An Excerpt From: RETRIBUTION from Penguin US / ACE.
Copyright @ Jeanne C. Stein, 2009
All Rights Reserved, Penguin US / ACE.
THERE ARE SOME THINGS ABOUT BEING A VAMPIRE that come in handy in my line of work.
Tonight is a perfect example.
I’m a bounty hunter. The human I’m after is sitting at a bar ten feet away from me getting shit-faced on cheap beer and bad whiskey. She’s leaning on the shoulder of her loser boyfriend, whose name is Hank. I know this because I smell the booze, see the drunken haze clouding her eyes, hear every word they’re saying. Where they plan to go when they leave, who they’re planning to meet, how much money they expect to have after they rob the neighborhood 7-Eleven.
She has no idea that anyone is listening. How could she? The noise in this dive is at jet engine decibels. But I hear. Everything.
She pushes herself off the bar stool and staggers to her feet. Her name is Hilda. She’s wanted for three counts of aggravated assault. The boyfriend she’s drinking with is one of the complainants. Seems they’ve made up. She’s about five feet four inches, two hundred fifty pounds.
She’s dressed in low-cut jeans and a tight T-shirt.
Not a pretty picture.
Hilda gathers up what’s left of a twenty—a fiver and some coin. The barkeep laid the change down five minutes ago with a smile after she’d called for the tab.
The barkeep’s expression now reflects disappointment; he thought she might forget.
Hilda’s expression says fat chance.
Hilda pushes the coins toward him but drops the bill down the front of her shirt and grins. “Want a bigger tip? Come get it.”
Hank grabs her arm. “What are you talking about, bitch?”
The bartender takes a step back and moves away. The boyfriend is bigger than Hilda and mean-looking. I can see by the frown on his face that the barkeep thinks no five-dollar tip is worth the aggravation. He moves to the other side of the bar.
Hilda and her boyfriend argue all the way to the door. I slip out right after them. I already know where they’ve parked their car and while they lurch toward it, I take off ahead of them. By the time they get to me, I’m leaning against the driver’s side door, twirling a pair of handcuffs.
“What the fuck?” Hank says.
“Yeah, what the fuck?” Hilda echoes.
“Hilda, Hilda. I got a cal from your daughter this afternoon. She’s upset. Do you know why?”
Hilda’s eyes scrunch. “No. Why?”
“You must have forgotten that you had a court date this week. You didn’t show up. Now if I don’t get you to jail tonight, your daughter is going to lose her house. You really wouldn’t want that to happen, would you?”
The boyfriend snarls and takes what I’m sure he imagines to be a menacing step toward me.
The fact that his eyes are crossed and drool spindles from the corner of his mouth takes the sting out of the threat. I hold my ground and snarl right back. Literaly.
His eyes widen, but he places his hands on swaying hips and says, “Those are bullshit charges. You’d better get away from my car, little lady, or I’m going to have to take you over my knee.”
He grins at Hilda. “That’s pretty good, huh? We’ll give this bitch a spanking she’ll never forget.”
Hilda grins back. For a minute, I think they’ve forgotten I’m here. Then they both turn around.
And start to run.
In opposite directions.
Hank picks the better route—toward the street. With surprising dexterity, he leapfrogs into the back of a moving pickup and peeks up over the gate. The driver doesn’t realize he’s picked up a passenger and continues on his way down the road.
Hank has no bounty on his ass, so I don’t care. I take off after Hilda. She has a head start. Still, it’s no contest. She’s two hundred and fifty pounds of couch potato. I don’t need to tap into vampire strength or speed. I’m on her before she makes it to the end of the parking lot.
I push her to the ground and jump on her broad back. She bucks under me like a bull. I yank both of her hands behind her and snap on the cuffs. It happens so fast, she doesn’t realize she’s trussed until she tries to push herself up.
She starts to yell. For Hank.
“Save your breath, sweetie,” I whisper in her ear. “The last glimpse I had of Hank, he was hopping in the back of a pickup. He’s long gone.”
I reach down and haul her to her feet. I use one hand, as if she weighs twenty-five pounds instead of two-fifty. “Looks like it’s just you and me.”
Hilda is looking at me bleary-eyed with confusion and alcohol. “How did you—? What did you—? Where did you—?”
I pat her head and push her toward my own car. “Don’t try to figure it out, Hilda. You’ll hurt yourself.”
She stumbles forward. I’ve got one hand on the cuffs and one on the small of her back. We’re just about at the car when my cell phone rings.
I dig it out of my pocket and flip it open.
It’s my partner, David, on vacation in the Bahamas.
“Hey, Anna,” he says. “How’s it going?”
“Just peachy.” I open the rear car door and shove Hilda down onto the seat. “Are you having fun?”
He laughs. “I’m laying on a beach drinking mojitos out of coconut shells. How about you?”
Hilda looks up at me and spits. Only trouble is, she’s got the coordination of a drunk and the spittle dribbles down her own chin and settles somewhere in the vicinity of that five-dollar bil she’d shoved down her blouse.
I slam the door and take my place behind the wheel. “Actually, yes,” I tell David. “I am having fun.”
I DEPOSIT HILDA IN CITY LOCKUP AND HEAD TO the office David and I share on Pacific Coast Highway. It’s just past midnight on a Saturday night and the restaurants in Seaport Village, our a neighbor to the south, have already shuttered for the night. I take a beer out of the fridge, gather the day’s mail from the desktop and step out onto the wooden deck that spans the rear of the building.
