Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Suckers Lost and Found (San Francisco Vampires Book 7) by Jessica McBrayer



Manda is still lost. Things are pointing to a vampire trafficking ring. Aidan, the djinn, is depressed and desperate wearing himself ragged looking for traces. Ganga Girl and our Vamp Lily are hot on the trail while Sebastian is trying to keep Lily safe from the wiles of the Italian Vampire King, Basilio.

All the usual suspects in our favorite pack of vampires are committed to finding Manda, whatever the cost. The family is determined to keep Aidan from dissolving into the hot desert winds that make up his being.

Sebastian and Lily have a wedding to plan but can they go forward with Manda still missing? More twists and turns than ever before await the vampires from the City by the Bay.



“Have you heard anything?” I ask.
“No, nothing.” Aidan’s voice which is normally full of humor, is flat. The only time he talks about Manda is when we are alone.
“Where have you been?” Every day he disappears to a new locale that he thinks might give him answers.
“I was in Turkey. Hannah heard on Voogle that there was a new drop off site. You know how fast those disappear.” Hannah and I had been helping him track the monsters that turned Manda. Hannah had found a website that connected anyone who wanted to get rid of a vampire with anyone who wanted to do the job. The sites only last for a day or two, sometimes only hours, then they are burned.
“Yes. I’m so sorry this last one didn’t work out. Hannah told me she had found another one, Aidan. We’ll keep searching.”
“I’m afraid I am running out of time. Zoe said Manda wouldn’t last long and I have this feeling that she’s afraid and in grave danger.”
“We. Will. Find. Her.” Each word is a promise. Aidan knows this but his depression is getting worse. He’s not feeding like he should and is finding it harder to find joy in life. He’s a far cry from the vamp-killing djinn who called me on the Suicide Prevention Helpline. He was mischievous and challenging and loved to feed off the energies of those around him. He’d hit the Castro and other eclectic spaces to get a variety of food. Now he was only going through the motions and had a vampire for a best friend and another for a fiancĂ©e. That night on the Golden Gate Bridge seems so long ago.
“Lilith, I don’t know what I would do if I was doing this all alone.” He brings me into his arms and holds on like a drowning man. “I think you should move the wedding date up. It will take away some of the attention we’ve been drawing searching for Manda. Everyone expects you and Sebastian to blow out the stops on this thing. It’s the perfect smoke screen, actually.”
“It will also put us back in Italy. The King has to know more than he told you when you visited while we were in Hell.” We were in Hell – literally – for the birth of Hannah’s twins. Before that I had been kidnapped by a demented demon and taken there too. Luckily I had Hades, Hannah and Diel’s Hell Hound and was able to walk out of that mess. “Julian’s said King Basilio’s too crafty and too old not to know what is going on in his own country. I think he may be the key,” I say.
“I do too, love.”
I weigh the pros and cons of moving the date up of our wedding. “I’ll make arrangements for the wedding. I’ll let you know the final dates as soon as I have them,” I say, touching the side of his face. He leans into my hand and sighs.
Aidan and I have a troubled history, though it is filled with love. Only a while ago it was all about him and Sebastian fighting over me. During a really troubled time Aidan and I had one perfect night together culminating in a fast and forever friendship that nothing will shake. In the end I chose Sebastian because my heart had always been his, my head just took a while to realize it. Sebastian was strong and sure, sexy and smart. He knew who he was. Aidan was fun and crazy in his pursuit of me, but ultimately he was just discovering himself. Thank goodness, because he never would have found Manda otherwise.
“Go, love. I’m going back to Turkey. I’m taking Julian with me this time. I’ll see you later.”
Fin and Fiona are cooing in their bouncers as I enter the library. The babies never sleep in their basinets when they are at our house, because they are always in someone’s arms. Yes, they have their own basinets here, and every age appropriate toy possible. I can’t even detail the shopping spree Helena and I went on to make sure Fiona had enough clothes. Everyone had already bought things for Fin when we thought Hannah and Diel were having a boy. Fiona was a great and lovely surprise. Of course her auntie could not let her go without a complete wardrobe. Not that I’m complaining. Retail therapy.
Our entire extended family spent two weeks in Hell, helping Hannah and Diel acclimate to two babies. The locale was not surprising since their daddy is a royal Demon. Then we came home and returned to our search for Manda. The chances of finding Manda are depressingly poor. But none of us will admit it or give up. It seemed like a good idea to postpone the wedding.
