Officer Marais looked at me, his face devoid of all expression.
“Would you like some coffee?” I asked.
“Well, I would like some coffee. Please feel free to follow me to the kitchen.” I walked into the kitchen, got out a mug, and pushed the button on my Kerug. Gertrude Hunt wasn’t a wealthy inn, but I wasn’t willing to skimp on coffee. Officer Marais followed me like a stoic shadow.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like a cup?”
“Yes. Ms. Demille, where were you last night between eleven pm and three am?”
I sipped my coffee. “Upstairs in my bed.”
We squared off like two duelists with rapiers.
“Did you hear anything unusual?” Marais attacked.
“What do you mean by unusual?” I parried.
“Did you hear anything at all?”
“No. I was asleep. Can I ask what this is about?”
“Yes. Your neighbors down the street reported hearing a scream.”
“I didn’t hear one. Was it a man or a woman who was screaming? Did something bad happen?”
“How is it that everyone on the street heard a scream and you didn’t?”
“I’m a sound sleeper.”
We paused to catch a breath. Sean and Arland walked into the kitchen. Arland wore jeans and a white T-shirt. Out of his armor he looked less enormous. Sean was leaner, his muscle tighter. Arland was a couple of inches taller and broader in the shoulder and layered with thicker muscle. Sean could pick up a fifty pound rucksack and run for miles, while Arland was clearly designed to punch holes through solid walls.
“Officer Marais, this is Mr. Arland. He’s staying at our Inn and Breakfast. He’s a long-time friend of Mr. Evans.”
“Did you hear anything unusual last night?” Officer Marais asked Sean.
Sean shrugged and plucked the little container of coffee from the holder. “Nope. Did you?”
Arland shook his head. “No.”
“Where are you from, Mr. Arland?” Officer Marais asked.
Okay, that was just about enough. I put my cup down. “Officer, may I speak with you for a minute?”
I walked into the foyer before he could say no. Officer Marais followed me.
“Since I’ve moved here, you have showed up at my door eight times. I obey the laws, I pay my taxes, I haven’t even gotten a parking ticket in my entire time as a driver. Yet if anything at all happens in the neighborhood, you show up at my door. I bet if a meteorite fell somewhere in the subdivision you would be here asking me if I personally launched it out of my doomsday canon.”
“Ma’am, I need you to calm down.”
“I’m perfectly calm. I haven’t ever raised my voice. You can come over here and ask me whatever questions you want, but I draw the line at harassing my guests. You’re interfering with my ability to run a business.”
“No, I am asking you questions.”
“With all due respect, I’m not legally required to answer any of your questions. Why is it you don’t like me, Officer Marais? Is it because I’m not from here?”
“It doesn’t matter where you are from. You are here now and it’s my job to protect you and everyone here. I’m doing my job and I don’t appreciate the drama. Something isn’t right with you and this property. Strange things happen around it. I don’t know what is going on, but I will find out. You could make it easier on yourself by coming clean.”
“Sure. This is a magic Bed and Breakfast and the two guys in my kitchen are aliens from outer space.”
“Right.” Officer Marais turned. “I’ll let myself out.”
He turned and walked out. It took all of my willpower not to make the door slam to help him on his way. That would be petty.
Caldenia descended the staircase behind me. “You let him goad you.”
“I know. He aggravates me.”
Officer Marais was a problem. Just how big of a problem remained to be seen. He was just doing his job, after all, and he didn’t strike me as a man who would manufacture evidence, so it was up to me to be smarter and more discreet, and not provide him with any evidence.
I followed Caldenia into the kitchen. Arland saw her, set his mug down, and inclined his head in a pronounced bow. “Letere Olivione.”
He called her by her proper title.
“Such a polite boy,” Caldenia smiled. “I prefer Her Grace here. One must adhere to local customs after all. House Krahr, correct?”
“Yes, Your Grace.” Arland smiled and took a big swallow from his mug.
“I believe I’ve met your grandfather, the Bloody Butcher of Odar.”
“I remember now. A delightful man, wonderfully dry sense of humor.”
Arland blinked. “My grandfather has been called many names in his lifetime. Delightful was not one of them. He remembers you also. You tried to poison him.”
Caldenia waved her fingers. “I tried to poison everyone, at one time or another. Don’t take it personally.”
“Of course not,” the vampire said and took another big swig.
“It’s coffee,” Sean said.
“And it’s delicious.” Arland drank more.
Oh crap. “You gave a vampire coffee?”
“Yes.” Sean frowned. “What’s the problem? He really likes it. It’s his second cup.”
“This will be highly amusing.” Caldenia sat down.
Arland shook his shoulders, as if trying to get rid of an invisible weight resting there.
“My lord, can I please have your cup?” I asked.
Arland passed me his mug. It was empty. Oh no. Maybe his metabolism was strong enough and we would dodge the bullet.
Arland hit me with a brilliant smile, showcasing his fangs. “Have I mentioned how exquisitely beautiful you are?”
No, the bullet hit dead center. I braced myself.
“I have a cousin, whose step-brother married a woman from Earth. He says—“
“My lord, it’s not appropriate for you to discuss your cousin’s step-brother’s wife.”
Arland’s eyes widened. “You’re right,” he said, his voice full of astonishment. “Personal honor. Very important.” He swung to the window. “It’s so nice out there. You have a lovely planet. And you, Dina, are also lovely. Did I mention that?”
“You did,” Sean said.
“My man.” Arland stepped over and punched Sean in the arm. “That was some wonderful stuff. We should drink more of it. I’ve got to get out of here.”
“No, you don’t. You want to lay down.”
Arland opened the back door and walked out. I ran to the door. He stopped in the middle of the grassy stretch of lawn and yanked off his T-shirt, presenting us with a view of a muscular chest.
“So, coffee gets him drunk,” Sean said.
“Vampires have a very sensitive metabolism,” Caldenia said.
“He just drank an equivalent of an entire whiskey bottle,” I told him.
Arland’s jeans followed his T-shirt. He wasn’t wearing anything under them.
“Oo,” Caldenia said. “What is the saying? Full moon!”
I dragged my hand over my face. Arland tossed the jeans in the air and sprinted through the orchard.
“I never understood why some guys strip when drunk.” Sean grinned.
“It’s not funny. I’ve got a naked drunk vampire running around in my orchard.”
Arland zigzagged back and forth among the trees.
Sean pressed his lips together and strained.
“It’s not funny!”
Sean leaned against the door and laughed.
“It’s your fault. You gave him coffee. Go get him before he leaves the property and Marais grabs him,” I growled.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m on it.”
He sprinted into the sunshine and made a beeline for Arland.
“I’m so glad you decided to throw the rulebook out of the window,” Caldenia said. “Living here is getting more exciting by the minute.”