It’s a cool, moonless, late April evening. Too cool for a human to enjoy sitting out on the deck the way I am now. For a vampire, temperature is irrelevant. Ninety degrees or fifty, makes no difference. However, the feel of a soft ocean breeze blowing off the water, the cool iciness of the beer bottle in my hand, the play of light on the water from Coronado across the bay, are human sensibilities I can stil enjoy.
The beast is quiet within me. It’s nice.
I place the bottle on the deck and sort through the mail. A couple of bills, a couple of checks. A postcard.
From France. The Eiffel Tower.
I flip it over, smiling because I know it wil be from my niece. Trish’s precise, graceful script fills the back. Her friend Ryan and his parents are visiting for spring break. They’ve traveled from my family’s home in Avignon to Paris and her words sparkle with wonder and excitement. Her fourteenth birthday is next week and they plan to celebrate with fireworks at the chateau. Could I possibly fly over, too?
Oh, Trish, I wish I could.
She is having such a good time, learning so much. I can’t remember ever feeling as optimistic or hopeful about the future as she does. It’s a gift. I wish I could share it with her. If I were human, I might be able to.
As a vampire, I’m afraid that al I can bring to her life is the threat of danger. She and my parents are better off with distance between us. It’s the reason they are now living on a winery in France and I’m chasing lowlifes like Hilda in San Diego.
I gather the mail and the now-empty beer bottle and go back inside. For the first time, I notice the message light blinking on the telephone. I lift the receiver and punch in the code for voice mail.
“Anna. It’s Williams. This is the fifth message I’ve left. I need to talk to you, damn it. It’s important.”
I delete this message just as I have the other four. He doesn’t seem to get it. I don’t want to talk to him.
I slip the checks into a drawer to be deposited tomorrow, place the bills on the desk blotter and prop the postcard against my computer monitor. I’l call Trish on her birthday. I can do that. Talk to her. Let her know I love her.
And speaking of love…
I close the slider and grab my car keys. I have a date up the coast. It’l take me a while to go home, shower and get to Malibu but I know what awaits me is worth it.
LANCE MEETS ME AT THE DOOR OF HIS BEACH HOUSE wearing a smile and an open terry robe. He’s tall, handsome in an edgy, bad-boy way and has blond hair that falls to his shoulders. The look he’s giving me makes my blood heat and my heart pound. He’s as happy to see me as I am to be here.
“What took you?” he asks, grabbing my hand and pulling me inside. “I’ve missed you.”
“I can see that.”
He pulls me over to the couch and lets me plop down before reaching for the opened bottle of wine sitting beside two glasses on his coffee table. He pours, I take one, and in another second he’s beside me and I’m settling my head on his shoulder.
“This is nice,” I say.
And I mean it. I met Lance right around Christmastime last year when everything in my life was going to hell. He was the one bright spot—a willing, energetic and quite enthusiastic lover who helped me forget my problems.
Amazingly, we became friends and that led to our becoming real lovers. He’s an underwear model for Jockey. Do I need to say more about the body? He’s also a vampire, which means I don’t have to hide my nature or hold back in our lovemaking for fear I’l hurt him. We can bite, suck and fuck each other’s brains out.
It’s liberating. It’s cathartic. It’s an arrangement I can live with.
I release a breath, run a hand over his chest, down lean muscled, rock-hard abs.
His human buddies have to diet and work out all the time to keep this kind of physique. The only diet Lance is on is the one we share—the liquid protein kind.
He’s a female vamp’s wet dream.
And for now, he’s mine.
I let my hand roam farther, a feather touch, teasing.
He responds, staying my hand with his own, guiding my fingers so they encircle him, letting me feel him grow bigger, a pulse that’s an invitation.
He shifts to take my glass out of my hand. He places the glasses on the table and stands up, drawing me with him. He lets his robe fall to the carpet.
In a heartbeat, I’m out of my clothes, too.
He lowers me to the floor, his mouth on mine, his own fingers exploring. Heat radiates from his touch, making me shiver with need. Blood sings. I’m ready. More than ready.
Time to get down to business.
THE BEDSIDE CLOCK SAYS THREE A.M. LANCE IS ASLEEP beside me. So why can’t I fall asleep?
I kick off the covers and slide out of bed. His house is right on the beach, one of the perks of being a successful male model. The slider is open and the rhythm of the ocean draws me outside. I don’t bother to take a robe or wrap a towel around me, but stand naked on the deck. At this time of morning, who is around to see?
The water is black under a cloud-studded sky. The surf advances and retreats from a white, sandy beach with comforting regularity. The smell of sand and sea is rich, teeming with life. Before Malibu was an enclave of the rich and famous, before there was a Los Angeles, before there were people, there was the ocean.
The concept of time changes when you’re a vamp. Maybe that’s why the sea draws me the way it does. If I’m not staked or beheaded or burned to death, I may live to see Malibu reclaimed by the ocean.
I used to be afraid of the idea of immortality. Had difficulty accepting the notion of never-ending life. Something is shifting inside me. I’m not so afraid anymore.
Not for myself. But when I lose my family, when I watch generations come and go without being a part of what makes human life bearable, when I have to constantly build new relationships to replace those I’ve lost—I may rethink the price of immortality.
Lance awakens. I hear his sleepy voice in my head. Anna, what are you doing out there?
I half turn toward him. Contemplating eternity.