"…from Your Valentine."

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"Yes, Mr. Popalapos, I already told you the rent check was mailed on Monday…"

There was a burst of heavily accented English from the phone she held to her ear while she fumbled with the office keys…Why Coreen kept the downstairs door locked until she arrived she couldn't quite understand. Well given what they had been dealing with, the things they now knew to be real, maybe she could. The phone propped between shoulder and ear, she sighed as the lock finally yielded and she pushed though into the downstairs foyer.

"Yes Mr. Popalapos, I know the rent is due on the first. I am sure that the check will be there tomorrow. Yes Mr. Popalapos, I know today is February first." There was a brusque burst of speech, and then she pulled the phone away from her ear. "Yeah and you have a nice day too, asshole," she muttered under her breath, dropping the phone into her bag as she pounded up the steps.

The ache had already taken up residence behind her left eye and it was not even noon yet. She smiled grimly. Well that creep Eddie Plimpton, thinking he was going to welch on paying her the two thousand he owed them…Not after three nights spent in the front seat of Mike's car on stake out, jumping at every frigging shadow. Nah uh, not going to happen Eddie. She had paid him and his cheating partner a visit Monday and had come away with the check in hand. So now she had the rent money for damned Popalapos, and enough for Coreen's wages.

"Hi Vicki, coffee is on and…" Coreen paused. In the few weeks she had been working with "Vicki Nelson P.I." she had come to recognize the morning routine. She rolled her kohl-lined eyes, and retreated to her desk as Vicki sailed through the door to her office, all hunched shoulders and swinging blond ponytail. It is worth it, she thought, it is worth it…a real live…real live vampire. Holy crap…

It was a few paces to Vicki's desk. The blinds were still drawn and the sunlight outside effectively blocked; the room was dim, and though it did nothing for her peripheral vision, it was a respite from the brilliant cold February sunshine outside. There was a wooden squawk of protest as, with a sigh of relief, she threw herself down into her old oak chair. Lifting her glasses off to rub at the bridge of her nose, she thought, God Nelson, how did your world get turned so upside down so quickly, huh? Yeah, when exactly was that Nelson? The day you got your diagnosis, the day that you handed in your resignation or was it the day a certain undead Prince of the Realm knocked you out cold?…Yeah—She rubbed her temples—he knocked me for a loop all right.

There was a blurry red blob on the beat up desk top in front of her, and as she slipped her glasses back on it resolved itself into a small, square, red envelope with a red-foil wrapped chocolate heart on top. Oh, just great, I didn't even say good morning and the girl is leaving me a valentine. What is this, third grade?


Opening the tiny envelope she found a single, business card sized, ivory sheet with the words "… from your Valentine."

Her black clad assistant eased through the door, her hands wrapped around a steaming mug of coffee. She set it carefully on Vicki's desk and wiped the black lace covered hands on her ridiculously short tulle skirt.

Vicki held up the card and the heart, "Uh Coreen…"

"Hey I saw that this morning Vicki and I really, really wanted to open it but like, well it was sealed and who knows what is in a hand delivered love note, right? So…" She tossed back the jet black hair over a shoulder and leaned forward over the desk, her eyes sparkling with curiosity. "So who was it from?"

So much for Coreen having a crush on me. "No idea." She unwrapped the foil on the chocolate, sniffed it experimentally and then popped it into her mouth. "Oh man that is good…" She closed her eyes for a moment and just enjoyed the taste, then sat forward to reach for the coffee, to wash it down. "Whoever he or she is, my Valentine has excellent taste. Now, get the checkbook; I want you to deliver a check to Mr. Popalapos's mail box…What are you smiling at missy?"

"Oh…nothing…nothing…" Coreen turned on her Doc Martin shod heel and slipped away to the outer office.

