CW: Strong language, adult situations, gore, sexual innuendo
Vlad’s House, Henford-on-Bagley
“Are you insane?” Vlad asked as he nudged one of the wooden planks dubiously with his foot. They were standing in his backyard by the pool; two thin boards stretched across it like balance beams.
“No,” Alice replied with an ominously calm smile. “This is our bet. Double or nothing, remember?”
Truthfully, Vlad had thought they were talking about sex. He told her as much, which she brushed off.
“It’s a simple matter of coordination and balance,” she explained, “We just use the boards to walk across to the other side of the pool. Whoever makes it without falling in wins.”
“Wins what?” They’d been over this, but Vlad was still hoping to find a loophole.
“If you win, we spend the afternoon being entertained” —she made mock quotation marks— “at the Chalet Gardens Home Show. And if I win, we spend a totally normal and fun afternoon doing hot yoga.”
“You don’t want to do hot yoga. You just want to torture me.”
“You don’t have any proof of that.” She arched an eyebrow, “You just met me. You don’t know; maybe I love hot yoga.”
And maybe Vlad was actually a Tartosian settee. He resented her implication about the Home Show. It was one of the few things he’d brave the presence of mortals to attend.
He picked a piece of lint off his suit. “And we’re wearing formal clothing because…?”
She tilted her head and gave him another one of those calm smiles. “A double or nothing bet is always a formal occasion.”
Elmyra’s Boxing Gym
Werewolves were hard to pin down, even if you knew exactly where they were supposed to be.
“I’m back again for Nina. I know she’s not here,” Bella held up her hands in placating gesture, “How about just giving me a heads up when she comes by?”
Baako Jang, the boxing gym owner, gave her a resigned look. “Lady—”
“Detective. I don’t got nothing for you.” He jiggled his keys and pushed the door open. Bella followed behind him, watching as he flipped on the lights.
“Why am I gonna tell you when one of my patrons comes by? You either want her because she caused trouble, or you want to cause her trouble.”
“There’s another possibility you didn’t consider.” Bella handed him her card and 500 simoleons. “Maybe she’s the one in trouble, and I’m here to help. There’s another 500 in it if you call me.”
“We reset the scene,” Bobbie announced.
Caleb didn’t get along with most of the witches on the MIU, but these two—Bobbie and DeeDee—were hard to parse. They didn’t hate him like the others, but they weren’t friendly either.
The defect that made him desperate to please kicked in. He softened his expression and offered a broad smile. “Thank you, sisters. We deeply appreciate it.”
Bobbie narrowed her eyes, silvery hair glinting in the sun. “Let us hope, young Vatore, that we didn’t expend all of this magical energy for a repeat of October 1950.”
As far as admonishments went, it was gentle. He nodded because there wasn’t anything else to say. He used to apologize. Explain. Beg.
Twelve Magic School students missing. A bloody scene, no bodies. Before 1950, Caleb was settling in at the MIU. Supernaturals hadn’t forgotten his family, but they started believing Caleb was different. After that night, though, every witch saw him as a reminder of the danger of vampires. He kept the case files in a box at Straud Manor. That way, when he wasn’t mourning the sorry state of his family, he could be haunted by his failures.
“We ain’t plannin’ to waste your magic,” Akira said. He watched them set down a telepathic amplifier. “You guys on call?”
“We’re the highest-ranking witches in our coven,” DeeDee answered.
“So that’s a yes?”
She rose and rolled her eyes, “Try not to miss anything this time.”
“Come on,” Caleb did not want to waste another minute. Illusion magic always felt like a buzzing in his head. “And by the way that”—he jerked his head in DeeDee’s direction— “is never going to happen.”
“Says you,” Akira smirked.
Quietly, they began surveying the area, pouring over the scene just as they found it that night. Cleared of acolytes and other MIU staff, they started noticing things that didn’t stand out before.
“What’s this?” Caleb stared down at a discarded nectar glass and a torn piece of paper. He couldn’t pick it up, but he could look at it closer.
