Lover's Bite Chapter 2

The adobe-style mansion sprawled beneath the stars, with countless arches and a clay-red pottery roof, bright red doors and bright green trim. The front walkway was made of flagstones that had been in place so long they appeared to be part of the ground. The drive was paved and curved inward toward the house, then away from it, forming a giant, gentle S as it looped toward a massive garage that could easily house six vehicles. The apartment above the garage was larger than many people's houses.

Topaz stood beside the taxi, her back to the cab, her eyes on the house. The lawns rolled, the grass far from lush but rather spotty, with bare spots and red rock peering through. Cacti of every type filled the spaces in between, some of them flowering, some small and compact, while others stood with their arms raised above their heads like the stereotypical "reach for the sky" cacti in countless Western films.

Sand crept up to the very edges of the lawn, invading every time a breeze came up. Beyond the villa, ocean waves filled the night with their song, a chorus of harmonic whispers, growing louder, more insistent, but never becoming shouts. Not even when the waves broke and tumbled over the sand, then retreated in the closest sound there could be to silence. Shuuuuushhhhhhh. And then there was the fragrance those waves left in their wake-freshly laundered sunshine, brine and the sea.

Her mother had died here, Topaz thought. Right here, while that massive ocean looked on, never missing a step in its endless soft shoe.

For a moment Topaz stood there, staring at Avalon's front door, and then suddenly she was swept back in time, her imagination fed by the DVD she'd finally viewed. Why now, after all these years? Why? Why was she suddenly so driven to know everything about her mother when she'd deliberately avoided any of the stories and tales, the gossip and legends, the conspiracy theories and police reports, up until now?

But it didn't really matter why. It was here. She was here. And she had to know everything.

In her mind's eye, it all played out again, this time with even more detail, supplied by some inner knowing, perhaps, or maybe she was making it all up.

The stunning superstar, Mirabella, smiling, waving, laughing as she stepped out the door-that door, right there. It was red and wooden and arched at the top. She walked toward the road, moving so gracefully that she seemed to float over the flagstone walkway. She'd been wearing heels. Four-inch-high chunky heels with platforms underneath the front-very seventies. Strappy on top, open toes. Her toenails had been done, too-a minty green shade that matched one of the colors in that long dress, along with the color of her fingernails, her designer bag and her eyeshadow. Thick black liner, pale, pale shadow. Frosted lipstick. Big hair.

And yet she was gorgeous. Absolutely stunning. Her beauty had been so real, so deep, so natural, that it suffused every hint of mod she'd tried to use to enhance it. Most women would look back at that period and wonder what they'd been thinking. Mirabella might have, too, but it wouldn't have mattered. She was just as beautiful in a dress the same pattern as the Scooby-Doo Mystery Van as she would have been completely naked. Her eyes were too powerful to be disguised by heavy makeup. She was Mirabella, no last name needed, at the time or now. Everyone knew who she was.

The black limo pulled up closer, and the driver got out to open the door. A throng of paparazzi snapped shots from a distance, but they were kept from getting too close by the discreet bodyguards, posted at intervals a few yards away from the starlet.

And then the shots rang out. Three of them.

The beautiful actress's flawless smile froze on her lips even as it fled from her eyes. Topaz could see this part so clearly. She'd memorized the expressions as they had crossed her mother's face, one behind the other. She wasn't sure if she was glad someone had been filming or not. Part of her thought she might have been able to visualize every nuance even without the film.

Trembling, Mirabella looked down to where her hands had flown to her body, then drew her palms away slowly to see the blood that coated them. Shivering, Topaz found her own hands echoing the same motions, her own eyes looking downward, her own mind slightly surprised that there was no blood on her hands.

Mirabella's gaze lifted, her eyes calling out for help in stunned silence. Pleading for help from someone, anyone. And then her knees just folded, and she sank to the ground like a flower that had been cut. Her thick black lashes lowered like velvet curtains on the world's most vibrant stage. Her eyes fell closed, and she took her final bow.

Topaz stood there, staring down at the flagstone walkway, straining her senses. Was this the very spot, then? It was close. As close as she could make out from the footage that had been taken that night.

