Lover's Bite Chapter 11

Jack got into the passenger seat of his own Porsche, too distracted to drive. Reaper looked at him oddly for a moment, then, without a word, took the driver's seat. He didn't speak, and Jack was glad. He had to go through what had just happened between him and Topaz, and try to figure it out.

He'd told Topaz that he loved her.

Those were words he'd been certain he would never say to any woman, because he knew they would be a lie. He didn't believe in love, didn't think it existed. And women, they craved it, hungered for it like nothing else. Especially Topaz.

And he knew, dammit, he knew it was the one thing she wanted from him, the one thing that could get to her when all else failed, and he'd vowed never to use it against her like a sweet, seductive weapon. Or like a drug that would convince her to do whatever he needed her to do.

Those words were as effective on Topaz as Reaper's trigger words were on him. Just as overwhelming. Just as impossible to resist. Just as dangerous to her. Hell, to both of them.

Right now, for some insane reason, logical or not, Jack was compelled to make Topaz trust him. So for one brief, insane, desperate moment, he'd lost his mind and said the words he knew would win him that trust.

He'd told her that he loved her. He'd told her that he felt something he didn't even believe himself capable of feeling, much less living up to. And he hated himself for it. What's more, he couldn't undo it now that it was done. And when things went to hell between them, as they ultimately would, she would be even more crushed and broken than she had been the first time he'd stupidly betrayed her.

Damn. There was no solution to this. None.

He didn't know why the hell he'd said what he had. When he'd seen her with that money all around her, when he'd seen the tears on her face, he'd somehow been driven to say and do anything to take her pain away, to remove the distrust from her eyes. The words had come tumbling out of him before he'd given them any forethought, much less had the chance to bite them back.

And they had worked. They were magic words, those three monosyllabic bits. They were magic words. I love you.

And they were a lie. Which sooner or later she was going to figure out. And it would do her in this time. She'd said so, and he didn't doubt it for a minute.

He was guilty of a crime of the heart, and he was a bastard, and he deserved to burn in hell for it.

"You're unusually quiet," Reaper said.

Jack dragged his attention away from the cyclone going on in his gut and glanced sideways at the Grim One as he drove. "A lot on my mind."

"I can see that. Is it Topaz, or does it have to do with me?"

"You?" Jack frowned.

"I assumed you wanted to talk to me about something. Otherwise you'd be with her right now. Or am I guessing wrong?"

"Oh, that." Jack shifted his attention to the other matter weighing on his mind. It was a relief, actually, to think about something besides the unforgivable sin he had just committed against a woman he honestly cared about. "Yeah, actually, you're right. I did want to talk to you. Could you do me a favor, though, and agree not to wring my neck until I've finished what I have to say?"

"I haven't wrung it yet, Jack, even though I have a pretty good idea what you're gearing up to say. I suppose I can put it off until I've heard the rest."

Jack stared at him, blinking.

Reaper shrugged. "Well, someone has been keeping the CIA informed of my whereabouts. And there are precious few people who knew. I'm fairly certain it was you. What I'm waiting to hear is why, and whether you've told them I'm here in Mexico. And now that I think about it, whether this little date of ours tonight is going to end in you trying to hand me over to them."

Jack was stunned. "You knew?"

"I've suspected for a while. Now I know."

Jack sighed and lowered his head. "You probably won't believe any of this, but it's the truth. At first, yeah, I was considering informing on you for the money. God knows they were paying Gregor a lot to try to get hold of you. I made contact, made a deal with them."

"And then...Wait, let me guess. You fell in love with Topaz and found you couldn't go through with it. Either because you cared too much to hurt her that way, or because you knew that betraying her again would ensure that you lost her forever."

Jack shrugged. "Something like that. But we needed information on her mother. They offered to supply it if I would keep them informed as to where you were as you moved around the country."

Reaper looked sideways quickly, his expression registering surprise. "So you kept feeding them information to get help for her?"

Jack nodded. "Only I gave them vague locations and always a day late. I made sure you would be able to stay a step or two ahead of them."

