Viper’s Vampire Club
On the banks of the Mississippi River south of Chicago
The music throbbed with a heavy, death metal bass that would have toppled the nearby buildings if the demon club hadn’t been wrapped in spells of protection. The imp magic not only made the large building appear like an abandoned warehouse to the local humans of the small Midwest town, but it captured any sound.
A damned good thing since the blasting music wasn’t the only noise that would freak out the mortal neighbors.
Granted, the first floor looked normal enough. The vast lobby was decorated in a neoclassical style with floors made of polished wood and walls painted a pale green with silver engravings. Even the ceiling was covered with some fancy-assed painting of Apollo on his chariot dashing through the clouds.
Upstairs was the same. The private apartments were elegantly appointed and designed with comfort in mind for those guests willing to pay the exorbitant fees for a few hours of privacy.
But beyond the heavy double doors that led to the lower levels, all pretense of civilization came to an end.
Down in the darkness the demons were encouraged to come out and play with wild abandon.
And no one, absolutely no one, could play as rough and wild and downright nasty as demons.
Standing in the shadows, Santiago, a tall exquisitely handsome vampire with long raven hair, dark eyes, and distinctly Spanish features allowed his gaze to skim over his domain.
The circular room was the size of a large auditorium and made of black marble with a series of tiers that terraced downward. On each tier were a number of steel tables and stools that were bolted to the marble. Narrow staircases led to a pit built in the middle of the lowest floor and filled with sand.
The overhead chandeliers spilled small pools of light near the tables, while keeping enough darkness for those guests who preferred to remain concealed.
Not that there was a need for secrecy in the club.
The crowd was made up of vamps, Weres, and fairies, along with several trolls, an orc, and the rare Sylvermysts (the dark fey who’d recently revealed their presence in the world). They came to fight in the pit for a chance at fleeting glory. Or to indulge in the pleasures his various hosts and hostesses offered, whether it was feeding or sex.
None of them were known for their modesty. Especially when they were in the mood to celebrate.
Santiago grimaced, his frigid power lashing through the air to send several young Weres scurrying across the crowded room.
He understood their jubilation.
It wasn’t everyday that an evil deity was destroyed, the hordes of hell turned away, and Armageddon adverted.
But after a month of enduring the endless happy, happy, joy, joy, his own mood was tilting toward homicidal. Well, perhaps it was more than just tilting, he grimly conceded as a tableful of trolls broke into a violent brawl, knocking each other over the railing and onto the Weres seated below.
The domino effect was instantaneous. With infuriated growls the Weres shifted, tearing into the trolls. At the same time the nearby Sylvermysts leaped into the growing fight, the herb scent of their blood swiftly filling the air.
Santiago’s massive fangs ached with the need to join in the melee. Perhaps a good old-fashioned beat-down would ease his choking frustration.
Unfortunately, his clan chief, Viper, had trusted him to manage the popular club. Which meant no extracurricular bloodbaths. No matter what the temptation.
Watching his well-trained bouncers move to put an end to the fight, Santiago turned his head as the smell of blood was replaced by the rich aroma of plums.
His lips curled as the violence choking the air was abruptly replaced by a heated lust.
Tonya could make a man drool at a hundred paces.
Strikingly beautiful with pale skin and slanted emerald eyes, the imp could also claim perfect curves and a stunning mane of red hair. But Santiago hadn’t chosen her as his most trusted assistant because of her outrageous sex appeal.
Like all imps, she possessed a talent for business and the ability to create powerful illusions. She could also hex objects, although Santiago made sure that particular talent was only used on the humans who patronized the tea shop next door. Most demons were immune to fey magic, but Tonya had royal blood and her powers were far more addictive than most.
His loyal customers would never return if they suspected he allowed them to be enthralled by the beautiful imp.
Wearing a silver dress that was designed to tempt rather than cover, she came to a halt at his side, a smile curving her lush lips even as her shrewd gaze monitored the hosts and hostesses that strolled through the room offering their services.
