This is the original beginning of Destined for an Early Grave, cut to get to the main plot point of Cat’s dreams sooner. It was also set about a month before Cat and Bones take their boat trip.
The blonde sat at the bar, her finger tapping against the rim of her glass. She was drinking scotch and soda, easy on the scotch. The soda was diet. Even the thought of its taste made me grimace. I favored gin and tonics myself.
She kept glancing at the man across from the bar. His hair was brown with dark roots, and underneath the illumination of the strobes, the lighter tips gleamed. So did his skin with its pale crystal texture. His eyes were in stark contrast to his coloring, as were his brows. Both were a brown so deep they could be mistaken for black.
From my position overlooking the bar, I gave an inward smile. Gorgeous, isn’t he? Go on, keep checking out those high cheekbones and those nice broad shoulders. If you like all that, just wait until you see his ass.
A beautiful woman with strawberry blond hair came down the staircase and went straight over to the blond man.
“Tell me you’re straight, horny, and want to dance,” she said with an uppercrust English accent. “After that, conversation is optional.”
I shouldn’t have been able to hear her with all the people, blaring music, and distance. But her words were as clear to me as if they’d been spoken in my ear. Being half-vampire had its advantages.
The man’s lips curled in amusement, making him even more attractive.
“Yes to all the above, luv,” he replied in a matching English accent.
The blonde woman at the bar watched them and her mouth thinned. She paid her tab, keeping her eye on the couple as they made their way into the throng of dancers. The man spun the woman around, moving with a prowling grace, all leashed energy and sexiness contained in a lean, hard package. Next to him, everyone else looked clumsy by comparison.
The blonde from the bar marched over, maneuvering her way through the other dancers.
“Can I cut in?” she asked bluntly, giving the other woman an unfriendly look.
“Why?” the man asked in casual, cool tones. “What can you offer me that this lovely lady can’t?”
The blonde balked. “Um, well…I can, er –”
“I’m already bored,” he cut her off. “Run along.”
Then the man turned his back and continued dancing, leaving the blonde to gaze at him in disbelief before she walked away with brisk, angry strides.
“Asshole,” I heard her mutter.
After a few minutes, I saw the couple make their way from the dance floor to the back exit. The blonde woman watched, too, and almost shoved people out of her way to follow. I followed as well, but more discreetly, taking the long way around to the back. The alley behind the club was a dark, narrow stretch. Perfect for a secluded, if not private, quickie.
Or for a hungry vampire to snack off an unknowing donor.
The man took his female companion behind a metal fire escape that hung from the three-story building like a spider web. I crept closer, watching as he enfolded the woman in his arms with his mouth going to her throat. The woman’s head fell back while her eyes closed.
“Get away from her,” the blond barked as she flung open the side door. She had a gun trained on him.
The man lifted his head, fangs visible and pearls of red on his lips.
“Really want that dance, do you?” he laughed. “Give me a moment and I’ll be right with you.”
The blonde fired. So did the three men who appeared beside her in flanking formation. Then the four of them stared at the empty space where he’d stood, seeing no one there now.
“Secure the perimeter!” the blonde shouted. “I want –”
Her voice was cut off by a piercing creak as the metal fire escape was suddenly ripped from the building. It landed with a twisting screech on the four of them, drowning out their screams and barricading the side door to the club with the wreckage. From start to finish, it took less than five seconds.
From out of the shadows, a ghoul crept up to me.
“Hicks looks pissed,” he said.
I smiled. “You should have seen how pissed I was the first time I came up against Bones. Woke up with a concussion chained to a cave wall with him laughing at me. I think I was more mad than afraid.”
“You were most definitely furious,” Bones replied as he leapt down from the rooftop, his friend Annette in his grasp. “Called me a coward and told me to choke on your blood. Was it any wonder I fell in love?”
Dave, the ghoul, grunted. “People get turned on in strange ways, if you ask me.”
The pained insult came from underneath the debris. Bones left Annette to stalk over, pulling a piece of metal off to reveal the blonde’s dirty, bleeding face.
“You are as witless as your mates when it comes to handling the undead.”
A low moan was his response. Bones gestured to Annette with a disgusted shake of his head.
“Instead of me, they shoot her. Is this the best you can come up with, old chap?”
A man with thinning gray hair and a face lined with age walked down the alley, one tug of his eyebrow preceding his reply.
“You didn’t think Cat would be easy to replace, did you?” my boss and uncle, Don Williams, asked wryly.
I snorted. My uncle was nothing if not manipulative. “Don’t try to guilt me, Don. I’m not staying on just because of this fiasco, if that’s what you were hoping for.”
“…can’t…feel my…legs,” the blonde gasped.
“Too right you can’t, your back is broken,” Bones said curtly. “Your arms as well, I suspect.”
Sirens sounded in the distance. None of us paid any attention to them. With our credentials, the police wouldn’t be allowed to sneak a peek past the soldiers on both sides of the alley and the rooftops. My uncle ran a special brand of “Homeland Security” that outranked the local cops, FBI, CIA, or even the military.
