Bound to Shadows

Page 11

"If you mean that I'm a guardian, then yes. And I totally agree with it being a shame, but hey, sometimes you've got to go with the flow."

His dour expression suggested he didn't see any humor in my reply. Apparently, neither did the other three, who all edged closer to their leader and flexed various muscles. I raised my eyebrows, wondering if they were stupid enough to seriously consider attacking a guardian.

"Lay off, boys," the bartender said, his voice holding the whip of command. Obviously, the laid-back attitude was a front.

The brown haired man snarled, then turned around and stalked off into the shadows. His friends followed. Three seconds later they all had women on their arms.

I shook my head and glanced at the bartender. "All this freely available blood must be making them a little crazy."

He grinned. "They meant no harm. Besides, they know the boss won't abide any trouble inside the building."

And they feared Starke more than they feared a guardian. Or maybe they simply feared that Starke would cut them off from their easy feed.

I continued on to the red door and rapped my knuckles against it loudly - although the sound was almost lost in the thump of music coming from the speakers three feet away.

But the door opened, revealing a tall black vamp with startling green eyes. "You the guardian?"

"I am." I got out my badge and flashed it again.

He stepped aside and waved me in. "The tapes have been set up to run on the end computer. The boss said you'd want to view from one o'clock onwards."

One o'clock being the time Grant Haven had finished work and was walking towards Dante's, only to be met by someone wielding a saw. Why he'd simply let them hack off his head was a question I'd forgotten to ask Jack, which meant I'd actually have to read the report later.

But Mandy Jones had reported his death at one-twenty, so at least there weren't going to be mountains of tape to view.

"That's perfect." I walked over to the desk and sat down.

The vamp shut the door then ambled over. "Press this button to play, this one for slo-mo, and that one for pause. If you want to print any of the frames, just hit this one."


He nodded and went back to his screens. I pressed the play and leaned back in the chair, watching as the computer worked its way through the various tapes. The bartender came in with my coffee about half way through, the scent of cinnamon and hazelnut filling the small room.

"I'll have one of those," the big vamp said, not taking his eyes off the screens.

"Then you can get it yourself at shift change," the bartender said, slamming the door as he exited.

"He's such a charmer," the black guy muttered. "You do realize he only got you one because he wants to get into your pants?"

"Actually, it's your boss that wants to do that." I took a sip of the hot liquid, and sighed in pleasure. "How long have you worked here?"

He shrugged. "A year and a half."

The timer was winding up to one-twenty, so I concentrated on the screen for several minutes, but could see neither Mandy nor the stranger who'd apparently paid her to call the murder in. As the camera view switched, I said, "And do you enjoy it?"

"Yeah. The conditions here are pretty good."

I glanced at him. "They are? The place looks pretty run down to me, and I imagine staff amenities are much the same."

He flashed me a grin, revealing rows of shiny white teeth but no fangs. He wasn't getting turned on by what he was watching on the screen, but then, I suppose if he was, he'd be of no use in this job.

"Most club venues have pretty crappy amenities for staff, no matter how up-market they claim to be."

"So why not work at one with a better rep?"

"Because this one pays above-the-average wages."

"Why? No offense, but it doesn't exactly look like a hard job, and this place hasn't had much in the way of trouble." At least, not the sort that attracted police or Directorate intervention. Not until the recent beheading on its front doorstep, anyway.

"Maybe there's been no trouble because the boss pays us well to ensure there isn't."

Good point. I sipped my coffee for several minutes, watching the ebb and flow of blood seduction on the screen. The timer was again nearing one-twenty. I leaned forward, watching the screen closely.

Mandy suddenly appeared in camera view. A tall, dark-haired vampire escorted her into the corner shadows, lifted her arm, and bared his teeth. A look of pure ecstasy crossed her face as his teeth pierced her flesh and he began to drink.

"What's Dante like as a boss?"

He shrugged. "Keeps to himself, mostly. We only see him if there's trouble."

"What about the ladies? I imagine he's got a few of them traipsing to and from his bedroom."

He laughed. It was a surprisingly high sound - like his voice was on the edge of breaking. It made me wonder just how old he'd been when he'd turned. His gangly frame did remind me somewhat of a teenager, but not all vamps were muscle bound. Quite the opposite, in fact.

"With his looks, and that mojo he has happening? Hell, yeah. There's practically a parade of woman traipsing upstairs to be with him."

"So he picks his bedmates from the women in the club?" Dante didn't actually seem the type to go for blood whores. But then, why would he run a club like this if he wasn't?

"No." He hesitated. "But some of them seem the type. They have that look, if you know what I mean."

I did. But if Starke wasn't getting his bed partners from this club, did that necessarily mean that he was getting them from others? And if that was the case, why would he bring them back here?

Was it some weird method of gaining more customers for his club, or was something else going on?

On a whim, I took out my phone, accessed my cars computer, and called up the photo of Renatta Bailey. "This wouldn't happen to be one of the women, would it?"

I turned the screen around so he could see it. He took a quick glance, then shook his head. "Not that I've seen, although I'm not on shift twenty-four hours a day. But she looks a little too up market to be visiting a place like this."

"And Starke's ladies didn't?"

"No. They mightn't have all been whores, but they looked like the ladies do here. Trashy."

I wondered how Mandy Jones would react to being called trashy. Then I remembered the desperate awareness in her eyes, and realized she'd probably agree.

On the screen, Mandy's shadow-bound tryst with her vampire ended. He bowed lightly then disappeared off screen, obviously intent on finding his next mark. Another man approached. He was wearing a black trench coat that concealed the shape of his body, but his shoulders were broad and he walked with a long legged grace that not only reminded me of a cat on the prowl, but also seemed a little too familiar.

