The nightclub was loud, dark and crowded.
Jackie fiddled absently with the straw sticking out of her Diet Coke, her gaze moving slowly over the people sitting, milling, and dancing around them. Jackie was having that hinky feeling again. She was sure the saboteur was somewhere in the crowd; watching them... and awaiting an opportunity to make his next move. Now that the saboteur had stepped up the game, moving it to murder, whatever was coming couldn't be good.
"Relax, Jackie. He's not going to strike in the middle of a dance club." Vincent spoke close to her ear, and still he had to shout to be heard over the cacophony of sounds around them.
Forcing a smile, she gave up her survey of their surroundings and glanced around the table, noting that while Tiny looked as tense and alert as she, both Vincent and Marguerite appeared relaxed. It just went to prove that Marguerite was as talented an actor as Vincent, because Jackie knew the two immortals weren't as relaxed as they appeared. Or, at least, she didn't think they could be.
It was two days since Jackie had awakened Vincent with his drugstore Darryl breakfast. They'd spent the time since then collecting their list of names of employees on the play Dracula, the Musical. First, they'd put down everyone Vincent recalled, then they'd gone to interview Max and Sharonthe only people in the company that were on the listto see who they recalled.
Max had been busy, questioning everyone in V. A. Productions about what they'd seen or heard at the time of Stephano's attackor murder, as they were all led to believe it was. However, he'd taken time out to aid them in the list and been very helpful, recalling even more names than Vincent.
Sharon, on the other hand, hadn't been very helpful at all. The secretary hadn't been openly difficult, she'd merely claimed to have a bad memory, at least when it came to mortals. While she'd been able to name the immortals working on the play easily enough, when it came to mortals, Sharon recalled them only as some "little blond mortal" or "some rude little mortal."
Jackie had been interviewing the woman alone and suspected that if Vincent had been with her, the woman would have been more helpful. However, there had been at least a dozen people at the company in a panic to talk to him after the events of the day before, and she'd suggested he deal with them while she spoke to Sharon.
Some of the people on the list they'd managed to compile had worked for the company before, or were working for them now in some capacity or other and so were on file. Jackie had pulled those, and made copies of everything before they'd headed back to Vincent's home. Leaving Tiny to begin investigating the people so far on the list, she and Vincent had then continued compiling it, going to each person listed to see if any more names could be added.
That had taken the better part of the last two days. Which might have seemed a waste of time since her computer whiz was supposed to arrive today, but as it happened, his appendix burst. He was laid up in a hospital in New York and would not be any use to them.
The moment she'd received the news this morning, Jackie had immediately started putting out feelers for a computer expert here in California to help them with the matter. In the meantime, however, they had their own list to work with. They'd worked that list every spare moment of the last two days, stopping only to eat.
The first night, they'd had Chinese takeout; Vincent snacking on the delivery guy before sending him on his way and joining Jackie and Tiny to gorge on the delivered food itself. The next day, Jackie had arranged for Vincent's pool to be cleaned and he'd breakfasted on the pool cleaner on awaking at 4 P.M. They'd ordered pizza that night. All of them were busy with the list, too busy to take time out to cook. Besides, feeding off the delivery drivers was the safest way for Vincent to feed at the moment.
Today, Jackie had called in a cleaning service to clean the windows. Vincent had breakfasted. She'd been trying to come up with another way for him to feed when Tiny had pointed out that the saboteur would soon realize Vincent must be feeding off the delivery guys and others if he didn't soon hit a nightclub, his usual hunting ground.
