Lover's Bite Chapter 4

"Oh, hell."

Jack rejoined Topaz at the checkout counter of the 7-Eleven, having ditched her just long enough to place a call of his own. She was handing the cashier a wad of bills to pay for her shampoo, conditioner and the dozen other beauty supplies she'd insisted she couldn't get along without for one more night, things she hadn't packed because it was "so much easier to just buy them here."

At Jack's muttered curse, Topaz shot him a quick look over her shoulder. "Anything wrong?" she asked.

He didn't speak out loud, because he didn't think the checker had made the connection just yet and he certainly didn't want to encourage her to. Take a look at the tabloid in the rack-upper left slot, he told Topaz mentally.

Frowning, she glanced at the rack of magazines and newspapers standing beside the cashier. Jack had no doubt that the banner headline and side-by-side photos of Topaz, back in her mortal days, and her mother, caught her eye just as quickly as they had caught his. When her eyes widened, he knew for sure.


She blinked in shock and quickly grabbed the issue, folded it over the sensationalistic front-page headline and dropped it onto the counter. "This, too," she said. He thought her voice seemed to quiver. Not so much that a mortal would detect it. Maybe not even another vampire. But he was more attuned to her than most-than anyone alive, he imagined. And that realization bore some further thought, but not right then.

The cashier nodded and snapped her chewing gum. Looking bored, she continued ringing up purchases and stuffing them into a bag.

Topaz gripped the plastic bag by its handles and hurried out of the store. Following, Jack hit the key ring button to unlock the car before she got to it, and by the time he slid behind the wheel she was in the passenger seat with the newspaper unfolded on her lap.

"Listen to this," she told him as he started the car. "'Tanya DuFrane, daughter of the legendary actress Mirabella DuFrane, vanished a decade ago. It was rumored at the time that she had been very ill, and most of Hollywood assumed she simply wanted to die in privacy. However, a reliable source claims that Ms. DuFrane is alive and well, and has returned to L.A. determined to learn the truth about her mother's death.'" She looked up at Jack. "It goes on, sensationalistic blatherings about how Mirabella was shot and-" She lowered her gaze to the paper, scanning it again. "A half-dozen crackpot theories as to who did it and what became of her body. The fact that an eyewitness has seen me, and that I appear to be in 'the pink of health.' The pink of health. Do I look pink to you?" As she asked the question, she ran her fingertip over the pale skin of her forearm.

"Does it say where you're staying?"

"No, but it's implied." She ran a finger down the column of text. "Here. 'The younger Ms. DuFrane appears to be retracing her mother's steps on the final night of her life.'" She clenched her jaw and muttered "Idiots" through her teeth.

"Do you think Rebecca Murphy...?"

"There hasn't been time," Topaz said. "We only left her ten minutes ago." She shook her head. "No, it couldn't have been her."

"So who else have you spoken with while you've been here? Who else even knew you were coming?"

She shrugged. "You knew."

"Oh, come on, Topaz, be realistic."

"These rags pay a lot for this kind of garbage. And it wouldn't be the first time you betrayed me for money."

"It wasn't me." He was wounded, actually, that she could even entertain the thought. He wished he could look her in the eyes or delve into her mind to determine whether she believed him. He tried, but she was blocking-not deliberately, he thought. It was anger and mistrust keeping his mind from probing the depths of hers. Digging any deeper would take more concentration than he could muster up while simultaneously driving and trying to think of convincing arguments.

"I gave you information to help you. Why would I do that if I were going to turn around and throw roadblocks in your way?"

"Oh, come on. You convince me you're on my side to find out more facts to sell, then stab me in the back."

"Topaz, I knew where you were staying, and I knew why you had come out here before I ever arrived on that villa's doorstep. I could have sold that information to the tabloids without ever setting foot in California."

She lowered her head. "Maybe that's not all you're after."

He sighed, frustrated as hell.

"If you want to convince me, Jack, just tell me why you're really here."

