CW: Strong language, adult situations, violence, gore, sexual situations, depictions of grief, trauma, and severe depression.
Vlad’s House, Henford-on-Bagley
Alice balanced Gwendolyn on her hip and rapped on Vlad’s door. She’d barely gotten through the second knock before he flung it open.
“Alice.” His eyes widened as he took her in. His hair was longer and he was sporting a silvery five-o-clock shadow.
“Hey,” she adjusted Gwendolyn again, who was now squirming to get down. “Can I—er—we come in? I promise she won’t break anything.”
“That would be impossible,” he murmured.
“Nothing.” He seemed frazzled, patting his pockets as if he’d forgotten something. “I’m sorry. I mean, yes, come in.”
He led them into the kitchen, where it finally dawned on her that he was in the middle of something. If the fact that he was dressed to the nines wasn’t a sign, the laughter drifting in from an open window was a dead giveaway.
“Shit,” she shifted Gwendolyn, trying to avoid the toddler sticking her whole hand in Alice’s mouth, “You have company. We should go.”
“I have company,” his father corrected as he came in through the backdoor. “And let me tell you, the Queen of Windenburg herself could be standing in that yard, and he would pay her no mind long as you were here.”
“The pie is cooling,” Vlad reached for a bowl, “And there’s fresh lime for the margaritas, I—”
“We’re fine,” his dad waved him off. He gave Alice a warm smile. “And you can put her down; I promise she can’t damage nothin.’”
Alice complied, keeping a wary eye on the tiny terror, who happily squealed as soon as she hit the ground. “This is Gwendolyn,” she looked down at her daughter, “Gwendolyn, do you want to say hi?”
She surveyed Vlad and his father with keen eyes. “I owl,” she began pointing at herself, “You monster,” she pointed at Vlad, who looked startled, “And you book!” she finished staring at Latimer.
Alice covered her face. Clearly, embarrassment was not something toddlers gave a shit about. “Uh, she doesn’t meet a ton of strangers, and story time is her favorite thing,” she tapped Gwendolyn’s shoulder, “Say ‘sorry’ to Vlad. You can’t just call someone a monster.”
“No!” Gwendolyn stomped her foot, “He monster! My monster!”
“It’s alright,” Vlad gave her a bemused look as he knelt. “It’s lovely to meet you, Gwendolyn. I’m Vladislaus, and this”—he gestured at his dad—“is Latimer.”
The Waterfront Spot, San Myshuno
Bella examined her reflection. She didn’t usually spend time getting dolled up outside of the boring-as-sin fundraising events for Mortimer. But then again, she didn’t usually have hot, dangerous sex with a 300-year-old vampire.
She’d turned 40 this year, but she felt 25. It wasn’t just the sex; it was Caleb. He was fun, self-sufficient, and deeply mysterious. At first, her detective training kicked in but starting to solve the mystery dampened her interest. She had enough real puzzles to deal with.
Snapping her compact shut, she looked around the club. Salim should be making his way in to collect his bubble blower payment from the owner right about…
He strolled in, sporting a new haircut, expensive sneakers, and a gold watch. He tried to run as soon as he saw her, but Bella was prepared for that. The bouncer she bribed closed the door and clicked the lock behind him. Where Salim was all smiles before, he was now furious.
A small voice nudged her to call Deacon, but she ignored it. “Salim Benali. Thirty-three years old. Past charges include selling illegal bubble blower flavors, running an illegal card game, and hosting various internet scams. But my favorite is your most recent: attempted robbery of the Newcrest Natural History Museum.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about, officer.”
“Sure you do,” Bella insisted, ignoring the erratic beat of her heart. “You like to talk. That’s what you were doing when they arrested you. Told them all about your girlfriend. What was her name?” Bella tapped her chin, “Oh right, Alice Martin.”
His lips flattened into a straight line. He glanced back at the door before shooting the bouncer a dirty look.
She flipped open the case file she’d brought with her. It was nearly empty, but Salim didn’t know that. “You were just the getaway driver. And you might play tough, but according to the security guard on duty, you helped when your little girlfriend set off a bomb in the Historical Artifacts section. You were the one who called the cops.”
“No,” Salim shook his head, still scanning the room for exits.
Bella held up a picture. “Remember her? Kelly Dalton? The security guard you helped get to safety? I’m not here because I believe you’re a bad guy.” Bella softened her expression and feigned concern. “Although it’s probably not good for your criminal reputation if this were to get out.”
