She'd been working from home the last day or two, just going into the office to get the mail and checking on things.
Everything else she could do from her laptop at home. The packages of drapes that she'd placed in his office had disappeared by the very next day.
Prince had told her on the phone that he had them in his possession now and thanked her for everything. They communicated by email, and every night he called to see if there was anything she had questions on.
Afraid she would not keep things businesslike while working at home, Pepper had been wearing her austere suits, her wild hair tucked in the familiar demure chignon just as she did at the office. It did seem to help keep her on track.
"He just thinks of me as his capable but plain assistant," she complained out loud to nobody, "But that's my fault, I guess."
When Pepper had gone after this job everything she had told Prince was the truth. Mostly. When she got the name of the man she would hopefully work for from the employment agency--before she ever met him--she had gone sleuthing on the internet and found out what little she could about Prince Everhart. Along the way she found and downloaded pictures of him. She had immediately been so attracted to him that it frightened her. How could she get and keep this very enviable first job if she thought that way? And what if he actually flirted with her? She'd melt.
Deciding that she would take her appearance down a peg or two she abandoned her contacts and found glasses she considered perfect for a staid, but skilled administrative assistant. She bought unfashionable, but businesslike clothing that she felt would keep Prince from looking at her as a woman so she would not have to worry about how she responded to him.
It had worked quite well, in fact it had almost worked too well. She'd had to practically beg him for the position when it was obvious he thought she wasn't glamorous enough and was to naive to handle the job. Now that she had changed her mind and wanted him to see her as a woman, she could hardly just put on a tight short skirt and let down her hair and stroll in there without it causing a few questions. She could scarcely explain to him why she had misrepresented herself.
She still valued the job on its own merits, not to mention she didn't want to be separated from him even if it was only in the work arena. Being shown the door would put an end to that, not to mention her career.
There had to be a more subtle way to let Prince know that there was more to her than met his eye. Pepper wasn't married; she wasn't rich; she was not the kind of woman he liked to associate with, but maybe he could change his mind. Maybe he didn't really know his own mind...
Meanwhile, across town Prince was still struggling. Bags of blood stolen from the Bluewater Village Hospital or the local blood bank in Crystal River were not really adequate for Prince's needs, but he had been afraid to take too many bags, thereby calling more attention to the theft. He simply had to learn how to obtain blood "off the hoof".
With that in mind he headed to Club Dante; a local club that he'd frequented often when he was a mortal, but hadn't visited in at least six months. It wasn't as fancy as some of the places he preferred downtown, but it was not a dive either. To his surprise it had now become an upright, downright restaurant and karaoke bar.
He recognized the owner, Brian Ottomas, who was tending bar that night. He'd always got along well with Brian and liked him.
"So, Bri, a lot of changes here--the place looks great!"
"Yeah, the changes are pretty recent, but they've been a big success. Haven't seen you in a while--how've you been, my man? You're not sporting your usual suntan--you must not have been to Belle Isle or Twikkii lately," Brian teased.
"No, I haven't, guess I'm probably looking a little pale," Prince said and hurriedly changed the subject, "How is it you're not up at the front schmoozing people?"
"Yeah, well, I'm shorthanded tonight," Brian admitted, "My wife has been hostessing weekdays but she's home tonight with our youngest who has a slight fever and sore throat. So I've been playing host part of the time, but running in to tend bar as well. Especially when I see one of my favorite confirmed scotch drinkers come in," he grinned.
Realizing that Brian's attention would be divided due to these circumstances Prince was hopeful that any trolling for victims he did would pass unnoticed. He quickly finished his drink and told Brian he wanted to take a look around and might even stay for karaoke.
He preferred not to bite anyone he knew personally so when an anonymous yokel from Bluewater strolled in Prince knew he'd found his mark. This time he was careful to take time to chat him up and develop a rapport. And this time when he looked into the man's eyes Prince could feel a difference. He was easily in charge.
Finally he had learned the secret to getting someone to practically volunteer their warm red blood; they had to like him before he had power over them. He used his newly developed powers of mental persuasion to convince the donor that he'd had a fun summer night at Dante's, but went home early with a headache and on the way home had been bitten on the neck by black flies. Then Prince sent him home with these memories. He'd taken only as much blood as he needed. Unbridled greed, Prince had found, could bring about a downfall whether in the criminal world or the vampire.
No one seemed to have noticed him or his victim; Brian was busy dealing with customers up front. But Prince thought it best not to push his luck. He'd move on. The park in Pleasantview was on the way home and seemed a fairly good idea at that moment. But when he got there it was deserted.
