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"YOU SHALL PAY, NICK GREGORY. THIS I VOW. YOU SHALL suffer and scream for a mercy I shall deny you." Jazz's parted lips trailed across Nick's collarbone. She ran the tip of her tongue up the taut lines of his throat while her fingers danced their way down his abs following the line of crisp hair lower still.
"Mercy," Nick whispered as her fingers wrapped around his erection. He lay naked on his bed, legs slightly spread to accommodate Jazz's bare thigh draped over his.
"But we've just begun, darling," she purred, nipping his earlobe just hard enough to cause him to jump in response, then soothed the bite with her tongue. "You must lie there very still while I have my way with you."
"Feel free to do what you will-soon enough it will be my turn." He lowered his voice to a husky growl that made promises she knew he would keep. Her body quivered in anticipation.
But for now, it was her turn and she intended to make the most of it.
Leaning back, she admired the view. Sheer male beauty stretched out beside her. Nick had kept himself in excellent physical condition in life and, as a member of the undead, his well-honed body would never deteriorate. She tangled her fingers in the light dusting of dark brown hair on his chest. She knew many women admired a hair-free chest, but she liked to see a bit there, as long as the man didn't look as if he needed a good chest waxing.
No, Nick's was just right. Surrendering to temptation, she lowered her head to nibble on a dark brown nipple that peeked out among the hair. It peaked to a hard nub and brought another groan to his lips.
"Wuss," she teased, dividing her attention between both nipples, alternating with tiny nips of her teeth and soothing licks of her tongue. She glanced up under the cover of her lashes. "Why no nipple rings? So many vamps love them as bling."
Nick made a face. "Not my style. Makes me think it would be too easy to loop a chain through it. Make me a slave."
"Hmmmm," she giggled and hummed as she mouthed her way down to his navel. "The picture that conjures up. . ."
"Seems like you've already conjured something very much up." His eyes followed as she cupped her hand around his straining cock, slowly stroking from root to tip in a rhythm that had him clenching his teeth when her other hand gently cradled the sac beneath.
"I ask that thee render me that which I deserve. Because I say so, damn it!" She finished with her own version of "so mote it be" on a wave of throaty laughter right before she raised her body up over him and settled on him with perfect ease. She straddled his hips, bending her long legs alongside his.
"What? No foreplay?" He grasped her hips, although she needed no help in finding a rhythm. It had been written in their blood ages ago.
She leaned forward and brushed her mouth across his, tickling the seam of his lips and teasing the tips of his fangs, darting out before they could prick the tender skin.
"We had foreplay at the movies," she breathed against his mouth. "And during the drive home when I unzipped your jeans and. . ." she deliberately paused for effect, "it's time for the main event, fang boy." She moved in a circular motion, tightening her core to massage him with her inner muscles.
Nick suddenly jackknifed his legs, flipping her onto her back with ease.
"You are so right, mi'lady. But I'll be the ringmaster for this show." He dipped his head, kissing her deeply.
The scent of arousal grew thick in the room. He reared back until his cock left her folds. As she whimpered the sorrow of her loss, he thrust forward, filling her once again. With each deepening stroke, she arched up, meeting him as his equal.
Jazz looked up, smiling at the dark intensity of his features.
Her smile faltered a bit when she saw the arousal turn to something else, as his expression sharpened and his eyes turned a burning red. The growl that traveled up his throat turned into a feral hiss. Before she could react, his fangs lengthened and he dipped his head. Pain shot through her as his fangs pierced the sensitive skin of her throat.
Why isn't my blood making him sick? Everyone knows a witch's blood will sicken, and can even kill, a vampire! She wanted to shriek, to fight back, but her heavy limbs refused to obey her commands. Lights danced before her eyes and she feared instead of her blood killing Nick, he would kill her.
Jazz's eyes popped open as she shot up in bed, her hand pressed against the side of her neck where pain still radiated. Nick lay slumbering beside her.
Fear, memory of searing pain, and just plain fury warred inside her. She looked down at the source and let her temper-and fist-loose.
"You son of a whore!" She threw a punch to his bare abs that could easily have broken her hand. Not that she would have noticed. "You bit me!"
"What? What?" Nick scrambled away from her flying fists and fell out of bed. He grasped the covers and stared at her as if he was positive she'd somehow lost her mind.
"What in Hades is wrong with you?"
"You bit me!" She slid off the other side of the bed and hurried around the room, keeping her hand pressed against her neck. Pain and anger translated to red and purple sparks flying around her.
