As Maudlin and Aegis prepare to open the Bewitching Bedlam B&B to guests, they immediately find themselves embroiled in a battle for customers. Ralph Greyhoof, the owner of the Heart’s Desire Bed & Breakfast, doesn’t like to share. The conflict heats up when Maddy finds a local witch dead in the garden. The woman looks a lot like Maudlin and suspicion falls on Ralph. But Maddy knows that, as competitive as Ralph is, he wouldn’t resort to murder. Maudlin and Aegis set out to find the killer, even as their own relationship is put to the test. Aegis’s old flame has returned, determined to win him back, no matter what it takes.
"BUT WHY WON'T you paint it pink?"
Franny was standing in the middle of the kitchen. She also happened to be standing in the middle of the kitchen island, which gave the effect that she was cut off at the waist. Disconcerting to say the least, but I had quickly learned to keep my complaints about her displacement to myself. She took criticism hard, and I wasn't up to the fallout, which included full-scale whining and moaning à la Jacob Marley. There's nothing like waking up in the middle of the night to see a weeping ghost by your bed, staring at you with puppy-dog eyes, which was why I had banned her from my bedroom.READ MORE
"We've been over this at least a half-dozen times. I hate pink, unless it's fuchsia or magenta. I am not painting the kitchen pink just because you like it." Hands on my hips, I stared at my uninvited roommate. I might have to live with her, but I didn't have to let her call the shots. I had paid for the mansion. She just happened to be an added bonus, although I used the word "bonus" loosely.
"How do you think I feel? I can't leave this house. You changed my favorite parlor into a media room and put that horrible monster you call a television in there. You chased me out of your bedroom. And you're letting that...that...vampire live here." She spat out the word so vehemently that I was grateful that she wasn't corporeal, or I would have been hit with a mouthful of spit.
"That vampire is my boyfriend, who also happens to be one of the sweetest men around. You know perfectly well that Aegis doesn't harm his..."
I stopped. Technically, "victim" really would be the appropriate choice of words, but I felt like a traitor using it. Aegis didn't hurt anybody he drank from. Not unless they tried to stake him. And he never chose anybody who was anemic or diabetic. Vampires had the ability to tell when someone was low on their favorite flavor of fruit punch, or when that said punch had too much or too little sugar in it.
But Franny refused to see it my way, and I was tired of the argument. Every time she wanted me to change something, she fell back to "You let that vampire live here." I had heard it-or a variation thereof-so many times the past month that my head was spinning.
"Franny, get this through your misty mind. You have to deal with it. Aegis lives here. He sleeps with me. Well, technically we have sex in my bedroom. He sleeps in his coffin. But whatever the case, this is my house and I'll let whoever I want live here." I straightened my shoulders. "Count yourself lucky that I haven't hired an exorcist to deal with you."
"I wish you would! I hate being trapped." But Franny didn't sound like she meant it.
"I could evict you myself, you know. I could banish you. Bingo! One easy spell and boom, you'd be out on your ass, wandering the highway like some lost mournful spirit. But did I do that when I found out you were haunting my home? No. I did not."
I paused, suddenly deflating. I wasn't going to exorcise her ass and she knew it. Oh, I was trying to sound intimidating. But considering that I was holding a stuffed unicorn under my left arm and a tray of cookies in my right hand, the threat just didn't have the impact that I hoped for.
Franny huffed, then turned and flounced off, the long skirts of her muslin gown sweeping the floor with a ghostly swish as she vanished through the wall. She was still wearing the dress she had died in. Franny had lived around these parts of Bedlam until August 1815, when she died. She had been so wrapped up in reading her book that she missed a step and went tumbling down the staircase, breaking her neck. It was over quickly, but somehow, she had become trapped in the house. I felt sorry for her, but Franny needed to find a sense of humor, and find it quick if she wanted to go on living with me.
