Darius looked around the club, taking in the teeming, half-naked bodies on the dance floor. Screamer's was packed tonight, full of women wearing leather and men who looked like they had advanced degrees in violent crime.
Darius and his companion fit right in.
Except they actually were killers.
"So you're really going to do this?" Tohrment asked him.
Darius glanced across the shallow table. The other vampire's eyes met his own. "Yeah. I am."
Tohrment nursed his Scotch and smiled grimly. Only the very tips of his fangs showed. "You're crazy, D."
"You should know."
Tohrment tilted his glass in deference. "But you're raising the bar. You want to take an innocent girl, who has no idea what the hell she's getting into, and put her transition in the hands of someone like Wrath. That's whacked."
"He isn't evil. In spite of the way he looks." Darius finished his beer. "And show a little respect."
"I respect the hell out of him. But it's a bad idea."
"I need him."
"You sure about that?"
A woman wearing a micromini, thigh-high boots, and a bustier made of chains trolled by their table. Her eyes glittered from behind two pounds of mascara, and she worked her walk as if her hips were double-jointed.
Darius gave her a pass. Sex was not on his mind tonight.
"She's my daughter, Tohr."
"She's a half-breed, D. And you know how he feels about humans." Tohrment shook his head. "My great-great-grandmother was one, and you don't see me yakking that up around him."
Darius lifted his hand to catch their waitress's eye and pointed at his empty bottle and Tohrment's nearly dry glass. "I'm not going to let another one of my children die. Not if there's a possibility I can save her. And anyway, there's no telling whether she'll even go through the change. She could end up living a happy life, never knowing about my side. It's happened before."
And he hoped his daughter would be spared. Because if she went through her transition, if she came out alive on the other side as a vampire, she was going to be hunted as they all were.
"Darius, if he does it at all, he'll do it because he owes you. Not because he wants to."
"I'll take him any way I can get him."
"But what are you giving her? He's about as nurturing as a sawed-off, and that first time can be rough, even if you've been prepared. Which she hasn't."
"I'm going to talk to her."
"And how's that going to go? You're just going to walk up to her and say, 'Hey, I know you've never seen me before, but I'm your dad. Oh, and guess what? You've won the evolutionary lottery: You're a vampire. Let's go to Disneyland!' "
"I hate you right now."
Tohrment leaned forward, his thick shoulders shifting under black leather. "You know I got your back. I'm just thinking you should reconsider." There was a heavy pause. "Maybe I could do it."
Darius shot him a dry look. "You want to try and get back into your house after the fact? Wellsie will stake you through the heart and leave you for the sun, my friend."
Tohrment winced. "Good point."
"And then she'll come looking for me."
Both males shuddered.
"Besides..." Darius leaned back as the waitress put their drinks down. He waited until she left, even though hard-core rap was pumping all around them. "Besides, we're living in dangerous times. If something happens to me - "
"I'll take care of her."
Darius clapped his friend on the shoulder. "I know you will."
"But Wrath is better." There was no jealousy in the remark. It was a statement of fact.
"There's no one like him."
"And thank God for that," Tohrment said with a half smile.
Their band of brothers, a tight circle of strong-backed warriors who traded information and fought together, were of the same opinion. Wrath was off the chain when it came to the business of vengeance, and he hunted their enemies with a single-minded purpose that bordered on the insane. He was the last of his line, the only purebred vampire left on the planet, and though his race revered him as its king, he despised his status.
It was almost tragic that he was the best bet Darius's half-breed daughter had of surviving. Wrath's blood, so strong, so untainted, would increase the chances of her getting through the transition if it hit her. But Tohrment wasn't off the mark. It was like turning a virgin over to a thug.
With a sudden rush, the crowd shifted, people backing into each other. They were making way for someone. Or something.
"Shit. Here he comes," Tohrment muttered. He tossed back his Scotch, swallowing it whole. "No offense, but I'm outtie. This is not a conversation I need to be a part of."
Darius watched the sea of humans split as they steered clear of an imposing, dark shadow that towered over them. The flight response was a good survival reflex.
Wrath was six feet, six inches of pure terror dressed in leather. His hair was long and black, falling straight from a widow's peak. Wraparound sunglasses hid eyes that no one had ever seen revealed. Shoulders were twice the size of most males'. With a face that was both aristocratic and brutal, he looked like the king he was by birthright and the soldier he'd become by destiny.
And that wave of menace rolling ahead of him was one hell of a calling card.
As the cool air hit Darius, he tilted his fresh beer back and drank deeply.
He hoped to God he was doing the right thing.
Beth Randall looked up as her editor leaned his hip on her desk. His eyes went straight to the vee of her shirt.
"Working late again," he murmured.
Shouldn't you be getting home to your wife and two kids? she mentally added.
"What are you doing?"
"Editing a piece for Tony."
"You know, there are other ways of impressing me."
Yeah, she could just imagine.
"Did you read my e-mail, Dick? I went down to the police station this afternoon and talked with José and Ricky. They swear a gun dealer's moved into town. They've found two modified Magnums on drug dealers."
Dick reached out to pat her shoulder, stroking it as he took his hand back. "You just keep working the blotter. Let the big boys worry about the violent crimes. We wouldn't want anything to happen to that pretty face of yours."
He smiled, eyes growing hooded as his gaze lingered on her lips.
That stare routine had gotten old three years ago, she thought. Right after she'd started working for him.
A paper bag. What she needed was a paper bag to pull over her head whenever she talked with him. Maybe with a picture of Mrs. Dick taped to the front.
"Would you like me to give you a ride home?" he asked.
Only if it were raining thumbtacks and hairpins, you letch.
"No, thanks." Beth turned back to her computer screen and hoped he'd take the hint.
Eventually he wandered off, probably heading for the bar across the street that most of the reporters hit before going home. Caldwell, New York, wasn't exactly a hotbed of opportunity for any journalist, but Dick's big boys sure liked keeping up the appearance of carrying a heavy social burden. They relished cozying up to the bar at Charlie's and talking about the days when they'd worked at bigger, more important papers. For the most part they were just like Dick: middle-aged, middle-of-the-road men who were competent, but not extraordinary at what they did. Caldwell was big enough and close enough to New York City to have the nasty business of violent crimes, drug busts, and prostitution, so they were kept busy. But the Caldwell Courier Journal was not the Times, and none of them was ever going to win a Pulitzer.
It was rather sad.
Yeah, well, look in the mirror, Beth thought. She was just a beat reporter. She'd never even worked at a national-level paper. So when she was in her fifties, unless things changed, she'd have to be at a free press polishing classifieds to have a shot at reflected glory from her CCJ days.
She reached for the bag of M&M's she'd been nursing. The damn thing was empty. Again.
She should probably just go home. And pick up some Chinese down the street.
On her way out of the newsroom, which was an open space cut up into cubicles by flimsy gray partitions, she hit her buddy Tony's stash of Twinkies. Tony ate all the time. For him, there was no breakfast, lunch, and dinner: Consumption was a binary proposition. If he was awake, something was going into his mouth, and to keep himself supplied, his desk was a treasure trove of caloric depravity.