What the hell did that mean? And something else was nagging at him. “How did they get here?”
“What?” Akira stepped back from examining the bodies.
“Where did they come from? What direction were they running? If they were being chased, there should be evidence of that along the way. Even if the killer was hiding out, he still needed to track them.”
Understanding dawned on Akira’s face. “It’s hard to ambush a werewolf.”
“For the same reason that it’s hard to ambush a vampire. We have excellent senses. And ambushing twelve of us? Impossible.”
“Can you track the scent? See what path they usually travel? With your dark form,” Akira added, “So we don’t miss anything.”
It was the last thing Caleb wanted to do. Everything was heightened in his dark form, which was very useful…
And also scary. This was how vampires went mad. They fell into darkness and enjoyed the feeling too much.
They followed the scent of the werewolves through the woods for about a mile until they reached a popular running trail in Glimmerbrook park.
Akira shook his head as he looked around. “The hell?”
The area still had the remains of a witch’s ceremony set up by some old graves.
“When did we find the bodies?” Caleb asked.
“Beltane. The Fae celebrate too. It’s supposed to be when magical energy is at its strongest.” He scratched his head. “There is no way a pack of werewolves ran through here, and no one noticed. Either we got some dead witches or silent witnesses.”
Caleb agreed. “Let’s get the acolytes to catalog this spot too.” The area smelled like wolves and witches and another scent that made his anxiety leap. He knelt and examined the forest floor.
“Maybe the witches have a good reason to keep quiet.” Caleb zeroed in on the candles and the crushed earth around them. “There was a vampire here. And he wore really nice shoes.”
“But mommy, I don’t want to wear this blazer; it itches!” Alexander whined and tugged at his jacket.
Usually, Bella would be on his side, but today she needed him to play the part of the perfect Smugglesworth Prep student so she could play the perfect Smugglesworth Prep mother.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Deacon asked. He also looked uncomfortable in his chauffeur’s uniform.
“Yes, I’m sure! Can you please grow up and stop complaining like you’re one of my children!”
She knelt and smoothed her son’s hair. “Alexander, buddy, it’s not going to be that long. Just wear the blazer and show mommy to the parent’s lounge, and then tonight we’ll get ice cream.”
His eyes lit up, and he nodded enthusiastically.
“It’s the only way,” Bella whispered to Deacon as they followed her son down the hall, “The Landgraabs lawyered up, and Nancy won’t say a word. My best chance to ask her why she stopped sending money to her son is at this stupid breakfast.”
It had taken every ounce of her skill as a detective to keep Mortimer from showing up. She logged onto his phone, computer, and even the family tablet to painstakingly rewrite his notes and schedule the breakfast for tomorrow.
Even with all that effort, he still woke up with a “feeling.” Only Bella’s insistence that it was today kept him off the scent because when it came to her, he had to be contrary.
As soon as they reached the lounge, she kissed Alexander’s forehead and sent him off to class.
Inside, Bella was immediately reminded of why she hated having to play nice with all these rich assholes.
She plastered on a smile and gave fake friendly greetings as she and Deacon made their way to the back of the room.
There, Nancy sat sipping tea by herself.
Bella pretended not to see her, strolling over to examine the cabinet before leaping back in feigned surprise. “Oh my gosh, Nancy! Is that you?”
Nancy pursed her lips, not even bothering with a fake smile. “Do I know you?”
Okay. Rude. “Bella Goth,” Bella held out a hand that Nancy didn’t take. “My children go here. I believe Cassandra and Malcolm are the same age. They must know each other.”
Nancy gave her a once-over and sipped her tea. “Malcolm’s very busy with his extracurriculars. I doubt he’d know someone like your daughter.”
“What about your older son? Did Johnny go here too?”
Nancy slammed down the teacup and got to her feet. “Do I look stupid to you?”
“No. You look like a mother whose oldest son was murdered, and now instead of talking to the authorities, you’re avoiding us.”
