It has been a blurry two weeks. The wife and I got the flu. Besides managing to drag ourselves to some work shifts, we’ve mostly taken up residence on the couch and watched a number of cartoons.
Since I was last here, I finished reading Fairytale by Stephen King. After taking almost two months to read the first half, I finished the second half in a record two hours. It was a sprint to the finish. Definitely a book I’d recommend if you’re looking for witty societal commentary stuffed inside the trimmings of a hundred different fairytale tropes. It was such a fun story!
It was impossible to stare at my keyboard last week, so I took a short hiatus from writing Henri and Ashby’s stories. They’re back up and running this week. Henri is getting edited tonight and will be sharing his next episode with the prince this Friday!
Ashby is taking a little longer. We’re introducing yet another new character, spending time with his brothers, and looking for a ring to give to Lucy while slowly weaving in bigger themes for my main novel.
Catch up on Lore here for a fun vampire romance: Lore
What else, readers???
Life keeps moving. Some days it’s a hundred hours to get through a single work shift. Others, I blink and I’m back home, scrambling to not burn dinner while singing to too loud music from the kitchen speaker.
There’s plants to water and a dog to feed.
I have twenty characters vying for my attention. All have more stories. All of them think they’re the next most important project.
After putting it off since last November, I picked up my novel once again and wrote a single starting paragraph for this latest revision. Hopefully, I’ll be able to carve out time to work with Tamyra more often this coming month.
Here’s to watching some more silly television and snuggling under three blankets to stay warm. It’s a good month for being kind to myself and resting for a few minutes instead of racing from one project to the next without taking a breath.
Thank you to everyone who reads these posts. You give me the motivation to keep coming back to write again and again.
“What am I supposed to call you when we’re alone?”
We’ve survived two days together. I flaunt my appearance as Alyssiana Laur and watch the vampires in this mansion shrink away. I don’t know all of her history yet, but she’s a real piece of work who knows how to keep people in line. Perhaps in another life, I would be as cold and malicious as her.
Laur is always by my side. He’s quiet during the day and a bit boisterous at meals, but he doesn’t truly come alive until we’re shut away in our shared room. I tried to argue to stay in my own chambers, but he insisted that I could protect him better if we stayed close.
He was right.
I haven’t slept since receiving the envelope with this job and it’s starting to grate on my general wellbeing. “We could just not talk,” I grumble, the edges of my personality blending with the cruel persona of Alyssiana Laur.
Laur snags a pillow from the bed and heads for the couch on the opposite side of the room. “I think I liked you more when you were trying to cut my heart from my chest.”
I shouldn’t care. This man is a means to an end. He’s a job. A job that if done well could result in me making enough money to pay off my debts to Jack. I didn’t mean to become a mercenary. It seems like a lifetime ago that I made a deal with the well-dressed devil. Now, though, since Laur has agreed to split the estate’s wealth with me if I remove Alyssiana from the picture, I have the first real chance in eighty-seven years to make a gamble for my freedom.
The word is a bubble of hope that clogs my heart. It’s stupid. I shouldn’t be putting too much thought into all of this. My dreams are a seal about to be swallowed by a killer whale.
There’s no real escape from my lifestyle.
Laur has slung a quilt over his legs and crossed his arms over his chest. I shouldn’t care that he’s a pouting fool. I can’t decide why his scrunched eyebrows under that ridiculous dyed blue hair matters.
It doesn’t. That’s the truth.
Something akin to sympathy or concern registers in the back of my mind. Feelings. This stupid excuse for a man is ruining my heartless image.
It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have made this bargain with him. There’s no janitor waiting around these halls to clean up my emotional mess, so I have to deal with Laur myself. It’s for the best that we continue to play a united front.
At least, that’s how I try to argue that my next words are more for him than me.
“Phoebe. No last name. Just Phoebe is fine.”
Laur sits up instantly, surprise coating his features as he gathers his blanket in a heap in his lap and stares at me like I’ve repeated complete gibberish instead of real words. “You’re Phoebe the phoenix.”
It’s not a question. He’s tasting every syllable on that silver tongue. It shouldn’t matter what he thinks. It doesn’t. Yet…when he utters a name I haven’t used in the better part of a century like it’s a title meant to be worshipped or praised or never forgotten, I can’t completely ignore the way my chest warms a little too quickly.
I should say something else. I should turn out the lights and tell him to go to bed. I should…
The power flickers and then cuts out completely, drenching us in darkness.
Laur immediately scrambles to his feet, grumbling as he stumbles to get out of his blanket and manages to kick something with his big toe. I don’t move. There’s thumping and cursing coming from Laur, but nothing else.
