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SINS OF THE FLESH
By DEVYN QUINN
APHRODISIA BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Devyn Quinn
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWarren, CA, Present Day
Once again, the night had come to its end. Dawn's grasping fingers had seized the earth's horizon, refusing to let the dark- ness have one more hour than necessary. Pale pink lashings began to illuminate the edges of the night's sky. All too soon the merciless sun would rule again.
Sprawled across a chaise lounge, Devon Carnavorn swirled the last of the sherry in his glass. "Another night gone," he muttered under his breath. "Wasted."
Clothing askew, reeking of sexual musk, he glanced around his den. A proliferation of naked bodies filled the space around him. The odor of bodies in motion fused with the cloying scent of sandalwood incense, burned in such quantity the air hazed. The sexes not only seemed mingle, but merge. Though no music played, several danced together in rhythmic slow motion. Others more engrossed in pleasure had commandeered sofas, chairs, even the floor to engage in heated lovemaking. Locked in intimate embrace, hands and mouths explored every inch.
Devon signed, frowning in displeasure. "It's getting to where I can't tell one night from the last." His life had turned into a big blur. He wasn't even really living. He simply existed.
Disgusted, he stood up, nearly tripping overthe naked woman sprawled on the rug at his feet. Vague recognition registered. He'd fucked her. More than once, anally, orally, and in every other position he could think of.
Closing his eyes on a memory he didn't care to recall, his mouth twisted into a grimace of displeasure. The sight of her nude body did nothing to arouse him. He wondered what he'd seen in her beyond a tool to sate his hunger.
A low growl broke from his lips. "Nothing, damn it. Nothing." Instead of feeling satisfied, all he felt was hollow. The woman meant nothing, had made no impression. He didn't even know her name. In a few hours he wouldn't even remember her face. "God forgive me." A mean, grating laugh escaped him. "I never thought I'd be bored with immortality."
A bitter utterance, but true.
Devon's lips flattened into a hard line. Everything that should have been right in his life was wrong. Seriously wrong.
Feeling the closing of the walls around him, the pressure of too many living, breathing bodies, he needed to get out. If he didn't he'd start screaming. And never stop.
Pausing only to refill a glass emptied with alarming regularity nowadays, Devon wove his way toward the French doors leading into the back gardens.
Stepping outside, cool air scented with a fine morning's dew filled his nostrils. His head cleared a bit. Only the smallest of headaches remained.
Sipping his sherry, Devon watched the day begin its advance, wiping away shadows with a cruel hand. The quiet hours before the rest of the world awakened were the times he felt the loneliest, felt the emptiness inside the soul he'd pledged to the darkness. Soon, he'd have to seek shelter. During the day, his energies and paranormal abilities waned. As long as he stayed shielded he could move around with a fair amount of freedom, dashing from car to building unscathed should he have to venture out.
Lately, though, he'd toyed with the idea of not seeking sanctuary from the day.
Suicide tempted, but he'd always held back. Not because he wasn't strong enough. He didn't have to be strong to walk into the sun's light. He'd just walk, until the flesh had burned from his bones and his skin crumbled to dust. Such a death would be painful. Perhaps even a well-deserved penance.
Ariel had died, and he had survived.
Devon took a step forward, then a second. He couldn't take a third.
He stopped. Shaking the idea of self-immolation loose from its moorings, he stored it instead in that secret place in the recesses of his mind. The Kynn were few and far between. The Amhais, the shadow stalkers, operated effectively. Driven by religious fanaticism, the vampire-hunters simply wouldn't let up or back off. He'd had one too many close calls himself. The human assassins were expert and all too willing to die for their cause.
To the Amhais, a vampire was a vampire. And vampires must be slain.
Air vanishing from his lungs, Devon felt his throat tighten. An icy shiver slid down his spine. Almost a century had passed since he'd lost Ariel to those ignorant fools.
Though hardly a man to weep and gnash his teeth in grief, he was given to days of deep depression, often seeing only futility in the long existence he now considered to be a curse. Immortality meant nothing when the time was spent alone, making his sire's loss no easier to bear. He thought he'd moved on since that time. He hadn't.
Devon closed his eyes. Just thinking of how Ariel had died made his head throb, the glass in his hand tremble. Fearing he'd faint, he lifted ice-cold fingers to his eyes, pressing hard against his lids. He and Ariel hadn't been together long, but the mark she'd left on him was indelibly etched on his brain like acid on glass.
Ariel had been his sire. His lover. She'd been everything.
They'd planned an eternity together. They'd had less than a decade. He'd never found another female who even came close to replacing her. The women who came into his life nowadays were just faces-bodies really. Drifting through, leaving no impression on his mind or his heart.
Once a hedonist in the fullest sense, there had been a time in his life when he couldn't restrain himself from seeking out sin. It was his nature. Life was meant to be enjoyed, the temptations of this earth too many.
