Don't Kill the Messenger

Don't Kill the Messenger

by Eileen Rendahl
Don't Kill the Messenger

Don't Kill the Messenger

by Eileen Rendahl



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Messenger Melina Markowitz, a go-between for paranormal forces and supernatural creatures, must find an envelope stolen from her--or watch out-of-control Chinese vampires take down rival gang members in an all-out street war.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101185766
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/02/2010
Series: Messenger Novel Series , #1
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: eBook
Pages: 336
File size: 327 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Eileen Rendahl writes and lives in Davis, California, with her two lovely children, two annoying cats, and one lovely man. Don’t Kill the Messenger is her first paranormal romance novel.

Read an Excerpt


I stood in the early morning sunshine outside Sacramento City Hospital where I work my second job as a night filing clerk every Sunday through Thursday night of the whole blessed year (including holidays because I get paid double for those). I stretched my arms, breathed in deep through my nose and then nearly coughed my lungs out my mouth as the fumes from the ambulance bay mixed with the scent of freshly poured blacktop and damn near choked me.

“Gotta watch that breathing thing,” a voice said behind me. “It’ll kill you.”

If only it were that easy. I turned. His voice hadn’t surprised me. I’d known he was there within a few seconds of walking out of the hospital and onto the sidewalk. I can’t quite describe what it’s like. It’s not like a smell or a sound. It’s more like a vibration, like a buzzing that I feel in my flesh, a lifting of the hair on the back of my neck. A bit of a tingle.

To be fair, that wasn’t the only thing that tingled and buzzed when he was around. Knowing he was there had a way of sending electric shocks up my nerve endings and down to places that a lady doesn’t mention in public.

I wasn’t sure exactly why he wanted to risk being out here after dawn had broken on the horizon, but that was most decidedly his business and not mine. As long as I stayed in the sun’s path, it was bound to stay that way, too. I inched a little farther from the shadows.

The he in question was Dr. Alexander Bledsoe. Dr. Bledsoe was six foot two inches of broad shoulders and thick chest and long legs. He had thick black hair with a touch of gray here and there that he wore swept back from his face and a little tousled. I’d never gotten close enough to touch it and see if he had product in it or if it was just naturally hella sexy. I certainly didn’t plan to get that close now. Getting close to Alex could be dangerous, even for me.

His eyes were the rich brown of the dark chocolate roux my grandmother uses as the base for her jambalaya, and he invariably had a touch of stubble no matter what the time of day. Basically, every time he walked through the corridors of the hospital, he left groups of nurses, techs, support staff and a few patients swooning behind him, female and male. Not me, though. I’m not the swooning type. Plus, as I mentioned, I keep my distance from the not-so-good doctor. That doesn’t meant I didn’t notice, however. Dr. Bledsoe was very hard not to notice.

He was also a vampire.

On the face of things, being a vampire and an emergency room doctor might seem incompatible. Not so. Dr. Bledsoe had easy access to blood pretty much when-ever he wanted it with no questions asked. No one even had to die. People showed up at his doorstep and spurted blood all over him. If you were an accountant, that wouldn’t happen. At least, not literally. Generally, it didn’t happen in lawyers’ offices either. Not in schools or most offices. Dentists may get a little blood but not in nearly the quantity that it sprays around even the tamest emergency room, and how many dentists do you know who only work nights? Nobody at Sacramento City questioned Alex’s strange hours, weird sleeping habits, pale skin or gener-ally antisocial behavior. He was an attending, after all. Honestly, given the perks, I don’t understand why all vampires don’t become emergency room doctors.

Oh, yeah, there’s that pesky caring-about-people thing. Most vampires fall pretty short in that category in my personal experience. Of all the things that go bump in the night that I have to consort with in my “day” job, vam-pires are among my least favorite. They give me the hee-bie-jeebies, even Dr. Hottie McHottster with the ever so chilly skin standing over in the shadows right now. I’ll take a troll over a vampire any day, and you have no idea how bad the average troll’s breath is. They are totally not into good oral hygiene.

Granted, my experience isn’t terribly vast at this point. I’m twenty-six. I wasn’t sure how old Dr. Bledsoe was. It’s really hard to tell with vampires. I’d guess in the three- to five-hundred-year range. Practically a baby, when it comes to bloodsuckers.

He dropped a manila envelope to the ground and kicked it toward me. It slid out of the shadows where he stood and into the sunlight a few feet from me. It looked innocuous enough. I’ve learned over my short but eventful years, however, that looks can be deceiving.

