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Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #General, #Anthologies (Multiple Authors)

Hotter Than Hell (50 page)

BOOK: Hotter Than Hell
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This exchange would be fair. She would not simply take from him. He would have pleasure as well.

She rubbed her hands down his chest, down his belly. He moaned, shivered under her touch but did not interfere. She traced every curve of his body: down his ribs, his hips. Stretched out on the bed beside him, she took his penis in her hand. Again, their mouths met. His kissing was urgent, fevered, and she kept pace with him. He was growing slick with sweat and smelled of musk.

She laughed. The sound just bubbled out of her. Lips apart, eyes gleaming, she found joy in this. She would live, she would not open the curtains on the dawn. She had power in this existence and she would learn to use it.

“Oh my God,” Chris murmured. He froze, his eyes wide, his blood suddenly cooled. In only a second, she felt the sweat on his body start to chill as fear struck him. He wouldn’t even notice it yet.

He was staring at her, her open, laughing mouth, the pointed canine teeth she’d been so careful to disguise until this moment, when euphoria overcame her.

In a moment of panic like this, it might all fall apart. An impulse to run struck her, but she’d come too far, she was too close to success. If she fled now she might never regain the nerve to try again.

“Shh, shh, it’s all right,” she whispered, stroking his hair, nuzzling his cheek, breathing comfort against him. “It’s fine, it’ll be fine.”

She brought all her nascent power to bear: seduction, persuasion. The creature’s allure. The ability to fog his mind, to erase all else from his thoughts but his desire for her, to fill his sight only with her.

“It’s all right, Chris. I’ll take care of you. I’ll take good care of you.”

The fear in his eyes ebbed, replaced by puzzlement—some part of his mind asking what was happening, who was she, what was she, and why was she doing this to him. She willed him to forget those questions. All that mattered were her, him, their joint passion that would feed them both: his desire, and her life.

He was still hard against her hand, and she used that. Gently, carefully, she urged him back to his heat, brought him again to that point of need. She stroked him, first with fingertips, then with her whole hand, and his groan of pleasure gratified her. When he tipped back his head, his eyes rolling back a little, she knew he had returned to her.

The next time she kissed him, his whole body surged against her.

She twined her leg around his; he moved against her, insistent. But she held him, pinned him, and closed her mouth over his neck. There she kissed, sucked—felt the hot river of his blood so close to his skin, just under her tongue. She almost lost control, in her need to take that river into herself.

Oh so carefully, slowly, to make sure she did this right and made no mistakes, she bit. Let her needle teeth tear just a little of his skin.

The flow of blood hit her tongue with a shock and instantly translated to a delicious rush that shuddered through her body. Blood slipped down her throat like honey, burning with richness.

Clenching all her muscles, groaning at the flood of it, she drank. Her hand closed tight around his erection, moved with him, and his body responded, his own wave of pleasure bringing him to climax a moment later.

She held him while he rocked against her, and she drank a dozen swallows of his blood. No more than that. Do not kill, Alette’s first lesson. But a dozen mouthfuls would barely weaken him. He wouldn’t even notice.

She licked the wound she’d made to hasten its healing. He might notice the marks and believe them to be insect bites. He would never know she’d been here.

His body radiated the heat of spent desire. She lay close to him, gathering as much of it as she could into herself. She now felt hot—vivid and alive. She could feel his blood traveling through her, keeping her alive.

Stroking his hair, admiring the lazy smile he wore, she whispered to him. “You won’t remember me.

You won’t remember what happened tonight. You had a nice dream, that’s all. A vivid dream.”

“Emma,” he murmured, flexing toward her for more. Almost, her resolve broke. Almost, she saw that pulsing artery in his neck and went to drink again.

But she continued, “If you see me again, you won’t know me. Your life will go on as if you never knew me. Go to sleep. You’ll sleep very well tonight.”

She brushed his hair with her fingers, and a moment later he was snoring gently. She pulled a blanket over him. Kissed his forehead.

Straightening her bra, buttoning her blouse, she left the room. Made sure all the lights were off.

Locked the door on her way out.

