Dark Lover | Chapter 21 of 67

Author: J.R. Ward | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 300561 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter Eleven

 

Beth’s alarm clock went off, and she slapped it into silence. The buzzing was redundant. She’d been up for at least an hour, her mind humming like a lawn mower. With the dawn’s arrival the hot night’s mystery had faded, and she was forced to face what she had done.

Unprotected sex with a total stranger was one hell of a wake-up call.

What had she been thinking? She’d never done that before. She’d always been safe. Thank God she was on the pill to regulate her sporadic periods, but as for the other implications, her stomach rolled.

When she saw him again she’d ask him if he was clean, and pray the answer was the one she wanted to hear. As well as honest.

Maybe if she’d had more dating practice, she would have had some protection ready. But when was the last time she’d slept with anyone? A long time. Longer than the shelf life of a box of condoms.

The extended dry spell in her sex life was as much from lack of interest as any kind of morals thing. Men just weren’t that high on her list of priorities. They ranked somewhere down around getting her teeth cleaned and having her car serviced. And she didn’t have a car anymore.

She’d often wondered if there was something wrong with her, especially as she watched couples walk by on the street hand in hand. Most people her age were dating wildly, trying to find altar material. Not her. She just hadn’t had any burning desire to be with a man, and had even considered the possibility that she was a lesbian. Trouble was, she wasn’t attracted to women.

So last night had been a revelation.

She stretched, a delicious tightness coiled in her thighs. Closing her eyes, she felt him inside of her, his thickness surging and retreating until that final moment when his body had convulsed into hers with a powerful rush, his arms crushing her against him.

Her body arched involuntarily, the fantasy strong enough to have her throbbing between her legs. Echoes of those orgasms made her bite her lip.

With a groan she got to her feet and headed for the bathroom. When she saw the shirt he’d ripped off his chest in the wastebasket, she picked it up and held it to her nose. The black fabric smelled like him.

The throbbing got worse.

How did he and Butch know each other?

Was he on the force? She’d never seen him before, but there were a number of them she didn’t know.

Vice, she thought. He must be a vice cop. Or maybe a SWAT team leader.

Because he was definitely the kind of man who looked for trouble and served asses up on a plate when he found it.

Feeling as if she were sixteen, she shoved the shirt under her pillow. And then saw the bra he’d taken off her on the floor. Good lord, the front had been cut apart, sliced by something sharp.

Weird.

After a quick shower, and a faster breakfast of two oatmeal cookies, a handful of Pepperidge Farm goldfish, and a juice box, she walked down to the office. She’d been in her cube staring at her screen saver for a half hour when her phone rang. It was José.

“We had another busy night,” he said, yawning.

“Bomb?”

“Nope. Dead body. Prostitute was found with her throat cut over on Third and Trade. If you come down to the station you can see the pictures, read the reports. Off the record, of course.”

She was out on the street two minutes after she’d hung up the phone. She figured she’d hit the station first and then head over to the Wallace Avenue address.

She couldn’t pretend she wasn’t aching to see her midnight visitor again.

As she walked to the precinct house, the morning sun was unmercifully bright, and she dug into her purse for her shades. When they weren’t enough to cut the sting, she shielded her eyes with her hand. It was a relief to get inside the cool, dim police station.

José wasn’t in his office, but she found Butch coming out of his.

He smiled at her dryly, the corners of his hazel eyes wrinkling. “We have to stop meeting like this.”

“Heard you have a new case.”

“I’m sure you have.”

“Care to comment, Detective?”

“We issued a statement this morning.”

“Which no doubt said absolutely nothing. Come on, can’t you spare a few words for me?”

“Not if we’re on the record.”

“How about off?”

He took a piece of gum out of his pocket and methodically unwrapped it, folding the pale slice into his mouth and biting down. She seemed to remember him smoking at some point, but hadn’t seen him lighting up recently. Which probably explained all that Wrigley’s.

“Off the record, O’Neal,” she prompted. “I swear.”

He nodded his head over his shoulder. “We need a closed door then.”

