Detective Sara Pezzini strode purposefully down the sidewalk, her partner Danny had some difficulty in keeping pace with her. People were crowded to the center due to mounds of rock-hard, dirty snow piled on the curbs.
“Pezz, slow down. Where’s the fire? Or is there a late-night, after-Christmas sale my wife forgot to mention? You haven’t heard a word I said.” He grabbed the leather sleeve of her jacket and hauled her out of the dense tide of humanity surging past in the last evening rush. He pulled her into the mouth of the alley and grabbed her upper arms. “Something’s been wrong for a while now. Tell me what it is. Maybe I can help.” His nearly black eyes peered into her hazel ones, and he gave her a little shake before releasing her. Concern written all over his face, he backed away, his warm breath leaving a curling vapor trail in his wake.
“You’re Korean—you don’t do Christmas.”
“You do if your wife drops a hint about what would make a nice gift. Besides, we’re Americans. We celebrate whatever the hell we want.” He frowned at her. “Quit deflecting. What’s going on?”
Sara glanced around anxiously, flipping her long, medium brown hair over her shoulder and tugging at the thick scarf around her neck. She caught his elbow and pulled him farther down the alley. “Maybe I’m just being paranoid.” Her words came out in a breathy rush. “But I think somebody has been following me.”
Danny cocked a brow and shook his head slowly. “We’re cops. If anybody has a right to be paranoid, it’s us. We lock up the bad people.” His almond eyes grew wide. “I don’t think we’ve caught them all yet. New York is a big place.”
“Not funny, Danny. I’m serious.” She glanced up at the brick building’s roof top several stories above them. “It’s like I feel their eyes on me. I know they’re there, but they’re just out of sight. Or moved just before I could spot them.” She shifted from foot to foot in the wet, grey slush, and her hand went to her head. “Like right now. She’s close. I feel her.”
“Her? I thought you said you haven’t seen her?” As Sara’s fingers wound into her hair, Danny pointed at her wrist. “Your bracelet. The … the stone.”
Sara slapped her left hand over it, but it was too late. He’d seen it.
He pulled her hand away. They both gazed in amazement at the red jewel lit from within by a pulsing light. In a sudden surge of understanding, Sara gulped, shoved Danny against the far wall, and spun, positioning herself in front of him. With one arm outstretched, she held him behind her. With the other, she drew her 9 mm.
“Pezz? What the hell?” Danny tried to push her out of the way, but she wouldn’t budge.
“No, Danny. It’s done that before. It … it means there’s something bad—”
“That would be me,” a low, sultry feminine voice answered from the shadows beyond them.
Tensely, they strained to see into the inky gloom. As they watched, a female form emerged from the darkness. Black, knee-high leather boots, deep blue, close-fitting jeans, and a black leather jacket topped with a blood-red scarf. Long brunette hair fell in loose curls over the pale woman’s shoulders.
They both gasped at her ethereal beauty. Shining hair, lips as red as her woolen scarf, and huge dark eyes with impossibly long lashes.
Her approach was methodical, sensuous—as slickly smooth as a predator about to pounce on her prey.
“S-Stop!” Sara was the first to regain her voice. “I’m—”
“I know who you are Detective,” the woman purred. She stopped a few feet away from them, completely unconcerned about the hand gun centered on her chest. “I also know the man you’re protecting is your partner, Detective Danny Woo. I love your long coat.” She sauntered to the side to get closer to the slightly built male. “I’ll trade you my jacket. Your black hair would look so good with my red scarf. Striking.”
A distant, confused look on his face, Danny nodded and began to take off his coat.
“Danny, stop! What are you doing?” Sara growled at him. Turning back to the woman, she hissed, “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m Isabella.” She smiled sweetly. “Now that we’re all friends, I’d like to trade with Danny here. I really like his overcoat. Very James Bond.” Isabella batted her eyes and reached up to undo the scarf from her neck.
Behind them was a scream and the few people near the mouth of the alley scattered and ran.
When the smoke cleared, the brunette was waving her hand in the air and let out a little cough. “Oh, you’ve ruined a perfectly good leather jacket.” She pouted. “Now there’s a hole in it and Danny won’t want to trade with me anymore.”
“Shit! Why aren’t you dead?” Sara backed against her partner to push him against the wall.