My gaze flicked up to the hair. It was blond, not dark red I'd half been expecting, but that didn't mean anything . The face underneath the hair was dominated by a bulbous nose and sharp cheeks. But Kye had proven to be amazingly adept at disguising himself in the past.

The stranger approached Mandy and began talking to her. He kept his back to the camera, and I wasn't able to see if any money changed hands. He left, and three seconds later, another blond-haired man approached her, this man also broad-shouldered, but walking with a heavier gait and a slight limp. Again, the camera was at the wrong angle to fully see what was going on, but he also left as quickly as he'd approached.

I rewound the tape, printed out snapshots of both men, then glanced at my watch. Nine minutes to spare. Brilliant.

"I think that's it," I said, retrieving the printouts. "Thanks for your help."

He nodded. "Tell that lazy bastard tending bar I'm still waiting for my coffee."

"I believe he told you to get it yourself."

"He always tells me that." He flashed me a grin that was decidedly boyish. "But he's almost as keen on men as he is women, and he wants to get into my pants something bad, too. He always comes up with the goods in the end."

"Meaning you'll probably have to reciprocate in the long run. "

"Oh, I will. But I also believe in making them wait. Keeps them keen."

I grinned. "Waiting isn't something we wolves worry about."

"Well, it's not exactly something I practice when it comes to blood, but a relationship is different." He gave me a sketchy wave and turned his attention back to his screens.

I closed the door shut and headed back to the bar. The barkeep - minus his tea towel for a change - ambled up. "All done?"

I slid the now empty coffee mug over to him, then folded the printouts and tucked them into my pocket. "Yes. Thank your boss for me."

"If you wait a few minutes, you can thank him yourself."

I grinned. "A pleasure I shall forgo."

His own smile grew. "You'd need to say that with a little less sarcasm if you want me to believe you."

"Next time I want you to believe me, I might give it a try."

He snorted softly, then gave me a nod and walked over to serve another customer. I headed out. The bouncer wasn't at the door when I exited, which was unusual. Maybe there'd been some trouble inside somewhere. I hadn't noticed anything, but that was probably why Starke kept so many guards on staff - to put out the flames of a fight before they got too hot.

I was about a dozen steps away from my car when I realized I was no longer alone. Two figures appeared out of the shadows of the house ahead. The back of my neck tingled, warning that there were two more men behind me. Four men in total - the same four men who'd confronted me inside the club earlier.

I flared my nostrils, tasting the anger in their rancid, scents.

These guys were as stupid as they'd seemed.

I stopped and held up my hands. The footsteps of the two men behind me were whisper soft, and with the breeze flowing past me, it was difficult to judge just how close they actually were. But I had more than just regular senses at my call, and it was those I relied on now. They were still out of kicking range. "Guys, you really don't want to do this."

The hazel-eyed leader gave a slight sneer. "It's four vampires against one woman, guardian. I'm thinking the odds might be in our favor."

"And I'm thinking you're all fucking idiots." I shifted my feet a little, adjusting my weight so that most of it was balanced on my right leg. The men behind me were almost close enough. Almost. "Attacking a guardian will get you into more trouble than you could ever imagine. You really don't want to do this."

He flexed his fingers and gave me a grin that was all teeth. "You guardians killed a blood brother. His only crime was obeying the wishes of a whore, and he was punished for it."

"It's against the law to suck a human dry. You may not like it, but it's the law and we have to enforce it." As my skin began to burn with the closeness of the two vampires, I twisted, sweeping my leg up and around. The blow took the first vampire on the chin and the second in the chest, pushing them both backwards. I followed through with a punch, smashing the first vampire's nose, sending blood and snot and god knows what else flying. He dropped like a stone to the pavement and I spun around, looking for the second vamp. He was already out of reach.

Still, three against one was better odds by far.

But I had little time to appreciate it as the other two attacked. They were fast and strong and coming from different directions, and I found myself backing up against the onslaught of their fists and feet. I barely missed connecting with a one-two punch to my face, felt the breezy approach of another and ducked, only to see the blur of an oncoming boot. I threw myself backwards, twisting as I did so, landing on all fours and launching myself upright. One of them landed on my back, his spindly arms and legs wrapping around my body as his teeth tore into my shoulder. A scream rolled up my throat but I gritted my teeth against it, forcing myself to concentrate as the other two vamps came at me.

I dropped, sweeping with one leg - the movement somewhat awkward and cramped thanks to the moron stuck to my back. The vampire avoided the blow then launched himself towards me. I twisted, punching upwards, wishing like hell I had my wooden stilettos right now. They sure would have been handy - although a blow to the privates nevertheless took another attacker out. It just wasn't as satisfyingly painful to him as a stake would have been.

Then a fist connected with my chin and knocked me sideways. I crashed down onto fours, the rough road surface tearing at my palms as I skidding along for several feet. I shook my head, trying to clear it, trying to ignore the pain and just get up. The vampire on my back was still clinging like a leech and the smell of blood tainted the air, intensifying the whole situation.

The footsteps of another approaching vampire loomed large. I had to move or this whole situation could get really bad.

Then another scent hit me - orange blossom and dark spices.


The footsteps of the third vampire abruptly stopped, and a heartbeat later, bones cracked. I grabbed the thumbs of the leech on my back, pushing them backward - hard. As he screamed, I threw myself backwards onto the ground, smashing his head against the roadside and crushing him beneath me.

Starke appeared before me, his golden eyes burning with so much fury that they glowed.

"Please accept my apologies," he said, holding out a hand. "The guard at the door is supposed to prevent things like this from occurring, and has been appropriately dealt with for his lapse."

I untangled myself from the arms and legs that were still wrapped around me, then placed my hand in Starke's and let him haul me upright. He did so with little effort and, surprisingly, released me straight away.

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