Pretty When She Dies

Page 42

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Samantha arrived at the small bookshop in South Austin just before eight o'clock. It was a tiny converted house with a wide porch with chairs arranged on it for reading. The front yard was actually well tended and had a birdbath in it. The parking along the side was limited, but hers was the only car in it other than Jeff's SUV. Climbing out of her car, her feet settled into the freshly laid gravel.

She had felt silly in her earlier outfit, so tonight she was wearing jeans and a white fitted t-shirt. Instead of flip flops, she had dug out her cowboy boots and she had thrown on a black shrug at the last minute. Heaving her heavy bag over one shoulder, she walked up to the door and peered in the glass.

The first room was tiny and had a checkout counter. A huge magazine rack full of free publications and political pamphlets of all kinds stood near the door. It was also decorated with old paintings and photos of famous writers of the paranormal. She recognized Stephen King, Anne Rice and Edgar Allen Poe. Pulling the door open, she heard a tiny bell jingle over head.

Rooms opened up to her left and straight ahead. Both were filled to the brim with bookcases loaded up with books. A few overstuffed chairs were shoved into corners under what looked like antique hanging lamps from exotic countries. A string of plastic beads hung over each doorway. The design the colored beads created were of a pentagram on one and an ankh on the other.

The beads tinkled as Jeff appeared. He was limping slightly and he smiled at her awkwardly. He looked really young, but she bet he was her age.

“Hey, Serena,” he said.

“Samantha,” she answered automatically.

“It was a joke. You're wearing a totally different look from this morning and Serena was Samantha's evil cousin and-” He looked flustered.

“Oh, yeah! Oh, sorry!” She laughed and waved a hand. “I'm just a little stressed.”

“Want to come to the back? I just need to lock the door. It's been dead since about an hour ago.”

“Yeah, sure.” She felt a little nervous at the thought of hanging out with a complete stranger. She had her mace in her purse and she consoled herself with that thought.

Jeff limped to the door and locked it. Laying the keys on the counter in plain sight, it was clear he did not want her to feel ill at ease. He had changed his t-shirt since this morning and it read “Vote for Pedro.”

“I love that movie!” Samantha said, pointing. “Napoleon was like this kid that used to always stare at me and drool in high school.”

“It seems a lot of guys would do that without being a super nerd,” Jeff responded and winked.

“You're sweet,” Samantha decided as she followed him into the hallway leading to the back.

“Nah, just a nerd,” he teased. “I own an occult bookstore and wear t-shirts from movies.”

“True. True,” she conceded.

The room they entered was also loaded with books and opened up to yet another room. This last one was much larger and had a long beat up wooden table in the middle with mismatched chairs around it. It looked quaint and sort of like an old library. To her left, she saw a door marked “Restroom” with a little drawing of a female ghost on it with a pink bow. A few feet from it was one with a male ghost.

Between them was a small table with a coffee pot and Styrofoam cups set out. A cookie jar with a donation cup next to it looked alluring and she went over to pry it open.

“I made those,” he said as he settled into a chair at the table. “They're vegan.”

Pulling out a cookie, she felt its freshness and the smell was wonderful. “Vegan? Really? They smell good! Oh, yummy.” Rummaging in her bag, she looked for some change.

“You don't have to donate,” he said quickly.

“No, no. I want to!” She found a dollar bill lurking under her sunglass case and tucked it into the jar. Pouring herself a cup of coffee, she already felt a little less nervous. The smell was heavenly.

“I just do that so people will feel at home. It can be nerve wracking to come in here looking for actual answers and just not fun reading material.” Jeff rubbed his leg and tapped the leather bound books stacked next to him.

Setting her drink down, she sat next to him and munched on her cookie. It had a different texture than what she was used to, but it tasted great. “Do a lot of people do that?”

“Oh, yeah. South Austin has a lot of haunted houses. Then on top of that, add in college students messing with the occult and not having a clue what they are doing. They end up with trouble and have to find a way out of it.”

“And you take care of that? Fix the situation?”

“To the best of my ability,” Jeff answered. “I can't always resolve it, but I do my best.”

