Rand Farrar had seen some low places in his time, but this seedy space bar beat them all. He stared at the bottle of unibrew between his hands and made a concerted effort not to catch the eye of any of the other customers.
A contract of death from Bryn Gorlan was bad enough, but, if he were very lucky, the bounty hunter would be fast and professional. These specimens looked as if they’d drag out the exercise for their own entertainment.
Rand took another sip. Why, in the name of sanity, had he agreed to meet Drak Varna here?
Because he was desperate.
Rand figured only a vampire could protect him from Bryn Gorlan. Assuming, of course, the bloodsucker would accept Rand’s payment and assuming he lived long enough to actually meet the vamp for hire. By the looks a pair of Grebs over at the bar were tossing Rand’s way, he wasn’t sure he could count on it.
Rand shifted in his seat to make his laser knife more accessible, took another sip of the tepid unibrew, and studied the list of ingredients printed in small print in all thirty-three commonly accepted languages. Rand was fluent in twenty of them and could cuss in another nine. With a bit of luck he might live long enough to pick up a smattering of the remaining four.
“Is the unibrew that bad?”
Rand almost jumped. Hell, he was on edge, but… He stared at the man now sitting opposite. “You’re Drak Varna?” It had to be. No mortal moved that fast.
The vampire nodded and smiled, just a slow curl of his wide mouth, but it held a suggestion of friendliness. “You were expecting more than one vamp?”
“No, but I’ve learned caution.”
He nodded, his carbon-dark hair falling over his high forehead. “It’s a pity you didn’t learn that before pissing off Harrel Larg, but yes, I am Drak Varna.”
The last four words sounded like a threat or a warning not to waste his time. “Thanks for coming.”
“I heard that you were looking for a good assassin.”
“More like a good bodyguard. I already have a good assassin on my arse.”
Drak’s teeth were very white, the canines just a little more pointed than a mortal’s. “Bryn Gorlan is good. For a human.”
“He’s ruthless, determined, and wants my balls for his collection.”
“And your skin for a new pair of gloves, I‘ve heard.”
Rand shuddered. Hoping he’d be killed first was, perhaps, asking too much. He looked up at the hot, dark eyes and the slightly parted full lips and swallowed. “I need you.”
Drak Varna chuckled. “I presume that was a request for professional service, not a proposition. I’m looking for work. Let’s talk terms.“ He leaned back in his seat. “How’s the unibrew? As bad as ever?”
“I’ve had worse.” Just not very often.
“Haven’t we all?” He turned his head toward the bar. The two Grebs suddenly seemed fascinated with their fingernails as Drak looked over their bent heads to catch the barkeep’s eye.
Within moments, two mist-chilled bottles appeared with a large dish of illishels. Seemed vamps got respect and good service. Did they give it as readily?
Drak pushed one bottle toward Rand. “Drink up and have one of those.” He nodded toward the curled pink shapes piled in the dish.
Rand had never felt less hungry in his life, but Drak seemed insistent, and keeping Drak by his side was Rand’s primary goal right now. He took an illishel and bit it in two, chewing slowly, almost gagging with surprise when Drak took a handful and tossed them down his throat one by one, the taut muscles under the pale skin undulating as he swallowed.
Rand shivered, suddenly aware that Drak knew he was watching. Watching? He was, no doubt, ogling like a new-tapped midshipman. Hell, this was the man he wanted to save his skin. Not a fresh-for-sale bath boy.
All Drak seemed to notice was the shiver. “Cold?” he asked. ”Or scared?”
“Wouldn’t you be scared if Bryn Gorlan had a contract on you?” If the killer was a fourth as good as gossip suggested, without protection, Rand was a goner.
“Not in the least,” Drak replied, with a chuckle. “I respect him, yes. He is vicious and seldom unsuccessful.” Great. That was hardly reassuring. “What did
you do to convince Harrel Larg that you merited the services of someone as expensive as Gorlan?”
Hadn’t he heard on the cybergossip lines? Or was he testing Rand’s truthfulness? Rand took a quick sip of unibrew to wet his dry mouth. “I’ve done a fair bit of business with Larg over the years. Unfortunately, on the last run, a month ago, I encountered a Union excise freighter. Not wanting to spend time in a penal colony, I jettisoned my cargo.“ He shrugged. “One of the risks of the biz. Other times, I’ve worked off the lost freight for the owners or come to some other agreement. Harrel, the bastard, offered to accept my ship in lieu of payment. I got the hell off his planet. I was almost home when I got the cyberword via the networks that I had a bounty hunter on my tail. Since I didn’t fancy my cock and balls adorning anyone’s trophy wall, I made myself scarce and came looking for you.” Did that sound pathetic? Irresponsible? Dear stars and planets, surely not whiny?