Shaking my head, I set the cookies down on the counter and carried the unicorn over to the rocking chair. Made of polished mahogany, the rocker was wide enough to curl up in. I had chosen it specifically for the kitchen. I had always wanted a kitchen big enough to have a rocking chair in and this mansion fit the bill perfectly. As I nestled into the seat, tucking the unicorn onto the table beside the rocker, I closed my eyes. I just needed a little rest. Just a little time out.
"Maddy? Maddy. Oh Maddy, wake up, pretty girl." A sinuous voice echoed through the fog.
I blinked, suddenly aware that someone was kissing my nose. Jumping in my seat, I opened my eyes to find Aegis leaning over me, a grin spreading across those gorgeous lips of his. The tips of his fangs were showing-spotless and glowing white. I'd warned him to watch how much of the whitening toothpaste he used, but television commercials had convinced him that his pearly whites needed to be even brighter. I kept telling him his teeth were practically fluorescent, but they didn't detract from just how pretty the man was. Handsome. Gorgeous. Insert adjective of your choice.
"What the-?" I blinked. "Is it night already?"
Aegis had turned on the light. Outside, the dusk was growing. I had obviously slept away part of the day, and it had to be after sunset for him to be awake.
"Enjoy your nap with Drofur, love?" His voice wrapped around me like a silken scarf, its resonance tickling me. Even though witch's blood was an aphrodisiac for vamps, this particular vampire's voice was an aphrodisiac for me. His voice...his hands...his body...his...
Shaking my head to clear my thoughts before they reached the X-rated stage, I looked down to see that I was holding the unicorn. I must have picked it up again in my sleep. With a blush, I realized that I had been cuddling it. I hastily returned Drofur to his spot on the table.
"Um, yeah. I guess I was more tired than I thought." I cautiously stood, stretching as my knees and back protested the un-horizontal nap they had taken.
He was dressed for his gig, wearing tight leather pants and a leather jacket. His muscled chest was bare, his abs rippling and pale, and he was wearing a thin gold chain around his neck. Even though it was the dead of winter, he wouldn't get cold. Or rather, he was already so cold that the weather wouldn't faze him. Vampires didn't emit body heat.
My breath caught in my throat. I wanted to rub my hands all over him. His hair hung loose around his shoulders, long and dark, and his eyes were the color of rich, black coffee tinged with clouds of cream. When he was aroused or hungry, crimson rings appeared around them. To top it off, he smelled like vanilla musk with a hint of cinnamon, thanks to his shampoo.
Aegis slipped his arms around my waist and pulled me toward him. "You too tired to spend a little time cuddling?" Leaning down-the man was a good seven inches taller than me-he nuzzled my neck, gently nosing behind my ear where he left a trail of butterfly kisses.
Everything in my body tensed, but it was a good tension. I wanted to rip my clothes off and press my breasts against that bare chest of his. My taut nipples pressed against the silk of my tank top. Even through the lace of my bra, the silk seemed to rub them ever so deliciously. Meanwhile, my lower region was starting to clamor, wanting in on the action.
"As long as that cuddling includes sex." I wrapped my arms around his neck and grinned up at him.
"Then we'd better get busy."
He swept me up in his arms. I wasn't a lean woman. I was curvy and busty with thighs that made the floor quake when I was angry. But Aegis carried me as though I was as light as a feather. I laughed, holding on as we headed toward the staircase. My laughter echoed through the far-too-barren living room, and the sight of so much empty space sparked off a random thought.
"We need to buy furniture this week." The furniture from my old condo just wasn't enough to furnish a Victorian mansion, especially one I was turning into a bed and breakfast. I needed to get my ass in gear and start prowling the thrift shops.
Aegis shushed me. "Hush."
He paused on the landing, pressing my back against the wall as he nestled himself between my legs. I wrapped them around his hips. With one hand supporting my butt, he slid the other around my shoulders, then pressed his lips against mine, kissing me so deeply I forgot about furniture and thrift stores and everything else. His tongue gently flickered in and out of my mouth.