“You're kinda like-”

“Please, don't.”

“Van Helsing,” Samantha piped and ate another bit of her cookie.

“I thought you were going to say Buffy. Again,” Jeff said with a laugh.

“I look more like Buffy than you do,” Samantha grinned.

“And you date vampires,” Jeff agreed with bemusement.

“But seriously, you do this all the time, right? Deal with the supernatural?”

“Not all the time, but enough to give me some really good nightmares.”

“Well. I guess getting your leg torn off by a vampire would do that,” she said with a frown, and immediately regretted saying it.

With a somber expression, he nodded and said, “Well, you know, it's not something you easily forget.”

“Was it Cian?” she asked fearfully, the terrible thought suddenly enveloping her.

“No. No. It was actually in another state that it happened. I was a baby, so I don't remember it. We were on vacation and Dad took a job getting rid of a local vamp. It found out and did a preemptive strike.” He sighed. “That's when I lost my Mom and my leg.”

Samantha was utterly horrified and her mouth opened, but she couldn't find words to speak.

“It's okay. I grew up and helped my Dad with his hunts until he died. Of natural causes, thankfully.” He looked quite somber, but in an effort to shake himself free of his dark thoughts, he grabbed a book and opened it. “My Dad kept copious notes on all his cases and he had a lot written about Cian going back quite a ways. Dad was supposed to destroy this book per an agreement he had with Cian, but it was his life's work and he couldn't bear to do it. Cian was actually one of the first vampires my father hunted.”

“That is so totally weird. So your Dad found out a bunch of stuff about him and stuffed it in a book, huh? What does it say?”

“Originally, Cian came up out of Mexico where he was located with his human servant Roberto for a very long time.”

Samantha finished her cookie and leaned forward to look at the newspaper clippings, notes, and other bits of information stuffed in the book. “I know Roberto. He's a jerk.”

“Well, yeah. His history is not all that spectacular. Before Cian took him in, he was connected with multiple murders. He was even suspected of his brother's murder. There is speculation that is how he became so wealthy. Married women he seduced tended to become widows and he would stick around long enough to receive some very generous gifts. Cian and Roberto were in Mexico City for an extended amount of time after they joined up. Cian found favor with the Master of Mexico City who sympathized with his past. Both of them had been slaves at some point in their history and she was enamored with him. Word is, she banished Santos, her brother who is now the Master Vampire of San Antonio, from her territory in favor of Cian.”

“Wait, wait, Cian was a slave?”

“You didn't know that?”

Samantha shook her head, her eyes growing larger.

“When Cromwell came into Ireland in the late 1600's, he decimated the Irish population. He sent a large portion as slaves to the West Indies. Cian and his family were sent to Barbados. He lived as a slave most of his life until he was around twenty-four. He actually gained favor with his master and was set up as a foreman of the sugar cane fields. He had a wife and two children when The Summoner arrived in Barbados. We think we found the actual ship he arrived on. It suffered a plague in transit and most of the crew and passengers died. Soon after, The Summoner killed Cian. Though we cannot prove it, we believe the Bridgetown fire was caused when some of the slaves tried to burn Cian or The Summoner out. It killed thousands of people, which, of course, would have been very satisfying to The Summoner. My father asked Cian about it and he doesn't remember why the fire happened. At the time, Cian was mad with the hunger that struck him after his rebirth as a vampire. But he said he remembered the flames. Cian fled and hid in caves for weeks in the aftermath. When he regained his senses, he knew was undead and was terrified because of it. He tried to go home, but the plantation had burned and his family was dead. People were speaking about red-eyed devils and he knew he had to get away from Barbados.”

“How did he escape?” Samantha felt oddly overwhelmed. It was suddenly quite clear she knew nothing about Cian at all.

“A pirate ship, believe it or not. He hid away on board the ship and slowly drank most of the crew to death. They didn't know he was there and never found him. When they finally reached land, he disembarked and began his journey across South and Central America. He has never returned to Europe.” Jeff hesitated, obviously seeing she was trying hard to absorb all the information he was giving her.

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