The little card lay on her desk in front of Vicki, "…from your Valentine." She raised a honey colored brow, "I wonder…"

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The day passed as it always did, in the ringing of the telephone, in the endless cups of coffee and in the ongoing frigging chipper-ness of her new assistant. The typical stream of cheating husbands or cheating wives, embezzlers, thieving employees and crooked bosses, typical and yet somehow nothing seemed quite the same. The landscape had changed and ever since that night a few weeks ago when the undead illegitimate son of Henry VIII, for fuck's sake, had appeared in her life, no, nothing seemed quite the same.

Mike showed up with Chinese after shift at seven, just after Coreen had left and there had been the usual sexually charged banter between them, but under it all was the elephant in the room. I'm no longer a cop, and I have a disease that is only going to get worse. Mike wanted her still, even after their recent estrangement and sometimes, oh sometimes it would be so easy to just let him…let him…Let him what Nelson? Take care of you? Devote his life to being your…fuck say it…babysitter? Her thoughts had made her sharp, difficult and in the end Mike had left after they had discussed a couple of cases he was working, something that made her feel worse instead of better, like any junky that indulged in the momentary high of her habit, only to be faced with a hurtin' on the other side.

By ten she was in a fine old mood thanks to the reduction in the level of the content of the whiskey bottle in her desk drawer. Stuffing her arm into her jacket, her eye fell on the little red envelope edging out from beneath the stack of paper on her desk. And her face softened for just a moment with some emotion that she didn't want to examine too closely; then she grabbed her bag and at the outside door hit the lights, locked the office door and clattered down the stairs. The cab she had called was waiting, exhaust fumes white in the dark.

"Hey Benny," she opened the door and slid into the back.

"Evening Vicki, dispatch said you called so I swung by." Benny flipped up the meter and glanced at her in the rear view mirror. "Straight home Vic?"

"Yeah, such is the glamorous life of the Private Investigator, straight home."

From the shadows the vampire watched, as had become his habit on most nights, a slight smile on his face…Victoria Nelson, PI, he thought.

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The next morning despite the ache in her head, that had less to do with her failing eyesight and more to do with the whiskey bottle in her desk, Vicki arrived at the office before ten. Shivering in the weak sunlight of the cold February morning, she fumbled with the keys, letting herself in, blessing the fact that she had neglected to turn down the thermostat last night. She pulled off her gloves and took the stairs, figuring she could get a decently strong pot of coffee going before Coreen showed up. She was pretty sure the girl had a secret stash of decaf somewhere that she was using.

Ten minutes later with the Phillips file under her arm and a steaming mug full of something that approximated the black sludge that served the squad room as coffee, she heard the downstairs door open and Coreen's voice as she chatted on her phone. She crossed to her office; if I'm fast I can get settled before…

"What the hell!" She stood staring at the wall behind the filing cabinet…

"What?" Coreen clattered in on black platform boots. "Oh…" Her bag dropped from her shoulder to hit the floor with a thud.

"Uh yeah..." Vicki's eyes took in the arrangement of beautifully framed citations, awards and diplomas that hung on the wall or rested on the top of the filing cabinet. All of the carefully displayed documents that had been stored ignominiously wrinkled in a file folder in a box in the corner since she had taken this space. Certificates that documented an honorable and successful career that was gone now, that she had banished from her mind…Tears misted her eyes. Coreen darted forward and picked up a small red envelope that was placed in the corner of one on the frames on the file cabinet and the foil wrapped chocolate heart that rested before it, handing them to Vicki. Her eyes on the framed certificates, she opened the tiny red envelope with fumbling fingers and withdrew the little ivory sheet. Glancing down her eyes found the same flowing cursive, "… from your Valentine." Mindlessly, she unwrapped the chocolate and put it in her mouth, tucking that soft, rich sweetness against her cheek as she said, "Call Mr. Popalapos, tell him we're changing the locks."

Vicki could hear Coreen on the phone as she settled herself in her chair and set the card in front of her on the desktop; two just the same. Her eyes were thoughtful.

