Demon's Kiss (Page 5)
Roxanne O'Mally was twisted into what a nonpractitioner would have called a human pretzel when the broomstick standing beside the front door tipped over. Well, tipped over wasn't really what it did. It hurled itself to the floor as if bent on suicide.
She frowned, then slowly untwisted, rose from her yoga mat and padded barefoot, not to mention stark naked, to the broomstick, bent and picked it up. “Company coming,” she muttered. But the emphatic nature of the message seemed to suggest there was more to it than just the traditional signal of a toppling broomstick.
Roxy would have told herself she was being overly nervous, except that she'd been having odd feelings for days, and bad dreams three nights in a row. An evil spider weaving a web in the middle of a busy sidewalk. A bear trap set and baited in the heart of a wildlife preserve. A sense of someone waiting around a corner, just out of sight, someone dangerous, about to spring, but not on her.
Roxy reclaimed her unfinished drink-a tall glass still half full of her own special blend of vegetable juices and empowering herbs. “Let's just see about this,” she said as she pulled on a satin robe, slid her feet into matching slippers and scuffed to the table in the middle of her rain forestlike living room. She had filled the place with man-sized waterfall-fountains, tub-sized misters and more plants than furniture. She kept the humidity level at eighty percent in here. God, she loved her home.
Taking a seat, she sipped her drink, then set it down, picked up the tarot cards and began to shuffle as she thought about opening herself to messages from spirits. Then she laid the cards out in a careful pattern.
The Hermit. That card usually indicated an inner journey. But the thought that came to mind when she saw it was of her dearest friend.
The other cards that fell around it, though, didn't make sense. He was surrounding himself with…family? But he didn't have family. He was a loner. Someone was conspiring against him. He was in danger in the near future, but also…
“Right now.” Roxy jumped to her feet, raced to her bedroom and pulled on clothes just as fast as she could. A flowing skirt, a clingy Lycra top, a pair of bamboo sandals. She hoped it was a warm night, and pulled on a black felt shawl as she raced outside, deciding the car was a far better option than the van.
She didn't know exactly where he was. But they had a bond, and she was counting on it to guide her to him.
God, just let it be in time.
Vampires, she thought, rolling her eyes. Sometimes they were more trouble than they were worth.
“It's going to be daylight soon,” Reaper said. “Can you feel it?”
Seth frowned, and searched his senses. “I feel…something.”
“It's kind of…dense. Heavy.”
“Yes, that's the lethargy. Be aware of it, always. You must never be caught by the sun's rays. They'll burn you alive, Seth.”
“Okay,” Seth said as the vampire steered the car onto an exit ramp. “So we're gonna find someplace to hole up for the day, then?”
“Yes. Tonight will be soon enough to visit this vampiress.”
“Cool.” Seth supplanted his impatience by conjuring images in his mind of where they would spend the day. Some crumbling ruin, an abandoned warehouse, maybe a crypt in a cemetery. “So tell me something, will you?” he asked.
“How long have you been a vampire? I mean, are you, like, centuries old?”
“Do I seem old to you?”
“Well, you seem pretty wise and pretty powerful, so yeah. I guess that makes you fairly old. That's not an insult, is it? I mean, to a vampire?”
“Age is power. To call a vampire old is to call him powerful. It's not an insult.”
Reaper looked at him, narrowed his eyes, then nodded once. “I've been a vampire for a little more than a decade.”
“Who made you?”
Tipping his head to one side, Reaper seemed to study him, then said, “I suppose I had all the same questions when I was newly made. I wanted to know if the way I'd been brought over was unique or fairly common, what others had experienced, how many of us there were and how far back we went.”
“So? You gonna tell me?”
“I don't know how many of us there are. I don't know how far back we go, though I've heard at least as far as there has been recorded history, and beyond that, who can say? I can tell you about my transformation, though.”
He nodded. “I worked for…the government. In a covert capacity.”
“You said you were an assassin,” Seth reminded him. “Military? CIA?”
“I could tell you, but then-“
“You'd have to kill me.” Seth grinned. “You actually made a joke.”
“Just because I don't use it often, doesn't mean I lack the capacity for humor,” Reaper pointed out. “At any rate, I was on assignment in the Middle East, and I was ambushed by a small, disorganized band of extremists. They got lucky. I took a dozen bullets, maybe more. They left me for dead, lying on a dusty street in Syria. The shooting spree had frightened any potential on-lookers into hiding. I was alone and dancing with death right then. And that's when she came.”
Reaper smiled a wistful smile when he said the name. “Rhiannon. Most incredible creature you've ever seen. You want old, that one's old. Her father was a freaking pharaoh.”
