We hope you enjoy this reprint, originally published in The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance, ed. Trisha Telep, Running Press, 2008.
I met my client at a seedy, unpleasant bar. Not because I liked such places, but because it’s what clients usually expect when they hire a hit man—or, in my case, a hit woman.
My nostrils flared as I opened the door and stepped inside. The place stank of stale beer, stale sweat, stale cigarettes, and stale lives. Even though it was late on a Saturday night, prime bar hour, the place was practically empty. As advertised by the Hogs parked outside, there were a handful of biker dudes and their slutty chicks hanging out at the pool table. At the bar itself, there were a couple of men who might as well have had Loser tattooed on their foreheads, both looking unhappily drunk.
Remind me why I chose this place for a rendezvous? Oh, yeah. The atmosphere.
I could smell my client from clear across the room. Not because he stank, but because he smelled like he’d had a shower within the last week, which was more than I could say of the other patrons of this fine establishment. Being a vampire has its advantages, but the enhanced sense of smell is something I would happily do without.
My client occupied one of the bar’s rather unsanitary booths. He was much younger and much softer-looking than I’d expected. I guessed his age at about twenty-two, twenty-three, and though he’d dressed down to meet me here, his jeans looked like they’d been artificially aged, and the plain white T-shirt still had creases from being in its package. I’d bet he usually wore suits, or at least designer grunge wear.
His scent changed when he saw me coming, a delicious bouquet of fear and musk blending with his expensive aftershave. No doubt if he’d known I was a vampire, rather than your run-of-the-mill hitter, he’d have run screaming from the room. I had, of course, dressed the part. No reason to pick an atmospheric dive and then go in looking like Jane Normal. If I hadn’t been broadcasting that special vampire don’t-notice-me vibe to everyone but my client, all the guys in the bar would have been after me in the vain hope of getting lucky.
Leather pants, stiletto heels, and some nice cleavage. Gets ’em every time. My client—or really, I should say my potential client, because he hadn’t officially hired me yet—swallowed hard when I slid into the booth across from him. I wasn’t sure if that was from lust or from fear.
I smiled pleasantly and reached my hand out across the table. “Gemma Johanson, at your service,” I said, and like a good little boy, he shook my hand. I could have gone for the stereotypical cold, psychotic stare, but I thought this kid was already shaken up enough. Wouldn’t do to scare away the customer!
He cleared his throat. “Hi. I’m Jeffrey. Reeves.”
I arched an eyebrow. “I rather figured you were.”
Even in the darkness of the bar, I could see the blush that crept up his neck and flushed his cheeks. “Sorry. I’ve never, uh, done this before.”
No kidding? “Why don’t you tell me about the job?” I prompted, because if I waited for him to get around to it, I’d have been there all night.
Jeffrey’s eyes darted nervously around the bar, but no one was paying any attention to us. He leaned over the table and whispered. “I want to hire you to kill someone.”
Apparently, my would-be client had a special talent for stating the obvious. I made a “keep talking” gesture.
He licked his lips, then took a deep breath. That seemed to settle him down some. “It’s my stepfather,” he said, his lips curling—unconsciously, I think—with distaste. “His name is Ross Blackburn, and he’s a murdering son of a bitch who deserves to die.”
Jeffrey’s body language changed completely, his fear and uncertainty buried beneath the rage that now filled him. His hands clenched into fists, his shoulders stiffened, and I could hear the angry thump of his heart. I have to admit, it was rather disconcerting. He’d looked so soft and harmless when I’d first caught sight of him. Now he looked like someone who’d seriously considered doing the job himself.
“Okay,” I said, not really caring if Ross Blackburn deserved to die or not. I had yet to be hired to kill someone who didn’t have it coming, one way or another. I’d made it very clear to Miles, my handler—or my pimp, as he laughingly called himself—that I wasn’t hitting any innocent bystanders who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m sure he farmed out jobs like that to someone else, but as long as I didn’t know about it, I could justify letting him live.
Jeffrey seemed surprised by my easy agreement.
“You, uh, don’t need to know any more?” The anger had drained away as quickly as it had come, and he now had that lost and vaguely pathetic look he’d worn when I’d first caught sight of him.
“I’ll need an address. And, of course, a deposit.”
He swallowed hard again. “Yeah. Sure.” He leaned forward as he dug his wallet out of his back pocket. “When will you . . . do it?”
