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Lucan was also planning a summer concert for his patrons, featuring local bands and a special performance artist who turned her body into art through subtle self-torture. Burke had advised against it, as he advised against everything that gave Lucan any amount of personal pleasure or amusement.
"There hasn't been a goth club on Fort Lauderdale Beach since the early eighties, my lord," he had told Lucan. "Better to open a coffee shop or a salsa club."
"I can't drink coffee or eat salsa," Lucan had replied easily. "Goths, on the other hand, I find quite digestible."
Burke had employed one of his nasal sprays and wandered off muttering to himself.
Lucan decided, despite all the advice against opening Infusion, that the results of his labors were most pleasing. As he left his lordly suite and took the elevator to the club level, he thought about opening another theme club in Miami and commuting between the two, as more than half the jardin dwelled in Dade County. Perhaps a salsa club might do for his southern base.
If he could stay this time. If only he could stay.
The club would not open for another two hours, and the entire first floor stood silent and empty. Lucan followed the scent of cherry-eucalyptus cough drops to his office, and entered the pass code that released the vault-quality electronic locks on the steel door. Inside Burke had left the lights on, and atop the desk that had once belonged to a shipbuilder in Ireland was a long white-and-lavender box from a national flower-delivery service. On the front were printed the words, someone is thinking about you.
"Then someone should have sent me a woman," Lucan murmured as he used his palm blade to cut through the box's taped sides. He flipped open the top and examined the contents.
Two dozen dead flowers lay inside, brown and withered.
"Lilies." Lucan reached in the box to take out one of the flowers. A knock sounded on the door, and he set the box to one side of his desk before drawing a throwing knife from his vest. "Come in."
The young woman in the purple-and-green-plaid cloth coat who entered the office was not as poised as the dead brunette, or as noisy as the plump blonde before her. Her features bore a faint resemblance to those of a rodent, which she did her best to disguise with thick cosmetics and a short, layered bob of eggplant-purple hair.
"You sent for me?" Alisa, also known as Alice Nora Kruk, asked in her prim, polite voice. She kept her coat on and stood by the door, and, if he told her to, she would leave without protest. It was one of the reasons he used her more often than the other human females he encountered.
Throughout the centuries, the Darkyn had enjoyed professional courtesans the same way children did candy. Since Lucan had come to South Florida, this human had quickly become his favorite infrequent confection.
"Yes, darling Allie." Lucan replaced his knife and sat down in the wide-backed leather chair behind his desk. "Are you wearing anything under that unfortunate clan's tartan?"
Alisa neatly unbuttoned the coat and opened it to display a merry widow, garter belt, and fishnet stockings, all in shades of reddish purple. She left the narrow strip of black curly hair over her pubic mound natural, but the small gold ring piercing the top of her labia sported a dangling heart-shaped amethyst.
"How enchanting." He sat back and enjoyed the precise way she approached him, every movement subdued yet provocative. Another reason she had lasted as long as she had: Allie possessed the gift of utter, ruthless self-control. "Tell me, who did you beat senseless today?"
"No one. I had a businessman in Boca scheduled for a paddling, but he came all over my lap after four whacks." She removed a wad of pink chewing gum from her mouth and flicked it into the waste can by his desk. "Got me all icky. I had to shower before I came to you."
He removed a folded linen handkerchief and a tube of medicinal salve from his desk drawer and placed them within reach. "I would hope so."
"I might get out of the 'trix trade soon." She knelt down in front of the chair and unlaced the top of the merry widow, pushing her hands inside the cups to slowly fondle her implant-enhanced breasts. "Go into specialty anal instead. Guys are much more interested in ass-fucking these days."
"Yours," he said, tipping up her chin, "or theirs?"
"Doesn't matter. I make money either way." She breathed in and her pupils dilated as she released more of the lacing between her breasts. "Unless you want to change your mind about us."
Lucan was tempted to make their arrangement more regular and permanent; he could certainly afford her lease rates. Allie's skills were also professional quality, and even under the influence of l'attrait, she retained a remarkable amount of self-possession. Yet even he could not break the ancient traditions involved with the oath of loyalty. No human outside the ranks of Darkyn was ever invited in. Burke might fumble the occasional wine bottle, but he came from a long-established tresoran family who had trained him from boyhood to serve.
"I would not deny you the delights of sodomy," he murmured as he bent to put his mouth to her right shoulder.
"Oh, God." The young woman closed her eyes and moaned as his fangs lightly pierced her flesh. "This hurts so much better."