“I’m not human—bullets bounce right off. It’s why your bracelet is lit up like that.” Isabella gestured with one crimson-painted nail toward the rapidly dimming gem. “I happened to be nearby when that shoot-out happened at the church. I went inside to check for bodies. You know … that cathedral where you found that pretty bauble? Or it found you. I saw it put itself on your arm. Weird, I know. One could say … magical.” She smirked at the pair pressed against the wall. “I’ve been watching you for weeks. I know that thing lights up when something supernatural or evil is around. But I take it your partner didn’t. Am I right? And I’m pretty close and it’s little warning light is going out. Guess I’m not as evil as I thought.” She winked saucily at them both. “Now, Danny, if you don’t mind a little hole in the leather and some gunshot residue …?” Isabella cocked her head to the side and fluttered her lashes at them.
“What is she talking about, Pezz?” Danny clamped down on Sara’s shoulder.
“Danny, I swear if we make it out alive—”
“Oh, you will. I’m not going to kill you. I won’t even hurt you.” Isabella gracefully waved a hand in the air. “I just want a bit of your time and decided I liked the coat. I’ve been quite well fed, so there’s nothing to worry about.” Isabella unwound the scarf, shrugged off the jacket, and held them toward Sara and Danny.
“Wha … what do you mean well fed?” Danny shucked off the charcoal grey overcoat and held it out, taking her offerings. He could always get another one.
“Didn’t I tell you? I’m a vampire.” Isabella donned the coat and turned from side to side as she buttoned it. “Nice,” she murmured in appreciation. “The calf-length is so … sexy.” She pulled her hair from beneath the collar and adjusted the lapels. She finally noticed the two police detectives were just staring at her, their mouths hanging open.
“Vampires aren’t like you’ve seen on TV. Well, the kind I am. As you have recently learned, Sara, there are all sorts of things out there that defy logical explanation. Like that pretty bracelet. Witchblade you call it?” Isabella fluffed her hair. “No fangs. Holy water doesn’t work. The sun doesn’t burn us up. You saw that bullets can’t hurt me. Wooden stakes don’t have a chance.” She shrugged.
“How … what …?” Sara choked out.
“Okay, long story short.” Isabella sighed and propped one hand on her hip. “Girl meets boy in high school. Girl figures out boy is vampire. Well, some drama happened, girl almost died, and another vampire happened to be killed. Dead vamp’s girlfriend vamp sought revenge on little ol’ weak human girl. Some other stuff happened. Even after promising eternal love, boy vamp didn’t want to damn human girl’s precious soul to Hell, so instead of turning her to protect her, make her stronger and all that, he dumped her. In the middle of the forest. Can you believe that?” Isabella’s eye grew wide. “With another vampire out there seeking vengeance? Tsk, tsk.”
Isabella helped Danny arrange the fluffy woolen accessory around his neck. “See? That hides the bullet hole. You are so handsome. If you weren’t married …” With one bent finger, she chucked under his chin. “Anyway, vengeful vamp finds girl in forest and turns her instead of killing her. They become … not so much friends as allies and comrades, so to speak. Uh, helpmates. I think.”
Danny stutters, “Y-you’re the human girl?”
“I was.” Isabella’s bright smile lit her entire face. “Victoria was the avenging vamp. We decided to help instead of hurt each other. First thing we did was break into boy vamp’s house. His so-called family was quite well off. There was enough cash stashed in there to run a small country for a year or so. That led to finding a couple more of their houses. I was surprised they left so much financial and legal-type information behind. Discovered who their contact is who makes most of their fake IDs and stuff. Vickie and I are doing pre-tty darn well.” She bounced up on her toes, tugged at the lapels, and graced them with a proud grin.
“High school?” Sara asked, her voice cracking.
“Oh, I see you’re finding this a little hard to believe. I wouldn’t believe it either, except …” She spread her arms wide as if to say here I am. “Yes, sad to say, met him in high school. Being the adolescent he is, boy vamp doesn’t fit in anywhere else. Much as he complains, he wants to be there. So they go. Over, and over, and over again,” she drawled.
“Now Sara! Put that gun away. You don’t need it with your enchanted weapon. Just in the last few weeks, I’ve seen you do a few kick-ass moves. The sword is bad ass,” she trailed off, impressed. “You know about power. I happen to have one. Why do you think no one has come into the alley? I’m keeping them out. No need for any loss of innocent life.” Isabella flapped a hand in front of their stunned faces and then patted their arms. “I have an invisible shield. It even muffles sound a bit. Haven’t you noticed the traffic sounds aren’t as loud?”
“Pezz? A sword? Magic bracelet? Witch what?” Danny eyed his partner doubtfully and started inching away from her.
“Danny, I—” Sara gulped.
“Stay in a group folks.” Isabella gently pushed Danny back toward Sara. “There are clairvoyant and telepathic vampires. I even know one who can feel emotions. Personally,” Isabella leaned toward them, held her hand up by her mouth and stage whispered, “I’d rather feel someone’s emotions. Words can lie—emotions don’t. Usually.” She scrunched up her nose.