I was pretty sure Miles had explained my MO when Jeffrey had contacted him. (How this kid had managed to find Miles might be an interesting story—if I were nosier.) But he seemed too rattled and nervous to remember, so I generously answered him anyway as he slid a slim envelope across the table to me.
“Within the next two weeks. He’ll disappear, never to be seen again.” I verified the amount on the cashier’s check inside the envelope, then looked up and caught Jeffrey’s eyes in one of my more menacing stares. “If you’re killing him for an inheritance, you’ll have a long wait before he’ll be declared dead. His body will never be found.”
He shivered. “I don’t care about the money. I just want him dead.” There was a sheen of tears in his eyes, though none fell.
Generally, I don’t like to ask my clients any questions. I trusted Miles—sort of—not to give me innocent victims, and, hey, since I had to eat anyway, I might as well get paid for it. But maybe I was getting soft in my old age. I couldn’t help being just a little curious, seeing as this kid was nothing like my usual clients.
“What’d he do?” I asked, and I think Jeffrey was relieved to be able to tell me.
“He killed my mother.” The anguish in his voice told me that his grief was still fresh and raw. “He married her for her money because he knew she was already sick. Then when the cancer didn’t kill her quick enough, he poisoned her.”
O-kay. This was definitely not sounding like my usual case. I know I said I didn’t care about the details, but I couldn’t help prodding just a little bit. “And have you told this to the police?”
He waved his hand dismissively. “Everyone says she died of natural causes, but I know better. She was supposed to have another couple of years, and then six months after she married this asshole, she’s dead. And he’s got half her estate.”
I supposed it did sound kind of suspicious, at least to a grieving son. I tucked the envelope with the check into my pocket book, wondering if I was going to end up killing an innocent after all.
But then I brightened. I had two weeks to make the kill, and I had an admittedly almost feline enjoyment of playing with my food. With a little clever investigating, I could find out for myself whether Ross killed his old lady or not. If it turned out he didn’t, then Junior here could be my flavor-of-the-month. I don’t make a habit of killing my clients—Miles rather frowns on that—but I thought I could make an exception if it turned out Jeffrey had hired me under false pretenses. It wasn’t like Jeffrey’s death would ever be attributed to me.
“Give me two weeks,” I said, reaching across the table to shake his hand again. “After that, you won’t have to worry about him anymore.”
* * *
After Jeffrey left, I slipped back inside and took a seat at the bar beside one of the drunken losers I’d noticed earlier. He was such a sorry specimen, I might not even have needed my supernatural powers of persuasion to wrap him around my little finger, but I didn’t want to hang around this dive any longer than necessary. The moment I managed to catch his attention—not easy when his tequilla was so much more interesting—I mesmerized him with my gaze. No one paid any attention to us as I led him back to the grimy, unisex bathroom. Based on the taste of him, there was more alcohol than blood running through his veins, and I swear I felt a bit tipsy after I drank. No, I didn’t kill him. While I need to feed every night, I only have to make a kill every few weeks, to recharge my psychic battery. If I don’t recharge it, my body will slowly wither and die, and that’s where my line of work comes in handy.
After I left short, dark, and disgusting to sleep it off, I decided to take a first pass by my target’s house. It was well after midnight by now, so I didn’t expect to do more than a drive-by, just to familiarize myself with the neighborhood, but when I got there, it was to see lights blazing all through the house.
I parked my car—an intentionally nondescript brown Camry—by the side of the road and took in the sights.
It was a nice neighborhood, a typical example of wealthy suburban America. Houses on what I’d estimate were one-acre lots, many of them hidden from the road by generously wooded front yards. Wealthy, but not ultra-wealthy, if you know what I mean. These were houses, not mansions. I frowned a bit and wondered whether someone living here really had enough money to tempt a man to marry and then murder her. I wouldn’t have thought so, but then money makes people the world over act like idiots.
It started raining, a hearty summer downpour that could last for five minutes or five hours. I made an impulsive decision to meet my soon-to-be victim this very night.
No way I was going out in the rain in my expensive leather pants. Luckily, I was in the habit of keeping a duffle with a change of clothes in the backseat. Comes in handy when my meals aren’t as . . . tidy as they should be.
The street was deserted, everyone with any sense asleep snug in their beds, so I didn’t worry about being observed as I changed into jeans and a T-shirt. The T-shirt had been a gag gift from Miles. It was white, with the words “Bite Me” emblazoned in bold black letters across the chest.
