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Hot Vampire Next Door: Episode Twenty-Four

Playing with Fire

Locke House is a bit of a misnomer, since the property isn’t just one house but two. The Second Residence, as it’s called, was added to the property in 1941 when Locke House took in several widows who lost their husbands to WWII.

My maternal great-grandmother was one of those women.

My mom used to brag about that fact to anyone who would listen, even though every citizen of Midnight Harbor already knew the story of the war widows.

Julian’s decision to take in charity cases was looked upon with reverence and admiration.

I was never so sure. Sometimes I secretly thought Julian saw the war widows, my great-grandmother included, as easy prey.

Unlike my dad’s family that had been bound to the Locke House for over two centuries, my mom’s family were outsiders. Meaning they had no idea the supernatural world existed until they were brought into it.

The Second Residence had tried to match the original house’s Italianate architecture but never came close enough. It’s just a white box with some decorative black trim and a wide front porch with simple, straight columns.

The main house, however, was always supposed to be the center of attention.

It was constructed in the mid-1800s by some renowned architect that I can never remember the name of. The house is overly designed with decorative cornices and multiple towers and a front door so big you could drive a truck through it.

And it honest-to-god has a room called the belvedere because it overlooks the pond at the back of the Locke property.

Kelly and I used to joke that our dining room was the belvedere because it had a clear view of the other neighbor’s trash cans.

“Dinner is ready!” she’d call up to me. “Meet me in the belvedere.”

No matter how many times we used the joke, it was always funny.

The first edge of worry comes over me, thinking about Kelly. I’ve been so wrapped up in my own shit that I didn’t take enough time to properly check in on my sister since the bite.

With the worry is guilt.

Bran parks the Bimmer in the lot behind the Second Residence. Unlike at Duval House, there’s no Lance waiting beneath a porte cochère to valet my car for me.

Locke House might have a belvedere, but I’m beginning to realize most of what Julian does, he does for show. Duval House is bougie as fuck, but it’s casual wealth. The Duvals don’t show off. They just are rich and surrounded by luxury because it’s who and what they are.

They don’t even have to try.

When we walk out from the parking lot, there are several vampires and a few humans milling around the side garden that stretches between Second Residence and Locke House. Cody and François are the only two who come forward. They’ve been together since 1969 when François changed Cody at Woodstock.

François has his arm draped over Cody’s shoulders. He’s taller than Cody by several inches, though he’s given an extra few for the height of his frohawk.

Cody is dressed in brown jeans and a short sleeve button-up shirt with pearl snaps. I don’t think he ever left Woodstock. His feet are bare.

“Jessie,” François says, giving me a friendly nod. “’Tis a brave move, bringing a Duval here.”

Even though it’s been several centuries since François left France, some of his accent still comes through.

“There’s no rule against it, is there?” I ask.

“I suppose not.”

“Is my sister here?”

“She is,” François answers.

“In the main house,” Cody adds.

I can’t shake the feeling that they’re hiding something from me.

“How has she been since that horrible bite the other night?”

Cody and François share a look. “We know nothing of a bite,” François answers.

“Mmm. Well, Julian said he’d handle it so maybe he did. But Kelly came home the other night with her throat torn. Bran had to heal her.”

Cody threads his fingers with François’s hand that hangs over his shoulder. “We didn’t know anything about that, Jess. Honestly.”

I give them a nod. “Okay, well…we’re going to head in then.”

“I’d leave the Duval outside,” François suggests.

Bran mimics François and hangs his arm casually over my shoulders. “The Duval will go where Jessie goes.”

It’s weird hearing him say my name.

I don’t like it.

The guys regard me with an equal measure of worry and surprise.

“Your funeral,” François says to Bran.

Bran says nothing.

We leave the guys and follow the paved walk from the Second Residence up the gentle hill to Locke House. Bran removes his arm from around me and I immediately miss the weight of his nearness.

I don’t think he’s doing it to be distant. I think he’s doing it so his hands are free in case he has to fight.

While there has always been tension between the Duvals and the Lockes, there hasn’t been outright fighting in a very long time. Longer than I’ve been alive.

