An Excerpt From: TALL, DARK AND DEADLY
Copyright © MARGARET L. CARTER, 2002
All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.
The air hummed with rapt attention from dozens of human minds, most of them female. “Oh, lady bright! Can it be right—This window open to the night?” Claude paused in his recitation to savor the shallow breaths and rapid heartbeats of his audience, inaudible to human ears but plain to his. He had performed this reading of Poe’s “The Sleeper” so often that it required only a fraction of his attention. He knew just what phrases to linger over to coax the most intense emotions from the listeners.
Their fascination perfumed the air like a cloud of incense. He could almost taste it, a delicious appetizer for the more substantial feast he anticipated enjoying later that night. For the black-clad young women he half-affectionately thought of as “vampire groupies”, he knew his hypnotic delivery transformed the drab hotel function room into a boudoir “beneath the mystic moon” with an “opiate vapour, dewy, dim”. While he didn’t believe Poe had written “The Sleeper” with a vampire’s nocturnal visit in mind, doubtless the “window open to the night” conjured up just that image for most of the audience, a reaction that suited Claude very well.
His eyes swept over the group while he intoned, “Oh, lady, dear, hast thou no fear? Why and what art thou dreaming here?” Locking glances briefly with each female in the first couple of rows, he savored the way a blush blossomed on each one’s face at the fantasy that he addressed the lines to her alone. About midway to the back of the room though he captured the eyes of one person who watched him with peculiar intensity, a woman of about thirty with mahogany hair pulled back in a braid. From her he sensed a hunger that answered his own with a more complicated need than the yearning for a fantasy vampire’s bite.
Pleasantly rounded from what he could see of her, though not enough to violate the current standards for female beauty, she had what people used to call a “peaches and cream” complexion. Claude approved of her apparent refusal to either diet herself into emaciation or bake her skin under cancer-inducing rays. She would make an excellent dessert. The image made his jaws ache.
He mentally shook himself. He already had plans for tonight. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to make contact with her and keep her in reserve, so to speak. Winding up the poem, he smiled at the memory of a lapel pin he’d seen on one of the fans earlier that day: “Cthulhu Saves—He Might Get Hungry Later”.
He stood up with a flourish of his cape to signal the end of the session. Instantly, the audience mobbed the front of the room, convention programs and pens in hand. Teeth clenched in the closest thing to a smile he could manage, he scribbled his name as requested, watching the back of the delectable woman’s head vanish into the corridor. With all the people blocking his view, he hadn’t even managed a glimpse of her name tag.
Finally, dry-mouthed with thirst from exposure to his fans’ body heat, pulse sounds and keyed-up emotions, he broke away and headed for his room. Though he lived only a few blocks away, his need for a refuge in the middle of the convention made renting a hotel room worthwhile. He craved a few hours of sleep before that evening’s awards banquet.
When he unlocked the door, he noticed an unfamiliar scent. His nostrils flared. Not human, but acrid and quasi-metallic, like one of his own kind. Something rustled under his feet as the door closed behind him. A large manila envelope.
Tossing the cape onto the bed, he took the envelope to the desk and opened it. Two newspaper clippings fell out. Both, he saw, came from a San Francisco paper. The first headline read, “Human Remains Discovered Under Church Parking Lot”.