“Dan?” I looked around for the guard who was supposed to be standing outside this door, then over at one of the tourists. “Did you see where the guy watching this door went?”
The boy I summoned with my statement pointed toward the bar. I ran over to the bouncer and stepped through the employees-only notch at the side. The overwhelming odor of alcohol nauseated me, and I fought the need to flee.
“What are you doing?”
“Serving drinks,” he replied. “Your pal Stewart ran off with the bartender.”
He nodded. “Yeah. The Russian lady.”
Every muscle in my body felt stretched to the point of breaking, my last nerve frazzled. The picture of passionate, creative Micah and Olga, the stern grandmother who spoke English like a not-quite-reformed gulag guard?
I laughed. It came out harder than it should have, a guffaw when only a giggle or a smirk would have sufficed, but I didn’t have the power to stop. I laughed until I had to hold my stomach. Dan followed. Maybe because I’m the owner’s daughter-in-law, maybe because my over-the-top laughter reached a state of funny by itself, but in the end, who really cared? I looked away from Dan and saw Max strolling leisurely toward the exit. He smiled, saluted me, and continued walking as if the night were endless and he didn’t have a fuck to give.
“Do you know the tall black guy with the—” My hand reached up and felt the fedora still on my head. “Umm, the guy leaving the VIP dungeon?”
“Yeah, lately I’ve been seeing him around the station. Agent Max Hawthorne.”
“He’s a cop like you?”
Suspicion was second nature to me. I wanted to trust Dan. He had been a casket bearer when my husband Diego was laid to rest, but if Dan had something to do with the stunt Max just pulled, I’d drain him so empty even Viagra would give up his dick as a lost cause. I urged my brain to calm down. Dan couldn’t plan or pull off something he had no knowledge of. He was nothing more than a moonlighting Atlanta patrolman playing bouncer in an exotic sex club. But I touched his shoulder and pulled for more information just in case.
“Hawthorne’s more like an IT computer geek from downtown, but yeah, he’s got a badge. With the feds.” Dan’s thoughts came back clean and sincere. “You look worried. Is he bothering you?”
“No. I just haven’t seen him in here before.”
“Had no idea this was his kind of thing.” Dan responded to a call for rum and coke. “He comes off completely different at the station.”
“It’s getting late,” I said. “I’m going home now to relieve the babysitter. I’ll find someone to replace you and get you out from behind the bar before I go. I promise.”
“If I’m not needed at the door, I don’t mind staying here. I did this putting myself through school, and it’s bringing back memories.” Dan smiled.
I nodded and walked off, searching the pockets of my jeans for my car keys and my cell phone. Where the fuck did I leave my phone? Yes, Max bothered me, pissed me off in ways that demanded retaliation, but he was a problem the cops couldn’t solve. I finally found the damn phone, and the first number on my speed dial went straight to voice mail.
“Victor, this is Orchid. There’s a big incubus on cop payroll here at the club. Max Hawthorne. Not sure of rank other than agent, which could be anything. I don’t know who the fuck he is, and I’m hoping you do. Please call me back. Like right now!”
I marched out, making faster time than warranted, took the stairs to get to the basement level of the parking deck instead of the elevator. I needed to burn off all the nervous energy that filled my body instead of the great feed I’d taken earlier. I tripped on my own feet and almost face-planted with the concrete when my body froze in the middle of the parking deck without forewarning my brain. My stomach clenched. No. No. No.
Something gut-deep was very, very wrong.
A hand came up from behind me and blocked my scream as an arm wrapped around my stomach, stole my air, and yanked me backward into a rock-hard chest. “Small, weak female” had never been used to describe me, but my struggles felt completely useless as I was dragged behind a giant orange Hummer and pushed against the driver’s-side door. The man holding me shoved his knee between my thighs, keeping me off-balance and unable to run. Like a cop would do during a pat down.
