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ratings:
5/5 (1 rating)
Length:
318 pages
3 hours
Released:
Jul 28, 2014
ISBN:
9781311930095
Format:
Book

Description

Thirty-year-old redhead Josephine Berendt has everything under control. She’s finally over her ex, Max Spencer; her third novel is about to hit the shelves; and she’s living happily alone in a quiet Denver suburb. So what if her life is missing a little action? She gets all she needs by writing about vampires – and at least her furniture won’t run away to Paris just to prove how much it doesn’t love her.

600-year-old businessman Grant Black thinks he’s just doing a favor for an old friend by keeping an eye on Josephine and her dangerously accurate storytelling. Keeping out of her life is no trouble at all – until Max shows up on her doorstep with a case of fangs and Grant is forced to meet Josephine in the fearless, foul-mouthed flesh.

Soon Josephine finds herself at the center of an undead incident of international proportions. Now every day is a test of how long she can balance her need for independence with her growing affection for a killer, and stay alive – or, at least, not dead.

Featuring some of the most famous and ruthless vampires from history and literature, BLACK interweaves traditional vampire canons with an entirely new race of vampires with its own laws and mores. Told in Josephine’s thoroughly modern voice, the book is a witty, allusive tour of the vampire world’s upper echelons and hubs of power.

Released:
Jul 28, 2014
ISBN:
9781311930095
Format:
Book

About the author

Catherine Winters has honed her signature snark in print and in real life since she was ten. Her love of pop culture, bad television, and worse music coupled with the collection of a lifetime's worth of useless trivia make her novels modern and witty. In addition to writing, Ms. Winters is the Social Media Director for the Gatsby Theatre Company in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and is employed as the principal mezzo-soprano for the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver. She lives in Denver with with her husband, daughter, and one demanding cat.


Book Preview

Black - Catherine Winters

BLACK

Josephine Book One

An Imperial Vampires Novel

Catherine Winters

1st Edition published digitally June 23, 2012 by Dare Empire eMedia Productions, Australia, www.thedareempire.com

2nd Edition published digitally October 16, 2012 and in Trade Paperback January 2, 2013 by Turquoise Morning Press, United States, www.turquoisemorningpress.com

3rd Edition published digitally July 28, 2014 and in Trade Paperback July 28, 2014 by Catherine Winters, United States, www.writingwinters.com

The 3rd edition contains minor edits to the text of the story.

Cover Design by Colin Christie

BLACK

Copyright 2012, 2014, Catherine Winters

Smashwords Edition

All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. If you don’t know what that means, look it up.

for PK, JDC, and MZ

Table of Contents

-1-

-2-

-3-

-4-

-5-

-6-

-7-

-8-

-9-

-10-

-11-

-12-

-13-

-14-

-15-

-16-

-17-

-18-

-19-

-20-

-21-

-22-

-23-

Acknowledgments

About Catherine Winters

RED: Chapter One Preview

-1-

I was warned; I'll admit that.

I'd been in Denver — and he'd been in Paris — for nearly three years when the letter showed up in the box, no postmark, no stamp. My name in that familiar, cramped hand, the address that he shouldn't have known. I laid it on the kitchen counter with the junk, unopened, intending to throw it out. I had nothing to say to Max Spencer, nothing that hadn't been said before he fled the country to prove how much he didn't love me.

Trash day came and went, and I passed that letter every time I went for a glass of water. I didn't want to open it — it may as well have been round and labeled WORMS — but I couldn't bear to get rid of it. It felt too much like throwing him away.

Part of me knew who it was when the bell rang that night. The house was cold; March hadn't come in like a lion so much as like another snowstorm, and colder air rushed in as I opened the door. I don't know what I expected after ten on a weeknight, but I didn't expect him to look so unchanged and yet so utterly different. He was the same body, ostensibly the same man who'd left me three years ago, but it seemed my bitterness had made him less than that in my head. I stared at him, hale, healthy, beautiful, and not in Paris, and promptly dropped my water glass.

Max. I stared down at my feet; a dozen shallow cuts welled blood in scattered beads. I didn't feel them, and started to move. He touched my arm.

Don't — you'll make it worse. I'll fix it. He eased past me in the entryway, and bent to pick up the glass around my white little feet. You're bleeding, and he touched the cuts so gently before he went after the broom he knew I'd keep in the kitchen.

Why are you here?

Didn't you get my letter? I told you I would be.

I didn't read it. He started to sweep; I leapt for the area rug so he wouldn't touch me again.

Any of it?

I shook my head. He sighed as he walked around the corner to the kitchen and tipped the dustpan into the bin. It would have been easier if you had. I'd counted on your curiosity.

To do what? I closed the door.

Prepare you for me. He settled onto my sofa, adjusting the crease in his pants.

