Authors: Sarah Zettel
I was pulling the key out when cold touched the back of my neck—not a cold breeze or a cold drip of water, just…cold. The cold was followed by a soft whisper that crawled right up into the back quarters of my brain.
“You need to stay away from the Alden job.”
I slid the keys into my pocket and wrapped my hand around the miniature spray bottle I keep there.
The nightblood stood about two feet away from me. He had hollow cheeks, dark hair, and a very long, narrow nose that, together with his high cheekbones, gave him a vulturelike appearance.
Suddenly, turning down Chet’s offer of a sympathetic shoulder and brotherly escort didn’t seem like such a great idea, family quarrel or no family quarrel. If I got drained in my own alley because I lacked the cojones to make up properly with my own brother, neither one of us would ever forgive me.
“Sorry—you are?” I kept my thumb on the spray bottle’s trigger. Having been attacked in an alley before, I had developed this nervous habit of going around armed. In this case, the armament was a light but effective mixture of garlic-infused holy water.
“Jacques Renault.” The vampire tilted his chin so he could look yet farther down that long nose at me. Not that he had any right to. It was a seriously high-class expression coming from somebody dressed as an undead slacker. In a departure from the rest of his overdone blood family, Jacques wore loose khakis and a button-down shirt, its tails untucked, over a black T-shirt. He also smelled of fresh onions, which was not your normal nightblood perfume. “And I will say it again, Charlotte Caine—you need to stay away from the Alden job.”
Also by Sarah Zettel
THE VAMPIRE CHEF NOVELS
A Taste of the Nightlife
AN OBSIDIAN MYSTERY
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First Printing, April 2012
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To Alex Guarnaschelli and Christopher Lee
No book is ever created by a single person. I’d like to thank the Untitled Writers Group, who read it first; my husband, Tim, who was patient throughout; my agent, Shawna, who never quits; and my editor, Jessica, who is always right.
“Charlotte! He left me!”
The kitchen door banged open and a blur of color hurtled past the hot line.
“The wedding’s in ten days!” The intruder—whose name, incidentally, was Felicity Garnett—shouted over the hyperactive drumbeat of thudding chef’s knives. “Ten days and he left me alone!”
Being grabbed and shaken by a hysterical woman in a designer pantsuit is never a good thing. Just then it was particularly bad. For starters, I had a fish knife in my hand and a lovely fillet of sushi-grade tuna on my board that needed my attention. It also happened to be five o’clock on Thursday afternoon, so I was heading up the dinner prep for my restaurant, Nightlife.
The door from the dining room banged open again. “I’m so sorry, Chef Caine…” Robert Kemp, my white-haired, English maître d’, rushed in, looking as mortified as I’ve ever seen him, but pulled up short when he saw our intruder had me in a death grip.
Felicity ignored him. “You can’t say no.” She shook me for emphasis. “You’re not going to say no! If you say no, it’s over!”
Now, it’s one thing when random passersby have hysterics on the street. I mean, that’s just New York City. It’s totally different when those hysterics erupt in a confined space full of knives, fire, and massive pots of simmering stock. My crew members were busy at their stations, chopping the components for their
mise en place
, seasoning soups, checking the temperature of the ovens and making sure the containers of fresh ingredients and garnishes were in place for when we opened at eight. I had to get Felicity out of the middle of the hot, fragrant, noisy, frenetic action before somebody and her new spring Donna Karan pumps got hurt.
Knotting my fingers into her jacket collar, I spun Felicity around to face the door.
“No!” she wailed. “You can’t! He left…”
“You. Yes. Got that. Zoe, Reese, keep it moving in here.”
“Yes, Chef,” Zoe, my petite, eagle-eyed executive sous, replied calmly from the dessert station.
Reese, on the other hand, is an ex-drill sergeant with a manic SpongeBob laugh that would have given Alfred Hitchcock goose bumps. “Hear that, slackers?” he boomed. “You’re mine now!”
“It’s…!” Felicity began again.
Robert held the door, allowing me to shove Felicity bodily out of the bright kitchen into Nightlife’s dim, cool, and much, much less hazardous dining room.
“Felicity!” I spun her back around, put my hand under her pointy chin, and pushed her jaw closed. “Cut it out!”
Felicity’s tears shut off as if she’d thrown a switch somewhere, and her wide, wild amber eyes narrowed in raccoon-masked fury.
“Cut. It. Out,” I said again, to make sure she fully understood the nuances of the phrase. “Are you going to cut it out?”
Felicity’s chin trembled against my palm, but she nodded.
“Okay.” I let her go. Felicity drew in a deep, shuddering breath, and I had my hand ready again, just in case. She held up her own palm in answer. I nodded, then waved back Robert, who was hovering just out of Felicity’s field of vision.
Of all the professional acquaintances I might suspect capable of total disintegration during dinner prep, Felicity Garnett was not one of them. Far from being a bride left at the altar, Felicity was one of the highest of the high-end event coordinators in Manhattan. She regularly stage-managed the Big Day for discerning daughters of Fortune One Hundred families. I had personally seen her face down a bride who had been slipped an extra caffeine dose in her triple-mocha latte, gotten hold of the cake knife, and threatened to carve up the room unless the flowers were switched from golden dawn peonies to summer azure delphiniums
We’d sort of lost touch since she shot up the ladder in her chosen profession, and I…stalled. Well, maybe not stalled, but there had been a few setbacks. The biggest had come last fall when my restaurant, Nightlife, experienced a murder on the premises, a takeover attempt that could charitably be described as hostile, and the departure of my vampire brother, who had been part owner of the establishment. All little things, of course, but they did raise eyebrows in certain circles.
“I’m sorry, Charlotte.” Felicity brushed at her black jacket and tried to adjust the collar of the plum silk blouse underneath. “But he…”
“He walked out on you. You said. You want to tell me who ‘he’ is?”
The name hit me with a dull thud. What Felicity was to
event planners, Oscar Simmons was to executive chefs, except Oscar got way more time on the morning talk shows and the foodie networks. Oscar and I also had what gets called “history.” Unfortunately, it was the kind of history that involves barbarian hordes and burning cities. “Felicity, do not tell me you hired Oscar for a high-pressure event.”
“I know, I know. But he’s one of the most talked-about chefs in Manhattan…”