His office was about the size of her cubicle at the paper, but at least it had a door and a window. His furniture was not as good as hers, though. His desk was an old wooden one that looked as if it had been used as a carpenter’s workbench. There were hunks out of the top, and the varnish was so scratched it absorbed the fluorescent light as if thirsty.

He tossed a file at her before sitting down. “She was found behind a bunch of trash cans. Most of her blood ended up in the sewer, but the coroner thinks he found traces of heroin in her system. She’d had sex that evening, but that’s not exactly news.”

“Oh, my God, this is Mary,” Beth said, looking at a gruesome picture and sinking into a chair.

“Twenty-one years old.” Butch cursed under his breath. “What a fucking waste.”

“I know her.”

“From the station?”

“Growing up. We were in the same foster home for a little while. Afterward, I’d run into her sometimes. Usually here.”

Mary Mulcahy had been a beautiful little girl. She’d been in the home with Beth for only about a year before she’d been sent back to her birth mother. Two years later she was back in state custody after having been left alone for a week at the age of seven. She’d said she’d lived on raw flour after the rest of the food had run out.

“I’d heard you’d been in the system,” Butch said, getting thoughtful as he looked at her. “Mind if I ask why?”

“Why do you think? No parents.” She closed the file and slid it onto the desk. “Did you find a weapon?”

His eyes narrowed, but not unkindly. He seemed to be debating whether to take her lead and let the subject drop.

“Weapon?” she prompted.

“Another throwing star. Had traces of blood on it, but not hers. We also found some powdered residue in two different places, as if someone had lit off flares and put them on the ground. Hard to imagine the killer’d want to draw attention to the body, though.”

“You think what happened to Mary and the car bomb are related?”

He shrugged, a careless lift of his broad shoulders. “Maybe. But if someone was really doing a payback on Big Daddy, they’d have hit higher up the food chain than her. They’d have gone after the pimp himself.”

Beth closed her eyes, envisioning Mary as a five-year-old, a headless Barbie doll in a tattered dress tucked under her arm.

“Then again,” Butch said, “maybe this is just getting started.”

She heard his chair move and looked up as he came around the desk to her.

“You got any plans for dinner tonight?” he asked.

“Dinner?”

“Yeah. You and me.”

Hard-ass was asking her out? Again?

Beth stood, wanting to be on an equal footing with him. “Ah, yes—no, I mean, thanks, but no.”

Even if they didn’t have a professional relationship of sorts, she had other things in mind. Imagine that. Keeping her calendar open just in case the man in leather wanted to see her tonight as well as this morning.

Damn, one good lay and she thought they had a thing going? She needed to get real.

Butch smiled cynically. “Someday I’m going to figure out why you don’t like me.”

“I do like you. You don’t take shit from anyone, and even though I don’t approve of your methods, I can’t pretend I didn’t like the fact that you broke Billy Riddle’s nose again.”

The harsh planes of Butch’s face softened. As his eyes bored into hers, she thought she must be crazy for not being attracted to him.

“And thanks for sending your friend over last night,” she said, putting her bag up on her shoulder. “Although I have to admit, he scared the hell out of me at first.”

Right before the man had showed her exactly what the highest and best use for the human body was.

Butch frowned. “Friend?”

“You know. The one who looks like some kind of Goth nightmare. Tell me, he’s vice, isn’t he?”

“What the hell are you talking about? I didn’t send anyone over to your place.”

All the blood drained out of her head.

And the growing suspicion and alarm on Butch’s face kept her from trying to jog his memory.

She headed for the door. “My mistake.”

Butch grabbed her arm. “Who the hell was at your apartment last night?”

She wished she knew.

“No one. Like I said, my mistake. I’ll see you later.”

She rushed through the lobby, her heart beating triple time. As she burst outside, she winced when the sun hit her face.

One thing was clear: There was no way she was going to meet that man this morning, even though 816 Wallace Avenue was in the best part of the city and it was broad daylight.

 

 

 

By four that afternoon, Wrath was about to explode.

He hadn’t been able to get back to Beth’s the night before.

