Published 2015 by Book Boutiques.
Copyright © 2015, Dakota Cassidy.
All rights reserved.
“Holy mother of all things undead. You’re really in some piss poor shape, buddy. I’m laying bets you stink,” Spencer Polanski said to the partially deteriorated body on her embalming table as she wrinkled her nose.
Of course she wouldn’t know if the body stunk because she couldn’t smell it.
Not a damn thing. Not even a hint of a whiff.
She was a vampire without a very important, finely honed sense.
The sense of smell.
Which was how she’d gotten the job of embalmer to begin with. Plainly speaking, embalming smelled like dirty ass times a million. Her scentless existence made her the obvious choice for the position. Unfortunately, it also made her the brunt of many vampire jokes.
Of which she took on the chin like a champ. Hah-hah.
Mostly, the teasing was all in love and of the good-natured variety. And it wasn’t like she was totally alone in this. She wasn’t the only vampire in her family with anomalies. Her grandfather Morris had no sense of smell either, and she had a cousin who was deathly allergic to blood.
Yet every once in a while, the thing that bothered her the most about her scentless world, and what set her even further apart from everyone in her clan, was the legend of the Polanski’s and their mate call.
Every Polanski, in the history of Polanski’s, had found their eternal partners via their noses.
So how, when you were part of a clan of vampires legendary for sniffing out their life mates, were you supposed to find your Mr. Undead if you, Miss Undead, had a clinker of a nose?
You didn’t. You hoped he’d find you.
Otherwise it was going to be a very long, sexless eternity. Because to add to the misery of having no sense of smell, in her clan the rule was, no sex with anyone other than your mate.
Which might seem archaic to some—okay, to almost everyone in the twenty-first century paranormal or not—but it was the law of her people. No one broke clan law or they suffered the wrath of a good shunning.
Being the good vampire she was, Spencer always played by the rules even while her feministic sensibilities were often at war with said rule. Did anyone really believe they’d be doomed for eternity if they had sex with someone other than their mate?
Well, you must, because look at you—still a total virgin.
Fair enough. A risk-taker she wasn’t.
Though, she’d heard the wait for your clan mate was crazy worth it. She’d heard it was so earth shattering, so perfect, so right, you almost immediately stopped grudging about all those nights spent with a rechargeable vibrator named Supersonic.
Until then, she’d just keep right on proudly wearing her Spencer the Scentless Virgin Vampire badge for her family members at the parlor.
Funeral parlor, that is.
Polanski Brothers was family run since—well, since the beginning of funeral parlors, she figured. It was an easy source of blood for them due to the fact that each body had to be drained of all fluids anyway.
However, there was a strict “no dining on cadavers” edict. Her father Edgar was adamant about the care and respect Polanski Brothers gave each human client, and part of that respect required a code of honor he insisted upon. No fangs ever met with the neck of a client—period.
Owning a funeral parlor was the perfect gig for a family of vampires. Aside from the availability of blood, most of her duties were at night for wakes and in sync with her night dweller tendencies. And in this sleepy burg, the deaths she handled were almost always due to natural causes or an accident of some kind, leaving the blood she drained virtually untainted.
Polanski’s was located just outside of Cedar Glen, New Jersey, in a town called Easton, population ten thousand and four, and home of one of only three funeral homes in the entire area.
Her father had set up shop here where they’d rouse the least suspicion amongst humans, yet still have a steady influx of clientele. While they lived and raised their families in Cedar Glen alongside other paranormals with all sorts of afflictions, some much worse than hers, it wasn’t exactly good for business when the lifespan of the average paranormal was forever.
Her father also didn’t believe you should eat where you played. Some old proverb or something he was stuck on like glue.
So they’d opened up shop one town away from their homes and business was good. They’d built a solid reputation by fair practices and genuine concern for their clients. Everyone came to Polanski Brothers because of the special attention to detail and the family atmosphere her father took such intense pride in.
They came to Polanski’s because of her. Because she cared about the families of the clients she readied for their final resting place.
“Hey, vampire. Who the hell is that?” Her cousin Andrew poked his head around the corner of the embalming room and gagged comically. “Christ, he smells. Good thing you can’t, huh?”
Embalming not only involved horrific smells and the need for plenty of ventilation, it was also a solitary task. Meaning with the exception of her cousin, most of her family steered clear of the embalming room with their ultra-sensitive noses and snarky, unoriginal jokes.
And for the most part, she liked it that way. It gave her time to think.
Spencer narrowed her eyes at Andrew’s handsomely pale face and gave him a scathing look. “Don’t you have a grave to dig, Supermodel?”
Andrew was beautiful to look at, and he knew it.
“Nope, got nuthin’ but time on my hands.” He smiled smugly, accentuating his perfect bone structure and one of the many reasons she’d dubbed him supermodel. He came to stand by the table where the body of her latest victim was laid out. “So who’s this guy?”
She grabbed the clipboard left with her by the coroner’s office and scanned it. “Alan Perkins. Thirty-four. Found three weeks ago in a wooded area just off I-36. He’s been on ice since, but because the yahoos over at the coroner’s office screwed up their timing on delivery, he’s beginning to thaw. Coroners figure he was dead about three days before they discovered him. Cause of death…” Spencer paused, tamping down the almost overwhelming tidal wave of empathy at the coroners ruling. Those waves of feelings that sometimes interfered with her professionalism, but it slipped out anyway. “Aw, damn…”
Andrew’s smile turned to a frown. He cocked his gorgeous head in question. “What’s wrong?”
Her eyes perused Alan’s body with sadness. Spencer lifted Alan’s arm and saw the evidence of wounds on his wrist. Indeed indicating his death was a suicide. “He killed himself. You don’t see that too often around here, at least not in the five years or so we’ve been in Easton. Damn, that really sucks. Look at him, Andrew. He was a young guy.”
He gave her a consoling nudge. “Not compared to you he wasn’t.”
She rolled her eyes at him, knowing he was trying to lighten the dark mood her compassion for the dead brought. “You’re older than me by a hundred years.”
He chuckled, the sound rich and low, his eyes thickly lashed, smiling down at her. “Maybe so, but at least I can smell.”
“Oh to be so physically perfect and have a sense of smell. What wonders your unlife must behold,” she joked back, easing the spear of sadness for Alan’s life cut so short by whatever pain had led him to suicide.
Andrew shot her a sympathetic glance. He knew how some deaths ate her up, lingered long after their bodies were buried. “Maybe you need to take a vacation. Take a break or something. Stop hanging around dead people for a while, Spence.”
“Then that would rule out almost everyone I know, including you, Tall and Chiseled.” Spencer turned away before Andrew could respond and set about making a small incision to inject disinfectant into Alan’s body, his little remaining blood and gases having safely been removed.
Andrew covered his nose with his arm and made a face. “That’s my cue to hit it. Take a day off, Spence. Soon,” he reprimanded gently before exiting the embalming room.
Yeah, yeah. A day off. She was the only embalmer on site at Polanski’s. Besides, who would take the kind of care in the details when preparing a body the way she did?
She always used great reverence when handling any corpse, thinking often what it might be like if it were her own family member. Of course, her family members didn’t die, not unless there was a rare case of garlic OD. But the mere thought of losing one of them—even smart-ass Andrew and his incessant teasing—terrified her.
Spencer clucked her tongue. Poor Alan. She wondered if he had children, maybe a wife, and she certainly didn’t want their last memory of him to be what he looked like now. He was really suffering the strains of decomposition. It would take some work to make him presentable.
