It was the way he oozed bad tidings across a silvered tongue, tidings dripping with hints of sadism reminiscent of his heritage. You’d think they’d be all alike, the vamps, but they weren’t. At least not this one.
He came across far too much like his namesake, labelling mass destruction by virtue of catastrophes in clever numbers. Rattle your dentures, unstock shelves, crack auntie’s kicknacks? Perhaps a five and change would do the job handily. Leveling a city might warrant a six or seven.
Eight was hand of god and a clean-up on aisle five requiring heavenly hosts and soft words spoken with solemnity.
Richter was so far beyond that he rated his own system. He liked to say it began and stopped with the letter “F”… with me.
“…so you see why it’s imperative…”
I held up a hand. The Skype wizards were slow on the draw so it took a chunk of forever for my handler to realize his favorite angel of vengeance was off in la-la-land, tripping down memory lane. Re-imagining the good days, the manacles and the slow draw of a blade etching his brand…
Remembering the agony of his securing a souvenir before sending me bloodied into the goodnight.
With a few thousand miles of ocean and land between us, there should have been a sense of buffering, some kind of protective barrier to shield me from his penetrating gaze, from the boiling oil of emotions erupting from starring into eyes so blue it defied description. Cold, transparent, predatory. They were unaccountably vibrant and youthful and sex-on-a-stick gorgeous, rimmed with unutterably thick lashes, the brows drawn tight. Never had stern and piss-my-panties-in-fear seemed so alluring.
He grinned, showing a hint of fang. “Liebchen.”
It was like having my clit tongued with a quick flick, pay attention, bitch. Clamping my thighs together, I eased my ass against the chair back, putting as much psychic real estate between him and me as possible.
“Perhaps you wish to explain?”
No, no I did not. But that wasn’t up for negotiation. So my next best tactic was buck up, bucky. “They saw me.”
“Dominic.” And an army of minions, the gatekeepers stacked from the daywalkers through the ranks right down to the second biggest who-ha of the entire Northeast corridor. The man behind the throne, second-in-command by name only.
Dominic inspired the same kind of panty-wetting trepidation as Richter because he was the big unknown, plying his wares behind the scenes, toppling kingdoms and bringing territories to heel, one after the other. He outflanked and outmaneuvered before you were even aware anything was amiss.
Dominic was the reason I’d spent time cooling my heels in a minimum security facility, brushing up on the tools of my trade, using two years of my precious existence in the service of a greater good. On a playing field tilted against mortals in favor of a big picture so huge no canvas would ever capture it completely.
“You think too much, babe. Tell me.”
Ducking my head, I allowed the quick uptick to my lips. Nicholas Richter was a poseur. Not many knew his origins. He’d been a Bronx brat before he’d been turned, an urban tough with roots going back generations in the great American dream. Sometimes, like now, he let it slip.
I used to think it a measure of his trust in me, a metric for his feelings. It was never an easy thing to lose a veneer cultivated over decades, if not centuries. Wanderlust had taken Richter close to Vampyr Central, within spitting distance, though he stayed just far enough from the Romanian Plateau not to be sucked into their particular brand of insanity. That cadre of Eurotrash had birthed not just legends but a reality too scary for mortals to comprehend.
My Nik was old enough to assume the mannerisms, but still young enough to cradle a uniquely aggressive brand of détente as he played chess with pieces leaving blood trails when moved across the board.
Knuckling the edge of the desk, I launched into rewind mode, making sure I hit all the bullet points.
“It’s like you thought. They’re light on middle management, heavy on field agents. He wasn’t interested in having another lackey.” I mumbled something about getting out in one piece, to which Richter raised his elegant eyebrows. “Dominic made it clear he didn’t like me.”
“And what makes you think that, sweetheart?” I cringed. My handler didn’t use many endearments. When he did, pain followed more often than not. And despite the distance and time zones separating us, I could hear the kachink of IOUs piling up.
The excuse came easy. “Nobody likes me.” Not even Annie, not really. I stuffed that thought away for when I really needed a kick in the arse.
“Yet here you are.”
“I’m not following.”
He shuffled papers around the ornate desk, letting me come to the only conclusion possible.
I still lived and breathed.
As they said on the south side, in like Flynn.
Nicky wasn’t giving me much more to go on so I asked, “What’s my play?”
“I’m sending you an encrypted file. Everything you need will be on it.”
Curious now, I asked, “Who’s the target?”
I stared in disbelief. The man had no sense of humor. He couldn’t be serious, yet there he was, his face drawn in tight lines, cheekbones gone sharp enough to slice paper. He meant it.
I growled, “Fuck you!”
“No, Liebchen, fuck Dominic.” And then he was gone.