A sliver of moonlight sneaks into our room through the thick, grey curtains. We’re alone. It’s dark and we’re alone.
Laur doesn’t let fear quiet him. “Who do you think did it?”
The undead man can’t see me any better than I can make out his dark form in this room. If he was a full vampire, then I could use his specialized vision to our advantage. No, as we are, I need him to be quiet while I listen for any threats.
My arm outstretched, I hold my hand at face level as I let flames break out along my fingertips. It’s not a lot of light, but it’s enough for him to see me raise a single finger to my lips in a motion of silence. Quiet. Somebody has cut the power on purpose. They want to catch us off guard.
It’s probably that woman from the dining room yesterday afternoon. I can’t remember her name. All of the people here think too highly of themselves. They have ridiculous names to go with their posh demeanors. This one in particular had her hair piled on top of her head and a dozen roses threaded through it. She thought it was clever to hand out flowers to the rest of the gathered women.
I was foolish enough to take it from her.
A thorn bit into my hand and a single bead of blood welled to the surface. I saw her nostrils flare. My exterior is perfect. I look exactly like Alyssiana Laur, but I’m no witch and no vampire. There’s no way to cover the smell of ash and lingering smoke that runs through my veins. Her eyes dipped right to my hand before I could excuse myself from the room.
Maybe this isn’t about Laur at all.
My heart thunders in my ears as I move to stand closer to the window. If this isn’t about Laur, it’s about me and they’ve been smart enough to attack at night. Magic still swirls through me, but a phoenix is tied to the sun. I won’t be able to change my appearance rapidly or keep a flame lit through the long night if I also have to run from a predator or engage in a fight.
I hear the footsteps too late. They’re already in the conjoining room.
I hiss the words at Laur, but he’s too busy staring at the door to pay me any attention. “Who’s there?”
My physical appearance can be changed at will, but there’s nothing I can do to reduce the effect physics has on me. I can’t move faster. I can’t stretch my arms beyond their limits and wrap them around Laur across the room from me. Instead, I’m rooted to the floor as the door splinters inward and he’s slammed backwards.
His head cracks against the wall. There’s a smear of something that can only be blood as he slumps to the floor. I let the flames on my hand die.
“Make this easy, little bird.”
I know that voice. I’ve fulfilled jobs for that sultry voice. I will spend the rest of my days wishing I’d never met the owner of such an addictive tone.
There’s a snap of fingers and the lights come back on. I blink against the sudden change, glaring across the bed at the man who broke into our room. He tilts his head to the side, taking in Laur’s prone body and my undressed state.
“Didn’t realize you were getting paid for evening deeds, dearest.”
I bare my teeth at him, flames biting at my gums and reshaping my smile until I am sharper and deadlier than ever before. “Most mercenaries work at night, Jack.”
His black eyes flick between me and Laur once more. “Shouldn’t you already be done taking care of this job?”
I shake my head. “He’s the client.”
Jack’s depraved laugh rips through the room. “I wouldn’t have approved of that. Who gave you the mission, little bird?”
This is not the time or place for this conversation. Cassias Laur is a private man, but his estate is only so large. Eventually, someone else is going to realize that there was a problem with the power and come looking for the supposed master of the house.
“I’ve been doing this long enough to take my own cases, Jack. Let me finish this one.”
Arguing with Jack is miserable work. The demon has the patience and wit to walk most people in circles. He’ll have me agreeing to something far worse if I can’t get him out of here quickly.
He obviously has the same idea. Another snap of his fingers plunges the house back into darkness. My heart stutters. It climbs to my throat and demands to be released.
I wouldn’t admit it to Laur, but I’m terrified of the dark. Phoenixes are terribly difficult to kill. It’s much easier to lock them up somewhere and forget the key. Jack knows that.
He knows I dread the night.
His cool breath caresses my ear. I don’t move. My skin crawls and sweat coats my palms, but I don’t dare move.
There’s certain rules in dealing with Jack. He can’t touch me unless I make contact first.
“Are you getting attached to your clients now, fire walker?”
Jack’s low chuckle seems to vibrate in my bones as he circles me. The man is more shadow than figure. The moon doesn’t dare peek in anymore. My vision is gone. He moves too quietly for my ears to pick up on the movements. I’m prey sitting pretty for my predator.
Terror winds its way down my spine like a centipede, weaving its writhing body through my nerves and pinning me to the floor.
I was ready to deal with a witch to retrieve Laur’s heart.
I don’t know if it’s worth going toe to toe with Jack.