"Bit you?" Confusion mingled with being just plain pissed off at being awakened with a punch to the stomach.
"I was asleep, damn it!" He hauled himself to his feet and stood there in all his naked glory. For once, Jazz's cold stare warned him that she wasn't admiring the view. He stared at her hand covering her throat but saw no signs of blood or trauma to the skin. He refused to believe he would take her blood without permission, asleep or not. In all their times as lovers he hadn't even given her a hickey. He also kept a close eye on her free hand. The last thing he wanted was witchflame thrown at his favorite part of the body. "Damn it, I didn't bite you!"
With one hand applying firm pressure to her neck, she struggled to pull her jeans on one-handed. "You practically tore out my bloody throat," she snarled, still feeling the ache of her flesh.
Nick crouched slightly, his hands thrust outward. "Will you stop using the word 'bloody'?"
She blinked back the tears that threatened to leak out. "Get out."
"What?" Even with his super hearing, he knew he couldn't have just heard what she said.
She breathed hard as if pushing back tears. Or absolute terror. "I said get out!" She stalked around the room, still keeping him out of reach, snatched up his jeans and T-shirt, and threw them at him. The clothing bounced off his chest and fell back to the floor. "Get out and do not ever come near me again." She refused to look at him as she gathered up her own clothing. "Because if you do I will stake you. I cannot believe you bit me!" Tears and anger made a nasty combination.
Nick's jaw worked furiously. A witch with Celtic origins might have a legendary temper, but so did a vampire with the blood of a Cossack. "This is my room. My apartment."
Jazz froze in the act of pulling her cotton top over her head. She stared at the navy and cream swirled print comforter that had been tossed to the floor, navy sheets that were likewise thrown every which way, and furniture that suited a centuries-old vampire. None of the stark colors that dominated her own suite of rooms. She finished pulling on her top, then picked up her leather tote bag.
"Fluff! Puff! Where are you two? You better not have left the apartment!" she shouted when she discovered it was empty of two items. The errant slippers popped into the room and scampered over to her feet. Sensing the turmoil in the air, and guessing the cause, the fluffy predators snarled and gnashed their razor-sharp teeth at Nick,
clearly showing they considered him the enemy in this battle. Jazz quickly stuffed her underwear, the top she'd worn the night before, and a hairbrush into her leather tote bag and slung it over her shoulder.
"If Rex sees those man eaters, you'll be permanently banned from the boardwalk along with them," Nick warned, jumping into his jeans as he followed her to the door.
She sniffed at the mention of the boardwalk manager who ruled his kingdom with an iron fist. "He's not the boss of me." She glared at him. "And neither are you."
"Jazz, what in Hades' name is going on? How can you say I took your blood when there's no sign I did! Damn it, show me where I bit you!" Nick was fast on her heels as she raced up the stairs to the building's main floor. Ground-eating strides took her down the hallway to the double glass doors. Nick wasn't worried about the early morning light. His advanced age as a vampire along with heavily tinted glass of the doors helped protect him against the sun. He was confused, and more than a little ticked off, by her accusation. But it was clear Jazz wasn't going to stick around to talk about it.
He gingerly rubbed his palm over his bare abs. If he'd been a mortal man he would probably have had his share of cracked ribs. The heavy glass door almost hit him in the face as she slapped her palm against the surface and pushed it open, sailing through and not looking back. He kept the door open long enough to holler after her, "And why can't you hit like a girl?"
He stared at her retreating figure and realized that wasn't one of his finer moments.
Jazz was relieved it was still early enough that it seemed no one was stirring on the boardwalk. With the slipper bunnies non gratae in the carnival area, she had to make sure not to be seen by the boardwalk manager, who made ogres look like sweet pussycats.
"What the hell do you think you're doing bringing them here?"
Jazz froze. "Five steps," she muttered, staring at the parking lot that was so near yet so far. "Just five lousy steps." She turned around. "Well, aren't we up early!" She used her perkiest witch voice. "How are you, Rex?"
Rex (no one ever learned his last name) was a horror filmmaker's dream-if he wanted someone who looked like a nightmarish thug. Six-foot-four with a squareshaped body built like a Sherman tank, the man looked as if he'd been a former professional boxer. The misshapen nose, cauliflower ears, and slight droop to the left side of his mouth, along with arms the size of tree trunks and the stance of a long-time fighter, showed he wasn't your everyday human. He looked as if one deep breath would split his plaid cotton shirt à la the Incredible Hulk. Standing stoically in front of her, he glared at her feet. Fluff and Puff took one look at him and squeaked in alarm.