She watched with interest as he worked to bury his anger. After a few minutes, the tick in his jaw stopped, and his expression grew languid. He spread his arms wide. “What do you want to know?”
Many things, namely how a convicted thief who set off a bomb convinced her father to use his military connections to shut the case down because of “national security.” But Bella decided to pull the thread most relevant to her current case. “Was Eliza Pancakes involved in the heist, or were you just screwing her brains out for fun?”
Vlad’s House, Henford-on-Bagley
Latimer grabbed Gwendolyn’s hand. “You two have a lot to talk about. I’ll take her for story time.” Alice started to argue, but he simply winked and smiled, “Princeton is always showing off his grandkids when we have game night at his house. You’ve just earned me a little more clout in this group.”
Alone with Vlad, Alice suddenly felt nervous. She tugged at her braid, avoiding his gaze. “I’m sorry I’ve been avoiding your calls. I was mortified.”
He leaned against the counter, his voice soft. “You had nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Racy photos of herself with her toddler popping up in the background and the echo of “small boobies” said otherwise, but she pressed on. “I’ve been thinking about it, and all of these secrets are messing us up, so I’m proposing we move forward with radical honesty.”
“Honesty,” she repeated. “We just let it all hang out and tell each other the truth, no matter what.”
Alarm was etched into all of his features. “The whole truth? No matter what? Why would you…why?”
“Because it’s good, and I don’t know,” Alice fiddled with her shirt, “This is just how relationships work.”
“Do relationships work like that?” He angled his head, “And a follow-up question, are we in a relationship?”
“I want to be.”
“Good. Me too. And I love children, so we don’t need radical honesty.”
“Hold up,” Alice folded her arms. “You’re a 38-year-old bazillionaire living with his dad in a fancy country house with lots of breakable objects. Why would you love children?”
He opened his mouth and then closed it again. “Isn’t it enough that I don’t mind you having secrets?”
“No,” Alice took his hand, “It’s not. Not for me.”
“Alright. H-how do we do this?”
“On the count of three. We just blurt it out.”
They counted together, and despite her bravado, the panic in Vlad’s eyes mirrored her own. At three, they both paused, seemingly frozen before doing exactly what Alice instructed:
“I’m a thief with an unruly toddler who went to jail, and now I’m living out here, violating my probation because I see things that aren’t there, and I’m sort of out of my mind.”
“I’m a vampire who’s over a thousand years old. I’ve been divorced multiple times, and I have two adult vampiric children, one of which hates me. I am out of my mind and a danger to everything around me.”
“What?” Alice said.
“What?” Vlad repeated.
The Waterfront Spot, San Myshuno
“How did you find out about Eliza?” Salim asked, rolling the ice around in his cup.
Bella ran her finger along the rim of her drink, trying to decide how much to tell him. She needed his trust but didn’t want to put Bob in danger. “I’m a detective. You two weren’t as secretive as you thought. What happened?”
Salim’s openness surprised her. The story rolled off his tongue quickly as if he’d been holding it in and was desperate to get it out. “Eliza was hungry for money. She had a lead on this artifact at the museum that would go for a lot on the black market. Alice was hyped to take the job even though she was still pretty amateur, and I wanted to make her happy, so I played along.”
“You don’t seem like the ‘play-along’ type,” Bella observed.
His gaze slowly tracked down to the ring on her hand. “Uh-huh, and how often do you just play along?”
Her drink had been sitting untouched, but now Bella threw it back. “Point taken. Talk more about Eliza. Where did it go wrong? And how did that lead to you killing her because she couldn’t keep her mouth shut?”
It was a wild accusation, but she wanted to see how he reacted.
“W-what?” he reared back, “I didn’t kill Eliza. Are you crazy?”
Bella leaned in, invading his space. “Then help me understand, Salim. You broke her heart and then her body?”
“I wouldn’t do that.”
“Why not? She’s an easy mark. A loose end.”
“Loose end?” he threw his hands up, “I didn’t have any fuckin’ loose ends! The heist wasn’t even my idea; it was Alice’s, and she was—”
“What?” Bella slammed her hands down on the table, “Alice was what?”
“Pissed,” he croaked. His posture slumped, “Really fucking pissed when she found out.”
Bingo. Bella grinned. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
Vlad’s House, Henford-on-Bagley
“You’re a vampire?”
“You’re a thief?” Vlad didn’t look upset; he looked downright delighted.