“I swear. Her real name was Rianikki, the way I hear it. She changes it every few centuries when she gets bored. And she gets bored easily. She's got a hair-trigger temper and paper-thin patience and a black panther for a pet.”
Seth smiled slowly, fascinated, dying to hear more.
“So she leans over me, and she says to me, 'I was honestly having a wonderful evening-it's open mike night at the Kazbah, you know. But you had to go and get yourself shot, didn't you? You couldn't have waited? Even another hour?'
“Hell, I couldn't talk. I just lay there with my mouth open, wondering if I was hallucinating her, or if she were an angel, or maybe a demon, come to take me to the other side. But she keeps talking. She says, 'You're gonna be dead in about a minute, my friend, so you need to think fast. You can become a vampire, like me, and live. Or you can die. And I'd take time to explain to you all that being a vampire entails, but there's no time. Some of the mythology is true, some isn't. All in all, I think it's a wonderful existence. Eternal youth, strength and ever-increasing power. No more sunlight, but that's a small price.'
“I really thought I was losing it. But she just leans closer and says, 'Time's up. Yes or no?' I didn't say anything. I didn't know what to say. And then she said, 'Fuck it, then. I guess I get to decide.' And she sank her teeth into me, and-Well, you can figure out the rest. I woke up a vampire.”
“Wow. That's…that's incredible. Is she-is she around here? Will I ever get to meet her?”
“I have no doubt you'll cross paths with Rhiannon one day. But no, she's not in the area at the moment. I took on this mission partly so she wouldn't have to. She has…other things going on that need her attention right now.”
Seth frowned as Reaper stopped the car at a traffic light and put on his left-turn signal, which would take them into the parking lot of a Motel 6. He blinked, and said, “You're kidding, right?”
“About what? Rhiannon being too busy for this right now?”
“This,” Seth said. “You're serious? We're staying here?”
“Well…I don't know. What about the windows? Won't the sun get in and toast us?”
Reaper reached into the backseat for what looked like a gym bag. “Duct tape and heavy black fabric. I never travel without it.”
“Note to self. Get a gym bag and watch reruns of MacGyver.”
Reaper frowned at him, clearly not getting the joke.
Seth just shrugged. “Never mind.”
The signal changed, giving them a green arrow to make their left-hand turn. Dropping the bag, Reaper turned the wheel and pressed on the gas.
Neither of them saw the semi coming until it hit them, and then there was nothing but noise, shattering glass, groaning metal, squealing tires, the stench of hot rubber and a whole lot of hurt.
A crowd was gathering by the time Seth opened his eyes, picked up his head and tried to get his bearings. A woman was making her way through the bystanders, coming closer, shouting at them to get the hell out of her way. Seth couldn't see her. There was smoke and it was kind of-
Hell, that couldn't be good.
Seth turned in his seat to mention it to his companion, but Reaper was out cold, and Seth smelled blood, thick on the air. “Oh, shit. Reap, come on, man. Wake up.” He shook the limp shoulders, but nothing worked. Then he saw where the blood was coming from. A jagged piece of metal was sticking out of Reaper's thigh, blood oozing from around it.
The woman who'd been doing all the shouting was closer now, rapping on his window. “Get out of there! It's gonna go up.”
“Give me a sec.” He released his seat belt, then Reaper's, then took his belt out of his belt loops, wrapped it around Reaper's thigh, just above the wound, and pulled it tight. Any tighter and he would have risked busting the femur. Gritting his teeth, he yanked the metal out.
Blood oozed all the same. He had to stop it.
Hands pounded the glass again. “You need to get out now.”
He ignored the woman, grabbed the duffel bag, and wrestled with it until he got the duct tape out. Then he tore off a piece with his teeth and used it to tape the gaping skin together. A second piece, and a third for good measure.
The smoke was thicker now. His lungs were burning. The woman was tugging on the passenger door, but it wasn't giving. The driver's door was no good, either, mashed up against a telephone pole.
He leaned back, braced his feet against the door, and yelled at the woman to stand back. She did, and he kicked with both feet. The door popped open, almost easily. Hell, he'd forgotten about how much stronger he was now.
He put his back to Reaper, pulled the man's arms around his shoulders from behind, and, with people reaching in, pulling to help, he managed to get them both out of the car.
They'd moved about thirty feet away, into the darkness lit only by the glowing lights of other vehicles, when Reaper's car blew to hell and gone, the explosion knocking Seth to his knees, with Reaper still on his back.
And then that woman was there. “Come on, boy. Come with me. Daylight's on the way, and so are the police and paramedics.”
