around for the quiet female voice as he paused in the entry to the Special Collections reading room at the Houston University library.

“Pardon me?” he asked in confusion to the girl in the corner.

The black-haired girl behind the counter smiled. He noticed a slight blush coloring her fair skin.

“Nothing,” she said with a quick smile. “Nothing at all. Welcome to the Special Collections reading room. You must be Dr. Vecchio.”

Giovanni frowned as he tucked his notebook into a leather messenger bag. “I am. Is Mrs. Martin unavailable this evening?” He scanned the young woman sitting behind the reference desk on the fifth floor of the library. Since the department had opened their once-weekly evening hours a year ago, the bookish Charlotte Martin had been the only employee he’d seen behind the desk of the small, windowless room that housed the rare books, manuscripts, and archives.

“She’s not able to do evening shifts anymore. Family reasons, I think. Something about her kids. I’m B, her assistant.” Her voice lacked the twang typical of most Texans, though the flat intonation with only a hint of accent was fairly common among native Houstonians, especially those of younger generations. “She left me notes about what you’ve been working on, so I’m perfectly able to assist you in your research.”

Despite her rather common accent, the girl’s voice held a faint quality which told him at least one of her parents was a native Spanish speaker. Her thick, black hair was pulled into a low ponytail at the nape of her neck, and she was dressed in a black button-down shirt and slim skirt. He smiled when he saw the tops of her tall Doc Marten boots almost touching her knees.

“Are you a student?” he asked.

Her chin jutted out in a barely perceptible movement which matched the quick flash of intelligence in her eyes. “I’ve worked here for almost three years. I’m sure doing a quick computer search or fetching a document is well within my abilities, Dr. Vecchio.”

He could feel the smile crawl across his face. “I meant no disrespect…I’m sorry, what was your name?”

“Just call me B,” she said, glancing down at some handwritten notes.

From where he was standing, Giovanni could see the familiar scrawl of Mrs. Martin’s handwriting.

B? As in the second letter of the Latin alphabet?” he asked, walking closer to the desk.

“No, the Etruscan. I’m wild like that,” she muttered and glanced up. “She also put a small note here at the bottom of her instructions regarding you.”

“Yes?” He waited, curious what the librarian thought bore mention to her replacement.

“Hmm, it just reads, ‘He comes in every week. You’re welcome.’” The girl’s eyes ran from his handmade shoes, up his tall figure, finally meeting his startling, blue-green eyes. “Thanks indeed, Char,” she said with a smile.

He smirked at her obvious look of approval, noting the small ruby piercing in her nose that caught the florescent lights of the reading room. Her eyes were lined in black, her skin was fair, and though she did not have classically beautiful features, he thought her dramatic looks would be eye-catching even from a distance.

“I saw you Friday night!” she blurted. “I was coming in to meet a friend after her shift. I saw you heading out.”

Glancing away from her toward the door, he brushed at the dark curls that had fallen into his eyes again. “That’s possible,” he noted. “I like working in the evenings here.”

She shrugged. “Well, obviously.”

“Why?” he asked. “Why obviously?”

She raised her eyebrows. “Because you’re here now? Instead of the middle of the day?”

He blinked. “Of course.”

“So what do you do?”


The girl snorted and looked around the otherwise empty room. “Yeah.”

He opened his mouth and almost considered telling her the truth, just to see what the unusual girl might say.

“I do…research.”

She stood, as if waiting for him to continue. When he didn’t, she smiled politely and held out a hand. “Well, it’s very nice to meet you.”

He paused for a moment then held out his own hand to shake hers.

“Nice to meet you as well…” He frowned a little. “What’s your real name?”


“I…” Giovanni had no idea why he wanted to know, except perhaps, because she didn’t seem to want to tell him. So he flashed her his most charming smile and cheered internally when he heard her heart speed up.

She rolled her eyes. “My ‘real’ name is Beatrice. But I hate it, so please just call me B. Everyone does, even Dr. Christiansen,” she added, referencing the very formal Director of Special Collections for the library.

“Of course,” he said with a small smile. “I was simply curious. For the record, however, I think Beatrice is a lovely name.” He made sure to pronounce her name with the softer Italian accent it deserved.

She rolled her eyes again and tried to keep from smiling. “Well, thanks. What can I get for you this evening, Dr. Vecchio?”

“The Tibetan manuscript, please.”

“Of course.” She handed over a small paper slip so he could fill out the formal request for the item. Then she reached into the desk drawer to hand him a pair of silk gloves necessary for handing any of the ancient documents in the collection.

He took a seat at one of the tables in the windowless room, laying out his notebooks, a box of pencils, and a set of notes for Tenzin written in Mandarin. After a few minutes, Beatrice walked through the door from the stacks. Carefully placing the grey paper box containing the fifteenth century Tibetan book on the counter, she turned back to make sure the door to the air-controlled room was closed and locked before she walked around the desk and toward Giovanni.

“There is a book you need to copy for me,” Tenzin had asked.

“Why do you need it copied? Isn’t there a translation available somewhere?”

“No, I want this one. It’s in Houston. Didn’t you just move there?”

He frowned. “I didn’t move here so I could copy books for you, bird girl.”

“How do you know? Maybe that’s exactly why you moved there.”


“I have to fly. Be a good scribe and copy it. Use the…what do you call it when you send me things?”

“The fax machine.”

“Yes, use that. I’m going into the mountains for a while. Have Caspar send them to Nima for me when you’re done.”

“I’m busy right-”

She had already hung up.

He noted again how well-preserved the manuscript was as the girl opened the acid-free paper box. The manuscript was a series of square, painted panels that contained spells purportedly used by goddesses for healing. The carved wooden covers and gold and black ink were startling in their clarity, and though it held the musty odor typical of old documents, he noted with satisfaction very little scent of mold or mildew clung to it.

“Please wear your gloves at all times and handle the pages as little as possible. Please keep all manuscript materials inside the box as you examine them. If you need further assistance in examining the document, please…”

Listening absently to the rote instructions the girl offered, his mind had already moved ahead to his task for the evening. He’d copied the first third of the small volume over the summer. He estimated careful transcription of the manuscript would take another four to five months at the rate he was working. Fortunately, time was not an issue for him on this project.

He settled down to take advantage of the two hours he had left to work on the transcription. He hoped to finish the second of the six sections by the end of the week so he could have Caspar fax it to Nima with his notes.

“Dr. Vecchio?”

“Hmm?” He bit his lip, lost in his own thoughts.

“Did you have any questions?”

He flashed her a smile before turning his face back to his work.

“No, I’m fine. Thank you, Beatrice,” he said, his concentration already shifted to the manuscript in front of him. He heard the young woman quietly return to her seat behind the computer.

They worked for the next two hours, both occupied in their own projects. Every now and then, she would glance at him, but he barely noticed, engrossed in his careful transcription. The soughing of the air-conditioner provided background noise to the turning paper, the scratching of his pencil, and the quiet click of the young woman’s keyboard as she typed.

Shortly before nine o’clock, she closed her books and walked to his table. He looked up at her, dazed from concentration. He saw her take note of his precise transcription of the characters. They were a nearly exact copy of the original, down to the thickness of the brush strokes he recreated with the tip of his pencil, over and over again.

“Dr. Vecchio, I have to ask for the manuscript now. The reading room is closing in fifteen minutes.”

He blinked. “Oh…yes, if I could finish this last character set?”

“Of course.” She waited for him, and Giovanni smiled politely as he closed the manuscript, repacked it, and put the lid on the box.

The girl took the book back to the locked stacks to put it away in the dim room where it was housed. As she locked up the stacks room, she turned back to see Giovanni putting his pencils and notes away in his leather messenger bag.


“Why don’t you like the name Beatrice?” he asked, looking down as he fastened the brass buckle of his bag.

“Excuse me?”

He looked up at her, dark hair falling into his eyes again.

“It’s a lovely name. Why do you prefer to be called by your initial?”

“It’s…old. My name-it sounds like an old woman to me.”

He smiled enigmatically. “Yet, you work around old things all the time.”

“I guess I do.”

He leaned his hip against the sturdy wooden table.

“She was Dante’s muse, you know.”

“Of course I know. That’s why I have the stupid name to begin with. My dad was a Dante scholar.” Beatrice looked down to straighten her own papers on the desk. “Kind of a fanatic, really.”

He cocked his head and studied her. “Oh? Does he teach here?”

She paused and shook her head. “No, he died ten years ago. In Italy.”

His eyes darted back to the table, and he pulled the strap of his bag over his head as some faint memory tickled the back of his mind.

“I’m sorry. It’s none of my business. Forgive my curiosity.”

She frowned. “I’m not going to start weeping or anything, if you’re worried about that. It was a long time ago.”

“Nevertheless, I apologize. Good evening, Beatrice.” He exited the room, taking care to make as little noise as possible as he slipped down the dark hallway.

He entered the musty stairwell, taking a deep breath of the humid air to gauge who else was present. Satisfied he was alone, he rapidly descended to the first floor and made his way through the still crowded student-study area. As he approached the glass entrance, he caught a glimpse of Beatrice in the dark reflection as she stood near the elevator in the lobby, her mouth gaping as she stared at him. Not turning for even a moment, he pushed his way into the dark night and strolled toward the parking lot adjacent to the library.

When he reached it, he saw the slight flare of the cigarette as Caspar leaned against the black Mercedes sedan.

“A good evening, Gio?”

Giovanni frowned at his old friend, flicking the cigarette out of Caspar’s mouth as he approached the door. He stood in front of the man, looking down on him as he spoke.

“I don’t like the cigarettes. I thought you had given them up.”

Caspar looked up with a mischievous grin. “If I’m only living for eighty years or so, I’m going to enjoy them.”

Giovanni opened his mouth as if to say something but then shook his head and slid into the dark interior of the late-model sedan. Reaching into his messenger bag, he slid on a pair of leather gloves and crossed his arms while his friend got behind the wheel.

“Any requests?” Caspar fiddled with the stereo as Giovanni’s eyes scanned the dark parking lot.

“Are the Bach fugues still in the changer?”

“Indeed they are.”

Caspar switched the CD player on. In a few moments, the sedan was filled with the alternately lively and melancholy notes of the piano. Giovanni sat motionless, listening with pleasure to the modern recording of one of his favorite pieces of music.

“Mrs. Martin was not in the library this evening,” Giovanni said, his voice low and bearing more than its usual light accent.

“Oh? Everything all right?”

He shrugged. “Look into it tomorrow. Call and find out why she’s changed her hours. If it is simply a family issue, then it is no concern of ours.”

“Of course.”

The car was silent as it turned toward Buffalo Bayou.

“Inform me if it is anything other than that.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

A few moments later, they pulled up to the gate, and the wrought iron swung aside at their approach. Giovanni pulled out his pen and used it to push down the button for the automatic window, enjoying the smooth rush of air into the vehicle as it made its way toward the house. The grounds were suffused with the scent of clematis and roses that night, and the air smelled strongly of cut grass.

“The gardeners came early,” he noted.

Caspar nodded. “They did. We’re supposed to get rain tonight.”

“There is a new employee at the desk.”

“Is that so?” Caspar stopped the car near the rear courtyard, shifting the car into park so his employer could exit the vehicle before he put it in the garage behind the house.

“A girl. A student. Beatrice De Novo. Check on her, as well.”

“Of course. Anything in particular you want to know?”

He opened the door, reaching down for his leather bag before he stepped out. “There’s something about the father. He was killed ten years ago in Italy. Let me know if anything jumps out at you.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

Giovanni climbed out of the car, resting his hand lightly on the door frame. Leaning down, he spoke again to his friend.

“I’m swimming for a bit, and then I’ll be in the music room for the rest of the night. I won’t need anything. Good night.”

And with that, he stood up, nudged the car door closed, made his way across the courtyard with the bubbling fountain, and strode into the dark house.

Caspar drove the car back to the garage, parked it, and sat in the driver’s seat, petting the steering wheel lightly.

“He’s getting better, darling. Only one little short on the door panel this time. Not that he noticed, of course.”

Chuckling, he exited the vehicle, locked the garage, and made his way into the house, flipping on all the lights in the kitchen. He thumbed through the mail again, separating the household bills from the extensive correspondence of his employer, before he shut all but one of the lights off again and made his way to the library on the second floor.

Pouring himself a brandy, Caspar settled down with the first edition of A Study in Scarlet that Giovanni had given him for his sixtieth birthday. Forgoing a fire, he opened the window facing the front garden and enjoyed the closeness of the night air, which smelled of the grass clippings the gardeners had raked that afternoon.

An hour or so later, he paused when he heard the door to the music room close as Giovanni shut himself in. Caspar wondered which instrument would catch his attention, praying it wasn’t one of the louder brasses. He breathed out a sigh when he heard the first notes of the piano struck. From Giovanni’s thoughtful mood earlier in the evening, he expected to hear Bach, so he was surprised to hear the strange Satie melody drift up from the first floor.

“There’s something about the father. He was killed ten years ago in Italy.”

Caspar frowned as he remembered the familiar light he’d seen in Giovanni’s eyes. He hadn’t seen that light for almost five years. Part of him had hoped to never see it again.

“What are you up to, Gio?” he muttered as he stared out the open window.

The gentle dissonance of the piano was unexpectedly disturbing to the man as he sat in his favorite chair. A breeze came through the window, carrying the earthy smell of coming rain to his nose. Caspar stood, walked to the window, and shut it just before fat drops began to fall.

Chapter Two

Houston, Texas

September 2003

“Grandma! I’m going to be late for class.”

“One more shot, Mariposa, just let me…there. All done. The light was exactly right on that one.”

Isadora Alvarez De Novo set down the camera and smiled. Beatrice stood up from the small table near the windows and plucked her bag from the floor.

“Are you painting this afternoon?” she asked as she bent to kiss her grandmother’s wrinkled cheek.

“Yes, yes. I’ll be in the studio all day. Will you be home for dinner?”

“Nope. Wednesday, remember? Night hours.”

“Oh, of course, handsome professor day!”

She snorted. “He’s not a professor, Grandma. He just has a doctorate and does research at the library. I’m not sure what he is, to be honest.”

“Besides tall, dark, and handsome?”

Beatrice rolled her eyes. “You mean fastidious, formal, and silent?”

“Oh, you say that, but he’s probably just shy. Maybe it’s because he’s European.”

Beatrice shook her head before she filled her travel mug from the small coffee press her grandmother had prepared for her. “I don’t know. He is mysterious, that’s for sure.”

“He never talks to you?”

The young woman shrugged. “Sure, a little. He’s always polite. I’ve tried making conversation, but he’s very…focused. He always looks absorbed in his work. But, I could swear I’ve felt him watching me more than once.”

Her grandmother smiled. “You’re a beautiful girl, Beatrice. He would have to be blind not to notice.”

Beatrice chuckled. “I really don’t think it’s like that. No, it’s not like he’s checking me out, more like he’s…observing.”

The old woman’s eyes widened. “Could he be gay? Oh, what a disappointment. Though, maybe I could introduce him to Marta’s boy then-”

“Grandma!” she laughed. “I have no idea. It’s none of my business. I should be embarrassed gossiping about patrons like this. And I really have to go.”

“Fine, but you need to find some nice boy to have fun with. The last one was so boring.”

Beatrice walked out the door. “I’ll see what I can do,” she called out. “Bye!”

She sped out the door and down the steps of the small house near Rice University where she had grown up with her grandparents. Passing the oak tree that shaded the driveway, her eyes caught the dark, twisted grooves cut into the trunk close to forty years before.


Stephen De Novo. She climbed into her small car. Despite what she had claimed to the curious Dr. Vecchio, the hollow pang of his loss still marked her life. Despite his busy schedule, she and her father had been very close. With the passing of her grandfather, Beatrice and Isadora were all that was left of the tight-knit De Novo family.

She pulled into the university parking lot and grabbed the first spot she found, running to her first class as soon as her feet hit the ground.

In fact, Beatrice felt like she ran all day, and by the time she got to the library at four o’clock, she was ready to collapse. She took the cantankerous elevator up to the fifth floor and put her books in the small office she shared with her supervisor.

“B?” she heard Charlotte call from the copy and photography room.

“Yeah, Char, I’m here. I’m sorry I’m late, it’s seems like-”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Charlotte Martin said as she walked toward the reference desk. The young woman switched on the computer at the desk and logged into the library’s system. “It’s Wednesday today,” Charlotte said with a grin.

“Yes, it is.”

“Wednesday means night hours for you.”

“No!” Beatrice gasped. “I’d totally forgotten about that.”

“Liar.” Charlotte paused for effect. “So, have you had any luck with the mysterious Dr. Vecchio?”

“What? Why is everyone asking about him today? Did you and my grandma have a meeting?”

Charlotte laughed. “No! I’m just curious. You’ve seen him for what-three weeks now? I’m curious what you think. He’s quite the mystery around the library, you know.”

“Librarians have vivid imaginations and far too much time on their hands. I think he’s just a historian or something.”

“A really hot, Italian historian with a cute-but not indecipherable-accent,” Charlotte said as she wiggled her eyebrows. “And you’re a gorgeous, single almost-librarian. I see possibilities.”

“You and my grandmother are far too interested in my love life, or lack thereof. But thanks for calling me ‘gorgeous.’”

“You are,” Charlotte sighed. “You have the most perfect skin. I kind of hate you.”

“And you have the perfect husband and two perfect children, so I think you win. Is Jeff enjoying having you home every night?”

Charlotte smiled and nodded. “Yes, all joking aside, thanks for taking the evening hours. It makes a huge difference with the boys involved in so many activities now.”

“No problem. I can always use the cash.”

“Speaking of cash, did I tell you someone very wealthy and very generous just donated a couple of letters from the Italian Renaissance to the library? We should be getting them in the next couple of weeks.”

“Letters? What are they?”

Charlotte shrugged. “Not sure. I haven’t seen them. I guess they’re a couple letters from some Florentine poet to a friend who was a philosopher. Late fifteenth century, supposedly very well-preserved. I should remember the names, but I don’t. They were in some private collection, from what I hear. Honestly, I have no idea why the university is getting them.”

“Huh.” Beatrice frowned. “We have hardly anything from that period. Most of the Italian stuff we have is late medieval.”

“I know,” Charlotte shrugged again, “but they were donated, so no one’s going to complain.”

“When do they get here?”

“A few weeks, maybe closer to a month or so.” Charlotte laughed. “I thought Christiansen was going to piss his pants, he was so excited when he told me.”

“And thank you for that mental image,” she snorted. “I’m going to go to check the dehumidifiers in the stacks. I’ll see you in a bit.”

Beatrice was still shaking her head when she entered the manuscript room, chuckling at her playful supervisor. Charlotte Martin’s enthusiasm for books and information was one of the reasons the young woman had decided to pursue a master’s degree in library science. Far from stuffy, Beatrice had discovered that most libraries were small hotbeds of gossip and personal intrigue. Intrigue that she enjoyed observing but also tried to avoid by hiding in her own small department.

She checked the moisture readings in the stacks, tracking and resetting the meter for the next twenty-four hours. She walked to the center of the room to empty the plastic container from the dehumidifier that pulled excess water from the thick, South Texas air, so it wouldn’t damage the delicate residents of the manuscript room.

After completing her duties in back, she pulled one of her favorite books from the shelves and opened it, poring over the vivid medieval illuminations in a German devotional. After a few minutes, she tore herself away to go help Charlotte with some filing before she settled at the reference desk for the evening and began to work on a paper for one of her classes.

At five-thirty, Charlotte waved good-bye, and by seven o’clock, Beatrice heard the familiar steps of Dr. Giovanni Vecchio-mysterious Ph.D., translator of Tibetan texts, and all around hot-piece-of-gossip-inducing-ass-enter the reading room.

“Good evening, Miss De Novo. How are you tonight?”

She heard his soft accent as he approached and saved the file she was working on before she looked up with a smile. He was wearing a pair of dark-rimmed glasses and a grey jacket that evening. His face was angular, handsome in a way that reminded her of one of the photographs in her art history textbook. His dark, curly hair and green eyes were set off by a pale complexion that seemed out of place on someone with a Mediterranean background.

Beatrice decided that no one should be that good looking-especially if they were smart. It simply put the rest of the population at a disadvantage.

“Fine, thanks. I’m fine.” She sighed almost imperceptibly, and straightened her black skirt as she stood. “The Tibetan manuscript again?”

He flashed a smile and nodded. “Yes, thank you.”

Beatrice went back to retrieve what she had begun to think of as “his” manuscript and walked out to Giovanni’s table in the far corner of the small room. Setting it down, she noticed he already had his pencils, notebooks, and notes from the week before laid out on the table. He was nothing, if not organized and well-prepared.

“Do you need the spiel?” she asked as she handed him his silk gloves.

He smirked. “Not unless you are required to give it every time I’m here.”

“I’ve seen you here a few weeks now. If you won’t tell, I won’t.”

“Your flagrant disregard of protocol will be our secret, Beatrice,” he said with a wink that set her heart racing. She hated her name, but maybe she didn’t hate it quite as much when it rolled off his tongue with that sexy accent.

She just smiled and tried to breathe normally. “I’ll be at the desk if you need anything.”

“Thank you.” He nodded and slipped on the gloves to pick up the book. As always, she noticed the seemingly incongruent features which only added to the mystery he presented.

His fingers were long and graceful, reminding her more of an artist than a scholar, but the body beneath his casually professional wardrobe looked like that of a trained athlete. He appeared fastidious in his appearance, but his hair always seemed just a bit too long. No matter how he was dressed, she always smiled when she saw his expression, his concentrated frown and preoccupied gaze were one hundred percent academic.

Suppressing a snicker, she went back to writing her paper.

They both worked quietly for another hour. When she finished her homework, she looked in her bag and realized she had forgotten the paperback she was reading that morning.

“Damn,” she whispered.

He looked up from his work. “What?”

She frowned and looked up, surprised he had heard. “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s nothing. Just forgot my book at home.”

She thought she heard him snort a little.


He couldn’t contain the small chuckle. “You’re in a library.”

“What?” She couldn’t help but smile. “Oh, I know, but I was reading that one. Besides, I can’t exactly go wander around in the fiction section looking for a new book. I’m working.”


“Unless you want to finish up early so I can go do that.”

He frowned and looked at the clock on the wall. “Do you really need me to?”

Beatrice laughed out loud. “No! Of course not, I’m just teasing. I don’t expect you to cut your research time short for me.” She chuckled quietly as she turned to the computer to check her e-mail and look at her stock report online. She took careful note of a few investments she had left from her father’s estate and emailed herself a reminder to move one of them when she got back home.

She glanced at the man copying the Tibetan book and realized he almost looked annoyed. She cleared her throat. “Thanks, though…for offering. That was nice.”

He cocked one eyebrow at her. “Far be it from me to keep a woman from her book. That could become dangerous.”

She snorted and shook her head a little. Giovanni smiled and returned to his transcription. They both worked in silence for a while longer before she heard him put down his pencil.

“What was it?”

“What?” Beatrice tore her eyes from the computer monitor.

“The book. The one you forgot?”

She frowned. “Oh…uh, Bonfire of the Vanities. Tom Wolfe.”

His lips twitched when he heard the title. “Oh.”

“Have you read it?”

His smile almost looked rueful as he turned back to his work. “No.”

“It’s good. It’s set in New York. I’ve never been, have you?”

He nodded as he took out a blank sheet of paper and started a new page of careful notes. “I have. It’s very…fast.”


“Yes, I prefer the pace of Southern cities.”

“I can see that.”

“Can you?”

She looked up to see Giovanni staring, his blue-green eyes almost burning her with the intensity of their focus.

“I-I think so,” she said, glancing down to avoid his gaze.

He stared for another minute before she noticed him look back to his notes.

Beatrice let out a breath, oddly disturbed by their conversation. After another half an hour, he stood and began to pack up his materials to leave.

She watched him in amusement, his deliberate movements somehow reminding her of her late grandfather when he came home from work for the day. She flashed for a moment to the image of her Grandpa Hector emptying his pockets and setting his old-fashioned pocket watch on the dresser in her grandparents’ room.

Beatrice walked over to collect the manuscript and return it to the locked stacks. By the time she came back, she caught only a glimpse of Giovanni as he rushed out the door with a quick, “Goodnight, Beatrice,” called over his shoulder.

She watched him walk out the door with an admiring look, reminded again that there was nothing haphazard about the way Dr. Giovanni Vecchio moved. He walked with a fluid and silent grace that seemed as effortless as it was swift.

Beatrice exited the room a few moments after him, locking up behind her and making sure all the lights were off. She no longer expected to see him waiting for the slow elevator, and she thought she heard the click of the stairwell door as it closed down the darkened hall.

“Five flights of stairs?” she wondered quietly. “No wonder he has such a great ass.” The elevator dinged just as she pushed the button to go down.

Chapter Three

Houston, Texas

October 2003

“Going out this evening?”

Giovanni looked up from buttoning his shirt to see Caspar standing at the door to his large suite of rooms on the third floor of the house. The heavy drapes were still drawn to protect the room from the setting sun, but Giovanni was feeling uncharacteristically light as he finished his evening preparations.

“Yes.” His voice was clipped, but cheerful, as he answered. “Daylight savings time, Caspar.”

Though most of his existence without sunlight did not bother him, Giovanni did envy the mortal freedom of movement during daylight hours. Thus, the short days of winter and the early dark was always something he considered cause for celebration.

Caspar chuckled at the boyish excitement on his friend’s face. He went to hang the dry cleaning in the large walk-in closet at the back of the room.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” he sang, while instinctively dodging the balled up socks Giovanni threw at him. A large grey cat sitting quietly in the corner of the bed unfolded itself and went to investigate the socks.

“Still a smart ass,” Giovanni chuckled.

“Still a dark and twisted demon of the night,” Caspar retorted as he hung the pressed shirts on the racks.

He grinned. “Don’t tell the priest.”

Caspar looked over in surprise. “Is Carwyn coming to town?”

Giovanni nodded and bent to tie his charcoal grey shoes. “December, most likely. He said he’ll make a proper visit and stay for a few months.”

“Excellent,” Caspar replied. “I’ll make sure his rooms are ready for him.”

“I think he’s bringing one of his beasts, as well.”

The cat curled around Caspar’s legs and chirped until he reached down to stroke its thick grey fur.

“Sorry, Doyle. I guess you’ll have to sleep inside for a bit while the wolfhound is in town.”

Doyle made his displeasure known by lifting his tail and leaping back onto the bed.

Giovanni glanced at the cat as it tiptoed across his pillows. “Make sure the gardeners check the fences, as well. I know his dogs are well-trained, but I’d hate to have one wander off like last year. Also, prepare them for the massacre that will no doubt ensue in the flower beds.”

“Of course.” Caspar paused, quietly observing his friend’s evening preparations and looking at his watch to check the time. “It will be pleasant to see him for a longer visit this time. More like the old days.”

“Yes, it will.” He trailed off, his mind already darting to his agenda for the evening.

Caspar noted his friend straightening the collar of his white shirt. “You shouldn’t wear white, you know. It washes you out, and you’re already pale as a corpse.”

Giovanni frowned and turned to him. “Funny. You’ve been watching the English women again, the ones with the clothing show, haven’t you?” He shook his head in mock sorrow tsk’ing his friend as he looked in the mirror, trying to tame his hair.

Caspar sighed. “I can’t help it. Their sardonic British humor and impeccable fashion sense lures me in every time. I do love an ironic woman.”

Giovanni snorted and turned, grabbing his black coat from the chair by the dressing table and checking it for cat hair. “When was the last time you had a date with a woman who wasn’t on the television?”

“Six months. When was the last time you did?”

“Last week.” Giovanni shrugged on his jacket, satisfied it was free of grey fur.

Caspar scowled. “That doesn’t count and you know it.”

Giovanni walked toward the door, chuckling. “That didn’t seem to be her opinion, or at least, she wasn’t complaining.”

Caspar listened to his steps recede down the hallway and turned to Doyle. He looked into the cat’s thoughtful copper-colored eyes. “It doesn’t count if they can’t remember, Doyle.”

Doyle looked at Caspar critically, curled into a ball, and began purring on Giovanni’s pillow.

“Last week?” Caspar muttered as he left the room, turning out the lights behind him. “More like thirty years.”

Giovanni walked down the stairs, pausing to grab his car keys from a drawer in the kitchen before he walked into the dim light of the evening. Unwilling to waste the dark, he sped over surface streets, hoping to reach his destination before closing.

When he pulled the Mustang into the parking spot near the University of St. Thomas, he looked at the clock on the dashboard of his car. He only had fifteen minutes left before the chapel closed, so he strode across the green lawn and headed toward the octagonal brick building which housed Mark Rothko’s black canvases.

As he entered the deserted chapel he had not been able to visit in months, he nodded at the docent, bypassed the various books of worship near the door, and took a seat on one of the plain wooden benches. He quieted his mind and allowed his senses to reach outward as he stared at the seemingly static paintings that lined the white walls.

His skin prickled in awareness of the lone human by the door. He allowed himself to concentrate on the solid beat of the man’s heart as his ears filtered the myriad noises flowing in and around the small building.

Giovanni’s eyes rested on the black canvas in front of him. The longer he stared, the more the texture and subtle swirls of paint leapt out from its depths. No longer merely black, the paintings whirled and grew, taking on dimension never noticed by the casual observer.

He sat completely still and let his soul rest in the simplicity of the quiet room. Too soon, he heard the guard’s heartbeat approaching. He stood and turned, not willing to have his peace interrupted by the words of the docent asking him to leave.

As he exited the chapel, he saw the cover of the Holy Bible sitting on the shelf by the door. He was reminded of his phone call that afternoon with one of his oldest friends.

“I’m coming for a visit,” the priest had informed him. “A proper one.”

“Out of whiskey or deer?”

“Neither, Sparky. You’re getting in one of your moods again, I can tell.” Carwyn’s Welsh accent tripped across the phone line.

“Oh, you can tell from across an ocean? You must be old,” Giovanni quipped in the library as he spoke on the old rotary phone. “I don’t need last rites yet, Father.”

“No, but you do need a bit of fun. That’s why I’m interrupting my very busy drinking and eating regimen to come for a visit.”

“Has Caspar been tattling on me again? Irritating child. And I’m not getting in a mood.”

“Just the way your voice sounds right now tells me you’re already in one,” Carwyn lectured him all the way from his remote home in Northern Wales. “I’m coming for a visit, and I’m bringing one of the dogs. Lock your demon cat up.”

“I have a project going right now.” He attempted to distract his friend as he stared at the flickering candle on his desk, repeatedly passing his fingers through its flame. The fire leaned toward him, dancing in the still air of the library. “And Caspar’s cat is not a demon.”

“The cat is yours; and you know it’s far more demonic than we are. I’ll not have it sleeping on my head again.”

“It’s not like you can suffocate.”

“No, but I can get cat hair up my nose, which is not a pleasant way to wake up. What’s your project?”

“Do you remember the job I did for that London banker about five years ago?” Giovanni lifted his fingers, pinching the air and drawing the candle flame upward.

“Not really, you know I find most of that dreadfully boring.”

“It was a Dante thing.”

“Oh yes, the Dante thing. Not much, I remember you mentioning it, that’s all.”

“Mmmhmm. There was an expert I heard rumors about-one of us. He was young but sounded like he was worth tracking down. In the end, I couldn’t find him. Didn’t need him anyway, but a mutual acquaintance mentioned a Boccaccio manuscript he had.” Giovanni let the flame grow to a foot tall before he began manipulating it to curve and twist before his eyes.

“How very fascin-”

“It was a rare copy. Florentine.”

“Why is this interesting to me?”

“Because I think it was one of mine.”

There was a long pause on the other end of the line.

“From your library?”


“Who was he?”

“An American, turned in Italy around ten years ago while he was there working. I looked for him, but he vanished quite admirably.”

“What does this have to do with your project?”

“I think I may have met the Dante expert’s daughter at the library where I’ve been doing that transcription for Tenzin.”

He would have chuckled at the sudden silence on the phone, but he was distracted by the perfect circle the flame formed. It reminded him of the ancient symbol of a snake eating its tail. It bent to his will, turning continuously in front of his eyes as he waited for Carwyn’s response.

“That’s quite a coincidence.”

“It would be, if either of us believed in coincidence,” he murmured as he let the flame unfurl and return to its home at the tip of the candle, shrinking until it was no larger than his fingertip.

“How would anyone newly sired have access to your library? The rumors have swirled for years, but there’s been no actual proof.”

“Yet I am in Houston. And if I’m correct, I met the daughter of an immortal who was rumored to have a book I haven’t seen for over five hundred years.”

“What do you think-”

“I don’t know what to think right now, Father. I need more information. I’ve already sent a letter to Livia. As for the girl? I’m proceeding as if it’s of no consequence at the moment. She’s…interesting.”

“’Interesting’? I can’t remember the last time-”

“Did you know daylight savings time started this week? I’ll be able to visit the museum again.”

“Your phone manners are abysmal, Gio. It’s not polite to interrupt someone, you know, even if you’re not in the same room.”

Giovanni smirked into the darkened room. “I knew what you were going to say, and I didn’t want to talk about it. They’re hosting a lecture next week at the museum about Dali, I-”

“What a fascinating subject change. We’re going to forget about the daughter?”

He smiled at the priest’s interruption. “For now, yes. I see her every week at the library. I even saw her last night. So far, nothing leads me to believe she knows anything about our kind, which means her father, if he is the immortal I want, hasn’t been in contact. So, there’s nothing to be done at the moment. I need to investigate more.”

“Fine. Let me know when the pieces move.”

Giovanni paused, staring into the turning flame in front of him. “Maybe they won’t. Maybe it is just a coincidence.”

Carwyn’s voice was soft when he replied, “Do you really believe that?”


“Dr. Vecchio?” a familiar voice asked. “What are you doing here?”

He turned, surprised to see Beatrice De Novo standing in front of a Leger painting in one of the contemporary rooms; an older woman standing next to her. The young student’s typical uniform of black was broken by the deep red shirt she wore and demure black flats replaced her combat boots, as he thought of them.

“Beatrice? How unexpected to see you here.” He wasn’t sure why seeing her at the museum caught him off guard. It was a popular destination for students, and he tried to convince himself it was purely serendipitous she was here on the evening after he had been speaking about her. “A pleasant surprise, of course.”

The older woman looking at the Leger painting turned, and he saw the history of Beatrice’s slight accent in front of him as he examined the older woman. Spanish blood seemed dominant in her handsome features, and he looked into a pair of clear green eyes. She smiled and took Beatrice’s arm.

“¿Es el profesor guapo, Beatriz?”

Her accent, he noted, was educated, and from the Guadalajara region of Mexico.

Beatrice laughed nervously at her grandmother’s question. He smiled, happy that the girl had referred to him as ‘the handsome professor.’ Blushing, she smiled at Giovanni. “Dr. Vecchio, this is my grandmother, Isadora.”

Giovanni bowed his head toward the older woman, charmed by the graceful formality she seemed to exude.

“Mucho gusto, Señora. Me llamo Giovanni Vecchio. Your granddaughter has been a great help to me at the library.”

“And of course he speaks Spanish,” he heard Beatrice mumble.

“Beatrice, manners please,” Isadora chided. “Dr. Vecchio, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Are you a lover of contemporary art?”

He smiled and nodded, tucking his hands carefully in his pockets. “I am. I was just visiting the Rothko Chapel before it closed and thought I would take a walk through the main collection before I left. Are you a fan of Leger?”

“I am. Though I love the surrealist collection here as well. We live near Rice, so I’m able to visit quite frequently. You are doing research at the university?”

He nodded. “Yes, though really more as a favor to a friend who studies Tibetan religious history. She lives in China and I’m transcribing a document for her.”

“A lot of work for a favor.” She paused, but he did not explain further, so she asked, “Are you a professor?”

Giovanni caught the curious angle of the girl’s head as she listened for his response. He knew he was the focus of some speculation at the library, though he also knew even the best researcher would find nothing about him that he didn’t want found.

“I am not. My family is in rare books, Señora De Novo. I work mostly in that area.”

“Oh? How interesting! Are you a collector yourself? Of books? Or art?” Beatrice’s grandmother nodded toward the modern portrait on the wall next to them.

He smiled enigmatically. “I have my own book collection, of course. One my family has added to for many years. I enjoy art, but I don’t have a collection, per se.”

“My grandmother is a very talented painter, Dr. Vecchio.”

Giovanni turned to Beatrice, who had been standing, listening to their conversation. “It must be a pleasure visiting the collection with an artist.”

She smiled and took the elderly woman’s arm. “It is.”

“Would you like to join us?” Isadora asked.

He looked at Beatrice and smiled. He decided it was a perfect opportunity to gather more information.

“Of course, it would be my pleasure.”

He felt lighter as he strolled with the two women. He felt his expression-the intense concentration his friends often needled him about-soften, and Giovanni could even feel his posture relax they walked. Like her granddaughter, Isadora was charming and very intelligent.

He glanced at Beatrice as they walked through the Menil Collection. He noticed the affectionate and familiar way the two women spoke to each other and recalled a few of the major points in Caspar’s report on the girl.

Beatrice De Novo, born July 2, 1980, in Houston, Texas.

Daughter of Stephen De Novo, deceased, and Holly Cranson, whereabouts unknown.

Adopted at twelve by her paternal grandparents, Hector De Novo and Isadora Alvarez, plumber and homemaker/artist.

Senior at Houston University in the English Literature department. Accepted to the graduate program in Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

According to Caspar’s sources, Beatrice had been working in the Special Collections and Archives department of the university library since her sophomore year. Apparently, she had called the department weekly for three months asking if any position had become open since her last phone call. The young woman so impressed the staid director, Dr. Christiansen, he eventually created a position for her as a reward for her persistence.

“Do you enjoy folk art, Dr. Vecchio?” he heard Isadora ask.

He turned his attention back to her. “I do.”

“You should join us for the art center’s Dia de los Muertos celebration tomorrow night, then.”

“Grandma-” Beatrice tried to break in, but Isadora shot her a look. No doubt, she had not missed Giovanni’s quiet examination of her granddaughter.

“I would love to, Señora.” He smirked at Beatrice’s shocked expression and slight blush. “But I don’t want to intrude on a family outing.”

“Nonsense!” Her small hand fluttered like a butterfly in dismissal of his objections. “It’s like a fair. Everyone is welcome. It’s been too long since I’ve had a handsome escort who enjoys art as much as I do.” Her eyes twinkled at him and he smiled.

“Well then,” he replied, “how can I refuse? But I insist you call me Giovanni, Señora De Novo.” He was pleased the opportunity for further research had presented itself so conveniently. “If I’m going to escort you for the evening, that is.”

“You must call me Isadora, then.”

“Oh brother,” Giovanni heard Beatrice mutter, as she chuckled and shook her head.

“Are you from Houston originally?” Isadora asked.

He glanced with a smile from Beatrice to a Warhol painting on his left. “I grew up primarily in Northern Italy, though my father traveled frequently for his work and I often went with him. I moved to Houston three years ago,” he replied, turning to meet Isadora’s keen gaze. They measured each other for a few moments in the bright light of the gallery.

“Grandma,” Beatrice broke in. “We’ll be late for dinner if we don’t leave soon.”

Isadora’s gaze finally left Giovanni’s, and she smiled at her granddaughter. “Of course. It was such a pleasure meeting you. The art center on Main Street tomorrow? We’ll be there around seven o’clock.”

“I’ll look forward to it. Such a pleasure to meet you, and to see you, Beatrice.” He nodded at them and allowed his eyes to meet Beatrice’s dark brown ones. They were narrowed in annoyance or amusement, he couldn’t quite tell, but he winked at her before she turned and led her grandmother toward the lobby.

He stayed at the museum until closing, planning his objectives for the following night. He suspected Beatrice’s grandmother thought she was playing matchmaker between Beatrice and the handsome book-dealer. He was more than happy to play along, as a grandmother would readily give information to a polite young man interested in her attractive granddaughter.

She was also more likely to have information on her son and what he had been working on in Italy. Beatrice had only been a child when her father was killed, but Isadora had not.

As he swam laps that evening, he thought about the girl. She was far too young for him, even if he appeared to be in his late twenties or early thirties. Her behavior was a curious mix of innocence and wariness, and he wondered how much experience she had with men. She kept to herself, but he had the distinct impression she was no wallflower.

Beatrice De Novo was intriguing, and he found her humor and intelligence far more compelling than the average college student. He knew from her physical response to him that she found him attractive, and he was comfortable using that as he determined what she knew and how it could be of use in his own search.

“Caspar?” he called out when he returned to the house after his swim.

“Yes?” he replied from the library.

Giovanni walked upstairs and stood in the doorway. Caspar had started another fire, and the familiar smell tickled his nose. Doyle was curled up in his favorite chair; the cat looked up, blinked at Giovanni, and closed his eyes again.

“Any word back from Rome?”

Caspar looked up from his book and shook his head. “You know how slow Livia can be. Added to that, she refuses electronic correspondence, even for her day staff. I suspect we might see some sort of response by the new year.”

Giovanni scowled in frustration but knew his friend was probably correct.

“So you really think the girl’s father was turned?” Caspar asked.

He nudged the cat off his chair.

“How many American Dante scholars were killed under mysterious circumstances in northern Italy in 1992? It’s far too coincidental. If the rumors about the book are true…”

“But why are you interested in the girl?”

“Don’t fret, Caspar. She’s perfectly safe. And you know how nostalgic the young ones can be. He was rumored to have access to books that are rightfully mine. Now I have access to his human daughter. If I can use the connection to trade for information…or more, I will.”

“But do you really think he knows about your books?”

Giovanni stared into the flames as the heat began to lift the water from his skin and dry his towel. “If it’s him, and he has what was rumored, then yes. It sounded genuine. Livia will know, and she’ll know who sired him. No one turns a human in that part of Europe without her knowing about it, even if it’s against their will.”

“And whoever sired him-”

“No one stumbles across a library that ancient and that valuable when they’re that young. The sire is who I’m looking for.”

“So we wait.”

“Well,” he mused, “we might be able to do more than that. I’m meeting with the girl and her grandmother tomorrow night.”

“What? On a Friday?”

“I’m going out later.” He shrugged. “Don’t fret, old man.”

Caspar raised his eyebrows. “A divergence from routine, Gio? What is the world coming to?”

Shaking his head, he rose and walked toward the door.

“See if you can prod some of Livia’s day people tomorrow over the phone.”

“Of course.” Caspar paused for a moment. “Is it worth it, Gio? The books? This obsession? All these years?”

“What do you hold in your hands, my son?”

“A book.”

“No, you hold knowledge. Knowledge sought for centuries. Knowledge that some have died for. Knowledge that some have killed for.”

“Why would anyone kill for a book?”

“It is not a book.” The slap rung in his ears. “What is it?”


“And knowledge is power. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Father.”

Giovanni paused in the doorway, letting his wet hair drip in his eyes as he pushed back the memory, the driving need to discover pulsing in his quiet veins. “You ask me that every time I find something new.”

“And you never really answer me.”

“Yes, I do,” he murmured. “You just don’t like the answer.”

He slept late the next day, not rising until the sun was low in the sky. Though he preferred more pleasant and leisurely meals, the oblivious human woman he had fed from the night before had sated his physical hungers for the week and allowed him to retain the genteel manners he had carefully cultivated for the previous three hundred years.

Giovanni dressed thoughtfully, choosing casual clothing that was more likely to set the De Novo women at ease and detract from his inhuman complexion. Though the slight current that ran under his skin allowed him to adjust its surface temperature, nothing could diminish the almost luminescent paleness.

“Ah,” Caspar exclaimed when he walked into the kitchen. “The grey is a good choice. Makes you look much less demon-of-the-night.”

“Please, Caspar,” he implored. “A date with a live woman. Soon.”

