Chapter 1: Strange Client
LAURENCE ROCH WORE FANGS, but he was not the strangest client Sarah Martin ever had in her car. She was vaguely curious if the fangs were implants or the temporary glue-on kind, but not enough to ask. One might not even notice them, except Laurence unconsciously rubbed his tongue over his left canine as he read the listings she had printed.
By his retiring quietness and the number of geeky clubs in Seattle, she assumed he was a LARPer. Of course, it might be some kind of kink. If he got off pretending to be a vampire in a Seahawks hoodie, it was no concern of hers.
Laurence’s blue shirt accentuated the veins under his pallid skin. His dark hair, though quite full and curly, appeared strangely monotone and without highlight. In their initial meeting, he had claimed “to suffer from intense polymorphic light eruptions,” and was required to view homes after sunset, which was why they were starting their showings at 5:30 pm, rather than earlier in the afternoon. Sarah could believe he never went into the sun.
She had warned she might show him homes after sunset in February, or perhaps even March when the days were shorter, but once the sun set after eight, they wouldn’t be able to extend it much more than that. And, by inconveniencing homeowners, they might miss quality properties within his budget. Though the city had a population of over 700,000 people, and the sprawling metropolitan area was over 3.8 million, Seattle was still a city that slept.
Her concerns made him more optimistic. He had replied: “Yes, I hope to find and close on a house quickly as my lease is up on April 1st. I really need a place for my studio.”
A self-employed painter, Laurence recently exhibited in several shows, but most of his income came from painting book covers “the old-fashioned way.” With the recent surge in independent authors catering to niche markets, the work was steady.
When he spoke about painting, he became animated, but he seemed reticent about personal matters.
However, she also learned his husband recently passed away, and he’d lost his home. Sarah knew it was a bad habit, but these facts created a story in her head of a young man who had married a wealthy older man whose children inherited his property.
Laurence preferred a single-family residence with a basement but was looking to keep it under $500,000, so he didn’t need a mortgage. He could go to $550,000 if need be, but she understood stretching his budget worried him. He was fine with a fixer-upper. Though financially times were good, he was apprehensive about having debt on top of the ever-rising property taxes. There was so little inventory in-city under $550,000, but Sarah was excited. She loved finding her clients the perfect home, almost as much as she loved earning her commissions.
“Some of these seem pretty far south.” Laurence scanned the listings. His voice sounded nervous.
“Your budget goes farther in the south end than the north, so we’ll start in Beacon Hill, head to the Central District, then southward tonight.”
By the warble in his voice, Sarah could tell something didn’t sound good.
“Is there a listing you don’t want to see?”
Laurence held it. “This one in Georgetown.”
He looked visibly relieved.
Trying to keep Laurence comfortable, she asked, “What genres do you work in?”
“Whatever people want. Romance sells the best.”
A dark flush spread over his ivory cheeks, and he dropped his eyes to the listings, then out the window. He seemed to have no need to fill the car with chatter. His stillness set her on edge, but, on the plus side, he bathed and wasn’t trying to convince her about his political stance, dietary choices, or new-found religion.
Chapter 2: Definite Maybes
LAURENCE SCANNED THE WHITE 1910’S BUNGALOW. He had to find a home; without a safe place to rest his head, a stregone might go insane. However, this “Beacon Hill Charming Craftsman” had no curb appeal.
The typical big porch was missing. In fact, no dominate features proclaimed the era. Two front windows glowed from Christmas lights that hadn’t been taken down and the ceiling fixtures inside which had been left on in preparation for their arrival. His reborn vision exposed the peeling white paint and missing shingles on the roof which looked like one rainstorm from collapse. Still, two old spruce trees would cast shade in the afternoon, and a row of three-story modern townhouses stretched southbound down the street. Mornings might be an issue, but maybe some plantation shutters would add character and block the light.
“This one is a bit of a fixer-upper.” Sarah walked up the concrete steps and opened the lockbox attached to a blasé porch.
Remaining on the front walk, Laurence watched her long black hair swing in perfect harmony with her steps to her midback. It shimmered in the darkness.