“A nice crowd,” she murmured.
Santiago grimaced. Unlike his assistant, he was wearing plain black jeans and a dark T-shirt that clung to his wide chest. And, of course, he’d accessorized the casual attire with a massive sword strapped to his back and a handgun holstered at his hip.
Never let it be said he went to a party underdressed.
“‘Nice’ isn’t a word I’d associate with this mob.”
Tonya glanced toward the tribe of Sylvermysts who were reluctantly returning to their table. The warriors possessed the striking features of all fey with long hair in various shades of gold to chestnut. But their eyes blazed with a strange metallic sheen.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she purred. “There’s one or two I’d consider edible.”
“Your definition of edible is appallingly indiscriminate.”
She turned her head to study him with an all-too-knowing gaze. “Yeah well, at least I haven’t been neutered.”
Santiago curled his hands into tight fists, fury jolting through him. Oh no, she didn’t just go there. “Careful, Tonya.”
“When was the last time you got laid?”
The air temperature dropped by several degrees.
“We’re so not going to discuss this,” he snarled, his voice pitched low enough it wouldn’t carry. Despite the earsplitting music, there were demons present who could hear a freaking pin drop a mile away. “Especially not in front of an audience.”
Foolishly ignoring his don’t-fuck-with-me vibes, Tonya planted her hands on her full hips. “I’ve tried to discuss it in private, but you keep shutting me down.”
“Because it’s none of your damned business.”
“It is when your foul mood begins affecting the club.”
His fangs throbbed. “Don’t press me.”
“If I don’t, who will?” The female refused to back down, the words she had clearly longed to fling at him for days at last bursting past her lips. “You prowl through the halls snapping at everyone who is stupid enough to cross your path. I’ve had six waitresses and two bouncers quit in the past month.”
His jaw hardened with a stubborn refusal to admit she was right. If he did . . .
Well, that would mean he’d have to admit he
Not only sexually, although that was god-awful enough to admit. After all, he was a vampire. His appetite for sex was supposed to be insatiable.
But his general lust for life . . .
Suddenly his enjoyment of pursuing beautiful women and spending time with his clan brothers was replaced by a gnawing frustration. And his pride in running a club that was infamous throughout the demon world was replaced by an itch that he couldn’t scratch.
It was something he was trying to ignore under the theory that it was like a bad hangover—something you suffered through and forgot as soon as the next party came along.
“Hire more,” he growled.
Her eyes narrowed. “Easy for you to say.”
“Hey, you know where the door—”
“I’m not done,” she interrupted him.
His dark brows pulled together in a warning scowl. “Imp, you’re pissing on my last nerve.”
“And that’s my point.” She pointed a finger toward the belligerent crowd that continued to eyeball one another with the threat of violence. “This mood of yours is not only infecting the employees, but the patrons as well. Every night we’re a breath away from a riot.”
He snorted, folding his arms over his wide chest. “I run a demon club that caters to blood, sex, and violence. What do you expect? Line dancing, gin fizzes, and karaoke?”
“The atmosphere is always aggressive, but in the past few weeks it’s been explosive. We’ve had more fights lately than we’ve had in the past two years.”
“Haven’t you heard the news? We’re celebrating the defeat of the Dark Lord,” he tried to bluster. “A new beginning . . . blah, blah, blah.”
Like a dog with a bone, Tonya refused to let it go. “Does that look like celebrating?” Once again she stabbed her finger toward the seething crowd. “Your frustration is contaminating everyone.”
Santiago couldn’t argue. The club wasn’t Disneyland, but it wasn’t usually a bloodbath.
At least not unless you were stupid enough to join in the cage matches.
“So what are you suggesting?”
“You have two options.” Tonya offered a tight smile. “Go kill something, or fuck it. Hell, do both.”
He snorted. “Are you offering?”