“Well, Alan,” Spencer said quietly, examining his glassy, gray eyes with the pads of her gloved fingers. “I’ll make sure you’re perfect for your viewing. Promise.”
If she had a heart it would constrict, thinking about this poor man’s loved ones, what his life was like before death.
Sometimes that interfered with her job, always wondering about the details of a client, how their families would move forward without them. Sometimes, the sadness of her work, day in day out, left her feeling heavy and depressed.
A suicide was always worst.
But when his family came in to speak with her father, and the funeral director at Polanski’s, she’d discreetly ask for a picture of Alan in life and then she’d return him to a reproduction of himself in death, or at the very least, a close facsimile.
Leaning over Alan’s body, she patted his pale shoulder. “What led you to this, Alan? What hurt so much you’d end it all?”
And she was doing it again. Wondering. Making up stories in her head to justify a man this young taking his own life. If she put half the energy into her own life that she did into a clients, she might actually have one of her own.
Spencer gave Alan a final glance, one last sympathetic scan of his body. “I’m sorry for whatever caused you so much pain, but it’s time. So let’s do this, okay?”
Alan stared blankly back at her.
She nodded her head and chuckled. “I know what you’re thinking, Alan. The ‘I talk to dead people’ joke is right on the tip of your tongue, but keep it to yourself. It lacks originality.”
Alan continued to stare up at her.
Yeah. It was time to get out more.
* * * *
As the Perkins family gathered for the seven o’clock viewing, Spencer smoothed her conservative black suit over her hips and went to greet Alan’s friends and family. She often took on the role of counselor, sympathetic shoulder and bathroom locator. As it turned out, Alan Perkins didn’t have any children or even a wife, but he had droves of friends and distant family members lining up to view him.
And of course, there was his mother Adelaide, weeping softly as she had from the moment she was allowed to view his body in private. Spencer fought that fear again, the one involving any one of her family members dying. Well, except maybe Darren.
Darren was a dickknuckle bottom feeder who’d lived for centuries just to make Spencer miserable at family gatherings and when she stopped to think about it, she still wouldn’t wish death on him.
But to lose her father or mother—one of her siblings? She couldn’t comprehend it even if they did tease her unmercifully about her smelling issue. Being a vampire had its issues, but it beat the shit out of living for eighty years and croaking.
She caught a glimpse of a flower arrangement dangerously close to spilling over by the foyer and moved to prevent disaster. Inching her way through the throng of people in the waiting room, she came out the other side of the crowd to the marble foyer.
As she made her way to the flowers her shoe slipped out from under her and she stumbled, only to be caught by a firm grip and a hard chest covered in a white shirt beneath a crisp, navy blue suit.
If blood ran through her veins she might have blushed at her clumsiness.
Way to be the bull in the china shop, Spence.
“You’re not a bull. The floor’s pretty slippery,” a deep, gravelly voice that made her feel gooey on the inside said.
Spencer looked up from the chest her face was so ungracefully mashed against and cocked her head, startled. “I’m sorry?”
That was when she got her first real glimpse of the voice attached to the man, and if she breathed, her breath would be caught in her throat.
Because wow. So much wow.
A very tall, rather redwood-tree-like man gazed down at her, his blue-gray eyes intent. “I said no, you’re not at all like a bull in a china shop. The floor really is slippery. Whoever maintains it deserves a raise.”
She paused, pressing a hand against his stomach of hard ripples without thinking. Had she said that out loud? No, she hadn’t said anything.
Spencer’s brow furrowed as she tried to push away from him, realizing her palm was still on his belly and liking it a little too much. “I didn’t say anything.”
“Yes, you did,” he insisted as his gaze darkened and his grip on her arm tightened.
She searched his eyes, his dreamy, beautiful eyes, eyes she momentarily got lost in. “Did what?”
Now he frowned, making the winkles in his forehead deepen. “Said you were like a bull in a china shop.”
Okay, so he was cute, but nuts. The way her life had played out so far, that made perfect sense. “No. No, I didn’t.” Now back away, crazy but hot dude, or I’ll use my mighty vampire resources and kick your redwood ass.
The hot stranger’s hard jaw clenched and Spencer watched in fascination as the muscles tensed, rippling under his tanned skin, an indication he was wrestling to maintain his cool. “I am not crazy,” he muttered indignantly. “And I’d like to see you try to kick my redwood ass. All five foot three of you.” After he spoke, he shook his head full of thick, dark brown hair, obviously as confused as she was.
Spencer squirmed out of his grip and brushed at her suit to straighten it. This was officially a “what the fuck” moment and she wanted out. “If you’ll excuse me, I have things to take care of.”
But he didn’t move. Not one delicious inch. The solid wall of his well-muscled body covered remained firmly rooted in her line of vision. “Wait. Did you say vampire?” His deep voice raised an octave and his eyes darkened again as obviously, his words caught up with his ability to process.
No again. She hadn’t said anything—not a word. Okay, now Mr. Sexy-McSexy was damn well scaring her. Was he vampire? Hah! As if she’d be able to tell with her bum nose anyway. “I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about, Mr.—”
“McBride. Detective Larkin McBride, and yes you damn well do. You just wondered if I was a vampire, too.”
He was…Was he was reading her mind? Her eyes flew open as Spencer took all of him in, from his delicious mouth, bracketed by deep grooves on either side of it, to his thick eyebrows raised in question.
Holy Amazing Kreskin.
“He’s a mind reader.” Spencer cringed, because really, why not offer confirmation and a frame of reference to the man who was reading her thoughts? “You know, the guy who says he can read people’s minds?”
She watched as he mentally scratched his head. “Um, no. I don’t know who he is. What the hell is going on here anyway, Ms.—”
“Polanski. Spencer, and I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I have people to tend to, so if you’ll excuse me…” She began to pull away again, mostly because he was beginning to freak her out with his intense gaze and his interrogation-like questions.
But like a dog with a bone, the detective became insistent. “You damn well did say vampire or think it or whatever the hell I heard—it was clear as day.”
Spencer shot him a flirtatious smile and laughed at him to cover her fear. She put her hands on her hips and rolled her eyes. “Well, that’s just silly, Detective, don’t you think? Vampires aren’t real. What kind of a detective believes in vampires?”
Larkin narrowed his thickly fringed eyes. “The kind that knows when someone is yanking his crank.”
As if you’d ever be so lucky to find my hand on your crank.
Fuck! Stop thinking, Spencer.
His jaw tightened—a jaw with the dark shadow of stubble. “Keep your innuendo to yourself. You know what I meant, lady.”
Spencer gave him her best bewildered look and smiled innocently with a shrug of her shoulders. “No, Mr. McBride, I have no idea what you mean, but I do have a job to do. Now, move.” Spencer kept a tight rein on her musings. “Please,” she said as an afterthought.
Detective Larkin McBride stepped out of her way, his tall frame looming over her as he scowled with his mean-cop face.
Spencer swept past him, feeling the hot gaze of his stare on her back as she pushed through the crowd on shaky legs, fighting her rising panic.
What the hell had just happened?
Well, whatever it was, don’t think about it because Detective Carved in Granite will hear you.
“Are you all right?”
Spencer skidded to a halt as the second hand in the course of a day grabbed her arm. Her gaze wandered up the arm attached to the hand and she found a very pleasant face smiling down at her. Kind of pretty—certainly nothing like the gruff detective. This face was lean and the owner’s hair was blond—most definitely not like the detective.