I rather thought if I didn't answer, you'd stay away.

He was silent for a moment, his pale eyes so like mine, closed, cold. Impossible, even for one who knew him well, to guess what he might be thinking. Unfortunately, I felt I must impose upon your hospitality. I have — stories to tell, and you're the only audience for them.

Stories.

Do you have any scotch? You're a single-malt drinker, aren't you?

I'm a vodka drinker, Max. I might have some Jack Daniel's in the back of the liquor cabinet, if that's all right.

Thank you.

Had I just been ordered to make him a drink? I watched my hands pouring, dropping two ice cubes into the tumbler, and wondered where this easy control had come from. He lacked anything even remotely like it when I loved him.

I would have loved him better for it.

Stories, I repeated, and handed him his drink.

Sit with me.

I don't think so. I'd forgotten how he was, in person, filling rooms like this. It was all very thrilling once upon a time, but I didn't feel capable, just then, of handling this polished new Max, this lazy tyrant, without a fair physical distance between us.

Silence spun out, fragile, thoughtful. I cupped my glass in my hand, but didn't drink. I shuffled my weight on my cold feet and waited for him to speak: I had nothing else to say.

I'd forgotten just how beautiful you are. He laughed. "Of all the things I thought I'd never forget, after all the tortured verse it inspired, it was your beauty that went first. Or perhaps...

Perhaps I do remember it, and the change is you.

I wouldn't know.

Wouldn't you?

I met his eyes. Why are you so interested?

Because I love you.

I started; he'd never said that before. What?

He sighed. I wish you'd read the letter. Now — He waved his hand; it was the first time I'd known him to be lost for words. He sighed. "I suppose there's no way to ease into this.

I'm a vampire.

****

I gaped at him, stupidly. A — I'm sorry, it sounded like you just said you're a vampire. I gulped my vodka tonic.

I did.

I need another drink.

You see why it had to be you, Phina? Why I couldn't ignore you as easily as you did me? Who else would I go to, but the woman who writes about vampires?

"I write fiction, Max. Fiction."

Am I not real? Am I not sitting on your sofa, drinking your whisky?

God knows. Maybe I'm hallucinating. Or dreaming! I'm asleep at the computer, of course!

No, love; you're getting us another drink. He held out his glass, and I took it.

Good to know alcohol agrees with your system, I muttered. Your crazy system, I added silently.

I'm not crazy.

I pulled up short, but didn't face him. That will stop immediately. I can't think of anything ruder than reading someone's thoughts as if they were conversation.

Leave it to you to be concerned with the etiquette of the supernatural.

Leave it to you to be an asshole. I splashed vodka into my glass, then passed the glass next to the tonic water. I didn't bother with his ice, either. I turned and nearly ran into him.

Damn it! I shoved his glass into his chest and backed away, too aware of the wall at my back. Back off!

Are you angry? He seemed shocked by the idea, as though his invasion of my home and my business with this nonsense was nothing with which I should trouble myself.

"Are you kidding me? Of course I'm angry! I've been angry since you left! Oh, hell. That round thing, labeled WORMS"? I just went at it with a machete.

I pushed past him, shoved my feet into my shoes, let the cold slap me as I stepped onto the back porch for a cigarette. So now he'd heard what he came for, hadn't he. That wound I thought I'd mended started bleeding again with the faintest prodding; one outrageous assertion tailor-made to wedge him back into my world and I was enraged, seething with all those things I thought I didn't have to say to him.

I turned to yell; he hovered in the doorway, not quite daring to get within striking distance. "What the hell was this supposed to accomplish, Max? This bullshit story, that bullshit letter?

Get out of my house.

Phina —

Get. Out.

I'm not lying.

"Yeah, sure. And pigs fucking fly. Get out."

He threw up his hands. Fine. You have it your way. He backed away from the door. I'll expect to hear from you when you've had some time to think about this.

He vanished.

****

It should go without saying that I assumed I was drunk. Or crazy. Maybe it was a tumor.

So obviously the thing to do was to have another drink. After a few sips, I was calmer, and more disposed to look at the whole episode logically.

Max was...he'd never been cruel to me, exactly, but he was almost pathologically selfish. I knew he had cared deeply for me, and that it had frightened him. He flew to Paris twenty-four hours after telling me that I'd never be enough for him, and we, his friends, all knew he was fleeing. I certainly would have preferred Paris to Phoenix, with or without a broken heart, and I had thought I was glad he left.

So, a man who left me abruptly and savagely three years earlier tracked me down only to discover I had moved on, but was still making a living writing my little vampire books. Obviously, he had to make me necessary to him. Simple: claim a case of fangs.

Quite neat. It fit into a perfect little package of self-involved pathology — until I remembered that he had vanished in the middle of my living room.

