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Forever and Ever Amen

Chapter 1: The New Client

Vicki sat with feet propped up on her desk, notebook computer on her lap, and didn't look up when Coreen bustled into the room without knocking. "Here's the mail. Three more bills and five new catalogs. And a new client is waiting outside."

"You know I could be doing something important in here."

"The way things have been around here lately? Nah." Vicki finally extricated her attention from the first game of solitaire she might win all day. Her attempt at formulating a comeback was forestalled however. Coreen held up a small white bag. "Dinner."

"What? Is it that time again?" She glanced out the window. Brilliant afternoon winter sunlight still streamed through the world out there. A beautiful day actually. Heartbreakingly beautiful, she thought.

"Not yet, but this will keep," said the petite girl. Vicki pushed her glasses up higher on her nose and narrowed her eyes. Something was definitely wrong about Coreen. No garish makeup. No bare-all-you-dare black leather and chains. Just warm, sporty cold-weather attire that looked too colorful for the goth. Her hair, dyed a lovely chocolate brown, was neatly pulled up in a saucy pony tail.

"Are...are you going somewhere?"

"Jeff's family invited me to join them for the weekend at their condo at Blue Mountain. He's going to teach me how to ski." Coreen positively bubbled. The grin was ear-to-ear.

"Ski? Jeff?"

"The guy I met two weeks ago at the mall of all places?"

Vicki remembered nothing of the sort, but that was not unusual these days. She blinked, dumbfounded.

"Do you mind if I skip out a little early today? They want to get a head start on leaving town."

That meant it must be Friday. Vicki wondered if she'd have any sense of time at all if not for Coreen. "But...but it's..."

"Three thirty in the afternoon, yes, I know. But it's not like you'll need me here." Realizing what she had said a moment later, Coreen had the good sense to look contrite. There had not been any new cases in three weeks, and Vickie was making lackluster progress on the two she still had. She simply couldn't get into them. She couldn't subvert her mind with work as she had hoped. It refused.

Vicki sighed and became aware of the aroma of Chinese food wafting out of the bag Coreen had placed on her desk. She hadn't eaten since last night but felt far from tantalized by the prospect. If anything, the smell made her sad; too many memories came with it.

"All right, all right. Go on. Have a good time."

Coreen practically vibrated with excitement. Oh my God, Vicki thought. She's in love! She gets possessed by a demon, literally looses her heart, gets awakened from the dead, and then goes and falls in love—with a normal guy apparently! Or at least a guy with a family that liked to go skiing. It boggled the mind. And for a moment, just one very ugly moment, Vicki hated her assistant. Completely.

"Did you hear me, Vicki?"


"I said thank you and I think you'll be OK talking to the guy. He looks, you know...ordinary. Well, no, not ordinary. Kinda cute actually. You know what I mean. Ordinary."

"What guy?"

She gestured over her shoulder. "The guy waiting to see you."

"Oh. Ordinary, eh? OK. Whatever. Go enjoy yourself. I want to hear all about it when you get back," she added, already dreading the day.

Coreen bounced out of the office. Vicki listened to her tell someone that they could go in now. She made no effort to straighten her desk or her posture. She was the slouching captain of a listing ship of papers. With any luck the potential new client would take one look and leave her to her solitaire.

Ordinary, in the parlance of Viki Nelson Investigations, meant anything mortal. The guy easing into her office presently appeared to fit that criteria, though she knew well that those first impressions could be deceiving. He was tall, as tall as Mike, she thought before she could stop herself. His face was an intriguing mixture of boyish charm and rugged handsomeness. His brown hair sparked golden highlights in the sun the way Henry's did in firelight...

Vicki clamped her jaw tight. God was she ever still a mess. It had been a full month for crying out loud. When was she going to stop seeing echoes of them everywhere?

The stranger standing in her office looked around and made note of the only other chair in the room which was occupied by a tilting stack of books on the occult. In response to her lost-in-thought stare he broke into a smile that nearly unhinged her. Dazzling. Like Henry. She closed her eyes.

"I'm sorry," he said. "Your assistant said I could..."