"Cowards," she muttered.
"I told you if I ever caught you bringing those damn garbage disposals on the boardwalk again you'd be banned for life," he snarled. "Your life."
"They're not doing anything," she argued. She'd had a bad night and no coffee yet, so by now she was feeling pretty snarky. "They have rights too."
"Not here they don't." He stabbed a sausage-shaped finger in the direction of a sign posted off the walkway. "No pets allowed on the boardwalk and they were banned from here last year."
Jazz hid her grin at the sound of the slippers' shrieks of outrage at being considered pets. "Now that's just insulting them."
He leaned in, exhaling air that reeked of a serious lack of Listerine. "Insulting them is the least of their problems. Those fuzzy chompers were out on the boardwalk doing the only thing they know how to do. I oughta feed them to a wood chipper."
She thought better of getting back in his face. Her olfactory senses could only take so much. The gross breath was bad enough, but his body odor was beyond nasty.
She'd need to inhale bleach to get the stench out of her nostrils. "They're magickal. You can't touch them and you know it." Smug sounds from Fluff and Puff backed up her haughty claim.
He scowled. "Don't be so sure about that. I've got a carnie missing and those damn slippers were seen in the vicinity."
Jazz felt the cold stealing through her bones. "No way. You tried that accusation before and it didn't work. Besides, contrary to legend, they haven't eaten a human in centuries."
Rex shoved his face into hers, forcing her to rear back. "There's no accusation this time. Only fact. Those things have fallen off the wagon, because Willie is missing."
"You're accusing them of eating Willie? Give me a break, Rex! There's no way they'd touch him even if he was smothered with Grey Poupon. They don't like anything with Were-blood and I don't care what you say, Wereweasel blood is the worst." She privately thought the Ferris wheel operator was the perfect picture of his ancestry. Willie's sharp features mirrored the animal he turned into once a month. "So you'll have to look elsewhere for a patsy, because no way am I letting you accuse them of something we both know they didn't do."
At that precise moment, Fluff began coughing and stretching his neck until he hacked loudly. A large black button popped from his mouth. As they say, timing is everything.
Jazz and Rex stared at the boardwalk's logo stamped on the button. She felt a hitch in her stomach that had nothing to do with indigestion. While it didn't look good, she wasn't about to back down.
"He's always picking up things," she said swiftly. Rex crouched and gently touched the button with his beefy forefinger. "It's Willie's."
Jazz couldn't argue with his statement, since Rex could easily sense any essence belonging to the creatures that worked for him, whether they were members of his pack or not.
He straightened up and jabbed his finger at her. "It ate Willie!"
"And I say he didn't," she argued. "I told you. They don't like Weres."
His heavily scarred face transformed into something even viler. "They're coming with me."
"You can't touch them," she stated, ignoring her slippers' squeaks of dismay. "They're mine by right. I rescued them from Dyfynnog's castle."
"And they ate a living being," Rex reiterated. "That gives me the right to take them into custody. You're not the only one with witchy connections, missy, so don't give me any shit that just because you rescued their furry asses you can protect them."
Missy? What was it with men reverting to their chauvinistic ways? "They were with me all night." She ignored her gargoyle's voice reminding her that the slippers had come into the room when she called them.
"They need to be taken before the Witches' Council and destroyed for their actions."
Jazz felt her balance teeter as Fluff and Puff practically hopped off her feet in their agitation at Rex's words. "They're not going anywhere until there's rock-hard proof that they ate Willie," she said with a bravado she didn't feel inside. The Witches' Council wasn't her favorite place and she wasn't their favorite witch. She was on 100-year probation as it was.
"I have one of Willie's shoes with his blood on it and tufts of fur. Plus, I have this." He held up the button. "That's not saying it's his blood or their fur. I have the right to investigate the matter." She felt the hole she was rapidly digging for herself. If the slippers ate Willie, she was going to throw them in a wood chipper herself! She had enough trouble with the Witches' Council without the slippers adding to the mix.
"You know I have the right to invoke protection for them until the truth is discovered," Jazz pushed.
"All right," he said grudgingly. "You have two weeks."
"The usual time is thirty days."
