The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters
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“Sorry,” he said, his voice raspy and his fangs still out. “I needed to mask my smell, or he’d have known what I was. If I was with you, it wouldn’t be so obvious.”
I was too dizzy to speak. I just nodded mutely and kept playing with the hem of my dress so I didn’t have to look at him.
“I wouldn’t have bitten you,” he added.
Forcing a weak smile, I felt my face flush with warmth. Worry over him biting me wasn’t the problem. The problem was I’d wanted him to.
“You can’t come in with me,” I told him. “I need to do the rest alone.”
We both regarded the now-quiet elevator, remembering the dead girl who had just been taken away. Had she seen the real face of Charlie Conaway? Did she make it within an inch of escape only to have her neck snapped?
My grip tightened on the strap of the travel tube. If she had only made it through the door, we could have saved her.
I shook myself and stood tall. Holden was waiting by the elevator now, watching me guardedly. Whatever he was thinking, it didn’t show on his face.
“Be careful, Secret.”
Under my thumb, the bell for PH3 chimed.
“I’m always careful.” It smelled like a lie, even to me, but it was too late to turn back now. The penthouse door opened at the same time the elevator door shut. Holden was gone, and Charlie was standing in front of me without a shirt on, a big smile on his face.
“You’re just in time.” He stepped out of the doorway, giving me a small entrance, but I still had to brush against him to get inside. “We’re going to have some fun, you and I.”
“Yeah,” I said, my eyes adjusting to the gloom of the darkened foyer. He shut the door, and I was alone in the dark with him. “It’ll be to die for.”
I had to remind myself that for the time being I was just a fan. And a fan, to Charlie, was a lamb being led to slaughter. He had one behemoth of a guard out disposing of a body, and another was waiting next to the elevator. I needed to know what else I was up against before I could spring into action.
“Wow. It’s so dark in here.”
“Is it? I hadn’t noticed.” All the better for the vampire to see you with, my dear.
The guard ignored us as we waited for the interior elevator, and Charlie was already in full-on skeezy superstar mode. He had pressed himself against my side and was trailing his fingers up and down my arm. I couldn’t get over how cold he was. Vampires are not warm creatures by any stretch of the imagination, but they were rarely this icy. Their usual temperature, for lack of a better comparison, was that of a room-temperature corpse. Slightly cool, but by no means cold.
Charlie was so cold goose bumps rose over my skin wherever he touched me. He seemed to take this as growing excitement on my part and leaned in closer to lick my earlobe. “What’s your name?” he enticed, his hands exploring the easily accessible parts of my body.
I kept repeating in my head, not yet, not yet, not yet, kill him now, no, not yet, not yet, not yet. I tapped my fingers against my leg, growing progressively more impatient with the elevator. Once I knew how many more men he had, I could take care of business. I eyed the stony bodyguard who was only a few feet away, wondering where Charlie had found such huge men. Until I knew how many others there were like him, I had to be…
“Jessica.” I picked the most common girl name I could think of. Something a little less memorable than Secret.
“Pretty.” He probably hadn’t even heard me. His voice trailed away from my ear and down my neck. His creepy, cold hands bumped against the tube I was carrying. “What’s this?” The flirty overtones vanished. His voice was both curious and suspicious.
“Oh. I brought my poster from Blood Love 2. I was sort of hoping you might sign it. You know. Later.” False modesty hung all over my words. “If that’s okay.”
He laughed, and the sound was almost pleasant. “Sure, Jennifer. Anything you want.”
“Mmmhmm.” He was leaning back in for my throat, but the elevator opened.
My neck had been saved by the bell twice in one night.
I needed that luck to hold out a bit longer.
Penthouse Three looked like every other expensive hotel room I’d ever seen. Sure, there were touches that made it fit the theme of the Columbia, like photo wallpaper depicting the shore of the British Columbia coast. All the colors were muted browns and grays, and the bedposts were made of the same driftwood as the lobby desk. But it was still a big, fancy version of an apartment, and the size felt like a mockery of my own living quarters. I sort of resented it.
The most impressive thing about the room was the full wall of windows, which had a doorway out to a balcony spanning the whole length of the room. The windows must have had light-safe panels that expanded to cover them during the day. Dangerous for a vampire, sure, but the nighttime view was incredible.
“Wow,” I said with genuine bedazzlement.
