Lover's Bite Chapter 3

Topaz pored over the dossiers on the three men who the police had considered "persons of interest" in her mother's murder. None of them had ever been charged, so she knew going in that she wouldn't find much evidence. But she also thought she would just know. If she saw the face, or read the details of the life of the man who had murdered her mother, she was sure she would know who he was.

And yet, the photos she saw-the politician, the actor and the businessman who'd raised her-said nothing to her. None of them whispered "guilty."

She couldn't even get an inkling for which one of them might have fathered her.

She ran out of time long before she'd had her fill of reading up on the men and their connections to her mother. Dawn was coming, and she was forced to turn in, to save the rest of her reading for nightfall.

She gathered up the pages into a folder and carried them with her up the stairs, where she checked out each bedroom before choosing one that faced west to the ocean and the sunset. It was perfectly dark in there, with the sun getting ready to rise on the opposite side of the house. There were perfect vertical blinds in the windows, and thick drapes as well. She drew them all nice and tight. Then, relishing her vampiric strength, she shoved the bed easily into a corner of the room where there was no chance of any light that might filter through, touching her.

She tucked the files underneath her pillow, then made a final round downstairs to be sure the entire villa was locked up tight, before finally curling up beneath the covers. She felt the sun rise. As it lifted, her eyelids sank.

Dead to the world, she thought. It's more than just an expression.

Briar sat on the carpeted floor of the vacant, unfinished home in Virginia. She and Reaper had headed north from Savannah, driving all night, until they came to this place. She didn't know who owned it. She didn't know if Reaper knew them and had permission to be there, or whether it had just seemed a likely place to rest for the day. She didn't know if they would be discovered and murdered while they slept, and she didn't particularly care.

"You've barely said a word all night," Reaper said as he tossed her a bag of blood, taken from a cooler in the car he'd rented. She didn't know where he'd gotten the blood or how long he'd had it or how much remained. She didn't care about those things, either.

"I have nothing to say."

"I could think of a pile of things." He chugged his own liquid meal, tossed the plastic bag and sank down onto the floor beside her. "You could thank me for saving you from Gregor. You could tell me I was right about him all along. You could explain how he managed to break your spirit in such a short period of time."

"I don't need to thank you for saving me, since I would have saved myself, sooner or later. I never had any doubt as to what Gregor was. I only thought he would show more loyalty to me, being that I'm just like him."

"You're nothing like him."

"You don't know me."

He drew a breath, seeming to consider those words, then finally nodded, conceding the point.

"And as for the condition of my spirit-assuming vampires even have such a thing-that's my business."

"I suppose that's true. I just thought it would take more than a day or two of torture to turn you into...this." He waved a hand her way.

"Into what?"

He shrugged. "A docile, quiet, brooding woman. A victim. Yes, that's it-you're acting like a victim."

"I am brooding," she admitted. "But you're wrong about the rest."

"Am I?"

She nodded, leaning back against the wall and closing her eyes. "There are things I need to work through in my own mind. I prefer to do it in silence, and in private. Just because I'm not clawing your eyes out at the moment, Reaper, don't assume I'm docile. It could be a dangerous mistake."

He sighed, and she felt his eyes on her for a long moment. She'd never raised her voice, nor infused it with any particular inflection. She'd spoken to him matter-of-factly, in the same monotone that she'd been using for days now, when she spoke at all.

She heard him sigh as he settled down beside her to rest. And then, just before she fell asleep, he whispered, "I'd give a lot to have you trying to claw my eyes out. Better than this damn zombie you've become."

"Fuck you, Reaper."

"That would be even better." She heard him flip open his cell phone, heard the tones as he dialed a number. Then she heard the recorded voice of Topaz's voice-mail message.

Reaper muttered, "She must not be near her phone," and sighed. "Topaz, it's Reaper. Just checking in. Briar and I have headed north. We're just past Virginia Beach at the moment. I think we lost whoever was on our tails in Savannah. You can reach me at this number. I'll keep it turned on and monitor the voice mail. I hope you're all right. Call if you need me."

Briar breathed slowly, deeply, her body growing heavy with the lethargy brought on by the approaching dawn. "Pretty fond of the princess, aren't you?"

"Jealous?" he asked.