And she hadn’t shown this morning.

Her failure to come to him meant one of two things: Something had happened to her or she was blowing him off.

He checked the braille clock with his fingertips. Sundown was still hours away.

Goddamned summer days. Too long. Way too long.

He stalked to the bathroom, splashed his face with water, and braced his arms on the marble counter. In the glow from the candle set next to the sink, he stared at himself, seeing nothing more than an indistinct rush of black hair, two smudgy eyebrows, and the outline of his face.

He was exhausted. He hadn’t slept all day, and the night before had been a train wreck.

Except for the part with Beth. That had been…

He cursed and toweled off.

God, what the hell was wrong with him? Being inside of that female was the worst of all the shit that had gone down last night. Courtesy of that stunning little interlude, his mind was wandering, his body was in a perpetual state of arousal, and his mood was in the crapper.

At least the latter was SOP for him.

Man, last night had been a total disaster.

After leaving the brothers, he and Vishous had gone across town to check out the mechanics shop. It was closed up tight as a tick, and after scoping the outside and breaking in, they’d determined it wasn’t used as a center. The decrepit building was too small above ground for one thing, and there was no hidden basement that they could find. Also, the neighborhood wasn’t prime. There were a couple of all-night diners around, one of which was frequented by the cops. Too much exposure.

He and Vishous were heading back to Darius’s, via a quick detour through Screamer’s to satisfy V’s craving for Grey Goose, when they walked into a problem.

That was when things had gone from bad into the FUBAR zip code.

In an alley, a civilian vampire was gravely wounded, with two lessers about to finish the job on him. Killing the lessers had taken some time because they were both well experienced, and the other vampire was dead when the fighting was over.

The young male had been toyed with cruelly, his body a pincushion of shallow stabs. Going by the raw patches on his knees and the gravel in his palms, he’d tried to drag himself away a number of times. There’d been fresh human blood around his mouth and the smell of it in the air, too, but they couldn’t stick around to check out the female he’d bitten.

Company had been coming.

Right after the lessers had poofed to their royal reward, the sound of cop sirens had broken out, an acoustic rash that meant someone had called 911 after having heard the fighting or seen the flashes of light. They’d barely had time to get gone with the corpse in Vishous’s Escalade.

Back at Darius’s, V had searched the body. In the male’s wallet there had been a slip of paper with the old language’s characters on it. Name, address, age. He’d been six months out from his transition. So damn young.

An hour before dawn, they’d taken the body to the very edge of town, to a good-looking house set way back in the woods. An older civilian couple had answered the door, and their terror at finding two warriors on the other side had smelled like burning garbage to Wrath. When they’d confirmed that they had a son, Vishous had gone back to the car and picked up the remains. The father had burst from the doorway, going for his boy, taking him from Vishous’s arms. Wrath had caught the mother as she’d crumpled.

The fact that the death had been avenged had calmed the father a little. But it hadn’t felt like enough. Not to Wrath.

He would see all lessers dead before he could rest.

Wrath closed his eyes, listening to the beat of Jay-Z’s The Black Album, trying to let go of the night before.

A rhythmic knocking broke through the music, and he willed the door open. “What’s up, Fritz?”

The butler came in carrying a silver tray. “I took the liberty of preparing a repast for you, master.”

Fritz put the food down on the low table in front of the couch. As he lifted the top off a covered dish, Wrath caught a whiff of herbed chicken.

Come to think of it, he was hungry.

He went over and sat down, picking up a heavy silver fork. He eyed the flatware. “Man, Darius liked expensive shit, didn’t he?”

“Oh, yes, master. Only the best for my princeps.”

The butler hovered as Wrath focused on getting some of the meat off the bone with the utensils. Fine motor skills were just not his bag, and he ended up picking the leg off the plate.

“Do you like the chicken, master?”

Wrath nodded as he chewed. “You’re damned handy with the stove.”

“I’m so glad you’ve decided to stay here.”