Reaper opened his mouth to respond, then closed it again and frowned. "They were always a few steps behind."

"I know. I made sure they would be. And, Reaper, you probably won't believe this, either, but that was my plan all along. Even when I was in it for the money, I never intended to actually put you at risk. I thought I could outcon them, that's all."

Nodding, Reaper drove, deep in thought. Then, "So why did you decide to tell me this tonight?"

"Because I tried to tell them I was done, it was over, I had no more to give them and they had nothing else I wanted. But they tracked me down, used my cell phone somehow, probably called it while I was resting by day and traced the ping or something. They're here."

"Where's your cell now?"

"At the bottom of the Gulf somewhere."

"Good," Reaper said. "Do they know I'm here?"

"They guessed. I told them you weren't, and that I had no idea where you were, but they didn't believe me. So I tried a new tack, told them they had nothing I wanted. And they said to try them. So I suggested they tell me how to create the drones and give me your trigger words, and that I might consider helping them out again. And they said they had a better idea."

"And here it comes." Reaper shook his head slowly, almost as if he knew what was coming next.

Then again, Jack thought, he might have a notion. He'd worked for those bastards himself in life. He knew how they operated.

"They told me they have Mirabella. Topaz's mother. That they'll kill her unless I deliver you into their hands."

Reaper sucked in a breath. "When?"

"Midnight tomorrow."

His eyes turning dark, Reaper said, "Did you see her?"

"No," Jack said.

"Talk to her?"

"No. No mental contact, either. I've tried, but she must be very well blocked."

Reaper nodded. "They don't have her, then. They wouldn't give you that much time to deliver me if they had her. That's just asking for trouble. Giving you time to try something. Giving me time to get clear. Besides, they would have shown her to you-more leverage."

"I thought the same thing, even called them on it. They couldn't show her to me, so I knew I had guessed right. But they claim they know where she is and can pick her up at any time."

"They're lying," Reaper said. "If they knew where she was, they'd have had her already."

"My thoughts exactly. The thing is, we have to find her before they do."

Reaper nodded his agreement. "I assume you've told Topaz all this?"

"You assume wrong. I don't want her to know. Not yet. I'll lose her trust forever if I admit I was working with the CIA all this time. She'll assume it's the only reason I stayed with her, the only reason I'm with her now. That I'm using her to earn some big payoff from them at your expense and hers, and...God, now her mother's."

"Yeah. I imagine you're probably right, that's exactly what she would think. I'm wondering about it myself, to be honest."

"I don't blame you for wondering." Jack sighed and pointed to a road sign ahead. "Take a right up there."

"So you're trusting me not to tell her, and I'm trusting you not to get my ass drugged, hog-tied and taken in for what the Agency would call 're-programming.'"

"That's it in a nutshell," Jack said. "Just until the deadline. Just until I manage to make this right. And then I'll tell her the whole truth."

Reaper fixed him with a stare that penetrated to his soul. "If you double-cross me, Jack, I will kill you."

"I don't doubt it for a minute." Jack sighed. "If this goes badly, I won't even mind."

Reaper seemed to contemplate that for a moment, and then he nodded once, firmly. "All right, then. It's a deal."

Jack whispered, "Thank you," as Reaper turned into the parking area outside a small adobe house that was pitch-dark and boasted a solid, no doubt well-locked door. There were no signs of life from within or anywhere around the place. No obvious ones, at least.

To Jack and to Reaper, however, the signs were abundant. They could feel the energy of a dozen vampires and, interestingly, a handful of mortals. Not the Chosen, either, just ordinary mortals. Since when did mortals and vampires hang out together? What the hell was this place?

They felt that energy go tense and taut as they shut off the engine and opened the car doors. All senses within that building perked up and focused on them, wary, defensive, distrustful and ready for battle.

Seth, Vixen and Topaz walked side by side by side straight up to the giant arched door that led into the private club. Seth was between the two women, and Topaz thought they must look incredible. Seth, tall and lean and hot as hell. Vixen, with her coppery mane and pixie features, and a sexy aura that spoke of things untamed and untamable. And Topaz herself, brunette, beautiful and feeling better about herself than she had in months.