She made a choking sound, then rolled away from him and went to sleep.

When Jack arrived just after sundown, as she could have predicted he would, Topaz was sitting on the plush sofa with the file folders spread out around her, the DVD of her mother's life flashing across the television screen in front of her, and her own notebook open beside her.

He didn't bother knocking. Nor did he need to; she'd felt his approach long before he picked the locks with his mind and walked in as if he owned the place.

"Miss me?" he asked.

"Like a toothache." She didn't bother looking up to speak to him. "You know, you're very good at that, Jack."

He crossed the room toward her. "You're going to have to be more specific, hon. I'm good at so many things."

"Unlocking doors without a key."

He shrugged. "Psychokinesis. Any vampire can move things by mental manipulation."

"Yes, but I've seen very few who could open a lock in less than two seconds. It normally takes a bit more concentration."

He plunked himself onto the far end of the sofa, carelessly enough to appear casual but managing not to disturb a single sheet of her research in the process. "That should show you that I have a very strong will and am a very powerful vampire."

"What it shows me is that you're a crook through and through. That your strongest skill is breaking and entering really says it all, doesn't it?"

"Oh, Topaz, that is far from my strongest skill. As you well remember."

She just barely bit her lip in time to keep from smiling. And even then, she couldn't keep the delicious tingle of awareness from slithering up her spine. She remembered very well. Too well.

"So have you learned anything new?"

She sighed, raising her head to look him in the eye. Big mistake. When their eyes met, it was always a mistake. How a man could be so phony, so unable to feel true emotions, and yet look at her like that-well, it defied explanation. "I really don't want your help with this, Jack."

"Yes, you do. And I'm not leaving. This is the perfect way to kill time until Reaper's ready to reconstitute the gang and make another try at Gregor. At which time I'll get all your money back to you-if you let me stick around now."

"Oh, now there are conditions? I thought you promised to give me back my money either way, Jack. What happened to that?"

"You're right. How about if I add interest?"

"Twenty-five percent of the total, every month until you give it back."

"Are you a vampire or a loan shark?"

This time she let herself smile.

Jack sighed. "Ten percent of the half I still owe you, for every month until I give it back."


He reached out a hand, stroked her hair where it had fallen forward over one cheek, tucking it back behind her ear, and whispered, "Fifteen," as if he were whispering words of love. Sensation sizzled through her, and she knew he knew it, even as she pulled back from his touch.

"I'll take the ten if you'll promise to keep your hands off me for the duration."

"I'll give you the twenty-five if you won't make me promise that."

They stared at each other for a long electric moment.

"I'll compromise," he said at last. "Fifteen percent and I won't touch you until you ask me to."

"Like that's gonna hap-"

"I'm not finished."

She clamped her lips and waited.

"I won't touch you until you ask me to. But you have to feel free to touch me any time you want. In any way you want to. Fully secure in the knowledge that I won't touch you back unless you want me to."

She frowned as she let the images of what he was suggesting burn through her mind. Then she said, "You don't have the willpower."

"Try me."

She thought about leaning closer, maybe trailing her lips over his neck, just to prove her point. Because she had no doubt that he would wrap his arms around her, flip her onto her back on the sofa and mount her within about five seconds.

Or maybe it wasn't his reactions she didn't trust. Maybe it was her own.

"Chicken," he whispered. "Ten percent, then. Take it or leave it."

"And if I leave it?"

"I'll stay and help you anyway, return your money with no interest at all-as soon as I can lay my hands on it, that is-and touch you whenever the urge strikes me-knowing damn well you want it as much as I do."

She drew a breath and sighed. "Fifteen percent, your conditions." She held out a hand for a shake. "Deal?"

"Deal." He held his hand out, too, but he didn't take hers. He just waited. She finally closed her hand around his to seal the bargain, and when she took her hand away, she skimmed her fingertips over his palm and thought she felt him shiver.

Sighing, Jack managed to keep his control. But he was wondering, even before the touch of her hand on his had faded, what he'd gone and promised. The impossible, probably. Was he testing her-or himself?

Time for a new subject. "So you've read up on the men in your mother's life?"

