Dead and Gone

Page 1

Chapter 1

"Caucasian vampires should never wear white," the television announcer intoned. "We've been secretly filming Devon Dawn, who's been a vampire for only a decade, as she gets dressed for a night on the town. Look at that outfit! It's all wrong for her!"

"What was she thinking?" said an acidic female voice. "Talk about stuck in the nineties! Look at that blouse, if that's what you call it. Her skin just cries out for contrasting color, and what is she putting on? Ivory! It makes her skin look like a Hefty bag."

I paused in the act of tying my shoe to watch what happened next as the two vampire fashionistas burst in on the hapless victim - oh, excuse me, the lucky vampire - who was about to get an unsolicited makeover. She'd have the additional pleasure of realizing her friends had turned her in to the fashion police.

"I don't think this is going to end well," Octavia Fant said. Though my housemate Amelia Broadway had sort of slid Octavia into my house - based on a casual invitation I'd issued in a weak moment - the arrangement was working out okay.

"Devon Dawn, here's Bev Leveto from The Best Dressed Vamp , and I'm Todd Seabrook. Your friend Tessa called to tell us you needed fashion help! We've been secretly filming you for the past two nights, and - AAACKK!" A white hand flashed at Todd's throat, which vanished, leaving a gaping reddish hole. The camera lingered, fascinated, as Todd crumpled to the floor, before it rose to follow the fight between Devon Dawn and Bev.

"Gosh," said Amelia. "Looks like Bev's gonna win."

"Better strategic sense," I said. "Did you notice she let Todd go through the door first?"

"I've got her pinned," Bev said triumphantly on the screen. "Devon Dawn, while Todd recovers his speech, we're going to go through your closet. A girl who's going to live for eternity can't afford to be tacky. Vampires can't get stuck in their pasts. We've got to be fashion forward!"

Devon Dawn whimpered, "But I like my clothes! They're part of who I am! You've broken my arm."

"It'll heal. Listen, you don't want to be known as the little vampire who couldn't, do you? You don't want to have your head stuck in the past!"

"Well, I guess not ..."

"Good! I'll let you up now. And I can tell from the coughing that Todd's feeling better."

I switched off the television and tied my other shoe, shaking my head at America's new addiction to vampire "reality" shows. I got my red coat out of the closet. The sight of it reminded me that I myself had some absolutely real problems with a vampire; in the two and a half months since the takeover of the Louisiana vampire kingdom by the vampires of Nevada, Eric Northman had been fully occupied with consolidating his position within the new regime and evaluating what was left of the old.

We were way overdue for a chitchat about Eric's newly recovered memories of our strange and intense time together when he'd temporarily misplaced his memory due to a spell.

"What are you going to do tonight while I'm at work?" I asked Amelia and Octavia, since I didn't need to go another round of imaginary conversations. I pulled on the coat. Northern Louisiana doesn't get the horrific temperatures of the real north, but it was in the forties tonight and would be colder when I got off work.

"My niece and her kids are taking me out to dinner," Octavia said.

Amelia and I gave each other surprised looks while the older woman's head was bent over the blouse she was mending. It was the first time Octavia had seen her niece since she'd moved from the niece's house to mine.

"I think Tray and I are coming to the bar tonight," Amelia said hastily, to cover the little pause.

"So I'll see you at Merlotte's." I'd been a barmaid there for years.

Octavia said, "Oh, I've got the wrong color thread," and went down the hall to her room.

"I guess you aren't seeing Pam anymore?" I asked Amelia. "You and Tray are getting to be a regular thing." I tucked my white T-shirt into my black pants more securely. I glanced in the old mirror over the mantel. My hair was pulled up into its usual ponytail for work. I spotted a stray long blond hair against the red of the coat, and I plucked it off.

"Pam was just a wild hair, and I'm sure she felt the same way about me. I really like Tray," Amelia was saying. "He doesn't seem to care about Daddy's money, and he's not worried about me being a witch. And he can rock my world in the bedroom. So we're getting along great." Amelia gave me a cat-eating-the-canary grin. She might look like a well-toned soccer mom - short, gleaming hair, beautiful white smile, clear eyes - but she was very interested in sex and (by my standards) diverse in those interests.

"He's a good guy," I said. "Have you seen him as a wolf yet?"

"Nope. But I'm looking forward to it."

I picked up something from Amelia's transparent head that startled me. "It's soon? The revelation?"

"Would you not do that?" Amelia was normally matter-of-fact about my mind-reading ability, but not today. "I've got to keep other people's secrets, you know!"

"Sorry," I said. And I was, but at the same time I was mildly aggrieved. You'd think that I could relax in my own house and loosen the tight wrappings I tried to keep on my ability. After all, I had to struggle every single day at work.

Amelia said instantly, "I'm sorry, too. Listen, I've got to go get ready. See you later." She went lightly up the stairs to the second floor, which had been largely unused until she'd come back from New Orleans with me a few months before. She'd missed Katrina, unlike poor Octavia.

"Good-bye, Octavia. Have a good time!" I called, and went out the back door to my car.

As I steered down the long driveway that led through the woods to Hummingbird Road, I wondered about the chances of Amelia and Tray Dawson sticking together. Tray, a werewolf, worked as a motorcycle repairman and as muscle for hire. Amelia was an up-and-coming witch, and her dad was immensely wealthy, even after Katrina. The hurricane had spared most of the materials at his contracting warehouse and provided him with enough work to last for decades.

According to Amelia's brain, tonight was the night - not the night Tray asked Amelia to marry him, but the night Tray came out. Tray's dual nature was a plus to my roommate, who was attracted by the exotic.

I went in the employee entrance and right to Sam's office. "Hey, boss," I said when I saw him behind his desk. Sam hated to work on the books, but that was what he was doing. Maybe it was providing a needed distraction. Sam looked worried. His hair was even more tangled than usual, its strawberry waves standing out in a halo around his narrow face.

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