Toxic. My entire body burned from embarrassment. One kiss and suddenly he thought I was a vampire junkie. Or dhampir junkie. Whatever. “Look, back off the whole Damian thing, okay? And the dean isn’t going to go for my throat in front of my father. He’s just not. So let me pretend to be polite for my dad’s sake, and then I’ll go home and never come here again.”
“You got that right. Vincent will lock you in Fir’s cellar himself when he finds out. You won’t go anywhere.”
Scott shrugged. “Promise me you won’t be stupid with Damian, and I won’t tell him. Seriously, Tiz, he’s bad news for you. He’s got issues.”
I sighed. Of course Damian had issues. Look who his dad was. “I won’t be stupid.”
“Good girl.” He slung his arm around my shoulder and gave me a hair noogie. “And one more thing for my silence. I want in on the next movie night you have. I want to see how the infamous movie blogger works.” He tapped my belt buckle before I could pretend I was clueless. “Don’t even. I saw the post about this. I’m pretty sure you had on the same t-shirt.”
Damn me and my total lack of fashion sense. And what was a werewolf doing reading my blog? Were all of my followers monsters?
Probably best not to ask. “I work alone.”
“That’s because you never had friends. Now you do.”
I sighed. If I’d known the word friends meant “too bossy to breathe” I might not have wanted them so much. “Fine. You can crash my movie night. Though God knows when I’ll have time, with Fir making me be at the Dragon every night.”
He face split in a grin. “Only during the week. Saturdays you’re free. Now go back out there before they think you were kidnapped by the Tidy Bowl man. And try not to get bitten.” He shoved me back into the hallway and shut the door.
I dragged my feet back to the parlor. Between the toxic comment and my blogger cover being blown—by someone who knew the crap I wrote about was real, no less—I hadn’t had much of a reprieve. But Scott was right; it was time to go back. I didn’t want anyone sending the wolf pack looking for me.
“You’ve been practicing, Richard.” The dean pushed away from the chess table, his cheeks and neck a mottled purple. “I’m done.”
“No rematch?” My father smiled. It was the least stressed he’d seemed all day. But how the hell had he beaten him? I’d seen the crappy moves he was making. “In that case, I suppose I should get Tallulah back to her mother. Plus I’d hate to beat you twice. It might impact my performance review.”
I sucked in a breath, half horrified and half laughing. My dad had gone from a meat-eating wimp to a guy with an actual backbone.
The dean turned his back on my dad and focused on me, and my laughter died. Those purple splotches were scary on someone who could drain you dry in seconds. “Tallulah, would you humor me for one moment before you go?”
“Me?” It did not come out a squeak. It didn’t.
“Your father tells me you play the piano.” He revealed a hint of fang. “Indulge me.”
I glanced at the Steinway in the corner, the black lacquer polished to a perfect shine. Indulge him. Shit. “I’m not that good.”
“I’d like to judge for myself if you don’t mind.” He gestured toward the piano, his arm moving in a graceful arc. “Yes?”
As far as eccentricities went it could have been a lot worse, considering the source. But I still felt like the lounge act in an undead hotel bar as I slouched my way over to the piano. What did one play for an evil vampire and his werewolf goon squad? ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’? “I’m not sure what to play.”
“Anything. Perhaps something by Chopin.”
I sank onto the bench and blew out a breath. Chopin. I’d listened to ‘Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2’ in the hospital, over and over, after the New York vamps had cracked my skull open. It had helped me get my mind back together. But the dean couldn’t know that. Unless mind reading was a vampire skill, in which case I had bigger issues than playing piano for the guy.
“I don’t usually play for other people.” The keys were cool under my fingers and slick as ice.
“I’ve found you can learn a lot about a person when you take them outside their comfort zone.” He lounged back in his chair, his eyes dead shark again. “I’m sure you’ll do fine.”
I stared at the wall art in front of me. The ornate, braided wreath above the piano, made with dulled black hair, was like a window into the night of the attack. This was a test. Like that night in the alley had been a test. And this time instead of snotty, clubbing vampires seeing if I was predator or prey, it was a master vampire in his home. Somehow this felt more dangerous.
My fingers were stiff, frozen from the memories and the icy keys. I plonked the notes, the sound of them flat and sharp, and started to sweat. I could do better. This was bad piano recital music. But first I had to forget my audience, forget the attack. I had to find the music inside me and let it out.
I stopped hacking at the keys and took a breath. The dean wasn’t there. His goon squad were paper-trained puppies. I’d play for Scott. For Damian, wherever he’d wandered off to. Friends, not strangers or enemies. I could do that. Right?
It was only four minutes, three and a half if I rushed.
I focused on my breathing. Drew in air slow, like the song. And the images came. The dark colors and scuttling movement of the music filled my head and wrapped around me. This time when my fingers began to move, the piano came to life. The notes were rounded and rich. They warmed the room. I didn’t notice the hair art anymore, didn’t notice the dean. And I almost didn’t notice the guy with pewter eyes who sat down on the piano bench, his elbow bumping mine.
Damian’s fingers were almost as pale as the keys, almost as iced-looking. But they flew. They danced. And together with my part, they turned Chopin from something ethereal but earthbound into something cosmic. Into starshine.
When we finished the piece, I couldn’t do anything but look at my hands. The music was still humming through me, a waltz that I didn’t know how to break free of. And I didn’t know if it was his monster mojo or the way he played. If there was a difference between the two and if there was, if it mattered.
The dean clapped, a flat, slow drumbeat. There was curiosity in his eyes along with the usual crazy. “Thank you, Tallulah.”
I glanced at my father. He was standing by the window, his eyes locked onto Damian. And I couldn’t tell if he was horrified or mystified or a little of both. “Sure.” I got up, away from Damian and the piano. He could play. He could make a piano sing. And that, more than his cherry pie smell and his liquid metal eyes, was going to be trouble.