As Lucan swallowed the warm blood that welled up from the punctures in her soft, thin skin, his eyes shifted to the box of withered lilies. Why would someone go to the trouble of sending him dead flowers? Was Richard trying to make another of his cryptic points?
A trembling hand touching the back of his neck made him lift his mouth. He applied pressure to the punctures his fangs had left with the folded handkerchief, and after a few moments, a dab of the antibiotic ointment.
"Please," she moaned, spreading her thighs wide and pulling at his hand. "I need it."
The blood of a woman in his belly always gave him an erection, and Lucan saw no reason to dismiss it. After all, he did pay Allie double her standard rate. But as he unfastened the front of his trousers, he wondered how much longer he could go on using her. Delightfully jaded though they were, even her shop-soiled charms might push him into blood thrall.
No, it wouldn't be Alisa. It would be the emptiness eating away inside him. The space nothing could fill, not blood or sex or death.
"I need it right now." She scrambled up onto her knees, and in her haste she knocked the box of lilies off his desk. Lucan heard water gurgling and lifted Alisa out of the way while he used the toe of his shoe to nudge open the box lid. Two broken pieces of a thin terra-cotta vial fell out, splashing water onto his carpet.
"I'm sorry," Allie said, emerging from the haze of l'attrait to look down with dismay at the mess. "Was that something important?"
Rust-tinged water slowly soaked into the carpet at his feet. He smelled copper—one of the few things in the world that could kill him—and saw that every lily in the box had its stem inserted in a thin, easily broken clay vial of the same contaminated fluid. "Not to me."
"I do not tell my life history to humans," Marcella Evareaux said as she watched the tiny puncture wound in the bend of her elbow vanish.
"I'm not human. I'm your doctor." Alexandra Keller capped off the tube of blood she had just taken from the other woman, marked the label ME-1, and placed it in an upright rack filled with other blood samples. The tower room in Marcella Evareaux's Victorian mansion was so large and sparsely furnished that every word she said echoed faintly, making Alex feel as if she were standing in an auditorium rather than a home. "Why do you live here by yourself?"
"Why do you wish to know," the tall, black-haired Frenchwoman countered, "when it has nothing to do with your tests?"
Alex shrugged. "I'm trying to be friendly. You're only the fourth female vampire I've met so far."
"The Darkyn are not vampires. We are vrykolakas." Marcella draped her shoulders with a gray burnout velvet wrap, which was a shade darker than the plain silver rings she wore around each finger. Every movement she made created a faint, exquisite scent of wisteria.
"So I've been lectured." Vampires were so touchy about what you called them. "What's your talent?" All of the Darkyn had some strange psychic ability that affected human beings. Alex and Jema Shaw, the only humans to survive the change to Darkyn since the Middle Ages, had gifts that worked on humans and vampires.
Dark eyes glittered. "I don't kill humans who ask too many annoying questions."
"I hope that goes for former humans, too." Alex grinned. "And would you be my best friend? Please?"
Instead of showing amusement, Marcella's expression tightened. "I do not take women… friends."
"Aw, it's really fun. We get to go shopping together, swap old-boyfriend stories, watch chick flicks, and borrow each other's clothes for hot dates." She waited, but the other woman didn't reply. "Or not. You know what this means. I can make you pee in a little plastic cup. Or listen to more annoying questions, like did you grow those fangs on your own, or did someone infect you?"
"It was another time, another life." Marcella moved her hand through her long black curls in an idle, sexy gesture Alex couldn't have imitated even if she'd practiced in front of a mirror for ten years. "What does it matter?"
"If you're worried about me gossiping, I can keep my mouth shut," Alex assured her. "Ask your brother; he'll vouch for me."
The other woman rearranged her long limbs in a negligent pose. "Arnaud's opinion of you was less than favorable, Doctor."
"Called me a mouthy little bitch, did he?" She grinned. "He just hates everybody. Except that girl out in the swamps he keeps going to see." At Marcella's blank look, she added, "The one whose father keeps shooting him in the ass."
"I cannot speak of that." Long fingers toyed with the wrap's crystal beaded fringe. "I still know nothing about you, or how you came to be one of us."
Alex's change from human to Darkyn had been the stuff of bad soap operas, in her own opinion, but she didn't mind sharing. "You mean you didn't get the jardin monthly newsletter? I was minding my own business, working as a reconstructive surgeon in Chicago when your boss, the Evil One—"