ROMANI ARMADA (Beloved Bloody Time: Book 3)
A Vampire Menage Time Travel Futuristic Romance
“…incredible, riveting, sensual adventure!” — Jeannie Zelos, Amazon Top 1000 Reviewer
EXCERPT FROM ROMANI ARMADA
COPYRIGHT © TRACY COOPER-POSEY 2013
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Liping Village, East Yunnan Province, China, 2054 A.D.:
The perfect symmetry of the arches and angles on the ancient bridge spanning the river was made for contemplation. So were the vistas of mountains, streams, wooded valleys and peaceful glens that sheltered terracotta-tiled rounded and arched homesteads and hideaways, all as ancient and peaceful-looking as the bridge.
They were all engineered and designed to invoke calm and a meditative state and the effect was utterly wasted upon Deonne as she strode across the span of bridge, heading for the meandering path that would eventually lead her to the big round farmhouse structure where she would, she hoped, find Mariana.
Deonne knew she was striding. She knew she was angry. She also knew that every postcard-worthy vignette she saw as she made her way across the village was having the opposite effect on her than the one the village elders and their environmental design consultants had intended. The placid peace wasn’t imparting calm and serenity. It was just pissing her off.
She wanted to stomp like a child but stomping would just slow her down. Besides, the bridge, while it looked like it was made of fragile, ancient wood beams, was actually made of plasteel and was likely to outlast vampires. She could stomp until the sun set and get nothing but bruises for her efforts.
Besides, there was no one around to see her stomping and stomping in flat shoes didn’t have nearly the same effect as stamping her feet while wearing heels.
She swung off the bridge and onto the worn, wide sandy path, into the shade of the big old trees that hung over the river here. The water gurgled along the bank, sounding cheerful and Deonne glared at it, determined not to let it improve her mood.
The big house where many of the Agency people were still staying looked like a centuries old farmhouse on the outside. It had the same big circular ochre-colored walls as many of the genuinely old buildings in the area, with a handful of smaller buildings grouped inside the protective walls, all of them topped off with the faded, curved terracotta tiles.
The narrow, intricately-carved double doors with their dragon’s mouth handles were thrown wide open in welcome and lay flat against the walls like shutters. Deonne walked through them into the tiny compound and directly over to the door of the room where Mariana had set up office.
Deonne rested her hand on the green round handle and took a deep breath. Then she pushed the door open and stepped through.
Mariana was at her desk. As usual. She looked up as Deonne entered and smiled. “Why, you look ever so lovely this morning!”
Deonne tried to smile. “Thank you.” She let her gaze flicker over Mariana’s appearance. Even though they were nearly two hundred years in the past, the woman seemed to have made no attempt to be stylish, even here where she had the resources of an entire wardrobe department to call upon. She wore the same three basic outfits the Agency wardrobe department had supplied her with when they had first arrived and kept her hair pulled back in the same unadorned braid that did nothing to flatter her face.
Mariana smiled briefly again. “Is there something you need, Deonne?”
Deonne pushed the sleeves of her jacket up. In this decade the sleeves were wide and anything but practical, but they did have a pretty effect when the arm was raised. But for right now they were in the way. “That moronic neighbor of mine is at it again.”
Mariana frowned for a moment. “The lute player?”
Deonne breathed hard. “It isn’t a lute! It’s a…whatever you call it. An erhu. And a whole flocking Chinese opera to go along with it. He was sawing away on it at three a.m., Mariana! Three a.m.”
Mariana pressed her fingertip against her lips. “Did you ask him to stop?” she said.
“Of course I asked him to stop!” Deonne pushed her fingers against her temples. “He doesn’t speak common. Or any language I know and I don’t speak Chinese. Any dialect. I pounded on the wall that separates our apartments, but apparently sign language isn’t a common language either.”
Mariana laughed, then pressed her lips together. “I’m sorry, but that was kinda funny.”
“It wasn’t remotely funny at three this morning,” Deonne told her, holding back the fury that wanted to boil all over the woman. She put her hands on her hips and squeezed her fingertips into her flesh. “Nayara saw fit to put you in charge while she’s not here—”
“Oh, I’m not in charge!” Mariana squeaked, looking alarmed.
“You do a good imitation of it, then,” Deonne told her dryly. “You fooled me. Why don’t you fool the administrators of this mental estate we’re all prisoners of and tell them I want the idiot living next door to me evicted?”
