Vampires are assholes, thought Jasmine LaCroix as she typed rapidly on her computer keyboard.
Logically she knew that just because she worked for the most sadistic vampire on the planet didn’t mean that all vampires were bad. It wasn’t their fault that Dante De Luca gave vampires a bad name. It was just kind of difficult to make that distinction when she was in the mood to flay the vamp alive...or dead, she mentally amended. She worked as De Luca’s personal assistant handling everything from typing up reports, organizing travel arrangements, and the occasional security investigation, and he was not the easiest employer to work for.
De Luca was the owner and CEO of OWLS Inc. (Other-World Logistics and Security Inc.), a company that specialized in high-end security and retrieval services for the other-world. Demons skipping out on blood contracts, vampires violating the blood consenting laws, or missing ritual artifacts—OWLS Inc handled them all as discreetly and quietly as possible.
They had contracts from multi-millionaires, billion dollar companies and even some governments, but as Jasmine had learned years ago, wealth wasn’t only measured in monetary bills, it could be measured in information and secrets as well, and when it came to overall wealth, Dante was richer than the Devil. After years of heading up OWLS Inc. he was known for taking payment in all sorts of forms for services rendered. Whether it was a powerful artifact, an ancient spell, or just well kept secrets, he collected it all. As the head of OWLS, Dante acquired a lot of money, a lot of information and an obscene amount of power. Power that Jasmine was convinced went to his head.
Shaking her head at her monitor, Jasmine thought for the millionth time why had she made the decision to work for Dante and once again cursed her mercurial nature. She had degrees in computer science and psychology, an MBA and was trained in three different forms of martial arts. She hadn’t gone to college with the intention of becoming the personal lackey of one of the most powerful vampires in the underworld. Her varied education was due more to her inherent contrariness than anything else. She blamed it on being a Gemini—the whole two warring personalities thing. She loved absorbing information but once she got it, she quickly became bored.
When Dante approached her three years ago she saw it as a cure to her innate flightiness. Change and variation was part of the job description and that had appealed to her. Her choice to work with Dante had opened her eyes to the existence of the other-world. Until then she was vaguely aware of things that went bump in the night, but never really believed they were actually not human. At worst, she had believed in evil, psychotic, serial killers—not vampires, especially not in Miami of all places.
Miami was one of the sunniest places in the country. According to Dante, many other-worlders chose to live in major cities simply because it was easier to get lost in the crowds. Because it allowed for easy travel to all of the major other-world hubs, Miami was a popular haven. Aside from the obvious advantage in location, other-worlders, particularly vampires, tended to flock to the sunny city because it was the last place humans would expect to find them.
Despite learning there was an entire society of other-worlders teaming the streets; Jasmine rarely regretted her decision to work for Dante. She considered herself a liberal, open-mined person and believed that if humans and other-worlders had been living together that long with no problems why should she rock the boat? Ninety-nine percent of the time, Jasmine was completely satisfied with her job except on days like today when Dante assigned her a task that was both insulting and mind numbing. Instead of asking her to work up a security profile on one of his new clients, Dante had her looking up purebred teacup puppies—puppies.
“Bastard,” Jasmine muttered under her breath as she continued to type up her findings.
Despite the fact that she thought it was a colossal waste of her time, Jasmine believed in delivering a good product. She prided herself on her work ethic and typed out a full report on the breeds of teacups, their attributes and maintenance. She also included brief bios of the best-known breeders. Out of spite, she made it a point to include only the most expensive breeders. She was creating the most in-depth report on teacups she could muster—she wanted Dante’s eyes to cross when he went through the report. Why should I be the only one who has to suffer, she thought with a grin.
One of the requirements to her position was to be available at a moment’s notice. Because of that Jasmine lived in a wing of Dante’s penthouse in Downtown Miami. For the past three years almost every moment of her life had been planned around Dante’s needs and schedule. Admittedly, he was paying handsomely for that level of service. Every time Jasmine went shopping she was more than satisfied with her compensation. However, even the best of salaries didn’t replace a good night’s sleep or a much needed vacation.