“You like that?” He looked past me and out the window, as if it was the first time he’d noticed the view.
“It’s amazing.” My gaze drifted from the window, and I cast a searching glance around the room, trying to see if we were alone.
There was a vampire sitting on a couch in the living room, and he was pretending not to notice me, which seemed to be the primary job of Charlie’s men. The guard who’d come up on the elevator with us had vanished from sight, but I could still feel his presence lurking nearby. That made two in the room, and a third off running a gruesome errand.
Four vampires. I’d seen worse odds.
“Can we go outside?” I asked. Alone on the balcony was where I wanted him. I could deal with the guards once Charlie was dead. If he was like most rogues, the guards would be new vampires, tied to him. Rogues liked to avoid partnering with established vampires because it almost always led to a power struggle at some point. If they created their own sect, they got to maintain control. This worked well for me because newborn vampires were cocky and stupid. They relied too much on their newfound strength, which made them much easier to kill.
He was brushing tendrils of hair off my shoulder, sweeping his fingers over my skin. I wanted to kill him, if only so he would stop touching me.
“Sure.” He hooked a thumb under the strap of my dress. “Let’s do that.” He pulled me towards the door, using the garment as a leash. This was too taxing for my dress, and as we reached the glass doors, the strap snapped.
Reflexively, my hand shot up to keep the dress in place, but it proved unnecessary. It was so tight, the straps were ornamental. The dress wouldn’t go anywhere unless it was unzipped, and even then I was pretty sure it would need to be surgically removed.
“Oops,” Charlie said, but he didn’t sound sorry.
“That’s okay.” I forced an airheaded giggle, while inside I was cursing him and his ham-fisted boorishness. “It doesn’t matter.”
Outside, the air was cool in spite of the August heat. This high up, the wind forgot about summertime rules and did whatever it wanted. I was glad for the distraction from Charlie’s cold touch.
“Look at the view!” I stepped away from him and up to the glass barrier wall.
“I’d rather look at you,” Charlie cooed. Ugh. I swallowed the wave of nausea that rode over me.
The balcony was perfect. If I killed him here, then coaxed both guards out, I could leave their bodies for the sunlight. Vampire blood turned to ash in daylight the same as their bodies did. Unfortunately, it didn’t work that well if it had already soaked into walls and carpets. I did most of my killing outside if I had a choice, because the Tribunal wasn’t always happy about sending cleaning crews to take care of the messes I made. Even if it was their mess to begin with.
Charlie was behind me, and with expert hands he began removing the tube from my back.
I spun around. “Let me,” I directed and took it off myself, half unscrewing the cap when I leaned it against the wall.
Now that I was facing him, Charlie took it as an open invitation to move in closer. His hands were at the hem of my dress, and he looked me right in the eyes.
“Anything I want.” He repeated the directive from earlier.
“Anything you want.” I tried to make my tone as zombified as possible, without sounding too much like a vampire slave. People too transfixed by the thrall became puppets to their master’s whim. Vampires called them Renfields. I called them depressing.
His roving hands twined around my back, finding my zipper. This position also placed his mouth precariously close to my exposed neck. The temptation to snack early must have proved to be a bit much for the vampire. His sharp fangs raked against my clavicle, and with the lightning-fast precision of a rattlesnake, he bit down.
I couldn’t help it. If I’d been under the thrall, I wouldn’t have felt anything. As it was, I was perfectly lucid, and the bastard had just broken my collarbone. My reaction stopped him from feeding before he’d had enough to be in a blood frenzy.
He licked his lips as he stared at me, his solid black eyes widening with surprise.
“What are you?” His hand tightened on my arm, causing new pain to join in chorus with the searing ache of pierced flesh and broken bone. With his free hand, he collected more blood where it was pooling on my skin and popped his thumb into his mouth. He didn’t seem able to separate the two parts of my blood to distinguish what I was, but it was pretty obvious he’d figured out I wasn’t human.
And based on the wicked gleam in his eyes, he liked what he tasted enough for it to not matter.
He dove to bite me again, but I tugged my arm free and dropped to the ground. I rolled across the slate balcony floor and knocked the top off the travel tube so I was able to pull out the katana as I regained my footing. The blade was unsheathed and gleamed a warning in the moonlight, which gave him pause. He seemed to be wondering if he could get the bite on me before I reached him with the sword.
“I fucking dare you,” I snarled.