Caspar chuckled and looked up from the newspaper. “I’m meeting a friend tonight, as a matter of fact. I was just looking at what movies are opening this weekend. I’m looking for something horribly gory.”

“I’ll never understand your affinity for those pictures.”

“And I’ll never understand your affinity for professional wrestling, so we’re even.”

Giovanni rolled his eyes. “Goodnight, Caspar.”

The lights of downtown twinkled, and he could see streams of children already weaving through the neighborhood in their costumes. It was Halloween night, and with Dia de los Muertos falling on Sunday, the whole weekend would be devoted to the macabre, grotesque and mysterious. He drove through the streets, amused by the teenagers and students in their elaborate costumes, enjoying the sense of revelry in the crowded bars and clubs of the Montrose district.

He pulled into the parking lot across from the art center and immediately heard the music of mariachis fill the air. Houston’s Mexican-American community was an integral part of the cultural scene, and he was happy to have an excuse to participate in the odd festival celebrating the dead. He saw children with elaborate face painting and a few adults, as well. The smells of earthy spices and sugar filled the air, and he scanned the crowd for Beatrice and her grandmother.

“Giovanni!” Isadora’s clear voice called from a nearby booth selling tamales. He walked over to the older woman but his eyes were drawn to Beatrice standing behind her, holding a drink and a small paper plate with two tamales on it.

“Dr. Vecchio, how are you tonight?” It was the first time he had seen her with her hair down. It fell long and perfectly straight down her back, with a few errant pieces slipping over her ear. He held himself back from touching it; though he could admit to himself he wanted to.

“B, I’m sure you can call him Giovanni. You’re not at work, after all.”

He turned to Isadora. “Ladies, you’re both looking lovely this evening.” He smiled at Isadora, who was wearing a vivid green dress. “And of course, Beatrice, feel free to call me Giovanni.”

She was dressed in black again, but this time, she wore a wide collared shirt that showed off her graceful neck and collar bones and another trim skirt that fell to her knees. He was strangely pleased to see that her combat boots were back, and she had switched her ruby piercing out for a tiny silver stud.

“Giovanni, huh? No nickname?” Beatrice asked. She frowned a little before she continued. “That must have been quite a chore to spell in kindergarten.”

He smiled and watched her offer her grandmother the drink, but she made no move to unwrap the tamales she had bought.

“Oh, I’ve been called many things over the years, but all the men in my family are named Giovanni.”

“Really? Is that traditional?”

“What is your name?”

“Whatever I want it to be.”


“Because I am superior to mortals.”

He blinked to clear the unexpected flash, wondering why the memories of his father had been so near in his mind in the past few weeks. “For us, yes.”

Beatrice gestured to the line of food vendors. “I’m sorry we didn’t wait for you. We ate earlier, but there are plenty of things to choose from. Please help yourself; we can wait.”

He shook his head, “No, I’ve eaten as well, thank you. Shall we go to look at the art?”

Ofrendas, Mariposa. Ofrendas first,” Isadora said with a smile as she took Giovanni’s arm and steered them toward a small building.

“Do you know much about Dia de los Muertos?” Beatrice asked as they walked.

He shook his head. “Not much. I haven’t spent a great deal of time in Latin America.” He knew plenty, of course, but he preferred to hear her explanation.

“It’s not usually celebrated until November second, but the art center hosts a family fair on Halloween so parents have an option other than trick-or-treating for the kids.” Beatrice smiled at a pair of small children in skeleton costumes with flowers in their hair as they rushed past on the way to the carnival games.

He observed their small, retreating forms. “It certainly seems popular.”

“It is. It used to be just Mexican families, but now a lot of people like the tradition.”

“And the ofrendas?”

Beatrice smiled. “Just little offerings for the dead. Things they liked during their life, you know?”

They walked inside the small building to see a makeshift altar set up and decorated with marigolds, crosses, and cheerful skeletons. Small candles flickered among them. Sugar skulls were mixed with small toys and placed in front of children’s pictures; bottles of tequila, mugs of chocolate, and small plates of food were propped in front of the pictures of adults.

The small room was decorated elaborately, and the walls were lined with pieces of art celebrating the holiday. The flickering lights of saint candles lit the room as they sputtered in their brightly painted votives, and he could smell incense burning.

“The art is a mix of professional and student,” Beatrice murmured, withdrawing two framed photographs from the messenger bag that hung on her arm, along with a small bottle of expensive tequila.

Isadora had left them to chat with some women at the end of the altar but soon walked back to Beatrice with a smile.

“Las photos, Beatrice?”

“Si, abuelita,” she said, and handed Isadora the two small frames. They walked to the end of the altar where a few other families were setting up pictures and ofrendas.

Isadora placed the two pictures on the altar and touched their frames. Giovanni spied an older man who must have been the grandfather in one picture. The younger man in the other photograph so closely resembled Beatrice, he had little doubt it was her father. Stephen De Novo stared out of the photograph with the same dark eyes that the young woman had.

Giovanni wondered whether Stephen’s eyes had changed color when he turned, as sometimes happened. Oddly enough, he found himself hoping they hadn’t.

He tried to examine Beatrice’s expression as she unwrapped the tamales and placed them on small plates in front of the two pictures, but her dark hair curtained her face and obscured her features. She placed the bottle of tequila between the two pictures, tilting them as if they could keep each other company on the crowded altar.

The women stepped back to examine the effect, whispering to each other in Spanish but smiling and laughing as well. He cocked his head and looked around the room.

Though it was filled with symbols and depictions of the dead, there was no fear and very little sorrow. It was unusual to find such celebration in the name of loss, and he found himself touched by the demeanor of the partygoers.

Beatrice was smiling when she turned, and he saw Isadora wander toward a group of older women, nodding at him as she walked away.

“Do you want to walk outside? There’s some music playing,” she asked. “I imagine she’ll chat with her buddies for a while, then come join us. I have to get out of the incense.” She waved her hand in front of her nose and laughed.

He had hardly noticed the heavy smell until she mentioned it. He was so accustomed to filtering out the various and sundry smells of life around him that he did it automatically. He realized he probably hadn’t been breathing at all in the close environment of the crowded room.

“Of course,” he said, gesturing to the doors. He placed his hand on the small of her back to lead her through the people streaming into the building. When they exited, he stepped away, suddenly aware of her body from the press of the crowd.

“Was that your father and grandfather?”

She nodded. “My grandparents raised me after my father was killed. We all lived together anyway. My mom’s MIA. Dad worked a lot and traveled, so my grandparents took care of me.”

“When did your grandfather pass away?” he asked, careful to keep up the ruse of an unknowing companion.

“Two years ago.” She smiled wistfully. “He had heart problems.”

“What happened to your father?” He paused for effect. “Unless that’s too personal, of course. I don’t mean to intrude.”

They lingered in front of a guitarist who was playing a children’s song for a small group. Beatrice shook her head, frowning a little.

“It’s fine,” she said quietly. “Random violence happens everywhere, I guess, even picturesque Italian cities. He was in Florence for a lecture series and was robbed. His car was taken and he was killed. I’m sure they didn’t want him to identify them. And he would have. He had an almost photographic memory.”

Yes, I imagine it’s even better now.

“I’m sorry for your loss, Beatrice.”

She turned to him, amusement evident in her face. “Why do you insist on using my name like that?”

He stepped closer. “Like what?”

She flushed, but didn’t back away from him. He noticed her body was already reacting to his proximity. The hairs on her arms were drawn toward his energy and goose-bumps pricked her skin. He wondered what would happen if he reached out ran a hand along the smooth skin of her forearm. He could almost imagine the soft feel of it under his fingertips.

“You know…with the accent.” Her eyebrows drew together. “And the old-fashioned manners. And what’s with the grandmother-charming?” She glanced at him before looking back toward the guitarist. “Are you trying to charm me, too?”

A slow smile spread across his face. “Are you charmed, Beatrice?” he asked, letting her name roll of his tongue. “I don’t think you are.”

Ignoring his own reaction and reminding himself of his objective, he took a deliberate step back and slipped his hands in his pockets, nodding toward another musician at the end of the parking lot.

“Shall we?”

She followed where his eyes led and they stepped back into the flow of people.

“Your personality is too large for one letter, Beatrice. And, for the record, I don’t think anyone charms your grandmother. She does all the charming necessary.”

She laughed, her head falling back as her eyes lit in amusement.

Giovanni stopped for a second, entranced by the clear, joyful sound. He stared at her, drawn to her dark eyes. He stepped toward her a fraction too quickly, but the girl was lost in her own amusement and didn’t notice.

“Yeah, Gio. My grandmother got all the charm in the De Novo family. She’s got it in spades, my grandfather used to say,” she replied, still chuckling.

Not all of it.

“Gio?” he asked, amused she had chosen the name only his closest friends called him.

“Well,” she shrugged, “you don’t look like a ‘Gianni’ to me, so…yeah, ‘Gio.’ If you’re going to call me Beatrice, I’m going to call you Gio.”

He stopped in the middle of the crowd, staring at her until she halted and turned back to look at him.

“What?” she asked, and her forehead wrinkled in confusion.

The people flowed around her, the seemingly endless, monotonous stream of humanity he had lived among for five hundred years. But she stood, dressed in black, her fair skin flushed with life and her brown eyes lit with a kind of intelligence, curiosity, and humor that set her apart. For a moment, he allowed himself to forget his interest in her father and enjoy the unexpected pleasure of her company.

She was bold and shy, formal and friendly. She was young, he realized, and innocent in a way he could hardly remember, yet her short life seemed to have been shaped by loss and abandonment. She was, surprisingly, rather fascinating.

“Inexplicable,” he muttered under his breath, and walked toward her in the crowd.

He hadn’t realized she heard him, but her eyebrows lifted in amusement.

“Nothing’s inexplicable. Just not explained yet.” She smirked at him in the noisy mass of people, and he let his green eyes linger on her face for a brief moment before they kept walking through the fair.

“Perhaps, Beatrice. Perhaps you may be right.”

Chapter Four

Houston, Texas

November 2003

“Why do you dye your hair black?”

Beatrice looked up from the computer screen to see Giovanni staring at her again from his seat in the reading room.


“It must be dark brown anyway; why do you dye it black?” he asked again, his eyes narrowed intently on her face.

She wanted to laugh at his confused expression but kept a straight face as she answered, “Because it’s almost black, but not quite.”

“I don’t understand.”

She looked at him over the reference desk, a small smile flirting at the corner of her mouth. “I just felt like it hadn’t really committed to a color, Gio. I don’t do things half-assed. I don’t want my hair to, either.”

He set his pencil down and leaned back in his chair. “So, you’re saying you dye your hair because you think it’s…lazy?”

He cocked his head in amusement.

She shrugged. “Not lazy, more indecisive.”

He smiled. “You realize that makes no sense, of course. Your hair color is determined by your genetic make-up and has no reflection on your personality or work ethic.”

She glared at Giovanni playfully before sticking her tongue out at him.

He looked at her in astonishment for a moment before he burst into laughter. She was startled by the unfamiliar, but not unwelcome, sound and joined him before she looked at the clock on the wall. It was already ten to nine.

Still chuckling, she said, “All right, hand over the book. I’ve got to lock up.”

He smiled at her and began to pack the manuscript for storage. She walked over, picked it up, and began her nightly closing ritual.

In the weeks since he’d joined her and her grandmother at the festival, Giovanni had become surprisingly friendly. She found him lingering around the student union on random nights of the week, holding cups of coffee he never drank and wandering through the student-study area in the library. He made a point of chatting with her, but she found his intentions as puzzling as his profession.

She had searched his name online, and though she found a myriad of rare books and antiquities dealers, his name never appeared. She found a copy of his business card with Charlotte Martin’s notes, but the only contact information on it was a phone number she was reluctant to call, though she did program it into her phone.

When she asked her grandmother about the intriguing bookseller, she was shrugged off.

“It’s like he’s from another planet, Grandma.”

“He’s old-fashioned…and European. Maybe he just doesn’t advertise online. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“But not even a public telephone listing for his business? Not a single mention? It just seems odd.” She sat at the breakfast table, drinking coffee and watching her grandmother start the chili verde for dinner that night.

“Do you feel unsafe with him?” Isadora turned to her, a look of concern evident on her face. “You’re alone with him in that reading room for hours every week. I won’t have you feeling unsafe.”

Beatrice shook her head. “No, it’s not that. There’s just something…”

Isadora turned back to the stove. “You’re creating a mystery where there is none, Mariposa. I think he’s a nice man. Just old-fashioned.” Her grandmother fell silent, and from her expression, Beatrice could tell she was reliving some of the dark times that had marked her granddaughter’s teenage years. Not wanting her grandmother to worry about her strange fascination, Beatrice attempted to lighten the mood.

“Do you know he doesn’t even have a mobile phone? Can you imagine?”

“Really?” Isadora may have not been as fond of technology as her granddaughter was, but she’d jumped at the chance to have a mobile phone when she realized she could talk with her circle of friends almost nonstop.

“Nope. I’ve never seen him with one. Come to think of it, he doesn’t have a laptop, either.” She frowned again. “And what researcher doesn’t have a laptop these days? It’s just odd.”

Her grandmother laughed. “Maybe he’s allergic to technology, mija.”

In the weeks that followed, Dr. Giovanni Vecchio became a small obsession to her.

He was rich, she determined, after noticing a silver-haired man hold open the back door of a Mercedes sedan for him on more than one occasion when they left the library. Giovanni had taken to walking her to her small, hand-me-down Civic some evenings when she got off of work, most often to continue a conversation they were in the middle of. He’d also tried to convince her that a brisk walk down five flights of stairs was the key to good health. She sometimes joined him and sometimes simply waited near the elevators. He was an unusually fast walker.

She also determined he was in his early thirties. He looked younger but had casually mentioned too many foreign universities for her to think he had seen them all in less than that.

What bothered her the most was that something about his appearance stirred memories of a time in her life she had tried very hard to forget, and reminded her of a face she had relegated to the back of her mind. She’d tried for years to put that dark chapter of her teenage years behind her, but the more time she spent with the mysterious book dealer, the more thoughts and memories began to surface.

He stood before her now, his soft smile and beautiful eyes the very picture of politeness. He was wearing a moss-green sweater that evening which made his eyes look both green and grey at once.

“Can I walk you to your car?”

She paused, and he must have been confused by the odd look on her face because he stepped away.

“I…sorry, kind of lost in thought.” She smiled. “You know, thinking about my indecisive hair.” She closed her eyes and shook her head, embarrassed that she’d used thinking about her hair as an excuse for her quizzical expression.

He frowned. “Did you want-”

“Sure,” she continued. “I’d like the company. Just let me shut the computers down. Can you get the lights by the door?”

He paused almost imperceptibly but turned to walk toward the doorway. As she waited to log out of the library’s system, she glanced at him from the corner of her eye. He slipped his hand into his messenger bag and pulled out a pencil to flick the lights off before he tucked it back in his bag. His movements were smooth and practiced, and if she hadn’t been observing him, she realized she never would have noticed.

She forced herself to look back at the computer and stood up straight when she heard the electronic sigh that indicated the machine was off. Gathering her bag, Beatrice plastered a smile on her face and walked toward the doorway to meet him.

“Join me on the stairs tonight?” he asked.

“I don’t think so. My feet are killing me. Join me in the elevator?”

He looked at her for a second, surprised by her question. She’d never asked him to join her before and was curious how he would respond.

“No, thank you. You know me-I like the exercise.”

She chuckled a little and smiled. “Right.”

“I’ll meet you downstairs.”

He turned and loped toward the stairwell, his quick feet almost noiseless in the dim corridor. She muttered under her breath as she watched him.

“Right…sure I know you.”

She ran into him again two nights later while she was working on a paper for her Medieval Literature class. She’d just finished her paper on the role of illuminations in devotional manuscripts when she saw him watching her from the archway by the coffee shop. She caught a glimpse of his pale face and was immediately thrown back to a memory from the summer she turned fifteen.

“Grandpa, I think I saw him again tonight, by the movie theater.”

Her grandfather sat at his workbench in the garage, working on a small carving of a butterfly for his wife. He set his knife down and brushed off his gnarled hands, holding one out to her. She took it and came to stand next to him, her purple shirt brushing against the bench and picking up small shavings of wood she flicked away with pink-tinted nails.

“Mariposa,” he squeezed her hand, “my butterfly girl, I see him too. I still see him sitting at the kitchen table in the mornings, or tinkering with me in the garage. The memories, they’re natural, mija. It’s normal to remember him that way.”

She frowned and shook her head, unable or unwilling to share her growing fears with her down-to-earth grandfather. The dreams were getting worse, and it was becoming more difficult to spend time with her friends who only seemed to want to talk about boys, clothes, or the latest music. She looked up into her grandfather’s loving and concerned face.

Hector de Nova had handled the loss of his son as well as could be expected, flying to Italy to return with a coffin he had been warned not to open. His deep sorrow had been subsumed by the need to care for his grief-stricken wife and granddaughter.

“But he-he doesn’t look the same when I see him. He’s too thin, and his skin… it’s not the way I remember.” She felt her heart begin to race. “Am I going crazy?”

He pulled her into a fierce hug. “No, you’re not crazy. Do you hear me? You’re one of the most levelheaded people I know, but you need to stop thinking about him so much. It’s not healthy, mija. Get out with your friends more. Have some fun.”

She whispered into his collar, “Okay, Grandpa.”

“And you don’t tell Grandma, okay? She’ll just get upset.”

“I know.”

“When things start to bother you, just come talk to me.”

He pulled away to look into dark eyes that matched his own, the same eyes her father had. “We’ll be okay, B. We’ll get past this.”

Her hands clenched. “Sometimes, I wish I could just forget him, Grandpa. I know that’s horrible.”

He kissed her forehead. “It’s okay, Beatrice. It’s going to be okay…”

“Beatrice?” Giovanni stood before her, wearing a grey tweed jacket and holding two cups of steaming coffee. “May I join you?”

Shaking her head slightly to clear her mind, she motioned to the red-cushioned seat across from her. “Of course. What are you doing here?”

Working out your glorious backside by walking the ten-storied staircase of the architecture building?

Stealing secret documents for the Russians? Plotting to assassinate my U.S. Foreign Policy professor? Please let it be that. Stalking me for some completely mind-boggling and inexplicable reason?

“Just meeting a friend for coffee.”

“Oh really? What time are you supposed to meet him?” She looked at her watch as he frowned and cocked his head at her.

“Oh,” she said in sudden realization. “Oh, me?”

He chuckled and sat across from her. “I was doing some research in the stacks and I saw you leave. I thought I might take a break.”

“What are you working on?”

He looked at her for a moment, as if judging whether she was worth confiding in. She raised her eyebrow when he remained silent, shrugged, and returned to typing on her laptop.

“Researching some documents for a client.”

She looked up, surprised he had spoken. “That sounds interesting. What kind of documents?”

His slightly pained expression had her waving a hand.

“Never mind,” she added. “None of my business.”

“It’s not that I don’t think you’re trustworthy,” he said quickly. “This collector is very private. I haven’t even shared the specifics with Caspar.”


“Oh,” he paused. “Caspar is my…”

“Is he the guy that picks you up from the library sometimes?”

“Yes, he’s my butler, I guess you could say. He works for me, but runs my house, as well. He also helps me in my work.”

She raised her eyebrows and nodded. “I have never met anyone with a butler before.”

“Well,” he shrugged. “I suppose you have now.”

“Tell the truth, Giovanni Vecchio.” A mischievous look came to her eye. “You have a butler, a cool car, and I’ve only ever seen you at night…”

He froze, tension suddenly evident in the set of his shoulders. Beatrice leaned closer and whispered, “You’re Batman, aren’t you?”

His mouth dropped open in surprise before the grin overtook his face.

She smiled back at him, chuckling until he joined in. Soon, they were both laughing.

“You looked so serious for a second! What did you think I was going to say? A spy? Vampire? Hired killer?”

He shook his head in amusement. “You’re confounding. No, I was just surprised you guessed. I am, in fact, Batman. I would appreciate your discretion.”

She nodded with a smirk, and took another sip of the coffee he’d brought her. It had just a touch of cream, exactly the way she liked it. “Sure you are. I’m a skeptic until I see the rubber suit. You’re not fooling me.”

He looked at her, smiling mischievously. “You really want to see me in a rubber suit?”

His seductive grin brought her to a halt. “What?” She blushed. “No, I was just-joking, Gio. Sheesh.”

He laughed at her uncomfortable expression. Giovanni blew on his coffee, holding it in his hands and smiling at her over the edge.

“What are you working on?” he asked, setting down his drink.

She shrugged. “Medieval Lit paper.”

“Dante, by any chance?”

She cocked her head. “Not my area.”


They looked at each other for a few moments before she relaxed again. “It’s fine. Valid question, I guess. A lot of people thought I would follow in my dad’s footsteps.”

“But you chose not to.”

She shrugged at him. “I like the library. Information science is…kind of like solving mysteries.”

“So you’re a detective?” he asked with a smile. “Do you like mysteries?”

She rolled her eyes. “I have no illusions of grandeur. People need information. I find out what they need to know and help them find it. It’s satisfying.”

“That’s somewhat like your father. Isn’t that what he was doing in Italy? Solving mysteries?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Maybe. You’re awfully interested in ten-year-old research.”

“I’m quite fond of Dante. I am Italian, after all.”

“That’s true.” She paused. “I don’t know what he was looking for.” She took another sip of her coffee and couldn’t help but notice the avid interest he was trying hard not to show. “He told my grandfather he thought he had a line on some previously unknown letters connected with the Alighieri family. Some missing collection of correspondence. You know how they used to take a collection of letters and bind them in correspondence books? I think he was looking for some of those.”

“What? From Dante himself?”

Beatrice looked down at her computer. “Maybe. He wasn’t specific. No one in the family was really as interested in literature as he was. I mean, I am now, but at the time…” She smiled as she remembered the last call her father had made to her from Italy. He had run into an old friend from school and was bubbling with excitement.

“You were twelve when he died?” Giovanni asked.

She looked up sharply. “How do you know how old I am?”

“I just assumed,” he said. “You mentioned you were a senior.”

She didn’t know why, but she felt like he wanted something from her. She had an uneasy feeling prickling at the back of her neck and a strange energy suddenly seemed to buzz around her. She didn’t feel unsafe, just like there was some piece of a puzzle she was missing, an angle to him she couldn’t quite see. She looked at the pale hands he had folded across his chest and a headache began to grow behind her eyes.

“Of course,” she said. Pausing for a moment, she took another drink of her coffee, noting his cup still remained untouched on the table. “Don’t like your coffee?”

He shifted slightly. “It’s just not the way I ordered it.”

“So take it back,” she said quietly. “Not that you’ll drink that one, either.”

He stared at her. “Why do you say that?”

She felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. A slight vibration filled the air and he looked down, seemingly fascinated by the back of her laptop as his eyebrows furrowed together.

She felt a strange pressure around her, like the air right before an electrical storm. “You just don’t seem to like coffee all that much.”

“I don’t,” he said in a low voice, still staring at her computer.

“So why do you always order it?”

He looked up at her, his green eyes seemed darker the longer she stared into them. Beatrice saw his arms unfold and a hand began to creep across the table toward hers. The hairs on her wrist rose.

“Gio?” she whispered, confused by his odd behavior.

He sat back suddenly, as if shaking himself out of a trance. “I like the way it smells-coffee, I mean. I just don’t like the taste.” He stood, grabbing his messenger bag from the floor. “I should be going.”

“Oh?” she asked, still confused by the strange exchange and the sudden clearing of the air. She felt her ears pop as when she spoke to him.

“Yes, I need to speak with Caspar. I forgot.”

“Well,” she cleared her throat, attempting to lighten the mood, “have fun at the bat cave.”

“Excuse me?” he asked, frowning.

She shook her head. “Never mind.”

“Oh yes, the bat cave.” He chuckled. “I’ll be sure to tell Alfred you said hello.”

“Yeah, you do that.”

He paused as if he had something else to say before he smiled crookedly.

“Good night, Beatrice.”

They stared at each other for a few more moments before he turned to leave.

“Good night, Batman,” she called. Beatrice heard him laugh as he walked through the doorway, but she sat there, drinking her coffee and staring in the direction he had gone, disturbed by something she couldn’t quite grasp.

She dreamed that night: dark, twisted dreams haunted by the pale moon face of her father. Unlike her dreams as a teenager, in these she wasn’t alone; Giovanni stood next to her, and soft blue flames licked along his skin.

He wasn’t in the library the next week; in fact, she didn’t see him at all until two weeks later when he came into the reading room for his regular evening hours. He set his messenger bag down, silently filled out the call slip, and sat patiently waiting for her to bring the Tibetan manuscript to him at the dark wood table.

She went to fetch it, her eyes flashing in annoyance at his calm demeanor. Beatrice knew it wasn’t rational, but she felt as if she’d been stood up when he hadn’t come to the library the previous Wednesday at his usual time. She’d wanted to see him after their odd conversation at the student union, but she hadn’t.

Her vivid imagination kept tying him to her dead father so their faces overlapped in her dreams. She recalled memories she had tried to forget: a pale face glimpsed in the background at her high school graduation, strange phone calls from foreign numbers that only ended in silence and a click, and a prickling feeling along the back of her neck every time she tried to remember more from that dark period of her youth.

For some reason, she linked this mental turmoil to Dr. Giovanni Vecchio’s appearance in her life, and she felt a strange resentment begin to swell toward the quiet man. They worked in silence for the next two hours, and a dull headache began to pound behind her eyes.

He walked over to her at quarter to nine, handing over the manuscript and tucking his notes away in his bag. He left ten minutes early which made her unaccountably angry. Beatrice bit her lip, smothering a frustrated scream as she waited at the reference desk for nine o’clock to come.

She walked into the hallway after her shift ended, turning to lock the reading room behind her.


She gasped when she heard Giovanni speak her name and turned to see him standing, still as a statue, in the hallway leading to the stairwell. He had dressed from head to toe in black that night, and his fair skin and strange eyes almost glowed in the dim light of the fifth floor.

“Good,” she muttered. “I wanted to talk to you.”

She pressed the button to call the elevator, waiting for him to join her.

“Will you walk downstairs with me?” he asked, nodding toward the stairs.

“I don’t think so.”

He paused. “I really don’t like elevators.”

“Well, I really don’t like friends who have odd conversations with me, then disappear for two weeks without a word. So I’m not feeling very inclined to walk down five flights of stairs with you. If you want to talk to me, you can take the elevator like a normal person.”

He tensed but didn’t leave, not even when the elevator chimed and the doors opened revealing an empty compartment. She walked in, turning to look at him in challenge. Finally, he tucked his hands in his pockets and walked into the elevator, standing in the exact center of the car and staring at the doors as they closed.

Rolling her eyes, she reached forward from the back corner and pushed the button for the first floor.

“Why are you angry with me?” he asked quietly.

“You’re the one that vanished for two weeks. And I’m not angry with you.”

He chuckled. “I disagree.”

“Why were you asking about my father?”

“I was curious.”

“I disagree.”

He remained silent as the elevator slid down to the first floor. Suddenly, the elevator jerked harshly and he threw out his left hand to steady himself. He reached for the wooden rail that ran around the compartment, but his pale hand brushed near the control panel and she saw a current arc from his finger to the metal panel. There was a bright blue flash, a small crack, and Beatrice felt a surge of electricity go through the compartment as her hair lifted. The lights went out, and the elevator came to an abrupt halt.

“What just happened?” Beatrice asked nervously. “What the hell was that? Is your hand okay? Why are we stopped?”

“I think the elevator shorted out.”

“Push the alarm. Isn’t there an alarm?” She leaned forward, reaching for the panel blindly, but her hands only touched his tense arm as he braced himself against the side of the elevator.


“Isn’t there supposed to be a light or something?” She scowled, irritated at being stuck in a dark elevator with him.

“I don’t think-”

“Shit! How long is it going to take to get out of here? My grandma’s going to be worried sick. She hates it when I get home late on Wednesdays. Oh, wait…” She began rummaging through her bag, searching blindly for her mobile phone. Reception was sketchy at best in this part of the library, but at least she could use it as a flashlight so she didn’t stumble into him in the darkened car.

“I don’t think your phone will work.”

“Well, I won’t get reception, but-”

“No, I highly doubt it will even turn on with that surge. Did you leave your laptop in your car tonight?”

She frowned at his odd question. “Yes, but-”

“Good, at least you won’t lose that. I’ll just buy you a new phone.”

“A new phone? What the-”

“Now to figure out how to get out of here-”

“Giovanni!” she finally yelled. She felt blind, and she was starting to panic. “What the hell is going on? Why won’t my phone work? And what was that flash that stopped the elevator?”

She stood in the pitch black, waiting for him to speak-for him to do anything. She couldn’t even hear him breathing. He was so still, she almost thought she was imagining his presence in the elevator earlier. Beatrice was halfway convinced if she threw her arm out, she would meet nothing but dead air. The charged air in the elevator seemed to press against her, and she heart began to pound.

Finally, she heard a pop, as if someone had plugged an old lamp into a socket. A small blue light shone across from her and her eyes were drawn to it immediately.

It grew until it was the size of a lighter flame, then it got bigger, and rounder, its soft blue-green light illuminating the large hand it hovered over. She couldn’t look away as it swirled and grew, slowly becoming the size of a glowing softball, held hovering over the palm of Giovanni’s pale hand.

She finally dragged her eyes away from the ball of blue-green flame that now resembled the color of his unusual eyes. Her gaze tracked up his arm, the buttons of his black shirt, the still, white column of his neck, and over his grim mouth. Finally, she met his intense stare in the low light of the broken elevator.

Beatrice held her breath and stared in astonishment as the terrifying fire in his hand pulsed and swirled. She could only manage a hoarse whisper.

“What are you?”

Chapter Five

Houston, Texas

November 2003

Giovanni’s gaze was steady and his voice soothing as he looked at her in the pulsing blue light.

“Remember, Beatrice-remember when you told me at the fair that nothing was inexplicable, just not explained yet?”

She nodded, wondering if he could hear the race of her pulse. Her eyes darted around the compartment, instinctively looking for an escape from the strange, fire-wielding…whatever he was standing across from her. But there was no way out of the steel box, and she had no idea when anyone would notice the notoriously defective elevator wasn’t running if there was no alarm.

“I’m not asking you to believe in magic, Beatrice. I’m asking you to believe that there are things in this world you don’t understand yet. Things that none of us do.”

Beatrice stared back at the strange blue fire and asked again, “What are you?”

“Many human myths are created as an attempt to explain the inexplicable.”

Beatrice shrank into the corner of the elevator, glaring at him as he spoke. She felt her legs begin to shake, so she slid to the ground and folded them under her. Giovanni followed, sitting slowly so as not to upset the flaming blue orb still hovering over his hand.

“Thor, the Norse god of thunder,” he said. “Pele, the fire god who created the Hawaiian volcanoes.”

She was shaking her head in disbelief, glancing between his face and the ball of blue fire he held. Panic seemed to well up in her throat, choking her. She tried to take deep, calming breaths, but she wasn’t very successful.

He spoke more quickly, “Dinosaur skeletons led to myths about dragons. Prehistoric basalt formations became the Giant’s Causeway.”

What are you?” she asked in a stronger voice, her hands clenched into fists at her sides.

He fell silent, his eyes left hers as he stared down at the blue fire in his hand. “What do you think I am?” he asked in low voice. “Think.”

“I don’t remember any particular myths about pyrokinetic book dealers!”

He flicked his fingers and the flaming orb spun to the top of the compartment where it hung and twisted, still illuminating the small space. Giovanni pulled his long legs toward his body and rested his arms on his knees, his long graceful fingers loosely knit together in front of him.

“Forget the fire for a moment,” he said in what she thought of as his “professor voice.” She normally found it annoying but, at that moment, it was oddly comforting. “There are other myths. Other stories. What do you think I am?

She remembered the first night they had met, and his inhuman speed that beat her elevator to the lobby.

“You-you’re fast.”

He nodded. “I’m very fast. And very strong.”

She thought back to his pale face glowing on Dia de los Muertos.

“Your skin…it’s pale. Really pale. And I’ve never seen you during the day.”

“And you never will,” he murmured in the pulsing blue light.

Her breathing picked up as a growing suspicion began to take shape. Her voice wavered a little as she continued, “I’ve never seen you eat or drink…anything.”

Her heart pounded when he looked at her through the dark hair that had fallen into his eyes. “I can eat, a little, but I don’t need food to survive.”

“Because,” she swallowed, “you drink…I mean, you’re a…”

Giovanni slowly parted his lips and the tip of his tongue peeked out as he ran it slowly along his top teeth, two of which were now noticeably elongated into very sharp, white fangs.

“You’re a vampire,” she whispered.

He nodded slowly, and they sat across from each other in the small compartment, both seeming to gauge the other’s reaction.

“You’re afraid,” he said.

“Yeah, well…duh.”

He smiled a little at her exclamation, and it revealed his long canines even more clearly.

She leaned forward and rested her forehead on her hands. “I’m dreaming. Or crazy. I’m probably crazy, right?”

“You know you’re not.”

She looked up and barked out a sharp laugh. “Oh, you really have no idea.” She stared at him, then back to the blue orb hovering above them. Then she looked down at the scuffed messenger bag he always carried, and the dark hair he brushed out of his face as he stared at her with inscrutable eyes.

“Are you going to kill me?”

His eyebrows furrowed together, and he almost looked offended. “No, of course not.”

“Why ‘of course not’? How do I know? Don’t you drink human blood?”

“Not unless you’re offering, but I’m really not all that hungry. And I wouldn’t kill you if I did. I’m not young and I don’t have to drink much.”

“Well, that’s…comforting.” She cocked her head at him.

“It should be.”

She eyed his chest for a moment, and then her eyes darted to the wooden bar that ran around the elevator. She heard him snicker.

“On the off chance you were able to break that railing, and make a stake, and drive it into my chest-which is harder than it looks, trust me-it wouldn’t do anything more than give me a rather nasty chest wound and ruin one of my favorite shirts. Relax, I have no interest in hurting you.”

Her eyes met his and she could feel the blush coloring her face. She suddenly felt embarrassed that she’d thought about killing him when she’d been in his company for weeks and he’d never so much as said a rude word.

“What if I don’t believe you? What if I run screaming to the security guard when we get out of here and tell him you’re a vampire?”

He chuckled a little, and then he stretched his feet across the elevator and crossed his ankles. “Feel free. After all, who would believe a crazy story like that, Beatrice?”

“Right,” she frowned. “Right. No one would believe me because vampires aren’t real.”

He chuckled in amusement. “Everyone knows that.”

She swallowed audibly and nodded. “Of course they do.”

“Besides.” There was a blur in the elevator, and she gasped as he seemed to materialize sitting beside her.

“How-how did you-”


Beatrice could feel his whisper like a caress along her skin and her entire body reacted to him. Her heart raced. Her skin prickled. As she sucked in a breath, she realized even the air around her felt charged. He leaned in and his hand reached up to trace her cheek. It felt as if an electrical current ran along her skin when his fingertip touched it, and she shivered.

“All it would take is a few moments,” he murmured, “and you wouldn’t remember a thing about me.”

She felt a tingle at the nape of her neck, and she realized it felt like something was vibrating under her skin. She gasped again and scrambled a foot away from him, shoving his hand away.

“What was that?”

Amnis,” his accent was strong as the word curled from his lips.

“Uh…” Her forehead wrinkled in concentration. “Is that Latin? It’s been a while, I don’t remember-”

“Current. I call it ‘amnis.’ Some immortals who believe in magic call it ‘glamour’ or ‘thrall,’ but it’s not magic. It’s simply energy manipulated by the current that runs under our skin.”

His logical voice spurred her natural curiosity. “Really? That’s…weird, and kind of fascinating. So really? You can just make me forget all this? Because I can tell you, that’s not sounding real likely at the moment.”

Giovanni smiled. “Yes, I can tap into your cerebral cortex and manipulate your memories, your senses, even the words that come out of your mouth.”

For some reason, the thought of him messing with her brain suddenly scared her far more than the idea of him getting hungry.

“Have you done that to me before?” she whispered. “Did you make me trust you?” A thought occurred to her and her temper flared. “Did you use that on my grandma?”

“No, Beatrice,” he spoke calmly. “Trust is an emotion, and I can’t manipulate emotion. Those are centered in the limbic system, and amnis doesn’t seem to affect that. That’s also why some long-term memories are harder to erase or change.”

She stared at him as he sat next to her with the same academic expression he wore when transcribing documents. “You’re talking about all this like it’s some kind of science experiment.”

“I’m not a scientist. Though, I suppose it is a kind of science experiment,” he mused quietly. “One I’ve been working on for many years.”

He shrugged as he settled into the corner next to her, and that familiar gesture did more than anything else to set her at ease. Her logical brain told her he probably wouldn’t bother explaining any of this if he was planning to kill her and drink her blood. Besides that, she couldn’t really imagine Dr. Giovanni Vecchio doing anything quite that rude.

The blue flame continued to swirl above them without any apparent effort on his part, though she knew from its inception he must be manipulating it. It was the same way he had shorted out the elevator, killed her phone, and made the hair on her body stand at attention when he got too close. He controlled this electric current, this…“amnis.”

“So you don’t think it’s magic? It seems like magic.” She cocked her head. “And I always thought of vampires as magic.” She suddenly sat up in excitement. “Are there other creatures? Werewolves? Demons? Fairies?”

He snorted at her and looked down his nose a little. “Fairies?”

She was a little pissed off he seemed so dismissive. “Hey, you’re the one with the glowing blue fire and suddenly pointy teeth, mister. Don’t give me that look. Doesn’t seem that far-fetched to me.”

He cocked an eyebrow at her. “My teeth are stimulated by a certain set of physical triggers related to blood flow, Beatrice. It’s perfectly natural.”

“Natural for you,” she muttered.

“Yes. Besides,” he picked up her phone where it had fallen on the floor of the elevator and tossed it to her. She fumbled a little but picked it up. “What do you think humanity would have called this two or three hundred years ago? You don’t think they would have thought mobile phones were magic? What about laser surgery? Basic medicines?” He shook his head and said something in Latin.

“How old are you?”

He cocked his head but remained silent.

“I’m sorry, is that a rude question? My grandmother would probably say it was.”

His face softened into a smile. “It’s not something we talk about. We guard our origins carefully.” He paused before he continued. “I’m over five hundred years old.”

“Renaissance? Wow…I was almost wondering if you were born during the late middle ages because of the Dante interest.”

He shifted and cleared his throat. “No, Dante wasn’t fashionable in my day. Too coarse. Too medieval. My father was all about the classics.”

“So why all the questions about my dad? I gotta tell you, that was kinda…”

The smile dropped from her face. She put her head between her knees as a thought nudged the back of her mind.

“Why were you asking about my father, Gio?” Beatrice asked quietly.

“What do you mean?”

She looked up at him, no longer afraid and wanting answers from the pale man whose face haunted her dreams.

Just like another face she’d tried so hard to forget.

“Why were you asking about my father? Did you…know him? Before he died?” A sudden thought struck her. “Do you know who killed him? Was he killed by a-a vampire?”

He didn’t say anything, but continued to stare at her as her heart rate rose.

“Why aren’t you saying anything?” She gulped and tears came to her eyes. “Did you…you didn’t…I mean-”

“I didn’t kill your father, Beatrice. I wouldn’t do that.”

“Then why were you…”

As she trailed off, she closed her eyes and it was as if puzzle pieces began to fall in the darkness. A quiet gasp left her throat.

Giovanni’s pale face in her dreams.

A familiar tingle along her spine.

A throbbing began to take root at the base of her skull, but she pushed through it and a quiet and familiar voice whispered in her mind.

Just forget, Mariposa. I’m so sorry. I love you. I’m sorry…”

She swallowed the lump in her throat as the tears trailed down her cheeks. “Oh…oh,” she whispered. “My father’s like you, isn’t he? My father’s a vampire.”

Giovanni remained still and silent as the rest of the puzzle took shape.

Her confusing dreams the summer she turned fifteen. Followed by an inexplicable depression that seemed to drag her under despite the loving support of her grandparents. Her withdrawal. The strange and inexplicable moods.

She heard Giovanni murmur from across the compartment, “You are an extraordinarily perceptive girl, Beatrice De Novo.”

A memory from a night in her grandfather’s garage pushed its way to the front of her mind.

“Sometimes, I wish I could just forget him, Grandpa.”

Tears fell hot on her cheeks. “Oh, he is…and he tried to make me forget him,” she said, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.

She saw him lean forward, suddenly alert. “What do you-”

“The summer I was fifteen, I saw my father. He was sitting on a bench in a park across from the library where I had a summer job. It was just a flash,” she whispered and snapped her fingers. “Like that. I thought I was going crazy. He didn’t look how I remembered him. He was too thin, and his face…that pale face, just like yours.”

He leaned back and reached into his bag to hand her a linen handkerchief. “If you were fifteen, it would have been about three years after he was sired. He would have been in control of his senses and his bloodlust by then. So it’s entirely possible, yes. Many newly sired vampires make the mistake of trying to contact their family.”

“I kept seeing him for months.” She looked as she took the handkerchief and held it in twisted fingers. “I really thought I was going crazy. I stopped going out with my friends. I stopped…everything. My grandparents didn’t know what was going on. I thought I was losing it. And there were these crazy dreams.”

She frowned, dabbing her eyes and trying to access memories she now suspected had been tampered with. She kept feeling the strange itch at the nape of her neck every time she tried to recall more, and the headache began to pound.

“He might have tried to talk to you, and you didn’t react well. If he did, it’s possible he tried to wipe the memories from your mind.” He didn’t try to comfort her, but his presence was soothing nonetheless.

“But he was my father.”

He nodded. “Exactly. Your memories of him would be very firmly entrenched. You would have noticed if he manipulated them. Not consciously…not at the time, anyway. You may have been depressed, withdrawn, and you wouldn’t have understood why.”

“I was depressed,” she whispered. “My grandparents had no idea what was wrong with me. I had handled his death as well as could be expected and this happened years later. I went to counselors, therapists…no one could figure it out. Why would he do that?”

He shook his head. “He was young, Beatrice. He probably had no idea how it could affect you.”

She remained silent for a few minutes, sitting still in the blue light of the broken elevator.

“Why are you telling me all this?” she finally asked.

He paused and she tried to read his expression in the dim light.

“I don’t know. I shouldn’t be telling you any of this.”

“That’s not true. You should tell me if it’s about my father. Why were you asking about-”

He glanced away, but not before she noticed the sudden light in his green eyes.

“You want something. You want something from me.”

He looked back, this time wearing a carefully blank expression.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

She shook her head. “No, not me. You want something from him. From my father. That’s why you were asking about him.”

Giovanni’s stillness made him seem even more inhuman than his fangs, which had slipped behind his lips and out of sight.

“You want what he was looking for in Italy, don’t you? You’re a book dealer. Do you want what he was after?”

She knew she was correct when she saw a minute flicker in his eyes. She laughed ruefully. “Why in the world do you think I can help you with that?”

“Would you like to see your father again, Beatrice? I know he’d like to see you.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Do you know where he is? He’s in Europe, isn’t he? There were phone calls-”

“I don’t know. Not exactly. And I wouldn’t go knocking on his door if I did. That’s not how it’s done.”

She frowned. “Then how is it done? I want to see him.”

He rolled his eyes, whispering some sort of foreign curse before he looked at her again. “Vampires are private. Secretive. Otherwise we don’t last very long.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “You don’t seem all that private and secretive to me.”

“Yes, and I’m sure Caspar will have something very clever to say about that,” he muttered.

“Your butler knows?”

“Caspar’s been with me since he was a boy. He knows everything.”


“That’s his story to tell.”

