Is it possible to reduce the amount of workplace violence in an organization run by vampires and werewolves? Sofia Engle, the new Employee Relations Manager at Cader House Hospital is about to find out, and she may not like the answer, or the series of firsts she experiences: first human employee at Cader House, first day tardy, first kiss with a dead guy. Well, maybe kissing the dead guy wasn’t the worst of it after all.
For nearly 600 years Dragomir Petrescu has fought for The Alliance. As one of the most skilled warriors the Alliance has ever seen he’s killed a lot of people and won many difficult battles. But his newest human adversary is turning out to be a worthier opponent than any he’s met. Just the scent of her disarms him, never mind her endless policies and silly ideals about civility.
Can he possibly keep her safe from Alliance enemies, hospital employees and himself? The term Employee Relations is about to have a whole new meaning.
Black Magic Rose Chapter One
“Dr. MacDuff to the ER! Stat! Dr. MacDuff to the ER! Stat!” The overhead page sounded for the third time in less than ten minutes. First calling Osgar, then Meg, now Dr. MacDuff. Whatever was happening in that ER must have been traumatic if they needed the head of security then the Director of Nursing and finally the Chief Medical Officer.
The young lab tech sitting across the desk from Sofia flinched and glanced toward the door, then he fidgeted in his chair. Tears welled in his eyes.
“Patrick, though you’ve been doing fine in this interview, I want to remind you this is just a job, not a gladiator challenge. No need to cry.”
He swiped the tear away. “You don’t understand. Cader is the most secure hospital in Rhode Island. I need to be here. And I’ll devote myself to this place. Forever.” He folded his hands as if praying to the hiring gods. “This is where I belong.”
He was right. Cader House Hospital was the most stable hospital and the oldest and the smallest and the only one Sofia knew of whose entire staff was currently comprised of werewolves and vampires and her. Who’d have thought little Wooddale could be so exciting?
“Ms. Engle, when can I start?” Patrick slid his certification across the desk. “And here’s my reference list. Charlie knows me and Donald Cooper, your lab manager, is a friend of my family. He’ll vouch for me. He’ll tell you he wants me here.” He grabbed Sofia’s hand. “When can I start?”
There wasn’t any reason why she wouldn’t hire him based on the interview. He was certainly eager, and clearly, this was where he wanted to be. “Patrick, let me check your references. I’ll call you by the end of the week.”
“End of the week? Can’t you finish them today? I can call Charlie and Donald now. They can tell you I’m really a good worker, and I’ll do anything needed.”
“What else is going on, Patrick?” Recruitment had been a very easy task at Cader. Applicants were literally banging the door down to get into the place. However, Cader did have some very discriminating practices.
For example, you practically had to be superhuman to survive working here.
“I know Dr. MacDuff wants you to hire more humans, but Charlie said you’d still consider me.” Patrick bit his lip.
It was true. Dr. MacDuff wanted to change the hiring practices and bring on more humans. This was the major goal of Sofia’s employment and her second biggest challenge. Dr. MacDuff’s love of humans spawned the theory that vampires and werewolves should be able to work side by side for extended periods with humans without any unfortunate mishaps.
“Yes, well. I have to hire the best person for the job, human or otherwise.” She could barely believe she’d heard herself say those words. Female or otherwise. Black or otherwise. Those were classifications she was familiar with. Human or otherwise was an altogether different perspective.
“I was a patient here once.” Patrick stared toward the door. “Got good care, too.”
“I’m glad to hear you had a good experience.” Sofia knew all too well how good the care was at Cader. It was only days before she’d been recruited to work here that she’d been taken to the ER by ambulance. She’d managed to thwart the burglar but not without sustaining a concussion and several bruised ribs.
The memory of that night made her pulse quicken. Until that attack in her own home, she’d always felt safe.
Patrick picked up the phone on Sofia’s desk. “Just call Donald, Ms. Engle. He’ll tell you he wants me to start tonight. I swear.” He shoved the phone toward Sofia.
She kept her attention on Patrick, ignoring the phone he’d placed less than three inches from her face. The young werewolf sighed and replaced the receiver in its cradle, then sagged into the chair.
Being the only human employee here was so far not only a new experience, but odd to say the least. She’d never had a job where she lived with the weird feeling that everyone thought she smelled way too good.
