Demon's Kiss (Page 7)

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“This thing is going to get us noticed-and probably killed-before we get within a dozen miles of Gregor's band,” Reaper said, eyeing the vehicle Roxy had pulled out of her garage-where it had been, understandably, hidden-and parked in front of her house. He wore a look of distaste mingled with utter horror.

The customized conversion van was something to behold, and while Seth believed Reaper was a miserable curmudgeon about a lot of matters, he totally agreed with him on this one.

“No,” Reaper said. “Absolutely not.”

Roxy glanced at Seth, as if seeking a second opinion.

“Well, it's not exactly…inconspicuous.” He wondered for just a second if he would be just as tactful if she wasn't such a hotty, then wondered why it mattered. She certainly didn't seem to care.

Shirley-and that was the van's name, as its custom license plates attested-was yellow. Canary yellow. Its-her?-sides sported murals depicting fields full of sunflowers, and the rear window was decorated with a translucent sunset.

“She's just what we need,” Roxy said. “Look, we can rent a car or something for short trips once we get where we're going. But for getting there, and for emergencies, she's freakin' damn near perfect. Just look here.” She pulled open the side door. There were four rows of seats, all sporting black seat covers with giant sunflowers in the center of each one. They matched the floor mats.

Of course they did.

Seth managed not to groan aloud as he poked his head in, then stepped up. The van was tall. Most people would be able to stand up in it, though for Seth and Reaper it required significant stooping.

“There are only three of us,” Seth said. “Why do we need all this room?”

“Never mind that,” Roxy said quickly. “Take a look at this.” She went around to the back, opened the two rear doors, climbed in and pushed a button. The rearmost seats folded forward and down, then lower, tucking themselves neatly into the floor. Then Roxy lifted a piece of floor mat, tugged a handle hidden beneath it and the floor folded up, revealing a nearly full-sized bed underneath.

She met Seth's eyes and grinned. “Built-in coffins. This baby can sleep three vampires under the floor, well hidden. And we could close the floor over them, and put three more on top, because the windows tint all the way to black at the touch of a button.”

Seth glanced at Reaper and saw that the man was impressed in spite of himself. There was a slight edge of approval nudging its way into his grimace.

“There's a minifridge,” Roxy said with a nod, “so we can take a supply of that Kool-Aid you guys love so much. Her sides are reinforced steel. Bullet-proof. She's got a Hemi under the hood, and all-wheel drive so we don't get stuck. Big ground clearance for a van. She gets terrible gas mileage, but let me tell you, Shirley will fly. And to top it all off…” She moved to the center of the van, gripped a handle mounted to the inside of the sliding side door and lifted.

The inner panel of the door slid upward, revealing a cache of weapons stored behind it. Shotguns, rifles, handguns and several odd-looking little weapons that looked like dart guns. Boxes of ammo lined a number of small built-in shelves, and holsters and clips hung every which way.

“What are those little ones?” Seth asked.

“I call 'em Noisy Crickets,” she told him.

Seth laughed out loud, shaking his head, and muttering, “Good one, Roxy,” between chuckles. He was just getting it under control when he noticed that Reaper hadn't so much as cracked a smile. “That was a reference to Men in Black,” he told the sour-faced vamp. “The movie? You know, Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones?” No reaction. “Hell, don't you see movies at all?”

“No.”

Roxy handed one of the tiny weapons to Seth and took a second one off the wall for herself. “These shoot tranquilizer darts. I have a supply in the fridge, measured, loaded and ready to go. Seth, the only way Reaper will agree to let us come with him is if I can convince him that you and I will be perfectly safe. And the only way I can think of to do that is to give him our word that we will each carry one of these with us at all times. It needs to be loaded, and we need to carry spare ammo on hand.”

Seth took the tiny weapon and turned it this way and that, looking it over. It seemed pretty simple and straightforward. “Why do we need tranquilizer darts? You guys expecting to run into a herd of angry elephants or something?”

