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Tastes of Love & Evil
By Barbara Monajem
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2010 Barbara Monajem
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRose Fairburn jogged in the predawn darkness, fantasizing about her dream man.
He was an unassuming sort of guy, attractive but not flashy, educated and kindhearted. A caring sort who wanted her for something besides sex. Her mind drifted to scenes where they cuddled by a crackling fire discussing ... Hmm. Metaphysical poetry. Maybe Shakespeare. They didn't jump into bed the day they met; in fact, he resisted at first. We need to know each other better, he said, so they took time to explore shared interests. Such as theater, say. Or music. Football, even. Football was perfectly fine. She had no objection to football, because it wasn't sex. He gazed at her with eyes brimming with love, not lust. His voice conveyed tenderness, not desire, desire, and more frigging desire. They exchanged opinions like intelligent, well-read individuals. And he wasn't fixated on her fangs.
She had left Chicago the day before, headed for a new life-and, she hoped, a new kind of man-in Louisiana. He'll be a true Southern gentleman, she told herself, slowing at the gas station for coffee and doughnuts because the hotel where she was staying had nothing but vending machines. She pushed the door open and went into the warm, bright interior, where a clerk was brewing fresh Java. The newly filled doughnut case boasted chocolate iced, jam filled, sprinkle covered, bursting with custard, and plain but clearly scrumptious glazed.
A stringy dude with dirty hair put an arm around her and waggled his eyebrows. She whirled away with a choke of disgust, and the clerk at the coffee machine glanced her way. Stopped. Stared. Dropped the filter and moved puppet-like toward her. The stringy guy leered and closed in. Fantasy Man faded, and the familiar reality of a vampire's life flattened the romance blooming in Rose's psyche like a lump of cold porridge. Sex was what she was all about. That was that.
Hot tears stung her eyes, but she blinked them back, flung a curse at the men, and stormed right back out the door. Who was she kidding? Dream men were just that-dreams. She jogged down the road toward the hotel. Reality was fending off jerks. Reality was getting laid by the more tolerable toughs and mobsters. Reality was a taste of good red blood on a regular basis.
Her fangs were making a nuisance of themselves again. She should accept herself for what she was-again-and shoot some allure at the man she'd seen briefly in the lobby last night. Something about him intrigued her, and although he wouldn't be a gentleman, since no such species existed, he'd take the edge off, and that was the best she could hope for.
Rose slowed, pacing herself through the parking lot. The guy's beat-up old Jeep was already gone. Oh, well. It was for the best. Just because she'd salivated at the sight of him, just because her fangs were making demands, it didn't mean she should jump this random man.
She pushed through the glass doors into the vestibule of the hotel just as her Random Man came out, backpack over his shoulder, eyes anywhere but on her. He must have moved his Jeep. She turned to say good-bye to his butt as it vanished past her out the door.
A silver Cadillac lunged up the semicircular drive outside the entrance. Random Man ducked back inside, but not fast enough. A bullet ripped through the sleeve of his worn Saints jacket. He sucked in a tight breath and gripped his arm. Blood, ripe and intoxicating, welled up over his thumb, and the backpack slipped off his shoulder to collide with his hand.
"Shit," Random Man said. For the first time, his eyes met Rose's.
But this was no time to think about those eyes. The silver Caddy squealed to a stop farther down the drive, and already doors were being thrown open.
Random Man cursed again, cramming the backpack under his wounded arm as he hunched down in the vestibule, inching toward the lobby doors. "Get away, lady." His voice was low and knifelike. "These guys mean business."
So do I.
"Room two-o-nine," Rose said. She dropped her key card into the pocket of his jacket and hurried into the lobby ahead of him, thinking fast. Apart from the desk clerk, the lobby was empty. Rose listened for Random Man's footsteps behind her, and sashayed across the polished floor in the opposite direction.
She reached the alcove with the vending machines as the lobby doors slammed open. "FBI!" a rough voice shouted. "A fugitive came in here. He's wounded, armed, and dangerous. Keep calm, and no one will get hurt." The newcomer stabbed a gun at the desk clerk. "Which way did he go?" Another man, stocky with a ponytail, charged into the lobby, waving a pistol, while the clerk babbled about being too busy to notice a thing. Random Man was nowhere to be seen.
FBI, doing a drive-by in a silver Caddy? Right. Rose took a long look at the men and their guns and resorted to the only weapon at hand. She draped herself against a vending machine and sent tendrils of allure across the room. Both men hesitated, distracted and confused. Good. The leader, well built with wavy blond hair and a purple shirt with a tiger on it, recovered quickly, ordering his cohort toward the back door. He scanned the lobby, his eyes lingering on Rose before he headed through the employee-only doors.
