Lover's Bite Chapter 13

Jack heard Topaz cry out to him, but it was vague, and weak, and then there was nothing.

"Which direction is that address?" he asked Reaper.

Reaper looked up from the map he had unfolded on the hood of the car, met Jack's eyes, and then scanned the horizon. He pointed east. "That way."

"That's where she is, then."

Reaper's brows rose.

"She called out to me just now, but it was very weak. I think they've been drugged. We have to get to her, Reaper. Now."

Headlights came trundling up the drive, and the canary-yellow van with the sunflowers on the sides and the customized plates bearing its name bounded closer. It stopped abruptly, and the three women jumped out of it. They were all armed, cocking their weapons as they came.

Jack thought briefly of Charlie's Angels. Only these were more like Hells Angels. One ageless mortal who never wanted to be a vampire but was already, he suspected, more vampire than human in many ways, her fiery red curls halfway down her back, bouncing as she walked. One blond enigma, tall and stick-thin, with a pixie cut and a face that reminded him of a supermodel whose name he couldn't recall. And one dark demoness straight from the depths of hell itself. Briar, with her black eyes, black hair and black heart.

She looked pissed.

Jack would have smiled to himself about that if he hadn't been so sick with dread for Topaz.

"Any clues?" Briar asked.

"Just one. Follow us," Jack said.

Briar nodded, then hesitated. "Is there a key for the Mustang? It would be better to take all three cars, just in case."

"Seth keeps a spare under the floor mat, rear passenger side," Reaper told her. "Just pray he left it unlocked," he added, as he and Jack headed for the Porsche.

With a nod, Briar headed for the muscle car. "I'm driving alone," she called out to Roxy. "Bring the van."

The house where they ended up looked abandoned, decrepit. Its sagging roof had patches of rich green moss growing from its shingles. The wooden siding was unpainted, and had weathered to varying shades of gray in some places and near black in others. Some of the old boards were broken or split. Others hung loosely. There were once-green shutters here and there. Some hung by only one hinge, and most had slats missing. The entry door's peeling paint had been white. Now it was all but nonexistent. The knob, though, was out of place. It was shiny, not rusted or tarnished.

Jack shut off the Porsche's purring motor, got out and moved closer to the place. And then he sensed something that made his stomach clench and his throat tighten as panic swirled like a whirlwind in his soul. Death.

Reaper was out of the car, standing beside him, sensing it, too, and he clapped his hand firmly onto Jack's shoulder. "Steady."

"Fuck steady." Jack sprinted toward the door, and without trying the knob, he kicked it open. It smashed wide, and he lunged inside, his gaze swinging from left to right, his heart in his throat. "Topaz!"

No answer.

"What the hell is this place?" someone muttered.

Vaguely, Jack acknowledged that Briar had spoken. She'd come inside, with Roxy and Ilyana on her heels. And he noted, too, that the inside of this place didn't come close to matching the outside. It was clean, in perfect repair and spotlessly white. There were a few pieces of furniture around, also in good shape. The place was immaculate but, he felt, rarely used. And that was all his mind managed to process as he made his way down a hall, flinging open the first door he came to and moving through it, as the women kept going to check out the other doors. His heart was in his throat as he scanned the room, terrified of seeing Topaz lying dead on the floor.

It was another spotless white room. It contained a series of gurneys with white sheets, IV poles. A stainless steel tray and some instruments lay on the tiled floor. And so did several bodies.

"Topaz!" Jack shouted, and leapt forward, but he didn't see her.

"This one's dead," Reaper muttered from the hall.

Jack turned to see him bending over a dead male vamp, one he'd barely registered as he'd passed and certainly never met. His gaze returned to the room he was in and landed on another-and frighteningly familiar-form. "Vixen!" Jack crossed the room in a blur of speed and gently rolled Vixen's body over, leaning close, feeling for her life force, her essence. It was there, but weak. Very weak.

Someone groaned from beyond one of the gurneys, and Seth dragged himself into sight, across the floor. He was trying to speak and failing, and still too weak to communicate mentally. But his eyes said it all as they stared from Vixen's lax, beautiful face to Jack's.