“Those darts aren't for animals, Seth,” Roxy explained. “They're for vamps. They're doped with the only tranquilizer that will work on you guys. The only one I know of, at least.”

Seth frowned, then nodded. “I guess we could use it against the rogue vampires if we had to. Yeah. Not a bad idea.” He looked at Reaper again. The man was oddly silent. “Don't you want to carry one, Reap?”

“The tranquilizer isn't to protect you from the rogues, Seth. It's to protect you from me.”

Seth started to laugh, thinking the miserable fuck had actually made a joke. But there was a grimness in his tone, a darkness in his eyes, that had the laugh dying in Seth's throat before it was even born. His smile faded, and he searched Reaper's face. “What the hell are you talking about?”

Reaper lowered his gaze. “I'm not going to go into detail or bare my soul or my history or my flaws to you, Seth. This is not up for discussion. It's my personal business, and it's off-limits. I will only say that if I should ever turn on you in an apparently mindless burst of violent rage, you will need to act and act fast, or die. If it happens-if it even looks like it's happening-use the tranquilizer. Don't hesitate.”

Seth opened his mouth, then closed it again as question after question tried to get out. Why would Reaper turn on him? What the hell was he talking about? Did he have some kind of split personality-Jekyll-and-Hyde thing going on, or a brain tumor or what? But Reaper wasn't going to tell him any more. He'd made that clear. So Seth settled on one question, the only one he thought might elicit an answer.

“Can the tranq do you any lasting harm?”

Reaper looked at Roxy for the answer.

“No,” she said, and she said it firmly, with a shake of her head that had all that long hair swinging. “It'll knock him cold, and he'll wake up with a hell of a hangover. That's all.”

Seth nodded and faced Reaper again. The guy looked really miserable. As if even broaching this subject was ripping into his guts, and Seth hated that. He needed to lighten things up. “Okay, then. I got it. I just need you to make me one promise.”

“And what would that be?” Reaper asked.

“If I misread you and shoot you by mistake when you weren't actually intending to eat me for lunch, you can't be mad at me when you wake up.”

Reaper scowled at him.

“Dude, I'm serious here. If I have to worry about being wrong and pissing you off, I'll hesitate, and you'll have time to rip me a new one before I pull the trigger. So you have to promise.”

Eyes narrowed, Reaper nodded. “All right. I promise.”

Seth grinned. “Man, this is great. You so much as look at me funny, I get to pop you with the Noisy Cricket. And you can't even get mad about it. You are so gonna regret this.”

“Seth.” It was a warning, Reaper's tone dangerous.

“Whoa, that sounded menacing. Did it sound menacing to you, Roxy?” Seth glanced at the gun in his hand. “Maybe I should shoot him now.”

Reaper glared at him.

Seth lowered the weapon and wiped the grin off his face. As usual, his attempts at humor were hitting a brick wall. “Hey, come on. I was kidding. I'm not gonna pop you with this thing. Come on, man, don't look like that.”

Sighing, not saying a single word to Seth, Reaper climbed into the van and took a seat all the way in the rear. “Let's get going, Roxy. We need to see this Topaz woman before we can go any farther.”

Roxy handed Seth a holster. She was already wearing one of her own, with a tranq gun tucked into it. Then she closed the weapon door and climbed up into the driver's seat. Seth took the one beside her.

As she backed the van out of the driveway, Seth glanced at her and whispered, “I was kidding.”

“Hey, I thought it was funny as hell.”

He smiled, relieved. “Does he ever lighten up, Roxy?”

“Not that I've ever seen. But I'll tell you one thing.”

“What's that?”

“You're good for him. Real good.”

“Hell, he can barely stand me.”

“Trust me, I know these things.”

Reaper sat up straighter in his far backseat and said, “People, I am a vampire. I have preternatural hearing. I could listen to your entire conversation from a half mile away. From here, it's as if you're on a loudspeaker.”

Roxy looked over her shoulder at him and said, “Fuck you, Raphael.” Then she grinned and sent Seth a wink. “Yep, you're gonna be good for him.”