And yeah, she was well aware that letting her feelings go up and down based on someone else's actions-based on Jack's actions, on three simple words he'd spoken-was a dumb-ass thing to do. And yet she felt good. Because he had come back to her. Because he had finally told her he loved her. Because he had made her feel like a woman again.

"You ever been here before?" Seth asked.

They'd stopped walking, but the wind still blew dust behind them and moved their hair. Topaz shook her head, enjoying the way it made her hair lift higher in the wind's embrace. "Never."

"How'd Jack hear about it?"

"Grapevine," he said. Topaz saw the suspicious look cross Seth's face but chose to ignore it. She knew he didn't trust Jack. Hell, she didn't, either, so she couldn't even be mad at him for it.

"They're gathered on the other side of the door," Vixen said, holding out a hand that trembled a little and taking an involuntary step backward.

"They're not happy about our visit."

Topaz gazed at the door, while Seth reassured Vixen, taking hold of her hand.

Hey, in the house. We're friendly. There are three of us, Topaz, Seth and Vixen.


There came a murmuring of thoughts and emotions. Some of the fear and wariness seemed to change into curiosity. Then a male spoke mentally. The shapeshifter?

"How can they know?" Vixen asked, then clapped a hand over her mouth as her eyes widened. She hadn't been blocking.

"News about someone as unique as you would travel fast," Topaz said. "Gregor's band has scattered. Briar and Jack are with us, but there were others. They've obviously been talking to those they meet."

Vixen blinked her huge brown eyes three times in rapid succession, then turned her gaze to the closed door. "Yes," she called, speaking aloud. "I am the shapeshifter. And these two who are with me rescued me from captivity by the rogue band that held and tortured me. Please, we only seek entry and conversation."

Tension eased still further beyond the door. And then, slowly, it opened with a low groaning creak that could have been a Hollywood sound effect in a classic horror flick.

A pair of vampires stood on the other side of the entrance, a male who was as tall as a flagpole and about as big around, with jet-black hair that hung to his shoulders and a gaunt, hungry look about him. His partner, a petite female with short brown hair that looked as it if had been combed with an eggbeater, stood staring at them.

Other vampires lingered in groups of three and four, around the room. A handful of young men who looked for all the world like a typical rock band. A few young females who hung in pairs. None of them more than a few years undead. Except, perhaps, for the couple who'd let them in.

"Vixen," the male said, making it a question as his eyes roamed her face, taking in her fox-like characteristics, Topaz thought. It was obvious once you knew. The slightly pointed ears, the hair like a lush fox tail, the slanted, deep brown eyes, the way she walked up on her toes, the tiny, delicate frame. As far-fetched as it had once seemed to her, Topaz thought now that it would be harder to believe Vixen was anything but part fox.

"Yes," Vixen said to the man. "This is Topaz, and this is Seth. They're friends. Good ones."

He glanced at each of them as they were introduced, but only briefly. "I'm Reynold. This is my mate, Crisa."

Crisa gripped Reynold's forearm and stared hard at Vixen. "Could you show us?"

Reynold shot her a quelling look, but before he could say anything, Seth spoke. "It's not a parlor trick, hon. Or a spectator sport."

"Yeah, and she's not some kind of circus bear waiting to dance for you," Topaz snapped.

Crisa lowered her head quickly. "I'm sorry. I've made you mad. I've made them mad, Reynold, haven't I? I didn't mean to. I only wanted to see her change into a fox. I've never seen a vampire change into a fox before."

She continued muttering as she walked away, head bowed. Some of the others stepped out of her path as she moved amongst them.

Vixen frowned after her.

"She's...different," Reynold said softly. "She meant no offense, she just doesn't...understand some things."

Mentally, Topaz realized as she delved into the girl's essence a bit more deeply, Crisa was childlike. An innocent. "I'm sorry I snapped at her like that. I didn't realize," she told Reynold softly.