"She's alive," Jack assured him. "What in the name of God happened here, Seth?"

Reaper rushed into the room to bend over Seth. He gripped the fledgling under both arms and hauled him to his feet. As he did so, he spotted the tranq dart in Seth's arm, jerked it out and held it up. "They've been darted. Whoever did it must have given that poor bastard in the hall too much and killed him." He glanced at Jack. "How's Vixen?"

"I think she'll live." He stared at Seth, who was now on a gurney, sitting upright, barely, with Reaper supporting him and his head bowed forward. "Where is Topaz?" Jack demanded, even as he rose, picking Vixen up and then lowering her gently onto another gurney.

"They...took her."

"Who?" Jack left Vixen in the bed and went to Seth, vaguely noticing the women entering and spreading out through the room. He gripped the young vamp's shirtfront. "Who took her, Seth?"

Seth's head wobbled. "Men. Mortals."

"Reaper?" Briar called from the far end of the room, near a shattered window. As both men turned, they saw her standing there with a tiny, odd-looking female vampire in her arms. "This one's circling the drain."

The woman she carried had a bloody cut on her forearm and was clearly in danger of bleeding out.

"Put her down over there and deal with her," Reaper snapped, indicating the gurney next to him. Then he returned his full attention to Seth, shaking him. "Seth, you've got to give us more than that. Who the hell took Topaz?"

"And where?" Jack demanded. "How many were there? Did they say anything, anything, that might be a clue?"

Seth's head had fallen forward again, his chin sagging nearly to his chest. Jack gripped his hair and lifted his face up, only to see that he was out cold.


The voice was quiet, soft, new to him. Jack turned to see the one Briar had brought over peering at him. Roxy was bending over her wounded arm, pinching the edges of the jagged cut together in an effort to stop the bleeding.

He moved closer. "I'm Jack."

"Crisa," she muttered weakly.

"Crisa? That's your name?"

She tried to nod, but it was more than she could manage, and she stopped. "There's...a message..." Her eyes closed.

"What? You have a message? For me?" He bent closer and gripped her shoulders. Briar's ice-cold hand closed on the back of his neck and jerked him away so hard he nearly lost his footing.

"Where's Ilyana with that first aid kit?" she snapped.

"Here," Ilyana said, rushing into the room with the kit in her hand. "Right here." She joined Roxy at Crisa's side, opening the case and handing her items as Roxy asked for them. Silk thread and curved needles. Roxy was nothing if not prepared.

Jack moved forward to question the little oddball again, but Briar put a hand on his chest and leaned in herself. "Tell me, if you can, Crisa. What were you supposed to tell Jack?"

Crisa's eyelashes fluttered, and her eyes widened briefly as Roxy put in the first stitch, and even Jack winced, knowing what kind of pain she was feeling.

Crisa grunted, then clenched her jaw and moved her lips. Even with his vampiric senses, Jack couldn't hear what she said. But Briar bent closer, her ear very close to the girl's mouth.

When she straightened again, she was holding a piece of paper she'd pulled from Crisa's clenched hand, and staring at Jack with mingled disgust and surprise in her eyes. "Jack, now we have something you want," she read aloud. "What do you suppose that could mean?"

He knew exactly what it meant. It meant that it was his fault Topaz had been abducted by dangerous men. And probably her mother, as well. It meant she probably knew by now that he'd been dealing with the CIA.

It meant she could die. Because of him.

"So help me, if you betrayed us, Jack," she went on in a low, steady voice, "I'll kill you myself."

Topaz came awake all at once, her head snapping up, body going taut and pulling against the handcuffs around her wrists, holding her arms behind the straight-backed chair in which she sat. It felt as if she'd nearly pulled her shoulders from their sockets.

She grunted in pain, closing her eyes briefly, then flashing them open again to try to assess the situation. She'd been kidnapped by vampires, then kidnapped from the kidnappers by a trio of death-wish-bearing mortals in the most boring cheap suits she'd ever seen. That much she knew.