Appeared to vanish, I corrected myself as I poured another drink. People don't vanish. It was probably a tumor.

It just didn't make any sense, any of it. Even the story itself — why something so clearly outlandish? Why not just pander to me, make me think I needed him? And how did he manage to disappear? The only way the entire scene added up was if he were telling me the truth, which was absurd on its face. I'd have had to abandon the entire workings of the natural world as I knew them and start fresh, being careful to include all mythical creatures this time around. Preposterous.

And yet, said a small voice in my head, and yet...that's the simplest explanation. He hadn't hidden smoke and mirrors in my house at some previous point in time just to make a dramatic exit, that was certain. Which left my madness or his truthfulness, and while I wasn't fond of either option, at least his honesty was interesting.

He said he'd expect to hear from me, and I mulled that one over as I smoked, as well. Should I be able to divine where he was staying? Beg the answer from bats, perhaps?

But no; I saw as I settled back onto the sofa that he'd left a card on the coffee table with his cell number. I turned it over and over, wondering, interested, too curious by eight lives' worth. I tapped it against my lips and caught the barest scent of his cologne, sharp and woodsy, the same he'd worn years ago. The sudden memory of a gentle kiss was so vivid I gasped, eyes closed, smelling him again, feeling him over me. The body's memory is infrequent, but perfect, and I flushed to the roots of my hair.

The voicemail I left was short; I didn't trust my voice to keep my body's secrets.

-2-

Are you comfortable?

Quite, I said from the depths of an overstuffed striped cream sofa. Five hundred a night in Denver was more luxurious than I'd thought.

Not nervous? He settled into a Louis XVI chair across the delicate little coffee table from me.

Should I be?

No, it's just your heart is beating terribly fast.

I raised a brow at him, sipped the excellent vodka martini he'd handed me. I refused to explain my heartbeat. How did you know I'd call?

I knew you'd be curious. Interested. I walked into your house and told you I'm a vampire. Who does that?

Ex-lovers, apparently.

He chuckled and opened a silver cigarette case. He lit two and passed me one, an old habit I hadn't realized I'd missed.

I should tell you, I'm only here to be rid of you.

Of course you are.

My eyebrow was in serious danger of disappearing into my bangs; I forced myself not to raise it any further, or rise to the bait. So why me?

Well, the novels, of course. You're quite the sensation; everyone's talking about you.

'Everyone'? They're fantasy.

"I didn't say publishers. Everyone. All the vamps. It's how I found you — I'd heard rumors about a novelist getting it mostly right, rumors that maybe she knew too much, and someone should do something about it. I walked into a Barnes and Noble and there you were, staring at me from the back of a paperback. Fantastic picture.

I stopped into a covenhouse with my copy on my way home and asked some questions. Turns out you're in no danger: you don't have it that right, after all, and the rumors are just rumors. I don't visit the covenhouses often — I'm not part of one, so it's awkward — but they are a great source of information.

I tried to feel as confident of my safety as he sounded, and to help myself along, I ignored the obvious question: why didn't he belong to one. I settled for trivia: Covenhouses?

"A coven is anywhere from four to forty or so vampires who agree to share resources with each other. I don't like other people enough to join a coven, and I only stop in to the houses when I need information.

You're taking this quite well.

I shrugged. I figure if I humor you and let you tell the story, you'll screw up and out yourself as a liar soon enough. Do go on. My voice was sweet as maple sugar.

His smile was lopsided, sardonic. "Thanks.

In any case, I decided it had been entirely too long since I'd had a decent conversation, and I came out to find you.

Just like that. I snapped my fingers.

Well. There was a fair amount of reminiscing and pondering before I made the trip. But yes, essentially, just like that. He started pacing in front of the window, his movements seeming jerky and uncoordinated to me. It seemed he'd moved too fast for me to see all the steps, and the effect was supremely weird and more than a little unsettling. I ignored it.

He stood with his back to me, in front of the giant plate-glass window looking out over the city. Every line of him was the same, every plane and angle, dressed now in impeccably-creased black pinstriped pants and a pale green dress shirt, open at the collar, cuffs turned up. I was startled again by his beauty, and wondered at the tricks my mind had already played on me. Was it such a leap that I might have imagined the little vanishing incident from the other night? I changed the subject.

How long ago did you — change? Die? What sort of terminology should I be using?

He glanced over his shoulder at me. "To humor me? Whatever you'd like; I'm not picky.

Three years ago. Shortly after I arrived in Paris.

And?

And that's about all you'll get out of me on the subject. It's a private matter. Unless you'd like to go through it yourself, I'm not discussing it.

Of course I wouldn't.

Don't be so quick to refuse, Phina. I know how much you hate eating your words. He chuckled.

Smug bastard. I finished off the martini. So is that it? You came cross-country to have a ten minute conversation with me?