In a panic at the idea of someone being marked for death because she'd brought them to the house, Jackie had decided they should go out to a club tonight. A decision that was aided by the fact that Stephano Notte still hadn't woken up. Both Vincent and Marguerite were growing concerned at this turn of events. It seemed that this was unheard of, at least neither of them had heard of it, nor Neil apparently. The turning was normally a painful event that the turnee screamed and thrashed their way through, but this wasn't the case with Stephano. He had lain silent and still throughout, and he wasn't waking up as they'd expected. All three immortals were concerned and that concern had spread to Jackie and Tiny. The house had become a dark, depressing place to be. That being the case, Vincent had easily agreed to Jackie's suggestion of visiting the clubs, but had warned her that he had no intention of feeding. Jackie understood. She was even glad he wouldn't. However, she was hoping if they made it difficult enough to keep up with them, the saboteur would simply think Vincent had fed and he'd missed it. To that end, they'd been club hopping for the last several hours. They'd driven to the first club, stayed half an hour, walked out, hopped in one of the taxis waiting in front of the club and had it take them to another club, where they'd stayed another half an hour before grabbing another taxi.
They were now at their fourth club, and Jackie found herself scanning the faces around them, hoping to recognize someone either from one of the other clubs they'd hit tonight, or from the people who were on the list of employees of the New York play. They'd spoken to almost everyone on the list so far. At least, everyone living here in Los Angeles. Although, so far, they'd only concentrated on making the list, not really questioning them about what they'd seen or heard that might help them figure out who the saboteur/ killer was.
Jackie hadn't recognized anyone in the clubs yet, so she was beginning to hope the saboteur hadn't been able to keep up and had either lost them at some point, or would think that while he'd been scrambling to catch up, Vincent had slipped away to feed.
"Come on. A little dancing will help you relax," Vincent shouted by her ear, then caught her hand and stood to tug her out onto the dance floor.
Jackie started to protest, but gave it up since Vincent wasn't listening anyway. Besides, she could see a lot more people from the dance floor than at the table.
"Did I mention you look lovely in that dress?"
Jackie stumbled over her own feet as Vincent murmured that compliment by her ear. Her hands immediately dug into his shoulder and hand in an effort to keep her balance, then she glanced sharply up to his face.
"No, huh?" Vincent asked with amusement as he took in her startled expression. "That was truly remiss of me."
"Oh." Jackie cleared her throat, but couldn't seem to come up with anything brighter than that to say as his hand moved on her back, urging her closer.
"You look incredible in red," Vincent added, apparently not finished with his compliments.
"Uh." Jackie swallowed, terribly aware of his hand moving lower on her back. Where his hand moved, a trail of fire followed, leaving tingling flesh in its wake.
"I have to thank you for the last few days, Jackie," he said solemnly, ducking his head to speak by her ear. "Without you, I would have been in a horrible state. It's no fun going hungry, but for one of my kind, it can be torture."
"Oh, well, it's my job," she muttered with embarrassment.
Jackie tried to duck her head away to avoid his gaze when he pulled back, but he stopped her with a hand to her chin. Forcing her face up to meet his solemn gaze, Vincent shook his head and said firmly, "No, it isn't. We both know that. And I know about your attitude to my kind too, which makes it even more special. Thank you."
Jackie managed to pull her face free and glance away only because he let her. She found out why when his lips brushed butterfly light across her ear as he whispered, "Thank you." Then they fluttered to her cheek as he murmured, "thank you" again, and finally, they hovered over her own lips and he breathed, "thank you" once more before he kissed her. This time it was no soft butterfly of sensation; Vincent's mouth was firm on hers as he showed her just how grateful he was.
Jackieever the consummate professionalimmediately pulled away... or would have if her body were cooperating. Unfortunately, her body overrode her mind's orders and, instead, she melted against him like chocolate on a hot sidewalk. A small sigh of defeat acknowledged her body's defection as her mouth opened beneath his to allow his tongue to sweep in. A moan slid up her throat as desire awoke in her belly and Jackie let her arms creep up around his neck, suddenly a firm believer in the old saying "If you can't beat'em, join'em."
Jackie and Vincent pulled apart as they were jostled by another dancer. She turned and glanced around to see who it had been, but whoever it was had already moved away and disappeared into the crowd.
Sighing, she glanced back to Vincent, shaking her head when he moved to take her back into his arms.
