Dark Hunger

Page 10

“Nah.” William tossed his bar rag over his shoulder. “She my bouncer.”

The pool player laughed. “This cute little thing?”

Rowan could tolerate being called a lot of things—even a whore, since she’d almost been one—but little? Cute? She might look as if she were still in high school, but she was damned if she’d be treated as if she were.

She slid off the barstool, startling the laughing man when he saw she stood a head taller than him. “You wanna play me a game?” She rolled up her sleeves, showing the twin black-and-red dragon tattoos scrolled around her forearms. “Fifty bucks.”

The man glanced back at his friends before he inspected her, from her short, shaggy mop of brown curls to her scuffed sneakers. “Sure, kid.” He eyed her small breasts and long torso, but it was her arm art that made him lick his lips. “I’ll even let you break.”

William glared at Rowan. “You ain’t playing him, Ro.”

“It’s all right, old man,” the player assured him. “I’ll take it easy on her.” He leered at Rowan. “Unless you like it rough, sweetie pie.”

She dug her wallet out of her back pocket, pulled out two twenties and a ten, and slapped them on the bar, watching her opponent until he did the same.

William put an empty shot glass over the bills. “I can’t watch this again.” He retreated to the far end of the bar.

Rowan chose a cue from the wall case, racked the billiard balls at the end of the table, and chalked the tip of her cue. Her opponent and his friends gathered around behind her, and when she bent over she heard a low murmur and snickering sounds.

“If you’re going to admire my fine ass, boys,” she said as she set up the shot, “first you’d best get out the way of my stick.”

The first ball she sank was an easy one; they actually cheered her on. The second she dropped with a bank shot quieted them down. They fell silent when the third and fourth balls knocked each other into opposing corner pockets. As she took each shot, the red eyes and scales of her dragon tats caught the light and gleamed beneath the fine sheen of sweat that formed on her skin. Beneath the ink covering her right arm, however, something else gave off a different glow, and when she saw the glimmer of blue through the black she jerked down her sleeve.

Five minutes later she had cleared the table and finished the job by tapping the eight ball so gently that it drifted into the side pocket.

“Good game.” Rowan walked past the gaping men, replaced the cue, and went to the bar to collect her winnings. Her opponent reached her in time to grab her wrist and hold the folded bills in her fist between them.

“You ain’t hustling me, jailbait,” he said in a low, ugly voice. “You put the money back down and we’ll do this two outta three. And I’ll break this time.”

Rowan stared down at his sweaty face. “The bet was one game, fifty bucks. I won. Let go.”

“Boy, you pushing it.” William called from the other end of the bar. “You turn her loose afore things get outta hand.”

The loser gave him an impatient look. “What are you gonna do, old man? Jump on over here and kick my ass?”

“No.” Rowan dropped the bills, which fluttered to the floor. When he looked down, she grabbed the back of his hair and rammed his face into the knee she lifted. “I am.”

He toppled over, clutching his bleeding nose and uttering muffled, hoarse sounds. Rowan faced his friends, who did the wise thing and backed away. She bent down to check his injury and the amount of blood he was leaking onto the floor before she picked up the money.

“I haven’t been jailbait for a good three years,” she told him before she straightened and addressed his friends. “His nose is gonna be sore, but it’s not broken. Wrap some ice in a washcloth and hold it on; that should keep the swelling down.”

Before she left the bar, she handed William a twenty. “See you when I get back. Give Sally a kiss for me.” She glanced back at the tourists. “Sorry about the blood.”

“Uh-huh.” He pocketed the tip. “Next time, you mopping it up.”

Chapter 5

Bradford Lawson spent the morning with his personal trainer at the club, where he worked on his abs and obliques before swimming a hundred laps in the pool. Since he’d turned thirty he’d stopped taking his fitness for granted and spent a minimum of three hours each day improving it.

The results showed in the sleek pads of hard muscle all over his body, but he remained dissatisfied. Physical exercise helped burn off the extra calories from the gourmet food and rare wine he liked to consume, but it took too much time and effort. Fortunately his trainer also provided him with injections that maximized the benefits of his workouts.

“You’re looking real good, Mr. Lawson,” the trainer said as he drew out the needle and pressed a cotton ball over the dot of blood that appeared. “How are you feeling?”

