Smiling, she glanced at him, then turned to Colbert. "I'm Maggie O'Brian. Thank you for letting us stay with your coven."
"My pleasure, cherie." Colbert bowed gracefully. "Ian tells me you have come to discover Don Orlando's true identity."
"Yes." Don Orlando dropped his duffel bag on the floor as he glanced around. They appeared to be in an abandoned warehouse. Empty, broken crates littered the floor. The smell of coffee competed with the odors of mold and dust. This was far from the elegant wine cellar he remembered. "You moved?"
"Oui." Colbert sighed. "Our beloved wine cellar was flooded with the last hurricane. So much was ruined—many of our valuable antiques and all our lovely coffins."
"I'm so sorry," Maggie murmured.
"I was fortunate to find this old coffee warehouse." Colbert pointed at the far walls. "You can still see the watermark where the ground floor flooded, but we discovered the second floor was safe and dry. More importantly, it has no windows and no other exits. The government gave us a few cots and blankets, but it is not the same as the old days."
"Wait a minute," Don Orlando interrupted. "You received government aid?"
Colbert shrugged. "I filled out the proper paperwork." He gestured toward the second floor. A small balcony surrounded the closed door. "That is where we hide during the day."
Ian pointed at the heap of broken wood beneath the balcony. "Was that the staircase? Ye tore it down?"
"Oui. So no mortal can disturb us during our death-sleep."
Ian nodded. "A good plan. Now, if you doona mind, I'd like to get started with the investigation."
"But of course." Colbert smiled slightly at Don Orlando. "I must confess, I have long been curious about the identity of our Bootsie."
"Bootsie?" Maggie asked.
Don Orlando winced. This was going to be embarrassing.
"We didn't know what to call him," Colbert explained. "So we named him after the pair of boots he was wearing."
"What kind of boots?" Ian asked.
"Alligator, I believe."
"No, I mean what kind," Ian pressed. "Were they work boots, hiking boots—"
"Ah." Colbert nodded. "They were cowboy boots."
Don Orlando blinked. "I—I'm a cowboy?"
"You don't remember your boots?" Maggie asked.
He gritted his teeth. "No, if you recall, I have amnesia."
She huffed. "I know, but you must have been wearing them when you were transformed, after you already had amnesia."
"I see your point, cherie," Colbert conceded. "But Scarlett and Tootsie didn't like the way Bootsie was dressed, so they changed his clothes before transforming him. He was unconscious at the time, so it is no wonder he cannot remember."
"Scarlett and Tootsie?" Maggie turned to Don Orlando with an irritated look. "Two women transformed you?"
Don Orlando groaned. "It's a long story."
"Wait," Ian interrupted. "Do ye still have his old clothes?"
Colbert rubbed his dimpled chin. "Perhaps. We grabbed as much as we could when we evacuated. I'll have to ask Giselle."
"Do that," Ian ordered. "We might discover some clues from his clothes. And I need to interview Scarlett and Tootsie."
"Must you?" Don Orlando grumbled.
"But of course." Colbert smiled at Don Orlando. "They've been eagerly awaiting your arrival. They're practically swooning from all the excitement."
"They're always about to swoon," Don Orlando growled.
Colbert laughed. "I'll fetch them and find Giselle. A bientôt, mes amis." He levitated to the second-floor balcony, then opened the door. "Scarlett, Tootsie, he's here!"
High-pitched squeals responded.
Maggie shot Don Orlando an annoyed look. "You didn't tell me you had girlfriends here."
He considered climbing into one of the empty crates.
"He's here! Our little Bootsie is back!" A slim male Vamp ran onto the balcony. His eyes lit up when he spotted Don Orlando, and his scarlet-tinted lips broke into a wide grin.
Don Orlando grimaced. The hurricane hadn't destroyed Scarlett's clothes. He was wearing his usual white leather miniskirt and black fishnet stockings. His red satin bustier matched the red feather boa around his neck. His large feet were crammed into red patent leather pumps.
"Sweet Mary and Joseph," Maggie whispered. Her tote bag fell to the floor.