He smiled at Spencer, encouraging her to answer by tilting his head.
“I’m fine, thanks, really,” she replied, oddly mesmerized by his nose.
His very pretty nostrils flared. “Was he bothering you?” he asked as his nose twitched.
Spencer removed her arm from his light hold and smiled pleasantly. “Who?”
“That man that’s staring at us. The big one.” He nodded his head in Larkin McBride’s direction.
“No.” She shook her head. Not anymore, anyway. “No, everything’s fine. Can I help you with something?”
His lean face split into a cool smile and a flash of white teeth. “No, not yet.”
Um, okay. She’d had enough of bizarre encounters for tonight. “Well, then if you’ll excuse me,” she said tentatively, hoping he’d dismiss her.
He leaned forward just a bit and took a deep breath, then motioned for her to pass. “Of course,” he said regally and Spencer took the opportunity to skedaddle.
She headed for the bathroom on shaky legs, forgetting the blond guy but still shivering over the detective.
Detective? Larkin McBride. An Irish detective. How cliché.
“I heard that!” the gravelly voice said right behind her, following her down the hall and into her private offices.
“Yeah, shit,” Larkin responded sarcastically to her thought when he rolled up right behind her. “Now why don’t we go sit down and figure this out?” He wasn’t asking—his tone of voice suggested he was demanding.
Spencer stopped at the door to her office and turned to face him, once more struck by how gruffly sexy he was. His nostrils were flared and his square jaw set with determination. “There isn’t anything to figure out, Detective. You’re obviously losing your marbles.” So go clean up the scattered remains and leave me alone.
“If I were a weaker man, I might be offended by that statement. You aren’t the first to tell me I’m a little left of center. How about you shoot for original?”
Spencer rolled her shoulders and tried to clear her mind of all the excess stuff hanging around just waiting to be “heard” by the detective.
Backing up against her office door, she gripped the doorknob. “Okay…original. How does go the fuck away strike you? Original enough?”
She was never rude to a patron at Polanski Brothers, but her temper was notoriously short and if the detective found out they really were vampires that could be very bad for business. Might even get ugly. People would start showing up with crosses and garlic necklaces just like they had in the last town.
So Dark Ages.
Larkin’s laughter was deep and rich as it erupted from his tanned throat. “It strikes me as exceptionally rude for a funeral parlor hostess—or whatever you are. I’m grieving, shouldn’t that concern you?”
Tilting her head up to eyeball him, Spencer pursed her lips. “I’m not a funeral parlor hostess. I’m an embalmer. I suck blood out of bodies and stitch them back up. Do you still wanna play now? Oh, and my condolences on your loss,” she offered dryly.
“Well, if there’s any truth to your thoughts, that’s exactly what you do. Suck blood out of bodies, that is.”
How utterly last century, Detective.
Shit and shit again.
Larkin crossed his arms over his chest and smirked. “So let’s go into your office and sit down. Maybe then you can explain why I can read your thoughts and why you won’t admit you’re as freaked out as I am. Because that’s exactly what I’m doing, and you know it.”
Cool. She had to stay as calm as he looked, despite his admission he was freaked out. “Look, Detective. I have nothing to explain. Vampires are for people who watch too much television. I’d highly recommend you spend less time channel surfing and more time putting your detective skills to good use elsewhere.” Asshole, she thought then she groaned. Damn it.
Larkin was no longer smiling smugly. His eyes grew dark and stormy and his nostrils did that flaring thing again. She’d lay bets he had a fantastic sense of smell.
“As a matter of fact I do, and I’m not an asshole, but rest assured, I can be…” He let his words trail off in a warning as he reached behind her and opened her office door.
For a brief moment, when his wide chest brushed hers, her nipples tightened. She said a small prayer he couldn’t read body language, too.
What a random reaction to a complete stranger—even if he was a gorgeous complete stranger.
Taking her by the elbow Larkin led her into her office and pointed to a chair. “Sit. Please.”
His tone oozed authority, and given that there really wasn’t much choice, she decided to sit. Spencer flopped down in the leather chair behind her big desk and sucked in her cheeks, fighting to keep her mind blank. She’d “think” later about how crazy this was.
Sitting in the chair facing her desk, Larkin leaned forward, placing his elbows on the smooth mahogany, those blue-gray eyes of his intense and probing. “So?”
She cocked an eyebrow at him in an arrogant question. “So what?”
“So what is this vampire business about?”
“Look, who are you, Baretta?”
Okay, so he didn’t watch TV. “The cop on TV, remember? He had a bird?” Spencer watched as his face went blank. “Forget it. You’re looking for shadows that don’t exist. There are no vampires here. You didn’t hear the word vampire because I didn’t say anything—which, for the record, is the only way one can hear something. Now, I’m very busy tonight as you can see by the crowd just outside that door, and you’re keeping me from doing my job.”
“I know what I heard, Ms. Polanski,” he said firmly, those lovely lips of his thinning with discontent. “You won’t admit it, but I heard you think the word vampire.”
“Maybe that’s because you’re just like one, Detective. Because as of right now, you’re sucking the life out of me.”
She had to give it to him. Most people would think they’d gone crazy if they were hearing voices in their head. But not this man. This man was hunting her down like she was the one responsible for gifting him with his new ability.
He shook his head again, the lights in her office accentuating the deep chocolate highlights of his hair. Then he gripped the arms of the chair with broad hands. “Nope, that’s not it. You distinctly asked yourself if I was another vampire. What would make you draw that conclusion?”
Spencer tried to remain calm, shrugging her shoulders nonchalantly and shooting him a bored look. “Just idle ramblings, I suppose.”
The corner of Larkin’s mouth turned upward in a delectable tilt of sexy. “So you admit that I did read your thoughts?”
Spencer shook her head stubbornly because what choice did she really have? Deny, deny, deny. That was the only choice she had. “No. I’m just playing nice with you because you’re a whack-job and my life could be in danger. How do I even know you’re a detective? Maybe you’re some deranged lunatic? Because don’t all deranged lunatics think they can read minds? Hear voices?”
His wide hand dug in the pocket on the inside of his jacket. “I’m not a deranged lunatic. I’m a detective. Want me to show you my shiny badge to prove it?”
Want me to show you my shiny fangs? Oh! Fuck, fuck, fuck. She pretended to rearrange her sticky notes on her desk to hide her goof. “Deranged lunatics carry shiny badges? Who knew?”
Larkin pulled out his very shiny badge and held it up for her eyes. “No, Ms. Polanski, but very sane, very clearly reading your thoughts detectives do.”
Spencer remained silent, biting the inside of her lip as they stared at one another.
A knock on her door startled them both. Her cousin Cathy popped her head in. “I’m sorry to disturb you, Spencer, but Mrs. Perkins is inconsolable right now. Your dad can’t seem to get her to leave the casket and from the looks of it, she really needs some rest. This is your specialty.”
If she could sigh in relief, she would. End interrogation. “Tell Dad I’ll be right there. Would you grab a cool cloth and some water for Mrs. Perkins on your way back, please?”
Cathy smiled as she cast a quick, questioning glance at Larkin McBride. “You got it,” she said before closing the door quietly.
A moment of thick silence passed while Larkin McBride stared her down, his eyes intense and hot and full of questions he was determined to find answers for.