I pushed open the car door and stepped into the rain. I was soaked through before I’d closed the door behind me. Luckily, it was a comfortably warm night.
I splashed my way down the driveway toward the Blackburn house, stealing glances at the lighted windows as I approached, but I didn’t catch sight of my quarry. I was going to be pissed if I’d gotten drenched only to find him not home after all. I rang the doorbell, then took advantage of the covered front porch to wring some of the water out of my hair. The porch light flicked on, and I noticed that my white T-shirt had, predictably, gone see-through in the rain. My sheer lace bra ensured that my assets were plainly visible. I’m not what you’d call modest, but I figured it would enhance my disguise as a helpless damsel in distress if I pretended to be, so I crossed my arms over my chest as footsteps approached. I even hunched my shoulders a bit as if I were cold.
The door swung open, and I caught my first sight of Ross Blackburn.
My immediate first impression was that he was far too young to have been married to a woman old enough to be Jeffrey’s mother. I wouldn’t have put him at a day over thirty. My second impression was . . . hubba, hubba! If I were in the market for a boy-toy, I’d have been wiping the drool from my chin. The look he gave me—a long, slow up and down, followed by a frown and a disdainful sniff—suggested I was not making a similar impression. I unfolded my arms, ostensibly to free my hand to brush my hair out of my eyes. I have to admit, though, I was a little miffed when he didn’t even glance at my chest.
“Yes?” he prompted, because I’d apparently stood there gaping too long.
“My car broke down,” I told him while batting my eyelashes. “May I use your phone to call a tow truck?” The batting eyelashes didn’t seem to make any more impression than my boobs. I must have been losing my touch.
“No cell phone?” Blackburn asked with a raised eyebrow.
What an asshole! Here was this helpless, drenched, sexy woman standing on his doorstep at an ungodly hour, and he’d so far shown no inclination to invite me in out of the cold. Okay, so it wasn’t actually cold, but it’s the principle of the thing.
“I forgot it at home,” I said, and I let him hear the edge of annoyance in my voice. “Look, yours is the only house with lights on. Sorry to bother you, but if you’ll just let me make a quick call, I’ll be out of your hair in no time.”
The corners of his mouth tightened in displeasure, but he stepped aside and opened the door wide enough to let me in. A spoken invitation would have been much nicer, but it seemed I wasn’t getting one. I gritted my teeth against the painful resistance as I crossed the threshold. His nonverbal invite was enough to get me through, but not enough to make it a pleasant experience. Luckily, either I was a good enough actress to hide my discomfort, or he was sulking over my unwanted intrusion, since he didn’t seem to notice the effort it took me to come inside.
“Wait here,” he ordered me, and I wanted to smack him. Where did he get off giving me orders? It wasn’t like I was the hired help! I thought about dear little Jeffrey, and let a small smile curl my lips. In a manner of speaking, I was hired help after all.
Blackburn wasn’t gone long. Before I’d even had a chance to look around, he emerged from what I presumed to be a powder room, carrying a fluffy white hand towel. For the first time, I realized that the foyer was made of beautiful, shiny hardwood, and that I was so wet I was dripping on the small rug that fronted the door.
I took the towel from him almost gratefully. I supposed I couldn’t blame him for not wanting me to drip all over his hardwood.
“Thanks,” I said as I began to blot water from my hair.
“No cell phone and no umbrella,” he mused. “It appears you were ill-prepared for this evening’s outing.”
I glanced up at him from under the fringe of my bangs. I honestly couldn’t tell if he was being a jerk or if that was supposed to be friendly banter. I’m usually better than that at reading people.
“I also didn’t bring a spare car, a hair dryer, or condoms,” I quipped. “I’m ill-prepared for just about anything except a quiet evening at home.”
For the first time, a hint of humor glinted in his eyes. Eyes, I might add, that were the kind of smoky gray hue that would look blue if he were wearing a blue shirt. Yum.
“I can’t help you with the car or the hair dryer, but if you need condoms, feel free to ask.” The humor had drifted down to his lips, which were now curved into a faint, but truly sexy, smile. As far as I could tell, he still hadn’t taken in the view my wet T-shirt offered.
I let the towel settle around my shoulders and peered up at him, trying to get a read on him. I noticed the gold band that circled his ring finger. I’d neglected to ask Jeffrey how long ago his mother had died, though I knew from his fresh grief it had been recent. I thought it notable, however, that Blackburn still wore the wedding band. If he’d married and murdered her for her money, it seemed like he’d dispense with the ring while in the privacy of his own home.