Time had passed, though. Times had changed. Humans aged, grew old, died around him. Technology had changed, geography had shifted, cultures met and merged. Keeping up had never been a problem.
At some point Devon couldn't quite identify, entropy had set in. The rot had wound around his senses and woven its poisonous vines around the very fibers of his being. The twin beasts of lust and greed had finally turned on him. Too much of a good thing didn't enhance. It decayed. Thirty-four when he'd ceased aging, he was barely through the first half of his second century. The life he'd once vowed to seize now bored him stiff.
Well, hell. Everything seemed wrong and nothing felt right. Were immortals supposed to have a mid-century life's crisis? Somehow he didn't think gold chains and a Lamborghini would solve this one.
Devon eyed the dangerous sun. His stomach suddenly felt queasy, his knees weak. So hot a moment ago, he now felt stone cold. Perspiration soaked his shirt, dotting his forehead. "You and I may yet be meeting again."
A voice from behind broke through. "Sir?"
Devon turned. Simpson, his manservant and closest confidant, stood behind him. Discrete and utterly reliable, Simpson could be counted on to do his job, his eyes open, his mouth shut.
Devon swallowed hard. Whether in relief or disappointment he couldn't be sure. His meeting with the glowing golden eye wouldn't come today. Tomorrow, perhaps. But not today.
"Have they gone?"
Grim faced and unsmiling, Simpson nodded briskly. "I've cleared them out."
Devon nodded. He hated nothing more than a house full of deadbeats hanging around. Orgy over, he wanted to be left alone. "And the young lady?" he asked, meaning his own recent fuck.
Simpson frowned. "Has been paid and sent on her way." His words simmered disapproval.
Devon sipped his sherry, hating what he had to say. "Suppose I shouldn't be dragging in all these strays." Not a question.
Simpson's lip dropped lower. "If I may say so, sir, it's dangerous to keep exposing yourself to the riffraff. Your reputation isn't highly regarded. One of these days-"
Tension knotting his shoulders, Devon cut him off. "I'm going to stumble, I know." Discretion had come to mean little lately.
Simpson snorted, eyeing him with more than a little annoyance. "A little more, ah, restraint on your part would go a long way toward salvaging your reputation. Word does get around about the goings-on here."
Brow wrinkling, Devon shrugged, unable to protest. Truth, all truth. Attempting to salvage his reputation would probably prove futile at this point. As one of the Kynn, he'd chosen not to limit his proclivities for sexual adventure. Quite the opposite. He'd exploited the vampire mythologies by founding a string of successful Goth-themed nightclubs. In doing so, he'd remade his fortune several times over. If problems arose, he employed a rich-man's solution: money.
One thing money couldn't buy was his peace of mind.
Something I haven't truly had since Ariel was alive. He'd begun to doubt he'd ever have another chance at finding a second mate.
Thrusting the idea from his mind, Devon emptied his glass. The emptiness was eating him up inside. "I don't want to hear any more right now." His words ended the conversation then and there.
"Of course, Lord Carnavorn." Simpson only used Devon's title when displeased.
Lips pressing tightly, Devon pawed at his pounding temple. Oh hell. Let the old bugger be pissed off. Better pissed off than pissed on. His headache had taken on fresh strength, banging behind his eyes, which felt like they'd pop out of his skull. He'd drank too much, fucked too much, and felt like shit. Exhaustion had crept up on him, and he hadn't even realized it. Instead of feeling invigorated from his recent feed, he felt like concrete. Heavy, dull, and lifeless.
A touch of the sun on his skin sent him back into soothing shadows. Simpson followed. As if aware of his master's earlier thoughts, Simpson drew the blinds. They closed with a brisk snap, shielding him from the outside world but not his thoughts.
Devon wished he could simply close his eyes and go on to no particular destination, just quietly exist in limbo forever.
Simpson stood across from him, keeping his distance deliberate. "Are you all right, sir?"
A ridge of muscle tightened Devon's jaw. A painful sensation began to work its way through his neck and shoulders. "I'll be fine."
At least he hoped he would be.
Feeling the pressure of the night's exertions, Devon pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. Perhaps if he rubbed hard enough he could obliterate every brain cell in his head. Stop thinking. Stop breathing. Stop being.
Thinking of the empty bed waiting for him only depressed him more. He'd slept very little lately, mostly because he hated facing that desolate expanse of cold sheets. Despite the bevy of beautiful women he'd recently had at hand, he'd be going to bed alone.
Chapter TwoThe saleswoman turned the sign from OPEN to CLOSED. "I can't believe this is the last time we'll be doing this."
Rachel Marks glanced up from the day's receipts. "We tried, Ginny. There's just not enough business to stay open." She frowned. "We're just not located in the new additions being built on the other side of town."
The old lady nodded. "It's a shame too. The mall just sucked business away from Main Street."
Rachel frowned. Because of the new mall, she was out on her ass, unable to compete with the huge new chain store installed there. She would've loved to move to a more desirable location, but she simply couldn't afford the outrageous rent charged for the spaces. No matter how many specials she ran, no matter how much she slashed prices, the new bookstore was always one step ahead of her.
