* * * * *
They’d covered maybe three blocks, zigzagging from one side of the street to another, when they approached a small, red-brick bungalow. Emily charged up the porch steps with her usual enthusiasm, crying "Trick or treat!" all the way.
Hannah and the boys joined her…just as Hannah began to wonder why this place looked familiar. The door abruptly opened. But no smiling matron holding a candy basket appeared there. Instead, a large, dark mass flew out of the house like an attacking phantom. A clumsy attacking phantom. Emily squealed. Startled, they all scrambled backward down the steps and withdrew to the railings.
The dark form was a man. A man in an opera cape—black on the outside, red on the inside—with a deeply scalloped, upturned collar and a bat attached by a spring to one shoulder. The cape was skewed off to one side, the bat bobbing and weaving like Muhammad Ali.
Hannah’s breath seemed to snag on her ribcage. That was why the house looked familiar! Teetering before her was the man she’d seen earlier, the one getting out of the truck. As she’d tagged along with the kids, she’d unwittingly come down the same street. But what was going on?
When the man regained his footing, he straightened his garment, swiped both palms over his hair, and faced the four people on the porch steps. "Uh…boo."
Dumbfounded, the four trick-or-treaters gaped at him.
Emily looked up at her brother. "Can I keep ‘im?"
"He’s too big for your bag, dork." Jeremy pointed at Hannah, who stood at the opposite railing. "Better let her keep him."
What the hell?Mouth open, she continued to stare. Beneath his cape the man wore only the skimpiest red briefs. A green glow came from his mouth.
What the hell?
"Were you s’posed to scare us?" Emily asked. "Do you live here?"
The man looked embarrassed. "No."
"What didja do?" Emily asked him. "Are you a robber? Didja get caught? Zat why they threw you out?"
The man cleared his throat. "That’s one way of putting it."
"So what are you hiding in your mouth? You better give it back."
"I’m not hiding anything. Those are my teeth." He bared his glow-in-the-dark, fanged plastic uppers. "I’m a vampire."
Jeremy chuffed. "Dracula didn’t walk around in his shorts."
"Yeah, well, I’m his poor brother, Zacula. Can’t afford formal wear, just underwear."
Hannah snorted a poorly suppressed laugh. She curled a hand over her mouth and looked down.
"Hey," Grif said, pointing at him, "your bat’s starting to droop."
"That’s not all." The man slid a glance at Hannah, who just at that moment happened to be sliding a glance at his—droop or no droop—well filled-out scarlet briefs. Self-consciously, he pulled the cape closed around his midsection.
Now that Hannah was gathering her wits, she couldn’t help but notice other things, as well. The man was extremely attractive, even more so than her first glimpse of him had suggested. She couldn’t see his face very clearly, but his tall frame sported a trim, hard-muscled physique. Although his thick, dark hair was trained to sweep neatly away from his face at the front and sides, the back was a riot of rebellious, clipped curls, some of which disappeared within his collar.
"Shoes or no shoes, I better get out of here," he murmured, and began descending the steps. When he was alongside Hannah, he paused. "I’m really sorry."
He wasn’t just attractive, he was breathtaking. "No harm done." The sight of him, and the fragrant nearness of him, rekindled the arousal that had tormented her at the party. She could feel the heat wavering from his body like a sexual lure.
The man suddenly broke their eye contact—a minor blessing, since it was making Hannah’s knees weak. Frowning, he looked down and patted his cape. He pulled it to one side and groped at the lining. "My keys," he whispered.
Turning abruptly, Zacula charged back toward the front door. Before he reached it, two shoes somersaulted through the air, nearly bonking him in the head. He managed to duck just in time. The shoes clattered against the porch railing and landed with twin thuds on the wood floor.
Glaring at the house, Zacula muttered, "Fuck. Fuck. Fuck," as he retrieved his shoes and hopped around to get them on. He stomped down the steps to the sidewalk, where the four trick-or-treaters now stood because they didn’t know what would next fly out of the house. Hand to forehead, Zacula looked indecisively at nothing.
Without thinking, Hannah walked up to him and touched his arm. Electricity seemed to shiver through her stomach. "Are you all right?"
Distractedly, the man nodded. "I don’t think anyone ever died of a bruised ego. So, yeah, I’m all right."
"What’s your name?"
It was a few seconds before he looked at her. He was obviously preoccupied. "Zack." He gave her a wan smile. "Yes, that really is my name." He extended his hand. "Zachary Evan Whitmore."
Once Hannah grasped it she was loath to let go. "I’m Hannah Blue. Can I help you in any way?" It was obvious he had some kind of mess on his hands.
"I don’t want to get anybody else involved in this."
"I don’t mind. Really." He was beautiful, absolutely beautiful. The more she studied his face, the more captivated she became. And his mouth…damn, it looked so inviting. Not a vampire’s mouth at all. At least, not based on the movies she’d seen. She still, however, couldn’t discern the color of his bright eyes.
Zack rubbed the back of his neck. "My biggest problem at the moment is that my truck keys are in there." He nodded toward the house. "And I’m out here."
"I assume it wouldn’t be wise for you to go to the door and ask for them."
Lifting his eyebrows, Zack gave her a look that said, What do you think? Nevertheless, he risked mounting three of the porch steps and shouting, "Give me my god— Give me my goldang keys!"
The door swung open, a bulky form appeared, and a set of keys went sailing into a dense tangle of surrounding shrubbery.
"Fuck!" Zack charged up the porch once more. He strode to the railing and peered over it. Groaning, he despondently came back down to the sidewalk.
Casting Hannah a glance, he mumbled, "Your wig’s slipping." He idly lifted a few fallen strands of hair, letting them drape over his fingers.
"It isn’t a wig." Hannah poked at her tumbling coiffure, dimly wondering how a touch to her hair could send frissons slithering through her limbs. "Your teeth are slipping, too."
Zack pulled them out and chucked them aside.
She didn’t know what was going on, but she had to help him. She wanted to help him. He didn’t seem like a creep, and it wasn’t often she had the opportunity to rescue an enticing man in distress. In fact, she’d never had the opportunity.
"Listen," she said, "let me try something. You stay here."
Before Zack could object, Hannah remounted the steps and rang the doorbell. It opened with such ferocity she took a couple of startled steps back. A very large, very pumped-up man with a pale flat-top glowered down at her.
"Sir," Hannah began, trying to be both polite and firm, "I need to borrow a flashlight. You threw the truck keys into the—"
He snarled out an answer and slammed the door.
Sighing, Hannah rejoined Zack on the sidewalk. She lowered her voice when she conveyed the message. "He isn’t being very cooperative. He said, ‘Let the prick bounce home on his pogo stick.’"
Zack’s handsome face twisted in anger. "Son of a bitch."
Emily piped up, "You really need to clean up your language." The kids, still clustered together a short distance away, had been observing these goings-on with interest.
Zack glanced at them. "I’ll work on that when I get home. After I drive there in my truck. Which I must start with my frickin’ key!"
"Uh, Emily, you and Jeremy and Grif should head home now, too," Hannah said. "It’s getting late and you have plenty of candy. Thanks so much for inviting me along." She waved to underscore the send-off. "Maybe I’ll see you around."
Taking his sister’s hand, Jeremy told her, "Come on. Grownup stuff is goin’ on. You know what that means."