“What is it?” I asked, without making a move to pick it up. “And where is it supposed to go?”

“It’s nothing. Just something that came through the ER that I thought Aldo should see.” He looked from the envelope to me with one eyebrow raised, but he didn’t move from where he leaned against the textured concrete wall. His sliver of shadow had narrowed a bit, but if he noticed, he wasn’t showing it. Then again, what did I expect? It wasn’t like a vampire was going to sweat.

“Aldo?” I kicked the envelope back to him and felt a minute tingle in my foot. Aldo de la Tarantarina was the nominal head of the loose association that governed the local vampires. He was not my favorite person. He wasn’t even my favorite vampire. He’s officious, slimy and a little bit poncey to boot. Vampires give me the heebie-jeebies. Aldo gives my heebie-jeebies goose bumps. Besides, I don’t usually do vampire-to-vampire hand offs. No one needs me to do them. One of the main reasons anybody needs a Messenger is to take things between different groups that don’t get along.

Northern California is a melting pot. Or a tossed salad. Or whatever they’re calling it these days. Everybody on earth came here, especially in the 1800s with that whole Gold Rush thing. With them, they brought their own gods and their own demons and everything in between. The place started to get crowded. Then, when you put a lot of prey in one place, the predators—like vampires and were-wolves—come along, too. A lot of these groups don’t get along. That’s where I come in, generally. If a werewolf, who typically won’t be able to stand the smell of a vampire, needs a message sent to a vampire, I’m the go-between. With the emphasis on between. Since that’s where I seem to exist: between everything but not really fully in anything. “But he’s another vampire.”

Alex made a hissing sound. “Take an ad out, why don’t you?”

Oops. That was, at best, indiscreet. At worst, slips of the lip like that could wind up with Alex sporting the latest in stakes in his heart or me possibly locked up in a padded room, most likely the latter. Nobody really believes in vampires anymore, not even the idiots who pretend to be vampires on the Internet. It was a stupid mistake. “Sorry,” I said.

He kicked the envelope back toward me with a sigh. “Take the envelope and zip it, okay?”

Fine. I deserved that. Still, I was curious. “Why can’t you take it yourself?”

Alex sighed. “We’ve had . . . a bit of a falling out, Aldo and I. I think that he would prefer not to see me face-to-face for a while.”

I turned back into the sunshine, in part because I was cold. The hospital is way over air-conditioned and the air outside still held an early morning chill. The sun felt good. I also turned so Alex couldn’t see me smile. His frequent fallings out with Aldo and the others of his kind were some of the things I liked best about Alex. I’m a sucker for bad boys. Just ask my mother. Trust me, you’ll get an earful on the topic. Plus, Alex is not quite like the other vampires. For one thing, he washes his hair a lot more. He has a much more human idea of appropriate personal hygiene than most of his fellow bloodsuckers. Maybe it goes with the medical training. “What was this little tiff about?”

“Nothing you need worry your pretty little head about, Melina. All you need to do is do your job and deliver the package to Aldo.”

It sounded like Dr. Bledsoe was getting a bit irritated. I glanced back over my shoulder. No wonder. His protective shadow was getting narrower by the second. In a matter of minutes, he’d be cut off from the entrance to the hospital by a rather large swath of sunshine. I sighed. He was right. He was just asking me to do my job. It wasn’t his fault that it wasn’t one I’d chosen myself and had a lot more pitfalls to it than my night job. When I file, I run only the risk of a nasty paper cut. Nobody is generally supposed to mess with me during my day job either, but not all the things I deal with have great reasoning capacities nor are they the best rule-followers on the planet. Case in point: vampires. They’re as bad as those creeps that try to cut around traffic jams by driving down the shoulder.

“Can it be a daytime drop?” I asked. Aldo’s place was creepy enough in the daytime. I much preferred to avoid it completely at night.

“It can be straight-up noon and you can deliver it in your teeth while you walk on your hands, for all I care.” He looked down at the envelope and up at me again. Then he smiled. “Although I might pay to see that.”

Damn his already eternally damned soul, he’d broken out the big artillery, that damn grin of his. It transformed his whole nearly wolfish face with a boyish charm so potent there should be an amulet to ward it off. I took a step toward him in the shadows, my heart beating like Travis Barker on speed, and only managed to pull myself back with a giant dose of willpower. I wondered what quotient of my daily willpower allotment I’d used up with that move. I’d probably end up eating three hot fudge sundaes tonight. Damn him anyway.