"Ladies room," she said as an excuse for her defection, then turned and made her way quickly off the dance floor, headed for the bathrooms. Jackie glanced back once she'd reached the hall leading out of the main area, just to be sure Vincent had returned to the safety of their table. Spotting him reclaiming his seat, she relaxed and moved up the hall, firmly lecturing herself on her business ethics.
"One does not go around kissing their clients," she reprimanded herself. "A good private detective never allows themselves to become involved withand therefore distracted from their prime purpose of protectingthe client. God, he's a good kisser."
Recognizing that last part as her mind's efforts to derail her good intentioned self-recriminations, Jackie sighed as she pushed through the bathroom door.
Vincent was a vampire, she reminded herself, pulling out what should have been the big guns. Unfortunately, her mind was less than impressed, reminding her that while Vincent was an immortal, he was nothing like Cassius and perhaps all vampires weren't bad. If not, then Vincent definitely fit into the "not a bad vamp" category.
The thought that finally made her regain some control of her wayward desires was her recollection of Marguerite telling her Vincent had found his life mate and she wasn't an immortal.
Stopping in front of the sink, Jackie stared into the mirror and saw the confusion on the face reflected back. If Vincent had found his life mate, why was he kissing her? The reflection didn't have an answer, but her mind began to work the problem.
Marguerite had said Vincent's life mate was not an immortal and she began to list all the mortal women she knew in Vincent's life. There was Lily... and herself.
Jackie blinked at her reflection. Lily was sweet and young, but while she'd seen the two together and wouldn't be surprised to learn the young production assistant had a crush on Vincent, she didn't think he was interested in the girl. At least, she'd never seen any sign of interest on his part... not like his kissing her just now.
Jackie's eyes dropped to her own mouth in the mirror. Her lipstick was missing, but her lips were still red and slightly swollen from his kisses. While she'd been kissed many times before, it had never been with the heat and raw desire that had exploded between her and Vincent... even Cassius's kisses with his use of the immortal telepathic ability to put desire into another's mind hadn't been as hot. If they hadn't been jostled by someone, she might very well have climbed Vincent like a bean pole right there on the dance floor.
"No," she said the word softly, denying the conclusion her mind seemed to be heading toward. She could not be Vincent's life mate. Surely, fate couldn't be so cruel?
A stall door opened behind her, and Jackie quickly turned on the taps of the sink before her and began to splash water on her face in the hopes of clearing her mind. She saw the tall, young brunette come out and join her at the row of sinks, but paid her little attention other than to note that she was slim, with short brown hair. It wasn't until she turned off the taps, and the brunette moved to her side to extend one of the little brown paper towels, that Jackie noted the way the woman was looking at her.
The brunette's eyes were moving slowly over Jackie's body in the short red cocktail dress she'd donned for tonight's excursion. She murmured thank you as she accepted the towel, shifted uncomfortably, then did her best to ignore the woman as she patted her face dry.
"You have an amazing body."
Jackie blinked at their reflections in the mirror, her gaze traveling over her own figure next to the taller, slimmer woman. In truth, Jackie didn't think there was anything amazing about her body. She was short and no matter how often she worked out or how healthily she ate, couldn't seem to get rid of the extra fifteen to twenty pounds she was sure she'd look better without. At the ripe old age of thirty, however, she'd come to the conclusion she might as well get used to it. It was probably here to stay.
Unsure what else to say, Jackie murmured "Thank you," and crumpled up the paper towel she'd used to dry her face, but the woman wasn't done. As Jackie moved to throw the paper towel in the garbage, the girl added, "I'd like to lick every inch of it."
Nothing on God's green earth could have stopped her from whirling to face the girl with a look of abject horror and disbelief. Jackie even almost blurted, Do I look gay to you? before catching herself back, but it was her first thought. A stupid one, she acknowledged. You couldn't tell someone's sexual preference by their looks.
Jackie opened her mouth to politely tell the woman that she didn't swing that way, but paused and stiffened as the brunette stepped closer and ran one hand lightly down her arm as she added, "Why don't we go someplace else and party?"
