Hot and strong…
"Chérie." He lifted his hand and cradled the back of her head, bringing her face down to his. "Kiss me."
She sighed into his mouth before she kissed it, and her breath warmed his tongue. She smelled of apples, but she tasted of honey and almonds. Thierry watched her eyes close, felt her thighs tighten over his. and then the liquid heat of her mouth melded with his.
She kissed him as she had moved, graceful but cautious, a little cat finding its way in the dark. He had never felt anything like it. His need for her blood pounded inside him, demanding more than soft lips and silky tongue, and he used his hand to tilt her head.
Inside, where it cannot be seen. Where it will be her secret, and mine.
When Thierry sank his fangs into the soft flesh inside her lower lip, she groaned.
Her blood flooded his mouth, hot and strong, the pulse of life that hummed in her veins pouring into his. Thierry drank from her lips, warming with each swallow, intent on taking only what he needed. The wounds in his belly and sides itched as they began to knit and close, the signal that he had had enough of her. Yet she kept kissing him, giving him her tongue as well as her blood.
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First published by Signet Eclipse, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing October 2005
Copyright ? Sheila Kelly, 2005
All rights reserved
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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For Katherine Rose,
my small demon.
Where a faint light shines alone,
Dwells a Demon I have known.
Most of you had better say
'The Dark House,' and go your way.
Do not wonder if I stay.
—Edwin Arlington Robinson, The Dark House
Bitch in a Lexus. Awesome.
Todd Brackman watched the silver SUV swing around the corner. The lane lights reserved for account holders only had switched from green to red an hour ago, when the bank had closed, but the ATM lane's light still glowed green.
Green for the green. Brackman wiped the sweat from his face onto his sleeve. Come to get me some cash.
Driving into the city and setting up for this job had taken hell near forever. Brackman had put up with the sweats, shakes, and fever, watching every car, knowing it would work only one time. He'd spent half the
day out of sight, hiding behind the bank's Dumpster.
Now here she was. My bitch. Awesome.
She wasn't actually Todd's, but he knew her sort. Beauty-parlor babe, coming home after having her nails polished. Driving too fast, yammering away on the phone as she dropped by to tap the account for more cash. Didn't this one have a phone pressed to her head and a rock on her married hand he could see even this far away?
High-maintenance twat, Todd's old uncle George would have called her. All bucks, no bang.
Something metal crashed into metal, making Brackman tense. The wind must have slammed shut the Dumpster lid he'd opened earlier to shade himself from the sun.
Brackman forgot about the noise and watched the SUV. He guessed she would check him out, so he worked on the tree. Being sweaty might have given it away, but here it actually made him look like he was on the job.
As if he'd ever hump his ass like a landscaper.
Todd thought about his uncle George, who had humped plenty. The old man had had barely enough to eat, a Chevette that farted smoke, and a decrepit single-wide on a back lot in the Lake View Trailer Park. Seemed like heaven when Todd came to live with George after his parents had kicked him out, but then he'd watched his uncle eating mac and cheese four nights a week and never having more fun than getting snot-faced on Wild Turkey every weekend. What had it gotten old G? His heart crapped out, right in front of the drill press he'd run since Kennedy had been assassinated.
The crank Brackman had squirted in the old man's coffee thermos the morning he died had helped, but after George threatened to throw him out, what else could he do? The single-wide was only big enough for one, anyway.
Brackman had dreamed of his uncle when he'd been snoozing behind the Dumpster. Old George had been pissed as always: not about Todd spiking his Folger's, but about the plan. He'd told him not to touch anyone or their green. But the old prick had talked and smelled funny.
It didn't make sense: George had been a sad-ass ancient fart, but he'd have cut his own throat before he turned faggot and started wearing perfume, the way he had in the dream.
Brackman concentrated on the tree again. Screw George. This was a sweet idea, truly awesome, and if nothing went nuts-up, a guaranteed score.
Sweat soaked the front of his O'Malley's Lawn and Tree Service uniform shirt. The name Bobby had been embroidered over the pocket because Todd had stolen it from old George's neighbor. That and some shit from the work trailer hitched to the back of Bobby's rusted-out El Camino. He'd thought about boosting the car, but the nosy assholes at Lake View would have seen and called the cops.