"Damn," Ian muttered, stepping back.
"Woo-hoo, Bootikins!" The Vamp waved at Don Orlando with the end of his boa. He glanced back. "Tootsie, stop worrying over your lipstick. You're keeping Bootsie waiting."
"I'm coming!" A deep male voice boomed from the upstairs room.
"Don't rush yourselves on my account," Don Orlando yelled.
Maggie turned to him, grinning. "Tootsie and Bootsie? You must have made a lovely couple."
"Don't go there." Don Orlando muttered. "Believe me, I didn't."
"Bootikins!" A male Vamp, wearing a red velvet costume, leaped onto the balcony. White fur trimmed the short skirt, neckline, and sleeves. A big white pompom hung from his red Santa hat, and his elf shoes were adorned on the tips with jingle bells. "Bootsie, you look gorgeous." He struck a pose. "Don't you love my new outfit? I look just like a Rockette."
"Yeah, right," Don Orlando grumbled.
Scarlett and Tootsie floated down to the first floor, the boa fluttering and bells jingling. They landed gracefully, then rushed toward Don Orlando. He stood still as they each embraced him and kissed his cheeks.
"What?" Scarlett whimpered. "No hugs or kisses for us?"
Don Orlando patted his shoulder. "It's good to see you again."
Tootsie dabbed at his eyes with a lacy hanky he'd pulled from his sleeve. "Our little boy has come home. I'm going to swoon, I just know it."
"There, there." Scarlett gave Tootsie a stern look. "We mustn't upset Bootikins now that he's home." He turned to Don Orlando with a trembling smile. "We're so proud of you! Our little Bootsie, a famous TV star."
Tootsie sniffled. "I just love your cape."
"Oh, me too!" Scarlett stepped close. "But we wanted to talk to you about that. Must you always wear black, sweetie? I think scarlet or plum silk would be so smashing."
"Excuse me." Ian raised a hand to get their attention. "We need to get down to business. Now, is it true that ye're the ones who transformed Don Orlando?"
"Oh, my!" Tootsie eyed Ian. "Your young friend with the sexy kilt and adorable accent is so serious and… aggressive." He shuddered. "I don't know whether to be appalled or excited."
Don Orlando cleared his throat. "Allow me to introduce my friends from New York. This is Ian MacPhie and Maggie O'Brian."
"Oh, yes!" Scarlett grabbed Maggie's hand and shook it. "You're Dr. Jessica from As the Vampire Turns. We think it's marvelous how you're going to South America to help those poor conjoined twins."
"But I—" Maggie started.
"I start crying every time I think about it." Tootsie wiped his eyes. "Tell me, was the surgery a success?"
Maggie gave Don Orlando a confused look. "Ah, yes, the twins are doing great."
"Oh, God bless them!" Scarlett pressed a hand to his flat chest.
"I'm so happy, I'm going to swoon from joy," Tootsie added.
"Could we get back to business?" Ian asked. "No swooning until I can interview you."
"Oh, he's so forceful." Tootsie shivered.
"You're such a lovely girl." Scarlett touched Maggie's chin-length black hair. "You know, not many of us can look good in a bob. But if I may suggest, some blue highlights would be so lovely for you. Don't you think so, Tootsie?"
"Yes, it would bring out the blue of her eyes."
"Business!" Ian shouted. "Before the sun rises, please."
"Oh, you're an animal," Tootsie purred as he slinked over to Ian. "Like a fierce young Scottish wildcat."
"Touch me and I'll break yer arm," Ian growled, folding his arms across his chest. "Now, we're here to discover the true identity of… Bootikins." His mouth twitched.
Don Orlando glared at them both.
"Which one of ye found Bootsie first?" Ian asked.
"That would be me," Scarlett confessed. "Tootsie and I were taking our nightly stroll around Jackson Square. I'd already had some bottled blood for dinner, so I wasn't very hungry. But then I saw sweet little Bootsie sitting on the steps of the cathedral. He. looked so sad and beautiful with his wavy black hair and big golden brown eyes, I couldn't help myself. I thought, perhaps, a little nibble wouldn't hurt—"
"You bit him?" Maggie looked appalled.