After the fight at the Pack House, I know Bran can hold his own when surrounded by supernaturals, but the Lockes do have quite a few older vampires within their house. Vampires that would nearly match Bran in age and strength.

As we make our way up the curving front steps, I watch him out of the corner of my eye, trying to gauge how he’s feeling. This was his idea. But is he worried?

His face is blank.

“We don’t have to do this,” I whisper beneath my breath.

“Yes, we do,” he says evenly just as the double front doors crack open and light spills out.

“Jessie!” A curvy woman comes out of the house with her arms spread for a hug. Maggie is third in line at Locke House and everyone considers her the house’s mother.

I let her envelop me and she squeezes just hard enough to make me grunt.

Bran clears his throat and Maggie steps back to give him a look. She clucks her tongue in a tsk-tsk.

“Bran Duval. Good evening. What brings you all the way over here to Locke House?”

While I haven’t Pledged yet and certainly haven’t aligned myself with the Lockes, I’m still more of a member here than Bran is and I think it might be best if I do most of the talking.

“I need to see Kelly. Where is she?”

Maggie keeps her eyes on Bran and Bran keeps his eyes on Maggie. “I think she’s around here somewhere.”

“Can you help me find her?”

Maggie tenses up and drags her teeth over her plump bottom lip in a half-wince.

Next to me, Bran goes rigid.

Locke House, like Duval House, is always busy. There are people hanging around in the background and a friendly game of poker going on in the next room over. So I don’t notice until several seconds after the vampires that Julian Locke has arrived.

He comes into the square of light cast by the modern chandelier above us. He’s wearing a loose-fitting shirt that hides the fact that he’s cut like a Greek statue.

His piercing blue gaze sweeps from me to Bran.

“Bran,” he says. “Nice of you to visit Locke House. And you brought our girl home.” He smiles at me, dares me to contradict him.

I’m not here for conflict so I keep my mouth shut.

But Bran has other ideas.

“Don’t provoke me,” Bran says. “I know you can smell me on her.”

Bran keeps using that fact as leverage against anyone that dares cross the line. I don’t want to like it as much as I apparently do. It’s a huge turn-on, knowing that every supernatural I cross paths with knows that I’m his.

Gelatin cake.

Gelatin cake.

Julian runs his tongue along the inside of his bottom lip. There’s a hint of a disgusted scowl marring his face, but he catches it and widens into a smile instead. “Jessie is free to do as she pleases until her Pledging. If our girl wants to sow some wild oats, so be it.”

Now I’m tempted to open my mouth.

Just who does he think he is, disrespecting me like that?

Bran puts his hand out, as if to stop me from jumping Julian. I’m not an idiot, but no one misses that he does it.

“We’re just here to speak with Kelly,” Bran says. “Can you show us to her?”

Maggie gives Julian a pointed look. The feeling I had with Cody and François comes back, like there’s a secret here I’m not supposed to know.

“Maggie?” I say, because I feel more comfortable addressing her than Julian. And also, I trust her more. “Please get Kelly for me. I’m worried about her.”

“Oh, don’t be!” She squeezes my arm and Bran edges closer to me. “I’ll go see if I can find her. How’s that sound?”

“Bring her to my office,” Julian says. “We’ll wait there. Come.” He waves us through the foyer. Bran doesn’t hesitate and as he follows Julian across the marble floor, he threads his fingers with mine, tugging me close to his side.

I know where Julian’s office is—the double doors at the very end of the main foyer hall—but I’ve never been inside. I’ve never had a reason to visit him, and I’ve definitely never been invited.

Once upon a time, when I was maybe thirteen or fourteen, I did have a crush on Julian. It’s hard not to. There’s something magnetic about him, something quietly intense too.

He’s more handsome than gorgeous, more rugged than polished. I think at the time I thought that made him more human than the Duvals.

One look at Bran or Damien and you know they’re something other than human.

With Julian, it’s a little harder to spot on the first glance.