Thankfully she was scheduled to take a vacation starting that evening. She was taking a weeklong stay at a resort in St. Lucia. She was take a late evening flight and couldn’t wait to be unplugged from her duties as PA for a few days. She was looking forward to relaxing on the beach and spending time with some old friends. It was the first vacation she’d scheduled since she first began working for Dante. The puppy report was the last thing she had to wrap up before she left for the night.
Dante was at that moment in a meeting with Elijah Styx his head of security. They were holed up in Dante’s office discussing whatever hush-hush, super secret information Elijah was able to collect from the OWL agents in the field. Once a week Dante met with Elijah to discuss any and all information that might be considered useful in keeping their backs protected in the other-world.
Although Elijah was also a vampire OWLS employed all sorts of other-worlders. They all came with their own sets of skills and expertise. As imposing as Dante was, Elijah was equally as foreboding. The man had the disposition of an iceberg. Every time, Jasmine encountered him she had to fight the instinctive shiver of discomfort his presence caused.
“Miss LaCroix, I need the Fredrick file in my office, now.”
Jasmine sighed in relief as Dante’s voice blasted through the intercom on her desk. She didn’t bother responding to the buzzed demand coming from his office. She knew from experience that it would be a waste of breath. When Dante wanted something, he wanted it immediately—on the upside, she was at least able to close out the ”puppy files” for a moment. Working for him during the last three years had been a study in patience. If it wasn’t for the hefty paycheck and insane benefits package she would have told him where to stick it years ago. Hell on most days she was ready to strap one on and stick him herself. With a sigh she clicked open the Fredrick file on her computer and tapped her fingers nails briskly as she waited for the file to print.
Dante insisted on having a paper copy of all files. Despite the fact that Jasmine had spent a considerable amount of time creating a project management system for the office and digitizing all of their accounts, he refused to use the new system. Each time he wanted to review a file he insisted on having a physical copy. Unfortunately as the owner and CEO of OWLS, Dante was the boss and could be as demanding and irrational as he wanted to be.
The Frederick case involved one of their VIP clients, Fabian Fredrick. Frederick was the top demon enforcer for the southeast region of the country. He was an upper level fire demo who had the really thrilling job of punishing demons that Dante”retrieved’ for skipping out on contracts. Unfortunately, a demon’s immortality could make punishment really interesting. As a result of his job, Frederick was both hated and feared amongst his kind. Those crazy enough not fear him were also dumb enough to try and hurt him.
Frederick was more than strong enough to protect himself, but he took no chances when it came to protecting his wife and family. He insisted that his home and surrounding land be warded every year. Most homes could be warded by a first-degree witch or warlock, but Frederick owned a mansion that would put Buckingham palace to shame.
For a building that large with all of the surrounding grounds to be warded properly required an entire coven of experienced witches. Taking care of the logistics of a job this large was what OWLS Inc. did best. Snatching up the printed file Jasmine stood and strode to the adjacent door separating her office from Dante’s and knocked briskly before walking in.
Dante sat at his desk barking commands at some poor fool through the phone while Elijah sat as foreboding as ever in a chair in front of Dante’s desk. This would alarm most people but giving a brief nod in acknowledgment to Elijah, Jasmine just strode forward and placed the file on Dante’s desk and turned to leave.
Stopping mid stride Jasmine turned back to Dante and walked to one of the soft chairs facing Dante’s desk. She tried not to show any emotion as she sat, crossing her legs and stared calmly at Dante as he continued to berate the unfortunate soul on the other end of the phone line. Jasmine wasn’t upset at his curt command. She had worked with Dante too long to be offended by his lack of manners. It also gave her some measure of pleasure knowing that her calm demeanor often confused him. He was used to being surrounded by people who trembled in his presence and jumped at his every demand.
Jasmine admitted to answering all of his demands quickly because she prided herself on efficiency, but she never jumped to do so. If she did, her nerves would have abandoned her two minutes into her employment at OWLS and she would have been an emotional wreck like everyone else in the office when they were around Dante. No—Jasmine had enough drama in her life without adding emotional basket case to her profile.
Staring at Dante Jasmine thought that the one benefit to his bad manners was that it kept her from wanting to crawl into his lap every time she saw him. Physically, Dante was what her grandma would call hot honey on a stick. He just made you want to stick your tongue out and take a lick even though you knew you were bound to get burned.