“Not for long. But don’t worry, you’ll have someone to look after.” Wrath pushed the fork into what looked like mashed potatoes. It was rice, and the stuff scattered. He cursed and tried to marshal some on the tines with his forefinger. “And she’ll be a hell of a lot easier to live with than I am.”

“I rather like looking after you. And master, I won’t prepare the rice again. I’ll also make sure your meat is cut up. I didn’t think.”

Wrath wiped his mouth with a linen napkin. “Fritz, don’t waste your time trying to please me.”

There was a soft laugh. “Darius was so very right about you, master.”

“That I’m a miserable son of a bitch? Yeah, he was a perceptive one, all right.” Wrath chased a piece of broccoli around with the fork. Damn it, he hated eating, especially if someone was watching him. “Never could figure out why he wanted me to come stay here so badly. No one could be that starved for company.”

“It was for you.”

Wrath narrowed his eyes behind his sunglasses. “Really.”

“He worried that you were so alone. Living by yourself. No real shellan, no doggen. He used to say that your isolation was a self-imposed punishment.”

“Well, it’s not.” Wrath’s voice sliced through the butler’s gentle tone. “And if you want to stay here, you’ll keep the psych theories to yourself, got it?”

Fritz jerked as if he’d been hit. He bent at the waist and started backing out of the room. “My apologies, master. It was grossly inappropriate of me to address you as I did.”

The door closed quietly.

Wrath leaned back against the sofa, Darius’s fork gripped in his hand.

Ah, Christ. That damn doggen was enough to drive a saint crazy.

And he was not lonely. Never had been.

Vengeance was one hell of a roommate.

 

 

 

Mr. X eyed the two students sparring with each other. They were well matched in size, both eighteen years old and built strong, but he knew which one was going to win.

Sure enough, a side kick came out fast and hard, putting the receiver on his back.

Mr. X called an end to the match and said nothing more as the victor reached out and helped the loser struggle to his feet. The show of courtesy was irritating, and he felt like punishing them both.

The first code of the society was clear: That which you put on the ground, you kicked until it ceased to move. It was just that simple.

Still, this was class, not the real world. And the parents who were letting their sons dabble in violence would have had something to say if their precious children came home fit to be buried.

As the two students bowed to him, the loser’s face was brilliant red, and not just from exertion. Mr. X let the class stare, knowing that shame and embarrassment were important parts of the corrective process.

He nodded at the victor.

“Fine job. Next time you bring him down faster though, right?” He turned to the loser. He passed his eyes from the guy’s head to his feet, noting the heaving breaths, the tremble in the legs. “You know where to go.”

The loser blinked rapidly as he walked over to the glass wall that looked out to the lobby. As required, he stood facing the clear panels, head up high so everyone who entered the building could see his face. If he brushed the tears off his cheeks, he would have to repeat the discipline during the next session.

Mr. X separated the class and began to put them through their exercises. He watched them, correcting stances and arm positions, but his mind was on other things.

Last night had been less than perfect. Far less.

Back home, his police scanner had informed him when the prostitute’s body had been found sometime after three A.M. There had been no mention of the vampire. Perhaps the lessers had taken the civilian away to toy with him.

It was a shame things hadn’t gone the way he’d hoped, and he wanted to get back out into the field. Using a newly slain human female as bait was going to work fine. But the tranquilizer darts needed to be calibrated better. He’d started with a relatively low dose, concerned about killing the civilian before he could work him over. Clearly the strength of the drug needed to be increased.

Tonight was a bust, though.

Mr. X eyed the loser.

This evening was all about recruiting. The ranks needed to be filled out a little following the disintegration of that new recruit two nights ago.

Back centuries ago, when there were many more vampires, the society had had hundreds of members, spread far and wide over the European continent as well as in the fledgling settlements in North America. Now that the vampire population had dwindled, however, so had the ranks of the society. It was a matter of practicality. A bored, inactive lesser was a bad thing. Chosen specifically for their capacity for violence, their murderous impulses couldn’t be put on ice just because there weren’t enough targets to go around. Quite a number of them had had to be put down for killing other lessers in competition for superiority in the ranks, an aggressive response more likely to occur if there was too little work. Or just as bad, they’d started taking out humans for sport.