“Anyhow,” she continued to her dumbstruck audience. “Victoria was bent on revenge because she didn’t have anything going on but James. He’s the vamp that was killed. When he died, she thought she lost everything. I helped her to see there’s more to life than just being a man’s arm candy, right? Lots of fish in the sea, as they say.”
With another sweeping gesture, Isabella looked up and exclaimed in awe. “It’s starting to snow again! The city is so pretty with a fresh coating of snow, don’t you agree?”
Danny wasn’t paying any attention to the beautiful woman preventing them from leaving the alley. “What is she talking about?” He stared hard at Sara.
Looking decidedly guilty, Sara crossed her arms, trying to hide the faintly glowing cuff. “Uh … it, uh—”
“It’s really cool!” Isabella stepped closer to them. “I’ve seen it spread out and cover her arm like armor. It makes a sword and a dagger. She even killed a demon with it. I think it was a demon. I’m wondering if it will kill—”
The gem’s faint light suddenly flared to an almost blinding intensity and Sara flung her arms out. “What the …?”
The curved strands expanded and flowed like liquid metal over Sara’s hand and forearm, forming a gleaming gauntlet. As the three of them stared, transfixed, a long pointed blade protruded from the silvery pommel with a loud snick.
“Yesss,” Isabella hissed lowly. “The assholes have finally arrived. Unless it’s one of the assholes after you.” She gave Sara a pointed look. “If it is, I’ll take care of him. Or them. Whatever.” A devilish smirk flashed across her face and disappeared as quickly. “You two stay behind me and please don’t stick me with the pointy end—wouldn’t want to ruin my new coat. Danny, I’m sure she’ll tell you all about it later,” she whispered quickly.
In an abrupt about face, Isabella was standing guard in front of the humans, booted feet a shoulder’s width apart, arms held out from her sides.
Two figures materialized from the swirling snow; the shorter female taking three mincing steps for each stride of the much taller male.
“Bella! I can’t believe it!” The tiny, spiky-haired woman surged forward, but her companion grabbed her arm, holding her back.
The reddish-haired youth literally looked down his nose at Isabella. “Bella, you weren’t planning on harming those people, were you?”
Isabella’s eyes glanced heavenward and she let out a gusty breath. “Once a judgy, self-righteous asshole—always a judgy, self-righteous asshole.” She propped her hands on her hips. “What? No ‘how nice to see you again?’ Or maybe a ‘since I abandoned you in the woods to die with an evil, psychotic vampiress on the loose, you look pretty good?’ I’m a little disappointed, Edward. I thought you’d be glad to see me, being your forever love and all. Oh, wait.” She placed one fingertip against her full lips. “Not forever—just until the human warranty ran out. Unless, of course, hanging with the human became too tedious sooner.”
“Bella! You’ve told them? You mustn’t—” he accused.
“First thing out of your mouth is a whiny-ass scolding. Shut. Up.” Isabella groaned, drawing out the words. “They already know I’m a vampire, and gosh, I haven’t even eaten them. They’ve probably guessed you are, too. Besides, I can make them forget most of it if I want to. Remember that little dazzling thing you used to do? I remember everything because you suck. However, I am quite good at it.” She pointed at her chest.
“Psychotic vampiress?” The little one’s eyes broadened with alarm. “Do you mean …?”
“You mean you didn’t see all that?” Isabella innocently batted her eyes at them. “Yes, Alice,” Isabella answered slowly, as if she were speaking to a small, not-very-bright child. “Victoria. Remember her? I see by the look on your faces you do. Disappointed I survived?” Isabella examined her nails. “We’ve gotten to know each other quite well. She explained a lot of vamp lore to me. Introduced me to some very interesting people. Well, a loose interpretation of people. Golly, Edward, there are so many things you neglected to mention or outright lied about. One being I can hang with my new friends here all day and not feel the urge to rip their throats out.” Isabella stepped back between the stunned humans and wrapped one hand around each of their arms. “Sara, I said I wouldn’t hurt you. They probably won’t either, even though they are constantly, incessantly, painfully thirsty. They don’t partake of the proper diet, so they are always Jonesin’ for a juicy John or Jane. Makes me feel sorry for Jasper. God knows why he does it. The pussy can’t be that good.” She sneered at Alice’s shocked inhalation.
“J-Jasper left,” Alice blurted.