"Yeah." She gathered her papers, shuffling through to the photos, and laid them out one by one. "The police seem to have focused on the men she was rumored to have been sleeping with in the year prior to her death."

"Including your father?" he asked.

She lowered her eyes, shielding them. "I don't know which of them is my father. There were a couple whose blood types made it possible, but there was no DNA testing back then, so the courts awarded me to the one they felt was most likely to provide a stable home." She picked out a five-by-seven black-and-white photo of the man who'd raised her, taken back in his younger days. "Thomas Martin, businessman."

"What kind of business?"

"Mostly government contracts. He owns several manufacturing plants. They make weapons."

Jack looked up quickly. "He's an arms dealer?"

"Yeah. And according to the cops, there were rumors he wasn't too fussy about who bought his products. But no one could ever find proof he sold weapons to unapproved nations."

"Unless maybe your mom stumbled onto some."

"Yeah. That would give him a motive."

"He raised you?"

She nodded. "He and his series of wives. He got older. When his women did, too, he just traded them in for newer models. And I do mean models."

"Was he good to you?"

She glanced at him briefly, and he saw a flash of something-pain?-in her eyes, but she averted them so quickly that he couldn't be sure. He guessed the answer was no. Which made him wonder just how "not good" the man's treatment of her had been. Had he just been cold and uncaring, or something more? The notion sent a darkness through him.

She laid out the next photo. "Frederick Ramirez, state senator."

"Corrupt?" Jack asked.

"He accepted exorbitant campaign contributions from a reputed mob boss-Tony Bonacelli." She pulled another photo from a folder. "Interestingly enough, he was also sleeping with my mother. Or at least that was the gossip."

"Was the mob boss a suspect, too?" Jack asked.

"He was cleared early on. Airtight alibi."

"He could have had someone else do it for him."

"There was no evidence of it, though. If he did, he covered his tracks very well. Or maybe he had the cops on his payroll. Who knows?"

Jack whistled softly under his breath, then glanced at the one remaining photo in her hand. "And our final contestant?"

"Wayne Clark Duncan." She laid the photo down. The man was stunningly attractive, the shot unmistakably professional, even without the autograph scrawled in the corner. "Actor," she said.

"I could have guessed." He frowned. "But not one I've heard of."

"No, neither have I. And while he was questioned, there's nothing in the police reports about a possible motive. He's probably the least likely to have killed her."

"Those are the ones to watch out for," Jack said, and sighed. "So what's your plan? You want to talk to each of these guys, see what they have to say?"

"Yeah, later. First, though, I want to talk to Rebecca Murphy. She was my mother's agent and lawyer. I think she might know more than anyone-if she's even still alive."

He nodded. "Good place to start. You have any idea where we can find her?"

"As luck would have it, she's in the book. Or at least, someone with the same name is. I was just about to call when you arrived." She reached for her cell phone, flipped it open and frowned. "Damn. I had it on vibrate. Got a voice mail, just a sec." She hit a button. "It's from Reaper."

"Put it on speaker," Jack said. "I want to know how things are going, too."

With a nod, she hit another button, and Reaper's message played.

Topaz saved the message. "I'm glad they're okay. And especially glad they lost whoever was following them. That was creepy."

"Anything having to do with the CIA is likely to be creepy," he said with a smile. "At least, it seems that way to me."

Jack nodded at the phone. "Why don't you call this Rebecca person now?"

She nodded and placed the call.

Rebecca Murphy agreed to see them that evening and gave them directions to her home, a small brick structure in an upscale suburb of Beverly Hills. It was a half-hour drive, and a surprisingly pleasant one. The Porsche was fabulous, and Jack drove it the same way he did everything else. Perfectly.

Rebecca answered her door wearing a kaftan with huge pink flowers all over it, a pair of fur-trimmed high-heeled slippers, and diamonds dripping from her wrist, throat and earlobes. Her snowy hair was cut close to her head on the sides and in the back, while the top was longer, giving her the look of some exotic bird. Topaz suspected she weighed in at about ninety pounds, if that. The kaftan was too big, so she thought maybe the weight loss was recent. The woman had an aura of physical frailty, perhaps even illness, about her, but it was nearly overpowered by the sense of mental power and emotional stability that exuded from her like perfume.

"Thank you for seeing us, Ms. Murphy. I realize it's after hours."