“I need to be here. Please, Ms. Engle. It’s not safe for me anywhere else.” Staring down at the desk with shoulders slumped, he mumbled, “My family’s gone. Bas Dubh killed them all. I’ll be dead by nightfall if you don’t help me.” He lifted his head and tears streamed from his sad blue eyes.
If there’s one thing Sofia was not, it was a hard-ass. In spite of what every employee and manager in the world thought of every Human Resources professional, Sofia was not mean.
And she certainly wouldn’t be responsible for anyone’s death, not at the hands of another human or Bas Dubh.
“Okay. Wait in the lobby down the hall. I’ll see what I can do.” She handed him a tissue. “And stop crying. This is a job interview. There’s no crying in job interviews.”
Less than an hour later Patrick’s references were complete, he’d filled out all the employment paperwork, and was downstairs in the ER waiting to be seen for his employment health screening. His new residence was listed as Cader House and his training would begin in the evening.
Sofia had wrapped up her day and was headed for the door in hopes of avoiding Dr. MacDuff, who’d been paged down to the ER once again. No such luck. And their argument from early that morning continued. “But Dr…”
“Sofia, no. If you want to avoid having a guard, then reconsider my offer of housing here at Cader.” Dr. MacDuff stopped walking to level a stern gaze at her.
“No,” she answered without a second’s hesitation.
“Then that’s the last I’ll say about this.” Dr. MacDuff walked away, leaving Sofia standing in the hospital’s lobby, coat hanging open, handbag and lunch box slung over her shoulder, keys in hand.
She glanced toward the man waiting to the right of the entrance, and although his stone-faced expression never changed, she knew he was laughing at her.
“Well, it’s not the last I’ll say about it.” She zipped past the guard’s desk, trailing after Dr. MacDuff, ignoring Jamieson’s warnings to let it go.
“You can’t win this one, Sofia,” the old guard whispered before reaching for the ringing red phone on his desk. “Not with everything that’s happening.”
“Dr. MacDuff, I absolutely refuse to allow this. You can’t force me to accept a bodyguard I don’t want or need. I don’t like or trust him. He’s scary and mean and dead.” Not to mention he had a reputation for being a cold-blooded killer who didn’t bother to ask questions first, later, or ever. She’d heard he thought of only one thing. Kill. Kill. Kill.
“That’s a bit discriminatory, wouldn’t you say?” Dr. MacDuff asked, tossing a casual glance her way.
Sofia frowned and peered back into the lobby.
The dead guy loomed in the entranceway. His broad shoulders and height nearly filled the entire space. He stared in her direction. Black hair hung in his face and stubble shadowed his chin and cheeks. But she could still see his dark eyes tracking her every move like a panther stalking Bambi. She ducked into the security office, knowing full and well he’d heard her. They all seemed to have supersonic hearing. It made her nuts.
Dr. MacDuff leaned around her and checked the lobby. “He appears alive to me, lass.” The doctor sighed and shook his head as he walked to the back of the room.
Sofia followed him to the far wall where he punched in his security code on the panel hidden just inside a fake closet door, another of Cader’s many tricks and secrets. “I suggest you decide what you want to do. If you’re going home, Dragomir is going with you. If you’re not, then you’re coming to the Lower Level with me.” The back wall of the closet rose to reveal a stairwell.
She shook her head at yet another attempt to get her to move to Cader. She hated the Lower Level. They slept down there. Sofia bit her lip. They wouldn’t be asleep now. They’d be awake like him. She glanced toward the door.
“Dragomir is like me,” Dr. MacDuff said. “You forget.”
“I only forget because you don’t act like him. You act…human,” she said. Three weeks in and Sofia continued to struggle with acclimating to the vampires. Though she knew she needed to, and had agreed to be available to staff on all shifts, she had not been able to develop a comfort level with the night staff.
The wolves covered the hospital during the day and early evening. The vampires worked the late evening and night shifts. Sofia preferred to work days, basically only the sunlight hours, which was getting to be difficult as autumn rolled toward winter.
She’d managed to legitimately avoid working the later shift because with the recruitment and new hires, so much kept happening during the day. Thanks to Bas Dubh’s tactics, she’d been up to her eyeballs getting frightened new recruits processed and ready for orientation. The nighttime assaults had increased since she’d started, and that meant more recruits came to Cader for refuge. She simply hadn’t had the stamina to work past sunset.
