Cass and I didn’t bother sneaking out of the house. I could no longer afford to pay the maid or the cook or the driver, and Dad had retired to his room for the night. There was no one to catch us making our exit.
As fake as my drinking act might be, his was very real and had been since Hadley died. Yet another reason why I trusted him to ignore my faked drunkenness. Confronting my bad habits would mean confronting his own issues.
Our bloodline brushed as close to High Society as any Low Society family could boast. We had power in our blood, and we could work small magics. Not that the past few generations of Whitakers had honed those talents or put them to good use.
The Pritchards might be as Low Society as it got, but their matrons were savvy, and their coffers were full. I might not want to exchange my last name for Boaz’s, but I had done worse to keep my family fed and clothed. Even if I tasted bile when I thought about losing what I had fought so long and so hard to preserve.
Maybe Boaz would consider hyphenating his last name? Whitaker-Pritchard or Pritchard-Whitaker was easier to swallow than erasing my identity all together.
“You’re thinking about marriage again,” Cass sing-songed. “You realize he’ll want to have sex with you. That means he’s going to touch you, kiss you, nibble on your—”
“How many years were you a prostitute again?”
“Two or three hundred.” She leaned in, bosoms heaving. “Would you like to see what I learned?”
“I’ve watched porn with you.” I shooed her out the door. “I’m set, thanks.”
“Now that’s just mean.” Popping out her bottom lip, she pouted. “That wasn’t porn. That was an adult film.”
Cass was the rare vampire who relished dumping her past identities and embracing new roles. Most clung to what they knew and went mad from it in the end. She would never have to worry about that.
“As much as I enjoy discussing my best friend’s sexual exploits, we have a job to do. Remember?”
“You’re no fun.” She sighed dramatically. “You’re about to be married. Have fun while you still can.”
“Anonymous sex isn’t my idea of fun.”
“How do you know until you try it?”
“I’ll make you a deal.” I spun it around on her. “Keep it in your pants for thirty days, and I’ll have the one-night stand of your choice.”
“It’s a…” She wet her lips, tried again. “It’s a…” Her mouth moved, but no sound emerged. “It’s a…”
“Deal is the word you’re looking for,” I said helpfully. “Come on, say it.”
“Damn it, Addie. That’s not fair. I have needs.”
“And I don’t.” I had made it this long without sex. I wasn’t in any hurry to rectify the situation given who the rectifier would be. “So stop bullying me.”
“I don’t mean to push.” She picked at her manicured nails. “I just worry.”
Vampires her age didn’t express affection the way necromancers did. They mostly bit or sexed up the ones they loved. Since I wasn’t interested in either, she was at a loss as to how to show me she cared. I tried letting her hug me once, but she took off her shirt first and pressed my face into her boob crack. It was a very nice boob crack, but it didn’t do much for me except give me perkiness envy.
“You don’t have to anymore.” I tacked on a smile. “I’m engaged, and Prince Charming will fix all my problems. Haven’t you read any fairytales?”
“I was alive when a few were written,” she said dryly. “Trust me, the writers took artistic license. Except with the prince kissing sleeping princesses thing. Sure, he claimed he was attempting to wake her, but he didn’t have to pull her dress down over her boobs to find her mouth.”
“You just ruined one of my favorites for me. Thank you for that disturbing mental picture.”
“Men are pigs.” She shrugged. “What do you expect?”
“Them not to put the moves on unconscious women?”
“You’re so adorable.” She stroked her fingers through my hair. “You and all your cute little morals.”
The hunger in her eyes wasn’t new. She would bite me in a heartbeat if I let her. That’s the danger of being friends with a vampire. She would also dry hump me if I stood still for too long. Again, the danger of being friends with a vampire.
From what I could tell, they reached an age where they became gender blind. Bodies became bodies to them, and pleasure could be found in either form. Since I was a stick in the mud—her words, not mine—any pleasure she derived from me came from annoying me until I reminded her of my flawless aim.
“Any idea where we can find Ron?” I swatted her hand. “Or do we have to hunt him down?”
“He was last seen near the railroad museum.” She made a production of pulling a shiny new key fob from her cleavage. “The engine section.”
Turning around, I got an eyeful of her latest acquisition. A sleek black Ferrari I only recognized because of its prominent branding. Her master gave it to her as a bonus for bringing in the most money to the clan ten years running. Thanks to me. But did Jamal buy me a Ferrari? Nope. Not even a pine tree shaped air freshener.
Granted, I would have sold the car in a heartbeat and bought a used one for under ten grand with the money. The mental picture of all the zeroes I would have left in my bank account gave me butterflies in my stomach. Green ones. With pictures of Ben Franklin dotting their wings.
Cass stalked to the driver side and slid behind the wheel, doing a happy wiggle as she settled in.
The heady combination of leather and new car smell made me dizzy with lust no man (or woman) had yet to inspire in me as I claimed the seat beside her.
“I would give you this car.” She cranked it, and the engine purred. “If you would use it and enjoy it.” She threw it into reverse, and gravel sprayed from under the tires. “But you would sell it and bank the proceeds. I can see the dollar signs in your eyes.”
Given I had just been fantasizing about doing that very thing, I didn’t have a leg to stand on.
A buzz in my pocket almost made me jump out of my skin. “Cheez-It.”
Notorious for forgetting my phone, I realized Cass had done more than cop a feel while I was dressing. She had stuck my cell and my ID in my back pocket.
“You’ve got to learn how to curse like a big girl one day.”