Spencer looked away first, pushing her chair from the desk and rounding the corner of it to make a hasty getaway. “As you can see, I’m needed, Detective.” So game over. Take your crazy and leave the playground.
But Larkin McBride was hot on her heels once more when she reached the door. “I’m not crazy, Ms. Polanski, and I’m not leaving the playground until you explain yourself.”
Spencer popped the door open and made a break for it, ignoring the beat of his footsteps directly behind her. The click of her shoes on the marble tile seemed excruciatingly loud as she rushed to find Mrs. Perkins in the viewing room, sobbing in front of Alan’s casket.
Spencer’s father stood off to the side of Alan’s casket with mournful eyes. He wasn’t very good at this. He hated to see anyone cry, especially a woman. His eyes reached out to hers over Mrs. Perkins’ head, sharing his discomfort and gratitude in them as he helplessly glanced at his daughter.
She smiled back at her father reassuringly before turning her attention to Alan’s mother. Her gray-streaked head was bent low, the glistening tears of her grief on her weathered cheeks silhouetted by the dim lighting in the viewing area.
Spencer rested a soothing hand on Mrs. Perkins’ shaking shoulder. Her hands clung to the edge of Alan’s casket, frightfully white knuckled. “Mrs. Perkins?” she whispered low. “I’m so sorry. I won’t tell you how I understand your pain, because I don’t, but I do know Alan would want you to come and sit with me for a while, and share a cup of tea. Maybe we could talk about Alan? I’d love to hear all about him.”
It was Spencer’s experience that when a family member grieved, especially a mother, sometimes part of the process of letting go and moving forward was sharing happier times with a sympathetic listener who had no prior knowledge of the deceased.
It was about having someone to listen to whatever you needed to share without judgment, without someone to correct your memory if you were making the dead out to be something they really weren’t. She was a blind ear. She’d done it a million times, and she’d do it a million more if it eased their suffering even just a little.
Mrs. Perkins gripped Spencer’s hand and rose from her kneeling position on unsteady legs. Spencer held her elbow and tucked it under her own arm, looking down at Alan’s mother with a warm smile. “Tea then?”
“Tea would be nice, thank you,” Mrs. Perkins said weak and soft as her frail body moved alongside Spencer and away from Alan’s casket.
As they made their way out of the viewing area Mrs. Perkins stopped dead in her slow tracks. “Larkin?” she squeaked, her voice nasally and scratchy from crying.
Larkin McBride nodded, his gruffly handsome face lined with obvious worry.
He held his hand out to Mrs. Perkins and Adelaide fell into him as the detective embraced her, his face solemn and his eyes full of concern.
He knew Alan Perkins? Which meant he really was grieving, too, and she’d blithely razzed him about it.
Good job, Spence.
Mrs. Perkins’ muffled voice cracked against Larkin’s wide chest as her tears began to flow again. “Larkin, oh God, it’s so good to see you. They say Alan killed himself, but I don’t believe it. Not for a second. You knew Alan. He was your best friend. He would never take his life. I can’t bear it. I just can’t,” she sobbed.
Larkin stroked her slender back and whispered to her soothingly. Mrs. Perkins was obviously in good hands. Maybe she didn’t need that tea after all, leading Spencer to make a hasty escape.
She was just about to clear the double doors when she heard Larkin whisper softly, because even if her nose didn’t have vampire sensitivity, her ears did. “This isn’t over, Spencer Polanski…”
Spencer stripped off her suit and kicked off her shoes with angry thrusts as she stomped through her apartment in her bra and panties.
Now that she’d had time to really think about the ramifications of her run in with the smexy detective, she was working on a good freak out.
Damned if Larkin McBride wasn’t well and truly reading her mind. He’d heard every word she’d thought, and he’d heard it correctly.
Spencer’s legs shook for the umpteenth time that night. How could this be happening? Sure, maybe there really were people who could read minds, maybe even humans who could legitimately do it, but read a vampire’s mind? Unheard of. How was that even possible if he wasn’t a vampire? It was impossible, wasn’t it?
Or did she have yet another defect she could be mocked to eternity and back over? The ability to read minds for vamps of her ilk came with some scary territory.
Life mate territory. Typically, you could only read the mind of your mate. And while she couldn’t smell a damn thing, she knew for sure Larkin McBride was no vampire.
Sexy? Yes. Oh, yes. Undead? No. No, no, no.
And who the hell could she talk this over with? If her mother even had a hint that a human might think they were vampires, she’d lose her cookies and most probably her mind shortly thereafter. Her mother would turn into a paranoid mess if there were one more upheaval in her life. There’d been plenty of them, and the last one had scarred them all.
Humans could be real assholes. Spencer was all too aware of what they thought of vampires.
The Polanskis had opened up shop in many towns, throughout many different centuries, including a town or two they might have been run out on a rail if not for some quick thinking on her father’s part.
Society might be liberal about many things in this day and age, but it sure as hell didn’t include vampires in its semi-enlightened state, despite the fact that her family wouldn’t hurt a fly. Her family was a peaceful lot; but there was no convincing a human that just because they were vampires, it didn’t mean they all wanted to steal your soul or bite you to make you one of them.
Indeed, there were plenty of those types of undead running around loose in the world, but not in her clan. The night dwellers who opted for that lifestyle were considered rogue—often shunned by the more civilized like the Polanskis who chose to blend with the human population rather than kill it one soul draining at a time.
A good majority of humans participated in all sorts of alternative lifestyles of all shapes and sizes.
So what was the big deal about a little blood drinking amongst friends? It wasn’t like they forced their lifestyle on anyone, for Christ’s sake. They didn’t invite the neighbors to do blood shots with them at block parties while they worshipped the devil and sacrificed a virgin.
Which was a good thing, too, because she’d be first on the list of sacrificial items.
But just let a human get wind of the fact that you were a vampire and all of a sudden you were being chased through the night with a loaf of garlic bread and some holy water in a cup by a bunch of Dracula mongers.
Thanks, but no thanks.
Spencer loved working in Easton. It was one of her favorite towns in the many they’d been in. She loved living in Cedar Glen with its band of misfit paranormals. She didn’t want to leave either place and she wasn’t going to let some nosy detective with a sideshow affliction for mind reading mess with her happiness.
Wearily, she hoped maybe Detective Larkin McBride and his gorgeous body would just go away. Adelaide Perkins had mentioned something about how impossible she thought it was that Alan had killed himself. Maybe the lip-smacking detective would go Sherlock Holmes Alan’s demise to death and forget all about the Polanskis.
That thought eased her mind just a little as she picked up her clothes and shoes and went to close the curtains to prepare for bed.
But a foreboding chill crept up her spine when Spencer glanced out her window into the black ink of night.
And then again, maybe the delicious detective wouldn’t forget all about her. Maybe he was a real multitasking wonder, because look who just came to dinner.
Spencer closed her curtains, blocking out the persistent detective in his very obvious white car.
He’s a real super sleuth. Moron
What kind of detective sat in plain view of their suspect?
Spencer’s cell phone rang, making her push the curtains closed and rush to grab it, hoping it might be her brother or even Andrew. She needed to talk to someone about this. “Hello?”
“The kind of detective who wants to know what the hell is going on. Now.”
“What?” she asked innocently, smothering a groan.
“You wanted to know what kind of detective sat in plain sight of their suspect. A super sleuth is what you thought me, I believe.” His gravelly voice over the line made her shiver, and it wasn’t only because of her fear he’d found her out.
It was time to break out the big guns. Heavy threats with maybe a little crazy mixed in might work. But either way, he had to go. “Detective, it’s late and I’m tired. If you don’t go away I’m going to report you to your superior.”
“Don’t vampires stay up all night long?”
“Not if they just worked a double shift.” He chuckled into the phone at her response and an odd electricity shifted Spencer’s non-existent insides. Which was, of course, impossible. She had no insides.
“The fact remains that we have some things to discuss, Ms. Polanski.”
“Your vampire fixation and the voices in your head, perhaps?” Tucking her hair behind her ear, she dug around in her purse for something to tie her hair up with.
“Yeah, my vampire fixation,” he groused dryly. “Answer the door, Spencer, or we will play cops and vampires because I’ll slap some cuffs on you and haul you to the station if I have to in order to get some answers.”
Spencer didn’t have the time to protest before the line went dead and she heard her doorbell.
She raced to grab a robe from the hook in her bathroom and throw it on, rolling her shoulders in preparation for battle. He wasn’t going away. He’d made that clear.
So she’d just have to empty her mind of everything and keep her cool by convincing him he was out of his gourd. If she didn’t play this right her family could be in danger and she refused to let that happen.
“Open the door, Spencer,” Larkin demanded from behind the shiny oak of her apartment door.
She cracked her neck and flipped the locks, flinging the door open to find a more casually dressed Larkin McBride staring down at her with those intense eyes that singed her soul.
Yet, there was consolation. If she had to have a crazy person stalking her and reading her mind, at least the view was lovely.
Then she cringed. Empty your mind, idiot. Do you want him to know you think he’s attractive?
If Larkin heard that thought, he ignored it and pushed his way past her to stand in the middle of her living room, all big and intimidating against the backdrop of her beige and white furniture.
A crisp pair of low-slung blue jeans molded to his muscled thighs, and his black T-shirt hugged his wide chest. Folding his thick forearms sprinkled with a light dusting of fine, dark hair over his stomach, he waited.
Her mouth went dry and her legs were weak again when she said, “So, here we are. You with the crazy voices in your head, me still contemplating whether I should call the psych ward. What is it you want from me exactly, Detective, and how am I responsible for the nutty things going on in your head?”
“Cut the bullshit and tell me what the hell is going on.”
Spencer brushed past him, making a beeline for her kitchen. She flipped on the light in the small kitchenette and went to the cabinet to find some coffee. She couldn’t really taste coffee per se. She kept it because her human friends seemed to like it, and right now it seemed like a very human thing to do. “Shouldn’t you be out hunting down the nearest twenty-four hour donut shop?”
Larkin remained silent as he followed her into the kitchen and went to the cabinet where she kept her coffee cups, presumptuously taking out one for him, too.
Spencer fought a smile. Pushy bastard.
“I’m a cop. We’re all pushy—especially where coffee’s concerned.”
Yep. Now this was bordering spooky, but still, she fought for calm. “Well, Mr. Pushy Cop, what do you hope to accomplish by forcing your way in here and drinking coffee you weren’t invited to drink?”
“An answer to my question.”
“Could you remind me again what the question was? Oh, wait, now I remember. You want to know if I’m a vampire, right?” Spencer snorted, hoping to put him on the defensive—or at the very least make him think she thought he was one egg shy of a dozen.
He leaned into her, the heat of his body searing hers without ever touching her. “I want to know why I can read your every thought and yeah, I want to know if you’re a vampire.”
“I don’t know and no, but I play one on TV.” Spencer turned her back to him to fill the coffee pot, then went to sit at her small table, purposely moving with an unhurried pace. She settled in, regretting grabbing the shortest bathrobe she owned as she tugged at the length of it.
Larkin leaned back on the countertop, pronouncing the lines of his abs and gave her a “methinks the lady protests too much” look. He continued to stare her down with that unnerving, unblinking gaze.
Spencer refused to be ruffled, so she stared back. “Is this the good cop, bad cop thing? Where you make me confess to something just by virtue of your best scary staring technique?”
His immobile features cracked a bit, just enough to let her see he was clearly amused. “Yeah. Is it working?”
Wow, he was solid. If she was human and she could suddenly read minds, the mind of a vampire, no less, she’d curl up in a corner and rock herself. You had to admire his core strength.
“So,” he probed. “Is it working? Or should I tighten up the part where I demand you damn well tell me what you know?”
Tucking her bathrobe under her thigh, she smiled at him. “Um, no. Maybe you should find a new profession.”
“Like what? Embalming?”
That’s it, pick on the embalmer. It wasn’t a glamorous job, but someone had to do it.
“I’m not picking on you. You were good with Adelaide tonight.”
Spencer softened a bit at the mention of Adelaide’s name. “Is she okay? She was so torn up.”
Larkin nodded his dark head, his rock-hard stare easing. “She’s fine now. I left her with a neighbor who offered to stay with her tonight. Alan was her only child, so she’s rightfully bereft.”
And Larkin’s friend. Damn death for leaving behind those who felt they should have gone first. “I’m glad. I feel better knowing she’s with someone.”
“I know you do.”
Of course he did. Spencer sat up stiffly. It was time for the good detective to take his leave. Maybe chase a nice glazed donut off into the sunset or something.
“I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what’s going on, and I like jelly.” Larkin went to her refrigerator, probably looking for milk for his coffee.
“I like it black. Milk is for sissies.”
“What about sugar?”
“Again, another pansy condiment.”
Larkin poured two mugs of coffee and brought them to the table, setting one in front of her. He pulled out the chair opposite hers and sat down, dwarfing her tiny Formica table. “I can stay here until daylight, you know. Won’t you fry to a crisp by then?”
Silly, silly detective. A myth that some good SPF and sunglasses cured quite nicely.
“How high of an SPF do you need for a vampire as fair as you?”
Spencer rolled her eyes. Good hell. Think empty, Spencer. Vapid and airy. She took a calm sip of her tasteless coffee and ignored his question.
Larkin leaned forward so his face was mere inches from hers. His lips began to move, but Spencer couldn’t quite make out what they were saying for the sensuous movement of them.
He sounded like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon. Kind of muffled and distorted. She stirred in her chair as something pounded in her ears. It sure as hell couldn’t be her heart, because she didn’t have one. Waves of crashing thunder like the rush of the tide drowned out everything. She wondered if he could hear that, too.
“Hear what?” he asked, taking a gulp of his coffee, the strong muscles in his bronzed neck working.
Oy. “You know what, Detective? Here’s something to chew on. Shouldn’t you be really freaked out that you’ve all of a sudden developed bionic mind reading abilities? Is this the calm before your admission to the loony bin storm?”
Larkin grinned out of nowhere. His teeth were white and set perfectly behind that mouth that actually had dimples bracketing it. Deep crevices she wanted to run her tongue over.
Eek. Another thought, unbidden and not meant for sharing with smug detectives, flew through her brain. Spencer bit the tongue that wished to betray her. Hard.
Larkin folded his hands on the table in front of him. “You know what, Spencer Polanski? I should be pretty freaked out, but I’m not. Maybe it’s the cop in me, but I want to investigate the hell out of this phenomenon. I could hear everything you were thinking, from the moment you walked across the room to go fix the flowers that were threatening to fall over, right up until now and it didn’t trouble me one iota. Just made me want to solve the damn puzzle. Now, you’re more like one of those Rubik’s Cubes. Remember those?”
If he only knew how far back her memory spanned.
“You know those square things with the colors all over them and you had to match all the colors up? That’s what this is like. I know there’s an answer to this. I just don’t know how to find it. That’s where you come in, Spencer Polanski. You’re going to help me solve the puzzle,” he said definitively, brooking no question about it in her mind.
Spencer crossed her arms over her chest and lifted her chin. “By matching up all of my colors?”
“You’re a funny lady, Spencer,” he said, as though his word was the deciding factor.
The beginnings of sunrise caught her by surprise as she glimpsed a ray of orange sun when it hit the top of her table. She needed to sleep—feed and then sleep some more so she could prepare to do battle with the detective.
Spencer had a funny feeling he wasn’t going to let this go. She pushed her chair back and stood, tightening the silky tie of her robe around her waist. “Well, Detective, this has been a real gas. Loads of fun, but I’m a working girl and I have to get back up in a few hours. Oh, and look,” she pointed toward the window, “the sun is coming up. Are you going to stay and watch me turn into chicken-fried vampire or leave me to my dignity so that I can run a wooden stake through my chest and end it all?”
Larkin laughed out loud, low and with a resonant rumble that skittered along her spine in a not so unpleasant way. Spencer’s nipples seemed to like that—they waved hello from the top of her bathrobe. She crossed her arms over her breasts self-consciously.
“I’ll let you get some sleep, but we’re not through. But before I go, tell me something, Spencer?” he asked as he returned to the probing stare phase of their fledgling relationship.
She cocked an eyebrow and feigned a yawn.
“Is there a radius on this mind reading thing? I mean, can I go like ten miles down the road and still hear your thoughts?”
Now Spencer laughed because she was tired and this was utterly absurd, and she needed him to leave before she fell over in vampire sleep right at his feet. “I think that’s a skill you hone over time, grasshopper.”
Larkin pushed back his chair, too, and left her standing in the kitchen, but not before he made one last parting shot. “I’m gonna go do that. Hone my mind reading skills. You get some sleep. I’ll be back, Spencer Polanski. Don’t get too comfortable without me.”
Somehow Spencer didn’t think she would. But then, she wasn’t supposed to think anything, now was she?
* * * *
Spencer brushed a strand of her hair from her face and leaned back in her office chair, staring off into space. Her mind was on anything but preparation to embalm her next patient.
She couldn’t stop thinking about Alan.
Her cousin Cathy had dropped by earlier to fill her in on the latest development where he was concerned. Apparently, Alan Perkins didn’t kill himself. At least that’s what his mother told the police and they seemed to think enough evidence pointed to the notion that he, in fact, might not have.
Spencer had looked back over his file again—examined the information she had with an eagle eye. She’d covered the scars on his wrists herself. Nothing out of the ordinary popped out at her then and nothing was popping out at her now. Of course she was no detective.
But Larkin McBride was.
Asshole, asshole, asshole.
Spencer let her mind run free with expletives starting with the letter “A” and was busy working her way down to “C” when she realized Larkin might be able to hear her from wherever he was. She cringed, pressing the palms of her hands into the cool of her desk to ease the hot flush Larkin’s memory evoked.
The radius thing he’d mentioned bothered her. The whole damn thing bothered her—frightened her to her core. It took a strong mind to truly believe you weren’t losing it when you heard voices in your head. It took a sound mind—one steeped in confidence and a buttload of arrogance—to blame someone else for your nutbaggery. Trying to convince Larkin he was batshit had done nothing but encourage him to prove her wrong.
Damn you, Larkine McBride.
Then, because she’d wished him ill in her mind, her body tensed in preparation for the phone to ring or for Larkin to appear at her office door unexpectedly, bringing with him his intense gaze and gorgeous body.
Spencer sagged back against her office chair in relief when silence prevailed.
What the hell was she going to do? How could she protect her family if he kept poking around in her head?
He was a detective, for shit’s sake. He’d dig and dig until he found out she really was a vampire and then, she and her family were as good as baked in the midday sun. Should she tell her parents? If she did that they’d pack up and leave rather than risk harm.
And did he have to be so sexy while he was being such a prying pain in the ass? Larkin McBride was downright hot as pains in the ass went and that left her more than a little uncomfortable. It was like admiring the enemy. She wasn’t sure what scared her more. Her hormone patrol on full alert for the detective or her fear that she might be caught.
Shit, shit, shit.
A knock on her office door jarred her out of her misery. “Come in,” she said, clearing her throat and shuffling the files on her desk.
“Hey, Spence.” Her cousin Andrew’s face was grim as he flopped down on the chair in front of her desk. “Did you hear? The cops are taking Alan Perkins’ body in for further investigation into his death.”
And they’d ruin a perfectly good stitch job while they were at it. “How is it that the coroner’s office didn’t think to do that before he was released and I gussied him up?”
Andrew laughed derisively, his distaste for small-town was no secret amongst them. “Because this is Podunk-ville and it’s not like someone is murdered here every day. The last murder was in seventy-two. Some woman clocked her husband over the head because she caught him screwing the school nurse. Murder wasn’t even on her mind, apparently. She just threw the nearest thing she could get her hands on, which happened to be some old football trophy.”
Spencer shook her head, and frowned her disapproval. “What can they possibly hope to find if the body is flushed with embalming fluid? They had Alan for three goddamn weeks and they didn’t once think to look for anything suspicious? Who runs the coroner’s office anyway?”
Andrew shrugged his thick shoulders and pulled at the strings on his black hoodie. “I guess it wasn’t that important to them until that guy Larkin somebody suggested it should be.”
Ahh, the ever-vigilant detective, of course. Perfect. “Mrs. Perkins told him last night she didn’t believe he’d killed himself, but I saw his wrists, Andrew. Signs of suicide seemed pretty evident to me.”
“What are you, CSI?” Andrew grinned as he teased her. He thought she cared too much about the people who came to her table—asked too many questions—fretted more than was necessary.
Spencer crumpled up a wad of paper and threw it at him and his mocking reference to one of her favorite forensic shows. “Smart ass. Look, I’m just saying it looked pretty clear to me. The guy whacked himself and maybe it’s just too hard for Mrs. Perkins to fathom. No one wants to believe their child took their own life.”
Andrew shrugged again and ran his hands over his thighs. “Well, the cops think he didn’t now and so does that Larkin guy you were hanging around with last night. So they’re going to take possession of his body again.”
A spiky thread of anger scurried along her spine, much of it directed at Larkin McBride. “And hack him all up all over because they’re too Small-ville to get it right the first time.” It wasn’t only a disservice to her work as an embalmer, but to Alan who couldn’t rest in peace if his body kept playing rounds of the game Operation. “When are they coming to pick him up?”
Spencer glanced at the clock on her cell phone. Good. That gave her an hour or so to poke around. “Well, I’ve got another body on the table to deal with and if I don’t get moving he won’t be ready in time for the wake tomorrow.”
Andrew’s eyes searched hers from across her desk. “You look tired, Spencer.”
Spencer rolled her head on her neck. “Yeah, I’m tired. Last night was grueling and it bothers me that Mrs. Perkins’ suffering is only just beginning because of those freaks at the coroner’s office.”
“Did you feed?”
Spencer waved Andrew off as she got up and began gathering her newest patient’s stats from her desk. “Yes, I fed, cousin. I may be younger than you, but I’m almost five hundred years old and plenty able to feed myself. So go dig a grave and leave me alone. I have a date with a man who awaits me on my table.”
