That night, I awoke to the sound of a man’s voice echoing through my sister’s guest room. “I have an offer you can’t refuse.”
“In the middle of the night?” I rubbed my eyes and scowled at the figure looming over my bed.
“That’s … the least of your problems.” Moonlight flowed through the open window, backlighting his tall body—six feet of deliciously lean, hard muscle.
As I sat up, the cool air in the room made me shiver. My heart felt as if a massive hand squeezed the living daylights out of it. The coppery smell of human blood hung in the air. All my witch senses spelled one thing—vampire!
Wasn’t my life complicated enough? I reached for my glasses sitting on the side table to get a better look at the intruder. “Alessandro?”
I scoffed. “It’s late. Whatever you have to say, put it in a message. I’ll read it in the morning.”
“It’s too important.”
I fought an eyeroll. Why did vamps always take themselves so seriously? Everything was life or death to them. “Okay. Hit me. What is it?”
“They tell me you’re an exceptional teacher.”
What? “I would never call myself exceptional at anything. But I do have a PhD in Education Theory, and yeah, I know stuff.”
“And you’re between jobs,” he said.
“Not exactly. I’m here—”
“Taking a break from your life. Yes, I get that. I heard you had some man trouble and came to your sisters for solace, but that doesn’t concern me. Any guy stupid enough to hurt you is an idiot.”
He really could be a nice bloodsucker.
Alessandro paused a moment before he said, “My point is that if you want to stay here, near your sisters, you need a job.” His dark eyes drilled into me as if they were laser beams searching for my soul.
“This is how we can help each other.” He pointed to me and then to himself, as if I was a moron.
“You want to give me a job?” I blinked.
“I can’t work for you.”
The night stalker smirked.
“Seriously. Why would I want to work for you?”
His brows met in the middle. “Why not?”
“Let me count the ways. Becoming a vampire’s day-person does not appeal to me, no matter how much you pay. And besides that, you cause a lot of trouble in my family.”
“I do not,” he said.
“You do so. I think it’s a miracle Sanjay hasn’t challenged you to a duel.”
He shrugged. “I’m an honest vampire. I can’t help it if I’m in love with his wife. But you have to know that on several occasions I have saved the lives of your loved ones.”
I nodded. “True. And I appreciate that. You’ve always been my favorite predator. But Alessandro …”
“Hear me out.” He grumbled, and I squirmed as the grave sound of his voice echoed inside my rib cage.
The vampire ran a hand through his mane of thick brown hair, and gazed towards the window, no doubt catching night sounds I could not hear. A dangerous blood-sucker in my bedroom! One never knew what to expect in the small town of Mystic Keep, which had become a haven for supernaturals thanks to my family. But, I didn’t expect him to come calling.
Alessandro, the night stalker was the picture of masculine perfection with fangs and a smoldering sensuality. He was a drop-dead handsome guy unlike any other, and in a weird way, he was also my brother.
He turned back to face me. “You are my last hope.”
Oh, hex! I rubbed the spot between my eyes. “I know you wouldn’t come to me if it wasn’t important.”
“Trust me. It is.”
“Okay. Tell me exactly what’s bothering you, and I promise to help you if I can.”
“Good. It’s settled then.” A slight smile lightened his hard features.
“Uh. What’s settled?”
“You’ll open a school.”
I choked. “What?”
“For troubled teens.”
“Are you out of your mind? I don’t teach teenagers.”
“Vampires. Only vampires.” He said as if that made things better.
I squeezed my eyes shut, hoping when I opened them again, he might not be there—and all this would just be a bad dream.
“You are a gifted enchantress, Rebel Black. Who better to run an academy for my young?”
“Your young?” I felt my eyes cross.
“Yes. You see, I have a problem … actually, I’ve had it for a couple hundred years now. I can’t watch a young person die, not when I can help them live.”
I pursed my lips. “Go on.”
“So, over the years … I’ve saved a few.”
“How many is a few?” I asked.
The predator skipped a beat. “I sired them and did my best to nurture their introduction into the world of the undead.”
“That’s kind of you.” After you drank all their blood.
“Becoming a vampire is not easy.” He placed a cold hand on my thigh, chilling me to the bone. “I need your help.”
“Running an academy for the fanged?” He had to be kidding. It had to be a prank. “Did my sisters put you up to this?”
He leaned closer, and the scent of exotic blood rituals hit my system. “I am deadly serious.” He made another low, gravelly predator sound. Goosebumps rose all along my arms. “The thing is, I know how to be a vampire. I do it well. Better than all the rest.”
“But I don’t know how to teach a course on civility. And some of my children are … let us say, difficult.”
“Listen, Alessandro. I’m a witch, not a miracle worker.”
He continued as if I hadn’t said a word. “Most young people I sire mature nicely and find their own way.”
“But some don’t. Yeah, I get that,” I said.
“I knew you would understand.”
“They act out,” I added.
“In many, many ways,” he said. “Unbelievably frightening ways.”
“Sounds to me like you need a jail warden, not a teacher.”
“Is there a difference?” he asked, and he looked so earnest I wanted to laugh.
“I purchased the Zamboni estate just east of town.”
“The old bordello?” I had heard of it.
He nodded. “It’s a nice piece of land with serviceable buildings. My crew will create dormitories and classrooms. My children will have only the best. I’m thinking Italian tile and marble.”
“It sounds like you’ve thought this through.”
“I have. I’ve been thinking about this for over a century, but the right teacher never appeared.” He squeezed my thigh with his enormous hand, and I felt like a turkey wishbone. “Until now.”
“I don’t know, Alessandro.”
“You will use your magic to confine them and your knowledge of pedagogy to educate them. I know in my ancient bones that you are the one.”
“You want me … to imprison naughty vampires?”
He continued talking—again as if I hadn’t said a word. “I’ll send the first three immediately.”
“You’re thinking a change in their environment might help them behave.”
“Yessss. It will. And proper instruction from you will be a bonus. Like a cherry on a sundae.”
I removed his hand from my leg. “Alessandro, I’m not a cherry, and I don’t know the first thing about how to be a vampire. I cannot help them.”
“I beg to differ.”
He would. I folded my arms across my chest, trying to look more … more something.
“I’ve thought about this,” he said. “They need a smattering of the humanities and enough knowledge of science to understand what’s going on in the world. Music education is also a must. They should learn that there is more to life than blood.”
“Did I hear you say …”
“I want my young to be rounded people of the world.”
“With sharp teeth.”
He grinned. “I always thought you were the fun sister.”
I groaned. “Sorry, I can’t help you. As much as the thought of turning children towards an enlightened life intrigues me, I’m not interested in your project.”
“Is it because they’re different?” A lock of his chocolatey-rich brown hair fell over his eyes. The Italian stallion could not look more endearing.
I brushed his hair away from his face. “I believe every child deserves an education.” I held up my index finger before he could say more. “But not from me.”
Alessandro huffed. “When I asked you for this one, little favor, I had hoped we could come to an agreement based on logic and good will.”
“I don’t.” I swallowed. “Agree.”
The night stalker grumbled. “Then, my dear, that brings us to the part of the offer you can’t refuse.”
“Oh, I can refuse, Alessandro. I assure you of that. I will not be bullied. I am Rebel Black.”
The sucker’s grin widened from ear to ear. “You cannot refuse me, young enchantress.”
I summoned my magic from within. Flaming balls of fire appeared in my hands. I didn’t want to hurt him, but I had to be prepared to protect myself. He was a vampire, after all.
“I wouldn’t do that if I was you.” He waved a finger in my face.
“Because I know your secret.”