"She'll have forgotten all about it in a few minutes." Reynold turned, waving a hand at the large room before them. A small bar, perhaps six feet long and made of pounded copper, took up one corner. A handful of stools stood in front of it, and there were small overstuffed chairs and settees grouped around tiny coffee tables in various spots around the huge room. Behind the bar, built into the wall, there were refrigerators. It didn't take much imagination to figure out what they contained. The liquor bottles on the shelves were clearly just there for show, in case some mortal should venture too near. The layer of dust on them ought to give away the truth, but an ordinary human wouldn't notice.

The lights were electric, but muted by amber shades that gave them a softer glow. The place was painted in red and yellow, lined with clay pottery, some of which held cacti and desert flowers. The walls were decorated with figures of skeletons playing various musical instruments and dancing, and, here and there, crosses made of tiny papiermache skulls. Topaz smiled, recognizing the symbols of Dia del Muerte, the Day of the Dead. Brightly colored handwoven rugs lined the floors, and Mexican music played softly from unseen speakers.

"Welcome to Casa Crisa," Reynold said. "We created this place as a haven for our kind. There are so few places where we can gather, socialize, feel...well, somewhat normal. Of course, its existence is a well-kept secret. Only the locals, those we know and trust, are aware of it."

Topaz nodded, and slid onto a stool in front of the bar, running her fingers over the copper surface. It was old.

"Why don't you tell me what brings you here?" Reynold asked. "Clearly, you have a purpose."

"What makes you think so?" Seth asked.

"Our kind don't usually seek out places with an abundance of sunshine, my friend. Those who come to Mexico usually come for a reason." He eyed Topaz. "And I sense the reason, in this case, is yours. Tell me what you're looking for, and maybe I can help."

She nodded. "I'm looking for Mirabella DuFrane."

He frowned hard, then turned toward one of the refrigerators in the back and opened it. "You mean the famous actress?" he asked. He was inserting a tap into a plastic bag with the Red Cross logo on it. He filled three glasses and set them on the bar. "Here, on the house."

Seth and Vixen slid onto stools flanking Topaz.

"Thank you," she said. "And yes, I do mean the actress. Everyone believes she was killed, but I know she wasn't. She was transformed. Brought over. She's one of us."

"And how do you know that, child? Gossip? Tabloids?"

Topaz sipped from her glass. "I know it because she transformed me, ten years ago." She took another long drink, the blood soothing and empowering her. Her comrades had already drained their glasses, she noticed.

The reed-thin vampire frowned hard, clearly not believing her claim.

"And before she brought me into this life, she brought me into the other one," Topaz went on, starting to feel as if she really were sitting at an ordinary bar, drinking alcohol. The thought took her back. A tiny, not unpleasant buzz was beginning to take hold. "The original one."

"I don't follow," Reynold said.

"She was," Topaz said, " mother. And I want her. I want my mother." Tears welled in her voice, and her throat went tight. And just as she realized something was very wrong and lowered her gaze to stare at her now empty glass, Seth's head clunked down onto the bar on her left. Vixen slid in slow motion off the stool on Topaz's right, sinking to the floor. She lifted her head and sent Topaz a goofy smile before she closed her eyes.

Topaz faced Reynold again, blinking at him as he swam in her vision. "What did you put in our drinks?"

"We protect our Bella," he said softly. "And you aren't the only ones out there looking for her. So until we know for sure what you want, we have to take...precautions."

The woman who opened the door in response to Jack's knocking was beautiful, with dark hair and eyes like a Gypsy's. She wore a low-cut black halter dress that hugged her all the way to the floor. She was tiny in stature, with an innocence about her eyes, and a youthful aura that suggested she wasn't any older than Jack himself.

"What can I do for you two fine vampires tonight?" she asked, her voice sultry and suggestive as she stood in the doorway and stared them up and down.

Jack looked at Reaper. Reaper looked back, then frowned and turned his gaze past the woman to scan the inside of the house. Jack followed his line of sight. It was quiet inside. Beautiful mortal women lounged around here and there in revealing clothes, their skin abnormally pale, their throats bearing the telltale marks that would disappear with the touch of the sun, so long as they were alive to see it when it rose.