Lousy job for picking up any tail, Bobby had said once when they'd been sharing a little weed after a paintball match. Won't look at me twice when I'm working.
Bobby's too-big uniform hung on Brackman. Last year Bobby had stopped playing paintball and turned into a lazy fat fuck. He'd even had to pay that skank, All-Night Lisa, for sex.
Brackman thought renting pussy when you had a working hand was like burning hundreds for the heat.
Bobby lost his respect for Todd, too. Why you keep saying "awesome" and "freaking" all the time? Sounds retarded. Bobby wouldn't play p-ball anymore, and he'd acted pissy after George had croaked. Bobby had even refused to lend him what he'd needed for this job.
That was why Todd didn't feel bad about sticking Bobby with one of the old man's steak knives that morning.
The bitch pulled up to the ATM and put the SUV in park. Brackman glanced over without moving his head. Phone down, arms elbow-out while she dug through her purse. Two cars sat waiting on a green light a block south.
Perfect. Freaking awesome.
Brackman moved around the trunk of the tree to get closer. He reached in his pocket for the paintball and found it wringing wet. He was sweating buckets; once the bitch put out he'd have to link up with his supplier.
The driver's-side electric window silently zipped down and a tanned
hand fed the ATM a debit card. The autoteller's cheerful recorded voice welcomed the bitch to the Anytime Money Service Center and asked for her PIN.
Brackman squeezed the thin plastic ball so hard that he thought for a second it might explode. Wait for it, dude, wait for it. The ATM made a series of four same-tone bleeps as the woman's fingers tapped the number keypad.
The account services menu appeared.
Brackman ran up to the driver's side, reached around the edge of the windshield, and slammed the paintball against the glass. As the thick white paint exploded and the bitch shrieked, he grabbed her wrist and pressed the fourteen-inch blade of the chainsaw against her forearm. The chainsaw's little gas motor blatted as it idled.
Her eyes nearly popped out of her head, though, as he leaned in. "Move," he told her, pressing the hot, dirty blade into her skin, "and I'll cut it off."
"Please." It came out on a choked whisper. "Don't. Please."
Brackman used his thumb to put in a one and five zeroes on the ATM number pad. While the console processed his request, he worked the big-ass diamond ring off her bony finger. "Take off the freaking jewelry."
She used one hand to pull off her earrings, the movement jerky-fast. "Won't give you that much."
"You'll give me whatever I want." He heard the autoteller whine about something and glared at the console. "Where's the cash? Why ain't it coming out?"
"Won't give you a thousand. The daily cash limit is two hundred." She gulped air, her little tits heaving under her blouse.
Two hundred? That wouldn't get him more than four hits, much less out of the county, and he for sure couldn't hang here. He peered in the Lexus, squinting as a strong, flowery odor burned his nose. "What else you got on you?"
A fist out of nowhere knocked the chainsaw away from the bitch's arm and out of Brackman's grip. A big bum dressed in black hauled him backward.
Brackman's face slammed against the paint-covered windshield.
"Connor." The bum used Brackman's face like a dishcloth to wipe a hole in the paint before he jerked him back. To the bitch, he snarled, "Flee."
Tires squealed as the bitch took off. Brackman spit paint, swiping and clawing at the bum and his own burning eyes. Even when he could see, the asshole's face was hidden behind a mop of filthy, tangled hair.
Wino on a bender. Brackman started to swear, and then the bum seized him by the front of the neck. "Ay…"
The bum's fingers stopped crushing his throat, but he didn't let go. In his other hand he held a knife with a weird blade.
"I got no"—Brackman coughed—"grief with you, man."
"The woman?" Hot, burning eyes glittered. "Your grief with her?"
The asshole sounded funny. The knife he slid back into a sheath clipped to his belt—it wasn't silver, but some darker metal. Brackman couldn't see any other weapons. Maybe the bum wasn't packing anything else.
"Owed me money." He wrapped his fingers around the steak knife, still sticky with Bobby's blood, in his pocket. "You hurting, am I right?"
