The streetlamps lining the boulevard flickered on.
They were less than half a block away now, and I could make out more details. Dark, unruly curls framed the shockingly pale face of the leader. Despite the whiteness of his skin, his features read to me as though he might be Latino. The guard on the left was black, though his flesh had that strangely drained hue of a vampire. A gold earring flashed in one ear, and he had thick, puffy hair and mutton chop sideburns that reminded me of Samuel L. Jackson in that Quentin Tarantino movie, “Pulp Fiction.” His partner was the palest of all three. His long, straight hair was tied back neatly at the nape of his neck, but otherwise he bore no resemblance to John Travolta’s character in the same movie. In the artificial light, his auburn hair glowed almost blood red and his sharp, cruel expression reminded me of a gentleman pirate... or something much worse. I found myself the most wary of him. I stood up.
“Ana, I’m about to cut the cake!” My mom shouted through the open window. I jumped. I’d been completely absorbed watching the strangers, who were now standing at the gate looking directly at me. “Are you coming in?”
“In a minute,” I answered distractedly. I heard my mother clucking her tongue and making excuses for “moody teenagers” to Elias.
I moved to the edge of the porch steps and peered nervously around a column at the men at the end of our sidewalk. The leader had his hands on the gate, but he didn’t push it open. I could see now that he looked to be close to my age or younger. There was the hint of stubble on his chin, but his cheeks still retained a lot of baby fat -- in a cute way. In fact, when he smiled at me, he looked down right charming. “Anastasija Ramses Parker?”
Wow, my full name twice in ten minutes.
But why did I get the feeling that hearing it now meant I was in a whole lot of trouble?
“Yes, that’s me,” I agreed cautiously. “Who are you?”
It was the mean-looking guard who answered. Even his silken, Cajun-accented voice gave me the creeping chills, “I present His Royal Highness, Luis David Montezuma, prince of the Southern Region.”
A vampire prince? Oh. Crap.
“Ana?” The screen door squeaked, and Elias stepped out on to the porch. “Your mother wants...” He stopped the moment he saw Prince Luis and his entourage at the end of the walk. I felt a breeze and, in a blink, Elias stood protectively in front of me.
His movement made the red-head snicker.
The prince shot his guard a dark look. To me, he put on that smile I’d found so charming a moment ago. However, now it seemed more like a politician’s – a bit oily and forced. “We have traveled some distance, princess.”
I got the hint, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to invite Luis and his goons in. Besides, why was he here with me and not in the underground cave courts of my father? I tried to catch Elias’ eye so I could ask him what to do, but he was busy staring at his counterparts menacingly.
“For Goddess’s sake, what is going on out there?” my mother shouted. “Come in and have tea!”
I knew that the stalemate had been broken with Elias’ soft curse, and the chuckle of the goons, who reached around the gate to let themselves in.
“Don’t mind if we do,” said Luis with a grin.