"Yeah. Right." Vicki shook her head to clear it. "Just clear off that chair and have a seat, Mr...?"

"St. John. Mick St. John." He extended his hand. Firm, cool grip. No gloves.

"What brings you to my door then, Mr. St. John?"

"Call me Mick, please." He moved the whole stack of books to the floor with one fluid motion. "And I really need your help," he added, growing serious.

Vicki troubled herself to get her feet off her desk and look like she was interested in whatever trivial nonsense was about to be presented. "I'm a private investigator in LA. A case I've been working dead ends up here, and I need a contact with...specialized skills."

"LA? Sorry about that. Winters up here are a bitch."

"No, actually I like the cold. It's been very refreshing."

Yeah. Freezes the mind. She closed the lid on the laptop, safely suspending the game of solitaire. "What kind of specialized skills?"

He reached into his overcoat and produced a newspaper clipping.

"Oh man, is that ad still running?" she said, taking the paper from him. "Vicki Nelson Investigations. No case too strange." It had been Coreen's idea to drum up business and it certainly had!

"Not true?"

OK, he was starting to annoy her. He was entirely too nice. She wasn't in the mood to deal with nice people. She wanted to fight. Or, in lieu of that, send them running in horror if at all possible. "Oh it's true all right. Demons, zombies, incubuses, mummies, witches, ghosts and goblins. We have done it all. We are the experts." She showed him her wrists and the pentacle tattoos edged there. "I am your first line of communication to hell. In fact," she added, lowering her voice and leaning across the desk conspiratorially, "I'm on a first name basis with the devil himself."

Mick stared at her as though she had taken leave of her senses. "I don't know," he finally conceded. "Maybe my case really is too strange for you."

Vicki blinked. "You're kidding!"

"You said nothing about vampires."

"Oh that." Damn. Of all the things to bring up. "They really haven't been much of a problem here."


"Most people don't know this, but vampires are a tad territorial. One per city or something like that. The one that was here was my partner, so no problems with him. And I don't know if another one has moved in. Nor do I care, actually. But that's another story."

"I had no idea," said Mick, deadpan. "Was here?"

"Yeah. He left."


"Yeah, I don't know. Something silly about moving on. Broken heart." She waved a hand dismissively. "Whatever."

Mick tilted his head, his gaze narrowing as he studied her. Was he sniffing at the air?

"Chinese," she said, grabbing the bag. "Want it? I'm not hungry."

"No thanks." Pause. "So you have no idea where he is?"

Vicki barely resisted throwing the takeout bag at him. What was his obsession with Henry?!

"No. Why? Do you need a vampire for something?"

"I'm looking for a vampire. It usually takes one to know one."

No, not as "ordinary" as he looked. "Why don't you tell me about your case, Mr. St. John."

Reaching back into his coat, this time he produced a 4 by 6 photograph of a very beautiful young woman with brilliant blue eyes and thick, bright blond hair. She had California written all over her. "She was abducted five days ago in LA by a female vampire named Cynthia Xavier Davis. My contacts and I followed every lead as far as we could and finally ended up in Toronto. But I have no contacts here nor do I seem to be able to find any."

"You found me."

He flashed her an indulgent smile. "Yes, but you're human. It's vampire contacts I need."

Vicki put the picture down. "You have absolutely no idea what you're dealing with, do you?"

"Excuse me?"

"Have you ever even met a vampire?"

"A few," he said dryly.

"Oh really? Well, then you know that not only are they rare, they also don't like to share. They kill each other on sight. Believe me, no one I know has dealt with more occult weirdness than I have, and I have really only met one vampire. Two others passing through here were either killed or banished by the first."

Mick said nothing, merely arching a brow at her.

"And why would a vampire abduct this girl and drag her to Canada? That's not the love 'em and leave 'em policy I've come to know."

"This vampire wants to hurt someone."

"Your client?" A nod. "And if she, a vampire, can't hurt him directly, that means she can't because..." Vicki's brain kicked into sluggish gear for the first time in weeks. "...because he's also a vampire. A strong vampire? And so...she took his presumably human...lover?"

