Casey awakened, stretching. Daylight was well into the room, the sun warm in the sky. The clock on the bedside table showed that it was just after ten a.m. She’d gotten about six hours of sleep and felt very well rested.
She sat up, looking around the room. In the warm light of day the memory of last night’s bizarre events seemed more unreal than ever, but her unfamiliar surroundings were proof enough that it had all happened. She stretched again, luxuriously. Vampires or no, it was impossible to feel afraid in this sunny, lovely room.
When she opened the bedroom door she saw three bags — her bags, from her apartment.
“Aha!” Delighted, she brought them back into the bedroom and sorted through them until she’d found a complete change of clothes. Taking these to the bathroom, she indulged in a long, hot shower. Then she dressed, simply and comfortably: blue jeans and a sleeveless shirt in a very pale shade of yellow that complemented the healthy tan of her face and slender, leanly-muscled arms. Her boots had tell-tale marks on the heels where now-absent spurs had rubbed the leather dark and glossy. There was a gleam of silver at her throat, but the necklace was mostly concealed by the collar of her shirt. She ran a comb through her shoulder-length blonde hair, then wandered out to explore her surroundings.
She could hear music — classical music, emanating from down the hall. And something smelled VERY good. She followed her nose to the kitchen where she found Falco cooking at the stove. It was a large kitchen, the type possessed by those who know how to cook and like to cook.
In this agreeable setting, Casey was struck again by what an attractive man Falco was. She pushed that observation briskly out of her mind and took a seat at the table. As inexperienced as she was in matters of romance, she did know when she was out of her depth. Even if he were interested, Falco was way too much for her on every possible level; she must take care not to develop any schoolgirl crushes on him.
He was a fine-looking man, though. This was her first time to see him in such casual attire. He was wearing navy cotton lounge pants and a grey short sleeve shirt. His arms were well-tanned and muscled. He was an awfully fit fellow. Obviously, he was no stranger to the gym.
He looked up, “You’re up! Care for an omelette? This one’s vegetable, but there’s time to add some ham to it if you like?”
“An omelet sounds great, thanks. No ham, please.”
“As you wish,” He tipped the pan over a plate and handed it to her. The omelet was piping hot, made with onions and mushrooms, green and red bell peppers, and a white cheese.
She hadn’t realized how hungry she was until the plate was in front of her. Suddenly she was famished.
He pointed at the edge of the counter, “Orange juice and fruit, right over there.”
“Thanks.” She helped herself to a glass of orange juice, then gave the omelet her full attention. “Wow, this is incredible. Really good.” She managed to get the compliment out between mouthfuls.
“Glad you’re enjoying it.”
Cerberus loped into the kitchen and lay claim to the area beneath the kitchen table. Casey nudged the dog in a friendly manner with one boot-clad foot. He snuffled her foot.
She had so many questions crowding her mind she hardly knew where to begin. No, on second thought, she did know where to begin. “How did you know where I lived?” There was no trace of accusation in her voice, just an honest puzzlement.
“Well,” he cracked eggs into a bowl, “I’ve been in your head a few times. Nothing invasive, mind you. Just scanning surface thoughts. It’s rude, I know. Now that you and I are more than just casual acquaintances, I won’t do it anymore without your permission.”
A wry smile tugged at Casey’s mouth around her mouthful of peppers and cheese. It wasn’t like she could really object…after all, she’d been trying to do the same thing since the first time he walked into the Longhorn. She just wasn’t as good at it as he was. All things considered, she felt more flattered than offended by his disclosure.
He poured the mixed eggs into the pan. They crackled under the heat. “Please don’t be put off by what I know of you, Casey, and how I learned it. I would never approach someone about what I am…we are unless I was assured that they were a person of good character. I would not wish to pass on what I know to someone who might use that knowledge to do evil. I had to know that you were what you appeared to be. A fine person. And you are.”
She listened quietly, still working on the omelet. “What we are…you mean telepaths?” Somehow it sounded like he meant more than just that.
He looked thoughtfully at her.
“Wait,” she added. “Before we get into that I need to take care of some stuff. I have to call my boss and let him know I won’t be in tonight. And I think I should call my folks and let them know where I am. They’ll worry if I just disappear, they call once a week or so to make sure I’m surviving city life.”
He nodded, “I understand. Do not mention me by name. Tell your parents you are with a friend… or whatever you are comfortable with.” He slid a cell phone to her. “Give them this number.”
Casey picked up the phone and made the calls. She told her boss that a personal emergency had come up, and then told her mother that she had decided to share a new apartment with a roommate to save on expenses. Falco could feel guilt radiating from her like heat when she told this lie to her parent. She recited the cell number, and ended the call with an awkward excuse about being too busy with moving to talk for long. Sliding the phone back to Falco, she grimaced a little and shook her head. “I didn’t like that. I’ve never had to actually lie to my folks before.”