Then, two nights ago she’d had her first opportunity to spend some time on the floors with the staff. She’d gotten the once-over from a vampire named Carl and hadn’t been able to shake the creepy feeling since. His gaze raked across her like someone rubbed freezing gel over her body. She shivered just thinking about that night.
“Dragomir didn’t have to do that,” she said. The memory of Dragomir’s actions played in her mind. Her stomach turned as she remembered his hand shoving through Carl’s skin and into his chest. As if it was happening all over again, the sound of squishing muscles and breaking bones echoed in her ears. She swallowed back the bile rising in her throat.
Dr. MacDuff sighed. “I’ll agree he responded very quickly. But he did make a clear point.”
Sofia gaped at Dr. MacDuff. “The violence is outrageous!”
“Aye. You’ve told me.”
“Yes! And you agreed not to let these…these…” She waved her hand in the direction of the dead guy. “…vampires and wolves use death as an option for addressing behavior.” She slung her bag back up onto her shoulder. “I developed a progressive discipline process for those types of issues.”
“Aye. I know.”
Her voice rose. “But you haven’t done anything about him! You think he’s safe for me!” She threw her hands in the air.
“Aye.” Dr. MacDuff patted her shoulder. “He is, lass. He doesn’t need corrective action. He handled that situation just as I would have.”
And this was Sofia’s number one biggest challenge—the bizarre belief that death was the appropriate response to every performance, behavior, or personality problem. She was fairly certain it was this perspective that gave Dr. MacDuff the odd belief Dragomir was appropriate.
Sofia hadn’t been able to make a case to get rid of the brute in spite of sending several well-written emails, including reference material about violence in the workplace, impact on morale, and her own fear of the monster. Both Dr. MacDuff and Fergus, the president and werewolf alpha, responded with, “We’ll take your requests and all the accompanying information into consideration.” Then two seconds later a second email would arrive. “We determined the appropriate outcome is to leave everything as is. Thank you.”
She’d taken to yelling and hissing, banging her fist on the desk and finally giving up in complete and utter frustration. It was like talking to a wall. Or yelling at one.
“My counsel on this issue doesn’t seem to have any impact,” she huffed.
Dr. MacDuff merely offered a slight nod.
Though Sofia had known about vampires most of her life, she’d only ever known two—Dr. MacDuff and Noelle Duluth, Cader’s Director of Nursing. As Sofia grew up, they visited her parents now and again, but their condition was never a topic of discussion, so Sofia never thought twice about them. Nor did she consider that as her parents aged they did not.
Dr. MacDuff still had the dark curly hair and youthful skin of a man in his late twenties in spite of being hundreds of years older.
The wolves, though they hadn’t really accepted her, treated Sofia like she was accustomed to being treated. They liked her when they felt she’d done what they wanted and didn’t like her when she disagreed with them. For the most part, they were completely ambivalent toward her. It was the same way that every other employee in any organization felt about Human Resources, and very familiar.
On the other hand, with the vampires she felt like she had a giant spotlight shining over her head. She literally felt them looking at her. It was as though their gazes held temperatures. Some were cold or downright frigid. Others were warm. Sometimes she’d swear someone was touching her, but she’d turn to find no one near her, just a vampire down the hall.
Dr. MacDuff smiled, and his green eyes sparkled against his pale skin. When he touched her cheek, his hand was warm.
He’s fed. She recoiled at the thought.
“He will no’ hurt you. No matter what you’ve heard or believe. I trust Dragomir with my own life. I’m absolutely certain he will safeguard yours as well.” He unrolled his sleeves and pulled two cuff links from his pocket. Black dragons on ivory backgrounds. The Cader House crest. He wore them every night.
“How can you be so sure? He’s like an animal.”
As soon as the words came out of her mouth, Sofia stopped, knowing she was caught in a sticky situation.
Dr. MacDuff raised his eyebrows. “An animal? More savage than say Donald or Meg or Fergus? What about Osgar? Is Dragomir wilder than a werewolf?”
She shook her head, never taking her eyes off his hands as he cuffed his sleeves. “You know what I mean.”