Moreover, the new store had a coffee and snack bar, something she just couldn't compete with. Why come to her small shop when a cornucopia awaited across town?
Ginny wiped away her tears. "I did so like working here." She cast a final look over barren shelves. "It's such a cozy little store."
"Was such a cozy little store," Rachel grumbled, writing down the day's numbers on the sheet of paper by her register. This last month of "Going Out of Business" had secured barely enough to cover the rent on the building and Ginny's salary. Zilch left for her. Depressing. Unless she got a job quickly, she wouldn't be able to meet the rent on her own apartment.
Rachel quickly counted out a week's pay for Ginny. "Here you go. I'm sorry it's not more."
Ginny shook her head. "I don't want to take the money."
Rachel smiled despite her sadness. Ginny Smithers never wanted to take her money. A sixty-year-old widow, Ginny lived on a limited income from Social Security, barely making enough to get by.
Though Ginny would protest she didn't need the money, Rachel would have to insist the old woman take it. Ginny had been the only one she was able to keep on these last couple of months. The rest of the staff had been slowly let go as business decreased from a flow to barely a trickle.
Rachel sighed tiredly. "Please, Ginny, not today. You've worked hard this week. Take your money and go home and relax. It's been a long day."
Ginny tucked the money into her purse. "Do you need some help closing up?"
Rachel shook her head. "No. I just need to get those last few boxes of unsold books out, and I'm done."
Ginny hesitated, dragging out her exit. "If you're sure ..."
"I'm sure." Rachel came around the counter. "Just give me a hug, and promise me you'll take care of yourself." She gave the tiny woman a gentle squeeze.
Ginny reached up and patted her cheek. "You'll come by and see me sometime?"
Rachel smiled, even though she wasn't feeling very cheery inside. "Of course I will, and I expect to have one of your delicious chocolate muffins just waiting for me."
An easy smile crossed Ginny's face, lighting her eyes. "I'll bake up a big batch."
"You do that." Rachel walked the old woman to the door. "Now you get home before it gets too dark outside."
She glanced up. A storm was brewing. Already the sky was leaden with clouds: heavy, pregnant, threatening a violent storm. The wind was picking up, coming from the North, bringing in a chill. Hanging on with cold hands, winter was refusing to go easily.
In like a lion, out like a lamb, they always say. March is coming in like a lion. So much for sunny, summery California.
Truth be told, though, she liked the weather. Rainy days made one think of a warm fire, a mug of hot chocolate, and a good book to read; of a day lost in a world not one's own.
Arms wrapped around her body, Rachel watched Ginny shuffle up the sidewalk. Five o'clock, and the rest of the businesses on Main Street were also closing. This part of town usually rolled up the sidewalks by sundown.
Sighing, Rachel shut the door and locked it behind her. Turning, she cast her gaze around the store, once filled to the brim with books. New Releases. Fiction. Nonfiction. Biography. Travel. Self-Help. Children's. She'd tried to stock a little bit of everything, keep customers happy by always ordering the latest bestsellers or tracking down that hard-to-find title. She simply couldn't win the war with the online booksellers.
She wasn't alone. A lot of the little Main Street businesses couldn't compete. Didn't make her feel any better. She had still failed. She'd had to sell most of her stock at rock-bottom prices just to get people to come in and take it off her hands. What went unsold would be returned to the booksellers for future credit. Not that she needed credit now. She was out of business.
No use standing around thinking about it.
Rachel hurried to the back of the store and propped open the rear exit, then opened the trunk of her car. The wind had picked up, bringing in a blast that went straight up her skirt. No thunder yet, but the insistent flicker of lightning warned of the coming storm.
Catching her hem before she gave the world a fine view of her panties, she hurried back inside and picked up a box of books. Hefting it, she carried it out to the car and packed it away. Two more trips followed, and that was all.
She slammed down the trunk. Twelve years down the drain. People were driving straight past Main and heading down to the larger shopping area.
"To the mall." That goddamned mall.
A short, heavyset woman with glaring red hair and apple-red cheeks stepped out of the rear exit of the building adjacent to hers. Dressed in one of her wild gypsy outfits guaranteed to blind the fashion conscious, Frannie Sutter hurried over. The charms around her neck clinked as she walked, making her sound like some sort of medieval wind chime in the hustling breeze. The wind did little damage to her hair. That red mess always looked as if she'd fixed it with an egg beater, then sprayed on cooking oil to set it. Jewelry, some expensive, most gaudy, crusted every finger of her hand. Even her thumbs. A self-proclaimed white witch and fortune teller, Frannie ran a magic shop. She'd often have Rachel order the latest titles on witchcraft and the supernatural.
Excerpted from SINS OF THE FLESH by DEVYN QUINN Copyright © 2007 by Devyn Quinn. Excerpted by permission.
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