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

Hotter Than Hell (55 page)

BOOK: Hotter Than Hell
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“But she’s old. ”

“Only because it suits her at this moment in time to be old.”

Claire pictured Mrs. Tillman’s sour but unthreatening face in her mind, and imagined that mouth coming down on her neck. She shuddered, and Simon wrapped his arms around her in response. “At least now I understand why you were so upset at my teeny obsession with vampires.”

“Teeny?” he teased.

“Miniscule.”

The moon was not full, and still Claire drank in its power. The moon was a living thing that fed her, that called to her like a drug she needed in order to survive, in order to be strong. The moon’s rays washed over her much as Simon’s hands did, and she knew she had made the right decision in offering him her neck. No wonder he was so often out at night. To be bathed in the moonlight was magical.

“When did you know…” she began and then faltered. “When did you see that I…”

“That you were meant to be mine?”

“Yes.” The words sounded so right, so true to her heart. Meant to be mine.

“The day I moved in I saw you come in from work, and…”

“The day you moved in?” she interrupted. “Why did you wait so long?”

“I knew if I was right and you were the one then you would come to me, in time. You did so, in your own unique way. You were drawn to me, Claire. That’s why you became obsessed. From that first glance, we were united.” With his fingertip, he touched the gold cross she wore. “I’m just glad this isn’t silver.”

Claire turned and leaned over the balcony railing, face lifted to the moon. A cool night breeze washed over her bare body and she opened her arms to drink it in. Even the brush of the wind on her skin felt finer, sharper, more beautiful.

Simon kissed the wound on her neck, a wound she knew would quickly disappear. “You are remarkably gorgeous tonight,” he whispered in her ear. “Gorgeous and powerful and mine in a thousand ways.” His body was molded to hers, and she felt as if she not only absorbed power from him but also gave back, in some way she could not yet explain. The night was at their feet, waiting to be claimed and conquered. Her life had just begun.

Again, Simon kissed her neck. “Moonlight becomes you, love,” he whispered against the sensitive skin. “Moonlight becomes you.”

DIRTY MAGIC

Kim Harrison

MIA WALKED DOWN THE DAMP, RAIN-DESERTED sidewalk, her seventy-five-dollar heels clicking faintly from fatigue on the wet cement. She was tired, but she could still maintain her elegant, upright posture if she moved slowly. Her dress-length overcoat and matching umbrella of midnight blue kept her dry, and it was rainy enough that she didn’t need to wear her sunglasses to protect her pale, nearly albino eyes.

With a small toss of her head, she shifted her black hair, cut short as she liked it. Traffic was light, but she didn’t want to risk being splashed, so she shifted closer to the classy, well-maintained narrow buildings that lined the street. The paper sack of groceries on her hip wasn’t heavy, but her daughter’s needs were telling. It wasn’t the usual fatigue brought on by an energetic newborn. Holly was the first banshee born in Cincinnati in over forty years, and if Mia couldn’t keep her in an emotion-rich environment, the child took what she needed from her mother. It wasn’t as if Holly could draw upon her father for her emotional needs. Not now anyway.

Frowning, Mia brushed her hair from her eyes and wondered if having a child at this particular time had been a good idea. But when Remus—psychopath, murderer, and gentle lover—had fallen into her lap by way of a bungled rape attempt, the chance to use his anger and frustration to engender a child in her had been too great. A smile curved Mia’s delicate mouth up. Remus had quickly learned the difference between his unreasonable rage at the world and her true hunger, becoming pliant and gentle.

Respectful. The perfect husband, the model father.

And at the thought of Holly, happy, inquisitive Holly, so pretty and soft, looking like a younger, mirror image of her mother, babbling innocently as she sat on her mother’s lap and basked in the love for her, Mia knew she’d have it no other way. She would do anything for her daughter. As her mother had done for her.

The soft whoosh of a passing car brought Mia’s head up, and she blinked at the rain heavy on her eyelashes despite the umbrella. It was cool and damp, and she was weary. Seeing a rain-abandoned table outside a cafe, she slowed, brushing once at the wrought-iron chair before sitting with her groceries on her lap and trusting her coat to keep her dry. The awning helped shield the rain and she closed her umbrella. She was just a casually sophisticated young woman waiting for a cab that would never come.

