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Vampires’ Consort

By:Bonnie Dee

Chapter One

She was being stalked. The man followed her around the grocery store aisles: cereal, frozen foods, wines, produce. Akila hadn’t been sure of it at first. Maybe he was just walking the same pattern. Everyone in the store tended to pace the aisles like lab rats in a maze seeking an elusive piece of cheese. Few of them broke out of the pack to go the opposite direction.

But when she paused to look at a magazine and he stopped at the far end of the same aisle to stare at baby diapers, she became pretty certain he was keeping pace with her. She pretended to read a passage from Allure as she studied the man from the corner of her eyes.

He was good-looking. Medium height and build, with dirty blond hair, a little shaggy, that tumbled over his forehead. Sharp, even features, a nose that cut the air like a blade. His lips weren’t as full as she liked, but his wide mouth with the deeply bowed upper lip still looked quite kissable. She bet he knew what to do with that mouth. Unfortunately, one of those things didn’t appear to be delivering a line to the woman he was stalking.

Shy, then. That was kinda cute.

Then the man looked at her down the length of the aisle and she forgot to breathe or pretend to read her magazine. His gaze locked with hers and she realized he wasn’t cute or harmless at all. The power in his glance seized and shook her, rattling her brain around in her skull.

Akila didn’t like being rattled. She was usually the one to do the rattling. She snapped the magazine closed and strode down the aisle to stand in front of her stalker. “Can I help you find catsup or something? You seem like you’re lost.”

He broke the tension of his gaze, focusing instead on the brightly colored packages of crawling babies in front of him. Then he looked back at her and her stomach twitched again. “No. I do not require catsup.”

He reached inside his jacket, a vintage Armani, she thought, but worn casually over a faded T-shirt. For a moment, she was certain he was going to pull out a gun. Her heart shuddered against her breastbone.

The man drew a white envelope from his jacket and held it out to her. When Akila saw her full name embossed—not printed, embossed in gold on the creamy paper—real fear surged through her. Christ, he really was a stalker.

“Please accept this invitation from my…employer.” His slight hesitation made her wonder what he’d been about to say instead.

Her hand automatically reached out to accept the envelope. Only after she felt the smooth, cool envelope between her fingers did she remember admonishments about not taking things from strangers. For all she knew, she might be getting herself entangled with a gangster or something. Men bearing mysterious messages were not part of the everyday world.

“Who is your employer? What does he want? How does he know who I am? Have you been watching me?” She fired off questions like pistol shots. “Why didn’t he mail this?”

“Mr. Kaspan thought you would be more inclined to consider his request if it was hand-delivered along with a brief explanation. He thought the personal touch would make the offer appear more inviting.”

Then perhaps Mr. Kaspan should have sent someone who wasn’t as rigid as a post. With the man’s slight Germanic accent, Akila was reminded of The Terminator. Come vith me if you vant to live.

She stared at her name in gold, Akila Mubarak Massri, and tapped the envelope against her palm. “What kind of invitation?”

“You have heard of Valarian Kaspan?” A single brow arched slightly.

“Well, yeah. Billionaire. Philanthropist. Eccentric recluse who lives on an island. Everyone knows who he is.” She looked from his serious blue eyes to the thick, creamy envelope. “You’re saying the Valarian Kaspan is sending some kind of invitation to me? How does he even know who I am? What does he want?”

“He requests your presence at his home. The time and date are contained in the missive. Air travel has been arranged. Everything will be explained in detail on your arrival.”

“And you’re the one who’s supposed to put me at ease with all this crazy talk?” Akila cocked her head and studied him until she guessed he wanted to squirm, even though he maintained an erect, almost militaristic posture. “The man needs to rethink his hiring practices.”

Ignoring her jibe, he continued. “Mr. Kaspan wants you to be comfortable about this visit. All travel expenses will be paid and you will be very well compensated for any days you must take off work. Feel free to let your immediate family know the details of where you are so you’ll feel safe, but please don’t share this news with the media. It is not the kind of attention that Mr. Kaspan would desire.”