“I understand. We’ll work something out in that regard.” Falco slid the phone back to her. “It’s yours. Your parents need to be able to reach you and you them.” He sat down across from her with his omelette and fruit.
“Oh. Thanks,” she said uncertainly. Her list of debts to Falco was growing at an alarming rate. But her thoughts were already moving on, the questions crowding back in. She changed the subject abruptly. “Most of the things you did last night, I understood *how* they were done, even if I couldn’t have done them myself. But in that parking garage, there was a man burning. How did you put that fire out? He sure wasn’t *imagining* that he was engulfed in flames.”
“You’re familiar with the term pyrokinesis? The mental control over flame? Well I’ll tell you, starting a fire with your brain is a REAL bother. But putting one out? Once you know what you’re doing, it’s rather simple. It’s one of the things you’ll learn.”
She absorbed that. “Okay.”
He chewed on a bit of melon, swallowed. “In time,” he said, “I will impart upon you all of my knowledge. But you are not prepared to receive it all at once. That sounds condescending, I know. I hated when my own mentor said much the same to me. Over the years, I have seen the wisdom in a graduated process of revelation. So while I encourage you to ask questions, I would hope that you will understand when — on occasion — I find it necessary not to answer.”
She was too lost in thought to reply to that. Falco was describing years of mentoring…an intense training regimen. She had thrown her lot in with him almost on a whim last night — and things had gotten pretty scary after that. Now the desire to develop her skills was warring with an equally compelling urge to return to the simplicity of her rural home.
Stabbing at his omelette, he added, “I asked you here because I didn’t feel it was safe for you to return to your apartment. I think it unlikely that anyone identified you last night, but I’m not willing to take that chance. Nor am I willing to gamble the safety of your parents. The possibility of anyone connecting your parents to last night’s events is remote in the extreme. Still, nothing is as important as family. I would not risk mine, nor will I risk yours. I have dispatched two of my retainers to watch over them. Your parents will never know they are there, believe me. With my people on site, no one will get near enough to do them harm.”
Casey was staring at him now, a horrified expression on her face. “My family…” She put her fork down, hunger forgotten. “This doesn’t have anything to do with them. You make it sound like I have…mortal enemies out there somewhere. Look, I appreciate your concern, I really do, but there’s no way I ever could have made the kind of enemies you’re talking about. I *tend bar* for a living. It’s not exactly a cutthroat line of work.”
“You’re absolutely right,” he agreed, “But when I considered that there was a minor possibility that you were identified last night, I had to consider the even more unlikely prospect that someone would in not being able to locate you, would seek out your parents. Believe me, your parents are safe. They will continue to be safe. I have seen to it.”
She pushed her plate aside, intensely focused now on what he was saying. “We’re talking about the vampires, right? They tried to kill me, and you killed them instead, and now every time I step outside one of their friends might be waiting to avenge the dead?”
She shook her head. “To tell you the truth, Mr. Falco, Austin’s looking less appealing all the time. Seems like I could save us both a lot of trouble if I just went back home. Hiding out and playing vampire-slayer wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I moved here.”
“You are free to leave whenever you please.” He added, “You and yours will always have my protection.”
“And that’s another thing,” she interrupted heatedly. “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful…” She stopped. Lowered her eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, then looked back up at Falco. “In fact,” she continued in a softer tone, “I am a little overwhelmed by your protectiveness. Your term, casual acquaintances, was almost an overstatement. You’re a regular customer in the bar where I work…that’s not exactly the sort of relationship that inspires this kind of…eternal safeguarding. Again, I realize how unappreciative I must sound, but I can’t help but wonder…why you are doing all this for me.”
He regarded her, meeting her eyes with earnest intent. At last he answered, “You’re like me.”
“A telepath,” she said again. “Are we so rare, that you lay down your life to defend every one you run across?”
“Those with true potential, like yourself, are rare and precious. If you were to gather a thousand people with psionic abilities, you would be lucky to find one with your promise.”
She regarded him doubtfully. “Well, that’s an intriguing thought. To be honest, though, I haven’t seen much evidence of all this potential. I can’t read you. And those two guys you killed last night — you wouldn’t have had to do that if my ‘suggestions’ had had any affect at all on them.”
But then, almost unconsciously, she rubbed at the bruise on her right upper arm, a memento of last night’s struggle with the third vampire. Falco hadn’t come to her rescue that time, and she suspected she knew why. In the grip of utter desperation, she’d discovered a previously unimagined power at her command, and had wielded it with deadly force. She never would have achieved that level of power if she hadn’t been absolutely driven to it. She met Falco’s gaze again and nodded with gradual comprehension. Potential.