Cass found me curled up on the couch when she came to retrieve her car and plopped down beside me.
“You look rattled.” She flicked the end of my robe’s sash back and forth like an irritated cat swishing its tail. “Want to talk about?”
“Boaz dropped by tonight. He’s investigating the Turner situation.”
“That’s not ideal, but we can manage.” She crossed her long legs and kicked her foot, smiling an evil little smile at the silver tip on her boot, a taunt for Gustav. “He’s got no reason to think you’re involved, and he doesn’t know me from Adam.”
A weird caving sensation filled my middle. “I invited him to stay here.”
“Smart.” She tapped my knee. “This way we can keep an eye on him.”
That was the plan, but he had keen eyes himself. Who would be watching whom? How much had I slipped up tonight? How much had he noticed? How would I explain any of this if I got caught?
“Turner isn’t the first.” I might as well tell her the rest. “He’s the latest in a string of ritual murders.”
“Vampire murders?” She rolled her eyes. “There are always idiots who fancy themselves vampire slayers. You would not believe the quality of stakes I’ve been assaulted with in my time.” She slipped into her mocking humans voice, low and brutish. “I sharpened a pencil.” She mimed stabbing me in the chest. “Fear me!”
“First of all, you only did that to cop a feel.” I slapped her hand off me. “Second of all, the Society wouldn’t get involved if it wasn’t serious.”
Boaz was an Elite, a special class of sentinel. They wouldn’t spend him on a case that wasn’t priority.
“The Society loves to stick its nose into vampire business. They’re helicopter parents if you ask me.”
The Society was responsible for resuscitating humans, using necromantic magic to transform them into vampires, but they only cared for their offspring up to the point when the check cleared. Past that, as long as they weren’t making waves among humans, the Society would sit on its hands and allow the vampire masters to police their clans. Or not. Obviously. Or I would be out of a job.
I wasn’t buying that, but I was no detective. I was a bounty hunter, not even a certified one. I couldn’t risk the paperwork tracing back to me to apply for the license.
“Before I forget.” She reached between her boobs, taking far too long, and pulled out a wad of cash. “There’s your cut.”
“How did you manage this?” I gawked at the money I never expected to see. “The cleaners took the body into custody, right?”
Cleaners kept the paranormal world from bleeding over into the normal, and that meant cleaning up our crime scenes and disposing of bodies before they were discovered by humans.
“Do you remember Frank?”
“The human who thought he got turned into a vampire because you bit him during sex once?”
“That’s him.” She chuckled at the memory and then sighed with amusement. “He’s a cleaner these days. I talked him into giving me the head after the rest had been catalogued.”
“Won’t that get him in trouble?”
“Don’t you care?”
“Not especially.” She frowned when I gave her the look. “Please don’t lecture me, Addie.” She bared her fangs then pointed at them. “I’m carnivorous. Dare I say, a maneater.” She hooked her fingers into claws and raked the air with them. “This is what I do. I use them, and then I throw them away.”
“So basically, you’re a predatory litterbug.”
“I don’t believe in double dipping.” A shudder rippled through her. “Do you know how many alcohol wipes I used before I bit him? Five. And now he’s always baring his throat around me and talking about blood exchanges like he’s seen in the movies.” She gagged a little. “He believes everything he sees on TV. It’s ridiculous.”
I didn’t remind her of the week she spent as my uninvited guest, the better for me to play nurse to her, after she accidentally drank the blood of someone who had eaten pizza for dinner. Convinced she was going to die from garlic poisoning, she wouldn’t leave my bed or put on clothes, determined to leave the world the way she came into or some such nonsense. Also something she saw in a movie.
After seven days, her lucky number, she rose from the bed and proclaimed herself cured by the grace of—I wasn’t really listening. At that point, I had a week’s worth of naked vampire to wash out of my sheets before I could sleep in my room again. Plus, she had been sipping her warmed blood in bed and spilled it all over my good comforter.
“What will you do if your man sneaks into your room at night?”
“He’s not my man.” Just my future husband. “And I’ll stab him with the stake I keep under my pillow.”
Given my line of work, I had to be prepared a vampire might follow me home one day. From where I sat, the trick worked on fiancés who followed me home too.
“Bloodthirsty.” She chuckled. “I like it.”
Finding a man pinned to my wall, a macabre butterfly caught midair, would make her century.
“Of course you do.” I nudged her with my foot. “What is that? Are you…purring?”
“Am I? That’s embarrassing.” She touched her lower stomach. “Oh. No. It’s my phone. I set it on vibrate.”
“You set it on vibrate, and then you shoved it down your pants.” I was never borrowing her phone again. No matter how much hand sanitizer she used after the fact. “Like a normal person.”
“I’m not a person,” she said absently. “I’m a creature of the night.”
She bared her fangs halfheartedly and hissed for emphasis.
“Who’s calling?” I nudged her again. “Gustav?” I leaned over. “I noticed you wore his favorite boots.”
“Clan Willis has put out a BOLO on Angelo, Ron Turner’s lover.”
“Do you think he heard about the murder?”
