I poured another shot from the tequila bottle and tipped it down my throat. And then another, and then another. “Is it still an arranged marriage if you arrange it yourself?”
“You can’t be serious.” Dad dropped onto the mattress beside me. “Boaz Pritchard?”
“He’s desperate.” I drained the dregs then set the bottle on the nightstand. “So are we.”
“We aren’t that far gone,” he harrumphed. “Not yet. We still have—”
“I won’t let it come to that.” Our only options were pawning Mom’s jewelry, selling the family home, asking relatives for help. More help. Again. “This is a solution to everyone’s problems.”
Chin down, Dad peered at me over the wire frames of his glasses. “Will he make you happy, Addie?”
“What is happy? Can you even remember?” I laughed darkly. “I’m not sure I can.”
“Happy for me was the day you were born, the day Hadley was born.”
The mention of my little sister punched the air from my lungs, and I almost choked for oxygen.
“Happiness comes nine months after the wedding night,” I said, voice broken, and set my glass aside. “Gotcha.”
“We have options,” he said softly. “You don’t have to sell yourself to pay our debts.”
“I gave my word. It’s done.” I flopped back onto the mattress where Hadley had wasted away to nothing but fragile bones and paper skin and let my eyes close. “Make your peace with it.” I pressed my face into the pillow that still smelled like the lavender children’s shampoo the nurse had used to bathe her. “I have.”
“Get some rest.” He collected the empties to take with him, and I crossed my fingers he didn’t sniff them. The drunk act was tough to pull off after your dad realized you were tossing back shots poured from a handwashed bottle topped off each night with filtered water. “We’ll talk about this again at dusk.”
Lingering in the doorway, he watched until my even breaths convinced him I had drifted off to dreamland. He murmured a prayer to the goddess, asking her to watch over me, and I wondered, just for a second, if he knew how I had paid the bills the last few years.
He would never let me out of his sight if he had a clue. Not after we lost Hadley.
“I thought he’d never leave,” the vampire hiding in the closet sighed before flinging open the doors.
“You could have texted me.” I shifted onto my side, facing her. “You didn’t have to show up in person.”
“Cellphones broadcast radiofrequency waves.” Cassandra made the sign of the cross. “The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies RF fields as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’.”
“You’re not human,” I pointed out, “and vampires don’t get cancer.”
The Catholic thing was a gray area for me. As a necromancer, I worshipped Hecate. As a resuscitated human, Cass had a more complicated relationship with her god.
“I used to be human,” she countered. “Besides, you can never be too careful.”
“You’re the next best thing to immortal.”
“And I want to stay that way.”
Giving it up as a lost cause, I got down to business. “Why are you here, Cass?”
The slender vampire exited the closet dressed in black leather pants and a corset top that allowed her boobs to defy gravity. Her hair was dyed a shade of neon yellow that made highlighters everywhere jealous.
As much as I told myself she was a product of her time, that the whole corset and plumped breasts thing was a holdover from her human life, I wondered if she wasn’t just an exhibitionist at heart. Why else would she give her boobs a pep talk whenever a hot guy entered her line of sight? Or kiss their rounded tops when they did a good job of luring in a donor? Or have more wardrobe malfunctions than most strippers?
“How are we going to blend into the night when your hair is radioactive?”
“There’s this amazing invention called a beanie.” She produced one from her matching leather backpack. “You slip it on and—” she pinned her eye-popping braid on top of her head while she tugged on the knitted cap, “—voila!” She cocked a hip and rested her fist on the curve. “They even come in black.” She winked. “Stealthy.”
“You’re a goober.” I snorted as I rose and circled the bed to plunder Hadley’s hope chest. “How old are you again?”
Figuring it was the last place Dad would ever look, I had boxed up Hadley’s dress, her shoes, her veil—the whole shebang—to make room for the black leather outfit I wore whenever Cass came calling.
“A lady never tells her age,” she said with the haughty disdain worthy of a vampire. Just not this vampire.
“What’s on the agenda for tonight?” I tugged on the slinky-stretchy undershirt and pants first, then pulled on the skintight suit, thankful my top was long-sleeved with a collar for protecting my throat against fangs. “I assume we’ve got a gig since you’re skulking in my little sister’s closet.”
“We’ve got a runner.” Her smile bared fangs sharpened to vicious points. “A new member from Clan Willis. A Mr. Ron Turner. Apparently his boyfriend, Angelo, paid to have him turned and brought into his clan. They broke up when Ron’s fledgling vampire libido caused him to step out on his lover, who’s older than him by about ninety years. Cue drama.”
We had both heard this story before, and it always ended in tears or in blood or in tears and in blood.
“So, Ron realized he still loves what’s-his-name and can’t live forever without him.” That’s usually how it went. Baby vamps really couldn’t keep it in their pants. Their hearts had nothing to do with it. The decision was handed up to the brain from south of the belt. “Rather than face the sun, which likely wouldn’t kill him at his age, he ran away from home to avoid spending eternity with the clan of the man he can no longer have.”
“I can’t decide if you’re an utter romantic for that bit of fiction,” Cass said, “or if you’re the bitterest, most twisted soul I have ever had the great fortune to meet.”
I paused in stomping on my boots. “Can’t it be both?”
“Uh, no.” She popped me on the butt. “You either believe in love, or you don’t.”
“I believe in—” I yelped when she smacked me again, harder this time. “Quit that.”
“I meant romantic love, and you know it.” She rubbed the sting from my bottom until I danced out of her reach. “What? I can’t resist your pert little butt in leather.”
What she couldn’t resist was unnerving me. Vampires had twisted senses of humor, and Cass’s was a spiral.
The joke here wasn’t that she thought a woman touching me would get under my skin, but that anyone touching my private bits made me squirm.
Playing nurse fulltime for Hadley so Mom and Dad could keep up appearances meant I’d never had much of a social life. I had kissed boys, sure, but that had never convinced me to let them go any further. Lucky for me, the rumor mill swore my future husband had enough practice in that area for both of us. I could just lay back, relax, and let him inseminate me.
“Save it for your clients.” I pointed the blunt end of a stake at her. “I’m engaged.”
“Your lip curled on the word. Try it again.” She fluttered her lashes. “Mrs. Boaz Pritchard. Matron Boaz Pritchard.” She considered the Society hierarchy for a moment. “Matron Adelaide Pritchard? Whatever.”
The new title hurt my ears, the position more curse than blessing. I should have been Matron Whitaker, I should have inherited the mantle of matron from my mother—not Boaz’s—but should have beens didn’t pay the rent, buy food, or keep the lights on. They sure didn’t pay for medicine or for nurses to hover over sickbeds like angels come to earth.
“You’re grinding your teeth again.” Cass frowned. “Forget Pritchard. Let’s hunt.”
Relief eased the tightness in my shoulders, and I strapped on my knives. “That’s the best idea I’ve heard all night.”