"In very general terms. Something like that. Yes."

"Wow. I'm glad our vampires are nothing like that." Well, they could be, of course. She remembered all too vividly her run-in with Christina when that one tried to get at Henry through her. But that scenario was unlikely at best when the vampires could hardly stand to be in the same city together, never mind the same room…. Her mind drifted off track quickly as it did often these days. A vampire looking for his human lover? She glanced at the photograph smiling up from the desk. So this girl had made that decision, had she? And now she was paying for it... Or not.

"An interesting case you have there, Mick. Or it would be. If it were real."

"Excuse me?"

"Come on! You really expect me to believe that a vampire would hire a human private investigator to track down his human girlfriend?"

"No. Actually I wouldn't."

What was he trying to tell her? She looked out the window for a long moment. The afternoon shadows came early this time of year, but still the day was crisp and bright. She sighed. She had had the occasional wise ass come through here, lured by that damnable ad, trying to see how much weirdness she would spout. She was usually much better at spotting them and showing them the door, but this guy was good. Or charming at least. And he reminded her of Henry. Just a little. And he spoke of vampires. He couldn't know it, of course, but she was all too easy prey for him. Well, no more.

"OK, we're done here. Joke's over."

"What are you talking about?"

"Fun's over, sweetie. Your story doesn't hold water. See that out there? It's called daylight. Vamps don't go walking around in that. Kills them, you see. It's a basic staple of every vamp legend but I'm here to tell you that it's also true." She pushed the picture back toward him and leaned across her desk, hands folded. "If you're going to insinuate that you are a vampire, please at least make an effort to keep your facts straight."

Mick took the picture of the pretty blond back into his coat. "I really don't have time for this. She is human, and she is in mortal danger. Are you going to help me or not?"

"Boy you're a real hard ass aren't you?"

Mick stood up, towered over her desk with a graceful, almost feline quality. "Just how much of a jerk do you need me to be?" he growled. And it was a true growl, inhuman, chilling her blood. Vicki's breath caught as she looked up into the handsome face that had gone unnaturally pale all of a sudden. The eyes glittered green and bright and between his lips... He leaned forward with such speed she felt as though she was watching a movie with frames missing, now here, now there, just like that. Like Henry. Those eyes bored into hers from inches away. "How about a drink?"

Vicki put up a hand and swallowed hard. "That...won't be necessary."

As suddenly as the transformation had occurred so it now undid itself. Again he sat there, nonchalant, almost smirking. "That's too bad. I haven't had one in a while." It all had happened so quickly, she might well have doubted that it happened at all if she hadn't seen Henry do it a dozen times. He gave her several long moments to recover.

"OK," she finally ventured. "You've made your point. But how are you doing this? In daylight?"

"I'd prefer not to. The sun takes its toll on me, believe me, but time is of the essence. Will you help me?"

He was putting himself in danger to find this human girl. In spite of herself, Vicki felt something deep within her flicker back to life with an almost palatable snap. How many times had Henry risked his immortality for her, and how many times had she risked her life for him?

"What's her name?"

"Beth Turner."

"Your girlfriend?"


"Isn't it always." Not really so complicated, she decided. Like the others of his ilk she had known, this one wore his heartbreak on his face for all to see. Whatever their story, it was no less powerful than hers and Henry's had been. But, clearly, it was ending differently. This one wasn't running away.

Vicki took her glasses off and rubbed her eyes as though they ached. She suspected that the ruse wasn't lost on him, but he permitted her the illusion of success at least. "I want to help you, Mick," she said finally. "But I can't."

"Why not?"

"I don't..." She cleared her throat, started again. "I can't call upon the one vampire I know to help me find yours. I don't know where he is."

"Not at all?"

"Well. Vancouver, I think."

Mick's eyes narrowed in thought. "And he is territorial?"

"Oh. Very."

"I'll make you a deal then. I find him and you convince him to help me find mine."

The answer flew from Vicki's heart before her mind even had a chance to grasp the implications. "Deal." She took his offered hand across the Chinese takeout and the suspended laptop. "Yes. It's a deal."