He opens one side of the double doors on his office and waves us in. The ceilings are soaring, the walls uneven plaster and lathe painted in an off-white paint that contrasts just slightly with the crisp white crown molding.

Bookshelves line the back wall with a marble fireplace in the middle. There’s an overstated desk to my left that sits squarely in front of the windows and a sitting area to the right with heavy leather furniture.

“Have a seat,” Julian says. “Bran, you want a drink?”



“Um…no thanks.”

Julian goes to the bar just inside of the double doors and pours himself a few fingers of vodka. He drinks it straight. Ugh.

“So, Bran,” Julian starts.

Bran slowly circles the room, getting extra nosy as he scans the objects in Julian’s office. “So, Julian.”

“What the fuck are you really doing here? And why are you dragging Jessie into this?”

Bran pauses at a marble bust that sits on one of the shelves. He pulls it off. “Did you know this was a fake?” He turns it over as if inspecting it and then the stone cracks in his grip, raining to the floor in a dozen pieces. “Oops.”

Julian’s upper lip curls. “You’re playing with fire.”

Bran dusts off his hands. “No, I’m trying to put one out. One that you started.”

Julian’s gaze sweeps to me, then he drains the rest of the liquor. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t you?” Bran crosses back to me hovering near the door. “Why don’t you tell Jessie why you killed Sasha the night she took Jessie for a ride.”

Julian goes eerily still. I don’t think he even takes a breath for several long seconds, then, “Sasha left town.”

“We know the truth,” I hear myself saying. “Please, just tell us the reason.”

His nostrils flare with irritation. “Even you know, Duval, that the head vampire of a house can do as he pleases with the vampires bound to his house. It’s written in the rules. I don’t have to explain myself to either of you.”

“That might be the case,” I say, “but I’m asking you anyway. Please just tell me what happened.”

He screws up his mouth, the glass still clutched in his hand. I swear I hear it crack. “All right. The truth is she bit you that night and so her death was her punishment.”

“Even I know that’s overkill. No pun intended,” Bran says with a smirk.

“I deemed it necessary.” Julian returns to the bar and pours a second round. His shirt slouches on his shoulders as he straightens his spine. “Now answer my question. Why the fuck are you toying with Jessie?”

“He’s not toying with me,” I say and Bran says, “Because I can.”

The fuck. I scowl at him with enough venom to singe his eyebrows. If only I really was fae, one of the elementals I’ve heard about, the ones who can burn a place to the ground with nothing more than a look.

Bran would be tinder by now. Asshole.

Julian frowns at me with open sympathy like I’m just a brainless idiot that got trapped by the big, bad vampire.

“Please don’t let him manipulate you any further,” Julian says.

“Don’t worry about me, okay? This isn’t about me.”

Or is it?

“I want to see my sister.”

Both Bran and Julian’s attention wanders beyond the office.

“I think Maggie has her,” Bran tells me.

“And?” I coax.

There’s a troubling look that comes across Bran’s face. And Julian registers it at the same time I do.

The office doors bang open and slam against the wall.

Suddenly I’m alone in the office. “Bran!”

I race out after him. Where the hell did he go?


I run down the hall and slam into a round table in the middle of the foyer when Kelly’s voice causes me to shift directions at the last second.

“What’s happening?” Kelly slurs.

I whirl around and see her clutched in Bran’s grip, her legs buckling beneath her.

Several higher-ranking Locke vampires are in a loose circle around them.

“Kelly!” I shove in between the vampires to get to my sister’s side. I don’t see any bites, no trailing blood to explain why she’s so pale and dazed.

“Kelly?” I put my hands on either side of her face. She’s burning up and slick with sweat. She shakes in my grip. When I force her to look at me, her eyes find mine, bloodshot and glassy.

“Jessie?” Her voice is reedy and thin.

“What’s wrong with her?”

Bran adjusts her in his grip. He answers me but looks at Julian as he does. “It’s called compulsion fever. It can happen when a vampire compels a mortal too many times.”

The rage that comes over me is nearly blinding.

I don’t stop to think about the risks or the consequences.

I don’t care about any of that.

I whirl around and charge Julian Locke.


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