“You know vampires and the beach don’t mix, right?” Niles Gule asked.
His partner on the Baltimore police force, Mariella Cruz, smiled perkily, her curly black ponytail bobbing. “I know you won’t bake yourself silly out on the sand like the rest of Maryland as a prelude to skin cancer. Makes you smarter than the average human.”
“That goes without saying,” Niles chuckled. “I’m a vampire, after all.”
His comment earned him a scathing look from his partner.
When Cruz screamed at the driver ahead of her, Niles dug his talons into the Fiat’s grab bar and hung on. Cruz jerked left then right, almost clipping a delivery van as she pulled around it illegally using the shoulder.
“Not a road,” Niles muttered.
Cruz shot him an amused grin but didn’t respond. Unconcerned that another three feet to the right would plunge her, Niles and Fifi the Fiat into Wight Bay, she tore down the causeway into Ocean City.
Although the summer was coming to a close, Ocean City at night still glowed in neon greens, reds, yellows and blues. The Ferris wheel on the pier shimmered in multicolored LEDs while boardwalk business signs flashed in yellow and red. Normally, as fall descended, the crowds would flee for warmer climes, but not that particular night. The seaside village was abuzz with traffic both on the streets and on the sidewalks. Sunfest, the beach town’s bookend to summer, was in full swing with craft vendors and musical acts running on two stages over three days. The festival drew thousands for a final fling in the sand before winter closed in and Ocean City shut down for the season.
“Where am I going?” Cruz demanded when she arrived at Philadelphia Street, the main drag down the center of the island.
“Turn right. Head for the inlet.”
With a deft spin of the wheel, Cruz sent her powder blue Fiat careening down the three lane street and wove expertly around vehicles traveling at a pace not to her liking—which was any speed less than eighty miles an hour. Gritting his teeth, Niles hung on. One didn’t live as Cruz’s partner without learning how to deal with her driving.
He was still trying to figure out what the pair of them were doing in Ocean City in the first place. Somehow, Cruz had bullied Niles into going to Sunfest for a three day weekend. How a tiny, hundred pound Latina could bully a six-foot-six Nordic vampire, he still wasn’t sure. She was a puzzle.
“So explain to me how a vampire who hates the shore could get us rooms on the beach at the last minute during Sunfest,” Cruz asked. She skidded around a Jeep by using the sidewalk and nearly killed a couple of kids on bicycles.
“I never said I hated the shore.” Niles winced when Cruz cut too close to the walk, scaring an elderly couple who tossed their ice cream cones and leaped for safety. “I said the beach and I don’t mix. I can’t join you for a day of sunbathing and cavorting in the surf. I’m more than happy to walk with you along the boardwalk at night, though.”
Cruz gave him a wicked look. “How about cavorting in the surf at night?”
Niles’ lips curved. “That I could do.”
“How about just some simple cavorting in the dunes?” Cruz wiggled her eyebrows.
“Not a good idea.” Niles turned his gaze towards the passing scenery. Crab houses and surf shops whirred by in a blur. “I’m a vampire. You’re a human.”
“Are you saying humans and vampires have never cavorted?”
Niles coughed. “It’s been known to happen. I haven’t partaken in that particular sport.”
Niles kept his face diverted so she couldn’t see how his eyes had begun to glow in soft yellow from just the thought of such cavorting. He’d known this trip would be a bad idea. Spending three days in a hotel room with Cruz was begging for trouble. He might be a young vampire, but he’d lived long enough to know a sexual relationship with Cruz could only end in heartache for both of them. He was determined to keep them at the level of warmly platonic friends.
Good luck with that, bucko!
Niles pointed to a dark, trash filled parking lot. “Here.”
Raising a brow, Cruz considered the two story structure. Its stucco was spray painted with a writhing mural of demonic sea creatures. Gaping mouths full of teeth threatened to swallow the small humans swimming away in terror. Its entrance was a giant set of shark teeth, its doorway a shark’s gullet. Above the door was a neon sign proclaiming Neptune’s Terror, Boardwalk House of Horrors.
As she climbed from Fifi, Cruz gave Niles a quizzical look. “Are you sure this is the place?”