Jackie opened and closed her mouth several times, but nothing was coming out. Her brain appeared to have temporarily disengaged. This was one of those situations she had absolutely no experience dealing with. It was the first time she'd ever been hit on by another woman.
Apparently, taking her silence as a good sign, the girl suddenly caught her hand and began to tug her to the door. "I know a spot where we can..."
The rest was lost on Jackie as the brunette pushed the bathroom door open. Loud music immediately rang in her ears, drowning out the rest of what she was saying. The only reason Jackie didn't pull her hand free and urge the brunette back to the bathroom where she could explain she wasn't interested was because the girl took her by surprise, turning right toward the back of the club, rather than left to head back into the dance and seating area.
Jackie's brain immediately began churning along different lines. Vincent needed to feed. He'd only fed once today. He claimed he'd be fine missing one meal, and maybe he wouldn't die from it, but she knew it would cause him pain.
And what if they weren't able to come up with a way to feed him tomorrow?
The girl kept talking the whole time as she dragged Jackie into the bowels of the building. At least the brunette's mouth was moving every time she glanced back. Reassured by her very human green eyes, Jackie decided to wait and see where she'd lead her, hoping that they might be able to use this somehow to help Vincent. It might be an opportunity they could use. At least she hoped so.
The brunette rushed her down one hall, turned down another, then hurried through a door and into a kitchen. The room was large, spotless and presently empty. It was late enough that food was no longer offered.
"ever done this before, really. Always fantasized about it, but I? The girl's nervous chatter was suddenly clearly heard as the door closed behind them, reducing the deafening music to a murmur barely heard through the door.
"Hang on," Jackie said quickly. Now that the girl would be able to hear her, she tugged on her hand, trying to pull free, but the woman was stronger than she'd realized and merely tightened her grip, saying, "It's right here. Just through this door."
Jackie started to tug on her hand again, but paused as they sailed through yet another door. They were now in a small storeroom lined with shelves bearing industrial-sized cans and jars of food: pickles, sauces, ketchup, soups... Jackie moved further into the room and turned back toward the door, her gaze moving around the shelves with surprise until she'd made a full circuit and reached the brunette again. The confidence she'd appeared shrouded in as she'd propositioned Jackie in the bathroom was definitely missing now. In fact, the girl looked nervous, then she took a deep breath, as if gathering her courage. A determined look entering her eyes, she took a step toward Jackie, one hand reaching toward her.
"Okay, wait." Jackie took a step back, one hand rising to hold her off while she tried to think if she could use this or not. If the saboteur were watching Vincent and she went and brought him here to feed on the girl, then pretended to lock the door from the outside while the girl really locked it from the inside... She could have Vincent instruct the girl to lock it and wait there for at least half an hour, or even more maybe, before slipping out. There was a good chance the saboteur would never know the brunette was here. He might even think Vincent had fed off Jackie herself if they entered alone and left alone. The girl should be safe...
She peered at the brunette, considering the matter, then felt her conscience twinge as she noted the girl's uncertain expression. In this light, she could see the brunette wasn't as old as she'd first thought. Jackie would guess she was maybe nineteen or twenty, a kid really. What on earth was this child doing propositioning women in bathrooms and dragging them off here to a storeroom? She'd caught the girl's words about this being a fantasy and something she'd never done before, but geez...
"I? Jackie stiffened and whirled as she felt a hand brush lightly down the back of her hair. She found herself staring at a tall, sandy-haired man in his forties. He wore tight jeans and a shirt left open almost to his navel to reveal a gold chain around his neck. He was also leering.
Sleazeball, Jackie pegged him right away. Sleazeball trying to stave off his midlife crisis by dressing too young, wearing lots of gold on his fingers, wrist and neck, and sporting a girlfriend who was young enough to be his daughter.
On the other hand, Jackie thought. She'd just been kissed by a four-hundred-year-old on the dance floor. Who was she to criticize people's choices?