Alice was delighted too. She was laughing a lot and choking. But, like, a normal amount of laughing and choking. Everything was fine. Yes, okay, vampires were supposed to be made up, and the idea that they existed brought up all sorts of concerning safety issues and some unrealized sex fantasies and—
“Alice?” Vlad gripped her shoulders, “Are you alright? You’re swaying.”
“Are ghosts real?” The question tumbled out before she could stop it.
“Yes,” he grimaced, “Though you’d have to ask a spellcaster to explain them. They seem to be the only creatures with any affinity for spirits.”
Well, that settles that. Ghosts were real! Alice might be a witch or some other supernatural thing that she only read about in books, which was great news because there was no medication she could take to fix it; she was just like this!
Vampires were real!
Alice looked around his house with new eyes, finally noticing the pictures. His dad was young, and Vlad was young… “Wait!” Alice cried, “When did you become a vampire?”
“I didn’t become anything,” he explained, for some reason, talking extremely slowly. “I’m a natural-born vampire. I only look like a mortal.”
“Of course,” Alice nodded, “Yes. Yep. Totally makes sense.”
Vampires had babies, so they weren’t dead; which…did ghosts have babies? Were ghosts even dead? Her eyes widened. Maybe she had it backward! Maybe sims were dead, ghosts were alive, and this entire planet was the Underworld!
But that didn’t make sense. They had ice cream, and why would there be Spooky Day if everyone was already dead?
“Alice,” Vlad’s voice echoed somewhere behind her.
Why was he so far away? Was he leaving the house?
“Alice, are you sure you’re alright?”
“Totally,” she laughed, feeling very light-headed. The room spun, and then she couldn’t figure out why she was looking at the ceiling. “Maybe I’m flying,” she murmured absently, “Can vampires fly?”
The Waterfront Spot, San Myshuno
Salim looked nauseous and half-terrified. His hands shook as he reached into his pocket. “Do you mind if I smoke?”
If it got her a lead, she didn’t care what he did. “Be my guest,” Bella told him.
“I knew Eliza since we were kids,” he took a drag, “We grew up in the same apartment building. She used to hide at my place when her old man would have too much and go off on her mother.” He tapped the ashtray, “That’s why she came to me. We were friends; I cared about her. And as for the other stuff….”
“As for the other stuff, she had an itch that needed scratched, and Bob just wasn’t up for the job. He couldn’t reach the right spot,” the corner of his mouth kicked up, “But I did. Over and over, until the only sound between us was her begging.”
It was impossible not to imagine or to let her mind drift back to Caleb. Bella bit her lip and crossed her legs, trying to retain her composure. “And Alice?”
He sat back in his chair and blew out a long plume of smoke. “Last I heard, violated her probation and left town.”
Bella warned Salim not to follow in Alice’s footsteps and departed from the club as quickly as possible. She felt high from the danger. The bouncer could have turned on her, Salim could have run, any number of things could have gone sideways.
But they didn’t.
And Bella, who always felt like her life was a series of decisions she was party to but not in charge of, picked up her phone and smiled. “Hey, Caleb. Are you at your house?”
Vlad’s House, Henford-on-Bagley
Alice woke up in Vlad’s bed with a gasp. The room was empty and quiet, enough to lull her back to sleep, except that she had a two-year-old; things were never empty and quiet.
She stumbled through his door only to find him seated in a chair, book in hand, a fire burning in the fireplace. In place of his loveseat was an old-fashioned toddler bed where Gwendolyn was curled up, sleeping peacefully.
“I think you had a panic attack and passed out,” he explained, “You woke up for a moment, but you seemed so tired, I thought you might want to sleep. We kept Gwendolyn entertained and gave her dinner.”
Alice didn’t know whether to be in shock or or beg him to do this for her every night. “Where did you get all of this stuff?”
“Latimer would tell you I’m a hoarder, but I just keep everything in case it’s needed, which it always is. Plus, you left her bag in the front hall, so she has pajamas and a clean diaper.”
“T-thanks.” She shook her head, trying to clear it. “How old is this bed?”
“Old,” he chuckled, “It was my daughter’s, and she’s well over two hundred.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to you throwing around numbers like that.” Alice wrapped her arms around herself. The nights were starting to get cool now that they were in early September. Vlad must have noticed because he put down the book he was reading and crossed to his armoire, rifling through his drawers before pulling out a sweater.
“The house is drafty. I can’t feel it, but Latimer complains constantly. I’ve been working on new insulation, but it’s slow-going and…” he trailed off, frowning. “I’m sorry, I should explain. Vampires can’t feel the temperature. I can still suffer the effects of freezing or burning, but I don’t enjoy the warmth of the sun or suffer a chill.”