"I don't believe this is my life," he grumbled, "I'm hanging out at night in the park like a damn pervert. Jeez, I could have been home watching 'Restaurant Stakeout'."
Prince had rarely watched TV for the last 10 years, except occasionally for sport games he had bet on. But since he'd been confined during the day he'd become addicted to HGTV and the Food Network. Trouble was he couldn't seem to figure out how the DVR worked, so he had to be home to watch his favorite shows.
After another 30 minutes with no one venturing into the park, Prince was ready to call it a night. He could supplement with the couple of bags of blood he had left.
"That tears it," he said to himself, "Count Floyd said something about a witch reversing this...wait, it was a gypsy fortuneteller. I'm ready to pay her anything. I want my life back. I need my life back. All the things he told me about how great being a vampire is added up to a pile of slimy cowplop."
Once home he had things to do online--business that Pepper had sent for him to make decisions on as soon as possible. She kept worrying that he needed to see a doctor. He couldn't keep lying to her; actually for some reason he hated lying to her. As dawn approached he went upstairs to his bedroom. The coffin there was just one more reason he wanted out. He hated it. He wanted his bed back; he wanted his satin sheets back.
He climbed in and as he started to lie back he made a vow that somehow this would be the last night he'd be a vampire sleeping in a stinking coffin.
The next evening Prince did something he'd been avoiding; he invited someone over to his place just so he could bite them. She was a girl who'd been coming on to him earlier at the Crypt O' Nightclub. A vampire wannabe, she said her name was Vi, short for Elvira, and she hinted that if he was a vampire she sure wished he'd turn her. After a while she more than hinted; she nagged. He pretended he didn't know what she was talking about but before he left she wrote her cell number down saying,
"You're not fooling me, gorgeous. If you change your mind call me at this number."
Once he got home and thought about it, well, why not? She wanted to be a vampire and he needed blood, so it could be a win-win situation for both of them, right?
Earlier, before he went out, Prince had found a gypsy fortune-teller in the yellow pages and called her. She said she couldn't see him until almost midnight. When he'd asked her where she lived she told him she would be happy to come directly to his house--for a small additional fee.
So if he was going to do this tonight he needed to get Vi in and out quickly, he still needed her blood just in case the gypsy never showed up. So he called the number and she answered before it could ring twice. She said she'd be there in ten minutes.
"I left you downtown, how can you possibly be here that quickly?" he asked.
"Oh, I knew I'd hear from you and you said you lived in Pleasantview so I drove to the roller rink to wait for your call, I'm in the parking lot."
True to her word ten minutes later she was banging impatiently on his door. When he let her in he went to the kitchen to make her a drink--he didn't want to just lunge at her. But Vi grabbed him and pulled his lips to hers. Okay, she was in a hurry evidently.
With that Prince looked into her eyes--she had very sexy eyes, he realized--and then he bit her as she sighed in ecstasy.
Maybe he should have waited, he reflected, she was a hot little number. And once he was mortal again he had no intention of hooking up with a little she-vamp. Then he remembered he didn't do unmarried women. Single women were far too dangerous as they had nothing to lose and were always working the monogamous angle with an eye on eventual marriage. And Prince didn't want to be married.
He took some time to give Vi some tips, hints and advice, certainly more than Count Floyd had given him. He'd planned to do that while she had her drink; in case she wanted to pull out, but she'd not given him time.
He walked her to the door and just before she left she turned a lusty, lurid smile on him and he was glad he was not yet human; she was spooky.
Prince went out to his porch to wait for the gypsy who was due any time. She arrived so quietly he almost jumped when he spied her there at the end of his walk. He quickly walked out to her. She had a crystal ball that she looked into for a bit while he peered over at it but he couldn't see a thing. Then she muttered some incantation and handed him a flask of clear iridescent purple fluid.
"Drink it, but only when you are alone and inside your home."
Prince looked at it a moment, wondering if this was the smartest thing he'd ever done or the dumbest.
"Go inside and drink it!" she hissed, "It's your only hope! As a man you are a great success, not to mention extremely virile and very pleasing to the eye, but as a vampire you are an unmitigated disaster. Drink it!"
"Okay, okay," he handed her a large wad of cash and her eyes lit up.
"See ya!" she saluted him and walked quickly down the street and into the woods.
Once in his living room with all the heavy drapes closed Prince drank all of the elixir; counting himself fortunate that it tasted like diluted grape juice. He shrugged and waited a few moments but nothing seemed to be happening,
"Hmm, I hope I didn't just get shafted by that snaggle-toothed old bag."
Suddenly he felt as thought he were on fire, like every atom in his body was getting ready to explode. He ground his teeth in agony and thought he might pass out...at least he hoped he would.