Authors: Michele Drier
By Michele Drier
In the second book of the SNAP Kandesky vampire series, Maxie Gwenoch, media-savvy editor of the multinational celeb gossip magazine SNAP, is pummeled in Paris and kidnapped in Kiev as the Huszars ramp up the race to oust their centuries-old rivals, the Kandeskys.
SNAP’s owners, the Kandesky family of vampires, built the world’s most popular celeb coverage empire but this isn’t just a business take-over. These powerful vampire families lived with an uneasy peace for four centuries until Maxie came in to boost SNAP’s coverage and started making inroads into the Huszar’s traditional hunting territories.
Although Jean-Louis, Maxie’s lover, vampire and second-in-command of the Kandeskys, tries to keep her safe, Maxie is determined to do things her way, a way that may lose her her job, her love and her life.
For Darcy, Matt and the girls
Copyright 2012 by Michele Drier
First, to all those people who live in my head: my mother, who daily watches me from the top of the Montmartre Steps, my grandmother, who sits on several bookcases and my great-great-grandmother whose ring I wear. You are forever a part of me, and I’m glad.
Also, Darcy, Illa and Susan who have listened to me, my critique partners at the Capitol Crimes Chapter of Sisters in Crime, beta readers Sharon Cronin and Jackie Timmons and to my first, last and best critic and fan, Beth White. We’ll get that shelf of books, yet!
This is a work of fiction.
Every time I slept, I dreamt.
These weren’t everyday dreams though. My subconscious fears grabbed hold of me and dragged me into a world of noise and fury that only stopped when I forced myself awake. Then the sounds of leathery wings and scratching, small talons faded.
This time I woke up because Elise was in the room, moving the drapes aside to a pale day.
“Good day,” she looked at me. “Did you, were you dreaming again?”
I pulled myself up in bed, saw that the sun was at a low angle trying to get through a gray mist. “What time is it?”
“Just before 3,” Elise called from the small kitchen area. I smelled fresh coffee, then she carried a tray of coffee server, cup, two fresh rolls, butter and jam to the round table set before the windows. I pulled on a long sweatshirt from the bottom of the bed and headed into the bathroom.
I was still uncomfortable sharing my living space with another person, especially a maid. Coming from the classless United States and L.A. ,the capital of laid-back, I had to remember not to be so casual as to wear only a tee shirt but I discovered that a long zip sweatshirt was comfortable and could pass for a robe just between Elise and me.
“Do you want to have coffee before your shower? What will you being doing today?” Elise’s questions weren’t nosy, she was trying to find out what clothes I’d need for the coming day and night.
With coffee in front of me, I was able to banish the last of the wings and claws. “Today is primarily a work day.” I broke off a chunk of the roll, smeared it with butter and added a spoonful of jam. “I think just wool slacks and a sweater. If I go out, it will only be for a short walk and I can grab a jacket and some boots from the armory.”
Elise nodded as she went into the closet to find and lay out clothes. “Will it just be us for dinner?”
I glanced up sharply. Was she trying to pry? Did I sense some disapproval in her tone? Her back was to me, but when she turned around with slacks and a sweater draped over her arm, her faced was placid. Was I ever going to be able to understand the subtext of these Europeans? Or was there even a subtext? Was I reading too much, or maybe too little, into their language?
My only language was English, and I thought I understood nuances, but I was surrounded by people who spoke several languages—Hungarian, German, French. Spanish, Portuguese, and now Polish, Czech and Russian—in addition to English. Some of them spoke several of the languages, but all of them spoke English and Hungarian. What they spoke, though, may have been different from what they said and what they meant.
It wasn’t worth going into with Elise. She was always polite, always helpful, and tried to fit herself around my needs and wants. If she did disapprove of anything I did, she knew it wasn’t her place to note it or voice it and I respected her circumspection. I never felt the stink-eye from any of the other house staff, so either Elise never talked, or everyone was too well-trained to let on.
Today was going to be a work day. Getting started in the afternoon wasn’t as slothful as it sounded. My employer, Baron Stefan Kandesky, and his family, own the multi-national, multi-media conglomerate, SNAP.
SNAP produced celebrity news and gossip 24/7 through television and weekly magazines that came out in zoned editions, and languages, in the United States, Britain, France, Germany (and German speaking countries), Brazil, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. Covering most of the world meant that at any given time somebody was at work in the many offices, so my 12-hour days could start and finish any time. Besides, starting work in the late afternoon also gave me the night hours to interact with my bosses, all members of the Kandesky family—a family of Hungarian vampires.
Checking email was always top priority. When I took the job with SNAP, I was the Managing Editor of the weekly magazine and worked in the headquarter Los Angeles offices. SNAP may be a multi-national business, but its primary business was celeb gossip and coverage, and the firmament of stars that people want to hear about intersects with SoCal.
Jasmine Fall, Just-Call-Me-Jazz, initially my assistant, was now holding down the L.A. office. We communicated a couple of times a day by phone; once by Skype for the daily content meeting, with senior eds, art people and TV producers, and constantly by email. If it needed immediate attention, I was called, but Jazz was getting very proficient at sorting through the “I have to speak with her” from the “I know she’ll take my call”.