The woman waved a hand, glancing at Topaz, then, her attention arrested, staring at her.

"This is my friend Jack. I'm-"

"Tanya," the woman whispered. "My God, you're Tanya, aren't you?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Everyone thinks you're dead...or worse."

Topaz lifted her eyebrows. "What's worse than dead?"

"Oh, child, there are plenty of things." Rebecca took Topaz by the arm, leading her into her house, a one-story brick ranch with brown shutters and trim to offset its stark look. "I can't believe you're here. After all this time."

"I'm sorry, Ms. Murphy, but-"

"Rebecca. And don't even try to tell me you're not her. I'd recognize you anywhere. You look exactly as you did before you vanished, ten years ago. God, you look so much like your mother." She shook her head as if to snap herself out of her reverie, and led them through her small, neat home, all the way to the rear. Topaz glimpsed a huge brown overstuffed sofa and chair, thick green carpeting, an aquarium and a ton of plants, and then they were being hustled through sliding glass doors onto a redwood deck in the back.

"Sit. Can I get you a cold drink? A snack?"

"No, thank you, we're fine," Topaz told her.

At Topaz's "we," Rebecca looked at Jack as if she had forgotten he was even there. Then she shook her head again. "I'm sorry, young man. I've already forgotten your name."

"Jack," he said, not adding a last name. She narrowed her eyes a little, but didn't ask. And then Jack pulled out a chair for her, and she forgot her suspicions as she smiled and took it, apparently pleased by the show of good manners.

He could charm the spots off a leopard, Topaz thought. Especially if the leopard was female.

"It's good to see you, Tanya. I kept tabs on you as much as I could until you disappeared-hard to believe it was ten years ago. No one knew what happened to you, but most of the speculation was that you died."

Topaz licked her lips. Admitting who she was had not been a part of her plan. But clearly this woman wasn't going to be talked out of believing it now.

Rebecca studied her, then tilted her head to one side. "You want to keep it that way, don't you?"

Topaz met her eyes. "For reasons I can't go into, yes. I would prefer to stay dead as far as the rest of the world is concerned."

"Well, I still have my law license. Give me a dollar."

"Excuse me?"

"Give me a dollar."

Frowning, Topaz set her tiny Coach handbag onto the glass-topped patio table and fished out a dollar bill. She handed it to the older woman.

"There," Rebecca said, folding it, and tucking it down the front of the kaftan. "You've just retained me. Anything we discuss now is privileged and completely confidential."

Smiling, Topaz said, "I get it now."

"So tell me why it is you've come to see me."

"You can probably guess," Topaz said. "I want to know who killed my mother."

The other woman sat back, blinking in stunned surprise. Then, her jaw firming, she nodded. "Well, I suppose that makes sense." She sat in her chair, arms crossed over her chest, and studied Topaz. "Why now? Why after all these years?"

Topaz lowered her head, darting a glance Jack's way as she did. He was sitting in silence, just observing, listening. Probably looking for any weakness he could use later to con her, she thought with a rush of anger.

"I just need to know, that's all. I've never...I've never understood who she was, or how she felt about me. I want to know everything about her. But especially who took her life."

The older woman nodded slowly, her gaze turning inward. "Your mother was the most beautiful woman I have ever known," she said softly. "She wasn't a great actress. But she had this energy, this spirit, that just emanated from her and drew people to her. Everyone who met her fell in love with her. Everyone."

"Well, maybe not quite everyone," Topaz said softly. "Someone killed her, after all."

Rebecca didn't let the comment sidetrack her. "She was a free spirit. Couldn't be tied to one man. She fell in love at the drop of a hat. I think it was the excitement of new love that thrilled her most. Once it got old-well, men pretty much fell into a predictable pattern with Mirabella. Once they had her, they wanted to own her. I mean, you couldn't blame them. Anyone could see how attractive she was, how many men wanted her. So whichever one she was with tended to feel threatened by that, and inevitably, he'd start trying to control her, manage her, you know? She couldn't tolerate that."

Topaz nodded. "Having a baby must have been the last thing she wanted. I mean, nothing is more controlling than-"

"Having a baby was the best thing that ever happened to her."

