â€œJust out of curiosity, can an immortal choke to death on a bagel?â€
Retta Danesti cut a vicious glare to her best friend as she tried to swallow the bite that was lodged painfully in her throat. As a shapeshifter who’d befriended her almost four hundred years ago, Francesca was well aware of the fact that Retta’s husband had sold their souls to the goddess Artemis and by default made Retta immortal.
And Francesca’s latest news had stunned her so badly, she’d sucked a piece of bagel down her windpipe where it burned like fire.
Francesca pounded her gently between the shoulder blades. â€œC’mon, babe, I knew it would piss you off, but I didn’t mean for it to kill you.â€
Retta reached for her bottled water and finally cleared her throat even though her eyes were tearing up unmercifully. â€œNow what did you just tell me?â€
Francesca put her hands in her lap and gave her a level stare. â€œYour husband is opening the Dracula theme park in Transylvania next summer and the key attraction is the mummified remains of Vlad Tepes-Dracula himself. Apparently Velkan’s going to release the body to scientists so that they can verify the remains through tests and prove that it really is the impaler of medieval legend.â€
Every part of Retta seethed. â€œThat rank bastard!â€ She cringed as she realized several heads in the deli turned toward her.
Francesca lowered her voice and spoke behind her hand. â€œHe doesn’t really have your father’s remains, does he?â€
Retta recapped her water as she wished a thousand vile things on Velkan’s head. Including pestilence and plagues that would cause a certain part of his anatomy to shrivel up and rot off. â€œIt’s possible. After all, Velkan killed him and was probably the one who buried him.â€
She clenched her bottle even tighter. â€œDamn him! First he gives Stoker that ridiculous book, then he starts the tours, then the Dracula restaurant and hotel, and now this. I swear, God as my witness, I’m going to get an ax and kill him once and for all.â€
Francesca’s light blue eyes were warm with concern. Even though she was a wolf in animal form, those eyes were very catlike as a human. The only thing the human Francesca shared with her wolf counterpart was her thick, dark chestnut hair. And speedy reflexes. â€œCalm down, Retta. You know he’s only doing this to get under your skin.â€
â€œAnd it’s working.â€
â€œC’mon, he wouldn’t really do this.â€
â€œTo get back at me? Yes he would.â€ She ground her teeth in frustration as she continued to call down the wrath of hell on his head. â€œI hate that man with every fiber of my being.â€
â€œWhy did you marry him then?â€
That was something she didn’t want to think about. Even five hundred years later, she could still see the night they’d met clearly in her mind. She’d been on her way home, from the convent, for a visit with her father when her party had been attacked by Turks. They’d killed everyone but her and were well on their way to raping her when all of a sudden her assailants had been beheaded.
Too scared to scream, she’d lain on the ground, covered in their blood, waiting for her own death as she looked up at the men in armor who were routing the few attackers who’d managed to run.
Dressed in his dull black armor that held a gold serpent emblem, the knight who’d killed her would be rapists had quickly wrapped her in his fur-lined cloak and helped her up from the ground. Without a word to her, Velkan had carried her to his home on the back of his destrier where he’d made sure she was well tended and fed.
She could still remember the sight of his fierceness, the raw power that had bled from every part of him. He’d worn a black basinet helm that’d been fashioned to look like a bird of prey so that it inspire fear in his enemies. And it had definitely scared her to the core of her soul.
She’d had no idea of his features until later that night when he’d come to check on her. But it wasn’t his handsomeness or strength that had captivated her, it’d been his uncertainty around her. The fact that this man who’d been so intrepid and strong before the Turks had actually trembled when he reached out to touch her.
It’d been love at first sight.
Or so she thought.
Her heart aching from the memory, Retta curled her lips as she banished that memory and reminded herself that in the end, Velkan had betrayed her and murdered her father. â€œI was young and stupid, and had no idea what I was letting myself in for. I thought he was a noble prince. I had no idea he was barely one step up from a monkey.â€ She grabbed the printed out page that Francesca had brought to lunch from Yahoo news. â€œI take that back and I deeply apologize to all the primates of the earth for insulting them. He’s not worthy of monkeydom. He’s a slimy slug trail.â€
Francesca dipped her french fry into ketchup. â€œI don’t know, I think it’s kind of sweet that he keeps doing this to get you to come see him.â€
Yeah, right. â€œThat’s not why he’s doing this. He’s trying to torture me and get back at my father. This isn’t about tender feelings. It’s about a man who’s ruthless. A man who, even after five hundred years, can’t let my family rest in peace. He’s an animal.â€ Sighing, Retta tossed the paper back to the table and reached into her purse for her Treo phone.
â€œWhat are you doing?â€
â€œI’m booking a flight to Transylvania so that I can kill him in person.â€
Francesca snorted. â€œNo, you’re not.â€
â€œYes, I am.â€
â€œThen make it two.â€
Retta would have questioned that since shapeshifting Were-Hunters could teleport from one location to another, but for some reason Francesca had always liked to travel with her. Of course, if Retta were smart, she’d make Francesca teleport her, too, but she hated to travel that way, even though it was virtually instantaneous. She might be immortal, but Retta liked to pretend she was as normal as possible. Besides, if a Were-Hunter didn’t know the area and shifted to it, they could hit a tree or manifest right in front of someone. Both experiences had nasty repercussions.
She paused in her dialing to watch Francesca pour more ketchup. â€œWhy are you coming?â€
â€œAfter all these years of listening to you rant about Prince Dickhead, I want to meet him for myself.â€
â€œFine, but remember to avert your gaze from his. He’ll suck the goodness right out of the marrow of your bones and leave you as morally bankrupt as he is.â€
Francesca let out a low whistle. â€œDang, remind me not to make you mad. I mean, really. How bad can he be?â€
â€œTrust me. They don’t come any worse than him. And you’re about to see just how right I am.â€