Topaz had packed several bags and dressed to kill. She wore a short skintight black dress, with a chain-link belt draped around her hips, black thigh-high stockings with seams up the back and lace on the top, and open-toed spike heels with straps that criss-crossed once, encircled her leg just above the ankle and buckled there. They had twenty-four-karat gold heart charms dangling from their straps. Her hair was sleek and smooth, and her makeup perfect.

She looked so good that Jack would probably weep when he saw her.

Bastard.

She was stacking her bags near the mansion's front door when she felt the presence of another vampire-no, two of them-nearby.

And one of the Chosen, as well.

Instinctively, she ducked to one side of the door, to get out of plain sight, and peered out the window. Yes, three people, two men and a woman, were standing near the end of her curving white gravel drive, just waiting there.

She squinted, and spoke with her mind. Come any closer and you'll regret it.

The reply came immediately, from a man she didn't know. We only want to talk to you. It won't take long, and we're no threat.

And I'm supposed to take your word for that? Any vampire who trusted unmet, undead strangers was asking for trouble, Topaz thought. And she was not stupid. I wasn't transformed yesterday, you know.

We need to ask a few questions, that's all. It's about a man who calls himself Jack of Hearts.

Her reaction was so instinctive that she couldn't hide it. A surge of emotions-passion, pain, desire, anger-all twisted up into one ball of feeling, just welled up and burst from her, and she wasn't quick enough or disciplined enough to hide it in time. She knew they'd felt it. Damn. She tried to pretend it hadn't happened, tried to move quickly past it, but she knew she wasn't fooling them.

Why do you want to know about him?

Because I'm looking for the leader of the rogue gang he's rumored to be running with. They're dangerous, Topaz. Deadly, to humans and vampires alike. They're even hostile toward the Chosen, or at least that's what the rumors claim. I need to know all I can about them before I get too close.

She swallowed the sudden dryness in her throat and looked at her bags. She'd been just about to go storming into the midst of a rogue gang? A murderous rogue gang who killed their own kind? Jack was running with a rogue gang?

That was so not Jack. And damn, from what she knew about rogue vampires, she was pretty sure she could have gotten herself killed tonight.

Sighing, she opened the front doors and stood between them, staring down the driveway at the three who waited there. “Come in, then,” she called. “Since you may have just saved my life, I suppose I owe you a favor.”

Seth saw the woman standing in between the open doors. She was backlit, and the total effect was as if some kind of goddess had just flung open the doors to heaven and invited them in. Her shape was willowy, slender, graceful. Long arms and legs, long neck, long hair. Gorgeous. And yet his first reaction to seeing her there was one of almost crippling disappointment.

She wasn't the woman he'd been searching for.

He could have wept, but instead, he lifted his chin, determined to press on. The sense that he was closer to her than ever, and still on the right path, was the most comfort he was going to get right now. So he clung to that and got on with the business at hand.

They trooped up the driveway, and he was finally able to see more than just her silhouette. She was of medium height, with the youthful face of a prom queen. Her hair was long, perfectly straight, satiny smooth and the color of melted milk chocolate-the same color as her eyes. She had Cupid's bow lips, high cheekbones and a dimple in her chin.

She was beautiful, in the most classic definition of the word.

“My name is Reaper,” the boss said, but when she reached out to shake his hand, he just stuck his into his pocket, ignoring her offer.

Seth thought he was a moron. Not liking physical contact was one thing-he'd already picked up on that quirk of Reaper's in the short time he'd spent with him. But to avoid the touch of a woman who looked like this one…well, hell, that wasn't quirky, that was just plain crazy.

“I'm Topaz,” she said. “We can sit, if you like.” She waved a hand toward a small sitting room, just off the foyer. They went in, each taking a comfortable spot.

Seth picked a love seat, in hopes she would sit beside him. She didn't. Reaper took a rocking chair near the gas fireplace, which Topaz turned on with the touch of a button. Roxy plunked down right on the stone hearth, probably cold. She should have said something when they were standing outside, Seth thought vaguely.

