"Detective Renkin, isn't it?" the Professor asked, a little surprised to see the police officer so far from his precinct.
"Yes," he replied charmingly, extending his hand to the older man. "I volunteered for the home visit. Kill two birds with one stone, you could say," his smile broadening as Lilith appeared at the door.
"Make that three birds." He said, taking Lilith's hand and kissing it chivalrously. Dark eyes framing his handsome square face, glinted with intent.
The Professor raised his eyebrow, looking from one to the other in astonishment.
"I'm here to get a statement from Cassandra McLennan about the break-in at her apartment last night and to up-date you on the murder case at the University," he said, barely lifting his eyes from Lilith as he spoke. Her cheeks blushed a soft rosy shade.
"I've been expecting you. Please, come in." Alaric answered from behind them, scrutinizing the Detective's polished appearance as he stepped over the threshold. At this point in time he wasn't prepared to trust anyone on face value but kept his tone polite and congenial.
"A very impressive house," the Detective stated admiringly. His pearly whites flashing a sycophantic smile.
"Thank you. It's been in the family for generations."
Alaric ushered him through to the sitting room where the fire was already blazing.
"You can understand that Cassie is still quite distressed by the events of last night. I'm afraid she's not in a fit state to speak to anyone as yet. I'm happy to give you the statement you need." Alaric wasn't open to bargain the situation.
"And, as you would understand, I require a statement from the occupants of the apartment, I'm afraid," the Detective argued in smoothly. Their eyes met with equal determination.
"Then you're in luck. I was there with her last night and I'd be more than happy to give you any information you need," he smiled charmingly back at him.
Cassie stood in the hall just outside the sitting room, Alex's hand about her wrist, ushering her to be silent and pulling her back towards the lounge room where Mrs Philpot had arranged supper for them.
"Let him deal with it," Alex demanded as he closed the door behind them quietly. "No doubt he's had a lot more practice at covering his arse with bullshit stories than you have. The cop will probably leave here believing he's daffy duck, if fang boy in there tells him so," he said, pointing back in Alaric's direction.
She wasn't going to argue with him there.
Crossing the room to take the remote control from the nearby shelf and aiming it toward the elaborately carved antique-looking cherrywood armoire. The armoire's doors swung open, revealing a large state-of-the-art flat screen TV. He thumbed another button to turn it on as he settled himself on one of the large couches facing it.
A cup of tea and two pieces of chocolate cake later, Alaric appeared in the doorway, flanked by the Professor and someone wearing the orange robes of a monk.
Lilith had left only minutes before, having accepted an invitation for a drink at the nearby Cadley Pub with Detective Renkin. Poor sod.
"Cassie, Alex, may I introduce our latest guest, Narayan."
Alex and Cassie both stared, open mouthed as he entered.
"You're a vampire," Cassie stated, her voice almost a whisper she was so stunned.
"Yes." His smile lit up his face. Such a beautiful face. Iridescence, like small flakes of glitter scattered throughout his eyes. "You're very perceptive." The top of his bald head shined under the lights as he bowed to them graciously.
"Alex. I suggest you shut your mouth before you catch flies," Alaric said, trying to emulate Alex's comment the night before.
A derisive snort covered Alex's snigger. "If that's your attempt at humorous sarcasm, it was pitiful. It makes you sound like a dim witted idiot," he replied.
"Yes, well, as they say, it takes one to know one, wouldn't you agree?" Alaric quipped, not giving him a chance to reply, "And, I dare not argue with an idiot. He would drag you down to his level and beat you with experience," he finished, all the while staring Alex down with a pestering garish grin.
The veins in Alex's neck began to bulge as his face changed to a darker shade of red. His hands clenched into fists by his sides.
"Arrrgh. You two are impossible," This antagonism between them was getting old. "Enough with the pissing competition. If you keep this up, I'm going to need an umbrella," she snapped animatedly, her hands making gestures of frustration. Her skin flushed from her cheeks to her chest as she glared venomously at them. Her soft cashmere sweater abraded the sensitive peaks of her breasts as it hugged her heated skin. They were so sensitive every breath caused a shock wave through her body. She really needed a bra. The only two pair she had were presently being washed due to being covered in plaster and vampire dust.