She walked home. It was the deepest, stillest hour of night, or early morning. Streetlights turned colors but no cars waited at intersections. No voices drifted from bars and all the storefronts were dark. A cold mist hung in the air, ghostlike. Emma felt that she swam through it.

The stillest part of night, and she had never felt more awake, more alive. Every pore felt the touch of air around her. Warm blood flowed in her veins, firing her heart. She walked without fear along dark streets, secure in the feeling that the world had paused to notice her passage through it.

She entered Alette’s town home through the kitchen door in back rather than through the front door, because she’d always come in through the back in her student days when she studied in Alette’s library and paid for school by being Alette’s part-time housekeeper. That had all changed. Those days—nights

—were finished. But she’d never stop using the back door.

“Emma?” Alette called from the parlor.

Self-conscious, Emma followed the voice and found Alette in her favorite chair in the corner, reading a book. Emma tried not to feel like a kid sneaking home after a night of mischief.

Alette replaced a bookmark and set the book aside. “Well?”

Her unnecessary coat wrapped around her, hands folded before her, Emma stood before the mistress of the house. Almost, she reverted to the teenager’s response: “Fine, okay, whatever.” Monosyllables and a fast exit.

But she felt herself smile broadly, happily. “It was good.”

“And the gentleman?”

“He won’t remember me.”

“Good,” Alette said, and smiled. “Welcome to the Family, my dear.”

She went back to the bar once more, a week later. Sitting at the bar, she traced condensation on the outside of a glass of gin and tonic on the rocks. She hadn’t sipped, only tasted, drawing a lone breath so she could take in the scent of it.

The door opened, bringing with it a cold draft and a crowd of college students. Chris was among them, laughing at someone’s joke, blond hair tousled. He walked right by her on his way to the pool tables.

Flashed her a hurried smile when he caught her watching him. Didn’t spare her another glance, in the way of two strangers passing in a crowded bar.

Smiling wryly to herself, Emma left her drink at the bar and went out to walk in the night.


Linda Winstead Jones

CLAIRE PRESSED HER BACK TO THE WALL AND listened to the footsteps. When she was certain her prey was moving away from her, not toward her, she leaned forward to peek around the corner and watch him walk down the dimly lit hallway. Watching her neighbor walk away was not exactly a chore. Not in those jeans.

Too bad he was a vampire.

When he turned the corner and was out of sight she stepped into the hallway proper and silently followed in his footsteps. It sounded crazy, she knew that, but there were too many coincidences to ignore. He never went out in the daytime. He was much too pale, as if he had never seen the sun. He always wore black. Even those jeans he seemed to favor were a faded shade of black. She never saw him bring home groceries of any kind. Yes, he was lean, but the man had to eat something . He was definitely mysterious, and the one time he’d caught her eye she’d been sure he was hypnotizing her, even though the glance had lasted only a few seconds. Or maybe one full second.

Just last week she’d found an inexplicable dusting of dirt in the hallway outside his door. Dirt! This apartment building was surrounded by concrete, and the amount of dirt she’d seen was small but more than what would’ve been brought in on someone’s shoe. Maybe it was some of the dirt that lined his coffin, or—gross—the remains of a dusted enemy vamp. When she’d gone back to check the dirt more closely to see if it looked like potting soil or bone dust, it had been gone. Someone had disposed of the evidence.

One night not so long ago she’d been awakened by an absolutely unearthly howl that had sent chills down her spine. She wasn’t sure if it had been a victim’s plea or a monster’s cry of victory, but the sound had been memorable and unnatural.

There was yet another telling clue that all was not as it should be. Marlie James from the second floor had a new cat. The feline Houdini was tough to contain and very often ended up wandering throughout the building. Fluffy wouldn’t come to the third floor. Marlie had walked up once with the cat in her arms, but before she’d reached her destination Fluffy had screeched and escaped her owner’s arms and run down the stairs. Animals knew. Animals sensed danger when humans did not, and Fluffy obviously sensed danger on the third floor.