"Trevor!" the brunette sounded distressed. "You were supposed to wait until we were into it and then?
"Shut up, Shell," he said, sounding almost bored. "You weren't going to get into it. She's obviously got cold feet. I just thought I'd let her know I was part of the package too. See if maybe she'd be interested after all."
Jackie's attempts to be charitable died the moment she heard how Trevor addressed Shell. She was young, obviously looked up to the big greaseball, and she "shut up" as instructed, an unhappy look on her face. Jackie suddenly started to rethink things.
"Where did you come from?" she asked, taking a wary step back from Trevor. He hadn't been in here when she'd done her first survey of the small room.
Trevor smiled faintly, then moved around the standing shelf at the back of the room, gesturing for her to follow. Jackie did, staying an arm's length away from him and watching as he moved up to the wall. It was wood, a rough paneling and at first she had no idea what he wanted her to see, then he pushed on a panel and it slid open. A door was hidden in the paneling, although that may not have been deliberate. Between the poor light and the fact that the door was the same wood as the wall, the door was invisible at first glance.
"My office," Trevor announced with a smile as he gestured to the room beyond. "I'm the manager here."
Jackie peered at the expensive decor, her mind racing. This was perfect. This was almost foolproof.
She turned and walked back around the shelf into the storage room, her thoughts lining themselves up in her head. Her gaze landed on Shell and she smiled. "Trevor was wrong, I wasn't getting cold feet."
Shell didn't look all that happy about this news at first, then she suddenly beamed a smile that looked decidedly forced. A glance over her shoulder showed Jackie that Trevor was coming back around the shelf and she suddenly thought she understood. This was no fantasy, at least not Shell's, this was all about keeping Trevor happy. He wanted a threesome, so Shelldesperate to keep him happyagreed to a threesome.
"So you are interested?" Trevor paused behind her, his hand sliding around her waist and moving up her stomach toward her breasts.
Jackie caught his hand, bringing his roaming to an abrupt halt. Ignoring him, she told Shell, "I stopped you because I need to go give my friends an excuse for my disappearance, otherwise they'll freak out. That girl who was found in the hills was a friend of ours and it's made us all jumpy."
"I heard about that," Shell said with a shudder. "She was a friend of yours?"
"Yeah," Jackie lied, moving toward the door. "Give me five minutes to tell them I'm catching a ride home so they don't worry. Then we'll have all the time in the world."
"She isn't coming back." Trevor's voice was unpleasant and sneering.
Jackie paused at the door and glanced back. "Yes, I am."
He shook his head. "You're bailing on us."
Jackie frowned. If he really believed she was bailing, he might take Shell and leave here while she was gone. Hesitating, she glanced over herself, trying to think what she could leave behind to convince him. Her purse was at the table, all she had was what she was wearing. Blowing a breath out, Jackie stepped out of her shoes and kicked them into the center of the small room, then cocked one eyebrow. "Believe me now?"
Trevor nodded, his lips parting in a smile that was all teeth. "See you soon."
Jackie tugged the door open and slipped out of the room. She managed to find her way back to the hallway outside the ladies room, then continued on to the table.
"I was starting to worry," Vincent shouted by her ear, having stood as she hurried up to the table.
Jackie saw a frown crest his face as he straightened from yelling in her ear, and guessed he'd noticed the difference in height when his gaze slid down to her feet. His eyebrows immediately drew together. "What happened to your shoes?"
"Never mind that," Jackie instructed. She leaned over the table, saying to Marguerite and Tiny, "We'll be right back. Wait here."
Marguerite's eyes narrowed and Jackie knew she was concerned and trying to read her thoughts. She didn't try to block her, but let Vincent's aunt read what was happening, figuring it would be faster than explaining verbally. When Marguerite relaxed and sat back with a nod, Jackie straightened. Tiny still looked concerned, but Jackie knew Marguerite would explain everything, so she merely turned to catch Vincent's hand and started to lead him back the way she'd come.
"Where are we going?"