There’s a low moan from the other side of the room as Laur starts to come back to life. My foolish heart gives a hopeful thump, thump, thump. It’s a worthless reaction, though. Cassias Laur is a coward and a scam artist trapped in this house by the witch who took his heart. He isn’t a hero. He can’t save me.
Nobody can really save me from Jack.
Jack is what lurks at the edges of my nightmares. He is night incarnate. A blackened soul ready to reap the vulnerable with a cutting grin and curling fingers. He is the darkness made physical.
He holds the key to my freedom and knows it.
Unperturbed by Laur’s waking, Jack clears his throat. He’s centimeters from my face. If I waver at all in my current stance, we’ll brush together.
“I was contacted to come retrieve my asset by the lady of the house, little bird. You can leave with me now or I will give her permission to deal with you as she sees fit.”
That damn woman in the dining room. She must have snitched to the real Alyssiana Laur. Any attempt to take the witch by surprise is now gone.
There’s no good way to get back Laur’s heart without going straight through Alyssiana. I wanted to sneak my way into her world and tiptoe back out, but that option has been ripped out from under me.
We’re completely screwed.
“Don’t worry ‘bout me. You can go home. I’ll deal with her on my own.”
Laur’s words are slurred. He’s still on the floor trying to recover from the damage Jack’s arrival caused.
“You’re a dead man,” I murmur, my words struggling to penetrate the consuming darkness.
There’s a scuffle. Laur must be trying to push himself up into a seated position. “I haven’t lived in a long time. I’m willing to go down for this, but you don’t have to stay involved. Go back to your life, Phoebe.”
I would have.
A day and a half ago, I would have wiped my hands of the money and the possibility to better my life in order to return to the relative safety of my previous lifestyle. Now, with my name on his lips and his pain my fault, I can’t just leave. Cassias Laur needs his heart. He deserves it more than anyone else.
I won’t abandon him.
Jack must sense my wavering loyalty as he leans close enough for me to smell the peppermint on his breath. “When Lady Laur is done with you, I’ll have a dark hole to shove you into, Phoebe,” he snarls the threat, my real name a weapon in this circumstance. “Don’t make me the villain, little bird. Come with me now and we’ll pretend you didn’t just try to make the biggest mistake of your career.”
That’s his promise.
If we fail, Laur dies and I’ll be tortured to live out my extended lifetime in some mildewy pit deep within the earth. I’ll be down there long enough to forget the way the sun feels when it tickles my skin at the beginning of the day. He’ll keep me hidden from the world until my magic is dried up and my name is long forgotten. I’ll die a thousand times in the dark.
Somehow, Laur makes it across the room and presses his fingers into my trembling hand. “It’s okay. Go home.”
I shake my head. If I leave now, Laur is dead. If I fail, Laur is dead. However, if I stay and best the witch, we both get a chance to live.
It’s not fair to throw away his life to save my own.
I may fear the dark more than anything else on this planet, but I won’t let it conquer me. Holding onto Cassias Laur, I send Jack away and accept my fate.
Win or lose, I’ve made a decision and can no longer deviate from this path.
Squeezing Laur’s hand, I let my head fall on his shoulder as the lights flicker on and the night continues.
Thank you for making it to the end of yet another short story. I made a total of three versions of this story, covering the subject of vampires chasing different characters through the dark and creating intense fight scenes from thin air. None of it hit the mark of being scared of the dark, though, so I dug around in my phoenix story for a better lead. I hope you all enjoyed this character development and the official first time I’ve named Phoebe.
For anyone new to the blog this week, most of my stories have recurring characters. To follow along with Cassias Laur and Phoebe, you can check out my other stories containing them: Here for a Heart, Villain or Hero
As always, take a few more minutes to check out Bridgette’s story as well! Afraid of the Dark
Thanks for your continued support and come back next week for a story centered around a “deal with a devil.”
I pull out the thick envelope one last time. It was left at my doorstep. The corners wrinkled and bent now. Instructions and a picture included. Lacking the usual seal from my clients, I opened it anyway to find enough cash to afford my current lifestyle for several months as well as this limo now driving me to the location.
That’s my objective. Sneak into this party as the woman in the picture and then take the heart of Cassias Laur. A picture of him was included as well. Intense eyes, blue hair and a tightly set jaw. It should be easy enough to find him.
I don’t bother to take out a mirror to check my disguise. It’s perfect. With the provided picture laid out on the edge of my desk, I put my powers as a Phoenix to good use. The fire is warm. It bleeds out from my bones and chews at my flesh, reshaping my body to match the woman in the picture. Where I once had full curves and an olive complexion, I am fine and pale. From the view of an onlooker, I am blonde and as delicate as a porcelain doll. They’d have to get real close to realize I’m far more dangerous than the woman I’m pretending to be in order to get into this party.