“Tired and wet.” Lawson closed his eyes and rested his head against the tile wall of the locker room as the booster streamed through him. The heavy, pleasant effect of the drugs faded after only a few seconds. “I need another one.”

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,” the trainer said, closing his case. “You’ve been asking for a lot of doubles lately.”

“What about it?”

“The mix I use is special, you know, best-quality stuff.” The trainer’s tone grew tentative. “Thing is, see, it’s real easy to get hooked on it. I think we should scale back the shots for a couple weeks.”

He opened one eye. “You think we should.”

The other man shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “You hired me to look after you. That’s all I’m doing.”

Lawson chuckled. “In a couple of months I won’t need you or your shit. But until then, you’ll do what I tell you. Now give me another one, and do it fast.”

The trainer shook his head. “Something happens to you, and word gets around, I could lose a lot more than my job.”

Lawson got up from the bench and walked up until he was nose to nose with the trainer.

“Nothing is going to happen to me,” he said very softly. “But if you don’t shut your fucking mouth and give me another shot, I’ll pop your head like a rotten grape.”

“This is what I mean,” the trainer said through white lips. “You can’t keep boosting like this. You’ll go off the deep end and kill someone.”

“I think I know my limits, but all right. I’ll cut back.” He adjusted the collar of the trainer’s polo shirt. “I’ve got to close a major deal today, though, and I’m not walking in there feeling like this. So you give me another one now, and tomorrow we’ll drop it down to a half dose.”

“Tomorrow. You mean it?”

Lawson nodded.

“Okay.” The other man opened his case and took out a filled syringe. He extended Lawson’s arm, tied a length of rubber tubing above the elbow, and tapped the inside bend until a vein rose up beneath the skin and he could administer the injection. “There you go.” He removed the needle and turned to retrieve a cap.

Lawson brought his fist down on the base of the man’s skull with enough force to drop him facedown on the slate floor. He picked up the case, checked the contents, and carried it over to his locker. As he dressed, the second injection refreshed and calmed him, so that when he went over to the stirring, groaning man he was smiling.

“You’re fired. Find another place to work.” Lawson carried the case out with him.

From the car he called ahead to Cecile’s to confirm his reservation for lunch, and asked to speak to his usual waiter.

“Yes, Mr. Lawson.”

“I’m meeting a lady for lunch at one,” he told the waiter. “I’d like her to have the chef’s special. Perhaps you could meet me on your break to discuss the presentation.”

“Yes, sir. Will the lady need a ride home?”

“No.” He glanced at the case on the passenger’s seat beside him. “She’ll be coming back to the office with me.”

“She’s to be taken today,” Matthias repeated, to be sure he hadn’t misheard Rowan.

“At one o’clock, at this French restaurant.” She recited an address. “That gives you about three hours, unless you want to change your mind and back out.”

He finished writing down the address before he replied, “Why is she to be taken so soon?”

“I don’t know. Drew has nothing on paper. But for it to go down like this, the order had to come from Genaro himself.” She hesitated, and then said, “You’re not going to change your mind about doing this, are you? I don’t think I can drive down there in time.”

“You would take her yourself?” He didn’t know whether to feel amused or dismayed. “She would know who you were and what you intended from the moment she touched you.”

“Ms. Jessa Bellamy would never lay a finger on me.” She sighed. “I don’t like rushing this way, Matthias. It’s happening too fast. None of us are ready for her.”

He was, since the moment he’d entered the park last night. “We will make it do.” He thought for a moment. “Rent two more cars for me. Attend to the doors and the harnesses and then have them delivered to the second and third drop points.”

She took in a sharp breath. “You’re going to drive her out yourself? Is that really wise?”

“There is no time to bring in the others.” He started the engine of his car. “Do what you can to prepare for her there. I will contact you once I’m in position.”

“Be careful.”

Matthias drove downtown, stopping first at Jessa Bellamy’s offices to check the lot for her car, which was parked in an end space. According to Rowan, she would meet Bradford Lawson at the restaurant, but he checked the signal of the GPS transmitter he’d planted to be sure it remained strong and steady. If she changed her mind about the meeting, or for some reason bolted at the restaurant, he might have to pursue her.

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