Topaz looked up slowly, trying hard to read the other woman's face, and then her thoughts, in search of a lie.

"She finally had someone in her life who loved her, without giving two hoots what she looked like or how well her career was going."

"Or how much money she had," Topaz murmured.

"She adored you, Tanya. She so wanted to make everything perfect for you. And she tried, she did. But her life was snuffed out before she had the chance." Rebecca dabbed at her eyes. "I really loved Mirabella, you know. She was my friend."

Topaz believed the woman. There was nothing in her mind to contradict what she was saying aloud. But there was something.

"Do you know who killed her?"


"But...?" Topaz prompted, fully aware that there was something else, something Rebecca wasn't saying.

"There...was a lot going on in your mother's life before she died. Let me dig into my files, so I can get my facts straight. My memory isn't what it used to be. I'll phone you in a day or two, and we can meet again. If you're going to be in town that long?"

"I am," Topaz said.

"Good." Rebecca nodded. "Good."

It was, Topaz sensed, the end of the conversation. She would get no more information from Rebecca tonight. She got to her feet, and Jack rose with her. "Thank you," she said simply.

"It was a pleasure meeting you," Jack added. He reached out to take Topaz's arm, then stopped himself, she noted, just before making contact. He really was trying to live up to his end of their bargain. It was slightly amazing to her. He was actually trying to keep his word.

They walked around the house, through the backyard and out to the front, where Jack had parked the Porsche. Topaz didn't say a thing until they got in. And then she said disbelievingly, "I can't believe she knew who I was just by looking at me."

He started the engine but didn't put the car in gear. Instead, he turned in his seat to look at her. "Well, her eyesight clearly hasn't gone the way of her memory."

"But I don't look anything like Mirabella."

He laughed. Just a soft sound, very short and more surprised than amused.


"You look a lot like her, Topaz. You have the same bone structure, the same high cheekbones and delicate, angular jaw. The same little nose, the same full, sexy lips. Same milk-chocolate-brown eyes and thick lashes. Her skin tone was a little darker, her hair, too, but beyond that..."

"That's ridiculous. My mother was called the most beautiful woman alive."

"Yeah," Jack said with a firm nod, then put the car into gear and began to drive. "Exactly."

She shot him a look, but his face was unreadable. He focused on the road, not looking at her, intent on his driving, as if it were some challenging task that took every bit of his concentration.

"What are you trying to pull, Jack?" she asked softly.

He frowned, sending her a quick glance. "What do you mean?"

"Do you think flattering me is going to get you back into my good graces? Or my wallet?"

"I'd settle for back into your bed, but-"

"You never said shit like that when we were dating."

He shrugged. "I didn't want you to get a swollen head. And maybe I was thinking like those men of your mother's. If you knew how beautiful you were, why wouldn't you go out and find someone a hell of a lot better than me? I sure didn't want to encourage that."

"No. At least not until you got what you were after."

He sighed, his head falling forward briefly. If she hadn't known better, she might have thought she'd hurt him, just a little.

But that was impossible, of course.

You couldn't hurt someone unless they cared, and she knew all too well that Jack didn't. He never had.

That thought hurt a little too much, so she distracted herself by picking up her phone, glancing at the time and dialing Reaper's cell.

He picked up on the first ring. "Topaz?"

"Yeah, it's me," she said. "How is it going? Are you still in Virginia Beach?"

"No, we're already moving on. Still heading north. I'll let you know where we decide to hole up next when we get there. How are things with you?"

"Fine. Everything's fine. The others?"

"Roxy and Ilyana are at Roxy's place."

"Really? Interesting. You think Ilyana will open up to her at all?"

"If anyone can get her talking, it'll be Roxy."

"She has secrets, that one," Topaz said. "How about Seth and Vixen?"

"They haven't checked in yet," Reaper told her. "Have you, um...Have you heard from Jack?"

She hesitated and glanced Jack's way. She got the immediate impression that he was listening closely to her conversation. He wouldn't have any trouble hearing Reaper's end, given all vampires' heightened senses. "Actually, he's here with me."

"Tell him I said hi," Jack said.

She didn't. Reaper could hear the greeting for himself. He sighed, and said, "Be careful, Topaz."

"Believe me, I am."
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