A dress was sent along with the rest of the package. Red. The sleeves drape over my upper arms to leave my shoulders bare as the edges float to the floor in an odd sort of cape. Every man has a kink. This isn’t my favorite outfit and it’s clearly not conducive for my task, but my client wants to see me in it, so here I am. There was no signature on the envelope, no secondary letter to tell me who my current boss is, but that doesn’t matter. He’ll know I’m here and, once I’ve completed this job, he’ll pay far more than what was already delivered.
Of course, there’s a danger to these deals. A phoenix can slip through this world in any bodily image, a shapeshifter with a tendency towards flames. There’s infinite power locked in our modified cells. It’s a power that comes at a cost. My current deal is printed over my skin in a red splotch, the single inconsistency to my otherwise perfect disguise. An anatomical heart with a dagger through it. The magical tattoo is on my left wrist, hidden now by an array of bangles, but otherwise a clear sign to the rest of the supernatural world that I’m not merely a woman nor a shifter.
I’m a mercenary on a job. I’m the kind of bitch they don’t want to get in the way of or interrupt lest they want their name added to my list of cleared targets.
This party, though, should be fine. I don’t need to flaunt my powers or my reputation. I’m already disguised as a rich woman with the clearance needed to walk into this fine establishment.
My driver starts to slow. We’re here. I felt the buzz of a magical boundary line zip over my skin about a mile back. No obvious cameras so far. No other clear security.
Vampires are usually much more careful.
No matter. I’m not trying to sneak past cameras or avoid eyesight. My client wants me to make a grand entrance and be seen. Otherwise, he would have allowed me to wear a less revealing outfit.
“Here is fine,” I tell the driver, slipping him an extra hundred for his service before gathering my things. The poor man has taken me two hours out from the nearest city into the middle of nowhere, the grand estate of Cassias Laur rising from the brown hills like a castle straight from the dirt to glare down at the rest of the world. It’s the least I can do.
I let myself out of the car. He pulls away in a plume of dirt as I stare up at the massive estate. No birds linger around the rooftop. Some potted spruce decorate the entry way, but that’s all the greenery to be seen out here under the fading colors of the sunset and the final rise of evening. There’s no noise. No crickets or frogs or cicadas announcing to the world that they survived the hot day in order to sing for their nighttime audience.
It’s an odd place. Immaculately clean white, brick walls and red shutters for the windows. Ornate pillars wrap around the porch to give it an ostentatious feel that belongs somewhere in Rome rather than out here in the hills of California. The entire image is odd enough to make a creature absolutely homesick for a place full of noise and humid air. I’m not staying, though. Just one mission and I can take that trip I’ve been planning to head back to the south to remininsce about a time long gone.
About a woman who no longer exists.
I climb the shallow steps, my heels clicking across the porcelain material as I sweep my skirt up into one hand. There’s a crisp ding the moment that I set foot on the wooden planks of the porch. The double doors swing inward and a man dressed in a tuxedo emerges to welcome me inside.
I don’t think twice about wrapping my fingers around the curve of his arm. He is all smiles and dark skin, gently leading me into the house with a well-practiced script. I’m sure he’s been doing this all night for the rest of the guests. If things were planned correctly by my current boss, I should be the last to arrive.
My thoughts on my mission, I hardly pay attention as the man leads me down a hall filled with art, the personal gallery a host of pieces lost to time as well as several canvases depicting the house we’re currently walking through. We walk further, the man pleased with my gentle smiles. It isn’t until we’re at another double door entrance that his words give me pause.
“It’s wonderful to have you home, Mistress.”
Perhaps I didn’t ask the right questions when I took this job. It seemed straight forward. I didn’t ask any questions. As much as the feeling of confusion is washing through me, I don’t let it touch my features, smiling wider at the helpful man with a rather orthodox appearance.
“It’s great to be here.”
Dipping into a slight bow, he gestures to the door. “Should I introduce you, Mistress?”
It would be a good idea to know the name for my current disguise. I nod. He doesn’t need any other permission.
Bursting through the doors, his voice booming, he announces my arrival just as my client asked in his letter. “Ladies and gentleman, please stand and greet the lady of the house. Mistress Alyssiana Laur!”
That cannot be my name.
There’s clapping in the room beyond and the man who announced me waves me forward. No time to contemplate it now. Time to don a sweet smile and walk gracefully down the stairs.
I’m halfway down when I feel the gaze of my target. At the head of the table, his expression stoic, his dark eyes bore into my form. Perhaps he didn’t intend for his wife to arrive.