Topaz remained standing while Reaper spoke. “I don't want to keep you, so I'll come straight to the point. I've been hired by some of the elders of our kind to deal with a man called Gregor, who is leading the most notorious rogue gang we've ever come across. Jack of Hearts is reputed to be Gregor's right-hand man.”

She lifted her perfectly arched brows and studied his face. “And you're telling me this why?”

“You know him, this Jack of Hearts, correct?”

She shrugged. “I might.”

“It's rumored you were recently robbed of a great deal of money by your former lover. Since that seems to be this Jack's modus operandi, I thought it a pretty safe bet he was the one.” He shrugged. “How many vampire con men are there, after all?”

“They're all con men, in one way or another,” she muttered.

Reaper frowned.

“Okay. You're right. I admit it was Jack. And, yes, he was my lover. But how do you know I'll help you? What makes you think I won't rush off to warn him?”

Reaper smiled slowly. It wasn't a happy smile; it was a scary one. “I felt your reaction to hearing Jack's name. You don't want me to kill him in the process of taking out his boss. I figure I can bargain with you for his safety.”

She lifted her brows. “You're right,” she said. “I don't want you to kill him, but only because I want to do it myself.”

Seth had felt the rush of energy blasting from her at the mention of Jack's name, too. And while he wasn't as adept at reading other vamps as Reaper was, he'd always had a knack for reading people. He thought she was lying. It hadn't felt like a rush of murderous rage to him. It had felt like a rush of pain of the heartache variety, and an all-out effort to hold back a flood of tears.

She changed the subject. “So who are these two?” she asked.

“These are my…” Reaper hesitated, as if he couldn't quite think of the right word.

“Friends,” Seth filled in, sending Reaper a disgusted look and getting to his feet to offer his hand. “I'm Seth. I'm new to all this undead stuff.”

Topaz shook his hand and said, “You're kidding,” in the most sarcastic tone he could imagine. Hell, was it that obvious he was a newborn?

Then she turned to Roxy. “And you are…one of the Chosen, but…there's something different about you.”

“Roxy.” She didn't offer a hand, and didn't get up from her spot near the fire. “And everything about me is different.”

“What an odd little band,” Topaz said. Then she shrugged, as if that was all the consideration she was going to give to that subject.

“You were about to go somewhere,” Reaper said, with a glance at the luggage stacked near the front door.

“Yes. I was going to hunt Jack Heart down-and that's his name, by the way. Jack Heart. This Jack of Hearts nonsense is nothing but vanity. At any rate, I was going to hunt him down, get back the money he stole from me and then kill him. But I had no idea he was running with a pack of rogues.”

“So you know where he is, then?” Reaper asked.

She studied him, and took her time about answering. “I might.” She shrugged. “I must admit, I'm glad you came along when you did. I was walking into a dangerous situation without a clue it even existed. I could have been killed if I'd tried to get to him alone.”

She looked at Reaper, then at Seth and Roxy, and back at Reaper again. Seth could almost see the wheels turning in her mind. And then they seemed to click into place.

The slightly irritated, out-for-vengeance woman scorned melted away like the outer wax of a candle. Topaz smiled all of a sudden, and it was a huge, bright, entirely false smile that was enchanting all the same. Her eyes took on the sparkle and innocence one would expect to see in the eyes of the prom queen he had already mentally compared her to. The aura of being a dangerous predator might have never existed.

“But now I don't have to go alone.”

“Oh, no-” Reaper began, but she cut in immediately.

“I have to tell you, Reaper, this doesn't sound at all like Jack. He's no rogue. A total bastard, yes, but there's not a violent bone in his body. He's a con man. A lover, not a fighter.” She sent him a sheepish, almost shy look as she said it.

