San Francisco, 1969. Vampire Conrad Quintano has been around for centuries—long enough to know that falling for a human is a terrible idea. Much less falling for adventure-seeking hippie Desert Rose. An even more terrible idea? Agreeing to raise her babies and protect them with his life.
Present day. Marc and Julie Fischer have always known they’re vampires. Raised in virtual isolation, they’ve never known their parentage or their unique status in the world. But once their uncle comes to take them home, the family reunion is nothing like they anticipated and they’re thrust into a world they’re completely unprepared for.
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In the Dark is the first book in the Children of Night series, and about half the action takes place in the late 1960s–in a time before cultural appropriation. This is Conrad’s first glimpse of Desert Rose…
Saturday, October 26th, 1968
Conrad Quintano threw the best parties. Among the vampires who made their homes in that part of Northern California, this was widely acknowledged to be incontrovertible fact, and no more than any of them would have expected. He was, after all, the oldest living vampire in the area with a well established nest and all the wealth, resources and connections necessary to procure the best of everything.
For Conrad himself, it was a point of pride that his household be known always for its gracious hospitality. Outside vampires were never exactly encouraged to crash one of his weekly soirees, but it was an open secret that they were rarely, if ever, turned away. He ruled his nest with a hard fist, but never a tight one. And while he had never gone so far as to suggest to anyone that mi casa es su casa, he did insist that guests within his domain be treated with courtesy and accorded all the rights and privileges of the house. So long as they behaved themselves and abided by his rules.
Transgressors were dealt with swiftly and severely. There were rarely problems and when there were, they were never repeated.
Of course, this applied only to his vampire brethren. Human guests were, in general, given far less leeway. Their actions were monitored, their movements curtailed and those who came too often or stayed too long were gently dissuaded from returning.
It had long been Conrad’s habit to circulate at his parties, a word here, a touch there, the occasional guest encouraged to stay behind after the others had been dismissed, and then invited back to his rooms for the night. But only for a night—two or three at most. It had been over one hundred years since Conrad had had a permanent partner in his life. He was not looking for a replacement.
It was in this way, and at one of these parties, that he first met Desert Rose in the fall of 1968. The weather that autumn had been unseasonably warm and dry. Later, Conrad would claim that it was this that was to blame for his behavior, that it was the weather that had made him so edgy, so careless, so much hungrier than usual.
Since it was the Saturday before Halloween, almost everyone at the party had come in costume. It always amused Conrad to see the unrealistic, romantic yearnings so many people harbored for bygone days. He knew, better than most, that the past hadn’t seemed all that romantic at the time. Cowboys, pirates, sultans, knights—they were rarely the dashing figures modern imagination made them. Witches, and those even suspected of being witches, had been burned in ages past. Gypsies were once spat upon and reviled. And medieval kings and queens, for all their supposed nobility, were frequently petty and vengeful and, in his opinion, generally deserving of far worse fates than those they’d actually received.
From his vantage point, having already lived through the better part of a dozen of them, Conrad considered this present century to be a vast improvement on many that had come before. Its more relaxed social mores and unparalleled ease of travel had made his life immeasurably easier. As for the current mode of dress, he had nothing but appreciation for it. The ever more revealing fashions were certainly hard to beat for visual stimulation.
Take that, for instance, he thought, catching sight of a rippling wave of coffee colored hair cascading over a nearly naked female back. Raven tresses had long been a favorite of his, especially in combination with a pair of wine dark eyes. Ah, yes, just like those. The unknown beauty turned suddenly in his direction, dark eyes flashing in amusement. For one heart-stopping second their gazes collided. Her lips curved upward in a warm, sunny smile that brought an answering smile to his lips. And then she was turning away again, coaxed back into conversation by the handsome, red-haired vampire who was Conrad’s current majordomo, leaving Conrad’s smile to fade wistfully away.
That should have been the end of it. Nine times out of ten, it would have been. But not this time. Though Conrad was generally loath to spoil any of his children’s fun, especially one of his favorites, this was different. The girl had turned her back on him and such impertinence could not be allowed to go unchallenged.
“And what are you supposed to be dressed up as, my dear?” he inquired after closing in on the girl. He spoke the words softly, almost in her ear, delighting in the sudden flush that warmed her cheeks, the rapid patter of her heartbeat, the faint scent of patchouli that clung to her skin.
Dark eyes glanced up at him in surprise. “Why, I’m an Indian Princess, of course. What did you think?”
Conrad’s brow furrowed as he looked her over, taking in the details of her ensemble—details he’d largely missed, due to the hair and the eyes and everything else that had heretofore captured his attention. His eyes tracked the beaded headband that circled her brow, the peacock feathers strung on wire that she wore in place of earrings. The bulk of her hair flowed unfettered down her back—all but for two narrow strands, one on either side of her face, which were plaited and tipped with more feathers. He looked closer. Parakeet feathers, he decided after a moment’s perusal, or possibly conure.
Her halter top and matching micro-mini skirt were made of brown suede and heavily fringed, as were her knee-high boots. The outfit left her neck, shoulders, arms, midriff, most of her back and practically all of both her thighs deliciously, accessibly bare. He’d been to India many times, in the past, yet he’d never seen anything there quite like this.
“An Indian princess?” he repeated, wondering if the loud music blaring from his stereo system could be to blame for his confusion. Perhaps he’d misheard?
“She means like Pocahontas,” Armand explained helpfully. Conrad gazed at him doubtfully.
“Vraiment?” he inquired, feeling only slightly less confused. At least the feathers were explained…in a way.
Armand’s hazel eyes glinted as they met his. “Ah, mais oui. Certainement.” His tone, one of barely suppressed amusement, left Conrad with little doubt that the French Canadian shared his opinion of the authenticity of the lady’s costume.
“Far out. You guys speak French?” Dark eyes sparkled even brighter. “That’s way cool. It’s like…like the Addams Family, or something. You know, how Gomez was always saying, ‘Morticia, that’s French!’”
“Indeed,” Conrad murmured, taking hold of her hand and lifting it to his lips. “Enchanté, Mademoiselle.”
Her gasp of pleased surprise was echoed by Armand’s far more dismayed one. Conrad shot the other vampire an apologetic look. “Désolé, mon cher. Êtes tu bien?”
As he’d expected, Armand shrugged in reluctant assent, relinquishing his claim on the girl. “Oui, d’accord. C’est la vie, eh?” Flashing a parting smile, he blended back into the crowd, no doubt in search of other conquests. The girl’s eyes filled with something close to disappointment.
“Something wrong, chérie?” Conrad inquired softly.
A slight shrug. A vague wave of the hand. And eyes that continued to look entirely too dejected as they followed Armand’s retreat. Yes, definitely disappointed, he thought, as the girl murmured, “Well, no…I just…well, I thought…w-we were talking and…”
“And might you not talk to me, now, instead? Or would you rather we go in search of Armand?”
Lifting her chin proudly, the girl met Conrad’s eyes. Her smile held just a touch of malice as she inquired, “Armand who?”
Conrad returned her smile. “Ah, so young, so cruel. He’d be devastated, mignonne, to think he could be so easily forgotten.”
But Armand’s devastation—now Conrad’s delight—merely shrugged. “So who are you? And how come you aren’t wearing a costume?”
Conrad’s eyebrows rose as he considered his appearance. His silk, embroidered shirt was reminiscent of a style once favored by Ukrainian princes. The cut of his pants differed very little from the breeches considered the height of fashion, a century or so later, in Britain and France. “What makes you think I’m not in costume? I suspect far too many of those who say ‘clothes make the man’ are entirely missing the point. All clothes are good for, after all, is to disguise who we really are.”