An Excerpt from Crimson Debt
“So you’re working here of your own free will? No one has coerced you either mentally or physically into employment at Under the Fang?”
The college age barmaid gave me a bored look and snapped her gum. “Yeah, I mean no, nobody forced me or anything. I’m here ‘cause the tips are great, Master Corbin won’t let anybody fuck with us, and I get as much glam-sex as I want for free. What’s not to like?”
What indeed. I studied her eyes, looking for the telltale red pinprick in her pupils that denoted a thrall but there was nothing. There never was at Under the Fang, Tampa’s premiere glam-sex club, which always pissed me off. I would have loved to nail the owner’s hide to the wall. Self-satisfied bastard.
Sitting on a raised dais in the center of the club was the bastard in question—Alec Corbin, a four-star master vamp who looked like a wet-dream come true. He was six four and probably around two twenty or two twenty-five, all of it muscle and he wasn’t shy about showing it off either. Right now he was wearing a tight black t-shirt that hugged his broad shoulders and muscular chest and made his dark blond hair glow positively gold in the dim lights of the club. He’d died needing a shave but the dark blond stubble on his square jaw only added to his sex appeal and I was willing to bet that he knew it.
However it wasn’t his size or his looks that drew the admiration of every fang freak in the sunshine state—it was Corbin’s eyes. Fringed thickly with dark lashes, they were a deceptively light silvery-blue that reminded me of the reflection on the surface of a lake. A mysterious body of water that had unexplored depths with monsters swimming somewhere down deep, just waiting to grab you and drag you under. Pretty on the surface and fucking scary underneath. Yeah, that was Corbin, all right.
As though feeling my gaze on him, he looked up and smiled at me, showing just enough fang to be insulting. I met his monster’s eyes without fear and gave him a blank look back. I can do that because I’m an Auditor, but I don’t recommend it to your average garden variety human. Being one of the one in ten thousand who is immune to a vamp’s glamour and mind tricks comes in handy for me in my line of work, but if someone without my gifts was to try what I do, they’d be screwed six ways to Sunday.
“Seriously, I mean this gig rocks. Where else do you get multiple orgasms as a bonus?”
The chirpy voice of the barmaid drew me away from my staring contest with Corbin and I turned to look at her again. She had curly hair that was done up in a lot of tendrils around her round face and there was a fresh set of fang marks on her neck. Looking around the club, which was decorated in red, black, and silver, I saw more than one patron with a matching set. The sex for blood trade must be hustling tonight.
“So you do the glam-sex thing a lot, do you?” I asked, wondering about the state of her gray matter. There haven’t been any studies to prove that glam-sex—that is mind-sex with a vampire—has long term side effects, but how often could you let another being alter your brain before it turned to mush?
“Yeah, it’s great. Especially with Master Corbin. I mean, I only got it from him once, back when I first started, but wow.” She waved shyly at Corbin who didn’t bother to acknowledge her. His lack of attention didn’t seem to bother his employee, however. “It’s like amazing,” she gushed, grinning at me. “I mean, have you ever tried it?”
“Can’t.” I pointed to the small black star tattooed at the outer corner of my right eye—the mark of an Auditor. I use makeup to cover it up when I’m out but the law mandates I keep it visible while I’m at work. It’s the same law that forces vamps to have their own tattoos—one star for every century they’ve been alive. Or undead, if you want to get technical. They use a special kind of ink—I’ve heard it’s blood based—in order to make a permanent mark on a vamp and even so it fades over time and they have to get it redone. Alec Corbin had four little blood red stars under his left eye. As far as I knew, he was the only four-star vamp in all of Florida, which was fine with me. The longer a vampire survives, the stronger he gets. Four stars are rare and scary enough, any more and you’re getting into truly frightening territory.
“Oh, right.” The barmaid shook her head. “Vamps can’t glam you, huh? Bummer.”
“I manage just fine,” I said dryly. “How does your boyfriend feel about you having glam-sex with the fangers every night?”
“Oh, I haven’t dated anyone since just after I started here two years ago. I was going with this one guy—we were even thinking of getting married. But he got mad when I quit school to work at the Fang full time. He was all ‘Glam-sex is still cheating’ and I was like, ‘As if, asshole. They don’t even touch me.’ But he totally wouldn’t see it my way and he was being a jerk about the whole thing. So we broke up.”
“So you quit school and you haven’t had a meaningful relationship outside the confines of your own head in two years? All just so you could work at a bar and get mind-fucked every night?” I asked bluntly. “Think about it—you could be married with kids and a career by now and instead you’re slinging beers for minimum wage. Is it really worth it?”