He was quiet for a long moment, so long that he could feel her speculation, practically hear those wheels turning in her mind. She thought he was taking his time so he could make up a good lie, he realized. Say something, you idiot, he told himself.

"I have never felt remorse before. Not in all my years of conning women. Never once. But I felt it with you. I thought it would go away, but it's been getting worse instead of better. And there's more. I-I've missed you."

She was staring at him, probing. He wished he could let down his guard, let her dig around inside his thoughts and see that he meant what he said-but there were too many things she couldn't know.

"And besides all that, I kept getting the feeling that this mission of yours could be dangerous."

"So you want me to believe you're selfless?"

"Hell, no! I thought by coming out here, helping you do this thing that means so much to you, I might somehow atone for my sins and these feelings of regret would go away." He thumped a palm on the steering wheel. "I don't like feeling this way, Topaz. It's affecting my work."

"Your work?"

"Yes, my work. How am I supposed to move on to the next mark if I have to worry that I've somehow developed a conscience?"

She drew a breath, then blew it out slowly. "I suppose that's at least...plausible."

"Just assume it's the truth for now, and let's move on, okay? Who-besides me-knew you were coming here?"

She pursed her lips. "Besides you? The only people I've spoken with are the owners of the villa I rented. But I didn't tell them who I was."

"Could they have recognized you, like Rebecca did?"

"I haven't seen them face-to-face."

"All right. It's a simple thing to find out, really."

"Is it?"

He shot her a smirk. "Hello! We're vampires."


"So who wrote the story? Is there a byline?"

She looked at the piece again, then nodded. "Les Marlboro."

"Sounds like an anti-smoking ad. All right, so we find out where this Marlboro man lives, and we pay him a little visit. He'll tell us who his source is."

She shot him a look-a worried look. "I don't think we need to go that far."

"You're kidding me. You're okay with letting someone spy on you and report your activities to the press?"

"I just think there might be a less...violent way of finding out."

"I wasn't suggesting we torture him," he said. "Much."

"We can find another way."

He shrugged and turned into the driveway of the villa. "All right, if you insist." He glanced at the entry door, which stood slightly open. "You've had company."

She followed his gaze. "Son of a..."

Topaz got out of the car, slammed the door and strode up the walk. She shoved the front door wide and stepped inside, then stood there, sensing for a presence with her mind even while her eyes took in the mess around her.

Jack was beside her a heartbeat later. Careful now. They might still be here.

"No one's here," she replied aloud and waved an arm. "Look at this mess. Whoever it was, they went through everything."

"Was there anything for them to find?"

"The file you gave me. My own notes. The DVD." As she spoke, she moved through the place, checking the drawer where those things had been stored. "Odd."


"They left the DVD."

He shrugged. "If they have an interest in your mother-or you, for that matter-they probably already have a copy."

"I'm going to check upstairs."

"I'll take a look around outside, though I don't feel anyone close."

She agreed, and headed up the stairs to the bedroom she'd been using. Her things had been tossed, every drawer opened, including the one in the bedside stand that had held the one thing she never wanted anyone else to see. Her journal and the little pen she kept with it were still there. That journal held her innermost thoughts. Her secrets. Her vulnerabilities. Every emotion she'd experienced about Jack. The intruder hadn't taken it, but he might have looked at it. And she knew Jack hadn't done it, because he'd been with her.

She felt violated. Red-hot fury came on the heels of that emotion, and she liked that a lot better.

"Topaz? Anything missing up here?"

She closed the drawer slowly and turned to face him. "I've changed my mind. Let's pay this Les Marlboro a visit tonight."

It wasn't difficult to locate the man. He wasn't listed in the phone book, but the paper's offices were in L.A., which was only a half-hour drive away, and breaking and entering came easily to vampires. Especially, Topaz knew, to Jack. Within ten minutes of entering the building, they had located Les Marlboro's cubicle and, after rifling the desk, his home address.