I moaned, pressing against him. My breasts were threatening to burst out of the bra all on their own. "Upstairs. Now."
"At your command."
And we were on the move again, up to the master bedroom. While it was technically my bedroom, since Aegis and I had different schedules and he didn't dare sleep above ground just in case of an accident with the curtains, it was all ours when it was time for sex.
He tumbled me onto the bed, wedging himself between my legs as he held my wrists over my head. "Command me, woman."
A jolt of hunger raced through me, slashing like lightning from my breasts down to my pussy. I wanted out of my clothes. Their restraint was driving me nuts. I closed my eyes, focusing, and the zipper on my jeans began to slowly open. I urged it on, feeling the belt buckle shift as I willed the prong to slip out of the hole.
"You're very hungry, aren't you? You want me in you, don't you?"
His voice echoed through me, like the rich, deep notes of a song. Eyes flashing, he shifted position, sitting back on his knees as he let go of my wrists. Reaching down, he slid my belt out of its loops, tossing it aside. Then, with one swift yank, he pulled my jeans down as I raised my butt and bent my knees. I was going commando beneath, and Aegis let out a growl of delight as he worked the jeans off over my feet. They landed on the floor next to the belt. I sat up, yanking off my top. The hunter green tank joined the pile of clothes, and my bra was the cherry on the top.
Aegis was on his feet, unzipping as he eased off his leather jeans. His cock sprang to attention, hard and smooth, as cold as the rest of his body. He started to shrug off his leather jacket but I stopped him.
"No. I love the smell of leather." I knelt on the bed, my breasts rising and falling with each breath. The chill of the room shrouded me, and my nipples grew as hard as his shaft.
"And I love your breasts," he said with a low growl. "I love how ripe and round they are, how smooth they feel under my fingers." He grinned. "And I love how they jiggle when I touch them. Your nipples drive me crazy."
I squirmed, wet and hungry for him. "Touch them. Touch me. Please?"
"I'm taking my time, woman. I want to watch you. Lie back and bend your knees. Spread them so I can look at you." His gaze rested greedily on me as I obeyed.
I lay back, spreading my legs as I reached down and slowly rolled a finger around my clit, then spread the lips of my vaj. "You want a taste?"
With a grunt, he dove deep between my legs, pressing his face between my thighs as his tongue worked overtime to swirl over my clitoris. I jumped at his touch, a peal of laughter dancing out of me as my desire began to build.
"Oh gods, oh gods, don't stop!" I fisted his hair as he lapped at me, tonguing my sex until I was dizzy. Catching my breath, I let out a choked shout as he drove me higher and higher. I couldn't stop if I tried. The past six weeks with Aegis had been the best sex of my life. I'd never had it this good, and I'd had my share of lovers, my ex-husband being the worst of the lot. After what had felt like a long, dry desert in my life, everything was growing again, vibrant and humming along like a top-of-the-line vibrator.
"Come on, Maddy, come for me. Come on," he coaxed. His voice muffled by my snatch, he increased the speed of his tongue. He was always careful with his fangs, making certain to keep them at bay when he was eating me out. We'd already had one accident and I didn't care to repeat it.
"I'm coming, trust me I'm co-co-co-" And the words stopped there as I began to come, my orgasm vibrating from my core out through my fingertips. The world exploded with color and then, as the waves rippled in rings and slowly began to subside, I opened my eyes to find a trail of rose petals drifting down around us. They landed on the bed, on my nose, on Aegis's hair.
He laughed softly.
"I love how you bring the roses when you come," he said.
I sighed, settling in beneath him. The roses didn't happen every time, but when they did, I felt like I was dancing in a garden under the moonlight.
Aegis rose up with a steaming look, then nestled between my legs as he drove himself deep inside me. As we began to move in rhythm, his girth stretched me deliciously wide. I let out a soft moan. He rested his head on my breasts and I slid my arms beneath his, embracing him. He thrust deeper, penetrating every inch of me until there was no part left untouched. He slipped one hand down between my legs, tweaking my clit, and that one touch was all it took. I climaxed yet again, and another time as he stiffened, tilting his head back as he let out a long throaty groan.