He saw the direction of my gaze, and the smile faded. “Please forgive my . . . erratic manners. My wife passed away last month, and I’m not quite myself yet.”
“Oh!” I gasped in feigned surprise. “I’m so sorry!” I reached out to touch his arm in a gesture of feminine sympathy. He looked appropriately sad, but it was hard to see that crack about the condoms as anything but flirting. Of course, some men flirt by instinct. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
“Thank you,” he said, gently extracting his arm from my grip. “The phone is this way.”
I pried my wet sneakers off and left them on the doormat, then followed Blackburn through the dining room and into the kitchen. He indicated the phone on the wall, then settled his butt against the butcher-block counter across from me and watched with unnerving intensity as I dialed.
“You must not be new to car trouble,” he said.
I frowned at him as the phone began to ring. “Why do you say that?” As soon as the words left my mouth, my brain caught up, and I knew what he was about to say.
“You’ve memorized the number for the tow truck.”
I grinned ruefully. I was letting myself get too hot and bothered by Mr. Ross Blackburn. Hormones and clear thinking don’t go together. “My car’s a piece of shit,” I confided. “Pardon my French.” Finally, Miles answered the phone with his usual brusque “yeah?”
“Hi,” I said. “This is Gemma Johanson. I need a tow truck at . . .” I gave Blackburn a raised eyebrow, and he told me the address, which I dutifully repeated.
“That so?” Miles asked. He was used to calls like these, though usually I warned him in advance that I’d be calling and let him know who he was supposed to be.
“How long will it take?”
“How long do you want it to take?” he countered.
“An hour!” I wailed in mock dismay, and Miles snorted with laughter at my acting. “It’s after midnight, and I’m stuck in some stranger’s house. Can’t you get someone here faster?”
“An hour, eh? I take it this one is going to die with a smile on his face?”
I sighed dramatically, wishing Miles would get his mind out of the gutter. Never mind that mine was there right with him. “Oh all right!” I said with exaggerated patience. “But I’m not keeping my host up for a whole hour.”
Another snort of laughter. “I’m sure you’re quite capable of it.”
“I’ll be waiting outside on the porch. In the rain. So if he can come faster, I’d really appreciate it.” I’d been an actress back in the days when “actress” was often a euphemism for something entirely different. However, my acting skills were enough to keep me from bursting into laughter at the repeated innuendo.
I hung up before Miles could deliver another one-liner. I was good, but I wasn’t cocky enough to think I’d be able to hide my amusement forever.
Across the kitchen from me, Blackburn was watching me with a curious half-smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eye. Almost as if he’d heard both halves of that conversation, but I was sure the volume on the phone hadn’t been high enough for that. The half-smile broadened into a full-out smile.
“I suppose you expect me to feel properly guilty and not make you wait out on the porch as you suggested to the towing company.”
Well, yeah. If he was going to make a woman wait alone outside on a dark and stormy night, then I was going to play with my food more than usual. And he wouldn’t think my games were fun.
“Well, Mr. . . . ?”
“Blackburn,” he supplied obligingly.
What? No invitation to address him by his first name? Wife-killer or not, he was one hell of a jerk. “Well, Mr. Blackburn,” I started again, and even to my own ears my voice sounded a bit brittle, “I won’t be telling everyone about your kind heart and generosity if you make me wait outside. However, it’s your home and your prerogative.” I gave him a challenging stare, daring him to prove how ungentlemanly he could be.
To my shock, he obliged me. “I’m glad you’re so understanding,” he said. “I was about to turn in.” He yawned, though I’d bet he was about as tired as I was—which is to say, not at all. “Although it is not my usual practice to leave beautiful women out in the cold, as it were, I have to get up early tomorrow morning. However, there’s a rocking chair on the porch, and I assure you, it’s quite comfortable. Would you like a cup of coffee while you wait? I believe I can keep my eyes open long enough to brew some.”
I had the distinct impression he was mocking me, though it didn’t show in his expression. I considered the possibility of ramming my fist through his teeth. Then I considered the possibility of killing him right there and then. But a quick death was too good for him.