The sat in silence for a few more minutes, the blue fire still rotating above them. She clutched the linen handkerchief he had given her and tried to calm the swirl of emotions threatening her stomach. Pushing past the shock of revelation, she was relieved to know her father was alive, in some way, and had tried to contact her.

Even though he’d apparently messed up her cerebral cortex in the process.



“Now that I know all your superhero secrets, can you maybe get us out of here?”

His eyebrows lifted. “Oh, of course. No reason not to, I suppose.”

More quickly than she could imagine, he stood, jumped up, knocked the center panel away from the ceiling and, with a flick of his hand, sent the blue fire out the top of the elevator compartment.

“Oh…wow,” she murmured.

“Do you have all your things?” he asked, not even a little out of breath as he stood before her.

She quickly gathered her useless phone and made sure all her belongings were tucked securely into her shoulder bag. She stood before him, suddenly much more aware of how tall he was.

“Okay. Got it.”

“All right. Put your arms around my waist and hold on tightly. Squeeze in, the panel is somewhat narrow.”


She wrapped her arms around Giovanni’s waist and tucked her body into his. She still felt the strange energy that seemed to radiate from him, and she tried to calm her reaction. She also tried not to think about the muscular torso she could feel beneath his clothes or the grip of his large hand at her waist.

“And Beatrice?”

“Yeah?” She looked up to see him wearing a playful grin.

“You’ll never know all my superhero secrets.”

And in what felt like a quick hop, she was jerked along with him as he leapt from the floor of the elevator to the top of the steel box which hung from thick cables in the dark shaft.

“Hang on.”

“Planning on it,” she gasped.

The blue flame still hovered over them as he swung her onto his back and, using only his hands, climbed the walls of the elevator shaft back up to the fifth floor. She held on to his neck, suddenly grateful he didn’t need to breathe.

Actually, she realized, she wasn’t sure about that.

“Do you need to breathe?”

He made a somewhat strangled noise that sounded negative, so she just kept holding tight. Using one hand to hang onto the service ladder, he pried open the elevator doors with the other, opening them enough to swing her onto the landing. She watched him disappear back down the elevator shaft, only to return a moment later holding his belongings. He flicked his finger, and the blue flame returned to his palm before he spread his hand gracefully, and the flames appeared to soak into his skin.

“And that,” he commented as if he was making a remark about the weather, “is why I prefer the stairs.”

She snorted a little and smiled at him, still speechless from his clearly inhuman show of strength. He turned back to the doors, and slid them closed with the palms of his hands before he turned back to her.

“Care to join me?” A smile twitched the corner of his mouth.

She nodded. “Yeah, stairs sound good.”

He opened to the door to the stairwell and held up a hand as he appeared to listen for a moment. Seemingly satisfied, he motioned her toward the open door.

Her mind started to compile a list of reasons she should not enter an empty stairwell with a vampire, but she shoved them aside, reminding herself he’d just rescued her from an even more confined space.

“I’m doing pretty well with the not-freaking-out-thing, right?”

“Very well.” He nodded. “Quite impressive.”

They walked in silence the rest of the way, both of them sneaking measuring glances at each other as they descended. When they reached the first floor, he held the door open for her again. She hesitated, knowing somehow when she walked through the doors, she would be different-fundamentally changed by the knowledge she now possessed.

She took a deep breath and walked through the door. Giovanni put a hand on the small of her back in a gesture she normally would have found too personal but, considering the circumstances, she didn’t mind. They walked quickly out the front doors and into the dark night together.

“I’ll drive you home,” he said.

“That’s really not necessary.”

He rolled his eyes. “Beatrice, I’ve just told you that mythological creatures exist, and that your father-who you thought was killed-is probably one of them. Please, allow me to drive you home so I don’t have to worry about you crashing your car into a guardrail.”

She paused, but couldn’t think of a comeback.

“Good point.”

“Thank you.”

“You’d worry?”

His eyes darted to the side, but he continued walking. “I’ll have Caspar pick you up in the morning in time for your first class. I promise you won’t be late.”

She realized she would rather have time to think on the drive home anyway. Plus, she decided she might have one or two questions for Batman’s butler.

“Fine, you can drive me home.”

“That’s my car over there.” Giovanni nodded toward the grey Mustang near the rear of the parking lot.


A small smile lifted the corner of his mouth. “I like it.”

“I do, too.” Her eyes raked over the sleek lines of the vintage car. “How can you drive this if you can’t even ride in an elevator?”

“Good question.” He shrugged. “Older cars don’t seem to be bothered by me, though I always wear gloves when I drive. New cars, however…” He shook his head. “Far too many electronics. I can hardly ride in one without breaking it. Caspar makes me sit in the back seat of his car now.”

“That’s got to be really inconvenient.”

“Let’s just say, sometimes, I really miss horses.”

Beatrice smirked as she sat back in the burnished leather seat of the Mustang, and she examined his face in the sporadic light of the street lamps as he started the car and backed out. His car smelled like leather and smoke, and she realized the odd scent she often caught from him was the same as the air after an electrical storm, which suddenly made much more sense.

“Gio?” she asked after they had merged on the highway.

“Hmm?” He had returned to his more taciturn demeanor since entering the car.

“Do all vampires do the fire thing?”

He glanced at her before turning his face back to the road. “No, we all have some sort of affinity for one of the elements, though. No one seems to know why.”

“Elements? Not like chemistry, though, right?”

He shook his head. “The classical elements: fire, earth, wind, and water.”

“And you can make fire?”

“Not precisely. I can manipulate fire. I use my amnis to make a spark from static electricity, and then I can make that spark grow into whatever shape or type of fire I want.”

She responded dryly. “So you can make fire.”

He shrugged. “Basically, yes.”

“That seems kind of dangerous.”

He nodded as he took the exit off the freeway headed to her grandmother’s small house. “It is. It’s quite hard to control. Not many fire immortals grow to be as old as me.”

“Why not?”

He sighed as if explaining something to a small child. “Well, when you are young and clumsy, it’s rather easy to set yourself on fire.”

A quick laugh escaped her, and she slapped a hand over her mouth before she looked at him, embarrassed by her amusement. Giovanni did not look amused.

She cleared her throat. “Sorry. It’s not funny. I mean, it kind of is, but not really.”

“It’s really not.”

“Of course not,” she replied seriously.

“Fire is one of the few ways we can die.”


They drove silently for a few more minutes.

“So I guess that would make you kind of a bad-ass.”

He smirked a little and nodded. “Yes, that would be another reason not many of us grow as old as me. We tend to be targeted by those who feel threatened.”

“Have you been targeted?”

He looked at her as the car was stopped at a red light. “Not in a long time.”

She stared at him for a few more minutes before she faced forward again.


They continued driving down Greenbriar Street, and she realized she hadn’t given him a single direction.



“You know exactly where my grandmother lives, don’t you?”

He hesitated for a moment. “Yes.”

She chewed on her lip a little, trying to calmly absorb this new knowledge.

“You know when my birthday is, too, don’t you?”


They continued down the dark streets.

“Childhood pet?”

He cleared his throat in what she guessed was a purely habitual gesture.

“I’ve never understood the appeal of Chihuahuas, to be honest.”

She nodded, trying to brush aside the flutter of panic that started to well up. “Well, it was a long-haired one. They’re kind of cute. And Frito was really more my grandma’s dog anyway.”

The awkward silence stretched on as she continued to wonder just how extensively he had pried into her background. She felt like, if she asked, he might just know the contents of her refrigerator.

“I have a cat,” he blurted out. “A chartreux. They chirp instead of meow. His name is Doyle.”

“Oh.” She was strangely relieved by his odd, personal confession. “I don’t know anything about cats. Is that a breed?”

“Yes, technically the cat is Caspar’s, but Doyle likes me best,” he said this proudly, as if it was a personal distinction.


They were turning onto her grandmother’s street, and she began to wonder how this strange, but illuminating, night would end.


“Yes?” He pulled up in front of the house, and waited with the engine idling.

“We’re still kind of friends, right?”

She saw the corner of his mouth turn up in a smile. “I’d like to think so. I hope so.”

“You’re not going to break into my room and mess with my memories tonight, are you?”

He paused before answering softly, “No, Beatrice. I won’t do that.”

She hesitated. “Will you ever?”

He wore an unreadable expression when he answered.

“I don’t know.”

She felt a catch in her throat. “I don’t understand this, not really. Part of me is still wondering whether I’m going to wake up and realize it was all a weird nightmare.”

He frowned for a moment before leaning toward her, and she felt the strange buzz of energy again. He lifted a hand and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear.

“We’ll talk tomorrow night.”

Beatrice felt a sudden, overwhelming swell of panic, but she nodded before she slipped from the car. As she stood on the path, the dark night seemed to close around her and formerly familiar shadows grew ominous. She almost ran toward the front door, locking it behind her as she heard the Mustang pull away.

Chapter Six

Houston, Texas

November 2003

Giovanni straightened when he heard the door to the kitchen open. He had stayed up to wait for Caspar’s return to the house after he delivered Beatrice to her first class of the morning.

He heard the older man moving through the house and lingering in the kitchen.

“Caspar!” he called from the shelter of the dim living room.

“Oh,” the older man called as he walked into the room. “I didn’t realize you would still be awake, I-”

“I’m exhausted. How was it?”

Caspar shrugged. “Fine, very little traffic this morning. We made it to the university with plenty of time before her first class. Parking on that campus is absolutely hideous first thing in the morning.”


“She’s lovely, by the way. Surveillance photos never really do a woman justice. She has the most lovely skin, and that hair-”

“Caspar, you know what I’m asking, please don’t make me kill you.”

A frown settled onto Caspar’s face and he cleared his throat.

“She was a bit…discomfited. I suppose it’s understandable. She asked that I give you a message.”

Giovanni scowled. He’d thought she had taken the news better than most.

“What was the message?”

“‘Don’t call me, I’ll call you.’”

Giovanni looked down, his book suddenly forgotten. He closed it and set it carefully on the low coffee table before he stood.

“Thank you for driving her to campus. I’m retiring for the day.”

He was halfway up the stairs when he heard his friend mutter quietly, “Damn.”

He didn’t call her, but after two weeks and a curt phone call from Tenzin in China, Giovanni did go back to the reading room at the library to continue his transcription of the Tibetan book.

His eyes immediately sought her out when he entered the small, windowless room. She glanced up from the computer, paused, but then continued typing as he spread out his work materials at the table nearest her desk. He ignored her racing heart and neither one of them spoke. He saw her fill out the call slip herself and dart back to the stacks to grab the manuscript.

He jotted a quick note that he put on her desk before he sat down. He was careful not to examine her too closely when she returned, but smiled a little when he noticed she was wearing her combat boots with her slim black skirt.

“Thank you, Beatrice,” he murmured as she set down the grey box. She paused for a moment, as if she had something to say, but then he heard a small sigh.

“You’re welcome, Dr. Vecchio. Please let me know if there are any other library materials you need.”

He gritted his teeth when he heard her address him formally, but remained silent and began his careful work. He heard Beatrice sit down at her desk again and pick up the small note he had left near the keyboard. He glanced at her from the corner of his eye and saw her fold the note and slip it in her bag. He hid a small smile and went back to writing.

For the next two weeks, they continued their near silent interaction, each week she brought him the document he requested, paused as if she wanted to tell him something, and then returned to her desk without speaking. Each week he worked on transcribing the ancient characters, took careful stock of her appearance and left afterward with scarcely a word exchanged with the stubborn girl.

He was trying to be patient, but he’d heard nothing about Stephen De Novo from Livia’s people in Rome and was beginning to feel as if the first lead he’d had in five years was dangling just out of his grasp.

It was a Friday night, and Giovanni was preparing to go out for the evening when he heard the buzz from the phone in the kitchen, signaling a car was at the gate. He frowned and walked quickly down the stairs just in time to hear Caspar hit the intercom.


“It’s Beatrice De Novo.”

Caspar immediately buzzed her in before turning to look at Giovanni.

“It’s Friday. Will you be all right?”

Giovanni shrugged and walked upstairs to hang up his jacket. He paused to check his appearance in the mirror, wishing he wasn’t wearing black as it accentuated his pale skin, but also feeling a perverse pleasure that he had no need to hide his true nature any longer.

He’d never doubted she was trustworthy. Maybe it was her careful handling of the rare texts that contained so much elusive knowledge, or maybe it was the guarded expression in the girl’s dark eyes, but he knew Beatrice was someone who could keep secrets, including her own.

He walked downstairs to hear Caspar opening the door for her.

“Miss De Novo, what a pleasure to see you again.”

“Thanks, Caspar. How’ve you been?”

“Very well, thank you. I was able to catch that showing of Night of the Living Dead you told me about. It was wonderful.”

“Cool! Glad you saw it. I never got out to the theater. No one does zombies like Romero.”

Giovanni turned the corner and paused in the doorway of the kitchen.

She was wearing black, of course, but nothing about it made her seem inhuman. Her smooth skin practically pulsed with life, and his eyes were drawn to the graceful column of her neck. Her long hair was pulled back, and his fingers itched to release it from the band at the nape of her neck.

She saw him, and for the first time since the night in the elevator, she called him by his name.

“Hi, Gio.”


Caspar interjected, “Beatrice, can I get you something to drink?”

She turned to the older man. “A Coke? Do you have…Coke?”

Giovanni chuckled. “Yes, we have Coke. Caspar’s quite fond of it.”

She blushed. “Just that, thanks.”

“And I’ll fix myself a drink in the living room, Caspar.” He looked at Beatrice. “If you’ll join me?”

She nodded and allowed him to usher her into the brightly lit living room, filled with comfortable furniture and a large flat screen television which hung on the wall.

“Oh, wow. That T.V. is huge,” Beatrice mused as she walked over to observe the large screen. “The picture’s probably really good, right?”

He chuckled. “Yes, Caspar couldn’t very well watch bad special effects from old horror movies on a small, low-resolution screen, could he?”

Beatrice glanced over her shoulder with a smile on her face. “Of course not.”

He just smiled at her, unexpectedly pleased to see her wander around his house and examine his belongings. He was tempted to show her his library but decided to wait and see why she had come to his home before he offered.

Caspar came in a few moments later as he was pouring himself a whiskey at the sideboard.

“Please let me know if there is anything else you need, Beatrice.”

“Call me B, Caspar. Only Mr. Formal over there insists on calling me Beatrice.” Giovanni grinned with his back to the room, more determined than ever to call her by her given name at every opportunity.

“Of course, B.”


Giovanni finished pouring his drink and turned back to face the room. Beatrice was sitting in one of the leather armchairs-the one he usually used-so he sat to her left on the sofa.

“Will there be anything else?”

He shook his head, and Caspar left them alone. Giovanni sat silently, sipping the whiskey Carwyn had brought him from Ireland the year before and waiting to see why she had come. He felt a small surge of triumph when she unfolded the note he’d left for her weeks ago and set it on her lap.

“So the job you mentioned, what kind of job is it?” she asked.

“A research position. Primarily computer work.”

“Why me?” she asked, her eyes still carrying a shade of suspicion as she looked at him.

So I can find out more about your father and his habits. So I have something to offer him in exchange when I do find him-which I will. Also, you smell like honeysuckle.

He blinked at the last thought but shrugged nonchalantly. “You have more than the necessary skill set. Most of the information I need to search for is online now. Obviously, you can imagine why that is problematic. Caspar can help, but he’s neither as technologically savvy as you are, nor does he have your background in information sciences.” He paused before he continued. “Though he does make an excellent cocktail, and that shouldn’t be overlooked.”

“Thank you!” he heard his friend call from the kitchen. Giovanni and Beatrice exchanged a smile before she remembered she was being suspicious. She frowned a little and asked another question.

“I’m sure there are plenty of people you could hire. Why me?”

He stared at her challenging expression before he set his drink down and leaned back into the plush couch. “Well, you seemed to have handled the whole ‘blood sucking demon of the night’ thing fairly well, so I thought I’d take a stab at not having to meddle with the brains of every assistant I use.”

Her expression was carefully blank as she absorbed his words. He leaned forward and sipped his drink, noticing her watching him carefully.

“Go ahead,” he offered quietly.


“I can see a million questions swirling around that brain of yours. Just ask them.”

She squirmed in her seat. “I didn’t want to be rude.”

He sat back again and stretched a long arm along the back of the sofa. Though he was usually a secretive creature, he found himself curious what she would ask.

“Go ahead,” he murmured as he watched her examine him.

“You drink whiskey.”


“So, do you eat? Do you need to?”

“I have to drink blood to survive. Human is the most nutritionally satisfying and tastes the best, of course-”

“Of course,” she interjected and he smirked.

“But I can also survive on animal blood if I need to, and many immortals choose to do that. They just have to feed more often.”

“How often?”

“Drinking human blood? About once a week.”

She perked up. “Oh, well that’s not so bad. Oh, unless-”

“No, I don’t have to ‘drain’ a blood donor, Beatrice. I don’t have to kill to survive.”

She paused, a small smile ghosting her lips. “Unlike us, who kill animals all the time.”

He shrugged. “I wasn’t going to mention that if you weren’t.”

She met his eyes, a tentative warmth creeping into her expression. “So, you don’t need to, but you do eat a little.”

He leaned forward and took another sip of whiskey. “Our bodies are very…slow. Well, the processes are, anyway. My hair grows, just very slowly. My fingernails will as well. We digest normally, but again, very slowly. So I can eat and drink, but I don’t need to, though it becomes uncomfortable if I go too long without anything in my stomach.”

“So the coffee thing?”

He shrugged. “I really just like the way it smells. I think it tastes absolutely vile, though. I don’t know how you drink so much of it.”

She grinned, finally looking relaxed as she sat in his chair. “I like it. You drink blood. That smells and tastes vile, if you ask me.”


“Thank you.”

She paused again before asking, “So, the wooden stake through the heart thing is apparently a myth, but you can be killed by fire. Anything else?”

“Should I be concerned that one of your first questions is how to kill me?”

Her jaw dropped. “What? No! I didn’t mean…I was just curious.”

He snorted. “Well, you can remain so.”

“What about the sun?” she asked. “Extra toasty?”

“I’m not going to burst into flames, but I avoid tanning beds.”


“Some of my favorite cufflinks.”


“Please,” he sneered. “I’m Italian.”

She was wearing an almost adorable scowl as he ruined all of her movie stereotypes of his kind. He was usually bored by human reactions, but found himself enjoying hers. For his part, Giovanni hoped she would take the job as his research assistant. Besides the valuable connection she provided to her father, she was extremely bright, and he found it relaxing not to have to hide around her.

He could also monitor any other vampire who became aware of her. Houston’s immortal population was small, and most tended to mind their own business-which was why he had chosen the humid city in the south of Texas-but if he had discovered her, her father’s sire could, as well.

Beatrice was still sipping her drink and sneaking looks at him when she thought he wasn’t looking.

“So, if I take this job, where would you want to work? At the university?”

“No, here. I have top of the line equipment upstairs and extensive firewalls to keep my research private, along with numerous electronic editions of reference texts and a large library. I just can’t use any of the computers.”

“That has got to be frustrating.”

“Very. Because of my nature and affinity toward fire, I’m even less able to use modern technology than most vampires. It has become more and more complicated as the years go by.”

“Good thing you have Caspar.”

“Yes, it is. He’s very useful, despite the fact that he’s a horrible eavesdropper.”

“I heard that!” Caspar called from the kitchen. Giovanni cocked his eyebrow at Beatrice, who stifled a laugh.

“So, if I take this job-if I take it-what kind of hours are we talking about? And what do you actually do? Can I ask?”

He nodded and took another sip of whiskey as Caspar came into the living room to refill Beatrice’s drink and set a small plate of cheese and olives on the coffee table.

“Of course. I only work when I want to, so it would be part-time. Evenings, of course, but I’m flexible as to which ones. Fridays are not usually available. I don’t have to work, but immortality is dreadfully boring for the idle rich, so I try to keep myself occupied. I’m a hunter by nature, so I hunt rare documents and books for private clients, along with some antiquities. Collectibles, art, that sort of thing, though antiquities are not particularly interesting to me.”

“So, do you work mostly for other-other vampires?”

“Mostly yes, though not exclusively. I don’t advertise, and since clients find me through referral, I tend to take work from those who have worked with me in the past. Most of those people are immortal.”

She sat quietly, staring into her drink before she spoke again. “Wow.”

He frowned. “What? Why? Why ‘wow?’”

“You’re like a-a book detective. That’s really cool.”

He couldn’t suppress his smile. “I think so, yes.”

“And you want to pay me to help you find books and antiques?”

“That’s the idea.”

She paused for a moment, biting her lip before she asked, “Will you help me find my father?”

The blood began to rush in his veins and he smothered a low growl of satisfaction when he heard her. It was perfect. She wanted exactly the same thing he did, though probably for very different reasons.

“Yes,” he said with a smile he hoped didn’t show his extended fangs. “I’ll find him.”

Beatrice smiled. “Then I’ll take it, I don’t even care if you’re an asshole when you’re working. Besides, what you do is a book lover’s dream job.”

He shrugged. “Well, if you’re going to be pursuing a career for eternity, it might as well be something you enjoy.”

“I’ll say so.”

He tried to suppress the smile that wanted to take over his face. “So you agree to work for me? I confess, I’ve never had an assistant other than Caspar. I might very well be an asshole when I’m working.”

“You are!” Caspar shouted from the kitchen.

Beatrice laughed outright when she heard him, and Giovanni couldn’t help but join her. His mind began to race with thoughts of finding his books, and he couldn’t deny that the girl’s amusing presence was an added bonus.

He saw a grey streak dart down the stairs from the corner of his eye then Doyle was there, curling himself around Beatrice’s combat boots and looking longingly at Giovanni with copper colored eyes.

“Oh, hi. Hi, Cat.” Beatrice seemed more than a bit taken aback by the large feline investigating her. Doyle sniffed her boots for a few moments before he jumped on the couch next to Giovanni.

“You’re not getting any cheese from me, Doyle. I’m told it’s not good for you.”

“That is a very large cat.”

“He is.” Doyle chirped and shoved his head under Giovanni’s hand. Beatrice grinned at them both. “He’s very smart. But spoiled. That is Caspar’s doing, I’m afraid. He keeps trying to buy his love through extravagant meals.”

“It’s going to work one of these days,” Caspar muttered as he came in to lift Doyle from Giovanni’s lap. “Come now, Doyle. I have some lovely tuna for you in the kitchen.”

Caspar tucked the cat under his arm and walked back to the kitchen, winking at Beatrice as he left the room.

“So when can I see your library?” She was practically bouncing in her seat.

He smirked. “So forward, Beatrice. Just jump right in and ask to see a vampire’s library, why don’t you? Not even dinner first?”

Her mouth dropped open and she flushed bright red. “What? That’s not part of the job, is it?”

He could stop the laughter that burst out. “No! I was teasing you. I don’t expect-no, definitely not. That’s not part of-no. No.”

She curled her lip. “Well, now I’m almost offended. I can’t smell that bad.”

His gaze suddenly focused on her neck and the slight flush that lingered there. He felt the raw hunger in his throat, and he knew he had waited too long. He needed to feed. And soon.

“No,” he said hoarsely. The tender skin on her neck began to pulse slightly as her heart rate picked up. “You smell…”

She must have felt the energy that suddenly charged the room, because she stiffened in her chair, staring at him. He heard her heart race, and the scent of adrenaline began to perfume the air.

“Gio,” Caspar called as he walked briskly into the living room. “Do you and B need a refreshment on your drinks?” The older man came to stand between Giovanni and the girl, breaking his concentration and snapping him out of the sudden bloodlust that had taken him by surprise.

“No.” Giovanni cleared his throat. “Beatrice was just leaving.” He stood and went to offer Beatrice a hand as she rose from her chair. She eyed him cautiously, glancing between him and Caspar as she stood.

“I apologize. I do need to go out this evening. We’ll have to see the library another time,” he spoke quietly, hoping she couldn’t detect the fangs lengthening in his mouth as he approached.

From the way she stared at his lips, he suspected they were not as hidden as he hoped.

“Sure,” she said. “I need to get home, anyway. My grandmother is probably waiting up.”

“Of course.”

Caspar took Beatrice by the arm and walked her toward the kitchen door. She glanced over her shoulder, and Giovanni tried to temper his hungry stare as she walked away. From the sound of her heart, and the scent of her blood, he wasn’t very successful.

Still, she did not look away.

He took a deep breath, his nostrils flaring at the deliciously rich scent of her blood slowly dissipated in the air around him. He walked over to the chair where she sat, bending down to run his face along the back much as the cat had scented her legs earlier.

His eyes narrowed and his throat burned. He quickly walked upstairs to grab his coat before the hunger overtook him. Taking a deep breath as he stepped outside, feeling his skin burn as he wrestled down the instincts he had battled for five hundred years.

“Why is she here?”

“For you. My blood is gone from your system and you need sustenance.”

“I don’t want-”

“You will not drain her. That only exhibits a lack of control. Though you are young, you must never be without self-control, do you understand me?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Now feed.”

After he was sure his control was intact, he headed for the nightclubs which would already be packed on Friday night.

Brushing against the bouncer at the door to one of his favorite clubs, he quickly found a table only occupied by a few college boys. He held out his hand to introduce himself and, with a quick use of amnis, convinced them he was an acquaintance they had invited out for the evening. As the night progressed, college girls passed by drawn to his looks, but put off by his manner when he brushed them aside. Finally, he spotted a pair of women who appeared to be in their late twenties eyeing him from across the club.

He observed them for a few minutes, noting their provocative clothing and the body language indicating they were looking for sex. Abandoning his oblivious companions at the table, he approached the women, leaning down and trying to ignore the stale scent of fruit body wash and forget the smell of honeysuckle.

“Hi, I’m John,” he said with a flat American accent, holding out his hand to shake first one, then the other’s hand. Their minds were weak and would be easy to manipulate. And though the prospect of sex with the two women surprisingly distasteful to him that evening, he sensed both of them were in good health and would not suffer any ill effects when he took their blood. He could easily manipulate them into thinking they’d had a very enjoyable time.

The blonde batted her lashes. “You’re hot.”

He smiled and held out a hand to her before he leaned over and let his lips feather across the neck of the slightly less crass brunette. He inhaled her scent, ignoring the smell of cheap alcohol that tainted her blood.

He would drink deeply that night.

Chapter Seven

Houston, Texas

November 2003

“Oh, wow.”

“What do you think?”

“I tried to imagine, but-I mean…it’s so much more-”

“Think it’s large enough to keep you satisfied for a while?”

“It’s so much bigger than I expected.”

He backed away, leaving Beatrice to gaze in wonder at the library that took up half of the second floor.

“I think I’ll just leave you two alone for a bit,” he said with a chuckle.

“Okay,” she said.

“Would you like a fire?”

“Okay.” She wandered toward the map case, peering into it with awe.

“How about something to drink? Should I have Caspar bring something up?”


“Mind if I just take a quick sip from your carotid before I go?”

“Yeah, that’s fine,” she murmured as she stared at a sixteenth century map of South America.

“Right then,” he cleared his throat and ignored the low, hungry burn. “I’ll be back later. Enjoy.”

“Okay. Gio?”


A small smile quirked her lips. “I heard the carotid thing. No.”

He smirked. “No harm in asking.”

“But yes to the fire. It’s cold in here.”

He chuckled, walking over to the small fireplace with the grouping of chairs surrounding it. Leaning down, he turned on the gas valve and snapped his fingers, quickly tossing a blue flame toward the vents which filled the grate with a warm glow. He saw Beatrice watching him. He looked at her as he stood, and she grinned.

“Still very cool, Batman.”

He winked. “Well, I have a library to compete with now.”

She sighed and looked at him sympathetically. “Cool flame tricks aside, there’s no competition.”

He lifted his eyebrow. “Library wins?”

“Every single time.”

He chuckled and walked toward the doorway. “Feel free to wander around. There’s only one locked case, which is of no importance to your work. Everything else is made to be read. Familiarize yourself with the computers tonight. Caspar has created an account for you with your first name as the login identification and last name as the password. Keep it that way.”

“You got it. Your computers, your rules.”

He gave a curt nod. “I’ll be downstairs in my study making some phone calls.”

She was already engrossed in a first edition Austen he had purchased in London in the late 1800s. He smiled and left her with his books.

Giovanni walked downstairs, and asked Caspar to bring Beatrice a drink in the library. Since they were working from his home, he could start soon after he rose and had no need to wait for sunset to leave the house. He was surprised how much the idea of having a competent assistant invigorated him. He’d spent the previous fifteen years watching the slow transfer of information from paper to electronic medium with dread, knowing that eventually, much of the information vital to his work would be out of his grasp. Her agreement to work with him, knowing who and what he was, lifted an unanticipated weight off his shoulders.

Beatrice had agreed to work from five-thirty to nine o’clock, Mondays and Thursdays, leaving Tuesday free for some activity she did with her grandmother, and Wednesday for her regular library hours.

He was satisfied with the arrangement and found himself pleased with the prospect of seeing her three nights a week. He knew he could hardly ask for more and was confident his research would go much faster than it had in the past.

He picked up the phone and dialed Carwyn’s number.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” the priest said. “Why are you calling me again? You’re like a child waiting for Father Christmas. This girl can’t be that interesting.”

Giovanni chuckled and ignored his friend’s question. “I thought you liked hearing my voice.”

“And you said she was interesting, not irresistible.”

“Stop making assumptions.”

“Oh? So you’re not ‘interested’ in her that way?”

He frowned, and his mind flashed to the image of Beatrice in his library, browsing the books with a small smile and laughing eyes. Then he remembered the feel of her soft body pressed against his as they jumped out of the broken elevator.

“She’s a student, an assistant. A contact, in a manner of speaking.”

“Because you always take this kind of interest in students and assistants and contacts,” his friend said sarcastically. “Just remember that I’m available for confession should the need arise.”

“Amusing. I’ll keep that in mind,” he muttered, eager to change the subject. “I was calling to let you know we’re having an unexpected cold spell, so you might need a sweater.”

“Your ‘cold spells’ are balmy spring weather compared to my mountains. I’m packing my loudest Hawaiian shirts.”

He winced. “Please no.”

“I just ordered a new one. Had it shipped to your place. Lots of pink flowers on it. Should clash nicely with my hair.”

“Do you know what looks good with your demon hair? Ecclesiastical black.”

“Boring. I’m only wearing the uniform now when I celebrate mass.”

“Hmm, and how is your congregation?”

Carwyn chuckled. “Small, but faithful as always.”

He sipped his drink. “I’m glad you’re staying longer, Carwyn. Something’s going to happen. I don’t know what, but too many pieces are moving at once for this to be ignored. This girl. Her father. I’m not sure whether to smile or shore up my defenses.”

The silence stretched over the line before the Welshman spoke again in his tripping accent, “Have you talked to Tenzin?”

He shook his head though there was no one to see. “Caspar talked to Nima…well, e-mailed her anyway. Apparently they’re both being silent lately.”

“She usually only does that when she’s meditating.”

“Yes, I know.”

The silence stretched again. “Well, if there’s something to know-”

“She’ll send word.”


Both were silent on the line again as they gathered their thoughts.

“I’m glad I’m coming, too, if for no other reason than to eat Caspar’s food. He’s a much better cook than Sister Maggie.”

“Be careful how loud you say that, Father. Gruel for a month if she hears you.”

Carwyn chuckled. “She’s happy to get rid of me for a while. She’s going to visit her sister’s family in Kerry while I’m gone.”

“We’re looking forward to seeing you. Doyle especially.”

“And on that note, I’m hanging up. Don’t call me again unless there’s an emergency. I’ll be there in two weeks, for heaven’s sake. Oh, have you ordered the match already?”

“Of course. It’s on the night after you get here.”

“Excellent. Goodbye.”

“I’ll see you next week.”

Giovanni hung up the phone and picked up the printouts Caspar had made of his e-mails from the previous day. Looking through them, he noticed they were still being put off by Livia’s people in Rome, and his client for the Lincoln documents was making a fuss again. He was bored by the whole matter and wondered whether he should just return the rude human’s retainer and move on to something more interesting.

Then again, he realized, the case might be a good one to give to Beatrice. It was sure to keep her busy. The client was human, so the consequences of missing something or failing to find the requested document were negligible. Yes, he thought, it might be a good first project for the persistent Miss De Novo.

He almost overlooked the last email in the stack. It was short, cryptic, and had clearly come from an immortal, as it was sent to the e-mail address he gave only to vampire clients. The message was brief, and the sender used an obviously false address.

They’ll be there soon, and there’s more where they came from.

You’re welcome.


He looked at the date and time the e-mail was received and stared at the final initial. Giovanni opened the locked drawer on the top right-hand side of his desk and slid the paper inside. Then he leaned back, sipped his whiskey, and let his thoughts wander to the past.

“It’s there somewhere.”

“I’ve looked, Gio. It’s not.”

“Yes, Beatrice, it is. The client has been waiting for this document for months now. It is your job to find it. We know it was sold at auction in 1993. We know it’s in a private collection somewhere on the Eastern seaboard,” he lectured her as he pored over one of his journals he had taken from his locked cabinet. “Put the pieces together. There are only so many auction houses that deal with that kind of document on the East coast, and most of them keep old catalogues online now.”

“From ten years ago?”

He shrugged as he sat at the dark oak table in the middle of the room. “Well, that’s what I hired you for. I tracked it to the auction. The rest is the easy part. Look at the list I gave you.”

He had put her on the trail of the boring Lincoln document earlier that night while he looked over some of his past clients, trying to ascertain who, exactly, the mysterious ‘L’ might be who had sent the cryptic e-mail. He wasn’t wasting energy on speculating what he or she might have sent, as there was wasn’t enough information yet. Whoever it was, he was certain it was related to Stephen De Novo and his lost books.

“This is going to take forever.”

“Forever is a very relative term when you’re talking to me. It’s going to take more time than you’ve spent on previous projects your insipid professors at the university have assigned you. Not forever.”

“Old man,” she muttered under her breath.

“Warned you, B,” Caspar called from the doorway.

“I should have listened; his looks are deceiving,” she grumbled as she turned her eyes away from him to blink at the glowing monitor.

He ignored them both and took out one of his journals from the period before he was turned, when Savaranola’s bonfires tore through the city of his birth.

Caspar walked over and set a mug of hot tea in front of Beatrice before taking a whiskey to Giovanni. The butler set the tray down on the coffee table and picked up his own book to read in his favorite chair by the fire. It was Beatrice’s third week working at the house, and the three of them had already fallen into a comfortable rhythm.

Giovanni darted around the library, often moving so quickly he startled Beatrice as she sat behind the computer, clicking the keys as she stared at the monitor, searching the vast digital territory he could not access. Giovanni would call out search terms as he worked, and she shooed him away if he got too close to the electronic equipment.

Caspar joined them to read halfway through the evening, often bantering about favorite horror films with Beatrice or needling Giovanni in various languages.

Doyle moved almost as quickly as the vampire, jumping from lap to lap and looking for any imminent treats to be dropped or sneaked behind Giovanni’s back.

“Seriously, Gio. I see one of these houses you list with catalogues online, the rest-”

The kitchen door slammed, and they all started at the sound. Giovanni held up a hand for silence, but didn’t hear any additional noise. Caspar walked swiftly to Beatrice’s desk and stood next to her, looking far more dangerous than one might expect from a sixty-seven-year-old butler.

Giovanni, on the other hand, let out a low growl and slipped out the door in the blink of an eye.

He paused on the stairs, sniffed the air, and relaxed.

“You can hide, Carwyn, but your wet wolfhound cannot. I have company. Stop scaring the guest.”

All of a sudden, something pounced on his back, and Giovanni and the silent intruder tumbled down the stairs in a blur. They rolled toward the entry way, knocking over a green vase that stood in the exquisitely appointed room. A pale white hand shot out, catching the vase before it hit the ground and tossing it toward the plush sofa.

“That is turn of the century Bien Hoa. If you break it, I will break you,” Giovanni gasped out as his friend put him in a choke hold.

“Oh, it’s fine, Gio! You’re such a prissy bastard sometimes.” Carwyn twisted around, trying to capture his friend’s leg in a lock, but failed. Carwyn had never been faster than him. His only advantage lay in his broad shoulders, heavily muscled arms, and the element of surprise, which he had lost.

Giovanni twisted around, finally getting out of the choke-hold and flipping backward over Carwyn’s head to leap on his back. In no time, the Welshman was flat on his face with one arm twisted behind him, and a long leg bent his knees at angles that would have broken a mortal man.

Giovanni decided to shock him, just for good measure. Carwyn hissed when he felt the sharp sizzle course through his body.

“Damn it, Sparky!” he yelped. “Not fair.”


“Of course, you bloody Italian, I yield. Now let me up.”

Giovanni stood with a grin, holding his hand out to his old friend who scowled at him and grabbed it in a harder grip than strictly necessary. Carwyn walked over to the couch to retrieve the vase.

“See? Not a scratch. I was an expert archer, you know.” He pulled back an arm as if aiming an arrow and sighted Giovanni with one blue eye. “Sired in my prime.”

“Archery does not translate to tossing Vietnamese ceramics, you idiot,” Giovanni scowled and dusted off the vase before setting on its stand. “And where is your dog? It better not be digging anything up.”

Carwyn shrugged his broad shoulders. “I’m sure he is. So, where’s the new blood?”

Giovanni nodded to the top of the stairs.

Carwyn looked to the top of the landing where Caspar stood, looking on in amusement. Beatrice peeked out from behind him, her dark eyes taking in the clearly immortal being now standing in the entryway.

The new vampire almost tripped up the landing, his wild auburn hair flying and a grin overtaking his face as he peeked at Beatrice, who was still hiding behind Caspar.

“Now, Cas, tell her I won’t bite, will you?” Carwyn grinned and shot a wink at her. Beatrice stepped out from Caspar’s shadow to examine Giovanni’s friend more carefully.

Carwyn stuck out a hand. “Father Carwyn ap Bryn, my dear.”

Beatrice shook it tentatively, her small hand dwarfed by the mountain of a man in front of her. “Father?” she asked skeptically.

He winked at her before bending to press a kiss her delicate fingers. “Indeed.” Carwyn brought her hand up, suddenly twisting it to sniff her wrist. “No wonder you wanted to hire her, Gio.” Carwyn smirked and cocked an eyebrow. “She smells delectable.”

Giovanni caught Beatrice’s quick gasp as he climbed the stairs. Caspar was chuckling and trying to shove Carwyn toward the library, and Beatrice hung back, her face flushed with embarrassment and her hand still caught in the Welshman’s grip.

“Give her hand back, old man,” Giovanni muttered in a voice only an immortal would hear.

Carwyn growled a little and shot him a look, but let Beatrice’s hand drop and walked into the library with Caspar. Giovanni stepped onto the landing, observing Beatrice’s reaction carefully. Her heart rate was rapid, but there was no smell of adrenaline in the air, so he knew she wasn’t afraid. Nevertheless, he approached her cautiously.

“He’s harmless, really. Far more harmless than me.”

She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Really? Tell that to your vase.”

He chuckled and, reassured of her mood, placed a hand on the small of her back to lead her into the library where Caspar was pouring a drink from a crystal decanter, and Doyle was hissing at the large Welshman who shoved him out of his favorite chair.

“It’s raining out there, Gio. I come to your place to escape the rain, for heaven’s sake. I get enough of this at home.”

Giovanni was curious what Beatrice would make of one of his oldest friends. Though Carwyn was a priest, he rarely wore any kind of uniform, preferring to dress himself more like a surfer than a man of the cloth when he visited the United States.

He removed his soggy coat and hung it on the back of his chair, revealing a garish shirt with scantily clad hula girls dancing across the back. He must have caught Beatrice’s stare, because he only smiled again and sat down, reaching for the drink Caspar held out to him.

“Thanks, Cas. We don’t have to wear black, you know.” He nodded toward Giovanni, who had shown Beatrice to the small couch in front of the fire and sat down next to her. “This one does it because he thinks it makes him look dashing, or he really is that boring. Haven’t figured that one out.”

“I vote boring,” Caspar quipped. “God knows I’ve tried to break him out of his shell.”

“Though,” Carwyn shrugged. “Look at the girl, Cas. Perhaps he’s met his match in the black wardrobe department.”

“Thanks,” Beatrice finally piped in.

He winked at her. “Great boots, my dear. Do you ride motorcycles? And if not, would you like to?”

Giovanni leaned into the back of the couch, stretching his arm casually behind Beatrice, unable to completely turn off his territorial instincts around another vampire, even his old and trusted friend.

“You’re early, Father. Everything all right in Wales?” he asked nonchalantly.

The sharp glint in the Welshman’s eye told him they would be having a more private discussion once the humans left, and tension made the blood begin to move in his veins. He instinctively moved closer to Beatrice, who was listening to a story Carwyn had begun relating about one of their more outrageous exploits in London in the late 1960s when Caspar had been much younger.

The three friends took turns making the girl laugh with their wild tales and quick, needling humor, and Giovanni took a strange kind of delight in the amused expression that lit Beatrice’s face every time Caspar or Carwyn told a story that proved to be embarrassing to him. He simply shrugged and took another sip of his whiskey.

After a couple of hours, he noticed Beatrice’s eyes begin to droop, and she nestled a little more into his side on the small sofa. He pushed aside the urge to reach down and run a hand along her hair. “Caspar,” he asked quietly, “could you drive Beatrice home, please?”

She sat up, as if surprised by Giovanni’s question. She glanced at her watch, not realizing it had been pressed into his leg and was now dead.

She shook it for a second then glared at him in annoyance.

He shrugged. “I’ll buy you a new one tomorrow.”

“Yes, you will. I’d appreciate a ride home, Cas, it must be late.”

“I’d be happy to drive you. Let these two old men catch up on their secret vampire business without us.”

She chuckled, having no idea how true the statement was. “I’m surprised my grandma hasn’t called already.” She yawned and stretched as she stood, treating Giovanni to a glimpse of the smooth skin at her waist. He shifted slightly, looking away as she stepped over his long legs.

Gathering her bags from the desk she used, she quickly followed Caspar out of the library.

“Good night, everyone. I’ll see you on Wednesday, Gio. Carwyn,” she smiled, “very interesting meeting you.”

“Likewise, B. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around.” The Welshman stretched his long legs in front of him and batted away the cat as they listened to Caspar and Beatrice walk down the stairs. Only when they had both heard the kitchen door slam shut did Carwyn turn to Giovanni with a grim look on his face.

“Heard from your son lately?”

Chapter Eight

Houston, Texas

December 2003

Beatrice and Charlotte stared at the letters Dr. Christiansen spread out on the table like a proud father.

“This could be the start of a very exciting new collection, ladies.”

“I have to confess, even though they’re thematic orphans in our collection, they are so damn cool,” Charlotte murmured as she examined the old parchment.

“How old are they?” Beatrice asked.

The grey-haired director set the letters down on the table in the reading room and pulled out a sheaf of notes from his briefcase. “They’ve been dated to 1484. A very important year in the Italian Renaissance-really, what some would consider Florence’s golden age. It was before Savaranola, and there was a blossoming of art, philosophy, classical studies-”

“James, we know what the Italian Renaissance is,” Charlotte remarked.

“Well…” The academic blushed a little. “It’s a very exciting pair of letters. The translation was done at the University of Ferrara, and the letters were authenticated there as well.”

“Is Renaissance Italian much different from modern Italian?” Beatrice asked, wishing, as she often did, that her father were still around to see some of the treasures she came across in her work.

“Somewhat, but we don’t have to worry about that. Professor Scalia is practically chomping at the bit to take a look at them, and he’s an expert in the language. I suspect the whole of the history department, classics department, and the philosophy department will be our very eager visitors for quite some time.”