"That was a much better attempt," conceded Alex through clenched teeth. Enthusiasm for their banter having been deflated by Cassie's reprimand, he couldn't let it be though, not until he had he last word. "I'd say however, that you're as equally qualified as I am in the experience department," receiving another warning glare for his trouble.
Cassie pushed past Alex toward Narayan. "I'm sorry about that. There's a bit too much testosterone around here." Sending another glacial glare to both Alaric and Alex.
Narayan's eyes glittered and his shoulders jiggled with a chuckle. The smile on his rounded face caused the faintest lines at the corners of his mouth and dimpled his cheeks.
Cassie liked him already.
"A fool thinks he has won a battle when he bullies with harsh speech, only knowing how to be forbearing makes him victorious," Narayan said, bowing once again. Effectively giving both men his own version of a wrap across the knuckles.
Clearing his throat, Alex endeavoured to change the subject. "How did you get here."
"By plane," answering him literally. Sarcasm intended. He knew what Alex was asking, but was curious to know how short a fuse this dark headed fire cracker had.
Clearly Narayan had a sense of humour Cassie thought. Yep, they would get along quite well.
"I meant from the airport." Alex clarified politely. His lips thinned in his strain to maintain civility, his ego still prickled by Alaric's comments, not to mention the monk's verbal smack-down.
Narayan raised one eyebrow, summing up Alex's issues in a glance.
Alaric answered for him. "Cassie, I have a surprise for you." His lopsided cheeky grin flashed in her direction, eliciting another huff from Alex.
"What?" she asked, intrigued.
"A friend of yours collected Narayan from the airport."
"A friend of mine? Who?" She couldn't think who she could possibly know who'd be a mutual friend. All her friends were uni students, most of whom didn't own a car.
"Abigail." His eyes glittered with excitement now too.
"Abigail?" She couldn't think of anyone she knew named Abigail.
Her bewildered expression changed to one of confused recognition as the door opened and a woman with short brunette hair, shorter at the back with a sweeping fringe, entered the room. She looked vaguely familiar but Cassie couldn't quite place her.
Alex stared at the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her black pants hugged her slender but curved figure. A mauve low necked T-shirt hugged her full breasts while the bottom of her black leather jacket rested loosely on her waist. Her walk was smooth and seductive.
She looked like heaven and moved like sin.
Chocolate brown eyes scanned the faces in the room, fixing on Alex. Her eyes glinted momentarily. The corners of her mouth turned up in a shy smile as her cheeks blushed a delicate shade of pink against her perfect alabaster skin under Alex's hungry gaze.
Turning her focus to Cassie her smile broadened.
"You might remember me better if I wore grungy clothes and had a chicken roll in my hand," her silky voice purred. Watching, waiting for the penny to drop, she studied Cassie's face intently for her reaction.
Cassie's mouth dropped open as it dawned on her. "Oh my God. Abigail. You're Abigail."
She rushed the woman and hugged her fiercely. Abigail tentatively returned the hug. She didn't expect such a zealous response and it was a little overwhelming for the woman who'd spent most of her life shunning human contact. The happiness she felt from Cassie however was welcoming and contagious.
"I can't believe it. What happened to you? You look so… different."
Alaric's voice interrupted her excitement. "We'll let you two have a few minutes to catch up but then we need to get down to discussing business." His eyes betrayed his pleasure at their reunion regardless of how he tried to disguise it with his serious tone and poker faced expression.
His commanding tone drew Cassie's eyes sending a shiver up her spine and a flush of heat between her thighs. She bit her bottom lip as her body shuddered. His body stiffened under her gaze, his jaw muscles clenched and his eyes flashed momentarily.
Alex's eyes never left Abigail's face, stepping forward to introduce himself.
She extended her hand and blushed again when his much larger hand engulfed hers.