The former was a disgrace and an inconvenience. The latter was unacceptable. It wasn’t that the Omega was concerned with human fatalities. Quite the contrary. But using discretion, moving in the shadows, killing swiftly and returning to the darkness, these were the tenets of slayers. Human attention was bad news, and nothing got the Homo sapiens stirred up more than a bunch of dead people.

Which was another reason why new recruits were tricky. They tended to have more hatred than focus. Seasoning was critical so that the secret nature of the aeons-old war between vampires and the society could be preserved.

Still, their ranks needed to be filled.

He eyed the loser and smiled, looking forward to the evening.

Shortly before seven o’clock, Mr. X drove out to the suburbs, easily locating 3461 Pillar Street. He put the Hummer in park and waited, passing the time by memorizing the split-level’s details. It was typical Middle America. Twenty-four hundred square feet, sitting smack-dab in the center of a tiny lot with one big tree. Neighbors were close enough to be able to read the writing on the kids’ cereal boxes in the morning and the labels on the adults’ domestic beer cans at night.

Happy, clean living. At least from the outside.

The screen door swung open, and the loser from this afternoon’s class bounded out as if he were getting free of a sinking ship. Mom followed, lingering on the front step and regarding the SUV in front of her house as though it were a bomb ready to go off.

Mr. X put down the window and waved. She returned the greeting after a moment.

Loser leaped into the Hummer, eyes shining with greed as he looked over the leather seats and the dials on the dashboard.

“Evening,” Mr. X said as he hit the gas.

The kid fumbled to get his hands up and bow his head. “Sensei.”

Mr. X smiled. “Glad you could make yourself available.”

“Yeah, well, my mother is a pain in my ass.” Loser was trying to be cool, punching the curse words hard.

“You shouldn’t talk about her like that.”

Loser had a moment’s confusion as he was forced to recalibrate his tough-guy act. “Ah, she wants me home by eleven. It’s a weeknight, and I gotta go to work in the morning.”

“We’ll make sure you’re back by then.”

“Where are we going?”

“To the other side of town. There’s someone I want you to meet.”

A little later Mr. X pulled into a long, curving driveway that wound among spotlit specimen trees and ancient-looking marble sculptures. There were boxwood topiaries on the grounds, too, standing like decorations on a green marzipan cake. A camel, an elephant, a bear. The clipping had been done by an expert, so there was no question as to what each one was.

Talk about upkeep, Mr. X thought.

“Wow.” Loser gave his neck a workout looking left and right. “What’s this? A park? Look, at that! It’s a lion. You know, I think I want to be a vet. I think that would be cool. You know, saving animals.”

Loser had been in the car for less than twenty minutes, and Mr. X was ready to see the last of him. The guy was like lint in food: an irritation that made you want to spit.

And not only because he said you know constantly.

They came around a turn, and a great brick mansion was revealed.

Billy Riddle was out front, leaning against a white column. His blue jeans hung low on his hips, flashing the waistband of his underwear, and he was working a set of keys in his hand, whipping them around on a string. He straightened when he caught sight of the Hummer, a smile pulling at the bandage on his nose.

Loser shifted in the seat like he’d been set up.

Billy headed for the front passenger door, moving his muscular body with ease. When he saw Loser sitting there, he glowered, nailing the other guy with a vicious stare. Loser unclipped the seat belt and reached for the handle.

“No,” Mr. X said. “Billy will sit behind you.”

Loser settled back against the seat, picking his lip.

When Loser didn’t vacate shotgun, Billy yanked open the rear door and slid in. He met Mr. X’s eyes in the mirror, and the hostility changed to respect.

“Sensei.”

“Billy, how are you this evening?”

“Good.”

“Fine, fine. Do me a favor and pull your pants up.”

Billy jacked his waistband as his eyes shifted to the back of Loser’s head. He looked as if he wanted to drill a hole in it, and going by Loser’s twitchy fingers, the other guy knew it.

Mr. X smiled.

Chemistry is everything, he thought.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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