She took the sweater gratefully and pulled it on. He must own them for appearances, then. Is that why she hadn’t noticed any other witches? Were they keeping up appearances too? Shit! Was she supposed to be reporting all this ghost shit to a coven or something? “I don’t know how to do this,” she whispered.
“I know it’s a lot. I’m…a lot,” he sounded apologetic. “But I’ve also lived with Latimer for decades, so I know how to act mortal. Not that I’m perfect, and I am more vampiric at home, but I don’t have to be; I-I can stop.”
“No!” Alice held up her hands, “I don’t want you to do that! I just mean I’m a mess. I didn’t sleep because I was super stressed about coming here and telling you about me. Like, the vampire thing is not what I expected, and to be honest, I thought I would handle that with a lot more chill,” she bit her lip, “But mostly, I was freaking out about the ghosts.”
“I…I see ghosts,” Alice tensed, “They look just like sims, talk just like sims, but they aren’t there. At first, I thought I was losing my mind, or maybe it was a pregnancy thing. But after the heist—”
He did a double-take. “What heist?”
“The one I went to jail for.” She was whispering, but Vlad heard her perfectly because, of course, he did.
“You went to jail?” His jaw tightened. “Are you alright? When did this happen?” He pulled her close, “Are you safe?”
She started to tease him about being overly concerned—she’d been to jail a few times—but his eyes held nothing but a silvery storm of panic. “I’m fine,” she said softly, patting his chest, “Is there any food left from earlier? It’s a long story, and I’m better on a full stomach.”
Straud Manor, Forgotten Hollow
He wasn’t even at Straud Manor when Bella called, but he raced over as soon as he hung up. That first night with her had broken something open, and after decades of feeling lukewarm about the idea of sex, he was now desperate for it.
Desperate for Bella.
He liked her sharp mind and determined nature. Caleb didn’t miss mortality, he liked being a vampire, but Bella brought an energy and excitement that he hadn’t experienced in a long time. For that, he could pretend at being a sim.
“Where the shower?” she murmured as he kissed her shoulder. He wouldn’t dare bite her, but he did nip, pulling her hips towards his pelvis and reveling in the friction. He was ready for the next round. In fact, he was still “ready” from the last round.
It wasn’t that Caleb begrudged her pleasure; he just wished he had a chance to get there with her. “Stay for a bit.”
She chuckled, “Caleb Vatore, you’re insatiable.”
He was, but there was time for figuring out their rhythm later. Mostly, he wanted to talk. How did she become a cop? What were her interests? “I can order delivery. What time do you have to be back?”
It was the wrong question; she jumped out of bed and reached for her shirt, “Caleb, I had fun, but I can’t stay out all hours.”
“No, I’m sorry.” He pulled on his pants, embarrassment creeping up his spine. “I shouldn’t have brought that up. Here, I’ll show you the tub. I’ve got somewhere to be too.”
It was a half-truth. Caleb did need to confront his mother, but one did not rush into a confrontation with Anastasia Barrister. He showed her the bathroom, fumbling with the shower attachment he’d bought from some big box store when he got tired of flying back to his apartment for a shower.
“Don’t worry about getting the shower to work. Take a bath with me,” she said.
Her change in mood gave him a little whiplash, but at least they were on the same page. He ran the water, added soap, and kissed her while they undressed and slipped into the tub.
“How was your day?” he asked when the silence had stretched on too long. “What did you do?”
He fumbled around for a good response. “Not much in a good way or a disappointing way?”
She sighed, contented. “Not disappointing. It was a good day.”
Bella didn’t elaborate, and Caleb debated about what to say next. Would it come off as boorish to talk about his day? Should he ask a different question? Or did she need to know more about him before opening up? He could try making a joke…but what if that didn’t land?
Maybe she was just tired, and they should just move things along. He reached for the washcloth, grazing the side of her breast.
She moaned, tilting her head back. “Okay, vampire, you win. One more time.”
Vlad’s House, Henford-on-Bagley
No wonder Vlad was such an incredible cook; he’d had a thousand years to perfect it.
What an insane number. And yet, she was still nervous to talk about herself. She had no practice telling someone her secrets. Even Penny got the edited version of the heist story because she couldn’t bear her best friend thinking she was out of her mind.
“What has you so frightened?” he asked. For someone who professed to be a killer, he was unfailingly gentle with her.
