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"Oh, hurry the hell up," Delilah muttered under her breath, kneading the small black knit bag with nervous hands. She glanced around the place, taking in the dim lighting and scuffed hardwood floors of a bar named Vivian's in a not-so-great area of Downtown Los Angeles. The dark alley she had passed on the way in reeked of hard liquor and rotten food. She had noted, with pity, the few homeless souls taking refuge next to a large dumpster.
She had been waiting here for what seemed like hours for an acquaintance of her younger brother. She was here to handle another one of Declan's situations because he couldn't handle money responsibly. No, she corrected herself. She was here because she felt slightly guilty saying no to Declan whenever he made too many bad bets, which was often. She recognized that he had a gambling problem. It was definitely time to stop babying him before they both ended up like the homeless people outside. Maybe she should even seek professional counseling for him. Her help didn't seem to be enough.
Her eyes darted around the place, pointedly avoiding the lecherous smiles she was getting from a few of the male patrons. No way in hell did she want to be here too late into the evening, she thought, as the bar's main door opened, letting in a rowdy bunch of people. She could see it was well beyond dusk through the door.
Her gaze settled on one of the men who stepped away from the crowd and looked around the place slowly. He was tall and powerfully built in jeans and leather jacket with the interior lights glinted off his close cropped blond hair. He had already captured most of the female attention in the bar as their heads turned. Not wanting to be caught staring, she glanced away. The mysterious Ash Lockler, maybe?
* * *
Ash had entered the bar in an unobtrusive effort, right behind the raucous crowd of people. His way was to enter a scene quietly, keeping to the shadows of a room. He had to make this quick. This was a simple business transaction and as long as the woman also saw it as such, the smoother things would be.
He saw her right away, the sister. The resemblance between Declan McDade and his sister, the lovely Delilah, was marked. They shared the same dark, curly hair and olive skin. She twisted the long brown strands around two fingers and looked around anxiously.
His smile was small and grim. Declan had become an annoyance and Ash had little patience with him. He wouldn't keep her waiting and approached her table slowly.
"Ash Lockler?" she said, looking up at him. She looked away from his intense gaze for a moment. Clearing her throat, she met his eyes again.
Ash nodded and neatly folded his big frame into the booth, opposite her. He maintained his poker face as he rested his forearms on the table, hands folded. He held her gaze for a moment before he spoke quietly. "I trust you will provide what I expect." He surveyed her pretty face framed by all that long, wildly curly, dark hair. She would do nicely.
Her lips parted to speak, but she hesitated for a moment before nodding slowly. He found her actions amusing, assuming this was her first time in dealing with someone like him. The underworld of vampires and other nocturnal beings was definitely not for this little, gentle mouse. She was beautiful but too timid and nervous for his taste. He caught her staring before she lowered her gaze and reached for her small knit bag.
"Yes. I have it right here. Five thousand cash. You can count it. That should settle my brother's debt to you."
Ash's eyes narrowed in irritation. Declan McDade. The little weasel. Unfortunately for his family, he had grown up to be exactly like his father, Martin. They both shared an unhealthy fascination with underworld dealings. His next words were measured. "I'm afraid that five thousand doesn't even come close to what your brother owes me. His debt is a lot closer to one hundred thousand."
Her lips went slack, and she promptly snapped her mouth shut.
Ash went on. "Your money, in short, is no good. A different sort of payment was arranged between myself and Declan."
"What do you want, then? My house?" Delilah's voice was strangely hoarse, and she took a hasty sip of water.
"No, your house is safe. I want your body on a long- term basis. Anywhere from six months to one year would work," Ash replied simply. She was a blood donor to settle a debt and nothing more, he reminded himself.
The water flew out of her mouth before she could stop it. She wiped her mouth with her fingers. "I'm sorry. Did you just say you want my body?"
Ash nodded, his focus on her full, ripe lips for a few seconds, while he watched a myriad of emotions play across her face. He sensed her shock and anger as her eyes narrowed.
She murmured softly, as if to herself. "This is it – the horrible moment I've always feared. Declan's gambling and whoring has come back to bite us in the ass." Aloud, her tone frosty and expression stony, she told him, "It's not that kind of party, Mr. Lockler." She grabbed her little black bag and left the booth, heading for the main door of the bar.
Ash sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose in aggravation. Declan McDade had caused him too much inconvenience for quite some time, which was not only sad but dangerous. The kid should be focused on making something good of himself, not living on exorbitant amounts of borrowed cash to fund his debauchery. Maybe it was time for him to just be dead and Ash wouldn't have to deal with this shit anymore. You didn't live as long as he had without knowing a little something about how human emotions work. Surprisingly, the remaining water in her glass hadn't splashed in his face.