“Philosophy department?” Beatrice asked, still examining the well-preserved letters on the table. She couldn’t help but admire how clean the edges of the parchment were. They look liked they had been preserved by a professional archivist when they were first written.

“Oh yes, the letters are written from Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, a notable philosopher, to his friend, Angelo Poliziano, who was a scholar and poet in Florence. The two men had quite a correspondence and were known to be part of a close group of friends, all great thinkers and some quite controversial. Indeed, one of their circle was Savonarola himself.”

“The crazy priest that burned all the books?” Beatrice asked.

Charlotte chuckled. “There was a lot more to him than that. He was a fascinating individual, despite the bonfires.” She looked over at Dr. Christiansen. “Do the letters mention Savonarola?”

“Only briefly. Feel free to take a look at the translations. They’re mainly personal letters. Pico spends some of the first letter talking about an orphan-or an illegitimate child of some sort, either is likely-that Poliziano had found in Florence; Pico had taken the child into his house. The count had no children of his own. The first letter is mostly discussing the boy’s education, but there is some mention of Poliziano introducing Pico to Lorenzo de Medici for the first time, and that is very significant.”

Beatrice stared at the document, examining the curl of the ancient script and the old, yellowing parchment.

“Firenze, 1484

Caro Giovanni…”

1484, she thought. Was it a coincidence? Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. She shook her head. It was ridiculous to think he would have kept the same name for over 500 years.

A faint memory of their meeting at the museum stirred in the back of her mind.

“All the men in my family are named Giovanni.”

“Well, ladies, much to do today! We’ll have to enjoy these treasures later. Charlotte, how are the preparations for the History of Physics exhibit coming?”

Charlotte and Dr. Christiansen began discussing the exhibit the department was helping curate the following month, and Beatrice packed away the recently acquired documents and wandered back to the stacks to set the Florentine letters in the spot Dr. Christiansen had mentioned to her earlier. He seemed to think that more of the historical correspondence might be given to the university in the future.

Beatrice wondered again who the generous anonymous donor could be, and why exactly he had chosen a relatively obscure state university in Texas to be the recipient of such a generous gift. Thinking about the strange turn her life had taken in the previous two months, she wondered where to draw the line between coincidence and calculation.

She went about her duties preoccupied with the mysterious letters, finally escaping to the stacks that afternoon to examine them and look over the translation of the first letter.

Most of it detailed the new addition to the Pico household, a boy of seven named Jacopo, who the Count adopted and intended to educate. It sounded like he was the illegitimate child of one of the Pico brothers, though the letter didn’t say which.

One passage seemed to leap from the page:

“Lorenzo has mentioned you several times since your visit with him. He was amused by your sometimes outrageous statements; and I believe, were you to find yourself back in Florence anytime soon, he would be most delighted to continue your acquaintance.”

Wow, she thought, Lorenzo de Medici. Lorenzo the Magnificent. Could Giovanni have met him? If he was really over five hundred years old, it was possible.

There was mention of city gossip: a strange man named Niccolo Andros, something about Lorenzo’s children, and finally, a mention of some sort of scandal Pico was involved in with a married woman.

That brought a flush to her cheeks, and she set the notes down. It was hard not to imagine a woman being attracted to Giovanni. Despite his brusque demeanor, she still couldn’t seem to help the growing attraction she had to the vampire.

She read the letter four times, making notes and jotting down names and dates. She examined the second letter, but decided to do some research on the two men before reading it. She had little background in the Italian Renaissance, and the person she knew was most knowledgeable was the one person she couldn’t ask. She snorted as she imagined how the conversation would go:

“Oh, hey, Gio. Do you happen to be a fifteenth century philosopher named Giovanni Pico? Oh, and what does all this have to do with my father, by the way?

“Please go back to searching through endlessly boring auction catalogues, Beatrice. I’m far smarter than you are and too stuck-up to answer your questions. Also, I’m very good-looking and can get away with being an asshole.”

Beatrice sighed and slipped the notes into her messenger bag. She would have time to go online at home after she took her grandmother to dinner with her friends that night.

“Beatrice, you must get a picture of Giovanni for the girls!”

She scowled at her grandmother’s voice from the kitchen as she finished putting on her make-up for their night out. Isadora and her closest friends had kept a long-standing dinner engagement every Tuesday night for as long as she could remember. It used to be the time that Beatrice and her grandfather would spend in his workshop or watching old horror movies together, but since his death she had joined her grandmother for the weekly outings.

At first, it was simply so she wouldn’t feel the aching loss of her grandfather, but now she enjoyed the evenings with the interesting group of women.

“Grandma, I’m not going to ask my boss for a picture to show your friends. It’s embarrassing.”

“But he’s so handsome! Maybe with your phone camera?”

“No! That’s creepy. I don’t think he likes getting his picture taken anyway.”

Probably not a good idea when you’ve been around for over 500 years, she thought as she lined her eyes in black.

“Well, it’s very exciting. You must tell everyone about the thrilling book mysteries you’re helping to solve now.”

Beatrice snorted. “I’ve been searching online auction catalogues for a single document for almost a month, Grandma. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds.”

“Still,” Isadora smiled as she walked into the bathroom to check her hair in the mirror. “The library sounds beautiful. Can you imagine how jealous your father would be? He’d be so proud of you.”

Beatrice fell silent as she thought about her father. She’d been reluctant to bring him up to Giovanni since the night she agreed to work for him, still unsure of what the vampire really wanted with her. Though she’d been reassured by meeting Caspar, she still had the uneasy feeling that there was a lot about Giovanni Vecchio she didn’t know.

And maybe a lot she didn’t want to know.

“Always be grateful for unexpected opportunities, Mariposa. You never know where a job like this might lead.” Isadora turned and patted her granddaughter’s cheek. “Imagine what exciting things might be in your future!”

Beatrice sighed. “It’s just a research job, Grandma. But it’s a good one, and I have no complaints about my boss. He’s demanding, but it’s not anything I didn’t sign up for.”

“You said he has an interesting friend visiting from overseas? Who is he? Is he a book dealer as well?”

She grinned when she thought of Carwyn. Since their meeting, the unusual priest had charmed her, although she didn’t know what to make of him at first. He looked like he had been turned in his thirties, but had the personality and humor of a teenager. He wore the ugliest Hawaiian shirts she had ever seen, but still seemed to attract more than his share of female attention when he and Giovanni had visited the library together.

He was as boisterous as Giovanni was taciturn, yet the friendly affection between them was obvious and she had started to see a slightly softer side to the aloof vampire.

“No, Carwyn’s not a book dealer; he’s a priest of some sort. He’s Welsh, I think. I guess he usually comes out this time of year. I think they’re working on a project together.”

“Well, that sounds lovely. It’s so nice to have friends with the same interests.”

Like drinking blood, avoiding electronic equipment, and staying out of sunlight so you don’t burn to a crisp, she mused silently as she pulled her long hair into a low ponytail.

She grabbed her purse and helped Isadora to the car. Her grandmother immediately began texting her friends that they were on their way and Beatrice took advantage of the silence to think about the past week.

The two vampires had been working on something they didn’t want anyone to know about; she was sure of it. Carwyn had come to the library with Giovanni the previous Wednesday, but they spent more time speaking in furtive whispers than they had transcribing characters for the mysterious Tenzin. When she went to the house on Thursday the odd mood had continued.

Even Caspar seemed out of the loop, and she had no idea what they would hide from someone they seemed to trust so much. Giovanni had been secretive before, and Carwyn’s appearance seemed to have done nothing but intensified his mood.

Their veiled references to their friend in China also caught her attention. She knew Tenzin was another immortal that had been friends with them for presumably hundreds of years, but anytime her name was mentioned an odd sense of foreboding fell over the two men.

“Oh, Beatrice, there it is!”

She brushed her concerns away when she spotted the small restaurant where her grandmother’s three closest friends were waiting outside. As she pulled into the parking lot, her grandmother waved like a school girl and Beatrice smiled, wondering for the thousandth time why she couldn’t be more like her grandmother when it came to making friends.

Beatrice hadn’t always been antisocial. When she was younger, she’d had lots of friends. Even after her father died, she’d been a happy child, wrapped in the comfort of her grandparents’ home. It wasn’t until the summer she had seen her father again that her social life began to collapse. It had never really recovered.

She tried to shove back the bitterness that reared its head when she thought about the cause of her depression. The self-destructive choices she’d made still haunted her at times. During that dark period, she mostly found solace in books. Never an avid reader before, she pulled herself out of depression by escaping into the other worlds books offered.

She realized it probably wasn’t the healthiest way to cope, but between the library and her grandfather, she had managed to make it through high school. After that, she had buried herself in her college studies, and it wasn’t until she’d begun working at the university library that she felt like she found her niche.

“B, honey, you just look more gorgeous every time I see you!” she heard her grandmother’s friend, Sally Devereaux, call across the parking lot. Sally was the epitome of a Texas matriarch, complete with the requisite giant hair, heavy twang, and big personality. The others in the group, Marta Voorhies and Laura Gambetti, were quieter.

“How is your wonderful new job, B?” Marta asked.

“Yes, Isadora says you’re working for an Italian gentleman,” Laura added with wink. “Italian men are, of course, the most handsome on the planet.”

Beatrice laughed at the women’s curiosity. She had a feeling that knowing her employer was a five hundred-year-old vampire would do nothing to put them off. They would probably just ask to see his fangs.

“Hey, everyone. Yeah, it’s pretty cool. I’ll tell you all about it during dinner, okay?”

“If we don’t get in there, we aren’t going to be dining, girls!” Sally boomed. “Let’s go inside, we’ll talk while we eat.”

“Yes,” Isadora added, “and you can try to persuade her to get a picture of him.”


“Oh, B, you must!”

“Is he really that handsome?”

“More importantly, is he single?”

“I’d like to hear more about his work; it sounds fascinating!”

Beatrice sighed deeply, enveloped in their familiar chatter and followed the four women inside.

Hours later, after she had tentatively agreed to take a picture of her boss and set her grandmother up on a blind date with Caspar at Sally’s insistence, she drove back to their small house.

“Beatrice, did you remember to pick up those art books for me from the library?” Isadora asked. “I need them to teach my class tomorrow.”

“Oh shoot. I got them, and then left them at Gio’s last night when I was working. I’m sorry.”

“It’s no problem, dear. I did want them soon so I could show the young man in my class about the brush technique I was trying to explain. When do you go back?”

She frowned. “You know, I’ll run by and get them. Otherwise I won’t be back until Thursday night.”

“Oh, it’s too late. I don’t want to wake anyone for some silly books.”

Beatrice smirked. “Trust me, they’ll be awake.”

“Well, if you’re sure…”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Beatrice reasoned that even if Giovanni was out with Carwyn, Caspar was likely to be home. Plus, the vampire’s house in River Oaks wasn’t all that far from her grandmother’s place.

She dropped Isadora off and made the short drive to Giovanni’s home. As she pulled up to the gate, she could just see Carwyn’s huge Irish wolfhound peek his head over the low wall.

She pushed the button to call the house.


“It’s B, Caspar. I forgot some books here last night. Do you mind if I come in quick and grab them?”

She heard the gate buzz and the butler’s amused voice could be heard as she pulled forward. “Of course not, and-may I add-what wonderful timing you have, my dear!”

Narrowing her eyes at the odd statement, she pulled through the gate, keeping her window down as Bran, Carwyn’s grey dog, trotted alongside her car.

“How’s it going tonight, Bran?” The huge dog huffed as he escorted her up the driveway.

“Dig up any more roses?” Beatrice grinned, remembering the amusing rant Giovanni had gone on last Thursday after a particularly muddy set of footprints found their way into the living room. “Manage to find Doyle yet?”

At the mention of the cat’s name, the wolfhound abruptly halted, looked across the yard as if remembering something and let out a bellow before he shot across the lawn.

Laughing at the amusing and very friendly dog, Beatrice finally pulled behind the garage where she usually parked her small car. She walked to the kitchen door and knocked, pleased to see Caspar’s smiling face through the glass panels.

“Ah! B, I’m so glad you’re here. No one ever believes me, but now you’ll know the truth.”

She frowned in confusion. “Uh…Cas, what are you talking about, and does it involve bodily injury? Because I kind of like this blouse, and I’m not wearing my boots.”

Caspar snorted. “No, but he always comes across as so dignified, doesn’t he? Now, my dear,” the grey-haired butler winked, “you’ll know the real Giovanni.”

And with that mysterious statement, he practically pulled her into the kitchen. She looked around in confusion for a moment before she heard the loud yells coming from the living room.

“Bloody bastard, I did not see that coming!”

“Use the folding chair! It’s sitting in the corner for a reason!”

Beatrice’s eyes widened when she heard the two men yelling. The sound of applause filled the living room and the surround sound poured into the kitchen.

“That’s not-” Beatrice started.

“Oh yes.” Caspar nodded. “It’s exactly what you think.”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” she muttered. “Cas, you have made my year.”

Beatrice walked silently into the living room, suddenly happy to be wearing her soft ballet flats. She approached the two vampires watching the television, who had well over a thousand years of life between them, careful to keep her distance so they didn’t smell her.

Giovanni had donned his usual grey sweater and black slacks for the evening, but Carwyn appeared to be wearing a garish t-shirt with an ugly masked face on it. They were totally absorbed with the spectacle on the television screen. Just then, the crowd went wild and both vampires jumped up shouting.

“Tap out, you buggering idiot!”

“Use the damn folding chair!”

Beatrice couldn’t believe the ammunition she had just been given.

“Hey, guys.”

They both spun around when they heard her quiet voice from the back of the living room. Carwyn grinned at her.

“Hello, B! Grab a beer, you’re just in time. The main event’s on right after this match.”

Giovanni, if possible, looked even paler than normal. “Beatrice, this is-were you scheduled to work tonight?” He scratched at the back of his neck in obvious discomfort.

“Nope. Just came by to pick up a couple of books I forgot from the library.” She smirked in satisfaction as he squirmed. This mental picture was priceless.

He continued to stare at her, speechless and obviously embarrassed, until he heard the roar from the crowd and Carwyn shouted again. Giovanni spun around to see what was happening on the television.

“Finally! Damn it, Gio. They always go for the folding chair.”

“Of course they do. Folding chairs are always there for a reason. They’re never just stage props.”

Shaking her head, she walked closer to the back of the couch. Both men were staring at the television again, completely engrossed in the professional wrestling match on screen.

“Seriously, guys? Professional wrestling? I might have suspected archery or fencing. Hell, even soccer-”

“Football!” they shouted simultaneously.

“-wouldn’t have been that big a surprise, but this?”

Barely clothed women walked around the ring, and flashing lights filled the screen. The announcers shouted about the final match-up of the night, which was on just after the previously taped profiles of the two participants.

“This is the most bloody brilliant sport ever invented,” Carwyn almost whispered in awe as he stared at the screen.

“It’s not a sport!”

Both turned to look at her in disgust.

“That’s not the point!” Carwyn shouted.

“You see, Beatrice,” Giovanni started, while the priest turned the volume down just low enough so they could be heard. “Professional wrestling is simply the most modern interpretation of an ancient tradition of stylized verbal battles between enemies. From the time that Homer recorded the Iliad, the emergence of what Scottish scholars call ‘flyting’-”

“That would be a verbal battle preceding a physical one, but considered equally as important to the overall outcome,” Carwyn interjected.

“Exactly. Throughout world myth, warriors have engaged in a verbal struggle that is as symbolically important as the battle itself. You can see examples in early Anglo-Saxon literature-”

“You’ve read Beowulf, haven’t you, English major?”

Giovanni glanced at the priest, but continued in his most academic voice. “Beowulf is only one example, of course. The concept is also prevalent in various Nordic, Celtic, and Germanic epic traditions. Even Japanese and Arabic literature are rife with examples.”

“Exactly.” Carwyn nodded along. “See, modern professional wrestling is following in a grand epic tradition. Doesn’t matter if it’s staged, and it doesn’t matter who wins, really-”

“Well, I don’t know about-”

“What matters,” Carwyn shot his friend a look before he continued, “is that the warriors impress the audience as much with their verbal acuity as their physical prowess.”

Giovanni nodded. “It’s really very fitting within classical Western tradition.”

Beatrice stared at them and began to snicker.

“Did you two just come up with some really academic, smart-sounding rationalization for why you’re watching professional wrestling on pay-per-view?”

Carwyn snorted. “Are you kidding? It took us years to come up with that. Grab a beer and sit down.”

Still snickering, she walked into the kitchen, where Caspar was holding an open long-neck for her. “Do you-”

He shook his head. “Oh no, this is their own crass amusement. I’ll have nothing to do with it, no matter how many times they cite Beowulf.

Beatrice chuckled and took the beer. “I guess I can hang out for a while. After all,” she smiled, “the main event is just ahead!”

Caspar chuckled and went back to his crossword puzzle on the counter. She walked back into the living room and sat in the open spot between the two vampires. Carwyn was already shouting at the screen on her left, but Giovanni sat back, slightly more subdued as he stretched his left arm across the back of the couch and looked at her.

Beatrice chuckled. “It’s kind of cute, to be honest.”


“You’re usually so dignified,” she raised her beer to take a drink, and Giovanni leaned in slightly with a small smile on his lips. “It’s kind of nice-”

Just then, he grabbed the beer out of her hand and jerked her arm toward his body. His nostrils flared and his eyes glowed as he pulled her hand to his face and inhaled deeply. Her heart rate shot up when she heard the growl rip from his throat, and his left arm coiled around her waist.


“Where is he?” he hissed.

Chapter Nine

Houston, Texas

December 2003

“Giovanni, let her go.”

He was lost in instinct, trapped in the scent of the unexpected enemy on a human his nature had claimed, even if his mind had not. His fangs descended, spurred by the sudden rush of blood in his veins and the unseen threat. He wanted to sink his teeth into her, marking her as his own so no other would dare to touch her.

“Giovanni!” He heard the priest’s voice as if he was calling from far away.

“Gio,” she whispered; her pulse pounded in his ears, and the scent of her panic rolled off her in seductive waves. “Please, don’t-I don’t understand-”

His head inched toward her neck, the ancient, territorial compulsion roaring through him to drink and claim her blood as his own. He felt the current in his fingertips crawl across the girl’s skin as the amnis began to run through him and into her.

“Giovanni di Spada!”

He stared, hypnotized by the pulsing heartbeat that sped faster the closer he held her. His own heart began to thump faster and he bared his fangs.

“I will end you if you harm the innocent!” Carwyn roared in Italian, the language of his youth finally breaking through the haze that clouded Giovanni’s rational mind.

His hooded eyes flew open, and the vampire leapt away from the girl, staring at her in horror when he saw the tears coursing down her face. He stopped breathing and took another step back, pushing down the snarl that threatened to erupt when Carwyn stepped between him and Beatrice.

“Outside. Now!”

He tried to look around Carwyn. “Beatrice-”

“Now, before I throw you out!” he yelled as Caspar stood gaping in the doorway.

Giovanni threw open the terrace doors and stalked outside. Caspar met him pacing near the pool a few minutes later with a bag of blood from the refrigerator. Biting directly into the bag, Giovanni ignored the stale taste as he sucked it dry. He felt the volatile energy licking along his skin, so he stripped off his clothes, and dove to the bottom of the pool where he sat in utter stillness, gradually slowing the beat of his normally silent heart.

He watched the moon through the dark water, disgusted with his actions in the living room and furious with himself for losing control of his base nature after hundreds of years of strict discipline.

“What is our first lesson from Plato?”

“’For a man to conquer himself is the first and noblest of all victories.’”

“You must always be stronger than your nature. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Father.”

“It is the key to your survival in any circumstance. You more than any other.”

He didn’t know how long he sat at the bottom of the pool, but eventually his ears alerted him to the faint splash near the shallow end as something broke the still surface.

He shot up, shocked to see Beatrice sitting near the steps with her shoes off, and her feet dangling near the steps.


He didn’t speak, but scanned the surrounding area, spotting Carwyn who sat, glaring at him from one of the chaises on the terrace. Giovanni nodded toward his old friend, his eyes communicating his careful control, and he saw the priest relax. He looked back to the solemn young woman who met his gaze without flinching.

“I would offer an apology, Beatrice De Novo.”

The girl had no idea how rare an occasion it was for Giovanni to admit wrongdoing, so she only narrowed her eyes. “Is it going to happen again?”

He paused, wanting to answer honestly. “I had underestimated how territorial I felt toward you. I won’t make the mistake again.”

“Why do you feel territorial about me?” she asked quietly.

He treaded water, still keeping his distance. “You are under my aegis, whether you accept it or not.” Giovanni ignored the sudden tension he sensed from Carwyn on the patio, choosing to lock his gaze on the girl at the end of the pool.

“What does that mean?” She looked at him, confusion evident in her features.

There was no need for her to know the full extent of his aegis, or that by claiming her, he had every right to drink from her as he wished. He decided the simplest explanation was best.

“It means I have taken responsibility for you in my world. Part of that responsibility is to protect you, and I failed in that tonight.”

“You stopped.”

He couldn’t speak, afraid that honesty would send her running. If Carwyn had not been there, he wouldn’t have stopped.

She must have seen the truth in his eyes. “Would you have killed me?”

Most definitely not. “No… but I would have marked you. Without your permission.”

She frowned and looked at him curiously. “Do humans-do they ever give you their permission?”

He avoided the question, diving and surfacing a few feet from her. She looked away, flustered by his presence, so he retreated a few feet.

“Wh-who is Giovanni di Spada?” she asked.


“Carwyn, he called you that when you were…you know.”

Giovanni frowned a little, faintly remembering the priest calling the name of his more violent past. “Giovanni de Spada is the name I was using when Carwyn and I met. I went by that name for almost two hundred years. He still forgets and calls me that occasionally.”

“So you changed the last name, but you kept Giovanni?”

He nodded, baffled by her questions, but willing to entertain them if it regained some of the trust he had broken. “It seemed easier to keep the given name. If I ever traveled back to the same place or the same business and someone happened to remember me, it was easy enough to claim I was a relative. And, of course, there were no photographs until recently.”

“Oh,” she nodded, “that makes sense.”

“It wasn’t difficult to change your identity for most of history.”

“And now?”

He shrugged. “Now it is harder, but not impossible.”

She paused and finally met his eyes. He could see her start to relax and wished he had not agreed to avoid using his amnis on her. It would make questioning her far more straightforward.

“Who did you meet today?” he asked quietly, slowly moving closer to her at the edge of the pool.

“Who did I-what? I met…” she cleared her throat, suddenly flustered again, “lots of people, Gio. What does that-”

“You met someone new. A stranger. You had the scent of another immortal on you,” he said, keeping his voice carefully neutral.

She scowled at him. “I did not! I had a completely normal day. I didn’t meet any vampires. I think I’d know what to look for at this point, don’t you?” He could hear her pulse pick up, but he sensed it was from anger, not fear.

He glanced at Carwyn, who moved slightly closer to the pool, his hands in his pockets as he sauntered toward them.

“I smelled it too, B. It was faint, but it was there. It’s on your hands. Gio’s nose has always been sharper. Did you shake hands with anyone? Go anywhere new?”

She rolled her eyes and huffed in frustration. “I went to school and work. I went to dinner with my grandma and her friends. I went to a new Thai restaurant where none of the waiters looked any paler than usual, Carwyn. I didn’t meet a vampire!”

“Something,” Giovanni muttered, swimming over to the edge of the pool and lifting himself up. “There has to be something.” He strode over the patio, dripping cold water as he walked. He only remembered his nudity when he heard Beatrice gasp a little from the steps.

Carwyn rolled his eyes and tossed Giovanni a towel from the end of the chaise. “Cover yourself up. We all know she’d rather see me naked.”

He glanced over his shoulder toward Beatrice, who was blushing and staring at his feet. He smirked when he realized why her heart had been racing.

It didn’t appear to be anger.

He slung the towel around his waist and walked back toward her, holding a hand out to help her up. She was still looking anywhere but at him.

“Beatrice,” he said, trying to smother a smile. “I apologize. My behavior in the living room was unconscionable. It won’t happen again.” She still refused to look at him. He sighed and dropped his hand.

“It’s fine, Gio,” she said, bright red in the face. “Just don’t scare me like that again.”

“I’ll try not to.” He held out his hand again; this time she took it and allowed him to help her stand.

“And don’t think I didn’t feel the current thing when you grabbed me. Do not mess with my brain.”

He allowed her to see the edge of his smile. “Understood.”

She nodded, resolve clear in her eyes. “I’m going to go call my grandmother so she doesn’t worry. I’ll be up in the library when I’m done.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Now go put some clothes on. Because if you want me to concentrate, you can’t dangle that much naked man in front of me. Vampire or not.”

Giovanni stifled a grin as he walked into the house, punching a laughing Carwyn as he walked by.

“Ow,” the priest pouted, back to his normally gregarious nature.


“I’m practicing for wrestling!”

Giovanni couldn’t stop the grin that spread across his face or the sense of satisfaction as he ran upstairs to get dressed.

She still hadn’t run.

He met them all in the library, where Carwyn started a fire and Caspar had already brought drinks for everyone. The butler sat next to the girl on the couch, leaving the two end chairs for the vampires to perch.

Neither vampire sat; Carwyn leaned a shoulder into the mantle and watched the room, while Giovanni roamed the length of the library. His mind was shuffling information, moving clues like a puzzle. Now that he could think more rationally, the pieces were beginning to fall into place. The anger, however, was only beginning to grow.

“Carwyn,” he heard Beatrice ask as he walked toward his locked cabinet, “why can you use the stereo and the remotes when Gio can’t? You’ve got the same current under your skin, right?”

Giovanni’s eyes shot to his friend’s, who simply shrugged a little before he answered.

“Well,” he winked at Beatrice. “Let’s just say I’m better grounded than Sparky over there.”

“Better groun-oh, elements! Fire. Earth. Air. Water. Are you an earth vampire, or something?”

He nodded and stared at her in the flickering light from the hearth. “Such a clever girl,” he murmured. “I wonder what else we can figure out together, hmm?” He glanced back to Giovanni, who only nodded silently at the back of the library.

“Beatrice,” the priest continued, “may I smell your hand, dear girl? Just once more. I promise not to get all fangy.”

Beatrice smiled and glanced over her shoulder at Giovanni.

“Sure.” She held out her hand. “But I’m pretty positive I didn’t meet a vampire today. My day was completely boring. The only exciting thing about it was a couple of new documents at work. And that’s…” She trailed off and Giovanni could see her make the connection. “I mean…the documents-”

She broke off abruptly when she saw the gleam in Carwyn’s eyes. He bent over her hand as if he was going to kiss it, but just like the night they met, he inhaled a deep, almost predatory, breath over her fingertips.

“Carwyn?” Giovanni asked with growing certainty.

“Parchment,” he muttered into her hand. His blue eyes shot up. “The new documents at the library-I need to know what they were. Where were they from? Were they bought? Donated? I need to know everything you can tell me about them.”

Giovanni felt electricity begin to charge the air as he moved closer to the couch, but the priest held up a hand as Beatrice’s eyes began to dart nervously around the room. Caspar reached over and patted the girl’s arm.

“Everyone take a step back,” the butler said soothingly. “I’m sure Beatrice is already an expert, gentlemen. Let her speak.”

She glanced gratefully at him, and Caspar smiled in encouragement.

“It’s-it was donated anonymously. It’s a letter. There are two of them. From the Italian Renaissance. Two friends, a philosopher and a-a poet. They were authenticated at the University of Ferrara. Dated 1484. From Florence.”

Giovanni was drawn to her voice, walking silently over to stand by the fire as she spoke. Her eyes lifted and met his.

Carwyn’s eyes darted between him and the young woman. “Who were the letters addressed to, B?”

“Giovanni…” she began, staring with her warm brown eyes. “Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. That’s who the letters were for.”

He looked away, hoping she had not seen the flicker of recognition at the old name. He ignored the burning in his chest as he walked back to the library table and collected himself. He glanced over to see Carwyn smiling at her.

“Anything else you can remember? It really would be helpful.”

She shook her head. “It sounded like they were mostly personal. I only read the translation on one. They were talking about a new servant, or squire, or-or something like that, and his education. There was something about meeting Lorenzo de Medici.” She blushed slightly and glanced back at him; his eyes were glued to her as she spoke. “Something about a scandal. I can’t-I can’t remember all of it. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, I think you’ve remembered plenty,” Caspar broke in. “I’m sure that’s what they needed to know.”

She looked for him in the back of the library. “Did a vampire donate those letters, Gio?”

He still didn’t speak but nodded as he stared into the fire.

Carwyn finally answered her. “I think that’s where you picked up the scent. He must have handled them before they were donated.”

Giovanni was careful to keep strict control of his features as his mind flew in a thousand directions, finally settling onto one inescapable conclusion.

He had been deceived.


He heard her voice and knew what she wanted to ask.

“Giovanni?” she almost whispered.

“Do not ask questions you know I will not answer, Beatrice,” he bit out.


“It’s not-” he broke off for a moment, “not for you.”

She stood to face him. Giovanni could see the angry confusion in her eyes, and he could not blame her. She squared her shoulders and turned to Carwyn.

“I’m going home. I guess I’ll see you at the library tomorrow.”

Caspar stood with her. “I’ll see you out.” The butler escorted the young woman out of the library, but not before she shot him a pointed glare.

Carwyn rushed over to Giovanni as soon as the two humans were out of the room and began speaking in rushed Latin.

“The letters-”

“‘They’ll be there soon, and there’s more where they came from,’” Giovanni muttered, quoting the mysterious e-mail from weeks before they had both been baffled by. “‘You’re welcome.’”

“Lorenzo sent the letters, Gio. It’s the only explanation. He must have slept with them on his pillow for the scent to be that strong.”

“Those letters were bound in a correspondence book. If he has those two, he has all of them. If he has the correspondence books…”

“He has all your books.”

Giovanni leaned his hip against the table, still staring into the fire as the memory of other fires haunted him. “We don’t know that he has them all.”

“But the rumors-”

“Are rumors, nothing more. It is possible…many things are possible. What we do know is he has the correspondence books and he sent the letters.” Giovanni cursed. “And if his note is correct, there will be more.”

“He was never one to bluff,” Carwyn growled. “Why? Why now?”

“Why didn’t I know he had them?” Giovanni asked, pushing away from the table and pacing the length of the library with deliberate strides. “After five hundred years? Or why is he sending them now?”

“You tell me. You know him far better than I ever will. What’s his game?”

Giovanni stalked the room, mentally shifting the pieces, and trying to make sense of everything they had learned that night. One disturbing thought kept circling his mind until it was all he could think about.

“You’re missing his boldest move, Carwyn,” he muttered to the priest as he halted, leaning against the oak table and staring at the empty desk in the corner of the room. “He didn’t send them to me.” He nodded toward the desk. “He sent them to her.”

Carwyn’s eyes widened as he turned to stare at the girl’s desk and heard Giovanni murmur, “He sent them to Beatrice.”

Chapter Ten

Houston, Texas

December 2003

He had gone to prison for love.

She couldn’t tear her eyes away from the translation of the second letter of Angelo Poliziano to Giovanni Pico as she huddled in the stacks, avoiding the packed reading room on Wednesday afternoon. Pico had been imprisoned for his affair with a married woman and only escaped because of his connection to Lorenzo de Medici.

“I hope this letter finds you well, and free from the imprisonment which shocked us all. By this time, Signore Andros should have arrived in Arezzo with the letter from Lorenzo. Do not feel the need to thank me for my intervention, for the Medici was eager to take your part in the matter and needed little convincing, from either myself or the odd Greek.”

He had gone to stay with Signore Niccolo Andros in Perugia, presumably to study Andros’s library of mystic texts and recover from his imprisonment.

What happened to the little boy? Beatrice wondered as she skimmed over the notes from the second letter. The letter mentioned their mutual friends, even Savaranola himself, but Beatrice was more enthralled by the hints of scandal than she was about the more historical significance of the translation.

She read it twice, adding to her notes on the first which she then tucked carefully in her bag. Though both letters had been under the intense scrutiny Dr. Christiansen had predicted throughout the day, she had managed early in her shift to get her hands on them for a few minutes to make a copy of the notes. There was little doubt in her mind that Giovanni and Carwyn knew exactly who the letters had come from. She scratched down a reminder to herself to tell them that Dr. Christiansen mentioned more letters would be arriving.

“B?” Charlotte called. She shoved her copy of the translation and her notes into her messenger bag and stood up, pretending to examine a stack of photographs that needed to be catalogued.

“Hey, I know you’re as sick of the philosophers as I am,” Charlotte sighed, “but could you come take care of the reading room for a bit?”


“I know you’re going to be here all night, but if I don’t get a break from the chatter, I’m going to end up throwing old reference books at them.”

Beatrice smiled and held in a laugh. The reading room was unusually packed that afternoon, as the philosophy department took a look at the documents. The history department had already come and gone for the day, and the Italian studies department was due that evening. Apparently they had all worked out some tentative custody agreement for the Pico letters.

“Are they scheduled to stay through the evening hours?” she asked, conscious of the two guests she had no doubt would be showing up when it was dark enough.

Charlotte nodded. “Yeah, I guess philosophy’s leaving at five, and then the Italian chair is showing up to take a look at them. Have you met Dr. Scalia?”

She shook her head.

“He’s a hoot. He’s got these enormous glasses and looks like an owl, but he’s sweet man and not too chatty. He’ll be here most of the evening, so between him and Dr. Handsome, you should have a pretty quiet room.”

Beatrice sighed, wondering whether poor Dr. Scalia was going to shake hands with Dr. Vecchio and forget about the letters he was supposed to be examining. She had a feeling Giovanni would be more than happy if the Italian professor suddenly remembered he needed to pick up his dry-cleaning. She might have to lay some ground rules about playing with cerebral cortexes while in the library.

Reminding herself that Carwyn would also be in attendance, she decided there would definitely need to be ground rules.

Every now and then, she had wondered why she had so easily accepted her strange new reality. The more she thought about it, the more Beatrice decided that the idea of vampires just didn’t seem that far-fetched.

She could accept there were things in the world that science didn’t understand yet, and who was to say that some of those things didn’t have fangs and need to survive by drinking human blood?

As she sat at the reference desk, listening to philosophers quietly argue the meaning of this, or the implication of that, she thought about how much had changed since Giovanni had lived as a human. If Dr. Giovanni Vecchio was, indeed, the Italian count the letters were addressed to, that meant that he was 540 years old, and even at age twenty-three had been considered one of the most progressive humanist philosophers of the Renaissance.

He hadn’t answered her questions, but it was too coincidental that the two mysterious letters had been donated by a vampire to the very library where Giovanni had chosen to do his research and she worked. They had to be connected.

Not long after six o’clock, a small man with a shock of silver-grey hair walked through the double doors.

“Dr. Scalia?” she asked of the man, who did remind her of an owl with his large round glasses and tiny nose.

He smiled eagerly. “Yes, yes! And you are?”

“I’m Beatrice De Novo. It’s a pleasure to meet you. You have an appointment for the Pico letters, is that correct?”

“Yes, thank you.”

As she listened to another academic wax eloquent on the importance of the two Italian letters, Giovanni and Carwyn silently entered the reading room. She quickly settled Dr. Scalia at the table with the Pico letters and walked over to the two vampires.

“Okay,” she whispered in her sternest librarian voice, “he’s a sweet, old man, and I don’t want you two to mess with his brain. He’s a professor. He needs it.”

Giovanni frowned. “Really, Beatrice, how clumsy do you think we are? He would never realize-”

“Don’t care. It’s his brain. Stay out and wait your turn.”

She saw Giovanni’s nostrils flair a little in annoyance, or maybe he had simply caught the scent of the old parchment at the other table. Carwyn, she thought, looked like he might break into laughter at any minute and kept glancing between his friend and Beatrice.

“Fine. If I could have the Tibetan manuscript then, Miss De Novo.”

She rolled her eyes at his tone, but turned and walked back to the stacks to get the manuscript for him as he chose a table near the small professor who was already busy taking notes.

By the time she got back, she noticed that Giovanni had assumed his usual position at the table, though he was watching Dr. Scalia with an almost predatory stare. She set the book down in front of him and grabbed a pencil and a piece of paper from the stack he had sitting on the table. With a quick scribble and a fold, she wrote a small note and propped it in front of the 500 year old vampire.

No biting. No altering cerebral cortexes. Have a nice day.

He couldn’t keep the smirk from sneaking across his face. He looked up at her, winked, and bent his head to his notes.

Wearing her own smile, she walked back to the reference desk to find Carwyn had pulled a chair over and was reading the paperback she had started that morning. As always, he was eye-catching in a loud Hawaiian shirt that clashed with his red hair and made his blue eyes seem to pop out.

He glanced up from the book. “Do you-”

“Shhh!” She glared and put her finger to her lips.

“Such a librarian. You need wee glasses sitting on the tip of your nose when you do that,” he whispered loudly. She heard Giovanni shift at his table and she looked over her shoulder to see him glaring at Carwyn. Snickering, the mischievous vampire reached into her book bag and pulled out the notebook that she’d been using to take notes on the mysterious Pico and his letters.

She could see when Carwyn discovered the notes, but he didn’t look angry. On the contrary, he looked inordinately pleased and immediately flipped to the back of the notebook and began to write.

You’re a curious thing, B.

Flipping the notebook to her, she read and took a moment to respond.

I’ve had some curious things happen to me this fall. Also, I feel like we’re passing notes in study hall.

We are, he wrote back. So, what do you want to know that Professor Chatty won’t tell you?

She couldn’t hold in the snort when she wrote, Everything.

Carwyn just smiled and took a few moments to write back.

I can’t tell you his story. One, I don’t know all of it. I don’t think anyone does. Two, what I do know is not mine to tell. But you’re welcome to ask me anything about my life that you’d like.

She cocked an eyebrow at him. Anything?

Other than what color pants I’m wearing (red, by the way) I’m an open book.

She held back the giggle. Always try to match your hair and your underwear. It’s just a good rule of thumb. How old are you?

He smiled and wrote back. I’m around thirty-five…plus a thousand years. Approximately.

Beatrice gaped for a moment, trying to reconcile a thousand years with the relatively young man before her. She tried to imagine the things Carwyn must have seen and how much the world had changed since he was human. She couldn’t begin to imagine.

Where were you born?

Gwynedd. Northern part of Wales.

And you’re still there?

For the most part, I always have been. I’m quite the homebody, unlike our Gio.

She narrowed her eyes and wrote, Are you really a priest?

He chuckled quietly. Yes, you don’t have to be an old man, you know. And my father was a priest. And my grandfather. And one of my sons became abbott of our community after I was gone.

She frowned. Kinda lax on that whole celibacy thing, huh?

Carwyn grinned. Not uncommon in the Welsh church. And it was before Gregory. (Look it up.) Many Welsh priests married. Rome had a hard time conquering Wales. Militarily and ecclesiastically. He winked as he finished the sentence.

So you were married?

He just nodded and smiled. “Efa,” he whispered.

She paused for a moment. What happened to your wife? Your children?

Carwyn offered a wistful smile. My wife went to our God before I was turned. She died quite young from a fever. Our children were taken in by our community when I disappeared. I went back years later. Those that survived had good lives.

She looked at him, and for a moment, she could see the hundreds of years in his eyes, but they quickly lit again in joy.

There is a time for sorrow and a time for joy, he wrote. I have a new family now.

Beatrice raised her eyebrows in question and he continued writing with a smile.

You’ll come to Wales someday and meet them. I have eleven children. Most of them have stayed fairly close to home. We keep the British deer population under control.

She mouthed ‘wow,’ but only wrote, So none of you bite people?

He grinned. Not usually. Just if they smell really good, like you. Joking.

She rolled her eyes. Never married again? Do vampires even get married? That seems kind of normal for the mystical undead creatures of the night.

Some do. He smiled. It’s not uncommon. One of my sons has been married for four hundred years now. I haven’t ever wanted to again.

Her eyes bugged out. How do you stay married to someone for 400 years?

He frowned seriously before he wrote back. Separate vacations.

She couldn’t contain the small snort that escaped her. She glanced up, and Dr. Scalia was still raptly studying the Pico letters, but Giovanni was glaring at her and Carwyn in annoyance. She rolled her eyes and mouthed, ‘Get back to work.’

Giovanni smiled and shook his head a little.

She caught Carwyn watching them out of the corner of his eye. He began to scribble on the notebook again.

He’s never married.

She paused for a moment and Carwyn continued writing. He handed the notebook to her.

Don’t pretend you weren’t curious.

She glared at him. I can’t even imagine Professor Frosty dating, she wrote quickly and tossed the notebook at him.

Then it was Carwyn who couldn’t hold in the snort. He wrote something in bold letters and underlined it twice.

Opposite. Of. Frosty.

She shook her head but couldn’t think of anything to write back, so she busied herself checking her e-mail as Carwyn scribbled. After a while, she leaned back in her chair and he handed her the book again, a mischievous grin on his face.

Do you like Gio? Check yes or no. He had sketched two small boxes underneath the question with a large arrow pointing to the “yes” box.

She rolled her eyes and wrote back. How can you be this childish after a thousand years?

He raised his eyebrows and jotted down. That’s not a yes or no.

Screwing her mouth up in annoyance, she wrote back. Once upon a time, B made some very bad choices about boys. Then she went to college and continued making bad choices about men. Then B got smart and decided to take a break. The End.

Carwyn smiled and winked at her before writing on the notebook. Well, obviously, you need to be dating a vampire.

At that statement, Beatrice grabbed the notebook and snapped it closed, handed Carwyn a romance novel Charlotte had stashed in the bottom drawer of the desk, and opened her own book to read.

“Don’t be a coward, B,” he said in a sing-song voice as he opened the book that looked like it had a shirtless pirate on the front. “Ooh,” he whispered. “The thrilling tale of Don Fernando and the beautiful Sophie. Been meaning to read this one.”

And with that, Carwyn wiggled his eyebrows and began reading. Beatrice tried to pay attention to her book, but her gaze continued to drift up to the dark-haired man seated at the table in front of her. All of a sudden, she had a memory of him rising out of the water the night before-the most perfect man she had ever seen-without a stitch of clothing on, and she couldn’t help the flush that rose to her cheeks. She had gotten more than an eyeful before she forced herself to look away.

“Hmm, I’ve never had that reaction to Cormac McCarthy, myself, but then, everyone’s different,” Carwyn whispered as a smirk teased the corner of his mouth.

She saw Giovanni raise his head, no doubt hearing his friend’s comment and possibly wondering why Beatrice’s heartbeat had picked up so suddenly.

“Stupid vampires with their stupid preternatural senses,” she muttered, but she knew Carwyn could hear her because he his shoulders began shaking with silent laughter.

It was almost nine o’clock when Dr. Scalia finally started packing up his things and made his way over to the reference desk.

“Miss De Novo, please give Dr. Christiansen my regards. Such a wonderful acquisition. I’m informed that we will probably be receiving more in the next months, is that correct? Do you know if they are from the same correspondents?”

She could feel the charge as two sets of eye narrowed in on her as she answered the small professor.

“I don’t know the details of all that. I’ve heard rumors from Dr. Christiansen, but you’d really have to ask him,” she said in a small voice, well aware that both Carwyn and Giovanni could hear the rapid beating of her heart.

“Well, I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again.”

“Have a good night,” she answered as he left the room. The door was scarcely closed before Giovanni rushed over to her with no attempt to hide his speed.

“More? When? When did you hear this? Are they from the same donor? When are they coming? Have they already been authenticated?”

“Holy unanswered questions, Batman! Back off, okay?” Beatrice huffed a little and saw Carwyn smother another smile. “Dr. Christiansen mentioned that there might be more letters to me and Char, but as far as I know it’s just a rumor. Nothing official.”

“Oh, there’ll be more,” Carwyn muttered.

Giovanni shot him a glance. “Shut up.”