She sank to her knees, pressing her palms to the cool stone, as if by some fluke she would still be able to feel some trace of her mother's energy. Her life force. Even her blood. Was that it there, discoloring the stones? Or was that nothing but a pattern in the rock?

The sound of a motor jerked her attention back to the present, and she rose, blinking away hot tears and turning just in time to see the taxi rolling out of sight, kicking up a cloud of dust in its wake. Her suitcases were stacked, none-too-neatly, on the curb.

She'd handed the guy two twenties for a twenty-five-dollar fare. She guessed he thought the rest was his tip. And it would have been deserved, if he'd carried the cases to the door for her. Bastard.

Anger was good. She could be furious over fifteen bucks and no service, and distract herself from the real feelings trying to overwhelm her. Feelings of grief and sadness, a sense of loss, for the mother she'd never known and never really mourned. Was it long-overdue pain? Or was she indulging in self-pity? Or maybe just diving headlong into anything, no matter how painful, that would remove her attention from Jack Heart?

Didn't matter. She was here; she was doing this.

Squaring her shoulders, Topaz marched up the walkway to the front door and reached out to ring the bell. But in the wire flower basket beside the door, an envelope caught her eye-probably because it had her name on it-stopping her hand in midair.

She tugged the envelope out of the basket and opened it, and a key spilled out into her palm. There was a note besides, scrawled on Avalon Mansion stationery, with the address and phone number at the top.


The place is all yours. Since you've paid for every room, there will be no other guests, and as you requested, my husband and I have moved into the garage apartment and will give you all the privacy you require. Unless you call to request it, we'll stay out of your way for the duration of your seven-day stay.

Feel free to call if you need anything.

Enjoy your vacation.

Kimber Argent, Owner

Santa Luna

Topaz sighed. "Great. I thought they'd at least be here to say hi and schlep the freaking bags up to my room."

"Could be you were a bit too convincing when you told them you wanted to be left alone, hmm?"

She whirled, stunned. No one crept up on a vampire. Well, not usually. She'd been distracted. And now she was...gaping like an air-starved goldfish. She clapped her jaw shut.

"You did tell them you wanted to be left alone, didn't you, Topaz?" Jack asked from the sidewalk.

She tried to answer, then settled for nodding instead, as she fought to suck in some air, clear her throat, control the stupid, stupid, stupid impulse to run back down that walkway to him and throw her arms around his neck.

"Surprised to see me?"

"Surprised. Dismayed. Irritated." Good, good. She was speaking. Real words. And not welcoming ones, even. Great.

"And a little bit glad?" He was standing right beside the massive pile of luggage. Before she could answer, he scooped up half of it and strode up the walkway. "If nothing more, at least be glad there's someone to carry your bags."

She didn't move. Just stood there, with the key in one hand, the note and envelope in the other. There was a car behind him on the curb, one she'd been too absorbed in her own thoughts to hear pulling up. A Porsche Carrera, naturally. Only the best for Jack. She wondered a little bitterly who he'd scammed it from. Another rich female, too in love with him to listen to her own common sense? "Why are you here?"

"Because I, apparently, know you better than your hosts do. Enough to know that your 'I want to be left alone' bullshit was just that. Bullshit." He grunted and shifted the bags a little. "Unlock the door, will you? These are heavy, even for a vampire. What did you pack, anyway? A metric ton of your native soil?"

"So amusing." Frowning, she inserted the key, turned it and swung the door open. Jack stepped inside, setting the bags on the floor.

She walked in behind him and looked around the place. Had it been this way when her mother was here? Or had the decor changed? She imagined it had. Now it was nice, but modern. Prints by Mexican artists lined the walls, colorful and vibrant scenes of the ocean, of palm trees and sunsets. Brightly striped throw rugs and runners with tassels at the ends covered the hardwood floors. Horsehair vases with Navajo patterns, and Kokopelli dancing and playing the pipes, stood everywhere she looked. Jewel-toned walls surrounded her; bright green, burgundy, yellow.