Seth stared at her, shocked. How could she know daylight was their enemy? She had long carrot-orange hair-not coppery, like his dream girl-that curled from top to bottom, and it was impossible to guess her age. There was something about her, some familiar feeling, almost like a scent.
“You're just a fledgling, aren't you?” she asked Seth. “I'm Roxy. I'm one of the Chosen-that's what you're sensing. Raphael is my friend.”
“His name is-“
“Raphael Rivera, aka Reaper. And only his best friend would know that. Now, come with me, while they're all distracted by the explosion. Hurry.”
She helped him to his feet, Reaper still on his back, and led him toward her waiting car, shouting, “I'm a doctor, clear the way! I'm a doctor!” as she went. She opened the back door, and Seth eased Reaper in, onto the rear seat.
The bleeding hadn't started up again, so Seth got into the front, and then Roxy was behind the wheel, driving so fast that Seth felt himself gripping the dash until his knuckles turned white.
Reaper moaned from the backseat when she took a corner too fast; then he spoke. “Roxy?”
“Yeah, it's me.”
“No one else drives like that.”
She laughed softly.
“Are we being followed, Roxy?”
She glanced up into the rearview mirror. “What do you think I am, an amateur? Why?”
“Because that was no accident. It was a vampire-not quite a normal vampire, but a vampire all the same-driving that rig that hit us. And it was deliberate.”
Roxy frowned and swore, using a streak of profanity Seth had never heard from the mouth of a female in his life. Then she said, “Who are you going after this time?”
“A rogue gang led by a man called Gregor.”
“Those assholes?” She shook her head.
“What do you know about them?” Reaper asked.
Roxy shrugged. “Only what I've heard. They're skilled, they're mean, and they outnumber you.”
“You know where they are?” Reaper asked.
“No. But when you leave to find them, I'm going along.”
She met his eyes and smiled, a slow, sexy smile that seemed to speak volumes. “You're telling me no? Since when has that ever worked?”
Reaper closed his eyes and let his head fall back onto the seat of the car.
“Who are you?” Seth asked her at last.
She smiled. “I'm Roxy. I'm the oldest living human with the Belladonna antigen. At least, as far as I know.”
Seth lifted his brows. “But I thought we-they all got weak and sick and died young.”
“All but me.”
“How old are you?” he asked.
She fluttered her lashes. “How old do you want me to be?”
Seth's throat went dry, and Roxy released a bark of laughter and slapped her own thigh. “Don't worry, pup. I wouldn't want to hurt you.” She gave him a wink, then bobbed her head toward the windshield. “Here we are.”
Roxy's place was a tiny cottage that looked like something out of a child's fairy tale, all cobblestones and little green shutters, flower boxes overflowing with fragrant herbs, gardens flowing like colorful streams around the place and between the flat stones that formed a meandering path to the front door.
She parked her car and glanced nervously at the sky. “Best get him inside, son, before dawn.”
“I can manage on my own,” Reaper said. But his voice sounded so weak and pain-racked that Seth thought he might as well have said, “I can't lift my little finger without help right now.”
“Fortunately,” Roxy said, “you don't have to manage on your own. You've got Seth now.” She smiled at Seth, and there was so much affection in the look that he wasn't sure if she was hitting on him or just being friendly. The woman was a puzzle. He had no idea how to take her.
He didn't ask, though. Just got out, opened the back door and got a grip on Reaper's shoulders, so he could help him inside.
“Right through here,” Roxy instructed. From the waist down she was wearing a long, flowing skirt in bright splashy colors. From the waist up, she wore what looked like a leotard. Skintight, revealing a figure that was close to perfect, short-sleeved, with a V-neck all plumped full of cleavage. A moonstone glittered from a long chain, resting between her breasts. She jingled when she moved, and he realized it was due to the ankle bracelet she wore, along with flat, woven sandals that looked to be made of straw or something.
Seth looked at her face again, baffled by his inability to guess her age.
She just smiled more warmly and tipped her head, so her hair fell over one cheek. “This way. Put him in the guest room. It's actually a walk-in closet, but I keep a bed made up in there for my undead friends.” She opened a door and stood aside to let Seth pass, with Reaper's arm drawn around his shoulders. Reaper was silent, except for little grunts of pain every time he put weight on his leg. Seth figured it was taking all the guy had just to stay conscious at this point.
He helped Reaper ease his way onto the twin bed that sat at the back of the large-closet-slash-minuscule-bedroom. Roxy hurried away, then came back a second later with a porcelain basin full of water and a basket full of other items. She sat down on the edge of the bed, put the stuff on the nightstand, then went to work with a pair of scissors, snipping the leg off Reaper's pants, so she could better get to the wound.