“Bella!” Edward admonished her. “I am appalled—”
“Of course, you are. You’ve spent your entire life being appalled at one thing or another,” Isabella interrupted him. “Jasper finally pulled his head out of his ass? Good.” She gave them a sharp nod. “About time. So … to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”
“I-I saw you here. I haven’t seen you in three years. I thought you had died.” Tears were welling in the tiny vampire’s eyes. “I missed you so much.”
“Save it, Alice. If you had missed me, you’d have checked up on me. Edward isn’t the boss of you. Unless it’s a convenient excuse. Oh! I’m being so rude! I didn’t introduce you to my new friends. Being only human, I’m sure they’re getting cold—it is New Year’s Eve.” Isabella turned to her right and patted Danny on his shoulder, a beaming smile on her face. “Alice, Edward, I’d like you to meet my very good looking friend, Danny. Danny, the short one with the choppy hair is the vampire who has selective visions of the future—Alice. The tall gingery one with the stick up his ass is the boy-who-lived-in-high-school—Edward. He’s looking a little disgruntled because he can’t read your minds right now.”
“Isabella,” Danny asked out of the side of his mouth. “What did you mean by interesting people?”
“Bella, don’t do this.” Edward took a step forward, his hands extended toward her. “I left you for your own good. You know I love only—”
“Nuh uh, Edward. Not gonna work.” Isabella shook a finger at him. “Liar, liar, pants on fire. Everyone knows this. Maybe your New Year’s resolution should be to work on that, hmmm?”
“Come no closer to my new pals,” she warned. Then she let out a playful chuckle. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio—or Danny—than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Let’s just say Alice, Edward, and I aren’t the only supernatural beings lurking about. Victoria was so informative!”
Isabella turned toward Sara on her left. “To continue, this is my very special friend—”
With a snarl, Edward sprang toward them, his hands curling into claws and reaching for Isabella.
In a move too fast for the humans to comprehend, she grabbed Sara’s right, metal-encased wrist and lunged, impaling Edward on the two-inch wide blade.
Eyes bugging out, he grabbed at his chest when Isabella shoved him away. He staggered back, tripping over his own feet. His jaw was working, but there were no words coming out.
Alice ran to him and clutched at his arm. “Bella! What have you done? You can’t do this!” she cried, her face contorted with fear and dismay.
Setting the astonished Sara carefully back on her feet, Isabella dusted off her hands and flipped her hair to her back. “Pffft. Of course, I can. Just did.”
Edward stumbled backward and dropped, a loud crack ringing out when his head bounced on the wet pavement. A brilliant white light shot from the wound in his chest, and his breath wheezed out as the little line stretched, growing wider and longer. Smoke began to waft up into the frigid air above his body, melting the snowflakes falling gently from the sky.
With a scream of anguish, Alice dropped to her knees beside him and pressed her hands over the ever-widening slash. When her movement broke the expanding beam of light, they burst into purple flames and sparks flew up into the air. Screaming again, she leapt to her feet, staring in horror as the fire spread rapidly up her arms.
Isabella breathed a sigh of relief when Sara’s long-sword retracted. The ancient-looking alloy seemed to melt and reform into the coiled design of the cuff bracelet around the astonished woman’s wrist.
“Well, damn.” Isabella shook her head and watched jagged cracks appear all over Edward, spewing the white light in every direction. He seemed to cave in on himself and crumbled to sparkling dust right before their eyes. Alice shrieked and darted toward the alley’s dead end, exploding in a shimmering blast of twinkling embers, each winking out as they drifted to the wet asphalt.
“Wow.” Isabella’s hand was at her forehead. “That was actually kind of pretty. Better than the fireworks they have scheduled for midnight. Which will be in about an hour-and-a-half.”
When she turned around, Sara and Danny were breathing hard and trying desperately to hold each other up.
“Welp,” Isabella smiled encouragingly at them. “I thought the magic Bitchblade might hurt them, but I didn’t know it would do that. That was impressive as shit.”
Sara slumped in Danny’s arms and her wide eyes went to Isabella’s. “I thought you said there was more to life than revenge.”
“That wasn’t revenge. That was me doing the world a favor.” She prudently stepped away and started to walk toward the mouth of the alley, her boots scuffing through the newly fallen snow. She halted and turned back. “You guys have a few things to discuss, I think. Now you know you can kill my kind of vampire. I’m wearing brown contacts, but most of us have red eyes and are really pale like me. Most like to stay hidden from humans. The ones with the yellow eyes, like those two,” she jerked a thumb over her shoulder, “like to pretend they’re still human. Not usually a good idea.” With a snappy wave, she turned to leave. “I’ll see ya around. By the way, Happy New Year. I think it’s gonna be a good one.”