“I knew you were a cop,” she sneered. “No real Smugglesworth parent would bring in the help.” She pointed at Deacon angrily before storming off.
Bella caught up with her just outside the lounge. “I am a real Smugglesworth parent, just like you. My kids do go here, and I care about them, just like you do. If someone hurt one of them,” she grabbed Nancy’s arm, “I would want to know. And as a mother, I would want the authorities to do everything in their power to hunt them down.”
Nancy’s chin trembled. For a moment, the grief in her eyes was so intense that Bella almost wanted to look away. The emotion was gone in a flash, buried. “Get away from me, or I’m calling my lawyer.”
Bella followed, hot on her heels, as Nancy caught her son in the hallway and ushered him out the door.
“Come on, don’t you want to know what happened to your brother?”
“Malcolm!” Nancy’s voice was shrill, “Don’t say a word to her! I’m calling our lawyer!”
“Malcolm, please,” Bella begged.
The grief was written across his face too, but like his mother, he quickly buried it.
“I already know what happened to my brother. He’s dead because of his choices. Johnny Zest wasn’t a real Landgraab.”
Vlad’s House, Henford-on-Bagley
Alice was absolutely, without a doubt, out of her mind. No matter how hard he tried, she insisted that this was how she wanted to spend the afternoon.
“And you trust that Lat—my father is truly going to act as an impartial judge?”
“Hey!” Latimer huffed, “I’m more likely to disqualify your ass than help you. Don’t be questioning my integrity.”
Latimer thrust out his arms, “That’s judge traitor to you.”
“I’m telling you, it’s easy. Look, sims do it on Sims Tock do it all the time.” Alice showed him her phone, “Check out this video. Those kids are five, and they had no problems.”
Vlad watched as a parade of small children in fancy dresses crossed the water while balancing on a plank.
Another video started to play. A far more interesting video. He held fast to her phone. “Is he…” Vlad peered closer and licked his lips, “Is that man wearing a corset?”
Alice gave him a heated look, “Yep. It’s a thirst trap. I’ll text my favorite one to you later.”
He liked receiving illicit texts from Alice. They called it sexting now, but he’d sent and received any number of filthy letters over the centuries. Missives from brief flings and paramours were lost to time. Anastasia’s were burned for obvious reasons. Faba’s were undoubtedly stuffed inside a bubble blower he hadn’t touched since the 70s, but Ethren’s…
Ethren’s he kept. Vlad was sentimental about his first marriage, even if he did have a recurring fantasy where he pushed his ex-husband off a cliff.
Speaking of fantasies…
“I think you should show me your favorite video now. We can abandon this bet, go upstairs, take off our clothes, and get me addicted to Sims Tock.”
“No can do,” she plucked the phone out of his hands, “Maybe as a reward when this is all over and I’ve kicked your ass.”
“Please,” Vlad snorted, “You will achieve no such ends. My legs are longer, and my reflexes are” —preternatural— “better.”
“Enough chit-chat; let’s get it going,” Latimer frowned.
They took their places.
Latimer cupped his hands to amplify his voice. “Ready, Vladislaus?”
Vlad stretched, “Born ready.”
“I think…yeah. I-I’m good. Let’s go.”
The consequences of her insane idea were clearly weighing on her. “If you’re scared, you can just walk slowly,” Vlad called out.
But Alice didn’t walk.
She hummed to herself.
And not just danced.
Winked, and lifted her leg into a perfect arabesque.
Well, well, well. Vlad wasn’t going to lean into his vampirism, out of fairness. But now?
He rotated his wrist and affected the perfect bow.
Alice responded with a curtsy that put the delicate lace of her blouse directly in his line of sight. Distracted, he misjudged the speed at which he should have come out of the bow.
Rather than trying to balance, an impossible feat for his body in this form, he followed the momentum into a backflip, landing back on the beam with a satisfied smile.
Latimer whooped, but Alice appeared non-plussed.
A second later, with the sound of cracking wood, he knew why.