Rose rummaged in her pocket for money and fed the machine. She punched the buttons and grabbed doughnuts and a Snickers bar from the tray. When the blond man reappeared, she stuck a five into the cappuccino machine and braced herself.
The blond swaggered up and jabbed his pistol at her. "You're the jogger who came in a minute ago."
"What's it to you?" Rose countered, pissed as hell about the gun, tossing allure his way.
He blinked but regrouped in a hurry. "You were in the lobby with the dude-uh, fugitive. Where did he go?"
"There was no one in the lobby except the desk clerk. It's barely six a.m., for God's sake. Most people are still asleep." She sent out another stab of allure.
It didn't work. Annoying, but no surprise: he might be naturally resistant, or a devoted husband and father, or even gay. Regardless of the reason, he wavered only briefly and recovered with a frown. "He was in the front with you, lady."
"Some nondescript guy was on his way out when I came in," Rose admitted. She straightened to her whole five foot eleven, making it clear that no one as negligible as Random Man got her attention. As for this hard-ass: "Show me your ID." She jutted her jaw at him.
The gunman postured. "The dude went back inside. He was right behind you. You must have seen him."
Rose shrugged. "I wasn't looking behind me."
The man with the ponytail reappeared near the elevators, shaking his head, and the blond left to join him. Rose picked up her cappuccino and sauntered across the lobby.
Near the elevators, the gunmen conversed in low voices that Rose's vampire hearing picked up just fine. "We'll search every goddamn room," the blond said. "You take this floor. I'll do upstairs."
The second they were gone, Rose descended on the desk clerk. "Call the cops. These guys aren't really feds." When the clerk merely gaped, Rose picked up the phone, dialed 911, and pressed it into his hand. "Tell the operator they wouldn't show ID. Tell her they pointed their guns at us. Tell her your guests are freaking out."
Once the clerk was talking to the emergency operator, Rose scooped up her breakfast and took off across the lobby. Traffic was picking up; the elevator coughed out a couple with their luggage, and a woman in a business suit clattered toward the doors. Down the hall a man shouted, and a woman shrieked a protest.
Rose took the stairs two at a time. Her room was near the end of the hall, but it was a small hotel, and the blond had almost reached her room. People dithered, peeking out their doors. The woman in 208 wailed as the thug rampaged through.
"The hotel called the local police," Rose said in a loud voice. "To give you guys some backup," she added when the blond whirled. "So no one will get hurt."
The thug sent Rose a glare and punched the radio button on his cell. "Cops are on the way," he said, already moving toward 209. He banged on the door and wrenched at the handle. "FBI. Open up!" When there was no response, he drew his gun.
"Hey!" Rose hollered. "That's my room! There's no one in there."
The pseudo-fed leveled the gun between Rose's breasts and stuck out a hand. "Your key."
Rose put the coffee and doughnuts on the floor and turned out her pockets, taking her time. "I swear I had it when I left to go jogging. Maybe I dropped it. I'll go to the front desk and get another."
"Fuck that," said the gunman as the laundry cart lumbered around the corner three rooms away. Way too quickly, he had the gibbering maid's master key. He kicked open the door to Rose's room, swinging the gun from side to side. Rose plunged after him, wishing her own little pistol weren't safely in a pocket of her suitcase. She'd thought she wouldn't need it down here.
The room was empty.
No, it just appeared to be. "I told you there was no one here." Her nostrils quivering, every sense alert, Rose scanned the bed, the curtains, the embroidered mantle draped on a chair, the Elizabethan gown on the luggage cart. "Now get out of my room!"
The gunman ignored her, ducking in and out of the bathroom, glancing into the closet, going efficiently through every hiding place. Warmer, cried Rose's senses, warmer, warmer, damn, oh God please no, as he shoved past the luggage cart to the window, and then as he returned, colder, warmer, colder, where the hell is the man? One-handed, the fake fed lifted the mattress and box spring, but no one was concealed underneath.
Sirens cried in the distance, and a second later the gunman's phone squawked a warning. He left without looking back.
Rose retrieved her breakfast, double-locked the door, and scanned the room. Aha. She'd seen this phenomenon once before. She knew Random Man was in the room, somewhere near the window. "They've gone," she said softly. "You can come out now. You need to have that wound tended."
Nothing. Where was he?
"I brought coffee and doughnuts." She put the food on the table. "I'd be happy to share, once we've patched you up." Pause. "I know you're here. I can hear you breathing."
"I can smell you," Rose said, her voice rising, tendrils of allure escaping. You and your blood. "I'm here to help, you fool!"
Still nothing. Or maybe ... a faint shimmer, like heat rising in summer air, over on the luggage cart, right by the Elizabethan gown. Damn it, thought Rose. If he stains that costume ... Anger coupled with the aroma of blood overwhelmed her senses, and her fangs slotted down. Purposely this time, she directed her allure toward the luggage cart. Another shimmer, instantly controlled, and then absolute stillness.