The next morning it was a trail of foil wrapped hearts up the stairs to the office and a bag of fresh ground Kona coffee. The aroma alone made Vicki's mouth water, sitting on the top step with the little red envelope attached, "…from your Valentine."

And the next day, a small, flat, red-foil wrapped box waiting on the desk of her locked office that when opened yielded the same little red envelope. It was nestled inside the delicate, frosted tissue along with a pair of butter soft kid leather gloves, and a single red-foil wrapped chocolate heart. There in the same elegant cursive hand was the same message, "…from your Valentine." As she unwrapped the chocolate she noticed her knuckles were red, chapped from the cold, too many long evenings on stakeout, and when she pulled one of them on they, of course fit like a…glove. She couldn't help but smile at the feel of the supple leather, "Looks like changing the locks didn't help."

The fifth envelope was not discovered until the next evening, much to the Coreen's disappointment. It seemed the girl was more excited than Vicki with the idea of a "secret Valentine." The front office was dark and Coreen long gone. Vicki had just had an angry exchange with Mike over some evidence Mohadevan had tested for her and she was feeling exhausted. Be honest Nelson, you're a little disappointed that there was no little surprise today, yeah right. She slid open her desk drawer and there it was, the bottle of Glenmorangie, a white silk ribbon around its neck and the tiny red envelope and chocolate heart tucked inside the cut crystal tumbler beside it. Whoever you are, you seem to know just what I need, she thought. After the first couple of luxurious, heated sips she lifted her glass to the wall, "Here's to you, Valentine."

It was near ten on the sixth evening when she paid off Benny's fare and made her way up to her apartment. As she unlocked the door and hit the lights she was thinking, Well that was a pretty good run Nelson. Guess that lover boy must have been out of town last night. Though how the hell he gets in I am not sure. The door is… "What the hell?" There in a prominent place on the table beside the door was a rectangular box, daintily wrapped in a heavy, satin finished, pink paper and a simple grosgrain ribbon. The tiny red envelope sat on top and the perpetual red-foil wrapped chocolate heart. "Shit…Come out here right now! Show yourself!" She fisted her keys, crouching low, but there was no response. A siren went by on the main street two blocks over but when the pounding of her heart receded she could tell by the stillness of the apartment that it was empty. Fuck, he's been in my place. She dropped her bag with a thump and turned and locked, and then shot the deadbolt on the door. After a quick sweep through the apartment she settled on the couch and after long minutes examining it, opened the small red envelope and withdrew the tiny sheet with the now familiar script,"…from your Valentine." When she finally dropped off to sleep in the early hours of the morning, it was with the new asp that the package had contained, tucked beneath her pillow in easy reach.

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"Yeah, so whoever this secret admirer is, he can't be the sharpest knife in the drawer." Vicki ignored the way Coreen winced at her choice of analogy. She leaned, half seated on Coreen's desk, picking up one after another of the girls chotskies and mindlessly examining them while she talked. "He can't be. Who breaks into a woman's apartment to leave them a Valentine's present of a new asp, so that she can lay a bad case of the whoop-ass on him when he shows up?"

"Someone who isn't afraid of what you can do with that asp?" Coreen volunteered.

"Well whoever it is, he's got my number—a bottle of Glenmorangie and an asp? What's next, a subscription to Gun Digest and tickets to a kick boxing match?" She shook her head, "And I don't suppose…"

"Nope, and believe me I looked everywhere," Coreen sighed exaggeratedly, thinking, I wish I had a secret admirer. "No little red envelope, no presents or office renovations or anything so…"

Vicki's cell went off in her bag and she reached in to its depths feeling for the phone, though when she pulled her hand out it wasn't the phone that she held, but another rectangular, flat box wrapped in handmade paper, flower petals incorporated into its surface. Inside was a white velvet, jewelry snap case, the little red envelope and the red-foil wrapped chocolate.

When she had pried open the case, her eyes met Coreen's, "Well, it definitely isn't a subscription."