The last thing he saw before he crashed into the water was her smiling face, blowing him a kiss, and waving.
San Myshuno Police Department
It wasn’t like Deacon to lose his cool, but when they got back to the station to change out of their clothing, he unloaded on her.
“Dude, Bella, what is your damage?” He threw up his arms, “That was not cool. This whole idea was already weird and then you had to go and lose it on them!”
“I didn’t lose it! She was acting suspicious! She’s keeping a secret!”
“You broke character as soon as she dissed Cassandra. I mean, Cassie is a cool kid, don’t get me wrong, but if you’re going to use your kids at least be successful.”
Bella reared back as if she’d been slapped. “I don’t use my kids.”
“Whatever,” Deacon turned and started rolling his sleeves.
“No, not whatever. You’re my partner. You’re supposed to have my back.”
He sighed, “Bella, I don’t know what’s going on, dude. You and Mortimer are having a rough time and like, I get it. But you are not chill right now.”
Not chill? She was just about to respond with something caustic when her phone buzzed.
Baako Jang. And the message was concerning. “Do you have your gun on you?” she asked.
“I need you to go check on something with me. It’s…there’s a whole angle to this case I’ve been exploring that I didn’t tell you about, which is shitty, I know! But I need you to trust me and not call for backup until we get there.” Her words came out pleading. “I’ll explain everything in the car.”
He could have abandoned her. It was a crazy request, completely against the rules, and dangerous. But Deacon tucked his gun into his holster and nodded, “Alright, I got you. Let’s go.”
Vlad’s House, Henford-on-Bagley
For all of Vlad’s arrogance, he was not a sore loser. He stripped out of his soaking wet suit without complaint. Alice felt five percent bad for ruining what had to be a very expensive pair of shoes…
But not that bad.
And besides, she did reward him.
Now they were hanging out in the garden shed, another room in his massive and ridiculous house. She untucked her blouse, stuffed after finishing the last bit of chocolate pie. Vlad tried to keep the dessert a secret, murmuring about his dad’s cholesterol, but Latimer snatched a slice before heading off to catch up on his shows.
“What is he watching?”
“Of Tea and Treachery.” Vlad poured himself a glass of nectar, “He’s two seasons behind and demands I stop watching until he catches up. Completely infuriating.”
“You know, it doesn’t surprise me you watch that show, you talk just like them.” When Vlad made an insulted sound she playfully rolled her eyes. “It’s not an insult. I’m just saying you talk like an old-timey duke. I’m into it.”
He eyed her suspiciously. “You’re into a lot of things, judging from your recent victory.”
Alice giggled and poured her own glass. “I tried to tell you. It was about balance and coordination. Not reflexes.”
“You fueled my overconfidence, distracted me with video footage of men I’d like to fuck, and then used that combination to manipulate me into failing spectacularly.”
“Are you mad?” Alice had done every single one of those things. You don’t make double or nothing bets when you couldn’t control the outcome.
“On the contrary,” he gave her a roguish look, “I’m enamored.”
“There’s that old-timey duke again.”
He nodded his head in acknowledgement. “And you are full of mysteries, Miss Martin. I didn’t know you were a dancer.”
Alice shrugged. She liked dancing. It was part of what made her so good at wedging herself into tight spaces until she successfully located an access panel and dropped from the ceiling while avoiding alarm systems. “I took a few classes. My dad signed me up.”
Twenty years of classes.
She’d even secretly bought Gwendolyn a tutu, on the off chance that her kid loved dancing too.
It was a pipe dream, though. Preschool was already expensive, which meant ballet classes were outside the realm of possibility.
“You’ve never talked about your family.”
Alice felt them sliding dangerously away from casual. He clearly wanted to know her, but she had lots of reasons why that was a bad idea—legal reasons, and ones that were considerably less corporeal. “You don’t talk about your family,” she shot back, “I’ve met your dad, but you don’t tell me about anything else!” She thrust her nectar glass at the photo on the wall that clearly depicted a woman Vlad had never talked about it.