Jack cleared his throat, probably because she wasn't paying him a lick of attention.

She glanced at him, then at the bags. "They're going to have to go upstairs sooner or later," she said.

"I realize that. I just assumed you hadn't picked out a room yet. Have you?"


"Well, once you do, I'll take the bags the rest of the way." He turned to head outside for the ones he'd left at the curb.

"You won't be here that long," she muttered.

He didn't give any indication as to whether he heard her. He just marched on, grabbed the remaining bags and brought them inside. Then he stacked them by the door, closed it and stood there staring at her. "Well?"

"You're not staying here."

He shrugged. "I have a place."

The way he said it, with a "you're not the boss of me" tone, convinced her that he had absolutely nowhere else to go, even though his words claimed otherwise.

"That's bull. You didn't have time to make other arrangements."

"How do you know what I had time to do?"

"Because I only just arrived myself."

"Yeah, but you took longer getting here."

"I had to go home first. Pack some things." She tried not to sound too defensive.

"I flew in immediately. I've been in town two nights already. And I've had time to do plenty."

She hated it when he contradicted her and managed to be right about it. "Why did you follow me?"

"Technically, I didn't. I got here first. Besides, I didn't have to follow you. I knew where you were going. You told me, remember?"

She lifted her brows, clearly surprised. "Not so you could follow me."

"Oh sure. Tell me there wasn't some part of you secretly hoping I'd show up, and sweep you into my arms and kiss you until you gave it up to me. Come on, Topaz, you know it crossed your mind." He put his hands on her shoulders and stared intently at her mouth, then jerked her just a little bit closer as he lowered his head.

She could almost taste him and, God, right then she wanted to, more than she wanted to wake up again at sundown. But she had her pride. She ducked his kiss and turned away from him, so he wouldn't see the naked hunger in her eyes. "If it did cross my mind, Jack, it was always preceded by the image of you handing me the rest of my money and telling me how sorry you were for taking it, and for using me and for hurting me." She shrugged. "One ain't gonna happen without the other, bud."

He lowered his head. She felt the motion rather than saw it.

"So have you got my money?" She felt a little stronger now. Strong enough to turn and face him again.

Without lifting it, he shook his head.

"I didn't think so. So I guess that means goodbye."

"No problem. I told you, I've got a place."

"And you still haven't told me why you're here."

Sighing, he reached into his long coat, which he didn't need, as the night was warm and vampires didn't feel the cold the way mortals did, anyway. They noticed it, but it wasn't uncomfortable for them. Jack's coat, long and dark, was more fashion accessory than necessity. And he looked hot in it, damn him. He pulled a manila envelope from somewhere within that sexy coat and tossed it onto a marble stand just inside the door. "I know why you're here, Topaz."

She jerked her head up, her gaze darting from that envelope to his eyes. "How?"

"Hell, woman, get it through your head that I know you better than anyone ever has. You look enough like her that I'm surprised it's not obvious to everyone. Or maybe I'm the only man who can see the real you. Tanya."

His words hurt. Probably because they were lies-beautiful lies, lies she'd wished some man would make true one day. But none ever had, nor ever would. Particularly not him. "Don't ever call me that."

"It's who you are, deep down."

"It's not. It hasn't been for a long time now."

He sighed. "Look, it doesn't matter how I know. I know, that's all. So I made a call to an...acquaintance of mine who's connected. I got some inside info for you. And I don't like what it implies."

"I don't care what you like," she lied. She was burning with curiosity. She wanted to open that envelope and pore over its contents right this second. She wanted to thank him. She wanted to kiss him.

"Digging into your mother's murder could be dangerous."

She frowned hard, but before she could decide which of the dozens of questions to fire at him first, he was out the door. "Lock up tight, baby," he called. "It'll be dawn soon."

She watched him go, having no idea where the hell he was going-which should be the least of her worries, she knew. He walked to the road and got into his hot-looking black car, started the engine. Then he turned on the headlights and roared away.

Only then did she manage to close the door. She turned the locks not because he had told her to, but because it made sense. Then, her hands trembling, she took the envelope, opened the clasp and pulled out the paper-clipped sheets it contained.