“Duct tape,” she said, eyeing the patch-up job Seth had done. “Hell, I don't know if I can even improve on this. It's not bleeding.”
“And it'll heal as soon as the sun comes up, right?” Seth asked.
Roxy nodded, dipped her washcloth in the basin and began washing the drying blood off Reaper's thigh. “You should drink, Raphael. You're as weak as a kitten from the blood loss.”
Reaper met her eyes, then shifted his gaze to her neck, where it lingered and became suddenly intense. Seth felt hot under the collar and thought maybe he should leave the room.
Roxy said, “In your dreams, Raphael. I have bags in the fridge. I can heat it first, if you're craving a little warmth, though.” She glanced at Seth. “Come with me, and I'll get you some, too. And then you'd best get to the basement. There's another bedroom down there. You'll be safe and comfortable.”
Seth nodded, still not clear on what the relationship was between Reaper and Roxy. They seemed close. Almost intimate. He wanted to ask but sensed he wouldn't get an answer. And it was none of his business, anyway.
He followed Roxy into the kitchen. She stopped at the fridge, turned and faced him. “He's not going to want you to stay with him.”
“You have to stay anyway. He's going to need you, Seth.”
Seth frowned, searching her face. She had eyes as deep and dark blue as sapphires glittering up from the depths of the sea. They were fringed by the longest black velvet lashes he'd ever seen on a woman, and all that hair, all that long, curly red hair, seemed too soft to be real.
“Are you listening, Seth? This is important.”
He focused on her eyes again. “I'm listening. He's going to need me. But how can you know that?”
“Look around, Seth.”
He did. The place was cozy and completely cluttered. There were bundles of herbs hanging upside down from every possible location in the kitchen and beyond it, in the little dining room and the sitting room, which were really one very large room with two parts. He saw a crystal ball on a glass pedestal all by itself. Incense was burning, sending spirals of fragrant smoke throughout the place. Chimes and sun-catchers and plants hung near every window. The dining-room table was covered with tarot cards, spread out in a mystical and complicated pattern, their images graphic and somehow disturbing.
Seth took it all in, and then returned his attention to her.
“I know,” she said. “The same way I knew to be where I was when you had that accident that wasn't quite an accident. I know him. I've known him since he was a little boy at the hematology clinic where we were both patients. I already knew I had the Belladonna antigen. And I knew what it meant, though the doctors didn't. I was a student of the occult and the paranormal even then, you see. An expert already. Raphael didn't know anything. He was just a child with hemophilia and a rare blood type. I've been watching over him ever since.”
“Kind of the opposite of the way it's supposed to work, huh?” Seth asked. “I mean, don't vamps ordinarily watch over the Chosen?”
“There's nothing ordinary about me, young man. And you'll never meet one of the Chosen who's anything like me.”
“I totally believe you.”
That comment brought a quick smile to her lips. Full lips. Moist. Nice white teeth behind them, too. Little laugh lines appeared at the corners of her eyes when she smiled, and when her expression turned serious again, he could still see the tiniest traces of them.
“I'm going with you on this mission, Seth,” she said. “Raphael is a loner, and he's going to fight us. But he has two partners now, and we aren't going to take no for an answer, are we?”
“I owe him my life. And this mission is leading me someplace I need to be. So, yeah, I'm in.” He thrust out a hand. “Shake on it.”
Roxy smiled slowly, and closed her hand around his. She squeezed, and said, “Mmm. Strong. I like that.” She released his hand, handed him a glass and said, “Come on, Seth. I'll take you to bed now.”
He thought his feet would be glued to the floor, but they moved to follow her as she pushed open a door and descended a set of stairs down into the dark basement. He watched the sway of her hips, the play of her long thick hair over her shoulders, and he wasn't sure whether he was hoping for or fearing whatever might happen at the bottom. Sure, she wasn't his dream woman. But she sure as hell was something.
It didn't matter, though. She simply pushed open another door, flipped on a light and stood aside to let him pass. He walked into the room that was to be his. She said, “Good rest, Seth. And don't worry about Raphael. I'll see to it he's safe until sundown.”
“Good night,” he said, out of long habit. He was going to have to stop doing that, he thought. A vampire should say good day or good rest or something, not good-night, not when he was forever going to sleep in the morning.
Roxy stepped out of the room and closed the door. Seth thought she had to be old enough to be his mother. He also thought he could develop a serious case of lust for her, if he let himself.
He got undressed and slid into the bed. But as the day sleep came in like a dark wave to claim him, it wasn't Roxy's face he was seeing in his mind's eye.
It was that other face, that frightened, innocent face with the exotic eyes pleading for his help.