“Sorry to turn down such a generous offer,” I said, sneering to make doubly sure he caught my sarcasm, “but I think I’ll skip the coffee. I’d hate to keep you from your beauty sleep any longer.” I turned on my heel and stalked out of the kitchen. Although his footsteps were quiet and stealthy, I knew he was following me to the door. The better to kick me out on my ass, I suppose. Bastard.
I hoped steam wasn’t coming out of my ears as I bent to snatch my wet shoes from the door mat. “It’s been a real pleasure meeting you, Mr. Blackburn,” I said.
“The pleasure’s been all mine,” he responded smoothly.
I didn’t dare turn to look at him as I jerked the door open and stepped outside. I was so pissed my fangs were extending. Normally, it’s not that easy to get a rise out of me, but there’s nothing like a good-looking man behaving badly to set my blood boiling. Such a waste of good beefcake.
The door closed behind me, Blackburn not bothering with a goodbye, and moments later, the porch light clicked off. My fists clenched at my sides. Not only was the asshole going to leave me waiting outside in the rain in the middle of the night, he wasn’t even going to leave the light on for me.
Resisting the urge to bash the door off its hinges and sink my fangs into Ross Blackburn’s despicable throat, I plopped down on the rocking chair and settled in to wait the hour it was supposed to take for the tow truck to get here—just in case Blackburn had a guilt-induced bout of insomnia, I didn’t want to blow my cover story. But I hadn’t been sitting there more than about ten minutes when the lights in the house flicked off one by one.
It’s very easy for a vampire to be overwhelmed by ennui as the years, decades, and even centuries roll past. Those of us who’ve seen multiple centuries and still enjoy our lives do so by continuing to learn, grow, and change. Which was why over the last ten years or so I’d been teaching myself to be an Internet expert. It also came in handy in my line of work.
I spent the remainder of my “day,” i.e., the hours of darkness, finding out everything I could about Ross Blackburn. Some of my methods were highly illegal, but by stealth and by creative storytelling (also known as lying), I’d gotten access to a lot of databases meant only for law enforcement personnel. I used those resources ruthlessly—and, since several of them actually cost money, rather recklessly as well.
Through my prying, I determined that Mrs. Blackburn’s estate was probably worth about a million dollars, including the house. On the one hand, yes, that’s a lot of money. On the other hand, Blackburn was only getting half of it. It seemed like if he were targeting rich women to marry and murder, he could have found someone considerably richer than that. And with his looks, he’d be a definite candidate for the position of trophy husband. Of course, he didn’t exactly have the personality to go with it.
But what really convinced me he hadn’t been after her money was that Blackburn himself was worth at least ten times as much. Hell, he was practically slumming. I’d wager neither Jeffrey nor the late Mrs. Blackburn had had any idea how money Ross Blackburn was worth. Of course, money was only one possible motive for murder, and while I couldn’t say I’d gotten a very good read on his personality, there was nothing about Blackburn that made me doubt he was capable of killing his wife. And Mrs. Blackburn’s death did seem sudden—and unexplained. According to the autopsy that Jeffrey had insisted upon, the cause of death was complications related to chemotherapy. But that sounded a bit like “we have no clue” to me.
The police had dutifully investigated Jeffrey’s charges that his mother was murdered, but the case had been dropped for lack of evidence. Luckily, I had some resources—and some abilities—that the police lacked. After his behavior last night, I’d have been more than happy to kill Blackburn whether he was a murderer or not. But I’d have a hell of a lot more fun if he was.
After a restful day’s sleep, I made my way back to Blackburn’s house with a fresh set of false pretenses at the ready. I was annoyed to find the lights off when I arrived. The nerve of the guy, not to be home when I wanted him to be! I parked my car, and while I was debating whether I should wait, come back later, or take a look around the house in its owner’s absence, a black BMW turned into the driveway. The headlights illuminated a For Sale sign in the yard. Either I’d been terribly unobservant last night, or Blackburn had just put the place up for sale today. Interesting.
I waited ten minutes after the lights in the house went on before I slid out of my car and headed for his door. I preferred for him not to know I’d been staking out his house, even though my pretext for the evening was that I was a private investigator.
He took his own sweet time answering the door. I fumed a bit, just because it felt good to fume. But when the door swung open, I almost forgot what I was fuming about.
I’d halfway convinced myself that he couldn’t possibly be as gorgeous as I remembered, but he was. His thick black hair was still damp from a recent shower—perhaps explaining his delay in opening the door—and he smelled of Ivory soap and minty toothpaste. His white shirt was untucked, and his feet were bare, and I doubt he could have looked any sexier had he tried.