I knew who had me before I felt the breath of his whisper on my earlobe and smelled myself on his mouth. “They heard us, and they’re looking. Don’t scream and give us away.”
I nodded in agreement. Fucking incubus, but it was deal with him or the two vampires sniffing out the space between the elevator and my black Escalade.
Max slid his hard body across mine and headed toward the trunk. Standing next to me, he pointed his index finger like a little boy playing cowboy—Bang! Bang!
—as he continued creeping farther toward the back. He had a gun. Of course, the cop had a gun, but did he have bullets big enough to remove a body part? Just plain shooting the vampires wasn’t going to work. You can’t kill what’s already dead. I crossed my fingers, hoping he was smart enough to know how to whack them both senseless, at least long enough for the sun to rise.
They heard Max’s steps despite his best efforts. Both of their vile faces turned in our direction with android-like synchronicity. I had to do something to stall them, but what? My own fear-filled face reflected in the glass of the car window, his damn hat still on my head. I slipped it off and tossed it as hard as I could toward the cars on the opposite row. It made it to the yellow line in the middle of the street dividing the rows and both vamps, if they were fast enough, got a full view of my arm and our location.
They focused on Max’s fedora. Oh, please! Let them not have seen me. But my hearing was just as acute as theirs, and I heard them sniff the air. Their sense of smell was completely invincible. Their eyes focused in on mine, alert despite the death pallor of their complexions.
Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!
Why didn’t I duck out of sight faster when I threw the hat?
Max ran double-time getting to the trunk and worked hard at the lock, obviously no longer caring about the noise he made. I ran back toward the stairs, hoping the best for Max, but trying to put as much distance between me and the vampires as possible.
The vampire’s deathlike pallor? Total false illusion. The fucker that came after me was fast! He shot out like a cougar. I looked over my shoulder to see how much distance I had between us. Not near enough. His mouth was open and his teeth were bared. My gums burned over my own teeth, but they were only as sharp as the average human’s. Mine against his? Not a chance in hell.
I couldn’t outrun him, so I stopped and turned to face him. As soon as he entered contact range, I smacked the shit out of him. On impact, he bit his lip and drew blood, and the smell of it fascinated him. His eyes grew large and he touched his lip with his index finger, smeared it with his blood and licked it with his nasty tongue. The thing actually stopped long enough to see if he had a way to eat himself.
“You dumb, stupid fuck!” I screamed and thrust both palms into his shoulders, tried to topple him, but he didn’t budge, didn’t even flinch.
He grabbed my upper arms and lifted me in the air, burning me where his claws dug into my flesh, and pulled me in toward his mouth as if I were a helpless rag doll. I turned my head, not wanting to see his open wound of a mouth or smell his hot, fetid breath. I didn’t want to watch myself die.
A sharp swoosh
from behind us pierced the air, followed by a thunk
, then the unmistakable sound of a large body hitting the pavement. The vampire that held me in his grip looked back in that direction.
I thrust my knee into his groin as hard as my dangling leg let me, and he grunted with pain. He dropped me and clutched his crotch as he bowed over. My best efforts to remain standing failed me, but on my way down, I slammed my palm into his chin and sent him backward. We both landed on our asses facing each other.
Max rushed toward us with a massive crossbow running the length of his left arm.
“Hey!” he shouted, and when the vampire looked up, Max propelled an arrow straight through his chest. The vampire fell flat on his back. His hands clutched the arrow, trying to pull it free, but Max reloaded and sent a second into his throat, obliterating it.
I breathed deeply, taking in the first gulp of air I could manage since hitting the ground. Blood started slowly gurgling up from the vampire’s wounds, coagulated and black like dirty motor oil. So much blood. It both fascinated and disgusted me the way it bubbled up and soaked into his clothes.
Max came back from the open trunk—I hadn’t seen him leave—and tossed two blue tarps, one at my lap and the other at his feet. He knelt down and cut the stems off the arrows he’d shot but left the heads and a couple inches imbedded in both places. I couldn’t quit looking at the vampire, dead but not dead until decapitated or left out in the sunlight.