Mariana smoothed her hands over the rudimentary controls on her desktop. “Deonne, I appreciate that you’re finding it difficult living back here in this time—”
“Do not handle me!”
Mariana blinked. “I wouldn’t do that—” she began.
“You would and you did,” Deonne snapped at her. “Even your voice changed. You could have been Nayara, for all the difference it made. You were very nearly copying her accent, too. Christ, Mariana, don’t you have a single individual corpuscle in your body? You admire them so much you have to channel them every time you open your mouth?”
Mariana swallowed. After a moment, she said quietly, “I am quite capable of thinking for myself, thank you.”
Deonne snorted. “You fooled me again, then.”
Mariana’s face reddened. “I do know how to be kind and empathetic, for example.”
Deonne drew in a sharp breath, shocked. She drew herself up straight as she realized that she was leaning over the small desk Mariana sat behind, in a classic intimidation posture. What did she think she was doing? Picking on the fat, ugly girl at the back of the classroom because she’d had a bad night? Deonne cleared her throat. “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for. I can’t even think of a good excuse for my behavior.”
Mariana gave her a small, tight smile. “I think a few nights’ lack of sleep has something to do with it. You may like to know that I have already complained to the complex administrators. I’m not the first, either. But I told them we would stop renting the apartment if it continued.”
Deonne opened her mouth to protest, alarmed at the idea of losing the privacy of her single occupant dwelling, no matter how small it might be.
Mariana shook her head. “Oh, it’s only a threat,” she assured her. “Call it an economic incentive. It’ll help them find a way to fix things. They told me they would look into the matter and report back to me with all haste. My Chinese is still quite weak, but I’m sure that’s what they meant.”
“We own this building. Can’t you do something more than complain?” Deonne spread her hands. “He’s doing it deliberately, you know.”
“Why ever would he do it deliberately?” Mariana asked, sounding shocked.
Deonne rolled her eyes. “Probably because he doesn’t like me.”
Mariana’s mouth opened.
Deonne almost laughed at her expression. “Oh, come on, Mariana. You can’t be that naïve. Lots of people don’t like me. You’re a prime example. It doesn’t bother me, except when they do something about it, like this idiot living next door to me.”
Mariana stood up. “I don’t dislike you, Deonne. I just haven’t got around to liking you yet, because you don’t make it very easy. The man next door to you seems to actively dislike you. It’s an important difference.”
Deonne considered the woman. “You’re right,” she agreed. “You’re right on every point.” Her heart squeezed unhappily. “I don’t make it easy. But you don’t make it easy for people to appreciate you properly, either.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Mariana replied, with another glowing smile. She picked up her notebook—a non-digital paper-filled one.
“Of course you wouldn’t, because you think you’re sweet and charming and pleasant to everyone and you are that. But you’re smart as a whip, too. Nayara is no fool. She wouldn’t have left you in charge here if you weren’t.”
As Mariana opened her mouth, Deonne raised her voice and overrode any protest she might have been about to make. “And don’t give me that wide-eyed nonsense about you not being in charge. There’s no one else here paying bills and dealing with the village administrators, is there? There’s just you. Since you arrived at the agency you’ve written a book and learned Chinese, you’re running this joint and you’re keeping a dozen unhappy humans and one psi in line and contained, all while we’re living two centuries in the past. You did all that while dealing with vampires, who are a strange species to begin with.”
“They’re not strange,” Mariana replied. “They just think differently.”
“So I learned the hard way,” Deonne said. She pointed her hand at Mariana. “You already knew it. Smart, as I said. But you make it hard for people to appreciate your true value.”
Mariana’s eyes narrowed. “Are you saying if I dressed like you people would think I was smarter?”
Deonne shook her head. “You need to dress like you, but you need to dress like a smart woman, not like…like….” Deonne halted, abruptly aware of what she would have to say about Mariana in order to finish her thought. She couldn’t say it aloud. She wasn’t that cruel.
“I see,” Mariana replied, putting the notebook back down slowly.
“Do you?” Deonne replied softly. “This is a subject I happen to know about in a professional capacity. It’s my trade. You may not like hearing it, but it’s a sad fact of life that your appearance absolutely affects how people think about you and how they behave toward you.”
Mariana’s lips were thin, flat lines as she stared down at her notebook.
Deonne pressed on. She had to finish this now. “Do you truly understand that if you enhanced your appearance and made yourself look as intelligent as you really are, when you had complained to the village administrators about my neighbor they wouldn’t have brushed you off with a simple ‘we’ll get back to you.’?”