Which brought them to his door. He lived south of L.A., so it was on the way back to Santa Luna. His house was a pepperbox in the 'burbs, but the name on the mailbox was Adams, not Marlboro. She imagined writers with the scruples of this one probably had to use pseudonyms for their own protection. God, she thought, I hope he doesn't have kids.

All the lights were off. Either everyone was asleep or no one was home. Jack reached for the doorknob.

Topaz put a hand on his arm. "Wait."

He tensed. His bicep bulged underneath her palm, and she experienced a brief but powerful rush of desire. She'd always loved biceps. They were the sexiest part of a man, in her opinion. And his were sexier than most. Touching them had always turned her on.

She shook off the heat of wanting him and nodded at the little metallic tag affixed to the siding near the door: These Premises Protected by Sentinel Alarms.

"Yeah. Look how old that sign is," he whispered. "When people first get these systems, they use them religiously. Then they get complacent and stop setting them. Even people who do use them tend to set them when they're on vacation and leave them unarmed while they're home. Trust me, no alarm is going to sound."

"And what if you're wrong?"

"I'm never wrong." He said it with a look and a smile that did as much for her insides as his flexing bicep had. "But if I am, we can be out of here in short order. No harm done."

She nodded, knowing he was right. With their preternatural speed, they could move so fast that they would appear only as a blur to mortal eyes. In the darkness of night, even that much might not be visible. "All right, go ahead."

He put his hand on the doorknob, focused his attention on it. An instant later, she heard the lock free itself. Then he ran his palm up the surface of the door, past the dead bolt, and shook his head. "He didn't even throw the bolt."

Topaz made a "tsk tsk" sound, then stiffened in anticipation as Jack turned the knob and opened the door.

No alarm sounded. She glanced at the panel that was mounted to the wall just inside the door, and it read, The Adamses' System Is Secure. A green light glowed from its face.

"Not as secure as if you'd armed the darn thing, but still, secure," Jack whispered.

She frowned and studied him. "You're enjoying this."

"It's what I do. I'm good at it."

He sounded as if he were proud of the fact. Rolling her eyes, she continued through the house, which was small enough that it didn't take long. Les Marlboro/Adams apparently lived alone, so that was a plus. No children to traumatize, no mate to contend with.

They stepped into the lone bedroom and stood there, looking at the sleeping man. He wasn't bad-looking, Topaz thought. Not attractive, but not repulsive, either. Must be his personality that kept him living alone.

Or maybe he's just a confirmed bachelor. Jack spoke to her silently, as the man lay sleeping.

There's no such thing.

Excuse me, but you're looking at one.

She shook her head. When you fall in love, Jack, you're not even going to know what hit you, much less be content with living alone any longer.


She shrugged and gazed again at the man in the bed. Mid-thirties, brown hair, starting to show a little gray and some thinning in the center. He had a bit of a belly, too, expanding the blankets that covered him. Mortality sucked. She glanced at Jack. So what's the plan?

He grinned at her, then walked over to the bed and crouched low. Bending close to the man's ear, he said, "Wake up, pal. We've got some talking to do."

The man's eyes flew open wide, and he immediately sat up in the bed.

Jack slammed a palm into his chest, pushing him flat again. "You aren't to speak until I ask you to. I could kill you very easily, and way faster than you could get to the telephone."

"Wh-what do you want? You want money? Jesus, take it, just don't-"

Jack gazed hard at the man, and Topaz knew he was exerting the power of his mind. The man's jaw clamped shut and his eyes went wider. Jack was preventing him from speaking as effectively as if he'd clapped a hand over his mouth.

"I said not to speak until I ask you to." Then Jack smiled. "Oh, yes. That's right. We're not your garden-variety burglars. We're not even human. Now, there are two ways this can go. You can tell us what we want to know, and we'll leave here and you'll never see us again. Or you can be stubborn and make us torture it out of you. Either way, we'll get what we came for. Is that understood?"

Les strained to move his mouth.

Jack smiled. "Oh. Sorry. Go ahead, you can answer now."

Les opened his mouth experimentally, then rubbed his jaw with one hand.