I’d heard the stories. Any succubus fond of breathing was taught how to protect herself from vampires. It was drilled into her alongside potty training, but the majority of us never actually saw a real vampire in person. Lying there, he didn’t look so scary. Kind of small and skinny. Definitely pale, except for that syrupy blood.
“Roll him up.” Max rose and picked up his tarp. “I’ll get the other one.”
I clutched the tarp he gave me close to my chest and stared at him.
“Hurry,” he growled.
“No,” I answered.
“I’m not touching him!”
“Oh, good lord, woman! You aren’t so big and bad without the whips and chains, are you? Just get him rolled up before he bleeds out on the street and we’re left with too much explaining to do to the human population. That is, if you can feel so inspired.” And he walked off, leaving me there with Mr. Dead and Gross.
Some of the blood started to drip on the ground. Max had a point. There were questions in this world I didn’t feel at liberty to answer. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and got to work. I rolled the tarp out like a rug and pushed the vampire onto it, then rolled him up, begging him not to wake up as I made him into a big blue cigarette. I saw tufts of his dark hair poking out the top. If I had a lighter…
Max had just finished stuffing his vampire into the back of his vehicle when I looked up and he came for mine. He didn’t grunt or groan as he lifted the awkward bundle of deadweight over his shoulder and carried it off. I had nothing to say. I picked myself up off the ground, and ran for my Escalade.
I climbed inside and slammed the door. Don’t know how I made it with my knees trembling like they were. More than once I’d been told I’m too short for such a massive vehicle, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. It had been Diego’s. The driver’s seat had a special way of keeping me in his arms when he couldn’t hold me anymore. This SUV represented all the power I needed to survive a world without him in it.
In the rearview mirror, I watched Max peek under the tarp in the back of his Hummer to make sure the arrowheads remained secure in those vamps. Better him than me. A solid speed bump might dislodge all his handiwork, and even one reanimated vamp in the back would make for hazardous driving conditions.
I clutched the steering wheel so hard my knuckles were as pale as vampire skin, but I couldn’t let go, even when the scene in my rearview offered a clear view of Max walking toward me. I needed to get the keys in the ignition and turn the damn thing on. I needed to drive, get as far away from this catastrophe of a night as I could get. Diego, why the fuck did you have to leave me?
Max opened the passenger door and carefully slid into the seat. I gulped back tears, refusing to let them fill my eyes. Well, they filled my eyes, but I refused to let them cascade down my cheeks. I didn’t know who Max was, who he worked for, who he belonged to, and he was in my SUV—Diego’s SUV.
“I’m with the federal government, Orchid. I’m not going to hurt you.” Max flashed his badge. It looked legit. “You did great out there. I’m glad I had you on my team.”
Max tried to cover my right hand with one of his, but when I flinched, he didn’t press the issue. His hand rejoined its partner in his lap. He waited for me. What did he want me to say?
“This level of the parking deck sure is quiet considering Kiss will close in about an hour.”
“The basement level is for employees or guests of the owner,” I said. “Occasionally we get overflow from the top, but it’s not busy enough tonight.”
“Guess we’re lucky the vampires didn’t decide to scope out up there, huh? Would have been a publicity nightmare. All your customers are human, no?”
Kiss clients splattered everywhere with their throats ripped out. I closed my eyes tighter, trying to block out the vision.
“I know you’re scared. Trust me. This doesn’t happen to me every day either.” He asked, “Is there supposed to be a guard down here? I don’t want to upset you more, but do I need to look for another body?”
I shook my head. “Normally there’s one down here, but everybody’s out sick tonight. This week there was a bachelor party for one of the cops who works part-time. They all got hold of bad chicken wings. Food poisoning. We’ve been short all week.”