"They work for you?" Reaper asked.

The woman nodded. "My name is Rosa. This is my place." Her accent was thick. "You can wipe those judgmental expressions from your faces. The women are here of their own free will, and they are very well compensated. And well pleasured, besides. At Rosa's place, everyone wins."

Jack frowned and nudged Reaper. "I'm not getting it."

"It's a whorehouse, Jack," Reaper said. "Mortal women service the needs of vampires. Blood, body, whatever, for a price."

"Obviously you did not know that before you arrived," Rosa said. "So tell me just what it is you do want, senor. Why have you come here?"

"We're looking for someone," Jack said softly. "Mirabella DuFrane."

The woman's eyes widened, and she turned and shot her gaze around the room. The women who'd been lounging around got up and hurried away-down hallways, up stairs, through doors that closed behind them. From above came the sound of footsteps rushing around.

His voice would have carried to any vampire within range, of course, Jack thought.

Rosa looked past them into the darkness of the yard. Reaper and Jack turned, as well, and saw several vampires, mostly men, but one or two females, sailing downward from second-floor windows to land easily on the grassy lawn, then speeding away. Rosa pulled the two of them inside and closed the door.

Jack looked around in surprise. The place seemed abandoned now. Oh, there were still mortals around, quivering in their rooms, but every vampire had left the building, except for the one who stood before them.

Rosa rolled her eyes. "There goes one of the most profitable nights I was ever going to have. Thanks to you. Dios, what is the matter with you, mentioning that name? Are you loco?"

"I didn't know it would cause such a stir," Jack said, and if he sounded a bit defensive, it was because that was how he felt. She acted as if he'd committed a cardinal sin.

She frowned. "You are not from around here, yes?"


"Then why have you come?"

"Look," he said, irritated that he had to repeat himself. "I'm here because I need to find Mirabella DuFrane before someone else does. Someone who might be dangerous to her."

She lifted her perfectly arched, raven-black brows and studied him. "How do I know you are not the ones who are dangerous to her?"

Jack started to assure her of that, but Reaper held up a hand. "Then you do know where she is," he said, cutting straight to the chase, as usual.

"I know she is near. But she has friends, vampires, who protect her beyond all reason. No one gets near her. She does not go out to feed. They bring sustenance to her instead. If she grows bored, they smuggle her out into the countryside, or sometimes even out of the country, going to elaborate lengths to disguise her. They adore her as if she is a goddess. And when anyone comes around asking questions about her..."

She stopped there, lowering her gaze.

"What? Does this gang of hers do something to them?" Jack demanded. "Are they killers, Rosa? Are they rogues?"

She shrugged. "I have never seen any bodies. I only know that those who ask questions, and those who answer those questions, tend to vanish. Most have never been heard from again."

"Most?" Jack repeated.

She lifted her head, met his eyes. "All." Her lips pulled into a smile. "And that is why it is imperative you leave here right now. I have no doubt at least one of my clients this evening is lurking, waiting to see how long you stay. I must not give the impression I have told you anything, even the tiny amount I have."

"Where can we find her?" Reaper asked.

"I do not know." She opened the door, shoved them out and shouted, "I do not know what you are talking about, I tell you. Get out! Already you have ruined my evening's profits."

What about this gang of hers? Where can we find them? Jack sent the message to her mind alone, blocking out the probing intellects he felt lurking, listening in.

Casa Crisa.

She slammed the door in their faces, and they looked at one another, shook their heads in frustration and headed back to the car. You drive, Reaper said, targeting Jack alone. I want to scan...Yeah, as I thought. She was right, there are at least three vampires lurking in those woods.

I thought I felt someone trying to read our thoughts.

Reaper nodded. Think she's being paranoid?

Yes, and I think maybe she has reason to be.

"What the hell is Casa Crisa?" Reaper asked, when they were far enough away that eavesdroppers were no longer a problem.

"That's the name of the place where we sent the others."

Reaper swung his head around fast. "Shit."

"I couldn't have said it better." Then he stepped on the gas and prayed.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies