Monday, November 11, 2013
Eugene the vampire stalked the nighttime streets of Talbot’s Peak in search of prey. That wasn’t as easy as it sounded. When he’d first rolled into town, he’d figured on easy pickings—isolated small town, minimal law enforcement, lots of healthy, full-blooded lambs ripe for the slaughter, no slayers. This far out in the boonies, he could probably drain the place dry and no one would notice until they failed to file their tax returns in April.
Nobody had told him this was a shifter town, or that the prey tended to bite back.
Look on the bright side, Eugene told himself. Shifters kept a low profile, so the odds against a missing person, or several, getting reported to the Feds ran heavily in his favor. Any hunter with a brain in his or her head would steer far clear of the place. That left Talbot’s Peak wide open, with Eugene the only game in town. Since when could the average fleabag wolf hold its own against a vampire anyway?
He still had a few kinks to work out in his new role as Talbot’s Peak’s Big Bad. “I need a better name,” he decided. “Ripper or something.” He scratched his neck, where the fleece collar of his sheepskin coat rubbed against his skin. “And a cooler outfit."
And someone to drink. Like, right now.
And lo and behold, there she was, like Fate had ordered her up just to keep him happy. A willowy blonde with an undulating walk and long legs tucked into snakeskin cowboy boots. Alone on the street. At night. They must grow even shifters stupid in the Rockies. Eugene slid into stalking mode and followed her.
The blonde went only a dozen steps before she stopped, turned, and looked him dead in the eye. “You following me?”
Momentarily taken aback, Eugene licked his lips and roughened his voice to a growl. He reminded himself this was probably a shifter. They didn’t react like human prey. “You’re taking a helluva risk, wandering around in the dark. A girl could get hurt.”
“You’re taking a bigger one tailing me. And I ain’t been a girl in a while.” Her tongue darted out like a snake’s, so quick Eugene almost missed the action. She made a sour face. “Shoot. You’re a vampire? Thought I left you dirt-nappers behind when I left the Panhandle.”
“I’m new here. Look. Do everybody a favor and don’t scream, or howl, or whatever it is you do. Okay?”
The blonde moved her arm so the bracelets on it rattled. “You wouldn’t like my blood, sugah. Too cold for your taste.”
“Eh. I can warm it up in the microwave.” Eugene lunged for her.
She didn’t run. She seemed to shrink in the blink of an eye. Expecting to grab warm, curvy flesh, Eugene found himself with a handful of blouse and denim. Her bracelets clattered on the sidewalk, next to the now-empty boots.
Eugene stared at the blouse in his hand. “What the hell?”
The blouse moved.
Before he could do the sensible thing and drop the garment, a snake’s head shot out of the folds. It sank its fangs deep into Eugene’s neck. He felt the poison rush into his system before he wrenched the rattler loose and flung the snake away.
The snake hit the pavement with no ill effects. It coiled, rose up, and became the blonde again. “You had that comin’, sugah,” she told him. “How you like being on the receiving end for a change?”
A snake shifter. In-friggin’-credible. “Waste of good juice, honey. I’m already dead.”
“And bloating up already,” she noted. “The dead ones always go quicker.”
Oh shit. She was right. His limbs were starting to swell. The poison raced through his withered veins like lava, burning from the inside out. Eugene tried to scream, but his throat had already closed up on him. If I needed to breathe, he thought distantly, I’d be in a helluva mess right now.
He also found it difficult to move. Neural paralysis, he guessed. He was unable to dodge the broken branch the blonde knifed into his chest. Eugene the vampire’s career as the new Big Bad ended in a puff of ash.
Rosa Terranova scowled down at the remains. “Shoot. Now I gotta get dressed again.”
“Or you could stay as is,” a voice said out of the dark. “I don’t think anyone will complain.”
She shot a dirty look in the direction of the voice. “Dammitall to hell and gone, Northridge. Why ain’t you gone yet?”
“I thought I’d hang around a bit. This place is … interesting.” Lee Northridge stepped into a streetlamp’s light and studied the ashy remains. “Not bad. You going into the slayer business now?”
“More like a minor annoyance. Thought Talbot’s Peak was shifters only.”
“There are some vampires. Dante knows who they are, and they know what he’ll do if they step out of line. This one must be a newbie.”
Rosa toed the pile of ash. “He ain’t gonna get any older. You hang around, neither will you. I told you, I ain’t got your brother’s money.”
“And I told you, I’m not here for the money.”
“I’m poison, Northridge. Get that through your skull. I ain’t all you got to worry about, either. Town like this, chock full of shifters, and you being—”
“Careful.” Lee smiled. “Dante doesn’t know what I am. Unless somebody’s squealed?”
Rosa snorted. “Don’t need to. I bite. You only get one warning, sugah, and you had yours already.” She deliberately scuffed her bare foot through the dusty remains of the vamp. “Wouldn’t want anything to happen to a pretty boy like you.”
“I’m touched that you still care.”
“Don’t flatter yourself. Road out’a town’s empty this time of night. Be a good time to take it.” Her exit was hampered somewhat by the need to gather up her clothes before she could slither away. He heard her swearing all the way up the street, juggling her clothes in her arms.
“So why are you still here?” he murmured to the sway of her retreating ass. “If not to kill vampires, then why?”