There was still that personality problem, though. He didn’t say a word, just stared at me with raised eyebrows and a faintly mocking grin on his lips. I waited a beat to see if he was going to at least say hello, but he didn’t.
“Remember me?” I asked—rather inanely, I’m afraid.
“Indeed. How could I forget?” He was still grinning.
“May I come in?” I asked with a smile that was supposed to be pleasant. I’m not sure it was.
“What would you do if I said no?” he responded, and for a moment I had the crazy thought that he was on to me. But no, that really was crazy. Normal people don’t even believe in vampires, much less think there’s one standing on their doorstep.
“Probably something really childish, like ring your bell for four hours straight. Or maybe toilet paper your yard.” Among other things.
“Well by all means, then, come in.”
He stepped back, making a sweeping invitation with one arm. Corny as hell, but I refrained from telling him that. I noticed that, while he’d left enough room for me to come in, he wasn’t exactly being generous with the personal space. Even when I stepped forward and crossed the threshold, he was uncomfortably close and didn’t back away.
It wasn’t until he’d closed the door behind me that I noticed it. Hidden beneath that strong mint toothpaste. The faint scent of blood.
I felt my heart speed with sudden panic. If I could smell blood on his breath, that meant I wasn’t trapping myself inside this house with a helpless human after all. It also meant that Jeffrey was right, and Ross Blackburn was a murderer (says the pot talking to the kettle).
I took a deep breath, trying to calm my heart. He could no doubt smell my fear, and unless he’d figured out what I was, he’d have no good explanation for it.
Could he have figured it out? Had he smelled it on my breath last night? Had he noticed my hesitation crossing the threshold?
All these thoughts flitted frantically through my head in the half a second it took for him to close the door, then suddenly whirl on me. Before I could dodge, he’d grabbed hold of both my arms and shoved me face-first against the wall. I let out a gasp of pain as he then wrenched one of my arms up behind my back.
All my superior vampire strength was doing nothing for me. Ross Blackburn was flat-out bigger and stronger than I was, and my being a vampire didn’t change that. Dammit!
His manhandling did have one positive, if perhaps paradoxical, effect: my fear dissipated, replaced by anger. I forced myself to stop struggling.
“I thought you were just an asshole,” I said, somewhat breathlessly. “I didn’t realize you were a psycho, too.”
He pressed his body against my back, pinning me even more firmly to the wall as he chuckled in my ear. “Brave words, for a woman alone in a house with a presumably hostile psycho,” he said.
He trailed his nose along the length of my neck, and I assumed he was taking in the scent of my blood. It was going to hurt like hell if he bit me, but I knew it wouldn’t kill me. What I didn’t know was if he’d be able to tell from the taste of my blood that I wasn’t human. I intentionally bit my lip, hard enough to draw a little blood. Perhaps not smart, when Blackburn would be able to smell it, but too late to turn back now. I swirled that single drop of blood around my mouth, trying to determine whether I tasted human or not. I thought so, but then perhaps my own blood was too familiar.
“I’m waiting for your witty repartee,” Blackburn said, nudging my arm up a little higher behind my back.
I hissed at the sudden flare of pain, but he must not have been much of a sadist, because he immediately backed off on the pressure.
“I’m wittier when my face isn’t mashed up against a wall,” I said, wondering why he didn’t just get on with it and bite me.
He laughed softly, and this time instead of his nose sweeping over my carotid, it was his tongue. It should have been a disgusting, slimy feeling, but I found it vaguely erotic instead. I tried to tell myself it was just vampire mind tricks. But those weren’t supposed to work on other vampires.
“Tell me why you’re here,” he said. “If I like your answer, I might just let you go.”
And wouldn’t that be a shame, a little voice whispered in my head. I was appalled at myself. This was not a sexy situation!
“Did you kill your wife?” I found myself blurting. So much for playing the part of the smooth, sophisticated private investigator.
“That’s why you’re here?” he asked incredulously. “To find out if I killed my wife?”
I tried to nod, but that was hard to do in my current position, so I mumbled a “yes” instead.
“And what were you going to do if you found that I did?”
I figured “kill you” probably wasn’t a good answer. “Call the police,” I said instead.
He snorted. “A likely story. Is that why your ‘towing service’ asked if I was going to die with a smile on my face?”