Claire’s apartment shared a common wall with the newest resident of the complex, here on the third floor of this less-than-magnificent but relatively trendy apartment building in downtown Atlanta. He played music often. Apparently he didn’t care for popular tunes, but was stuck in the forties. Claire recognized some of the songs he played as those her grandparents had favored. Obviously her neighbor had been turned into a vampire in the forties, and he was still drawn to the music of the era in which he’d been human. What other explanation made sense?

Claire didn’t jump to conclusions without checking as many facts as possible. She’d done an extensive search on the Internet and found almost nothing about her neighbor. Simon Darrow, that was his name, had lived in four places in the past three years. Before that, nothing—that she could find, at least. That in itself was odd. The man hadn’t popped out of thin air! True, she wasn’t a detective and she didn’t have access to every useful Internet site, but still, she should’ve been able to find more.

It didn’t help Darrow’s case that he’d moved into the building right before people from the neighborhood started to disappear. Charlie on the first floor, who everyone knew hit his wife when he drank too much. The often-obscene panhandler who’d been a regular on the southeast corner for as long as Claire could remember. That punk who’d robbed old Mrs. Bernard and gotten off with a slap on the wrist. All of them gone in a mere six weeks. Just gone . The people who’d disappeared would not exactly be missed, but she couldn’t allow that to cloud her judgment.

Add the insignificant detail that Claire had been reading quite a few vampire novels lately, and it all made perfect sense.

The common belief was that vampires didn’t exist, but Claire knew to the pit of her soul that there was more to the world than most people realized. Granny Eileen had spoken often of ghosts and were-beasts, of vampires and curses. There had been a time, a span of several years in fact, when Claire had chosen not to believe the tales her grandmother had spun so effortlessly, but in the past few years it seemed that her eyes and ears had been opened. Legends had to be based in fact, and it wasn’t her fault that most people had to deny that fact in order to survive from one day to the next.

Her overactive imagination didn’t hurt matters at all.

It was obvious that something was going on with her neighbor, and like it or not, vampire made sense.

The dirt, the howl, Fluffy, the missing people…yes, it made perfect sense. No one would believe her if she didn’t collect proof.

Claire walked down the hallway on quick tiptoes, hoping that when she glanced around the next corner she’d catch a glimpse of her neighbor as he made his way to the stairwell. The elevator was out of order once again—no surprise there—and to reach the stairs she and everyone else on her end of the floor had to walk two and a half short hallways. Down the hallway, right, and then right again before reaching the stairs.

She wouldn’t follow her subject outside, she hadn’t entirely lost her mind, but she had decided to keep a detailed record of his comings and goings as best she could. One never knew what small detail might be helpful.

When she reached the corner she flattened her back to the wall as she had before, and she listened. She heard nothing, but then her neighbor did have an easy step, even in those heavy black boots he usually wore. Another vampire trait, she supposed. The easy step, not the boots. Maybe he was floating an inch or so above the floor, since he didn’t know anyone was watching. She leaned slowly forward to take a glimpse down the hallway…

And found herself nose to chest with her vampire neighbor.

Claire caught and held her breath, as her heart threatened to break free of her chest. There was no way she could outrun him, whether he was a vampire or not. That meant she’d have to wing it. First, she had to regain the ability to breathe.

“Are you stalking me?” he asked, a touch of humor in his deep voice.

“I…you…of course not.” Claire managed a tight smile. “I lost an earring. I thought maybe I dropped it earlier this evening, on my way in after work.”

“Too bad. I was rather hoping I had a pretty stalker.”

Yes, there was something unnaturally hypnotic about his eyes, which were such a dark brown they were almost black. She could feel herself being sucked in by those eyes. That had to be a vampire trick.

He thought she was pretty?

The man, who was taller up close than she’d imagined he would be, offered his hand. “Simon Darrow.

I live next door to you.”

After a moment of paralyzing fear, she put her hand in his and shook. “Claire Murphy. I know.” His hand was oddly warm, for someone who was possibly undead.

He released his grip and leaned casually against the wall. “So, what does this earring look like?”

“What earring?”

“The one you lost,” he said, that hint of good humor remaining in his hypnotic voice.

BOOK: Hotter Than Hell
13.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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