"Vicki," Henry's voice was on her voice-mail, "I won't be by tonight. I'm painting." There was a brief pause. "You're welcome to come and watch me work." Something odd was in his tone at the last—almost awkward, if that was possible in a 450-year-old son of a king.
Curious, Vicki took a cab to his place. Before she could knock, the door opened and an attractive young woman stepped out. No older than Coreen, she had dark hair cut fashionably into a bob that curled in at her jawline. She wore a grey vest and matching newsboy hat, and clutched a crossbody purse like she had just slung it on to leave. "Oh, hey," she said with a sociable smile, stopping the door from closing behind her. "Henry's just getting changed."
"Thanks," said Vicki, taking charge of the door so the girl could continue on out. She couldn't think of a thing else to say.
Henry's living room was swathed in plastic. Blue masking tape protected door hinges and wood moulding all along the wall. The plastic covered the hardwood floors nearest the back wall and there stood a stepladder with empty paint tray and paint roller, waiting. On the tarp beside it, two cans from Benjamin Moore. "Oh," Vicki said.
Henry opened his large bedroom doors dressed improbably in denim coveralls. Deep pockets gaped on either side at his hips, buckled straps at his shoulders curled over a cotton T-shirt, and paint smears smattered the denim at random locations. "Vicki," he said with a pleased smile.
Vicki had a lot of questions, but the first one that came out was, "So, was that girl your dinner?"
Henry's expression changed to faintly disapproving. "I assume you ate before you came."
"Yes, your hospitality in the dinner area leaves a little to be desired."
"Meredith didn't think so." He produced a pry key from a pocket and took off the lid of one of the cans. "I didn't think you'd come. Usually you find watching me work boring."
"Usually you don't invite me to watch when you're painting." Half the wall was its old cream color and half a gleaming new shade of orange, unfinished. "I should have realized you didn't mean you were painting a portrait."
"Because I don't like to have company when I'm painting on canvas." Henry gestured with his paint roller. "You can sit over by the windows. I'm afraid everything comfortable is covered."
Vicki didn't even glance that way for a seat. She'd spotted the reason for this spate of redecorating. The hole Norman Bridewell had left in Henry's wall was gone. "You've repaired the hole. I get that, but," she made a back and forth motion with her hand at the wall, "why orange?"
"It complements my new carpet." Henry bent down and poured orange paint from the can into the tray. "And it's burnt sienna," he added.
Beneath the veil of plastic, Vicki saw a large area rug. She couldn't make out the pattern on it, but its primary color was a blue. Of course, Henry's own blood from Bridewell's attack had ruined the old rug. She looked back at Henry to see him regarding the label of the can with disdain.
"Which the paint company calls 'Sunrise Breakfast.'"
Vicki smirked. Henry Fitzroy, vampire and Tudor-era artist scowling at high-end interior latex paint was worth the price of admission. "Looks orange to me," she said. She eyed his coveralls with their reinforced hems and faintly tailored silhouette. Fancy for work clothes, or was it just that Henry made anything he wore look good? "Nice outfit. Has a kind of peasant look."
Henry set the can down and faced her. Vicki braced for an aristocratic dressing-down. "It's not what I prefer to paint in," he said. "If it weren't for those windows, I'd work in the buff." He gave her one of his lascivious grins. "I clean up even more easily than the clothes do."
Vicki's jaw went lax as she tried to think whether to laugh or leer. "You can close the windows," she said before she realized she shouldn't.
Henry's smile widened. "Do you want me to?"
"No, no." She put her hands out in a negative."That's not what I meant." Not that the mental image wasn't … compelling. She needed a change of subject, because Henry's grin was infectious. "What—did you want me here for?"
"The pleasure of your company, of course."
Uh huh. Her first reaction was skeptical, but she caught herself. Henry obviously had a healthy social circle, but few of his amores seemed to have any permanent place in his life. If he had to whammy someone every night into forgetting what he was, then she was almost unique in his world as someone he couldn't whammy and who knew his secret.
"Walls I can do," she said, feeling indulgent. "You want some help?"
"No, thank you." Henry shoveled his paint roller in the tray and turned briskly to the wall. "There's a reason I don't hire professionals to cover my walls, so I certainly don't want an amateur."
Vicki perched a hip on the edge of his cubic loveseat, the plastic rustling under her. "Oh-kay. You want to explain why you just insulted my painting skills?"
Henry paused in his smooth shoulder motion to glance at her sidelong. Satisfied she wasn't serious, he continued, "Whenever I've had other people in to paint, I just end up redoing it. So, if you'll forgive the cliché, it's not you; it's me."
Vicki shook her head and looked around his penthouse apartment. As usual, he kept the lights too dim for her to see very well. "When you're done here, you can come paint over the graffiti in the alley behind my place."
"Gangs?" asked Henry without interrupting the rhythm of his roller.
"Politicians. Most of it is for the mayoral candidates." Now that he wasn't pulling his temperamental artist act anymore, this was duller even than watching him ink graphics while she waited when she needed him on a case. "Who are you voting for?"
"I'm not voting. I don't get involved in public life; it's too public."
Vicki blinked. "Voting is too public for you?"
Henry moved the stepladder so he could reach above the section of wall he'd completed as well as he could from the floor. "It can be. I remember when being on the losing side of a power struggle meant losing your head." He dipped his roller and reached toward the ceiling. Beneath his T-shirt, muscles moved. Henry did make those godawful paint clothes look good, though the idea of watching him work in the nude—she shook herself back to the real world. "Besides," he was adding, "it's not really any of my business what the people decide to do."
"The people?!" Vicki sputtered.
"People," Henry corrected himself, a dip of his head agreeing that he'd misspoken. "What people decide to do." He moved the stepladder a short distance and mounted again.
Vicki tried not to leave her mouth open. "Would that be people, as in, people not vampires, or as in, people not royalty?"
Henry looked back at her with exactly the look Vicki's mother gave her when she told her not to be a smart-ass. Henry said nothing, though, just refilled his roller and went back to work.
"That makes no sense." Vicki stood so she could pace as well as the plastic allowed. "The outcome affects you as much as anyone else."
"Only if I let it," said Henry smoothly. "Besides, if I really need to influence politics, I have much more effective means than voting." His smile was all innocent malice.
Good Lord. "I don't even want to hear it," Vicki said. Restless, she picked up a brush she spotted near the paint can. "Look, I'm not sitting here watching you paint the walls. Here's a brush, tell me what I can paint."
From up on the ladder, Henry gestured. "That canvas, there."
Vicki looked. "Henry, that's a dropcloth."
"Perfect," he said. "I'm so glad you came by," he added with such apparent sincerity that she was torn between annoyance and pleasure.
She put the brush down and found a seat by the windows. "Next time I'm bringing popcorn."