As he relaxed into my embrace, I drifted and the rose petals kept falling.
At that moment, Bubba landed on the bed beside us and let out a loud purp. Aegis glared at the huge orange cat, but then broke into a wide, toothy grin.
I gave the cjinn a shake of the head. "Dude, really? Please, we're in the middle of something here."
Bubba snorted then hopped over Aegis's back and jumped off the other side, yowling as he stared out the French doors leading to my balcony. He swatted at the glass, hissed, then turned around and raced out the door into the hall.
"Well, that's enough to dispel the mood, don't you think?" I leaned back, breathing deeply as a wave of laughter raced through me. The past six weeks had been easily the oddest of my life, and the best.
* * *
SO, INTRODUCTIONS ALL around. My name is Maudlin Gallowglass. Maddy for short. I'm older than the hills-or at least older than most of you. I was born on October 28, 1629. Figure that I'm 387, going on thirty. Nobody could ever accuse me of being mature, though I'm fully grown and a damned powerful witch.
The Gallowglass family has magical roots going back to the days of Stonehenge. You know that folk song "Boys of Bedlam" that a gazillion groups have covered? There's a girl mentioned in it-"Mad Maudlin goes on dirty toes, for to save her shoes from gravel." And the Bedlam in the song wasn't anything like the Bedlam that I live in now.
Yeah, that girl was based on me. Nobody in the history books seems sure who wrote the song, although there are claims that someone named Thomas d'Urfey penned it. But I happen to know the truth. Tom (the Tom of the song "Mad Tom of Bedlam") was my boyfriend and he wrote it. D'Urfey just swiped it. There was a lot of literary pilfering going on back then.
Tom (my Tom) wrote a number of songs as we escaped England to return to Ireland. We traveled for years, trying to evade the witch hunters. We passed as wandering minstrels and never stayed in one place too long. But it wasn't the witch hunters who finally got him. No, it was the vampires. They trapped us, but I escaped, thanks to him. I've never forgotten his sacrifice. And I remembered the vamps who turned him. They paid. Mad Maudlin made sure.
So yes, I'm Mad Maudlin, though these days I tend to go by just plain Maddy. I left Mad Maudlin in the past, which is the safest place for her. That part of myself can be a lot of fun, but she's scary as hell and not always nice. I've kept her under leash and key for nearly three centuries. The day I let her loose, heaven help whoever I'm targeting.
Six weeks ago, I was living in Seattle in a condo I had won from my ex in our divorce settlement. I was also bored out of my mind. On a drunken dare from my best friend Sandy, I decided to take a look at an old mansion on Bedlam-an island in the San Juans.
The look turned into the decision to buy. From the moment I laid eyes on it, all I could see in the decaying old mansion was a beautiful bed and breakfast. I admit, not all of my reasons always came with the best of intentions. Selling the condo and using the money to buy a dilapidated old house would piss the hell out of my ex, Craig. That alone was enough to make me hand over the check. Anything I could do to thwart his scrawny, pompous ass, the better. But something about the mansion also charmed me.
Moving to Bedlam had been an eye opener. As I said, Bedlam's both an island and a town-in fact, the entire island is the town. Founded by magical folk, it's a wonderland for the Pretcom-the preternatural community. All sorts of Otherkin live here-Weres and shifters, witches and Fae. In other words, just about anybody with magical powers or a supernatural background is welcome, though there were a few humans around, too. Although vampires are kept under strict observation. They aren't exactly welcome, but neither are they shunned. They just have to mind their manners and not feed on the locals. We do have a local vampire queen living here, which is a tad bit scary, but there's not much we can do as long as she follows the rules.
It's not that Otherkin avoid humans. In fact, some of us like humans a lot. Hell, I married one, till that went south. But one bad human doesn't mean they're all bad. However, Bedlam offers us the opportunity to be ourselves without feeling like outsiders. We need a place to call our own. In this corner of the nation, Bedlam is it.