His fingers worked the cuff links with such speed she hardly had time to process the movements.
“Nay, I don’t.” Dr. MacDuff placed his hands on her shoulders and held her gaze. “You feel safer with werewolves than with a vampire who has sworn a blood oath to me? I’m at a loss, child. I’ve no idea how to comfort you. But I will not risk your safety. You can come down to meet with The Alliance or go home. Either way, Dragomir will be present.”
Meet with The Alliance? Nope. Sofia did not want to do that.
She sighed. “What if he just follows me and then leaves?”
“Absolutely not. Have you so quickly forgotten the break-in and the brush fire behind your house? What about the blown-out tires on the drive home?” Dr. MacDuff stepped toward the entrance to the Lower Lever. “I haven’t. Those were not coincidental.”
“I could get an alarm,” she offered for the four hundredth time.
“By the time anyone responded, you’d be dead.” He didn’t budge.
In two months her entire life had completely changed. She’d become an adult orphan, moved back home to her parents’ house, lost her long-time job at what she thought was a stable company, and been recruited to Cader. She’d had to finally accept that not only did vampires exist, but werewolves did too, and together they ran the hospital as a front for The Alliance, the organization tasked with maintaining balance in the supernatural community. Cader’s chief vampire was her dad’s best friend who just happened to be a bit overprotective.
“Bas Dubh is on the move. We are at war, Sofia.” Dr. MacDuff’s gaze hardened. “I never should have…” He touched her chin. “What’s done is done. Now I must ensure your safety. Kiernan knows you work here. If I don’t send a guard, he’ll come for you.”
Sofia scowled at the floor. There was nothing in the world like being a prisoner in your own life. She couldn’t argue. She’d completed enough workers’ comp reports to know Kiernan didn’t play nice. And if Dr. MacDuff hadn’t sent Bernie, Cader’s electrician, to install motion detectors at her house the day of the brushfire, she’d probably be renting a room at the local motel.
“And if he takes you, it won’t be to help decrease the amount of workplace violence in his organization.” Dr. MacDuff had a way of tying everything to Sofia’s number one personal agenda. She’d never worked in a place where it was not only perfectly acceptable but encouraged to beat the hell out of new staff during the training period. She could not allow it to continue.
“Can’t Osgar come home with me?”
“Osgar needs to train the new recruits. He cannot spend all his time guarding you.”
“He’s monitoring all the trainers?” Sofia asked, stressing all. She’d already had a run-in with Rick, Osgar’s second in command. He clearly disagreed with her definition of acceptable training practices.
“I’m sure he is.”
She’d managed to convince Dr. MacDuff to assign Osgar to her for day duty. If she’d thought quick enough, she’d have suggested that simply being at Cader during the day was enough and that Osgar could guard her at night. Instead, she thought she’d save herself from being guarded by another werewolf, a very pleasant, very young man who talked her ear off, making it completely impossible for her to get any work done.
Dr. MacDuff gave her what she wanted. Osgar by day. And then got what he wanted and assigned her Dragomir by night.
Sofia sucked in her cheeks and glanced into the lobby. The dead man faced the exit. His black leather duster covered all but his boots and a couple inches of his jeans.
“As much as I enjoy spending time with you, Sofia, I do have a meeting to attend. Are you coming or going?” He stepped toward the stairwell.
“Sofia.” One word and his tone said it all.
Jordan loves vampires. But if you know anything about Jordan, you already knew that detail. What you didn’t know was it wasn’t long ago that she began writing about them.
A few years back Jordan received a copy of Twilight from her husband as part of her anniversary gift. By the end of that week she’d read the entire series and moved onto Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Eight weeks and eighteen vampire books later the idea for her first book, Perpetual Light came to her followed very quickly by Eva Prim.
In October of 2013 The Demon Mistress, the first Eva Prim Novel is available along with four short stories. For continual updates on Eva please join the Snack Of The Week Club at www.evaprim.com.
Coming November 2013 Black Magic Rose, Book One of The Alliance Series. Join Jordan’s newsletter for updates.
Jordan is a member of the national Romance Writers of America organization and several chapters.
When she’s not writing about one vampire or another Jordan enjoys spending time with her husband, Ken and their lovable Labrador, Dino on the beautiful beaches of New England.
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