Drak swallowed another handful of illishels. “How do you plan to cover my fee?”
This was it. “I can pay you a thousand universal space credits today and another four thousand if I’m alive when the contract expires, in three Terran days.”
Dark eyebrows rose in Drak’s otherwise impassive face. “If you have five thousand credits, why pay me? Why not just repay Larg?”
He’d anticipated that. “That’s my savings against disaster or old age. I’d hoped to work off the debt with Harrel Larg by carrying other freight for free. After I heard about the bounty on me, I offered to pay. Penury in my old age seemed preferable to no old age, but he refused. Message was he wanted to make an example out of me.” Rand shuddered and tilted his bottle to his lips. He needed a long, cold swig, but he also needed his wits about him. He set the bottle down. “I’m offering you the money to keep Bryn Gorlan off my back.”
“I kill him, you mean.”
“He took on the commission. He’ll fulfill it unless he’s dead. “
Cold panic gnawed places Rand rather preferred to keep attached. “Does it have to come to that?”
Drak leaned across the table and grabbed the front of Rand’s zipsuit. “Don’t be rat-brained. You’re no naive farm boy off the Ravine deserts. You knew what you wanted when you called me.” The strength of Drak’s grasp pulling him across the table sent cold chills down Rand’s spine, and one look into the vamp’s dark eyes sent a warm rush of excitement straight to his cock. “Do you want me to take the job or not?” Drak asked.
“Yes.” Drak released Rand suddenly so he hit the back of the seat, hard. He decided to ignore the hurt to his shoulders. “I want to know he can’t kill me.”
“It’ll cost you seven thousand. Can you offer a lien on your freighter?”
“No, thickhead. I‘m not a moneylender. From a bank.”
Rand shook his head, as hope seeped away. Wasn’t his life savings enough? “I already have lien on it. I can’t borrow any more.”
“Damn shame that. We could have done business.“ With a shrug, Drak placed his hands flat on the black pseudomarble table and leaned forward, as if to stand.
Rand wasn’t giving up when he was so close. This was his life they were haggling over. “Wait!” He grabbed Drak’s wrist, the flesh firm and cold. “I can’t pay in credits. Five thousand is all I have, but I can offer payment in kind.”
“What sort of kind?” Drak’s dark eyes watched, like a hunter cat sizing up prey.
“The use of my ship if ever needed.”
“I can get transport whenever I need it.”
“Rapid transport without the inconvenience of excise regulations?”
“I make my own regulations, smuggler boy. Is that your best offer?”
“My ship…” It was the price of penury, but he’d be alive.
Drak chuckled. “A beat-up smuggler’s freighter. No deal.” He stood up. “Make me a better offer.”
“I’m AB negative.”
Drak stared at Rand as if he’d discovered gold in a pile of dog shit. Rand scarcely dared breathe. He’d caught Drak’s interest all right. “Do you have any idea what you’re offering, mortal?”
He was tempted to lie, but when it came to vamps he was
as ignorant as a farm boy off the Ravine deserts. “No, but if it means we have a deal, I’ll do it.”
“No, I’ll do you.”
Rand’s stomach pitched and roiled, finally settling several inches lower than it started. Damn good thing he’d let Drak munch on most of the illishels. What in Hades had he agreed to? Saving his hide, that was what.
“Having second thoughts?” Drak sounded amused.
“No, just thanking the powers of the universe for my unusual genes.”
Drak’s dark eyebrows rose as his mouth twisted in a wry smile. “Or satisfying your adolescent fantasies of being fucked by a vamp.”
“I’d rather be fucked by you than by Bryn Gorlan and his boys.”
Drak’s laugh echoed in the smoky air. He threw back his head, his broad chest vibrating with laughter from deep in his gut. “Perish the thought.” He chuckled for several seconds before finally getting control and reaching to rest a cool hand on Rand’s sweaty one. “I think, lad, you will be as sweet as the rare AB negative I haven’t tasted in years.”
Rand shifted his fingers, relishing the sensation of Drak’s skin. Would his entire body feel like this? Was his cock this cold? Or did the heat of sex warm him? He’d be finding out damn soon. And couldn’t wait. Sheesh. Despite Drak’s jibe, this was no adolescent fancy. This was man need. Rand’s heart raced at the prospect of Drak’s hard cock. Had it been that long? Not really, but instinct told him fucking Drak would be like nothing else. Hades help him. He was hard and aching and ready to step out and find the nearest resthouse, and Drak was sitting back down and slowly sipping unibrew.