When Sandy convinced me to move back and I bought the house, I wasn't aware that a vampire came attached, as well as a ghost. While I can handle Franny, Aegis and I had a few scuffles about whose house it actually was. We settled the argument in bed and that's all she wrote. Instant connection: instant sparks. We seem to have a connection that goes back a long ways. Past-life stuff, perhaps. But the end result is that he's my boyfriend. He's also a rock star. Or at least an up-and-coming one. I try to balance my natural antipathy toward vamps with my attraction for him.
Franny, of course, is the house ghost. She also came with the mansion and I don't have the heart to chuck her out. And Bubba-well, he came with me. Bubba's a cjinn, but more about that later. He's a little butthead, mostly, but I love him and he loves me, as much as a cjinn can ever love anybody but himself.
End result? The four of us are settling in, trying to learn to live together as one odd little family. Aegis and I are overhauling the mansion into a bed and breakfast fit for a king. Or at least, a guest with a fat wallet. And I've named it "The Bewitching Bedlam Bed and Breakfast." It only seems fit.
* * *
I GLANCED AT the clock. It was going on seven-thirty. Outside, the dusk was deepening. "You'd better get a move on. You know that Jack-Az doesn't like the entertainment to show up late."
"Jack-Az can bite me," Aegis said with a smirk. He slid out of bed and wandered over to where his clothes were scattered together with mine.
I couldn't stop staring at his butt, which was one of the finest butts I had ever seen. Tight, muscled...firm ass. Oh yes.
"Or rather, I wouldn't mind taking a bite out of him," Aegis continued. "He's a pain to work with."
Jack-Az was the owner of Utopia, Bedlam's biggest nightclub. He wore his name well, although his real name was Johann Azrial Bähr. He was a bear shifter who had been active in both World War I and II. He had a crusty temperament, but he provided free eats on the side, and right now, the Utopia offered a continuing gig for the Boys of Bedlam, Aegis's band.
The Boys of Bedlam were in the process of making a demo tape, but they were having trouble making the connections they needed in order to get it in front of any big-name DJs. They planned on releasing their first CD under their own label but getting airplay, especially among the growing surge of indie bands, was even harder than it had been before the big labels started to fall off in popularity. It didn't help that Sid, the band's bass player, had just had his fifth kid. His wife needed him around a lot, so it was difficult to tour while he was in the throes of being a new father again.
I let out a soft sigh, wrapping the blankets up around my shoulders to keep warm. "Jack-Az has a good reason for his issues. He still suffers from PTSD from World War II. You know how rough it was over there. He lost a lot of family members who were part of the Black Forest Pretcom Resistance."
The Black Forest Pretcom Resistance had been a united group of Otherkin who were connected to the Yugoslavian resistance movements against the Nazis. A lot of them had died, but they had been instrumental in fucking over the German troops who entered the woods. They had helped sabotage Hitler's war machine in ways most people never knew about. They had also run an underground railroad, aiding the escape of a number of humans who were targeted by the Nazis.
Aegis grunted. "I know, and you're right. Jack-Az deserves to be as crusty as he wants, given his service. We could use more like him. I'm just talking trash. I don't mean anything by it." He began to squeeze into his leather pants.
I watched as his balls and dick disappeared under the front of the tight jeans. "Um, aren't you going to shower first?"
"Nope," he said with a wicked grin. "I like having your smell on me, you gorgeous witch. You smell like honey and cream and peaches." He zipped up, then turned around. "Dust me off for the show? It sucks not being able to use a mirror."
I laughed. "At least I can play your personal stylist. Come here, you big lug."