Maybe that’s why she felt safe telling him; he wouldn’t judge her. If anything, he seemed to like that she was a thief, which was good because Alice liked that about herself too. “I’m not used to telling this story,” she replied. “When I got caught, my father made a deal with me. He would pull some strings and make my charges go away if I promised no more fuck-ups. And I was pregnant and in jail, so, of course, I agreed…” she trailed off.
“You thought the ghosts were just a temporary stress response.”
“Yeah,” Alice didn’t hide her surprise. It was a relief to have someone who understood. “I knew if I came off crazy, my dad would not help me. So I pretended to be fine. That worked when Gwendolyn was a baby, but by the time she was a toddler, I was suffocating. There wasn’t anywhere I could be myself—not at work, not at home; I needed a break. I came here because I figured if no one knew me, they’d never know I was weird. And if I slipped up, they wouldn’t know to call my dad or make a big deal out of it. I’d never be in danger of losing my kid.”
It was split second, but he bared his fangs. “That will never happen.”
His words were a solemn vow as much as a threat. They made Alice feel warm and fuzzy inside. “It won’t. I live a quiet life now, and I don’t do anything that might get me in trouble or violate my probation,” she rubbed the back of her head, “Okay, well, beyond leaving town, which is technically a violation, but I don’t cause trouble, so no one cares.”
“How did the heist go wrong? Was it your first job, or—”
“I’m not a fucking amateur!” Alice growled.
Vlad cocked an eyebrow.
“Sorry, I’m really sensitive about that. The heist was not my first rodeo; it was supposed to be a swan song. I had done enough jobs to get the money I needed to start my art gallery, so it was a simple last score. And it would have been perfect if I planned it.”
“Let me guess,” Vlad narrowed his eyes, “Salim.”
Alice sighed. “He wasn’t the only problem, but yeah, he came up with a shitty plan. It gave me bad vibes from the very beginning…”
NEXT TIME, ON THE STRAUDS:
Trailer Song: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin
Poses & Animations
Toddler Terror by HerecirmSims
Adoption Meeting Poses by Atashi77
Toddler Photoshoot Poses by Atashi77
Pose Pack 37 by Katverse
Bad Guy Poses by KOSHKA
Beard N0 1 by MagicHand
Be Together by Andromeda Sims
Pillow Talk Pose by Error404Phillips
Getting Dressed by Natalia-Auditore
Couple Pose 9 by Sionkanzaki sims
Bathtub Water by Natalia-Auditore
Song “El tango de Roxanne” by Ewan McGregor, Jacek Koman, and José Feliciano
Animations & Mods
Makeup Talk by Angelic Cookie Tv
Walk Animation Pack by LUKA
Animation Pack #22 by Sova Sims
Sims 4 Realistic Dance: Ballet #1 by Steven Studios
Sims 4 Ballroom Dance #3 by Mercuryfoam
12 Conversational Animations by Sinnora Sims 4
Sims 4 Realistic Dance Artistic Performance by Steven Studios
Voices in My Head by MST
KPop Shadow MV Animation by FSF
Sims 4 Vecna’s Curse by Angelic Cookie Tv
Witch Animation by Sinnora Sims 4
Animation Pack #91 by sovushkaxxx
Animation Pack #25 by SovaSims
Smoking and Talk Animation by LUKA
Sims 4 Ballroom Dance #4 Bachata by Mercuryfoam
Fashion Shoot Camera by Shushilda Sims
I Have a Plan Animation by MST
Eavesdropping by LUKA
Kiss in a Bathroom by Grindana
Exclusive Pack #4 by SOVASIMS
Sims 4 Animation Pack #41 | Argue Couples by Purpura Sims
Abduction Pack by Cicada Game
Sims 4 Animation #17 by Cherisi
Hard Times by Gaming Tweety
The Old Theater by Lauderdsughters
Museum of Everything by Janeyface394
Accessories & Clothing
Vintage Microphone by TyrAVB
Beauty Blender: https://kikovanitysimmer.wixsite.com/…
Police Car by Ozyman4
Zoe Outfit by Madlen
Desdemona Pumps by Sentate
Serpent Heels by Sentate
Robe la Douce by jwofles
Estelle Dress by Madlen
Maryiam Dress by Madlen
Jasmine Tee Dress by Sentate
Kaisa Outfit by Madlen
Domenico Outfit by Madlen
Suit by Darte77
Slim Fit Suit by Darte77
Finley Hair by JohnnySims
Slim Fit Pants by KK