He watched Delilah's hips sway in her grey sweater dress and black heels as she exited the bar and he moved quickly to catch her. A woman walking alone at night in this rundown area was begging for trouble.
Delilah was halfway across the crowded parking lot before he gripped her arm. She whipped around, and he instantly felt like one of those pushy people who couldn't let things go and take a simple no for an answer. "Let me go!" "Declan will pay that debt, one way or the other," Ash said coldly. "I think you would both rather not find out how severe the consequences can be if not."
"Are you threatening us? I offered you five thousand dollars, but my body is not for settling debts. Take what I have and leave us alone."
Ash didn't relish the thought of glamouring her, but he was starving. Untainted human blood was very hard to come by and it was superior in every way to animal blood. He caught her arms and pulled her roughly to him. He smiled and caught her big brown eyes with his. "I'm not going to hurt you and you have no reason to fear me. You and Declan have both known me for years, though you rarely see me." He paused, gauging her facial expressions to see if she was under the spell of his calm, softly spoken words. Now that he had seen her snippy side, some perverse side of him wanted to see how far he could take this with his lies. He was mildly fascinated by her for the moment.
"There's always been an unspoken attraction between you and me, Delilah. We've never explored it, which is probably wise, considering that, if you would let me, I would have you in your home, in the backseat of your car, or up against the wall in the alley. We can argue here in a cold parking lot or we can talk this through at your place. Your choice." He had no intention of trying to screw her, of course. He had plenty of willing female vampires for that. This was all about the blood lust.
He could see she was drowning in his focused gaze. Her knees wobbled, and he held her up. He knew her whole being was focused on his eyes and the cadence of his words. She nodded in acquiescence. "We can go to my home." She paused, looking dazed as she licked her lips. He followed the unconsciously seductive movement with his eyes. "Ash, I feel like ... I haven't seen you in a long time," she said.
Ash gave her a reassuring smile. "Yes, Delilah, it's been a long time since we've seen each other. It's the nature of the business I handle, and I wouldn't be here now if it wasn't for Declan's trouble. We'll talk later at your place. You look a little sick. Give me your keys and I'll drive."
* * *
They were in her house, a modest beige townhouse in Pasadena not far from the Rose Bowl. On arriving, she had invited him in without giving it a second thought. Of course, she was still under the mistaken belief they were old friends. On the drive over, he had concocted an entire history of their friendship, including a friendship with her brother.
"So many vampire books," Ash murmured as he scanned Delilah's crammed bookshelves. There was a small collection of romance novels and thrillers, but there were far more books about vampires.
Delilah smiled and moved to stand next to Ash as she sipped from her glass of red wine. "Vampires are a passion of mine. I thought you knew that about me." Her tone was questioning.
"I was just remarking that there seem to be even more vampire books than the last time I was here," Ash replied smoothly. He picked a book from one of the shelves and read the title aloud. "Blood Lust of the Damned." He snorted. "How appropriate."
His thirst for her blood wasn't easily controlled but he was managing it for the moment. The sweet smell of it pulsing through her veins reminded him why he was willing to settle the exorbitant debt in exchange for her donations. His gaze settled on Delilah's face and he found himself deeply curious about her.
From the dreamy look on her face, he knew she was swimming in a fathomless depth like every human who had been glamoured. He still recalled the dazed feeling of the hypnotic pull before he had been turned. It made one's thoughts disjointed and prevented focusing on one particular notion for very long. It also lowered inhibitions. As he continued to examine her books, his mind conjured up images of his pale skin next to her darker skin as he kissed her. He pushed down his urges.
"Would you like a glass of wine?" She moved away from him and he suspected she was trying to get out of his disturbing orbit, so she could think clearly. He knew her concentration was shot.
"No, thank you," Ash responded, his tone distracted. He shifted his gaze from the books to watch her closely as she sat down on the sofa.
"Have a seat, Ash. Your flight to Denver doesn't leave for a few hours." He sat on a red chair directly across from her and Delilah smiled warmly. "Are you pale all over?"
His eyes were drawn to the contrast of her dark hair and dress against the deep rich red of her sofa. Delilah McDade was an enchanting little thing and snippy as hell when she wasn't glamoured. Her home was also a pleasant surprise, done in crimson and black rather than boring shades of brown and taupe. The colors spoke to him since his own expensive loft in Downtown Los Angeles was decorated completely in black.
"I don't like the sun much."
"Are those beautiful green eyes really contact lenses?"
"Why are you so cold? I mean, your skin is practically sub-zero."
"Low blood pressure."
"Will you kiss me?"