I slid out from beneath the silk sheets. I was happy with Egyptian cotton, but Aegis liked silk. With a critical eye, I circled him. His pants were clean and still a little too new. They hadn't reached that creased-comfort zone yet. His jacket was heavily adorned with hardware-studs, chains, zippers. I adjusted a couple of the zippers and he stroked my face. On his right index finger, he wore a large square ring. Gold, it was engraved with a sunburst pattern on the flat surface, and a carnelian cabochon nestled in the center. The ring was a memento left over from the time when Aegis had been a servant of Apollo.
Aegis had been cast out on the whim of a god, turned away from the sun, which he worshipped, and changed into a vampire-one of the Fallen. But he hadn't let it destroy him, nor would he destroy others through his powers. Not willingly. The other thing Apollo left him besides the ring was his voice. Aegis's voice was as sensual as Jim Morrison's when the lizard king was at his best. Aegis actually looked a lot like Morrison, too-only with longer hair, larger muscles, and a vampire glamour.
"Do I clean up well?" he asked, tapping my nose with his finger.
"You clean up so yummy that I'd yank you back into bed if we had time." Satisfied that he was ready, I stepped back and patted his chest. "You're good to go, gorgeous. Remember, we're having the after-show party here. We may not have much furniture, but we've got the space and it's the first time..."
I paused. I had been about to say it was the first time we had planned a party together, but that sounded way too clingy, considering we had only been together six weeks. But he understood.
"I'm excited too. The boys in the band know you, but now I get to show you off. And maybe this will help the neighbors quit being so prissy about having a vampire for a neighbor." He laughed, then zipped up his coat and headed for the bedroom door. "You'll have everything ready when we get back?"
I nodded. "Sandy's coming over to help." Sandy and I had seen the bottom of way too many wine bottles together. She was the friend who would help me hide the bodies in the middle of the night.
"Don't start the party early, please." He wiggled his eyebrows at me.
Laughing, I threw a pillow at him. "Get out of here. I'm going to shower and dress and then start setting up."
As Aegis darted away from the pillow and slipped around the door, I padded into the bathroom for a shower. The first thing on my renovation list for the mansion had been to hire the Alpha-Pack-the local werewolf pack that owned the main contracting company on the island-to revamp the bathrooms. They had reno'd all six of them first thing after I moved in. Now, in my en suite, I had a huge spa tub, a walk-in shower, and a two-sink vanity.
I turned the water in the shower and slipped beneath the rainshower showerhead as the pulsing side jets beat a welcome tattoo on my body. Leaning my head back, I settled in as the warm water washed over me. The day had been long and chilly, sex had been sweaty, and there was nothing like a shower of warm water and amber-scented soap.
As I loofahed my arms and legs, exfoliating everything I could reach, a faint click caught my attention. The bathroom door had just opened.
What the hell? Had Aegis forgotten something? Bubba couldn't open doors, at least not that I knew of. I cautiously wiped away a patch of condensation from the shower door and cupped my eyes to peer out. Sure enough, there was somebody in the bathroom with me, and it wasn't Bubba. No, whoever this was was bipedal, at least.
I considered my options. I was stark nekkid, but I didn't need clothes to use my powers. I could attack first-send out a nasty ball of energy to whap whoever it was, or I could try a paralyzing charm.
The former would hurt anybody who wasn't immune to fire and lightning, but if it was a friend, they'd be fried. Not that most of my friends came creeping into my bathroom, but I wouldn't put it past a few of them. The latter would only work on humans, and there just weren't many humans on Bedlam. As I squinted, trying to figure out my uninvited guest's motives, I detected the scent of musk and wine beneath the lingering fragrance of the amber bath gel I was using.
Hell. Musk? Wine? Those scents were all too familiar. I slammed open the shower door, almost breaking the glass, as I managed to startle the satyr. Standing there large as life, his denim shorts sporting a tent pole that would do any male proud, Ralph Greyhoof was holding my hairbrush in one hand, a plastic baggie in the other.
I stepped out of the shower, planted my hands on my hips, and barked out, "What the hell do you want in my house, Ralph? And what are you doing with my hairbrush? You have ten seconds to answer before I fry your freaking ass right into the hospital."COLLAPSE