The barmaid’s cheeks flushed an angry red. “You sound like my mom. Come to think of it, you kind of look like her too.”
Okay, that hurt. Thirty was coming up pretty fast but I didn’t think I really looked my age. If anything, my bright red hair, big brown eyes, and freckles made me look younger than I was—a trait I hated but used to my advantage when I needed to. Probably what the girl was referring to was my choice of clothing. I was wearing a gray tailored pantsuit with black heels to add a little height to my five foot four inch frame. The cut of the suit was pretty severe and it didn’t show a bit of skin besides my hands and throat—a far cry from the barmaid’s daisy dukes and cut-up-to-here midriff t-shirt.
“Forget I said anything,” I told her, snapping my citation pad shut. “What you do with your life is your business.”
I was trying to make peace but she couldn’t let it drop. “Like you’ve done so much with yours,” she sneered. “You’re just some kind of bureaucrat who goes around and tries to ruin other people’s fun. Is this what you do all day? Ask people stupid boring questions?”
“Actually, I also kill vampires sometimes,” I said pleasantly. “So my job isn’t all boring.”
The girl’s mouth was suddenly hanging open and I had a moment of satisfaction when I thought I’d finally gotten through to her. Then a deep, cool voice behind me said, “I think you’ve annoyed Ms. Godwin quite enough for now, Bambie. Maybe you should go see if table five needs a refill on their drinks.”
“Yes, Master Corbin.” The awe in her voice made me roll my eyes and she bowed and actually backed away, as though Corbin was some kind of royalty. Well, to fang freaks like her, he probably was.
“Sorry about that. Bambie isn’t the brightest barmaid we have here at the Fang but she’s competent and reliable.” Corbin stepped around to face me and turned the force of his considerable charm on me like a spot light. I could feel the envious stares of the other women, and quite a few of the men in the club as well, as they watched us.
“No problem. Just part of the job.” I met his eyes because I could. But just because he couldn’t glamour me didn’t mean it was easy to hold his unwavering silver-blue gaze.
“The job which includes killing vampires,” he said blandly.
I frowned. “That’s right.” I wore a Glock 22 loaded with hollow point bullets filled with silver nitrate and I knew how to use it. I’d only pulled the trigger twice—both times my life had been threatened—but I was also the state mandated button man—or button woman in my case. That is, when a vamp was sentenced to death, I was the one who pushed the button that opened the skylight in the sun room where our fanged friends were executed. Hey, somebody had to do it and it was part of my job. Not a part I particularly cared for but I wasn’t going to apologize for it either.
Corbin seemed to sense my defensive mood because he changed the subject. “I trust you got the information you needed and that our little establishment passed your test with flying colors?” he asked smoothly.
“You’re in compliance.” I couldn’t keep the annoyance out of my voice. Other vamp run establishments had regular complaints but Under the Fang never had a single problem. Every employee was perfectly happy, every customer completely satisfied. The local PD never even got any drunk and disorderly calls which was unheard of since the club had a full bar and last call wasn’t until five AM.
“You sound disappointed.” Corbin grinned, showing more than a little fang, which really pissed me off. Not a lot of humans know it but displaying their fangs is more than just an expression of hunger for a vamp—it’s an outright sexual come-on. Corbin might as well have rubbed his hard-on against my thigh—that’s how subtle it was.
“Why don’t you close your mouth, Corbin. I don’t appreciate your little display.”
“You should be flattered,” he said mildly. “Not many breathers affect me this way.”
“You get a hard-on for danger. Is that it?” I shifted my stance so my jacket fell open, revealing the Glock strapped under my arm. Unfortunately, Corbin’s silvery-blue eyes went to my breasts instead of my gun.
“Let’s just say I like aggressive women.” He smiled at me, not retracting his fangs a bit. “It’s a great pity, though, that you have to use a weapon to back up your threat. It would be so much better if you had the physical strength to meet me as an equal.”
“Why is that? You want to arm wrestle?”
He laughed, a deep, rich sound that seemed to go right through me. “I think I’d prefer a different kind of wrestling and I don’t mean of the glam variety.”
I could feel myself blushing and it pissed me off. Corbin was talking about sex— not mind-fucking but actual physical sex—which was highly illegal between humans and vampires. That’s because you can’t go to bed with a being strong enough to bend an iron bar in half and not wake up looking like road kill the next morning—if you wake up at all, that is. A vamp’s blood-lust combines with their fuck-lust when they try to have sex with a human and the result usually looks like a Jackson Pollock painting.
“I see I’ve given you some food for thought,” Corbin noted when I didn’t answer his innuendo.