“Far be it for me to make you late for that. It’s probably the only date you’ve had in over a century.” Andrew chuckled maniacally at his own joke, his taunt echoing in her ears as she popped open the door of her office.
Spencer rolled her eyes at her cousin’s wisecrack because it wasn’t entirely a lie.
Yes. The only dates she’d had in the last century were with dead men. Cold, glassy-eyed, stiff, dead men.
But they beat the alternative. Like waiting around for this life mate her mother and the women of her clan talked about. Who, by the way, had been playing a pretty serious game of hide and seek with her.
She didn’t need a damn date. She had friends, and her family, and a job to pay the bills.
What she did need was to know what happened to Alan Perkins, and maybe if she snooped around with her limited forensic knowledge, she could figure it out.
Then maybe Detective Larkin McBride would take his nosy ass elsewhere.
Because if he didn’t, all hell was likely to break loose.
Spencer stood at Alan Perkins’ casket and raised his arm, now stiff and unyielding and shook her head. He did so kill himself. He’d bled out. The evidence was right there. A thin jagged line that she’d had a helluva time covering with makeup.
Spencer placed Alan’s arm back over his abdomen carefully and patted it.
She leaned over his casket with sad eyes, assessing Alan’s still form. “Damn, Alan. I’m sorry. If I had any say in the matter, I wouldn’t let them take you back. But according to those bumbling coroners, you’re not quite ready for your eternal slumber party just yet.”
Spencer slipped her hand under his head and straightened the satin pillow it rested on. Most people would be disgusted by such a hands-on approach, but Spencer didn’t feel that way at all.
This was her contribution to death with dignity. As she pulled her hand out from beneath him her fingers grazed his neck and she felt a slight bump on his skin she hadn’t noticed when she was preparing his body.
She frowned. Huh.
Leaning in closer, Spencer moved his thick hair away from his neck and let out a short yelp of surprise.
Alan Perkins had what clearly looked like two incisor bites on his neck that she’d covered with makeup without even realizing. She looked again to be sure she wasn’t seeing things, panic sweeping over her.
Those were definitely incisor marks. She’d know them anywhere.
Cathy’s husband, Joel, had them after she’d turned him. Alan’s weren’t as grossly distorted as Joel’s had been for weeks after her cousin bit her life mate. But that was because Joel’s were given during a bout of passion and done in love—rather like a vampire hickey.
But Alan’s were almost unnoticeable to someone who knew nothing about a vamp bite, but to someone like Spencer this held meaning.
Oh, sweet fancy Moses, this could only mean…
No. It couldn’t be.
It couldn’t be a vampire bite. Spencer’s breed of vamp didn’t kill anyone—ever. Her clan didn’t believe in it. They were peace-loving vamps. Power to the people and all that hippy-schmippy nonsense her father was so fond of spouting because the seventies was his favorite era.
Yet, there weren’t any other breeds of vampires in Cedar Glen but Polanskis, and there definitely weren’t any in Easton. Still, she’d know a vamp bite anywhere.
But then, if this truly was a vampire bite, how could Alan be dead?
If he was bitten by a vamp wouldn’t Alan be undead like the rest of them?
Not if he was killed first, then sucked dry…but he hadn’t damn well been dry. She’d emptied his body of blood herself and though there wasn’t much of it, he had bled out.
Maybe it was some weird hoax? Or some crazy sexual vampire fetish Alan was into?
Oh, Jesus. She had to tell someone. Then she shook her head. No, no she couldn’t do that.
She could just imagine the nice coroner’s face if she called him up. “Hey, it’s Spencer Polanski here, down at Polanski Brothers. You know, the place where our motto is you fuck up the autopsy and we watch as you ruin a perfectly good embalming? Look here. I got a guy who was bitten by a vampire. Yep, that’s what I said, a vampire. The real McCoy. Are you freaked out yet? Anyway, you better get some garlic and holy water at the ready. Just in case this guy is the first in a long line of victims for a Dracula wannabe.”
Oh, God what was she going to do? No one in her clan bit people.
Would the coroner’s office even think the bite was something meaningful? Would they see it the second time around if they’d missed it the first? Weren’t they looking for blunt trauma or some such official reason to investigate further? Because Alan’s internal organs were gone.
Spencer clung to the edge of the casket and let the wave of panic take hold, followed by a little mental meditation to help them subside.
“Spencer?” Her father’s voice made her jump. “Are you okay, honey?”
Yeah. Good, great even. See this here dead guy? He’s been bitten by a vampire. Have you been snackin’, Dad? Oh, God. Spencer bit her lip and stood up to turn and face her father. “I’m fine, Dad, just tired. Last night was a long one, huh?”
Spencer’s father smiled ruefully, his handsome face unmarred by his centuries-old age. “It makes me glad we’re not human, kiddo. I couldn’t bear to lose any of you.”
Walking toward him she tucked her arm under his and leaned her head on his shoulder. “Did you need me for something?”
Edgar kissed the top of her head. “The picture of Brian Reynolds just arrived.”
“Your next client. He’s waiting for you, and his family will be here tonight before the viewing tomorrow, so I thought I’d better let you know.”
Spencer glanced at the clock on the barren wall. “Damn, I’m sorry, Dad. I’ll get right on it.”
Edgar gave her a squeeze before he let her go. “It’s okay. You have plenty of time. Sad thing about Alan, don’t you agree?”
Spencer nodded. He had no idea how sad. “Yeah, I feel awful for Mrs. Perkins. The coroner’s office is going to pick up the body soon and hack him back up. I just felt like I needed to apologize to Alan for that. Silly, huh?”
Spencer’s father tweaked her cheek as he had for many centuries when he wanted to cheer her up. “It’s not silly, kiddo. Sensitive is more like it. You’re a good-hearted vamp, Spencer. I just wish you’d get out more. See your girlfriends more than once every couple of months. I have a feeling, somewhere in that social life, lies your life mate.”
Spencer winkled her nose at him playfully. “I know, Dad, but I have to hope he finds me because I can’t find him with a bum sniffer, now can I?”
Edgar chuckled and pinched her defective nose lightly. “You have other qualities that make up for your lack of smell. I feel as sure as the day is long that you’ll find that special vampire soon and settle down.”
“Yep. I’m right there with you. Count Dracula is just around the corner, waiting on me. But until then, I’d better see to Brian Reynolds.” She smiled at him and gave him a pat on the arm before exiting the viewing room where Alan waited to be picked up.
Something was very wrong here. She felt it in her gut, deep in her bones, and she was going to find out what it was if it was the last thing she did.
* * * *
Spencer pulled on her scrubs and pushed her way through the door to the embalming room. Preparing a body gave her purpose. It helped her to focus on making it easier for the family who had to say goodbye. For now, it took her mind off the freaky/hunky detective and Alan Perkins’ bite marks.
At least Brian Reynolds’ body wasn’t a mess like Alan’s had been. He wasn’t pretty, for sure, but he hadn’t decomposed quite like Alan had. Spencer skimmed his chart. Car accident—found right off of I-36 again.
Downright dangerous to hang out there lately, wasn’t it? He was whacked up pretty badly. The coroner’s office had ruled it severe brain trauma. Spencer ran her hand over his bruised face and forehead and grimaced. Yeah, he’d hit the windshield pretty hard. Damn, she hated trying to cover bruises of this severity.