"Do you understand your options?" Jack asked.

"Yeah. I got it."

"Good. This lovely lady has a few questions for you. You will answer them. And you will tell no one of this visit. Unless you want it repeated in a far less pleasant manner."

Frowning, Les looked at Topaz. Then he looked again, his eyes straining.

"Who was your source for the Tanya DuFrane story that ran today?"

His eyes widened. "Holy shit. You-you're her, aren't you?"

"That is not the answer to my question, Mr.... Adams, is it?"

"You haven't aged," he muttered. "That photo I ran of you was ten years old. I couldn't find any more recent ones-"

"There aren't any more recent ones."

"But you haven't changed...except-"

"I'm paler, I know. I am not, Mr. Adams, pink. Now, will you tell me what I need to know?"

He shook his head. "No. I...I can't."

Sighing, she looked at Jack. "Make him tell me, Jack."

Nodding, Jack said, "I was getting hungry anyway." Then he bared his fangs and jerked the man out of bed by the collar of his pajamas. Jack held him a foot above the floor.

The man's scream was pathetic and loud.

Jack gripped Les's chin and tipped his head back, moving closer to his throat.

"Don't! Don't. I'll tell you! It was Argent."

Topaz blinked in shock. "Kimber Argent? The woman who owns Avalon?"

"No. Her husband, Albert. He recognized you as soon as he saw you."

"We never met face-to-face," she said.

"He's right next door in the apartment. Besides, he has cameras all over that place. He feeds me stories all the time. Makes more money for me than any other source. Hell, that villa of his is bugged till hell won't have it. There's video surveillance, too, but Argent says it's malfunctioning or something. Celebrities stay there all the time, and I get a ton of gossip on them from him."

Topaz muttered, "I should have guessed. So who broke in there tonight? Was it you, looking for more dirt?"

"Someone broke in?" he asked, wide-eyed.

"Yes, someone broke in. Was it you?" she repeated, growing impatient.

"No!" He swung his gaze from her to Jack and back again, afraid, she thought, that they didn't believe him. "I wouldn't need to break in, Argent would let me in if I asked him. But I haven't asked. And I won't." He was clearly terrified. "Look, I'm sorry. I didn't know you were-whatever the hell you are. I'll fix it. I'll print a retraction, say it was all a mistake."

"I'm afraid the damage has been done, Mr. Adams," Jack said. He dropped the man back onto the bed. "You'll sleep now. You'll remember this as a bad dream, nothing more. And you won't run any more stories about Tanya DuFrane, no matter how tempting those stories might be."

"I won't. I promise. I-"

"Sleep." Jack said the word firmly, with a piercing gaze, and the man sank back onto his pillows. His eyes fell closed. "It was a bad dream," Jack whispered, leaning closer. "It was nothing but a nightmare. We were never here."

Topaz touched his arm. "You could have used that same technique to get him to talk in the first place, you know."

"Of course I know. But scaring the hell out of him was much more fun. Besides, he had it coming. Bottom-feeding slug."

She didn't entirely disagree with him, she thought as they walked out of the man's house.

"Where are you taking me?" she asked as Jack drove through the rapidly fading night. "This isn't the way back to Avalon Mansion."

"It's almost dawn. Surely you don't want to spend the day there."

"That was the plan."

He sent her a look of disbelief. "We're completely defenseless when we sleep. You have no idea who broke in there, and they could come back."

"What for? They already searched the place and took what they wanted."

Jack drew a breath. "Unless what they wanted was you."

"Don't be melodramatic."

"I'm not. Topaz, consider what you're doing here. You're trying to unmask a killer, a person who has spent the past thirty-six years believing he got away with murder. You don't think that tabloid story made him nervous? You don't think he's still capable of killing to protect himself?"

She didn't answer, only lowered her head.

"You know I'm right," Jack insisted.

"Maybe." She sighed. "So where are you taking me, then?"

"My place. It's not much, but it'll have to do. We'll have time tomorrow night to make alternate arrangements. Right after I have a conversation with Mr. Argent."