“The preliminary findings must have been uploaded into the cleaners’ database.” Her lips twisted. “I was on-scene. I provided the identification. The gory details can’t have been listed yet, but his name might have been enough to send Angelo into a tizzy.”
“Vampires are so dramatic.”
“Live as long as we do, and you begin to crave sensation. What is love if not sensation? What is loss if not the ultimate sensation?” She tapped the end of my nose. “And he must look good while doing it.”
“Are you telling me he’s at the tailor’s getting fitted for mourning attire? That he would ditch his clan, tell no one where he’s gone, and duck out just to get a new black ensemble?”
Depending on his age, he might commission enough black suits to last him a full year.
Vampires: The original drama llamas.
“The news can’t have been delivered.” She sniffed. “He has to hurry before it’s formally announced.”
“I held my sister’s hand while she died. I was in my pajamas, and so was she. I cried until I passed out and had to be carried to my room. The last thing on my mind was dashing out for a quick fitting.”
Cass did a thing she hated almost as much as germs. She apologized and meant it.
“I’m sorry, Addie.” She touched my leg in a mostly nonsexual way. “Humans love differently than we do. We might have been human once, but we lose that spark. What’s left is an echo of mortality and morality. You have the biggest heart of anyone I know, which is why it was so easy for me to insinuate myself into your life and bend you to my will.”
What she wanted from me then was a desperate partner in crime, someone willing to do the dirty work. The literal dirty work. Anything that might result in contamination from germs, diseases, so forth and so on. How she made it as a prostitute for so long boggled my mind. Sex was the ultimate fluid swapping experience, and she had been paid for it long before condoms, birth control, or STD preventives, let alone treatment.
Unless she was willing to coexist with germs until after she became a vampire. It happened like that sometimes. A weird trait, a personality quirk, a bizarre affectation ballooned until it took them over.
“Does that mean you wouldn’t mourn me if I got my throat ripped out on the job?”
“No.” A low rumble laced her voice. “It means I would rip the flesh from anyone who dared, strip by strip, and feed it to them. I would then hang them from their pinky toes, slash their throats, and let them exsanguinate. Once that was done, I would coffin them in cement and have the block dropped in the ocean.”
Touched by her twisted affection, I had to swallow back tears. “But would you look good doing it?”
“Dearest, darling one.” She plumped her cleavage. “I would look amazing.”
A familiar ringtone had me reaching for my phone. With Dad upstairs and Cass beside me, I had few guesses as to the culprit. The caller ID didn’t work, but I risked answering anyway. “Hello?”
“I’m going to be late,” Boaz said grimly. “Are you sure you want me to come back to your place? I can crash in the barracks. I don’t want to be an imposition.”
The slight pulling sensation in my chest drew me upright, and Cass too. “What happened?”
“There’s been another murder.” A siren muffled his voice. “I can’t get into the details, but I need to go.”
“Another murder,” I echoed. “As in two? As in someone else died tonight?”
“Yeah.” He exhaled hard. “Just wanted to let you know so you wouldn’t worry.”
Beside me Cass mashed her index fingers together and twisted them back and forth while making kissing noises.
Annoyance with her bled over onto him. “How presumptuous of you.”
“Just a turn of phrase.” His voice came out tired, defeated even. “I didn’t mean to imply, well, anything.”
A frustrated scream rose up my throat, but I couldn’t let it out. Once I started, I might not stop.
“I didn’t mean to snap at you.” Palming Cass’s forehead, I shoved her out of my face and hopped off the couch to begin pacing. “I appreciate the call. I would have worried if I woke and you weren’t here.”
Turning, I bumped into Cass, who had moved on to dry humping the doorframe while pointing at the phone and mouthing Boaz’s name. Recalling where she had been keeping her cell, I wished for bleach or a time machine to undo the last five minutes of my life. Or the last five years. I would take what I could get.
“You don’t have to patronize me.”
“I’m not.” I made a fist and hit myself in the forehead. “I’m just having a bad night, and it’s wrong for me to take it out on you.”
“The offer stands. I can go to the barracks.” He lightened his tone. “Hell, I can stay there all week if it’s easier.”
Two vampires dead. One a bounty of ours, the other…I would have to pester Gustav for those details.
There was no reason for me to think it had anything to do with me, or Cass, or even Gustav, but I couldn’t let it go. The killings, so close to home, bothered me. Having Boaz this close, in my space, bothered me too, but he was a handy conduit to information. He was also the man I agreed to spend the rest of my life with, so I had to play nice. I had to smooth this over. I had to make this work.
Goddess, I was tired all of a sudden. Even the comforting weight of cash doused with Cass’s perfume did nothing to alleviate the dread coiling around my throat, tight as a noose.
“Come home,” I said, hating the waver in my voice. “I’ll be waiting.”
“All right.” He hesitated. “You’re good people, Addie.”
Good people didn’t invite their future husbands into their homes to spy on them.
Good people didn’t consider how far they were willing to go to keep their secrets.
Good people didn’t wish, even a little, that the label would stick, that the epithet was true.
I couldn’t afford to be good, and what’s worse, I couldn’t afford to let him catch me being bad.
Copyright © 2019 Hailey Edwards
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