Mariana whispered something.
“What?” Deonne prompted.
“I said, ‘that’s cheating,’” Mariana told her, her voice stronger. There were red glowing spots in both of her cheeks and her fine grey eyes were narrowed. She wasn’t upset. She was angry.
Deonne swallowed. “It’s cheating to wear nice clothes?”
“Nice clothes?” Mariana seemed to choke. “You’re not talking about just nice clothes.”
Deonne drew a breath to respond, but Mariana cut her off. “No, I think it’s time you listened to me, don’t you?”
Deonne crossed her arms. Fair enough.
Mariana’s forefinger brushed under across Deonne’s sleeve, lifting the fragile übersilk and letting it drift downward so the morning sun shining through the high window caught the emeralds and reds and gold threads running through it. “This isn’t enhancement. You use this, all of this—your hair, your jewelry, your scent, your make-up, everything that you have on your list of enhancements—you use them all as weapons and shields to ram through barriers on your way to getting what you want. You bewitch men and alienate women with your off-the-scale radiance.” Mariana’s mouth curled down. “If that’s what you are recommending I do in order to win respect for my intellect, then I’d rather stay looking stupid and old. People at least smile at me when I walk into a room.”
Deonne licked her lips. It hurt more than she thought it would, even though she had heard all this before. “It’s not what I’m suggesting,” she said, struggling to keep her tone even. “You’re misinterpreting me. I think you’re doing it deliberately in order to slap me around and I probably deserve that much. But think on what I’ve said.” She turned for the door, reaching for it blindly.
“It’s not like I’m twenty anymore, either,” Mariana said, with a sniff, behind her.
Deonne gripped the door handle, breathing hard, absorbing the comment. Then she spun to face Mariana again, her back to the door, the handle digging into her back. “You think I’m trading on my youth, Mariana?” She smiled. “You think I’m lording it over you because I’ve got energy to spare and a souped-up metabolism and years ahead of me to conquer the world?”
Mariana looked awkward for perhaps the first time since Deonne had stepped into the room. “Well, you do, um, stride everywhere.”
Deonne took two long steps back over to the desk. She leaned over it, so that her face was mere inches away from Mariana’s. “It’s my business to know people. When I take on a project, I find out as much as I can about the people I will be working with. After that meeting in Nayara’s office a few weeks ago—you must remember it, because you were there—the one you attended when you told me about your neural net group and how you deconstructed the survey with the CERN City mainframe?”
Mariana’s brow lifted just enough to tell Deonne the woman remembered the meeting.
“I made a point of finding out about you,” Deonne told her. “Do you know what I discovered?”
Mariana licked her lips. “Nothing illegal and probably nothing exciting.”
“Not from your perspective, perhaps. It all depends on the spin.” She shook her head. “If you tell another living soul what I’m about to tell you, I swear I will pummel you to death with my boots—while I’m wearing them, and I will enjoy doing it. Clear?”
Mariana nodded, her eyes locked on Deonne’s.
“I discovered that you were born only the year before me,” Deonne said and watched as Mariana’s eyes widened, then widened more and her mouth opened. She could almost see the thoughts writing themselves in Mariana’s mind as she stepped away from the desk and back to the door.
Mariana’s gaze travelled up and down Deonne’s body in a frankly assessing glance.
“You see?” Deonne told her. “Appearance is everything. Even you judged me by my appearance and got it wrong. Appearance has been highly valued for centuries and it isn’t about to lose its worth any time soon.” Deonne opened the door and stepped through into the mild spring sunshine and shut it.
Her anger was gone.
Now she was left with nothing but sheer boredom to get her through yet another day in the twenty-first century. “Crap,” she murmured.
She thought of Justin and tried to dismiss the thought. Thinking of Justin only made her feel lonely and sad and miserable.
What was he doing? She couldn’t even make an educated guess, because there was no parallel time frame for her to reference. The one time she had tried to explain her loneliness to him by asking him what he did while she was stuck in history, Justin had used Relativity theories to explain that to her, he was in all times and all places at once, for any time period he had ever lived through or was ever going to be in, so at any one time for her, he was doing everything, including making love to her, in all the times they had been together.
So, while she was stuck in history, he was still with her.
It was a romantic sentiment, but it didn’t make her feel any better. She just wanted to go home.