About the Author
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On the whole, we’re a murderous race.
According to Genesis, it took as few as four people to make the planet too crowded to stand, and the first murder was a fratricide. Genesis says that in a fit of jealous rage, the very first child born to mortal parents, Cain, snapped and popped the first metaphorical cap in another human being. The attack was a bloody, brutal, violent, reprehensible killing. Cain’s brother Abel probably never saw it coming.
As I opened the door to my apartment, I was filled with a sense of empathic sympathy and intuitive understanding.
For freaking Cain.
My apartment isn’t much more than a big room in the basement of a century-old wooden boardinghouse in Chicago. There’s a kitchen built into an alcove, a big fireplace almost always lit, a bedroom the size of the bed of a pickup truck, and a bathroom that barely fits a sink, toilet, and shower. I can’t afford really good furniture, so it’s all secondhand, but comfortable. I have a lot of books on shelves, a lot of rugs, a lot of candles. It isn’t much, but at least it’s clean.
Or used to be.
The rugs were in total disarray, exposing bare patches of stone floor. One of the easy chairs had fallen over onto its back, and no one had picked it up. Cushions were missing from the couch, and the curtains had been torn down from one of the sunken windows, letting in a swath of late-afternoon sunshine, all the better to illuminate the books that had been knocked down from one of my shelves and scattered everywhere, bending paperback covers, leaving hardbacks all the way open, and generally messing up my primary source of idle entertainment.
The fireplace was more or less the epicenter of the slobquake. There were discarded clothes there, a couple of empty wine bottles, and a plate that looked suspiciously clean—doubtless the cleanup work of the other residents.
I took a stunned step into my home. As I did my big grey tom, Mister, bounded down from his place on top of one of the bookshelves, but rather than give me his usual shoulder-block of greeting, he flicked his tail disdainfully at me and ghosted out the front door.
I sighed, walked over to the kitchen alcove, and checked. The cat’s bowls of food and water were both empty. No wonder he was grumpy.
A shaggy section of the kitchen floor hauled itself to its feet and came to meet me with a sheepish, sleepy shuffle. My dog, Mouse, had started off as a fuzzy little grey puppy that fit into my coat pocket. Now, almost a year later, I sometimes wished I’d sent my coat to the cleaners or something. Mouse had gone from fuzz ball to fuzz barge. You couldn’t guess at a breed to look at him, but at least one of his parents must have been a wooly mammoth. The dog’s shoulders came nearly to my waist, and the vet didn’t think he was finished growing yet. That translated into an awful lot of beast for my tiny apartment.
Oh, and Mouse’s bowls were empty, too. He nuzzled my hand, his muzzle stained with what looked suspiciously like spaghetti sauce, and then pawed at his bowls, scraping them over the patch of linoleum floor.
“Dammit, Mouse,” I growled, Cain-like. “It’s still like this? If he’s here, I’m going to kill him.”
Mouse let out a chuffing breath that was about as much commentary as he ever made, and followed placidly a couple of steps behind me as I walked over to the closed bedroom door.
Just as I got there, the door opened, and an angel-faced blonde wearing nothing but a cotton T-shirt appeared in it. Not a long shirt, either. It didn’t cover all of her rib cage.
“Oh,” she drawled, with a slow and sleepy smile. “Excuse me. I didn’t know anyone else was here.” Without a trace of modesty, she slunk into the living room, pawing through the mess near the fireplace, extracting pieces of clothing. From the languid, satisfied way she moved, I figured she expected me to be staring at her, and that she didn’t mind it at all.
At one time I would have been embarrassed as hell by this kind of thing, and probably sneaking covert glances. But after living with my half brother the incubus for most of a year, I mostly found it annoying. I rolled my eyes and asked, “Thomas?”
“Tommy? Shower, I think,” the girl said. She slipped into jogging wear—sweatpants, a matching jacket, expensive shoes. “Do me a favor? Tell him that it—”
I interrupted her in an impatient voice. “That it was a lot of fun, you’ll always treasure it, but that it was a onetime thing and that you hope he grows up to find a nice girl or be president or something.”
She stared at me and then knitted her blond brows into a frown. “You don’t have to be such a bast—” Then her eyes widened. “Oh. Oh! I’m sorry—oh, my God.” She leaned toward me, blushing, and said in a between-us-girls whisper, “I would never have guessed that he was with a man. How do the two of you manage on that tiny bed?”
I blinked and said, “Now wait a minute.”
But she ignored me and walked out, murmuring, “He is such a naughty boy.”
I glared at her back. Then I glared at Mouse.
Mouse’s tongue lolled out in a doggy grin, his dark tail waving gently.
“Oh, shut up,” I told him, and closed the door. I heard the whisper of water running through the pipes in my shower. I put out food for Mister and Mouse, and the dog partook immediately. “He could have fed the damned dog, at least,” I muttered, and opened the fridge.
I rummaged through it, but couldn’t find what I was after anywhere, and it was the last straw. My frustration grew into a fire somewhere inside my eyeballs, and I straightened from the icebox with mayhem in mind.
“Hey,” came Thomas’s voice from behind me. “We’re out of beer.”
I turned around and glared at my half brother.
Thomas was a shade over six feet tall, and I guess now that I’d had time to get used to the idea, he looked something like me: stark cheekbones, a long face, a strong jaw. But whatever sculptor had done the finishing work on Thomas had foisted my features off on his apprentice or something. I’m not ugly or anything, but Thomas looked like someone’s painting of the forgotten Greek god of body cologne. He had long hair so dark that light itself could not escape it, and even fresh from the shower it was starting to curl. His eyes were the color of thunderclouds, and he never did a single moment of exercise to earn the gratuitous amount of ripple in his musculature. He was wearing jeans and no shirt—his standard household uniform. I once saw him in the same outfit answer the door to speak to a female missionary, and she’d assaulted him in a cloud of forgotten copies of The Watchtower. The tooth marks she left had been interesting.