People passed, and slowly her pulse eased and her fatigue lessoned as she soaked in the emotions of the pedestrians, taking in flashes of feeling like water eddying around a rock in a streambed. It was all the law would allow now, this passive sipping of emotions. If she fed well, people noticed.

Mia straightened when a couple arguing over whether they should have taken a cab walked by, sensation rolling over her like a sunbeam. Almost she rose to fall into step behind them, to linger and drink it in, but she didn’t, and the warmth faded as the couple continued on.

One might think that a predator existing on emotions might have an easy life living in a city that measured its population in the hundreds of thousands, but since humanity had learned banshees were not the stuff of story but living among them, humans had armed themselves with knowledge, and their numbers had dwindled.

The image of a mysterious weeping woman foretelling death had given way to the reality of a sophisticated predator: a predator who could feed well upon office arguments started between coworkers with a careful word or two, gorge upon the death-energy a person released when dying, but barely survive upon the ambient emotions around her that the law allowed.

As in most fairy tales, there was a kernel of truth in the myth of a banshee’s tears. Created to serve as a conduit of emotions, they let a banshee feed from a safe distance or simply store the emotion for later consumption. For though banshees were predators thriving on death, they were also fragile. Much like a rattlesnake, they left their poison, then sat back to feed in safety while others fought, loved, or killed each other. Psychic vampires was what the psychology texts called them, a definition that Mia could not find fault with.

Her subconscious had brought her down this street for a reason, and as she fingered the tarnished coin draped around her neck on a tattered purple ribbon, her gaze traveled to the apartment building across from her, rising up through the misty rain, all the way to the topmost floor. The light was on, golden and hazy in the afternoon’s rain. Tom was in. But Tom was always in now. He was too tired to go to work. Not like when she first met him.

Nervous, Mia spun the wedding ring on her finger. Tom hadn’t given it to her. Tom hadn’t given Mia her beautiful daughter either. Remus had. There had been so much raw anger in him that she could have used it to create two children. But Remus could no longer give Holly the emotion she needed.

Glancing at the window hazy with rain, Mia hesitated. She had to be so careful never to permanently harm anyone. There were old ways to track her down and new, excruciating techniques to punish a species that lived on the emotions of another. Mia was a good girl, and now she had a daughter to think of.

I shouldn’t be doing this, Mia thought in worry. It’s too soon. Someone might see her. Someone might remember she’d been here. But she was tired, and the thought of Tom holding her, filling her with the strength of his love, was too strong a pull. He loved her. He loved her even knowing that she was why he was ill. He loved her knowing she was a banshee and unable to keep from stripping his emotions and strength from him. She needed to feel his arms around her, for just a moment.

With a soft quiver of anticipation to set her skin tingling, Mia stood, gathered her grocery bag onto her hip, and pushed herself into motion. Not bothering with the umbrella, she crossed the street with a false confidence, pacing to the unattended common door with a single-minded intensity, looking neither left nor right, praying no one would notice her.

Fear a dim substitute for strength, she pulled the glass door open and slipped inside. In the small space where the mailboxes were, she lifted her chin and ran a hand over her wet hair, feeling more sure now that she was off the street and out from so many potential eyes. The shiny front of the mailboxes threw back a blurry image—color mostly: dark hair, pale skin, and an almost-black coat.

Leaving the umbrella in a corner, she ascended the stairs so as to keep the cameras in the elevator from getting a good look at her. The open stairway taking up the middle of the building wasn’t monitored, and anyone looking out here would only notice an usually petite woman with a bag of groceries, cold from the rain. Worry someone might actually see her trickled back, and her pace quickened, gaining strength as she rose instead of fatigue.

Around her was the flow of life, slipping under the doors and into the hallway like the scent of baking bread or someone’s too-strong cologne. It eddied about her feet and puddled on the stairs, and she waded through it like surf, able to see the energy the people living behind the doors sloughed off, kicking up anger here, and frustration there, her pace slowing to take in the softer, harder-to-find emotions of love, a mere whisper lingering outside a door like perfume.

