Butch swirled the last inch of coffee around the bottom of the mug, thinking that the stuff was the color of Scotch. As he tossed the cold swill back, he wished it were some high-test Lagavulin.
He checked his watch. Six minutes till seven. God, he hoped the session was only an hour. If everything went smooth, he could drop John at Tohr and Wellsie's and be sitting on his couch with a shot glass at his elbow before CSI came on.
He winced. No wonder Marissa wouldn't see him. What a frickin' catch. High-functioning alcoholic living in a world that wasn't his own.
Yay. Let's beat feet for the altar.
As he pictured himself at home, he had a passing thought about V's warning to get away from the compound. Trouble was, being out at a bar or on the streets alone was not a good plan, not with the mood he was in. He was as raw as the weather.
A few minutes later, voices drifted down the corridor, and John came around the corner with an older woman. The poor kid looked like he'd been pulled through a ringer. His hair was standing up like weeds, as if he'd been shoving his hands into it, and his eyes were glued to the floor. That notebook was clutched to his chest as though the thing were a bulletproof vest.
"So we'll see about the next appointment, John," the female said softly. "After you've thought about it."
John didn't respond, and Butch forgot about all his own whiny crap. Whatever had come out in that office was still out, and the boy needed a buddy. He put his arm around the kid tentatively, and when John leaned into him, all of Butch's protective instincts reared up and snarled. He didn't care that the therapist looked like Mary Poppins; he wanted to yell at her for upsetting the little guy.
"John?" she said. "You'll get back in touch with me about the next"
"Yeah, we'll call you," Butch muttered. UAH-Hugh, right.
"I told him there was no rush. But I do think he should come again."
Butch glanced over at the woman, thoroughly annoyed... only to have her eyes scare the shit out of him. They were so damned serious, so very grave. What the hell had gone down in that session?
Butch looked at the top of John's head. "Let's go, J-man."
John didn't move, so Butch gave him a little push, and led the way out of the clinic, his arm still on the kid's thin shoulders. When they got to the car John climbed into the seat, but didn't put his belt on. He just stared straight ahead.
Butch shut his door and locked the SUV up tight. Then he turned and stared at John.
"I'm not even going to ask what's doing. The only thing I need to know is where you want to go. You feel like heading home, I'll take you to Tohr and Wellsie's. You want to hang at the Pit with me, we'll go over to the compound. You just want to drive, I'll take you to Canada and back. I'm up for anything, so you just say the word. And if you don't want to decide now, I'll tool around town until you figure it out."
John's little chest expanded and then contracted. He flipped open the notebook and took out his pen. There was a pause, and then he wrote something and flipped the paper around to Butch.
Butch frowned. That was a really shitty part of town.
He opened his mouth to ask why there of all places, but then shut his yap. The kid had clearly had enough questions thrown at him tonight. Besides, Butch was armed, and it was where John wanted to go. A promise was a promise.
"Okay, buddy. Seventh Street coming up."
But drive around for a while first, the kid wrote.
"No problem. We'll just chill."
Butch started the engine. Just as he put the Escalade into reverse, he saw a flash of something behind them. A car was pulling up to the back of the mansion, a very large, very expensive Bentley. He hit the brakes so it could pass and
Forgot how to breathe.
Marissa came out of the house from a side door. Her hip-length blond hair blew in the wind, and she huddled into the black cape she was wearing. Moving quickly across the back parking lot, she dodged chunks of snow, leaping from asphalt spot to asphalt spot.
The security lights picked up the refined lines of her face and her gorgeous pale hair and her perfectly white skin. He remembered what it had felt like to kiss her, that one time he had, and his chest stung like his lungs were being crushed. Overcome, he wanted to rush out of the car, throw himself down in the slush, and beg like the dog he was.
Except she was heading for the Bentley. He watched as the door opened for her, as if the driver had leaned across and popped the handle. When the lights came on in the interior Butch couldn't see much, only enough to tell him that it was a man, or male, who was behind the wheel. Shoulders that big didn't come on female bodies.
Marissa gathered her cape with her hands and slid inside, shutting the door.
The light went off.