Jackie heard his question as she led him around the dance floor, but almost didn't answer. Then she realized she couldn't take him in there cold, with no knowledge at all of what was going on. Stopping in the center of the dance floor, Jackie turned into his arms, urging him to dance as she leaned up and said, "Read my thoughts."
Vincent stared at her solemnly, and she thought there was a sadness in his eyes, then his gaze focused on her forehead. They both stood still and Jackie waited for the ruffling that would tell her he was reading her mind, but it never came.
"I can't," he spoke so softly that she couldn't hear him, but she could read the two words on his lips and saw the pain the acknowledgment caused him.
Jackie stared back blankly. Bastien had once told her that not being able to read someone was the sign of a true life mate. The confusion she'd experienced in the washroom tried to reclaim her, but she pushed it ruthlessly aside. Later, she could consider the ramifications of everything and the mess they appeared to be in, for now she had to see him fed.
"While I was in the ladies room a girl hit on me," she said abruptly, and Vincent jerked back with surprise.
"No! A woman?" A disbelieving smile tugged at the corners of his lips, removing some of his sadness.
Jackie nodded, then leaned up to continue. "Yeah, then she dragged me to this storage room."
Vincent made a choking sound and Jackie paused and pulled back to peer at him again. He looked as if he'd swallowed his own tongue.
"Nothing happened!" she said quickly, then went on to explain the rest, before adding, "You could feed safely. If the saboteur is watching, all he'd see is us entering and leaving. And, afterward, you could have Trevor and Shell slip through the door into his office, lock it from that side and leave from there so that even if the saboteur does check the storage room, they won't find anyone there." She paused and raised her eyebrows at his smile. "What?"
"I like your brain," Vincent said with a grin. "You see an opportunity and you use it. A definite survivor. You'd do well as one of our kind."
They both stilled at his words and she saw the pain that suddenly cut at her chest, reflected in his eyes along with the recognition that she could never be one of his kind now.
"Jackie, I? he began with regret, but she shook her head.
"No. Not now." Pulling out of his arms, she caught his hand and led him to the hall that led to the bathrooms.
"So, she really hit on you?" Vincent asked by her ear, his chest rubbing against her back as he did. Apparently, he was willing to let the other matter drop for now and pretend everything was fine. Or try to. For an actor, he was having trouble disguising the sadness he was experiencing. He gave it a good try though. "What did she do?"
"She said I had a good body," Jackie paused to yell by his ear.
"You do," Vincent assured her quickly. "But that's just a compliment. It's hardly hitting?
"And offered to lick every inch of it," she added dryly.
"Ohhhhhhh." Vincent was silent for a moment, then groaned aloud, drawing her eyes back to his face. One look was all it took for her to know he was picturing that one in his head... and liking it.
"Men," she muttered with disgust as she headed off again. Why did the idea of two women together always seem such a turn-on to them?
"Jackie, we might have a problem," Vincent yelled, his chest brushing against her back again as she turned down another hall.
She paused and glanced past him to be sure no one was following, then asked, "What kind of problem?"
"I might have trouble controlling two of them at once," Vincent admitted as she turned to lead him into the kitchen.
"What?" Jackie stopped dead and turned to face him. "But I've seen Bastien control more than one human at a time."
"Well, yes, he wouldn't have a problem. The older we are, the better we are at everything and Bastien is over four hundred."
"So are you," Jackie pointed out, lowering her voice so they wouldn't be overheard by the couple in the storeroom ahead.
"Yes, but it's been a while since I tried to control more than one. It's like any skill, the more you practice it, the better you are and I don't? He paused and frowned at her alarmed expression, then patted her soothingly and said, "I'm not saying I can't do it, just that it may be a bit tricky. Can you distract one while I get control of the other? Once the one is under, I'll slip into the mind of the second one as well."
"Oh." Jackie hesitated, uncertain how she would do that, but finally just nodded. "Yes, fine. I'll distract the girl. Trevor's a jerk, put him under first. Come on."
Jackie led him to the storeroom door.
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