He wondered how she kept it so smooth, but his Catholic, Venetian, Napoleonic era upbringing would not allow asking a lady such personal questions. He kept a respectful distance, not wanting to set off any prey instinct. Sarah seemed not to be the type of woman taken in by superstition, but even in the modern age, fear was an intense emotion.
He ignored the sweet sound of her beating heart and rich blood flowing under her delicate golden flesh. To fit in with the informality of his adopted city, Laurence wore jeans everywhere, clipped his hair short and filed his nails.
Most never gave him a second thought while he considered if they were a meal. Sarah Martin was not a meal. She was his Realtor.
He surveyed the hillside to see the view as a human would, taking in the warm lights of the other homes. He smelled spice, cooked meat, vegetation, earth, and creosote. People, domesticated animals, feral wildlife, and insects clung to life on this hill. “It’s a pretty view in its way.”
“Yes, it is. Quiet,” Sarah said. “And within walking distance of the Hilltop area, the light rail station, and Jefferson Park.”
“I like the location, but the house doesn’t do much for a first impression.”
“Give it a chance,” she said.
Fearful she might sense death in his cold white skin, he was careful not to brush against her as she held the door for him.
He appreciated the new world’s openness and equality, but he was a man outside of time. Or a vampire outside of time, if one would use the prevailing word. He didn’t like the words “vampire” or “vampiro” because of the negative stereotypes associated with them. He liked the Italian word “stregone” because, on its own, it held neither negative or positive connotations, and only Twilight devotees had any idea what it meant.
Most of what Americans knew about vampires was from Hollywood or fanciful novels, and most of it was ridiculous. Except for what wasn’t: the immolating sun and need for a secure home. Laurence’s basement apartment was nice, but it wasn’t safe enough. He wasn’t sleeping as deeply as a stregone should. He kept waking in the middle of the day, covered in bloody sweat, terrified someone would find him and drag him into the sun. He feared if he didn’t find a house soon, the restless dreams might drive him insane.
A coat room opened into the living room which was currently dominated by a large screen TV and old recliner. A tired-looking sofa was against the wall. The room had been sloppily repainted white, but the old maroon color leaked through, giving a pinkish hue. The original “charm” might be seen if one looked hard enough to notice the hastily painted old moldings and coved ceilings.
“Here’s the powder room. The main bathroom is upstairs between the two bedrooms.”
As soon as Sarah opened the door to the powder room, Laurence’s stomach bounced. He didn’t need his heightened senses to smell and see the mold in each corner and the brown ring on the ceiling.
“Is that black mold?” he asked, agitated. Turning away, he muttered under his breath. “Damn, Rob, why’d you have to go? I’m no good at these decisions.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.” Sarah’s face was set in practiced concern for her client, but there was no change in her pulse or true emotion emanating from her expression. She opened her purse and unwrapped a tissue from a small packet and handed it to him. The action was so automatic, he wondered how often her clients broke down.
The image of Rob’s kind face rose in his mind and brought waves of throbbing, hollow pain and overwhelming dread. He couldn’t cry in front of Sarah. Humans simply did not react well to blood dripping from one’s eyes.
“Forgive me. Can I see ‘the vintage kitchen,’ please?” he asked using the words from the listing.
“Right over here.”
Laurence watched plenty of HGTV. Mid-century modern was all the rage, but the 1950’s kitchen and bathroom fixtures were one of the reasons this house was still on the market after a hundred days.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Copyright Elizabeth Guizzetti 2018
Paperback ISBN: 9780999559864 / Ebook ISBN: 9780999559871
Laurence Roch might be the worst vampire in Seattle. He adores peppermint mochas. He follows the Seahawks and Mariners religiously. He never wears black or sleeps in a coffin. However, coffin or not, a vampire needs a safe place to rest their head, or they will go insane. After his mortal love died, Laurence found himself alone and without a home. With the booming tech industry, the city’s population keeps growing. The hunting is good, but affordable real estate is hard to find.
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