“Come on, Melina, do it for me. I’m not that bad, am I?” His voice was low and rough and sweet, like a piece of aural sandpaper that scratched in all the right places.

It was true. He wasn’t bad. He was, however, evil, but it’s not like it was his fault. Vampires are just built that way. I didn’t hold it against him. I knew all about not get-ting to choose how you were built.

I reached down with my foot, carefully keeping it in sunlight, and slid the envelope toward myself. “Fine, then. I’ll take it.” I picked it up. The vibration I felt in my foot when I’d come in contact with the envelope was stronger now. Whatever was inside the plain manila wrapping had some kind of mojo on it. I wanted it in my hands as little as possible. That stuff can be like cooties, infectious and hard to wash off.

Alex was already slipping his way along the wall back toward the hospital entrance. I didn’t blame him. I’d seen what even a few seconds of sunlight could do to vampire flesh. I’d want to make sure I was back into the artificially lighted, windowless hospital interior before the sun exposed the rest of that wall, too, if I were he. “That’s my girl,” he said as the automatic doors slid open and he darted through them.

Good thing he’d saved that one until I’d already agreed to take his stupid envelope. I started to snarl, but he was already gone, which left me with nothing better to do than fume as I went to my car. I may well be his Messenger, but I damn sure wasn’t his girl.

I settled behind the big steering wheel of my car. It’s a Buick LeSabre. I inherited it from Grandma Rosie when she went into the assisted living facility. It is a classic old lady’s car, which could be mortifying, but that is mitigated by the fact that the front seat is more comfortable than my living room couch. In fact, driving the Buick is a lot like driving a big couch around Sacramento. Plus, I’ve tricked out the inside with a zebra-striped steering wheel cover, a dancing hula girl on the dashboard and some fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview. My father says that all these items are distractions and will cause an accident some day. He still hasn’t figured out how much better my re-flexes are than his and everybody else’s. One of the perks of the job. The Messenger one, not the hospital one. The hospital one comes with health insurance and paid vacation, which kick ass in their own way, but no enhanced physical abilities. Those all come from the Messenger gig.

Dad doesn’t know about my Messenger job at all. Dad’s a sweetheart, quick with a hug and fast to open his wallet, but not the most clued in man I’ve ever met. He is one hundred percent ’Dane, as those of us in arcane circles say. It’s short for mundane and is not particularly flattering according to some. Alex won’t use the shortened version. He shakes his head and mutters about kids these days. Me? Well, I’d give just about anything to be one hundred percent ’Dane or mundane or whatever you want to call it. I can’t even remember when I was.

I need the superfast reflexes for the Messenger job. My job description generally doesn’t put me in harm’s way. Or, at least, it’s not supposed to. I’m a delivery girl, a glorified gopher to the things that go bump in the night. I’m one of the little cogs in the big machine of the unseen undercurrents that keep all our everyday lives moving smoothly. I may not be the most well-oiled of those cogs, but I generally get the messages and packages where they need to be by the time they need to be there. Occasionally, however, things don’t go according to plan and I need to defend myself or hightail it out of a situation like Usain Bolt in the last leg of a relay.

It’s not a job I asked for. It just kind of happened. I blame it on my mother being a clean freak.

If she hadn’t been so determined to keep germs and dirt at bay, she wouldn’t have been scrubbing the tiles of our backyard pool with a wire brush while I took my nap twenty-three years ago. If she hadn’t been so focused and intent on removing every last bit of scuzz on the tiles, I wouldn’t have been able to sneak past her and slip into the water behind her.

If I hadn’t done that and she hadn’t been so absorbed, I wouldn’t have drowned and I’d probably be doing something normal and harmless like going to graduate school like my brother plans to do or perhaps going to a management training job from nine to five every day like my cousin Marsha. But no, my mother had to have the cleanest pool in our subdivision and I ended up dead for a couple of minutes.

It still amazes me when I think about the split-second moments that change lives forever. A person looks away from the road for a moment and suddenly they’ve plowed into the back of the car in front of them. Another makes a careless step on a muddy hillside and ends up in the hospital with a mangled foot. Three-year-old me decides to take a quick dip in the cool, refreshing pool without telling my mama and I end up with a crappy job toting and carrying for werewolves, vampires, skin-walkers and the occasional chupacabra. Whatever.