I didn’t mean to show up as his wife, if we’re being honest here. It could be easier to get him alone, though. I’ll use this to my advantage as much as I can.
Gliding down the stairs, I accept the arm of another able-bodied man in the same attire as the last and allow him to lead me to the only empty chair at the obnoxiously long table. Vampires will never get over themselves. They have to have the biggest houses, the longest tables, the most servants or they’re nothing in the world of pompous showboating that they all seem to live within.
One night. If I can get this over quickly, it won’t even have to be a whole night and then I can leave, collect my earnings, and figure out the details of that vacation.
The only chair is next to the host of this ornate house. His gaze follows me all the way from the stairs, past the row of men and women in their best finery, and to the seat on his right. I don’t let it bother me. Men spend their lives looking at women like me.
His life will end looking at me, too.
The man pulls out my chair and seats me next to Cassias Laur. Those dark eyes bore into the side of my face. He doesn’t say anything, though. At least, not to me.
Pushing back from his spot, he stands and holds a champagne flute out to the gathered party. “You have such a way with timing, darling,” Laur begins, the pet name thrown at me like a dagger. “I was just finished telling our guests that you would be unable to make it. However, we’ll be all the more happy to have you here with us. Please, let’s continue our meal.”
Chatter breaks out along the table. Most people spend several moments glancing between their salad and me. I keep my hands folded in my lap and my chin held high. In a room of creatures with heightened senses, it’s important not to bring too much attention to myself. A prick of my finger on a sharp edge of one of these glistening utensils would be enough to alert the entire room to the sheer fact that I, myself, am no vampire.
All the magic in the world can’t possibly cover up the fact that I am fire and wrath.
A waiter brings me a glass of champagne. Laur watches me grab the glass. I take the smallest sip, feeling his eyes on my throat as I swallow.
The first course is cleared moments later. The main dish is delivered. A spicy soup with chunks of meat and vegetables. I pick at it, avoiding any of the meat bits in case they aren’t merely chicken and pork. Most of the guests cough and sputter at the soup, thier heightened senses attacked by the meal they can’t refuse without being deemed impolite. Whoever was in charge of the menu made sure to pick things that would be difficult for the guests to eat.
That is, the guests are struggling, but Cassias Laur is eating without a problem. Perhaps the host is impervious to the spice and did this to pick on those brave enough to step through the doors of his house.
I don’t have much time to think about that before the partially eaten dishes are removed and an array of desserts are set out down the middle of the table. Interspersed by red roses in ornate vases, the trays of desserts carry everything from classic sugar cookies cut into intricate stars, pudding combined with blood oranges, and macarons in every shade of maroon. A gothic menu for the vampires. If this was Laur’s doing, he has an odd sense of humor.
Too bad he won’t get to use that funny sense when I come for his heart.
Our host waves for the guests to serve themselves as he grabs the small plate in front of me. “What can I interest you in, darling?”
This must be a test. A man has to know there’s a reason his wife didn’t show up to a party on time, right?
What do I know about Alyssiana Laur?
She’s married to a vampire and presumably one herself. In my reference photo, she stood with her back to a white wall, her imperial figure a contrast to the plain setting. Head high, her ears and neck dripping with jewels, she looked down her nose at the cameraman. Alyssiana Laur liked to be in control of her surroundings.
Could this be my chance to get him separated from the rest of the room?
“I’m not very hungry, dear,” I reply, hoping she wouldn’t simply call her husband by his name. “Perhaps now would be a good time to speak. Privately.”
A wicked smile cuts across his face as he spoons out a large helping of pudding onto the plate. “It’s been a decade since you wanted to be anywhere near me, but I won’t protest much to your request.”
Fuck. He knows. My appearance is perfect, but I didn’t have time to learn enough about this woman.
As soon as we’re alone, I’ll have to incapacitate him.
Standing, the pudding and spoon in one hand, he holds out his other to me. I can’t refuse. Not in front of all of these people.
I slip my fingers into his warm hold, my fate sealed long before this moment.
It’s Cassias Laur or I. One of us will not be leaving this party.
I don’t dare look back on the guests. Without another moment’s hesitation, I follow him from the room. It’s time to retrieve my heart.
For this week’s prompt, I stepped outside of my normal circle of characters. There’s still vampires and tension between the different people, but I wanted to introduce a new supernatural character. Currently unnamed in this story, my phoenix is a possible candidate for a new Kindle Vella romance. Let me know in the comment section if you’re interested to hear more from her!
As always, thank you for reading to the end of this post and please make sure to check out Bridgette’s story as well!