It hadn’t been the girl’s fault, entirely. Thomas had inherited his father’s blood as a vampire of the White Court. He was a psychic predator, feeding on the raw life force of human beings—usually easiest to gain through the intimate contact of sex. That part of him surrounded him in the kind of aura that turned heads wherever he went. When Thomas made the effort to turn up the supernatural come-hither, women literally couldn’t tell him no. By the time he started feeding, they couldn’t even want to tell him no. He was killing them, just a little bit, but he had to do it to stay sane, and he never took it any further than a single feeding.
He could have. Those the White Court chose as their prey became ensnared in the ecstasy of being fed upon, and became increasingly enslaved by their vampire lover. But Thomas never pushed it that far. He’d made that mistake once, and the woman he had loved now drifted through life in a wheelchair, bound in a deathly euphoria because of his touch.
I clenched my teeth and reminded myself that it wasn’t easy for Thomas. Then I told myself that I was repeating myself way too many times and to shut up. “I know there’s no beer,” I growled. “Or milk. Or Coke.”
“Um,” he said.
“And I see that you didn’t have time to feed Mister and Mouse. Did you take Mouse outside, at least?”
“Well sure,” he said. “I mean, uh…I took him out this morning when you were leaving for work, remember? That’s where I met Angie.”
“Another jogger,” I said, once more Cain-like. “You told me you weren’t going to keep bringing strangers back here, Thomas. And on my freaking bed? Hell’s bells, man, look at this place.”
He did, and I saw it dawn on him, as if he literally hadn’t seen it before. He let out a groan. “Damn. Harry, I’m sorry. It was…Angie is a really…really intense and, uh, athletic person and I didn’t realize that…” He paused and picked up a copy of Dean Koontz’s Watchers. He tried to fold the crease out of the cover. “Wow,” he added lamely. “The place is sort of trashed.”
“Yeah,” I told him. “You were here all day. You said you’d take Mouse to the vet. And clean up a little. And get groceries.”
“Oh, come on,” he said. “What’s the big deal?”
“I don’t have a beer,” I growled. I looked around at the rubble. “And I got a call from Murphy at work today. She said she’d be dropping by.”
Thomas lifted his eyebrows. “Oh, yeah? No offense, Harry, but I’m doubting it was a booty call.”
I glared. “Would you stop it with that already?”
“I’m telling you, you should just ask her out and get it over with. She’d say yes.”
I slammed the door to the icebox. “It isn’t like that,” I said.
“Yeah, okay,” Thomas said mildly.
“It isn’t. We work together. We’re friends. That’s all.”
“Right,” he agreed.
“I am not interested in dating Murphy,” I said. “And she’s not interested in me.”
“Sure, sure. I hear you.” He rolled his eyes and started picking up fallen books. “Which is why you want the place looking nice. So your business friend won’t mind staying around for a little bit.”
I gritted my teeth and said, “Stars and stones, Thomas, I’m not asking you for the freaking moon. I’m not asking you for rent. It wouldn’t kill you to pitch in a little with errands before you go to work.”
“Yeah,” Thomas said, running his hand through his hair. “Um. About that.”
“What about it?” I demanded. He was supposed to be gone for the afternoon so that my housecleaning service could come in. The faeries wouldn’t show up to clean when someone could see them, and they wouldn’t show up ever again if I told someone about them. Don’t ask me why they’re like that. Maybe they’ve got a really strict union or something.
Thomas shrugged a shoulder and sat down on the arm of the couch, not looking at me. “I didn’t have the cash for the vet or the groceries,” he said. “I got fired again.”
I stared at him for a second, and tried to keep up a good head of steam on my anger, but it melted. I recognized the frustration and humiliation in his voice. He wasn’t faking it.
“Dammit,” I muttered, only partly to Thomas. “What happened?”
“The usual,” he said. “The drive-through manager. She followed me into the walk-in freezer and started ripping her clothes off. The owner walked through on an inspection about then and fired me on the spot. From the look he was giving her, I think she was going to get a promotion. I hate gender discrimination.”
“At least it was a woman this time,” I said. “We’ve got to keep working on your control.”
His voice turned bitter. “Half of my soul is a demon,” he said. “It can’t be controlled. It’s impossible.”
“I don’t buy that,” I said.
“Just because you’re a wizard doesn’t mean you know a damned thing about it,” he said. “I can’t live a mortal life. I’m not made for it.”
“You’re doing fine.”
“Fine?” he demanded, voice rising. “I can disintegrate a virgin’s inhibitions at fifty paces, but I can’t last two weeks at a job where I’m wearing a stupid hairnet and a paper hat. In what way is that fine?”
He slammed open the small trunk where he kept his clothes, seized a pair of shoes and his leather jacket, put them on with angry precision, and stalked out into the gathering evening without looking back.
And without cleaning up his mess, I thought uncharitably. Then I shook my head and glanced at Mouse, who had lain down with his chin on his paws, doggy eyes sad.
Thomas was the only family I’d ever known. But that didn’t change the truth: Thomas wasn’t adjusting well to living life like normal folks. He was damned good at being a vampire. That came naturally. But no matter how hard he tried to be something a little more like normal, he kept running into one problem after another. He never said anything about it, but I could sense the pain and despair growing in him as the weeks went by.
Mouse let out a quiet breath that wasn’t quite a whine.
“I know,” I told the beast. “I worry about him too.”