"Well… yes." Scarlett blushed a becoming shade of scarlet. "But Tootsie bit him, too."
Tootsie gave his companion a recriminating look. "Well, I couldn't let you have all the fun. Besides, he looked so marvelously tragic, like a dying Camille. How could we resist?"
Scarlett sighed. "I'm afraid we got a little carried away."
"A little?" Don Orlando glared at them. "You put me in a coma."
"But only because we liked you!" Tootsie exclaimed.
"We didn't do it right away." Scarlett blew red feathers away from his mouth. "You were fine when we tried to erase your memory. That's when we discovered you had no memory at all."
"And that's when Scarlett came up with the plan," Tootsie added.
"My plan?" Scarlett huffed. "You went along with it."
"What plan?" Ian demanded.
Tootsie hung his head. "I know we shouldn't have—"
"No, you shouldn't have," Don Orlando growled.
Scarlett's red lips trembled. "We said we were sorry."
Tootsie dabbed at his eyes with his hanky. "We begged you to forgive us, but you left for New York with that horrid woman and wouldn't forgive us. You wouldn't even talk to us."
"Oh, how sad." Maggie patted Tootsie's shoulder. "I'm sure he's forgiven you." She gave Don Orlando a reproachful look. "You have, haven't you?"
"Maggie, they murdered me!"
She shrugged. "So, you were having a bad day."
"I don't mean to sound cold." She squeezed his arm. "But we were all murdered at some point. It's the nature of our existence. If you want to be happy, you need to get over it and forgive them. You could have a wonderful future ahead of you."
Tootsie nodded. "You should listen to her. She's a very wise doctor."
"Just look at how she saved those twins in South America," Scarlett added with a sniff.
Don Orlando sighed. Tootsie and Scarlett kept confusing Maggie with the doctor she played on TV, but they were right. In her own way, Maggie was healing him. And she was right. An eternity of bitterness would make him miserable.
He glanced at Tootsie and Scarlett. They were both sniffling, their bottom lips trembling, and their eyes watery with regret. "All right, I forgive you. In fact, I'm downright delighted to be a vampire."
"Really?" Scarlett wiped a tear from his rouged cheek.
"Yes." Don Orlando turned to Maggie and clasped her hands in his. "If I hadn't become a vampire, I would have never met this beautiful, courageous, and wise woman. Maggie, you were definitely worth dying for."
Her mouth fell open and her eyes widened. When he tugged her forward, she willingly came into his arms. He held her tight and kissed the top of her head. So what if he had no memories? He could build an eternity of memories with Maggie.
"Oh, my!" Scarlett fanned himself. "This is so romantic."
"Oh, yes!" Tootsie pressed a hand to his forehead. "I'm going to swoon."
"No ye're not," Ian ordered. "Ye never told us about the plan."
"Oh, you're so demanding." Tootsie shuddered. "You're like a Scottish terrier with a bone."
"Mmm, a very large bone." Scarlett smiled slyly as he regarded Ian's kilt.
"The plan?" Ian growled.
"Well, there's no need to get all huffy." Tootsie gave him an injured look. "We simply wanted to make Bootsie like us."
"Like a vampire?" Ian asked.
"No." Don Orlando glared at his makers. "They wanted to make me just like them. They took my comatose body back to the wine cellar and put me in a damned dress."
Tootsie scoffed. "You needn't growl at us. You said you've forgiven us."
"And it was a very nice dress," Scarlett added. "An ivory silk gown with extensive beadwork on the bodice."
"It was a freaking dress," Don Orlando growled. "I woke up the next night to find out I was undead and wearing a dress!"
Maggie covered her mouth to hide a smile.
"It wasn't funny," Don Orlando grumbled.
"I'm sure you looked very nice." Maggie wrapped her arms around his middle, and he forgot all about being angry.
"So." Ian gave the two male Vamps a disapproving frown. "Yer plan was to take a mortal with no memory, transform him, and convince him that he was a gay transvestite?"READ MORE >>