She was in the bedroom of a hotel suite. She could tell by the predictable furniture and the fire escape plan tacked to the inside of the door. The windows were covered in black plastic. There were two beds, and someone lay in one of them, dead to the world, and covered in blankets and shadow, so the face was invisible to her. Vampire, she sensed, but one so drugged, so far from consciousness, that barely a vibe emanated from her. There were a television, desk and phone nearby. Through a doorway she could see a small sofa, and a pair of feet, shiny black shoes intact, resting on a glass-topped coffee table. She could hear newspaper pages being turned. And she could smell mortal blood.

She would be tasting it soon.

"Didn't they teach you in goon school that a vampire can snap handcuffs like toothpicks?" she called.

The feet on the table moved, landed on the floor, and then a man came into view. One of the three who'd attacked them, drugged them and taken her captive. He stepped into the open doorway and stared at her. He had a face like chiseled granite, hard, and gray with the beginnings of a beard. Not a deliberate growth, just the suggestion that he hadn't shaved in a while. He had brush-cut dark gray hair with silver highlights. There were bags under his eyes.

"Not for a while, you can't," he told her. "The tranq takes time to wear off."

She sent him a look that should have wilted him like lettuce in the desert, then focused her mind and called out-but not to Jack. Never again would she call out to him. Not with her voice or her mind or, God forbid, her heart. Not in need, and never in passion. He'd betrayed her, betrayed them all.

Reaper. I've been abducted by what I think are CIA agents. I'm being held in a hotel suite, with one other vampire.

There was no reply. And the shouts of her mind felt muffled, as if contained within the echoing walls of a hollow cave.


"I know what you're doing."

"I couldn't care less what you know."

The man shrugged. "You're wasting your energy. First of all, you're still under the influence of the tranq. But even if you weren't, we've taken...precautions."

She narrowed her eyes. "Like the ones Gregor took? The way he made that house of his impervious to mental communication with anyone beyond its walls?"

"Where do you think he learned it?"

"You know you're going to die for this, right?"

He shrugged, came in farther, pulled up another chair and turned it backwards in front of hers. Then he sat down, straddling it.

"Where's Reaper?" he asked.

"Oh, here we go again. Where are your hot poker and bucket of coals? Huh? Where are your sharpened blades?"

He frowned, studying her for a moment. Then his brows rose. "You think I'm going to torture you?"

"Gregor did. Where would I think he learned it?"

The man sighed, shaking his head. "Gregor is out of control. We'll deal with him. What he did wasn't sanctioned."

"And what about Jack? Was everything he did 'sanctioned'?"

"Jack's become more liability than asset, I'm afraid."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

He met her eyes, shook his head. "It's not anything you need to know about. All you need to know is that you're not going to be harmed. All we want is Reaper. And now that we have the two of you, we have every expectation that Jack will hand him over."

"Me and...who? That half-insane fledgling? What makes you think Jack would cross the street for either one of us?"

"He will."

"Dream on, Columbo."

He said nothing. Just studied her.

"Where are my friends? The ones you drugged back at that clinic from hell?"

"Still there, I imagine. Unless Reaper and Jack have found them by now. In which case Jack knows we have you, and we should be hearing from him soon." He looked at his watch. "Or not. It's getting close to dawn. Ah, well. Maybe tonight."

He got off the chair, standing up. "You sure you don't want to tell me where Reaper is? It would make things go a lot faster. You two could get out of here sooner."

"I've got nothing pressing, pal. You're the one on borrowed time here, not me."

He shrugged. "If you say so." Then he turned to go. But as he reached the doorway, he turned and glanced at the vampire who lay in the bed. "By the way, that's not the half-insane fledgling in the bed over there. We left her behind, too."

Topaz frowned. "Well then, who is it?"

He nodded toward the bed. "You can thank me later," he said. "After all, you've been waiting a long time for this." He stepped out of the bedroom and closed the door most of the way, leaving it open just enough for him to keep an eye on her.