No more pussyfooting around. She smiled and sent a wave of allure crashing across the room. Random Man resolved into view, gold and tan and brown blending with the dress, then gradually reacquiring his own muted shape and colors, blue denims and Saints jacket, nondescript but definitely all there.
"God help me," Random Man said. "Not another vamp."
The last thing Jack Tallis saw before he thudded into unconsciousness was the chagrin on the vampire's face. The first thing when he woke was the hotel room ceiling, followed by the girl's orange ponytail bobbing up and down as she licked and sucked at his injured arm. He convulsed, shuddering with outrage.
"Stay still," the vamp said, one hand steady on his injured arm as she licked, the other firm on his opposite shoulder. "I'm almost done."
No. "Get off me!" he croaked, struggling under her, but his limbs wouldn't move and his head swam. And the girl was strong.
"You've made it bleed again," she said impatiently, pushing hard on his sound shoulder. Why was he surprised? Vampires were invariably strong, and at the moment he was abominably weak. His helplessness enraged him even more, but he set aside the anger and said politely, "I appreciate the help, but I'll just tie a rag around it. I need to get out of here before those assholes come back."
She stopped licking long enough to say, "You need to rest. You've lost a lot of blood."
And you lapped it up.
"You're lucky I was here to heal your wound."
What a load of bull. Sure, she'd helped him out, but she'd also taken advantage of his wound to gorge herself, and they both knew it. But she was licking slowly now, carefully, and a creeping pleasure threatened to replace his indignation. She'd eyed him in the lobby last night, and a guy couldn't help but notice this kind of girl. He had to admit his arm didn't hurt much anymore. And the rest of him felt pretty goddamn good.
And the girl looked fabulous.
No. Never again. Jack stared at the ceiling rather than at her glorious breasts straining against the thin tank top. "I really do appreciate it," he repeated, "but I have things to do. Places to go."
The vampire retracted her fangs with a sigh, stood, and started packing. She folded clothes and laid them in a suitcase, stowed a hot-glue gun and some wire cutters in the bottom tray of a fishing-tackle box, then stowed spools of thread and other sewing paraphernalia in the top. "You'd better stop at a drugstore for some bandages. I did my best, but it was too messy and too long after you were shot for me to do a tidy job. Just because it doesn't look bad doesn't mean it's healed underneath. My spit can only do so much."
Jack eyed the flesh wound on his inner arm: not completely healed, but it looked a damn sight better than before. He pushed himself off the carpet tentatively with both hands, quickly favoring the right, but a trickle of blood escaped anyway. The girl's head whipped around.
"No," Jack said, pressing his already saturated T-shirt to the wound. "Not necessary. Thanks."
The vampire shrugged. "Suit yourself."
Damn right. She'd got what she wanted; he didn't owe her a thing. All he had to do was leave, right now, and hopefully they'd never meet again. He stood, his head spinning, and staggered before righting himself and reaching for his jacket, which she had draped on a chair. When he tried to ease his arm into the sleeve, more blood drizzled down.
"Oh, for God's sake." The vamp rummaged in her suitcase for a ratty blue bandanna. "This should do temporarily." She fastened the bandanna around his arm with a safety pin. "Have some doughnuts and coffee. There's enough for both of us." She zipped the suitcase shut. "Where did you move your Jeep to?"
No doughnuts, no coffee, who the hell were those guys, and ... "My Jeep?"
"It's not where you parked it last night." The girl ripped open the packet of doughnuts and bit into one.
Jack cursed and went to the window. The spot where he'd parked the Jeep was empty.
"Maybe they knew it was yours and took it." The girl scowled at the remnant of doughnut in her hand. "The cops are gone. I hope the thugs don't come back." She washed the doughnut down with coffee and set the cup on the table. "You can have the rest." She took her handbag and a change of clothes and went into the bathroom. A second later the shower came on.
Jack sat on the chair and tried to think. Any number of people might want him dead, but usually they didn't know who he was, much less where to find him. The ability to fade into the nondescript-and even into the woodwork-meant most of his rescues ran smoothly, and the abusers never found out where their women had gone. But someone had figured him out, someone with muscle and guns. This he could handle, once he got away from here; it might even be fun. But a little blood loss was no excuse for losing control, and as for being forced out of camouflage by a vampire ... disastrous.
He crammed down the other doughnut and was halfway through the Snickers bar before he recollected himself and laid the rest on the table. He swallowed the warmish coffee as well. It doesn't matter. She offered it; I left her half the Snickers, even Stephen. He reached into his back pocket and drew out his wallet, cradling it in his left hand while he pulled out a five with his right.
Excerpted from Tastes of Love & Evil by Barbara Monajem Copyright © 2010 by Barbara Monajem. Excerpted by permission.
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