“Hey, don’t tell him to shut up, Gio. At least he doesn’t treat me like an idiot who doesn’t understand anything.”

He frowned. “I don’t-I mean…I don’t think you’re an idiot in any way, Beatrice.” She thought he almost looked offended.

“Yeah? Well, it sure feels that way sometimes.” He was looking at her with that blank expression he wore when he didn’t want to tell her something. It made her want to throw something at him.

“Listen,” she said. “I’m not an idiot. I know you guys know who the letters are from and I suspect you know why he’s sending them.” She swallowed hard and expressed the fear she’d had last night. “I’m also guessing that this has something to do with my father, because otherwise all this just seems way too coincidental. And I don’t really believe in coincidences.”

Carwyn was smiling at her with a proud gleam in his eye. “Clever girl, B. Such a clever girl.”

“Carwyn,” Giovanni said sharply. “Don’t-”

“She figured out a good portion on her own without all the background we have. You may as well tell her the rest.” Then Carwyn spit out something in Latin that Beatrice couldn’t understand, but it made Giovanni seem to growl. He looked at Carwyn with a glare that almost reminded her of the mood that had overtaken him the previous night.

“What’s going on?” she asked tentatively.

Carwyn shook his head and Giovanni seemed to gather himself again.

“Carwyn and I have a disagreement on some things, Beatrice. But he is correct. There’s a large part of this that does relate to your father, and we should inform you of that.”

“These letters,” Giovanni walked over to the table and sat in front of the two yellowed pieces of parchment before he continued quietly. “These are my letters. And by that, I mean they are part of a collection I had at one time. It was taken from me and I’ve been searching for it.”

He looked at Beatrice, and she again had the feeling of seeing each long year of his existence stretch out in the depth of his gaze.

“I’ve been searching for almost four hundred years. I was told it had been destroyed. Many years later, I discovered parts of it had been saved, but scattered. Now, however,” he leaned back and crossed his arms as he gazed at the two letters, “I think it is intact. And I know who took it, who the donor is.”

He turned to look at her. “I’m not going to tell you how I know, so don’t ask. He’s dangerous, that’s all you need to know and if you ever see another immortal that I don’t introduce you to, I want you to tell me or Carwyn immediately.”

“Bossy,” she muttered.

“Mortal,” he threw back, and Carwyn chuckled. “I’m not joking about this, Beatrice. Our world isn’t ruled by laws, or even convention. The strongest, smartest, and wealthiest have the most power. And power is the only law. This vampire has brains, strength, and wealth in abundance. I manage to live the way I do because I stay off the radar-”

“That, and he likes his enemies toasted extra crispy!” Carwyn spouted.

“-but this one,” he glared at the priest, “has sought me out. I don’t know for certain why now, but,” he paused, letting his eyes rake over her, “I have my suspicions.”

He fell silent and continued examining the documents, taking special note of the left side of the parchment where it appeared a cut had been carefully made. Beatrice watched him, going over all the cryptic pieces of information she had gleaned in the weeks since she had learned the truth about Giovanni and her father.

“Is it because of me? Because we met? What does this have to do with my father?”

Giovanni halted his perusal to stare at her, and the flicker she saw for a brief moment spurred her on.

“I mean…you’ve been looking for these books. My dad was looking for something in Italy.” Suddenly, all the pieces fell together in her mind. “It was this, wasn’t it? What my dad was looking for? It was your books. Your letters. Or something related to it, right? That’s why you agreed to help me find my father.” She stepped closer to him, challenging the powerful immortal who watched her silently. “I’m right, aren’t I?”

She saw Carwyn and Giovanni exchange loaded looks.

“Told you,” Carwyn muttered.

Giovanni said something to him in Latin that sounded like a curse, but then he turned back to Beatrice. She could see the war in his eyes, but he finally gave a slight nod. “Yes, you’re partially correct.”

She was speechless for a moment, amazed he had actually told her anything. “So…okay, this guy that stole your books or letters or whatever he has-what does he want now?”

She saw Carwyn and Giovanni exchange another glance.

“We think he might be looking for your father,” Carwyn said quietly. “We’re not sure why, but that’s probably why he sent the letters here.”

“Okay, so my dad knows something…all right. And this guy’s dangerous, right? Does he make fire like Gio?”

Carwyn said, “No, he-”

“You don’t need to know-”

She glared at Giovanni. “I want to know who he is!”

“How very unfortunate for you.” He continued to examine the letters, looking over the second one and handling it as if it was made of finely spun glass.

“You arrogant ass-”

“Lorenzo,” he said. “He goes by Lorenzo now.”

Beatrice’s mouth fell open, “He’s not-”

“No,” Carwyn said. “No, not the one you’re thinking of.”

Giovanni brought the letters up to his face to finally examine them more closely. “He likes to give people the impression that he’s one of the Medici’s bastards,” he murmured as he searched the old parchment. “He’s not, but some think he is, and it adds to the mystique, I suppose. He likes notoriety.” He inhaled deeply, closing his eyes, and Beatrice could see them dart behind his closed lids as if he was searching his memory for some piece that had escaped.

“You see, B,” Carwyn spoke in an even tone, “some in our world choose to seek power. Power over land, humans, riches. And he wants something from Giovanni, otherwise, he wouldn’t be doing this. There is something he thinks he can gain.”

“Or someone,” Giovanni mused quietly, and the already quiet room fell completely silent.

“Someone?” Beatrice finally asked, her eyes nervous and looking toward the door as if a threat could walk through at any time. “Not-not me, right?”

Neither of them spoke, only looked at her with those infuriatingly blank expressions. Even Carwyn was wearing one, and it made her want to scream.

“Not me! I don’t know anything. I wouldn’t know anything about anything if Giovanni hadn’t clued me in. I mean-” she suddenly turned to Giovanni. “Why did you tell me this shit?” she practically yelled, her fear palpable.

“You asked, and you figured most of it out on your own,” Carwyn said softly. “Could we have kept it from you? Even if we tried? Would you rather have us make you forget? It wouldn’t matter now.”

Beatrice watched Giovanni stand and walk toward her; it was almost as if each step in her direction forced her farther and farther away from the safe, unremarkable life she had known. She had the simultaneous urge to run away from the approaching menace and run toward him and hold on for dear life. The problem, she realized, was that she had no idea whether he would catch her either way.

“I don’t know anything,” she said hoarsely, “He can’t want me. I don’t-why does he want me?”

For a fleeting moment, she saw pity touch his eyes. “Because your father does.”

Chapter Eleven

Houston, Texas

January 2003

He looked over the translation of the letter, reading words his eyes hadn’t touched for five hundred years. Even years later, Poliziano’s warm humor shone through the pages. He frowned when he found the paragraph he had been looking for.

These texts you speak of promise much hermetic knowledge, if they are what you believe them to be. In the celebration of our classical fathers, we too often neglect the older ideas of the East. I am glad that such rare treasures have found their way to your discerning hands, and I have no doubt you will find much wisdom from their examination.


Giovanni’s head shot up when he heard her. Beatrice’s triumphant shout echoed across his home library and he watched as she jumped from her desk and began to do some sort of victory dance across the room.

“Anything you want to tell me?” he asked dryly.

“Only that I am,” she said with a huge smile, “the most awesome and amazing assistant in the entire world.” She continued to dance, wiggling in no particular rhythm toward the center of the room as he looked on in amusement. He tried to keep a straight face but was soon chuckling and shaking his head.

“Not that I’m doubting your…awesomeness, but is there a particular reason it should be celebrated at the moment?” he asked with a reluctant smile.

She continued to dance, and he had an increasingly difficult time not staring at her lithe form as it moved closer to him. His eyes were drawn to her swaying hips and graceful waist, and he felt his blood begin to stir. She danced and hummed a wordless tune, a smile lighting her face and her dark eyes reflecting the gold lamp light as she leaned down toward him at the table.

“Guess who found the Lincoln speech?” she asked with a playful grin, her elbows leaning on the table and her hands cupping her chin.

He allowed a slow smile to spread across his face when he saw her delight. She had found it more quickly than he thought she would. In the midst of his current predicament, the successful completion of her task was a pleasant surprise.

“Well done, Beatrice,” he said quietly.

She narrowed her eyes at his decidedly muted response, but softened them after a moment and sat down across from him at the table. He could almost see the energy vibrating off her.

“It’s such a rush! Do you get this way after you find something?”

He nodded. “Though my dance skills obviously need work after seeing yours.”

She stuck her tongue out at him, and he had the almost irresistible urge to lean across the table and bite it. He shoved down the impulse and tried to focus on what she was saying.

“-surprised you haven’t asked me yet.”


She looked shocked. “Were you actually not listening? As in distracted? As in-”

“I was reading the letters, Beatrice. How did you find the speech? Please enlighten me, oh awesome assistant.”

She smiled and settled in her chair to relate her brilliance to him. As she recounted the steps she had taken to find, first, the auction house where it had been sold, and then the collector who had made the winning bid, he watched her, pleased to hear her methodical approach that so closely matched his own.

Despite her success, a small frown settled between her eyebrows.


“What’s bothering you?”

“Why did he spend so much money? Our client? The final bid for the speech notes wasn’t nearly as much as what it must have cost him to find the documents. Why was he willing to spend so much?”

Giovanni shrugged a little and looked down at the pictures of the five hundred-year-old letter in front of him.

“What do you pay for sentiment, Beatrice? What do you pay for the memory of what an object or a book or a document evokes?”

She looked down at the pictures he held. “Is that why the letters are so important to you? Is that why you’ve looked for your books for so long?”

He paused for a moment, deliberating how much he would tell her. “The collection I seek was extensive and contained valuable texts, many of them original or unique. It has existed far longer than me-far longer. When I thought it was lost…many of the books and manuscripts contain valuable ancient knowledge, Beatrice. There is far more than my own sentiment involved.”

She looked at him skeptically.

“But,” he continued, “they hold some sentimental value as well.” He shuffled the papers in front of him. “That, of course, is secondary.”

He glanced at her, noting the thoughtful expression that had clouded her earlier glee.

“Grab your jacket,” he said as he stood and put the photographs and notes in his locked cabinet.


“It’s your first big find. I am like your boss-”

“You are my boss, unless you’ve decided to stop paying me.”

He smirked. “Fine, then I’m taking you out for a drink. Something other than Coke.”

Giovanni saw a faint flush stain her cheeks. “Gio, you don’t have to-”

“Get your coat, Beatrice.”

She paused for a moment then stood and went to turn off the computers. She joined him at the door of the library and they walked downstairs together.

“Where’s Carwyn tonight?”

“Out hunting. It’s one of the reasons he likes visiting Texas. He’s very fond of deer.”

“He may have mentioned that once or twice. So, how does he…”

“Take down a deer?”

She frowned, but shrugged, obviously curious about his friend. Giovanni chuckled.

“I don’t think he’d mind me saying. He has a friend he hunts with, Carwyn is social like that, and…have you ever seen a group of wolves stalk an animal?”

“You mean he-”

“Mmmhmm. It is a group activity.”

“Have you ever gone with him?” She paused on the stairs, her eyes lit with interest.

He only smiled. “I’m not as fond of deer as he is.”

She nodded silently and began walking again. “So now that I’ve found the speech notes, what do you do? What’s the next step?”

They waved at Caspar, who was working on his laptop in the kitchen. Giovanni wondered whether he was reading the daily surveillance report on Beatrice and her grandmother he’d commissioned.

He had been having both of them watched since he realized the girl was Lorenzo’s target. She wasn’t the end game for his old enemy, but she was undoubtedly a step to get what he wanted.

Stephen De Novo, he decided, must have taken something quite valuable from the vampire.

“Gio? So what’s the next step? I mean, you can’t just go take the document.” A sudden thought must have occurred to her. “Wait-you could, couldn’t you? Shit, am I an accomplice now?” Her eyes were wide and she had come to a standstill in the small courtyard by the garage.

He chuckled and pulled her arm to get her moving again. “I’m not a thief, Beatrice. I would scarcely need to be, would I?” He cocked an eyebrow at her playfully.

She gasped. “Gio, you cannot use your mind voodoo to make people give you manuscripts!”

“Why not?” he asked innocently.

“Because it’s wrong! It’s completely unethical. Because-”

“I don’t use amnis to get documents, Beatrice.”

“Oh,” she said, slightly deflated. “Well…good.”

He couldn’t erase the smile on his face as he opened the door to the Mustang for her. Suddenly feeling playful, he leaned down as she got in the car and whispered in her ear, “Most of the time, anyway.”

He shut the door before she could start speaking again, still laughing as he walked around the car. She was glaring at him when he got in and started it.


She scowled. “I don’t know whether to believe you or not.”

“That’s probably a wise choice.”

“You’re so reassuring.”

He smirked. “I’m not a thief. I’ll let the client know I’ve found what he’s looking for and ask him how much he is willing to offer. Then, I will approach the owner of the documents and negotiate a price.”

They drove through the dark streets toward a small pub tucked into a quiet corner of Rice Village.

“What if they don’t want to sell? And where are we going?”

“We’re going to a pub. And I rarely fail to procure an item.”

She glanced at him from the corner of her eye before she looked back at the road. “What if it’s not for sale?”

His lip curled almost instinctively. “Don’t be naive. For the right price, everything is for sale.”

The car was silent for a few minutes, and Giovanni almost wished that she would turn on the radio for him. He finally heard her take a deep breath.

“That’s kind of depressing,” she murmured.

He shrugged as he pulled into the small parking lot behind the building. “That’s human nature. Much changes in the world, but not that.”


He parked the car and looked at her in the shadows of the street lights. “Five hundred years says no.”

Giovanni hated the sadness he saw in her eyes, but knew that life would teach her the same lesson, whether he placated her in that moment or not.

“So it is important to learn that which helps us to cope with the cruel vagaries of life and the persistent ebb and rise of the human situation.”

She raised a skeptical eyebrow as he reached across to unclip her seatbelt. He passed deliberately close to her and felt her warm breath catch. Leaning back, he smiled, just a little.

“Oh yeah?” she asked, clearing her throat. “What’s that?”

He smiled when he heard her heartbeat pick up.


They walked into the dark pub, and Giovanni nodded at the pale man sitting in the corner of the room on a low couch. The vampire nodded back in the shadows and, to Giovanni’s chagrin, gestured toward the chairs across from him. He put a hand on the small of Beatrice’s back and led her toward the dark corner, though he stood casually instead of taking a seat.

“Giovanni,” the man said in greeting. “To what do I owe the pleasure tonight?”

Though the vampire spoke to Giovanni in English, Gavin Wallace’s strong brogue must have been difficult to understand, because he felt Beatrice lean forward slightly.

He could tell she was taking in every detail of the man’s appearance, from his sandy-brown hair and deceptively human brown eyes, to the stylishly rumpled jacket which complimented his easy good looks. Gavin must have been turned in his early thirties, but his wardrobe reflected his more youthful clientele. At least, Giovanni thought, the human clientele.

“Just out with a friend, Gavin. How are the college kids?” He hoped the slight pressure he put on Beatrice’s back would let her know to let him do the talking. As always, her perception paid off and she remained silent and watchful at his side.

“Very thirsty, thank you. You have a lovely companion tonight,” the blond vampire smiled, looking Beatrice over carefully. “Did you want a chaser? That redhead you seemed to like last month is in the back room, I believe.”

He shrugged. “Not necessary, but thank you.” Giovanni couldn’t help but notice the stiffness in Beatrice’s shoulders that accompanied Gavin’s frank perusal of the girl’s neck. He suddenly realized he had never been specific about how and where he fed with her, and he wondered what questions he would face once they were alone. He deliberately put an arm around her shoulders and drew her slightly closer, making sure the other vampire caught the possessive gleam in his eye.

“Ah, is that how it is? Well,” Gavin cocked an eyebrow at him and smirked, “I suppose I can still be surprised.”

“Gavin, did you want company tonight?” Giovanni asked out of politeness, hoping the vampire would answer in the negative.

“Oh, I don’t want to intrude on your evening with a friend,” he replied, “but don’t be a stranger. I think it would be beneficial for us to catch up soon.”

Nodding at the subtle message, Giovanni took Beatrice’s hand and led them to an empty couch near the fireplace. They both sat down and he leaned over to murmur in her ear.

“He’ll be able to hear everything we say in a normal voice, Beatrice. Just so you know.”

“Yeah,” she said softly. Her heart was now beating far more rapidly than he would have liked. “I kind of figured. Does he think we’re…”

“That’s the impression I want him to have. If he thinks I drink from you, he won’t touch you. Nor will anyone else in the bar out of courtesy.”

They both fell silent and he could almost see the rush of questions racing through her mind.

“A chaser, huh?”

He cocked an eyebrow. “Not necessary, but a polite offer.”

She looked down at her lap and whispered. “So-what, he keeps humans around as refreshments? What kind of bar is this?”

“It’s a popular one for a certain crowd, and one where people do not ask questions. One where they keep certain things to themselves.”

“Even the humans?”

Especially the humans.” He paused, trying to decipher the expression on her face. She was frowning, but he sensed more worry than anger. “No one lures them here, Beatrice, if that’s what you’re wondering. No one has to.”

“So what? They like it? They like being…bitten?”

He only raised an eyebrow and gave her a cocky look.

“Well, that is certainly interesting,” she said, still speaking in a low voice. “Can I ask why you brought me here? Warning? Field trip? Or do you just have the munchies?”

He put an arm around the back of the sofa, leaning close enough that his claim couldn’t be doubted by the rest of the room, but not so close that he would make her uncomfortable. Her heartbeat had yet to slow down.

“I brought us here for two reasons, Beatrice. One, if certain people decide to make their appearance in the city, it would be beneficial for them to think of you as ‘my human,’ and yes-” he anticipated her response, “I know how insulting that sounds to you, but that’s not the way he thinks.”

“The way who thinks? Gavin or Lorenzo?”

“Either. Both. Gavin’s a good sort, mostly, but that’s the most common way of viewing humans in our world.”

“As property? Food?”

“Neither, precisely. Or maybe a little bit of both. But in a fond sort of way.”

“Like a pet?” she whispered scornfully.

He smiled again. “I most certainly do not think of you as a pet, Beatrice.”

She narrowed her eyes. “You better not. What’s the second reason?”

He leaned to the side and reached for a small bar menu on the coffee table in front of them. “The second and most important reason is, this place has the best selection of whiskey in the city.”

Her lip curled. “I don’t like whiskey.”

“You have probably only had horrible whiskey that bars serve because it’s cheap. These whiskeys,” he held up the menu, “are not that kind.”

A server slid silently toward him, and Giovanni held up two fingers as he spoke.

“Two of the scotch tastings, please. And a small glass of water.”

“The premium board, Dr. Vecchio?”

He gave a slight nod. “Yes.”

Beatrice just looked at him in amusement.

“The name’s Vecchio. Giovanni Vecchio,” she said with a horrendously bad Scottish accent.

He chuckled. “But are you the good Bond girl, or the bad one?”

Beatrice winked at him and said, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

He just shook his head, enjoying her audacity as she looked around the pub. It was atmospheric, to say the least, though not fussy.

Gavin Wallace had a distinct dislike for the sentimental or stuffy. The Night Hawk pub had clean, white-washed walls that showed off the old woodwork around the windows and made the large stone fireplace in the center of the room the focal point. It had little decoration and even less in the way of food.

The reason people, including most of the small immortal community of Houston, came to Gavin’s pub was because he served the finest and most extensive collection of whiskeys and bourbons in the city and probably the state.

“Do you mostly drink whiskey?” she asked. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever seen you drink.”

He shrugged. “If I don’t drink much, I’m going to drink what I like. And I like whiskey.”

“Shaken, not stirred?”

He laughed lightly and looked into her eyes, still surprised by how amusing he found her, and how easy her company continued to be.

“Neither. Good whiskey should be served neat, that is, with no accompaniment or mixers, with a slight bit of good water to open up the scent and flavor.”

“Wow, you really know how to show a girl a good time,” she said dryly. “You’re making this sound like ten tons of fun.”

He shook his head at her. “It is fun. You’ll like it.”

“How do you know? I don’t even drink that much. I have a beer now and then on the rare occasions I hang out with friends. Or watch pro-wrestling, but that’s a recent thing.”

“You know, that’s really more Car-”

“‘Get the folding chair!’” she said in an odd voice.

He frowned. “Was that supposed to be me?”

“I never said accents were a strength, Dr. Vecchio.”

Giovanni watched her laughing at him, amused that she could be both humorous and alluring at the same time. In the months they had spent together, he had expected his curiosity and interest in her to wane. He was surprised when it had not. In fact, he enjoyed her company more as they spent time together, but he was reluctant to examine the reasons too closely.

“No,” he murmured quietly. “I believe your strengths lie elsewhere, Beatrice.”

She stared at him, an unreadable expression blanketing her normally open face. “Giovanni, what-what are we…I mean-”

“Just enjoying a drink.” He tried to lighten his voice, but he couldn’t stop staring at her mouth, even as the server set two trays in front of them, five small glasses on each tray.

“Just a drink, huh?”

He nodded and his hand lifted to tuck a piece of hair behind her ear. He rubbed it between his fingers for just a moment before he pulled away and moved forward on the couch to pick up a glass. He could hear Beatrice’s heart race, but he took a deep breath and tried to calm his own blood as it began to churn.

After pouring half an inch of water into two glasses of the light gold liquid, he handed one to her. She took it, and stared into the glass, looking at it against the light of the fireplace.

“The color is pretty. It’s warm.” She peered at him from the corner of her eye.

“It is. These are all single malt whiskeys, which means they haven’t been blended with other types. They’re all scotch-little nod to our host.” Giovanni nodded toward Gavin, who was glancing at them in the corner. “So it’s whisky without the ‘e.’ Generally, the lighter the color,” he held up his glass and touched the edge to hers, “the lighter the flavor. The water opens up the scent.”

“So,” she asked quietly, “I should smell it now?”

He nodded. “Go ahead, but not too deeply. I’m curious what you’ll detect.”

“Is there something I’m looking for?”

Giovanni shook his head. “Not necessarily. Everyone’s nose is different. I’m just curious.”

He watched as she bent her head to inhale the aroma of the whisky.

“Swirl it in the glass, just a little.”


“Swirl it,” he said, covering her hand with his own as he rotated the glass in a small circle. “Just a little.” He could already smell the scent of the gold scotch rising from her hand.

“Oh,” she said quietly before lifting the tulip-shaped glass to her nose. He watched as she inhaled, and a flush rose to her skin as the aroma of the whisky rose from the glass. “It’s sweet. It smells a little bit like oranges and flowers. But…kind of earthy, too. Does that make sense?”

He nodded as she brought the glass to her lips and sipped. She immediately wrinkled her face and he smiled.

“It’s strong,” she said with a laugh.

“Taste it again. Another sip. You’re just tasting the alcohol. If you roll it in your mouth a bit, you’ll taste more.”


She took another small sip of the light whisky and nodded. “I think…I like it. I don’t think I could drink much, though. It’s very intense.”

“Intense is a good word for it.”

“Which one is your favorite?”

He frowned, looking at the selection in front of him. Any one of the five would make a good drink, but as he thought about it, there was one he knew he would pick over the others. He pointed the second glass, light amber in color.

“Of these? This one.”

Beatrice smiled and reached for the small pitcher of water, adding just as much as he had to the first glasses. She lifted it to her nose and smelled again.

“Sweet again, but not quite as much. And…it almost seems clearer. Do you know what I mean?”

He nodded. “The flavors in this one are very straightforward. Have a taste now.”

He sipped it and watched her reaction as she tried the second glass.

“It’s good. It’s still strong, simpler, like the way it smells. But…” she took a second taste, letting the whiskey linger a little longer in her mouth, “it kind of grows, doesn’t it? It’s more complicated than it seems at first.”

“Perceptive as always, Beatrice,” he said softly. He stared at her as she examined the glasses in front of her, finishing the drink she held in her hand. She set the glass down on the table and looked at him eagerly.

“Okay, which one next?”

“So you like it?” he asked with a smile.

Beatrice nodded. “Yeah, I do. It’s kind of cool, you know? Do they all taste so different? And, of course, scotch is a way cooler than beer.”

“Is it?”

She winked at him. “Of course it is. Don’t tell Carwyn, though.”

“I’m sure both he and Caspar would argue their drink preferences. Caspar is a huge wine snob.”

She shrugged. “So far, I’m liking the scotch, Gio.”

He leaned forward and continued to tell her bits about each one as she tasted them. She was surprisingly receptive to the complex flavors, and he found himself inordinately pleased. Finally, they reached the last glass, a heavier, gold whisky aged seventeen years. He handed it to her and felt her fingers brush his own.

“So this one-”

“No lectures this time. Just let me taste it.”

He grinned. “Fair enough, my awesome assistant. Tell me what you think.”

“Oh, I will,” she said a little loudly.



Giovanni chuckled. “You don’t drink much, do you?”

She grinned back and leaned into his shoulder. “Nope.”

Still chuckling, he watched her as she tasted the last scotch, but the laughter died when he saw her close her eyes. She licked her lips, and he could see the flush stain her cheeks.

This one,” she murmured. “This one’s my favorite.”

He could see the slow pulse in her neck, and he watched as her tongue darted out again to taste.

“Oh?” he asked in a low voice.

She nodded. “Sweet and smoky. It almost-it tingles in my mouth.” Her eyes opened and he realized he had leaned toward her without thinking, her hypnotic tone drawing him in.

He fought the rush of blood in his veins until he realized they were being watched from the corner and her face was tilted toward his as if she was asking her lover for a kiss.

Placing an arm around her waist, he pulled her toward him and leaned down to cover her mouth with his own. He meant for it to be simple, a light kiss to cover the deception of his claim on her, but he tasted the gold whisky on her lips as they moved under his own.

She was kissing him back.

And he couldn’t stop his hand from stroking the gentle curve of her back or his mouth from opening to hers. His tongue reached out, sampling the sweet taste that lingered on her lips as she opened her own mouth to taste his. A soft sigh left her as they kissed, and the scent of her breath mirrored the taste of the whisky.

She moved closer, and his other hand reached up to her neck, pulling her more deeply into their kiss. He could feel his thumb linger over the pulse point under her chin, stroking lightly as it raced. He lost track of time; all he could think of was the soft feel of her body as she leaned into him, the scent of her breath, and her taste as it overwhelmed his senses.

It was clear and sweet, and the faint human memory of drinking cool water on a hot day flickered in the back of his mind. He wanted more.

Much more.

He pulled her closer and felt the delicate press of her breasts against his chest. A low kind of growl began to rise from him when he felt her heart beat against him. His fangs descended and her roaming tongue found them, but instead of recoiling, a soft moan came from her throat and her hand lifted to stroke his cheek.

It was the moment when he felt the urge to lay her down on the couch, brush her long hair aside, and drink deeply from her neck that he began to back off. The sudden realization of where they were and who she was began to take hold, and he loosened his grip, trying to regain his rigid control.

Giovanni didn’t want to create suspicion, so he let his lips trail to her ear. She was still breathing rapidly, and her other arm had reached around his back.

“They’re watching,” he whispered hoarsely in her ear, letting his lips brush against the soft skin there.

Beatrice panted a little, and he could still feel the blood rushing through her veins.

“What?” she asked in confusion.

“Gavin and a few others.” He swallowed, ignoring the low burn in his throat. “They’re watching us.” He closed his eyes, continuing his deceit. “They think we’re together, remember? We should leave now, but make sure we don’t give ourselves away.”

“Don’t give-oh,” she let out a sharp breath. “Right. They think…right.” She swallowed and he tried to ignore the acid note in her voice. “Wouldn’t want to give them the wrong impression, would we?”

He hesitated before answering, “No.”

He lingered at her ear as she calmed her breathing, brushing a kiss across her flushed cheek before he drew away from her.

Giovanni avoided her eyes as he pulled out his wallet, leaving more than enough to cover the drinks on the coffee table. He stood, holding out his hand to help Beatrice up. She took it and he could feel the stiffness in her fingers. Nonetheless, he pulled her to him, tucking her under his arm as they made their way out of the building.

He felt her stiffen as he nodded toward Gavin in the corner, and he hoped that her expression didn’t give them away. He couldn’t risk a glance. She tried to pull away from him when they got out the door, but he still held her close.

“Watching,” he said. “Someone is still watching.”

Giovanni held her small body under his for as long as he could, feeling the fleeting comfort of the contact he knew would soon be denied. He opened the car door slowly, finally releasing her as she got in. He walked to the driver’s side, anticipating her sharp rebuke as soon as they were alone, but she was silent as they pulled onto the main road. After a few moments, her silence bothered him more than her anger.

“We’re not far from my grandmother’s house. Could you just drop me off there?” she asked with careful nonchalance. “I’ll drop by the house tomorrow and get my things.”


“I’m sure my grandmother’s wondering where I am. I’m usually not out this late, even on nights I work.”

His mind raced, trying to find something to say that would break through the coldness in the air, but he couldn’t. Taking their kiss too far had been his mistake.

“Of course,” he said quietly. “I’ll let Caspar know to expect you sometime tomorrow.”

She was silent again when he glanced at her profile. Her face was impassive, and her eyes were shadowed as she stared into the night.

“The notes about the Lincoln documents are on the desk. Since I found them, I’m going to take some time off. I need to help my grandmother with some things.”

He pushed back the protest that sprang to his lips and gritted his teeth. “Of course. How many days do you need?”

She shrugged. “I’ll let Caspar know.”

As they pulled up to her grandmother’s house, he saw her gather her purse and release her seatbelt. She opened the car door and exited the Mustang as soon as it had stopped. He looked over at her, but she wouldn’t meet his eyes.

“Beatrice…” he began, trying to forget the feel of her lips against his.

She paused, bending down to meet his eyes, as if daring him to protest.

He opened his mouth, but words escaped him when he met her dark stare.

“Good night, Dr. Vecchio.”

She shut the door firmly. He watched her walk to the small house and go inside then glanced down the street, looking for the surveillance vehicle that was supposed to be watching. Noting the license plate of the unobtrusive minivan parked down the block, he leaned his head back and sighed.

He couldn’t stop thinking about the feel of her lips against his and her sweet taste. Her body fit against his perfectly; he indulged himself in the memory of her small breasts pressed against his chest and the feel of her hands stroking his jaw. While he enjoyed sex with the women he usually fed from, he never pursued any sort of personal connection with them farther than a shared, fleeting pleasure.

With Beatrice, he realized the lines were beginning to blur. Reminding himself of his purpose in pursuing the girl, he shoved down the more tender feelings that threatened to surface.

Giving one last glance to the light that filled the room on the second floor, he revved the engine to a low growl and pulled away.

Chapter Twelve

Houston, Texas

February 2003

“You’re sulking.”

“Am not.”

“Yes, you are.”

Her grandmother eyed her from across the kitchen table. Isadora set down her book and looked at her granddaughter with a raised eyebrow.

Beatrice looked down at her toast. “How was your date with Caspar?”

Isadora smiled. “It was wonderful. It would have been much more pleasant if we hadn’t spent half the night talking about you and Giovanni sulking in your respective corners.”

“Hmm,” she hummed. She couldn’t suppress the satisfaction she felt hearing that Caspar said Giovanni was sulking, too.

She hadn’t seen him for two weeks. Not since the night she was forced to face the hard truth that Giovanni, polite and cultured as he seemed, sucked on strange women’s necks for sustenance and probably did a lot of other things she didn’t want to think about. The night she had been informed that she was viewed as a kind of property or pet in his world, no matter how he tried to sugarcoat that fact.

The night he’d kissed her. And she’d kissed him back.

And what a kiss it was, she thought with a sigh.

Remembering it was enough to raise her temperature. The way his lips had moved against hers, and the barely perceptible shiver she’d felt from him when her tongue touched his fangs. His arms. The heat. His hands on her back…she shook her head and tried to push back the memory, but she could feel herself blushing as she sat at the table with her grandmother.

She cleared her throat. “I doubt Giovanni is sulking. Caspar just likes to pester him.”

“How long as he worked for Gio? Caspar talks about him like he’s known him his whole life.”

She didn’t know the whole of Caspar’s story, but she knew Giovanni said they’d been together since Caspar was a boy.

“You’d have to ask him. I think he may have worked for Gio’s family.” There, that was vague enough. She’d let Caspar fill in whatever details he wanted.

While her initial promise to set Caspar and her grandmother up on a blind date had been in jest, the more Beatrice had thought about it, the more it made sense. When she’d asked Caspar about it, he’d been enthusiastic at her attempt at matchmaking. They’d gone out the night before and Isadora was glowing.

“Well, he’s lovely. And has such a wonderful sense of humor.”

“Unlike his boss,” she muttered as she drank her coffee. She may have said it, but she knew it wasn’t true. Though he had a dry, acerbic wit, Giovanni’s humor was one of the things she liked most about him.

And she couldn’t deny she liked him. Though she had been attracted to him from the beginning, the more she learned, the more she was drawn to him. He could be so aloof, but she was beginning to see the “opposite of frosty” side Carwyn had told her about weeks ago.

That kiss, she thought again as her grandmother chattered on about her date.

“Beatrice, you should go back to work. You’re avoiding him. Does this have anything to do with feelings you may have developed-”

“Nope,” she lied, cutting her grandmother off. “No feelings. He’s my boss. I’m just taking some time off. I have some projects that need my attention, Grandma. And I don’t want you and Caspar gossiping, okay? I’m just…taking some time off. That’s all.”

She gulped down the rest of her coffee, ignoring the almost laser-like stare she knew her grandmother was giving her.

“Well, aren’t you full of shit! Also, Caspar and I will gossip about anything we please.” She smiled sweetly at Beatrice, who finished up her toast and stood to leave. “Working tonight? It’s-”

“Wednesday. Yeah, night hours.” She had taken the previous Wednesday night off like a coward but refused to avoid it any more. She’d just suck it up and ignore her conflicting feelings for the man…vampire…whatever. After all, she was a professional.

“Have a nice day, Mariposa. I’ll see you tomorrow. I have a date with Caspar tonight.”

“Cool. Have fun. Don’t do anything…you know what? I don’t even want to know or imagine. Bye!” She kissed her grandmother on the cheek and walked to the door.

She spotted the minivan parked down the street as she backed out of the driveway. It followed her down the street, always keeping that careful distance she’d become accustomed to. At first the ever-present family car had freaked her out, but when she noticed Giovanni giving them a satisfied glance when he saw them one night, she knew it had been his doing.

First, it had pissed her off. Then, it had freaked her out. But the more she thought about how many things had changed in her world, and the danger that Giovanni and Carwyn had hinted at, the more the thought she could get used to having someone keeping an eye on her safety.

She glanced in her rear view mirror as she took the exit for the university. Yep, she thought, still there.

She wasn’t dumb; she’d known Giovanni had an ulterior motive for hiring her, but she was also willing to put up with it if he could really find her father. It wasn’t until the letters had arrived that the gravity of the danger she was in began to sink in.

If her father had been killed because of something he found out about these books, who was to say her life wasn’t in danger, too?

“What the hell kind of mess did you get me into, Dad?” she wondered for the thousandth time as she pulled into one of the crowded lots. She wondered if her father even knew he had put her in danger. She wondered if he thought about her at all.

Every time she asked about her father, Giovanni simply said he was still waiting to hear. From who or what, she didn’t know.

By the time she walked to the library for her shift, she had successfully managed to shove all thoughts of Dr. Giovanni Vecchio from her brain. This was immediately ruined when she got up to the fifth floor and saw Dr. Christiansen and Charlotte bent over a now familiar shipping box she knew would have a return address from the University of Ferrara in Italy.

Dr. Christiansen looked up with a smile. “Another letter arrived!”

“Of course it did,” she muttered.

She set her bag down behind the reference desk and walked over to look. She glanced at the parchment, but quickly grabbed the notes that accompanied them.

“I’ll go make a couple of copies for the next flood of professors,” Beatrice said as she took the notes-which she knew would include a translation-back to the copy and imaging room.

Hours later she sat in the empty reading room, perusing the translation of the fourth Pico letter. Word of the new document hadn’t spread yet, so the reading room was deserted as she looked over her notes. It was another letter from the scholar, Angelo Poliziano. He talked more about the mystical books in Signore Andros’s library, some trip to Paris Pico was taking, and asked after the little boy, but it was the third section which caught her attention.

I will not linger in this letter, but hope to hear a response from you soon regarding the matter of G. Do not think that your unsigned correspondence has gone unnoticed. Your sonnets have been read in the very rooms of Lorenzo’s home. While they are beautiful work-some of your best-I beg of you to be more discreet in your admiration. You are fortunate so many ladies share the fair skin and dark hair of your muse, as their generality may yet prevent you from becoming embroiled in another scandal.

She shook her head, scribbling nonsense in the margins of her notebook.

Was this truly Giovanni? she asked herself as she finished the letter. Friend of Lorenzo de Medici? Philosopher at age twenty-three and contemporary of some of the greatest minds of the Italian Renaissance? A poet who longed for another man’s wife?

The man who seemed so cold and yet kissed her with such passion?

She closed her eyes and forced herself to think with her brain instead of her hormones.

When Beatrice had gone through her darkest teenage years, she had turned to almost anyone who seemed to offer a little warmth. Now, she shuddered to think how foolish she had been and how self-destructive. She had forced herself to take a break from the opposite sex since she decided that dark and destructive weren’t nearly as attractive as she had thought they were at seventeen.

But she didn’t like being alone, and she had the same desires that most twenty-two-year-old women had. A part of her thrilled at the idea of her interest in Giovanni being returned, but the other part of her had the cold realization that a relationship with a five hundred-year-old vampire, who probably wanted to drink her blood more than he wanted to cuddle, was the textbook definition of unhealthy.

On second thought, she was pretty sure most textbooks didn’t cover that one.

She heard the door to the reading room open, tucked the notes in her bag, and braced herself before she looked up.

And Carwyn stood in front of her.


She glanced at the smiling vampire before her eyes darted to the doors he had just walked through.

“Oh, Count Stuffy della Prissypants is not with me. He had to venture to the fair city of New York to negotiate purchase on a certain prize his awesome assistant found.” Carwyn clucked his tongue at her and winked. “And you didn’t even tell me. I would have taken you to a horror movie, a really bad one.”

She mustered up a smile. “It's good to see you. I wasn’t expecting-”

“No, I expect you weren’t from the sad, little look on your face. But cheer up!” He pulled a chair over and sat next to the desk. “I’m all yours for the night. And I won’t even pretend to transcribe an old book so I can stare at you longingly from the corner of my eye.” He kicked his feet up on the desk. “Thank God none of the boring professors are here.”

“Carwyn,” she said with a smile. “Have I told you lately that you’re kind of awesome?”

He winked. “No, but I’m always game to hear it. Forget the Italian, darling Beatrice. Run away with me. We’ll go to Hawaii.”

“Oh yeah?”

“I’ll make us a cave by the sea where the sun won’t touch me and we’ll spend every night swimming naked and drinking fruity drinks while we make the fishes blush.”

She giggled and shook her head at his mischievous grin. “You…are something else.”

His grin suddenly turned sweet as he looked at her.

“As are you, darling girl. As are you.”

He opened his mouth again, as if to say something, and she felt a faint stirring in the air, but finally, his grin returned and the tension seemed to scatter.

“Could you really make a cave?”

“What?” He looked surprised by her question. “Oh, yes. Of course. Volcanic rock is very soft.”

She shook her head. “That’s so crazy. I wish Gio would tell me about that stuff.”

“Well, what do you want to know? No one here but vampires and crazy people.”

She snorted. “Well,” she thought, “what can all the different vampires do? There’s four kinds, right? Like the four elements? You can make caves, Gio can make fire-”

“Well, strictly speaking-”

“Yeah, yeah,” she waved a hand, “static electricity, manipulation of the elements, got that part. So, it’s probably the same with all of them then.” She frowned. “How do you know what element you’ll be? Do you get to pick? Is it something that happens right away when you get…”

“Sired? Or turned. Those are the proper terms in our world.” Carwyn sighed and leaned back in his chair. “With my children-”

“Your children?”

“Yes, I call them sons and daughters. It depends on the sire, but immortal families can be very much like human families. We just tend to look a bit closer in age,” he said with a laugh.

“How do you-I mean how do you become…” She paused, unsure of how to phrase her question.

“Most of the common myths are true about that,” Carwyn said. “When I sire a child, almost all of their blood is drained, either by me or someone else. The important thing is that the majority of the blood is replaced with my own. That is what creates the connection.”

“And what is the connection? Do you…control them or something?”

“Sadly, no,” he laughed. “I can’t compel them to do my bidding.” Carwyn paused for a moment and a wistful look came to his eyes.

“It’s very much the way I remember feeling about my human children, to be honest. Only much more…intense, as everything is. It’s not an easy decision, choosing to make a child, and it has such long-term consequences. If nothing violent happens to myself or my children, we will be a family for eternity. It’s a very strong commitment to make to another being and, as a consequence, I do have quite a lot of influence over my children. We’re very close.”

“What about your sire? Is he-”

“She, actually. And my sire is no longer living.”

She could sense from the look in his eyes that it wasn’t something the normally open vampire wanted to talk about, so she changed the subject.

“Did you ever, I mean, do vampires ever turn people that they love? Like, if your wife had been living-”

“I wouldn’t have turned her myself,” he said quickly. “Well, not if I knew the consequences of it. It’s not a romantic connection, Beatrice. The feelings really are more paternal, so it’s not an ideal situation if a vampire falls in love with a human and they're turned.”

“Why not?”

“If the human does choose to become immortal, they would have to be turned by a vampire other than their lover, and then that other vampire would have a very strong connection and influence over the one turned. Your feelings toward your sire run very deep, positive or negative. It could become quite complicated.”

She looked down at the desk. “Right. I guess that makes sense,” she said quietly. She opened her e-mail and busied herself checking the news online. Carwyn was silent, but she could still feel him watching her.

“You know,” he said suddenly. “All my children are earth vampires. It runs in families that way.”

“Oh really?” she said as she typed.

“Yes, it’s almost unheard of for a vampire to sire out of their element. Water from water. Earth from earth. Wind from wind, and so forth.”

“Huh, that’s interesting. So it’s kind of genetic, I guess.”

“Except for fire.” Her eyes darted up to find Carwyn watching her.

“Oh really?”

He cocked an eyebrow at her. “Yes, they tend to just pop up like the bastard redhead every now and then. Anyone can sire them. Water, Air, Earth. Very unpredictable. Bit of a shame, of course.”

She leaned back, curious to see where the clever priest was going with his train of thought. “And why is it a shame?”

“Let’s just say I’m glad I’m not a fire vamp.” His voice dropped. “Glad to never have sired one, either.”

She swallowed the lump in her throat, almost afraid to ask her next question.

“And why is that?”

He put his feet down and rested his arms on the desk. She watched him, transfixed by his vivid blue eyes as the air around her became charged. When he finally spoke, his voice had a low, hypnotic quality to it.

“You see, Beatrice, it’s a dangerous thing to wield fire. Dangerous for yourself, and dangerous for those around you. More than one sire-even a good one-will kill a son or daughter that shows the affinity toward fire almost immediately.”


“And if the sire doesn’t kill them, the young vampire will often kill himself-purely by accident-and they’ll likely take a few others with them. Very, very volatile, those fire vamps.”

“But,” she stuttered, “Gio-”

“Those that do live are usually very gifted, and very strong,” he continued. “And their sires will take advantage of that. Because if you control a fire vampire, Beatrice, you control a very, very powerful weapon.”

Her chest was constricted as she absorbed the implication of what Carwyn was saying. “Did Gio’s sire-”

“Now, I would never want that life for a child of mine. I’d never abuse my influence like some would; but even without my interference, to live in peace, my son or daughter would have to develop almost inhuman self-control.”