Topaz's heart seemed to clench in her chest as she stared at the blanket-draped form in the bed. She began moving, chair and all, hitching it across the carpet in fits and starts, moving it to the side of the bed, then scooting it bit by bit, higher, toward the pillows. She saw her captor look in at her, then shrug and walk away.

And then she was staring at the face of the most beautiful woman who'd ever lived, and choking on tears as she whispered, "Mother?"

There was no answer.

For a long while Topaz sat beside the bed, staring down at the woman who lay there, unconscious. There was no mistaking the face that had been one of the most beloved ever to grace the silver screen. The face that had been on billboards and in tabloids the world over. The face of Mirabella DuFrane. Simply Mirabella to most. The way Elvis was just Elvis, Cher was just Cher, and Madonna...

To Topaz, though, she was more. To her, she was Mother.

The sculpted, delicate jaw, the high, accentuated cheekbones, the milky white skin. It was more porcelain now than bronze, as it had been in life. And more beautiful. Her mink-brown hair was held by a white headband that couldn't quite keep the careless curls from falling in soft waves around her face. Here and there it gleamed with deep shades of auburn. All natural, her hair had never been chemically touched. It was more like an elaborate headpiece made of satin ribbons than ordinary hair.

Topaz stared at her, and her entire body filled with emotion. It choked her so that she couldn't speak, held her so that she couldn't move, leaked out only through her eyes in the form of tears she'd been waiting far too long to shed. And those fell slowly, uncertainly, still hesitant. They rolled down her cheeks one by one, burning all the way.

"Mother," she whispered again. Mirabella had abandoned her before she'd even been old enough to have uttered her first "mama," so Topaz had grown up thinking of the glamorous starlet whose photographs littered her memory, and whose films filled a shelf in her mansion, formally, as "Mother."

Yet looking at her now, it was difficult to think of her that way. She didn't appear any older than Topaz herself. Might even have been younger. Vampires didn't age once they were transformed. Topaz tried to count backwards, but the logical part of her mind wasn't functioning. Mirabella had been, she thought, twenty-seven when she'd been killed. Only, she hadn't been killed at all. She'd been made over, given the dark gift. By whom? Topaz wondered. And why?

Topaz had been twenty-five when she'd been turned, and she had been a vampiress for a decade now. So yes, technically, her mother was older. Two years older, by mortal calculations. And even after ten years undead, that fact seemed surreal to Topaz. It made her slightly queasy, slightly dizzy, because it flew in the face of the reality she had spent most of her life knowing.

There was no such thing as knowing, though. There was only believing. Convincing yourself of a fact because you believed it so strongly. Seeing it contradicted after that was like looking at the impossible. But there was no such thing as impossible, either, was there? There was only belief.

For so many years she'd believed her mother was dead, but now, here she was, undead and well, though drugged at the moment.

Emotion rose in her, and she pulled at the handcuffs until the chain snapped in two. Then she rose from the chair and moved closer to the bed. Battling tears, Topaz reached out a hand that trembled and let it hover for a moment above her mother's smooth cheek. She almost couldn't bring herself to touch the sleeping beauty. Almost couldn't bear to feel the proof that this was no illusion, no dream, but real.

And then she did. She lowered her hand, her jaw and spine so stiff they should have cracked. Her fingertips touched her mother's smooth, cool skin, then gently pushed back a long lock of wavy hair that felt like satin.

Thick-lashed eyes twitched, muscles tightening, then relaxing, and then her lashes fluttered a few times.

Topaz sucked in a breath and jerked her hand away in response. She sat back, her gaze riveted to the woman's face, as slowly, slowly, Mirabella's eyes came open. She blinked a few times, seeming to bring her vision into focus with an effort. One elegant hand rose unsteadily to the side of her head. And then her brows drew together, and she closed her eyes again.

"I've had this dream before."

"Vampires don't dream," Topaz whispered.

"Untrue. I dream. Only during those brief twilight moments just before the day sleep takes me, or just as I'm waking at sunset, but I dream."

"Of me?" Topaz asked.