Ignoring her, I answered the call. “Hey, Gustav.”
“Your collar has been cornered,” he rumbled in a thick accent. “Get to the pier.”
“The pier?” I craned my neck at Cass. “What happened to the railroad museum?”
“That was two nights ago.” A car engine roared to life in the background. “Cassandra’s intel is old.”
“Suck it,” she yelled at our boss, who could hear her just as well as she heard him thanks to their heightened senses. “We always get our man.”
Boss wasn’t the right word, but it did the job. Cass was answerable to her master and her clan, and I was answerable to the Society and my family. Working for Gustav, a warg, created an interspecies loophole that allowed us to join his bounty hunter guild without any messy affiliations getting in the way.
“With pleasure, Häschen.” A husky chuckle flowed into the car with us. “Name the place and the time.”
The fact our boss called her a bunny, or maybe it was cute little bunny? I could never remember. It made me think it was a vampire joke since he was a warg. Maybe he thought it was cute implying she was Bunnicula. Or maybe he still had his tail in a twist because, regardless of how she pestered me, she had rules about sex with coworkers. It got a big, fat no for her. She preferred anonymous sex, and lots of it. Hard to keep it anonymous if you had to chat over a watercooler with the guy/girl you banged and fanged the night before then ditched as fast as your superhuman speed allowed.
And yet she had the gall to lecture me on relationships when I was the one committed to a guy I couldn’t outrun.
Okay, fine. Put like that, it was clear neither of us should ever open our mouths and let advice fall out.
“This is sexual harassment.” Cass’s eyes glinted with mirth. “Careful, or I’ll file a complaint with HQ.”
I must be an absolute dud in the hormones department. Maybe there was something biologically wrong with me? Maybe I crushed all those impulses until all I had left south of my belt was the Sahara.
A beep interrupted their flirting, an incoming call from an unknown number, and her fancy-pants car paired with my phone without first asking permission, like it was doing me the favor. Dampness coated my palms, and I almost dropped my cell while forcing it to disconnect, disconnect—for the love of the goddess disconnect—before she got an earful of my private business. Without saying goodbye to Gustav, I switched lines, breathless as a marathon runner. “Addie.”
A hard thud rattled my heart against my ribs. “Boaz.”
Cass ignored the traffic in favor of gawking at me.
“I wanted to check in.” He hesitated. “See if you were okay.”
See if I had decided to back out, more like it. It’s not like I had given him a ring, just my word.
“Any particular reason why?” I leaned over and physically turned Cass’s head forward. “It’s nice, but it’s…unexpected.”
No emotional attachments on either side would make this whole ordeal so much easier to swallow.
“Your dad called,” he admitted after another awkward pause. “He sounded…”
“I was going to say worried about you.” Boaz cleared his throat. “He said you were upset.”
“And you wanted to make sure I wasn’t having second thoughts.”
“No one knows we’re engaged. Just you, your dad, and me. You can break it off before it gets announced without a slap on the wrist from the Society or any hard feelings from me.”
“You asked me to marry you—” a totally backwards and human thing to do, “—and I agreed. That’s where it starts and stops for me. I’m a woman of my word.”
“I never doubted.” He softened his voice. “I’ll let you go then.”
“When will you be back?” I blurted before I could catch myself. “To, um, finalize things?”
“Miss me already?” he teased with the ease of a man who did it often. “I was thinking a week.”
“A week sounds good.” I struggled to sound professional, but my default setting gave me fits when I was around him. “I’ll have the papers drawn up and waiting for you.”
“Will you be?”
Certain I had missed something, I backtracked. “Will I be what?”
“Waiting for me.”
Panic coated the back of my throat, and I rushed out a hasty, “Goodnight, Boaz.”
He was gone before I could remind him only my friends called me Addie.
“That’s interesting.” Cass radiated smugness. “Very interesting.”
“That Gustav wants in your pants? That’s hardly a newsflash.”
“Nice try.” She snorted. “You’re not going to distract me with thoughts of Gustav naked and rubbing me down with butter.”
“I…didn’t mention butter. And now I might never eat it again. Thanks for that. Anything else you’d like to ruin for me tonight?”
“Just one last thing.” She flicked me a glance. “You like him.”
“We’re getting married.”
“Your pheromones shot off the charts when he answered.”
“Just nerves.” I tucked my phone back in my pants. “Pre-wedding jitters.”
“Keep telling yourself that.” She chuckled. “This certainly makes things more interesting.”
“Stop saying interesting in that tone and keep your eyes on the road. One of us is still alive, you know.”
Cass mimed buttoning her lips and left me to stew over the fact my gut was tight, and my palms were sweaty.
Clearly, I was having an anxiety attack. I wasn’t stupid enough to fall for a guy with his reputation. After I got home, I would pop a Zoloft. Problem solved. Until then… “You missed the turn for the pier.”
“Ron’s not at the pier.”
“Parroted rumors at us that I planted two days ago.” She scoffed. “Do you really think I would tell him where our mark is hiding? He’s the boss, and he’s all about the bottom line. He gives those tips to everyone to better his chances of landing the mark, which means the pier will be swarming.”
Settling in for the short drive to the museum, I pushed all thoughts of Boaz Pritchard out of my head and prepared to bag and tag a baby vamp worth three house payments. Who knows? Maybe I would go nuts with the bonus, if we got to him first, and buy myself a bottle of the nail polish I had been eyeballing. The rich brown with golden swirls reminded me of…