Like him, she thought, suddenly gaining new perspective on Giovanni’s dispassionate demeanor.

“And you’d have to be very careful how you used your power. Ironically…you’d probably seem a little cold to most people.”

She flashed back to the heat that poured off Giovanni when he held her. What would have happened if he’d lost control? What had Carwyn written to her?

Opposite. Of. Frosty.’

“No, I wouldn’t want to be a fire vampire, because if I managed to live-and wasn’t manipulated as a powerful weapon by the one who made me-I’d most likely live a very lonely life,” Carwyn said quietly. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

She nodded and cleared her throat a little. “I understand.”

The now solemn vampire leaned back to relax in his chair. “I knew you were a clever girl.”

“So,” she swallowed the lump in her throat. “If you ever had a fire vampire for a child, do you think…they’d always be alone?”

He shrugged and smiled a little. “I think that all things are possible for him who believes.”

She smiled. “Oh yeah?”

“And I also believe that love can work miracles.”

“Love?” She cocked an eyebrow at him. “What about friendship? Can that work miracles, too?”

Carwyn rolled his eyes. “Silly B, love is friendship…just with less clothes, which makes it far more brilliant.”

She burst into laughter, glad he had finally broken the tension that hovered between them. “You are the most ridiculous man I have ever met. And maybe the worst priest.”

“Or the best,” he said with a wink, as he reached for the romance novel in the bottom drawer. “Think carefully about that one.”

She snorted. “I’ll take it into consideration.” She turned back to her computer and opened a paper she was supposed to be working on. Carwyn opened the book and began to read, still sneaking glances at her until she finally sighed in frustration.

“What now? I really should get some work done.”

“Come back to work. He’s far more of a pain in the ass since you’ve been gone. He pretends nothing’s wrong, but he’s all mopey and has no sense of humor. I think he might hurt my dog if you don’t.”

“Nice blackmail, Father.”

He shrugged and only looked at her with hopeful eyes.

She finally smiled. “I wasn’t going to stay away forever, you know.”

“Will you tell me why you left?”

She shook her head firmly. “No.”

“I tell you all sorts of things,” he muttered.

“You have got to be the most immature thousand year old I’ve ever met.”

He folded his arms and scowled. “I’m not even going to offer the most obvious retort to that.”

She smirked as she watched him but realized, if there was one person she instinctively trusted in this whole messy world she had found herself in, it was Carwyn. As far as she could tell, he had no ulterior motive to tell her anything, and he always answered her questions.

“Bad choices about men, remember?” she finally said, referring to their last conversation in the reading room. “Trying to make better choices in life, Carwyn. When it comes to…you know.”

He stared at her for a moment before he nodded. “Understood.”

“And don’t say a word to-”

“Count Prissypants tells me nothing. Therefore, I tell him nothing.”

She sighed. “I was actually going to say Caspar. I think he and my grandma are thick as thieves now.”

His eyes lit up. “Oooh, let’s gossip about them, shall we?”

Beatrice smiled, gave up, and shut down her computer.

Chapter Thirteen

Houston, Texas

February 2004

The first thing Giovanni smelled when he walked into the house at three in the morning early Friday was the coq au vin Caspar must have cooked for dinner the night before. The second thing he smelled was Beatrice.

A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. He had hoped she would come back to work before he needed to leave for New York. In the back of his mind, he entertained a fanciful notion of taking her with him and showing her the lights of Manhattan, taking her to a play, or walking through the Met.

“You’re back.”

He turned when he heard Caspar at the kitchen door.

“I am. Why are you still awake? And is there anything I need to know?” Giovanni busied himself emptying his pockets on the counter and looking through the mail Caspar had set out.

“I’m awake because I wanted to talk to you. I’m sure you’ve realized B is back at work. She and her grandmother had dinner here earlier in the evening. Also, I am completely smitten with Isadora.”

“I don’t blame you one bit. She’s a charming woman,” he mumbled as he looked through the file of e-mails Caspar had printed out.

“I find myself irritated that I’ve been living in this city for years and had no idea she existed.”

He looked up at Caspar, disarmed by the sincerity in the man’s voice. He cocked his head. “I’m glad for you, Caspar. You deserve to find someone like that. You’ve been alone too long.”

“So have you.”

Considering Caspar’s sentimental nature, he knew where his old friend was going, but it still gave Giovanni pause. “Caspar-”

“I want to talk to you about B.”

Giovanni shrugged. “There’s nothing to talk about. The girl-”

“Don’t be so damn dismissive.” His eyes shot up, surprised by Caspar’s angry tone.

“I’m not dismissing you.” He frowned and set the papers down on the counter.

Her, Gio, you’re dismissive of her.”

He sighed and stuffed his hands in his pockets, examining the older man. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Caspar. How am I-”

“You talk about her like she’s a child. Maybe a bright and entertaining child, but a child nonetheless.”

Giovanni rolled his eyes and walked toward the living room, but Caspar only followed him. He stopped to pour himself a drink at the sideboard. When he turned, Caspar was still looking at him with an impatient expression.

“She is a child.”

“She’s not.”

He shook his head. “She’s only twenty-two-”

“She’s not as naive as you think, old man.”

Giovanni’s glass crashed down to the table and he looked up, suddenly angry at his friend.

“I am an old man,” he quietly bit out. “A very old man, Caspar. I was an old man 450 years ago. Do you forget that? Do you forget that I was already an old man when I took you in as a child? Do you forget that I will remain an old man long after you leave this world? Do you have any concept of how many human friends I have seen grow old and die?”

“I know she’s young, and I know you want her to help search for your books, but I also realize-”

“You realize? Do you? She’s twenty-two. Do you remember what that is?” He shook his head. “I confess, I don’t remember being twenty-two. It’s been too long. But I remember you at twenty-two.”

“Do you?”

He swallowed his emotions and tried to smile. “Of course I do. I remember…everything.” He looked at the old man he had watched over for sixty-four years, and the memories flooded over him. “I remember the first time you played a piano when you were six, and how your eyes lit up. The first time you drove a car, which terrified me, but you were so excited. The first time you ran away from home, and how sorry you were when you came back four hours later. The first time you were drunk, and how bloody arrogant you were at eighteen.”

Caspar only frowned and shook his head. “What-”

“I remember you at twenty-two, Caspar. And you were so damn bold. You were fearless. Do you remember? The first time you fell in love was when you were twenty-two.”

Caspar smiled wistfully. “Claire.”

“Beautiful Claire Lipton! The darling of your young heart. Do you remember? The only woman you would ever love. Wasn’t that what you said? She was incandescent in your eyes.”


“Where is she now? Where is beautiful Claire? When did you stop loving her? When was the last time you even thought of her?”

Caspar paused, finally nodding in understanding before he went to pour himself a drink; then he sat down on the sofa and stared into the cold fireplace. Giovanni picked up his scotch and settled into his chair. He noticed that Beatrice’s scent lingered in it, and he wondered whether she had sat there that evening.

His eyes softened as he looked at the man he had watched grow up, mature, and eventually grow old. He knew he would someday face Caspar’s death, and that day grew closer with every sunset.

“Caspar,” he said. “Beloved son of my friend, David. You have been my child, my friend, my confidante, my ally in this world. And I will be here long after you have left me. What are you asking of me? Do you even realize?”

Caspar glared at him. “Do you think I want you to be alone when I’m gone? Do you think I don’t know? Don’t pretend she is only part of your search. I can tell you have feelings for her. I know you want her.”

Giovanni set down his drink, gripping the arms of the chair as he followed Caspar’s eyes to the cold grate.

“If I had feelings for her…they are inappropriate. I need her-”

“You need-”

“I need her,” he glared at Caspar, “to trust me. I need to keep her safe from my own mistake, and I need her to find her father.”

“To find out what he knows.”

“Yes, and to find out why Lorenzo wants him so badly.”

“So you’ll keep her safe so you can use her to find her father.”

“Yes,” he said, his face carefully blank.

“And that’s the only reason you’re keeping her around?”

Giovanni sat stiffly in his chair. “That’s the main reason, yes.”

Caspar’s eyes narrowed. “You’re such a liar sometimes.”

“And you’re melodramatic.”

He stood and walked to the fireplace to light it. The nights were starting to carry the soft warmth of springtime, but they were still cool enough that he knew a fire wouldn’t be unwelcome to the old man on the sofa. He snapped his fingers to ignite the kindling in the grate and carefully added a few pieces of wood.

“You act like you’re so cold,” Caspar said. “But you’re not, and don’t pretend that her father is the only reason you’re interested in her.”

He crouched down at the grate and willed the small fire to grow. “I will find her father. I will find my collection. I will take care of Lorenzo, and then Beatrice De Novo can go on to live a relatively normal life.”

“Oh? Is that so? Do you plan to wipe her memory, too?”

He paused, the thought of wiping himself from the girl’s memory more painful than he wanted to admit. But, he rationalized, there was no need for it.

“Of course not. She’s obviously trustworthy, and after the Lorenzo problem is gone, there is no reason she couldn’t have a relationship with her father. She deserves that.”

“She deserves a relationship with her father?”

Giovanni stared into the growing flames. “Of course. I wouldn’t deny her that. Not if I could help it.”

“But you’d deny her yourself.”

He felt a flare of anger, but he tamped it down and stood up to turn back to Caspar, his posture deliberately casual. “I’m not going to discuss this.”

“Why not?” Caspar asked. “Don’t you think she has feelings for you? Do you see the way she looks at you? Carwyn and I both see it. As surprising as it might be to you, the two of you fit together like-”

“Do you think I haven’t thought of it, Caspar?” His temper snapped and he could feel the flames jump in the grate behind him. “Do you think I haven’t thought about keeping her?”

“Then why don’t you-”

“The nights we’ve spent poring over this book or that map? The way she makes everything lighter? The way I find myself having to hold back from telling her everything-everything? Like she would even want to know?”

“How do you know she doesn’t want to know, you stubborn old fool?”

“You think I haven’t fantasized about taking her?” he bit out. “About having her in my life? Do you think I haven’t thought about it?”

Caspar stood stiffly to walk closer to the fire. “So what’s stopping you? She’ll still help you find her father. She wants it as much as you do. Do you think she’s not smart enough to understand the consequences? You won’t even give her a chance, you idiot! Or are you just afraid that she’ll say no?”

A sharp longing rose in his chest, but it was smothered by bitterness. “She’s a child. She doesn’t know what she wants at this age. At twenty-two you wanted to marry Claire Lipton and run away together to join the theater. Three years after that, you wanted to become an airline pilot. And after that-”

“You know, I already know I have a short attention span, you obnoxious git. You don’t have to rub it in.”

Giovanni took a deep breath, and laid a hand on Caspar’s shoulder. “The point is, she’s at an impulsive age, and if she has feelings for me, they are…infatuation. It wouldn’t be fair to take advantage of that.”

“But you’ll use her to find her father, won’t you? No problem taking advantage of that.”

He stiffened and pulled away. “You said yourself, she wants to find him, too.”

Tears pricked Caspar’s eyes when he looked at him.

“You’re a good man, Giovanni Vecchio. Don’t forget that in this mad search.”

Caspar turned and walked back to the sofa, sitting and picking up his drink. He stared into the fire and Giovanni watched the calm settle over him.

“You know, I don’t remember much from my life before you. I was so young when you took me in. I remember hiding in that attic in Rotterdam with my father. I remember how hot it was, how stifling. I remember the smell of dust and old paper from the books my father saved.”

“You were such a quiet child.”

“I remember seeing you for the first time,” he continued, “and my father holding me and telling me I could trust you because you were an old friend. That you weren’t one of the bad men, even though you were a stranger. That you would take care of me.”

Giovanni sat down in his chair and took a sip of scotch.

“Were you scared? When I took you to England? When you had to be locked up during the day in the house when you were little? I tried to explain it the best way I could, but you were only four or five, you must have been confused.”

Caspar shrugged. “Children are so adaptable. I don’t remember being afraid. I remember being a little older and realizing that most children didn’t sleep during the day and that most went to school, but by then I understood what you were. And then, there were all our adventures.”

Giovanni had taken Caspar on many trips as the boy had grown older and more useful. He had always been a wonderful companion. At first, he had called him his son, then his nephew, then eventually his brother as their appearances became more similar and Caspar aged.

In his long life, the boy he had rescued remained the human Giovanni had loved the most, and it had broken his heart when Caspar told him in his forties he had decided he didn’t want to be turned. He was the first human the vampire had truly wanted to sire.

He looked at the old man. “Has it been a good life with me, Caspar? Do you regret never marrying or having children? Did I keep you from that?”

Caspar shook his head. “I never felt like, had I wanted a family, they would have been unwelcome to you. And I know how fond you are of children. No, I just never found the right woman, I suppose.”

“Isadora?” Giovanni asked with a smirk.

He shook his head, a smile creeping across his face. “She’s one of a kind, Gio. My lord, she’s so bloody adorable. I want to steal her away and monopolize her every moment.”

“You are smitten, old friend.”

“Completely. You’ve met her, can you blame me?”

Giovanni smiled thinking of Isadora and Beatrice. He thought about the two women, grey hair against black, with their heads together, smiling on Dia de los Muertos. He thought of the way they laughed and teased each other, and the ease and love between them. In his mind, he saw Beatrice as she aged, her dramatic features slowly taking on the handsome dignity of her grandmother and her eyes exhibiting the unique wisdom that was only evident from a life well lived.

“No, I certainly can’t blame you, Caspar. They’re stunning.”

Caspar cocked an eyebrow, but Giovanni continued. “If things get dangerous in the city, take Isadora to the house in Kerrville. You’ll both be out of the way there. I don’t want to have to worry about you.”

“What about B?”

“No, she stays here. I’ll need her.”

“What do you mean?”

He shrugged. “Don’t worry. Nothing will happen to her.”

“Because you need her?”

He glanced at Casper in the flickering light. The fire had started to die down, and he could feel the dawn beginning to tug at him after his long journey.

“You need her,” Caspar repeated, “so you’ll keep her safe?”

“Of course.”

Caspar nodded and finished his drink, setting it down on the coffee table and standing up from the sofa. “Of course.”

The old man walked upstairs, his step slightly slower than the year before as he climbed to the second floor. The next year would be slower still, until it would be necessary to move his old friend to one of the rooms on the ground floor. Though he knew Caspar was in excellent health, he also knew that the passing of time carried inevitability and with that would come loss.

He spent another hour staring into the fire before he finally banked it and climbed the stairs. He entered his walk-in closet, took off his old watch and put it on the dresser before he stripped out of his clothes and placed them in the laundry basket for Caspar to tend in the morning. He punched in the code to his sleeping chamber and walked through the reinforced door.

As he entered, he looked around at the spartan furniture that decorated the space. There was only a small bed; despite his tall frame, his body would hardly move while in its day rest, a desk where he kept some writing paper, the older fountain pens he still preferred, and a rotary phone. The one piece of decoration was the photograph of the Arno River that flowed through the heart of Florence and the arches of the Ponte Vecchio that spanned it. The picture had been taken in the middle of the day, and the shops along the bridge glowed vividly in the searing Italian sun.

On the wall opposite the framed photograph, there was a large bookcase filled with his collection of journals. In them were the collected memories of five hundred years; no one had ever read them besides himself. As he lay in bed and waited for the pull of day, he tried to imagine Beatrice in this small, confined room.

He could not.

Giovanni heard her before he scented her, and he scented her when she walked in the house. He forced himself to sit at the table in his library and examine the fifth letter as Beatrice chatted with Caspar in the kitchen. It was a lighthearted letter; with Poliziano teasing about the debates in Rome and warning his friend to not speak publicly about the mystic texts Andros had given him.

“I do hope you keep in mind the rather stringent positions our Holy Father has taken regarding anything of a mystical nature. I know you are enamored of your Eastern texts and your thoughts of philosophical harmony, but I do not wish for you to fall under his scrutiny. I have no doubt the result would be to no one’s liking.”

The debates, he remembered, had not been successful, and the Pope had only been angered. He smiled when he saw the closing paragraph.

“On a more pleasant note, I was pleased to read Jacopo’s letter, and gratified he recalls his time in Benevieni’s household so fondly. Indeed, my friend, along with your philosophical work, I believe what you have accomplished with his education will be one of your finest achievements.”

He paused in his examination when he heard Beatrice climb the stairs. He couldn’t help but notice her step did not have its usual exuberance.


He looked up to meet her dark eyes, immediately tempted to throw away every stern admonition he had given himself when he saw her form-fitting black shirt and slim burgundy skirt. He glanced at her feet and smiled when he saw she was wearing her combat boots again, but he forced himself to stay seated.

“Hello, Beatrice.”

“So I heard you got it. The Lincoln speech. Was the buyer happy?”

He nodded slowly. “Yes. Happy parties on both sides, and a good commission for me.”

“Great. That’s great.”

She sauntered into the library, eventually making her way back to the desk where her computer had rested silently during her absence. She turned it on, and Giovanni searched his mind, trying to find a way to bypass the wall that had risen between them.

He had an idea. “I have another project for you.”

She frowned a little as she concentrated on the computer screen. “Oh, really?” she said. “What’s up?”

“It’s related to the Pico letters.”

Her eyes met his, obviously surprised. “The letters? You mean-that’s…you trust me to find stuff about the letters?”

He frowned, “Of course I do. Why do you think I wouldn’t trust you?”

She just stared at him for a few minutes before a sharp laugh escaped her, and she shook her head. “Do I think…I don’t-Giovanni, I don’t know what to think about you. About anything. I just-I should just stop trying to figure you out, honestly.”

Giovanni took a deep breath and stood, perching his hip on the corner of the large table before he answered. “Beatrice, that night at the pub-”

“Did you mean it?” Her voice was barely above a whisper. “That kiss?”

Yes, he thought, but remained silent as she stood and walked toward him.

She looked at him, frowning as she bit her lip. “Because at first I thought you did-I mean, it felt real to me-and then you implied that you were acting.”

I wasn’t, he thought again. I wanted to sink my fangs into you, drink your blood, strip your clothes off and-

“But then, I thought about it more.”

He felt his fangs drop and his skin begin to heat as she drew closer, and he forced his body to remain still instead of rushing to meet her.

“I thought about it more, and realized there are some things a man can’t fake. And the way you kissed me…” Her lips were full and flush from when she had bit them nervously. He crossed his arms on his chest so he couldn’t touch her as she continued in a low voice, “The way it felt, Gio, I don’t think it was fake at all.”

She stood in front of him, her eyes bold as she met his hungry stare, and all Giovanni would have had to do was take one step and he could have wrapped his body around hers, laid his mouth on her soft neck, and swallowed the thick blood that called to him. He swallowed slowly, and ignored the burn in his throat and the smell of honeysuckle and lemon that filled the air.

“I’m not going to deny that I’m attracted to you, Beatrice. Denying that would be foolish and insulting to us both.”

“But you’re not going to kiss me again, are you?”


“Did you want to bite me?”

He searched her eyes, trying to determine what answer she wanted, but though he had observed humanity for five hundred years, her enigmatic eyes were still a mystery to him.


“But you won’t do that, either?”

His body yearned to say yes, but his mind rebelled at the consequences of that kind of intimacy.

“No. I won’t bite you,” he said, hoping he was strong enough not to break his word.

“Why not? You could. I’m not strong enough to stop you.”

He straightened his shoulders and tore his eyes from her to look toward the fireplace.

“It wouldn’t be a prudent decision, Beatrice. For either of us.”

He saw her swallow out of the corner of his eye and detected the thin edge of regret in her eyes before she turned and walked to her desk. He knew his answer had pleased neither of them, but she was too valuable to be anything more than a human under his protection.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, neither of them looking at the other, as the fire crackled in the grate. Eventually, he heard her open a desk drawer. She pulled something out and walked over to him where he stood at the table, his arms still crossed and his hands clenched. She was carrying a notepad and a black ball-point pen.

“So, what do you want me to find, boss?”

Chapter Fourteen

Houston, Texas

April 2004

“Just taste it,” a playful voice implored.

“I’m telling you, I don’t like lamb!”

“But, darling, you have never tried my lamb before.”

The sound of Caspar and Isadora’s voices drifted out from the kitchen, interspersed with the occasional chuckle or tinkling laugh. Beatrice saw Giovanni frowning toward the door from his seat at the dining room table, and she had to stifle a laugh.

“Caspar!” her grandmother shouted before breaking into a fit of what could only be described as giggles. Now Beatrice was the one frowning, and she glanced over at Giovanni to find him watching her with an eyebrow cocked in amusement.

“Do you wonder?” he asked.

She shook her head. “Absolutely not. I don’t even want to speculate.”

He chuckled and continued sorting through the catalogue printouts she had made for him.

They had finally fallen back into a comfortable work rhythm after the kiss in January, eventually finding a way to work with each other while giving each other space. Ironically, it was even more evident to Beatrice that she had developed serious feelings for Giovanni the longer they worked together. It didn’t help that they were now pursuing the same project and had even more time to interact.

Following his hunch, Giovanni and Beatrice searched for other documents he thought might have been sold or donated from his original collection of books, manuscripts and letters. He speculated that Lorenzo was attempting to draw her father out of hiding, and if Lorenzo had given some documents away, he might have given or sold others, as well. If Giovanni knew why Lorenzo was so determined to find her dad, he wasn’t telling her.

She’d discovered a cache of documents donated to the University of Leeds that Giovanni thought might have been the original Dante correspondence Stephen De Novo mentioned to his father, and Giovanni unearthed another set of letters between Girolamo Benevieni and Giovanni Pico that had been bought by a private collection in Perugia.

“This is odd,” he muttered as he looked at the details from another auction in Rome. “There’s something…Beatrice, call Carwyn, will you?”

“Sure, he’s outside with Bran?”

“Probably trying to cover up another horticultural disaster that beast has inflicted on my gardens.”

“Aw, Gio, you’ll miss him when he’s gone.”

“Carwyn, yes. The dog, no.” Just then, Doyle jumped on his lap and shoved his fuzzy grey head under Giovanni’s hand. Beatrice had to chuckle that neither seemed to notice the cat’s hair standing on end every time Giovanni touched him.

“No, no one will miss the wolfhound, will they, Doyle?” he murmured, continuing to stroke the cat’s back as he read. Watching the vampire read at the table with his dark hair falling into his eyes, a frown furrowing his brow and his lips pursed as he tickled under the cat’s chin gave Beatrice the irrational desire to crawl into his lap and curl up, just to see if she might get the same treatment.


“Hmm?” she asked in a dazed voice as she stared at the cat.

She finally looked up to see him watching her, his eyes hooded and his hand still on Doyle’s back. “Were you going to-” He cleared his throat and looked out the dark window.

“Carwyn. Right. I’ll just…I’ll call-you know, I’ll just walk outside and find him. I could use a…walk.”

She got up and quickly exited the room, just as another burst of laughter rang out from the kitchen. Beatrice winced and walked quickly through the French doors and across the brick patio by the pool.

She didn’t mind her grandmother and Caspar dating. In fact, she was ridiculously happy that they got along so well; it was just somewhat cruel that her sixty-eight-year-old grandmother had a more exciting love life than she did.

A boy from Beatrice's art history class had taken her to dinner the weekend before, and she had enjoyed it. His name was Jeff, and he was polite and funny. She even laughed a little when he related stories about the drama in the office where he was interning and would probably work in the fall. He took her back to her grandmother’s house and gave her a really nice kiss.

She had absolutely no desire to see him again.

Beatrice cursed Giovanni’s superior kissing skills and intriguing personality as she walked through the grounds. Summer had almost settled on Houston, and the air hung heavy with leftover warmth from the day and the smell of honeysuckle. The roses were blooming and, as she rounded the corner near the small gazebo, she heard Carwyn muttering to his dog again.

“-not going to let you come back next year if you keep this up, Bran. And honestly, I don’t understand your fascination with rose roots. Is it just to annoy him?”

She heard the dog snort and half-expected him to respond. After all, vampires existed, so why not talking wolfhounds? She heard additional words that sounded a lot like curses, but she was pretty sure they were in Welsh, and couldn’t understand them.

“Carwyn?” she called across the lawn. The vampire turned to her with a guilty expression, and she watched in fascination as the numerous piles of dirt in Caspar’s prized rose garden started crawling across the lawn and back toward the holes the dog had dug them from. The dark earth didn’t float, exactly, but appeared to simply move by its own volition when Carwyn flicked his fingers at it. It was almost as if the dirt had become a living thing, and small piles chased each other across the dark grass.

“B! No need to tell the professor about Bran’s indiscretion now, is there?”

She just stared at the self-moving dirt.

“That is so freaking cool. How do you-I mean, I know you-that is just so…cool.”

“Thanks. This? This is no big deal. Try fixing the mess that six or seven of these monsters make in a vegetable garden before a scary nun finds them. Now that’s a challenge.”

“Really?” She frowned as she continued to watch the small piles of dirt gradually disappear into the earth. Even the grass seemed to knit itself together where the dog had dug it up.

“No, not really. I’m joking. Moving boulders is a slight workout. Or causing an earthquake, manipulating faults, things like that. Gardening isn’t really much of a challenge anymore.”

“You can cause earthquakes?”

He sighed, a playful look in his eyes. “There’s such a delicious joke there, but I’m going to be good and hold back. With the amount of sexual tension permeating these grounds, even a bad ‘rock your world’ line is liable to ignite something.”

“Very funny.” She rolled her eyes and tried to remember why she came to find him. “Gio’s got a question for you, I think. Something about a private collection in Central Italy? Or maybe it’s the auction he’s curious about, I’m not sure.”

Carwyn immediately ran to the house at vampire speed, leaving Beatrice and Bran in the garden. She looked at the dog, who seemed to smile playfully before he loped off in the direction of the hydrangeas.

“Slowest thing here,” she muttered. “Why do I always have to be the slowest thing here?”

When she reached the French doors, she heard Carwyn speaking in quick Italian into the rotary phone by the small desk in the living room.

Italian and Spanish had enough similarity that she could understand snatches of what she heard. She knew he mentioned books, and she heard the Italian words for “Vatican” and “library” pop up more than once.

He finally put down the phone and Giovanni started in with the questions, this time, at least, they were in English. He kept his voice low, mindful of Caspar and Isadora in the kitchen.

“So? What did the he say?”

Carwyn shook his head and spoke quietly. “Not one of theirs. He says that sounds close to one of the fronts they’ll use in private auctions sometimes-enough that someone who was bidding more casually wouldn’t suspect-but it’s definitely not them. And he doesn’t know about any new Savaranola correspondence, though he sounded like he was practically drooling at the thought.”

Giovanni frowned. “So if it is Lorenzo, and he’s not using these to draw De Novo out-because these would hold no interest for a Dante scholar-why was he selling correspondence books from the fifteenth century, and buying them from himself?”

Carwyn had been leaning against the wall, looking out the dark windows with a finger tapping his chin. Suddenly, he smiled wickedly. “Oh, Giovanni. Virgil himself would be impressed with your virtue. He’s doing it because he’s a clever, clever boy. And clever boys who want to clean money might just use a private auction to do it.”

Giovanni let loose a string of Italian curses and slapped a hand on the table, scaring the cat, who jumped off his lap and ran upstairs.

“What does he do?” Beatrice asked.

They both looked at her as if they’d forgotten she was there.

“I mean…that’s laundering money, right? That’s what you’re talking about? Don’t drug dealers do that kind of thing? Is he a drug dealer?”

Carwyn shrugged. “He’s got his hands in any number of fairly dirty pots. Smuggling mostly, and other types of clandestine shipping. Not all of it necessarily illegal, but most of it…questionable. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has his fingers in drugs or anything else. The question is – why does he need some of his funds clean at this point?”

“He won’t need it to find her father. He has other channels for that. He’s planning something,” Giovanni muttered, frowning again and biting a lip in concentration as he studied the printouts in front of him. “In the human world? Something legitimate?”

Carwyn was still tapping his chin. “Whatever it is, it has something to do with the books.”

“Why?” she asked.

Giovanni was sitting silently at the table, shaking his head. “Too much coincidence. To many pieces moving at once,” he muttered. “Her father. My books. The letters. Now the money…” He kept muttering to himself as suspicion grew in her mind.

Her father. Giovanni’s books. Lorenzo stole the books and wanted her father. A connection started to tickle the back of her brain, but she shoved it to the side for the moment and turned to Carwyn.

“Isn’t it easier to do that stuff electronically? Laundering money? Why is he doing it through auctions?”

Carwyn chuckled. “I’m sure it is, and someone with half a fool’s worth of knowledge in electronic markets could do it better than he could. But he’s not all that up on digital technology, I’m betting.”

“He’s not, though I’m sure he thinks he is. Lorenzo was always overconfident. He was never very good at adaptation. Many immortals aren’t,” Giovanni said. “I know some vampires who took fifty years or so to even start driving a car.”

Beatrice rolled her eyes. “You crazy international men of mystery, you.”

Giovanni chuckled and looked at her. “You think we’re backward, you should meet-”

“Tenzin!” the priest yelled then lowered his voice, looking over his shoulder at the kitchen door, as if suddenly remembering the humans in the house. “Oh, she’s the worst, isn’t she? Has she ever been in a car? I’ve never seen it. And I can’t even imagine her getting in a plane.”

Giovanni snorted. “I got her in a carriage once in India, and she nearly kicked the door down getting out so fast.”

Beatrice just listened to them talk about their friend, intensely curious about the woman who seemed to inspire such simultaneous awe and affection.

“How does she get around if she doesn’t drive or fly? Does she walk everywhere?” she asked.

They both stopped chuckling and looked at her. Carwyn winked. “Who says she doesn’t fly?”

Her jaw dropped. “No freaking way!”

“‘Like a bird,’” the priest sung under his breath. “So bloody convenient controlling air, isn’t it?”

“Carwyn,” Giovanni muttered in warning. “Not your place.”

“Oh, B won’t say anything when she meets her, will you? Besides, I imagine Tenzin’s already seen her in a dream or two anyway. She probably knows Beatrice better than she knows herself.”

Giovanni huffed and began putting his documents away. “Ignore him. It’s getting late. You should probably get your grandmother home.”

She rolled her eyes. “That’s right. Don’t want to get the kids in bed too late, do we? Besides, if we get in too late, our friendly neighborhood surveillance guys might start sweating in their minivan.” She had begun teasing Giovanni about their guards after her initial discomfort about them wore off. Now, she liked knowing they were there.

“Well, B. This is goodbye for now,” Carwyn walked over to embrace her. “But not goodbye forever, you must promise.”

She let herself be enveloped by the mountain of a man who had become a trusted friend and confidante over the last four months. She had known he was leaving the next night-though she had no idea how any of them traveled-and Beatrice struggled to hold in the tears that wanted to escape as she hugged him.

“Now, now, darling girl. Just let me know when I need to come and rescue you from boredom, all right?” She laughed against his chest and felt him squeeze her just a little tighter. “I’m only a phone call away.”

“I’m going to miss you so much,” she whispered. “You’ll be back?”

“Of course!” He stepped back and dabbed at her eyes with the edge of his flowered shirt. “There now. And you’ll be back to Houston for Christmas, will you not?”

She nodded and sniffed. “Yep, and let’s face it, the weather in L.A.’s got to be better than this, right? And your shirts will totally fit in. You have to come visit me.”

He winked and chucked Beatrice under her chin as she composed herself. “And see all the California girls? Count on it.”

Gathering her things, she gave one last look to the smiling man in front of her then glanced toward Giovanni. “I’ll see you on Wednesday?”

He nodded and winked. “Count on it.”

The next Wednesday, Giovanni and Beatrice chatted quietly about her end-of-term projects and finals, taking advantage of the empty reading room before Dr. Scalia arrived for his seven-thirty appointment. There was also a new professor coming at eight o’clock to see the Pico letters.

“When do you think you’ll move?”

“I want to be there by the middle of August. That should give me enough time to find my way around before classes start.”

She knew they weren’t mentioning it, but the prospect of the Lorenzo problem continuing unresolved into the fall was something that hung heavy over her plans for the future.

“That’s a good idea. I want you to know,” he paused and looked around the empty room. “I just want you to know that you don’t have to worry about your grandmother. Whatever happens. Please don’t let that trouble you. I will make sure…nothing will happen to her.”

She nodded, touched by his concern for her grandmother, which was no doubt partly the result of Caspar’s growing affection, but also-she hoped-at least partially out of concern for her, as well.

“Thanks. That does-” She broke off when the small Italian professor stepped through the door of the reading room.

“Ah!” he said. “How are you young people today? Dr. Vecchio, a pleasure as always. How goes your transcription?”

Giovanni glanced at the open scroll which sat lonely on his table near the desk and smirked at the twinkling eyes of the cheerful academic.

“Slow, at the moment, since I am pestering Miss De Novo with questions. I’d better get back to work and let her get your letter.”

“Oh, don’t mind me…well, actually do! I’m very excited to get a look at this new document.”

Beatrice chuckled at both of them, filled out the call slip and went back to the stacks to grab Dr. Scalia’s letter, and the letter the professor with the eight o’clock appointment requested to save her a trip back. Walking out the door, she tripped a little, and one of the document boxes slid out of her grasp.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, but before it could hit the ground, Giovanni darted over and caught it with almost inhuman speed. He glanced over his shoulder at Dr. Scalia, who already had his back to them getting out his notebooks.

Beatrice shook her head a little, and mouthed, “Close one.”

He shook his head and whispered, “I forget myself around you, Beatrice.”

Suddenly, his proximity caused her to blush, and she quickly spun and set the document box on the counter, trying to distract herself and wishing he couldn’t hear the sudden rush of her pulse.

“Beatrice,” she heard him whisper. She took a deep breath and turned around, meeting his eyes. They burned with the strange intensity she often noticed when the energy crackled around him. She didn’t know what mechanism of his immortality caused his eyes to change the way they did, but at that moment, they were an almost swirling blue-green, the color she’d seen in pictures of the sun-washed Mediterranean Sea.

His fingers brushed hers when he handed her the box containing the precious new letter, but she pulled away from his gaze and walked over to take the document to Dr. Scalia’s table. She saw Giovanni walk back to his own table and begin work, so she sat down at the reference desk, pulling out her own translation of the Pico letter.

He was in prison again. This time, it was Paris and his friends didn’t have as much influence.

We are working to see to your speedy release, and I hope you will retain good spirits in the meantime. I have been most disheartened to hear of your poor treatment, and I hope, by this time, you have been given better access to your books and to Jacopo, though your man assured me he was being well taken care of.

She had finished reading the letter for the third time, taking notes in her quickly expanding notebook when she heard the door push open. Beatrice looked up, immediately aware of the hiss of energy that filled the room. She glanced toward the door to see an attractive man in his mid-thirties approach the reference desk with a smirk on his face.

Something about him gave her pause and as he approached the desk, she knew what it was.

This was definitely another vampire.

A distinct tremor ran down her spine. He was more than handsome, with his pale curling hair, soft blue eyes, and almost feminine features. He reminded Beatrice of a Botticelli painting she had seen during her recent research on the Italian Renaissance. However, the light behind his smiling eyes was cold, and she looked at Giovanni to reassure herself.

Unfortunately, Giovanni’s expression was anything but reassuring. His nostrils were flared, and he looked as inhumanly fierce as she had ever seen him. She immediately glanced at Dr. Scalia to see if he had noticed anything. Luckily the cheerful academic was happily immersed in his research and took no notice of anything else.

Giovanni rose and walked to the desk, passing Dr. Scalia on the way and placing his hand on the academic. The small professor immediately rose, packed up his things, and without a word, walked out the door and down the hall. The three of them, Beatrice, Giovanni, and the new vampire who had walked through the doors, waited until the click of the stairwell door echoed down the hall.

She could barely catch the movement as Giovanni shoved the blond vampire up against the wall, where he dangled as he was held by the throat. Blue fire licked along Giovanni’s hands, and the cuffs of his oxford shirt began to smoke. As the flames grew, she noticed they were almost immediately quenched as the moisture in the room was drawn to the nameless man who wore a twisted smile.

What do you know? she thought. Water quenches fire.

Giovanni stood there, completely still with his fangs bared at the intruder and a low growl emanated from his chest, as the vampires’ elements fought their silent battle. Beatrice looked on in horror, completely unsure of what she should say or do.

As if reading her mind, Giovanni growled, “Beatrice, stay back. Take both the letters and lock yourself in the stacks.”

“Oh, why shouldn’t she stay, Giovanni?” the blond man mocked in an eerily melodic voice. “After all, this concerns her, too. Plus, she smells as delicious as her father.” The vampire’s eyes strayed to hers, and she found herself baring her own useless teeth. He only laughed. “I wonder if she tastes as good as he did!”

“Shut up, Lorenzo.”

“But, Papà, I do so love telling secrets!”

Chapter Fifteen

Houston, Texas

April 2004

“Papà? As in-what the hell?”

Giovanni ignored Beatrice, keeping his eyes and his hands on his son, who was still hanging a foot off the ground and laughing at him. Insolent boy, he thought. Siring Lorenzo, while it had seemed the most honorable thing at the time, remained Giovanni’s biggest regret in five hundred years.

“Papà, don’t you want to introduce me to your little toy?” Lorenzo sniffed the air. “She smells delicious when she’s afraid. Her father was, too, you know. Such a perceptive human he was. Clever, clever man. Is she clever, too?”

“Stay quiet and stay still,” Giovanni growled. He had always been stronger than Lorenzo; even when they were human, the boy could never have bested him. With their comparative elements and the strength of their blood now, it was still no contest.

“Hey, vampires,” he heard Beatrice say. “Just letting you know that the library is still open. Granted, this isn’t the most hopping place on the fifth floor, but there are people who could just walk in.”

The two vampires continued to stare at each other, and small flames burst out periodically over Giovanni’s hands and were quickly extinguished by Lorenzo as he manipulated the moisture in the air.

“She’s lovely, too. Is she good in bed? She’s American, I bet she is.”

Giovanni tightened his grip on the other man’s throat as he held him up, but Lorenzo only let out a rasping laugh. “They can be so feisty. But she’s young! I can’t imagine she knows what she’s doing yet,” he choked out.

He snarled at the laughing man, part of him wishing he could simply tear his son’s head of and be rid of the problem. Until he had his books, however, it wasn’t something he wanted to risk.

“Seriously,” Beatrice spoke again. He could hear her voice shaking. “I think I heard the elevator ding just now. So either kill him quick, Gio, or let him down so no one calls security.”

Her words finally registered, and he lowered Lorenzo to the ground, but didn’t release him from his grip.

“By the way, ‘Dad,’ can I just say, thanks a bunch for living in this lovely humid climate?” Lorenzo affected a flat Middle American accent. “Makes it so much easier for me to put out the little love sparks you throw off. Whatever you do, don’t move to the desert, it would just throw me off.”

Giovanni angled himself so he was between the delicate blond man and Beatrice and the letters. “Why are you here?”

“Can’t I just come for a visit? It’s been-what? One hundred years or so? Time just flies when you’re building a business empire. Sorry I forgot to send Christmas cards.”

“He’s really your son?” he heard Beatrice ask.

“In a manner of speaking,” Giovanni muttered, glaring at the mocking vampire.

“That hurts, Dad. Really, it does.”

“Shut up.”

Lorenzo peeked over Giovanni’s shoulder and winked at Beatrice. “He can just be so cross about sharing, you know? Hello, by the way. I’m Lorenzo. You must be the lovely Beatrice. I’ve heard so much about you, my dear.”

“You killed my father, didn’t you?” Beatrice whispered.

Giovanni wondered when she had figured it out. He was betting that Lorenzo’s words tonight had only confirmed her suspicions. He had suspected that his son was Stephen’s sire months ago, but hadn’t wanted to say anything to her.

“Kill is such a harsh term. And not really all that accurate; after all, I sired him as well. He’s alive and well…I think. Naughty boy, that Stephen, running away from me like that.”

Though his tone was teasing, Giovanni recognized the cold light in Lorenzo’s eyes that had only grown stronger in the last hundred years.

“I want to know why you’re in Houston. I’m assuming you sent the letters, didn’t you?”

“Oh,” Lorenzo’s eyes lit up, “are we telling old stories? Does she know all about us? Did you tell her our little secret? Does she know about old Nic?” He grinned slowly when he saw the slow burn in Giovanni’s eyes. “Oh, I just bet she doesn’t, does she?”

“Why are you here?” he roared in Italian. Blue flames flared on his arms, and he felt the scraps of his sleeves turn to ash and drift to the ground. “Is this some sick game to you? Tell me your purpose, boy, and leave!”

Lorenzo looked as if he had won a prize. “Oh, she’s wonderful…or is it your books? What has finally caused Niccolo’s perfect boy to lose his temper? It’s too beautiful for words.” A sick, dulcet laugh burbled from his throat.


He tensed when he heard the tremor in Beatrice’s voice. He could tell she was terrified and trying to hide it. He wished he could reach out and calm the race of her pulse. Its frantic beat was starting to distract even him, and he knew that if he could feel the delicious burn in his throat, then Lorenzo must have been aching to feed from her.

He took an unnecessary breath, hoping the habitual action would calm him, and slowly the blue flames were absorbed by his skin. Lorenzo also took a deep breath, and his nostrils flared as he scented the air. A slow smile grew on his son’s face, and his eyes closed in satisfaction.

“She does smell like her father,” he purred. “You would have loved his taste, Giovanni. So pure-like a cool drink of water on a hot day. Do you remember that? So refreshing. But again, I spend too much time reminiscing.”

Lorenzo opened his eyes and attempted to straighten his charred jacket. “I do believe I have an appointment at seven o’clock. If you could allow Beatrice to get my document for me, there’s no need for you to linger.”

“Go to hell,” Giovanni said in a calm voice. “Why are you here? I obviously know you have my books, you lying bastard. So what else do you want?”

“The girl, of course. I need her to get her father; he’s become quite the problem child.” Lorenzo clucked his tongue and shook his head. “So typical for adolescents, I’m afraid. You were lucky with me, Giovanni. I waited almost fifty years before I began to give you headaches.”

Lorenzo looked over his shoulder again and winked at the terrified girl. “It’s just a phase, my dear. No need to worry about your father. I’ll have him back into the fold in no time.”

Giovanni stepped away from Lorenzo and went to position himself closer to Beatrice, who stood guarding the letters on the table like a mother hen. “The girl is mine. Leave.”

“Is she?” Lorenzo cocked his head. “Is she really, Giovanni? That would be something, wouldn’t it? Quite out of character for you, keeping a human. Whatever could be the attraction?” The vampire eyed Beatrice with new interest, and another feral growl issued from Giovanni’s throat.

Lorenzo looked at him hopefully. “I’ll pay you, of course. Especially if she’s that much fun. I’m not expecting something for nothing. I’d even be willing to trade.”

Giovanni’s eyes narrowed. “Not expecting something for nothing? Now that’s out of character for you, Lorenzo.”

The blond vampire rolled his eyes. “Now, really, you act as if you got nothing out of the deal, Papà. And we both know that’s not true. What are a few old books and letters between father and son, hmm?” Then he slipped closer to them, twisting his neck around to peer at Beatrice before he looked up at Giovanni again. “Then again, maybe they’re worth more than I thought.”

Lorenzo brushed the blond curls from his forehead and flicked a bit of ash from his sleeve. Giovanni could see the outline of the burns his hands left on his throat already healing, but he wouldn’t be able to wear his jacket again. He stood in front of his son, fuming silently.

“Well, Giovanni, talkative as ever, I see.” Lorenzo sighed. “I suppose I’ll just have to make an appointment for another time. Maybe one of my associates can come take a look during the day when it’s more convenient.”

He winked at Beatrice. “Either way, I’ll see my letters again. It was really more of a loan to pique your curiosity.”

“Get out,” Giovanni said.