"Who else?"

Topaz sighed. "Do you even know who I am?"

The woman's eyes came open again. She studied Topaz, perhaps beginning to realize that this was no dream. "I've always known. I've watched over you for your entire life, Tanya."

"Then you know how miserable I was. How unhappy. How utterly unloved."

Mirabella pressed her palms to the mattress on either side of her and pushed herself up into a sitting position. "I know. I'm sorry."

"I needed you. You abandoned me." Topaz turned away from the bed and paced the room, unable to look at her mother as she asked the question, then awaited the answer she'd been seeking for so long. "Why?"

"Not by choice, my child. I swear that to you."

Topaz didn't turn to look back at her mother. Quietly, with a voice gone cold, she asked again, "Why?"

Mirabella sighed. Topaz heard the movements of her body on the mattress as she slid around and got to her feet. She moved closer, coming up behind Topaz, lowering a hand to her shoulder. "I was having an affair with a married man."

"Wayne Duncan?" Topaz asked.

"Yes. His wife...Lucia...she tried to kill me. Did kill me, for all intents and purposes. There was no way I could have survived the gunshot wounds she inflicted that night."

"And yet, you didn't die?" Topaz asked.

"No. I didn't die. I had a friend, a vampiress. Her name is Sarafina. She is an ancestor of ours. Call her an aunt, it's as close as you'll ever come. She was there when it happened. And she managed to get to me in the hospital before I expired, and that's where she did it."

Topaz said nothing.

"It's what happened," her mother said. "Why do I get the feeling you don't believe me?"

"Because I have your letter. And I've talked to your manager, Rebecca Murphy. You were planning this. Oh, Rebecca thought you were going to commit suicide. She believes the shooter was a hit man you hired to do the job for you. But your letter to me is all the proof I need. You planned this. To fake your own death and leave your infant daughter behind as if she'd never even existed."

Mirabella sighed, lowered her head, and turned away. And that, more than anything, gave Topaz the strength to turn around and face her again, even though she was only facing her mother's back. Then Mirabella turned again, as well, and met Topaz's eyes.

"It's true, Sarafina and I were planning it. But before we could carry out our plan, that bitch shot me. It was too late then."

"And I was on my own. You might as well have tossed me into shark-filled waters and left me to sink, swim or be devoured, Mother. It amounted to the same thing."

"I was going to make better arrangements for you. I didn't want you raised by uncaring, money-hungry-"

"Then why the hell didn't you?" Topaz shouted, not caring that the man in the next room was bound to hear. Her voice had taken on a gravelly quality, and the tears were choking her now.

"Why did you leave me alone? You could have taken me with you! There had to be a way!"

"Oh, baby..."

Mirabella moved closer, reaching out to touch Topaz's face, but Topaz jerked away before she could make contact. "No. Don't. Don't play the caring mother now, not after all this."

Mirabella froze with her hand in midair and blinked rapidly, as if she, too, were close to tears. "You've become hard, Tanya. Cold."

"You made sure I would. You left me not knowing who my father was. You left the courts in charge of deciding who would raise me. You left me in the care of a man who never wanted anything other than my money."

"I know. I know, baby."

"You didn't love me enough to stay, he didn't love me at all, and then I fell in love with a man I thought did. I really believed he loved me. But it turned out he was only using me, too."

"Jack," her mother whispered. "I know. I'm so sorry."

Topaz's head came up swiftly. "How do you know his name?"

"I told you, I've been watching over you. And I know how deeply he hurt you, and I'm sorry."

Topaz's heart ached in her chest at the very mention of Jack's name. "The stupidest thing of all is that I let him. I mean, just the fact that he refused to tell me he loved me for so long should have been enough to warn me off. But it wasn't. I held on, tried to make myself believe. And then, when he came back for more, I bought into it all over again."

"And for good reason," her mother said.

"No. It turns out he's been using me all over again. Working for these CIA idiots, planning to turn in one of my best friends, all for money. At least it's not my money this time, but I was a means to an end for him. Just as I've always been."