"I'm Alex, Cassie's cousin. It's a pleasure to meet you Abigail." Mesmerised, that's what he was. Completely gobsmacked. She had the face of an angel and the body of a goddess. He couldn't look away if he tried. For the first time in his life he was lost for words. No tacky pick-up lines or crass comments were forthcoming.
"It's a pleasure to meet you too, Alex. And, please call me Abby" she answered in a refined and cultured manner.
His thumb traced the back of her hand unconsciously. Her pale skin was soft and slightly cool beneath his fingers but she held a firm grip causing his cock to harden and flex involuntarily. Her blush deepened.
Alex stepped back uncomfortably but stalled his withdrawal away from her. Over by the pool table Alaric, the Professor and Narayan watched them with curiosity.
As intrigued as Alex was by a vampiric monk, his mind was preoccupied by the vampiric female temptress who'd set his loins on fire. And, there was no doubt that she was a vampire.
Abby's attention returned to Cassie.
"That evening you offered me that roll, turned out to be a very interesting night for me," she began as Cassie dragged her to the couch, Alex in tow.
"Earlier that night a vampire had used me as his pre-dinner snack, which is why I was so hungry when you saw me."
You could have heard a pin drop in the room. Alaric, Narayan and the Professor joined them to listen to her story.
"A few hours later I was attacked by another vampire who was in a rage when he discovered I wasn't you."
Cassie's breath hitched. "Jarvis!" she muttered, quickly shifting her troubled gaze toward Alaric whose slight nod confirmed her assumption.
"He left me near dead. After being drained earlier, I didn't have much hope of surviving. That's when Alaric found me. He gave me a choice, die or be changed. I opted for the latter, as you can see." Cassie placed her hand on Abby's forearm as emotion began to well inside her, causing her throat to constrict. Jarvis had attacked Abby because of her. She had nearly died because of her.
"Alaric, how did you find her?" Cassie asked, her voice tight.
Taking a step forward, he placed his hand on Cassie's shoulder, her own holding onto it firmly. He couldn't bear the guilt she felt for Abby's attack.
"I was tracking Jarvis. You left your scent on Abby when you hugged her earlier that evening and Jarvis had tracked it to her," his eyes softened with concern, his full lips thinned.
It distressed him more than it should to see Cassie upset.
"That's why I hadn't dealt with Jarvis before last night. I've spent the past week helping Abby adjust to her new life."
Cassie hugged the other woman again and begged her for forgiveness. Grief and guilt plagued her conscience.
Abby's quiet laughter stilled Cassie's emotional self flagellation.
"Don't be sorry Cassie, Alaric gave me the greatest gift I could have ever hoped for. Peace of mind and freedom."
Cassie sat back and stared at her, confused.
"Do you mean because you're no longer living on the streets?"
Quite obviously Abby was no longer living on the streets, which was a huge plus in Cassie's mind. She was dressed well, she looked healthy, way more confident and happy and her sophistication no longer seemed out of place.
"I chose to live on the streets," she said, eyeing Cassie and Alex's confused reaction. "I was born with a… gift," drawing the last word out as if it were a curse. "When I touched people, I could hear their thoughts."
It was Alex's turn to blush as she flashed him a knowing look with those compelling, magnetic eyes of hers. She knew every lusty detail that had flittered through his mind when he first saw her.
"As I grew older, my gift also developed, but not my ability to control it. I started to hear people's thoughts without needing to touch them. I believed I was losing my mind, slowly going insane. Sometimes I couldn't distinguish my own thoughts from someone else's.
"So, I turned to living on the streets. I wanted to be left alone, and no one bothers you if you're a filthy homeless woman." It was a sad memory, but that was all it was now. A memory.
"Except for Cassie." Alex said cheerfully, flashing her a cheeky grin. "Trust Cassie not to leave you alone. She's got her nose in everyone's business," hunching over and grunting when her fist connected with his stomach, inducing a laugh from Abby.
Alaric placed his hand on Cassie's shoulder again. Her body relaxed into his touch, leaning back into the couch where he stood close behind her. Absently his other hand began winding a wayward curl around his finger. She almost purred in contentment.