Oops. I’d forgotten that with his superior senses, he would have heard both sides of my conversation with Miles. No wonder he hadn’t let me hang around the house afterward. I frowned. Why hadn’t he killed me—or at least tried to kill me—last night?
“If you’re going to kill me, just get on with it,” I said. I wasn’t making any progress in my current position, which meant I had to inspire him to lower his guard. If he bit me, maybe I could lull him into a false sense of security.
“Tempting,” he murmured, then grazed my skin with his teeth. Teeth, not fangs. “But I want to know more. Did Jeffrey hire you?”
Due to factors beyond my control—i.e., a need to eat—there were times when I was forced to purposely misplace my conscience. However, it always seemed to find its way back to me. I didn’t want to get Jeffrey killed, not when he’d obviously been right about Blackburn.
“Who?” I asked, hoping I sounded convincingly clueless.
“I know he was very upset about his mother,” Blackburn said, ignoring my question. “I don’t blame him. Elizabeth didn’t deserve to die so young, but her cancer had other ideas. Whether he knows it or not, he’s better off not having had to spend the next year watching her suffer.”
“So you’re admitting you killed her?”
I felt him shrug. “Not that it does you any good, but yes. At her request, I might add. She was already beginning to decline. Now tell me, did Jeffrey hire you?”
“I don’t know anyone by that name.” I’m a good liar, but I didn’t think I had much chance of pulling this one off. Blackburn obviously had reason to believe his stepson had hired me. Still, I had my professional pride, and I wasn’t giving up my client. I decided I’d try to distract him. “How did you know what my handler said on the phone?” I asked. “There’s no way he was talking loud enough for you to hear him across the room.”
To my shock, he laughed and let go of me, though he still hovered uncomfortably close, his palms pressed against the wall on either side of my head. Slowly, I turned around to look into those smoky eyes. He was grinning at me, making no attempt to hide his fully extended fangs.
“You’re still under the impression I don’t know what you are?” he asked. “I thought you were quicker on the uptake than that. If you could smell the blood over my toothpaste, what makes you think I couldn’t smell it over your whisky, or whatever it was you used to try to cover it up.”
Well, so much for lulling him into a false sense of security. Of all the shitty luck! Why did I have to take a contract to kill someone who turned out to be a bigger, stronger vampire?
I sighed and would have crossed my arms if he weren’t invading my personal space SO much. “I didn’t try to cover it up. The guy I drank from was drunk out of his mind. So you know what I am, and I know what you are. Where does that leave us?”
“With me thirsting for Jeffrey’s blood.”
I opened my mouth to continue my charade that Jeffrey didn’t hire me, but Blackburn shut me up by planting his mouth on mine. I struggled pointlessly for a moment, then let myself go limp and passive. The touch of his lips and tongue did sinful things to my insides, but I had no inclination to give in to my lustful desires. Hormones be damned, I wasn’t letting him get away with being a sexual bully.
Blackburn quickly grew bored with my passive resistance and pulled away. He smirked at me, and I was sure he knew he’d aroused me. Apparently, even centuries of experience didn’t stop me from being attracted to bad boys. They did give me the experience to keep myself from acting on those desires, though.
“I have no intention of killing Jeffrey,” he told me. “He’s hated me since the first time we met, but even though he hired you to kill me, I don’t hold it against him. Grief will make men crazy.”
“Okay, so you’re not going to kill Jeffrey. What about me?”
His grin was positively wolfish. “I’d rather fuck you than kill you.”
Frankly, I’d prefer that, too. But since, regrettably, the two were not mutually exclusive . . . My fangs extended, and I prepared for battle. “Try it, and you’ll lose body parts.”
His eyebrows lifted. “I didn’t mean to imply I’d take you without your consent.” He dropped his arms back to his sides and gave me space.
I glanced at the door, so tantalizingly close.
“I’m not particularly vengeful,” he said, taking yet another step back. “I won’t kill Jeffrey, because he had good cause to hire you. I’ll merely disappear from his life so that he will not succumb to temptation again. And I won’t kill you because you cared enough to find out whether I really killed my wife before completing your contract. I clearly won’t be releasing an indiscriminate killer out into the world if I let you go.”
I frowned. “And what will I be releasing if I let you go?”
He had now crossed all the way to the opposite side of the foyer, leaning against the wall. There was no question in my mind that I could beat him out the door at this point. Which calmed my fight-or-flight instincts enough to make me stay put.