Only drawback was that my commute time now didn’t give me time to get into work mode. In L.A., I always used the commute, usually in a town car, to make lists. Lists of what I had to do at home and then the transition to lists of work-related chores. I also scanned the Los Angeles and New York
. Depending on traffic, it was around 30 minutes from my condo in Santa Monica and I could hit the elevators at a run.
Now, I walked across my suite to my office, a distance of less than 50 feet. Not enough time to wake up if I hadn’t had coffee.
Today’s—actually last night’s in West Coast time—spate of emails was the usual. Notes about people to see, an update of my travel calendar, a nice gossipy one about office politics, romances and spats. I answered the ones that needed it, stuck some in folders and deleted a lot. Despite both Jazz’ and my foot-stomping, there were always some people who could and would sneak a cc or a “reply to all” in.
It would be a few more hours before I could talk to anybody on the Coast, so I started on European calls.
“’Allo, Maxie,” François’ cheery voice lightened my day. “I don’t have much for you. When are you coming to see me?”
François headed the Paris office, although he spent time in L.A. as well. He was young, hip, cutting-edge and irreverent and we had fun together.
“Next week for a few days if I can clear some other things up. I need to get to Prague, too, and was hoping you’d go with.”
“Hummmm...” I could practically hear the gears ticking over. “I can manage maybe three days after next week?”
“That would be great!” My enthusiasm wasn’t faked, Francois made a good traveling pal. Like the rest of the Kandesky family, he knew Europe well. After all, he’d lived here for more than 300 years.
When I took the job with SNAP, I was stunned at the perks and goodies that came with being in upper management. For the first time in my life, I could use personal shoppers. I had decorators when I needed them. There were limos, caterers, best tables at restaurants and people actually returned my calls.
There were also body guards and personal planes and being watched 24/7. It was like a prison, but gilded with the best.
The Kandesky family, named for their head, Baron Stefan Kandesky, was large, incredibly wealthy, urbane, mannered and constantly on guard with their archrivals, another Central European vampire family, the Huszars. This feud dated back about 500 years so the Kandeskys had plenty of time to figure out protection strategies.
The further I became enmeshed in the family and in SNAP, the more I learned what my value was. And as I began to fall in love with Jean Louis, titular art director for SNAP the Magazine and second-in-command of the Kandesky family, I felt as though they were staking me out as tiger bait for the Huszars.
I fought against it, fought with Jean Louis, but if I wanted to keep my job and wanted to stay close to this stunning man—who happened to be a several-centuries-old vampire—I had to listen and obey.
Which is how I ended up living in a castle in Hungary, with a live-in maid, hot and cold running demons to guard me, and shopping trips to Paris.
And, oh yes, Jean Louis, on occasion.
San Quentin it wasn’t.
I suppose I could have just let SNAP and all it meant to me go, but I wasn’t raised that way. I’d worked hard to get to where I was. As much as I wanted Jean Louis, and as much as I loved the luxe life I was leading, my soul needed to know that I had value beyond my personal life.
There are probably those who believe that media like SNAP are parasites and not really journalism, and they may be right. I’ve never viewed my career in celeb gossip as earth-shaking, but it provides everybody a chance to see celebrities—movie stars, aristocrats, athletes, rock stars, the rich and beautiful—in an up-close-and-personal way.
The bottom line is that people are curious, they want to see what that singer who makes $15 million a year really eats, how she dresses when she takes a walk with her kids. And one of the first rules I’d laid down was that we would not buy any pictures from paparazzi who pushed the envelop. If one celebrity complained about being harassed, that photographer was banned from SNAP for life. A big blow for people who made a living following celebs, because we paid well and bought a lot of art.
And one of Jazz’ emails brought that home. A wealthy gem trader in Sao Paulo complained that a young and hungry photographer bribed his gate guard, got on the grounds of his estate and shot pictures of his daughter’s bedroom with a long lens. The guard was fired; Mira, our Senior Editor for the Brazilian office, fired the photographer, sent messages to all the other gossip channels and that guy was toast. Jazz made sure that I was cc’ed on the email chain.
By 5 p.m. I’d dealt with the routine stuff and needed to get some fresh air. When I opened the door to my suite, the guard demon loomed in front of me.
“Can I help you with something?”
This was someone new. “Who are you? Where’s my regular guard?”
He nodded in recognition that I’d asked a question, but he didn’t smile. The demons seldom smiled, even though I tried my best to crack jokes with them. I’d gotten to know the chief demon, or head demon, or demon-manager (I still don’t have their organizational chart memorized) Sandor well enough that he sometimes unbent and smiled, but the minions weren’t amused. Kind of like talking to the Coldstream Guards at the Tower of London.
“I have no information. Sandor told me to take the day shift at your door.” The demon was dressed in the ubiquitous black suit, well-enough cut to camouflage the Sig Sauer in the shoulder holster, and starched white shirt.
“I’m going out to take a walk before it gets any darker.” I was pulling on my jacket as I came into the hall. “Are you the one assigned to stay with me?”
A slight nod said yes as he poured a rapid burst of Hungarian into his communicator. Whoever was on the other end must have agreed, because he nodded again and turned to me. “We go now,” he waved me down the hall toward the stairs.