Even though the twins were a surprise and Hannah and Diel are first-time parents, Hannah glows as a new mother and Diel looks tired but so very happy. They’ve worked out a schedule where Diel sleeps at night and Hannah in the mornings. She and I are both young vampires and need to sleep. Usually that need goes away at around two hundred years of age. The problem is Diel doesn’t want to miss a minute so he tries to stay up too late. He is in love with his wife and children, but even a Demon Duke needs his rest. It is sometimes difficult to watch them. I long to have a child with Sebastian. It would fulfill a part of me that will always be empty. But one miracle is beyond our expectations. If Diel hadn’t been a Demon, Hannah wouldn’t have had any better chance of getting pregnant than any other female vampire. Which is no chance at all.
“Helena, Aidan and I want to move up the wedding. We want to talk to King Basilio again and be back in Italy,” I announce.
“Thank the Goddess, Lily. This will be good. I’ve been tearing myself up worrying about Manda and yet not wanting to be insensitive about wanting to finalize wedding plans,” Helena says.
“Do you think that we can still get the church?” We had planned on a candlelight wedding in the Basilica di San Lorenzo in Florence.
“Yes, we’ll make a huge donation… that will help. Can you get the yacht, Lily? Everything is a matter of phone calls. The flowers, photographer and hotels.”
The yacht was owned by a friend of Sebastian’s. He did pleasure cruises for the rich and famous and owed a huge gambling debt to Bast. He was quite happy to let Sebastian clear the debt in exchange for taking us on our trip.
“Yes, the yacht is available. Thank goodness it sleeps twelve. We will just barely fit.”
“We have become quite the group, haven’t we? We’ve grown into a little family and I love it.” Helena loves family. At almost a millennia she has lost all her original family so she and Julian have gathered us from here and there.
I love family, too, though it is quite crowded. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that. Home is San Francisco in a mansion in the Pacific Heights District. All of us live together except for Hannah and Diel, who live across the Bay in Berkeley.
“Lily, can you come in here a second?” Hannah asks me. She is standing in the doorway of the kitchen. I follow her in and we sit down at the island.
“What is it?”
“I found bits and pieces about newborn fighting matches being held. The poor new vamps with their unrequited blood lust would be recklessly dangerous. They are pitting them against each other like dogs. I can’t nail down where it is being held exactly. They are slippery bastards but it looks like it is a hot pastime in Italy.”
“Do you have anything concrete to go on?”
“No, that’s why I wanted to talk to you. I don’t think we should tell Aidan yet.”
“I don’t think so either. He would freak out and unless we can give him information to go on he will tear apart Italy and the King. Manda could be killed in the fallout.”
“We will have to move very carefully and tell him soon,” Hannah says and sighs. Her brow is wrinkled and her eyes look glazed over from hours spent on the computer and juggling two babies as a first-time mom. Her flawless skin is paler than normal and she is slightly disheveled. On the whole she is holding up really well from all the increased stress while she no longer uses the ganja-infused blood to sustain herself.
“Hannah, please take care of yourself. I know that you are working on this day and night and you are such a great mom, but something is going to break soon. Why don’t you take the afternoon off and take the babies out with Diel for a walk in the park or something?”
“That sounds like a lovely idea. I’m going to talk to Diel now.” She blurs from the room and calls for Diel. A bittersweet feeling settles into my stomach leaving an ache behind. I love my best friend and her little family but I would do anything to have the same. I go to start making wedding plans.
Everything has been a blur of wedding plans.
“Did you hear from the church yet, Helena?” I ask. It’s been two days since I talked to Aidan and we decided to push up the wedding.
“Yes, Lily. Father Benedetto called this morning. Everything is a go.”
“Excellent,” Sebastian says. He’s drinking his tea and reading a newspaper. “Isn’t that the last reservation you had to make?”
“Yes, it is. Has anyone heard from Aidan today? He’s been looking for Manda nonstop. He needs to feed too. I don’t want to lose him because he isn’t taking care of himself.” I’ve got my hands on my hips. Aidan pops in right behind me.
“I’m feeding right now, Lilith.”
“AHHH! Don’t do that, Aidan,” I scream holding a hand to my heart.
“I popped into the hall but then I heard you ranting about my health so I thought I would answer you directly,” he says and smirks, flaunting his bad boy smile.
“No, you thought this is an opportune time to scare the crap out of Lily. That’s what you thought.” I push him in the chest in jest, letting him know my pique is not real. My gentle vamp nudge would have sent a lesser man through a wall but he is a djinn and can take it.
“Well, there is that too,” Aidan says. “Where is my goddaughter? And her handsome brother, my namesake?”
“They’re at home with their parents and their Hell Hound, your other godson. Hannah said it was too hectic around here and packed up. I think having twins is a bit more crazy than me planning our trip but I’m not a mother, what do I know. Besides, I think she and Diel wanted some alone time,” I say.
“Ahhh, they need time on their own with the babies too. As much as we want to be near them we have to respect their fledgling family unit,” Aidan says sagely.