“Elizabeth and I met because we were both volunteers for Hospice,” he said, and his smile now was wry. “Does that give you a clue as to how I fulfill my needs?”
I grimaced. “You prey on helpless, innocent victims.”
“No, I prey on dying, suffering victims. More specifically, on suffering victims who would prefer not to suffer any longer.”
My conscience rolled that one around for a while, but I couldn’t quite figure out what I thought of it. I tentatively decided it wasn’t much worse than what I did, if indeed it was worse at all.
“And what about Elizabeth?” I asked.
Something that looked like it might be genuine grief crossed his face. “Elizabeth had ovarian cancer. She had some particularly brutal surgery, and then she started chemo. The side effects of that form of chemo can be excruciating, and she seemed to have every one. Her future would have been filled with pain, more surgery, and long hospital stays. She’d loved me for quite some time, and I was fond enough of her to want to give her some happiness before she died. So I married her shortly after she was diagnosed, and cared for her, and eased the way for her when she was ready to call it quits.”
I stared at him skeptically. “And convinced her to leave you half her estate.”
He waved that off. “That was her decision, and I didn’t know about it. I’d have stopped her if I had. I don’t need the money, and I certainly didn’t need to give Jeffrey any more reason to hate me.”
Call me an old softie, but I believed him. Mainly because of all the bad things he could have done to me by then but hadn’t. I hoped that the fact that I lusted after him wasn’t any factor in my decision, but I can’t say for sure.
“So you’re just an all-around nice guy, huh?” I said.
“Something like that. Now are you leaving, or staying? Because if you’re staying, I’m sure we can find somewhere more comfortable than the foyer.”
The glint in his eyes told me just where he had in mind for us to go. Temptation swamped me, though I figured it wasn’t exactly professional for me to sleep with my supposed target.
A smile curled my lips as a thought occurred to me.
Blackburn’s eyes widened. “Now that is a truly evil smile,” he told me. “Do I want to know what you’re thinking?”
“You said you were planning to disappear from Jeffrey’s life.”
He blinked at what must have seemed like a non-sequitur. “Yes,” he answered cautiously.
“Would you be willing to do your disappearing within the next two weeks?”
He cocked his head at me, brow furrowed in puzzlement. “May I ask why?”
“My agreement with Jeffrey was that you would disappear, never to be seen again. And that your body would never be found. I didn’t actually say I would kill you.”
Blackburn threw back his head and laughed. “So you’ll claim to have ‘taken care’ of me, and you’ll take Jeffrey’s money.”
“I get my money, Jeffrey gets his revenge, and neither one of us has to die. What more could you ask for?”
He was no longer leaning against the wall. Now, he was stalking across the foyer toward me in his full predatory glory. The door no longer seemed even remotely tempting.
“Oh, I can think of a few more things to ask for,” he murmured as he took up his former position, crowding into my personal space.
“What makes you think I’d give them to you?” I asked. “You were a total asshole last night, and you’ve been an insufferable bully so far tonight.”
His crooked grin made my libido dance a jig. “Oh, and you would have been the soul of courtesy and hospitality if you’d found an unfamiliar vampire on your doorstep? And then discovered she meant to kill you?”
I had to grant him that. “I still don’t get why you let me go last night.”
He shrugged. “I found you entertaining. And I knew you’d be back.”
Arrogant bastard! “It would have served you right if I’d staked you as soon as you’d opened the door,” I grumbled.
He pressed up close against me, letting me feel his own, er, stake. I guess death threats were a turn-on for him. “If you find me so terribly unappealing, you could always leave,” he said. “I won’t try to stop you, and I’ll even disappear for you so you can collect on your contract.”
I glanced pointedly at his ring, though I made no attempt to move away. “Aren’t you in mourning?”
A shadow of grief crossed his face. “When I lost Elizabeth, I lost a dear friend. But not a lover. If we were to explore our mutual attraction, I would not feel it disloyal to her memory.”
I was running out of reasons to turn him down. And truthfully, there were many advantages to the idea of having a vampire lover. Especially one as smoking hot—and relatively decent, if such a term could be applied to any vampire—as Ross Blackburn.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll take you for a test drive.”
He smirked at me in a way that would have infuriated me if he weren’t so damn sexy. I grabbed double handfuls of his hair and pulled his head down to mine. And believe me, that smirk died a quick and glorious death.
Copyright © 2008 by Jenna Black