She paused, pretending to be tired outside a door where the soft sounds of music and laughter were a muted hush. Love and desire carried the headiest amount of energy, but they were hard to find, not because they were scarce, but because people directed the emotions to a specific person, holding the feeling close to themselves as if knowing how powerful they were. Love seldom ventured past a person’s aura unless it flowed into another. Not like the wild bitterness of anger, which people threw away from them like the refuse it was.

Mia closed her eyes, swallowing up the ambient love the couple had left in the hall as they had fumbled for their keys. It had only been a few hours ago, and though it bolstered her, it caused her pain.

It had been too long since she had felt the full, unshielded warmth of another’s aura. She was tired of filling herself on garbage and stolen wisps of love.

With a sudden resolve, she took off her ring. Slipping it into a pocket, she guiltily patted it to see if it made a telltale shape against her coat. Head high, she continued up until she reached the top floor.

Tom’s door was unadorned, and with her pulse fast in tension, she tapped softly, hoping he heard. She didn’t want a neighbor remembering a knock in the hall. Tom had promised her he wouldn’t tell anyone he knew a banshee, afraid they would see him failing and convince him to never see her again. She shouldn’t be here this soon, but the memory of his love was like the scent of flowers, begging to be inhaled and irresistible.

The door opened with a quickness that sent her back a step, and she stared at Tom, her eyes wide and her breath held. He looked good. Better than the last time she’d seen him, the lines of fatigue only lightly etching his mid-thirties face. Standing tall, he had once had a beautifully vigorous, if slight, body, but since meeting her in the grocery store a year ago, nearly all the substance had been stripped away to leave him looking as if he was recovering from a long illness. His short brown hair was clean but untidy from his shower, and he wore jeans and a comfortable flannel top against the damp chill.

Seeing her, he smiled, pleasure coming over his long, somewhat sallow face. His skin was pale from a lack of sun, and his muscles had lost their tone months ago. His fingers, long enough to facilitate a high amount of proficiency with his instrument, looked thin as he reached to pull her into a hug.

Mia felt his arms go around her and almost walked away. Breathing in his initial delight, she realized it was too soon. She should not be here, even if she was pining for him. Someone might have seen her, and he hadn’t recovered fully from her last visit. But she was so tired, and even a wisp of his love would renew her.

“I saw you on the sidewalk,” Tom said as he felt her shoulders tense and his hands dropped from her.

“I’m glad you came up. It’s been lonely here by myself. Come on in. Just for a moment.”

Her pulse raced, and she stepped into his apartment with a guilty quickness. “I can’t stay,” she said, her voice high. “Tom, I promised I’d only stop by to say hi, and then I have to go.”

She sounded frantic even to herself, and she bit her lower lip, wishing things were otherwise. The click of the door closing mixed with the soft sound of talk radio. The warmth of his apartment soaked into her, and she felt herself relax at the emotion-rich air his apartment had. He’d been practicing his music, and that always filled his rooms with life. It was what had attracted her to him in the first place, as he had strolled past the grapes, trailing joy like the wisps of the symphony he’d been humming. Slowly her jaw unclenched, and the worry and guilt slid into nothing. She couldn’t help herself. This was what she was.

“Let me take those,” he said, reaching for her groceries, and she let him, following him soundlessly down the short hall to the kitchen as she untied her coat. The kitchen opened to the living room where Tom usually practiced his music now that he was too tired to make the trip to the university’s hall.

Down the corridor at the back was the single bedroom and bath. Everything was tidy and clean, done in soothing tones of brown and taupe. The furnishings were simple and clearly masculine, and Mia loved the contrast from her own home, filled with the primary-colored clutter and untidy life of a new baby.

“I won’t stay long,” she said, noting his thin, trembling hands. “I was passing by, and…I missed you.”

“Oh, Mia,” he said, his deep voice swirling over her like his aura was as he took her in his arms. “I know how the rain depresses you.”

Depresses her wasn’t exactly it. It depressed everyone else, and in turn, lowered the amount of ambient emotion they gave off. She was hungry, and she lowered her gaze before he saw the rising need in their pale blue depths.

BOOK: Hotter Than Hell
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