Ash hesitated before answering. "As much as I'd really like to, I'm going to say no. Your brother wouldn't appreciate one of his oldest friends hitting on his sister."
Delilah moved without a word and stood directly in front of him. "I'm going to sit in your lap, Ash, and you're going to tell me exactly why we shouldn't be more than friends." She straddled his legs and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. "I've known you forever. Isn't this the next logical step?" Ash's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. This was a perfect position to simply take what he needed. Very soon, he would be caught up in bloodlust as he'd nearly been back in the parking lot earlier. He smiled at Delilah disarmingly, first stroking her dark hair and then trailing his fingers down her neck. He genuinely liked her. Remarkably, even though he had only known for a couple of hours, she was becoming more than just a blood bag to him. He would take what he needed for the moment and not a drop more. He kissed her neck, and she moaned softly in his ear.
She seemed to thoroughly enjoy his soft, cool lips leaving a trail of goosebumps along her neck. She shivered against him as his tongue traced the shell of her ear. He was about to devour her gorgeous lips when she suddenly pulled away from him. She slapped him. Hard. His fangs shot out immediately and he growled menacingly low in this throat. He grabbed her shoulders.
Delilah gasped in wonder, reaching up to stroke one of his fangs gently. "Vampire," she said in breathless delight. "I was dead on right about you. You are real. My Grammy was from New Orleans, and she told me and my brother all the myths of Southern vampire kingdoms."
Ash shook his head. "The Southern vampire kingdoms are far from a myth. They have existed in secret for centuries and even though every state in the U.S. is now under the rule of one powerful vampire, it wasn't always that way. Your grandmother probably had underground connections to know what she did."
Delilah smiled in remembrance. "Knowing Grammy, I'm certain she did. She insisted she had even met a few in her youth that had her all hot and bothered but we thought she was just telling us a good story." She shook her head slowly. "I'm still not sure if vamps are part of religious folklore or victims of a rare blood disease."
Ash swore under his breath. "A lot of both, but I've never had a crucifix burn me, though I doubt if any of us are God's favorite creatures. Did your grandmother also warn you about the true nature of every vampire? Blood lust rules us at times and it's serious business." His voice was chiding. "Delilah, this is nothing new. You've always known we're real."
She frowned in confusion. He knew she was trying to sort it all out. He was a true life vampire and everything she had dreamed about them was now a part of her reality. "I guess I've always known deep down. My mind is a little cottony right now on some of the details of our friendship, but does Declan know?" "Yes, of course he knows. Your brother has been involved in some underworld dealings for quite some time. I don't want you to have the mistaken impression that I took advantage by bringing his debt into a situation without him having full disclosure."
She sighed. "No, Declan can easily find trouble on his own. Are there many more of you? Tell me everything." Delilah wrapped her arms around him tightly, resting her face in the crook of his neck and the radiating warmth of her thighs stiffened his cock. He was fighting a losing battle, even though she was only supposed to feed him. Getting sexual with her was definitely a bad idea.
He kept his voice gentle. "You already know everything about me. You just have to remember."
"Well, you'll have to tell me again," she demanded playfully.
Ash's voice was soft and thoughtful as he told her stories of his past. She hung on every word and he caught glimpses of the child she had been. He knew she was in her early thirties with Declan about ten years behind her. He could easily picture what she would look like as an old woman. And, where would he be? Somewhere still under the thumb of the Vampire Council and still trying to come to grips with what he was.
"Tell me more about your past before you became a bad-ass vamp," Delilah said eagerly, still straddling him.
Ash's lip tilted up slightly at the pet name she had adopted for his kind. "I was born Asher John Lockler in 1918. The small town I lived in — Caddo, far up in Northern California — has prospered and is still around today, but I won't dare go back to try to find any of my living family in the foreseeable future. I can't risk being recognized. I am an only child, a miracle child born late in life to my parents, who are buried there. I was turned by my maker when I was 20." He sighed. "Enough talk." He pulled her close and nuzzled her neck.
"Oh, if you need to feed ..." Delilah tilted her head back, exposing her throat.
"You would willingly let me feed from you?"
"Of course. What's a little blood between friends?" she quipped.
He laughed at that. Curiosity struck him again, and he pulled back a little. "What do you do for a living now, Delilah?" He watched the fleeting trace of disappointment on her face and laughed inwardly. So eager to be so close to death. He didn't lie to himself. He knew what he was. A little more information about her was all he wanted. His thirst was nearly raging, but he found he needed to satisfy his intense desire to know more about her before taking her blood.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Crimson"
Copyright © 2018 Tamela Miles.
Excerpted by permission of Melange Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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