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Authors: Jeanne C. Stein

Tags: #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #General, #Horror

Crossroads (3 page)

BOOK: Crossroads
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I trace the angle of his jaw with my finger. “Tempting, but I imagine you’ll be pretty busy.”
He slips his arms around me and pulls me close. “I’m going to miss this.”
I lay my head on his shoulder. “Me, too.”
Damn it.
Me, too.
 
 
WITH STEPHEN GONE, I HAVE NO PLANS FOR THE DAY ahead. I eye the bed, wondering if I should crawl back under the covers.
There’s an ache in my gut, though, and I know I’ve waited too long. It’s been a month since I fed from the blood of the demon Stephen and I killed.
Two months since the first anniversary of my becoming when I assumed the mantle of the Chosen One. I’ve gone about my daily routine as if nothing had changed when in reality, everything has changed.
I move out to the deck off my bedroom and sink into a chaise. The sun is hot on my face. It feels good. I can almost feel my blood warming though I know that’s an illusion. Only feeding and sex warm a vampire’s blood.
And it’s been hours since Stephen and I made love.
He would have let me feed from him, if I’d asked. He knows and accepts I’m a vampire. But sometimes I enjoy simple human coupling. Let’s me enjoy the illusion that I’m normal if only for a little while.
I sip coffee. A few blocks away, the ocean sparkles under a flawless summer sky. I live in Mission Beach, near the boardwalk. I love it here. The sea is vibrant, alive. People drawn to it are vibrant and alive, too. Kids at play in the sand, surfers bobbing on the waves, sunbathers eschewing warnings of dire consequences to bake pale skin to a toasty brown. All share a common bond. They are human. They belong.
I drain my cup, rise to go inside. I’m feeling the effects of lack of blood. Like a diabetic without insulin, my body is slowing down, my mind becoming sluggish. I’d better call Culebra and make sure he can arrange a host to meet me at Beso de la Muerte. I can’t afford to let myself become vulnerable—not anymore. Not to anyone.
CHAPTER 2
 
T
HE GUY WAITING FOR ME IN CULEBRA’S BACK room looks to be about thirty. He’s lying naked on the bed, his clothes folded neatly on a bedside chair. He has a sheet thrown over the lower part of his body. He’s lean, muscular, with the arrogant good looks of a guy used to having his way with women.
I hate that type.
He smiles when he sees me, a smile of relief and anticipation. I’m sure the relief is because I’m female (a host never knows) and the anticipation that because I’m female, sex will be a part of the deal.
I pull a wad of cash out of my purse and lay it on top of his clothes. “I just want the blood,” I tell him. “Whatever you do while I’m feeding is up to you, but I don’t intend to participate.”
“Are you sure?” The guy pushes the sheet off his hips. He started without me.
If the size of his dick is supposed to impress me, my reaction must be a bitter disappointment. I flutter fingers in a dismissive gesture. “Yeah, I’m sure. Face the wall, please.”
“Don’t you want to know my name?”
“No.”
He grunts and rolls over. I position myself behind him, spoon style, and pull his head closer. My body vibrates from need and the heady sensation that comes from watching blood course through an artery just a kiss away. His hands are busy between his legs and he groans before I break through the skin.
Then I’m lost in my own sensations. His blood is sweet and clean, his fitness the result of good diet and exercise, not pills or needles. Not that it would matter. Vampires are immune from human drugs and disease. Only the taste differs, like drinking vinegar or wine, and I’m pleased with this vintage. The first mouthful brings intense pleasure, my body now tingling with something other than hunger. There’s a fleeting moment when I am tempted to roll him over, to mount him, feel him inside me while I feed.
But I resist.
I’ve treated sex too cavalierly in the past. I want it to mean something from now on. Something more than just scratching a biological itch. Something like what I have with Stephen.
I already miss him.
For now, the blood has to be enough. It awakens every cell in my body. It revives and restores. My skin warms. A flush of heat floods my cheeks. My senses become needle sharp. The feel of the host’s skin against my lips, the smell of his arousal, the quickness of his breath, I experience it all. His heartbeat. Steady, rhythmic, until he nears climax. Then his heart begins to race until it reaches a crescendo and his body tenses. He moans, grinds against me, one hand clutches the sheet, the other moves faster and with more urgency.
I keep feeding until the last shudder of release passes and he is quiet beside me. I use my tongue to seal the puncture wounds, watch as the marks fade. He does not speak or move. In a minute, his breathing becomes deep and regular, and I know.
He’s fallen asleep.
“Was it as good for you as it was for me?” I ask the snoring host.
I close the door quietly on my way out.
 