See, after the whole drowning-at-three thing, life changed. I started seeing things that no one else seemed to see and talking to people that no one else seemed to hear. I didn’t understand it at the time. I was only three, after all. That near-death experience, however, apparently opened up something inside me. I hesitate to call it a portal. It’s not an external thing at all. It’s totally inside me. It’s like it opened up pathways in my brain that connected me with all those things people suspect are out there but can’t seem to prove for sure. It made me into a ’Cane, which is short for arcane when one is talking with the hipster contingent of the unseen.

I pulled up to the tollbooth and flashed my employee badge. I scratched my head while I tried to decide my day’s agenda. My hair felt greasy. I had plenty of time to go back to my apartment and shower before delivering the envelope to Aldo and then heading off to the Little Dragons karate class at the dojo where I teach part-time. It’s my second day job. Or maybe it’s my second night job. Whatever. I show up, do stuff and someone gives me a paycheck. Luckily, along with quick reflexes, one of the perks of being a Messenger is that I don’t need much sleep. A few hours here or there in the course of the day and I’m as fresh as a daisy. Although daisies seem somewhat earnest and straightforward for me. I need a more ironic flower to symbolize my freshness. Is there some kind of lily that grows out of dead stuff? If there is, it would be me.

Regardless, it’s good I don’t need a lot of sleep because the whole Messenger gig? It doesn’t pay. I’m not speaking in a metaphorical crime-doesn’t-pay kind of way either. It literally doesn’t pay shit. Hence, my filing job at Sacramento City that pays enough for me to make my half of the rent on an apartment in Mansion Flats and cover my food bill.

Sometimes, when I look at my life and feel like crying, I try to see how it all works out for the best. It’s tricky, though. The whole Pollyanna thing suits me about as well as daisies.

I got on H Street, made the dogleg turn on Alhambra to G and headed home, miraculously finding parking on Eighth, by my apartment. A black Lincoln Navigator whooshed past me, damn near taking my door off. Stupid SUV drivers. Think they own the damn road. I live in an old Victorian that’s been subdivided into four apartments. Norah and I share the second-floor north unit. I grabbed the newspaper off the doormat and let myself into the apartment, trying to be quiet so as not to wake up Norah. Turns out it didn’t matter. She was already up and in her yoga gear, saluting the sun while twinkly, chimey music played. She’d also lit a buttload of candles. I sighed. I did not feel like cleansing my chakras or realigning my vibrations and knew I was about to be exhorted to do so. Worse yet, Norah’d be all pleasant and sweet about it so I wouldn’t even be able to snap at her without feeling like a total turd.

I’ve known Norah since eighth grade. I love the stuffing out of her and not because she’s one of the only people who can put up with my schedule and my “moods” as my mother calls them. I also love her because she accepts everything before her at face value, never questions my lame explanations for my crazy life and is generally about the sweetest pea in the world’s funky pod. I, therefore, put up with her exhortations to open myself to the unseen forces that she’s convinced are all around us, pushing and pulling us in millions of directions with our cognizant awareness.

If she only knew. Which she doesn’t, and I try my damnedest to keep it that way. Norah would be mortified if she knew what was around her most of the time. The magical world ain’t all rainbows and unicorns, you know.

I slipped as unobtrusively as possible into the kitchen and started some coffee. I saw Norah’s sidelong glance from the living room and knew I’d probably earned myself a lecture on the evils of caffeine and its addictive qualities, but figured that it would actually be brewed be-fore she was finished with her downward dogs. It’s much easier to listen to lectures on the evils of coffee with a hot steaming mug of my dark mistress in hand.

I hit the brew button and headed into the shower. I figured all the cleansing I needed was available right there.

When I came out, my hair done up in a towel and me done up in my big fuzzy terry cloth robe, Norah was standing in the kitchen, slicing an apple into quarters. “You know,” she said, not looking up at me, “studies have shown that eating an apple first thing in the morning made people feel as alert and awake as a cup of coffee. It’s the glucose.”

“Really,” I said, pouring myself a cup. “They also showed that hormone replacement was good for women, and then all those nice old ladies had heart attacks.”

Norah’s head shot up and she looked stricken. “No,” she said. “Really?”

I felt like a shit. “Yeah, really.” I took one of her apple quarters and bit into it. She smiled a little, but I could tell it was fainthearted. I wished I could keep myself from doing stuff like that. Seriously. It’s like kicking puppies. It always makes me feel worse about myself and honestly, I don’t need much help in that department.

