Because Your Vampire Said So - By Michele Bardsley

Chapter One
"I ain't a groomin' service," I said, wishing I could still smoke Marlboros. Becoming a vampire cured me of most vices. If I couldn't breathe, I sure as hell couldn't inhale and exhale cigarette smoke. I wanted a donor who smoked, so I'd get a nice fix every time I had a pint. Unfortunately, the Consortium - which was in charge of our little piece of Oklahoma - didn't hire donors who abused their bodies. Yet I hoped for the day I'd find me some nicotine blood.

"You give such good shampoo massages, Patsy," said Darrius, who was a fine-looking male. He could shape-shift into a big, black wolf, too. In either form, Darrius was hard to resist. He'd talked me more than once into a full-body shampoo.

"I own a salon service for people, not mutts."

"If you added animal grooming to your offerings, " he said, "you'd make more money."

"You think so?" I liked money almost as much as I liked cigarettes. I couldn't smoke anymore, but I could spend money. I hadn't been jewelry shopping in a dog's age. I looked at Darrius and cackled. Dog's age. Wasn't I a hoot?

His green eyes filled with calculation. He sidled closer to me and draped a muscled arm around my shoulders. Oo-wee, I loved it when handsome men flirted with me. Gave me a thrill, it sure enough did. I was forty years old (and would be forever, by God) and not above enjoying the titillation offered by Darrius. Look at him, all cute and wily.

"Oh, all right. But this is the last time." Of course, that's what I said every time Darrius and his ornery brother Drake talked me into a wolfie shampoo. Too cute for their own good, both of 'em. "You know how I feel about watching that shifting bullshit. Go into the back room."

Darrius took two steps before his cell phone rang. Cursing, he plucked it from the holster on his hip. "Ja?"

After listening a moment, he sighed deeply. He shut the phone and reinserted it into the case. "I must take a rain check, Liebling. Damian says there is an emergency, but with him, everything is an emergency."

Damian was the third brother; the oldest, by eleven minutes, of triplets. He was head of the Consortium's security, and he protected the borders of Broken Heart fiercely. He never asked for a shampoo.

Darrius kissed my cheek, then tapped my nose with his forefinger. "I will be back, Patsy. Then you can rub me all over."

"Promises, promises, stud."

He grinned widely and turned around. I slapped that tight butt so hard my palm stung. He laughed and sauntered out of the salon. Looking at that fine posterior almost made it worth digging out the wolf hair from my tub.

As Darrius exited, cold air gusted through the door and brought with it the promise of snow. Well, what can you do? It was the first week of November, after all. Then again, Oklahoma weather was as fickle as my sister at a half-price shoe sale. Yesterday, the temperature had been a balmy sixty-six degrees.

I turned the sign on the front door to CLOSED. Then I grabbed the broom and started sweeping the clean floor. I'd been feeling off-kilter lately. You know that prickly feeling you get when a storm's coming, but the sky is clear? Whatever it was teased the horizon just enough to keep me clutching my umbrella.

My thoughts drifted to Darrius' suggestion. Grooming services, huh? We had enough lycanthropes around these parts that I could make some extra money as an animal groomer. Business wasn't exactly brisk thanks to the ousting of most of the original residents. Anyone who wasn't a paranormal being or a human donor found themselves elsewhere in a hurry.

I used to have two employees, but they were given new jobs in Tulsa as part of the Broken Heart Citizen Resettlement Program. My nail girl, Linda, got reassigned as an assistant to scientist Dr. Stan Michaels. She was mightily in love with that man, but wouldn't admit it.

Anyway, Broken Heart wasn't exactly a hopping town before the undead took over. Less than a year ago, the only thing that had saved my salon from closing had been the strippers from the Barley and Boob Barn, which had been shut down and razed in June. Aw, hell. I missed those girls. They were fun and raunchy and tipped real good.

I was "life-challenged" because of Lorcan O'Halloran. Diseased by the Taint - a nasty illness that affects only vampires