"What the hell? They had suspects? I never knew of any suspects." Topaz moved through the giant, sprawling foyer through a wide archway into the living room, which had a fireplace and soft sand-colored furnishings, white carpet, and wide, wide windows that were bare and uncovered and looked out at the vista beyond. Rolling dunes and the mighty Pacific. The scene was so breathtaking that she paused for just a moment to take it in.

Then practicality intervened, and she glanced upward. Bamboo blinds, and window shades beneath them. Thank God, she thought. Those windows would let in way too much sunlight by day.

Okay. She sank onto the soft sofa-into it, to be more accurate-and laid the sheets out on the glass-topped bamboo coffee table. And then she began to read.

Jack parked the Carrera in front of a meter on a suburban street about a mile from where he planned to spend the night. He locked up the car, hoping no one would bother it, and put the maximum amount of change into the meter. It would get him through most of the day. And if he got a ticket toward sundown, so be it. It wasn't like he would ever pay the thing.

He took his bedroll from the passenger seat and, slinging it over his shoulder, began the walk to his temporary abode. It wasn't much, a family crypt in a cemetery beyond the suburbs, surrounded by rolling fields and with no one around to observe anything amiss. The crypt belonged to the family Carlisle, and it was roomy and spacious, and any corpses inside had long since turned to dust. They didn't keep it locked. Hell, who did these days?

There was utterly no reason why a vampire should sleep in a crypt. He liked the poetic cliche of it, though. It spoke to his whimsical nature. Besides, no one would bother him there-and if they did, he could scare the bejesus out of them without much effort, which would be good for a laugh, if nothing else. The crypt was completely impervious to sunlight, the main necessity.

Besides, it was the closest safe place to where Topaz would be sleeping today. And he didn't want to get far from her. Nor did he want to sit around analyzing just why that was, thank you very much. Suffice it to say, he was pretty sure she was about to tread on some dangerous ground, maybe ruffle a few feathers, stir up some long dormant evil and put herself at risk. That should be reason enough to want to stay close.

It wasn't. But it should be.

Of course, he had his other reason. She would be checking in with Reaper periodically, which he couldn't very well do himself. Not without raising suspicion, at least. He was too new to the white-hats, not really one of them yet. Any concern he showed would be suspect.

She could do it, though. And he could keep tabs on the big guy through her. That, too, should be reason enough to stay close to her.

And it, too, wasn't.

He sighed, set his backpack on the big stone bier and closed the heavy slab of rock that passed for a door, plunging himself into utter darkness. That didn't bother him. He could see just fine in the dark. Still, a little touch here and there to make the place homey wouldn't hurt.

Jack liked his creature comforts. And he'd done some shopping along the way to be sure he would have all he needed.

He hadn't spent a nickel of Topaz's money, though. He told himself he needed it, in case he had to return it to her. He paid no attention to the unfamiliar guilt that made him feel slightly ill whenever he thought of spending it.

He unzipped the backpack and took out a battery-powered lamp made to look like a gas-powered one. It was clever. He'd taken a liking to it right away. It provided the rustic ambiance of camping without the fuss. Then he took out his portable DVD player and flipped it open. He'd rigged it with a timer, and the lamp had its own. Both would shut off within a few minutes of sunrise.

No point wasting the juice while he was dead to the world.

He undid his bedroll, yanked on the cord and watched his air mattress inflate itself atop the bier. Quickly he made his bed with blankets and a pillow. All the comforts of home. Everything but a teddy bear.

He pulled out a pint of O-negative, sealed in a plastic bag. He would have preferred it warm, but this would do as a bedtime snack.

Finally he lay down in his bed and turned on a movie. Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Leslie Nielsen really bore no resemblance to Vlad. Jack had met the infamous vampire once, face-to-face. Moody bastard, and none too friendly. And while Nielsen looked nothing like him, neither did most of the actors who'd portrayed Dracula over the years. Bottom line? Nielsen made him laugh, so Jack was perfectly willing to overlook such minor issues.

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