Her mother was silent. Appearing to be deep in thought.

"What?" Topaz asked.

"I just...I don't believe that. I've seen him-from a distance, of course-but I've seen him. Seen the way he looks at you."

"Yeah, well, he's the greatest actor since Olivier. But believe me, that's all it was. An act. Hell, he's the reason we're here with these assholes."

Her mother frowned, and shot a quick look toward the nearly-closed bedroom door. "Where are we, exactly?"

"What do you remember?" Topaz asked her.

Mirabella pressed a hand to her head. It was a perfect hand. Smooth, silky. Manicured nails, though the polish was chipped. "Not much. I was in my house, and I heard something, so I went to the window to look. And then the window smashed inward, and there was something stabbing me in the stomach. I thought I'd been shot."

"Tranquilizer dart," Topaz guessed.

"Yes. I looked down and saw this thing sticking into me, and there was blood around it, staining my dress." She looked down as she said it. The dress was a summery halter dress, floor-length, white, with a pattern of big green loops, reminiscent of the seventies. She had that white band around her hair, and white shoes that looked impossibly high, and yet she walked without a wobble.

Mirabella touched the single red stain in the front of her dress, confirming her own memory. Then she lifted her gaze and met Topaz's eyes again. "I passed out, I think. I don't remember anything else until I opened my eyes just now and saw you sitting beside my bed, and thought it was a dream." She searched Topaz's face. "Tanya, what's going on?"

Topaz sighed. There was so much she wanted to say to her mother. So many things she wanted to ask her. But mostly, she wanted the starlet to convince her that she really had loved her daughter. That she really had been given no choice but to leave her behind. She wanted to be convinced.

But she wasn't. Not even a little bit. Her mother was just the first in a long line of people who were supposed to love her but had fallen far short. The first in a long line of those who had put their own needs ahead of hers, only to walk away when she needed them most.

Her mother had set the pattern that her entire life had followed. And Topaz wanted to hate her for it. Instead, she hated herself for being unable to.

She decided to let all that rest for now. Her mother was right. The focus now had to be on their situation and on their options.

"I've become good friends with a vampire named Reaper."

Her mother nodded. "I know. I was very worried about it, at first, but I-"

"You know about Reaper?" Topaz interrupted, staring at her mother with a frown.

"I told you, love, I've kept careful track of your life. Always. Always, Tanya."

"It's Topaz now."

"It's Tanya to me and always will be."

Topaz sniffed skeptically but went on with her story. "Reaper used to work for the CIA. They did some stuff to him. Brainwashed him. And now they can control him with nothing more than a couple of trigger words."

"Control him? In what way?"

Topaz drew a breath and decided to tell her the truth. After all, Mirabella's life was on the line now. She deserved to know why. Well, maybe "deserved" was too strong a word. She likely deserved to be drawn and quartered for abandoning her baby to the wolves the way she had. But she at least had a right to know.

"Reaper was an assassin for the CIA. Now he does the same job for the undead, taking out rogues when the need arises. The CIA wants him back. When they use his first trigger word, he becomes enraged, mindlessly violent. He'll destroy anyone in his path until and unless the second word is uttered. And we don't know what that second word is."

Her mother's eyes grew wider as she listened.

"The CIA wants him back in their control. A vampire hit man, one entirely under their power, is too valuable a prize not to try to reclaim." Topaz met her mother's eyes squarely. "They plan to use us to get him."

"Jack will bring him in to save your life," her mother guessed.

"Jack wouldn't cross the street to save my life." Topaz wondered why those words rang so false to her, even as she uttered them. And yet, she told herself, they were true. "But Reaper would. He'll hand himself over to them for our sakes." She put a hand on her mother's arm. "We can't let that happen."

Her mother met her eyes, so much emotion swirling in her own that Topaz couldn't begin to interpret her feelings. "Then we won't," she said. "But we're going to have to work together to get through this, Tanya. We're going to have to trust each other."

Topaz stared at her and thought that trusting the woman who'd abandoned her was going to be a hurdle. But she would try.

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