Norah headed to the shower, and I opened up the newspaper. The Kings were not getting in the playoffs, and the narcotics squad was reporting a new kind of marijuana showing up on the streets, something similar to BC Bud, the superstrong variety of marijuana grown hydroponically in Canada. The two items weren’t related. Or, at least, I didn’t think they were. There’d also been two more deaths in Elk Grove. Police thought both were gang re-lated. Things had been tense lately in Sacramento and were only getting tenser. I couldn’t wait until summer hit full force with its triple-degree heat that made short tempers into rages and put people in the mood to stab, shoot and throw punches at their loved ones and strangers alike. I sighed and grabbed another apple quarter—they were actually tasty—and went to my room to get dressed.

I looked into my closet and sighed again. I’m not entirely certain how someone who lives in a climate as hot as I do has so much black in her closet. Norah’s laundry looks like a freaking rainbow, all pinks and blues and greens and patterns. Mine looks like an advertisement for cold-water Cheer. I pulled out a pair of jeans and a black tank top and threw them on.

I blew my hair dry even though I knew the heat would make it frizz within seconds of walking back out-side. At least I’d know I’d made an effort even if no one else did. Or would notice. I loved teaching the Little Drag-ons karate class and they loved me. It had nothing, how-ever, to do with my hair and everything to do with the fact that I can break a stack of eight two-by-fours with the side of my hand.

No wonder I can’t get a date.

Norah was out of the shower by the time I came out of my room. “You working today?” she asked.

“Same old same old.” I helped myself to another piece of her apple. “I’ve got some errands to run, then the dojo.”

“I might meet Tanya over at McClannigan’s in Old Sacramento tonight. Wanna join us?”

“Maybe.” It sounded fun. It sounded normal. It sounded like something I wouldn’t be able to do. One of the many, many problems with living life with feet in two different worlds is that I really don’t get to enjoy either one.

“I’ll call you and let you know the details.” She stuffed her lunch—another apple, some nuts and what looked suspiciously like a hunk of tofu with spices on it—into her bag. “Or are you just going to blow us off like you usually do?”

That stung a little. Unfortunately, it was also kind of deserved. I did back out of a lot of social engagements at the last minute. It’s not like I wanted to blow Norah off, but when a gremlin stops by with a package that has to make it to an elf before midnight, a girl simply has to do what a girl has to do. Or, more accurately, a Messenger has to do what a Messenger has to do, whether she wants to do it or not. “I’ll try not to.”

“That’s all I can ask, I guess.” Norah blew me an air kiss and left.

I slumped at the counter over my coffee, which had gone cold and bitter. There was no point hanging around the apartment. I mean, I liked it well enough, but I already felt restless. What was I going to do? Watch Law & Order reruns? I’m only twenty-six. Surely, it’s not time for that yet. Besides, if I got my errand for Alex done soon enough, I might get to the dojo in time to have lunch with Mae. That wouldn’t be all bad. At least I wouldn’t be alone.

I headed back to the Buick. It was all of ten thirty and I could already feel the promise of the heat that was to come for the day. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to be a vampire. At least your skin stayed cool all day. Or so I’ve heard. I tried not to get close enough for them to touch me. Have I mentioned that they give me the heebie-jeebies?

My downstairs neighbor’s kid was sitting on the front stoop already. Ben was fifteen—at least that was what he was in people years. In how-to-get-into-trouble years, he might already be thirty. According to his mother, Valerie, he’d been turning his scene around. That’s how she put it, too. I occasionally wondered how old Valerie was in get-into-trouble years, but that seriously was none of my business.

I suppose Ben wasn’t my business either, but he was a charming kid in his own trouble-on-the-hoof way and I sort of related to him. In case you haven’t guessed, I don’t have a lot of friends. People find it hard to get close to me. Hell, I find it hard to get close to me. Anyway, I wasn’t the easiest teenager in the world back in the day. I knew a little about how he felt.

He was going above and beyond today. Despite the fact that the temperature would easily get into the high nineties, he had on black jeans, a black T-shirt, a black hoodie with the hood pulled up and big, thick black skate shoes. I’d be sweating like a pig in that outfit. He looked as cool as a cucumber, however. I suppose some people are specially suited to their own personal styles.

“’Sup?” Ben asked as I stepped around him. Our stoop is not exactly spacious. In fact, even calling it a stoop is probably being generous. It’s two concrete steps, a landing and two wrought iron railings. There are a couple pots of geraniums, courtesy of Valerie, and a window box arrangement of herbs because, as she told me while she was planting them this spring, adding a little natural beauty to her scene gave her some serenity. I suspect that Valerie may be a tiny bit more of a stoner than her kid, if only a less angsty one.