Perhaps. Perhaps I have other business. Perhaps I'm thinking of settling here, of being friends.

Friends. It was my turn to chuckle. I really don't think that's advisable.

Why not? He crossed his legs, fiddled with the crease in his pants. His shoes looked as though they cost more than most of my wardrobe. Where had all this money come from?

Aside from the fact that you're smarmy and maddening?

Unfortunately, I know all about your penchant for being irritated by handsome men, so that's not really a reason, is it?

I laughed, without rancor or sarcasm, this time. He was right. Ass. No, really, what are you going to do with a human friend?

So you believe me!

I didn't say that — humoring you, remember? I can't be running around at all hours of the night just to keep you company.

What's stopping you?

For starters, I'm not twenty-two anymore with some throwaway job and a desperate need to get drunk and go dancing every night, so I'm wondering how much fun you'll find my company.

I'm not twenty-two anymore, either. I'm not asking for you to keep me company until dawn. Is the occasional evening out too much to expect from a friend?

His blue eyes were all innocence and charm, but I couldn't trust him. Nothing he'd ever done was without benefit to him, and I couldn't see where my friendship would get him. Still, I was intrigued — something I was sure he'd counted on, but I didn't care. I'll consider it, I conceded, standing and moving toward the door.

That's fair. He jumped up to escort me out, again with a jerky, sort of half-filmed movement. Disturbing, and probably the only reason to humor him — at least until I could get my eyes checked.

He paused with his hand on the knob and before I could crack wise, leaned in and brushed a chaste kiss against my forehead. His lips were cold against my skin, and I shivered when he spoke.

If you don't call, I wanted to apologize. I was wrong to leave you the way I did, I know, and I want you to remember me kindly this time.

He opened the door and walked back to the window as I saw myself out, still shivering.

****

He sent me red roses, two dozen, every day for a week.

I agreed to meet him for coffee when I ran out of vases.

****

Did you like the flowers?

So thoughtful of you.

I thought the thank-you note on deckled edges was a bit formal, though. Trying to make a point?

Who, me? I signaled the server for more coffee. It's been my experience that men interested in friendship aren't generally the type to send fourteen dozen roses to a woman.

And? The waitress left, but not without smiling shyly at Max and slipping him her number, the fourth woman to do so in the hour we'd been bickering over coffee.

And I wish you'd just be honest. Is it the fashion for a vampire to have a pet novelist these days?

Hush. Not in public, thank you.

I rolled my eyes and lit a cigarette as a tiny voice next to my shoulder giggled and said, Um, excuse me? But are you, like, a movie star?

I stared, incredulous, at the scrap of a teenage girl next to me ogling Max Spencer, Disreputable Poet and Putative Vampire. This was five females in sixty minutes, and it was becoming rather a nuisance. No, he's not, and we'd thank you not to interrupt us, I snapped at her.

She glared at me and said to him, Your girlfriend is way uptight. If you wanna ditch her, call me, and dropped a scrap of perfumed paper on the table.

He stifled his laughter until she was out of earshot. Like, yeah, Phina, you're totally uptight.

Are you wearing pheromones or something? What is going on?

He shrugged. It happens. Not all the time, but often enough. It has something to do with the change.

Menopause?

He snorted. God, I missed you.

Blah, blah.

Don't. Don't dismiss me like that.

And what should I do with you? I don't know what you want from me, Max. That makes me nervous. It always did.

Just that? His voice was rough and low; he didn't look at me.

That's enough for now, don't you think? I snapped. Nothing about him had ever been safe; nothing about him had really changed. I sighed. "What are you doing here? Why me? Why now?"

Now was the first I could get away. I would have come sooner, but I couldn't. Not a night goes by I don't think of you. Not a second since I left.

We stared at each other for a long moment. My throat tightened, my eyes stung, but the tears weren't for him. I knew what it was to long for someone, to yearn. Max had taught me that, had taught me well, and hard as I tried, I couldn't muster up much sympathy for him.

Well, I said, dropping a ten on the table as I stood, I never told you to leave me.

****

I shrugged into my coat, muttering invective under my breath, purse dragging along on the ground next to me. I was lucky no one mugged me; but then, your average mugger would have been hard-pressed not to feel faintly ridiculous next to the man I found leaning against my dusty little Toyota.

I drew up short, key fob in my teeth, coat hanging off one shoulder, and stared. He was the most enormous person I'd ever seen, six-four or six-five, broad-shouldered, dressed in a beautifully tailored suit that was probably grey, but looked muddy under the parking lot's arc sodiums. The lights did something strange to his skin, as well, making it look so orange that I had to assume it was actually white — not Caucasian, but the color of copy paper.

He laughed, a slithering bass rumble I fancied I could feel against my skin. I opened my mouth to talk, dropped my

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