Inside, nestled in the fitted red silk lining, was a pair of antique ivory hair combs. Delicately carved and inlaid with tiny stones that Vicki thought might be amethyst, they had the unmistakable patina of great age about them, the ivory mellowed to a deep golden hue.

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Henry bent over the drawing, the last for this chapter. He had only just begun inking when the elevator doors opened down the hall and he heard her heartbeat. A slow smile spread over his face; it had taken longer than he had anticipated for her to come here. He hadn't been to her office officially for over a week, though he had been…it was watching, not really stalking. The grin grew wider as he heard her pause in front of his door. No not really stalking…wait for it Fitzroy.

He swung the door wide on her second knock, shifting smoothly to the side to allow her to move past and enter his sanctuary. He lifted his chin breathing in her scent with a soft sigh, closing the door behind her and then turning to lean against it, arms crossed over his chest.

"Good evening to you too, Victoria…Vicki," he corrected as her eyes narrowed. He levered himself away from the door to cross smoothly to her, just a little too close, inside her space, and though her heart beat picked up she didn't step back, a fact that both surprised and pleased the vampire.

"To what do I owe the honor of this…visit?"

"Is it you?" she asked without preamble.

Henry glanced down at himself and then held his arms away from his body. "Well I was the last time I checked. What is this about Vicki?"

She fished in her bag and came out with a small bundle of red envelopes, holding them out to him, "These, is this you?"

He schooled his face, carefully, as carefully as his upbringing at court so long ago allowed him. "I think you had better tell me what is going on Vicki."

So once settled on the sofa and beneath the gaze of his father's portrait, Vicki explained the mysterious gifts that appeared in locked rooms. She dug in her bag once more, handing over the white velvet case. "When I got these today I, well they reminded me of you and…well…I thought I'd ask."

Henry's regal brow rose at her word but he made no comment, only snapped open the case and stared down at his mother's combs. "Beautiful," he whispered, "Old, maybe four, five hundred years, judging by the patina." He glanced up at her, "They will look lovely in your hair, Vicki." The moment stretched just a little too long between them and she smiled.

"None of that, Mister. So if it's not you," she handed him one of the envelopes, "can you tell me who or…what…it is?"

He turned the envelope over in his hand examining it.

"You know…smell it, maybe like their scent is on it or something. You're…you're good at that, right?"

Again the lifting of that red-brown brow, but he dutifully lifted the envelope to his face, drawing in a long breath, closing his eyes for effect. "Ahhh…"


"I should have known. They are from the space alien that lives in the City Hall rotunda. How I could have missed it? I…ow!"

The last was in response to her jab to his bicep. His grin faded at her glare.

"Truthfully, Vicki, I can scent only chocolate and…" a fastidious wrinkling of his nose, "the inside of your hand bag."

He snapped closed the case and handed her back the combs. "Now, unless you would like to make use of some of my other…abilities," he lifted a finger to push back an errant strand of her hair and smiled his most charming. "I do have a deadline, and an editor who is prone to panic attacks." He gestured to his drawing table.

Vicki licked her lips and then rose. "Um, no…sure. I best be going anyways. I am pulling an all night stake out tomorrow so, need my…" she smiled and circled her face with a finger… "you know, beauty sleep." The corner of his lip lifted and he leaned once more into her space, his eyes intense, "You don't need any beauty sleep, Victoria. You are already beautif…."

"Uh yeah…thanks anyways, Hank." She turned away, shouldering her bag.

He appeared at the door by the time she had taken a step, drawing it open for her, "Whoever he is Victoria, he has…excellent taste."

And then she was gone. He closed the door behind her, inhaling her provocative scent, a smile playing about his lips. A few steps took him into his sanctum and he pulled open the top drawer of a dresser. There were two wrapped gifts, a container full of foil wrapped chocolate hearts and a box of small red envelopes. She suspected. He knew she did: how could she not? Still there were yet another seven nights until the fourteenth and the celebration of St. Valentine. He slid closed the drawer with a grin and returned to his work.

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