“I would if I thought it would do any good,” she admitted bluntly. “As it is . . .” Her words trailed away as she gave a lift of her hand, gesturing toward a distant corner.
“I have something more suitable to your current taste in females.”
Santiago wasn’t sure what he expected. Maybe twin imps. He’d always had a weakness for matched sets.
Twinning . . .
Or maybe a Harpy in heat.
Nothing was more certain to distract a man than a week of incessant, no-holds-barred, balls-aching sex.
Instead a female vampire stepped from the shadows.
he hissed in shock.
Not because the woman was stunning. That was a given. All vampire females were drop-dead gorgeous.
But this one had an eerie familiarity with her long black hair and dark eyes, which contrasted so sharply with her pale skin.
No, not Nefri, a voice whispered in the back of his mind. Her face was more angular and the approaching female was lacking the regal aloofness that shrouded the real Nefri.
Not to mention a lack of kick-ass power that would have all of them reeling beneath the impact of her presence.
But she was close enough to make his gut twist into painful knots.
“Will she do?” Tonya murmured.
“Get rid of her,” he commanded, his voice thick.
Tonya frowned in confusion. “What?”
“Get rid of her. Now!”
Spinning on his heel, he headed toward the stairs leading out of the lower levels.
He had to get out.
“Santiago,” Tonya called behind him. “Goddammit.”
The crowd parted beneath the force of his icy power, most of them scrambling out of his way with a gratifying haste as he climbed the stairs and entered the lobby.
Not that he noticed.
He was way too busy convincing himself that his retreat was nothing more than anger at Tonya’s interference.
As if he needed the fey prying into his sex life. She was supposed to be his assistant, not his pimp. If he wanted a damned female he could get one himself. Hell, he could get a dozen.
And not one of them would be some pitiful substitute for the aggravating, infuriating, impossible female who had simply abandoned him to return behind the Veil....
“Trouble in paradise,
It was a testament to just how distracted he was that he was nearly across the marble floor of the lobby and he hadn’t noticed the vampire standing near the door to his office.
If he could miss the current Anasso (the ultimate King of All Vampires), then his head was truly up his ass.
Styx was a six-foot-five Aztec warrior dressed in black leather with a sword strapped to his back big enough to carve through a full-blooded troll. And of course, there was his massive power that pulsed through the air like sonic waves.
It would be easier, and certainly less dangerous, to overlook an erupting volcano.
“Perfect,” he muttered, regarding his unexpected guest’s bronzed face. His visage had been carved on lean, arrogant lines emphasized by his dark hair, which was pulled into a tight braid that fell nearly to the back of his knees. He didn’t look like he was there to party. Which meant he wanted something from Santiago. Never a good thing. “Could this night get any better?” he muttered.
Styx arched a dark brow. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Share the fact he was no better than a eunuch with his Anasso? He’d rather be gutted.
And, speaking as someone who actually had been gutted, that was saying something.
“I most emphatically do not,” he rasped, shoving open the door to his office and leading his companion inside.
“Thank the gods.” Styx crossed the slate gray carpet, perching on the corner of Santiago’s heavy walnut desk. “When I took the gig of Anasso I didn’t know I had to become the Vampire Whisperer. I just wanted to poke things with my big sword.”
Santiago veered past the wooden shelves that held the sort of high-tech surveillance equipment that only Homeland Security was supposed to know about, unlocking the door of the sidebar that was set beneath the French Impressionist paintings hung on the paneled walls.
“I hope you didn’t come here to poke anything with your sword,” he said, pulling out a bottle of Comisario tequila.
“Actually, I need your help.”
“Again?” Santiago poured two healthy shots of the expensive liquor. The last time Styx had said those words the Dark Lord had been threatening to destroy the world and he’d been teamed up with Nefri in an attempt to find the missing prophet. “I thought we’d gone beyond the sky-is-falling to yippee ki yay, everyone back to their neutral corners so we could pretend that we didn’t nearly become dog food for the hordes of hell?”