“I can see that it worked even better than I’d hoped,” he sang as he turned and left the room. “I’ll be seeing you! Both of you. Soon.” He sailed out of the reading room with a flourish, and in a second he was down the hallway. They heard the door to the stairwell click behind him.

Giovanni took a deep breath and finally turned to Beatrice. He had been able to smell the waves of adrenaline rolling off her during Lorenzo’s visit and he could hear her heartbeat pounding, but he was not prepared for the tears that poured down her face.


She choked and waved a hand in front of her face, trying to turn so he wouldn’t see her crying, but he placed his hands on her shoulders to examine her, looking her up and down her to make sure she wasn’t hurt. It didn’t seem possible that she could be, but her reaction startled him.

She finally choked out. “He-he wants me. He wants my father. I can’t…I’ve never been more-” She panted and tried to pull away from him. “I need a bathroom. I’m going to throw up.”

“I’ll take you.”

“I don’t need someone to take me to the bathroom,” she shouted.

“And I’m not letting you out of my sight while he’s around,” he shouted back.

She lifted her hands and shoved him back. “This is your fault! I wish I’d never met you. He’s going to kill me and it’s your fault!”

He felt a twist in his heart and it gave a quick thump. He took a deep breath and tried to remain calm.

“One, he doesn’t want to kill you. Two, the only one in the wrong is Lorenzo. Don’t blame me-”

“Why didn’t you just kill him?”

His eyebrows lifted in surprise. “So eager to collaborate in a murder? Ready to explain a rather large burn mark on the floor? It’s a small room. Not that attached to your eyebrows, are you?”

She wiped the angry tears from her eyes and sniffed, her upset stomach apparently settled. “Well-”

“You have no idea what you speak of. I can’t say I’m not impressed by your blood lust, tesoro, but you really must learn to pick your battleground.” He rolled his eyes and walked to the table to pack the Pico letters away. Next he walked over to the scroll and closed the large document box it lay in.

“What are you doing?”

“These need to be put away, you need to lock up, and we need to go to my house. We’ll stop on the way and get your grandmother.”

“But it’s not nine o’clock.”

He turned to her, his irritation finally spilling over. “Are you serious? I’m going to assume you’re still in some kind of shock, Beatrice, because I refuse to believe that after being threatened by a rather powerful, centuries-old, water vampire-who we just confirmed killed and turned your father, and now seems to have a sick fascination with you-you’re not arguing with me about closing the reading room a couple of hours early!”

The color drained from her face before she turned and ran down the hall. He heard her throwing up in the bathroom and sighed, quickly packed up the documents and placed them on the counter before he walked down to stand outside the door.

Giving her a few moments to collect herself, he waited in the hallway and thought about his son’s appearance at the library.

He had thought of the girl first.

It was…unexpected, even with his earlier reaction to Lorenzo’s scent on her. He had been thinking defensively as his son entered the room, but his first instinct had been to protect the girl and not his letters.

He could still hear her sniffling alone in the bathroom. The urge to walk in and comfort her was also unexpected, though with his growing attraction it probably shouldn’t have been. He had avoided long-term attachments to women for this reason. Once his protective instincts were triggered, he became much less rational.

He needed to call Carwyn and Tenzin. He would have to leave a message for the priest, as he would still be traveling. Hopefully, Tenzin was talking again, but he had no idea whether her airy visions would allow her to travel.

Then there was Livia in Rome. She had been brushing him off, and he needed to know what exactly had happened to Stephen De Novo. There was no longer time to put up with her dawdling attempts to draw him into a visit, which was no doubt her aim in putting him off in the first place.

He needed to talk to Gavin Wallace. For the right price, the Scot could tell him everyone who was new in town and who they belonged to. The man could probably tell him what their favorite drink was as well, but Giovanni didn’t know if he really wanted to spend that much.

He needed to get Caspar out of Houston and up to the house in the hill country, along with Isadora. The last thing he needed to worry about was their well-being in this mess. Lorenzo had a passionate disgust for the elderly, so hopefully they hadn’t even registered his attention.

Giovanni heard the sink running and knew Beatrice would be out in a minute. She had surprised him with her tears, but he sensed more anger than fear from her. He had dealt with this kind of danger for so many hundreds of years, he’d forgotten how shocking it was for someone so young.

She opened the door, and he saw her without the mask of her make-up for the first time. She must have washed it off, and a faint smudge of black mascara still marred the bottom of her right eyelid.

He had thought of her first. He crossed his arms and pushed down the urge to embrace her.


She nodded silently and walked back to the reading room. He sped by her, and quickly checked it to make sure no one had entered while his mind had been elsewhere.

“Let me shut down the computers and I’ll lock up.”

“Can I do anything to help?”

“Put the documents away. The combination to the stacks is the last four numbers of my social security number.” She didn’t ask if he knew it, and he would have laughed at her correct presumption if only she had not looked so shaken.

He quickly put everything back in its place, keeping an ear open to listen for anyone entering the reading room while he was out of sight. He noted the meticulous organization of the document shelves and the empty spaces where the boxes needed to be placed and the faint honeysuckle scent of her that lingered in the small room. For a brief moment, he considered simply taking the letters that were his, but he brushed the temptation aside and focused on the present danger. By the time he slipped out of the stacks, Beatrice had shut down the computers, grabbed her bag, and turned off the lights.

They walked down the hall together and silently made their way downstairs. She let him guide her toward his Mustang, and he unlocked the door for her, pausing before he opened it.


“I know it’s not really your fault,” she murmured. “If anyone’s, it’s my dad’s, though I’m sure he didn’t plan on being attacked by a vampire when he went to Italy. You were just the closest one here, so it was easy to blame you.”

He was surprised by her apology, but felt an unfamiliar tension ease when he heard it.

“Are you really sorry you met me?” he asked in a low voice.

She paused and glanced up at him in the dim lights of the parking lot before she reached out to grab the door handle, opening it for herself.

“I haven’t decided yet.”

He took surface streets to her grandmother’s house, trying to give her time to collect herself before she saw Isadora.

“So he’s really your son?”

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“Why on earth did you turn him? Was he always so awful?”

Giovanni frowned. “He wasn’t-no, he wasn’t always like this. As a child, he was almost timid. He hadn’t had an easy life. I thought I was doing the right thing when I did it. There was a time that I had a kind of affection for him. I had hoped with guidance, he would… Well, he had his own ideas about immortal life at a very young age. We only stayed together for around five years before we parted ways.”

“Has he done this before? Has he tried to, I don’t know, provoke you?”

“No. I know his reputation, of course, but we’ve spent hundreds of years avoiding each other. I’m starting to realize what a mistake that was.”

“And he has your books? Your own son stole your books and letters from you?”

Giovanni nodded. “Before I turned him, he told me they had been lost. He told me that my properties were intact, but that my library had been ransacked and destroyed. It was during the time of Savaranola in Florence. It wasn’t hard to believe. There was so much lost. I had to trust him. There was a time that I couldn’t be around people like I can now.”

“Why? The blood thing or the fire thing?”

He hesitated before he answered. “Either. Both. There were…many reasons. Can we talk about something other than my past, please?”

He saw her cross her arms from the corner of his eyes and angry tears came to her eyes. “Well, it seems like your past is affecting a lot of my future, Gio. So maybe I feel like it’s kind of my business at this point.”

Biting back a curse, he gripped the steering wheel a little harder too hard and heard the plastic crack. Damn.

“I’ll tell you what you need to know, just not right now. I’ll take care of this, Beatrice, but you’re staying with me for a while.”

She snorted. “I am not. I have finals and classes and all sorts of shit to do. You’re not locking me up in your house.”

He frowned, irritated that she had predicted him so accurately. She was probably correct, and he didn’t want to interfere with her completing her classes unless it was absolutely necessary. He had no doubt Lorenzo would linger in the city for some time, watching them and securing support before he made any sort of move.

In his mind, he recalled the small boy sitting in front of a basket, dangling a mouse by its tail. The rodent was intended to be a meal for the snake that was kept in the classroom, but the boy always asked to be the one to feed it. Not wanting to handle the task himself, Giovanni always let him, but soon became disturbed by how the angelic looking child taunted both the snake and the mouse before he finally offered the serpent its meal.


“Hmm?” He broke out of his reverie to glance at Beatrice. “We’ll figure something out. It would be best if you stayed at my house after dark. There’s plenty of room. I’ll increase your security during the daytime, as well.”

“What about my grandmother?”

“There’s a house that Caspar loves, up in the hill country around Kerrville. It’s isolated and Caspar knows the area extremely well. He can take her there. I don’t think it’s in Lorenzo’s interest to follow them. They aren’t what he’s after.”

“He’s after me?” she asked in a small voice. “I guess I knew that, but it hadn’t really sunk in until today.”

She seemed to shrink into the seat next to him as they made their way through the winding streets of Houston. He scented the air, pleased that the adrenaline had ceased pumping through her bloodstream and satisfied she wouldn’t alarm Isadora.

“I really hate my dad right now,” she whispered.

He wasn’t shocked by her admission, but it saddened him. He felt the urge to hold her again, but he shoved it to the side.

“I understand why you feel that way, but you have to know I do not blame him for running from Lorenzo.”

“You can’t? Even though it’s now messing with your life, too?”

Giovanni shrugged. “I’m the one who created the monster, Beatrice. And trust me, Lorenzo is a monster. Life as his child would be horrendous.”

“Why? I don’t get it. Carwyn told me he can’t make his kids do anything they don’t want to, so why would it be so horrible?”

He frowned at her. “It’s not a mental compulsion, it’s sheer physical strength most of the time. Strength for us is determined by age, mostly-though the age of your sire has some significance, as well. I’m old, but my sire was ancient. Combine that strength with my physical strength at the time of my change and my natural element-that makes me very strong.

“Lorenzo was never as strong as me when he was human, but my blood was very strong because of my sire and that was passed onto him. He has also trained himself particularly well in his elemental strength, though he’ll never be quite as strong as I am.

Your father-though very strong now by human standards-would be no match for either of us. He would never beat Lorenzo in a fight, and I’m sure my son probably tortured him in all sorts of inventive ways when your father didn’t do exactly what he wanted.”

He saw her eyes widen in horror, but he didn’t want to soften the truth for her. “You have no idea how much power he would have over him, especially in those first few years when he was learning to control his bloodlust. Your father is almost five hundred years younger than his sire. And he could conceivably be under his control for eternity. You must not blame your father for running.”

She seemed to shrink in her seat. “How about your sire?” she almost whispered. “Does he-I mean, was he good like Carwyn?”

Giovanni frowned. “My father…was a complicated vampire. And he’s dead, so it doesn’t have any effect on me now.”


“Is there a proper anger, my son?”

“Aristotle said ‘anyone can become angry, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree, and at the right time. For the right purpose and in the right way-is not within every man’s power. ’”

“Are you the ‘every man’ that the philosopher spoke of?”

“No, Father, I am better than other mortals, and will be better still.”

“Therefore, you must master your anger so you control it always.”

“Yes, Father.”


“Hmm?” His eyes dropped their hollow stare as he glanced at Beatrice again.

“You missed the turn to my house.”

He quickly turned the car around and made the right onto the street he had missed. As he pulled up in front of Isadora’s small home, he noticed that all the lights lit up the first floor. He parked and walked around the car to help Beatrice out. Half way up the walk, the first scent of blood hit him, and he turned to Beatrice, pushing her back toward the Mustang.

“Go back to the car,” he said firmly.

“What? No! What the hell-” Her eyes widened when she saw his face. She ran up the front walk, but Giovanni beat her to the door, blocking her path.


Chapter Sixteen

Houston, Texas

April 2004

“Let me in!” Beatrice beat on his chest. “Let me in, you bastard. Isadora!”

“Be quiet and wait. The smell of blood is not strong,” he hissed. “Wait, so I can check the house, damn it!”

“Grandma?” She began to cry, continuing to try to shove past him, but his arms held her in a cold, iron grasp. She was beside herself, and could only imagine the worst.

“Beatrice, do you have your phone?”

She wanted to hit Giovanni, but she was too busy trying to get out of his arms so she could enter the house.

“Beatrice, calm down. You need to call this number.” He rattled off a number, but she still wasn’t listening.

“You stupid, asshole vampire!” She tried to jerk out of his arms. “Let me in my house. Make your own telephone-” She froze, suddenly realizing it was possible there were people or vampires still inside. She immediately fell silent and stopped struggling.

“What do you hear?” she whispered.

“Nothing suspicious, and I don’t feel anyone. I do smell blood, but your grandmother’s pulse sounds fine; her breathing is slow and regular. Are you going to be calm now?”

She took a deep breath and nodded, blinking the tears from her eyes.

He gave a quick nod and released her, turning the door knob to walk into the house. Beatrice couldn’t see anything in the living room but the television playing a game show her grandmother hated.

“This way,” he said, pointing down the hallway to the kitchen. Beatrice followed behind him.


She gave a strangled cry when she saw Isadora lying on the floor in a crumbled heap, but Giovanni pushed her back and went to examine the old woman.

There were vicious bite marks on her neck and others on her wrist. A small pool of blood appeared to have dripped from a wound on her forehead, but the bleeding had stopped.

“Please, please no,” she cried and knelt down across from Giovanni, holding her grandmother’s limp hand. “Not you too, no…”

Giovanni did a quick physical examination of the old woman, finally looking up to meet her eyes.

“She’s going to be fine, it’s not as serious as it looks.”

Beatrice was still sniffing and holding Isadora’s hand, rocking herself back and forth on the kitchen floor smeared with her grandmother’s blood.

“Beatrice,” his commanding voice broke through her growing panic, “you need to calm down now so you can help me.”

Though her eyes welled with tears, she nodded and tried to get herself under control.

“What do I need to do? Should I call 911?”

He shook his head. “They drank from her, and made no effort to heal the bite marks. I could heal her outer wounds, but we’d still have to explain the blood loss to the paramedics. Do you have your phone?”

She nodded and pulled the mobile phone from her pocket.

“Good, dial this number.” He slowly dictated the number and waited as it dialed. “Put it on speaker for me.”

After a few rings, a male voice picked up.


“Lucas, it’s Giovanni Vecchio. I need you to come to my house now.”

“There’s nothing wrong with Caspar, is there?”

“No, I have a human suffering from blood loss.” He looked at Beatrice. “Do you know her blood type?”

Beatrice shook her head. “No, she’s always been really healthy.”

“I’ll bring universal,” the voice on the phone replied brusquely. “Do you need transport?”

“No, I’ll take her to my home. If you get there before me, do not tell Caspar anything, do you understand? He’ll be angry, but just ignore him and tell him I sent you.”

Beatrice could only imagine how Caspar was going to take the news that his boss’s enemies made a meal out of his girlfriend.

“I’ll see you in fifteen minutes. Goodbye.” The phone went silent, and she looked down at her grandmother’s pale face again.

“I’m going to lift her. I don’t think anything is broken, so we’ll put her in the back of my car. I’ll hold her in the back so I can monitor her breathing and heart rate. Can you drive a manual transmission?”

She nodded. “Yeah, no problem. Just take care of her, okay?”

He grabbed her hand and squeezed it. “She’s going to be fine, Beatrice. And as soon as she’s able, we’ll get her out of town.”

“And I won’t argue. I’ll stay with you until you kill Lorenzo.”


“Because you are going to kill him, right?”

Giovanni bent to lift Isadora, cradling her tiny body as if she was a child. Nodding toward the door, he finally said, “Let’s focus on taking care of your grandmother before we start plotting murder, shall we?”

When Beatrice pulled up to the house, she could see an unfamiliar blue sedan parked by the garage and Caspar pacing in the courtyard. As she stopped the car, he pulled the back door open.

“Oh no, please no-”

“She’s going to be fine,” Giovanni interrupted. “Calm down and help me.”

Beatrice parked the car and got out, watching the two men fuss over her grandmother, who was still unconscious. She would have been insane with worry if Giovanni hadn’t have been monitoring Isadora’s heart rate aloud in the car the whole way over. She had seen him bite his finger and rub a bit of the oozing blood over her grandmother’s neck and wrists in the backseat. The wounds, though red and angry, were already closed.

“Here,” Caspar held out his arms, “let me take her. I thought-Lucas showed up and asked for a downstairs bedroom for a patient. I thought something had happened to Beatrice.” Caspar glanced at her before he took Isadora’s small body in his arms and walked toward the house. Giovanni raced over and opened the door for him before rushing back to her.

“You’re doing very well,” he whispered when he pulled her into his arms. “You drove her here safely and now Lucas will take care of her. He’s Caspar’s personal physician, and he’s the best in the city. I trust him.”

She nodded and relaxed, letting his arms hold her up. “I was afraid I was going to crash on the way over here.”

“Nerves of steel, tesoro.” He brushed a kiss across her temple as he walked her into the house with an arm around her shoulders. “You’ve handled yourself extremely well.”

“Does this happen a lot?”


“You really need to kill Lorenzo.”

She heard him give a small snort. “You’re quite bloodthirsty for a little girl.”

“I’m serious,” she said, pausing in the door between the kitchen and living room to look up at him. “I want him dead. If I could do it myself, I would.”

He stared at her for a moment before nudging her toward the hallway. “Let’s take care of Isadora first, then we’ll talk.”

When they entered the bedroom, the doctor had an IV set up and, within an hour, Isadora’s coloring had improved. A half an hour later, her eyes fluttered open and she looked around in confusion.

“What am I…where am I?”

Beatrice rushed to her side. “You’re going to be fine, Grandma. They just-I mean, you had an accident. But we’re at Gio’s house, and Caspar’s here, and there’s a doctor…”

Isadora’s eyes searched the room, finally settling on Giovanni. She nodded, closed her eyes, and sighed.

“This has something to do with Stephen, doesn’t it?”

Beatrice had never been more furious in her life.

“I cannot believe you didn’t tell me!”

“He told me not to.”

“You didn’t think I had a right to know? Do you have any idea how messed up I was after all that shit he did to my brain?”

She paced the room, tugging at her hair as Isadora tried to calm her down.

“I didn’t know about all that. Stephen told me he had tried to talk to you, and you couldn’t handle it. He said you wouldn’t remember. He told me not to tell you when you were older because we wouldn’t see him again.”

“But the depression-”

“Your grandfather and I never made the connection, Beatrice. Why would we? I was the only one who knew what was going on with your father, and you didn’t tell me any of this about seeing him, or the dreams. You confided in your grandfather. This is the first I’ve heard of you having any memories of him after his change. I thought I was the only one who knew.”

“Grandpa said it would just upset you if I told you I’d seen him.”

Isadora snorted and looked around the empty room. “You damn De Novos-so arrogant! You, your father, your grandfather…you all thought I was so fragile. Your father’s the only one who figured it out, and he’s dead.”

“But he’s not dead!”

“Yes, Beatrice, he is. He told me we would never see him again. He told me,” her voice cracked, “he told me it was too dangerous. That he had to run away.” Isadora shook her head. “I was so furious. I told him we could handle it as a family, but he just ran. He was determined to disappear.”

She wiped angry tears from her eyes, and Beatrice stopped pacing and went to sit in a chair by the small fireplace.

“How did you not realize that Gio was a vampire when you met him?”

Her grandmother frowned. “He’s much better at it than your father was. Other than the pale skin, Giovanni looks just like a normal human. You have no idea, B. Your father…” She paused and shook her head. “He was barely recognizable, even to me. He was gaunt and pale. His skin was cold to the touch. He looked nothing like a normal human. It’s no wonder you found his appearance so frightening as a child.”

Beatrice came to sit next to her grandmother. “How are you feeling now? Are you still feeling dizzy?”

Isadora smiled. “Fine. I’m going to be fine. I feel very lucky. When those men came to the door, I thought I was going to die. I saw their fangs and knew it had something to do with Stephen. What’s going on?”

“The vampire that turned Dad, Lorenzo…” She paused, not wanting to tell her that Lorenzo was Giovanni’s son. “He’s after Gio, too. He’s after-”

“He’s after you, isn’t he? Your father said he was looking for him ten years ago. If this Lorenzo still hasn’t found Stephen, he’ll want you. I’m only surprised he hasn’t come after you before. If he knows your father at all, he knows the man would do anything for you. That’s what this is about, isn’t it?”

She nodded slowly, reminded again not to underestimate her delicate looking abuela.

“Well, what are we going to do about it? Can we run? Would it even make a difference? How about killing him? How hard would that be?”

“You De Novo women,” Giovanni muttered as he entered the room with Caspar. “Terribly vicious, aren’t you? Never underestimate the fury of an angry mother, Caspar. They’re the most vicious creatures in the world.”

Caspar went to take Isadora’s hand. “How are you feeling, darling? You had me terribly frightened.”

“I’ll be fine. I am fine. I’m mostly concerned about Beatrice.”

“We’ll stay here for a few days to make sure you’re recovered, then I’m taking you out of the city,” he said.

“But B-”

“I’ll be taking care of Beatrice,” Giovanni said from the corner of the room.

Isadora’s angry green eyes flared. “I’m supposed to trust you with my granddaughter, Giovanni Vecchio? How do I know you can keep her safe?”

“You don’t, but I’m the best option you have.”

“Isadora,” Caspar murmured, “Giovanni is a good man.”

“If it was your child, would you trust him?”

“My father did.”

Isadora frowned and looked from Caspar to Giovanni, then finally at Beatrice.

“Mariposa, do you want to stay with this vampire? You’re a grown woman, it’s up to you.”

Beatrice looked at Giovanni, then back to her grandmother as she sighed. “I think Gio’s right, Grandma. I don’t really like being bait, but I think he’s probably my best bet at this point.”

Isadora finally nodded, her eyes swinging back to Giovanni as he stood silently by the door. “Fine. Caspar, I’ll go with you, but I want to be kept informed. I’m tired of people keeping me in the dark and thinking I can’t handle things, do you understand?”

Giovanni nodded and withdrew from the room, leaving Isadora to the care of Beatrice and Caspar. Beatrice had no idea when Lucas had left, but she’d heard him say he would be back the next night to check on her grandmother’s recovery.


She looked up to see Caspar watching her.


“Why don’t I show you to your room? I’ll find some spare clothes for you to sleep in until we can go to your house tomorrow and get some things for you both. I’ve already adjusted your security, but it’s better that we don’t go during the dark.”

“Okay.” A sudden thought occurred to her. “Hey Caspar?”


“What happened? I mean, where were the guys who’ve been watching the house when they attacked Grandma?”

His expression was grim. “They were the appetizers.”

Three days later, Giovanni and Beatrice stood in the courtyard, waving to Caspar and Isadora as they drove away an hour before dawn. They were headed to a very private home in the hill country somewhere around Kerrville, Texas. A home, Giovanni had explained, that had never carried his name and would be almost impossible to find for anyone other than Caspar or himself.

She waved with a small smile, ignoring the twisted feeling in her stomach, and the little voice that warned this could be the last time she ever saw her grandmother. She walked back to the empty house, feeling Giovanni’s eyes burn her back as she left.

As much as she was grateful that Caspar and Isadora would be safer out of Houston, Beatrice also dreaded the thought of living alone in a house with Giovanni, and no friendly buffer of Carwyn or Caspar to distract her. They had been avoiding each other since the night of her grandmother’s attack, but she felt like he watched her almost constantly; she was more than aware of the building tension, and all that remained unspoken between them.

“Beatrice,” she heard him call as she walked through the kitchen. “Your escort will be here at eight. You will have plenty of time to get to your first class.”

She kept walking toward the living room. “Fine. I’m going to sleep for a few more hours.”

“I’ll see you tonight.”

She walked up the stairs, never turning to look behind her as she went to her borrowed room on the second floor. “Yep, see you tonight.”


She finally paused and turned around. In a flash, he was standing on the step below her, so they were almost eye to eye. His hand lifted to stroke her cheek and the familiar tremor ran through her as she stared into his green eyes. “Caspar will make sure she’s safe. Nothing is going to happen to your grandmother. He’s more dangerous than he looks.”

She wanted to lean against him. She wanted to curl into his strong chest and feel his arms holding her as he chased away the chill of fear that had become her constant companion. She wanted to believe that nothing bad or scary was going to happen again. That her grandmother and Caspar were just going away for a vacation. That the world as she knew it had not ended the minute a beautiful blond vampire walked into the library. That it hadn’t ended years ago when her father escaped a madman.

Most of all, she wanted to believe that Giovanni would keep her safe.

“Nothing bad is going to happen to her?” she whispered. “Promise?”

She saw the flicker of uncertainty in his eyes.

“Yeah, I didn’t think so.”

Chapter Seventeen

Houston, Texas

May 2004

“Only one more final left, right?” Charlotte grinned when Beatrice entered the reading room. “And then that’s it for the graduate!”

Beatrice shrugged and set down her bag by the reference desk. “Until next semester. Then I can freak out about finals at the graduate level. Yay.”

Charlotte chuckled and shook her head. “What is with you lately? Are you getting nervous about moving? I think I’m more excited than you are.” The librarian continued sorting through the photographs on the counter.

“I guess I’m just missing my grandma.” That much was true. Beatrice was starting to feel like graduate school in California, even if there was no fear of strange vampires, wasn’t the best idea, after all. She had never imagined she could miss Isadora so much, though she was happy her grandmother seemed content and safe.

“How is she feeling? Have you talked to her lately?”

“Yeah, I just talked to her last night. She’s feeling great.”

“You know, I had no idea she had breathing problems like that.”

Beatrice nodded. “It’s…fairly recent. Her doctor suggested a few months in the desert. It’s just lucky she has that cousin in New Mexico.”

In reality, it was her grandfather who had cousins in New Mexico, but since Beatrice had to figure out some reason to explain her grandmother’s disappearance, dry air seemed like a good one.

That excuse, along with a phone call from her grandmother, had been enough to assuage Isadora’s friends from storming over to her currently empty house to investigate when she didn’t show up for Tuesday dinner.

“It’s such a shame she won’t be here to see you graduate, you know? But, you always hear how bad the air quality is in Houston, especially in the summer, so I guess her doctor made the right call.”

“It’s not a big deal. The college graduations are a madhouse. She’s not missing anything. I’ll make sure she flies out for my master’s, you know? The air in California has got to be better than here.”

Charlotte giggled and winked at Beatrice. “And the scenery. You better date a surfer, at least once. I want pictures.”

Soon the two women were laughing at all of Beatrice’s imaginary romantic prospects in sunny Southern California. It felt good to joke around with Charlotte and listen to her tease about boys and suntans and rollerblading. It felt good to feel just a little bit normal after the overwhelming tension of the previous month.

Beatrice had done little beside school work, classes, and finals since moving to Giovanni’s. The house was enormous and they both took care of their own cleaning and cooking, so other than the occasional meeting in the kitchen or the laundry room, she didn’t even see him. She spent more time with Carl, her friendly neighborhood security guard, who always had a friendly smile and plenty of firepower.

Other than the research time they continued in the library, Beatrice didn’t see her new roommate all that much, but she was definitely learning more about his habits by proximity.

Giovanni swam almost every night. She had woken once at three in the morning to hear a splash in the pool outside her window. She peeked outside and watched him swim laps for over an hour without taking a breath. She didn’t stare the whole time, but his focus was impressive…as was his naked body. He really was the most perfect man she had ever seen. He looked like a Greek sculpture molded from a single block of pale marble.

He played several different instruments, but the piano and the cello seemed to be his favorites, and he often played through the night. It was always something quiet that soothed her and seemed to help her sleep through the nightmares that had begun to plague her sleep.

Other than whiskey, he did eat a little, rich foods like olives and avocados and cheese; ironically, she had never seen him eat any kind of meat. He liked sweet smells and spent a lot of time in the garden. He was fond of the gazebo where honeysuckle grew up and over, almost enclosing the small structure in vines. She had found him there a number of times, reading a book in the dark.

He also loved water, even the sound of it seemed to relax him, and if he was irritated or stressed, Giovanni would immediately go and jump in the pool. She remembered the way that the humid air Lorenzo manipulated had doused the flames that ran along his skin when he was angry, and she wondered if he was drawn to water for the same reason.

She was interrupted from her tangled thoughts by Dr. Christiansen’s voice as he entered the reading room.

“Hello, ladies, I have another Pico letter.”

“What? Really?” Beatrice was shocked. She had imagined, for some reason, that since Lorenzo was in town-even though he seemed to be laying low after their first meeting and her grandmother’s attack-they wouldn’t see any more of the fascinating letters. She had jotted down several other names in her notebook after filtering through what she remembered Lorenzo saying at the library.

Nic. Niccolo. He had called Giovanni “Niccolo’s perfect boy” when he was taunting him. She needed to look at one of the early letters again. She was almost sure that one of them mentioned a Niccolo, but she couldn’t remember which or what the context was.

“Yes, one more from the University of Ferrara. Apparently this one took a bit longer than the others for some reason. It’s been delayed.”

“Oh, so we were supposed to get it last month or something?”

Dr. Christiansen smiled. “No need to worry, B. We have it now, and there’s plenty of time for you to look at it before you leave us next month. Would you like to make a few copies of the notes so we could put them out for the descending hordes?”

“Sure, I’d be happy to.”

She walked over and grabbed the notes while the Dr. Christiansen and Charlotte chatted about the seventh letter. Beatrice walked down the hall to the copy and imaging room and quickly found a chair so she could sit down and read. Flipping through the notes to the translation, she immediately got out her notebook and started jotting down details.

Skimming over the mentions of Savaranola’s return to Florence and other news of his friends, her eyes stopped with she heard mention of the mysterious woman named G.

I received a letter from G. She seems greatly dismayed that you have cut off correspondence and mentioned your request to send the copies of your sonnets. I beg of you, Giovanni, whatever your intentions are toward the lady, do not take steps to destroy your work.

He was going to destroy his poems? For some reason, even the thought of it made her want to cry. Just then, she caught a name that sparked her memory.

I spoke with Signore Andros when he returned from his visit with you in Fiesole.

Signore Andros…she searched her memory and flipped through her notes until she spotted it. Signore Niccolo Andros, who had the fascinating library in Perugia where Giovanni had recovered with the young boy after his time in jail.

Could that be the connection to Giovanni’s books? Were they really the property of this Niccolo Andros? Did Giovanni steal them? And what did all this have to do with her father? She flipped through her notes again to see what kind of books Signore Andros had and frowned. Why would her father be researching books about Eastern mysticism?

Beatrice took notes on the seventh letter, convinced that there was some piece of the puzzle that was just out of her grasp. She needed to study them together, but she could not waste any more time at work. She quickly made the copies, and walked back out to the reading room to see Dr. Scalia already poring over the newest letter with Dr. Christiansen.

“-and the progression of Savaranola’s extreme ideas coinciding with Pico’s apparent depression seems to be one of the most fascinating aspects. Along with the mention of his poetry. I believe the sonnets mentioned would be those Pico wrote to the wife of one of the Medici cousins. It was quite a scandal at the time, and caused his first imprisonment, but these letters certainly indicated they continued their relationship, at least through correspondence.”

“What’s so special about the sonnets?” she heard Charlotte ask.

“We knew Pico had written poetry, but we thought it was destroyed by Savaranola in the bonfires, or that Pico had destroyed it of his own volition as an act of penance. This seems to indicate that Poliziano-who was a poet himself-was trying to get them for safekeeping. It’s all quite fascinating.”

“What about the rest of Pico’s library?”

All eyes swung to Beatrice as she entered the room and spoke.

Dr. Scalia frowned. “What library?”

“Well, the letters mention books and stuff, right? Didn’t he have all sorts of mystical texts, too? Along with his own papers? All these nobles and philosophers had personal libraries, right? What happened to Pico’s? Maybe the sonnets are there.”

Dr. Scalia nodded. “Yes, from all reports, Giovanni Pico did have a very extensive library, though we don’t know what happened to it. He had no heirs, you see. And when he died-”

“When did he die? How?”

The professor looked slightly shocked at her interruption, but only smiled a little and shook his head.

“We don’t know exactly. We know Giovanni Pico died in Ferrara in 1494, but there is no record of him leaving an extensive library at his home, and he died under rather mysterious circumstances. As he had no heirs, it’s probable that his library was taken by his family, the Mirandolas. It would have been theirs unless Pico had made other endowments.”

Beatrice nodded, even more confused. “Thanks…sorry, Dr. Scalia. I don’t mean to be rude, it’s just…”

“Quite all right, my dear. I do love students who show curiosity such as yours. It makes teaching so rewarding.”

She saw Charlotte watching her with narrowed eyes and was glad her shift would be over soon. As she walked back to check the dehumidifier, her mind whirled, more confused than ever by the pieces of a puzzle that seemed stubbornly jumbled in her mind.

She was heating a can of soup on the stove when Giovanni entered the kitchen that night. He was wearing a black shirt and jacket with a pair of pressed black slacks. As always, he looked amazing and Beatrice looked away, trying to ignore the instant reaction she always had to him.

“Good evening, Beatrice.”

She smirked. “Going for the real inconspicuous ‘no, I’m not a deadly creature of the night’ look, are we?”


She raised an eyebrow and glanced back, looking him up and down. “It’s Friday, right? Dinner time? Do chicks dig the whole man-in-black thing?”

He looked at her and cocked his head. “Do you really want to talk about this?”

She thought for a moment, and then shook her head. “No, probably not.”

“I have to go out.” A small smile teased the corner of his lips. “Unless you’re offering, of course, then I could just skip the clubs. Much more convenient.” He winked at her as he put his keys in his pocket.

She rolled her eyes and looked down at the stove, surprised and amused by his unusually flirtatious mood. “See this? It’s soup. Soup is food.” She looked back at him. “See me? I’m me, and I’m not food. Any questions?”

He smirked and looked her up and down. For a minute, she wanted to blush at his frank perusal. The appreciative look in his eye almost made her reconsider, but then she remembered the vicious bite marks on her grandmother’s neck, and decided to stick with her first answer.

“Oh, Beatrice, I have many questions, but I’m not going to find an answer tonight, am I?”

It was far more suggestive than she had come to expect from him, and she figured it must have something to do with his hunger. She really didn’t want to think about it all that much.

“You’re in some kind of mood, aren’t you?” she muttered, trying to ignore the flutters in her stomach as she stirred the pot on the stove.

She heard him take a deep breath, and she had a feeling he wasn’t smelling the soup. Cursing, she glanced over her shoulder and caught him watching her. He definitely looked hungry, she just wasn’t sure for what.

She cleared her throat and took a deep breath.

“Go, do your vampire thing. Don’t kill anyone, okay?”

“I never do.” He was still watching her, and she could see his fangs peeking out from behind his lips. She could feel her temperature rise when his eyes were on her.


“Hmm?” He looked a bit startled, but stopped studying her ass like it contained the mysteries of the universe and met her eyes.

“Go, you need to…eat. I’ll be here when you get back.”

“Right.” He cleared his throat and she caught him glancing at her neck. “Right. I’ll just…be back later.”




And he finally slipped out the door.

Taking a deep breath, she turned back to the stove.

“You do not want the insanely attractive vampire to kiss you, B. Nope, you don’t. Just ignore that reaction and…” She trailed off as she remembered the sight of his long, muscular legs, defined waist, and broad shoulders as he cut through the pool the night before.

She let out a sigh and shook her head.

“Nope. You most definitely do not want him to bite you. And he’s just hungry, anyway. He’s not flirting with you, it’s just your blood. It’s a normal, natural-”

She gasped when she heard the door slam. Giovanni spun her around, pulling her into his arms before his mouth crashed down and his arm encircled her waist. He pushed her up against the cabinets and his other hand grasped the back of her neck. His hard body pushed against her own, and his arms lifted her against the counter. She gave in to her own desire and moaned into his mouth, tangling one hand in the dark curls at the nape of his neck as the soup spoon dangled uselessly from her other hand.

Giovanni kissed her for a few heated moments, stealing her breath and causing her head to swim. His fang nicked her lip and she felt his tongue swipe at the trickle of blood near the corner of her mouth before he gave a deep groan and pulled away.

He stared into her eyes, panting before he bent down to whisper in her ear.

“It’s not just your blood.”

She whimpered in the back of her throat, and his hands drifted down to her waist, squeezing once before he was out the door again.

This time, she stared at the kitchen door until she heard his Mustang roar down the drive. After a few moments, Carl and his partner began patrolling the grounds, and she saw the guard’s familiar face pass by the window in the kitchen.

She was still breathing heavily when she heard the soup hiss on the stove.

“Damn it!”

He returned to the house three hours later, looking flushed. His eyes had lost the hungry look from earlier in the night, but she still felt them as he walked into the living room. Beatrice had raided Caspar’s cache of old horror movies; she was pondering whether their earlier kiss was something they needed to talk about.

Or possibly repeat.

She saw him sit down in his chair, which she often stole during the day because it was, by far, the most comfortable in the room. He took a deep breath and glanced at her.

“It’s very odd.”

“What is?”

He frowned a little and stared at the television. “Your scent is all over my house. Everywhere I go, I can smell you.”

She cleared her throat, feeling suddenly self-conscious and wondering whether she needed to check her deodorant more often. “Sorry.”

“No need to apologize.” He shrugged. “You smell lovely. It’s just different. Having you here. It’s…nice.”

They watched the rest of the movie in silence. Beatrice had turned the volume down so she could hear the comforting sounds of Carl and his partner as they patrolled the grounds.

“How was dinner?” she asked nonchalantly.

“Do you really want to know?”

She didn’t. She didn’t even know why she asked, and she shoved aside the irrational spurt of jealousy. “No, not really.”

“Stale. Boring.” He gave her a heated look. “Merely adequate.”

“I said I didn’t want to know, Gio.”

“Well, maybe I want to tell you, Beatrice.”

“Why?” She scowled. “Why do I need to know about that shit?”

“It’s not always done in anger,” he murmured, and she glanced back to the almost silent television screen. “Sometimes, it’s done purely for sustenance, because a vampire needs blood to survive. Sometimes it is done in anger, but sometimes, it can be highly pleas-”

“I’m going up to my room.” She shut off the movie and stood.

“You need to change your clothes. We’re going out.”

She spun around on her way to the stairs. “What? Why? Where are we going?”

He stood and walked toward her, his hands hanging casually in his pockets.

“We need to go to The Night Hawk.”

She immediately flushed when she thought of the pub, and she started walking upstairs. “I don’t want to go there again.”

“You’re going. We need to be seen there. I have information that Lorenzo is meeting with Gavin tonight, and we need to be there, too.”

“Why?” Her discomfort with his flirtatious behavior fled, as her heart raced in fear at the thought of seeing the vampire again.

“We need to go there, and I’m going to act as if I’m feeding from you. I’m going to act like your lover, and you’re going to play along if you know what’s good for you.”

Her pulse raced again, only it wasn’t from fear. “Why? Why do I have to-”

“We don’t have rules in my world. We don’t even have conventions, really, but there is a kind of courtesy among those who are mostly civilized.” He paused and watched her carefully. “Lorenzo is your father’s sire, and in my world, that means he has…a certain claim over you. If he wanted to take you, no one would bat an eyelash as long as he didn’t make it newsworthy. That’s why no one cares that his people bit your grandmother in a very messy attack. She belonged to his child, so she belonged to him.”

“So I’m just-”

“What you are, Beatrice, is mine, as far as anyone knows. My human, my ‘food,’ as you put it so eloquently earlier this evening. And I am Lorenzo’s sire and far more feared, so my ownership trumps his. But we need to make sure he is forced to acknowledge that in order for you to have some measure of safety in this city. So he needs to see us together, and he needs to see us where there are witnesses, do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Yes,” she whispered with a nod.

“I’m not doing this to torment either of us.” His eyes dropped to her flushed lips. “I’m doing this because I think it’s our best move at the moment.”

“Are you going to bite me?”

She saw him swallow visibly and eye her neck. She could see his fangs run down behind his lips, but he turned and walked back toward the living room. “No. Get dressed.”


“Wear the burgundy skirt.”

“What? Why? Is there some dress code or something?”

He shrugged. “No, I just like how it looks on you.”

She rolled her eyes and stomped up the stairs.

Twenty minutes later they were driving Giovanni’s Mustang through the dark streets of Houston near Rice Village. He had been filling her in on the guidelines for acting like his regular meal. Beatrice thought they mostly consisted of her acting like a totally hypnotized doormat.

“And don’t ever contradict me in front of another vampire. Carwyn or Tenzin are fine. Anyone else would put you at risk.”

“So I basically have to act like I’m brainwashed and like it.”

“If you were an average human, you would be, and I can guarantee that you would like it.”

“I am an average human.”

“Not to me,” he murmured and she pretended to ignore him.



“Is this going to end soon?”

He glanced at her from the corner of his eye. There was an odd, almost sad look on his face when he finally answered. “I will do everything in my power to make sure you can safely move to Los Angeles by the middle of August, Beatrice.”

“That’s not-”

“It’s all I can promise. I don’t want to start a war with Lorenzo if I can avoid it.”

Her jaw dropped. “So you’re not going to kill him?”

Giovanni just stared at the road. “Not if I can help it.”

She sat, gaping at him, knowing she looked like a guppy the way her mouth moved in silent protest.

“S-so you’re just going to let him get away with doing that to my grandmother? You’re just going to let him treat us like food? Like property? I thought-”

She broke off when he jerked the car over onto a side street and slammed on the brakes. He grabbed her chin and forced her to look at him as his eyes blazed.

“Listen to me. Lorenzo has many powerful, powerful friends. As do I. And his friends owe him favors, as do mine. If I go to war with this vampire, people will be hurt, mortal and immortal. Do you understand that, little girl? People will die, Beatrice. So you tell me how many people need to die because of an insult to your grandmother. Because of an attack she survived. How many? Would you like my estimate? I don’t think it would sit well with you.”

She sat with her teeth clenched and tried to hold back the angry tears that wanted to fall from her eyes. “Fine.”

“Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Yes,” she hissed, blinking. “I understand.”

He released her and carefully pulled the car back into traffic. Minutes later, they were parking in the small lot behind The Night Hawk, and she was still fuming.

Giovanni leaned over and released her seatbelt before he grabbed her chin again. This time, his fingers were soft, and his lips ghosted over hers in a delicate kiss. The anger drained out of her at his unexpectedly tender gesture.


“Everything in there is for show.” His accent was heavy and he wouldn’t meet her eyes. “That was for me.”

He stepped out of the car and went to open her door. As she stepped out, she said, “Giova-” but he stopped her mouth with a kiss.

He kissed her, pushing her body into the side of the car as she pressed her lips to his and clutched his shoulders. His tongue delved into her mouth and his hands gripped her waist. She was light headed by the time he let her up for air.

“Oh…damn,” she breathed out.

His head bent and he whispered in her ear, “They’re watching.”

Giovanni placed his arm around her waist and walked her toward the back door of the pub. She had no problem leaning into him and acting like he needed to hold her up; her knees were still a weak from the kiss.

Before they even reached the door, a dark-haired guard opened it from the inside and nodded toward them as he held it open.

He leaned down and whispered after they had passed by.

“I told you they were watching. Assume that there are cameras everywhere.”

She nodded and tried to look casual. She slid her arm around his waist as they walked, and Beatrice thought she heard a low rumble of pleasure in his chest. He guided her toward the sofa near the fire, and Beatrice glanced up as he scanned the room.

“See anyone?” His hair, she noticed from that angle, had grown a little since they had met. His neck smelled like wood smoke and whiskey.

“Yes, he’s here, in the corner with Gavin. And they’ve seen us, as have a number of other vampires in the pub.”

Her breathing picked up at the thought of Lorenzo so close to them, but she forced herself to relax as his arm draped across her shoulders. She looked around the room, trying to seem brainless.

“Cool. They’ve seen us. Can we go now?”

He gave a grim chuckle and sat back in the couch. “We’ll have at least one drink, otherwise, Lorenzo might get suspicious, and…well, Gavin will just be insulted.”