Dimly Butch heard some kind of shuffling next to him, and he glanced at John. The kid had shrunk back against the far window and was looking across the seats with fear in his eyes. That was when Butch realized he had palmed his gun and was growling.
Totally creeped out by the insane reaction, he took his foot off the Escalade's brake and stomped on the gas pedal.
"Don't worry, son. Nothing doing."
As he spun them around he looked in the rearview mirror at the Bentley. It was moving now, doing its own turn in the parking lot. With a grim curse Butch tore off down the driveway, his hands gripping the steering wheel so hard his knuckles stung.
Rehvenge frowned as Marissa got into his Bentley. God, he'd forgotten how beautiful she was. And she smelled just as good... the clean scent of the ocean filling his nose.
"Why won't you let me come to the front door?" he said, taking in her fair hair and her flawless skin. "You should have let me pick you up properly."
"You know how Havers is." The door shut with a solid sound. "He'll want us mated."
"And you're not the same way with your sister?"
As he waited for an Escalade to clear out of the parking lot, Marissa laid a hand on his sable sleeve. "I know I said this before, but I'm so sorry for everything that happened to Bella. How is she?"
How the hell would he know? "I'd rather not talk about her. No offense, but I'm just... Yeah, I don't want to go there."
"Rehv, tonight doesn't have to happen. I know you've been through a lot, and frankly I was surprised you would see me at all."
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm glad you called on me." He reached out and squeezed her hand. The bones under her skin were so delicate that he reminded himself he was going to have to be very gentle with her. She was not what he was used to.
As he drove them downtown, he could sense her nerves tightening. "It's going to be all right. I really am cool that you called."
"I'm rather embarrassed, actually. I just don't know what to do."
"We'll take it slow."
"I've only ever been with Wrath."
"I know. That's why I wanted to pick you up in the car. I thought you'd be too nervous to dematerialize."
As they came up to a stoplight, he smiled at her. "I'm going to take good care of you."
Her pale blue eyes looked over at him. "You are a good male, Rehvenge."
He ignored that miscalculation and concentrated on the traffic.
Twenty minutes later they were stepping out of a high-tech elevator and into the vestibule of his penthouse apartment. His place took up half of the thirty-story building's top floor, overlooking the Hudson River and all of Caldwell. With the vast blocks of windows, he never used the place during the day. But it was perfect for the night.
He kept the lights low and waited as Marissa walked around and looked at things a decorator had bought for his lair. He didn't care about the stuff or the views or the fancy gadgets. He cared about the privacy from his family. Bella had never been here, and neither had their mother. In fact, neither knew he had the penthouse.
As if realizing she was wasting time, Marissa turned and faced him. Under the lights her beauty was absolutely stunning, and he was grateful for the extra hit of dopamine he'd pumped into his system about an hour ago. In symphaths, the drug had an opposite effect than when it was administered to humans or vampires. The chemical increased certain neurotransmitter activity and reception, ensuring that the symphath patient could feel no pleasure, no... nothing. With Rehv's sense of touch gone, his brain could better control the rest of his impulses.
Which was the only reason Marissa was safe to be alone with him, considering what they were going to do.
Rehv removed his coat, then walked over to her, relying on his cane more than usual because he could not take his eyes off her. Balancing the staff against his thighs, he slowly undid the bow that held her cape together. She stared down at his hands, trembling as he slid the folds of black wool from her shoulders. He smiled as he slung the weight over a chair. Her dress was the kind of thing his mother would wear and exactly what he wished his sister would put on more often: a pale blue satin gown that was fitted perfectly. It was Dior. It had to be.
"Come here, Marissa."
He drew her over to a leather sofa and pulled her down beside him. In the glow from the windows, her blond hair was like a shawl of silk, and he took some between his fingers. Her hunger was so strong, he could feel it clearly.
"You've waited for a long time, haven't you?"
She nodded and looked at her hands. They were knotted together in her lap, ivory against the light blue satin.
"Months," she whispered.
"Then you'll need a lot, won't you?" As she blushed, he pushed her. "Won't you, Marissa?"
"Yes," she breathed, obviously uncomfortable with her hunger.
Rehv smiled fiercely. It was good to be around a female of worth. Her modesty and her gentleness were damned appealing.