"When Alaric changed me, I discovered that my gift was no longer my curse. I can control it now. I can filter out any mind around me and I can listen in on several minds at a time without being affected by the melange of thoughts."
Alex was in awe of her but he had to admit, he was a little intimidated. Not by the fact that she was a vampire or that she could and did read his mind, which in turn forced him to re-discover his humility. Not an easy feat. No, it was something else altogether. She stirred something in his soul that scared him. A vague feeling that caused butterflies to flutter in his stomach and his brain to loose a hundred IQ points, all because she smiled.
"Well, you look fantastic." Cassie said.
"Another perk of becoming a vampire," she quipped happily. "It takes a few years off your appearance." She looked no more than twenty three or twenty four years old.
"How old are you really?" Alex asked.
"I'm forty." looking him in the eye as she answered. A shiver of excitement ran through her. She had every intension of getting to know this man who stared at her so intently. He was nearly sixteen years her junior, which would make her a cougar by today's standard, but going by the lusty vibes he was giving off, he wasn't the least bit perturbed by their age difference. Hurdle number one conquered.
"Abigail. Alaric tells me you've been using your skills to help us." The Professor reported, coming around to take a seat on a nearby chair.
"Yes. When you're considered to be no more important than gutter scum, you become almost invisible to people, it's amazing the things you learn. While the public are oblivious to the existence to vampires, the street folk are very familiar with them. They're the vampire's easiest source of food. They're disposable and always accessible. In the last few months there's been a significant increase in the number of vampires in the area around Oxford, coinciding with the opening of the Phoenix nightclub. It doesn't take a genius to work out the connection."
Alaric's hand tightened on Cassie's shoulder when she stiffened at the mention of the nightclub.
"Over the past week I've been blending in at the night club," she said. "I've discovered it's a meeting point for more than just the vampires, the Guild is using it as a recruiting office. Ahriman's name has been mentioned several times. Not everyone is happy about the Guild's presence there though.
"I haven't been able to get close enough to the owner of the club, Saladin, to find out if he is a Guild supporter or not, I'm still working on that one. He doesn't mix with the other vampires. He prefers to sit in the lounge area at the back of the room where he just watches everything. No one approaches him unless he calls them over. I don't think he's involved but from what I've seen of him, I don't think he'd go out of his way to dissuade any new recruits either. The Guild's insider has been feeding Jarvis, Caine and Mira their orders. It shouldn't take me too long to find out who it is.
"Several of the vampires at the club seem to believe that Mira is the one to watch out for. She has an obsession for power and is ruthless in obtaining it. Most of the vampires steer clear of her. She does seem to have some sort of casual relationship going with Saladin which is a bit of a concern. He has a lot of influence with the other vampires, they look to him for leadership and if Mira persuaded him to support the Guild, I think the majority of the others would follow him.
"Caine is young and easily led but he's a good fighter with amoral tendencies. And Jarvis, well, fortunately we don't need to worry about him anymore," she concluded.
Cassie looked up into Alaric's face, melting the icy fringes of his heart even further.
This wasn't the news they were hoping for, but at this point every bit of information was critical. The situation with the Guild was worse than they had anticipated. Ahriman was definitely back and it was crystal clear he was behind the theft of the cup.
This was not good news Alaric thought. Alaric knew Saladin well in the past. His magnetic charisma and leadership skills made him a very successful Warlord in the twelth century as the leader of the Muslim's against the Crusaders. Alaric had no doubt that if he were swayed toward allegiance with the Guild, the Guild would have an unstoppable army at their disposal. This was not good news at all.
"It's a wonderful thing that you're doing for us," the Professor commended. "But, you put yourself at great risk. We would understand if you decided it was a risk not worth taking." The Professor's concern was etched on his rapidly aging face. He had no wish to risk her life, even if the information she was obtaining was so vital to them.
"It's the least I can do," she replied.
ACDC's Hell's Bells began playing in Alex's pocket.
"I've been meaning to change that ring tone," he said apologetically as he pulled his phone out. It was Matt, his mate from Customs at the airport.
"Yeh. Matt. What's up?" His face grew serious, his mouth tightening in a thin line.
The cup had been found.