“Not much.” I sat down next to him. “You?”


“Where’s your mom?”


“You got plans?”

He shook his head. “I’m gonna chill for a while, then who knows?”

“Wanna come to the dojo with me this afternoon? Help out with the little kids?”

He snorted and shook his head. “And be a role model? All that perseverance and indomitable spirit stuff gives me kind of a headache.”

“Suit yourself. The offer’s always open.” Like I said, I liked the kid, and I was still in that dress-in-black-and-be-a-loner stage myself. Plus, Valerie could use a break. The single-mom thing isn’t as glamorous as it looks on TV.

“Cool,” he said and leaned back on his elbows.

We both made fists and touched knuckles, and then I was on my way to Aldo’s.

The first time I went to Aldo’s, I was shocked. His place so didn’t look how I expected a vampire’s house to look. I expected something, you know, gothic and creepy. A castle kind of thing surrounded by overgrown thickets. With bats. Possibly even some kind of vestigial moat.

But no, once again, another one of my bubbles had to be burst by painful reality. The head of the Sacramento Valley Seethe and representative to the Council lived in a ranch house on a quiet street with a well-tended lawn in front. It was an okay neighborhood tucked in be-tween several not so nice ones. Once I thought about it, I could see how it was perfect. As long as Aldo kept his yard up, the neighbors didn’t care if they never saw him. In fact, they probably preferred to never see him. Aldo is not a pretty vampire. Plus, he had easy proximity to what passes as projects in Sacto with lots of young men and women likely to disappear without anyone commenting. It was like a vampire buffet practically. And so convenient!

Aldo’s place was unremarkable. In a way, that made it creepier than any Gothic monstrosity or spooky Victorian. Evil is right there living cheek by jowl with the rest of us. Most of the time it looks normal as hell. Although, be forewarned. A predator—and make no mistake, a vampire is a predator—is often at its most dangerous when it looks harmless. It’s the best disguise, and Aldo liked to keep it that way. I knew, from learning the hard way as always, that he didn’t like me to park in front of his place. The street was lined with minivans and SUVs in neutral grays, blacks and tans. Neighbors noticed young women in old turquoise Buicks who stopped by too often. Aldo preferred that I park a few blocks away and saunter past, dropping whatever it was I needed to deliver as inconspicuously as possible.

I was occasionally tempted to tell him to ram it, but I’d also decided it was wiser to choose which battles I wanted to fight at any given moment. Aldo had at least nominal control of all the vampires in the Sacramento Valley area. They were under strict orders not to suck my blood. I appreciated that. I mean, you’re not supposed to kill the Messenger, no matter what. That didn’t mean that no one had ever lost control and done it anyway. Mae told me about a very nice young man who had wound up sucked down into a sinkhole when some dwarves up in Gold Country had had enough of him. They got in a buttload of trouble for it, but that didn’t bring the kid back to life. It was nice to know there’d be some kind of retribution if someone came after me, but I’d just as soon only get in fights that I think I can win.

Plus, if I die, I’d like to know someone will suffer after I’m gone. I’m just that kind of little ray of sunshine.

So in order to avoid antagonizing Aldo, I parked Grandma’s Buick a few blocks over, near a 7-Eleven. The only reason it would be noticeable was that it was slightly cleaner than some of the other junk heaps parked nearby. Not as noticeable as the shiny black SUV parked in the one shade spot, though. I grabbed Alex’s envelope off the front seat and started the stroll over to Aldo’s, humming “Love Shack” to myself for reasons even I can’t quite ex-plain.

The sun shone down on me, but it wasn’t too hot yet. Bees buzzed around the jasmine that had taken off like a weed through some of the yards. All in all, it didn’t suck. Certainly it wasn’t the worst assignment anyone had ever given me. I wondered if Alex would be grateful to me for making the delivery and began to speculate on ways I would want him to show that gratitude if only he weren’t a vampire. He is pretty hunkalicious. I’m not blind. I just don’t fish off the company pier, if you get my drift. It doesn’t seem wise. If Alex weren’t a vampire, though, and I weren’t a Messenger . . . well, that might be a completely different story. My mother would be ecstatic if I started dating a doctor. She’d be more ecstatic if I be-came a doctor, but she’d still be pretty freaking happy with a doctor-boyfriend.

I floated deep in that thought, tripping along the street on a lovely day.

That’s when the ninjas jumped me.

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