“Have you been reading Dr. Spock?” I ask.
“No. What to Know When You’re Expecting, for Dads. I wanted to know how to be the best godfather ever.”
“Ohh, now Sebastian is going to want to read it too. I’ll be surrounded by experts,” I say as I roll my eyes.
I see Sebastian discreetly downloading the book on my iPad. He thinks I don’t notice. He looks up when he is done and sees I’ve caught him. He gives me a sheepish grin. I perch in his lap and he puts his arms around me.
“You would be a good dad,” I say softly.
“You would be an amazing mother, ma petite.”
Aidan winks at me and leaves.
Aidan’s eyes, once ocean blue and twinkling with humor, are dimmed by his pain. First he had to deal with our love triangle from Hell and me dismissing him and Sebastian while I went crashing into a downward spiral. Then he met Manda and the light was back in him. He fell deeply for her and it was evident she felt the same way about him. Just after they became engaged she was taken away against her will and turned into a vampire. Her scent and the signature of her energy changed so drastically that Aidan hasn’t been able to track her energy and I can’t follow her scent.
“I’m afraid we will have to settle for being godparents. But that doesn’t mean we can’t go practice making babies. I’m a slow learner. I need to do it over and over again,” Sebastian says as he kisses me. He gives me a long, hard look. I jump off his lap and streak up the stairs. He still beats me to our room. It is a glorious two hours.
Aidan is a jinni and that complicates things. I cherish the few moments we have to talk. He is melancholy in a way that is totally uncharacteristic for a djinn. They are fire spirits. To see him sad and subdued is very difficult. The only time he lights up is when we are alone and he can talk freely about Manda.
Vamps were afraid of us. I just killed the Vampire Queen of the United States. I have a djinn I am close to and Julian and Helena are an extreme power couple. Throw in Sebastian, who is an excellent fighter and has more connections than any vampire but Julian, because of all his liaisons throughout the years, and we are a formidable clan. Oh, and Liam and I are werevamps. And my bestie is married to a Demon Duke. Yeah we aren’t flying under the radar even if we try. And that’s a problem. Some consider us too powerful and wouldn’t hesitate to try and take us out. So far everyone has believed us when we have declined every opportunity to press that power.
Julian and Helena have warned us that ambitious vamps are watching us right now. We still don’t know who took Manda. Her disappearance might be making more people edgy.
If we get married in Italy we will be traveling into the territory of ruthless drain-them-and-leave-them kind of vampires. After I killed Queen Zoe, in Milan two months ago for kidnapping and turning Manda, there is no ambassador to represent any American vamps to the King of Italy. We can’t travel into a sovereign’s territory without paying homage; King Basilio’s vamps are so old-fashioned or at least Basilio is. But maybe that is because Basilio is so old. It’s tricky but the wedding is an excellent diversionary tactic. Aidan thinks the King is hiding something about Manda’s whereabouts and we need that information since we are still without any solid leads, just a bunch of dead ends. Basilio is important in the vampire world and Julian and Helena have had many run-ins with him over the years.
Since Zoe’s death, the stream of vampires with their ceaseless solicitation of Helena to become Queen has been exhausting. She’s turned them down in the past and is turning them down again. I can only hope someone as compassionate, powerful, old, and wise as she, is made King or Queen. Someone who is also a humanitarian, keeping humans safer than Zoe did.
Arranging our travel plans is somewhat complicated since Liam and I have that added little hiccup – our time of the month. Our voyage will get us to the King just as the moon turns full as we become werevamps. Being a werevamp hasn’t been so bad. I am stronger than regular vamps. My sense of smell is superior too. At our time of the month we are extremely sexually active. It’s the need in the wolf to reproduce. But since we are both in happy relationships it is a perk. We both go into a blood frenzy once a month that could be quite dangerous if not contained. But with the family and Aidan’s help we do well. When the wolf comes out, Liam and I will have to wear sunglasses to cover our silver eyes, but surely Ray Bans won’t look amiss in the Mediterranean.
We are going by yacht because firstly, the King won’t meet with us until later. Secondly, Julian and Aidan can continue looking for Manda daily and thirdly, it’s hard to arrange trans-Atlantic flights. Hannah, Liam, Andrew and I fall asleep and look like dead people. It can’t be helped, since basically, we kinda are dead. Sebastian and Diel might get into some trouble for carrying women who look like they’ve been drugged out of the airport. Mostly we are using the honeymoon cruise as a diversion to throw the hounds off of Aidan’s searches. It will look like we are planning a long vacation traveling this way. We plan to stop in many ports. We want the extra time to look for Manda without anyone knowing. The boat will also be a safe place for Hades, Hannah’s Hell Hound to be while we are looking. He won’t be able to match-make but it will be safer for when he barks fire to be around all that water. Makes it all easier that the owner and captain of the ship is a vampire Sebastian knows.