Niles nodded. “You said you didn’t want to pay an arm and a leg. So I pulled some strings. No complaining.”
Cruz’s face was a study of doubt, but she didn’t say anything as she followed him towards the building.
Ignoring the shark mouth, Niles headed for a small service door at the base of a set of stairs that led below ground. The stair well was also filled with trash. A battered, graffitied steel door stood ominously at the bottom.
Niles didn’t knock. Instead, he tapped on the metal with his talons in a particular pattern. After several minutes, the door opened, revealing a pit of blackness beyond.
Cruz gripped Niles with trembling fingers when the door closed behind them and left them in near perfect darkness. She heard movement and harsh breathing.
“Nice of you to bring a snack, Guldendal,” hissed a voice. “But it wasn’t necessary.”
Knowing the voice of a vampire, Cruz huddled closer to Niles. She plunged a hand into her windbreaker’s pocket where she’d stuffed leftovers from dinner at Grotto’s and gripped it as if it could save her life.
“This lady is my guest,” Niles said. “You’ll treat her with the same respect you’d treat a vampiress.”
The strange vampire snorted.
Her eyes adjusting to the dimness, Cruz made out a thin vampire hovering nearby. He was male, but unlike Niles, was incredibly thin and ill kempt. He sported blond hair like Niles’ but it hung in unbrushed, oily hanks to his waist. Boney arms stuck out of a black t-shirt emblazoned with a Grateful Dead skull which his pasty face resembled. He licked pale lips as he studied the pair.
“You might be an alpha in Baltimore,” the vampire said, “but here, you’re just another vampire. And if I decide I’ll take that treat as payment for your rooms instead of cash, that’s my choice.” He stuck out a taloned hand. “I want the snack.”
Niles stiffened. Freeing one hand from Cruz, he sought the silver knife he kept on his hip for dealing with his brethren.
Cruz knew how much Niles hated killing his own people. So few vampires remained in the world because they’d been steadily slaughtered by humans. If the killing continued, vampires would become extinct. Good for humans, but a disaster for kind-hearted vampires like Niles. She couldn’t allow these two to fight over her.
Before Niles could launch his attack, she thrust herself forward.
“I’m not a snack,” she snarled, glaring her hardest at the vampire. “I’m a guest in your establishment and you will treat me as such. I’m not afraid of you.”
She heard Niles draw his breath. The strange vampire reared back, then laughed.
“Well, it’s got guts!” he chortled. “If you’re gonna chow down on a nice, juicy human, it’s more fun to subdue it first. Only the best for Guldendal, eh?”
Before Niles could respond, Cruz growled low in her throat. “I am not food. Show us our rooms.”
The vampire hissed. His dark eyes narrowed and began to glow yellow with hunting fervor. He licked his lips again. His talons wriggled in preparation for the attack.
Just as he lunged, Cruz pulled her hand from her pocket. She shoved her leftovers directly into the vampire’s face. He screeched in pain and reeled backwards, rubbing at his eyes as he howled. Cruz followed him, not giving him space from the handful of garlic knots she held. The buttery sauce oozed onto her fingers when she shoved them into the vampire’s face. With a twist, she smashed them against his cheek where they stuck as a glob of garlicky goodness.
The vampire moaned and foundered against a wall. “All right! All right! Get that harridan away from me!” Even as he curled into a self-protective ball against the wall and whimpered, he threw a set of keys at Niles.
Cruz stood over the vanquished vampire with her hands on her hips. “Don’t even think about disturbing us, you maggot. Next time it will be garlic mace in the eyes.”
Unable to open said eyes, the vampire blindly nodded at her. “Roger that. Not a snack.”
Cruz humphed and turned triumphant eyes to Niles. “Shall we?” she asked, gesturing to the keys.
“Remind me not to make you angry,” Niles said in a bewildered voice.
Cruz nodded. “Trust me, I will.”
Of that, Niles had no doubt.
Clutching the keys, he led her up to the top floor where the hotel rooms overlooked the beach. As they walked, Cruz wormed her arm through his and hummed happily. She’d battled a vampire and won. Using only her wits and determination. At that moment, Niles knew he was lost. He could fight the attraction between them but he knew in the end who would win. The only one who never surrendered.
© 2018 Newmin