Just under six feet, Dante was broad shouldered with dark hair, an olive complexion that hinted at a Mediterranean heritage and dark, murky green eyes. No matter what time of day he always seemed to have a shadow of stubble across his jaw. The stubble was one of Jasmine’s weak points. It just screamed, I just got out of bed and boy did I have fun! The man literally oozed sex appeal.
Letting her gaze travel over him Jasmine had to admit that Dante De Luca would probably be one fun ride. From what she had learned of vampires over the last few years, Jasmine knew that all vampires produced an increased amount of pheromones. It was supposed to help dull the senses of any unsuspecting person that might have the misfortune of becoming a late night snack.
Vampires were able to control the release of their own pheromones, which supposedly got stronger with age. Jasmine had never been exposed to Dante’s pheromone mix but didn’t doubt that it would be potent; he was one of the oldest vampires in the region. Unfortunately, as active as Jasmine liked her sex, sleeping with a heartless bastard like Dante was not on her list of kinks.
Giving herself an internal shake, Jasmine began to swing her crossed leg and moved her gaze to her swinging foot, trying to distract herself from Dante. She flexed her foot and admired her new lipstick-red shoes. In Miami the strappy heel was an art form that Jasmine was more than happy to worship. The new shoes were open toed, with a wide strap across her toes and around the ankle with a three-inch black, stiletto heel. They hurt like hell but Jasmine loved how the deep red contrasted with her caramel colored skin.
She purchased the shoes the weekend before and made sure to get a matching pedicure before she wore them. That morning she paired the shoes with a calf length, black pencil skirt, fitted white shirt, wide red belt and a chunky red coral necklace. She didn’t bother going through the trouble of taming her thick curly hair into a bun, she just used a red satin ribbon to tie her hair back from her face.
Jasmine didn’t really consider herself a fashionista but she loved to shop and buy things that made her feel pretty. As she admired her shoes Jasmine absently considered thanking Dante. His generous salary supported her shopping fetish.
Flexing her foot again, Jasmine caught a movement from the corner of her eye and turned to see Elijah staring at her movements. His cold gaze rose to meet hers and she could have sworn she saw a flash of amusement in them. Before she could analyze the look any further, Dante slammed the phone down into its cradle and muttered an oath.
Turning her gaze from Elijah, she waited for Dante to speak. She knew from experience that he wouldn’t speak until he was good and ready. Jasmine was sure he just got off on making people uncomfortable.
Strumming his fingers against the arms of his large leather chair, Dante leaned back and stared at her. She barely blinked underneath his gaze.
“We need to move up the date of the warding for Frederick,” he said.
“How much sooner,” Jasmine asked.
“Tonight,” Jasmine exclaimed leaning forward.
“The Ravens will need at least another week to finish the preparations.”
Lifting a single brow at Jasmine’s reaction, Dante replied, ”The Ravens are centuries old Ms. LaCroix. They should be able to handle this job, even on such short notice. They’re being paid well enough for the job.”
“You know Marisol will want to increase her fee for this don’t you?”
Silence greeted Jasmine’s response. Uh-oh, she thought. Dante hated anyone questioning his choices. It went against the whole, I am your God, persona he liked to project, but despite his silence, Jasmine wasn’t too worried about his reaction. If she cowered under all of his dark stares she would have never made it past day one.
What he was asking for wasn’t necessarily impossible, but it would make the rest of her day hell. Mentally, she adjusted her schedule for the day. She was sure that she would be able to wrap up the formal report for the Frederick case in time to catch her flight—just barely.
Marisol was the head of the Ravens—the only coven of witches in the South old and strong enough to create a ward on Frederick’s home. She was known for her temper. It wasn’t uncommon for her to cast a hex or two when she was pissed. After last year’s warding a guard of Fredrick’s made a sly remark to one of the coven members and Marisol hexed him with an extremely high sex drive. To most men that wouldn’t be a curse, but Marisol had a really sick sense of humor. She cursed him with the constant need to have sex, but every time he was about to come he turned into a rat. Needless to say that killed the mood for any woman. Jasmine considered herself an adventurous kind of girl but waking up with a rodent was not her idea of a good time.