So much to prepare for. Once again my mind makes lists. We set sail from Florida in two days. We have to get outfits for the babies to wear to court. We need respectable clothes as well, since the King is very old-fashioned. I stop. I know where this cycle leads and soon I’ll reach for my hand sanitizer. Take control, Lily. Fuck. I’m slathering on the hand sanitizer before I even register that I reached for it. Baby steps. At least I realized I was heading in that direction. It’s a big deal for me. Awareness is the first step.
Helena and I are responsible for all the details and have been shopping for weeks trying to find something suitable for everyone to wear.
“Ouch! That was my skin,” Julian growls.
“Oh excuse me, Sir,” the tailor in the parlor says through a mouth full of pins. I stifle a giggle. Julian has complained the most about the new clothes.
“Helena…” Julian yells. Obviously reaching the end of his patience. Helena blurs past me before she slows down right outside the parlor to make it look like she is human. I hear her consoling Julian and can sense the impatience in the tailor. He is pacing and sighing a lot.
“He needs a touch of flair. I don’t know, Liam, what do you think, a hot pink tie?” Andrew says giving his two cents. The tailor takes an even bigger breath and blows it out hard. I rush in to calm the poor man. Julian is too broad in the shoulders for anything off the rack. For the trip we had suits made for each of the men. Diel had his fitting earlier today before they left. Liam and Andrew are ‘helping’ the tailor, even though he is the best in the business. They say their sense of style is better. The tailor is merely a tool to them. Signor Rossi, the tailor, assures me everything will be ready in time to go. He said he hired extra help.
“Signor Rossi, may I talk to you in the kitchen?” I ask. I want to be out of the boys’ hearing. Rossi nods and follows me.
“Signor Rossi, I know the boys are a bit over-enthusiastic.” He raises his eyebrows at me. “Okay, they are being pains in the ass.”
“I would like to make you an offer. I’ll pay you double if you continue to work for us.”
“That is very generous, Signora. I’m not sure what to do. I would like to strangle them,” he says. His earlier pique rising with the red color in his cheeks.
“I would consider it a favor, Signor. I must simply have your work. It is the best and I will not let them run you off. Please, Signor Rossi.”
“Rest easy sweet girl, I’ll stay. You deserve the best even if those animals can’t recognize it.” I clap my hands and give him my biggest smile.
“You have no idea what this means to me. We need to be dressed in our finest clothes and you create them as easy as breathing.” He chuckles and blushes slightly.
“Signora, you flatter me. But rest assured. Even if it kills them and me, they will be dressed in my best before you go.”
“Grazie, Signor Rossi,” I say as I hug him and kiss his cheek. This time he really does blush. I escort him back to the parlor, hoping I have averted a royal meltdown.
Julian talks to him in fluent Italian once we enter the room. It sounds like an apology and Rossi acts like he has been praised and is back on the job. I wish I knew more Italian.
Julian dislikes putting on a show for someone he hates and he hates the King of Italy. They had a falling-out about four hundred years ago and Julian has not forgotten.
The women are easier. Helena will be wearing Dolce and Gabbana, Hannah, Chanel, and me a new Italian designer that has some bold but stunning designs. I’m hoping the King knows his Italian designers. We have to make an especially charming impression as he has a particular distaste for werewolves. Most vampires consider Liam and me to be abominations. We may be, but we’re abominations that can kick their asses. We can smell other vampires’ distrust and it isn’t pleasant.
I guess we will see their reactions when we get there. But dammit I am going to make sure we all look smart. We’ve also got everyone being fitted for tuxedos and dresses and of course my wedding dress. My final fitting is this evening.
I went back and forth between my favorite bridal designers, Angela Sanchez from Venezuela and Jenny Packham from the UK. I finally settled on a dress made by Packham. It’s a white satin dress that looks like a throwback to the thirties. It has gorgeous crystal work on it. The waist-line is simple with a slender silhouette to the dress. It is slated for this year’s Cat Walk. It’s called Leila and is simple and elegant. I hope Sebastian likes it. He has impeccable taste – and if he doesn’t like it … well his wedding night will be very long indeed. All this wedding planning is getting on my last nerve. I now understand bridezillas a bit more. I will not be one! We will have an extremely small, intimate wedding so no need to stress. Riiight. You’d think that this wedding stuff should be making me, Lily Goodwill, fashionista extraordinaire, sublimely happy and it would, if I weren’t worried about Manda and Aidan. But the pieces finally come together.
Now we all need to do is feed and pack. Easy. You would think.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...