He took off his jacket and unknotted his tie. He'd been prepared to offer her his wrist, but now that she was in front of him, he wanted her at his neck. It had been forever since he'd allowed a female to feed from him, and he was surprised by how excited he was at the prospect.
He popped the buttons of his collar and undid the rest of them, all the way down his chest. With a surge of anticipation he yanked the shirt free and opened it wide.
Her eyes went round as she looked at his bare chest and his tattoos.
"I didn't know you were marked," she murmured, her voice shaking along with her body.
He eased himself back into the sofa, spreading his arms out, bringing one of his legs up. "Come here, Marissa. Take what you need."
She looked at his wrist, which was covered by a French cuff.
"No," he said. "This is the way I want you to do it. At my throat. It's the only thing I ask."
As she hesitated, he knew the rumors about her were true. She was indeed untouched by any male. And the purity of her was... something to be taken.
He squeezed his eyes shut as the darkness in him shifted and breathed, a beast locked in a cage of medication. Christ, maybe this wasn't a good idea.
But then she was moving on him slowly, crawling up his body, her smell so like the ocean's. He cracked his eyelids to see her face and knew he was helpless to stop the feeding. And he was not going to miss this; he had to let a few sensations come to him. Slipping loose his discipline, he opened the channel to his sense of touch, and it received with greed even with the drug, all kinds of heady information surging through the dopamine fog.
The satin of her gown was soft against his skin, and he felt the warmth of her body mingling with his own heat. Her slight weight was braced on his shoulder and... yes, her knee was between his thighs.
Her mouth parted and her fangs unsheathed.
For a split second the evil in him howled, and he called on his mind in a panic. Thank the Virgin, the damn thing came to the rescue, the rational side of him rushing forward, chaining his instincts, quieting the very sexual need to dominate her.
She wobbled as she leaned down toward his throat, unsteady as she held herself above him.
"Lie on me," he said in a guttural voice. "Lay yourself... upon me."
With a wince she let the lower half of her body sink into the cradle of his hips. Clearly she was worried about bumping up against an erection, and when she encountered nothing of the sort she glanced between their bodies, as if thinking she'd hit the wrong place.
"You don't have to worry about that," he murmured, running his hands up her slender arms. "Not from me." Her relief was so palpable he was offended. "Would laying with me be such a chore?"
"Oh, no, Rehvenge. No." She glanced down at the thick muscles of his chest. "You are... quite lovely. It's just... there is another. For me, there is another."
"You still love Wrath."
She shook her head. "No, but I cannot think of the one I want. Not... now."
Rehv tilted her chin up. "What kind of idiot wouldn't feed you when you needed it?"
"Please. No more talk like that." Abruptly, her eyes fixated on his neck and dilated.
"Such hunger," he growled, thrilled to be used. "Go ahead. And don't worry about being gentle. Take me. The harder the better."
Marissa bared her fangs and bit him. The two sharp penetrations shot through the drug haze, and the sweet pain speared into his body. As he moaned, he thought that he'd never been grateful for his impotence before, but he was now. If his cock had worked at all, sure as hell he'd have pushed that gown out of the way, parted her legs, and had her nice and deep as she fed.
Almost immediately she pulled back and licked at her lips.
"I'm going to taste different from Wrath," he said, counting on the fact that because she'd fed from only one male, she wouldn't know exactly why his blood hit her tongue in an odd way. Actually, her inexperience had been the only reason he'd been able to help her. Any other female who'd been around a little would know too much. "Go on, take some more. You'll get used to it."
Her head dropped again and he felt the tingling sting of another bite.
He wrapped his heavy arms around her fragile back and hugged her close as he shut his eyes. It had been so long since he'd held anyone, and though he couldn't afford to let in much of the experience, he found it sublime.
As she sucked at his vein, he had the absurd impulse to cry.
O eased up on the truck's accelerator and glided past another high stone wall.
Damn, the houses were huge on Thorne Avenue. Well, not that you could see the mansions from the street. He just assumed that with hedges and ramparts like these, there weren't a lot of split-levels and Cape Cods going on.