And he was so young too, just a year younger than Alan Perkins.
Well, shit. Cases like this, when the patient had so many years ahead of them yet, made Spencer think too much about their lives. In the same way she’d fretted over the possibility that Alan might have had a wife and children—she now focused her energy on Brian.
“Oh, Brian. I’m so sorry,” she sympathized. “You had more miles to go, didn’t you? God, that really sucks. But I’ll fix you up just right. Promise.”
Spencer eyed the picture of Brian in life. Taken not long ago, if the time stamp was right. He was smiling on a beach somewhere, the sand spilling over his toes, the glimmering blue ocean at his back.
Brian needed a trim if what his picture revealed was how his family would expect to see him. As Spencer ran her hands through his thick tresses, pulling it up and away from his neck, her hand froze.
She covered her mouth with her forearm to keep from gagging on a dry-heave.
Another bite? For fuck’s sake, what the hell was going on in Easton?
Spencer fought revulsion as she forced herself to examine Brian Reynolds’ neck. Running a gloved fingertip over his skin she felt the same small incisor bites on Brian as she had on Alan.
Oh, Christ and a sidecar. Who was doing this? Why?
And now what?
She had to do something, because whoever was biting the victims obviously wasn’t draining them. Once more she reminded herself, she’d drained Alan’s body of blood just before embalming him. He certainly didn’t have a lot of blood left, but he wasn’t drained. So what was the purpose of biting these men if not for sustenance?
Spencer let go of Brian’s hair and paced the floor frantically trying to figure out who would do such a thing and if the coroner’s office had missed this twice, had there been others just like them? Would someone else become another victim?
How long would it be before the coroner finally caught on? Because certainly more bodies would show up. Spencer felt the realization claw at her throat until she gagged again. More bodies would show up. She knew it as sure as she knew something horrible was happening in Easton.
“Whose body is going to show up?”
Spencer’s head snapped up and met the gaze of Larkin McBride’s intense glare. Fabulous—Inspector Clouseau was here. Yay.
Larkin shook his finger at her in a tsk-tsk manner. “Aha. Just so happens, I do know who Inspector Clouseau is. French guy, right?”
Crap. She moved away from the embalming table and Brian’s body, planting her hands on her hips. “Channel surfing again, Detective? What happened? Did you give up on late night vampire flicks?”
Larkin moved toward her, large and overwhelming, his tight jeans clinging to his bulky thighs with every step. “Whose body were you thinking about showing up?”
Spencer rolled her tongue in her mouth, pushing at the insides of her cheeks in impatience. Think vapid, Spencer. “I deal with bodies all day long, Detective,” she replied coolly. “It’s really no great mystery that I’d be thinking about another one showing up.”
Larkin shook his head, his lips thinning. “No, what you thought was, and I quote, ‘more bodies would show up’.”
“Well that’s kind of a duh, Detective. I work in a funeral home. Yes, more bodies will show up.”
As Larkin came to stand next to her, or over her might be the proper assessment, he grinned that fucking stupid smile that made her phantom innards jiggle and her knees clack.
“How do you do this all day? It stinks in here.” It was as if he’d just noticed the unpleasantness that Spencer often heard about, yet couldn’t identify with because she couldn’t smell it. Larkin covered his nose with his hand, his eyes beginning to water. “Mind if we step outside into the hall?” he asked then hacked a cough before pushing his way out the door and into the corridor.
When he turned around to face her, he grinned a grin so perfect it was surely a gift from above. “Pantywaist? Okay, fine. I’ll give you that. But c’mon, be fair. The smell in there is pretty ripe.”
Spencer stifled her urge to giggle while fighting the magnetic force of his body when he backed her up against the wall. “I have no sense of smell, so it doesn’t bother me.”
He cocked an eyebrow upward. “I remember you thinking you had a bum nose. Didn’t know what that meant.”
She clasped her fingers behind her and looked up into his eyes. “So what do you want today, Detective? Are you here to hassle me about your newfound mind reading abilities, or do you want some more vampire tips? How to fry a vampire in one sunrise or less? Or what about one hundred and one crock pot recipes for O positive lovers?”
Larkin winked at her and her legs jiggled again, pissing her off. “Nope. Today I’m focused on Alan and his supposed suicide, but you never know when a good recipe for O positive might come in handy.”
Her panic returned in full force. “So you’re here in an official capacity?”
Larkin leaned into her, bracketing her head by placing his palms against the wall above it. Her body responded in kind by radiating lava-like heat and a with hormone alert squealing a warning that rang in her ears. “Nope. I’m here because I was Alan’s friend and Adelaide is onto something.”
Spencer shivered as his breath grazed her face. “Onto something?”
“Yeah. Alan had a lot going for him. Great job, sweet bank account, all the stuff a guy lives for—and he just up and offs himself? Doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.”
She clucked her tongue. “You know what they say about money. It can’t buy you love or happiness.”
Larkin scoffed, his features turning hard again. “I know all about the inner peace bullshit, but Alan had more going for him than not. It doesn’t add up, and I want answers.”
She shrugged her shoulders, hoping to feign indifference. “Maybe you’re just looking for something that isn’t there. Sort of like your vampire fetish and the voices in your head. You move from obsession to obsession with the grace of an elephant.”
He did something then, something she’d relive over and over later on. He tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear, making her spine arch toward him unwillingly. “You weren’t thinking I was such an elephant just a minute ago.”
“Why, no, I wasn’t, was I? I was thinking you were an overgrown baby for not being able to take the smell of a little embalming fluid.”
“That’s not all you were thinking at all, Spencer,” he murmured low and husky.
Spencer’s nipples tightened painfully, pressing against her sweater while a vampire’s version of goose bumps broke out on her arms. “I have a body to prepare for a viewing, Detective. So unless you want to stick around for the slice and dice, and I doubt you could handle it, I’d highly recommend you spend the afternoon off chasing after shadows somewhere else.”
Larkin stared down at her, his eyes hard chips of ice again. The lighthearted moment he’d experienced gone. “I’ll do that, Spencer, though I’ll be back. Not a chance in hell Alan took his own life. I might not have any proof other than what my gut says, but I know I’m right. So I’ll be seeing you, but you already knew that, didn’t you?”
As Larkin’s solid bulk moved away from hers, she felt cold for the first time in her life. It must be cold because her fingers were numb.
Spencer knew he’d be back. Alan was his friend, and he wanted answers about his death. He deserved them, but he wouldn’t just be back because of Alan. He’d be back because he was determined to figure out how he was hearing her thoughts.
Hopefully before the drool-worthy detective returned, she’d have a little prep time to empty her mind and beat her libido into submission.
Because after that encounter, Spencer Polanski realized she was hot for a guy for the first time in centuries and it was for a guy who—in his line of work—and with the kind of honor and duty she sensed in him—would probably personally handcuff her to a cross at dawn, and swallow the key.
While there was plenty of sensationalized fictional facts about vampires made famous in movies like the ridiculous notion she sparkled in the sunlight (if only), there was a hint of truth to some of it.
The truth was she really would burn to death and turn to ash after prolonged exposure to sunlight.
But that wasn’t what petrified her the most. Not by a long shot.
What left her almost immobile with fear was something far more menacing.
There was a murderer on the loose in Easton, and the only place to begin the hunt for this killer began by investigating the obvious.
The obvious being the members of her very own clan…