"Two weeks and be grateful for it. All you're going to find out is that your things ate Willie. And make sure they don't go anywhere." He turned and walked away. Jazz's hand started to rise up, her fingers outstretched.
"May you. . ." She abruptly snapped her mouth shut. "Oh no, you are so not going to be the cause of more banishment time for me." She glared at Fluff and Puff, who'd been giggling and blowing raspberries at the retreating Rex. "You've really done it now," she scolded. "Just wait until we get home." She ignored their continued grumbles as she made her way to the parking lot. At the moment, all that mattered to her was that she'd had a few hours of good sleep and that her destination would offer her coffee and, with luck, a muffin.
It took Jazz all of ten minutes of scanning the empty parking lot to realize she had walked over to the boardwalk instead of driving.
Fear and anger still mingled inside her and her neck hurt like hell, even if she couldn't feel any wounds or find any sign of blood. Considering the sensation of feeling Nick literally rip her throat open, she should be able to see something. And her neck wouldn't be hurting if he hadn't done something there.
And Nick. Why hadn't he gotten sick when he took her blood? At the very least, he should have suffered from one hell of a case of heartburn, since a witch's blood is poisonous to a vampire.
"It doesn't make sense." Her whisper hung in the air, creating questions she had no answers for.
Needing to think things out, Jazz took a circuitous route home, stopping at a twenty-four-hour Starbucks for a Venti white chocolate mocha for herself and ignoring Fluff and Puff's pleas for a cinnamon roll.
With the charges Rex wanted to level against the slippers, she knew he had the right to demand they be taken into custody. But that didn't mean she didn't have more than her share of doubts about Willie's sudden disappearance.
Were-carnies tended to wander more than mortal carnies did. If she wanted success she knew she'd have to start looking for the Wereweasel before he ended up states away.
She sipped the hot liquid, savoring the rich chocolate taste mingling with the caffeine as she walked past storefronts that wouldn't open for another couple of hours. That was fine with her, since she wasn't in the mood to stop and chat, or even shop.
"Why does Nick have to ruin things when everything was going so well?" she muttered, taking another swig of her drink instead of sitting down and giving in to tears. Since they had vanquished Clive Reeves a few months ago, Jazz and Nick had taken up where they had left off over thirty years ago, but with one major difference. This time around they made love more than they fought.
They'd even had actual conversations. Some of them ended up with verbal outbursts, but she didn't consider those times fighting. More a difference of opinion. Jazz was still convinced The Protectorate wanted Nick to rejoin their ranks. Especially after Flavius's death. Nick had taken the loss of his sire, and close friend, hard. Jazz gave him time to mourn the vampire's passing but refused to allow him too much time. Not when there was a chance The Protectorate might try to use Nick's guilt to persuade him to carry on Flavius's work. She had always felt the group, set up centuries ago to govern the vampire race, used Nick's strong sense of good and evil to further their own cause. That they would use him until there was nothing left but an empty husk.
As a former noble Roman officer, Flavius had thrived in the environment. Nick's human role as a Slavic soldier meant he was well suited to his role as an investigator in The Protectorate, but Jazz hated his working for them. Hated how they used him. She wanted to believe him when he told her he'd left The Protectorate, but then he let slip they'd hired him to find out who was destroying vampires. She saw it as their chance to lure him back into the fold. She found it difficult to believe his claim that he only took the assignment for the hefty retainer they offered and once he received payment after Clive Reeves was killed by his victims and his mansion imploded, he was out of it.
Jazz found no compunction in checking his answering machine messages on the sly. As suspected, The Protectorate still called with offers. She wondered what would happen when, like the Mafia, they made him an offer he couldn't refuse. To ensure that couldn't happen, she deleted the messages before he could hear them. She just hoped he never found out what she did. Nick was big on privacy issues.
As she headed home, one thing stuck in her head. Her cell phone hadn't rung once since she left the building. "Stubborn vampire." She lobbed her empty cup into a nearby trashcan and scuffed her way down the sidewalk.
"Stubborn witch," Nick muttered, tossing a bag of O neg in the microwave and setting it to warm. "What makes her think I'd risk my stomach, not to mention my existence, in taking her damn poisonous blood?" The minute the microwave dinged, he opened the door and withdrew the plastic bag.
He knew some of his kind who drank directly out of the bag, but he preferred to be more civilized than that. He kept a variety of beer bottles as his beverage holder of choice, his own little way of keeping his life somewhat normal. . .as far as human standards of "normal" go.