When this particular barricade split to allow for a driveway, he hit the brakes. To the left there was a little brass plaque that read, 27 THORNE AVENUE. He leaned forward, stretching for a look beyond, but with the drive and the wall disappearing into the darkness, he couldn't tell what was on the other side.
On a what-the-hell whim, he turned in and proceeded down the lane. A good hundred yards from the street there was a towering set of black gates, and he stopped, noting the cameras mounted on the top of them and the intercom system and the air of keep-out.
Well... this was interesting. The other address had been for shit, just an average house in an average neighborhood with humans in the living room watching TV. But whatever was behind a setup like this was big business.
Now he was curious.
Although infiltrating these barriers would require a coordinated strategy and some careful execution. And the last thing he needed was the inconvenience of tangling with the police just because he'd broken into some highflier's McMansion.
But why would that vampire have pulled this address out of his ass to save himself?
Then O saw something weird: a black ribbon tied to the gate. No, two of them, one on each side, waving in the wind.
Like they were for mourning?
Fixated by his own dread, he got out of the truck and crunched over the ice, heading for the ribbon on the right. It was mounted seven feet off the ground, so he had to stretch up his arm to finger it.
"Are you dead, wife?" he whispered. He dropped his hand and looked through the gates into the black night beyond.
He went back to the truck and reversed down the driveway.
He needed to get past that wall. Had to find someplace to dump the F-150.
Five minutes later he was cursing. Damn it. There was nowhere to park on Thorne that wasn't totally conspicuous. The street was nothing but walls, with barely any shoulder. Fucking rich people.
O hit the gas and looked left. Right. Maybe he could leave the truck down at the bottom of the hill and jog up from the main drag. It was a half mile at an incline, but he could cover the distance quickly enough. The streetlights he'd have to pass under were a bitch, of course, but it wasn't like anyone living on this road could see out from their ivory towers.
His cell phone went off and he answered it with a nasty, "What."
U's voice, which he was beginning to hate, was tense. "We've got a problem. Two lessen were arrested by the police."
O squeezed his eyes shut. "What the hell did they do?"
"They were taking down a civilian vampire and an unmarked patrol car went by. Two policemen engaged the slayers and more cops showed up. The lessers were taken into custody, and I got the call just now from one of them."
"So bail them out," O snapped. "Why are you calling me?"
There was a pause. Then U's tone had the stench of well, duh all over it. "Because you need to know this. Listen, they were packing plenty of concealed weapons, none of which they had permits for, all of which had come off the black market, with no serial numbers on the barrels. No way they're going to get bail in the morning. No public defender is that good. You need to get them out."
O scanned left and right and then turned around in a driveway the size of a football field. Yeah, there was definitely noplace to park around here. He had to go down to where Thorne Avenue dumped out on Bellman Road and leave the truck in that little village.
"I have things I have to do."
U coughed as if he were choking back a boatload of pissed-off. "No offense, but I can't imagine anything's as important as this. What if those slayers get into a fight in general holding? You want black blood flowing so that some EMT type figures out they're not human? You have to contact the Omega and get him to call those two home."
"You do it." O accelerated even though he was headed down the hill now.
"Reach out and touch the Omega." He came to a rolling stop at the bottom of Thorne and picked left. There were all kinds of cutie-pie, homey-ass shops on the street, and he parked in front of one called Kitty's Attic.
"O... That kind of request needs to come from the Fore-lesser. You know that."
O paused before turning off the ignition.
Terrific. Just what he wanted. More quality time with the bastard master. Goddamn it. He couldn't live with not knowing the fate of his woman any longer. There wasn't time for this Society bullshit.
He put his head down on the steering wheel. Banged it a couple of times.
On the other hand, if that contact with the humans down at the police station exploded in his face, the Omega was going to come looking for him. And then where would he be?
"Fine. I'll go see him now." He cursed as he put the truck in gear. Before he pulled out he looked up Thorne Avenue again.
"And O, I have a concern about the membership. You need to meet with the slayers. Things are slipping."
"You're handling the check-ins."
"They want to see you. They're questioning your leadership."
"U, you know what they say about messengers, right?"
"Too much bad news will get you shot." He turned off the phone and flipped it shut. Then hit the gas.