“Her name was Betty.”
The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Betty was dead, Alice knew it in her gut. “I’m sorry…what was she like?”
“Lovely. Fearless. Terrible cook.” His eyes went misty. “She had a thousand specific ideas about what she wanted in this house and all of them insane—imported stone hand-laid, absurd heights for light fixtures. But I did it. Every single thing. And she loved this house until the day she died.”
“My parents got divorced when I was twelve,” Alice bit her lip, deciding to give him a little bit of truth. “My sister lived with my mom. Me and my brother stayed with my dad. It wasn’t good. He was more interested in making sure we became successful than if we were happy. I couldn’t do a single thing without him freaking out that I was somehow ruining my future. And my mom was so busy fighting with him, she never stepped in.”
“Sometimes,” Vlad said quietly, “Parents are overfocused on their own fears.”
“Yeah, well, it doesn’t matter why,” Alice turned away, her throat feeling irritatingly tight. “I got into trouble, and things sort of fell apart. I don’t really talk to any of them anymore.”
“I’m sorry,” Vlad replied.
Alice blew out a breath. “And that’s enough of my personal trauma. Your turn. Got any messed-up family? Exes you’re stuck with?”
“For eternity,” he muttered, then shook his head and gave her a bemused smile. “I mean, we share some mutual acquaintances.”
“Do you hate him…her…they?”
“My last ex? Her. And truthfully, I don’t know.” He stared at his nectar for a minute. “I say I hate her, but it’s been so long I don’t know whether what I feel is hate or merely the effect of hate having atrophied.”
“I get that. I mean, it’s not a good dynamic, but it’s what you’re used to. Like a habit.” She absently tapped the edge of her glass. He wasn’t still into his ex, was he? What if she was smart and hot and Vlad thought of her as the one who got away? “So this ex of yours, you’re uh, over her? Or like, now you think she’s chill so you might want to call her?”
Ugh, smooth. She was chastising herself when Vlad fell out laughing. In fact, he laughed so hard, he almost dropped his glass. “Believe me, I am long over her and chill—” he wheezed, trying to catch his breath. “Chill is not a word I would use to describe her.”
NEXT TIME ON “THE STRAUDS”:
Trailer: “Majesty” by Apashe (ft. Wasiu)
Chapter 8: Creature Comforts – Coming June 26.
POSES & ANIMATIONS
Male Stand Poses 6 by Natalia-Auditore
Male Stand Poses 7 by Natalia-Auditore
Walk + Talk Poses by Simmerberlin
Royal Posedump 3 – The Walkin and Talkin by threethousandplumbobs
Drinking Tea Poses + Acc by Natalia-Auditore
Butterfly Poses by Simmerberlin
Ballet Dance Poses Set by FlowerChamber
Model Poses 1 by Atashi77
Cute Poses No. 2 by Atashi77
Cute Poses No. 1 by Atashi77
Dance With Me Accessories by Tinkle
Ballet Class Poses by Atashi77
Bowing Down Poses by Atashi77
Parkour Life Poses by Quiddity-Jones
Getting Dressed Pose Pack by Natalia-Auditore
Male Drinking Poses by Natalia-Auditore
Drinking Wine 2 Female Posepack by Natalia-Auditore
Drinking Wine Female Posepack by Natalia-Auditore
Newcrest Private School by spectreswife
Rich Private School Girls by simonlegrand474
Private School 2.0 by Jouisel
Forbidden Forest by asaperstein24
Song is “Happy Face” by Jagwar Twin
Suitcases and Handbags by JosieSimblr
Depressive by Zac Freitas
Movement Animations by Cicada Game
Animation Pack 17 by Grindana
Standing Talking Animation Pack by Zac Freitas
Emotion Animation Pack by Cicada Game
Gun Action by Steven Studios
Animation Pack #3 – Heart Removal by StorySimmer
Police Car from TS3 by Ozyman4
Turning Back Animation by Zac Freitas
Anastasia’s outfit by Sentate