“Thank God. That was badass, you know. That vampire was so new he thought he could still feel having his nuts kicked in.” He paused to smile at his own thoughts. “You have a little gray bar on the back windshield, a signal that identifies this as a law enforcement officer’s personal vehicle.”
“My husband’s Atlanta PD.”
“Where is he now?”
“Woodland Park Cemetery.” Fuck you.
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
I couldn’t stand to look at Max anymore and turned toward the driver’s side window. “May I go home now?”
“I know you’re unnerved.”
“I want to go home,” I replied.
“I want answers, Mrs. Teixeira.” He said it again. When the fuck did he learn my last name? “You have more knowledge about this place than anyone else here tonight. Those boys were freshly made. How did they get here?”
“I don’t know.”
“You need to think about it really hard. Newbies like that are willing to die to escape the cold they’re drowning in. You’re a full succubus. In their world, that equals brand-new, top-of-the-line furnace. Your blood would bring them all the heat they desperately want to feel again.”
“Full succubus? You’re fuller than me.” I lifted my right fist and slammed it into the steering wheel. “Remember, asshole, you fed off me!”
He smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “You misunderstood. A full succubus is the original. The mother. The direct product of vamp seed. How do you differentiate yourself from us?”
“I’m a succubus.”
“Then what do you call the son of a succubus?”
He asked for it. If he caught the insult, he just ignored it. The man was probably used to being downgraded. I frowned at my own behavior. He was just a cop with his nose shoved in a potential case. A cop like Diego, who had to live both sets of rules, human and not so human. I needed to be less disrespectful.
“I grew up on the south side,” he said. “In Decatur. I thought my mother was the only full succubus in the area. Are there more?”
Yes. Victor. Sarah.
Did I plan to tell him at any moment in the near future? I didn’t feel that guilty for the racial slur. “I don’t know. Maybe. We aren’t big on advertising. Why did you pull that stunt back there in the dungeon? It felt like you were threatening me.”
“Just stirring the pot to see what surfaces. You were a cop’s wife. You know how it works.”
“You won’t find whatever it is you think you’ll find. We’re as clear as a bell around here. Everything’s legal. We even hire Atlanta PD to keep us that way.”
“It’s not okay.” I shook my head. “If you’re worth your badge, you won’t quit because I said so.”
He shrugged. “True.”
“But you’re going to owe me a major apology when you sober up and realize you ain’t got nothing.”
“I’ll buy you dinner at the fanciest restaurant in Buckhead.”
“Yes, you will. Better start saving now because my tastes are above cop pay grade.” I pulled the key from my pocket and stuffed it in the ignition. “I’m going to go home now.”
“What’s your address? I want to escort you.”
“If you’re worth your badge, you already have my name, address, and probably my social security number. It’s not necessary to follow me home.”
“I want to. You’re the barrier that separates us from them.” He nudged his head toward his vampire-filled vehicle. “I’d have to turn in my incubus DNA if I didn’t pay honor to that.”
“I live in Woodland Park. A good thirty-five minutes south of here. You don’t need to—”
“Perfect. You’re close to the place where I have to drop off our unconscious guests.”
“You know I can’t disclose that information.”
“I live near—”
“It’s one of the best and safest in the world. I promise. Just drive the speed limit, and if you know it’s going to be bumpy, detour.”
“And if they wake up and eat you, shoot them in the head with my husband’s gun. They can’t come back as quickly from head wounds. No way they can do it before daylight.”
“Smart woman. Again, I underestimated you.” He dug in his pocket and pulled out a slip of pink fabric. My panties. “I was going to hold them hostage until you returned my hat. Not your fault vampire junior squashed it when you kneed him.”
He put the panties on my thigh, smiled the bad-boy smile that first attracted me to him, and stepped out of the vehicle. He carefully followed behind me the entire trip, and when I pulled into the parking space in front of my townhouse, he continued down the street, blowing a kiss as he passed.