Marisol wasn’t just known for her short temper. She was also known for her obsession with detail that bordered on full-fledged obsessive-compulsive disorder. She did not handle change well, and Jasmine was dreading telling her that the job had moved up. Jasmine continued swinging her crossed leg as she thought what she could do to mollify Marisol’s temper. Marisol had a weakness for shiny things calculated Jasmine. There was a jewelry store on the beach owned by a fairy named Ian. He designed his own jewelry and no two pieces were ever alike. His work was beautiful, unique and ridiculously expensive. Jasmine bit back a smile as she decided to charge the purchase to one of Dante’s credit cards. It would serve him right, she thought.
Dante sat back and watched the expressions moving across Jasmine’s face. Where most people would squirm in the midst of his continued silence Jasmine was no doubt putting that active mind of hers to good use. He had no doubt that she was plotting something that would piss him off in one form or another. She was most likely mapping out ways to make him pay through the nose for moving up the warding of the Fredrick estate, but it couldn’t be avoided.
He was receiving some very disturbing reports from some operatives in the field. They only had rumors and rumblings to go by but Dante had lived long enough to know not to discount rumors out of hand. He wanted to clear the current VIP caseload and investigate these rumors further. The implications were too disturbing to ignore. The temperate Ms. LaCroix was just going to have to deal with that.
“I’m well aware of what Marisol will want. Take care of it. I’ll also need you to clear my schedule of all appointments for the next few weeks. Elijah will handle redistributing any other cases to the team.”
Leaning further back into his chair Dante watched the look of surprise flick across Jasmine’s pretty face. Although OWLS employed several well-trained operatives, Dante still handled all major VIP cases personally. For him to reassign them was unheard of.
“Yes. And don’t worry about Marisol. Let her know that I’m requesting a retainer of her services for the remainder of the year starting immediately. I’m willing to pay her ten times her regular fee.”
Stifling the urge to interrogate him Jasmine sat still waiting for Dante to finish. She had a feeling that there would be a shoe dropping soon and knowing her luck it would have sharp heels.
“I’m starting a new project and I’ll need your assistance. The job is going to require some of your people reading skills,” Dante said.
“When will you need me?” asked Jasmine, feeling that shoe spiraling fast above her head.
Cocking an eyebrow, Dante replied, “Tonight.”
Yup there it was, that damn stiletto landed with a twang. Goodbye sandy beaches and passion fruit mojitos. There was no point in pointing out the fact that her flight was scheduled to leave at ten o’clock that evening. Dante was well aware of the fact. Jasmine’s lips tightened as she struggled to keep her face impassive as Dante continued speaking as if he hadn’t just ruined her first vacation in three years.
“I need you to attend the Ventura fundraising event with me tomorrow night and get a read on a few people. It’s a formal event so dress appropriately. Be ready by six.”
Swiveling his chair Dante turned from Jasmine to face the wall of windows at his back. The human belief that vampires were weakened by sunlight was just a myth—to an extent. Younger vampires were sensitive to light until they reached their maturity, but most vampires had no bad side effects to sunlight.
“Of course,” Jasmine relied smiling sweetly.
Rising from her chair and swiveling on her heels, Jasmine contemplated how many ways were there to skin a vampire as she exited Dante’s office.
Observing through the reflections in the windows, Dante watched as Jasmine left his office. He could tell by the switch of her generously rounded hips that she was good and royally pissed. He fought to hold back a grin. Admittedly, he really did need her skills for the evening, but he was glad that this new case had ruined her vacation plans. He wasn’t comfortable having her so far away in someone else’s territory. Jasmine had no idea how valuable she was or how much her future was intertwined with his own.
When he found her three years ago, he had known the importance of her presence and made the decision to offer her a position as his personal assistant to keep her close. He was aware that many people questioned his choice to bring a mortal on as his PA and assumed she was his mistress and he didn’t try to dispel those beliefs. If they assumed he was sleeping with her, they were more likely to keep their hands to themselves. Dante had almost a millennium to build his reputation and he had made sure that it was one no one wanted to cross.
“You do know that one of these days she’s going to ram one of those sexy little heels straight through your heart don’t you?” said Elijah speculatively.
“I don’t doubt she’ll at least try,” replied Dante as he swiveled his chair back to face his head of security.