“That's good to know-possibly more than I need to know, in fact, but thank you all the same. However, you must understand this, Topaz. All I want from you is Jack's location. If you could just tell me where-“

She wasn't paying attention by this point, but was, instead, leaning past him to look out through the door and down the drive to the end, where they'd parked. And then she was speaking again, her tone so innocent that surely not even the most gullible man on earth would have bought into it. “Oh, look at that van! God, that is so cute! And there must be plenty of room. Sam, why don't you-“

“Seth,” he said. She blinked at him as if not understanding, so he clarified. “My name. It's Seth, not Sam.”

“Whatever. Be a doll and carry my bags out for me. Isn't the timing perfect? You don't even have to wait for me to get ready.” She clapped her hands together and turned her full-high-beam smile on Reaper again. “Here I am, all packed and ready to go, and you guys show up like a limo service or something. This is great.”

She played the spoiled, rich airhead well. But Seth saw right through it. She'd revealed her truer nature when they'd first arrived-when she'd threatened to kill them if they came any closer. This friendly, bubbly ditz routine was for the birds.

“We are not taking you with us,” Reaper said, using his darkest, most bone-chilling tone.

Thank God, Seth thought. Reaper wasn't falling for it, either.

Topaz's false smile died. Her brows lowered. Her eyes grew dark and dangerous, and in that instant the transformation was so complete that Seth half expected a ghostly wind to start blowing through her hair as lightning flashed behind her. “Oh, yes, you are,” she said. And her tone was every bit as chilling as Reaper's had been, and every bit as sincere. “Because I am not going to tell you where he is. I'll give you directions as we go. If you want to find Jack and this gang he allegedly runs with, you're stuck with me.”

Seth grinned then. He couldn't help it. The prom queen had Reaper over a barrel, and she wasn't one bit afraid of him. He had to like that. And he wondered how long it had been since Reaper had come across so damn many people he couldn't bully with his nasty-ass temper and big bad routine.

Reaper glanced his way, and he wiped the grin off his face in a hurry, but not before it had been seen. Seth sent a quick glance Roxy's way, just to see if he could tell what she thought about all this. She was studying Topaz as if trying to figure her out. Seth couldn't tell if she admired the woman's moxy or hated her guts.

Roxy met his eyes, read his questions and shrugged almost imperceptibly before returning her attention to Reaper. “We're wasting time,” she said. “Raphael, I don't see that we have a choice. And standing here arguing isn't going to do any good. You can see she's not going to change her mind.”

“Absolutely not,” Reaper said.

Seth tugged his Noisy Cricket out of his pocket. “Here,” he said, handing it to Topaz. “You're gonna need this.”

Topaz took it from him, a tiny gun just the right size for her small hand. “What for?”

“We'll explain later.” Seth scooped up half her bags and started trudging toward the van.

Topaz picked up the smallest of the bags, a tiny pink suitcase about one foot square, and carried that. Roxy followed, carrying nothing. She would be damned, Seth thought, before she would wait on a woman who was capable of waiting on herself. A few minutes later, the three of them were in the van and looking back toward the house.

Reaper was still standing in the open doors, blinking at them in disbelief.

“Grab those last two bags, would you, hon?” Topaz called. “And lock up on your way out.” She looked at Seth, who had retaken his seat up front after stashing her bags. “Do you mind terribly, Steve? I get carsick in the back, so I'm going to have to insist on riding shotgun.”

She was turning up those eyes again. “It's Seth,” he said. “And you can quit the sweet-shallow-princess bit, Topaz. It won't work on me.” But he got out and climbed into the next set of seats, as Roxy sent him a look that said, “Gee, thanks.”

“That's funny,” Topaz said as she stepped through the center aisle into the front to take his former spot. “It seems to be working just fine.” She blew him a kiss, lips smiling, eyes warning, then glanced through the windshield.

He looked, too. Reaper was still standing by the house.

“Give him ten minutes,” Seth said. “If he hasn't surrendered by then, we can just shoot his ass for practice.”

Roxy slapped her thigh and laughed out loud, then blew the horn, which made a loud Ooo-gaaa sound that almost shocked Seth right out of his seat. “Come on, Raphael!” she shouted through her open window. “Get that tight ass into gear. We don't have all night.”