“Who is Gavin anyw-”

“Kiss me.”


“Kiss me, Beatrice, they’re watching you right now,” he murmured. “Kiss me like you belong to me.”

She bit her lip before she turned her face toward his neck and began placing soft kisses there, slowly working her way up toward Giovanni’s jaw. His skin was soft, with only a hint of roughness where stubble would normally grow on a man. He remained almost impassive, holding still as she slowly worked her lips along the line of his jaw and closer to his mouth, though she could feel his heart beat a few times under her hand.

At the last moment, his chin tilted down and his lips sought hers. She lost herself for a moment in the pure pleasure of it. Ever since their first kiss in January, she had dreamt of the feel of his kiss, wondering what his lips could do to other parts of her body, but memory could not do Giovanni’s mouth justice.

It was soft and drugging. He captured her bottom lip between his teeth and tugged gently as she felt the soft curls of his hair against her cheekbone. The vibrating energy she usually felt from his hands was far more potent on the sensitive skin of her lips and every touch only seemed to heighten the sensation. Just the feel of their skin brushing together was as arousing as any intimate touch, and she could tell he was as affected by the contact as she was because his skin was burning like he had a fever, and she felt the soft rumble in his chest.

She lost herself for a few more minutes before Giovanni jerked his head away. “That’s enough, tesoro,” he said clearly. “A glass of the eighteen year old Macallan for me, and a Laphroaig for the girl.”

“Yes, Dr. Vecchio,” she heard a waiter murmur behind her.

“You’ll like the Laphroaig,” he muttered quietly. “It has a smoky flavor I think you’ll enjoy. Also, where the hell did you learn how to kiss?”

“What?” she said with a smirk. “Not playing the part well enough?”

She felt his lips ghost over her temple. “Playing it to the hilt, tesoro.” His head bent down to murmur in her ear. “But back off a bit if you don’t want me to really bite you.” His mouth opened, and she shivered when she felt his fangs scrape along the edge of her jaw. “You’re testing my instincts, Beatrice.”

“Oh, okay.” She took a deep breath. “Backing off, just a bit. Got it.”

“Now relax.”

“Kind of hard to do right now.”

“Try, because they’re coming over here.”

His hand slipped down to curl around her waist, and he pulled her closer. She looked past the fireplace and saw Lorenzo and Gavin strolling across the pub.

“Giovanni,” Gavin called. “How lovely to see you. You really should come in more often.” She saw Gavin glance at Lorenzo behind the blond vampire’s back. She had a feeling that Gavin Wallace wasn’t terribly happy to see Giovanni’s son either, and it made her like him, just a little. “What brings you out this evening?”

“Just out for a drink after dinner. How is Houston, Lorenzo?”

“Oh,” Lorenzo replied, “it hasn’t given up all its treasures just yet. I’ll be around for a while. Don’t worry.”

“I don’t. Worry, that is.”

“Good to know.”

She glanced between the two vampires as they stared at each other. She was trying to observe them while still looking vapid. She wasn’t quite sure how well she did, but by the carefully controlled smirk on Gavin’s face, and the twinkle in his eyes when he caught her notice, she wasn’t very convincing as Giovanni’s brainless meal.

“Your drinks, Dr. Vecchio.” The server placed the two glasses of amber whisky on the coffee table in front of them.

“Well,” Gavin said, “we’ll let you enjoy your drinks. Excellent choices for both of you. You must have very discerning palates.” He winked at Beatrice behind Lorenzo’s back and mouthed ‘call me’ to Giovanni with a slight frown.

“Goodbye for now,” Lorenzo said. “I’ll be seeing you around.”

“Looking forward to catching up.”

They walked away, and Giovanni and Beatrice both lifted their drinks.

“Cheers,” she muttered and clinked the edge of her glass with his before she took a sip. “Here’s to fooling no one.”

Chapter Eighteen

Houston, Texas

June 2004

“What’s that?”

He turned, embarrassed when she walked into the kitchen. Carl waved to him from the door then walked outside to make his rounds around the house.

“This is…a cake.”

“You like cake?”

He frowned. “I was told you do.”

Beatrice’s mouth dropped open in shock. “You got me a cake?”

“You’ve just graduated, and your grandmother isn’t here.” He cleared his throat. “I called Caspar. He suggested a cake. I’m sorry if it’s-”

“I love it.”

The corner of his mouth lifted. He was pleased she was happy with the gesture, even if she hadn’t tried the cake yet. “Your grandmother informed Caspar that your favorite flavor was lemon cake. I’ll confess, I ordered it. I can’t imagine you want me baking anything.”

Beatrice grinned and set her school bag down before she walked over to join him at the counter.

“It’d be kind of cool to see you try to cook something with your hands, though.”

He snorted and turned to take the small lemon cake out of the pink box.

“Have you ever done that? Cooked something with your fire?”

He shook his head and chuckled. “Not anything you’d want to eat, Beatrice.”

“What? Why-oh ew! You’ve killed things that way, haven’t you?”

He shrugged. “What did you think when Carwyn said I liked my enemies ‘extra crispy?’”

“I’ll admit. I chose not to think about that too closely.”

“Stick around for five hundred years or so, and you’re bound to make a few enemies.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” She peeked over his shoulder and smiled.

Giovanni winked as he cut a piece of cake. He placed it on a small plate, and handed it to her. “Now, wait just a moment…”

He walked to the refrigerator and retrieved a bottle of champagne, which he twisted open before he grabbed two flutes from the butler’s pantry.

“Come now. Dining room. You can’t have your graduation cake standing in the kitchen.”

She followed him to the dining room table, and Giovanni quickly flicked small flames toward the white tapers Caspar kept out. He poured the wine for them both and sat down next to her.

Lifting a glass, he toasted. “To you, Beatrice De Novo. Congratulations on your college graduation.”

“Thanks!” She blushed with pleasure as she sipped the champagne and took a bite of cake. “It’s delicious.”

He nodded in satisfaction as he sipped the champagne. “Excellent.”

“Do you want a bite?”

“Probably not. Most things with refined sugar are far too sweet for my taste.”

“Really?” She cocked her head to the side in an adorable gesture.

“Yes, they didn’t have anything that sweet when I was human. Not that I remember. Well…honey maybe. That’s very sweet. Or fruit. I still eat that occasionally. I like some fruits.”

She smiled and leaned forward, propping her chin in her hand. “Really? Like what?”

Giovanni frowned as he tried to think of the last person who had asked him personal questions. For some reason, he liked the feeling of sharing his likes and dislikes with her. “I like figs, fresh ones. And…apricots.”

She smiled. “I like apricots, too.”

“What are your favorite foods?”

She took another sip of champagne, and he watched the glass rise to her lips. He wondered if they were sweet from eating the cake.

“I like spicy things. Anything with chiles, especially my grandmother’s food. And chocolate, but just dark chocolate.”

He smiled. “I never tasted chocolate as a human. The new world had just been discovered, though I wasn’t aware of it at the time.”

Her mouth dropped open. “Wow, I guess not. So no tomatoes for you, either.”

He shook his head. “No tomatoes or corn…or potatoes, for that matter.”

“It’s so funny because we think of tomatoes as an Italian food now.”

“Oh,” he chuckled a little. “The food I ate as a child is very different from what is common in Italy now.”


“Yes. Things were cooked more heavily. Lots of stews. I like modern food more. There are more ingredients and spices, and things to choose from.”

“Yeah,” she smiled sweetly. “I guess we’re pretty lucky.”

“Very lucky, Beatrice.”

She sipped her champagne. “This is really good, by the way. What kind of champagne is it?”

He twisted the bottle so she could see the label. “This is Dom Pérignon.”

She snorted a little, catching the wine that wanted to escape her mouth before she carefully swallowed. “Isn’t that, like, super expensive?”

“This one was quite reasonable. I got it from the cellar. One of Caspar’s, a 1985 vintage. I think he acquired it for around four hundred or so.”

“A bottle?” she squeaked.

He shrugged. “Drink up. I have plenty of money. I might as well spend it on people and things I enjoy.”

She was still eyeing the bubbling glass with trepidation. He rolled his eyes.

“Beatrice, just drink the champagne. I’ll never be able to finish all of it myself, and it’s your graduation.”

Smiling a little, she took a tentative sip.

“Still good?”

She nodded and took another bite of her cake.

“Did you always have a lot?” she asked.

“Of money? Except for a brief period of my life, yes. I’ve had a very long time to acquire it, as you can imagine. I have extensive investments and property, as well as what money I make working for clients, which isn’t insignificant.”

“Investments? Cool. I know all about the stock market. My grandfather and I always used to play with it.”

He laughed. “Really? That’s a rather unusual past time. No fishing? Dollhouses?”

“No,” she laughed along with him. “I think he did it instead of gambling, to be honest. If it wasn’t the stock market, it would have been the race track. I got to be better at it than him, though.”

“Were you?”

“Oh yeah, I’m pretty good. Ask my grandma. I invest all her money for her.”

“And do you have money of your own invested?”

She nodded. “That’s why I don’t have any student loans. My grandpa and I invested all the money from my father’s estate. There wasn’t much, but it was years ago, and once online trading became more common, it was easy to play around with it. Online markets are great, and I pay a lot less in broker fees now.”

He smiled in delight. “I should probably let you take a look at my financial portfolio.”

“You should,” she muttered as she took another bite of cake. “I could probably shift some of your stuff around and have you making double what you are now. Unless you’ve got a really good broker. Are you diversified into foreign markets or currencies?”

“I…don’t know.” He honestly had very little idea where most of his money was, other than the cache of gold he kept with him.

“You really need to be taking advantage of all the online trading there is now. I could show Caspar how to do it.”

“I’ll let him know.”

“Cool.” She smiled a little and took another drink of champagne. “It’s pretty fun.”

“And you do all of it on the computer now?”


He cocked his head and watched her, intrigued by the facets of her mind. “How did you learn so much about computers?”

Her smile fell, and she shrugged. “Antisocial teenager. I got one for my room, and my grandparents…well, they knew I liked being by myself, so they just left me to it.” She cleared her throat and looked down at the table. “It was the place I felt most comfortable. On my computer. Or in my books.”

“I’m sure your grandparents were happy you had it,” he said, suddenly wishing he could ease the memory of the lonely child he saw behind her eyes.

“Good thing for you I did, right? You needed a computer whiz on staff.”

“I most certainly did,” he said with a smile and a nod.

They were quiet for a few minutes as Beatrice finished her cake. Giovanni poured another glass of champagne for them both.



“Why does Lorenzo want my father?”

He frowned, wishing she hadn’t brought the topic up. “I’m sure he wants him back purely because he got away, to begin with. And I suspect he took something. Possibly something from the collection.”

“Why would he do that?”

It was an excellent question; one Giovanni has asked himself many times.

“I don’t know.”

“And why would Lorenzo have killed him?”

The memory ambushed him; he could almost hear his father’s voice.

“What do you hold in your hands?”

“A book.”

“No, you hold knowledge…and knowledge is power. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Father.”

He shook his head.

“I…it could have been as simple as your father asking the wrong question to the wrong person, Beatrice. If Lorenzo considered him a threat, your father had no chance. It’s more curious why he turned him, to be honest. For that, I think he must have had some use, though I don’t know what it might be. Otherwise, he would have just killed him.”

He saw a tear shining in her eye, but she brushed it away.

“It probably would have been better if he had, right? If Lorenzo had just killed him?”

“Don’t say that,” he murmured with a frown. “I’m not going to say that your father has had an easy start, but if this current problem can be solved, he can go on to live a wonderful, long life.”

“If we can even find him.”

He took a breath and put on a smile. “I’ll find him. I’m waiting to hear from someone very knowledgeable right now. Someone in Rome.”

“Would your friend Tenzin know anything about him?

“Tenzin?” he chuckled. “Why would Tenzin know? She lives in the middle of the Himalayas most of the time.”

Beatrice blushed a little. “I don’t know. You and Carwyn always talk about her like she’s some all-knowing seer or something.”

“And you thought-”

“I just thought she might have seen my dad.” She looked embarrassed, so Giovanni was quick to reassure her.

“We do talk about Tenzin like that. She says she only sees people or vampires in our circle of friends. People she knows.”

“But Carwyn said she’d probably had a dream or two about me?”

Damn sentimental Welshman. He paused, unsure of what to say and strangely uncomfortable with Beatrice’s uncanny memory. “It’s…possible, I suppose.”

Her eyes darted around the room. “Oh, Carwyn was probably just teasing me. She’s Chinese?”

“Who? Tenzin?”


“Tenzin is…old.”

“What, so she’s from way back when in China, huh?”

“Not exactly,” he frowned. He wasn’t sure where exactly Tenzin was from on today’s maps. He wasn’t sure his ancient friend knew herself.

Beatrice waved a hand in front of her face. “You know what, forget it. It’s her story, right? I mean, I doubt I’ll ever meet her, but if I do, it’s her story to tell. I got it.”

He smiled. “If you do ever meet Tenzin, that’s the most important thing to remember. She’s very, very old.”

“Older than you? Than Carwyn?” She frowned.

Giovanni smiled. “Carwyn and I are children compared to Tenzin.”

Beatrice paused, speechless as she stared at him, open mouthed. “How old do you have to be to make a thousand year old vampire look young?”

“Very old, Beatrice. Tenzin doesn’t operate very comfortably in the modern world. That’s part of the reason she’s in Tibet.”


“‘Wow’ is usually a good word to describe her, yes.”

“I can’t even imagine having that kind of life.”

He shrugged. “It’s not something you can imagine. When you are immortal, you see your life in years instead of days, and centuries instead of years.”

She looked at him, searching his face for something he couldn’t comprehend.

“Are you happy? Being a vampire?”

He blinked. “Am I happy?” He tried to remember if anyone had ever asked him that before.

She nodded.

Giovanni’s mind raced as he thought of the challenge of keeping a constant, iron control over his instincts. He thought about how much he still missed the sun, and of all the human friends he had seen grow old and die over the years.

He also thought about the people he had met, and the places he had been. He thought about rescuing Caspar. And of an unmarked grave in the Tuscan countryside where his life would have ended had he never met his sire. He watched the curious girl who sat next to him, sharing a piece of cake and a glass of champagne. He nodded.

“Yes, I’m happy with my life.”

“And I’m glad I met you.”

They both smiled as they sipped the sweet wine. He reached across and touched the edge of his glass to hers.

“Congratulations, Beatrice. Happy graduation.”

When Giovanni went to the library the following Wednesday, he had a smile on his face. It was Beatrice’s final week of work, so she would no longer be dividing her time between the university library and his own.

Caspar and Isadora were doing well, and had so far garnered no attention in the mountains. And when he spoke to Caspar that evening, his butler had finally heard back from one of Livia’s people in Rome.

According to her secretary, Giovanni could expect a letter from Livia sometime in the next three months. While it may have seemed slow for some, for the two thousand-year-old Roman noblewoman, three months was as good as overnight mail.

He was so cheerful, he almost skipped up to the fifth floor, only to halt in the stairwell as he caught the whisper of unfamiliar voices coming from above. He didn’t sense any danger, but there were far more voices than normal. He tensed until he heard Beatrice; she sounded worried, but not panicked in any way.

Giovanni stepped into the hallway and listened, but the voices were too jumbled to sort through from a distance. He pushed open the door to see the director of Special Collections standing in the reading room with Beatrice and the librarian, Charlotte Martin. The president of the university was also present, along with the head of security, and two Houston Police detectives.

Charlotte spotted him immediately. “Oh, Dr. Vecchio, what a mess! Thank goodness your manuscript wasn’t damaged.”

“What is the problem?” He shot a look toward Beatrice, but she was giving a statement to one of the police detectives and only gave him a small shake of her head.

“The Pico letters, Dr. Vecchio. They’re gone!”

Chapter Nineteen

Houston, Texas

June 2004

“And what time did you get here?”

Beatrice sighed. “I already told the other officer, I was running late, so I probably got here around five fifteen, or so. I didn’t look at the clock because Dr. Christiansen and Charlotte were running around and there was security everywhere.”

Detective Rose narrowed his gaze, and his tight smile failed to reach his eyes. “How long have you worked at the library?”

“A couple of years. I don’t remember exactly what month I started working. It was my sophomore year.”

“You’re a senior now?”

“I just graduated. This is supposed to me my last week working.”

“Isn’t that nice? Congratulations.”

Beatrice frowned. “Am I under suspicion or something? I would never steal anything from the library.” She could see Giovanni lingering by the door, talking to Charlotte, but she could tell he was listening to her conversation with the detective.

“How many people have the combination to the document room, Miss De Novo? Or should I call you B?”

Her chin jutted out. “You can call me Miss De Novo.” She saw Giovanni smirk over the detective’s shoulder. “I do, as well as Charlotte Martin, and Dr. Christiansen, obviously. Mrs. Ryan, on the first floor, would have it, as well as Karen Williams, who also works here sometimes. She’s in Circulation, but she fills in when we’re busy.”

“That’s a small staff.”

“Well,” she shrugged, “our hours are limited. It’s not a very busy department.”

“That makes a small suspect list.”

“I suppose, unless you’re counting anyone who knows anything about picking locks. This library doesn’t exactly have cutting-edge technology.”

“Do you know anything about picking locks?”

Her jaw dropped. “Are you joking?” He didn’t look like he was joking. “I know nothing about picking locks. I know nothing about missing letters. I wouldn’t even know what to do with them if I did steal them.”

Immediately after saying this, Beatrice realized it wasn’t exactly true. She was a fast learner, and had a feeling from talking with some of Giovanni’s contacts over the past few months that more than one of them skirted the edges of legality. If she wanted to sell some stolen letters, she could probably figure out how.

“Where were you last night?”

“I was-um, I was…”

Having cake with a five hundred-year-old vampire that I think I might be falling in love with. Oh, and drinking really expensive champagne. And talking about my dead father…who isn’t actually dead.

“She was having dinner with me,” she heard from behind the police detective’s back.

The officer turned and looked at the tall man approaching him, no doubt taking in Giovanni’s professional appearance and friendly smile. He was wearing a white oxford shirt that night, a pair of studious looking glasses, and some of his seemingly endless supply of black slacks.

“And who are you?”

Giovanni smiled and held out his hand. “Dr. Giovanni Vecchio. I deal in rare books and I’m doing research here at the library. Beatrice and I are seeing each other.”

Really? she thought. Thanks for letting me know, Gio. Is that what we’re doing? Strictly speaking, she supposed it was true. They saw each other every day.

The police officer looked at Giovanni’s extended hand for a moment before reaching his own out and shaking it. Beatrice watched to see if there was any physical evidence of the influence she knew he was using that very second-some sort of shimmer or spark-but there wasn’t.

“I think you realize that Miss De Novo had nothing to do with this theft, don’t you, Detective Rose?”

“Of course she didn’t. What a ridiculous thought,” the officer said in a warm voice, far more relaxed than he had been only a second before.

“And you were completely satisfied with her explanation.”

“I was. She’s a lovely girl.”

Giovanni nodded and cocked his head, looking into the officer’s dazed eyes. “She is. No further investigation of her will be necessary.”

The detective shook his head and turned to Beatrice. “Nope. I think we’re done here.” He folded up his notebook and saluted her with a small wave before he went to join his partner, who was talking to Dr. Christiansen.

She looked at Giovanni, whose face was grim as he watched the retreating officer.

“Not going to lie, that was more than a little creepy, Batman.”

“Whatever keeps you out of this mess.”

“Was it Lorenzo?”

He pursed his lips. “I imagine so. I have no idea how he got in, but you’re right; this place has very little security. Anyone with a bit of skill could break in.”

She hesitated, not wanting to voice the thought she’d had when she first learned of the theft, but feeling compelled, all the same time. “It wasn’t you, was it?”

Giovanni frowned when he looked at her, but she forced herself to continue, “It’s just…I know they are your letters. And I gave you my combination that time Lorenzo came here, and I would totally-”

“It wasn’t me.”

She felt horrible, as if she had betrayed him by even thinking it was a possibility. “Okay. I mean, I believe you. I don’t know why…I just know how much you want them back. And I’d understand if you took them.”

He cocked his head again, looking at her with a suddenly blank expression.

“I need to go feed.”

She looked around, worried that someone had overheard, but Dr. Christiansen was still talking to the police officers, and Charlotte was talking with Dr. Scalia, who had come into the reading room while she and Giovanni had been speaking with the detective.

“Okay. Are you all right?” she whispered. “I mean, it’s not Friday, and I know you-”

“It’s best if I feed more.” He glanced at the door. “If there is any sort of trouble, I’ll be at my most effective if I’ve fed recently.”

Beatrice swallowed, trying to ignore the tightness in her chest. She didn’t know exactly what Giovanni did with the “donors” he fed from, but she had smelled perfume on him more than once when returned on Friday nights.

His eyes raked over her face. “Unless you’re offering, of course,” he said in a low voice. Giovanni stepped closer to her in the bright, florescent lights of the reading room, and she could feel herself react to him.

The small hairs on her body reached toward him as she fought their growing attraction. She felt the flush start in her face and her heart picked up, he had probably already sensed the hint of arousal his suggestion had produced.

She cleared her throat and shook her head. “That’s all right. I need to…I’ll see you later.”

He paused, opening his mouth as if he wanted to say more, but then straightened and stepped back a little. “I’ll make sure Carl is waiting with the car when your shift is over.”

She nodded and looked at her hands, twisting them together as he turned to go.

“See you,” she called, but he was already halfway out the door.

Charlotte wandered over to her and gave her a small hug. “Can you believe this? What a mess! And poor Dr. Scalia, he’s so upset.”

Beatrice looked over Charlotte’s shoulder and glanced at the small professor. He did look troubled, and Beatrice had the fleeting thought that sometimes academics put too high a price on old parchment. Then she shook her head and reminded herself she was supposed to be a librarian. Charlotte perched on the edge of the table next to her.

“I don’t think there’s any reason for you to stay.”

“Why not?”

Charlotte shrugged. “We’re just going to be talking to these guys most of the night. And Dr. Vecchio left. Dr. Scalia is hanging around, but he’ll go in a few.” She nodded toward the door. “Go on. Head home. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Beatrice thought for a moment, but then decided she didn’t really want to hang around the police detective who was questioning her earlier, even if Giovanni had worked his mind voodoo on him. “Okay. I might hang around downstairs for a while, but I’ll clock out.”

“Good, and don’t hang out too long. Go do something fun. See if you can track down Dr. Handsome,” she said with a wink.

“Right,” she laughed. “Right.”

Beatrice gathered her bag and book from behind the reference desk and checked her phone. As she waited by the elevator, she heard someone behind her. She glanced over, but realized it was only Dr. Scalia, who gave her a sad smile. She nodded at him before she dialed Carl’s number. She was waiting for it to ring when the elevator doors opened. She frowned, knowing she would lose reception if she stepped inside, but not wanting to wait for the next unpredictable car. Beatrice hit the ‘end’ button on her phone and decided she could call Carl from the lobby and wait for him there.

They had just passed the fourth floor when Dr. Scalia reached forward and pushed the button for the third. She turned to him, startled by the interruption, and saw him standing in the corner, pointing a small handgun at her. His smile and his eyes were still sad.

“You are so perceptive, my dear. So very much like your father.”

Her mouth gaped. “Dr. Scalia?”

The elevator door opened on the next floor and he scooted over to peer out.

“Come now, my dear. No need to linger in the elevator.”

“W-what’s going on?” She peered into the darkened hallway on the third floor. Beatrice knew that few students, if any, would be on the floor this time of night. It contained an old section of the law library, and hardly anyone ever used it.

“You and I are going to meet some friends, Miss De Novo. Off the elevator now. I don’t want to force you.”

Her mind was reeling, and she kept looking between Dr. Scalia’s sad smile and the gun, unable to comprehend why he was pointing it at her. “But Dr. Scalia-”

“No arguing,” he said in a sharp voice, motioning toward the empty hallway with the dull, black weapon.

She stumbled out, her eyes glued to his hand. He propelled her forward, bypassing the main stairwell and heading into the stacks. Dr. Scalia walked close to her, making sure the barrel of his gun brushed against her if she slowed her pace.

“Did you know your father and I knew each other? We knew each other in school; we even worked together, for a time. It made everything so much harder. He never should have found those books in Ferrara.”

She looked around, her heart beginning to beat in panic. The old law library was so seldom used, the staff didn’t even keep the lights on through most of the floor, so the tall bookcases seemed to twist into a dark maze as they walked through them.

“Books? In Ferrara? Dr. Scalia, I don’t know what you’re talking about. What are you saying about my dad?”

“You look so much like him, too. Something about your eyes, I think.” Halting for a moment, he looked at her with pity. “I hated to do it…but he had seen them, and he was asking so many questions. He knew they didn’t belong there. I had to tell Lorenzo he had found the books. It was my responsibility to report him. You understand about responsibility, don’t you?”

She nodded, trying to calm her racing heart as she clutched her phone. “Sure. Sure, I understand.” She didn’t understand. Beatrice didn’t understand a word he was saying. She didn’t know what was in Ferrara, except the-

“Wait, are you talking about the university where the letters were translated?” She spun around to look at him, halting in the middle of the stacks, totally forgetting about the gun. “So, you work for Lorenzo? Are you saying my father found Lorenzo’s-I mean Gio’s-books in Ferrara? He was in Florence, Dr. Scalia, he was killed-”

She broke off with a gasp when the small professor stepped forward and raised the gun to her chest. Her stomach dropped. “I don’t understand what’s going on,” she choked out, suddenly looking around and realizing no one could help her. There wasn’t a soul stirring on the third floor that night.

Dr. Scalia spoke in a soothing voice. “I know it’s confusing, my dear. Hand me your phone, will you? I don’t want to have to shoot you.” He held out his hand, and Beatrice tried to think of a way to stall him so she could call Carl, but the gun seemed to grow larger in his hand the longer she stared at it. Eventually, she handed the small professor her mobile phone, and he stuck it in his pocket.

“It was such an honor to be asked to care for those books. You’re a librarian, so you must understand. And no one seemed to mind me in the old building. I knew it like the back of my hand. The books never should have been found, I had taken such pains to hide them.”

He continued to look at her with sympathy, but she noticed his hand never trembled on the gun. He pointed her toward the back staircase as they continued to weave their way through the bookshelves. The back stairs were rarely used, even by the maintenance staff.

“You stole the letters from the manuscript room, didn’t you? You stole them for Lorenzo?”

He snorted. “They were his to begin with, and it wasn’t difficult. The combination lock is simple, and I’m such a trustworthy soul, aren’t I? No one notices me darting around this place. Just like Ferrara,” he said with a chuckle. “And he’ll be so pleased to finally have you. He’s been waiting for just the right time.”

A picture of what her father had stumbled into was beginning to form in Beatrice’s mind, but most of her brain was furiously searching for some way to escape the harmless looking old man with the scary black gun.

“Dr. Scalia,” she stopped and turned, desperate to deflect his attention. “I don’t know anything. I promise. You can tell Lorenzo.” She tried to wear her most innocent expression. “This is all so confusing. Even the letters-the letters don’t make sense to me. I don’t know anything about the books. I don’t know-”

“Of course you don’t,” he tried to soothe her, “but Stephen does, and he shouldn’t have run. I know it’s upsetting, but it’s all so much bigger than our own small role. After all, I was the one that persuaded him to keep your father.”

Dr. Scalia smiled then, and Beatrice could see the edge of madness in his eyes. “I told him how knowledgeable Stephen was, what a good scholar, and how many languages he spoke. I said he would be an asset.” He looked at her and smiled. “I saved your father!”

She began to lose hope she would be able to elude him when she saw the stairwell approaching. She began to beg. “Dr. Scalia, if you could just put the gun away-”

He only walked more quickly. “Don’t worry, he won’t hurt you. He just needs you to persuade your father to come back. That’s all. He promised he wouldn’t hurt you.”


“Open the door, and no more talking,” Scalia said in a cold voice. “We wouldn’t want to echo in the stairwell.”

Beatrice opened the door, praying fervently for some employee to find them as she slowly walked down three flights. They passed the door to the first floor, and she realized with dread that he was steering her toward the basement. She began to panic and tears came to her eyes.

“Please, Dr. Scalia, if you just let me go-”

“Quiet, we’re almost there.”

He shoved the gun between her shoulder blades as he forced her to the basement. The walls began to close in as he guided her down a long hallway with flickering lights. She’d never been in the basement of the library before; as they turned a corner, she almost ran into a grey metal door. No window revealed what was on the other side, but she could hear the sound of dripping water echo from somewhere beyond.

She felt tears begin to leak down her face.

“Please…” Beatrice turned and pleaded again. “Dr. Scalia, I don’t want to go with-”

He put his fingers to his lips in a hushing gesture. “We all do things we don’t want to sometimes.”

She heard the door creak behind her, and a cold hand touched her shoulder. She felt the amnis creep along her collar, but unlike Giovanni’s warm touch, it felt like a cold trickle of water crawling up her spine, until her eyes rolled back and darkness took her.

When she woke, Beatrice was disoriented and slumped in the back of a moving car. There was a pale vampire sitting next to her and a dark-haired one was driving. Neither one paid her more than a glance.

“Where are you taking me?”

She looked around, but both acted as if she’d said nothing. She sat up, just in time to see the car turn into the gates of Giovanni’s home.

“Why-who are you?” she asked her captors. “Why are we here?” The sick thought of Giovanni being captured or hurt ate at her. She still felt dizzy, and her stomach was tied in knots. Nausea, either from the touch of amnis or from sheer panic, threatened to choke her. The only reason she wasn’t sitting in a quivering heap was because she had hoped Giovanni was already planning her rescue.

The two vampires were silent as they parked behind the garage. They bared their fangs when she slapped at them, ignoring her protests as they pulled her out of the car and across the small courtyard to the kitchen door.

“Don’t touch me! Don’t-” She broke off with a gasp.

In the shadow of the bubbling fountain, tossed like yesterday’s garbage, were the crumpled bodies of Carl and her other guard, still leaking blood where their necks had been torn open. Their guns lay scattered around their corpses like discarded toys.

“No-” Beatrice choked out a moment before she emptied her stomach near one of Caspar’s potted plants. Tears she had smothered in the car leapt to her eyes at the sight of her steady, silent protectors laying broken on the ground. She spit out the gore that coated her mouth, and her captors pulled her inside.

She sniffed and wiped away the tears as they passed through the deserted kitchen and into the living room, where she saw Lorenzo sitting in Giovanni’s chair. The water vampire had a roaring fire lit, and a glass of Giovanni’s scotch in his hand.

Sitting across from him was Gavin Wallace, the owner of The Night Hawk, who glanced at her with bored eyes.

“How much longer are we going to be here?” Gavin asked, as they shoved Beatrice to the couch where she and Giovanni had watched horror movies the night before as they finished the bottle of champagne.

“I don’t know.” Lorenzo turned to her. “Beatrice dear, did your darling Giovanni tell you when he’d be back from feeding and fucking strange women? So lovely that you’re not bothered by that, by the way, very progressive of you,” he said with a wink. “Not like these silly girls in romance novels. I like that he’s trained you so well.”

Beatrice didn’t know where Giovanni was, or how he was going to get them out of their current predicament, but she certainly wasn’t going to give Lorenzo any clues, so she said nothing, curling her lip as tears fell down her face.

“Oh,” Lorenzo said with a condescending smile. “Look how clever she is. No useless whining or begging for her. I like her; she reminds me so much of Stephen. He never cried or begged, no matter what I did to him.”

He cocked his blond head, examining her before he smiled again. “So admirable. He was one still acquainted with honor. And that, my dear, is why you’re such a wonderful prize!”

Gavin rolled his eyes. “Really, Lorenzo, it’s not as if-”

“Oh! I hear Giovanni,” Lorenzo broke in with an almost childish giggle. “He’s almost to the gate. Listen, B-that’s what your friends call you, correct? You and I get to solve a mystery tonight.”

He scooted over next to Beatrice and put an arm around her, drawing her close to his side and stroking her long hair.

She noticed he made no effort to heat his skin as Giovanni and Carwyn did, and his clammy fingers made her skin crawl. She heard the soft growl of the car engine as it came up the drive, and she tried to dry the tears on her cheeks. She sniffed as Lorenzo cocked his head at her.

“Look at her. She’s trying to be brave. Do you think she loves him, Gavin?” Lorenzo said. “It’s so precious.”

Gavin let his head fall back into the chair. “Shut up, you little prick. Why do I have to be here?”

“Witnesses, my dear man.” Suddenly Lorenzo’s tone took on a more serious bent. “I’m making a deal with my father, and I need an impartial observer. Everyone knows your reputation, Wallace. That’s why you’re here.”

“Fine,” the Scotsman huffed. “But I’m pouring myself another drink.”

The room was quiet, except for the clink of Gavin’s glass, and Beatrice could hear Giovanni’s steps cross the courtyard. He paused before the door opened, and she wondered what he was planning as he looked at the bodies of the men he had hired to keep her safe.

Lorenzo gave her another giddy smile, and she was reminded of a Botticelli angel again. She looked away from him and glanced toward the dining room where she and Giovanni had eaten her cake the night before.

Instead of the usual candles that decorated the table, she saw stacks and stacks of books, bound in an assortment of dark leathers, spilling onto the chairs, even some that lay on the ground. They were assorted sizes and appeared to be different ages. There were scrolls and stacks of loose vellum, along with a series of large, identical books with a small stack of parchment on top of them.

The books,” she whispered.

Lorenzo followed her eyes. “Oh, you’ve spotted my surprise! I thought you’d appreciate them. I brought all of Papà’s precious books. Now we will see why he was so excited at the library, won’t we?”

Beatrice looked at the vampire, confusion evident in her face, but he only smiled at her, his eyes burning with delight.

She turned when she heard the door from the kitchen open. Giovanni walked in, and she could see the flush on his cheeks indicating he had fed. His eyes swept the two strange vampires in his living room, and he examined the stack of books on the dining room table with only a cocked eyebrow before he turned to Gavin and Lorenzo lounging in front of the fire.

He curled his lip at his son then looked at Gavin, before finally, he let his eyes wander to her. He wore the same blank expression he’d often worn when they first started working together. She bit her lip, hoping to quell the tears that threatened to surface.

Giovanni walked to the sideboard and poured himself a glass of scotch before he sat down in his armchair. Gavin sat across from him, looking bored, but nodding politely toward his host. Lorenzo sat on the couch, almost bouncing in excitement, and Beatrice sat frozen next to him, willing Giovanni to give her some sign they would be okay.

“Why were you sitting in my chair, Lorenzo?” he finally spoke. “You know I hate that.”

Lorenzo let out a shrill laugh. “I know, but I had to try it. Your scent and the girl’s were all over it.” He winked at Beatrice. “Naughty human.”

“What do you want? I’m tired.”

Lorenzo looked at the clock over the mantel. “It’s barely nine-thirty!”

“Let me clarify. I’m tired of your company.”

“Fine,” Lorenzo said. “But you take all the fun out of everything.”

“What do you-”

“I do wonder,” Lorenzo interrupted, and took a moment to brush the hair away from Beatrice’s neck, keeping his eyes on Giovanni as he leaned closer. “Where do you bite her? I’ve been looking and I can’t see a mark on her.”

“None of your business.”

He paused to inhale at her throat and his soft blond curls brushed her chin, making her shudder and tense.

“Because you do bite her, don’t you? I mean, why else would her scent be all over your house?” Lorenzo ducked his head back to her neck and took another predatory breath. “And I do mean all over,” he said in a hoarse growl.

Gavin interrupted. “Lorenzo, I have things to do. Get on with it.”

Beatrice was still blinking back tears, staring at the motionless Giovanni, who gave her no sign or acknowledgement. She bit her lip to hold in the cry that wanted to escape when she felt Lorenzo’s hands. The cold that had started in her stomach when she saw the murdered guards had spread to her chest, and a chill crept across her skin everywhere he touched.

“I’m just wondering where you bite her. But maybe that’s not your favorite place?” He smirked and stared into Giovanni’s impassive gaze. “How about her wrists?”

Lorenzo made a show of checking both wrists. “Nope, nothing there…and nothing on her neck that I can see.” A cold finger ran up her neck, starting at her collarbone and reaching her jaw. She jumped and a small whimper left her throat.

“And what a lovely neck she has,” he whispered. Beatrice could no longer hold back, and tears began to trace down her cheeks.

“You curly haired git,” Gavin groaned. “Hands off the blood until you make the deal. She’s not yours, so stop acting like an ass and get on with it. Or I’m leaving and I’ll let him burn you to a crisp if he wants.”

But Lorenzo didn’t stop, and nausea roiled in her stomach as his cold hand approached her thighs.

“No…” She gritted her teeth and tried to squirm away, but he held an arm around her shoulders. “Don’t touch me!”

She kept looking between Lorenzo and Giovanni, expecting him to stop his son-to at least object-but he continued to stare at the vampire next to her with a completely impassive expression.

The tears fell faster when she realized Giovanni wasn’t going to stop him.

“Maybe you like biting her down here,” Lorenzo giggled, trailing a finger along her knee. “Shall we take off her skirt and find-”

“He doesn’t!” Beatrice finally shrieked, pushing him away, unable to take the thought of the vampire’s cold hands touching the skin of her thighs.

“He’s never bitten me! There are no marks,” she cried as she squirmed out of his grasp and scrambled to the other side of the couch. “Leave me alone! Don’t touch me. Please, don’t touch me again.”

No one answered her. She began to cry angry tears; she felt like an object in the room. “Why aren’t you making him stop?” She sniffed again and pulled her legs into her body, trying to make herself as small and casting her eyes around the room, looking for escape.

“For fuck’s sake,” she heard Gavin mutter.

Lorenzo scooted away from her, seemingly uninterested in her further discomfort. “So, not your property after all, is she, Giovanni?”

Giovanni sat, coldly sipping his scotch in the armchair. He glanced at Gavin.

“Why are you here, Wallace?”

“Shite, I’m here to witness a supposed business transaction that your little boy here doesn’t seem to want to complete. Stop the gabbing, Lorenzo, and just do it.”

“Fine!” Lorenzo sat back and crossed his legs. “You two are so boring. I’m going to allow that she’s yours,” she saw Gavin open his mouth to speak, but Lorenzo continued, “even though we all know I could press the point if I wanted to. Still, possession is nine-tenths of the law, or something like that.” He shrugged. “Anyway, Papà, I do have a proposition for you.”

He waved his hand toward the dining room table. “Over on the table, I have your books, the entire Pico collection. Manuscripts, letters, scrolls, blah, blah, blah. What I’m proposing-since possession is nine-tenths of the law-is that you give me the girl, who I have use for, in exchange for your books, which I don’t.”

Her stomach dropped. He wouldn’t…

“The entire Pico collection is there?” Giovanni asked. Dread twisted in her stomach when she saw the interest light up his eyes. He glanced over toward the table and then let his eyes flicker to her.

“No,” she whispered, but no one seemed to listen.

“Yes, yes.” Lorenzo rolled his eyes. “All of it.”

“And Andros’s books?”

He snorted. “How valuable do you think she is?”

A sense of panic began to crawl over her skin the longer Giovanni looked at the books on the table.

“No,” she said a bit louder. Still, no one even glanced at her.

“I’ve grown tired of lugging them around, so I thought I’d just throw them in this lovely fire if you don’t want them. After all,” Lorenzo leaned forward, “they are mine. Like the girl is yours. I can do with them what I want.”

“What?” Beatrice looked around the room. “I don’t belong-”

“Giovanni?” Gavin cut her off with a glare. “What do you think? He’s offered a fair trade, property for property, do you want the books or the girl? It’s up to you,” Gavin said, as he played with a thread on his cuff.

“Gio,” Beatrice started in horror. “No! You can’t-”

“No trade,” Giovanni murmured, finally looking at her.

Beatrice relaxed into the couch, leaning her forehead on her knees as she took a deep breath; her heart rate, which had been pounding erratically, started to calm.

“Unless you have Giuliana’s sonnets.”

Her head shot up.

She stared at him in horror. “What?”

He was looking at Lorenzo. She shook her head in disbelief.

“No,” she said again, even louder.

Lorenzo reached over, drawing a thin book, bound in red leather, from the side table. It was small, no bigger than the size of a composition book, and the binding was intricately tooled; she could see the finely preserved gold script on the cover.

“As a matter of fact,” Lorenzo said gleefully. “I do.”

Giovanni cocked an eyebrow and held his pale hand out. “Let me see them.”

She kept expecting him to offer her a look or a wink or…anything to tell her he was in control. That he was bluffing. That he wouldn’t trade her for his old books. Anything to stop the cold feeling of dread and betrayal that began to climb her throat, choking her where she sat. She looked around the room in panic as Giovanni paged through the small book.

No, no, no, no, no, her mind chanted when she saw the interest in his eyes.

“They’re all there. Angelo Poliziano had the originals bound after Giuliana sent them, heartbroken after her lover deserted her. Andros took them after he murdered Poliziano. These are her copies-written by her lover’s hand. Now, would you like to trade? Or are these little poems destined for the fire?”

Giovanni looked at the small volume in his hands and a look of tenderness softened his features. Then, he wiped his expression clean and looked at Lorenzo.

“Fine. The girl is yours.”

“No,” she screamed. “No!” Beatrice looked around the room, but no one would meet her eyes. “I won’t go with him!” She looked at the vampire she had trusted. “Gio? Don’t let him take me! Giovanni?”

He wouldn’t even look at her.

She crawled over the back of the couch, trying to flee toward the patio doors, but the dark-haired vampire grabbed her before her feet hit the ground.

“No,” she screamed again, trying to twist away, but it was useless. She was bound in the iron grasp of cold, immortal arms. “You can’t do this to me! No!”

But the sick feeling that crawled through her said that they could.

She observed the rest of the Lorenzo and Giovanni’s “business transaction” as she twisted and bit the guard’s arms, desperately trying to get away from him. “Let me go, you bastards! Let me go!”

They stood, and Giovanni shook Lorenzo’s hand, then Gavin’s.

She broke down sobbing when he refused to look at her. “Please, Gio!” she cried. “Please, don’t let him take me. Please!”

“So,” she heard Lorenzo say, “all that posturing at the library was about your books? I think I’m disappointed.”

“I don’t give a damn about your disappointment,” Giovanni bit out. “And you’re going to give me the rest eventually. Andros’s books are mine and I will find them. Now get the hell out of my house and out of Houston. I don’t want to see you for another hundred years, do you understand?”

Giovanni turned his back to her, and the tears fell swift down her face. Her screams had turned to painful whispers, and her head hurt from crying. She shook her head, trying to block out the betrayal that played out before her, and wishing for physical pain to block the deep cut of abandonment.

“I’m off!” Lorenzo chirped. “Lovely doing business with you.”

There was no need for the guard to hold her tightly anymore. She sagged in his arms, and if she’d anything left in her stomach, it would have been emptied on Giovanni’s luxurious Persian rug.

The whole time, she’d been a pawn. Only a pawn for the man in front of her to get what he wanted. His words months ago drifted to her memory.

“Don’t be naive. For the right price, everything is for sale.”

He’d told her.

She just didn’t want to believe him.

Beatrice was propelled toward the kitchen door, but she refused to walk. Finally, her captor picked her up and carried her like a piece of luggage. As she left the room, she heard Giovanni speak.

“Gavin, care to stay for a drink? I’ve got a wonderful whiskey a friend sent for Christmas. I’ve been waiting to open it.”

By the time they reached the car, she wished that someone would strike her or use their amnis so she could pass out and escape what must have been a nightmare.

Lorenzo got in the car next to her and shut the door. He smiled.

“Don’t worry, my dear. I’m sure you and your father will be seeing each other very soon.”

She glared at him, a bitter rage churning inside her.

“Go to hell.”

A flicker of madness crept i