"Hurting." The bum's root-beam shoulders hunched.
Brackman spotted the chainsaw, now in pieces. "Aw, what'd you do?" The stench of perfume was making him sick. "Get off me, man; you freaking stink."
The huge hand released him. "Flee, Connor." When Brackman didn't move, he shouted, "Run."
"Sure." Brackman turned his body to hide his hand as he pulled the steak knife from his pocket. He'd cut the nosy fuck's throat, and then what? Bitch was gone; chainsaw was ruined. Maybe his supplier would fence some of Bobby's stuff. "Awesome work, man."
The bum swung away.
Brackman jumped on his broad back and ripped the serrated edge of the steak knife across his neck. Hot blood sprayed Todd's hand. Once he'd
sliced him wide, he rammed the blade into the side of his neck. The man stopped moving and stood frozen, a domino about to topple.
"Sorry you messed with me now?" Brackman said against his ear, twisting the knife a half turn.
Grimy fingers closed over his hand. Brackman shrieked as three of his fingers snapped, and then he was upside down, tucked under the bum's arm, and everything was moving. No, they were. The bum carried him across the lot and with a single toss threw him into the Dumpster.
The bags inside the Dumpster acted like a thick cushion, blowing out and breaking Brackman's fall. He hardly felt it. But I cut him. I freaking cut him.
Holding his broken hand against his chest, Brackman tried to sit up, but the bags under him shifted. Tears of frustration swamped his eyes, and his nose clogged. Asshole ruined his plan, broke his chainsaw, and wouldn't die. How freaking fair was that?
"Why you messing with me, man?" he shrieked at the opening above him. "I got nothing. Nothing, and you go and break my freaking back."
The Dumpster rocked as the bum jumped in and landed to stand over him. Todd looked up, and hot wetness soaked the crotch of his pants as he pissed himself.
The steak knife was still sticking out of the side of the bum's neck. There was no gash across his throat. The dirty skin on his neck looked as if it had grown around the base of the knife.
"Wait." This guy was like Dawn of the Dead or something. Brackman could talk his way out of this, bribe him. Old George's supply of Wild Turkey. His broken fingers and the nice, sweet smell inside the Dumpster made it hard to get the words out. "Booze. You want some booze? 1 got a lot back at my place."
The bum yanked the knife out of his neck. "No." The steak knife fell from his hand onto Todd's chest.
"Come on and help me, then, man." Brackman hunted for the knife with his good hand. "I'm really hurting here." He curled his hand around
the plastic handle. "Help me."
The big man hesitated, and then reached down for him.
"Shithead." Todd shoved the steak knife into his belly, once, twice, three times. "Now you freaking die."
"'Known, Connor." Beneath the tangled mess of dark hair, the bum's cracked lip parted, and something long and sharp glittered. "I'm already dead." He bent down.
At last Todd Brackman saw exactly what the bum was packing, and screamed.
"Ms. Shaw?" Thomas, the youngest of the security guards at the Shaw Museum, called out as he wheeled in a handtruck bearing a large wooden crate. He looked around the lab.
Jema Shaw put down the ancient double-handled jug she was dating and came around the worktable. "Right here, Tom.''
"Oh. Hey." The guard eased the crate into an upright position. "Man to see you. Want me to take him to the clean room or storage':'"
"Storage, please." She saw a small tear in the latex covering her palm and pulled it off to replace it with a fresh glove. "I'm not unpacking anyone new until I finish the Sogdies." She went back to the jug.
"Good thing he's dead, then, huh?" Thomas came to peer over Jema's hunched shoulder. The flannel-covered table held an assortment of soft-bristled brushes, picks, and testing vials.
A large lens clamped to an extending-arm vise magnified the dull orange of the clay jug. which was cracked but intact, but for a broken lip. "I thought the museum was for Greek stuff, not the Saudis."
"Sogdies, short for Sogdians," she corrected him. "They were rebel Greek tribes who occupied the mountains north of Afghanistan."' Jema used a small brush to remove some sand grains embedded in the pot's side etching. "Where Uzbekistan is now."
"Uzbekistan." Thomas frowned. "Right."