“Yes. You have me thinking you’re offering more than glam-sex here, which, as you know, is against the law.”
He crossed his arms over his broad chest and grinned. “I would never offer such a thing to a human—not unless she could handle it, Addison.”
The use of my first name pissed me off even more, as he no doubt intended. I reached for my cuffs—the ones made of a tough silver alloy vamps can’t break. They’re also covered in velvet to keep their skin from burning on contact, which sort of ruins the effect in my opinion but whatever—they work.
“You want me to bring you in for threatening an officer?”
“Not threatening. Offering. You seem so tense—I just want to help you unwind.”
“Because being torn limb from limb by a lust-crazed vamp is so relaxing. Thanks but no thanks, Corbin.”
He waved my words away with a languid gesture. “That kind of outcome is strictly the result of an underage vampire who doesn’t know how to control him or herself. As we age, we gain finesse. I assure you, Addison, I could pleasure you both very thoroughly and very gently. You would come over and over.”
I shook my head, sure that my cheeks were as red as my hair by now. That’s the thing with dealing with the older vamps—they have no social mores left and they don’t care if they violate conversational taboos. Corbin was offering me sex as casually as he might offer me a free drink from his bar and the sad thing was, it was the best offer I’d had in over a year. Or rather, the only offer. But there was no way I was letting him know that.
“Stick with mind-fucking your regulars,” I told him. “I’m not interested.”
He shrugged, his broad shoulders rippling. “Suit yourself. But you ought to do something to relax. You are wound so tightly it makes me wonder when you’ll snap.”
“I do yoga three times a week,” I said, stung into revealing a personal detail. “That keeps me plenty relaxed, thank you very much.”
Corbin looked interested. “If you’re able to open yourself enough to do that kind of exercise, you should be able to let down your shields enough to let me glamour you. I could give you much pleasure without even touching you—since you fear my strength.”
“I’d be stupid if I didn’t fear it,” I said bluntly. “I’d as soon take a python to bed as a vampire—you’re both cold blooded predators but I bet the snake is a hell of a lot more cuddly.”
“I can be cuddly.” Corbin’s voice dropped and his eyes were hooded. “And tender, and gentle, and passionate. Come, Addison, I can feel your need—it throbs through me more strongly each time we meet. How long has it been since a man touched you and gave you pleasure?”
“You’re feeling your own ego, buddy,” I snapped, angry that he seemed to know about my dry spell. “And if you keep coming on to me, I’m going to site you so fast it’ll make your undead head spin.”
“Very well.” He held up his hands in a ‘don’t shoot’ gesture and retracted his fangs. “I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of the law. Just know that my offer is open if you should change your mind. I find myself strongly attracted to you and I would welcome the chance to know you more intimately—mentally or physically. Or both.”
“You’re wasting your time. Find somebody else to be your blood bank—it’s never going to happen with me.”
“Is that so?” His hand shot out faster than my eye could track and caught me by the arm. Before I could stop him, he had pushed the sleeve of my gray suit jacket up, baring the scars on my wrist. “You claim to hate vampires and yet you are feeding one of our number, Addison. Who is the lucky recipient?”
“Let me go,” I said, but I didn’t struggle—what would be the point? I could yank my arm out of its socket more easily than I could break his light grip. “What I do on my own time is none of your fucking business,” I told him.
“Whoever it is, they are not very experienced. I could heal these for you, you know.” His thumb glided over the scarred inside of my wrist with a touch so gentle I could barely feel it. Yet it seemed to send electrical tingles through my entire body.
“I said let me go.” I was breathing hard—from anger, obviously.
Finally Corbin released me. “Very well.”
“That’s it.” I began to scribble on my pad as soon as I got my arm back. “You can expect a summons. I know they didn’t have sexual harassment seminars back when you were made or spawned or whatever the hell you call it…”
“Born to darkness,” he said, watching as I wrote. “Or brought over. That is what we call it when we are first made.”
“Whatever.” I tore off the slip and handed him the ticket. “The point is, I came in to inspect your club and interview your employees—not put up with your bullshit.”
Corbin looked surprised. “I wouldn’t have offered you sexual favors if it wasn’t so blindingly obvious that you need them, Addison. Or if I didn’t find you so bewitchingly beautiful.”
I threw up my hands in disgust. “Nothing gets through to you, does it? At the very least you’re going to be paying a hefty fine but you just keep on talking trash. How many ways can I say this? I’m not interested.”
Corbin smiled, showing fang again. “I will believe what you are saying when your body agrees with your words. In the meantime, consider my offer open—for both the sex and the scars. Good evening, Addison.”