“When are you going to stop stalling and just tell her the truth?” asked Elijah.
“I’ll explain the details to her this evening before we get to the fundraiser. Jasmine always works better if she doesn’t know too much about the people she’s trying to read.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it. When are you going to tell her the truth about why she’s here?” insisted Elijah.
Leaning back in his chair Dante stared at his friend. He had known Elijah for centuries. They first met in the ancient city of Antioch during the first Crusades. Other-worlders made it a point not to interfere in human wars unless the potential outcomes became detrimental to their survival. Otherwise, humans were left alone to clean up their own messes. However, there had been several exceptions through-out history and the Crusades were one of them.
The different other-world clans agreed to send warrior ambassadors to monitor the situation in the Middle East to determine if the Crusades may cause a threat to other-worlders as well. Dante encountered Elijah within the walls of Antioch just before crusaders took the city walls. The crusaders were vicious in the defense of their God and once they entered the city, were set on slaughtering all those within its walls. Although, they both knew not to interfere, Dante and Elijah worked together to save as many of the city’s people as possible. Since that day, Dante trusted Elijah with his life. There were very few people that Dante chose to trust, and he understood Elijah’s need to give him advice but in this instance, he would not be dissuaded.
“You know why I can’t tell her Elijah,” said Dante.
“I won’t risk putting her in jeopardy.”
“I would have never figured you for a coward my friend,” replied Elijah, shaking his head.
“If you wait too long to claim her, someone else will.”
Hissing under his breath, Dante jerked forward in his seat he slammed his palms down on the desk and slowly leaned towards Elijah.
“Watch it friend. Just because I call you brother doesn’t mean I won’t hurt you.” Dante said with eyes snapping.
Unfazed by Dante’s show of anger Elijah slouched back and slung his arm across the back of his chair and chuckled softly.
“Relax old man. I like my women a little less homicidally inclined than your little Miss LaCroix,” he said.
“But if you keep putting off the inevitable, the less likely she’ll be to accept her position.”
“I’m nearing my millennia Elijah, I don’t yet know if I’ll be fit for a mate.”
“Sorry to burst your bubble, but she’s mortal. You can’t wait forever to make your choice. You’ve got a somewhat finite timeline here so stop fucking this up.”
“Contrary to what you might think, this isn’t exactly an easy decision here,” said Dante between clenched teeth. Elijah was trying his patience. Dante had lost track of the amount of times they had had this conversation. Elijah knew about the madness. He knew that when a vampire became afflicted with it they were almost incapable of deciphering right from wrong. The madness stripped them of their morality—their very souls. There had been several cases of vampires killing their own mates while in the grips of madness. Dante himself had had the grim task of dispatching those vampires on more than one occasion. Dante refused to subject any woman to that fate.
“You know what your problem is,” asked Elijah.
“I don’t have any problems Elijah,” said Dante rolling his eyes upward and wondering why he ever chose to tell Elijah about his attachment to Jasmine.
“Your problem is that you act your age.”
“Excuse me?” said Dante cocking an eyebrow.
“You act your age. You’re immortal Dante not some hundred year old human. Let yourself have a little fun. You work twenty-four-seven. You’ve found yourself a mate, something that a lot of vamps don’t always get a chance to find and you’re keeping her at arm’s length worrying about woulda, shoulda, couldas,” said Elijah bewildered at his friends actions.
Taking a deep breath Dante decided it was time to tell Elijah the truth. Sighing heavily Dante let his head lay back and rest against the back of his chair and closed his eyes.
“The tremors have started Elijah. I’ve had them for several weeks now.’ said Dante.
His statement was greeted with silence. Opening his eyes Dante glanced forward and saw the shock registered on his friend’s face.
“What about feeding Dante? When was the last time you fed?” whispered Elijah unbelievingly.
Shaking his head Dante chuckled hoarsely and shook his head.
“It’s not withdrawal Elijah. I’m well fed. I’ve fed almost every other hour, every day for the last three months—no amount seems to satisfy anymore. The need is always there, always twisting in my gut.”
“Fuck,” breathed Elijah.
Dante chuckled hoarsely, at his friend’s whispered oath.
“Exactly,” he said grimly.