Halfway to the Grave

Page 43

He trailed his fingers along my arm. "You bet, cherry."

Charlie's accent was pure Southern. He had brown hair, a friendly smile, and an athletic build. His drawl, plus that aw-shucks demeanor, only made him seem more amicable. Who could be evil when he had an accent like candy, right?

The guy to my left, who'd been hitting on me all night, gave him a belligerent look.

"Hey, mister, I saw her first-"

"Why don't you get up on outta here and go home?" Charlie cut him off, still smiling. "Best hurry, now. I don't like to repeat myself."

If I were that guy, I'd hear the steel underneath his good ol' boy act, and be warned.

Of course, I wasn't drunk, ignorant, and just plain oblivious to the danger in front of me.

"I don't think you heard me," the man slurred, laying a heavy hand on him. "I said, I saw her first."

Charlie didn't lose his smile. He took the man by the wrist and hauled him out of his chair.

"No need to fight and cause a ruckus," he said with a wink at me. "We'll flip for you, sugar. I'm feelin' lucky."

And he dragged the man out of the bar. The fact that no one commented spoke for the classiness of the place.

I looked around, torn. If I tried to stop Charlie, I'd blow my cover and wreck Bones's chance to find Hennessey, again. So I did nothing. I sipped my drink and felt sick inside. When Charlie returned, he had that same genial grin, and he was alone.

"Turns out I am lucky tonight," he commented. "Question is, are you going to make me very, very lucky?"

I was trying to listen for a heartbeat outside, but the interior noise was too loud. Whatever had happened was over. There was nothing to do but see this through.

"Sure thing, honey. I just need a little something to help with my rent first."

My voice was flirty. Not a hint of stress. Practice did make perfect, and the rent comment was my ode to Stephanie. I thought it was darkly appropriate.

"What's your rent, cherry pie?"

"Hundred bucks," I giggled, shifting on my chair so my dress climbed higher. "You'll be glad you donated, promise."

Charlie's gaze skimmed my thighs in the ridiculously short dress, and he took in a deep breath. Only months of training kept me from blushing at what I knew he was doing.

"Honey child, from the looks of you, I'd say that's a bargain."

He held out his hand and I took it, hopping off my chair.

"Charlie, wasn't it? Don't worry. You're in for a real treat."

As Charlie drove, I was quietly thanking God that he hadn't attempted a quickie right on the premises. My hooker charade only went so far. Bones would be following at a discreet distance, and we were hoping I'd be taken back to Charlie's place, breaking Bones's cardinal rule of me avoiding a vampire's home base. What information we might find was worth the risk of him having roommates.

"How long you been a working girl, sugar?" Charlie asked, as if discussing the weather.

"Oh, about a year," I answered. "I'm new to this town, but I'm saving to move again."

"Don't like Charlotte?" he said as he pulled onto the highway.

I allowed a hint of nervousness to enter my voice. "Where are we going? I thought you were just going to pull off the side of the road or something."

"It's or something, cherry." He chuckled. "Believe that."

How would a normal prostitute react? "Hey, don't go too far. I don't want to walk all night to get back to my ride."

Charlie turned his head and looked me full in the face. His eyes blazed emerald and he lost that friendly demeanor.

"Shut the f**k up, bitch."

Okay. Guess the pleasantries were over! That suited me just fine. I hated to make small talk.

I nodded with what I hoped was a glazed expression and stared ahead without another word. To do anything less would be suspicious.

Charlie whistled "Amazing Grace" as he drove. It was all I could do not to whip my head around and snap, Are you kidding me? Couldn't he pick something more appropriate, like "Shout at the Devil" or "Don't Fear the Reaper"? Some people had no sense of the proper music for a kidnapping.

He pulled up forty minutes later to a tiny apartment complex. It was set back from the other, similar buildings along the street. The neighborhood was lower-middle-class, but not ghetto. Just something you wouldn't see people strolling through for the view.

"Home sweet home, cherry pie." He grinned, shutting the car off. "At least for a little while. Then you'll get to leave town like you wanted to."

Interesting. I hadn't been told to speak, though, so I continued with my catatonic act. Anger simmered in me, thinking of all the girls who hadn't been faking it. Tainted blood had advantages.

Charlie opened my car door and yanked me out. I let him propel me up the single flight of stairs to the second floor. He didn't even bother holding on to me as he fumbled with his keys. That's right, buddy. Don't worry about me. I'm helpless.

He shoved me inside when he opened the door. I let myself trip, partially to stay low and get a view of my surroundings, and also so my hand was near my boots.

Charlie didn't care about me sprawling on the floor. He stepped over me and plopped himself onto a nearby couch.

"Got another one, Dean," he called out. "Come see."

There was a grumble, a creak of furniture, and then presumably Dean.

Seeing him almost cracked my cover, because he strolled out buck-naked. I had to steel myself not to instinctively look away. Bones was only the second guy I'd seen that way, and Danny had been so fast, it barely counted. In the midst of everything, I was embarrassed. How absurd.

Dean came right over to me and tilted my face up. His parts were swinging so close, I fought a blush. And a recoil.

"She's gorgeous."

Charlie grunted. "I found her. I go first."

That statement wiped away my embarrassment. Son of a bitch. These pigs were going to get it, all right. Permanently.

I'd just heard footsteps outside when Dean turned to Charlie.

"You expecting someone...?"

My stake cleared my boot the same instant Bones leveled the door with one kick. Maybe I was being spiteful. Could have been convenience due to its proximity, but the first place I drove it into was Dean's groin.

He let out a high-pitched scream and tried to grab me. I rolled away, yanking out my other stake and flinging it into his back. That brought him to his knees and I pounced, jumping onto his back like this was a macabre rodeo.

Dean bucked frantically, but I grabbed the stake with both hands and slanted downward, shoving with all my strength. He flattened under me. Splat. I gave the stake another shove for good measure and moved away with a kick he didn't feel.

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