I stood next to the tangled metal, ignoring the moans for help coming from under it.
“All right, pay attention. That vampire,” I said with a nod at Bones, “could be ripping your throats out now and inviting friends for leftovers. When you have a vampire in your sights, you don’t give him a warning. You open fire before he knows you’re a threat. And maybe you need to be reacquainted with the term innocent bystander.”
I waved at Annette, illuminated under the streetlights, not hurt by the bullet because she’d been dead for centuries.
“A bystander is someone you get out of the way. If you don’t, they stand by and screw things up. You certainly don’t shoot one because you’re too rattled by the vampire to aim properly.”
The question came from Lieutenant Geri Hicks, the blonde from the bar who was supposed to fill my spot as bait for my team. I squatted in front of her, tossing aside the few pieces of iron pinning her down.
Geri studied me as we piled into the waiting van. She cracked her back and flexed her fingers, astonishment still on her face.
“It doesn’t even hurt,” she marveled.
“Vampire blood is a powerful healer, but don’t forget, it’s also dangerous,” Don said.
“So.” Geri quit wiggling her parts to stare at me. “You’re the one.”
She didn’t say it. Unlike Bones, I couldn’t read minds, so maybe she hadn’t even thought it. Still, after growing up stuck in between two worlds, it was how I considered myself. I had the strength, speed, vision, hearing, and glowing eyes of the nosferatu, but parts of me were very human. My teeth, for one. No fangs.
“Yeah, I’m the half-breed.”
Her lips pursed. “This was all a setup? There was no vampire prowling Bellissima’s, no two girls were found in the alley?”
Bones whistled. “Catch on right swiftly, don’t you?”
She opened her mouth to say something, and then shut it.
He laughed. “That’s the first intelligent thing you’ve done all night.”
Geri glared at him. That knowing, arrogant curl to his mouth didn’t falter. She must be cursing you up one side and down the other, I thought to Bones in amusement.
“Okay.” Geri lifted her chin. “Tell me what I should have done differently.”
Bones leaned forward. “First, you waited too bloody long at the bar. If a vampire’s looking for blood, he or she is impatient. Don’t wait for someone else to get their attention, as Annette did.”
“I was just about to –” she began.
He waved a hand. “Then you failed to arouse my interest when you attempted to cut in. You had an opportunity to get rid of the other girl and maneuver me into position, yet you squandered it. If a vampire asks you what you can offer them, have an answer! Make it memorable.”
“Such as?” she scoffed.
“I’ll take that,” I replied, with a grin. “With a vampire, “memorable” means dirty. ‘I can suck the skin straight off your cock,’ would have probably worked, as well as ‘bend me over and you’ll find out why I’m better.’ If the above two fail, then trip the other woman and bust her ankle. Then your advantage is that you’re the one who’s not limping.”
Dave chucked. So did Bones. My uncle Don looked a little uncomfortable, but he didn’t disagree. How could he? I had a nearly flawless record when it came to my targets.
“I don’t think I should have to stoop to that sort of thing to accomplish my objectives,” Geri said icily. “I’m a soldier, not a whore.”
Uh oh. Bad choice of words.
“Got something against whores?” Bones asked in a silky voice. “Careful, it’s my former profession. Do you have any other prejudices we should be aware of?”
She looked between me and Don. I shrugged. My uncle tugged his eyebrow and looked away.
“Pride and prejudice are two luxuries you can’t afford in this job,” I said. “People’s lives are on the line. That has to mean more than your comfort level.”
“If it means that much to you,” Geri asked, “why are you giving it up?”
My uncle sighed while pale fingers tightened on my arm.
“I’m too recognizable now, so my position has to be filled by someone else.”
That was one of the reasons. There were more, but I wasn’t getting into all of them with her.
Geri digested this information. She’d been handpicked out of thousands of soldiers, field agents, spooks, and policewomen. The criteria was tough. She had to have the mental strength to deal with the supernatural, and physically, she had to be attractive as well as strong.
At last Geri smiled, but it wasn’t at me. It was at Bones. “You were really a whore?”
He arched a challenging brow. “Yes.”
“Men or women?”
I didn’t know where this was going, but Bones didn’t hesitate. “Women.”
“Were you any good at it?”
I stifled a laugh, but my uncle looked like he’d swallowed something pointy.
Bones wore a ghost of a smile. “I’ve been told that, yes.”
Geri nodded. “Good. Maybe you could meet my boyfriend for drinks? Sweet guy, he’s great at everything except sex. If you could casually drop some hints…?”
My sides hurt from holding the laughter in. Bones nodded with complete seriousness.
“Tell him to expect my ring. Don’t fret, I’ll inform him in such a manner he won’t know he’s being instructed. It’s not the first request I’ve had like this.”
“I think she’ll do just fine,” I whispered to my uncle as Bones went on, getting the particulars on Geri’s boyfriend.
Don regarded me with solemn features that in no way resembled my own.
“It won’t be the same without you.”
We were almost at the compound. I sighed.
“Everything ends eventually, Don.”