 
WHEN I JOIN CULEBRA AT THE BAR, HE LOOKS PAST me toward the door to the back room. “Is he still alive?”
He hands me a bottle of Dos Equis with a lime wedge propped on the rim.
I squeeze the lime down into the bottle. “Why wouldn’t he be?”
He takes another beer from a cooler under the bar and motions for me to follow him to a table. When we’re both seated he answers, “You looked hungry when you walked in. How long has it been since you fed?”
I shrug. “A while.”
He watches me drink. “It’s been a while since we talked, too. Two months to be exact. I have a lot of questions.”
I figured. One of the reasons I’ve stayed away.
Culebra picks that thought out of the ether. He frowns. “I thought I was your friend.”
He shuts me out of his head. He’s angry or disappointed. Maybe both. I can’t tell. But the result is the same. I give in with a sigh. “Sorry. You are my friend. I should have been in touch sooner. I guess I figured Frey would have filled you in.”
I glance around the bar. It’s almost empty this early on a Sunday morning. There are a couple of vamps sitting with two human women. The snatches of thought I catch from the vamps are that they’re well fed and well sexed and are looking for a way to leave gracefully without offending the female hosts. They may want a repeat performance down the line. The vibes the females give off tell me they wouldn’t object. I watch them a few moments until Culebra is back in my head.
You’re stalling.
I’m granted another reprieve when my host appears at the door. He grins at me with a look calculated to let anyone watching think I’d sucked more than his neck. I’m tempted to make a snarky remark but don’t. I simply let him swagger over to the other table. The females greet him and in another moment, all five leave with a parting wave to Culebra.
We’re now alone.
Culebra waves his bottle in the direction of the door. “I assume that look was a bit of bravado for the benefit of his friends.”
I laugh. “You’ll need to change those sheets.”
The moment passes. “What did Frey tell you?”
“What you told him. The challenge. Lance. The way you handled Chael. Sounds like you did well for yourself.”
Did I? What I didn’t tell Frey, what I’m hiding from Culebra now, is that nothing was settled. Not really. There is a schism forming in the vampire world led by the leader of the Middle Eastern Tribe, a powerful old-soul vampire called Chael. I met his challenge at the counsel called to proclaim me the Chosen One, but it did nothing to lessen his desire to pursue his own course. A course designed to elevate vampires to the top of the food chain and relegate humans to nothing more than fodder, an expendable food source whose only existence would be to serve their vampire masters.
Culebra’s voice breaks through my dark thoughts.
“What are you hiding from me, Anna?”
“Nothing.” Everything.
His thoughts are like a laser, trying to bore into mine.
I know you better than that. What aren’t you telling me?
I raise the beer bottle to my lips, drain it. Rise. “Have to go, my friend. I’ll be in touch soon.”
Culebra doesn’t answer. Like Harris eyed me earlier, I feel the heat of his gaze as I stand to leave.
“Wait.”
I’m halfway to the door; I turn, pause.
“I have a message for you.”
“Who would leave a message for me here?”
Culebra crosses to the bar, reaches behind it for a folded piece of paper. “Somebody who is afraid you wouldn’t return his calls if he tried to reach you directly.”
He holds the note out to me. As soon as I see the signature, I understand why he’d go through Culebra. He’s right. I wouldn’t have returned his calls.
The note is from Max.
I stare down at the note. Culebra feels my anger build.
Max is an ex-boyfriend. Human. Couldn’t take off fast enough when he found out what I am, even though it’s
because
of what I am that he’s alive today. To make matters worse, he decided that sex with a vampire while acting as a host was a pretty damned good way to get his rocks off. So he comes here to enjoy fucking vampires. Anonymous vampires. It’s me he doesn’t want to fuck anymore.
My hand curls into a fist, crushing the note. “When did he leave this?”
Culebra avoids my gaze. “Today. I told him you were on your way.”
“So the coward didn’t wait to face me in person? Why would you take this? You know how I feel about Max and his new hobby.”
Culebra holds up a hand. “Max hasn’t come here to be a host for some time. Whatever he needed to get out of his system, he seems to have succeeded.”
“You mean me, right? He needed to get me out of his system.”
Culebra shakes his head. “Read the damn note, will you?”
I drag my eyes back to the note, open my hand, smooth the paper against my thigh. I can’t imagine being interested in anything Max has to say to me. The bastard left without so much as a good-bye.
The handwriting is cramped, uneven. As if he wrote the note in a hurry.
 
Anna. I need your help. Call me. Max.
 
“Wow.” I wave the note toward Culebra. “This makes me want to drop everything and ring him right up. He doesn’t even say please. Christ. Why would I want to help him?”
Culebra lifts his shoulders. “It must be important.”
“He didn’t tell you?”
“Not exactly.”
“Didn’t tell you
what
exactly?”
“For Christ sake, call him, will you?” Culebra’s irritation flares, radiates outward from his thoughts and burns into my head.
Don’t be so goddamned stubborn.
I don’t even know if I still have his number.
A last whining excuse.
Of course you still have his number. In your cell.
He’s right. Not that I’ll give him the satisfaction of telling him. Just like I won’t give him the satisfaction of knowing deep down I want to call Max. Only to satisfy my curiosity. Only to find out how Max plans to grovel his way back into my good graces. Only to enjoy turning down whatever he wants.
His leaving was no laughing matter, but telling him to go to hell would be good for a laugh, not to mention my ego.
I turn my back on Culebra and stomp out, letting one thought drift back.
Fucking men.
CHAPTER 3
 
O
N THE DRIVE BACK HOME I DEBATE WITH MYSELF. Do I want to call Max? It’s been eight months since the last time we ran into each other in Beso de la Muerte. He was on the arm of a vampire, stinking of sex and blood. My stomach still roils at the memory.
Why
the hell would I want to call Max? On the off chance that he wants to tell me what an ass he’s been and to thank me at long last for saving his ass in Mexico?
Shit.
It irritates me to realize I’m curious. It irritates me to realize I want to know why he wants to talk to me.
It irritates the hell out of me to realize I know how long it’s been since I’ve seen him without doing the math.
I’m sure Culebra knows more than he let on. Max is a drug enforcement agent. He spends half his life in Mexico and has used Culebra as an informant. Not in an official capacity. Culebra has a lot of contacts on both sides of the law and the border. He and Max have a quid pro quo arrangement. Culebra helps Max when he can and Max keeps quiet when he comes to Beso de la Muerte to ensure those under Culebra’s protection are not hassled.
At least that’s the way it worked when Max and I were together.
A lifetime ago.
BOOK: Crossroads
10.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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