"All right."

She didn't think he required her consent at this point, but she gave it. It was odd how it felt almost as if he were trying to protect her. It would be easy to believe that-too easy. So she refused. There had to be something in this for Jack. In the end, there always was.

At least she knew for sure now that he hadn't been the one selling information on her to the tabloids.

Jack pulled the car into an empty parking area off the side of the road. They got out, and he locked it up, pocketed the keys and said, "This way."

"Oh, Lord. We're not sleeping in the woods, are we? You didn't find a cave or a hollow tree or something equally putrid, did you?"

He looked at her briefly and kept on walking, up a hill, across a tree-dotted field, into the woods and then out of them again. The sky was beginning to fade to a lighter shade of gray. Sunrise wasn't far off.

Then she saw the cemetery and stopped in her tracks. He kept right on walking through, right up to the biggest crypt in the entire place. It was huge, ornate, made of gray stone, and came complete with a gargoyle guarding its roof.

"You have got to be kidding me."

"Do I?" He opened the heavy door and looked back at her. "It's quite cozy inside. Come on now, you don't have time to be fussy."

"I'm not being fussy, but for God's sake, Jack, could you have come up with anything more cliched?"

"Nope. I tried, but this was the best I could do. Come on. We don't have all day. Or all night."

Shaking her head in disgust, she walked inside. He closed the door behind her, but it didn't matter; she could see perfectly well in the darkness. There were blankets and pillows spread over a bier, a lantern on the floor, and his backpack leaning in one corner alongside a cooler with the Red Cross's logo on the front.

"Sustenance?" she asked, nodding at it.

"Help yourself. Unless...well, if you want you could, um..." He tipped his head back a bit and ran his forefinger over his jugular. "Eat me."

"In your dreams, Jack."

"Sometimes, yes."

She punched him in the shoulder and moved toward the cooler to take what she needed from inside. "Any bodies in here?" she asked.

"Nothing recent. I think the newest has been here fifty years."

"That's a relief, at least. No decomposing corpses to sleep with." She finished the blood and returned the empty plastic bag to the cooler, to be disposed of later. Then she stretched her arms over her head as the lethargy began to creep in. She reached for a blanket, tugged it from the bier.

Jack gripped the corner and pulled it from her hands. "It's safe to sleep with me, Topaz. We'll both be dead to the world in a few minutes. There's no time for me to seduce you, even if I was planning to break our deal-which I'm not, by the way."

"So sue me for not trusting you."

"You're not fooling either of us. It's yourself you don't trust."

"Oh, please, you're not all that hard to resist." She let go of the blanket, and then, to prove her point, she peeled off her clothes, stripping down to her bra and matching panties, and climbed into the makeshift bed. It was surprisingly soft, and she realized he'd equipped it with an air mattress. "Nice touch."

Smiling to himself, Jack peeled off his clothes, as well, and got in beside her, wearing only his boxer-briefs. He pulled the covers over them both, but he was careful not to touch her. There was a mere inch of space between them, and he rolled onto his side, facing her, so close she could feel his breath on her cheek.

"You can kiss me good-night if you want to," he said.

"Why on earth would I want to?"

He shrugged. "To thank me for my help. To show some gratitude that I'm trying to keep you safe. To-"

"To shut you up?" She rolled onto her side, facing him, and pressed her lips to his. It was a peck. It was brief, and firm, but when she pulled back, she could still feel those lips under hers. He had the softest lips. He always had. Her heart softened a little, and she leaned in again. This time she pressed her mouth gently against his, pulling back when he parted his lips and began moving them in that way he had that always drove her wild.

She could still taste him.

"Sleep well, Topaz," he whispered.

"No choice about that." Thank God, she thought. Because if there were, she knew she wouldn't sleep at all. Not with him this close. Not with every night they'd ever spent wrapped around each other replaying in her mind.

She felt the sun's energy rising, and with a rush of gratitude, she let her eyes fall closed.

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